Here is this week’s installment of Machinations of War the collaborative story my son and I are writing.
This week’s Chapter 8 is my contribution.
If you’ve missed the introduction to this project, or wish to read the story in its entirety, please visit here for Chapters 1-7
by Kimberley Thomas
Capitol City, Terra, 536 AC
King Suhn woke with a start to urgent knocking on the door of his sleeping quarters. His drowsy gaze drawn to the nearby window, Abraham noted with unease the cover of darkness still evident, the faint gray hues of predawn still hours away. Nothing had ever been so crucial as to warrant his servants disturbing his sleep at this hour. His heart sank as the ominous knocking continued, becoming more insistent in its urgency.
“My Grace!” Lord Preston finally called out from behind the closed door, “It is I, Lord Preston. Your Majesty, it is imperative that I speak with you immediately!”
At the sound of the High Priest’s voice, the King quickly shook off the last vestiges of sleep. Lord Preston calling on him at this early hour only served to reinforce his worst fears. Throwing open the door, he stared grimly at the elderly Priest for several moments, then waved Lord Preston into his sleeping quarters. “I presume that whatever is of such vital importance to prompt a visit from you under these circumstances shan’t be discussed in the hall for all to hear, correct?”
Upon entering his bedchamber, Lord Preston bowed deeply before the King, “Yes, My Grace, your assumptions are correct. This news would be best shared in private.”
The King was immediately angry and frustrated by the priest’s intrusion. This was the day he had waited years for, the opportunity to secret his daughter, Aislyn, out of the city. He had finally secured her safe passage out of the city with Sir Skerrett, and the Priest’s disruption stood to derail his previous day’s plans. “So, what is so critical as to call for such an intrusion at this hour, Lord Preston?”
“I came as soon as the guards informed me, Your Majesty,” the Priest lied. I wanted to be the one to share this terrible news with you…”
“Yes, yes, Lord Preston,” the King interrupted impatiently, “stop stalling and get on with it. Tell me, what has happened?”
“It is Aislyn, My Grace. She was abducted from her bedchamber sometime after dark.”
On the orders of the Creator, Lord Preston feigned ignorance about his actual knowledge of the Princess’s disappearance. He was tasked with convincing the King that his daughter had been taken hostage, whisked away by his son’s band of murderous traitors. The Priest paused ever so slightly to allow the devastating news to register. The Priest watched with deep satisfaction as the color drained from the King’s face, as he stumbled slightly, finally collapsing in a heap into the nearest chair.
The King began to ramble, “How is this possible? Where were the guards? We must form a search party immediately!”
Lord Preston calmly interrupted the King, “Your Majesty, the Guard was notified to search every corner of the city upon learning of your daughter’s abduction. I assure you, the Guard conducted an extensive search of the castle grounds, as well as having widened their search to include the perimeter of Capital City.
With his head bowed, the King was unaware of the small grin that tugged at the corners of Lord Preston’s wrinkled, old lips. The Creator had sent Lord Preston to deliver the devastating news to King Suhn long after the Seraph and Aislyn had departed the Capitol City. This would ensure enough time had passed to allow Natalie to evade capture by the King’s men and return Aislyn to her father.
“I do not understand. Why… why was I not notified earlier?”
The King was mad with grief over his inability to protect his daughter. He paced the room, mumbling to himself, nearly forgetting that Lord Preston was still in his chambers. Suddenly, he turned on the Priest, “Leave now Jakob.”
Lord Preston pleaded, “Abraham, please, listen…” but the King was insistent, pushing the old man toward the door.
“No! You must leave, because what I must now do to find my daughter…” the King quickly trailed off, taming his careless tongue. For several long minutes the King stood motionless, his eyes fixated on the growing light outside the nearby window. He realized, with sudden urgency, it was nearly time for him to meet with Rafe at the beach. Finally, he addressed Lord Preston once again, this time his tone was more measured; the King had regained his composure, “I do not trust that neither you, nor the High Priesthood, have my daughter’s best interest at heart.” With that said, the King steered the elderly leader of the High Priesthood out of his sleeping quarters, shutting the door forcibly behind him.
The King stripped off his night-clothes and quickly dressed; thoughtlessly he grabbed the wrinkled clothes he had worn the day before, still slung over the dressing screen. He grabbed the knapsack he had carefully packed with provisions for Aislyn and Rafe’s escape. Silently he cursed himself for having waited too long to ensure his daughter’s safe exit from the city. He was enraged at his failure to protect her from the manipulations of the High Priesthood, but most of all, for not shielding Aislyn from the Creator, as he had Alexander. Sadly, he realized none of that mattered. His first priority now was to rescue his daughter from her captors by whatever means necessary. Moreover, he realized that his newly formed alliance with Sir Skerrett was his only real chance of successfully rescuing Aislyn. Almost as an afterthought, the King produced a golden key from a chain around his neck. Hurriedly, he unlocked a tall oak bureau and grabbed a large stack of aged letters, bound together with a yellowed piece of twine. He swiftly added the pack of letters to the knapsack. Taking one last look around the room, the King seemed finally satisfied. Determinedly he set off for the beach.
As the King approached the beach, he could see Rafe anxiously pacing back and forth over the same stretch of sand. As soon as the King drew near, Rafe fell to one knee. His voiced choked with emotion Rafe groaned, “My Grace, she is gone.”
Annoyed, the King waved his hand for Rafe to rise, “We stand on this beach today as equals, Sir Rafe. Our shared love and concern for my daughter’s safety overrides any inane social protocol. I have just been informed of Aislyn’s disappearance from Lord Preston, and came here as quickly as I could without drawing attention to myself. Other than her abduction, I know very little. The High Priest informed me that the Guard conducted an extensive search of the castle grounds and Capitol City for her, without success.”
Vehemently, Rafe objected, “”The High Priest tells lies, My Grace! After learning of Aislyn’s abduction, I covertly conducted my own investigation and the commoners tell a much different story, Your Majesty. Several eyewitnesses describe Aislyn as willingly leaving the city with the Creator’s newly ordained Seraph, who was, until very recently, a lowly Sister named Natalie Clark. I am not sure how the Seraph convinced Aislyn to leave without a word to either you or myself, but I am sure that she left willingly. One of the guards divulged to me that he had overheard Aislyn explicitly ask the Seraph how many days travel it was to Sharna as they passed through the city gate. Furthermore, I have been told that the Seraph carries with her the ancient sword, Tizona, which she herself retrieved from the catacombs just yesterday. I corroborated the events leading up to Aislyn’s disappearance myself, and I am satisfied that the witnesses and their accounts are reliable.
King Suhn was obviously shaken by these new revelations. The High Priest’s blatant deception, the Creator appointing a soldier Seraph without his knowledge, his fragile daughter risking her own well-being by leaving the city with a warrior Seraph wielding the ancient sword, Tizona; none of it made any sense to the King. “Evidently you have a greater knowledge of the goings-on in the Kingdom than do I, Sir Rafe. My rule is obviously a sham if such actions can be committed openly and boldly, without my noticing, or at the very least noticing in time to prevent it.” The King sighed deeply. “Then, Aislyn is not in any real danger? Is that what you think, Rafe?”
“Oh no, Your Grace, I think she is in terrible danger. I just think she is not fully aware yet of the jeopardy she has placed herself in.”
At that, the King looked defeated. It was one thing to consider his daughter as having been kidnapped by her own brother’s henchmen. Alexander loved his sister too greatly to allow any real harm to come to Aislyn. Of that, the King had been sure. However, to learn that she was traveling with a Seraph, the sworn defender of the Creator, who was carrying one of the pair of mystical swords of the Great Purge, this new disclosure left him completely demoralized.
Worriedly, Rafe eyed the King. “Your Majesty, I will find her. I give you my solemn promise.”
“Sir Rafe, of that I have no doubt. My only concern is that the Aislyn you eventually find might not be the same woman we both now love. The Creator has sent my daughter away with the Seraph for a reason. How the Creator’s agent might twist my daughter’s gift to her own advantage we cannot be sure. For whatever reason, the Creator believes Aislyn to be a valuable asset, enough so to convince her to accompany his personal warrior. I cannot help but believe that her physical safety, or her mental welfare, is of any great concern for the Creator or the Seraph. They will use her to satisfy their end goal, and then dispose of her, or what remains of our beloved Aislyn.
Quietly Rafe responded, “I will find Aislyn first, My Grace.”
The King nodded somberly. “I have a knapsack to give you that I packed with provisions for yours and Aislyn’s journey. There are enough supplies to get you well on your way, Sir Rafe. For reasons I cannot fully explain I felt pressed to also include a stack of letters, which I have composed to Alexander over the years since I sent him away to the Southlands. I implore you to tell him all I have told you before and share these letters with him. My only hope is that my children will one day forgive me for failing them both.
“Your Majesty, one day soon, we will all break bread together and then you can enlighten them of the many reasons you did what you thought was in their best interest.”
The King smiled sorrowfully, “Yes, Rafe. One day soon.” Then he extended his hand, and as Rafe reached out to grasp King Abraham’s outstretched hand, the King unexpectedly drew him in, giving the Knight a warm, almost fatherly embrace. “Good fates shine favorably on you, son. You will desperately need all the help that you can get.” With that, the King turned and headed back toward the castle.
He watched as the elder King Suhn slowly disappeared into the wood. When Rafe was finally satisfied that there was enough time and distance placed between himself and the King, so as not to draw unnecessary attention to either of them, he strode off in a southeasterly direction. Heading toward the tiny village of Sharna, Rafe was resolute in his mission to save his beloved Aislyn.