Chapter Nine of Machinations of War by Alexander Thomas and Kimberley Thomas

Kimberley Thomas:

Here is this week’s installment of Machinations of War the collaborative story my son and I are writing.

Originally posted on Riding into the Sunrise:

Raylan Mountains – Entrance to the Old World – 536 AC

It was smaller than Alexander had expected. He had expected the tunnel through the mountain to be bigger, wider maybe. The tales surrounding the Raylan Mountains had been greatly exaggerated. There was no turning back now though, he couldn’t show indecision in front of his men…or Giselle. He could feel the stares of a thousand eyes against his back, critiquing his decisions. He turned, facing the men and women that comprised his legion of devout followers willing to lay down their life for him.

“I know that there have been some questioning of my choice to go through the Raylan Mountains,” Giselle, standing next to Alexander, sighs deeply and looks away, “but I wanted to assure you that I am making the best choice for all of us. The way through the mountain will be quicker and give us…

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Music Monday

Greetings, everyone!

The past few weeks have been increasingly hectic for me, so I must apologize for not having had the time to post a respectable music-related reminiscence for this week’s celebration of Music Monday.

I’ll be honest with y’all, I barely made my deadline for last Wednesday’s Chapter 8 of Machinations of War. But I did, and I keep telling myself that is what counts!

It has been a rough August, folks. Chaotic is the first word that comes to mind to explain my current situation, served with a side order of anxiety, and topped off with a great big dollop of stress. Yeah… it’s been something like that.

Anyway… I won’t bore you all with the minutiae of my personal life crises. Instead, I want to take a few minutes to share a song. A moment to close my eyes, and simply lose myself to the music. I’m not certain why, but Jim Croce’s, Time in a Bottle, just felt like the perfect fit for this week’s Music Monday.

 

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”
— Maya Angelou, American author, poet, dancer, actor, and singer (1928 – 2014)

 

Music Monday (469x288)

Have a wonderful #MusicMonday, everyone!

Machinations of War – Chapter 8 – a Collaborative Story by Alexander & Kimberley Thomas

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

 

Chapter 8
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.

Music Monday

For this week’s celebration of  Music Monday I want to share one of my all-time favorite songs, alongside one of my all-time favorite paintings.

Since early childhood, I have had a deep love and fascination for the history of the American West. As a child, I devoured the tales of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her frontier family as they forged their way westward. I read, and reread, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild and White Fang. I spent many a Sunday afternoon with John Wayne as he rode his dusty, trusty steed through the wilds of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and the Alabama Hills of California. Then there were the stories of the exploits of the outlaws and lawmen of the Wild West, such colorful characters as: Jessie James, Butch Cassidy, Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, the Earp brothers and the Masterson’s. I was completely enamored with the myth of the West.

At nineteen, I heard Horace Greeley’s call to “Go West, young man”. Ignoring Greeley’s outdated sexist notion, that only young men could make the adventurous trek westward, I packed up my belongings and moved from New York to California.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that both this particular song and painting reflect my passion for the West. The West that historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, exclaimed in his famed 1893 thesis, The Significance of the Frontier in American History, as having disappeared; a frontier, forever closed. Turner’s announcement of the closing of the Western frontier—with the fencing off of her open range and the further expansion of the railroads—the glory of her wilderness to be tamed and wide-open spaces to be filled, had seemingly came to an end.

Yet for me, the West is still a land of wide-open spaces and rugged individualism. A land, which I believe still exists if one only dares to look beyond the bright lights of her vast cities—a land, still to be found in the remote wilderness of the American West.

Frederic Remington - The Fall of the Cowboy, 1895

Frederic Remington – The Fall of the Cowboy, 1895

Frederic Remington’s The Fall of the Cowboy1895, Oil on canvas. The Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, USA

 

“Desperado”, written by Glenn Frey and Don Henley, founding members of the American rock band, the Eagles. The song was first released in 1973, on the album by the same name.

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
You been out ridin’ fences for so long now
Oh, you’re a hard one
I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin’ you
Can hurt you somehow

Don’t you draw the queen of diamonds, boy
She’ll beat you if she’s able
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet

Now it seems to me, some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can’t get

Desperado, oh, you ain’t gettin’ no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they’re drivin’ you home
And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walking through this world all alone

Don’t your feet get cold in the winter time?
The sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine
It’s hard to tell the night time from the day
You’re losin’ all your highs and lows
Ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away?

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate
It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you,
You better let somebody love you,
Before it’s too late

 

“If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week.”
― Charles Darwin, English naturalist, and geologist (1809 – 1882) from The Autobiography of Charles Darwin

 

Music Monday (469x288)

 Happy #MusicMonday, everyone!

Chapter Seven of Machinations of War

Kimberley Thomas:

Here is this week’s installment of the collaborative story my son and I are writing. This week’s Chapter 7 is Alexander’s contribution.

If you wish to read the story from the beginning, please visit here.

Originally posted on Riding into the Sunrise:

Capitol City, Terra, 536 AC

The doors to the Creator’s inner chamber open; a bright, white light flooding the room. From within, Natalie strides out, the doors closing behind her. Gone was her grey dress, replaced with black, light armor with a special sigil of the Creator adorned on the chest.

Lord Preston awaits her just outside the inner chamber. He quickly kneels and bows his head towards her upon seeing her new outfit, “Sister Clarke, I-“

“I am a Seraphim now, you will refer to me as such.”

“My apologies, Seraphim. What are your orders?”

“They are mine to know. The Creator has asked for you to go about your daily duties. I will see to mine. You are dismissed Lord Preston.”

Lord Preston looks up at Natalie, shock spread across his face. “I-I don’t understand, why-“

She looks down at Lord Preston, “Your place is not to understand…

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Music Monday!

I adored my grandmother. Other than my mother, my “nonna” shaped who I am today.

Nonna

Nonna

My father died when I was 9 weeks old, leaving behind a young wife, an infant daughter, and a 14-year-old son from a previous marriage. Circumstances could not have been bleaker for my mom. However, my paternal grandparents stepped in, taking all of us in under their wing; ensuring we had a roof over our heads, while giving counsel and guidance to my mother as she tried to care for a baby and a teenage stepson.

Then, when I was two years old, my nonno (grandfather) died unexpectedly. My nonna effortlessly took her place as the governing matriarch of our little tribe. As a single mother, my mom worked at the local grocery store to support us, while my grandmother cared for me. This was my life, until I was 9 years old, splitting my time between my nonna’s place and our (my mom’s and my) little apartment.

My nonna & me - 1968

My nonna & me – 1968

My grandmother was a strong, independent woman, at a time when woman were not supposed to be either. And, she was an extremely devoted Catholic. I still remember her bemoaning the fact that the Church was no longer performing her morning mass in Latin. She always had her rosary handy, for those inevitable moments when she would need to stop and pray for the strength to get through her day. When she wasn’t praying, I remember her listening to her beloved Italian opera music. She would quietly sit, with her eyes closed, as her 78 rpm records scratched out the songs on her old record player.

The song that immediately comes to mind when I think of my nonna is Ave Maria. I’m not sure if it was her favorite, but I remember her playing this particular song over and again throughout the formative years I was fortunate to have spent with her.

My grandmother died shortly after my ninth birthday. Yet she lives on for me, through this song.

 

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”
Plato, Greek philosopher and mathematician (429–347 B.C.E.)

Have a great #MusicMonday, everyone!

Music Monday (469x288)

 

My Mighty Mesquite—Gone—But Not Forgotten

I lost my grand Mesquite tree this past Friday night to a sudden microburst that descended upon my little spot on this planet. I know, in the grand scheme of disasters and suffering taking place in the world, this particular drama rates a zero on a 1-10 scale of importance. But for me… well, it has left me deeply saddened.

When we moved into our home a little more than 6 years ago, she was a nearly dead stick stuck in the ground. Nevertheless, I nourished and nurtured her. And she thrived. She grew taller and taller, offering us, and the next-door-neighbors, shade from the fierce heat of summer. She grew to become a grand lady, towering nearly 30 feet tall, offering refuge to birds, and bees, cicadas, and lizards, and a multitude of other creepers and crawlers.

She fell Friday night, as the winds blew fiercely all around her. Her last gift to us was to manage not to do any damage to our house—or the neighbors—as she slowly toppled to the ground.

It feels so empty when I glance out my windows, when I walk out the front door. I miss her. Terribly.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

My little Mesquite – July 2009

 

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My Mesquite after last Friday’s storm.

 

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Bees!

The Bee is not afraid of me
by Emily Dickinson

The Bee is not afraid of me.
I know the Butterfly.
The pretty people in the Woods
Receive me cordially—

The Brooks laugh louder when I come—
The Breezes madder play;
Wherefore mine eye thy silver mists,
Wherefore, Oh Summer’s Day?

- F 113 (1859) 111

Driving along a back road the other day, I happened upon this magnificent swarm of bees.

Bees - July 2014

 

Bees 3 - July 2014

“Machinations of War” – Chapter 6 – a Collaborative Story by Alexander Thomas and Kimberley Thomas

Here is this week’s installment of “Machinations of War” the collaborative story my son and I are writing.

This week’s Chapter 6 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 1-5.

 

Chapter 6
by Kimberley Thomas

Capitol City, Terra, 536 AC

Standing in the shadows of the stone threshold of the King’s personal quarters, Rafe silently observed the elder King Suhn as he sat motionless at his elaborately carved desk. Unaware of his being watched the King appeared mesmerized, staring blankly out the open window toward the sea beyond. He seemed to be desperately looking at, or perhaps for, something that was no longer there. After a long while, Abraham stirred from his prolonged trance. Leaning forward in his massive oak chair, the King propped his elbows up on the worn wooden desktop, wearily dropping his head into his hands. King Suhn sighs deeply, a sound of despair that echoes across the long room. Suddenly, Rafe becomes acutely aware that he is witnessing the private misery of a defeated and broken man. Regarding the sight before him, Rafe thinks, “A King he may be, but he suffers all the same.”

Rafe begins to shuffle in the doorway, alerting the King to his presence. King Suhn quickly gathered his composure, immediately transforming himself into the self-controlled, figure of supreme governance whom Rafe was accustomed to seeing.

Falling to one knee, Rafe greeted the King, “You sent for me, Your Majesty?”

The King stood with the grace and authority expected of one who has spent his lifetime under scrutiny for weakness. The dejected man, who Rafe had observed just moments before, had simply vanished. It was as if he had never existed.

“Yes, my good Sir Skerrett, I have indeed requested your presence. You are aware that most of my visitors do not simply let themselves into my private quarters unannounced. Yes?”

Still on bended knee before the King, Rafe bowed his head ever more slightly, “I am deeply sorry King Suhn, for my breach of protocol, I …” But the King brusquely cut him off with a dismissive wave of his hand.

“Never mind, never mind.” The King was obviously impatient; another attribute Rafe had failed to observe in His Majesty prior to today’s impromptu tête-à-tête. “Rise, Sir Skerrett. We have much to discuss. But, not here,” leaning in close to Rafe, the King whispered, “there are traitorous ears listening.” Abraham Suhn, in a most un-kingly like fashion, flashed a sardonic grin at the young soldier.

Rafe swallowed hard. The only thought racing through his mind over and again, “Shit! Shit! Shit! He knows…

Rafe was sure this was to be his end. Although, he was not certain whether the elder King Suhn knew about his relationship with his daughter, Aislyn, or his traitorous ties to his son, Alexander, the Heretic King. Rafe began to imagine the elder King knew of all his double-crossings on behalf of King Alexander, and his lack of discretion with Aislyn. Why else would the King himself, personally march him to a deserted swath of beach to torture and execute a lowly double agent? It mattered not, he supposed, as he trudged over the rocky terrain on his death march.

Surprisingly, he remained calm. When they finally reached the rocky strand, Rafe kneeled before the King. “I will not confess to any misconduct, Your Majesty. I have served the Twelve Kingdoms with honor. Exposing his bare neck to the King, Rafe continued, “All I ask in return is for my execution to be respectful of my honorable service.”

“Stand up, Rafe!” the King snapped. “I did not bring you here to execute you. Although, I am sure you do deserve it. Whether you are a loyalist to my son, and his heretical band of followers, I am unsure. However, I do not desire to know too much about you, or your activities, as that would put us both in grave danger. However, the one thing I am certain of is that you and my daughter are engaged in a romantic dalliance that has put both your lives in danger!”

Rising quickly, Rafe boldly addressed the King, “Your Majesty, I love Aislyn. This isn’t a dalliance, as you so put it—for neither her, nor me.”

“Good.” King Abraham glanced toward the sea once again and smiled sadly. Rafe had seen that same smile far too often on Asilyn’s face. “You are bold, yet shrewd, Sir Rafe. I think that if there is anyone who can defend and serve my daughter, and aid her in the trials she will soon face, it will be you.”

“Your Grace?” Rafe was clearly perplexed by the King’s remarks.

The King sighed wearily, “My son has been correct all along in his assumptions concerning the Creator.”

The ordinary man, who Rafe had so recently observed in the King’s quarters, had returned. Standing before Rafe was not King Suhn, Leader of the Twelve Kingdoms and the Capital City, but merely a troubled and remorseful father.

The King began to share with Rafe a complicated tale of deceit, danger, coercion, and treachery, spanning generations, since the time of the Great Purge. At the center of it all was the Creator. The Creator, the King confided, was not the Supreme Being their people had been led to worship and honor, the source of all moral authority and human fortunes. King Suhn illustrated a sinister entity; the Creator as the grim foundation for all the suffering the people of the Twelve Kingdoms endured.

The King further wove an account of the Creator as an all-controlling entity with feelings of malice and hostility toward everyone in Terra. How he has been aware of this for many years but because he feared for the safety of Alexander and Aislyn, he had to become part of the charade that is the established institution of the Capital City.

“As soon as I learned of Alexander’s doubts of the validity of the Creator as a benevolent God, I knew I had to send him as far south as possible in an effort to keep him safe,” the King mused.  “I did not bear my estranged son any ill-will, as he has long believed.” Rafe noticed tears forming in the King’s eyes as he continued speaking, “I loved the boy with all my heart. My greatest regret is that I had not possessed the strength and courage to follow him. Alexander is the rightful King of the people, of that I have no doubt. The Creator and the High Priesthood may call him the Heretic, but mark my word Rafe, my son will one day liberate our people from the bondage of the Creator and his priesthood minions. Whatever may transpire from this day forth, you must give me your solemn promise, Sir Skerrett, that you will let my son know how deeply I loved him. Impart to him my great sorrow and shame for not being the man who could support his own son’s conviction in the rightness of his position, when he too knew its truths. Tell him all that I have told you, and convey to him how proud I am that he has become a much greater leader than I ever was.”

The elder King Suhn paused for a long time, for which Rafe was deeply grateful. He found himself grappling with the enormity of the revelations the King had bestowed upon him. Finally, the King took a deep breath in, then slowly exhaling, resumed speaking. “Now we must discuss how you will manage to get my daughter out of the city safely.”

“I beg your pardon, Your Majesty, but Aislyn will not leave willingly. She will not leave you, or the High Priesthood. She feels honor bound to stay, to fight by your side. Besides, she thinks her brother is a traitorous murderer. She will not go to Alexander without knowing the truth.”

“And you know this how?”

Rafe’s face reddened, “Because I have asked her to leave with me on several occasions, Your Grace.”

“Hmm, I see.” The King mulled over this new bit of information. “Sir Rafe, the High Priesthood is a highly clandestine organization manufactured by the Creator to keep the populace of the Twelve Kingdoms under control. My daughter’s gift is merely a tool for the Creator to be able to spy on dissidents and insurgents who pose any real threat to his continued rule. The innocuous and kindly Lord Preston is actually a ruthless and evil second-in-command to the Creator. Preston is the human reach of the Creator.” The King stopped abruptly, obviously gathering his thoughts, “I tell you all this because you must be aware of the grave danger the High Priesthood poses to her.”

Rafe nods his head in affirmation, “Yes, Your Majesty. I understand.”

“There is so much to impart to you, Sir Skerrett. I fear if I forget to pass on the smallest detail, it will be to your and Aislyn’s undoing.”

Rafe gently put a hand on the King’s shoulder, “Your Grace, I will trust no one, and protect her with my last breath.”

“Son, the day will come when you will need to put your confidence in someone to aid yours and Aislyn’s journey. Just as I have entrusted you. I simply hope that when that day arrives, your trust will be well placed, for her sake as well as your own.”

Rafe was the one blankly staring out at the sea now. “I will arrange the gear necessary for our quick departure. Under the circumstances, I think it best if we plan to meet here again tomorrow, before sunrise, to take our leave.” The King nodded his agreement to Rafe’s proposal. “I think it would be best, Your Grace, if you bring Aislyn to the beach. Together we can explain the situation as quickly as possible, in an effort to expedite our escape.”

The King stood, ready to depart, yet stopped short, “One last thing, before we take our leave, Sir Rafe. I am not sure how you have managed to fool Lord Preston and the council of High Priests of your infiltrator status. Moreover, I am especially curious how you have been able to defy detection by the Creator. From your first appearance in the Capitol City, I have had my doubts about your credibility, about the sincerity of your story. However, it matters not. I chose not to raise suspicion, and I must confess I have been rather astounded by your ability to gain their trust, in such a short period.” The King paused, searching Rafe’s face intently. Finally, dropping his gaze the King implored the young soldier, “I am not sure what magick you possess, but I beg of you to draw upon it to protect my daughter.”

Rafe abruptly grabbed at the pendent hanging from the leather cord around his neck. His impulsive action immediately drew the King’s gaze downward toward the crude item.

With a wry smile the King said, “Who would have guessed.”