Here is chapter 5 of the Caradonia story! If you still haven’t been reading, check out the previous chapters first!
THE SWORD OF GOTHRED
On the last day of the festival, Thane Haraldr and his party were preparing to leave the following day. The king continued to keep Lenora in his company as often as possible, and Lenora was eagerly looking forward to returning to Aelbridge, where she could escape King Garrick’s unwelcome attentions. Until that time came, however, she had to bear the constant attendance of either King Garrick or his servants.
Ariana and Lenora both expressed an interest in exploring the castle, so King Garrick offered to accompany them on a tour. It was impossible to refuse such an offer without offending the king, so they had no choice but to accept.
The king proved very knowledgeable about his castle, however, and showed them everything from the dungeons to the treasure room. At last they came to a very large, cavernous hall, which Garrick called his trophy room. This room was heavily guarded and contained everything from armor and weapons, to rare and magnificent jewels, to body parts from various creatures. Ariana was repulsed and fascinated at the same time.
“This collection is the largest of its kind anywhere,” Garrick said. “And it has been several centuries in the making. Each of my predecessors has contributed something to the collection. That unicorn horn—” He gestured toward a sharp, spiraled horn, nearly the length of Ariana’s arm, that hung upon the wall. “—was retrieved by my father.” Ariana looked at Garrick with a horrified expression.
“You mean he killed a unicorn?” she asked him. “One of the most harmless creatures in the land?”
“Have you ever been near a unicorn?” Garrick asked her. “They are surprisingly vicious. Look at that horn there. Now, imagine that being plunged into your heart. Quite as deadly as any sword, I assure you.”
“But unicorns aren’t aggressive,” Ariana countered. “They will only attack in self-defense. Are all of these trophies taken from such innocent creatures?”
“Those are the claws of a manticore,” Garrick replied, gesturing toward what looked like a set of lion paws. “I don’t suppose you will defend them too?”
“No,” Ariana replied. “I know manticores are dangerous. But your majesty, what are all these stones set about the room?” At various points in the room, there were about twenty different colored stones, larger than the head of a man, set on pedestals.
“Those are dragon eggs,” Garrick said, smiling slightly. “An impressive collection, is it not?”
“Aren’t you afraid of them hatching?” Lenora asked. “Perhaps it could be dangerous to keep them here.”
“Not to worry, my dear,” Garrick said, smiling at her. “These eggs are very old. They would have hatched by now, if they would. None of them are younger than ten years old. No, I don’t keep them because I expect anything to come from them. I simply keep them for the novelty of it.” They walked toward the other end of the room, where there was an array of weapons. One weapon, in particular, drew the attention of Ariana. A silver sword, with gold and tiny precious stones intricately laid into the handle.
“This is indeed an impressive collection, your majesty,” Ariana said. “And that is a beautiful sword.”
“Yes, the sword of Gothred,” Garrick replied. “The most treasured possession of the royal family. It has been passed down from father to son for generations. It is indeed extremely valuable, with the gold and jewels. The blade is diamond-lined—an art only the dwarves have mastered. It will cut through anything—even a tree—with a single blow.”
“That is very powerful indeed,” Ariana said.
“Besides this, it is said to possess other powers,” Garrick went on. “But that part, I believe, is nonsense. I’ve never had any indication of special abilities and I’ve tried everything.”
“What sort of abilities is it supposed to have?” Lenora asked.
“Some legends say it absorbs magic, thereby protecting the wielder from enemy sorcerers,” Garrick said. “Some say it creates a kind of shield around the holder, or else has special healing powers. Still others say it makes one resistant to fire, or allows one to breathe underwater. The list gets more preposterous as it goes on. None of it’s true. And not only that, it’s ridiculously heavy—much heavier than an ordinary sword.”
“May I hold it?” Ariana asked. Garrick looked at her skeptically, then shrugged his shoulders.
“If you can lift it,” he said with a satirical smile. Ariana reached up to take it. King Garrick was right—it was extremely heavy. She managed only to get it out of its place on the wall before the weight of the blade forced the point onto the floor. “You see? It would be a most uncomfortable weapon to carry around, even if it did have those other powers.” With a concentration of all her strength, Ariana managed to get the sword back in its place.
“Is there anything special about these other weapons?” she asked. Garrick gestured toward a sword that was completely black, as if it were made of onyx, and had a jagged blade.
“This is supposed to be the sword of the great king-wraith, Ragnvald,” he said. “Legend has it he was vanquished by Gothred centuries ago and this was the sword he left behind. Created by the dark arts themselves, so it’s said. Only touching it sends a most unpleasant sensation through your body. That part is true. I don’t recommend it, Lady Ariana. You won’t be able to feel your hand for full two hours.” Ariana, who had been about to touch the blade, paused and brought her hand back down. Still, she gazed at the sword thoughtfully. Other items in the collection included an elvish bow, the club of an ogre and a Pyron spear.
“Well,” King Garrick finally said. “I suppose this tour has come to an end. It’s almost time for the sword tournament.”
Sometime after the sword tournament had begun, Ariana, claiming a headache, returned to her chamber. Of course she did not really have a headache, but planned to disguise herself as a man and enter the tournament, despite the fact that her father had forbidden her.
She hardly had time to pick up her sword and contemplate her plan, however, before an alarm was raised throughout the castle, announcing that thieves had infiltrated the castle. Ariana opened her door and saw two guards run past. Still gripping her sword, she left her room and walked down the corridor, toward the spiral staircase that led up to the parapet. She looked up, but her attention was recalled to the corridor by footsteps coming rapidly toward her.
Ariana wielded her sword as a lone hooded figure was running toward the staircase. This surely had to be one of the thieves. The figure skidded to a halt when he was about fifteen feet away from her.
“I have no wish to harm a lady,” the figure said. The voice sounded incredibly familiar to Ariana, and it unsettled her. She recomposed herself quickly, however, and pulled out one of the thick, sharp silver hair needles used to ornament her hair.
“I am so tired—” she said, as she threw the hair needle like a knife, which embedded itself in the doorpost directly to the thief’s right. “—of men—” The other hair needle went to the thief’s left ear. “—underestimating me.” Ariana held her sword up again and the figure paused.
“Far be it from me,” the thief said, approaching her slowly, “To be guilty of such a crime.” Ariana’s sword trembled in her hand. “Are you going to kill me?” The thief’s voice was enticing and taunting at the same time. He was now at the tip of her sword. Ariana still hesitated, trying to discern the features beneath the hood.
“Who are you?” Ariana demanded.
“I am no petty thief I assure you,” the thief replied. Then with a swift movement, the thief grabbed the hand with which Ariana held her sword and grabbed her waist with his other hand to keep her from falling backward.
“No!” Ariana gasped as she glimpsed the thief’s shadowy features. “It can’t be!” Four guards turned the corner and were running toward them.
“Hey there!” one of the guards cried.
“I’m sorry my dear,” the thief said with the same velvety voice. “But I really don’t have time for this.” He released her and ran to the foot of the spiral stairs. He paused a moment and turned toward her again. “Do us both a favor, and don’t try to follow me.” Then he ascended with alarming speed up the spiral staircase. Ariana went to the window directly to her right as the guards ran past her and up the staircase.
The hooded thief was running across the parapet, toward the south wall of the castle. Guards were coming from the other tower and the thief would soon be cornered. The thief was now on the parapet of the south wall, with guards running at him from both directions. The thief looked at both sets of guards, then turned, and with a graceful dive, jumped off of the parapet. Ariana gasped. The south wall was on the edge of the high cliff facing the sea, but to survive such a dive was unthinkable. Ariana grieved, not only for herself, but for her sister, for she thought she had perceived the features of Corin beneath the hood of the thief.
Ariana quickly ran downstairs to the courtyard, where most of the spectators from the interrupted tournament were now gathered in confusion. She looked for the king, for surely Lenora and her father would not be far from him. She found her father and sister at last, and much to Ariana’s shock, Corin was with them.
“Corin!” Ariana exclaimed. “I thought—” Corin looked at her curiously. “That thief I saw in the tower—I thought he looked very like you.”
“Like me?” Corin said.
“He was hooded, of course,” Ariana said. “So I suppose I can’t be sure.” Corin suddenly became stern.
“You didn’t try to fight him, did you?” Ariana didn’t reply.
“You did, didn’t you?” Lenora said. “Ariana, he could have killed you.”
“I don’t think it was his intention to kill,” Ariana said. “I think he only intended to escape. But he jumped off the south wall. He must surely be dead.”
“Lady Ariana, this is the real world,” Corin said sternly. “We are not in a training yard here. You can’t fight with palace guards and armed thieves.”
“Why do we practice in the training yard, if not to prepare ourselves to fight in the real world?” Ariana demanded.
“The real world is not for you to worry about,” Corin said. “Because—” He paused.
“Because I’m a woman,” Ariana finished for him with a hint of bitterness.
King Garrick assembled his nobles into his throne room and gave orders for the guards to bring any thieves they caught to him there. At last, three men were brought before him, bound in ropes.
“Where were these found?” King Garrick asked, as the three men looked around the room, perhaps searching for their comrades, or a way of escape.
“Trying to break into the treasure room, your majesty,” one of the guards replied.
“How many of you were there?” King Garrick asked the thieves. None of them answered. Another guard kicked one of the thieves in the nose.
“The king asked you a question, scum!” the guard exclaimed.
“Five,” said the man with the now bleeding nose. “There were five of us.”
“And which is the leader of your band?” Garrick asked.
“None of us,” the man said. “Our leader didn’t come with us to the treasure room. He went somewhere else.” The man’s comrades gave him angry looks at this betrayal.
“Who is this man?” Garrick asked. “And what was he after?”
“His name is Morven,” the man said. “They call him the pirate prince. He’s the son of Konan who has seven pirate ships under his command.”
“So you are the pirates that have been plaguing my merchant ships,” Garrick said with a calculating look. “I see. But merchant ships weren’t enough plunder? You decide to attack the royal treasury. And what else? What was your leader really after?”
“I don’t know,” the man said. With another threat from the guard, however, the man said, “A sword. He said something about a sword. But that’s all I know, I swear.” Garrick’s calculating look was immediately replaced with one of horror.
“Fetch one of the guards from the trophy room,” Garrick told one of his messengers. He turned back to the pirates. “You had better hope your leader has failed in his quest. Or you’d better hope he manages to rescue you before dawn. But I doubt it. He and your other companion appear to have eluded my guards. But no matter. Any rescue attempt and they’ll be caught as well. Though I don’t know that I would bother, if it were me. Any men stupid enough to get caught are not worth the trouble of rescuing.”
“Our master is faster than any man I know,” one of the other pirates said. “And he has never been caught. And he is an honorable man. He will not leave us here to rot.”
“Yes,” King Garrick said sardonically. “It is very noble to try and steal royal family heirlooms.” The messenger returned with the guard and King Garrick immediately began questioning the guard about whether anyone had entered the trophy room since he himself had been earlier that day. Ariana thought the guard looked positively afraid at this question.
“Y—yes your majesty,” the guard said. “A man in a hooded cloak came in some time after everyone had left for the tournament. This man moved with extraordinary speed. The moment he was in the room, he disarmed the two guards at the door which he entered, then he took something out of his cloak, which made the whole room go dark.”
“What was it?” King Garrick asked calmly, though his expression was cold.
“I—I don’t know,” the guard replied. “Some sort of large insects, I think. When he released them, they flew in all directions, and the room went dark.”
“And then what?”
“Then I heard the sound of something being removed from the wall,” the guard answered. “When the darkness was lifted, the man had already gone. But it looks like he took the sword with the golden handle.” Garrick gripped the arms of his throne so tightly his knuckles turned white.
“And was this a large man?” the king asked in a quiet voice, breathing heavily. “Did he appear to be particularly strong?”
“Not very large, your majesty,” the guard said. “He was smaller, in fact, than many of your guards.”
“Wythorn!” Garrick said, turning to the duke, who was sitting on his left. He lowered his voice. “Is it possible? Can it be possible?” The duke looked at the king nervously.
“It’s difficult to say,” Wythorn replied in an equally low voice. “The legends declare it to be possible, certainly. But so much of legend is exaggerated that we cannot be sure. The circumstances are certainly intriguing.”
“Intriguing!” Garrick exclaimed angrily. He paused, having remembered they were by no means alone in the room. He resumed his cold, calm voice. “Take these thieves to the dungeons to await their execution. And take the trophy-room guards who allowed themselves to be bested by a common, dirty thief, and a royal heirloom to be stolen, to the dungeons as well. I shall decide later what their punishment shall be. Captain Torin, send your eight best men to guard the trophy room until I decide what else must be done.”
“Yes, your majesty,” the captain said, bowing, and leaving the room. Garrick stood up.
“Wythorn,” he said, “Follow me. Everyone else, you are dismissed. Guards, stay outside the door.” Wythorn followed the king to a side chamber as the confused and disgruntled audience began to rise and move toward the door.
“Wythorn.” Garrick turned on the duke with an angry expression as soon as the door had closed behind him. “I am upset. Why am I upset?”
“Because the sword of Gothred was stolen?” the duke said tentatively.
“And why,” Garrick asked irritably, “Besides the obvious fact that it was a royal artifact, stolen out of my castle, should that upset me?”
“Because of the manner in which it was stolen?” Wythorn suggested. “That it was with such apparent ease?”
“Exactly,” Garrick said. “What do we know about the sword of Gothred?”
“We know it was used to defeat the king wraith Ragnvald over two hundred years ago,” Wythorn replied. “It is said to be the only weapon capable of overcoming the dark magic of the king wraith.” Here Wythorn hesitated. “It is said that only the ruler of Caradonia can properly wield it.”
“Does not Gothred’s blood run in my veins?” Garrick asked. “Is not my descent proven for generations?”
“Of course, your highness,” Wythorn said quickly. “No one is of higher blood in all the kingdom.”
“Then why cannot I wield the sword?” Garrick asked.
“I don’t know, your majesty.”
“But don’t you?” the king asked, looking at Wythorn with a shrewd expression. “Who was the last ruler to wield the sword?”
“Was it not Meilyr, the great great grandson of Gothred?”
“And did Meilyr have any children?”
“Not according to any records,” Wythorn replied. “Were not Meilyr and his young wife both killed before having children?”
“Meilyr was killed by a gang of thieves,” Garrick said. “Or so the story goes. His wife was abducted and presumably killed by a griffon. And then there was a prophecy over a century ago—you know what I’m referring to?”
“Yes,” Wythorn shifted uncomfortably.
“If it’s true, then there must be two of them. Tell me, Wythorn, do you suppose the leader will risk his neck for the pirating, thieving scum in the dungeons?”
“It is difficult to say, your majesty,” Wythorn replied. “If the leader is one of those foolish men who reward stupidity with compassion—perhaps he might. If he is clever, then, having obtained what he wanted, he will not.”
“Let us hope he is a fool, then,” Garrick said. “I want the watch on the dungeons doubled. If this—pirate—thinks to attempt to take the kingdom, we had better cut it his plans short. If he should roam free—tell me, Wythorn, which of my thanes can I trust if it comes down to war?”
“Do you mean besides the petty battles already going on between provinces?” Wythorn asked with a wry smile.
“Don’t be funny, Wythorn,” the king said irritably. “I need to know who my allies are and who will desert me for an imposter. Make it your business to find out. Remind me why I keep you around.”