By Alicia Steen
In telling the tale of Jeshrun, perhaps the oddest place to begin is the kingdom of Camlon. It is not a great kingdom, but neither is it a minor one. Even stranger still wherever the clans fought a battle that counted the silver gryphn was present in the ranks. In this seemingly insignificant kingdom strong fates fight hard to lay claim to it, but which shall win out, now, that indeed is a question for only the wisest of fools.
The tale of Jeshrun is the story of those who chose it. Our such one is found among the fabled terrors of Jeshrun Below seeking prized items of history long past. In her search she finds a most unexpected call to home.
Not many sounds can be heard in the darkness of Jeshrun Below. Even the vague uneasiness is gone now that the uppermost levels have been emptied of the creatures of shadow, thanks to the battle under the Dark Moon. What remains is a quietness, almost an excitement, and definitely an expectancy of… something. Someone. Some ancient memory about to come finally to light.
When she finally lights a torch the remnants of a battle from another age embraces the glowing light. Down here in Jeshrun Below, lingering magic preserves any item with even a little magic. Skeletons have long since vanished, but armor, enchanted swords, cloaks of dormant magic, and various other weapons of ancient mages lay scattered where their owners fell. It is a scene she has come upon many times before. This time, though, the sight catches her breath.
She never thought she’d see that crest again.
She kneels reverently near a complete suit of chain mail. A magnificent sword accompanies various smaller blades, some of them magical. The shield lies partially covering the chain mail. On it the silver gryphn of Camlon stares up at her, call forth memories of another time, another life.
And a small hope is awakened.
“Miss,” a nervous voice calls. “A young man, a traveler, has come asking for a Delia Laine. He carries the same symbol as what’s on your dagger. Captain sent me to you.”
She straightens to face the sailor. “Did the traveler give his name?”
“Yes, miss. Aedn Laine.”
In Camlon the great annual tournament is ready to begin. The excitement has everyone running ‘round, finding their places, and filling the air with bustling chatter. The king, King Certan, is in the twelfth year of his reign, and thus in the twelfth round of presiding over the fights instead of participating in them. Whether the presence of his longtime servant and friend Mernan is a good encouragement or a bad influence has yet to be determined even by the wisest. Despite all that, the pair has their own routine which neither, least of all the king, would desire to alter.
“Mernan, where is,”
“Get me my,”
“And what about,”
“Already done, sire.”
King Certan gives his servant Mernan a second look. “You’re unusually on top of things this morning.”
“It is a big day. Someone has to be,” Mernan quips back cheerfully as he tidies the king’s chambers.
Certan stops to give Mernan his full attention. “Yes, someone does; just not normally you. Are you up to something, Mernan?”
Mernan considers the question and shakes his head. “Not that I know of. Sire.”
Certan nods slowly. “Ah huh. Well, whatever it is, it can wait until after the tournament.” Certan straps on his sword and moves toward the door.
Mernan stands with pretended offence. “All the time we’ve been together and you still don’t trust me.”
Certan half turns to call back, “It’s because of all the time we’ve spent together, Mernan.”
“Sir Dnovan looks strong this year. Think he’ll win the tournament’s title from Sir Elhren?”
Certan adjusts his shirt. “Dnovan’s motto is ‘let him who desires it have it’. Unless he finds a reason to win, he’ll let someone else claim the title. It’s a constant annoyance to the knights who wish to find out how strong he really is with the sword.”
“What of his youngest brother, Aedn? Do you think he’ll finally achieve knighthood?”
Certan snorts. “Aedn definitely has determination enough for five knights, but his skill is that of half a one. He’d be better off polishing swords.”
“I don’t know. He seemed pretty confident when I saw him. Maybe he’s gotten better this year.”
“We’ll find out won’t we. If he can manage to avoid meeting one of his brothers in the preliminary rounds, he could have a chance. Unfortunately, his luck has never been on his side.”
Mernan stands and shakes his head. “Poor would-be sir Aedn. He just can’t catch a break.”
“Has anyone seen Aedn?” the fifth and most fair of the Laine brothers shouts through the crowded tent. The sky blue of the family colors matches his eyes and accents his short blond hair.
“He’s not in the kitchens, Arlan,” the third, Dwain, calls as he enters the tent. Dwain’s unruly brown hair is soon covered by a helmet as he readies for the tournament.
“Were you searching or staring at the kitchen maid again?” Devin, the fourth, asks as he hands Dwain his gauntlets.
Dwain looks at his twin brother with feigned seriousness. “Both.”
“Arlan, if Aedn truly wants to be a knight he’ll get here on his own.” The second, Druce, straps on a sword and hands the blond Arlan his own.
Arlan sighs and takes the blade. “He says he has a secret skill this year that will ensure he achieves knighthood.”
Dnovan, the firstborn brother, laughs loudly. “If it’s anything like last year’s he’s better off taking his chances.”
“Isn’t that Aedn in the crowd?” Devin asks, his hand holding back the door of the tent.
“He’s got a young lady with him,” Dwain adds.
Arlan rushes over. “What in the kingdom…”
“Line up, we’re moving out,” Dnovan, the firstborn, calls. The brothers quickly fall into line by birth. The tournament is about to begin.
While Arlan searched, Aedn weaved his way through the thick crowd with Delia in tow.
“Remind me what we’re doing here again?” Delia asks. She has no problem penetrating the most foreboding caves and ruins, but a crowd of people lies quiet outside of her expertise.
Aedn, not minding at all the request to repeat himself, chatters on as he makes his way to the stands. “Today the annual tournament begins. If I can defeat a knight of Camlon in the preliminary rounds, I will earn the right to become a knight myself, but I always get paired up against my brothers. That’s where you come in. Take off your hood during my first fight, and that’ll provide the opening I need to win.”
“Is such a thing allowed?”
“Be cunning, not devious. Brains can win where brawn lacks strength.” Aedn pauses to survey the open seats. “This way.” Aedn guides Delia to the seats provided for the Laine family, today occupied by Delia and a servant who graciously opened her home to her. Delia sits, her nervousness visible underneath the hooded cloak. Aedn grins to ease her fears. “Don’t worry. None of us have ever forgotten our sister. Dnovan especially will be thrilled to have you back.”
Delia relaxes a little. “Do you have to be somewhere?”
Aedn looks out on the tournament field, where the participating knights are filing out. “Oh yea! See you, Delia!”
Delia watches Aedn run off with a smile.
“You’re the prettiest lady in the court when you smile,” says the servant Gail beside her. The two had become friends in the few days Delia had spent in her house. “See, there’s your brothers now in sky blue and silver. It looks like Aedn got in line just in time.”
Delia laughs as Arlan elbows Aedn hard. “Only just, it would seem.”
“Story of his life,” Gail comments. “Doesn’t Dnovan look regal? With you watching him he might bestir himself up enough to win the tournament.”
“He’s never won?”
“No, he always makes it to the last three, but never lets himself get serious enough to win. Sir Elhren over there is the champion of the last four tournaments.”
Delia follows Gail’s finger to a young dark-haired knight in leather armor with a crest of red, purple, and black. She can’t quite make out the design from this far, but the pattern is familiar. “Isn’t that the crest of Dark Moon?”
“You know it? Sir Elhren’s not from Camlon, but from Jeshrun. He made quite a stir when the old king pronounced him a knight.”
Delia turns her eyes to the knight behind Elhren, only to see another familiar crest. The white dragon, born by a man with a silver jacket and two swords, one with a jewel of red and the other of deep blue. “If a he is here, this will truly be a tournament to remember,” she says, mostly to herself.
“What’s that?” Gail asks.
“Nothing. Which knight is your favorite?”
“I have no real favorite. I just root for Camlon’s knights. This tournament draws warriors from all over.” As they watch more unfamiliar crests pass by, a good portion of them not of Camlon. “It’s because Camlon protects them all from invasion by the satyr kingdom. They all respect Camlon for it.”
Delia watches the proceedings, taking in the newness of it all as Gail explains the unfamiliar. On Camlon’s border, the knights on patrol also experience change unexpected. Sir Morcant, nephew of King Certan, leads a band of knights on Camlon’s eastern border which it shares with the satyr kingdom. This border has been unusually quiet of late, prompting Sir Morcant to forego the tournament in order to investigate.
“Declare yourself!” an unseen voice asks with calm certainty.
Sir Morcant stops his party and raises his arms from the reins of his horse to shoulder’s height. “I am Sir Morcant of Camlon.”
“We have no quarrel with you, then.” A young man about Sir Morcant’s age, possibly a little older, steps from the forest growth with weapon sheathed. Two others reveal themselves with swords likewise at rest. The young man performs a courteous short bow. “Prince James of Gathyra.”
Sir Morcant dismounts, and his knights follow his lead. “What business do you have on Camlon’s border?”
“Our business is with satyr and stone. It is time their terror returned to them and devastation find them.”
Between Gathyra and Camlon lies the vast kingdom of the satyr, a creature of shadow resembling a black goat with horns and hooves. There the resemblance ends, for the satyr’s fur is thick and their manners vicious. Camlon holds them to the border, but none dare make war with them.
“Sir Morcant, that is a wizard’s mark!”
Sir Morcant and his knights at once draw their swords, but Prince James and his party make no move to counter. Sir Morcant speaks first. “You must know magic is outlawed within Camlon’s borders.”
“So I’ve heard,” James replies calmly. “Your king makes no distinction between dark mages and the untainted. Even so, as I said before, Gathyra has no quarrel with Camlon unless Camlon creates one.”
“How could you not? We have killed many of your kind.” Sir Morcant makes no move to advance or lower his sword, though some of his knights are noticeably hostile. Some of them have lost good friends to dark mages.
With a steady gaze, James replies, “First, wizards are no more or less human than anyone else, so I have no ‘kind’. Second, it is a documented fact that most mages killed by your previous king practiced some form of dark magic, which is just as illegal in our country as it is in yours. Third, I am standing on satyr territory. Since Gathyra is engaged in long-standing war with the satyr,” James pauses and shifts, causing the knights to tighten their grip on their swords. He continues, “anywhere a prince stands in enemy territory is considered Gathyran land. The choice is yours.”
Sir Morcant considers this a moment; then sheathes his sword, prompting his knights to do the same however reluctantly. Seeing this, James says, “I am here to give you a warning. The kingdom of the satyr is emptying. They are fleeing in every direction, and a group ten thousand strong will arrive at Camlon’s capital by third day’s end.”
Sir Morcant’s eyes widen. “During the tournament’s final honors.”
“One of us is in Camlon’s capital. He will be able to give some warning.”
Sir Morcant mounts his grey steed and his knights do the same. Before he gives the order to ride, Sir Morcant pauses. “May their terror return to them.”
James smiles and returns the phrase. “And devastation find them. We are engaged on our own borders; however, I shall rally some riders and meet you at fourth day.”
Sir Morcant nods in appreciation and rides as fast as horse will run, wondering how his unofficial temporary agreement with Gathyra will find them. Then the silhouette of a dragon in flight covers the sun, and is gone.
“What good will a few riders do, even if they are wizards? It didn’t sound like he had any sort of numbers to spare,” a knight says to the wind as they ride.
Half to himself, Sir Morcant responds, “A few may be all they need.”