By Alicia Steen
Certan considers the words spoken carefully. That night, as the celebration wanes, he makes his way to old Galen’s quarters. Galen had served his family as the castle physician since before his father’s time. There are none more loyal to the king than he. Certan finds Galen, assisted by Mernan, busy preparing several draughts of his foul hangover brew.
“Galen, what really happened the night my father died?”
Galen straightens, then began clearing the simple wood table. “Assassins attacked him. He thwarted them, but was mortally wounded. Before he passed he made the 13-year-old Dnovan and knight and awarded Dnovan’s father, __ Laine, the lordship if the western forest.”
“I know that much. What else happened?”
Galen nods. “You want the truth, then.” He sits next to the now-clear table, motioning Certan to the chair across from him. “You had better sit. It’s a bit of a long story.
“As you know, back then the western forest was a wild land. Dark mages and bandits of every sort lurked in the woods, and they in turn attracted darker things. In that year King Uthyr ordered a purge of the entire region. He himself led the knights of Camlon, and they razed the forest. Hacking, slaying, burning; scarcely anything was left in their wake, good or evil.”
“But it was necessary to drive evil from Camlon,” Certan interrupts.
Galen gives Certan an impatient look. “Here, have some bread.” As Certan takes bread from the plate Galen sets before him, Galen continues. “Scarcely anything was left behind them, good or evil. Now in the same forest lived a man and his family, a forester by trade by the name of Gildas Laine. A loyal citizen of Camlon and handy with a sword, Gildas kept the main road safe for travelers though none had charged him to do so. None knew the forest as well as he, so the king asked him to be his guide and scout, to which Gildas readily agreed.”
Certan opens his mouth to speak, but Galen raises a hand. “I’m getting to that. Have more bread.
“Now, Gildas had many sons, for his wife had born him twins and more besides. But what none but the family knew was he also had one daughter, the twin of his eldest son Dnovan.”
“Lady Delia,” Certan confirms.
“Yes, though she was not a lady yet. If you wish to tell the tale yourself, do not let me stop you.”
“Forgive me. Please, continue.”
Galen looks at Certan warily and pushes the plate of bread closer. “Gildas had one daughter, Delia Laine. He had good reason to conceal her existence, for it was known to many that every Laine daughter was born strong in magic. If any realized her existence, not only the king but every dark mage would have pursued her.
“In that year it became increasingly difficult to hide her presence, for as Delia turned thirteen her magic manifested as the wind. Not seen but most certainly felt, rumors grew of a powerful witch in the wood.”
“Rumors that reached my father,” Certan interjects.
Galen nods. “More bread,” Galen urges. “The king immediately went on a hunt for this witch, concluding that she must be the cause of all the evil in the forest. Gildas tried to protect his daughter, sending the king to a stronghold of dark mages while he charged his son Dnovan with taking Delia in the opposite direction. If she could reach the party of undefiled mages who were leaving Camlon, she would be safe.
“But all plans went awry that day. The dark mages gathered in force and ambushed the king. In the confusion, all were scattered. And three who were not to meet gathered in close proximity.” Galen places more bread in front of Certan. “The dark mages divided their forces to search for the king, who was as they supposed alone and on foot. Not only that, but King Uthyr wandered very near to Delia. She too was alone, as a beast had separated her from Dnovan.”
“Where is the forester Laine?” Certan asks. “Wouldn’t he have headed straight for his daughter?”
“He may have, but Gildas was trapped with many knights in a ravine. The dark mages found the king first. Your father was a valiant man, but these were long odds for any knight. Fortunately for him, help arrived from the most unlikely of persons. Delia used her magic to blow leaves in the faces of the mages, interrupting their incantations long enough for King Uthyr to slay them all.
“Uthyr’s actions in the next moment are a mystery even to the wise. He looked up to see a young girl high up on a tree branch, staring at him. With no fear, no hatred in her eyes, only innocent curiosity, she stared at him. And he stopped and sheathed his sword.
‘You’re the king, right?’ the girl Delia asked.
‘That’s right,’ the king replied. ‘It is dangerous out here for a girl alone.’
“Delia jumped down, landing lightly on her feet in spite of the height, and answered, ‘This is my father’s forest. It holds no fears for me, day or night.’”
Certan looks surprised. “She might as well have said her father is Gildas Laine. My father knew the forester had tried to mislead him?”
“Yes, Certan, he knew. Shall I continue?”
“The king offered to escort the girl to her destination, and Delia accepted. Believe me, I was just as dumbfounded as you are when I discovered them walking hand in hand with Delia in the lead. I knew right away she was a mage, and Uthyr told me as much when I caught up to them. Delia was heading for a group of undefiled mages, and the king was seeing her safely there.
“I joined them, and presently we came alongside a cliff. It was there the bandits found us. There were ten of them, at least, and only the king to fight them. The bandits did not recognize the king, and made it clear their only target was the girl. ‘The king will pay a handsome bounty if we bring her to him,’ they said. The king hesitated, but Delia only looked up at him with silent, innocent eyes. Then Uthyr pushed her off the cliff, and shouted for Delia to run.
“Delia landed as neatly as you please, and at the king’s second shout proceeded to run, though the flash in her eyes when she fell said running was not her first choice. The king fought his best fight, but these bandits were no weaklings. When Dnovan arrived with two knights, the king had already sustained a mortal blow. With his last breaths your father knighted Dnovan for bravery, and made Gildas lord of the western forest for explementary service.”
“And that, sire, is the full story. On my life, I swear that every word is the truth.”
Certan leans back, trying to comprehend the many things revealed in Galen’s tale. “My father should have slain Delia on the spot, and had Gildas hung for treason.”
“By the letter of the law, that is true,” Galen agrees. “But even a king can be wrong.” Galen stands up, as does Certan.
“Thank you, Galen. I will consider what you have said,” Certan says, then leaves.
Mernan asks, “What was with all the bread? You kept urging to eat it.”
Galen replies, “Haven’t you heard the saying ‘give a king something to eat, and he will hear what you when you speak.’”
Mernan and Galen laugh.