The Tale of Ander Collins--Chapter Thirty Two
Celzara’s power had been broken. No longer was she a force to be feared, or an enemy to be faced—now, she was just a cranky old woman confined to a sparsely furnished, windowless bedchamber with guards posted around the clock.
“She’ll have a fair trial,” Dorlan had said. “Much good it will do her. Still, she’s a woman—not to mention family. It wouldn’t be right to just kill her in cold blood.”
Jagsod, bandaged from neck to waist and with his sword arm in a sling, grunted. “She wouldn’t have shown you any such mercy, if the tables were turned.”
The king nodded, his face grave and wistful. “Which is exactly why I will show her mercy—or at least justice. I will never be like her.”
And that was the end of the matter, at least for the moment. Celzara would face Dorlan for her trial in a few weeks, to be judged for her crimes. Until then, there was still much to do.
The window that Shyllen and Ander had crashed through was boarded up, and there was talk of replacing it with a new stained-class picture depicting a purple dragon and a boy diving headlong into the room—but that would be a while in coming.
The rebel army dispersed, returning to their homes—those that had them—and rebuilding their lives. Dorlan set about weeding out the remaining traitors from his troops, while Maire oversaw the cleanup throughout Anamere. Thraluic had returned to his cave, but with a platoon of soldiers to salvage as much as possible from the wreckage. The dragon had offered to give Dorlan a loan from his horde to assist in the reconstruction—Celzara had destroyed so many homes that it would take years to rebuild them all. Dorlan gratefully accepted.
Jagsod was confined to the infirmary until his wounds healed—though he managed to escape long enough to attend a couple of the restoration councils.
Meanwhile, Ander wandered aimlessly. He felt in the way and ill at ease amidst the busy hustle of the castle. Shyllen was gone, he wasn’t sure where to; and everyone else was too busy to be bothered. He tried keeping Jagsod company in the infirmary, but the nurse shooed him out because their noise was disturbing the other injured soldiers. The cleanup crews didn’t seem to have anything for him to do, and he hated to pester anyone…
“Maybe I should just go home,” he muttered to himself one morning as he skulked in the library. His stomach twisted at the thought—this was supposed to be home now. How could he go back to Kelner, back to being a kitchen boy after all he had seen and done? On the other hand, he couldn’t stay.
He didn’t belong here: not a rough-mannered waif like him.
Trailing a hand idly over a dusty bookshelf, Ander scanned the titles in hopes of finding something to distract himself.
Treatises on the Errors of the Great Mountain Griffon War…The Prophecies of Merle the Muddled…Treasures of the Denwold: the Grand Clearing and other Places of Interest… None of it looked very interesting.
He turned quickly, relieved. “Shyllen! Where have you been?”
She grimaced, walking down the aisle between the shelves. “Had to go tell my parents that I’m home. They were getting worried.”
Another pang of self-pity flared in Ander. At least she had parents to be worried…He tossed aside the thought. He had Dorlan and Thraluic and Mandy and Shyllen and Jagsod. What more was there?
“What are you looking at?” Shyllen pulled the nearest book off the shelf. “Techniques of Montriserian Lace-Making: An Introduction? Please tell me you’re not that bored.”
He grinned and took the book from her, replacing it on the shelf. “Not yet, but I was getting close.”
“Poor Ander,” Shyllen teased. “No more battles, excruciating journeys, evil witches to defeat or assassins to run from. Whatever will you do with yourself?”
“Ha, ha, very funny.” Ander pushed past her and spun back, crouching into a combat position. “I don’t suppose you’re up for a little sparring? I’m about to explode.”
“What, and you think a good drubbing will help?” Purple sparks danced in the dragoness’ eyes’ but she shifted slightly into a ready pose as well.
“Maybe.” Ander straightened. “Let me run up to my room—I need my sword. Meet me in the garden in ten minutes?”
It was a relief for Ander to settle back into the familiar forms of sparring: thrust, parry, dodge, half-turn, swing, thrust again...He had improved since they had last scrapped, and the experience of actually fighting in life-or-death battles had honed his skills. Shyllen was still vastly superior, of course, but at least Ander could hold his own for longer periods.
They had just broken apart and were preparing to begin a third bout when a servant boy appeared on the edge of the grassy yard. Wiping sweat from his face, Ander turned.
“Can we help you?”
The boy bowed. “The king wishes to see you, Master Ander,” he said. Ander still wasn’t used to being referred to as “Master”, but as cousin to the king it seemed to be inevitable. He shrugged it off.
“Where?” he asked.
“In the War Room. He says to hurry.”
“Of course,” Ander grumbled, sheathing his sword with a loud clack. “Nothing to do for days, but as soon as I get good and messy, Dorlan wants me for something official.”
Shyllen, similarly disheveled, laughed. “If it’s any comfort, you don’t feel as bad as you look.”
He rolled his eyes. “Great. Thanks.”
Ander jogged back to the castle, reasoning that he wasn’t going to get any sweatier than he already was, so there was no point in going slowly. The dim interior of the stone castle was welcomingly cool after the spring warmth outside, and Ander tried to straighten his hair as he walked. It was a hopeless cause—ever since that disastrous haircut in Mor, his hair refused to obey any sort of command.
As he came to the door of the War Room, Ander gave up. He should have found a barber while he had been wandering aimlessly around the castle, but the thought hadn’t occurred to him. He’d do that as soon as Dorlan was done with whatever it was he wanted.
Dorlan’s voice echoed through the large, bare room, punctuated by the heavy boom of the door closing. Ander sketched a quick bow and moved closer to where his cousin stood behind a large, high table. He was bent over an enormous, yellowed map that had been stretched over the table, tracing his fingers over long-un-traveled routes and forgotten borders.
“Come here, cousin,” he ordered with a smile, cocking his finger. Ander stepped behind the table and stood next to the king.
“We seem to have a bit of a problem,” Dorlan said. “I think you might be able to help.” He pointed to a tiny castle sketched onto the thick paper of the map. The word “Kelner” had been written underneath in a spidery script.
“That’s where I came from,” Ander said, curious. “What about it?”
“We need to send out ambassadors to all the major kings and barons around the Denwold—Celzara cut us off from the outside world, but now that she’s gone, we’ll need to make new treaties and trade agreements and such. I was thinking,” and here Dorlan tapped the map, staring intently at Ander. It made Ander wish he had at least rinsed his face before coming in. “I was thinking that we might send you as our ambassador to Kelner.”
Ander put up his hands and backed away, shaking his head vigorously. “Oh, no,” he protested. “Yes, I was thinking about going back, but there is no way I’m going to go right to the king.”
Ander suddenly realized that his cousin hadn’t ever heard that part of the story. “Um,” he looked up at the ceiling, down at the floor—anywhere but at Dorlan. “I managed to get myself involved in a bit of scandal, right before I left…”
Dorlan crossed his arms over his chest and looked hard at Ander. “What do you mean?”
“It wasn’t my fault!” Ander protested. “How was I supposed to know that the princess wasn’t supposed to marry that bodyguard of hers?”
Dorlan blinked. “That was you?” he demanded.
“Why does everyone say that?” Ander grumbled, recalling Shyllen’s reaction back on Scyth. “I can’t decide if it’s an insult to my intelligence or a compliment to my character.”
Dorlan shook his head with a rueful smile. “Let’s just say that you should be glad Thraluic took you in.”
“Yeah. But see, I can’t go back there—King Juston probably wants my head!”
“I see…Well. I think that my second announcement might provide the answer to this dilemma.” Dorlan stepped back to a tall cabinet built into the wall behind him and produced a ring of keys. Selecting one, he inserted it into a lock on the cabinet door and turned.
“What do you mean?” Ander asked warily.
Dorlan pulled out the beautiful broadsword he had wielded during the fight with the Raiders on Scyth.
“I told you once that this sword, by tradition, belongs to the crown prince of the Feielves.”
Ander nodded, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
“Well, according to the paperwork I signed this morning…” Dorlan smiled and held out the blade.
“That would be you.”