The Tale of Ander Collins: Chapter Twenty Four

Fiction By LoriAnn // 12/1/2009


Ander couldn’t move. He stared at Ravin in expectation, willing the man to open his eyes and smile at them all. Surely it was all a joke! Or perhaps he was simply unconscious—they should get a doctor.
Thraluic laid two fingers on Ravin’s neck, and held them there for a long moment. Shaking his head in speechless sorrow, he drew back his hand.
“He’s dead.”
Dorlan’s voice was tight and flat with grief.
At those words, all of Ander’s pride melted, and all of his denial vanished like mist on a breeze. He turned to Thraluic, and the dragon-man gathered him into his arms. Great, racking sobs shook Ander’s body, but the dragon held him tightly, the way Percival Collins never had, the way Uncle Ravin never would.
Ander felt Shyllen embrace him from behind, but the kind gesture only seemed to loose more tears. All of the fear and anger and disappointment; all the long days and nights of sleeping rough on wet islands with little to eat; all of the worry and frustration poured from Ander in an unmitigated flood. And through it all, Thraluic merely held him, hot tears of his own rolling down his weathered face.
Finally, the flood slowed to a trickle; until even that dried up into a simple, hollow numbness. Ander pulled away from Thraluic and wiped his face on his shirtsleeve, unable to meet the dragon’s golden eyes.
Behind him, Ander heard a small, rustling sound. He turned to look, and saw Dorlan, Hermann Tam, and the other Feielve man moving Ravin’s body onto a light pallet. All three had grief-stricken faces and Ander suspected that tears blurred their vision—though they were men, and would not let it show.
A wave of guilt smothered Ander as he stood. If he had never come, Ravin would still be alive. That cursed Vial! Celzara would never be satisfied until it was in her possession, no matter how many people she had to kill to get it. No one was safe from her wrath—not Thraluic, now vulnerable in his human form; not Shyllen, despite her strengths; not even Jagsod would be spared if they met up with the evil Wood Queen again.
Just then, Dorlan looked over and caught Ander’s eye. He finished crossing his father’s arms across his still chest, and straightened. Stepping around the pallet, he clapped Hermann on the shoulder and spoke to him soberly. Hermann nodded, then he and the other Feielve man hefted Ravin’s pallet onto their shoulders and carried it toward the warehouse. Dorlan waited until he was sure they needed no help, then turned and walked toward Ander.
Shyllen took Ander’s hand. “Do you want us to stay?” she asked softly.
“No,” Ander shook his head. “Go back and wait with Aunt Maire.” Shyllen gave his fingers a squeeze and left, Jagsod trailing in her wake.
Ander straightened his shoulders as Dorlan approached. “Sir,” he said, giving a stiff bow. “I’m sorry—this is all my fault. I should have—“
Dorlan grabbed his shoulders roughly. “Stop it, Ander,” he ordered, his voice raspy with unshed emotion. “Nothing can be laid at your feet. No man knows when it is his time to leave this life, but my father knew the risks, and he was prepared.”
Ander shook his head, unwilling to look his cousin in the face.
Dorlan released him and sighed. “We need to get back home,” he said, resignation in his voice. “Mother will be worried.”
Ander slept in a real bed that night, for the first time since he had left the castle—except for the one night in Mor. Surprisingly, he actually slept; hard and deep. No dreams troubled him, no restlessness kept him awake. He slept the sleep of the exhausted, and woke unexpectedly refreshed.
He lay there in the soft bed for a few moments, his brain unable to recall exactly why he was lying in such a comfortable bed in a morning-lit room. Then he shifted, and a bruise on his hip from where he landed during the fight with the giant throbbed.
Memories of the last two days flooded Ander’s mind, and his stomach clenched.
Ravin was dead.
What were they going to do? Ravin had been their only hope—the only one that could thrust Celzara from her stolen throne. Without Ravin carrying the Vial to prove his right, they had no chance of success. Ander thought of the families living under her cruel fist, and felt sick. He had failed.
Morosely, he climbed from the bed—as much to distract himself as anything else—and slowly washed his face in the washbasin against the wall. The grit and grime of the previous day sluiced away, leaving his scrubbed reflection to stare blankly from the mirror that hung above the washstand. He turned from the glass to see a suit of clothes laid out over a chair, obviously intended for him to wear. Looking down at his present clothing, Ander marveled that the outfit had lasted as long as it had. His tunic was still the same one he had worn that fateful morning when he had met Princess Reina, patched and worn thin in his travels.
The suit draped over the chair, on the other hand, was well-made and sturdy. Nut-colored breeches that laced tight around his shins went over a fresh pair of creamy stockings; and the tunic was olive green material that felt thick and warm on Ander’s chilled skin. He discarded his old cloths in a waste basket beside the door, feeling somehow comforted to shed all the rips and tears of his recent adventures.
Opening the door, he stepped out into the hall, where all was still and quiet. He glanced at a tall clock nearby. It was nearly midmorning—where was everyone?
The bedchamber he had slept in was on the second floor of Ravin’s well-appointed home—though Ander flinched to think that it no longer belonged to his uncle. He softly padded down the carpeted staircase that led into the entrance hall downstairs. He heard voices coming from the dining room, and peeked in the door.
Dorlan was sitting at the long table and saw him. “Come in, cousin,” he said. His lips turned up in a smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes, which were dark with sorrow.
Ander shyly stepped into the room, where everyone else was already working on their breakfast. Sinking into a seat beside Jagsod, he reached for a sweet roll and cast a glance around, gauging the mood from his companion’s expressions.
Sadness and disappointment lined every face, and no one said anything for a moment.
“We were just talking about the funeral,” Dorlan said after a moment, methodically cutting open a biscuit, his eyes fixed on the butter knife as though it were the most vital thing in the world. “Dad never spoke of his wishes in the matter, but Mother and I think that the best thing to do would be to bury him in the cemetery at the top of Mount Scyth. It’s a peaceful place with lots of trees, and a view of the sea.”
Ander wasn’t sure how to respond, so he simply nodded. His eyes met Shyllen’s across the table, and she gave him a concerned look. Are you all right? Her gaze asked.
He nodded slightly, and shrugged. As well as could be expected, he supposed.
Dorlan looked up, and put down his biscuit. Placing his hand over his mother’s, who sat on his right, he cleared his throat.
“I was waiting for everyone to get here,” he began. “I have something I want to tell all of you.”
Maire interjected, “And just so you know, he made this decision with my blessing. He came to me last night, and we talked it over for a good long time.”
Nodding, Dorlan looked around at the seated group. Thraluic, pale and drawn, but sitting tall; Jagsod, trying to look polite as he worked his way through an enormous pile of scrambled eggs and toast; Shyllen, who had already finished eating and was actually wearing a dress for once; and Ander.
The young man cleared his throat again. “I’ve decided…to go home with you. If you’ll have me,” he added quickly.
Ander started. Dorlan? He would take on Celzara?
As though in answer to Ander’s thoughts, Dorlan shrugged. “I’m the rightful king now—strange as that seems to me. I have a duty to fulfill, since Dad couldn’t do it. If you’ll have me, I’ll go with you and do my best to overthrow Aunt Celzara.”
A feeling like a million buzzing bees filled Ander’s chest, and he nearly leaped from his seat with excitement. How had he not thought of this himself? Of course Dorlan would defeat the Wood Queen—he was the rightful heir now.
If the Vail accepted him.
“There is one thing,” Ander said slowly, the buzzing subsiding. “We have to make sure that—“he hesitated. “No offense?”
Dorlan cocked his head. “None taken, I don’t think. What do we have to make sure?”
“We have to make sure you really are the rightful king. It would be awful to get there and—“
“And discover that someone else is more fit for the part,” Thraluic interrupted. “Go fetch the Vial, Ander.”
 Stuffing the last bite of roll into his mouth, Ander stood back up. “It’s in the lockbox on Uncle Ravin’s desk,” he said to Dorlan. “Do you have the key?”
His cousin reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small ring of keys. Ander recognized it as the one that Ravin had been carrying last night.
“Here,” Dorlan said, holding the ring out to Ander. “It should be the small gold one.”
Ander hurried out of the dining room and down the hall to Ravin’s office. He stopped at the door, wistfully remembering how—just the day before—he had stood there and gathered his courage before meeting his uncle.
He opened the door and stepped into the dark study.
Memories, like morose ghosts, washed over him. He hadn’t known his uncle long—not even an entire day, after all. But he felt so lost without him, as though the seemingly firm ground under his feet had been suddenly yanked away, and now he had only a tenuous grip that kept him from plummeting into the abyss.
Shaking the gloomy thoughts from him like a dog shakes off water, Ander entered the study and approached the massive desk. In the dim light that shone in from a wall-lamp in the hall, it seemed like an enormous beast, patiently waiting for the return of its master.
Ander slid his hand across the polished wood, and grasped the small lockbox, turning it to see the keyhole in the light. The box was about three hand-breadths square, with simple mother-of-pearl embellishments set into the wooden sides. He inserted Ravin’s small key, and it turned easily in the lock, as though it had been recently oiled. Gingerly, he opened the lid.
His fingers met the wrapped bundle that he knew to be the Vial immediately. There were also several pieces of paper, receipts from recent transactions and such. Ander lifted out the Vial and was about to close the box when a sheen of metal caught his eye. Curious, and glancing once at the door to make sure he was unobserved, he picked it up.
It was a small, oval frame—very similar to the one that held Ravin’s picture back in Thraluic’s cave. Ander squinted at the picture, and made out the forms of two people; a man holding an instrument of some kind—Ander thought it might be a lute—and a woman with the same black hair as Ravin. An unexpected flutter of excitement made Ander’s fingers tremble a bit, but he firmly quelled the feeling and closed the lockbox. He kept the picture out, and carried it gently in his left hand as he reentered the dining room.
“Here,” he said, giving the Vial to Thraluic. The dragon gravely took the object, and cocked a black brow at Ander.
“What else have you got there, lad?”
Ander held up the picture, showing it to Dorlan and Aunt Maire. “This was in Uncle Ravin’s lockbox,” he said. “Do you—“ his voice cracked, and he cleared his throat. “Do you know who these people are?”
Maire took the picture and studied it. “Yes. And the reason that it was in Ravin’s lockbox was so he could give it to you the next time you came—it’s been in a crate in the attic for years.”
Ander nodded in satisfaction and gladness. “They’re my parents, aren’t they?”
Maire smiled at him and handed back the miniature. “Indeed. Ravin was your mother’s favorite relative, and he had these pictures made of all of them. You can’t tell in this of course,” she added, pointing to the picture clutched in Ander’s hand “But your mother was pregnant when the artist created it. It was only a few months before you were born.”
 Ander caressed the smooth frame gently for a moment before slipping it into his pocket. Surprisingly, the picture didn’t make him feel sad or disappointed—or even trigger the familiar resentment he had always felt toward his parents. He decided to puzzle his emotions out later, though, and turned his attention back to the others.
Thraluic nodded at him, and unwrapped the packaging around the Vial gingerly.
The slender, glass object glowed gently in the morning light, and a faint green smell seemed to float past Ander’s nose. He gazed into the depths of the strange, foggy substance that swirled in emerald coils within the translucent glass.
Dorlan sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly through his teeth.
“That’s the…the Vial of Right?” he asked in a reverential tone.
Thraluic nodded, pinching the rose-shaped stopper between two layers of cloth, and carefully avoiding actual contact with the artifact.
“This is the Vial,” he said, his voice stronger and deeper than it had been since he had shifted. Ander met Shyllen’s gaze across the table—both she and Jagsod looked solemn and awed.
“It was created by your grandmother, Queen Alathia,” Thraluic continued “And it has the power to determine the heart of a man—or woman—and judge whether or not they are fit to take on the responsibilities of royalty. How exactly this works, I don’t know. Queen Alathia was much wiser than I and doubtless this is the very height of her brilliance. However, I do know that this is the test you must pass.”
He stood; and a draconic sheen came into his golden eyes. “Dorlan Torr.”
Ander’s cousin also stood, suddenly looking very unsure—and yet fearless, as well—and answered “Yes?”
Thraluic held out the Vial. “Let us see what you are made of!”


AGGGH!  If it were me, I

AGGGH!  If it were me, I would make it so he wasn't really the rightful ruler.  But you're not me, and I have no idea what you're gonna do, and it's killing me!  In a literary sense, that is. ;-)

Bridget | Fri, 12/04/2009

"I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question." - Harun Yahya

  Oh, you're driving me nuts!


Oh, you're driving me nuts! There's only two options you can go with here--Dorlan or Ander--but I have no idea which one you'd pick! Actuall, come to think of it, you probably have this hidden third option that you'll pull out unexpectedly. Knowing you. :0)

Good chapter!

Heather | Sat, 12/05/2009

And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

And the heir is...

Ander! Ander! Ander!

I want the heir to be Ander!

Julie | Sun, 12/06/2009

Formerly Kestrel

 Oh goodness, LoriAnn, I'm

 Oh goodness, LoriAnn, I'm dying out here!  Honestly, I really can't say whether I want Ander to be the heir or not... I mean, yeah I do, but at the same time is that really the life I want to see him in - or do you really have some hidden third option up your sleeve?

Well anyway, I'm glad you and Ander made up, after you killing him and all.  Please hurry with the next chapter!!!!!

Mary | Mon, 12/07/2009

Brother: Your character should drive a motorcycle.
Me: He can't. He's in the wilderness.
Brother: Then make it a four-wheel-drive motorcycle!


You weren't supposed to tell people that I killed Ander!

LOL--don't worry, it was only in a fit of rage. LOL

I'll post more soon.

LoriAnn | Tue, 12/08/2009

dun, dun, dun, da, dun

*sign of displeasure* Do you sit in bed at night and chuckle at all the people who are sitting in their beds and pulling out their hair while reading about Ander? I'm on pins and needles...literally. Ouch! Never get on the internet when you're supposed to be working on a sewing project...your pins will find you out! :P

Ariel | Thu, 12/10/2009

"To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it." -- Herman Melville

Oh wow LoriAnn. When you had

Oh wow LoriAnn. When you had Ander go into the study I was hanging onto every word. I thought he was going to open the door and the Vial was gone! THankfully no. But now yet another cliffhanger! Arg. *glowers* post, post, post.

Kay J Fields | Thu, 12/10/2009

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