Starscape

By Benita J. Prins

Fantasy

Paperback, eBook

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1252
6 mins

Prologue

A legend that tells of a star… more beautiful than any other… even before the sun… thousands of years ago… wiser than the wisest of men… a song of unearthly beauty…
Royaleisia.
The star disappeared from the heavens, but if you go to the Northern Mountains, you can hear its song, still echoing from peak to lofty peak. The keenest-eyed people have claimed to have seen her, standing in the clear, moonlit night air, her arms stretched to the sky.
They have claimed that it is Royaleisia herself, and that she will in time come to avert the danger which will threaten Militer. They say that when the peril is at last passed away, there will come a song.
A song that is great and clear, heartrending and pure, so lovely that men would die for it.
The story may not be true – it may be some evil scheming of Jalavak’s, but people go to the Northern Mountains and see it, as I have told you.
The meaning of Royaleisia – the Strong.

Chapter One

It was just dawn. The early morning sun shone brightly on the Malarn Lake. The rays pierced the shadows in every hollow of the surrounding meadows. A few clouds swam lazily through the deep blue sky.
Ringard looked up at the sun. It did not hurt his eyes – no light was too bright for the eyes of the Startern people. Ringard was a Startern; but though his home was in Staran with King Kanethon and his kin, he and his brother Pluriel had lived here in Fortaer for some years. Ringard was tall and slender, with dark eyes and hair that was blacker than black: the typical Startern colouring.
Now as he looked a cloud passed over the sun, a grey cloud, dark grey. He shivered slightly. A few light drops of rain fell. With a worried look in his face he turned and entered the city.

*****

Serpent’s Road was a distasteful area of the city of Malarn, where pickpockets prowled the bustling marketplace and foreigners jabbered in strange tongues. Still, the Silver Spear Inn was well-kept and a pleasant enough place to eat dinner of an evening.
Ringard rang the bell on the counter, then turned around and surveyed the common room as he waited for Galdore to come. Most of the patrons of the Silver Spear were townsfolk, but today there were a few Gausher, from the land of Gaush across the mountains.
“What can we get for you today?”
Galdore, the twenty-three-year-old innkeeper, had taken over the running of the inn when his father had died a year ago. He was a generally gentle-spoken young man in keeping with his shoulder-length gold hair and dark blue eyes, but no one had tried to cheat him since a seedy stranger had attempted to do so five months earlier. Galdore had beaten the Gausher soundly; the vanquished thief had slunk off to one of the poorer taverns of Malarn.
“The usual, please, Galdore,” Ringard replied.
“That would be baked chicken with a mug of ale? If you’ll find yourself a seat, I’ll send Tristal round directly.”
“Samach ne,” Ringard thanked Galdore as he made for an empty table in the far corner of the room.
As he waited for his food, Ringard listened to the rumours circulating the room. One working-class fellow was telling his friend about strange shadows he’d seen, in the town square on his way home the previous night. Apparently these shadows had moved about the square with nothing to cast them. Another troublemaker informed anyone who would listen that the governor of the city of Forran, King Leftar’s nephew Eparne, was conspiring to overthrow his uncle. Some of the ideas put forth were so ridiculous that Ringard was hard put not to laugh aloud.
A few minutes passed before Tristal arrived. He was Galdore’s brother, two years younger, but could have been his twin as far as looks went. Tristal was carrying a platter loaded with fragrant chicken, potatoes, and beans, plus a quart of ale. Ringard dropped two copper pennies into the young man’s hand.
“It smells delicious, as usual.”
As Ringard ate his dinner, a cloaked figure slid into the seat across from him.
“Pluriel! There you are at last. I was beginning to wonder what had happened to you.”
“Sorry I’m late, but I came as soon as I could. I overheard something as I came through the market after speaking with King Leftar. I believe it could be important.”
Ringard swallowed his mouthful. “Go ahead, tell me.”
“I expect you don’t remember the prophecy of the Great Seer of Old regarding the Sword of the Star?”
Ringard shook his head.
“When the Star falls from the sky, the Sword of the Star shall be restored,” Pluriel half-chanted. His brother looked up.
“You remember the old tale, about the theft of the Sword of the Star from the Golden Palace – how the minions of Jalavak broke in by night and took the ancient sword, secreting it in Duskmoor Keep.”
“Yes, I recall that,” Ringard said. “But what can the first part of the prophecy mean? ‘When the Star falls from the sky.’ It makes no sense. To which star does it refer? And how is it possible for a star to fall from the sky?”
“Royaleisia,” muttered Pluriel, looking around to make sure no one was near enough to hear what he said. The room was beginning to empty out, however, and they enjoyed a little more privacy.
Ringard paused for a moment before replying. Then he nodded slowly. “I see what you mean. You believe the legends and peasants’ tales?”
“Yes, I do.” Pluriel shoved his chair back and stood up, looking down at his brother. “I am going to the Nevarra Swamp to make an attempt at recovering the Sword. You know it’s the only weapon with which Jalavak can be defeated. Well, if we can get it back, then we have a chance of finally ending his reign over the South, and of preventing that reign from extending northwards. Will you come with me, brother?”
“Of course I’ll come with you!” Ringard exclaimed. “Do you think I’d let you face the dragon-keeper alone?”
Pluriel laughed. “I don’t know that it’s actually a dragon that guards the Sword, but I’ll be glad of your company in any event.”
As Pluriel reseated himself, two mugs of ale slid scraping across the table and the other two chairs scraped back.
“How is your meal?” asked Galdore. “I trust you are not disappointed?”
Ringard shook his head. “It is very good, just as I expected.”
“I’m glad,” Galdore replied. “Tristal here says I may be able to help you out with more than just your supper, though.”
“What do you mean?” said Pluriel, looking suspiciously from Galdore to Tristal. “In what would we need help?”
Galdore smiled. “No fear, we’re friends of yours and foes of Jalavak’s. My brother was telling me that you two were discussing the possibility of recovering the Sword of the Star.”
“What is it to you?” questioned Pluriel.
“Nothing too personal. It is simply that we wish to serve our King and help to end the tyranny of Jalavak in any way that we can. If you intend to go to Nevarra, we will go with you if you permit it.”
Ringard looked to Pluriel. “I would agree with the proposal, but this is your idea and I defer to you.”
Pluriel turned a discerning stare on Galdore and Tristal. “What’s your purpose in wanting to join us?”
Tristal shrugged. “Nothing more than what Galdore has told you.”
Settling back against the wall, Pluriel sat in silence for some time, his eyes closed. Finally he opened them and grinned. “I suppose it’s all right. But,” he continued, his smile disappearing, “you understand that it’s terribly dangerous. We may not return.”
The resolution on the faces of the other two men did not waver. “We are coming with you no matter what, unless you refuse your permission,” Tristal said stoutly.
Pluriel smiled again. “I’ll speak with the King tomorrow. Any such expedition would have to be undertaken with his prior approval.”

*****

“It’s an interesting idea,” said the King, staring out the window of his reception room, “but I’m not at all convinced it’s a good one.”
“What are your objections to it, my lord?”
“First, it’s based on conjecture. You are only assuming that this prophecy may be about to come true. And I hardly like to risk my whole army on a conjecture. Besides, the whole thing would be extremely risky. If the legends speak true, then the keeper of the Sword is a dragon, old and wily. That is assuming,” he continued, turning around, “that you could reach Nevarra Swamp safely in the first place.”
“Oh, I’m quite sure that we could reach the swamp quite easily. The main problem would be getting into Duskmoor Keep, and then finding the Sword, of course.” Pluriel seemed about to go on, but King Leftar had turned back to the window and was no longer paying much attention.
A long and uncomfortable silence ensued, during which Pluriel stood awkwardly staring at the King’s back. Finally the monarch looked round again and spoke one word.
“No.”
Pluriel started. He hadn’t been expecting Leftar to speak just then, and the terse dismissal of his request startled him further.
“No?” he questioned stupidly.
“No,” repeated the King. “It’s too dangerous. You and your brother are too helpful to me here for me to let you go on a suicide journey. I would be insane to do so.”
He made a curt gesture with his hand, signalling that the audience was over. Pluriel opened his mouth one more time, but closed it with a sigh before any words came out. He backed out of the chamber, then strode down the hall, his angry footsteps fading away.

*****

“And you said yes, of course?”
King Leftar’s nephew stood before his uncle. There was a slight gleam in Eparne’s eye, which the King did not notice.
“I said no,” the King stated tersely, sipping from his goblet of wine.
“Why’s that?” queried Eparne, pouring himself some wine uninvited.
Leftar snorted. “Perhaps because Ringard and Pluriel happen to be extremely useful, and two of my best advisers?” he suggested sarcastically.
“Yeees…” drawled Eparne, drawing out the word. “But, you know, if they could get the Sword for you, you would possess the immediate advantage over Jalavak. An advantage, forgive me, which I think you badly need.”
Leftar looked up and thought for a moment. “I could send someone to the Swamp, I suppose,” he said hesitantly. “Perhaps –”
“You can’t send just anyone, uncle,” Eparne cut in. “It has to be someone you can trust. If I were you, I would choose the Frosindalion. Ringard and Pluriel are your best chance.”
The King hesitated for a time, reluctant to make a decision. Then he shook his head.
Eparne looked disappointed, but continued to make his case. “They could make the trip in three months or less,” he pushed.
“They could also be killed in the doing of it,” Leftar pointed out.
“Oh, it’s a slight possibility, but very unlikely, you know. Pluriel is one of Fortaer’s foremost swordsmen, and Ringard is not far behind in prowess. I think it would be quite safe if they were to find a few friends to go with them.”
He stared at the King. The latter thought carefully for some time, weighing in his mind all possible outcomes of his decision either way. Finally, he nodded.
“Summon Pluriel back here.”



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