Dragon Earl

By The Story Lover

Preface and dedication: This story may seem familiar to you and there are reasons for that. This story is inspired by “Memories” and “A New Day Dawns” as well as the true life story of our favorite nephews THP. I want to personally thank both ACFan and Gunrunner for allowing me to write this story which infringes upon their copyrighted material. I greatly appreciate them for doing this. This story is a Fantasy it will have Dragons and Elves and sundry other Fantasy Races. It is also being written as a tribute to Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey two of my favorite Fantasy Authors. This story is dedicated to August Christopher as a continuation of his legacy.

THIS STORY IS . DISTRIBUTION FOR COMMERCIAL GAIN, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, POSTING ON SITES OR NEWSGROUPS, DISTRIBUTION AS PARTS OR IN BOOK FORM (EITHER AS A WHOLE OR PART OF A COMPILATION) WITH OR WITHOUT A FEE, OR DISTRIBUTION ON CD, DVD, OR ANY OTHER ELECTRONIC MEDIA WITH OR WITHOUT A FEE, IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED WITHOUT THE AUTHOR'S WRITTEN CONSENT. YOU MAY DOWNLOAD ONE (1) COPY OF THIS STORY FOR PERSONAL USE; ANY AND ALL COMMERCIAL USE EXCEPTING EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS REQUIRES THE AUTHORS WRITTEN CONSENT. THE AUTHOR MAY BE CONTACTED AT: The Story Lover

 

Chapter Nine - The Story Begins Anew

This chapter is dedicated to Mikie for his love of 'Goos' and his love of life. No matter what life has thrown at Mikie he keeps on moving forward.

 

 

From Chapter Eight:

Before J'ame could answer that question there was a pounding on the door Thomaso had just closed. Before anyone could respond except J'ame who was already moving towards the door Dragoneer Jeffords flung open the door shouting.

"Sire, Sire you must come with me immediately to the Weyr we have a problem. Without hesitation, Rafe headed towards the door directly on the heels of Dragoneer Jeffords. Lance quickly moved to Joth's side while J'ame did the same to Just' both of them telling their charges to stay behind them. As they exited the door, the party was joined by the Ambassador and his guards and the King and Queen's Guards also. Just' never noticed when Ranulf and the Prince Consort's Guards joined them; Ranulf whispered a few words into J'ame's ears and then fell in place behind Just'.

Nana had decided to remain behind and keep an eye on Jonah but that changed when Private, now Corporal, Loki, dressed in the uniform of the Prince Consort's Guards stuck his head in the door and said,

"Prince Jonah, Captain Kyron said for you to come with me."

In Puritania preparations continued for their big Crossover Ceremony and Solstice Celebration all of the males had already gone through their purifications rituals. In addition, all of the women had been quarantined so they couldn't contaminate the proceedings. Their were raiding parties out trying to acquire food for the Celebratory Banquets after the Solemn Ceremony where their Avatar crossed over to this plane of existence. The males who had not yet passed their rite of manhood by siring new slaves on a captive female were determined to either bring back the largest Elk or a female with the most children.

The game hunters, although they had to range far and wide to find game animals, had a far easier time than those hunting replacement slaves. Those hunting slaves would have trouble getting their captives back in time for them to qualify to attend the Crossing Ceremony. All of the villages closest to the borders were well fortified and patrolled by troops armed to the teeth. Due to the constant raids by the Puritanians; most towns and villages had 'shoot on sight' orders in place for Puritanian Raiding Parties. Additionally most towns and villages within a days ride of the borders increased their vigilance around the Equinoxes and the Solstices as these were major days of religious Observation for the Puritanians. So pickings were going to be slim indeed; all the slave hunters could hope for was to find a family that was between their home and a village and had no or very few guards.

All of the unmarried fourteen to nineteen year old males who weren't members of the army or guards for the priesthood; either made themselves very scarce or made sure they were members of one of the hunting parties. Since all contact with females was forbidden the week prior to the Crossing Ceremony the priesthood in their infinite wisdom had decided that the priesthood, village elders and the Armies top officers could avail themselves of that age group to relieve their sexual urges. Although this was supposed to be an honor for those chosen, it was anything but that; it was rape pure and simple because it was still against all of their laws to show affection to another male not your child. The other problem was, once a male was marked that way they were reviled for years to come.

The priesthood became more and more exited every day as all of the omens and portents were pointing to their Avatar crossing successfully and therefore raising the Puritanians to their rightful position as overlords of their region of Draconis. Every time the planet rumbled or even twitched, the priesthood's excitement rose, the only major portent that hadn't occurred yet was their god signaling their Avatar's imminent arrival by the nearby mountain top issuing a plume of black smoke.


The activity at Dragonsholme was running at a fast pace trying to get a building the size of most towns up and running completely before the new Earl arrived. No one knew who the new Earl was or even when he was going to arrive. All anyone knew was that the hereditary Châtelaine had a vision and that was all there was to that. The word went out and everyone began performing the jobs that they had been trained to do for centuries but had never had a chance to do as yet.

Dragonsholme itself didn't need to be cleaned so much as restocked and all of the rooms aired out. There was something about the castle that stopped dust from collecting anywhere. That wouldn't stop the Housekeeping staff from using mops and cleaning rags on every surface they could reach and on the ones they couldn't they cajoled their menfolk into climbing ladders and using mops and rags on the ends of long poles designed for just such a purpose. When the crews finally finished the inside would gleam like a polished shield.

While the inside of Dragonsholme was being scrubbed and polished from top to bottom, similar things were occurring all over the Earldom. The Dragon Weyrs had brooms applied to them and all of their shutters were opened so they could be aired. There were people making sure all of the cisterns were filled and that all of the warm and hot springs were uncovered and cleaned up if needed. The miners went to work rebuilding the stocks of coal and anthracite that would be needed. The Blacksmith began converting some of the coal and anthracite to coke to properly fire his and the Armorers furnaces.

The loggers began bringing in the deadwood and cutting down a certain percentage of trees for firewood and any lumber that would be needed. For every tree that was cut down the loggers children planted three more of the same variety. For it seems that when The Earldom of Dragonsholme was created, someone had declared that the surrounding forest were never to be depleted and any trees used had to be replaced. And till this day that edict has stood and the Head Forester and his family have managed all of the surrounding forests as if they were their own.

In the stables, fresh hays and straw was brought in and feed from the town's granary was used to fill all of the feed bins throughout the large stables. All of the tack was replaced from the stores in the village where it had been handcrafted and maintained all along.

The villagers and all of the surrounding farms and towns were truly excited, as now, after hundreds of years of waiting they were finally going to have a Lord to serve and to Protect them. When the last Dragon Lord retired and gave the Earldom of Dragonsholme into the hands of the King of Erehwon for safe keeping; it was with the proviso that everyone who was working in or for Dragonsholme would continue in their same occupations until they chose to leave. Rafaelo's long dead kin had accepted the offer and issued a Royal Proclamation to that effect. All that was required of the folk who remained living in Dragonsholme was that they affirm their loyalty to the Kingdom of Erehwon and that they send half of their normal taxes to Erehwon instead of the Castle of Dragonsholme. All of the folks remaining were very excited about that provision as they now had more of their hard work to sell to keep them going until the next Earl of Dragonsholme arrived.

For the first several years after the Dragon Lords left, nothing much changed; everyone went about their work as usual and everything ran as smooth as it always had. Eventually the visits to the castle and the surrounding grounds dropped to once a month then once a quarter and then twice a year on the solstices. One of the strange things was that no one ever commented on the fact that there was never any dust inside the castle and that the forest never tried to reclaim what it had lost. Even the Castle Gardens remained weed free although no one until now planted vegetables or flowers in them. All the gardeners had to do was remove the top layer of mulch and then turn the ground over and plant their seedlings and seeds and the gardens would be working again shortly.

It was a tribute to the people of Dragonsholme that everyone dropped what they could and pitched into to bring the Earldom back to full life or as much as they could until the new Earl finally arrived.


Meanwhile back at the Joint Military Encampment, things were going surprisingly well; Colonel D'avid stepped into his new role as if he had been born into it. After conferring with Neal and General Dellus it was decided to give Neal a different kind of experience and Neal found himself in charge of the Elven Military Contingent. Neal was shocked when he held his first meeting with the Elves and was handed one of their Recurve Composite Bows that normally only Elves had the strength to pull. The Captain of Colonel David's Guard explained it to Neal this way.

"Captain, we don't normally ride horses in battle as we can run almost as fast on our own two feet so your riding prowess and swordsmanship isn't exactly going to inspire the troops."

However, Neal had an Ace up his sleeve. Since his grandmother was such great friends with several very influential Elves, he had been gifted on his twelfth birthday with a custom made and sized Elven Bow and with a lot of work, had become fairly proficient with it and casually took the offered bow and quickly, with very little effort, had the bow strung and ready to be used.

"Well Captain, shall we go see if I can use this?" Neal asked the Captain with just a hint of humour in his voice.

"Follow me;" replied the Captain as he led Neal to the Archery Ranges where butts had been set up at several distances. The Captain signaled to one of his men who quickly put up a target on the nearest butt which was only twenty five metres away. The Elves used man shaped targets instead of the customary Bulls Eye's as they were harder to hit as they presented a smaller target.

As Neal stepped up to the line, another Elf moved up to the line next to him and prepared to shoot at the target which had just been placed on the seventy five metre butt. Neal nodded politely to the Elf who just happened to be Colonel D'avid.

'This is going to be fun!' Neal thought to himself and then casually took three arrows from the quiver offered to him and laid them on the rail in front of him. Nonchalantly, he picked up the first arrow drew it back and then quickly changed his aim to the second target and let fly. Without pausing he quickly fired the next two arrows and stepped back to a stunned silence. One of the Elves went to bring his target back but had trouble doing so. For not only had Neal placed one arrow between the eyes, the other two were directly through the heart. But that wasn't the reason the Elf couldn't remove the target; that was because Neal had shot the arrows so hard they were sunk half their length into the target.

Colonel D'avid had only one thing to say; "How?"

"I will answer that in just a minute." Neal then turned and spoke to the corporal who was assigned as his aide.

"Corporal Douglas, please bring me my other bow."

"The other bow," the corporal asked?

"Yes, the other one not the longbow;" Neal replied very causally as if every Erehwonese Officer had two bows.

Neal decided to have some fun at Colonel D'avid's expense while the corporal retrieved his bow.

"I am sorry my aim was off a bit the arrows in the heart should have been closer." Neal was trying very hard not to laugh as all of the Elves got shocked looks on their faces.

"Any closer and you would have split one in half." The Colonel wryly replied beginning to realize that Neal was playing a bit of a joke on him and his troops.

"Well, I did try," was Neal's smart-assed reply he was spared commenting further as Corporal Douglas arrived with a leather covered bundle in his hands. The Corporal handed his Captain the bundle and then stepped out of the way.

"Thank you, Corporal;" Neal then began unwrapping the bundle and soon was able to hand Colonel D'avid one of the finest crafted Elven Bows that the Colonel had ever seen. The big difference was the size as that bow had been handcrafted when Neal was a youngling.

"Captain Campbell, I do believe you are a scoundrel and I am glad that I did not bet you. Do you know what you have here?" The Colonel inquired of Neal.

"Partially, I do know that it is one of the few made for non Elves and as such it is very rare. Outside of that, all I know is that it was made by an expert craftsman." Neal responded.

"Expert Craftsman is a grave understatement; your bow was made by the Royal Bowmaster who is responsible for making all of the bows for the Royal Family and the Royal Archers. Your bow is the only one he has ever made for anyone out kingdom! You have a wonderful weapon there and now I know why you can handle one of our bows so well. I will not underestimate a Campbell again." The Colonel replied and bowed to Neal in acknowledgment of his shooting skill.


Margè awoke from her deep slumber with her vision firmly ingrained in her memory. She quickly made a mental list of everything she needed to accomplish before she began her journey. The most important thing she needed to do was get someone to act as Andreu's mentor otherwise Andreu would be unable to heal, as people would think he was too young. Margè had given Andreu as much training as she was capable of and as much as he could handle at his age. He already knew as much if not more than most of the Village Healers across Draconis. Now that Andreu is attuned so strongly to Draconis, his knowledge would continue to increase even without Margè. All of a sudden the light glowed in Margè's head and she remembered that she had a nephew in his early twenties who needed a new start in life. Margè finished getting dressed and started the water for her tea and then headed to the Bakery for some pastries. Once she had broken her fast she would write a quick message to send to her nephew.

Margè's timing was perfect the Baker had just removed a batch of her favorite Sausage and Cheese rolls and the aroma was intoxicating. 'This is going to be a wonderful day,' thought Margè as she inhaled the aromas deeply into her lungs. Margè was curious as to why the Baker had a small rock in the doorway to keep the door from closing completely. Her question was answered as Sammy squeezed through the opening took a good sniff and then meowed a greeting to the Baker. Sammy then turned to Margè and bowed.

'How else is Andreu supposed to get good food if I don't help him?' Sammy sent to Margè and then turned and strutted back out the door.

The Baker took pity on Margè and answered the question that was clearly displayed on her face.

"Yes he comes in every morning to see what special I have baked and then brings Andreu in a while later. Why the rock, well it was either that or have my door destroyed." The Baker stated laughingly.

Margè just shook her head in mirth and then placed her order and headed home knowing she would see Andreu shortly. In fact Margè had just finished breaking her fast and was sipping the last of her tea when Andreu knocked and then entered surprisingly, with Sammy.

Instead of his usual polite greeting the first words he said were;

"Are you packed already or do you need help?"

"How do you know I was going somewhere I haven't had time to tell you?" Margè asked even though she probably knew the answer.

"Silly Margè, Sammy told me and I had a dream too;" was Andreu's sarcastic reply.

"So you know that you can't go with me and that we need to find someone to help you by acting as your teacher and as the Village Healer even though you will be doing all of the work. I was just getting ready to write a message to send to my nephew Arli to see if he can help us." Margè informed her young friend and student.

Andreu went suddenly very still and his eyes started to glaze over slightly he shook his head a few times and muttered a few phrases under his breath that sounded like;

"Uhuh, okay."

When he returned to normal several seconds later, he had a look of utter surprise on his face.

"Ahhh Margè you don't need to write that message that was Sammy and Draconis; Arli will be waiting for us tomorrow morning down at Palmetto Crag Outpost and there will be a Dragon and rider to fly you to Dragonsholme. Now I need some tea and then a nap; I need to go through everything I just received." A weary sounding Andreu informed his teacher while shaking his head in an effort to make sense out what had just happened.

Margè went and quickly poured Andreu a mug of tea and sweetened it with some of her homegrown honey just like he liked it. When she had the tea fixed Margè moved over to where Andreu was swaying slightly and guided him over to one of the chairs near the small table where he had been breaking her fast. She gave Andreu a slight push on his shoulder and he then sank down onto the chair.

"It's okay Andreu, Draconis is our friend even though she does work in strange and mysterious ways sometimes. Everything will be alright now just sip your tea and relax." Margè told her young protégé as she lifted the mug of tea to his lips and tilting it slightly until he took it in his own hands and sipped the tea himself.

For several minutes all you could hear was Andreu sipping his tea and his sighs of enjoyment for this wasn't one of Margè's herbal blends it was some of the Crown Princes favorite Dragon's Gold Tea. Although Andreu knew that Dragon's Gold Tea had herbs in it; he loved the taste because it didn't taste like medicine and it had a pleasing taste for someone his age. While Andreu was finishing his tea Margè was finishing packing some of the seeds she would need at Dragonsholme she also made a mental list of what seedlings she would need to take with her tomorrow morning. When she finished wrapping up the last of the seeds she needed she turned and looked over at Andreu and as she suspected, he was almost asleep in the chair.

Margè walked over to the table and carefully removed the mug from Andreu's hand and softly said;

"Andreu, stand up so I can help you over to the bed."

As if he was sleepwalking, Andreu stood up in slow motion and once he was standing allowed Margè to lead him over to her bed. Once he was standing next to the bed, he simply leaned over and fell onto the bed and within seconds was sound asleep. Sammy then got up from where he was laying near the hearth and with a few steps and a leap, joined his friend and was soon asleep again also.

Once Andreu was sound asleep Margè took a seat at the table and began writing instructions for both Arli and Andreu. Margè wanted to be absolutely sure that Arli knew that Andreu was his teacher and not the other way around.


Things were getting busy again at the Convento Mattias Aoire as they were packing up supplies and getting the selected Novices ready for their trip to Dragonsholme to assist the Castle's Healer Margè. None of the monks at the convento thought it strange that the message requesting their assistance arrived without a Dragon bringing it. The message had all of the correct headings and necessary information so they got to work getting everyone and everything ready for the pickup they knew would come.

The novices selected were extremely happy and not over the fact that they were going to the secretive and mysterious Dragonsholme, but the fact that they would be learning from the legendary Margè! Margè's reputation as a healer and teacher rivaled that of the great Doktor Bazaar and they couldn't wait to meet her.


Meanwhile back at Dragonsholme, the preparations continued once the main gardens were planted the gardeners then started preparing the ground in the Herb Gardens. The village healer instructed them on how to proceed and once the beds were ready, had them plant some of her seedstock and seedlings. She knew that Margè would bring the rest of what Margè would need.

Inside the castle proper, things were almost finished; like Castle Highmont, Dragonsholme had interior bathing and swimming facilities the problem was no one knew how to turn the water on to fill the baths and pools. They knew the system worked because the cisterns were all full and the water in the kitchens worked. The staff went ahead and cleaned all of the baths and pools and stocked the rooms with soaps, towels and robes anyway. The Châtelaine had another serious problem and that was the lighting she had all of the torches either replaced or repaired and all of the oil lamps filled or replaced. However, she didn't know what to do with the lights that were powered by some sort of magic she guessed as they came on whenever the sun went down and turned off at dawn but she had no idea how they worked.

One late afternoon while she was working in her office she came across a very old parchment that she found laying across her desk. She shook her head as that parchment wasn't there that morning, she very slowly read the parchment and it took her almost an hour to figure it out because it was written in a very old style of Erehwonese that hadn't been used in centuries if she remembered her history lessons correctly. Basically what the parchment said was he who wore the ring and ruled the dragons would make all things right. And that was all it said the Châtelaine rolled the parchment up and tied it with a ribbon and then placed it in her safe. She then rang the bell that told everyone it was time for the evening meal and then they could all head home except for those who were now staying in the castle.


In Puritania the preparations for the crossing over ceremony were nearly complete; the priests had chosen their sacrificial virgin from among the crop of twelve and thirteen year old males that had been sequestered in preparation for this momentous occasion. The youth chosen was a husky and well built twelve year old whose black hair was as black as a moonless night and his eyes were an unusual gold that seemed to glow at times.

The youth had been fed a meal fit for a king and then given the sacrificial cocktail which purged his body of all foreign matter and placed him in a suggestive state. This way the youth would go willingly to his death and cause no interruptions of the ceremony which would lead to disaster and their Avatar deserting them for another decade leaving them to purify themselves and start the procedures all over again. That was a fate not to be mentioned or even considered as it would mean the death of all the priests except the youngest one. Death would only come after all the priests had been used by all of the males remaining in the village.

Little did the priests know that they had set in motion something far beyond their pale and knowledge. For in their haste and conceit they never even asked the name of their chosen sacrificial lamb. His name if they had deigned to ask was Draconico which in the Old Tongue translates to Son of the Dragon!

The hunting and raiding parties had been returning all day and there was only a few left and they had sent word ahead that they would return in time for the ceremony. Surprisingly all of the parties returned with plenty of food and new slaves at least at first look. Anyone taking a closer look at the game and livestock being carried or driven in would have seen how lean and gaunt they were. There would not be a lot of meat left over after the feast. The cooking crews quickly began marinating and preparing some of the meats for roasting; the remainder would be used in stews and pies. Anything not used in the cooking process would be fed to the dogs first then the women and slaves.

Had anyone been paying attention to the slaves that were brought in, they would have noticed that most of them were not cowed or frightened by their surroundings. In fact the majority of the slaves were looking around inquisitively taking note of every little detail of the village.

The High Priest and his assistants had just finished with their final physical preparations for their Ceremonial Duties. They had just finished their raping of several of the handsomest youths in the village and the youths were now gagged and bound in the High Priest Quarters. The three youths had been forced to play ram to the priests' ewe as their religion claimed that the forced injection of man seed would give the priests the necessary physical strength to perform their Ceremonial Duties with vigor and stamina. The three Priests were now soaking in their baths that were infused with religious Herbs while they were inhaling the psychotropic smoke to further heighten their powers of endurance.

Once the ceremony was over and the sacrifice had been sent to the otherworld and then taken over by the Avatar, the Ceremonial Orgy would begin. The three gagged and bound youths would be taken violently by the priests in their drug induced stupor and then forced to drink a draught that in conjunction with the smoke from the herbs and plants that they would be forced to inhale would cause a short term memory loss so they would not remember what had happened to them at the priests' hands.


Margè and Andreu spent the rest of the day, once Andreu woke up from his nap, wandering through the village letting the villagers know that she would be leaving but that Andreu would be staying and that her nephew would be taking over his training. A surprising number of the villagers' initial reaction of concern was allayed by the fact that Andreu was staying. There were only a few villagers who were more interested in Arli than the fact that Andreu was staying. Andreu and Margè just nodded politely and excused themselves and continued their tour.

"Margè, you know they are halfway right; I am very young to be a healer and I am not big enough or strong enough yet to set some bones and realign backs and things like that. I am just afraid that Arli will try and take over." Andreu mused out loud as he and Margè headed to the Tavern to inform the Tavern keeper and Andreu's Mother.

Margè had decided that it would be best if Andreu stayed in her guest room so he could help her nephew Arli adjust to the small village life. That would also make Andreu's training of Arli easier as well. When they were just a few steps away from the Tavern, both Margè and Andreu stumbled a bit as someone interrupted their conversation.

'Andreu, don't worry I won't let Arli cause you any trouble; if he tries, I will sink my claws into him where he won't like it.' Sammy sent to both Andreu and Margè with a smirk.

'Thank you very much for your input, Sammy, I will make sure that he is aware of your "promise". But you don't need to worry although his parents aren't anything to write home about he is a good kid who just needs a new start away from their influence. And Andreu doesn't have to worry Arli has always taken good care of his younger brother Douglas.' Margè sent to Andreu as she hugged him.

The hardest part of Margè and Andreu's day was informing his parent's that he was moving out at such a tender age. Andreu's Mom was a bit weepy about it until she realized that the move would spare Andreu from her husband's fits of violent pique. Andreu's mother told Margè and Andreu that she would handle his father, which took a huge load off of Andreu's shoulders. Andreu was definitely not looking forward to dealing with his father.

'Don't worry, Andreu, I will protect you, a few swipes of my claws and he will be missing portions of his anatomy.' A smirking Sammy sent to both Andreu and Margè who remained as staid faced as they could, so as not to frighten Andreu's Mom.

"I will still eat meals with you, Mom and visit often when I am not studying with Arli or taking care of the animals. I will also visit you at the Tavern when 'He' isn't there." Andreu told his mom while trying to fight back tears as his immature emotions caught up with him. Andreu was again displaying that strange dichotomy that some very intelligent children and most young geniuses and Idiot Savants' tend to display. While they are practicing their chosen disciplines they can act and look like they are decades older and then in a wink of an eye they show that they are still truly children by their tears or their giggles.

"I will always love you Andreu, no matter what happens or where you choose to live. You will always be my loving son." Andreu's Mom then embarrassed Andreu as only parent's can do by hugging and kissing him.

Margè rescued Andreu when she said;

"Andreu, why don't you go and pack the things you want to take with you while your Mom and I have some women's talk?"

While Andreu was deciding what he wanted to take with him his mom and Margè were having a pleasant conversation about him. Andreu quickly chose what things he wanted to take with him and made a few small piles of thing he would come back to get tomorrow with Arli.

Andreu and Margè said goodbye to his mother and headed to his new home, of course it took forever to walk the few blocks as they were constantly stopped by people who wanted to say goodbye to Margè. Of course several of the village people had to embarrass Andreu by mussing his hair and telling him that they were glad he was staying. Several folks even told Andreu they would ask for him not Arli as Andreu was one of theirs and Arli was an outsider.

As Andreu and Margè passed the Bakery the Baker's Wife stuck her head out the door and told Margè to stop by in the morning before heading down to Palmetto Outpost. Margè thanked the Baker's Wife and then she and Andreu again headed home. They only got a little bit farther when they were stopped by the Tavern Owner who invited them both for Dinner on him. Margè accepted for both of them and said they would be back shortly.

Dinner that night was a very pleasant affair for everyone; the food was wonderful the wine, mead and ale flowed all night long except for Andreu who had to stick to fruit juice after a very small glass of Mead. It seemed that everyone in the village stopped by to say goodbye to Margè and thank Andreu for staying. Even people who normally wouldn't give Andreu the time of day at least said hello to him. Eventually Margè announced that they had to leave as they had a very early start on the morrow. Everyone in the Tavern gave them a round of cheers as they left.


On the Friday before the Coronation Ball and Ceremony, Joth had left that morning with Duke William to head back to the Joint Military Encampment. He wanted to get a first hand look at how the integrated forces were working together.

The King and Queen weren't around either as they had a previous engagement, the wedding of one of Angie's former Ladies of the Bower. So when the Minister of Trade for Oracleum arrived unannounced, it ended up for Just' to represent the Royal Family at the Formal Dinner in the Minister's honor. Needless to say, Just' was a little concerned as this would be his first official performance as a member of the Royal Family. To make matters worse, the Minister was here to renegotiate the treaty that for the barrels that the Kingdom's Brewers and Vintners used for their premium Ales, Lagers and Sangiovese. Ordinarily 'The Duchess' Mathilda would oversee the dinner, but she was with Rafe and Angie so it would be Just', Jonah, Neal and Baron Ilú to assist. Neal and his elf command had arrived earlier that day. He had decided to see how long they could keep the pace with his warhorse. It was no brag just a fact.

"Daddy Jut, you be fine you won't have any trouble I be there to help you and so will Paladin and Misha. You know Paladin stayed to help you and Misha can always speak to 'Goos'. Uncle Ilú will be there too. Don't forget your Big Brother Neal is gonna be there to help too. Grandpa says they will be serving some of you favourite Porto what ever dat is." Jonah hugged his new dad tighter and sent him love and warmth through his empathic link.

"Thank you, Jonah; you always help me to feel better I am sure glad that you are my son. You do know that Tomorrow night after I get crowned again Joth and I present you to the crowd as our son again so you have to get all dressed up again; so we will make Daddy Joth help both of us. Deal?" Just' asked of his new son and personal healer.

"Deal. So when are you going to take me to play soldier with you?" Jonah replied and then asked.

"We will do that when J'ame says so! You know he says I have a lot of work to do before I can use a sword well enough to hold my own against the pages, let alone a guard or soldier. Don't forget your lessons start soon also." Just' replied and then began tickling his son.

"Where is J'ame daddy I thought he was going swimming with us before the dinner?"

"He is still working out the details of our trip to my new castle, Dragonsholme why Rafe gave me a castle I don't know? I like it here and I thought we would stay here. Besides Joth never even mentions his castle and I don't think I know its name." Just' replied and then mused out loud.

Later that evening at the Formal Welcoming Banquet for the Trade Minister of Oracelum; Baron Ilú announced Just' and Jonah.

"His Royal Highness, The Prince Consort Just', Earl of Dragonsholme, Baron of Potters Village, Minister of Tolerance and Diversity, Co-Minister of Education and Justiciar Prelate acting for His Royal Majesty King Rafaelo."

Unfortunately for the Mister of Trade of Oracelum, all the introduction he heard was 'Consort' he then saw red!

"How dare they snub me like that I have full Plenipotentiary powers from our government. We will just have to see how the negotiations go now. I wonder how they would like to go without their precious wine or lager barrels for a year?" The Minister mumbled to his wife who, to her credit, tried to explain who Just' actually was but her husband was far too stubborn to listen to a 'mere woman'.

While the minister was busy mumbling to his wife, the Seneschal finished introducing Jonah and Captain Neal Campbell.

Before either Baron Ilú or Just' could make an opening announcement, the Mister from Oracelum spoke up very snidely.

"Your highness, I would like to know why the Kingdom of Erehwon has chosen to so rudely snub the government of Oracelum?"

A very confused Just' queried; "And how have we offended your government, Minister?"

Just' calmly reached over lightly touched Jonah's shoulder and whispered;

"Wait until we know what the problem is, Son."

The Trade Minister from Oracelum paused for a few minutes to consider his answer unfortunately for him; he would have been much wiser to think about if for a few days.

"By your presence here instead of the King! Being greeted by a lowly consort is extremely offensive to Myself and My Government. My government has one of the earliest treaties in existence with the Kingdom of Erehwon and we deserve better treatment than this." The pompous windbag finished his rant at last and then sat there glaring at Just'. The idiot never even noticed Neal sitting across from him as Neal's hand slowly dropped onto the hilt of his very serviceable dagger.

A sudden and complete silence overcame the room even the pages and servants were frozen in shock. Baron Ilú started to respond as did several other Privy Council Members and Nobles of the Court. Just' silenced them all by pointing to Jonah; Just' then whispered to Jonah.

"He is all yours, Son, I will help you if needed but you can have all of the fun this time. Misha and I will help you with the big words."

Suddenly a chilling young voice rang out through the chamber dripping with as much sarcasm and condescension as an eight year old Draconisian could muster.

"Minister, your ignorance of Erehwonese Royalty and Customs not to mention Protocol is app... appalling. Did you even bother to read the scroll you were given this morning when you arrived? Did you even read your Official Invitation to this Banquet in you hon...or." Jonah had a very hard time getting 'honour' out of his mouth he was so upset that anyone would say such a thing about Just', let alone his father now.

"By your ignorance and your actions, you have nearly precipitated war between our two nations." With those words, the Minister tried to stand up and say something but his wife pulled him back into his seat and then placed the point of her knife on his hand. Every one at the table could here her stage whispered words.

"Shut up you fool before you get us killed. I tried to explain earlier but you had to prove you are a Big Shot Man!" Luckily for him, the Minister actually shut his mouth.

"The 'lowly consort' as you called him just happens to be THE CROWN PRINCE CONSORT! And in Erehwon, he has all of the Power, Standing and Responsibilities of the Crown Prince. If that wasn't enough, he is the Earl of Dragonsholme, Baron of Potters Village, Minister of Tolerance and Diversity, and Co-Minister of Education. He is the highest ranking member of the Privy Council and son of The Lord Mariscal Duke William Campbell." Jonah paused to catch his breath as he was really getting angry. His voice was cracking a bit but the most surprising thing was how cold it sounded; Misha and Just' were pouring energy into Jonah's Empathy and projecting utter disdain more suited to a much older person.

Jonah continued his rant before the Minister could recover, "and those are just his Non Secular Titles! He is also the Justiciar Prelate and as such answers only to the Arch Prelate of Erehwon. He is here representing the King and has all the powers of the King himself! You have insulted not only Crown Prince Just' but the Kingdom of Erehwon and its Clergy as well. Not only that but you have also insulted his family and his brother Captain Neal Campbell who is sitting across from you. And in case you haven't noticed the two War Eagles now glaring at you, let me introduce you to them. The one of the left is named Paladin and he is the King's War Eagle and stayed to support Prince Just' and the other War Eagle is named Misha and is Prince Just's!"

By now the idiotic Minister had turned deathly pale and was only a short step away from a heart attack. His wife decided that it was time once and for all to show her husband that he didn't know everything and it was very dangerous to go on first impressions when dealing with other countries.

The wife then addressed Jonah only not by name as she wanted her husband to know beyond a doubt that age was not always a judge of someone's status.

"Your highness, would you please do me the honor of informing my husband the Ex Trade Minister who it was that read him the riot act and so eloquently gave him his protocol lesson?" The Minister's wife's voice was very different than her husband's as she was very respectful.

Jonah looked to his dad to see if he should respond; Just' gave him a slight nod and a warm smile.

"I am Prince Jonah Timoty Campbell-Forte son of Crown Prince Joth and Crown Prince Just', Heir Apparent, grandson of their Majesties King Rafaelo and Queen Angelina of Erehwon, and Master of Protocol for the Kingdom of Erehwon. Does that answer your question, Ma'am?" Jonah stated his reply very calmly and then leaned over to get a hug from Just'.

"Thank you very much Prince Jonah and your Majesty, I apologize for my husband and my country. If someone could escort my husband to our quarters, with your permission, I would like to finish dinner. I will be taking over control of the negotiations if that pleases you also?"

"How do we know that your government will accept you as Head of your delegation? Will they honor any agreements you sign?" As Just' was asking his questions, J'ame and a few guards were busy escorting the surprisingly complacent husband out of the chamber.

"Your majesty, I can guarantee that will not be a problem for several reasons, First, my Brother is the head of our government. Second, my family and I own Seventy Five Percent of the forests that the Barrel Staves come from. And last but not least, I own the foundry where the rings to hold the barrels together are formed. I think we can do business if you will forgive me for my husband; he will be making a formal apology tomorrow before he heads home. If he is lucky, my brother won't throw him in jail he will just annul our marriage." The wife bowed her head politely before she continued.

"My husband was only given the position with the proviso that he be guided by me and I would always have the final word. He is actually a very loving man and a very good salesman which is why we are together. Our government realizes that not all governments will accept a woman at face value in spite of what Erehwon and Draconisia have decreed and done. My husband will be in a world of hurt if our marriage is annulled as all of the wealth in our family comes from my side. I believe he will be very apologetic tomorrow, but I am still sending him home. I think we should let the banquet begin before the Chefs get upset."

"Your apology is accepted and as my son's stomach just reminded me it is time to eat." Just' acknowledged with a slight bow of his head while Jonah tried not to giggle out loud failing miserably of course. Before Just' had finished speaking servants began bringing in loads of mouthwatering repasts.


Andreu and Margè were up and moving before the roosters had a chance to crow. Margè quickly had the kettle boiling for Tea and began heating some of the leftovers from last night that the Tavern Keeper had sent home with them. Andreu let Sammy out for his morning duties and then helped Margè fix their breakfast by spreading homemade preserves on the last of the scones. Once they had finished eating, Andreu headed to the Village Stables to pick up the mule they were going to use as a pack horse. When he got there, he found not only the mule ready to go but a horse and a Mountain Pony saddled and ready to go as well.

"Sir, why is there a horse and a pony saddled with our mule?" Andreu asked the Stable Master.

"Because Margè doesn't need to walk all the way to the Outpost and this way she will have more time to spend with her nephew before she has to leave for Dragonsholme. Why she wants to go to that haunted place I have no idea; but she has to go where she is called I guess." Was the Stable Master's curious reply.

"Since Margè isn't here, I will thank you in her stead and I thank you for myself also, I understand that the walk down isn't bad, but the walk up can be very tiring. So I thank you also and I will take good care of all three." Andreu started to bow but grasped the Stable Master's outreached hand and shook it instead.

Andreu with a little help from the Stable Master mounted his pony and then taking the lead for Margè's horse in his left hand and then tying the mule's lead to his saddle, rode off slowly to Margè's cottage carrying on a conversation with the horse the whole way. It was a beautiful day for a ride to Palmetto Crag Outpost and then for Margè a flight to Dragonsholme. Their were just enough clouds in the sky to keep the temperature mild and a slight breeze from high in the mountains to help as well.

Margè and Andreu continued Andreu's education during the trip down to the outpost; Andreu occasionally interjecting bits of wisdom imparted to him by Margè's horse. Whenever Andreu attempted to startup a conversation with the mule he received only a "Why" in return. When Andreu passed that tidbit of information on to Margè she laughed out loud.

"Andreu for some strange reason that mule thinks he is the choice of all of Draconis's creatures and wont even talk to me; not even a hello. You will have a better chance of talking to some of the goslings than that vain creature." Margè laughing informed her protégé.

Both Andreu and Marge as well as the horse were startled when their trains of thought were interrupted by a mind shout of;

'Harrumph'

Ahh so the Mule can speak.

"Andreu, make sure that you and Arli stop and thank the Baker's Wife for the lunch she packed for us. Thanks to us being able to ride, we will be able to share it with Arli before I fly to Dragonsholme."

At the mention of Dragonsholme Andreu remembered the cryptic comment that the Stable Master had made.

"Margè is Dragonsholme haunted?"

"Why would you ask that, Andreu?" Margè inquired.

"I am just curious because the Stable Master said it was. You never said anything about it being haunted before?" Andreu replied inquisitively back.

"Andreu, you already know the answer to that question but I will help you figure it out yourself. Let's stop for a minute under the shade of those trees just up ahead." Margè directed Andreu.

Once they reached the shade, they pulled up and Andreu looked inquiringly at Margè waiting patiently for her instructions.

"Okay Andreu, clear your mind and go into a Level One Trance; once you are there expand your senses towards Dragonsholme and when I join you in your trance, tell me what you found."

Without replying, Andreu followed Margè's instructions and before she could join him found the very obvious answer to his question. He quickly broke his trance and spoke to Margè who was sitting calmly on her horse waiting for him.

"Teacher mine, that whole valley is a huge nexus of all kinds of power and Dragonsholme sits on the largest node I have ever seen. There is enough power there to run at least three castles the size of Dragonsholme. So if I understand things correctly some of the lights in the castle were always on which would lead the uneducated and uninitiated to think that the castle was haunted. Margè with that much power available does that mean we can still talk to each other at night?" Andreu announced to his teacher and then asked her a question.

"That is a very strong possibility, 'Student Mine'." Margè replied laughingly which caused Andreu to break out in a grin.

"Thanks for helping me see that; but I think we need to get moving again so we can meet Arli." Andreu's statement brought a nod from Margè and without another word the two began riding towards the outpost again.

While Margè and Andreu were riding to the outpost Sammy was busy wandering through the village, getting an idea of how Andreu would be treated once his protector Margè was gone. Sammy was pleasantly surprised at what he was finding out. He still wanted to make sure the thoughts he was receiving were not just because people could see him so he went to the alley ways and rooftops. To Sammy's complete and utter shock the majority of the village was more concerned about how the 'outsider' was going to treat Andreu than whether or not a child of his age could do Margè's job. Sammy found that only a few thoughts were different when he wasn't visible and those were from the villagers who never did like Andreu anyway.

Just as Sammy was making his mind up to walk through the village visibly, he felt a very strong and angry mind presence. The mind was broadcasting all kinds of hate and imprecations towards the traveling Andreu. Sammy quickly realized that it was Andreu's sperm donor and decided to do what he could to make the day worse for that individual. Carefully walking down the roof and peering over the side and looking down, Sammy saw Andreu's male parental unit walking right below him with a very large mud puddle just a few steps in front of him. Taking absolutely no time to make up his mind, Sammy quickly crouched and then sprung into the air with all four feet pointing directly at the shoulders of the hated two legs. Sammy hit right on target with his considerable mass and then instantly sprang away. The force of the impact and the subsequent springing away caused the hated two legs to end up face first in the mud puddle. Sammy quickly dashed away in the opposite direction and then strutted calmly through the village.

As Sammy strolled by the Butcher Shoppe, one of the Butcher's young son's stepped out into the lane and tossed Sammy a whole sausage and told Sammy.

"Go follow Andreu and protect him and watch that Arli person, he ain't one of us." The boy was back inside before Sammy could even 'Meow' a thanks.

While they were riding to the outpost and the next stage in his life, Andreu was momentarily startled by the feeling of utter joy that he received from Sammy.

'Sammy what happened?' Andreu sent to 'his' Kat.


With the hour of midnight fast approaching, the sacrifice was secured to the altar and the High Priest Phelps was anxiously awaiting the appearance of the Avatar. The nearby mountain top had begun issuing a very large plume of black smoke and the emergence of the Puritanian Religion's Saviour was at hand. The blackness in the aperture from which the Avatar would emerge began to ripple and undulate the tension in the chamber began to heighten dramatically. The aperture began to bulge outward the grand moment was at hand!


The lonely child cried himself to sleep for the third night in a row, alone again with no friends in the strange castle.

TBC?

Author's Notes: Another chapter finished and I hope it was what you asked for. After several comments about the length of the 'Court Scene' in the previous chapter, I decided to write a slightly shorter chapter and work on some character development. Don't forget to let 'Goos' know what you think of his story. I would like to thank Str8mayb, The Radio Rancher, Taron W. and Ilúvantír for their help with this chapter.

Til we fly again,

'Goos' and TSL

Comments greatly appreciated at The Story Lover

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