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The Land of Caern - Dreams End, Dreams Begin (Chapter Three)

Patrick Holyfield (Gurney9999)
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Yenti Joncet stood dumbfounded, not able to comprehend how such animalistic shrieks were coming from the young princess. His left hand still pulled on the alarm cordon in the corner of Prince Arrinn's living quarters. Yenti wondered if he might still be dreaming; he could swear just a few seconds before he had been in the royal bakery with Lola, the chef's apprentice-

Any thoughts Yenti Joncet had of dreaming came to an end when Drona Twoblade came charging into the room.


Twenty-seven years removed from Advisor training, Drona Twoblade would have normally yelled several profanities before taking the time to assess a situation in his castle. But the sight and sounds of Prince Arrin's room stopped Drona in his tracks, just beyond the door. Drona heard lieutenants Kimmel and Koss reach the entryway a few moments later; he threw up a hand to keep them from entering the room. The training of an Aarronic Advisor included how to analyze and collect information based on visual evidence. He knew immediately he had to gather as much information as he could before anyone else entered the room. The screams of the Princess of Yew called to him, but he did not rush to her. Drona could feel his stomach pulling at him.

Drona squinted as he did when he visually assessed a situation. He felt it blocked out unimportant elements and allowed him to focus on the details he would need later on. Yenti Joncet, a useless guard kept only out of loyalty by Prince Ren, stood in the corner still pulling on the alarm cordon. Princess Sarah Perti, granddaughter of King Desthra Perti, sat on her knees on her brother's gigantic bed, screaming continuously, pausing only long enough to take in more air. Prince Arrinn, oldest son of Prince Renoir Perti and brother of Princess Sarah, lay motionless on his bed, with only his head exposed from underneath the many pelts that he used as covers. In the growing morning light Drona could tell even from over thirty feet away that Prince Arrinn was dead.

A wooden bowl sat upside down on the other side of Arrinn's body. Drona could see that there was water spilled on the bed, and also on the face of the dead prince. There was nothing else unusual on the bed.

Drona looked back at the two lieutenants. "The prince!" Kimmel pointed at Koss; Koss immediately began running towards the battlements where he knew Prince Ren would be. Drona expanded his preliminary examination to the rest of the room, remaining in his position just inside the door. He knew of two secret doors on two of the walls in this room; from his current position neither appeared to have been used. There did not seem to be any evidence of a disturbance in the room, except of course for the dead body of a prince in the bed.

"Good God!" Drona heard the voice of Tyler Rennick, Aarronic Advisor to Prince Renoir and instructor to Ren's three children. He took a moment to again throw up a hand, signing to the junior Advisor: Close the Castle. Ensure no one comes or goes from this moment on. He did not have to look to see the immediate anger rise up in Tyler Rennick for being sent away. He'll just have to get over it.

The screams of the princess finally forced action from the castellan. Drona moved to the bed and attempted to grab the princess without disturbing anything. The bed was too large, however, and Drona could not reach Sarah without getting on the bed. He did so, grabbing the eleven year-old by her slim shoulders, dragging her to the edge of the bed. Sarah's eyes never left her brother's face, and the screams did not lessen in strength.

"Are you hurt girl!?" The screams continued without abatement. "ARE YOU HURT!?" Drona shook her roughly. The screams abruptly stopped, but the eyes of the princess never left her brother's face. Not receiving an answer, the Advisor took a few moments to examine her, ensuring there were no external injuries. Drona picked up the princess with one arm and carried her over to Yenti Joncet, still pulling on the alarm.

"YENTI!" If steam were able to come out of a man's ears, this would have been the time and the place to see it. While the princess continued to stare at the motionless body of her brother, Yenti's eyes were now locked on the angry face of his castellan, Drona Twoblade. "Yenti, you can stop pulling on the alarm. I am here." Drona's voice crackled with obvious irritation. Yenti dropped the red cordon.

Drona Twoblade placed the princess upright in front of the out of shape guard, practically forcing him to hold onto the girl. "What happened, Joncet?"

Yenti hoped that the castellan's face would lighten from the dark red it currently was, and soon. "I - I don't know, s - sir. I was a - a - outside, in the hall at my post, and then Miss Sarah was screaming, and then I was pulling the rope." Yenti wanted to flee the room before Drona incinerated him with bolts of fire from his eyes, but he was having a hard enough time holding onto Princess Sarah, who was now squirming in his grasp.

"Dammit, I cannot believe this!" Drona whirled away from the guard, disgusted. It may have been a five-generation tradition that a member of the Joncet family had served as personal guard to the Perti royal family, but Drona had never liked the idea of the obese sentry being a part of his staff. As gutting the man was not an option (at least at that particular moment), Drona turned his attention to Prince Arrinn.


For the princess, the next few minutes flashed by like no others had in her short life. While she was not able to take her eyes off of the body of her brother, Sarah Perti found she was able to take note of everything that was going on around her. She could see the aged Aarronic Advisor and castellan search the edges of the bed without disturbing Arrinn. As Arrinn's bed was at one time a raised stone platform, searching under the bed was not an issue. Drona lifted up the covers in some areas without fear of moving Arrinn at all.

She then understood instinctively that her father had entered the room. While with his family and in some public situations Renoir Perti used a more "common" Yewlian dialect, the Prince of Yew immediately fell into a more commanding regal mode that Sarah normally loved to imitate. In this case however Sarah noticed something different in his voice that it took some time to recognize - fear.

The princess heard Prince Allann, who had walked into the room with his father, begin to cry. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Prince Allann sag down into one of the chairs just inside the door of the room. Her brother's tears made Sarah notice that she had stopped crying, and that she had stopped squirming in Yenti's arms.

Sarah concentrated as hard as possible on taking her eyes off of Arrinn; it was as if some force was compelling her to keep her brother in her direct line of sight. Whether it was due to her royal training or something about her makeup, the eleven year-old princess made the subconscious leap: as long as she looked at her brother, in her mind there was still a chance he could be alive. Oh Arrinn, this cannot be happening...


To Drona's dismay, the entry of Prince Ren seemed to open the floodgates to Prince Arrinn's living area. Six of the King's Guards ran into the room, weapons drawn, rushing to all corners, lifting drapes, opening windows, searching for intruders without even realizing what was going on. Even with his position as castellan and Aarronic Advisor to King Desthra and Prince Erzon notwithstanding, Drona Twoblade understood what little control he had over the situation was now gone.


Realizing that simply staring at her brother would not change what had happened, Sarah found it was possible to tear her eyes away from her brother by concentrating on Drona Twoblade. Drona had morphed instantaneously from investigator to castellan, shouting orders to anyone that came within earshot. Every phrase to those searching the room seemed to end with "don't disturb anything more than you have to" and to those leaving the room with "and keep your mouth shut about this!" It would only take minutes for word to spread throughout the castle, but Sarah surmised that there was only one person in particular Drona was trying to keep information from, at least until he could complete an initial investigation of the area.

Sarah had always been impressed by the Aarronic Advisors she had had the chance to meet. Arames Kragen had explained to her the powers that some advisors came to possess through their training at Thorn's Way, mental disciplines that gave truth-telling and other unacknowledged powers to some. Sarah understood that Drona Twoblade had none of these extra-sensory abilities, but he was a powerful Advisor all the same, possessing a charisma or was it intimidation? that commanded loyalty from those around him. Concentrating on the presence of Drona Twoblade allowed Sarah to keep down the building desire to run back to her brother's side.


Prince Renoir Perti, second-born son of King Desthra of Perti, had been in the room for around two minutes, watching as Drona Twoblade, his father and brother's Aarronic Advisor, worked the situation as best he could. His initial impulse was to run to his son's side, but he understood full well that he should not disturb the body. He had brought several of the King's Guard with him, and they were now either searching the room for signs of an intruder or being sent off with orders from Drona. Although he knew everything was being done that could be done, he grew angrier each moment.

Drona apparently interpreted the expression on Prince Ren's face, because he came over to the prince. "Sir, we must keep our heads about this." Drona laid his hand on the prince's shoulder, a "fatherly" action he had performed many times in the years he had been at Castle Pen. It was not the right thing to do at that moment.

"Clear the room."

While he had wanted some time without interruption prior to the guard's arrival, Drona now had several guards performing tasks that might uncover some sort of evidence left behind by the assassin or assassins. "Lord, they are needed - "

"They were needed when this happened. Clear the room."

Drona sighed and signaled to Lieutenant Koss to remove the guards. Leave two sentries outside the room, and have the rest posted in the Throne Hall. He paused for a moment. The quickest path to Arrinn's room from the command center had led Drona and his lieutenants out of the secret passages once reaching the north hall. Go ahead and take two men and search the secret passages leading to this room. He turned back to the prince, knowing his orders were being carried out.

Drona looked over at Princess Sarah, who was staring back at him. The screaming child from minutes before had disappeared entirely. The composure of a queen... With Sarah now apparently under control, Drona turned his attention back to her father.

"Prince Ren, it is going to take some time to sort this out. Possibly it would be best to take the children and talk to them about what has happened." He lowered his voice even further and purposefully used his more natural Yewlian dialect. "Sir, Sarah was the one who found the body. Yenti walked in and found her screamin', and she was still screamin' when I got here." Ren looked over to his daughter, who was for some reason staring wide-eyed at the castellan. "I believe she and Prince Allann should be first and foremost in your mind right now. We don't yet even know how the prince was killed. Give us some time and we'll give you someone to hang for this."

Prince Ren noted the failed attempt at optimism by the castellan. For the first time he realized that whomever did this might not be found. It didn't take an Aarronic Advisor to see that the room held no evidence of a struggle, or of a break-in. He looked over at his now oldest son Allann, who sat crying in a chair near the door of the room. Ren knew that Drona was right. Any investigation would be Drona's job. It was time to get his children out of the room.


Allann Perti, thirteen year-old grandson of King Desthra of Yew, cried as he watched the events unfold around him. All he knew was that no one was helping his brother. Why has Father not called in a Healer?


The ending of a life may have occurred in Yew, but the beginning of a life was taking place in Grozh. The Council Leader had been impressed with Janir Longbial's Confidant. She was being tested in order to take Janir's place on the Council. She had answered all the council members' questions, at several points displaying a humor that had been missing from the Council for some time.

Even in his thoughts the Council Leader used nicknames in place of the real names of the other council members, to ensure he would never use their real names by accident during their meetings. Gluttony had asked about the Priests of Caern; Lust asked her to identify him, which she did; Greed had asked a question about the black market of Dolman Tear, and Envy had asked an interesting question about a certain body part of Janir Longbial that only served to prove that both of the women in the room were not ladies. Faith had asked a question about the Children of Az.

Faith believed in the teachings of Iberian, which proposed all the different gods of the different races of Caern were actually manifestations of one god, Az, and his twelve children. Faith asked the Confidant if she knew of any Children of Az that might be living in Caern at this time. The Priests of Caern believed that the twelve "Children" have the ability and the inclination to give up their immortality and walk the Land as mortals, most never knowing of their true nature while they live. The Confidant spoke only to the Priests of Caern and their desire to find these mortal avatars, and to the rumor that they have several children hidden at Thorn's Way in the hopes they might be Az's Children. The Council Leader appreciated the way the Confidant distinguished between fact and rumor.

He was the last to ask her a question. It was the same question he had asked all of the others on the Council when they had been tested. It was the same question that Elias Haldayne had asked Janir Longbial's Confidant. He always told himself that one day someone would answer the question correctly, and it would be the signal of his coming death. For once the Council knew his identity, there would be nothing that would save him.

"Confidant, what is my name?" The Council Leader noticed the shoulders of the Confidant fall slightly. His secret was still safe.

"I do not know, Council Leader." Her gaze for the first time fell to the floor.

Gluttony spoke up. "Of course you don't, girl! Nobody knows who the bastard is!" Arlen Gricca laughed, and the Leader saw a small smile appear on the Confidant's face.

"Yes, Confidant, that is a question you were not supposed to be able to answer. It does not count against you. Here is my real question to you. What would you say is the greatest threat to our Council and to Grozh, now and in the next year?" Several answers would assure her ascendance to the Council. Again, the Leader was more interested to see how the female's mind worked.

She looked around the room for a moment, formulating her answer. The Council Leader saw a spark appear in her eyes, and she began to speak: "The greatest threat to Grozh will not come from Yew or Gwynnyd, and not from within. Fear will be our greatest threat."

Faith grew interested immediately. "What do you mean?"

The Confidant stood, speaking with more and more confidence. "The Prophecies of Iberian are coming to pass. The Priests of Caern have leaked so little of the prophecies that everyone knows what is out there by heart, and those who believe in that are afraid. There have been more reports of monster sightings in the last six months than in the last hundred years combined -"

Gluttony shook his head. "Every 200 years or so the orcs and other riff-raff come down out of the mountains-it's just about time to knock 'em back for another 200 years."

"No, this is different and you know it." The Confidant walked over to a map of Caern that sat on an easel in a corner of the room. She pointed to several different areas of Grozh, and even a few in Yew. "Small bands of monsters have been seen in all of these places, not just the northern mountains of Gwynnyd. Gnolls have seen with orc-bears, hobgoblins attacking alongside moon-beasts... this is unlike anything seen, even during the years preceding The Dark Times and The War of Man. Small bands of creatures attacking small settlements, disrupting trade routes, with apparent but unknown purpose, disappearing into the wilds before any real action can be brought against them."

Lust walked over and stood beside the Confidant. The Council Leader could see that the female was taller than he had originally thought. While the unease she displayed at the beginning of the meeting was not a ruse, the confidence she displayed now certainly fit her well.

Lust asked the obvious follow-up question. "So you believe these monsters are a threat to us?"

"Yes, but not the monsters themselves. During The Dark Times, it was obvious that the monsters had great numbers, but no leadership. It was clear during The War of Man that demons had somehow crossed a barrier into Caern and were leading the monster armies. The Old Races worked together during The Dark Times, and worked with humanity during The War of Man to defeat the threat. In the last 500 years the Old Races have left humans to themselves, allowing us to muddle up things pretty damn well. Considering the strategic nature of these monster attacks today, I would have to say someone or something very intelligent is calling the shots, and if this is the case we are going to have problems... and the Old Races will not be here to help us this time."

It was enough of an answer, but the Confidant was not done. "On top of that you can add the growing power of the Priests of Caern. These monster attacks are allowing them to feed on the fear of the people, and soon you will see people turning away from secular leadership in favor of promises of Az's protection. We've got a veritable 'fireball in the Library of Haven' coming."

Lust turned and walked back to his chair and sat down. The Council Leader stood, motioning the Confidant to sit back in her chair. He looked around the room, receiving nods from all of the council members. He allowed himself a smile. "Confidant, you are now officially a member of the Council of Grozh. Not much in the way of pomp and circumstance I'm afraid, but you now have all of our resources at your disposal. As you will soon see, the most important thing this Council has done over the last four hundred years is turn the very threat you spoke of into an advantage." He looked around at everyone. "Remarkably enough, this was to be the first topic on our agenda.Let's get to work."

I'm going to have to figure out a good name for this one.


The Land of Caern: Chapter Three - Dreams End, Dreams Begin © Patrick Holyfield (Gurney9999)

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