Charles Stone was not easily scared. Certainly, if it was about the accession to the throne and all the problems he encountered in connection with it. He would never become sovereign if he couldn’t find the ring. Where had this good-for-nothing of an uncle put it? After all, had they not searched enough through his chambers? Would he have to search through everything again or would he have to deliver to Joeri Marten what he had promised? The ring finger of Conrad Stone! He chose for the quickest and less spectacular solution and went in the direction of the crypt with the sarcophagi.
The castle was a real maze for uninitiated ones with all sorts of corridors and chambers, some of them leading into each other. Charles knew it like the back of his hand. In no time, he was by way of the cellar vaults gone to the crypt where all the Kings of the Stone Dynasty lay in state. It was customary to embalm the bodies and to place them in the crypt of the castle.
When he unlocked the heavy door and pushed them open with a bit of effort, a moldy smell came towards him. It was the smell of death. He denied his feeling of repulsion, it was something he had to do. Otherwise, he would never achieve his aim and how macabre this seemed, he wouldn’t take one step back. Failing wasn’t an option.
He had asked the legislator about the conditions of the kingship. Nobody, besides the person who had prepared the dead body, knew about the missing ring. Normally this item was kept by the king’s valet in a box after the death of a king and before the crowning of the new one. Now the Kings sword and the crown were in it. But the ring was missing.
Charles Stone had taken care of this castle valet and this person would keep his mouth shut forever. It didn’t take a great deal of trouble to let the valet disappear. A date in the early evening had been fatal for the servant. The rumor was he went to town the day after the death of King Conrad and was robbed and murdered by thieves. He wouldn’t talk anymore.
The room with the sarcophagi was lighted with a torch Charles Stone had with him. The light projected creepy figures on the walls of the crypt. One should easily believe in ghosts in this space with all those lugubrious tombs around. The atmosphere was typical for it. Noises were echoed from the walls and sounded eerie. Charles knew this was his imaginations. He swallowed for a moment and went on to the place where he knew the sarcophagus of King Conrad was.
With great effort, he could shove open the cover of the tomb. It would have been easier with the help of anyone, but Charles trusted no one in the castle. One word to the wrong person and he could forget about the kingship. Your best friend is you and he knew enough with that. It went against the grain with him to call in the help of Joeri Marten. It was a necessary evil. What’s more, he knew the Black Wizards never had been best friends with the dead sovereign. They wouldn’t give him away. He had promised them a legal charter if he should become King Charles I and that provided their cooperation.
Well, there he was. Conrad Stone, hands crossed over his chest and with an unreal facial expression. He didn’t look the person he was during his life. His face was far sterner and the concave cheeks gave him a skinny look. Charles’s eyes were mesmerized by the right hand of the King. Especially the ring finger without the ring.
He took his hunting knife and without hesitating he took the cold finger and cut him off the body. He put it into a black little sack that disappeared in one of his coat’s pockets. Charles shoved the stone over the tomb. Nobody had seen what had happened. Nobody had heard a thing. If he should encounter someone on the way back to the living quarters of the castle, he simply would say he had gone praying for the spiritual welfare of his deceased uncle.
Charles Stone beamed. Now he literally had his future in his pocket. He grinned inside because of the play upon words. However, he didn’t count his eggs before they were hatched. He hoped Joeri could now trace the ring with the cutoff finger, then all his problems would be solved!
Kemir had followed Kobe’s advice. He had gone with his story to the legislator of Kamardam. Peter Nodin heard his story and strange enough, he wasn’t surprised.
‘Young man, your story isn’t an outlier,’ Nodin reacted while he whipped through his beard. ‘This week alone there are five people who were abducted. They weren’t all women, but the Dulka don't make any difference whatsoever if it’s about slaves. They mostly take the persons who are the most vulnerable, women and children, which they train to do all their dirty jobs. I can give you the names of their families, but I fear you’ll find nobody to accompany you. Everyone fears these monstrous beings. They look almost as humans, but their nature is cruel and they have superhuman forces they use when they meet any resistance.’
The youngster sighed.
‘Is there really nobody that can or will help me? This can’t go unpunished. If we do nothing, they’ll return to catch more people. They’ll think of us as defenseless and easy preys.
‘I’ve to admit, but we are not warriors. Our people are farmers and merchants, they know nothing of fighting or weapons. I’m sorry, Kemir Ocain, you can always try, but it is as you say, the trail becomes cold and if you want to see your mother again, you may not lose a minute.’
Kemir said goodbye to the legislator. He was very disappointed. If he could find this group of men who had kidnaped his mother, maybe even a bigger group of Dulkas if they had regrouped with other abductors, alone he wouldn’t stand a chance.
And still he would try. His life meant nothing if he would let them escape with his mother. He would never be able to live with himself if he let them escape unpunished.
When he arrived at the mountain hut, he buried the dead Dulka. The unconscious Dulka, unfortunately, had disappeared after the kidnapping of his mother. He had to punch harder, those damned monsters deserved no better. He gathered some food together and a water bag and girded the sword of the Dulka to his side. He had saddled White Cloud but would go on foot the first mile and search for the trail with his dog Donk. He conducted White Cloud by the hand, in his other he had a walking cane and an ax upon his back. So he went, following the trail through the shrubberies and into the Forest of Bandar, in pursuit of the kidnappers.
Theresa Ocain couldn’t act against the brutal force of the Dulkas. One of the monsters had taken her and had thrown her over his shoulders. How much she beat and scratched him, the creature possessed too much strength. She even had tried to break a heavy rock on the head of one of the Dulkas. He had punched her in the face and she had fainted for a while.
When she came to herself, they walked through the forest. They were four. One of the Dulkas blooded. Kemir probably had wounded him. He got what he deserved. Too bad it wasn’t far worse, she thought embittered.
The monstrous beings deployed a brisk pace. Theresa tried to look where they brought her. But in the dark her eyes weren’t as good as before. She didn’t fear for her life. If they wanted her dead, she would already be. She thought they wouldn’t rape her either because of her old age, but you never knew.
The Dulkas growled in a strange accent. Obviously it had been funny because they were chuckling as if they had heard a good joke.
They arrived at an open place in the forest, where five horses were tied up. Theresa tried one more time to escape by scratching her enemy, but it didn’t succeed. They tied her hands and feet and threw her astride on the back of one of the big horses. After breaking up their camp the leader, a guy still bigger than the rest gave the order to depart.
Will I ever see Kemir again, Theresa thought. The despair was enormous. As long as she had the courage and that she thought Kemir could catch up with them she had hoped. Now that they went further on horseback, she suspected Kemir had fewer chances to save her.
The Forest of Bandar was densely covered and many times they had to dismount in order to clear the way. The river Zifra divided the forest into two parts. It was probably a day’s journey to the river and then they still have to find a place to wade through to get to the other part of the forest. After that, you had the border and Mandros, the country of the Dulkas. Once they were there, all hope of rescue would have been lost.
‘Here is your finger, Wizard. It’s your turn now. Can you deliver what you have promised?’ Charles Stone gave him the little black bag with the finger. They had agreed to meet again in The Black Horse and with a mug of beer they were talking about their further plans.
Joeri Marten took the bag and cast a curious glance at the countenance.
‘I will do my best. My master Magister Darius Felten has to do the spell. It’s rather complicated and I myself doesn’t possess the power yet. But I had to lie about the origins of the finger. I’ve told him that it was a question coming from a common citizen. A lost ring from a ‘nobody’ is a whole other matter than the ring of a deceased King.’
Charles Stone wasn’t impressed with the flimsy excuse Joeri had invented.
‘It’s all the same to me if you can tell me where I have to search for this damn ring.’
‘You can’t think he will give you the right location to the inch. Magic isn’t a science, however, it leans very closely against. Science learns about natural any phenomenon, cause-and-effect. Magic is created out of nothing. In the best case, the spell will let us see the region where we have to search, with maybe some faint indications of the place where the ring is now. Maybe it’s advisable to keep a group of men ready who can go through this place.’
‘Leave that to me now and see to it that I get as fast as possible some news about the ring. I don’t need the finger anymore. You can destroy it after you have used it.’ Charles Stone left the inn and left Joeri Marten speechless behind.’
Joeri was faced with a dilemma. In fact, he had no choice but that didn’t make it easier. Charles Stone knew he was made a member of the Brotherhood of the Black Wizards with fake references and he used it as extortion against him. Of course, he could tell the truth, but that would mean the end of an education that would give him power. As long as Charles Stone was alive, he would control him. Maybe the collaboration wasn’t so bad, after all. A king or rather a king in the making between his circles of acquaintances could be useful to obtain a much-loved position. Royal Wizard! If he wouldn’t destroy the finger after using him for the spell, it would be a counter-pressure against the knowledge Charles Stones possessed against him. Yes, he would do that!
© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere 29/12/2014