Charles Stone not only had a lot of power and influence inside Carpagio but also beyond the borders of the city. His name was well known both in Upper and Downland and was sometimes pronounced with respect but mostly with fear. His cruelty and unpredictable temper were legendary and nobody would draw the attention of the pretender to the throne at him. The possibility to make him your enemy was too risky.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising that on his urgent request to fetch the most important geographers of the region, he got a prompt reaction coming out of fear of reprisals in case they would decline. The scientists were brought before him as a group.
Between them, the wise gentlemen had decided to appoint Master Filiander Mercandor as their spokesman. He was not only the oldest but also the most experienced and traveled man in their midst. The fact he was from the nobility had somewhat counted in their decision. Master Mercandor was already very old and had to walk with a walking cane to support his rheumatic body. His long hoary hair fell in waves alongside his oblong face. He was dressed in a heavy velvet red robe of a Master and on his head was a flat professor bonnet with a colorful peacock feather. He also wore the seal of the city of Carpagio around his neck, a gift he got from the city council for his services for years on end.
The honorable Master of Science slowly strutted out of the group until he stood before the seat Charles Stone was sitting on. Nonetheless, he walked difficultly, Filiander Mercandor tried to greet his Lord with a humble bow. ‘Monsignor, may I offer you in the name of our group our esteem and our services. What can we do today to please the Monsignor?’
Charles Stone wasn’t impressed by the entrance of the scientists. Half sagged in his seat, he was busy cleaning his fingernails with a hunting knife. He didn’t offer the old man a chair what was a common use under the reign of King Conrad. His impatience and contempt were showing on his face when he with a sudden move planted the hunting knife with a hard strike in the armrest of the seat.
All of the geographers bowed their heads and closed their eyes, frightened for his eventual anger. Master Mercandor didn’t move an inch but didn’t bow or closed his eyes. On the contrary, the inquisitive look he had before had changed in a dangerous flickering and his lips became a fine line while he jutted out his chin.
‘You have to forgive me, Monsignor,’ he spoke uninvited, ‘but with the years my hearing isn’t as good anymore as I was young. Were you about to ask our experienced opinion about something? We shall… as we have done before for your uncle… serve you with our humble advice as good as possible. Had you asked the question yet, Monsignor, or have my old ears again deceived me?’ The Master held his free hand beside his ear while he looked straight and fearless in the eyes of Charles Stone.
The young prince squeezed his eyes a moment long and furrowed his brow surprised about this question. Was the old man laughing at him or was he really stone deaf? With a short movement of his head, he shook the questions out of him. ‘I’ve called you here together because of your knowledge of the geography of our regions in Upper and Downland. In the name of the salvage of our Kingdom and the continued existence of the Stone Dynasty I have to know where a certain region can be found, Master Filiander.’
The Master wasn’t ready yet with his spectacle. ‘I don’t understand, Monsignor, forgive me. A region is always there at the place it has always been. I’ve never heard of a traveling region.’ The old university man looked very surprised at Charles Stone and he heard in the background his colleagues catching their breath. The flickering in his eyes had been transformed into little-laughing lights.
Charles Stone jumped out of his seat and kicked with his foot one of the nearby pillows into the room. ‘Know your place, Master! I don’t tolerate mockery, not even from an old esteemed greybeard.’
Master Mercandor knew that he couldn’t go further, he had to restrain himself. Maybe his name and fame would prevent him to be one of the mysterious missing persons who were connected with Charles Stone, but he still liked to enjoy the few last years of his life. If this youngster spoke to the right people, they could expel him from the Guild. Nonetheless, he wouldn’t let Charles Stone intimidate him, he knew out of experience how far he was allowed to go. ‘We will listen to your further explanation, Monsignor and we’ll hope to be able to help you.’
‘Have you, on your travels, heard of a rock in the waters of the Great Ocean that resembles a sea dog?’ He took a paper out of his gambeson with a picture Joeri Marten, the wizards apprentice, had given him. ‘The rock should look like the one in this drawing.’ He passed the paper to the Master who looked at it together with his colleagues.
A murmuring of squabbling voices was filling up the room. One geographer thought the rock looked more like a child who was playing, another one was of the opinion it had the form of a woman. Obviously they couldn’t reach a compromise, after which Master Filiander addressed himself to Charles Stone again. ‘Monsignor, we couldn’t identify it on first sight. I suggest we look and examine our charts and drawing collections of the sceneries. May I ask about the context of this particular rock?’
Meanwhile, the prince had regained his seat. ‘No, you may not,’ was his short and acrimonious answer. ‘The only thing I have to know is where I can find this rock. How long do you need to give me an answer to that? It’s extremely urgent. Good information will be rewarded, that’s obvious. The contrary, however…’ He didn’t finish his sentence but drew the hunting knife out of the armrest of the seat. The scientists didn’t need further explanation. After they had promised to give an answer to his question, the delegation of geographers withdrew to proceed with the work of the princely request.
Tom Varsen was pleased with the company. Jul Branden, of course, was a lot older than himself, but the man could tell about his voyages with such a youthful enthusiasm, he forgot in terms of age, Jul could almost be his father. Most of the times Tom he stayed on the sidelines when there was an adult in the company. However, his new companion was so special that this time he talked sixteen to the dozen about his father Imor and deceased mother Elisa as if Jul was a relative he hadn’t seen for years.
‘It’s good for a young man to honor his parents,’ Jul answered. ‘Preferable when they are still alive,’ he added wisely. ‘Family is important, they are our roots so that we know where we belong. We know through them what and who we are and it’s through our mutual love that we can blossom.’ Jul gazed in front of him after these words. Obviously he suddenly was somewhere else in his mind.
‘Have you traveled through all the departments, Jul?’ It was the umpteenth question he launched at Jul Branden. The youngster was curious about the travel experiences of his older companion. For the first time being so far from home without his father accompanying him, this journey had something special.
‘I will tell you later during our voyage, maybe even this evening already, what you can expect during our travel. First of all, we have to get off our horses to lead them past this rock formation. I know a path, but we have to be careful so that our animals don’t hurt themselves.’
Tom dismounted from his horse Branco and followed Jul who carefully lead his mare June. The path first went a bit aloft, but soon would descend further on and that was the most difficult part concerning the animals. It could happen any time that they made a false step and hurt one of their legs. Without a ride, this travel would become perilous and, above all, last much longer. It was difficult for Tom to keep the fiery stallion in control, that’s why he whispered soft words to him to put him at ease.
Jul nodded appreciatively when he saw Tom taking care of Branco. A man who cared for his riding animal couldn’t be completely bad he thought while looking for traitorous mountain cleaves in the rock path. ‘Now we have to move a bit slower, Tom,’ he warned the boy, ‘if we get through this unharmed, we have had the worst of this path. Both Branco and June acted exemplary and in no time they were beneath the little hillside.
Even before Jul or Tom had seen her, the agitation with the horses was a sign that something was waiting along their way. It was only an old woman who was resting on the side of the road. Next to her was a bag with shrub. Obviously she just had gathered some dead wood to make a fire this evening. She wore a gray worn out dress and that was odd. Who clothed himself in such a dull color? You couldn’t tell by her clothing from where she came. They already had passed the border of Westerend with Kondor, so the colors would be blue or red, even one of the combinations, but this woman they couldn’t identify.
‘Hello, Mummy,’ Jul greeted, ticking with his hand against his forehead. ‘Aren’t you afraid of the Buldra, alone out without someone to protect you?’
The woman stood up with a bit of effort. Her face was carved with wrinkles, but her eyes looked very lively. They were as gray as her clothing. With her hands, cracked from old age, she rubbed against her skirts to wipe some grass away from it. Nonetheless, she was looking in the direction of the sun, she didn’t protect her eyes. Obviously her sight wasn’t so good anymore and cataract was a common disease among older people.
‘My name’s Jul Branden, Mummy, and this is Tom Varsen. We’re on our way to Mandregon. Who do we have the honor speaking to?’ It sounded very distinguished.
‘Jul Branden and Tom Varsen, yes. Well, you just arrive at the right time. I’ve got a little job you can do for me. With my old legs, many works are too difficult to me. If you help me, you have a roof to sleep under this evening. I’m Moira Goldfoot and what’s your answer?’
They both look at each other. Jul was used to sleep outside, but to spend the night indoors was always more comfortable than in the open. ‘Alright, Moira, you just got yourselves four helping hands. What can we do for you?’
The little old lady obviously was very pleased with their decision. ‘Wonderful, that’s very kind of you two. My roof needs to be repaired otherwise if it rains later on I will not have enough pots and pans to put under the roof holes. I’m too old to climb on the roof, much too dangerous to break something.’
‘Right, we’ll go to make work of it, Mummy. I didn’t know there was a little house here. However, it’s already a while since I passed here along and I don’t always travel the same roads, would be too dull.’
Moira looked at him for a moment. ‘I live here all my life, so I guess it’s just a coincidence you looked over my house. I certainly would remember you if you were, Jul Branden of Kondor. Yes, that I can see still with my old eyes, you’re wearing the colors of our department. I, myself, don’t like the use of colored clothing, far too conspicuous. I’m an old woman already and I’ve got all the colors here around me in Mother Nature. That’s enough for me.’
Jul and Tom followed the old woman who was still reasonably fit for her age. After a half hour walk alongside little paths, through shrubbery and even a little forest, they arrived at a little hut with a straw roof. Jul, who had a professional eye for such things, instantly saw the roof indeed needed to be taken care of.
‘We’ll tidy up this roof, Moira Goldfoot. Just tell us where your tools are and the straw. Tom and I will look to it that you keep it dry next time it rains.’
© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere 07/02/2015