Charles Stone had thought a lot already if he would be worthy of the ring. If it came to the point that the ring gave him the well-known allergy, he had to figure out a way to mislead the people. He knew his father’s brother, King Conrad, hadn’t liked him. It never had been well between him and the old King. He just couldn’t imagine that this sentimental old man didn’t see he was the right man to follow him up. Better even than King Conrad himself. The man had too much sympathy for the ordinary people. His audiences had been a succession of giving presents at his people. It was the people who had to serve the King and not otherwise.
Charles Stone was really convinced that the land could only benefit by having a King who ruled with a strong and stern hand. No empathy for persons who only made the country poorer. That’s why the pretender to the throne had surrounded himself with the richest and most powerful men of Upper and Downland. He had promised them wealth and territory if they would be loyal to him. Of course, these expectations were pinned on him, he knew that and that’s why he had to get the ring in his possession. It would improve his position in every department and with the ring he would have the support of the doubters.
That was also the reason he had planned a halt for in Spira. This department had most of the inhabitants who openly and bold had spoken against his possible crowning. He had, before his departure out of Carpagio, asked once more the financial help from the friendly nobility of Westerend. He had promised them big territories of the other departments. The best pieces of land, fertile and positioned in regions that were safe and where the inhabitants thought about humility as a common thing.
Charles Stone had something a lot different in mind to spend this money. Count Machelis Pira, the local sovereign of Spira, had not hesitated to speak out his aversion for Charles Stone. ‘It’s a parvenu and a parasite who lives on the back off subjects and who will not share something of his wealth.’ Yes, he knew what Count Pira had said. His spies were everywhere and they let him know who was for him and who was against. He couldn’t just eliminate the man. It would be stimulating a direct rebellion by all the nobility and even the ordinary people of Spira. He couldn’t afford it, certainly not at this time, now that he was searching for the ring.
When Zolden, the capital of Spira, appeared on the horizon, he had summoned Master Filiander. The old scientist sighed with the outlook to appear for the prince. It usually didn’t predict a lot of good things and every time you had to take his unpredictable and violent nature into account.
‘Monsignor, you had called for me?’ Mercandor Filiander wasn’t glad about the progress of their expedition. Their delay at Tjula to provide for new supplies had been ended in a massacre. The soldiers who had strict orders from the crown prince had intervened at the first resistance when the farmers had to give away the few possessions they had. At least thirty of the inhabitants had been put to the sword by the soldiers. The rest of the village dared not to take countermeasures and their supplies had been plundered. The few things that were left would scarcely be enough for a tenth of the whole village during a full week. The village was doomed to die. Master Filiander had protested, but it hadn’t helped at all. The soldiers were loyal to their leader. If he had done more than protesting it would have been at the expense of his life. The warriors were equally bloodthirsty in their acts as Charles Stone was in giving his orders.
‘Yes, that’s right,’ answered the prince. ‘I want to raise our camp in the fields before Zolden. We’re going to stay here for a couple of days. Bring the news to Count Pira that I want to speak to him. He will come to my tent and not otherwise. But, be diplomatic. Give him the news that in view of my future crowning I’m visiting the land with a message of peace. It will in every way draw his attention. I know that… well, I just know he will not resist his curiosity to figure out what I mean by that.’
Master Filiander frowned his brows. That was new, a message of peace. Charles Stone wasn’t a proponent of peace and understanding. If he could become richer by a war, he would let die hundreds of human beings for him. The man was up to something. He could see it from miles away. Count Machelis Pira would also suspect such a thing. However, the man, how strong he was opposed to the crowning of Charles Stone, he couldn’t afford to refuse this offer. He and his ancestors had pledged their loyalty to the Stone Dynasty. Every decade each of the leaders of every department had to renew this oath. Maybe it was just a formality, but an oath couldn’t be undone.
‘Sure, Monsignor, at your service. I’ll get the message to him and will try to placate the Count by bringing it to him as friendly as possible.’ He had pronounced his answer with a sarcastic tone of voice, but the prince didn’t notice it. Charles Stone had already passed to another matter.
‘Call the treasurer before executing my orders.’ Master Filiander could leave and he was happy for it. Every conversation with that priggish swank was a torture to him. Each time there were words on his lips, he couldn’t pronounce. Not if he still wanted to keep his head on his body for a while.
‘My dear Konaguire, may I present you to two human children?’ The woman who lived at the beautiful palace they had entered was stunning good-looking. She was a lot smaller than Magnus Lapis, the man who was called Teki by the human people. She wore her long black curly hair loose upon her back. Kon was dressed in a sky blue gown, but over that she had an apron since she was busy in the kitchen. The dress fitted marvelous with the color of her eyes, who had almost the same shade. Her friendly look and her mysterious smile instantly warmed their hearts.
‘My wife likes to help in the kitchen. She loves the most to bake pies because she knows I’m fond of them. They really are delicious, I have to watch that I don’t gain too much overweight and bent through the clouds.’ Teki’s roar of laughter filled the kitchen. Besides them, there were, at least, five persons busy with all kinds of culinary masterpieces.
‘Welcome, Kemir and Adriana. I’m always glad to meet someone from my homeland, however, most of the times it’s from a far distance. We don’t get along anymore with the people from beneath since they have stolen our stone.’
‘You lost a stone?’ Kemir had spoken before he realized it and he blushed because he had opened his mouth without permission to such an important person.
‘No, don’t be afraid, Kemir. You’re our guests and you can say and ask what you want. I don’t know if we may or possibly can answer everything. Since I spent my days here with my husband, unfortunately, I can’t go beneath anymore. The air and this place keep me young like I was before I came here. To go back would make me grow older in a moment, a certain death for me. Later we’ll more about the stone, but let offer you some food first. I know you haven’t eaten a real meal in the last days.’
Kemir and Adriana looked at each other. How did they know what they had done lately? It was a strange remark, but their growling stomachs made them realize they were indeed very hungry. They wouldn’t deny a proper meal.
Konaguire led them to a big room where in the meantime the table was set already. When they were sitting at it, a few people entered the room with large scales. Their eyes jumped almost out of their head when the servants lifted the covers from the scales. Roasted ducks, quails, pheasants and a lot of food they even didn’t know the name, were lying on one of the largest scales which was carried by two men. The smaller scales contained fruit and vegetables they had never seen before.
Adriana took a white apple from one of these scales. ‘Strange, I’ve never seen an apple with this color before. How do you call this?’
‘You would call it a cloud apple, I’ll save you our term for it, since it’s a language on his own, not to be learned in a moment. Besides, you can only find them here. Our fruit would rot being on earth. I suppose this will be a something unique for you both.’
Kemir looked at Teki, hesitating if he could attack.
‘Eat… just eat, my friends,’ he answered their unspoken question. ‘Gather back your power for your adventures. Afterward, I’ll tell you our story. The truth, because we don’t live in peace anymore with the earth people. The story of the Stone of Creation.
Every day Liborok had brought Theresa some of his food. It was the best pieces he left for her. Because he was one of the leaders, he had the power to make her shift somewhat lighter. She got promoted and had to supervise some works, without having to do the heavy work herself anymore. Normally she would have refused such a preferential treatment. She wouldn’t be better than someone else. But the idea to get closer to her escape, made her accept this prerogative.
She really didn’t have given Liborok the idea she would jump around his neck, but she treated him a lot more humanely than the other Dulkas. She had polished his chain mail a few times and a warrior as Liborok esteemed a lot of value at his appearance as a soldier. She knew this and had done it with that goal for her eyes. His vanity was flattered and he even became a lot friendlier with her closest friends too.
Talia, her best friend in the camp, had to agree against her will after a while, there were some feelings inside of a Dulka. After the treatment of her by Kulkadan, she had thought that his fellow Dulkas were the same. Every one of them was her enemy and she didn’t possess a grain of trust anymore in these monsters.
Theresa started to feel some remorse. She misled the warrior and when eventually would be aware of that he could make an end to her life in one good aimed punch. However, she had to risk it. Her stay with the Dulkas would one or another day go wrong and afterward they would mention Theresa anymore. She would end in a shallow grave, murdered and mutilated by one of these brutes.
A certain night when she returned to her tent after her shift, she didn’t find her personal belongings back. One of the children told her that Liborok’s men took them away and had carried them outside. She suspected this was the moment she already had feared for a little time. It was a custom that the woman a Dulka desired moved in with him. Her things would have found their way to Liborok’s tent for sure. If she reacted negatively, all would have been for nothing.
‘What must I do, Talia?’ she asked her friend when she had found out about the disappearance of things and knew what had happened.
‘I don’t know, Theresa. If I hear the stories of the young women, I’m really afraid for you. But Liborok isn’t like the other young commanders or any Dulka for that matter. He’s softer, more peaceful. Although I’m obviously not a friend of these barbarians, I think you have to take your chance, certainly if you want to proceed with your plan.’
Theresa nodded. It was as if she got her courage back by Talia’s words. She took her friend close and kissed her amicable on her cheek. ‘Be ready, Talia. If you want to go with me and now that I have the courage, it cannot be long anymore. Keep watching Liborok’s tent. I’ll give you a sign.’
She left with a firm pace the big tent of the women and children. Many Dulkas were looking at her when she passed through the camp. She saw in their eyes and their filthy smile they knew she was on her way to Liborok’s tent. The news had probably spread very fast between the ranks of the Dulkas. Theresa swallowed a moment when she thought what she was risking.
The tent of Liborok was situated on the border of the camp and when she approached it, she saw two elite soldiers standing watch at both sides of the entrance to the tent of their leader. They nodded at her as a sign she could enter, without showing a sign of mockery or satisfaction. It was a real difference with the faces of the soldiers she had met along her way to the tent. It restored her confidence to eventually enter the tent.
Despite the evening in the meantime had fallen, it was rather bright in the tent. A few fires that served as heating glowed red, but it was especially the torches that gave a warm glow at everything that was inside. At the left, side there was a table and a chair. Since there were maps on the table, Theresa supposed Liborok read at that place the orders he received from his leader Kulkadan and also wrote there his own orders to his soldiers. On the right side, there was a sea of cushion in all sorts of colors. Theresa counted , at least, twenty of them. Liborok loved the luxury of it. She saw velvet, satin, cotton and linen cushions. All in bright colors. In that way, he wasn’t very different from the other Dulkas.
Liborok lay upon this sea of pillows and was busy eating grapes. He followed her with his eyes from the moment she had entered. He grumbled, pleased with her arrival. ‘Theresa…’ he spoke with a husky bass voice.
‘Commander Liborok.’ She made a proper bow. A little curtsey in honor of his title.
‘Make yourself comfortable,’ he went on and pointed at a little heap of cushions on his right side. There was something warm in his voice, a certain tenderness she never had heard with another Dulka. Again she felt something like remorse for what she had to do to him. Theresa had not the habit to do something sneaky and to mislead someone. The end justifies the means, she thought while she swallowed away her sudden objection and did sit down on the cushions.
© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere
And now, a moment of pause for the writer, concerning this story.