SS/Fantasy A Crystar based story
By brian francis
Orfus stood in the doorway of the master’s wagon, watching the soldiers tie their horses. He so dreaded these visits from the local lord’s men. It never failed; it was, as it always will be. When a successful run of shows occurs, taxes are tallied and collected, by the local lord’s appointed ruffians. Why do they always go to the tinker’s wagons, he wondered as he ran his hands through his long black hair.
“This way gentlemen.” He said stepping out of the doorway and allowing the light from within to spill out. “I am always glad to have a few of the loyal around. Is there anything particular I can do for you gentlemen?”
It was a blonde soldier, a Lieutenant of the Guard, by the insignia he wore, that spoke up, “We are here to collect the taxa, and inspect this menagerie.” Looking Orfus up and down he extended his right arm and smiled as he waited for what should have been a common courtesy.
Yet, Orfus just watch him, hands planted firmly on his hips. “I have inspection papers not two months old. Signed by the Lord-Regent Trefant of Kingshold-Milborn. I also don’t believe that you have the authority to inspect my menagerie. You don’t even have a healer with you, how do you intend to determine the condition of the animals.” The timidness of his earlier demeanor had vanished, replaced by the firm conviction of the master of arms he once was. No stranger to heavy work Orfus was built broad and solid. He had seen real soldiers die when he served in the army of the realm and these were not what he considered real soldiers.
Taken aback by the instant transformation of the man now before him, the soldier slowly let his arm drop to his side. But quickly he remembered his position, and met the challenge head on. Throwing his chest out and letting his sword hand fall onto the hilt of the long sword at his side. “I am acting on the instruction, and within the authority of Shield-Lord Thames, I also have the authority to arrest you and seize your whole show. So if you would like to interfere, rather than assist us, I could prove that point to you” he said, his voice low and intense – his eyes burning with scorn.
None of the men facing Orfus noticed yet another horse slowly approaching from out of the darkness. Silently, more silently than any horse should be able to step, the large black strode into the lighted area behind the soldiers. On the back of that horse sat an armored knight in the colors of purple and gold. Orfus recognized a Royal Knight of Crystar when he saw one. His tone immediately softened and he fell to one knee in the custom of the field officer that still haunted his very bearing. He was kneeling as though before his commander in the field making the sign of respectful submission.
“That is more like what I expect from a lowborn troubadour. I think you have finally realized your place in life knave” said the blonde guard, a self-satisfied smirk rising on his face. “I was just about to increase the taxa for your little show here, but now I can be reasonable, since you have realized your error.
“I don’t believe you understand –your- position Lieutenant,” came a booming voice from behind the guards. “In fact, I am amazed that you have even attained that position talking to people like that. Now, I think it is time for you to go. Oh, and don’t forget to tell your little lord that I’ll be collecting the taxa from this troupe. If he has a problem with that you can bring him to castle Rillian in the morning when you report to me for reassignment. Am I being clear Lieutenant? Now take your charges out of here, before I get off of this horse and teach you proper respect.” The guards wasted little time, as they uttered their apologies, saluted, and mounted their horses, riding away quickly – without looking back.
“You served in the war I take it. The gesture was not missed.” The Knight said as he swung down from his mount. His movement was fluid and even graceful. The body Armour he wore made hardly a sound as he strode toward Orfus. “Rise up and greet me as a warrior.” He said, removing his helm and extending his arm.
Orfus stood and received the hardy greeting always extended between true brothers in arms. Clasping each other’s forearms, they embraced with their other arms while they both said in unison “Honor or death,” before releasing their brief holds on each other.
The night air was heavy with dampness as the two men sat, the knight on the wagon steps and Orfus on his stool. After some brief pleasantries and the obligatory discourse regarding Orfus’ years in service the truth of this visit came.
Knight Commander Jergins explained that he was escorting a royal party from the coast to the temple in Forsmores, a number of the party being children. Having spent the past few weeks on a ship and now in a slow-moving caravan the kids were getting stir crazy and needed something to divert their attention, and relieve the tensions of the past month. The children were about twenty-five minutes behind the commander and would be expecting a show from those now prepareing there dismantling of the .
The troupe had just begun to tear down the equipment in preparation for their departure the following day when Orfus announced the added show. After some grumbling and complaining the troupe rallied and the riggings were going back together. After they had prepared the equipment and were waiting for the arrival of their audience, they tried to imagine who would be coming. Bets were placed among the performers as they watched with mounting anticipation for the arrival of the honored guest.
When the knights then led in four children wearing the emblem of the Royal house. The show went on. The magic did not seem to impress the children, and the animals were not quite up to yet another show after doing so many throughout the day. But when the clowns came on the children’s faces lit up. It was one of the best performances that the clowns had ever done. It was as though the children sparked something with their rolling laughter. The clowns played up to the children, making them laugh harder and harder, until there were tears rolling done their faces.
After the show a knight handed Orfus a pouch of gems. Inside the pouch was more than the combined receipts of the previous month. The children all expressed their appreciation for the performance and especially thanked the clowns.
The following morning, as the equipment was being readied for the move to the next stop on their tour, the knights appeared again. This time the Overlord was with them. His clothes immediately betrayed identity. He was wearing the Royal colors, and his chest carried the Royal Seal. His tunic and boots were fringed with fur, as had become his personal style. As he approached, his honor guard, consisting of four Royal Knights and twenty High Knights, surrounded him. In the front of the procession rode a squire, who announced to all, “Make way for Overlord Degar.”
It was just as the Overlord rode up to the main wagon that a couple of the clowns started to mimic the procession. The clowns acted as if they were riding horses and started to push their way in and out of the crowd of performers that had gathered around the wagon. Orfus was getting nervous until the Overlord started laughing as he pointed at the clowns. “I heard about those clowns of yours”
Degar talked with Orfus in the wagon before they both announced his invitation to City Crystar. The carnival people all broke into cheers, and started to dance with each other, around the Knights — who all smiled graciously, although they seemed somewhat nervous. Degar told Orfus to make the trip as fast as he could. The carnival was at least thirty-five days away from the Kingdom’s outer wall. Once they got that far, they would still have eight days ahead of them. A high knight stayed with them to ensure their passage was uneventful. As the caravan came upon toll roads or toll bridges, the knight ordered that the gates be opened — without charge.
The taxes for passage into the kingdom were another matter. Each of the wagons was taxed for the value of its contents. The animals were taxed and inspected for any signs of disease. It had taken fifteen hours to get the caravan through the gates of the kingdom. The High Knight that had been accompanying the caravan was out ranked by the Royal Knight Commander who was in charge of the gate.
The caravan had stopped for the night just inside the kingdom’s northern gate. The animals were restless due to the long inspection endured during entry into the kingdom. The guards did not try to upset the animals, but they have never liked strangers poking around their cages. Moving a menagerie from one place to the next was trying at best, but entering the outer wall of the Kingdom of Crystar had proved to be a truly harrowing ordeal.
They’d pushed the animals and themselves hard for over a month to get this far. Yet, they still would not arrive until after the start of festival, and they wouldn’t be prepared to perform until a day after they arrived.
Orfus, the carnival manager, realized the opportunity that Overlord Degar had handed him. It is only by invitation that any show can perform in the kingdom. The carnival had petitioned the kingdom on many occasions for permission to tour, but the kingdom Representatives he had approached could not seem to get the authorizations together. It was the luck of chance that the Overlord had been in town with his family while the carnival was playing at Devenshite.
Finally, through the gate and out of Northgate, the caravan stopped for the night. The excitement of the caravan’s arrival into Kingdom Crystar kept the carnival crews up most of the night. Orfus was the only one who had ever been in the kingdom. And that was only in the city of Eastgate when he applied for the permits to tour the kingdom.
The following morning, as they readied for the day’s journey, an elf approached one of the clowns asking to ride along with the caravan. Orfus said it would be all right with him as long as the elf pulled his own weight. Which was, as all knew, the only real rule the applied to membership in the troupe. The elf rode part of the day with the clowns, the worn browns and grays of his tunic and robes made him stand out among the clowns and their multicolored garb. After lunch he rode with Orfus in the lead wagon. They had talked during the noon meal and the elf had sparked intrigue, Orfus had a nose for ability and he new he’d found some in this elf. He just wasn’t sure what it was yet.
“From where to you come, Dern?” Orfus said to the elf.
“I have been all over, from the forests of the Sapphire Sea coast to the jungles of the southern continent. Now I am returning to the forest of my birth near City Crystar,” the elf responded.
“We are also going to City Crystar, a command performance during the Festival of Warriors. We have received an invitation from Overlord Degar.”
“I understand that the festival has been delayed due to the absence of the King,” said the elf.
“Surely you jest.”
“No. I overheard some knights discussing the disappearance of the King just this morning.”
“Are you sure that they said the festival was canceled?” questioned Orfus as beads of sweat formed on his forehead.
“I did not say canceled, I merely said delayed,” the elf responded laughing. “The knights spoke as though this occurs regularly. They seemed concerned, but not overly so.”
“Perfect! Just perfect,” Orfus exclaimed. “Our first chance to play to the King and he decides to play hide and seek with his knights instead. I had such hopes for all of us — it simply isn’t fair.”
“Now, now, there isn’t any reason to be upset about something you can’t change. If you have come this far to perform for the King then you will perform for the King. Don’t let this small problem drown the excitement of the moment,” the elf said while placing his hand on the back of his new friend.
“You’re right! The Overlord is a man of honor. I am sure that he would not let us down after having us travel this far. You must promise not to tell anyone else of this conversation you’ve overheard. The others are so excited about finally getting a chance to perform in the kingdom.”
Orfus decided to keep the elf close by to make sure he didn’t reveal his secret. As they made camp that night the clowns broke into their act for some of the kingdom’s residents who had gathered around the camp. Soon the whole group joined in the impromptu show. An atmosphere of exuberance rose as the group performed. There were fire-eaters roaming around the camp followed by children from the nearby villages. One of the performers cast some illusions in the air making evil-looking demoniac forms appear in the swirling smoke of the cooking fire. A juggler tossed his swords one at a time high into the air and kept five of them spinning as they rose and fell. The fat lady became the troupe master, introducing the acts as the other performers took turns in the center of camp performing their feats.
Orfus noticed that the elf’s eyes filled with tears as he watched the performance from the edge of the circle nearby.
“What’s wrong my friend?” Orfus asked, kneeling beside the elf.
“I am just enjoying the show. The people’s warmth makes me feel so good. You must be very proud of your friends; they are truly wonderful people,” the elf said, clearing his eyes with the sleeve of his tunic.
“I’ve seen many reactions from the audience during our shows, but this is the first time I’ve seen a person cry.”
After a while some kingdom guards rode up on their horses and cleared the people away so the group could eat their meal and get some rest. They informed Orfus that they were set by Lord Bregg to escort them to Lordstown about a day south of their present position. They also informed him that due to unfortunate circumstances the festival in City Crystar would be delayed one week. Lord Bregg, through his guards, requested the carnival set up in Lordstown to perform for him and the children of his district. Now that they had extra time on their hands Orfus thought it would be a good to use the time to practice the show for a couple of days.
As the sun rose the next morning, the carnival moved out with their escorts in the lead. The elf was still riding in the front wagon with Orfus. Soon yelling could be heard coming from the middle area of the caravan. The wagons slowed and spread out as they all came to a stop. Orfus thought one of the wagons had lost a wheel so he stopped and started to walk back.
When he got back to the others, they were crowded around a young boy who had been hiding under one of the wagons. He had fallen from his perch and the wheels of the wagon rolled over his legs.
Orfus sent one of the clowns to get the guards as he tried to stop the bleeding. The troupe gathered around him and did what they could to help. The injuries were rather severe. One of the boy’s legs was crushed so badly that it appeared to be almost completely amputated. There were also numerous other injuries to his head and right arm.
As the clown passed the head wagon, the elf called to him inquiring what had occurred. Ignoring his inquiry, the clown continued up the road to where the guards had gathered beneath a wide oak tree. After only a few seconds the guards came riding quickly back toward the caravan and the group of people gathered in the middle. When the clown passed again, he stopped at Orfus’ wagon for a drink from the water barrel.
“What’s going on back there? Did one of the wagons lose a wheel?” the elf asked.
“No, it is much worse than that,” the clown said gasping. “A boy was run over by one of the wagons.”
No sooner had the words left the mouth of the clown that Dern leapt from the wagon and ran to the scene.
When Dern arrived. The guards were doing what they could but the injuries were far too severe for the simple abilities of those present. The boy was losing consciousness when the elf pushed his way through the crowd.
“Get out of my way. NOW!” the elf said pushing a guard and Orfus to the side as he knelt beside the boy.
“Boy! – Boy! — Can you hear me boy, answer me!” he screamed, almost sobbing. “Open your eyes and look at me.”
The boy obeyed and his eyelids slowly rose as the elf bent over him and looked into his eyes. Then as the elf’s hands began to glow with a strange blue light he screamed as though he wanted the gods to hear him. The crowd slowly backed away, as the energy in the elf’s hands started to engulf both himself and the boy. They watched in awe as the twisted ruin of the boy started to heal, the twisted form of his legs becoming normal again. As the boy’s wounds healed, the elf started to show the signs of injuries. His pant legs slowly turned scarlet red and a wound opened on his forehead. Soon the elf collapsed onto the boy who was much improved.
The troupe told the guards that the elf was a member of their caravan and they carefully lifted him into a wagon with the boy. The speed of the caravan’s movement was increased dramatically as they tried to get their elfin friend to Lordstown and help before he died. Almost all the members of the troupe were sad. Yet, they felt a sense of pride as they thought about what their new friend had done.
At the end of the day they were within sight of the city; the guards had sent ahead for a cleric to take care of the elf and the boy. He was in the wagon with them pushing Orfus to hurry. When they made it to Lordstown, the two were taken into the temple. As the members of the troupe gathered around the temple some prayed for the elf; others made offerings, or promised the gods that they would do anything – if only….
When one of the monks came out of the temple and ran up the street, they grew more concerned. They asked to see their friend, but were turned away. They were told that the situation was too dangerous right now. Soon a dwarf appeared surrounded by an honor guard. One of the members of the troupe overheard a cleric greet him as Lord Bregg. Guards approached the troupe and instructed them to move their wagons to the parade field, just south of the city.
Orfus directed the troupe to move out and take all the wagons and animals to the parade field as the guards had ordered. Two of the members stayed at the temple awaiting news of their friend. As they passed through the city the residents came out to cheer and watch the procession. The troupe was so sad that even the clowns didn’t make any effort to draw the crowd with them as was normal when arriving in a city. They all just sat on the wagons looking glum and not seeming to care about the children who were running along behind them.
When they arrived at the parade field, they began to set up their tents and make camp ready. All worked silently at their tasks. When a guard appeared on the road, they called to him for information, but he knew nothing about the situation. He continued on his way into the town. About an hour after they started to set up camp, one of wagon masters called out pointing to the sky. Orfus, who was inside his wagon, came out and looked at what was causing the commotion. In the sky to the Southeast he saw a sight he could barely believe. There were two horsemen riding across the sky toward them. The hooves of their mounts left a trail of fire behind them. It appeared they were about to land among them.
“They’re riding night mares,” a magician yelled. “I thought they were just legend. Look at them fly– aren’t they beautiful.”
As the night mares got closer to the parade field they also got closer to the ground. When they were about a quarter of a mile away they touched down in a field of green wheat. The fire from the hooves of the horses ignited the field and it tried to burn behind them as they continued on toward the city gates. When they rode past the carnival caravan Orfus recognized them, they were Royal Knights of the kingdom.
That night passed slowly as the troupe found themselves sitting around camp talking of the day’s events. They all had thought the elf was a little strange at first, his tendency to be all quiet and watching everything made him appear devious. Yet, his selfless sacrifice for the boy had proved his worth. They all wished that they could have gotten to know him better. Orfus thought badly of himself for not really trusting the elf to keep his mouth shut about the disappearance of the King. Soon the two who remained behind at the temple were brought to the camp by some of the city guards.
They were questioned thoroughly by the other members of the troupe. They revealed little other than the arrival of the Royal Knights at the temple.
The next morning, Lord Bregg appeared at the caravan’s camp with the boy who had been injured the previous day. Lord Bregg seemed tired and worried. He told the troupe that they should prepare for a show that evening. Many of the troupe members didn’t want to do a show and Orfus had to convince them that they had a responsibility to prepare for the show in City Crystar. They had now been traveling for over a month. Their only practice had been the occasional impromptu shows for the people who gathered around them in the evenings. This was their one chance to really practice before they played the most important show of their lives.
After hearing Orfus’ argument, they all agreed and started to prepare for that evening’s event. After the tents were readied, the clowns and the wagons that held the wild animals, went through the city streets to draw the crowd out to the parade field. The people followed and gathered for the show. The event went as planned; they were, after all, professionals. Orfus could see that their hearts weren’t really into the show. They were tired and still worried about their friend. The crowd didn’t seem to notice the troupe’s few mistakes. The applause and cheers seemed to bring out the best in the troupe and as always, the children sparked the magic.
After the show was over, they decided to stay for a couple of days more practice before continuing on their way. This decision was made to allow them to be near the newest member of their family — the elf. The next two days gave them the time they needed to put their troubles behind them. They practiced and perfected their acts. They made final adjustments to the new outfits designed and made during their trek across the realm. The troupe was ready to head to City Crystar. They had found out that the elf had been transported to the city so that he could receive better care. The boy had stayed with them and was doing odd jobs while he received training from a number of the troupe members.
They still had six day’s travel to get to the capital city. Their spirits were still down but there was daily improvement. Orfus constantly tried to get their minds off the troubles that they had come through in getting this far. Around camp in the evenings he would start singing and getting everybody involved in a, spirit raising, round of song. He was a bard and knew many of the legends of Crystar. It seemed to be working.
When they arrived in City Crystar, children gathered around them in the streets, slowing their progress to a crawl. Every one of the wagon drivers was so concerned about the children getting hurt that it took them over an hour to travel only a few hundred feet. Soon guards surrounded the caravan and kept the children away from the wagons. Progress was still slow but eventually they did get to the large park in the center of the city that was where they were supposed to set up. Guards were posted around the park to keep the people away while the tents were made ready, and they prepared for the show of their lives.
When the time came for the big show all were nervous. The trumpets sounded when the Overlord arrived. Overlord Degar informed them that the King would be a little late. He also instructed them to start the show before the King arrived. The crowd was enormous; they had to turn away what seemed like thousands. The people in the crowd of this, their first show, were mostly royals and orphans from the Royal Orphanage Society. After the show started, during the act with the trained stallions, the trumpets sounded, marking the arrival of the King. As he walked into the tent, dressed in his royal purple robes, they all realized that the King was their elfin friend. It never even occurred them that Sire Gadron (the Grand Elfin Wizard) had been that compassionate friend they all felt such sorrow over. As the acts continued that night all of the performers put their hearts into it. The happiness that they felt made the shows that followed the finest example of a traveling carnival.
The troupe stayed for two months, playing three shows a day to a packed tent. They were even invited to Castle Crystar to dine with the King. There he awarded them the royal starburst, which made their carnival the official carnival of Crystar. They learned that Sire Gadron occasionally sneaks out of the castle, alone, the better to understand his people and the trials of their everyday lives. It was during one of those expeditions that they came to know him as Dern, their elfin friend.