All the King’s Children

SS — By Brian Francis Short Story / Fantasy 2156 — WORDS

The kingdom started the Royal Orphanage Society soon after the great war of Fernrug (also known as the Bloody Field). It is said that when Crystar defeated the army of Banstir, Sire Gadron went to visit the newly conquered areas. As he visited the cities and villages, he noticed that there were a large number of children living on the street. The King felt bad that the war had left so many without husbands, fathers, and brothers. When a newly appointed Lord Overseer ordered all the children gathered up, because of the rising petty crime, the King was furious.

The King summoned the Overseer to the stronghold he had been using as his royal court, where he proceeded to humiliate and degrade the Overseer in a way that was so unlike the King. Lord Antio, the King’s most trusted adviser, was present and soon came to the defense of the young Overseer. When Sire Gadron heard the explanation offered by Lord Antio, that the children were being gathered for their protection, the King relaxed. He then congratulated the young Overseer on the fine job he was doing. The young man was then quickly escorted out of the room by Antio. Antio told him that he was doing the right thing but that he needed to look into the future when making decisions and plan accordingly. They both then went to a room together to make a plan of action. In that small meeting room the two men started what was to become the King’s favorite project.

Over the next few months, orphanages started popping up all over the kingdom and Realm. Antio took it upon himself to unite the many and disparate orphanages, and so was born the Royal Orphanage Society. When the King finally became involved, he made an edict outlining the care the children should receive, including education. He believed that the strength of a person was in the mind not the muscle. He often said he could see the future of Crystar in the minds and hearts of the children of the kingdom.

Soon he started the royal college of City Crystar, to supply the orphanages with knowledgeable masters and mistresses. He visited many of the orphanages and even chose some of the children to come and serve in the castle. Those children selected for this honor were given the finest education the kingdom could offer. The people of the kingdom also did their part. When the people discovered that this was the King’s favorite project it became the fashion to assist the orphanages in every way possible. Business proprietors, nobles, and the families of lesser royalty soon assumed any roles available to them to assist their local royal orphanage, in the hopes that the King would take notice.

When Lord Antio found that he didn’t have enough time to devote to the project, he decided to appoint me as the Lord Commissioner of the Royal Orphanage Society. I will never forget that day. I was just rising as a knock came at the door. When I answered the door, I found two Royal Knights standing outside. They told me to hurry and get dressed — the King was waiting. I ran to my bedroom and tried to dress as fast as I could. The King wanted me, I thought to myself; I couldn’t figure out what I had done. I remember getting halfway dressed when I needed to sit down; the strain of the moment was more than I could bear. I sat there dazed for a while before I heard the knight.

“Excuse me sir, but the King is waiting for us,” the knight said abruptly as he stood in the doorway of my bedroom. “Grab your things, you can get dressed in the carriage.”

On the way to the castle I dressed myself in the clothes and the two right-footed boots I had grabbed. I could see the castle looming larger and larger as we approached. I was feeling sick to my stomach as we passed through the main gate. When the carriage stopped at the foot of the stairs that lead to the main entrance I felt as though I would pass out.

A servant opened the side door to my right and greeted me as I stepped out of the carriage.

“Good morning, Sir,” he said in a cheerful voice while bowing his head.

When he closed the door the carriage moved on and turned into a passage that took it under the castle steps. The two knights dismounted their horses and escorted me into the castle. We walked through the throne room and up a long corridor to a room bearing the inscription “Lord’s Chambers.” The knights swung open the doors and there he was — the King.

I slowly entered the room with my head bowed. I walked toward the King the knights on either side. I felt a hand on my shoulder and stopped, afraid to look up I hesitated before I fell to my knee.

“Rise, my friend, and eat some breakfast with me,” a voice said.

Still afraid to look up, I stayed kneeling with my head bowed. My chest felt so heavy it was hard to breathe, and my heart was racing. I thought I was going to faint, when I felt the knight tap me in the leg with his foot. I glanced over toward the knight and saw him pointing in front of me. I raised my head and there he was, standing there, bending over toward me. I could feel my mouth drop open as I tried to speak. The King reached for me.

“I am your loyal subject, Sire,” I blurted out.

“Of course you are, my friend; that is exactly why I sent for you,” he said taking me by the arm and lifting me. “Now I would like to discuss some little thing with you, while we enjoy our breakfast,” he continued leading me to the far end of the table. “As you are aware Lord Antio is a very busy man. He has so many very important tasks, being the Lord Treasurer, and over seeing the kingdom’s relations with the other kingdoms here and there.”

I sat in the chair he guided me to and he sat nearby. The door behind us swung open and servants carried in two trays with meat, eggs, wine and shortbread cookies. They placed one tray in front of the King, and the other in front of me. He continued his conversation between bites; I just sat there staring at him. I had never been this close to him before.

I had been working for Lord Antio for almost a year, taking care of small insignificant tasks. The only time the King visited our office was when I was riding across town to deliver a message. He had left before I got back, and I missed him by only a few minutes.

“So what do you think about that?” asked the King, as my mind wondered back to days past.

“Ah, ah, I’m sorry Sire, I don’t understand the question,” I responded, realizing I had lost track of the conversation.

“The orphanages, the orphanages,” he said in an annoyed tone.

“Yes, Sire.” I responded. “The orphanages are doing fine.”

He looked at me as though I were crazy, his brow wrinkled, and a questioning look in his eyes.
“Fine then,” he said. “Lord Antio will fill you in on the specifics later today. In the meantime the boy here will see that you’re made ready for the ceremony. I have high hopes for you, Dern Moorly,” he said as he rose and walked away.

I just sat there confused and dumbfounded watching him. As the doors closed behind him I felt a tug on my sleeve and heard a young voice. “Hurry, master, we don’t have much time to get you ready,” he said as he pulled me toward the door I had entered through. As we walked up the long corridor I came to my senses and asked to boy his name. He told me it was Runt, but that it used to be Duane. He seemed proud of his new name his eyes lit up and he took on a cocky demeanor as he informed me that the King had given it to him.

We entered a room behind the throne room that was filled with racks of ceremonial robes. There was a man there, who greeted me saying, “Aren’t you the lucky one today!”

The boy responded for me that I had no idea what was going on. The man walked up an aisle, occasionally turning to me and looking me over. Then he would turn back to the racks, his chubby face showing disapproval. He would move on to another.

The boy continued, “He sat at breakfast with the Sire, and didn’t even touch his food. He just sat there staring at the King with that look on his face.”

“Which look might that be?” asked the man.

“You know the fly trap face and the blank eyes,” said the boy. “I don’t even think he heard a word the King said,” he added with a chuckle.

“Ahh. This one will work fine,” said the chubby man, holding a robe in front of him and sizing me up. “Yes, yes, I think the King will be very pleased with this one. Here, Runt, take him to the court lounge and help him into this.” He handed the robe to the boy and smiled at me. “Now don’t you worry a bit. The King has rarely seriously hurt someone in the ceremony. I’m sure you’ll be just fine,” he added, laughing, as he turned and walked away.

The boy was pulling me along and laughing so hard that tears were streaming down his little reddened face. “Hardly ever hurt someone,” he repeated, stamping his foot and laughing uncontrollably.

The lounge was a small room compared to the other rooms in the castle. It was very comfortable with a number of large couches and a few tables with chairs around them. The boy pointed to a closed door on the opposite side of the room. He handed me the robe and said I should hurry and change my clothes.

I came out of the room after changing and found that Lord Antio was waiting for me in the lounge.
“It’s a big day for you, Dern,” he said reaching for my shoulder. “The King and I are depending on you greatly. I am sure you have it in you or else I would not have recommended you for the position,” he said.

“I – I – I – really don’t understand,” I muttered.

“I know, the boy told me what happened,” he said in quiet voice. “You have to understand that the King is used to such things. The servants aren’t as generous and tend to make fun of those who are affected in this way. But you needn’t worry–you’ll do fine”

He then sat me down and explained that I had been chosen from his staff to take responsibility for the Orphanage Society. He told me that I would remain on his staff, but would have autonomy and could act in the King’s name. He also explained that I was to be knighted that afternoon. He showed me what I was to do and say during the dubbing ceremony.

That evening I moved my belongings to the castle and took my place in the royal apartments in the west wing as Sir Dern Moorly, assistant to the King. Since then, I have had numerous meetings with the King, and many of the lords. Never again was I affected by the condition I suffered at my first meeting with the King. I have seen to it that the Orphanages have been operated responsibly. And I have spent much time traveling throughout the kingdom and realm, inspecting the conditions at each of the orphanages under my care.

I have been impressed over the years with the kindness demonstrated by the subjects of the King. They are really the ones who make the whole thing work. Sire Gadron has on numerous occasions traveled with me to visit some of the many orphanages in my care. I have learned much about what makes a king a king and in particular what makes our King the most respected King in the whole world.

I have accepted applications to the society from almost every kingdom. In each case they have agreed to submit to the same standards as those found in Crystar. Now with a staff of my own, I enjoy my time at Castle Crystar, surrounded by the many servants who, growing up alone in the world, have found a place to call home. As they are– all the King’s children.

Copyright ©2020 brian francis

Sherm and Bundy: Setting Out

SS/ Fantasy 3367 – WORDS By brian francis

The water in the stream flowed with a purpose which has always interested Sherman.  By just watching it drift by, it seemed to help him think. Like thoughts that he had never once felt the need for a hand on his back in congratulations for a job well done, that was something that his father had never offered. He had a certain drive all his own. He had tried his hardest to excel in everything he took to task; he’d taught himself to read, to write, to fish and hunt and even make furniture – even furniture, people were willing to buy with money.  Now, he’d learned how to care for wounds and administer medicines, and even how to allow a person the time needed to accept their fate and move on.

He had been caring for his father for the past six months; the doctor had visited their small home numerous times every week since David Taylor had laid down on the bed and would not, could not get back out.  Sherm had cared for him as best he could since then, with the help of some of the neighbors, and some people from the nearby monastery.  Mostly it had fallen to Sherm to clean his father’s messes, to feed and support the household.  Now with his father finally laid to rest in the field down in the stream’s bend he had nothing but time.

“Sherm, are you down there?” came the voice of the Doctor. It wasn’t until the second or third time that Sherm stood up from the tall grass and acknowledged the call.  The doctor, calling, waved him up to the house and they sat down for a fine talk about living and dying.  It wasn’t like he hadn’t come across death before; something always dies when it’s time for dinner.  That is just the way of it.  But the doctor went on talking about letting go and moving on and such until Sherm was about to fall asleep. “So what are ya going to do now Sherm?” that simple question ask by the doctor had been swimming in Sherm’s mind for week.  As the end came for David Taylor, he was spared the pain and suffering by fading into a deep sleep.  As he lay there in the bed and made no requests or demands Sherm was left to wander the thoughts and confusions of his mind.  He would sit for hours petting Bundy the white parrot given to him by a passing carnival master. 

Bundy was too young to perform and would never have survived on the move–and the show must constantly move.   So for some repairs to a wagon’s hitch Sherm earned some money and a bird not expected to live.  That was three years ago.  Sherm’s attention to the bird’s care was heroic and an important lesson for him.  His devotion to the bird was all consuming in those first months.  Now he was rarely seen without the bird perched on him somewhere. He still sees to the feeding of the Bundy before himself and it is obvious to all around that there is something special in that rather weird relationship.

“Sherm …yo there… you Ok… Sherm” prodded the doctor.

“Yeah, I’m doing just fine.  Other than not knowing what to do now and fearing being on my own and not being able to do it.”

The Doctor laughed a long and low chuckle. “Well, I imagine it might seem a bit scary to think about; but if you really think about it you’ve already proven your mettle boy. “ Reaching out and cupping Sherm’s cheeks in his palms the Doctor went on,  “There is not a person within miles who does not admire you for the devotion and care you’ve show to all things, all of your life. There is not a father who does not pray his son would show the same strength of character.  You are not alone …you are not alone.   Do you understand? “

As Sherm listened to the doctor’s words his heart seemed to stop and at that moment, overcome with emotion, he fell into the embrace of the doctor and sobbed.  It had seemed like he would never be free of the duty and burden that his father had become.  Now all of that was behind him and his purpose in life seemed to have disappeared along with it. He was a stranger even to himself

After a while, having regained his composure and able to speak without stumbling over sobs, he and the doctor finished their talk.   He was prepared to make the decisions required of him; he just needed some time to figure it all out. 

There were still chores and the Widow Jengk’s chairs for her sitting room at her boarding house.  She made the most wonderful lace cookies, a cross between a candy and a cookie, which make mouths water all over the township at the mere mention.   He decided to buckle down and just get on with living.  Maybe stay here for a while finish up with his undone tasks and then set out to discover the world. 

                                           * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Getting his responsibilities completed became a chore as the good people here about discovered tasks that only he could resolve. It was nice to realize that those neighbors cared enough to do all they’d done.  He had been working hard for three months and had put on weight for all the pies and custards brought to him.  He was finally ready to step away.  His home would be lived in by a friend whom he trusted.  He had built a shed so the collections of the family furniture could be moved out of house and allow the new residents to move their stuff in.  When Sherm started to empty his bedroom, he was stopped by the friend who told him that this house was his home and his room will always be waiting for him. 

That evening friends and neighbors gathered on that plot of land that would always be his home.  It was a very emotional night for him, Bundy was jumping from person to person trying for a bite of this or that, A joyous scream announced the arrival of Bundy’s favorite monk, Brother Bean, Bundy’s head feathers rose as he bobbed his head in excitement. 

Sherm was actually thinking he might be a fool to leave so many loving supportive friends.  But then the happy announcements from Bundy “go bye byes, hurrah.”  He knew he had to keep his word, second thoughts be damned.  His pack was ready to go when he laid down to wait for morning.  He had sold the farm horses to pay for the doctor’s visits so it was going to be a walking tour of the world for a while. He did have a healthy pouch of coins.  At least it seemed healthy to him.  

Neighbors were still hanging out when the sun came up.  Sherm wanted to get an early start so his intention was to wake and being to wander.  But that was not to be, he was made to endure another meal of delicious fresh berry breakfast cakes and some coffee that had been made into a special treat by the addition of chocolate.

The good byes where endearing and each person present wanted a hug that often came with a whisper in the ear of loving support.  Rebekah, whispered in his ear that she would wait his return.  Just as he was ready to turn and walk away he heard the sound of a wagon racing up the road.  It was Brother Bean probably coming for the other brothers who were mostly passed out lying about the porch.  As he approached he cried “Sherm not without a hug. My Friend!” He slowed and stopped nearby and jumped down with a huge bear hug that forced the wind from Sherm in a gush.  “You my friend have set an example worthy of study and devotion.  The many animals that you have cared for when injured.  The many people who have had you touch their lives with your loving attention.  During all of your struggles you never demanded help like some people do and still you found the time to help that eagle and the bear cub.” Brother Bean had told the bear cub story many times.  He was amazed at the way the mother allowed this boy to go into the water and release the cub from the tangle of vines it had created.  She allowed him to inspect the cub and then even seemed to say thank you by nudging him with her nose and knocking him down before walking away. 

Well with all that said, Brother Bean, walked to the back of the wagon and released the rope tying a beautiful painted pony unlike any, Sherm, had ever seen.  It had a beautiful rosy coat with black blotches. Its eyes were wide with excitement and it was not winded at all from the ride.  In the back of the wagon there was a fine saddle that had silver work and in the bed roll Brother Bean explained that there is a special blanket of warmth made with magic.  After readying the horse and finally looking at her from a distance he realized how smart she looked and imagined how smart he would look riding her. Sherm gave an apple and carrot to his new friend Bundy jumped onto the snout of the mare and while she did shudder she had no problem allowing it to climb up to the fore head and grabbing two bunches of main while screaming “Go bye byes hurrah, hurrah.” and with that Sherm mounted and began his new life of adventure.  It was surely a sight never before seen of a man riding a horse with a parrot atop its head. 

Even after a full day’s ride he was still among his friends.  He found a barn where he could sleep and rest.  He opened the doors leading to the outside so the horse could come and go he gave some hay to a stall and crawled into his travel bed and was joined by Bundy who nosed her way under the blanket and slept in the crook of his arm.

A pile of hay made for a good bed and his blanket of warmth lived up to its promise.  Sleep came quickly and dreams of what lie ahead teased his rest with excitement and even dread.  When in the morning he was awakened by the mare eating him out of a bed.  He rose to make a hard tack, dried meat and hard cheese breakfast.  While he ate, Bundy found his pocket of seeds and dried fruit and joined in to this their first breakfast away from home. Taking the bucket and getting fresh water for the horse and taking the time to brush her and inspect her condition. She was in wonderful shape and ready to go again.  Periodically Bundy would climb down from his shoulder or jump onto his lap from the horse to find her pocket and eat some food and ask for drink.  More than able to drink from a bottle the canteen was no problem in fact, all was well.  Life was good.

Bundy chose to ride on Sherm’s Quarter staff and fly into the trees to scream and do her crazy bird act.  She would cling to a branch and spread her wings and screaming as she would fall over backwards and continue her screaming gyrations.  She was happy and her joy lifted his spirits and made him laugh. 

Half way through the day with storm clouds threatening they came upon a small farm with the whole family harvesting wheat as fast as they could.  Sherm understood the imperative – the storm would destroy the harvest left in the field.  When he noticed that the family consisted of three boys all young and a woman presumably the mother with no man to be seen he found himself approaching the woman and offering to assist.  Asking only the opportunity to shelter in the barn through the storm.  The children were all dreary and looked exhausted at least until Bundy came flying up and saying hi and introducing himself.

With terms agreed, Sherm took charge, instead of the kids carrying their every bundle to the barn he had the woman lay out the largest tarp she could find in the barn and having them gather onto it.  He cut the remainder of the field like a pro and the family worked to gather as the storm approached.  Using the horse to drag the loaded tarp to the barn was much faster and far less work than the alternative. In the end the harvest was a success and exhaustion was the result. 

Quickly, Sherm, found himself the unwilling victim to unrelenting questions as he made his bed and prepared for rest.  The boys each wanted to have Bundy ride their shoulder.  And boy did they puff up and get prideful being a perch.  After brushing his horse and fielding questions about its name that he could not answer.  He asked the boys to allow him to get some rest. They obliged and Sherm and Bundy settled into their night. 

Though rest was soon interrupted by a most wonderful smell.  Root stew and fresh bread brought to him by the nice mother to the little ogres.  She told him of the loss of her husband in an accident last year.  In the morning she was sure that the storm would be the final straw, not seeing any way for the children and her alone to accomplish the task need.  She had had their wagon and field team stole the previous month and she just so appreciated his help, with tears on her cheeks.  He encouraged her to get back into the house before the storm which had developed some gusty winds and was threatening to really set in.  He closed up the barn after watching her get safely inside.  And it was back to sleep.  Though a full belly, sleep was restless due to the raging storm, yet,  even the great cries of the thunder could not raise his eye lids.  And still excitement and dread haunted his sleeping hours. 

Waking early to a wet but storm free world Sherm grabbed his bow and quiver knowing that this would be a wonderful time to find some game for the family.  And after a few hours he’d trussed a good number of birds and when he finally scored a wild pig he regretted not bringing his horse, “Spot.”  No that didn’t sound right he’d just have to keep thinking.  After field dressing the boar, he dragged it up a nearby tree to secure it while he went for the horse.

She was all teary and grateful again when he asked if she could dress the birds.  As she set about prepping the hearth for the process, he set off to retrieve the boar.  The rest of the day was spent in butchering and smoking, a sack of salt found in the smoke shed sure helped.  

As evening fell and the meal was smelling delicious, he found himself pondering how lucky he was to have had such and easy life.  The lean-too on the side of the barn facing the smoke shed was a perfect spot to rest during his days toils.  While lost in thought he seem to fade to a daze.

“Sherm can I speak with you for a moment,” came her voice in the sweetest of tones, dragging him from his reflections.

“Eh, Sure Misty, I was just trying to slough off the day and catch my breath. It’s been a roundy – round all day,” he said while rubbing his eyes and leaning up.

“I just wanted to say” she started, but then exclaimed, “Oh my, but your eyes are red! But I guess mine are too,” revealing a shy coyness in her expression. 

“Well, I’ve been playing with smoke most of the day” he teased her “What is your excuse?”

“I have been crying tears of joy for the first time in over a year. My heart has been lifted by your kindness.” She said staring into his eyes. “Thank you Sherm for coming into our lives.”

Now was the time for Sherm to be uncomfortable, now was the time to remember that expressions of gratitude are the right of all people and receiving them graciously and without expectation is the will of the gods with respect to a worthy soul.  And with that mantra in his head he explained that it was his blessing to meet such a strong family.  As he now had friends here where he’d never been before. She also let him know that diner was ready and the family wanted him to share their table.

After washing up and checking the smolder he knocked on the door. Their dinner was awesome roast bird and root stew with bird stewed right in.  There were comments of cannibalism when Bundy asked for a piece, but Sherm assured them that Bundy was more than a bird, a sentiment all agreed was true.  He heard about the boy’s father and shared with them how he too lost his father.  They spoke of dreams and his travels.

The rest of the week allowed him to finish up the smoke curing of the meat and the curing of the hide with the ashes of the smoking fire.  He made some repairs around the farm and tried to teach the boys all he could in such a short time.  They absorbed his attentions eagerly and proved their worth in short order.   The youngest, Danny, taking up the chore of the watcher of the smolder.   While Rye and Trip took on the repairs to the leather hinges of the front door.  By days end he was prepared to leave and had gathered and packed his belongings.  Rest was comfortable all night and in the morning his goodbyes were brief aside from the meeting with the children in the morning when he awoke with them kneeling around him waiting.  He gave each a handful of coins their earning for helping him.  They assured him at his coaxing the they would wait until he was gone to reveal their windfall.

Misty cried and Sherm announced that he’d dubbed her forever in his mind as his friend  “Misty Cries” After a brief hug he set out once again on a path to tomorrow, Oh ,but maybe that is it “Tomorrow.”  Hmm, thought Sherm still looking back and waving.  “Tomorrow!”  I think we’ve found a name for you.

A day and a half up the road he found a small hamlet called Hemm.  Not much beyond a couple warehouses and about twenty residences and of course a traveler’s inn and tavern. 

Asking permission to enter with Bundy on his shoulder had never led to anything but a warm welcome and this was no exception.  Some grog is said to help the traveler stay fit.  While the taste was often bitter, this inn’s private brewing was almost sweet in its bitterness.  So the grog flowed and the conversation flowed until a man with a green feather in his cap approached him and let him know about a team of horses found abandoned on the road three or four weeks before in response to his discussing Misty’s predicament.  The locals all seemed unaware that she had stayed working the farm.  Those present agreed with Sherm’s proposal that she was a part of their community.  The wagon would be returned to the family by these good people in the morning.  And they would reach out to her and her family. 

It was easier to continue down the road knowing that Misty and the boys would have a community helping her.  Having studied a map on the wall in the tavern he realized that the transport road would take weeks longer than following the old trails down through the steppes to the low lands and the great caravan roads.   Although that would leave him little contact with people it would save him time in getting to a real city. 

One more night then setting out in the morning early after a nice breakfast and one final study of the map.

By Royal Mandate

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.