Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Reluctant Prince, Chapter 4: Grondo and the Red Shaman

Chapter 4: Grondo and the Red Shaman 

The day after King Grondo of the Kindred took the lovely Lady Darla as his queen, he had to journey away from the kingdom. He was called to a High Meet with the Red Shaman, who had sent messengers to tell him that he had a prophesy to reveal concerning Grondo himself.

Not everyone in the valley of the Kindred would attend the High Meet. Some had to stay behind to carry on the running of the kingdom's affairs. The new Queen stayed behind as well. If something funny was afoot, and the Red's had some evil planned, then the kindred at least would not have to suffer the loss of both of their lieges. Queen Darla would have absolute rule until her husband returned, and there were none in the kingdom who doubted her reserve or her heart to rule them justly, but compassionately.

In the late afternoon (known to all the tribes as Long-Shadow Time) of the designated Meet, the party of travelers set off, hopping at a leisurely pace. They reached the borders of the red-skin's lands in very little time and found a welcoming party of Red border patrol waiting to accompany them to the place where the High Meet would be held. They led the way, followed by Grondo's guard, which surrounded the king on all sides (his two personal bodyguards directly in front) to protect him in case there was an attack by the Reds.

Eventually, they came to a clearing where many Red's were gathered. At the far edge of the clearing stood the leader of the Reds. The Reds did not have a king or queen to rule them. They had the shaman. And he ruled them with the fear of prophesy.

He was a terrifying looking creature, but he was ancient; the spots on his back were faded with age. A disciple had taken the juice of a yellow flower and painted golden stripes on the old Red's face. He did not look at King Grondo when the Kindred entered the clearing, but remained sitting on the ground and staring up into the clouds, as if communing with the Sky Itself.

The Red guards halted just paces from the old shaman. Their leader knelt in front of the aged amphibian, who finally rose to acknowledge their arrival.

"Oh, mighty one," the guard intoned. "We bring you the King of the Greens. With many of their tribe to High Meet with us." Grondo noticed that the border patrol guard announcing him seemed to be the same Red that had come to him in his chambers just the day before to issue the invitation to the Meet.

The shaman lowered his gaze and his eyes met Grondo's. Grondo, to his credit, did not blink or look away. He had had High Meets with the Red Shaman before.

The shaman bowed low and the king returned the customary greeting. The leader of the guards stood and led his subordinates away a short distance behind their shaman, where they took up ceremonial postures, hands near their belts where they carried mouth-guns that fired deadly, poison-tipped darts.

Grondo's own personal guard of two (one of which was his personal attendant, a good soldier of the Kindred named Merby) never ventured from their king's side. They were also poised with hands near their belts, where slim lark-feather arrows waited only to be fitted into the sleek bows upon their backs.

They had practiced years to be the quickest archers in the kingdom and earn their positions as Grondo's right and left hand armsmen. One sudden, false move on behalf of the Red guard and the guilty impatient one would not even have time to blink an inner eyelid before he fell skewered to the ground. If pressed for information, all of the remaining folk gathered there (Kindred and Red alike) would not be able to say with any degree of certainty which of the king's men had unleashed the lethal shot. The Red Shaman knew this, but lucky for his guard, they did not.

The Red Shaman came closer to Grondo, keeping his hands in front of him in a manner that was meant to communicate trust. Merby and his counterpart (a fierce and worthy Kindred named Basil) did not relax their stance one bit. When he neared within fifteen paces of the king, he did something very unexpected.

Dropping to his knees, the Red Shaman looked up at Grondo with an expression of anguish, deep pain. He placed his hands on his breast and began swaying back and forth, looking up at the full eye of God, rising, a huge and silvery orb over their heads.

"O, King Grondo, High King of the Green Kindred. Your fate is marked in the stars. I have read it there and it is not good. Evil tidings, these are, and it burns my soul to speak of them. This evil brings me much grief because it means great suffering for both of our tribes...and..."

"Oh, for crying on the lily-pad! Stuff the dramatics and say what's what!" This came from Basil, who was in his heart of hearts a practical frog and could not abide hysterics. This made him a terrible guest at the theaters, but it was his nature and he could no more help it than he could avoid a biter's sting.

Murmurs of assent rose up on the side of the glen where the Kindred were gathered, but angry grunts could be heard on the Red side of the Meet.

The Red Shaman looked deflated. "Dear King Grondo, I must be allowed to prophesy without interruption. It is for your own benefit and for the good of us all!"

`With the wave of his hand, Grondo silenced his people. "Stifle your irritations, Bas. At least until we hear him out." Basil shifted uneasily on his feet, in an embarrassed sort of way, but said nothing further.

In much the same vein as before, the old seer continued: "O King. Your soul hangs verily by a string. The next full shining of God's eye may be the last you know as King of the Kindred!"

A gasp went up all around the Meet, from both Kindred and Reds. Grondo stepped back and stumbled slightly. Merby reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder, to steady his king. Then he gave the Red Shaman the Evil-Eye. It sounded like the old stump-licker was predicting the King's death!

All the Kindred stood trembling as the shaman prophesied on:

"And under the full risen light of the Eye, you will lose your soul at the hands of an evil sorceress. But you may still find it again, though in an unexpected place," said the Shaman and, his narrative apparently finished, he rose and stood silently before the King.

 After the Meet, King Grondo met privately with the shaman. He strove hard to remember everything the old prophet said in their face-to-face encounter, but he could not. His mind was, quite naturally, filled with the unpleasant prospect of losing his soul. Merby was present, however, as was Basil, and they paid careful attention to everything the shaman told them and they took the most prodigious notes. When they were alone, they made a solemn vow never to let the King out of their sight and to be especially wary of strange females who could possibly cause their king to become ensorcelled.

The Kindred spent the remainder of the night encamped in the Meeting glade in a stuffy yew, then began the slow, sorrowful march back to their own lands at sunrise.

 Grondo walked with his head down and was very quiet all through the journey home, but occasionally he could be heard muttering to himself, repeating one phrase over and over:

"But I don't know any sorceresses!"
End of Chapter Four
Go to Chapter Three
Go to Chapter Five

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