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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

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Rittan approached the king immediately after he had agreed to defend Triton. He had, as Triton had reminded him, defended other guardians in the past. Before becoming a guardian himself, his father had persistently nudged him into the political arena.

“If you wish to be above the commoners, you must educate yourself. Learn the laws and associate with the kingdom’s elite,” he would say.

Having held his seat in the council most of his life, his father had fed him a strict diet of public affairs, council disputes, and court indiscretions. Rittan knew, all too well, how things ran within the kingdom. It was for that reason, against his father’s wishes, he had become a guardian.

“It’s my way to be above the commoners," Rittan had told his father. “By protecting them from above on dragon-back.”

It was also his inner knowledge of the council and their lack of concern for defendants that gave Rittan little hope for success. Evidence would need to be substantial to sway the council’s decision. Only physical proof, backed up by strong testimonies on Triton’s behalf, would have a chance.

King Gabriel was pleased by Rittan’s request. After sending Prodious away to stand guard outside his chamber, he welcomed Rittan over to a table where he was sitting.

Rittan sat in a chair next to him.

“I’ve been warned that there are many within Antheon, and in this very palace, who are preparing to remove me from the throne,” he said. “The death of the Lord Matriarch of Ambergale is just the beginning.”

Rittan nodded agreeably then spoke with some apprehension. “I do not wish to question your motives, Your Majesty, but pardoning Triton from prison?”

King Gabriel became angry, looking Rittan squarely in the eye. The seriousness of his expression caused Rittan to sit up in his chair. But as the king held his gaze, a helplessness washed over him.

“Triton is like a son to me Rittan. If it were not for him, I would’ve been assassinated long ago.”

Rittan was surprised by his openness.

“I owe him my life many times over.”

“But the council will surely frown upon it,” Rittan returned. “And the citizens of Antheon . . . ”

“The citizens of Antheon!” King Gabriel yelled. “The council!” He stopped to catch his breath then let out a large sigh. “I did what I could out of respect and admiration for Triton. I’ve used him selfishly for long enough. I’m repaying him-giving him his life as he gave me mine so many times before. If there’s an outcry of injustice, it should be made by him. How the people and the council feel about me no longer matters. My time as king is nearly at an end.”

Rittan shook his head to disagree.

“Yes, yes, I’m very old Rittan. But Triton-Triton has much life in him yet. You must do what you can for him. You’ll need a witness on his behalf. A young servant of the Matriarch’s, the only survivor, may provide something.”

Rittan nodded. “Yes. Certainly. Do you know where I might find her?”

“She’s with the representatives of Ambergale in the east wing.” He stood up and waddled over to his podium nearby. Grabbing a sheet of parchment, he quickly scratched out a request. “I can’t promise their hospitality with all they’ve been through . . . but Triton’s honor is at stake. Do whatever you can to uphold it. I believe they‘ll be leaving soon, so if you want to catch her before she’s gone, you’ll need to go there straight away.”

As King Gabriel handed Rittan the request, Rittan noticed a despondent quality about him. The king glanced at Prodious who could be seen standing just beyond the chamber’s threshold.

“The stability of Antheon itself now hangs in the balance, Rittan. Beware of everyone you encounter. Few can be trusted,” he said, his words echoing Triton’s.

“Yes, Your Majesty, I will,” Rittan responded, then, with a bow, he left.

* * * * *

As the king had suggested, Rittan wasted no time. He headed straight for the luxurious accommodations housing the injured servant and the Ambergale delegates within the main palace. Upon arriving at the guarded entrance, Rittan found several palace servants helping pack the delegate’s things in preparation for their long journey back.

One of the distinguished officials intercepted him at the open door. She was a tall brunette with streaks of graying hair pulled back by a beautiful golden headdress adorned with polished ovals of opal and a string of emeralds. Her dress was a deep green, layered to accommodate the cooler altitudes that their gossamers flew.

Rittan held out the parchment given by King Gabriel.

“Excuse me madam, I’m investigating the incident to procure information that will help to uncover the truth about what happened during the Lord Matriarch’s arrival,” he awkwardly expelled as he looked at the woman’s defensive gaze.

She took a defiant step toward him that forced him to step back into the corridor. “I, good sir, am to be addressed as "Your Lordship." I suggest that you try again if you desire my attention.”

Rittan swallowed hard, his face emblazoned with humility. “I ask . . . I . . . forgive me Your Lordship,” he stammered. “I have not been instructed as to . . .” he sighed. “I would like to speak with the late Lord Matriarch’s servant, if possible. Being the only surviving member of-”

She cut him off with a disinterested look. “We have no time for this. We already know what happened. Our focus is on other matters now.”

“I understand, Your Lordship, but I need . . . answers.”

He stepped back into the room as the woman walked back to join three other delegates. They stood in a group just inside a large balcony framed by two carved goddesses.

“The king has a small army of guardians searching for her killer as we speak,” he finished.

The four women shot each other looks of annoyance at Rittan’s persistence.

“What information are you hoping to gain from her?” came an old wavering voice from a short plump delegate tightening a strap on one of her bags.

“I’m hoping to determine who is responsible for the Lord Matriarch’s death,” he said, clearing his throat.

The women looked at each other again, this time with a seriousness that hinted at their distrust of him and the kingdom.

The shorter woman waddled closer to him, pulling the front of her skirt up toward her large hips so as not to trip on it as she walked.

“Are you prepared to hear the truth?” she asked, peering deeply into his eyes from her low perspective.

“That is why I’m here.”

She looked him up and down as if sizing him up for the task at hand. “I must warn you. There is a greater force behind this than you might know. Your kingdom has become complacent-a stronghold of greed and politics, a hypocrisy of its former self. You know little of what goes on far outside your kingdom walls.”

She paused to gauge his reaction.

He was unaffected, even in agreement of what she had said.

Satisfied with this, as if she were able to see into his mind, she continued but in a threatening tone. “When speaking with her remember what I have said, or you will never learn the truth.”

Rittan stood for a moment surprised. He was prepared to extend another plea to emphasize the importance and urgency, and how one person’s life was hanging in the balance of his investigation, but none of his words needed to be spoken. The short old woman had somehow comprehended all this by looking at his face.

He looked at her for a moment, confused, unsure if she was actually allowing him to meet with the servant. But she stepped back and pointed him to a large arched doorway. The three other delegates, looking less than happy of the elder’s decision, accepted with nods.

Rittan proceeded into the room slowly, stepping out of the way of the palace servants carrying packages to the delegate’s gossamer dragons.

A young girl, no more than sixteen sun cycles, propped up by large pillows, sat at the end of a grand bed stately enough for that of the king himself. Large wooden posts intricately carved to resemble flowering bulbs and coiled serpents held up a white netting that draped over the entire frame. On one side, the netting was held open by bronze cuttings shaped as fairies that were attached in a pattern following the arch of the overhead frame. The girl was dressed in blue garments, the heaviest of which, to be worn during the flight, set upon the edge of the bed. A wooden splint held her arm stiffly to her side; her forehead was marked by a succession of scars. She looked at him with large brown eyes still weakened from her ordeal.

“Excuse me...” Rittan spoke, stopping his greeting as he searched his mind for the appropriate way to address her.

She smiled, realizing his distress as she had overheard him being verbally chastised by Enid in the other room.

“Ivy,” she said.

Rittan looked confused.

“My name. It’s Ivy,” she repeated.

Rittan smiled, walked to the side of the bed and pulled a wooden chair away from a table next to the wall. He sat on the edge of it and leaned over resting his elbows on his knees.

“Forgive me for this intrusion Ivy, but I need to ask you what you remember during the time leading up to the Lord Matriarch’s-” He searched for a more delicate way to say it, but came up with none-“her death.”

Ivy looked away toward a series of long narrow windows closed by wooden shudders with small rosette holes. Beams of sunlight speared through transferring the pattern across the netting onto the young girl’s tan face.

“They were horrible creatures,” she whispered as if watching the event play out before her eyes. “Red-faced demons on black dragons. Iris and Maura fought them off with arrows, but it didn’t help. They attacked very close and threw a weapon that wound around our dragon’s wings. Two, there were, on both sides attacking together. Our dragon was unable to lift its wings, and we dropped. We hit the water hard. I don’t remember much after.”

Rittan was awed by her story. His sensibilities told him it could not be true. She must have been delusional from a concussion, but he realized this was what the elder delegate had warned him of. He had to suspend his disbelief of the demons to find the real truth.

“Did you see who your escort was? The one who flew in front of the Lord Matriarch-Aurora.”

She paused for a long moment trying to visualize when the escort dropped in ahead of them. “He was a good distance away from where I was, far ahead in front of the Lord Matriarch’s gossamer.”

“Was it a thresher dragon?”

She looked confused but continued to stare toward the windows as if following the motions of tiny dust particles swirling in the beam of light.

“Thresher dragon?” she questioned.

“Yes. The dragon most used by guardians. They are large, reddish-brown dragons with wings attached to their arms. They would‘ve been adorned with ceremonial golden armor during the Lord Matriarch’s arrival. Do you remember any of them accompanying you?”

“Yes. One of them flew just ahead of the Matriarch. He and his dragon were dressed in golden armor, as you said. I remember his golden helmet shining in the sunlight like a beacon when he flew in ahead of us. Two, um, three more flew in behind, two were lost to the demons before they attacked our dragon.”

Two of the delegates stepped into the room. Enid, the one with gray streaked hair spoke. “We must go now. Our journey to Ambergale will be long.”

“May I ask one more question?” Rittan asked.

“No more questions. We must arrive at Ambergale before nightfall,” she emphasized.

He looked back to the young girl being helped up by two of the palace servants from the opposite side of the bed.

“Thank you Ivy.” Then he stood up and bowed to the delegates. “Thank you for allowing me to speak with her, Your Lordship.”

Enid squinted with displeasure, folding her arms together to hide her hands beneath the wide sleeves of her green robe. “If it had been left to me, guardian, you would not have spoken with her.”

Rittan said nothing in return but looked at the other delegate to see that she too felt the same.

As Ivy was helped from the room, the other delegate followed close behind. Enid held her position.

Rittan stepped past her to exit with the others.

“Guardian,” Enid called out, stopping Rittan in the arched doorway. She stepped closer to him and whispered. “Lord Miranda, the one who allowed your questions, has had her eye on becoming the Lord Matriarch of our tribe for many sun cycles. With Aurora’s death, she will attain that position. Be aware that she is capable of sorcery, although weak, which could explain Ivy’s clouded memories-that of demons and such said to be the culprits of her death. The elder Lord has opposed Aurora from the start. She believes Aurora’s abolishment of the old traditions will bring about punishments described in our ancient writings. The scrolls warn that an army of fang-claws will wipe out our people if those traditions are not continued. Just remember, no one’s motives are completely innocent, guardian. Aurora had many enemies. Any of them could be responsible.” She turned away before Rittan could say a word and followed the others out the door.

Rittan walked into the main room emptied of the delegate’s possessions. This was going to be more difficult than he had imagined.

He looked out to the ocean beyond the balcony and watched a group of thresher dragons circling for fish. It was time for lunch. They had been let loose to feed. He knew his dragon, Mizar, would be hungry as well. Seeing them, he convinced himself a stop at Morton’s tavern was needed before he continued. He would better serve Triton on a full stomach-as would Mizar.


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