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BRINGER of BALANCE - Book II of THE LAND series

By smatusky All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 16 - The Charm of Diamonds

Two days after discovering our stowaway we came upon a towering wall of stone. Lord Raine told us it was a dam and that we had made it to Miserlain territory. The dam blocked a river flowing south from the Coan Sea and, from our vantage point high atop a ridge, we saw a tranquil bluish-green lake nestled below the marvelous monument as smaller streams flowed east and west into settlements on the outskirts of the main town. Around the lake were dwellings with smoke rising from chimneys. Our party settled on the ridge and gathered to discuss our plans.

“Let’s get the horses and take a look.” Devin’s eagerness inspired twenty of us to set off for Miserlain country right away. Our original party across Noore rode into town on horseback while the giants joined us on foot.

“Lord Raine, have you ever been here before?” I still looked up to him even though I rode a horse.

“No, but my grandfather knew a great deal about the Miserlain people. He taught me much about their ideas and way of life. It is quite different from ours and probably from yours as well.”

We strode carefully through a busy market. No horses were anywhere, just as in the Valley of the Giants. Instead, we saw moving black boxes spouting white puffs of smoke. The machines carried one or two passengers.

The party halted outside a building and a bright red sign at the peak of the façade read “Station Marketplace.” Half of us walked in while the rest, including the giants, waited outside. When Riley and I stepped inside we saw shelves cluttered with colorful jars of “Aunt Annie’s” preserves, sacks stacked on top of each other labeled “Coan fields” corn and wheat, and clothes displayed on iron racks. Little dangling tags spun in circles from strings attached to dresses, shirts, and hats. There were even toys. A variety of dolls and little puzzle boxes rested on a desk surrounded by small replicas of machines that moved on wheels, their intricate pieces painted with red, yellow and black. Riley nudged me and pointed to bright lamps hanging on the walls. The glass bulbs illuminated the store without the use of flame.

This was a strange place indeed, but as odd as our own party seemed in this town, no one took notice of our arrival. We waited in a line to talk to a man standing behind a tall desk. He took currency from people holding items they placed in front of him.

“Hello,” I said. We were next in line. Riley stood close to me while glancing at numerous colored boxes stacked neatly behind the man.

“What can I do for ya, madam?” he asked. People were now waiting behind us.

“Well, we’re new here. We’d like to speak with someone in town, a leader or representative for your people.”

“Hmm,” he dwelled on our appearance while rubbing his chin. “Go down the street heading left out of the store until you reach the Mayor’s district. It’s along about five blocks. You’ll see a big fancy building on your right. There should be someone who can help you folks. Where you from anyway?”

“The Land.” said Riley.

“Well, I never heard of it. Not too original of a name…The Land. There’s land everywhere.” He stared at the line of people behind us and tapped his long fingers on the counter. “So is that it, or do you need anything else?”

“No, that’s it.” I grabbed Riley and pulled him out of the store. It seemed that the man at the counter had just insulted my Grandfather, Tegan Farmoore, who named his kingdom The Land.

“This way,” I called to everyone outside. “Five blocks and to our right.” I was still miffed.

People on the streets eventually took notice of our party, yet they were so self-absorbed that I thought about myself as a youngster. These people were more unaware of their surroundings than I had been while growing up. How could they not notice the giants walking through town?

Devin rode up along side me. “Are you all right?”

“I don’t know, Devin. This place, these people are odd, though it seems familiar. It’s like we’re walking through a ghost town.” he was confused so I continued. “Do you remember the day that you and I danced together in the grand ballroom, before I became Queen? We didn’t even know each other, nor did we ask for each others name.”

“Yes, I remember that day well. I went looking for you, but you had already left.”

“That was who I was long ago. I never took notice of my surroundings, and I left you behind without thinking or caring. These people are like my old self, the young Princess Crystal. I ran around every day doing my routine of absolutely nothing, and all the while never took notice of what my father had been scheming. There was real danger looming for years and not until my brush with death did I see what was truly happening. I had been a ghost Devin, not really living in this world.

“I sense their thoughts and it’s the same. The plague or the protectors won’t make a difference in the lives of these people because they’re too comfortable, just as I once was, and they’ll ignore any invisible threat.” I gazed at him despairingly. “I don’t have a good feeling about this place.”

“Leave the horses here.” spoke to our party when we reached a gray, stone building. A black sign above the doorway with scripted white letters read, District of Mayor Flanner.

Ten of us entered the building including Gullane, Autumn, and Lord Raine. The door rattled when we stepped into a pristine lobby – a flat, copper bell jingled, and we saw an empty counter in the back of the room, like the one at the marketplace. Portraits of men surrounded the walls and at the bottom of the elegant frames were each man’s name inscribed onto a golden plate.

Mayor Cribbory Taylor, Mayor Lee Griffin, Mayor Sam Holloway II… Generations of prosperity and development had been etched into the Miserlain heritage by these men.

“Hello! Be right there.” We heard a voice from another room.

Our party took up most of the lobby and the giants were so tall they had to bend down, especially Lord Raine. A plump, middle-age man emerged from the back and stood aghast at the scene.

“Oh my word, what’s this? I’ve never had so many visitors or any quite so big!” The man was slightly taller than me and chubby with short gray hair. “Why you must be giants!” he mused while twisting the end of his well-groomed mustache. “We haven’t had your kind around since my grandpappy’s day. And who are you?” He glanced at Cal and Theo.

Before they could answer, the man saw the rest of our party outside with the horses. “Good Golly! Are those mules? Haven’t seen those for years. Only a couple around these parts, farmers’ use’em for haul’in hay. Well, where’s my manners? I’m Mayor Zachary Flanner the Third.” He held out his hand to .

“Hello, I’m and this is Theo. We’re from Farmoore and escorting the King and Queen of The Land through your town.” We shook the Mayor’s hand.

“A King and a Queen? What brings you here?”

“We wanted to see your town,” I said quickly before Riley had a chance to mention the protectors. “Would you show us around?”

“All right.” said the Mayor. “Just let me get my watch. I have an appointment soon, but I can give you a taste of our prosperity.”

He grabbed a gold watch from behind the counter and checked the time. “Right, this way then,” and he passed between us, opening the door. “You can leave your mules here for now. Just follow me up the street a bit.”

The Mayor began walking briskly up the street while we trailed behind him. “Whew, sure is hot out here.” He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his brow. Our party wore heavy clothes and leather armor, yet it seemed quite comfortable outside. The Mayor probably spent most of his time eating tasty treats.

“If you’re a King then you must have plenty of wealth.” Riley nodded to the Mayor without grasping the question’s import. “Maybe you’d be interested in spreading some of that wealth if we, let’s say, share our innovative technology with you?”

Riley looked over to me and I nodded to him. “Yes, we might be interested.” he responded.

I read the Mayor’s thoughts. In his mind we were royal dim-wits who had too much treasure to begin with, and he was sure we would not profit from Miserlain technology. He would sell any idea just to make a profit, and precious gems were his highest interest. Indeed, the Mayor was a greedy man who had found quite an opportunity in royal stupidity.

“Where are we going?” asked Devin.

“This way, follow me. I’m going to show you our most valued mode of transportation.” the Mayor said smugly.

We walked three blocks until we saw a long, red building. A sign with bold letters spelled, Milahan’s Station.

The Mayor walked through its double doors and into an elaborate room graced with rows of white benches. Pictures hung on rustic walls displayed the town’s prosperity, and posters encouraged us to spend our coin on “Aunt Annie’s” preserves.

Standing beside an iron gate was a man formally dressed with black pants and a white and red striped shirt. The Mayor hurriedly waved us through. “These are my guests, young man. They can pass through with me. Is the conductor on board?”

“Yes, Mayor, he is.” The man tipped his hat and watched us pass. His gaze fixed upon the giants, and his jaw dropped, leaving an open chasm.

“This way, this way. Come on in.” We walked by a train that was alluring and quite interesting to view for a bulky machine. I had recognized it from the books in my library.

“What is this?” asked Lord Raine.

“It’s a locomotive. A machine used for hauling supplies and passengers.” said Gullane. “ used trains years ago to haul supplies from the ports to other cities, but they stopped using them.”

“Why?” asked Devin.

“Because of raids,” Sir Edward responded for Gullane. “Free-roamers easily took from the trains. It was always a real treasure since there were never enough men to guard them. I rather miss those days,” Edward reminisced fondly.

Gullane continued. “After much loss during years of war with the West and supply raids by the roamers, South Port abandoned the train and resorted to escorting smaller shipments by horseback with armed guards. It seemed ideal to haul by machine, but upon closer examination lost more than they could have imagined.”

“Everyone can file in,” said the Mayor. “Here, take a look at the engine. It can go mighty fast and carry heavy loads, all with this!” He picked up a black rock in a pile next to him.

“What’s that?” Wolfe asked. The Mayor passed it around for everyone to examine.

“Coal, my boy. It’s great and burns like nothin’ else, right Jimmy?” The Mayor nudged the conductor, who was baffled by our presence. “Think you can give ’em a demonstration?”

The conductor gave a quick nod and began shoveling coal into an open fire at the front of the train.

“What you see up top is steam. Build up enough steam and this old girl can really fly.” It was getting noisy with people crowded together, Jimmy shoveling coal and the fire raging.

“Where do you find coal?” asked Riley.

“In the ground my good man, in the ground. Sorry, I won’t disclose where we keep our treasure unless you’re willing to share some of yours?”

“Mayor,” I interrupted while holding the lump of coal. “Can I keep this as a souvenir of our visit here?”

“Sure! You can each take a piece if you like.” I nudged Riley to take a piece of coal.

“Perhaps we can share some valuable information,” I added, answering his previous question.

“Yes, perhaps.” The Mayor was clearly more interested in jewels. “Most of you will have to take the passenger car while the rest can stay up here. Where’s your caravan located?”

“Back the other direction near a lake,” said Devin.

“? The one by Masanner Dam, really big stone dam with cabins around the lake?”

“That’s the one.” Devin responded, cheerfully.

“Well, we can get you there. You’ll probably need someone in your party to stay on the train to come back here and get your mules. This sure beats riding mules.” The Mayor spoke with self-assurance.

The engine started and three loud blasts sounded when the conductor pulled on a cord strung above his head. Five of us stayed with the Mayor while the others road in back. The giants had to ride on the roof of a passenger car because they could not fit inside.

We passed through towns, lush pastures with grazing animals, and streets bustling with smaller riding machines. Riley pointed out more stores and, mirroring our own home, people worked in long, green fields.

The people on the streets were busy, like our own Mayor Flanner, and many dressed in lovely outfits. Again I thought about The Land before I became Queen, when I danced through town as a Princess. It was an image from the past, before I discovered the harshness of life.

Our proud Mayor waved to the men and women milling about town. I sensed he did not ride a train very often, especially up front with Conductor Jimmy. This was a show for us and his thoughts sang in my mind. Look how great we are! Look at this beautiful city and all of our prosperity.

The show was positively tiring and I had to stop myself from blurting, “Enough of this silliness!”

Sir Edward was also tired of Mayor Flanner’s boastfulness and he glanced at me several times. Our eyes rolled every time the Mayor cried out to his beloved people, waving. They waved to Conductor Jimmy, unaware the Mayor was even onboard. Still, the Mayor took the glory for himself while ready to sell his people’s accomplishments for jewels. He was not an impressive leader, unlike Edward who had provided so much for his fallen clan.

After the long ride – it would have taken less time with our so-called “mules,” – the train stopped along a ridge close to our camp. Mayor Flanner was surprised to see so many people along the upper edge of the .

“Thank you, Mayor.” I said and we left the train.

“Will you be leaving or shall we meet again?” asked the Mayor.

“We’ll be back,” Riley yelled over the sound of the trains venting noises. “We’ll see what we have to share.”

“Excellent! Shouldn’t take long to get the others back. Good-bye!” the Mayor gestured for Jimmy to continue the journey. Three shorts whistles and the train was on its way, slithering through the mountainside.

“Riley, we need to talk. The Mayor isn’t interested in the information we have. He wants jewels. He’s especially interested in diamonds. Let’s meet with the others and the giants. We need to discuss whether we should stay here.”

It was late in the evening and a small group gathered around a table under our tent.

“When are you going to mention the protectors?” Lamplight lit up Devin’s face as he gazed from across our circle.

“I’m not sure.” I said.

“But you are going to warn them, aren’t you?”

“I haven’t decided. Edward and I read the same thoughts from the Mayor. He’s not interested in information, just our wealth.”

“Don’t you think they want to know about the threat of the protectors?”

“I don’t believe the Mayor will even listen to us unless we have something tangible to offer him.”

“Is there anyone else we can talk too, anyone that will listen to us?” asked Wolfe. “Maybe one of the villages outside of town will listen?”

“Even if we convince the villagers to take the invisible threat seriously, they will need the backing of their leader and he’s unlikely to join our alliance when they already have everything they need,” Sir Edward scoffed.

“Maybe if we offer him jewels the Mayor will listen to us,” I mumbled while staring at my lump of coal resting on our table. I eventually noticed everyone waiting for an explanation.

“We have no jewels to offer the Mayor, unless you mean?” Wolfe immediately thought of the ruby embedded in grandfather’s sword.

“No, Wolfe, I’d never give grandfather’s ruby to anyone, especially the Mayor. I have a better plan.” I stood up from the table and snatched up the coal. “Devin, can I use your shield?”

“Sure,” he picked up his round, metal shield and started to hand it to me.

“Just lay it in the center of the table.”

He placed the shield on the table so it bulged up in the center, and I asked him to flip it over.

As the shield wobbled back and forth, I put my coal in the middle of the metal shield.

“Devin, do you remember when I sent you to Farmoore to enlist the help of our fellow knights?” I glanced over to Cal and Theo.

“Yes, and I brought your grandfather’s enchanted sword. It was the gift of the sword that persuaded your distant cousin to join us.”

“Well, before I found the sword I had been practicing.”

“Practicing what?” asked Riley.

“Practicing this.” And I concentrated on the black lump in the center of the shield. I magically heated the coal until it began glowing, but before it burst into flames, I compacted its molecules so tightly that the coal shrank to the size of a pea. The tiny pea-sized coal glowed for a moment and then turned dark.

“You melted it.” said Wolfe.

“No, she didn’t.” Sir Edward stood up and grabbed a torch from behind him. He picked up the tiny, clear stone from the center of the shield and held it up to the flame. “It’s a diamond. It takes millions of years to make this.”

“Not for me. I read about jewels in Grandfather’s library, hoping I could find something of value to encourage Farmoore to join us. That led me to the forging of diamonds. They’re formed deep underground through extreme heat and pressure placed on various rocks, so I dug up over a hundred samples of rock. It took months to figure out how to duplicate the right amount of heat and pressure to produce a jewel. My problem was that the rocks I used make imperfect jewels, but coal is different. I gave up my practice of forging jewels once I found the enchanted sword hidden in the library.”

“But it’s so tiny.” Wolfe stood up to examine the stone. “And, pardon my criticism, but it’s not that pretty. Why would the Mayor want with this?”

“Currency,” said Riley. “Jewels are a rare prize that humans have fought over for ages in order to exchange for other riches. I know because I have watched humans kill their comrades for such a prize then use the currency to buy goods and wine. It has been happening for centuries and sadly, I suspect the Queen and Sir Edward are right. Diamonds are a treasure Mayor Flanner will be interested in, anything else would be trivial.”

“What do we need,” Sir Edward placed the diamond into my palm and curled my hand over it, “for you to make more.”

“You and Devin go into town. Get the largest pieces of coal you can find, trade something for it if you need to, and I’ll use my magic to charm the Mayor with my handiwork. If the Mayor won’t cooperate after we offer him the diamonds, then we’ll just have to leave. Maybe someone else on Palleo can help us find the protectors.”

“Let’s all get some rest.” Riley said and stood from our table, taking my hand. “Sir Edward, head out early. We’ll be waiting.”

After everyone left Riley took my hands, his gaze was intense. “You better make sure no one else learns about your talents or they might want to kidnap you.”

“Is that what you’re worried about? You actually think someone can hold me, force me to serve them?”

“I’m surprised you hadn’t read my thoughts.” Riley sat down on our bedroll then picked up an apple, offering it to me.

“Thanks,” I took a bite and wiped the juice from my lips. “I guess I’ve been distracted.”

“Distracted?”

Even in the darkness I could make out Riley’s concerned expression. “Yes, distracted by the thoughts of these people. I seem to be tuning out certain thoughts. Maybe I’m doing it subconsciously, a type of defense to protect myself. This place and these people make me angry and emotional. It brings back bad memories of my life before I was Queen and reminds me of the moment I had to kill my father. I just…”

Riley’s keen panther senses noticed my hands shaking in the dark and he stood up to touch my face.

“You’re warm. I can smell your skin. You’re like a trapped animal after a chase.” My apple slipped from my loose grip and Riley snatched it with lightning speed. “You better lay down.”

I must have been tired, or maybe the magic used to make the diamond took more energy than I realized although it never made me sick before. I stretched out on my bedroll and closed my eyes. Riley wiped my head and hands with a wet cloth. How would I survive making more diamonds?

In my dream water sprayed my face, but it was not the gentle mist of the salty sea. It was wild, untamed, and gushing forward, almost drowning me in my sleep. The water became harder, turning into nails, and I noticed the brick being hurled at me by my father’s magic. I was in my Aunt’s chamber and reliving the moment before I killed Father. I had to kill him! I woke up in a sweat and saw Riley sleeping soundly next to me.

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