Chapter 12: THE RULER AND HIS MENTOR
One of the best sounds Thomas knew, even though he wasn’t a fighter and hated the idea of taking another man’s life in battle, was all the musical notes two swords made when clashing together. From the tings of the tips tapping at each other, to the lower bass notes of the thicker parts near the hilt when they clashed. There was a shhhting that only happened when the two fighters came together for a second, pushing against each other with the blades, and then separating, and a shhhtang for when one of the fighters overpowered the other in a similar type of move.
On the balcony, Thomas and Corson were composing their own two instrument symphony of two swords clashing together. Thomas had never felt so focused. Corson seemed impressed, although he did still keep one hand behind his back since impressed did not mean threatened by the Prince at all. Corson had seen and won actual battles. Thomas’ first conflict was him being taken hostage, and then, not engineering an escape. Corson had had to do it all.
“Tell me something, Corson,” Thomas inquired, between clings and clangs.
“Focus, your highness,” Corson suggested.
“I’m focused. But, I have a question.”
“Is this question distracting you, so therefore if I answer it, you’ll be more focused than before?”
“Then, my Prince, ask away.”
“When you woke this morning, what was your first thought?”
“Interesting question, your highness. One that makes me think you think too much about a lot of other things than what you should be thinking about right now which is blocking this strike-“ Corson stepped back, turning to the side to avoid a swing of Thomas’ sword, and with the Prince off balance, he was wide open for a stab attack. Corson, adjusting his grip, came at Thomas’ side with his blade. Having no way to defend with his sword, Thomas used his youthful agility to dodge the blade, curving his body out of the way, taking a couple steps to the side, to regain his stance. Corson smiled. “Very good, your highness. My first thought when waking up this morning was that it was no longer raining.”
“Storming, you mean.”
“Rain. Storm. Rain storm. However you wish to say it. I woke in my home, in my bed, and I saw the sun shining, and I thought it was going to be a good day. And then I wondered if you’d bring your sword to your sword lesson.” They resumed their sparring, Corson now using his non-dominant hand, his right hand, allowing Thomas a little better chance of actually making the mentor sweat. “Why is that on the fore front of your mind?”
“I’m trying to figure out this ring. They say that it makes me the Ruler of Springborough, and it seemed to me that the servants knew I was when they woke this morning. At least, it seemed they were more busy, more hustling and bustling in my room before I usually wake. So, it would seem, when they woke up, it was like they knew- ‘Oh, Thomas is the new ruler. We must indulge him.’ But, you had no such thought.”
“No such thought to indulge you? No, in fact the opposite, my first thought was how I would further punish you if you didn’t take today’s lesson seriously.”
“So, how did the servants know?”
“Perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps the only one to know that that ring has made you Ruler of Springborough is you. Perhaps that is all you needed to stand a little taller, for your neck to carry the weight of your crown better. Perhaps you now see the world through ruler eyes, and the world looks different to you. Whereas when you were an adolescent boy, a twelve year old Prince, you didn’t pay attention when someone fluffed your pillows or beat the dust from your rugs. You, now, as their ruler, take in all of their efforts and accomplishments. You weigh one person’s work ethic against the other, knowing that you will only surround yourself with the finest people. Sometimes that’s all we need. The simple phrase of “I am” to feel like we are somebody. Am I the greatest knight in all the land because I defeated all the other knights? No. I am the greatest knight in all the land because that is what I say I am. And I am willing to prove it.”
“So, you might not be the greatest knight in all the land?”
“You might not be the ruler of Springborough. You might just be a boy with a ring.”
“I am the ruler of Springborough.”
“I am the greatest knight in all the land.”
“And this isn’t just a ring. It’s my family’s ring. It has power. That sunny sky you woke to this morning is because I put this ring on. I don’t know how, but as soon as this hit my royal finger, the storm clouds parted, the rain stopped, and we all started to dry out.”
“I’m thankful for that. That storm was anything but fun.”
Yesterday, Prince Thomas was on the hunt for his sister and stumbled upon the Village of Fortis. He had never wandered in the woods. He thought it was expressly forbidden by his parents even though his sister would sometimes steal off to visit their grandma at her cottage. Thomas always felt safer within the walls of Springborough, amongst its townspeople, or safer yet in the castle, amongst its house staff and guards. Yesterday, though, he was in the woods of Fortis, and when he came upon a clearing, it took him a moment to realize this was the village he learned about, the village of people who simply wanted to live simply, away from the confines of the kingdom. He didn’t know much about Fortis other than they were dirtier folks, living more off the land than anybody else, and they were peaceful. The Village of Fortis seemed to be where people lived if they just wanted to live and die and enjoy all the moments in between. Springborough was for the people who wanted a life with a little more purpose.
So, it was a surprise to Thomas when, upon discovering the village, he had a bag thrown over his head, was tied to a chair in a rat-infested hut, and was threatened by over ten of the villagers. It didn’t seem very peaceful to him. It seemed like he had sauntered into a meeting of criminals, and they had immediately noticed a boy with washed hair that could fetch them a pretty price from somewhere. He had only escaped when Corson had knocked out who Thomas affectionately referred to as Dirt, for he was the dirtiest man Thomas had ever seen. The only thing clean about him was his teeth which shown behind layers of earth.
The biggest event that happened was, as they were running from the village, Thomas was being chased by a man Thomas called Beard, for obvious reasons. Beard almost had Thomas, until Corson used his sword to end Beard’s life, the same sword that Thomas was now sparring against, although now clean. He suspected Corson spent the night removing mud, rain, and blood from Beard’s neck from its sharp edges.
“When you saved me in Fortis, you talked of evil spirits in the storm,” Thomas said.
“Aye. I was probably seeing things.”
“You weren’t. You know you weren’t.”
“Aye, I know I wasn’t.”
“Where do you think the evil spirits went? You think they went up to the sky with the storm clouds?”
“I hope so.”
“Everything I have ever heard of Fortis said that it’s filled with peaceful people who just wanted to live, and farm, and party, and pass out late at night to loud music. What we came upon yesterday afternoon was nothing like that. It was malicious. It was people who didn’t see a clear distinction between right and wrong. You don’t suppose that was somewhere other than Fortis?”
“No, that was Fortis. I’ve been there before, many times.” Corson preferred the food in Fortis. It was properly seasoned, where food in Springborough could run a bit bland. The people of Fortis would season their venison with woody spices like Rosemary and Thyme, and that always seemed to pair nicely with the fermented grape juice that Corson would have in the tavern.
“I suspect the storm got to them,” Corson continued, taking his mind off the good food. “The evil spirits we saw were whispering to us, threatening us. Perhaps the spirits were whispering to them, too, but, instead of threats, the spirits were giving suggestions. Whereas the spirits told me and my men that they, the spirits, and the storm, and the winds, were going to throw us off the cliffs onto the rocks below.”
“What?” Thomas asked, his skin showing the goose pimples.
“The spirits hissed and whispered that they were going to fly us up to the tallest trees, stab us on the branches there, and leave us to be bird food. Perhaps they told the people of Fortis that the residents of Fortis were more powerful than all other people in these lands. That they should kidnap the boy that had gotten lost. That they should kill you instead of letting you leave such as that man with the beard was aiming to do.”
“He was going to kill me?”
“He had a knife. It’s why I had to do what I did. Made quick work of it. One shouldn’t bring a knife to a sword fight. One shouldn’t threaten the life of a Lishens Prince.”
It was just then the steps of Dominic coming onto the balcony interrupted the two’s parry. Thomas felt good. He hadn’t ever sustained such a long lesson. Corson could be right, the simple act of saying “I am” could change his whole perception in the world. I am the Ruler of Springborough, Thomas thought. I am getting really good at sword fighting.
“Your royal highness,” Dominic started, clad in armor. He was younger than most guards, but he seemed to have a wisdom to him that Thomas knew Kyrstin liked. It was no surprise that it was Dominic who his sister had sent with information for the Prince.
“At ease, Dominic. How are you?”
“I’m fine, your highness. I bring news from Princess Kyrstin.”
“Good news, I hope, Dom. News that matches the blue sky.”
“Afraid not, my Prince. The town witch, Leila, is missing. It appears she wandered off in the storm and never came back. Princess Kyrstin was hoping to use Leila to help solve the riddle of the Queen’s disappearance. And now Princess Kyrstin is beside herself with all of these disappearances.”
“So, my sister would like me to go find the witch. Is that it?”
“You would have to ask her, your highness. She simply told me to come tell you the news.”
If there was anything Thomas knew about his sister, he knew that she would rather give an indirect order than a direct one. He knew that his sister would like him to go find the witch, which Thomas was glad to do, as he was really fond of Leila, and was hoping she was okay. It didn’t hurt that Leila was beautiful, and powerful, which was something that tickled a young boy’s, even a young Prince boy’s, fantasy.
But, Thomas could not go alone. He would need to assemble his team.