Chapter 15: Changing Sides
Draden turned toward the mast, Loran ready to follow, but halted in his steps as a loud explosion rocked the boat. The door to the cargo hold blew off in a bright crimson flash, spinning uncontrollably as it flew into the foamy darkness of the lake.
Loran stood in front of Draden, eyes wide in fear. Kladspir charged out of the hole, face held in a sneer, wand pointed at them threateningly.
“No…d-don’t-” Loran stuttered, backing into Draden.
Kladspir laughed. “How pathetic. To think I offered you a slice of my power. Oh well; loose ends can be burned.” He stabbed his wand forward, a round ball of fiery-orange liquid appearing at the tip and launching toward them.
Draden threw up a magical shield in front of them, the orb splashing into it in a burst of released lava. He instantly created a bowl-like shield that the magma fell into and, hands held out before him controlling the flickering navy container, tossed the liquid overboard, and released the connection with both his mystical barriers.
Kladspir flourished his wand, preparing to attack again. His mouth opened to speak, just as a sparkling purple orb slammed into his chest, dispersing in glowing violet tendrils that snaked across his entire body, forming a magical net that encased him.
Draden turned around to see Flagprim descending the stairs from the wheel, a smile on his face. White-blond hair blowing in a slight breeze, he said in a stately voice, “Let’s take care of this traitor, shall we?”
They had placed Kladspir once again in the cargo hold and Flagprim had secured the opening with a viridian shield of his own.
The three of them stood on deck, surrounded by a magical green sphere. The elf also placed a spell inside the area so they would not be overheard. The anchor had been dropped so they would cease drifting too far off course.
Loran had just finished relaying to them the proposition Kladspir had laid out for her below deck. Draden was heartened at her stability, but also disheartened that this turn of events had befallen her. He was sure she would rather be safe at home in Marfrod than to be tempted with lies in the middle of a lake, whether she would be accepted there or not.
“But what do we do now?” Draden asked. “We certainly can’t go willingly to Cradof knowing the king is corrupted. He means to use me for something. We can’t just go to the very place he wants me!”
“Don’t you see?” Flagprim reasoned, “That’s the very reason we should go! The king, and consequently his council-assuming they’re in on his plans-would be completely unaware that we know the base of his intentions. By pretending to naïvely play into his trap, we hold the upper hand!”
Draden nodded, following Flagprim’s plan. “However, how do we manipulate our hostage? The first chance he gets, he’ll be alerting someone that we know of his intentions. It’s too much of a risk to bring him along with us, yet if we don’t, the king will highly suspect something. We’re guessing that Kladspir’s orders were to retrieve me from Perdfale; unless he relayed back to the king-which I don’t see how he could have-the two of you should be completely unknown as of right now. They wouldn’t dare harm an elf, for fear of retaliation. Tell me Flagprim: would your people aid us?”
Flagprim was silent for a moment. Then he responded, “There’s something I haven’t been completely honest with you about.”
Draden straightened, prepared for the worst.
Flagprim continued, “I was sent by the elven order to protect you. However, they also sent me to persuade you to our side. We have known of treachery within the human kingdom for some time. Even with this new revelation, it does nothing but to confirm our fears. You may not have realized it, Draden, but evil has been secretly rising since even before you were born. The dwarves have remained as isolated as ever, and are hidden somewhere in their mountain halls of Sylveria, the location of which is unknown to all but themselves. The giants have not been heard of for many months, and we fear some foul events have occurred within the borders of their mountains, in the desert to the east. And lastly, the Fra’tsi. They have obviously been brought together for some foul purpose. Could they be working for the king? Possible. Nevertheless, why would he send them to Perdfale as well as his Captain of the Guard? We just cannot know for sure. I believe an era of war will once again be rising in Zersevbein, and a time is approaching for the elves to leave the luxury of their forest homes and arm themselves for battle.
“There is also the topic of the Gorginoths. It is possible they are here without intentions of helping the king… but who would have brought them here but him? His tactics are unknown to probably all but himself, and I fear we will not know what they are until they come to pass. The best we can do is prepare ourselves for their arrival.
“Now, Draden,” Flagprim clasped his hands behind him, switching topics, “The only way we can work this to our advantage is to make Kladspir’s plan work. Loran,” he turned to the attentively listening girl, “we will release Kladspir from below, spinning some tale. You will approach him and agree to join him. We will set into action each point of his plan until it is completed. Do we agree that this is our course of action?”
They nodded in confirmation.
“Then let’s go release our prisoner,” he finished, dropping the shield.
The shield in front of the hatch dissipated in a green blur. Flagprim lay on the deck awaiting Draden’s action. The elf had told Draden to say, “Nësala,” a spell that renders the target immobile.
Flagprim had forced Draden to punch him in the face a few times and kick him in the stomach until he was a bloody mess; it had to look realistic. The plan was for it to seem like they had beaten Flagprim until he had released the net confining Kladspir. He breathed the magical word, and Loran departed to retrieve Kladspir from the deck below.
She walked down the steps, the lamp lit and casting a warm glow in the room. Kladspir was just getting up.
Loran decided to get the first words in, “As you have most likely guessed, things have changed.” Kladspir stared at her intently, rubbing the back of his head. “I denied your offer earlier for fear of being overheard by the elf. When you spoke of him, I knew I could no longer trust him.”
Kladspir laughed. “You could have saved me a lot of trouble if you’d told me that sooner.”
Loran nodded. “You are correct. It was a lot to take in at once, and I didn’t have time to properly think, what with the Sirens attack and all. So now, I give you my true answer: I accept. I have already used Draden’s pathetic affection for me against him, and he will do what we say. The elf is under our power and is captured on the deck above. I hope you are pleased.”
Kladspir smiled. “This is indeed great news. You will receive you reward in full when we arrive in Cradof. The king is in your debt this day.”
She was heartened by his word, for she knew she had deceived him successfully. However, she was cautious this time not to think anything that would give her away, something she had carefully relayed to Draden and Flagprim.
His hand on her shoulder, Kladspir guided her up the stairs in the dim glow of early dawn.
Draden stood with a sneer over the incapacitated Flagprim as Kladspir and Loran emerged from the hold. Flagprim muttered something and Draden snapped, “Stop talking, you filthy elf!”
Kladspir led Loran over to them, stopping with his shoulders squared. “This is a pleasant turn of events. The king will be most enamored to learn of this development. Now, let us resume our journey; we have been severely hindered for the past day,” he glared at Flagprim, who stared back blankly.
“Draden and Loran, carry Flagprim down below. I will steer us to our destination. Hurry back! There is much we need to discuss.”
They were quick to follow his instruction, wary that they were walking on a thin wire.
They rejoined Kladspir moments later, having deposited Flagprim with no conversation at all.
He apparently sensed them coming, for he announced, “We will talk first about your futures and your usefulness to the king. However, you must understand that I cannot reveal to you everything until we reach Cradof. There are many things that you will not believe until you hear it from the ancient scrolls themselves. With that said, we begin with you, Draden.
“You are most invaluable to the king at this moment in time, as he will need you to enact many aspects of his campaign. Upon arrival, and after you have become settled and we research the scrolls, you will be taken and trained in magic and swordcraft.” At this, Draden’s face brightened. This truly did sound exciting to him. “Once your training is completed, you will be brought before the king himself and informed of your duties. This is an opportunity few ever have, and none have ever been a farmboy! For that, congratulations!
“Loran,” Kladspir continued, turning to face Loran. Brown tendrils of her hair blew across her face from the breeze as the boat coasted along. “Do not think you will be in Draden’s shadow. As his companion, you will receive one of our best rooms with Draden. You will be free to walk the halls as you please and read the scrolls whenever you want. As with Draden, you will be brought before the king and he will determine where your skills would be best applied.
“You may be wondering how I know this will happen. The king himself told me! He has a constant telepathic link with everyone in his guard. He will not need to see you until you have been…prepared. But, when the time comes, you will revel in his presence.
“There is nothing more that need be said for now. We will arrive in Cradof by morning. You are free to do what you want until then.”
With those final words, he turned from them and acknowledged them no more.
Draden sat on the side of the stern of the boat, staring out over the undulating water as the barge created a foamy wake in the lake. Loran was next to him, watching as the sun cast burning ripples across the water in its last fiery display before it relinquished its power to the night.
At last, the crimson orb settled below the horizon, leaving a dim violet mark in the sky that quickly faded into a deep navy dotted with blinking silver stars. It was now that they spoke their first words to each other since their conversation with Kladspir.
“So, what do you think?” Loran spoke quietly, the creak of the boat and the splash of the water the only other sound.
A chill wind caused him to shiver as he asked, “About what?”
“You know…,” she replied vaguely, continuing to stare solemnly out across the dark expanse.
“Oh….” He thought about how to respond without giving anything away, just in case they were overheard. “I think it is plausible and should be taken seriously. I do not think lies were shed, but the entire truth was not relinquished. I believe what was revealed will come to transpire, but the outcome may be separate from that with which we were led to have faith. The most reasonable course of action would be to remain as the present and go along with “the one below.” At best, we will gain knowledge of “the others’” true intentions.”
While in Perdfale, he had read most of the books traders brought on their travels, and also a large collection that Jannice possessed. Therefore, his vocabulary was quite defined. He also had used implied notions in his response that he hoped Loran would understand. “The one below” was Flagprim, and “the others” were Kladspir and the king.
Whether she truly got it or not, she nodded and replied, “That is a wise conception. I agree with what you said; I will stand by your side.
He smiled, and they sat there quietly, waiting out the night.
Draden groggily opened his eyes as the first rays of sun brightened the sky behind him. He sat up, rubbing an ache in his back caused from lying on a rope for some of the night. Loran lie on his left, curled on the same uncomfortable span of rope.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Kladspir asked, standing behind the wheel.
“Very,” Draden replied, gazing at Loran’s calm face. Then he looked up when he realized that probably wasn’t what Kladspir had meant. He gasped as he took in the vastness that was Cradof.
The city had been erected on a hill, the buildings extending to the shores of the lake. There, the buildings turned into docks that housed at least a hundred barges, regal masts rippling in the wind. Some of the boats were so large they had to have carried royalty from some faraway land. The castle building where the king and his court resided was placed nobly on the apex of the hill, keeping an eye on the surrounding city. The buildings were sparkling stone near the castle, reverting to white clay as the houses grew farther away from nobility. The Gsiper Ocean could be seen as a faraway glimmer to the right. The city was so large, it was easily five hundred times the size of Perdfale.
Draden stood amazed as he gaped at the site.
“Welcome to my city,” Kladspir announced regally.
Draden’s stomach fluttered with anticipation; this would be something he remembered the rest of his life.