Chapter 10: The Best Laid Plans
“And so those who spoke the truth were silenced and the promise of more riches never materialized,” Alexandra said, as she gazed at the great city in the distance.
“But the queen brought peace at least, I mean your new mother--. ” Colin started.
“Never call her that!” Alexandra snapped. “She’s a snake, her lies are poison to my father’s ears.”
Samuel nodded, knowing the story all too well. Colin followed Alexandra’s gaze to the empty towers and darkened streets beyond the great wall.
“Do you know what it feels like to see everything you love being pulled apart, bit by bit? I had to sit there on a throne, and watch it happen.”
“So, you were victimized like the rest of the people?” Colin offered.
Alexandra glared at him, “I’m not a victim. They married when I was eleven and every year after that I saw our traditions dismantled, one after the other. I saw our people grow callous and petty. I saw old friends driven away from the court.” Alexandra glanced at Samuel. “Finally, a year ago, I knew I had to leave as well.”
“Your father never came looking for you?” Colin asked.
“Less and less often, and then not at all. Samuel now seems to be a wanted felon. I’ve no doubt Marseille had something to do with that,” Alexandra replied as a gust of wind flew by and she wrapped her arms around herself. “In any case, Samuel needed help while he studied his scroll. It’s the only one left.”
“Study?” Colin turned to Samuel. “You’re blind. How could you?”
“The Maker has blessed me with assistants who have imaginative minds,” Samuel said.
Alexandra smiled. “What little I can do, but you know as well as I that my skill with letters is limited.”
Next to Samuel, Balaam gently pawed at the ground with his hoof, creating a character that resembled the “A” from Colin’s puzzle box. The donkey seemed to take the greatest of care as he finished. Balaam gently nuzzled Samuel’s hand towards the letter written in the dirt.
“Leyo,” Samuel pronounced as he traced the character with his finger. “Even a donkey serves the Maker’s purpose.”
“I was much more once,” Balaam said, “but it seems this is my penance, to serve as requested.” He glanced at Colin. “And babysit when needed.”
Colin shook his head, “Look, I’m sorry, really. But this place, your problems, they’ve nothing to do with me.” He turned back towards the path. “Point me to where this dead forest and tree are and I’ll leave you to it.”
“Even if you made it to the weald’s borders, you’d lose yourself within a day. For a year now, shadows have blotted out the sun, and the night has been ceaseless.” Samuel said, “Even under normal light, travelers who dare cross the shadow of those woods rarely return.”
“Samuel, let him go. He’s of no use to us.” Alexandra sighed. “The horn failed us.”
“What, that conch thing?” Colin asked.
Samuel dismissed the question with a wave. “On the contrary, he has what we lack. A face that is unknown to the Queen, and two good eyes. There are still a few loyalists to the crown within the city walls. One man, in particular, could reach the King quietly and hand him a message.”
“Do I know him?” Alexandra asked.
“Doubtful. He was jailor in the dungeons last I heard.” Samuel replied, “His name is Rustag and he owes allegiance to no one but King Braeden. While I might still have the king’s ear, I’d never make it to his court, not now. I’ll prepare a letter sealed with my mark, a letter that the boy could hand to Rustag and he in turn deliver to the King. There is a message he needs to read, words long overdue. Accomplish this task, and you’ll surely find his favor.” Samuel glanced at Alexandra, “The boy might not be our savior, but he can help our cause, and further his own.”
“Whoa, who said anything about being your savior? I just need this sap. That’s it. If I run this errand for you, you can guarantee I’ll get it, right?” Colin asked.
“No, but I can guarantee you’ll fail if you try to make your journey alone. The castle has a storehouse of provisions and medicine. Some of the Terebinth’s sap may have found its way there.” Samuel replied.
Colin sighed. The whole idea seemed far fetched at best, but there were no other options, save wander a land he knew nothing of. “Fine. I’ll do what I can,” Colin said, shaking his head. Even if this excursion fails I might be able to find this sap in that storehouse and get out of here.
“Samuel, is this wise? Mariselle’s agents watch throughout the countryside and the city,” Alexandra asked.
Samuel nodded as he took Colin’s hand, “True, and that’s why you shouldn’t risk taking the Royal Road south. Instead, row my skiff past the Lion’s Maw. There’s still enough boat traffic to hide you from any prying eyes if you keep your heads down. Once you’re south of the harbor, go ashore and make for the eastern gate. Balaam will guide you. You’ll be nearly invisible, dressed in some of my robes. You’ll look like a peasant, a nameless face in the crowd. A skill, I sense, you know something about.”
“Do I have any say in this?” Balaam asked.
“No!” Samuel snapped. “Balaam, you know the streets better than anyone. Avoid the temple district. Take him by way of the cemetery and the abandoned quarter to the servant’s entrance to the castle.”
“The abandoned quarter? The cemetery? The place is filthy, crawling with rats, thieves, and beggars. No sane human would wander there at night,” Balaam argued.
“Yes, yes, I know. That’s what will keep you safe,” Samuel replied. “Alex, you may go with them to the eastern gate, but no farther. Your face is too well known.”
“Samuel, I’ve wandered those streets since I was small,” she replied. “Let me take this message. I’ve years of experience eluding guards and going about unnoticed.”
“Child, you are our hope should we succeed against this growing darkness. Your father is old, and soon Gilead will need a ruler of your caliber. I can’t risk you on an errand like this,” Samuel replied. “Nor can you risk yourself. Your name carries power, and we’ll need it erelong I suspect.”
Colin saw concern furrow across the old man’s brow for the girl and sighed. Even in this new world, he felt unimportant and ultimately helpless, awash between tidal wills that cared little for his wellbeing.
Alexandra shook her head, “I’ve ridden the wildest horses through the southern fields, explored the typhoon swamps of Northport, and outwitted Mariselle herself. Don’t treat me like an infant!”
“I’ve said my piece, Alexandra. Sometimes wisdom comes with accepting your station and staying silent,” Samuel replied.
Alexandra folded her arms and turned away.
“Could I have some sort of weapon maybe?” Colin asked. “Some kind of protection?”
“Certainly.” Samuel turned and placed his hand gently on Colin’s head, “Factorem prohibeo periculum.”
Colin waited for something more, but Samuel lowered his hand and smiled, satisfied.
“That’s it?” Colin asked. “Aren’t you going to at least give me a sword or a wizarding wand or something?”
“Power does not lie in objects, but in the Logos, the true words of the Maker,” Samuel replied. “The Logos has brought armies to a halt, toppled empires, and moved mountains. More importantly, those words can see to the truth of things, change minds, and open hearts. Never discount that.”
“Yeah but I don’t speak the Logos. I don’t have time to sit over some dusty old book and figure them out.”
“You’re not expected to, I’ve spoken them over you, to anoint your head, light your path and protect you from harm. If there were more soothsayers, I’d send one in your stead, but desperate times call for desperate measures.”
“So we’re doing this on a wing and prayer huh?” Colin sighed, “Okay then, I guess I’m ready.”
Samuel took his arm. “Excellent. Alex, help him saddle Balaam while I finish the note. Steel yourself, boy. Tonight, you sneak into a lion’s den.”