Chapter Twenty-Two: Sir Beir
Tall blades of grass flanked their path as they went down a road that led into the valley. The blue sky was streaked with a pink light cast by the westering sun and a gentle wind was blowing at their backs with the scent of roses carried in the breeze. Around them, the landscape was rich and beautiful, full of trees and grass and scattered with farms that bustled with mules and goats and cows and other livestock. There was nothing to indicate that war had ever touched this land. He looked at Modrus and saw that he was moved by the rural charm of the land. The king smiled as he saw men and women at work, busy with the chores of the day.
“This is the land as I remember it,” said Modrus. “The bright land of Khad-Amryn.”
“It is very beautiful.”
“There was no finer land in all the world. But you still have not seen Kossol or Panar, the great cities that in years past were the brightest stars of the West.”
They saw a house near the road. Smoke billowed from its blackened roof and the scent of burnt flesh was in the air. Modrus halted. “There is trouble afoot,” he said.
They stepped off the road and went toward the house that stood like a ruinous pyre. A black dust swirled round, spraying an ashy mist in the air as they approached. They entered the house, passing through a collapsed doorway, and scanned the ruins. They found something in a corner and they kicked the debris aside, uncovering four skeletons, each bound to the floor with chains. Modrus stood over the remains in horror. “What evil is this?” he said aghast.
They heard voices. Several children were near. Modrus emerged from the house and saw three small boys staring at him.
“Hello, little ones,” he greeted them. “Can you tell us what has happened here?”
The three were mute.
“There is not one of you who is aware?” asked Modrus.
There was a pause as the three looked at each other, then the tallest boy broke their silence. “All traitors are slain,” he said. The three turned and ran to a farm some yards away. The king watched them as they fled, then he turned to Efkin.
“Are they slaying the citizenry now?”
“It would not surprise me,” Efkin said.
“I must learn what happened here.” Modrus went toward the farm, his branch-cane tapping the ground as he hastened forward, and Efkin followed after the dead king.
As they neared a house, a woman came out to greet them. She wore a smile on her face, but her eyes were wary. “Do you follow the road to Kossol?” she asked.
“Yes, we are travelers on our way to the city,” said Modrus.
She looked at Modrus. “It is a long walk over the hills. If you are hungry, we have plenty of food.”
“Thank you kindly, but we cannot stay. We are curious about that ruined house over there.”
The woman fell silent and her cheerful expression faded as she stared at the ashen house. “They have come again.”
“Who has come?” asked Modrus.
“The riders.” She paused and darted a glance at the road. She turned and stepped back toward the house. “Come inside.”
Modrus stood staring at the woman for a moment.
“Please, come inside,” she beckoned them.
They entered the house. It was a modest dwelling with two rooms. They sat at a small table as the woman went to the kitchen. She returned with bread and drinks.
“We never know who is watching these days,” she said. “You must be careful on the road.”
Modrus took the glass she offered him, but did not drink it. He knew his ruined form would not contain the water and it would spill onto the floor. Despite his outward appearance, he was still a fleshless skeleton.
“Who are these riders?” he asked.
She glanced out a window and closed the blinds before she sat next to them.
“They come at night usually, but we are not much safer in the day. They ride black horses and wear crude furs. We thought they were raiders coming to pillage our farms. They would come with swords and axes and take what they wanted, throwing torches into the homes of any who resisted. We are farmers not fighters, but some of our men ...” Her voice wavered and she wiped a tear.
“It is alright, child,” said Modrus.
Regaining herself, she continued. “Some of our men took up arms and tried to defend the farms. But they were too few against many. We are still burying the dead. The governor said he would send soldiers to protect us, but none have come. They are too busy dealing with other threats, or so we have been told.”
“What other threats?” asked Modrus.
“If we believe the reports, they fight raiders who come across the sea.”
“What do you believe?”
The woman paused a moment. “We do not think any soldiers are coming.”
At that moment, the door swung open and a man entered the house. A scythe was in his hand. His eyes went immediately to the two strangers at the table. Then a small boy came running into the house.
“Beir, we have guests,” the woman said to the man. “I found them traveling on the road.”
The man greeted them with a nod. The boy was walking toward the table, but he steered the child to the kitchen. “Wash your hands.” His eyes came back to the travelers. His hand still held the scythe.
“There are not many travelers on the road these days,” he said. “Where are you going?”
“They go to Kossol,” the woman said.
The man paused. “It is a long walk to the city, Lira.”
“Horses make me nervous,” Modrus replied.
The man grunted. “The road should make you nervous.”
“Yes, we have been hearing of brigands in these parts.” He glanced at Efkin. “This fine swordsman has been escorting me. Perhaps I should have brought more retainers.”
“You should have brought an army.”
“Why has the governor not sent troops?”
Beir laughed. “We will get no help from Lokus.”
“Is Lokus the governor now?” Modrus said surprised.
Beir looked at the man. “Where do you come from?”
“I am from Panar, but I have been living abroad for some years. It seems there is much I have missed.
“Indeed,” said Beir. “Lokus has been governor for almost a year. No troops will come to our defense.”
The man looked at his wife. She nodded. He put down the scythe and came to the table. “The riders have not come to plunder our farms,” he said. “They have been sent to kill us.”
“Who sends them?” Modrus asked.
“We believe the governor sends them.”
The man nodded. “He takes his orders from the men of Mor.”
“Of course,” said Modrus.
“They are ruthless men who would slay all who oppose them.”
“We have found four who were chained to the floor, burned so that only their bones remain.”
“Others were slain in this way,” said Lira, “and I fear these four you found will not be the last.”
“These are simple folk,” said Modrus. “What threat do they pose?”
“There are many among us who talk of overthrowing those in power. In years past, the lords who rule this land were not so fearful of those who spoke against them, but things have changed and no one is safe.”
“Not even Prince Baragan,” said Beir.
“Baragan,” Modrus said with surprise. “What has become of him?”
“His words against the governor were the harshest,” said Lira, “and it was feared he might be silenced despite his royal lineage, for the lords of this land were dismayed by his opposition. While others among the nobility hid their contempt for the governor and his counselors, Prince Baragan openly condemned their schemes and gathered large groups of protesters to walk through the streets and denounce the men of Mor and all who serve them. He rallied the people and found support in military circles as well, but this did not pose the greatest threat. What the lords feared most was his influence among the nobility and their connections abroad, afraid they might persuade allies in the West to bear down upon them. Mor’s hold on this land is still tenuous and there is no foulness they would not consider to tighten their grip.”
“He has been missing for some time. It is rumored that he was slain.”
Modrus fell silent for a moment, in disbelief at what was happening in the land. He turned to Efkin. “Can this be? Are they so brazen to slay one of our royal line and gather these good folk to set them afire? Can this be my Khad-Amryn?” He could no longer speak. He turned away as his eyes welled with tears and Efkin felt this was not done out of shame, but from a desire, as king, to preserve the morale of his people.
“Other royals are missing,” said Beir. “We do not know how many are dead and how many are in exile.”
“Exile?” said Modrus.
The man nodded. “They were wise to hide themselves. They would have been slaughtered if they had stayed. There are rumors that some sent their children away to distant lands to be raised without knowledge of their royal heritage.”
Modrus stared at the man.
“They fled to gather strength and reclaim the kingdom,” said Beir.
“When things change.”
“Change,” Modrus said with a bitter laugh. “When is this change coming?”
“When the allies are stronger.”
“When will these allies come?”
“The men of Mor have been sending troops into Khazinth,” said Beir. “When they loosen their grip on this land, we will take it back.”
Modrus shook his head. “This cannot be my Khad-Amryn. The land I remember would not surrender itself to these wicked men.”
“What can we do,” said Beir. “This land has been conquered.”
“Do not wait for allies to grow stronger, find your own strength. Do not wait for the men of Mor to loosen their grip on this land, break it for them.”
“With a scythe or a knife, with a spoon if that is all you have.” Modrus’ voice was growing louder. “Take your plows, your gardening tools, whatever metal you have to a smith to forge weapons. Prepare an arsenal. When the raiders come again, you will meet them with steel.”
Beir paused a moment. “We could make weapons as you say and organize a militia. But we still have no one to lead us. Only royal blood will stir the people to arms against the men of Mor.”
Modrus smiled. He leaned toward the man and showed his right hand. The man almost leapt back. The woman gasped. She stared at the ring, unable to speak.
“If royal blood is needed to wake these people, let mine wake them.”
Beir looked at the ring. It had a gold band and a ruby stone that was the mark of royal blood. He took a breath to regain himself. “How many have returned?”
“I have returned,” said Modrus. “A son of Hion has returned.”
Beir sprang out of his chair. “The House of Hion,” he said surprised.
“You are related to King Modrus?” Lira said.
“A cousin on my father’s side,” replied Modrus.
Beir gasped. He looked at his wife. She stared back at him. He looked at Modrus again. “Forgive us, my lord. We did not know.”
Modrus shook his head. “Forgive me and my kin for not coming sooner.”
Beir stood staring at him for a moment. “No royal has come this way in years. Not since Baragan.” He lowered his head.
“A good man, Baragan,” said Modrus.
Beir nodded. “That is why he was taken. They could not bend his will like some others. He was too strong for them. He was like Modrus.”
Modrus smiled. “Some men cannot be tamed.”
“Aye,” said Beir. “We need such men.”
“Are you such a man?”
Beir was startled by the question. “I am not Baragan.”
“Can you be tamed?”
Beir paused a moment. He looked at his son. “No.”
“Very good,” said Modrus. “The land cannot be conquered while there are men like you.”
“We are farmers. We will do what we can, but we are not trained fighters who know how to use weapons.”
Modrus eyed the man. “You are men defending your women and children. You are the fiercest opponents an enemy could ever face.”
“But we are not knights.”
Modrus turned to Efkin. With a nod, Efkin unsheathed his sword. The king rose and took the blade.
“What are you doing?” asked Beir.
Modrus lowered the sword upon Beir’s shoulder. “Kneel.”
Surprised, the man fell to one knee.
“In the name of King Modrus, I christen you a knight of Khad-Amryn. You will serve and protect this realm with strength and honor.”
Beir stared at Modrus, not knowing what to say. He nodded. “I will.”
Modrus smiled. “Rise, Sir Beir.”
Beir stood up. His eyes were still wide with surprise. “Am I really a knight?”
Modrus took his ring off. “A son of Hion has knighted you. Show this to any who doubt it.” He put the ring in the man’s hand.
Beir gasped. “I cannot take this. Only the royal line may bear this mark.”
“You are my knight, Sir Beir. Wear this mark so that others will know what has been ordained.”
Beir looked at the ring. “In the name of King Modrus,” he said.
“You will need a sword,” said Modrus. “Tell the smiths they must forge weapons.”
Beir glanced at his wife. Then he looked at Modrus. “I have been making one.”
“It is not finished,” he said. “I am not a smith.”
“Bring it to me,” said Modrus.
Beir went outside for a moment. He returned with the unfinished sword. Still holding Harbinger, Modrus took Beir’s sword in his left hand. It was a short sword with a dull edge. The metal was crude and twisted. Modrus took a breath. Then he held up both swords and suddenly his form was glowing.
“Look!” Lira shouted.
They stared at Beir’s sword and were astounded as the metal started to bend. Modrus tightened his grip and a light danced up and down the blade like white flame. A moment later, the sword gleamed with a honed edge that was perfectly straight.
Modrus let out a breath as he lowered the swords, too weak to hold them up. He turned to Efkin. The elf took his sylvan blade and sheathed it. Then Modrus gathered his strength and held Beir’s sword with both hands at the hilt.
“Take your sword, Sir Beir.”
Beir received the blade, his eyes still wide with wonder. He stared at the sword. It was a bit longer and the hilt shone with a hint of gold. He glanced at Efkin’s sword for a moment.
“You must gather every man who is able,” Modrus said. “They must be knighted and given swords.”
“Who will knight them?”
Modrus turned to the man. “You will, Sir Beir.”
“Of course. You have the authority to knight others who will serve under your command.”
Beir paused a moment. “I am not a real knight.”
Modrus seized the man suddenly. “You are a knight of the House of Hion! Any man who says it is not so speaks falsely!”
Beir nodded. “Yes, my lord.”
Modrus released him. He stood looking out the doorway for a moment. Black smoke twisted over the burnt house across the road. He picked up his branch cane. “We must be on our way.”
Efkin turned to Lira. “How far are we from the city?”
“Three miles, perhaps. Do you go there to trade?”
“We are seeking a particular item.”
Lira stared at him. “If you are planning any mischief, you must be careful.”
Efkin smiled. “Do not worry for us. We are not the mischievous sort.”
“You should go quickly before the riders come.”
“We will make haste,” said Modrus. “Take care of my knight.”
“Be careful, my lord.” She watched them walk down the road until they were out of sight.