In The Absence of Eagles: Book 1 of the The Chronicle of the Shires

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Chapter 9: A growing Acquaintance

Despite the information given by Elder Samej, resolution to act was still not achieved. Debate raged for over three hours as the Royal Council slowly became more polarized. There were those, led by Jashud, Machir and the delegation from Carnelian, who sought action but there were others such as Beriah and Ashbel who sought the path of appeasement and negotiation. Unable to find any unanimity the exhausted council dismissed for the day. The intention was to reconvene the next morning to make a final decision.

As the members quickly filed out to dine or to continue the conversation in private, the simple man who had caused such turmoil suddenly found himself alone and seemingly forgotten.

Leaving the room with his colleagues Squire Belac dashed back in once he was released to find Elder Samej. The man was still in the chamber gazing intently at the tapestries and bits of history in the room. He was a contrast of curiosity and knowledge.

Belac had been so impressed by the man he wanted to learn more from him. Suddenly though the confident youth was overcome with shyness.

Samej seemed to pick this up. “Well met Squire Belac,” he greeted him. “It was quite the day, hm?”

The ice was broken but the teen still had trouble articulating himself. “I…umh…I mean, if you don’t have anything else to do, may I invite you to dine with me this evening?”

A broad smile filled the expressive face of the ancient man. “I would be delighted by the company. Thank you for the kind invitation.”

Happily, the youth led the man off to find a place to eat so the two went off on their own, unnoticed.

Mitt Cela and Hai’asi sat together silently in the bounty hunter’s comfortable room in the castle staring at the fire, locked in their own thoughts. Both had looks of deep concern on their faces. Though having met for only a short period of time the battle they’d faced together seemed to forge a bond between them.

“I’m glad you made it through,” Mitt Cela spoke first. “I was concerned when we left you at the bridge.”

“Yes, but I made it back to what?” Hai’asi took a metal poker and thrust it angrily at the fire, causing a shower of sparks to rise up. “Amethyst is lost and the rest hangs upon a thread. Our glorious leaders do nothing but squabble. I fear they won’t reach any conclusion that will allow for a proper response.”

Hammering a glowing log in frustration, he seemed to calm down a bit. “That man Samej speaks wisdom. We should listen to him but louder voices will likely carry the day.”

“You’re right,” Mitt Cela agreed, staring at the flames. Then with a look of concern he attempted to change the subject. “I grieve the loss of your kingdom.”

“It’s not my kingdom, but rather one I have pledged to preserve with my life and watch others squander,” Hai’asi retorted, frustration etched on his face. “I should have fallen at the Pass rather than live to see this.”

Mitt Cela couldn’t bear to see the warrior he had come to admire and even envy for his call to duty suffer for something outside his control. “That wasn’t your destiny. Your kingdom may have fallen but it isn’t lost.”

“No?” The Captain of Amethyst said with a snort. “With the weakness of my king and the others as well, I have little hope that any of us will see a free land.” Sadness filled his bright eyes. “The way of the warrior is a frustrating one Mitt Cela. I envy your freedom and lack of fealty to anyone.”

A slight, ironic grin filled Mitt Cela’s face as he contemplated the statement. He understood the thought and frustration of serving those who didn’t seem to care for anything save self. But what he found interesting was that his new friend missed the loneliness of not belonging to anything. He supposed that each right now was looking longingly at the life of the other.

“Do not look to closely in my direction Hai’asi,” Mitt Cela replied quietly, “for on closer examination you may find my path not so satisfying. There’s no honor in a life without duty and service beyond self.”

Hai’asi nodded his head in understanding at the new perspective. “That may be. I guess each of us at a point like this looks naively to something we don’t fully understand.”

“Well I do understand that unless someone speaks with authority and purpose tomorrow all will be lost,” Mitt Cela said with a grim look on his face.

“Yes, without strong leadership we have not hope,” Hai’asi agreed.

The velvet night was warm and stars lit up the sky. The sound of crickets created a lovely symphony for those who cared to listen. Squire Belac was walking with Elder Samej along the battlements of the castle discussing the events as they had transpired earlier.

“But Elder Samej, I still don’t understand why the Council can’t see the folly of inaction. You’ve shown them what we face. Why won’t they do anything?”

The wise man, his eyes shining, looked warmly at the youth. “The course is easy to one who is young and carries few burdens. You see through the eyes of youth and things are therefore simple. To the rulers though, well, there are responsibilities and factors that tug at them until they find themselves pulled so thin it is as if you could see through them.”

“I still don’t know….”

Swiftly from out of the shadows a willowy figure stepped into the torchlight.

“Your Highness!” Squire Belac said with a start as the shadows fell off to reveal Princess Rebekah.

“Good evening Squire Belac,” she casually replied.

“You…you know my name?” a shocked Belac could only stammer.

“Of course. You are one who has distinguished himself of late in the service of this kingdom. My mother has very much appreciated what you’ve contributed,” she paused, then coyly continued, “and so have I. Would you do me the honor of introducing your friend?”

Belac, red-faced at the compliment, quickly regained his faculties.“Your Highness, may I present to you Samej, member of the Vestry of the Elders.”

The princess bowed elegantly to the man surprising Belac. “I’m pleased to meet you,” she responded in an informal and familiar tone. “I’d hoped to make your acquaintance after hearing you speak at the Council today.”

The elderly man gazed at the young woman with a look of affection on his face. “Princess Rebekah, how very nice to meet you,” he softly said to to the teenaged royal, taking her delicate hands in his. “I can see you have your mother’s eyes and your father’s heart.”

“You know my father?”

“The acquaintance is mine alone. I have never had the privilege of advising him.” Pausing, with a look of lament on his face, he continued, “That was left to others deemed more qualified.”

Rebekah missed her father greatly, especially at this critical time. His strength and wisdom were sorely needed not only in the kingdom but also in his home. Pensively, the usually decisive young lady asked, “What are we to do?”

“It is not my place to say.” Samej responded firmly.

“I’m making it your place Elder Samej,” Rebekah cried out. “We’re like a ship adrift without a rudder. I fear what will happen tomorrow. It’s obvious to me you love my family and this land. So I ask you again, please, what are we to do?”

Turning his back the man walked slowly over to the side of the wall, gazing at the town below. “Long has my order desired to return to their place of honor and service, but alas there are few of us left. Those words you have spoken are music to my ears for it is anathema for us to force ourselves onto those called to rule. Desperately though at times we have wanted to. We are not all knowledgeable and are fallible. We can make mistakes,” he paused, pondering the statement. “I make mistakes and am fully aware of my fallibility. Our desire though has never been inconstant. To serve our sovereigns and the lands they rule, that is our purpose.”

Belac could contain himself no longer. “What happened to your order Elder Samej?” he blurted out.

“Long and hard have my colleagues and I pondered the same question my young squire. Eventually we stopped asking, since it just was,” Samej responded, grim faced as he reflected. “For those who lead, the truth is not always an easy thing to face. At times it is so much easier to seek the words of those who will speak the things one wishes to hear. You may call it insecurity or vanity, the reason does not matter,” the old man declared frankly. “We all wish to be correct. It is the true leader who can face correction in the face of folly and thus learn from it. We were never men of eloquence in the sense of flattery. Rather our calling was to use our individual and collective abilities to support the ruler and the people for the common good not for the comfort of those in headship.”

“But what about your magic?” Belac interjected. “Couldn’t you have used that to keep power?”

Samej’s dour look changed. The older man gazed merrily at the enthusiastic squire. “I suppose it could but that is not its purpose. No, magic is to be used as an aid. It’s a tool that flows from the character of the one who utilizes it. While the ability may have power, it is never to be used to gain power.”

Belac still didn’t seem to get it. “Didn’t Ahriman use magic though to gain power?”

Samej’s face clouded at the thought. “No, that was a misuse of power. If he does possess magic, which it appears, his has been corrupted. This is something that I’ve been pondering since I first caught wind of what happened.”

The enigmatic man seemed to lose himself in his own thoughts. He stopped abruptly after a few moments. Running a hand through his white hair as if snapping out of his reflections he resumed, “I’m sorry. You must forgive an old man his idle musings. It has been many years since I have spoken on this subject but there is no time for such matters. We must deal with the here and now. As to your request Your Highness, I am pleased and honored to offer my guidance to be used as you see fit.”

The princess nodded her head enthusiastically in ascent.

Elder Samej, the joy of being restored to service evident on his face, took a deep breath. “It is my decided opinion that the Council must…”

With that he launched into a plan of action for several minutes. Princess Rebekah and Squire Belac were transfixed at the energy and passion of the seemingly placid man.

When he concluded the princess was speechless. The man, who appeared so simple, had just laid out a concise response, which was not only practical but also made total tactical sense. Yet in a few minutes he had been able to devise then articulate something no one in the Confederation thus far had seemed to be able to think of.

Taking his hands in hers Rebekah shook them gently. “Thank you Elder Samej, I can’t tell you how grateful I am at your coming during our time of need. Especially after hearing what happened to you.” The princess stopped then hesitantly asked, “Will you be there tomorrow for the Royal Council?”

“It is for the nobles and leaders to decide this. I suspect there are some who do not desire to see me again. No, I will not be there if not summoned for I do not go to be a spectator.”

“Then you shall come as an advisor to the Kingdom of Carnelian,” Rebekah declared with a look of determination.

Belac and Rebekah could see Samej was visibly moved by the declaration.

His eyes welled up at the request. In a shaky voice barely above a whisper Samej responded almost as if not believing what he’d just heard, “An advisor? I did not think to hear such words ever again. I am deeply honored by your confidence in me.” Regaining his composure he carried on in a more controlled fashion. “But that, Highness, is a decision only your mother can make right now.”

Rebekah was unfazed by the statement. “I’ll speak to her immediately about this though I’m sure she has the same desire as me. But if for some reason she doesn’t, then at the very least I would count it a privilege if you would serve as my advisor.”

Bowing low, his eyes glistening, Samej was moved anew. “I would be pleased to have the distinction of serving the kingdom and the house of King Chriosd Pherein in whatever way you deem appropriate. I will await your call.”

Wheeling swiftly the man then disappeared into the night.

Rebekah was left alone with Belac but stayed for only a moment since she needed to speak to her mother right away. Pivoting elegantly in order to return to the Royal Chambers she paused and looked back at the teen. “I won’t forget what you’ve done Squire Belac and the courage you’ve shown today,” she said. “I owe you a debt of gratitude.”

Then as swiftly as Samej, she was gone, leaving the young man to ponder these words and the deep beating of his heart.

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