Chapter 21

The morning sun shone through the eastern windows of the massive throne room. The room was decorated with various tapestries and carpets, all laid out in perfect symmetry; a sign of power and stability. In the middle of the floor, against the back wall, sat a small set of stairs that lead up the throne that King Stephen sat upon.

Stephen was dressed in his most regal leathers, as is the custom whenever he held court. To his left stood Sir Leopold, captain of his guard and heir to the throne. To his right stood the wizard Finnegan, who was his strategic supervisor on most matters. Both were anticipating this morning’s first assignment, the appeal of Sir Zwain of the Flock of Cows.

The guard was not gentle on his handling of Zwain, shoving him forward with a rough push that almost knocked Zwain to the ground. Zwain was able to catch his balance, and wanted to knock the man back and see how he liked it, but controlled himself. He would do best not to screw up any possible chances of getting released.

The guard and Zwain stopped at the foot of the stairs and declared, “Now presenting Sir Zwain of the Flock of Cows to our Lord Majesty Stephen, King of Astarathe.”

“Please stop with the formalities. I’m no sir, and A Flock of Cows is not a place.”

King Stephen stroked his chin and eyed Zwain.

“I would concur, Master Zwain, this Flock of Cows would be a silly name for a land. Besides, cows are more of a herd in these parts.”

Finnegan stepped forward and said, “Your majesty, do not engage the indulgences of this trespassing wizard.”

“Oh please, I am no wizard. Yes I opened the portal but I explained that it was the music of my guitar that really opened it. Not any kind of actual spell. Outside of that I am no different than you, Your Grace,” said Zwain careful to make sure his formalities were in order.

Finnegan knew his moment was here. From behind his back he presented The Axe, shiny and cleaned of any blood from the battle with the orcs. “Would you, my good Sir, be willing to perform your demonstration once again?”

“I thought my appeal was going to give me a chance to plead my case to the contrary of the accusations that were laid before me. This is just the same bullshit as before.”

With this Sir Leopold stepped forward, “You would do well to watch your tongue in front of our Lord. Do not curse as such in front of his ears.”

“Sir Leopold, that is quite alright. We have all stepped in our share of bullshit in our own days. The path of the throne is not so clean as to deny people the right to speak their minds freely.”

“Yeah but–”

“It is far worse for you to outright contradict your King, Sir Leopold, than it would be to casual curse in his presence. Is that correct, your Majesty?” asked Finnegan, with a smug grin on his face.

“That is enough out of the both of you. Am I not kind and just? Must I punish for first time offenses? Is that any way to keep the hearts of my people warm towards me? Leopold, thank you for defending my honour, but I am more than capable of letting a fucking curse word fall upon my own ears.”

Leopold winced at hearing such a harsh word emanate from this King’s lips.

“As for you, Finnegan. While I do value your opinion, you would do well to mind your tongue. Stop slandering other individuals for your own gain. That is a far faster way to move backwards rather than forwards.”

Finnegan’s sly grin snapped away in an instant, he darted his eyes to the floor and snarled in contempt.

“As for you, Master Zwain, should you prove yourself incapable of producing a portal in this here throne chamber, then I will no longer have any reason to detain you.”

“But my Lord,” interjected Finnegan, “What about–”

“These are my lands, Finnegan. I can see into this man’s eyes. I’ve had my dungeon guards also keeping watch on him. Nothing in his behaviour indicates he is any sort of threat, let along a wizard. I am thankful that you changed your mind on this appealing process, Finnegan, for it gave me a second chance to look upon this stranger and reassess my opinion of him.”

“Yeah but that was only to–”

“If you would please, Lord Finnegan, present Master Zwain with his guitar so that he may show us once again the process at which opened the portal to our lands.”

Angry and disgusted, Finnegan walked down the stairs to Zwain. The guard had already removed his shackles and Zwain held and arm out to once again hold The Axe in his grasp. Instead of simply handing it over Finnegan thrusted it into Zwain’s chest almost knocking him on his ass.

“Lord Finnegan! If you would be so kind as to not treat our guests with such force, I would greatly appreciate it. Mayhaps you need to relearn your place in this court. Then would you know that acting like a child on a tantrum is not in your best interest.”

The King missed the look of hatred that Finnegan shot his way. In his own mind, Finnegan felt compelled to rush his plans. Maybe let the orcs rush the town, see how much damage they could do. He could get lucky and the “good” King Stephen would join in the battle, only to lose his own life. That was a lot to hope for. There were a lot of skilled guards around. The best of whom were to be killed by Unklar at his fake orc encampment. Those men still stood at the sides of this throne room, and their captain still had his place at the King’s side. No, the orcs would still lose that battle, and there was not another beastly race of creatures strong enough to execute this plan, while being dumb enough to not know they are being played. No, Finnegan would need to continue as planned. It had to look like the orcs did this of their own accord. That was the only way the Kings of the other kingdoms would accept his ascendance to the throne.

Zwain played the note sequence, but it was the same flat metal twanging as before. It barely even sounded like music. Zwain knew there was no way this would even come close to opening the portal. It needed that specific tone, the one he played that night, or the one the ship made before it flung him out and into the portal.

“I am sorry Your Grace. Like I said, without the proper equipment, my guitar will never come close to creating the sound necessary for a portal to open. I would do better using a guitar from your own time.”

“Our own time?” asked Finnegan, now more curious than ever.

“I mean, your own lands. Do you have an acoustic guitar, my Lord?”

King Stephen tapped Sir Leopold on the shoulder and pointed him to the back of the room. There was a minstrel sitting, eating his breakfast while waiting for His Grace to call upon him for some entertainment. Leopold started briskly walking across the throne room.

“You there, minstrel? Yes. We have need of your lute, if you would be so kind as to let us borrow it for the time being.”

“Sure thing, m’Lord,” said the minstrel as he also rushed across the floor to meet Leopold somewhere in the middle. Once Leopold received the lute he brought it over to Zwain. Leopold traded the lute for The Axe and Zwain held the instrument, scanning it to familiarize himself with it.

Zwain threw the strap over his shoulders and took his usually power stance, resting the base of the guitar on his knee. He plunked away at a few of the strings to get a better feel of the sound this instrument would make. Once he felt he knew the proper chords he started playing. Instead of simply just playing the guitar solo, Zwain played The Boy in its entirety. If anything could increase the chance of this work, Zwain thought it would be this.

King Stephen leaned forward, he was completely enthralled by this tale of a tale of a boy who lost his life at the hands of his own very hero. It was a sad tale, but a tale that promised a much happier future. A future where evil is done away with. Zwain’s music seemed to transform the throne room and King Stephen was transported to a world of barren, scorched rock; a wasteland. Was this place scorched by a dragon? The King was completely absorbed in the magic of the music. No minstrel or bard had ever caught his imagination in this fashion.

Zwain got to the guitar solo and plucked the strings to get as much volume as he could. Finnegan stepped forward greedily anticipating the rift that this could very well create, but everything remained the same and Zwain finished out the song. Finnegan scowled in disappointment. The song made him feel so sure that it was going to work this time. To top it all off, he did play the correct notes back in his cave. His keen memory had not betrayed him after all, and now this man might end up free as a result of his own lack of confidence. He needed to find a way to keep Zwain in the dungeon.

“Your Grace, how do we not know he is simply playing the wrong notes to fool us into believing he is not a true wizard. Mayhaps he is choosing not to open the portal for us.”

The King snapped out of the fugue state the song had put him in and looked at his wizard in a puzzled manner. Even Leopold brought his hands to his chin in deep thought about this accusation.

Zwain raised his right hand to grab King Stephen’s attention. “I can explain, Your Grace, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh don’t listen to him. If he is a true wizard he would say anything to get you to come over to his way of thinking,” said Finnegan attempting to cast Zwain’s request out of the King’s mind.

Instead, Zwain retorted with, “Hm, it would seem I’m not the only one–”

“You will shut your mouth when you are in the court of the King, or we shall have you hanged for contempt of our Lord. Just because you are not of these lands does not mean that you have the right–”

“Enough, Lord Finnegan! As ruler of these lands I determine what is or isn’t contempt. So step back and mind your place, or else you make yourself the subject of these exact accusations your present.”

Finnegan bit his lip and took two steps back, with a sulking look in his eyes. Leopold also took a step back in fright of the rage his King unleashed onto the wizard. King Stephen was emboldened this morning.

“Now, Master Zwain, please make your case for me.”

“When I came through the portal, I left my friends in danger. These orcs had come through and started attacking innocent people. They even killed one of my best friends. The situation was getting worse when the Chief Orc knocked me through the portal, causing it to close, dooming them to their fate.”

Finnegan stepped forward once more, “What does this have to do with–”

“Finnegan, your tongue… Mind it! Go on, Master Zwain.”

“I want nothing more than to return to my home, to find out their fates. To save them if that is possible. So I wanted the portal to open. Even if that proved that I was some sort of wizard. At least I’d have a chance to find out. Also, I have never denied making the portal in the first place,” Zwain said staring long and hard at Finnegan, “Why would I lie when it came to trying?”

Finnegan’s eyes widened in rage. He wished to rush this man and beat him senseless, but he held his ground; not wanting to incur the King’s new found wrath. King Stephen used to be much more complacent before meeting this Zwain.

“Master Zwain, I have looked into your eyes as you’ve said your piece. Your tale feels true, or at the very least true to yourself. That song is a work of magic, but you are no wizard. We need magical storytellers and song writers in this world. People to captivate others and either make them forget the hard times around, or embolden them enough to change things for themselves. You have a wonderful gift and to lock you away in the dungeon would be to deny this world of a thing of pure beauty. I am sorry for your companions. We will do everything in our power to help you find out what became of them. I assume Finnegan has already been curious about the portals, since they seem to be of a power that is outside his grasp.” Finnegan looked over at the King, insulted at the accusation. “Maybe together you two can figure this out. In the meantime you are free to wander about my kingdom at your leisure.”

Zwain took a bow, practically kissing the floor and said, “Thank you, Your Grace. I am forever in your debt.”

“With talent like yours, Master Zwain, I do not think it will take long for you to repay it. Court is adjourned.”

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