Duke Harold led Fred, Rowena and Captain Locke to a large room off of the
audience chamber. The
Duke bid Fred and Locke to wait while he took Rowena inside. "We have some
questions for the Lady
D'Honaire," Harold said and closed the door behind him.
Forty-five minutes later the door opened again and Fred and Locke were allowed to enter. Waiting within was Rowena and the Duke as well as the Lady Tabitha, along with the guardsman Benjamin and a member of the Order of the White Hand, Mistress Oyael. Ben stood at attention near the door, while the Duke, the Duchess and the mage sat behind a long oak table near the back. A fire crackled in the hearth behind them, warming the chill autumn air in the room. Fred was led to the center of the chamber. A circle had been painted there, inscribed with runes and glyphs and he was told to stand within it. Rowena stood with Locke off to the side.
Duke Harold sat in his great chair and smiled at Fred from behind the black table. "When the guardsman came with his news I was quite startled," the Duke said. "You make a very bold claim, Denom. That is what you were calling yourself wasn't it?" Fred nodded silently, keeping his eyes on the Duke. But he found the presence of the Duchess troubling; it filled him with even more apprehension than the presence of the whitecloak. "If what you say is true," continued the Duke, "you will create quite a stir when it becomes known. In case you haven't heard, the entire kingdom is in the midst of preparing for the Faire of Celebration. In less than a fortnight townships and capitols all over Allaria will swell with citizens far and wide to make merry over the death of the Dragon and to honor the terrible sacrifice of Lord Frederigo of Suffex. I wonder if we should be raising our voices in praise of the return of Frederigo instead. Personally, I believe that would make it a much more joyous occasion, and not only for Duke Dred and the Duchess Champlaine." Duke Harold paused and his hand strayed to a medium sized glass ball that lay upon his desk. Within it were mirrors forming a myriad of facets reflecting one upon the other in an endless kaleidoscope of melting tableaus. "So tell me Denom, are you really Lord Frederigo D'Honaire?"
Fred nodded with all seriousness. "I am."
"Well, that is what I am here to judge," the Duke replied. And then, as if forgetting all together the matter at hand, Harold asked, "I understand that you spent a night at Accuveau Keep. Was my, um...was Sir Lens a satisfactory host?" The abrupt change in topic startled Fred, but did not faze him. "Quite satisfactory," he answered, "though he left for bed early. I hope we did not overbear upon him." Harold waved his hand nonchalantly, "Oh, don't worry about Contacticus, he's never been one for late nights. He finds his merriment in books, not drink or rousing company. But I'm sure you did not inconvenience him overmuch. Would you mind removing your cloak for me?"
Once again Duke Harold had suddenly changed the subject. And Fred now realized what the Duke was doing. The tactic was simple and effective; keep the subject of interrogation off balance and thus more likely to make a mistake if his intention was to lie. But Fred was a knight of the realm, not a simple minded commoner or a barracks soldier. He would not be so easily confused. And of course, he also had no intention of lying.
Without missing a beat Fred reached up to his neck and undid the clasp of his cloak. The rough cloth fell away revealing the red-runed armor he wore beneath it. "Your armor is amazing," Harold eyed the metal skin with wonder. "It seems like something out of a bard's tale. In fact, I believe it is. The 'Tale of Rimbold' is known in courts throughout this land and bards proudly sing the praises of the mighty mail that Rimbold donned when he sojourned into the lairs of the dragon brood. In the King's hall in Caemlyn there is a beautiful tapestry portraying his epic struggle. But the mail was lost along with Rimbold when he vanquished the last of the Great Wyrms. How is it then that after some seven hundred years the Flamebane Mail now sits upon your shoulders?"
"I cannot say," Fred answered the Duke.
The Duke raised his brows at this. "Cannot or will not, Denom? Do not forget that you are under penalty to answer my questions."
"I have not forgotten, Lord Duke," Fred replied with all honesty, "but the scope of your inquiry encompasses only the question of my true identity. As to what has happened to me since I entered the Southern Caves, I will not reveal that to any but my father and the King. And I am under no compunction to reveal it to you."
"It is I who decide the scope of my questions and what you must reveal in answer!" Duke Harold growled and rose up from his chair.
"And I have given my answer, with all due respect Lord Duke," Fred calmly responded.
"Your respect I do not require," Harold answered testily, "for as you say, I am a Duke. And even if you are who you say you are do not forget that the House of Hindsight stands on par with the House of D'Honaire. So do not think to set yourself above me."
Fred stood for a moment speechless and then he bent down on one knee. "I have sworn myself to the Kingdom, to the King and to his nobles. I am your servant and will do all that I can in your bidding. But of the tale I bring from the Dragon's Caves I must in obedience remain silent."
Duke Harold slowly returned to his seat and stared at Fred warily. "I have met Lord Fred on more than one occasion, Denom. You do not look like him. You are wild eyed and seem to me more like a highwayman than a nobleman for all your 'respectful obedience'. Now Sir Terrence on the other hand, he has the bearing of a true D'Honaire."
"Sir Terrence, Lord Fred's cousin."
"I have no such cousin, Duke Harold," Fred responded. "But then, you know that. If you wish it though, I can name all my kith and kin for you. And further, I can recount my lineage down the ages for five hundred years to the time when my House first came to some prominence. Will that convince you I am who I say I am?"
The Duke waved his hand dismissively. "And if I asked Lady Rowena, she could do the same. And you two have spent much time together since her abrupt departure from her home. Indeed, you have braved horrors together, or so I've been told, and I'm sure that your deep affection and regard for each other has only grown the stronger because of it. And since we're on the subject, and since you refuse to tell me of your marvelous armor, will you then instead explain the events that transpired at Batlan Keep?"
"I have no explanation," Fred replied. "I was away from the keep when it was attacked. When I returned I found it besieged and was later told that a green thing had aided the attackers. I don't know what it was. And In case you're wondering, I played no part in summoning the nightmare thing."
Duke Harold shook his head with wonder. "You claim to be a man dead, and your path has crossed with those of monsters and you wear an ancient armory long thought lost." Harold took a sip from his goblet and then said, "I think we're going to be in this room for a very long time."
It was many hours later that the Duke finally retired to his study. Only the mage, Oyael, accompanied him. He was tired but also keenly excited. "Did you see when I got angry at him and twisted his words. I was baiting him for all I was worth but not once did he take the bait," Harold said admiringly. "That boy's got a sharp mind and a strong will. And I'll be damned if he doesn't look like the son of Duke Dred."
"You haven't seen Fred D'Honaire in over five years, my Duke," the enchantress reminded him.
"But a D'Honaire is a D'Honaire," Harold replied. "The resemblance between him and Rowena is unmistakable. But I tell you, if he isn't Dred's son I'll make him mine. I could do with men of his mettle."
"If he isn't the Duke's son then he is a spy or an assassin in which case we're going to have to execute him," Oyael said with a dry smile.
"You know Oyael," Harold frowned, "you have an uncanny gift for finding the worst in any situation. Do you practice at it?" She looked up at Harold and smiled. "But, of course, you are right," Harold continued. "The attack on Batlan still worries me, and his explanations were anything but satisfactory. As was Rowena's. I wish your mage-brother had given us a few more details."
"There's only so much information you can fit beneath a dove's wing, my Duke," Oyael responded as she pulled out a large leather bound journal. "So are you making your report?" Harold asked. "And what will you say? Tell me what your magicks saw. Is he Frederigo D'Honaire?" Oyael put down her pen and rubbed her lower lip. Harold knew that look, Oyael was unsure of herself and that was a rare thing indeed.
"He spoke no lie, betrayed no deception," Oyael began. "Of course, as I have told you before, the Spell of Truthtelling only gives me a sense of what lies at the heart of a person's words. A poor liar never passes the test. But it is possible that a person of sufficient strength of mind could fool me."
"So, as far as you know, Denom is telling the truth," Harold said. "But since you rarely ever question your abilities so, I assume then that Orlan's Circle proved this Denom the liar?"
"Yes... and no," Oyael replied, an intensity in her voice. "That is what mystifies me so. He is Fred. Or rather, a part of him is. But the rest, well, some of him isn't even human. To tell you the truth, I don't know who he is. Or what."
10/23/2000 12:23:09 AM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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