Urlathe wanted Denom to have no time to rehearse his story upon arriving
Montefort. Also, if he should represent a danger, then the sooner that
could be confirmed
the better. Thus he had obtained the Duke's agreement that Denom and his
companions should appear before the Duke and mages immediately on arrival.
As the party of travellers entered the castle, Denom saw the chancellor, who was responsible for the day to day running of the castle's affairs, waiting for them. "Pomfret," he said, "I want to see my father at once." "So you must be the man Denom. Well, you're in luck, for the Duke wants to see you at once, in the Great Hall." "But..." Locke began, about to object. "Don't fret, Captain Locke," Pomfret said. "You are required to be present as well. As are the Lady Rowena, a merchant called Pall, and one who is known as the Chanticleer."
On entering the Great Hall, Fred was surprised to see, as well as his father and the D'Honaire family's own mage (whom he had expected to be present), seven other mages, sitting on either side of his father. He recognised some of them, including Urlathe, for they had been at the banquet held in his honour in Caemlyn the evening before he had set out on his quest. His father looked stern and troubled. He also looked older and less well than when he had seen him last. The D'Honaire mage, Tyndale by name, looked very nervous. The other mages looked impassive.
"Father," Fred said, "I would much prefer to talk to you in private, for some of what I have to say should be for your ears alone." In particular he was thinking of what he wished to say to his father regarding the risk of a war with Aqualaria. "If you are to talk to me at all, you will do so now, in front of those assembled here," his father said. Fred reluctantly acquiesced. He should have the chance to talk to his father in private later, assuming that he could convince him that he was indeed his son. "But," he said, "I don't think some of what I will relate is suitable for a maiden's ears. Rowena should not be present." "Hah!" said Rowena, clearly unimpressed. Before she could say anything else, the Duke spoke: "You will refer to her as 'Lady Rowena' until and unless it is established that you are Frederigo. And she and the others are required to hear what you have to say, so that they can corroborate - or contradict - your testimony."
"Now," the Duke said, "if you are to convince me that you are truly my son, you will relate all that has befallen you since your leaving here to go to Caemlyn and then onwards on your quest. You will also need to convince these members of the Order of the White Hand." He indicated the mages with a wave of his hand. So Fred, standing ten yards away from his seated audience, began with his departure from Castle D'Honaire, briefly covered his stay in Caemlyn, and then went on to describe his quest. He had much to tell, and he talked almost non-stop for several hours. Rowena thought that he spoke fluently and convincingly, but she - of course - was not unbiased.
The mages showed particular interest in, and interrupted to cross- examine Fred on, the following points: his encounter with Dr Vincent (their interest in this episode surprised him); the dragons Minestus and Malachi; his conversion into what some of the mages referred to as a werefox and others as a demifox, and subsequently his conversion back again; the powers of the Crystallic; what he knew about the mysterious Synizn (whom he had not managed to meet); his impressions of Tarin and the other dwarfs; what he had learnt about the orcs; how he acquired his armour and the sword Nelheth-Mord; the death of Princess Astra; events in the cursed forest; his meeting with Rowena; the ambush en eoute to Batlan; and - most of all - what he knew about the Green Flame. He could help them little upon this last, of course.
When Fred had finally finished, and Locke, Rowena, Pall and the Chanticleer had been asked whether their memories of events accorded with Fred's account, Urlathe said: "With your permission, My Lord, I should like to give my initial impressions of the evidence we have heard. I shall need to consult in private with you and my fellow mages before I can come to my final opinion, however." The Duke nodded his assent. "Denom spoke well, and I could detect no inconsistencies in what he told us when compared with what we already knew. In particular, his experience at the hands of Dr Vincent would account for the findings that so concerned Oyael." Fred was puzzled at this, having no idea what those findings might have been. "Ordinarily, the fact that he even knew of Dr Vincent at all, who disappeared several decades ago and has been forgotten by most, might have been significant, but of course he could have learned of Vincent from his conversation with Dr von Cushing.
"It should be possible, given time, for us to check whether two demifoxes were arrested on their entry into Walants, which will go a long way towards confirming - or otherwise - the truth of the story we have heard.
"I confess that I was rather amused by the story of the 'cursed' sword, which I do not believe to be cursed at all. But that is a side issue, which we need not go into now.
"Finally we come to the mysterious and frightening Green Flame. What Denom has told us is in agreement with the reports that we have had from the commander of Batlan Keep. Unless Denom is a mage of awesome power, and also able to do magic unseen by his companions, then since he was not present when the attack occurred he cannot have been responsible for it."
Fred was beginning to relax just a little. It seemed as though Urlathe believed him - unless perhaps he was trying to lull him into a false sense of security. But then Urlathe said: "There is one thing that has not been explained, though, that I find very puzzling. I would like, if I may, to address two questions to the Lady Rowena. Why did you going looking for your brother when you did, when everyone else thought him dead? Above all, how did you manage to find him? Especially as you headed in precisely the right direction, rather than in the direction of the Southern Caves, the natural way for you to have gone."
The Chanticleer, who had been observing everyone carefully, noticed Tyndale's already pale face become even paler. A couplet popped into the Chanticleer's mind: "His face, at first just ghostly, / Turned a whiter shade of pale." That could form part of one of the many songs that he could write based on Denom's/Fred's remarkable story. His future prosperity would be assured. But only if he was able to tell others of what he had heard, which he feared might not be permitted.
1/9/2001 11:54:24 AM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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