So, here's the next chapter of "Fire Sower." If you haven't read the first two chapters, click here to begin.
Chapter Three: The Treasury
The home of King Nikolas was called the Water Palace. It had been built from marble composed of various shades of blue, and the design made the building look like an enormous fountain. The spires looked like jets of water shooting towards the sky, and the walls were textured to look like water as well.
If the design of the palace itself were not enough to carry on the theme, the courtyard held several magnificent water features that added to the ambience. A waterfall tumbled down the center of the stairs to the grand entrance, several fountains glittered along the walkways, and an artificial stream flowed through the ground level of the palace.
Idris stared at his surroundings with open wonder on his face. He could never have imagined such wealth and grandeur.
One of the civic soldiers—wearing the green tunic with the city sigil—had been assigned to show them to the entrance of the Treasury, which was also on the ground floor of the Water Palace.
They walked up the stairs to the grand entrance, and through a large set of double doors that bore the royal crest—a dragon with a starburst in one of its front claws. The entrance hall was several stories high, with a glass roof letting in the sunlight. A small golden bridge took them over the artificial stream flowing through the room, and they walked down a hall to their left.
The hallway was guarded by palace soldiers—designated by blue tunics with a silhouette of the Water Palace embroidered on the chest. They watched the progress of the four farmers as they walked along, as if they didn’t trust the civic soldier to keep them under control.
At the end of the hall was a simple wooden door, in front of which stood two more palace soldiers. The civic soldier gestured them forward and then walked away without further explanation.
“You must submit to a search,” declared one of the palace soldiers.
Idris looked at his father in confusion, but followed his lead in allowing the soldier to make sure there was nothing hidden on his person. Their packs were taken to a small room off to the side, where they could pick them up after leaving the Treasury.
Idris and Cadell waited while Owen and Meic went through the same process, and then they were led through the wooden door and down a winding staircase.
At the bottom of the stairs there was a large room with several rows of benches where people could sit and wait for their turn in the Treasury. Next to another wooden door was a desk, where an aged woman with spectacles sat with a quill before her and a bookcase full of thick ledgers behind her.
Cadell led the way to the woman at the desk, and she looked at them shrewdly.
“What is the name of your city or village?”
“Rest Stone Valley,” answered Cadell.
The woman stood up and turned to the bookcase, scanning the ledgers and muttering to herself.
“Rest Stone Valley, part of the Hills Province, west of the Fenn Province…”
She selected one of the ledgers and set it on the desk with an impressive thump. The woman opened the book to the middle and thumbed her way to the last entry. Then, with a soft sigh, she sat down and prepared her quill.
“Name and lineage?”
Cadell nudged Idris, who stammered his answer. “Idris, son of Cadell, son of Garan.”
The woman made a careful entry, and Idris watched her in fascination. He had never learned how to read or write.
“Very well. Please wait there until you are called.”
Idris followed his father back to the benches where half a dozen others waited. He half-listened as Meic went through the same process, but his mind was focused on trying to slow down his racing heart.
The wooden door opened and a haughty looking girl came sweeping out. She was dressed in an elegant silk robe, and she held an elaborate tiara in her hands. A palace guard followed her out and handed the woman at the desk a slip of parchment. The woman nodded as she took it and set it aside to enter into the ledger when she was able.
“Hildar, daughter of Lord Wythe, Duke of the Hazelwood Province,” called the soldier at the wooden door.
Idris looked around and spotted a remarkably beautiful girl making her way toward the soldier. She had wavy chestnut hair and her skin was fairer than any Idris had ever seen. However, the beauty of her delicate face was marred by an expression of supreme disdain.
She went through the wooden door, and it closed behind her. Idris estimated that a half hour passed before she emerged.
The soldier handed a slip of parchment to the woman at the desk, and the process began all over again.
“Sten, son of Sten, son of Pryor.”
A slightly nauseated-looking boy followed the soldier through the wooden door. It was only a handful of minutes before he returned with a leather pouch in his hand.
“Durban, son of Cian, son of Laz.”
Idris found his attention waning. He was tired from the heightened emotions of the day, and he was impatient to be done.
After another hour, he heard the soldier call out, “Meic, son of Owen, son of Cybi.”
Idris leaned over to his father and whispered, “I thought I would be first.”
Cadell shrugged. “They must have mixed up the order. It does not matter.”
Meic followed the palace soldier through the wooden door and emerged several minutes later with a sword in his hands. His smug face shone with triumph as he faced his waiting father.
“Well,” said Owen softly, “I suppose we should head home.” He turned to Cadell and asked, “Would you like us to wait for you?”
Cadell shook his head. “No, you go on ahead.”
Idris could understand why his father had said that. There was an expression on Owen’s face that said he wanted to talk to his son alone.
“Idris, son of Cadell, son of Garan.”
Idris felt his heart leap in his chest and he turned around in a jerky motion.
“Good luck, son,” Cadell said quietly.
Idris nodded his thanks and walked over to the soldier, feeling that his feet were somehow not attached to his body.
He passed through the wooden door and found himself standing in another room, smaller than the last. There were two more palace soldiers standing by a table that held scales and other measuring instruments, and beyond them was a tall and ornate door.
The door was overlaid with gold and the royal crest was depicted with thousands of glittering jewels. The dragon appeared to be made of rubies, with eyes of emerald, and the starburst was made up of diamonds.
“Idris, son of Cadell, son of Garan?”
Idris nodded to confirm his identity, his eyes still glued to the display of wealth before him.
“You may return with a single item or, if you wish for coins or jewels, you may use one of the pouches provided within and fill it to capacity. Return here with your choice and it will be documented.”
He nodded again and one of the guards grasped the golden handle to the door and pulled it open.
Idris forced himself to walk through the opening, once again feeling as though he were not connected to his own body. He came to an abrupt stop as soon as he crossed the threshold, and he barely heard the door close behind him.
The Treasury was easily half the size of the palace itself, and Idris marveled that such a large space could exist underground. More amazing than that was the fact that every reasonable space was filled with valuables.
There were mountains of coins—gold, silver, and copper—and there were veritable rivers of loose jewels. There were several display cases with jewelry and armor, and there were stands holding a variety of weapons. There were bolts of cloth and a stack of rare fur pelts, and there were ornate vases and statues and other works of fine art. There were gilded mirrors and jeweled platters, and sets of fine china in protective cases.
Idris could barely process all of what he was seeing. How could he possibly choose a single item among all of the riches?
On a table to his right there were three stacks of leather pouches in different sizes. The smallest was as large as his fist and the largest was the size of his head. Idris suddenly understood his father’s advice about choosing carefully. It was indeed a great temptation to use the biggest pouch and fill it with gold and jewels, but how would he ever pay such wealth back?
Having become more accustomed to the sight of the glittering abundance before him, Idris took a deep breath and began his search.
To his left there was a curious stand filled with tokens hanging on small silver hooks. The tokens depicted pictures of different livestock, along with a number. Idris didn’t know how to read, but he had been taught to recognize numbers. Farmers used numbers far more than any other written symbol.
He could see that there were many options in regard to animals that could be claimed from the royal stables. One horse or one cow; two pigs or three goats. There were tokens representing sheep, chickens, rabbits, turkeys, dogs, cats, pigeons, and numerous others. There were also a number of exotic animals, such as peacocks or leopards. Idris grinned at the idea of taking home a leopard.
Even though it made the most sense for Idris to take one of the tokens back to the palace guards and go to the stable to claim his prize, it still did not feel right. He slowly walked away from the stand, wondering if he was making a mistake.
He wandered among the piles of valuables, occasionally picking up something to inspect it closer.
There was a filigreed spyglass sitting next to several instruments that Idris did not recognize. There was a vase made of pure crystal. There was a statuette of a man riding a horse.
Nothing stood apart in Idris’s mind.
He stopped in frustration, rubbing his eyes, which were tired from the glare of the gold around him.
How was he to choose?
Suddenly, he felt something.
It was almost like a physical tug on his body. He took a few uncertain steps forward, following the pull but almost wanting to resist.
He didn’t understand what was happening, and that frightened him.
He continued moving forward slowly, his mind searching for a reason for this strange pull. He wove through the Treasury as if he had always known the path he was taking. At the far end he slowed to a stop, staring at a small doorway hidden to the side of a large display of helmets.
Even if Idris had walked right in front of the doorway, he doubted that he would have noticed it. Yet, somehow, he had known it was there.
With a sense of trepidation, Idris walked through the opening into a darkened room. The only light in the room came in from the Treasury, which was not much to see by. Dimly, he could see the outlines of a number of weapons—swords, bows, spears, axes, and other things Idris didn’t recognize.
His eyes fixed on a single silhouette and his hand reached out to grasp the item that had drawn him there.
Almost expecting some sort of trap to suddenly snap around him, Idris hurried out of the dark room and back to the light of the Treasury. Then he stared at the doorway for several heart-pounding moments, waiting for something to happen.
When nothing did happen, Idris began to breathe more normally. He looked down to examine the weapon in his hand.
It was a polearm, almost like a spear but with a larger head. The shaft was about six feet long, and the wood gleamed with a black lacquer finish. The end opposite of the blade had a pointed cap made of steel with designs etched into it. The metal piece that held the head to the shaft was formed in the image of a dragon, and the blade itself looked like a tongue of flame issuing from the dragon’s mouth.
The dragon was overlaid with gold, and dozens of tiny rubies were set to look like sections of its scales. The details etched into the figure were exquisite, and the fierce expression on its face made it seem alive. Two glittering sapphires made up the eyes, and the teeth were tiny diamonds.
Idris stared at the weapon in wonder, amazed at the skill and care that had been put into making it.
Who are you?
Idris almost dropped the polearm in surprise. He looked around, trying to find the source of the voice that had spoken to him. It was a woman’s voice, musical and filled with confidence.
Who are you?
The voice had become more insistent, but Idris hardly took notice of the tone. His mind was whirling with the realization that the voice had slipped directly into his head.
“I…I am Idris…” he stammered.
How dare you take hold of me without the permission of my master!
Idris’s eyes widened as he stared down at the weapon in his hand.
“Are you the spear?”
The voice was filled with contempt. I am not a spear. I am a partisan.
“I am sorry,” apologized Idris. “I am a farmer, and I am not very familiar with different types of weapons.”
A farmer? scoffed the partisan. Then you have no business touching one of the most famed weapons in the world. Return me to my master at once.
“Who is your master?” Idris asked.
He is called Marlais.
If Idris had not already been shocked by having a conversation with a weapon, this information would have floored him.
Marlais Dragonspear was a legendary hero, not just in Calaris but around the world. It was said that he defeated the last of the bloodthirsty giants that had terrorized the land. Stories told of his many battles and his glorious victories. There was even a tale that he had fought with Death for the soul of his beloved wife. Such elaborate tales may have been invented by storytellers, but history did say definitively that Marlais Dragonspear helped King Lyndham to found the kingdom of Calaris.
I suppose he is called that by some.
Idris had so many questions rushing through his head he didn’t know where to begin. “What was he like? Were you his magical spear? Were you with him when he battled the giant?”
The voice became rather testy. I told you, I am not a spear. And why do speak of him in the past tense?
“Marlais Dragonspear lived hundreds of years ago. He is long dead,” Idris said carelessly, eager to ask more questions.
You lie, said the voice quietly.
Idris was taken aback. “What?”
“Why would I lie about something like that?” he asked the partisan.
There was no response.
The silence seemed almost deafening, and Idris wasn’t sure what to do next. He briefly considered putting the magical weapon back in the hidden room, but something deep within him rejected the idea.
He may not understand why, but he was meant to take the partisan with him.
Not knowing what else to do, Idris walked back to the entrance of the Treasury and pushed the door open. The palace soldiers were waiting for him, and they waved him over to the table.
“A spear?” asked one of the soldiers, his quill ready to make a note on a slip of parchment.
“She said she was a partisan,” Idris answered.
The soldier looked up sharply and took the partisan from Idris’s hands. He only had to glance at it and his eyes widened in disbelief.
“Where did you get this?” he asked harshly.
Idris felt his heart beating faster, and he wondered if he was in trouble. “I found it in a room near the back.”
“How did you find that room?”
“I do not know. I was led there…” Idris tried to explain.
He made a helpless gesture. “Something inside me took me there.”
Idris didn’t have any other explanation, and he wasn’t sure if the soldiers believed him. They were all staring at him so intensely that he felt uncomfortable.
After several moments, the palace guards began conferring with one another in low voices. Idris could only hear a murmur, and so he had no idea what they were saying. Before too long they seemed to come to some sort of agreement, and the soldier who had been questioning Idris turned back to the boy.
“It is rare that one is drawn to that room. Only the one who is meant to wield a magical weapon can find the room and remove an item from it. If you have brought out this partisan, then it is meant to be yours.”
Idris felt a twinge of doubt. The voice of the partisan certainly didn’t want anything to do with him.
The soldier went on. “However, there is a condition to go along with such a choice. You will be offered the opportunity to train as a member of the Royal Guard—an elite group of soldiers dedicated to the personal service of the royal family. If you wish to keep the weapon, you must go through the training and serve the king for the rest of your life.”
Idris’s chest constricted and he had difficulty taking a breath to speak. “What if I do not want to be a soldier?”
The palace guard shrugged. “Then this weapon goes back to the Treasury and you go on your way.”
“Do I get to pick something else from the Treasury?” asked Idris.
The soldier turned and began writing on the slip of parchment. He spouted more instructions as he did so. “The partisan will be kept here for safekeeping. If you choose to train as a member of the Royal Guard, you can reclaim it. You will first go through the same basic training as the army recruits, and then you will begin your specialized training with other members of the Royal Guard. The next training cycle begins in twenty days, and the following cycle begins exactly a half year after that. If you choose to reclaim the partisan, return to the palace by then.”
The soldier walked over to the wooden door that led to the waiting room. He held it open for Idris to pass through.
Idris was so stunned by the events of the past hour that he could barely believe that they had actually happened. He walked back to the waiting room mechanically, feeling dazed and overwhelmed.
His father appeared before him with a smile on his face. “Well, what did you pick?”Idris was speechless. How could he explain to his father what had happened?