Why write a story like The Chronicles of Bren: Captured?
When I was a boy, I went through several years of personal torment – often teased and bullied by a small yet belligerent group of boys. I remember thinking that those guys seemed to take great joy in making my life as miserable as possible – that they lived just to torment me! Because of certain issues in my life at that time I did not know how to understand or even deal with, I longed for someone to simply rescue me…because I literally felt captured all the time.
I had certain activities that made me feel safe in high school. My basketball team (I was the only white guy!) made me feel protected when I was with them. After basketball practice I would spend several hours playing the piano at home. For some reason I could simply hear something on the radio and then sit down and play it. There was great enjoyment for me there, getting lost in the music…and in that place, no one could touch me – at least for a little while.
But then I had to go to sleep every night as a boy. In many ways, I dreaded those times because I felt so hopeless…but an amazing thing happened to me every night in my dreams for many years. From the time I was a young boy of perhaps ten until I was well into my twenties, I experienced the same dream each and every night…and those dreams gave me hope each and every morning when I woke up.
Each night found me dreading the next day and having to face all the torment and shame once again…so as I fell to sleep, that was on my mind. But as my dread gave way to dreams, my life took on a whole new realm of existence. In those dreams I lived on the starship Enterprise! My dad was none other than Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Each night for all those years I found myself captured by some alien band of creatures who seemed determined to put me to death. Just as I was about to be put to death each night, my dad – Captain Kirk – would materialize with his phaser set to destroy and not to stun – and he rescued me each and every time! For all those years I woke up feeling a sense of relief and rescue and somehow from that found the hope I needed to face another day!
Why write a story like The Chronicles of Bren: Captured? Because I want to provide that same sense of hope to other young men and women who read my books. My joy would be to bring them hope and peace in addition to a plain old grand adventure! Below are the first three chapters of Book One: Captured. Just in case you’re wondering, Book Two: The Chronicles of Bren: Sacrifice is with the editor even as you read this! Read on and see if you can catch a glimpse of my vision for this book series…and then, if you wouldn’t mind, tell others about how they can find a little hope and a little adventure themselves.
To purchase a paperback copy of Book One, go to http://dennisjernigan.com/store/product.php?c=26&p=3043
To purchase an eBook version, simply go to http://www.amazon.com/Captured-Chronicles-of-Bren-ebook/dp/B005IGA6LO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1335905323&sr=8-2
Enjoy the first three chapters of Captured!
This is an unedited version.
May the strength of Bren be yours today!
Lee Picks a Fight
Lee picked himself up from the ground as the boys who had just delivered his latest humiliation—yet another pummeling - walked away mocking him. At least this time he would come away reasonably unscathed. Last time he had walked home with a black eye and a bloodied nose. The embarrassment and shame he had had to endure for almost two weeks of school had taught him to be quick to block the punches to his face. This time he would have the weekend to at least ice the swollen lip he now wore and bring it back to its normal size and shape before school began again on Monday.
Leon Jennings was about to turn thirteen, but for all he had already endured in life he felt much older. Born into a farming family and expected to work the farm, Lee (as his folks called him) found the work easy enough. Every morning at 6:00 a.m. his dad would call up the stairs, “Lee! It’s time to get up! The cows won’t milk themselves!” Dragging himself from his slumber, he somehow managed to dress himself in the dark so as to not wake his three little brothers who shared the attic bedroom with him. Traipsing out into the pre-dawn morning, he would go out into the pasture and find the two old Guernsey cows and herd them to the barn. Once there, he would put some feed in the stall and guide the first cow in. Once he had gotten all the milk he needed, he turned her out to the holding pen where the cow’s calf was kept so the baby could have her turn. Then he would drive in the next cow and go through the process once again.
Lee’s dad was a good man. Hard-working and silent most of the time (and stern in his discipline), he kept Lee busy. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” he always said. Lee loved his father and, being a sensitive boy, often hoped he would hear his dad say something to him besides just giving him his next chore list. He really looked up to his dad. But Lee and his dad couldn’t have been more different than night and day.
The boy was quite adept at drawing and spent hours (when he could squeeze time in on weekends between chores and schoolwork) drawing images conjured by his dreams. When he wasn’t drawing you could find him playing the old upright piano that had belonged to his Grandmother Jennings. Lee’s mom had recognized his musical abilities quite early on. It was she who had traded some of her handmade quilts to purchase back the old piano from the elderly neighbor lady who had bought it years before. On his twelfth birthday she had surprised him with that old piano and he had spent hours losing himself in its vast array of magical tones, improvising and making up tunes that went hand in hand with the adventures he had envisioned for himself from the time he could remember. Although at first glance Lee seemed to be different than the other country boys he was raised with, at heart he was every bit as passionate and every bit as strong as they were…just in a different way…a way they could not seem to see.
When Lee had gone to school, he lapped up every art lesson and ached when he had to go on to spelling or math. By the time he was in 5th grade, the other boys began to take a somewhat less than well-intentioned interest in Lee’s artwork. The day the other boys discovered he played the piano was one of the worst days of the boy’s life. (Incidentally, it also didn’t help matters that he was skinny as a rail and had big ears). Innocently, Lee had assumed others would appreciate his talent and be as encouraging as his folks had been. But he was wrong.
One day during the morning recess break, Mr. Tillman, the music instructor, had heard that Lee could play the piano. Asking him to please meet him in the auditorium, the teacher asked the boy to play something for him. As Lee began to play one of the tunes he had made up, one of his classmates was at the door listening. Having heard Mr. Tillman ask Lee to meet him in the auditorium, the boy had assumed Lee was in some kind of trouble and wanted to check it out for himself, hoping to find yet another reason to tease Lee. This discovery would prove to be a goldmine for the boys.
After being dismissed by Mr. Tillman, there were still five minutes left before recess ended, and of course, Lee ran right out the door…where he was met by the group of boys that seemed to have made it their life’s calling to make Lee’s life at school miserable.
“Hey, Lee!” said Ryan the ringleader, mockingly. “Play us a tune!”
“Yeah!” chimed in the others. “Play us a tune!”
Trying to ignore them always seemed to make things worse, yet he would attempt to walk away this time. Ryan stepped in front of him and gave him a slight shove. “You make a great girl, Lee! Maybe we should call you ‘Lee-uh’!”
That was all the other boys needed to hear. Marching around the frightened boy, the bullies began to taunt him saying, “Lee-uh! Lee-uh! We wouldn’t wanna be ya! Lee-uh! Lee-uh! You’re a girl, it’s plain to see-uh!”
Now beginning to tear up, Lee determined he would not cry. Maybe his cousin Dewey who was in the same grade would come to his rescue. Looking around the crowd of children that had now gathered around him, Lee was stunned and horrified. His own cousin! His own cousin? There, now joining the other boys in the taunting rhythm was his closest friend, his cousin Dewey! Making matters worse, one of the girls who had come to check out the commotion stepped up to his defense.
“Leave him alone, Ryan!” shouted Debby Jones at the top of her lungs.
Of course, this made the boys even more intent on utter humiliation of the helpless boy. From that day on, Lee had suffered the merciless taunting of Ryan and his cronies. He had learned to keep to himself as much as possible. He had also determined that he would never give the other boys a reason to mock him again, forsaking his drawings and his piano. This self-imposed moratorium lasted a mere day. The talents and interests that had brought him so much grief were now the only places of refuge the boy seemed to have anymore. He could not wait to get home from school. Once the chores were done, he went to the piano. It was there he could get lost for hours in his reverie – and no one could touch him. Once his dad sent him to bed each night, Lee’s adventures would continue. Hiding with a flashlight under the covers with him, he would draw great adventures and outdoor scenes, getting lost in those dreamed-of places as well.
As much solace as the drawings and piano brought to the boy, he still found himself on the edge of despair every time he came from an encounter with the bullies. In reality, the only place he ever really found peace from it all was when he finally fell to sleep. It was there that he dreamed of great excursions into the unknown. In his dreams he would do great battle with fantastic creatures. Wielding sword and all manner of crafty man-to-man combat moves, he faced witches, giants, cyclopes, and demons. Regardless of the riff-raff he faced in those dreams, there was always one recurring theme. In his dreams he was always captured at some point. And in his dreams, there always came someone to rescue him. It seemed that right at the last second when the demonic hordes would put an end to him, Lee’s dad would swoop in and save the day.
Lee’s dad was his hero, but his dad was not at school where most of the bullying took place. And when Lee had tried to explain to his dad what was going on his dad had told him, “Defend yourself, son! Pop ‘em in the nose once and they’ll leave you alone!” Lee had never quite gotten up the nerve to do that, though. It had seemed easier to receive the torture than to fight his way out. Lee’s respect for his dad was such that he only wanted to please him. On the rare occasion where his dad would express displeasure in some task the boy performed in a less than obedient manner, Lee would be crushed for days. Whenever his dad would ask him how the bullies were treating him at school, Lee would simply lie and tell him, “They don’t really bother me much anymore.” At least he wouldn’t have to face his father’s disappointment due to his cowardly responses to the bullies.
Lee had looked forward to the summer with great anticipation. Number one on his list of reasons for enjoying the summer was the reprieve from having to look around every corner as he did at school to make sure Ryan and his gang were not around to make his life miserable. Reason number two-the main reason that actually nullified all other reasons—were his weekly rides to the old shale pit. Having to work the garden and do the normal farm chores gave him plenty of time to look forward to every single Saturday in the summer. On that day, he was given a day off from normal farm work and allowed to ride his horse the three miles to the old abandoned shale quarry the country folk had dubbed Shale Pit.
Usually joining him was his cousin Dewey and his little brother Will. Dewey was a different person when it was just he and Lee. It was when Ryan and the others were around that Dewey became someone else. From Lee’s perspective, he understood why. Dewey probably simply did not want the same beating he saw his cousin receive. In a weird sort of way, he felt sorry for Dewey. Still, Lee wished Dewey would come to his aid, but he understood. He had grown comfortable with being betrayed.
Once at Shale Pit, it was off with their clothes and on with hours of a skinny-dipping adventure. After they had taken their fill of jumping from the 30-foot cliffs and performing great feats of daring from the tall cottonwood’s rope swing, they would spend time fishing the clear cool waters and exploring the many gullies and ravines that formed the wonderland called Shale Pit. There had been many legends about strange happenings at the old quarry. Years ago, it was said a young boy had disappeared. Kidnapped by swamp ogres and never heard from again. It was said that at every full moon one could hear his cries for help at midnight. It had been Lee’s hope to one day find the courage to camp out at Shale Pit and hear those cries for himself.
On this particular Saturday, Lee had been so exhausted from his farm work the evening before that he had overslept. Dewey and Will had gone on without him. Saddling up his trusty horse, Sugarfoot, Lee grabbed his fishing pole and barreled toward Shale Pit. As he got closer, he could see where his brother and cousin had tethered their horses. Tying Sugarfoot with plenty of rein to graze, he raced up the hillside, through the trees, and headed for the far end of the quarry. Assuming the other boys were already swimming, he would get to the undisturbed fishing hole first and beat them to the ‘big one’! As he made his way down to the water’s edge, he laughed to himself. He could hear the laughter of the other boys at the far end of the pit so he knew he would have a better-than-usual chance to land a whopper.
Pulling a Mason jar from its burlap wrapping, Lee quickly caught a jar full of fat, green and brown grasshoppers. Placing the jar, its lid poked full of air holes, carefully behind him, Lee grabbed his cane pole and unwound the line, careful to avoid the hook. Putting a freshly caught grasshopper onto the hook, he swung the bobber and baited hook as far out into the water as his pole would reach. He then sat down and began his intent vigil, hopeful that a big bass would latch onto the hook and suddenly cause the bobber to disappear. What a glorious day! What a wonderful life he had finally achieved! No chores. No schoolwork. And best of all, no bullies! Sitting back against a large crumbling shale deposit, Lee began to daydream about how he would be able to get all the fish home, of how great a double flip he would be able to perform on the rope swing, of how awesome the plunge from the cliff they called Big Daddy would be as he felt the warm upper layer of water give way to the cool, refreshing, darkness of the deep waters.
His pleasant reverie was not to last long, though. Just as his bobber was being jerked under and he made that hook-setting pull, he heard an all-too-familiar voice from behind.
“Hey! Elephant ears! Can’t you hear me?”
Trying to wrestle in the bass but wanting to drop the pole and run, Lee simply held on and turned just in time to see Ryan picking up the jar of grasshoppers he had worked so hard to catch and casting it against the embankment, shattering the glass and sending the hoppers flying.
“Shouldn’t you be home practicing your piano, girly-boy?” mocked Ryan. As the other boys made their way down to where Ryan now faced Lee, Lee pulled the two-pounder ashore as he tried to ignore his tormentor. This was the first time Lee had ever faced the boys without having the hope of a school bell or playground monitor to step in. On this day, even the betraying Dewey and his little brother Will would offer no hope, being at the opposite end of Shale Pit. Lee was all alone. And there, as usual, would be no one to fight for him.
As Ryan closed in for the usual pounding, Lee was suddenly faced with this reality: here, in his own private adventure paradise, his tormentors had intruded. He had worked too hard this week. He had anticipated a day without chores or schoolwork. He had found great joy in not having to face the ridicule of the bullies or the shame of having to face all those who watched him take his daily torture in silence during the school year. But today was about to be the final day of Lee’s torment. Before he even comprehended what he was doing, Lee watched his own fist reach back far behind his shoulder. He then felt a rush of rage brought on by the endless persecution at the hand of Ryan and his cronies. And then he felt the deepest sense of satisfaction he had ever felt in his life as his clenched fist met the upturned nose of Ryan the bully. He then saw the glory of a well-executed battle plan as a mixture of snot and blood gushed forth from the stunned Ryan.
He then felt utter panic as he realized what he had done!
Without wasting a second, Lee shoved Ryan into the water and began running for his life! Shocked at the sudden turn of events, the other boys lost sight of Lee in their own rush to pull their crying friend from the water. Lee’s only problem now was that he had run the opposite direction around the large quarry and was now caught between Sugarfoot and the bullies! He would have to try and beat them around the pit. Running into the first ravine he came to, Lee quickly made his way up the crumbling slopes. Turning back to look for his pursuers once he reached the top, the boy was horrified at what he saw. Only a few yards behind him were Ryan and two other boys, and running along the ridge going the opposite direction around the quarry were the other two boys. They had him surrounded!
Lee had no choice, he would head back down into the next ravine and duck into one of the crevices he had discovered on his many excursions into Shale Pit. Ducking behind a canopy of willow branches, Lee concealed himself from the other boys. Thinking he had eluded them, he crouched down as silently as possible trying to catch his breath. After a few moments, his breath was once again taken away when he heard the boys sliding down the banks of the very ravine where he was now hiding! Keeping his eyes focused ahead for the rustling of willow branches, Lee began to scoot as quietly backward as he could.
Feeling his way with his hands behind him, the ravine wall gave way to an opening. A cave! He had never found this cave before! Yet, here it was. Slinking his way in, he found himself completely out of the sunlight. If he hadn’t seen the cave, maybe Ryan wouldn’t see the cave!
For several minutes Lee did not hear another sound. Poking his head slightly out to see if he might catch a glimpse of his pursuers heading for home, he saw a figure making its way through the willow branches. “I think he went this way!” yelled Ryan to the other boys.
Turning back into the darkness, Lee began to feel his way along the cave wall. Expecting to find the end of the small cavern, he soon came to realize that he could no longer see any light coming from the tunnel’s entrance. Surely he would be safe now! But just as he sat back to catch his breath and prepare to wait out his tormentors, he heard voices coming from the cave opening. Feeling his way deeper into the blackness, Lee began to panic. Barefoot and wearing only his cut-off shorts, the air began to grow very cold. Now shivering from both fright and the chilly air, Lee moved deeper into the cave. In his rush to get away from Ryan, it took him several seconds for his mind to recognize the sensation of falling. Lee had fallen headlong into an unseen hole and was now plummeting down, down, down, into who knows where!
As the seconds became minutes and the fear gave way to numbness, Lee began to think about his life. Flashing before him were images of Ryan hitting him and the other boys teasing him. He saw the piano and he saw the drawings. He remembered his mother and his father and his brothers and strangely wondered if he would ever see them again. He saw Shale Pit and he saw the school. He saw the town’s people and he saw the country folk. He felt all the pain of the years of teasing and yet he felt the most peace he had ever imagined possible. He saw Dewey betray him and he saw no one there to fight for him, as usual, but for some reason he felt safe and secure and unscathed. He felt that there was hope now…that somehow, some way, someone was here to fight for him. And then he felt himself slip into a deep, deep sleep.
He never remembered hitting the bottom at all. All he could hear now was an unfamiliar yet very friendly voice calling to him. “Wake up, Leonolis! Today’s the big day!”
Struggling to rouse himself from the oddness of a very strange sleep, Lee sat straight up in bed. Groggily, he asked the strangely dressed man, “Who are you?”
Laughingly, the man responded, “Stayed up too late again with your drawings last night, did we? Leonolis, it is not good for the future king of Bren to be too tired to learn how to rule his people! Up and dressed, now, sire! The Field of Testing is calling your name!”
As Lee (or Leonolis!) groggily obeyed, the man helped him into the oddest set of clothes Lee had ever seen. They appeared to have come right out of one of his many drawings of the medieval knights and dragons he had spent so much time meticulously creating on paper. As quickly as Lee had fallen out of his world and into this strange new one, he had also fallen away from the many memories he had witnessed during his plunge into the darkness and into a whole new reality, complete with new memories and abilities only dreamt of before. And best of all? Ryan and any memory of him were completely erased. As the old pain gave way to the new peace, Lee heard the man calling from the hallway outside his bedroom. “To the royal stables, my lord! This day we ride!”
This would be a good day!
A Boy’s World
What a day! As Prince Leonolis made his way to the royal stables, his spirits were lifted by the sheer beauty and majesty of the Kingdom called Brenolin. The southern boundary of the kingdom was the crystal clear Sea of Arabon, named after one of the earliest Brenolinian explorers, the brave knight Arabon. Its twinkling waves were quite visible from the prince’s room, which was located in the southern turret of the great Castle Aerieland (named for its eagle-like perch atop a small hill overlooking the mighty river Runland that meanders from the Mountains of Endoria all the way to the Sea of Arabon). The Sea of Arabon—this sparkling beacon of endless expanse—was often the first thing Prince Leonolis saw each morning. And like most mornings, the eastern sun was creating quite the show for the prince as the waves appeared like twinkling lights in the early morning sunrise.
As he made his way through the many twists and turns of the massive fortress he called home, he passed through the Hall of Defenders that was lined with the sculpted likenesses of every king who had ever ruled over Brenolin. In addition, the statues of great war heroes and those who had brought great invention or innovation to the realm were housed as well. Most of these great men were directly related to Prince Leonolis. He never really gave it much thought–that the blood that flowed through his veins had been passed down to him through such valiant heroes of the realm. All he could think of today were the many manly tests of battle he would be taken through as a part of his preparation for his Testolamorphia–the ceremony every Brenolinian boy looked forward to when they would be welcomed into the fellowship of manhood at the turn of their thirteenth birthday.
As he passed out of this great hall, he came to the northern region of the castle from which the vast dark Mountains of Endoria were easily visible, their mysterious snow-covered peaks this morning shrouded in dense clouds of grey. This was the realm of the dark lord, Lucian (one-time second in command of the realm and would-be usurper of the throne held by Leonolis’s father, High King Troyolin). This mountainous province of Brenolin was strictly off-limits to young Prince Leonolis. It was no secret that Lucian had vowed to gain his revenge upon the High King Troyolin after the Seven Year War fought over control of the entire Kingdom. To all who had been present on that day when revenge was declared, there was no doubt what Lord Lucian had meant when he said, “For this most egregious of insults against a throne that is rightfully mine, you, Troyolin will one day pay! You will pay the highest price. I will exact my revenge from that which you hold most dear.” He, of course, had been referring to the newly born infant son of Troyolin, Prince Leonolis. With those words, Lord Lucian had vanished into the mist and mystery of the Mountains of Endoria along with 10,000 Brenolinians loyal to him. Since that day, he had been referred to as the dark Lord…and few had been foolish enough to venture into those shadowy, foreboding regions.
Brenolin derived its name from the first great king to rule over the land, Bren of Narthlin. Many were the stories told of brave king Bren who spent many years battling the rebellious, vagabond tribes that formerly ran rampant throughout the land for control of the domain. Their battles were epic and the stuff of lore. Every Brenolinian boy dreamed of battling the barbarian hordes themselves just as good king Bren had done so long ago. On this day, even though the mountains were covered and their majesty enveloped, Prince Leonolis himself imagined riding into battle against the dark Lord, sword drawn, atop his faithful steed Arolis, crashing into the front line of the dark forces. Just as his thoughts were about to take him on some new adventure, his faithful bodyguard, Danwyn, stepped from the stable doorway and into the morning light with a joyful yet firm greeting.
“Good morning, my prince! Have you readied your mind for battle this day?”
Startled back into reality, the prince responded. “Indeed I have, my good Danwyn!” He pulled a make-believe sword from its sheath and leapt into an offensive position. “My heart and my soul indeed are ready for battle. May the strength of Bren be mine today!”
This was a common saying among all Brenolinian men. In their hearts and minds, the strength of Bren was the strength of the greatest champion their land had ever known. This strength embodied not simply physical strength but strength of mind, will, and emotion—strength of character. This was considered the heart of a true warrior. In fact, the greatest compliment a Brenolinian man could receive was to have it said of him ‘He has the strength of Bren,’ for this meant he was a man of highest character, respected by all.
“Your mount is ready, sire. Arolis seems to sense the importance of today. He strains at the bit to be off into battle. I would keep a tight rein until he remembers who is prince.”
Laughing at the excitement he sensed in the normally reserved Danwyn, Leonolis mounted the horse and declared the well-known and very revered Brenolinian battlecry, “This day we conquer! This day we overcome the Dark Lord! This day we live or die for the King!”
At that, he gave Arolis a slight kick and they were off. Both Arolis and Leonolis had grown up together. To ride on the back of this shiny, black giant of a stallion was like becoming one with the wind for the prince. Strength and invincibility were balanced with wisdom and sensitivity to each one’s slightest movement or physical nuance, making the team of Arolis and Leonolis a most formidable foe on the testing grounds.
Arriving at the grounds a full 500 feet ahead of Danwyn and his mount, they were greeted by 24 other young men, their equine companions, and their military trainers, called Seconds. These Seconds were each appointed by King Troyolin himself to train the coming generation of military leadership–those who would serve to defend and protect the entire land of Brenolin.
Each of these young men had already been in training from the age of eleven. Each was nearing his thirteenth birthday. All would soon be tested in the fundamentals of military skills each Brenolinian male was expected to master. The Brenolinian cavalry, which these boys were all in training for, was considered the most elite branch of the military. The cavalry were the first responders in crisis. To be chosen for training in the corps of horsemen was indeed a great honor—and each position was fought for. Just because one was a prince did not mean he was automatically given the position of cavalry member.
Today was the day when each candidate was tested regardless of social class or wealth–the day when the future military leaders of Brenolin would be set aside for the most grueling years of training that would follow: the HommeDressage, which consisted of four additional years of constant training in the arts of military strategy and warfare, alongside even greater and more strenuous bonding exercises between a man and his equine counterpart.
The boys and their steeds were called to divide into two groups and go to opposite sides of the testing ground for the first of many tests. The first test, called the Test of Will, was just that–a trial that on the surface seemed pure adrenalin and brawn—a test to determine if a boy’s will to master the many requirements of horsemanship, swordsmanship, and battle strategy would hold sway when face to face with the reality of intense confrontation with the enemy. At the command of the field marshal, one boy from each side was to race toward the other at full speed, practice-swords drawn. As the boys approached one another, they were to display proper horsemanship and battle posture in addition to demonstrating proper sword position at all times. The goal? To properly unseat their foe while maintaining the position of power and control.
As fate would have it, the Field Commander called out the name of Leonolis’s best friend, Dreyden. Dreyden and Leonolis had grown up in the same kingdom yet were from very different worlds. The prince was, of course, raised in the royal household while Dreyden had been raised by one of the king’s servants, the royal gardener, Heath. While Dreyden was responsible for helping his father raise the food that was needed by the royal family, he had been befriended by the prince when they were very young. They met when Leonolis had accompanied his father, King Troyolin, on one of the inspections of the royal farms.
While Troyolin talked with Heath, the boys had conjured up a wonderful pretend adventure as they ran through the rows of corn, defeating the make-believe giants and goblins that threatened their kingdom.
While the thrill of the Day of Testing filled the hearts of each and every boy as they awaited the name of Dreyden’s foe, the heart of the prince sank as his own name was called. He had only battled his friend on one other occasion…and it had gone in the prince’s favor. He had pinned his good friend within seconds of the start of their wrestling match. And Dreyden, while always very encouraging of the prince, had seemed a little sad for days afterward. And now the boys were about to enter into what everyone knew was the Prince’s strongest event. What made this particular test of manhood such a favorite of Leonolis’ was something that even the Prince did not understand. He had a very unique gift–a power if you will. This power was the ability to communicate with animals. Not in a verbal sense, but with his thoughts. As he awaited the word of the Field Commander to attend his battle station, Leonolis’s thoughts were stirred to the noble history of his own great gift.
Though no one had ever come right out and said it, everyone assumed Prince Leonolis would be endowed with some special ability. No one really knew what Leonolis himself already knew. He had just never been given occasion for the public demonstration of his gift. After all, it was to only be used for the good of the kingdom and never for personal gain.
Every single member of the royal line had been given a special gift. Legend said that the first high king, Bren, had been given the gift of telepathy–the ability to communicate with others through his thoughts—by the Almighty King of Creation…the Founder. Each successive generation in the royal line had been given a gift that was to be used only for good in the service of the people of Brenolin. Not all were given the gift of telepathy. The first High Queen, Oriana, had been given the gift of healing power. Whenever a warrior had been wounded in battle, Queen Oriana would go to the field hospital (many times very near the front line) and simply touch the wounded area, and within minutes, health would be restored.
King Teslin, another of Leonolin’s royal relatives, had received the ability to see certain events before they happened. No one ever really knew what manifestation the gifts would take in each member of the royal line. The Founder had established this gifting in the royal line as a means of serving the people of Brenolin–a sort of seal of the Creator’s approval upon the royal line of Brenolin. The gifts would be passed from generation to generation as long as they were used as means of good in service to the people of the realm.
What most in the kingdom knew but few ever publicly spoke of was the fact that the Dark Lord Lucian was actually in the royal lineage and had been given the same gift as that of King Bren—telepathy. When Lucian’s rebellion first began, he had tried to sway the masses to join him in his rebellion. His ability to persuade the minds of the people of Brenolin in large numbers had been demonstrated even during the rule of the first High King. You see, Lucian had been doubly endowed with both a good gift and a curse. Sure enough, he could he send his thoughts to others and read the thoughts of others. But when he had rebelled against the High King, he had been banned from the kingdom and had received the curse the Founder had decreed in the ancient writings:
“He who would stand against the High King will be cursed to rule the darkness. He who would lay his hand against the realm of the kingdom will bring upon himself the curse of never holding what he most desires. He who seeks to harm the kingdom will be cursed to walk the dark realm and live though he would rather die. He will be living death.”
No one knew for sure how old Lucian really was. The prophecies said his desire to rule would never fully be realized, but there had been periodic seasons where he did seem to wield power over certain regions. Each successor to the throne had been forced to deal with Lucian in one fashion or another. Lucian’s desire to rule Brenolin had long ago been replaced with demonic obsession. His curse had now become the curse of Brenolin in many ways. It seemed that each royal era would have to deal with some manifestation of Lucian’s rage. With that thought, Leonolis was startled back to reality.
“Leonolis! Get to your mark! Dreyden! To your mark!” And the boys readied themselves for battle. Leonolis wanted the best for Dreyden, but royal expectations and the added benefit of his ability to communicate with Arolis meant almost certain victory for the Prince. Nearing their marks, the Field Commander shouted, “To battle!” and they were off.
As Leonolis and Arolis bolted toward the center of the testing grounds, the mental communication had already begun between them. Dreyden and his steed, Graymon, had leapt into action simultaneously, almost throwing the young man to the ground before they had even gotten a good start from sheer exhilaration. As the two mounted, young warriors sped toward the center of the testing ground, Arolis and Leonolis quickly determined they would put into action a new battle move they had come up with in their times of practice during their daily rides through the forests surrounding Castle Aerie.
At the proper time, just before the foes would meet, Arolis would leap high into the air and Leonolis would reach down with his own sword, striking the weapon from the hand of his opponent. The sheer surprise at a mighty stallion leaping full speed into the air above was sure to frighten the opponent into a frozen state of fear and awe. To display this tactic in front of the other boys would surely propel the young prince to hero status in one fell swoop.
Seconds from one another, the boys stared straight ahead with focused intensity that is common in Brenolinian horsemen. Racing like lightning toward one another, both boys raised their swords to battle position, letting go of the reins (each horse and boy had long ago established trust in one another) so as to grasp their weapons with both hands. Just as they drew near Arolis prepared to make the leap, speaking to Leonolis in thought,
“Prepare to fly, my Prince!”
Arolis leapt into the air and the Prince looked down into the awestruck eyes of his friend. Lowering his sword and leaning down he easily knocked the sword from the hands of his bewildered foe. Instantly the boys on the sidelines erupted with loud cheers. At the same time, Arolis and Leonolis turned back to make their way to the exuberant crowd. Just as the Prince was about to dismount before the Field Marshall, Arolis bounded from the circle of young warriors taking the confounded Prince with him with only the thought words,
“Hang on, my liege!”
“What are you doing, Arolis?” the boy shouted at the top of his thoughts.
“Did you not see, my Prince?” shouted Arolis.
“See what, horse?” said the Prince.
“The Dark Lord…watching from the stand of trees!”
“I saw no Dark Lord,” said Leonolis.
“Trust me, sire. He was there.”
“Back to the Field of Testing at once, Arolis! I saw no one! Take me back this instant! I command you. Take me back!”
As if he were not even listening, the stallion ignored his boy. And with that, the steed made his way back to the royal stables with the protesting Prince on his back. The guards, having seen the horse barreling in a frenzy toward the royal barns, had barely gotten the doors swung open when the horse came careening through, narrowly missing the door posts in the process. Sliding to a halt, the Prince was thrown head over heels, not hearing his horse’s plea to, “Hold on, sire! Hold on!” As the guards tended to the boy, the royal stableman angrily jerked the reins of Arolis, not understanding the brave horse had just saved the life of the future king.
The Day Everything Changed
By the time Danwyn made his way to the stable, the King and his royal guard had already been summoned. Making his way through the crowd, Danwyn’s thoughts were squarely focused on the safety of his royal charge. At the same time he began to worry that King Troyolin would be none too happy that the Prince’s personal guard had been derelict in his duty. He greatly feared public reprimand by the High King. Approaching the circle gathered around the boy, Danwyn noticed the stable master leading Arolis angrily away. It had been so uncharacteristic for the stallion to be spooked. Many were the times on his rides with the Prince that a rabbit or snake had jumped in fear at the feet of the mighty horse Arolis and never had Danywn seen him even give the creature notice. But on the testing grounds something had made the stallion bolt.
As Danwyn made his way to the boy, the royal guards surrounding him gave way to the High King. King Troyolin was a very large man, muscular and commanding in physical strength, he was even more commanding when he spoke. A stallion of a man, his brute strength was always evident in the way the King carried himself, full of grace and confidence. Yet, his great personal strength was held in check by the reins of his selfless nature. It was evident to all who knew him that High King Troyolin saw himself as servant of the people first and foremost. Protector of the people of Bren, his great power was made endearing by the fact that every subject of the King knew the King would gladly put himself in harm’s way for any one of them.
Knowing this about the King did not make Danwyn’s heart any more at ease. In his heart, he had not fulfilled his royal mandate–to protect the Prince at all costs. As Danwyn made it to Leonolis’s side, he knelt before the boy in a gesture of humility. At that very moment, King Troyolin commanded the fretting bodyguard to rise. Gazing first at his son, the King placed his hands on the shoulders of the boy as if he were holding the most valuable of treasures. He said, “My son, are you hurt? Did Arolis hurt you when you lost control?”
The boy did not say a word. He simply nodded–halfway in shock yet halfway not wanting to divulge the fact that he could communicate with animals. He was almost embarrassed at the realization, probably due to the fact that he quite enjoyed being considered a normal boy in the realm. Once his secret was out, he knew from his own family’s history that he would never be seen in the same ‘normal’ light again. He stood silently as the King turned his attention to Danwyn.
Looking at Danwyn, he said, “Brave Danwyn, what was the cause of Arolis’s flight?”
“Your Highness, I saw nothing that would have caused the horse to run in such fear,” said the anxious bodyguard.
“Danwyn, I trust you with the welfare of my son when he is in your care. I trust you in the training of my son in the ways of horsemanship. My fear is that you have not only forsaken his safety but that you have not prepared him properly in the ways of a son of Brenolin. Perhaps your assessment that he and Arolis were meant for one another was premature. I cannot allow such a wild and unpredictable horse to carry the heir to the throne. Until there has been a thorough investigation of today’s events consider yourself relieved of duty.” As Danwyn bowed in utter humiliation, the boy could no longer hold his tongue.
“Father, stop! It was not Danwyn’s fault. It was Arolis!”
Surprised by his son’s boldness, the King said, “Explain yourself.”
“Father, as we completed our first battle run and were returning to our station at the testing grounds, Arolis told me to ‘hang on’ and suddenly exploded back toward the castle.”
“Arolis ‘told you’?”
“Yes, father. I can hear his thoughts…and he can hear mine.”
Smiling on the inside yet not wanting to diminish the gravity of the situation, Troyolin continued in a serious tone, “ By the Founder’s good wisdom, your gift has been made known this day. Why did not say anything before?”
“I was not confident in my gift at first…and I did not want to reveal it until I was sure. But as my confidence grew, I also had a great desire to not be known by my gift, but rather by the nature of who I am,” said the boy, not sure of how his father would respond.
As if measuring his words, the king spoke in a very reverent tone. “Son, your gift was bestowed on you by the Founder. This solemn endowment was granted to you for a very specific purpose. It has been given as a sign of the Founder’s continued blessing on the people of Brenolin…and as the bearer of that gift, it is your duty to never withhold its use if it means the safety and blessing of the good people of this land. What did Arolis see, son?”
Grateful at his father’s unexpected and gracious response, the boy’ heart and thoughts were settled enough to answer his father’s question. “As we completed our run, he commanded me to ‘hang on’ and then he shouted these words when I asked him what he had seen: ’The Dark Lord…watching from the stand of trees!’”
The High King needed to hear no more. He knew from the history of Brenolin’s great kings who had shared in the gift that was bestowed upon Leonolis that the animals of the land could be trusted–especially the horses. The horses of the land had come to symbolize not only strength and dignity but also good and loyal hearts, deep in character. Troyolin knew Arolis would never lie. Calling for the stable master, the High King commanded that Arolis be returned to the care of Leonolis at once. Looking to Danwyn next, the King took him by the hand and said, “My good and faithful servant, watch over my son now. Keep him behind the great fortified walls of Castle Aerie. Take him to the protected place…now!”
The King then commanded the Royal Guards. “To arms, mighty men of Brenolin. To the testing ground. Away!” And the King and his guards were off as the stable master led the good horse Arolis back to the Prince, bowing and seeking forgiveness for the way in which he had handled the mighty steed when he thought he had run wildly away with the Prince.
As Danwyn prepared to usher the boy to the safety of the inner place of the castle, Leonolis said to the stable master, “Arolis wants you to know he was not offended at your actions. He would have done the same in my protection.” Danwyn then hurriedly took the Prince to the hidden protected place deep in the recesses of Castle Aerie as they heard the hoof beats of the King’s men head back to the testing grounds in search of the Dark Lord.
As the King’s men approached the stand of trees where Arolis had seen Lucian and his men, the testing grounds were empty and eerily silent. What had been a raucous cacophony of young boys/men preparing for battle was now an expanse of very strange stillness (some would later describe this silence as the feeling of dark magic in the air). Circling above the trees were several buzzards, which caused the heart of the King to sink. Surrounding the sylvan cluster, the King’s men slowly and methodically closed into a tight circle as they made their way to the center of the forested cluster…making a grisly discovery. Tied to a tree, his body riddled with arrows, it was all too obvious that the man had been tortured. Dismounting, Troyolin approached the dead man and quickly recognized him as Merrywell–the Second of Dreyden!
Immediately the King summoned his royal tracker. “Tracker, how many horsemen were with the Dark Lord?”
Bending down and closely examining the many hoof prints and deciphering the many footprints, the tracker quickly surmised that there had only been fifteen horsemen and riders–a small raiding party designed for stealth. As he gave his report to the King, one of the King’s royal messengers approached with the report that Dreyden had not returned with the rest of the boys when the command had been given to make haste to Castle Aerie. Somewhere in the confusion, Dreyden had gone missing!
What had happened was quite understandable, actually. Upon his defeat at the hand of his best friend (even though it was only mock battle), Dreyden had mistaken the sudden charge back to the castle as arrogant gloating. Feeling this was a public display of mockery at his expense, Dreyden had headed the opposite direction from Leonolis in humiliation. Heading for the stand of trees abutting the testing filed, Dreyden had been followed by his Second…and had quickly fallen into the clutches of Lucian and his men.
Lucian had only been conducting reconnaissance, seeking out possible points of attack against King Troyolin, when he was handed a most unexpected yet most opportune gift. Recognizing Dreyden as the close friend of Leonolis, Lucian had decided to preserve the young man’s life for use as a bargaining point should it be required later. As for the Second, the Dark Lord had personally committed unspeakable acts of torture in an effort to elicit information about troop placement and any Kingdom business he might find helpful in his schemes. The Second, as brave and loyal as any of the great Kings of Bren, had stalwartly defied the Dark Lord and gave up absolutely no secrets of the Kingdom.
Filled with rage, Lucian had dispatched him in disgust. Taking Dreyden, he and his men headed back for their lair in the Mountains of Endoria.
“To arms!” said the King. “Commander Corellian, take 500 royal guardsmen and pursue this band of rebels. By now they are most assuredly headed for the refuge of the Dark Lands (another name for the regions of Endoria). Young lord Dreyden has fallen into the hands of the Dark Lord. We cannot waste another minute!”
“As you command, sire!” and with that the 500 mighty horsemen thundered off in pursuit of Lucian and his band of scoundrels, led by Corellian, Royal Commander of the King’s Guard.
As the Royal Guard began its pursuit, the King and the rest of his company headed for Castle Aerie where they convened a royal war council, gathering of all the twenty-four chieftains of the twenty-four royal provinces of the land of Bren. For war to be declared there must be sufficient evidence of enemy activity in Brenolin proper and a majority of chieftains must be in favor of military action. King Troyolin had no problem receiving a unanimous vote as war was once again declared on Lucian and his mongrel, rebellious hordes.
As the King and his royal cabinet began to devise a plan, it was understood by all that not only would this military action be for the purpose of rescuing lord Dreyden, but it would also be for the purpose of once and for all eradicating the land of the Dark Lord. While the plans were being drawn and strategies devised, Danwyn and Prince Leonolis were summoned to the war room.
The King addressed his son solemnly with the news. “Leonolis, your faithful steed did indeed see the Dark Lord Lucian lurking in the wooded area near the testing grounds…and I have worrisome news to bear to you. Your dear friend Dreyden has been taken captive by Lucian and his men and has been taken toward the Dark Lands. His
Second was found dead in the woods.”
“It’s all my fault! What have I done?” shouted Leonolis as he fell into his father’s arms in deep sorrow at the terrible news. “I should have believed Arolis and gone to the Field Commander immediately…but I could not even control my own horse!”
“Son, Arolis did what was necessary to preserve your life. He acted as any loyal steed of the realm would have done. The truth is that once the Field Commander saw your furious race for the castle, he immediately commanded the entire company back to the safety of Aerie…and Dreyden, for some reason, did not follow. There was nothing you could have done. And son, we will find Dreyden.”
“Justinian, my dear friend of friends, by the Founder’s might, I leave you in command of Castle Aerie. I will personally oversee the safe return of young lord Dreyden. Watch over the good people of Bren with charity and wisdom. I will send word once I have ascertained the next step of action.” Justinian and Troyolin had become forged together at the heart from the time of their own Testolamorphia (another story for another day!). Suffice it to say, Justinian and Troyolin trusted each other with their lives, and this trust extended to their families and, by royal decree, to the entire kingdom. The people of Bren trusted Justinian because Troyolin trusted him.
“Father, I will go with you!” said Leonolis.
“You will do no such thing!” shouted the King.
Shocked at a side of his father he had rarely seen, Leonolis fell back into the ready arms of Danwyn who caught the young prince from behind.
“We cannot risk your life. Son. It is not Dreyden Lucian is truly after. It is you! It is my fear that he will somehow attempt to use your friend to get to you. I truly understand your loyalty to Dreyden…but the fate of the entire kingdom rests upon the preservation of the royal line. Since the day you were born, the Kingdom has lived with the knowledge that Lucian’s tormented mind was spent in devising ways to end your life. It is time you understood the gravity of your place in the kingdom. You are the heir to the throne. You represent the heart of the Founder to our people. You represent the very continued existence of the Founder’s blessing upon the great land of Bren. We will not put you in unnecessary peril this day….back to the Cleft of the Rock with you until further notice. Danwyn, take him now.”
With that the good king shouted to his mighty chieftains, “This day we conquer! This day we overcome the Dark Lord!” to which the chieftains replied, “This day we live or die for the King!” And with that the King and his men along with their legions of soldiers headed for the Dark Lands.
The secret chamber where the Prince had been spirited away to was actually the lowest place within the vast labyrinth of underground chambers in Castle Aerie. Known as the Cleft in the Rock or the Protected Place, the tiny alcove had originally been used as a storage cellar for dried fruits and vegetables harvested from the royal gardens, but since the early days of the reign of King Bren, the little nook in the wall which opened up into the storage cellar had proven to be an almost impregnable refuge where many a royal heir had been hidden away when Castle Aerie had been attacked throughout the history of Brenolin. What most did not know was that since the earliest days when Princess Bria had almost been captured during one particularly bloody siege is that the decision had been made to excavate further into the earth a secret escape tunnel. This tunnel was rumored to exist in the gossip of the kingdom…but no one really knew for sure. But it did exist…and it was ingeniously connected to the magical Crystal Cave.
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