The Prince of the Rose
Chapter 11

Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy

The week of lying in state had come and gone and Lady Rachel had heard no word from Calliope concerning the Runesword. She was a little apprehensive but did not let it deter her from the task of the funeral and then the coronation.

The funeral for her Royal Majesty, Queen Ariel Whiterune was scheduled for the following day and there were still last moment preparations to see to. The royal crypt had been made ready beneath the palace. When the Hall of Kings disappeared other arrangements had to be made for the final resting place of Tarra's monarchs. A royal crypt was commissioned under the palace and fashioned in such a way that the coffins could be moved if and when the Hall was returned. A place was prepared in the section that housed the deceased Queen's dead mother and sister. Since Ariel was the last of that branch the alcove would be sealed and a new one would be carved out of the rock for the next line.

It was Rachel's hope and desire that it would be the last alcove prepared. She still held hope of finding the Runesword, Red Rose, and return the Hall to its proper place. Those thoughts were for a different time, for right now she, in her capacity as high-priestess, had more important things to do.

The funeral of a monarch was a state affair and every village elder, city manager and provincial governor would be in attendance. The elves, an ally in the Lowerlands, were sending a delegation, as were the gnomes and dwarves. Every major city-state in the Lowerlands were also sending envoys for the coronation as well, since it was not every day that a monarch was crowned and treaties would have to be renewed.

The funeral itself would take place within the grand temple and the Most Blessed Mother would officiate. After the funeral the procession would wind through the temple grounds and then through the palace courtyard, finally ending at the final interment site under the palace. The coffin would be sealed within the crypt specially prepared for it and then the alcove would be sealed off as well. Members of the Red Guard would hold a vigil for the seven days preceding the coronation. The mourners would take one last moment for reflection and then the procession would backtrack back through the catacombs before ending back within the temple. There would be a celebration of the Queen until midnight when the wake would be officially over and the start of the mourning period would commence. The mourning period would last seven days, concluding with the ringing of the temple bells at midnight on the eve of the coronation.

As the oldest living member of the royal family Rachel's duties included receiving every delegation in person, a task she loathed. She was having trouble balancing the duties of the high-priestess with the duties of matriarch of the royal family. She decided that her youngest, Princess Adelpha, would stand in her stead at court functions, freeing the Most Blessed Mother up for her duties within the temple. With that being settled Rachel had her daughter summoned to give her the news.

Aaron was up early again, earlier than any other in his hut. Not wanting to disturb anyone, he carefully picked his way around the pallets and gathered his things. Only the alert dogs marked his passing. Quickly dressing he left the warmth of the interior for the dawning of a new day.

Aaron had no real destination in mind, nor did he know the reason for his early morning rise, so he wandered out of the village and toward the stream to the east. A query of his swords revealed no new information as he watched several kingfishers plunge into the stream for fish. He sat at the bank and idly picked at the grass. It was dawn and nature began to awaken and Aaron sighed listening to the sounds of the robins and the woodpeckers in the trees around the stream. If he closed his eyes he could almost believe that he was back on Andor, in the Thangdaemon forest at the Sidhe camp with Moira. Not that he was pining away for her, because he was not, not in the least. It was just that the place held him somehow. It was peaceful for sure, but there was something else as well.

"It is funny that you imagine that place," a voice interrupted his daydreams. "For it is why I am here."

Aaron looked up and saw an elderly man standing next to him. The man was not very tall and did not even reach Aaron's height. He was dressed in a strange little tunic and trouser combination the color of sand. It had a flap that ran from his crotch to his neckline and a built in belt fastened at his waist with a silver buckle. Attached to the belt on his right side was a large rune scribed ring holding several intricately wrought keys of differing size and shape. The man had closely cropped hair the color of the sun at evening and crystal blue eyes that twinkled with mirth.

The man appearing seemingly out of thin air should have alarmed Aaron, but he did not feel threatened at all. He felt no premonition of evil intent, nor any feeling of unease. It was as if the elderly man was just that, an elderly man. Even his swords, ever vigilant to threats, gave no warning of the old man's arrival. But Aaron was not stupid, either. Anyone that could step out of thin air, so to speak, was certainly worth keeping an eye on. Add the fact that the man knew what he thought and the end result was a powerful adept. Aaron was going to step lightly until he knew where this meeting was going.

"And how do you know what I dream about?" Aaron stood and faced the man. "I do not react well to invasions of my privacy, especially my thoughts."

"Now, do not go and get all riled up," the man cautioned, holding out a hand as if to stop him. "We have been down that road before."

"Who are you and why exactly are you here?" Aaron eyed him intently and began to draw power. "And what do you mean we have been down that road before? I am fairly certain we have never met."

"Well, we may have met in a different time," the man opened his arms in a non-threatening gesture. "You might not remember it, though."

"I would remember you," Aaron replied accusingly and then squinted his eyes in concentration. "Wait! You had Reg intervene, did you not? You had my friend alter time for some reason. I do not like that. I do not like being manipulated!"

The Black Guard appeared, sensing their liege lord's anger, and fanned out surrounding the two antagonists. They drew their swords and raised shields to the ready, waiting on the command of their prince.

"Now, Master Whiterune, there is no reason to get hostile," the man smiled a disarming smile. "I am called Dao, and I have information that you might be interested in. Anything that may or may not have happened in the past is just that, in the past. Let us talk about the future; specifically, your future. I am not a threat, so you do not require the protection of your loyal guard. Come walk with me."

The elderly man; Dao, smiled and turned away and began walking toward the foothills north of the village. Aaron could think of nothing better to do than follow, so after dismissing the Black Guard, but cautioning them to stay vigilant, he did just that. He did not, however, release the power he was holding. The guard acknowledged their liege and faded into the morning light.

Dao followed a path that climbed the first hill and Aaron was surprised to see a small cabin with smoke coming from a river stone chimney. Surprised because he had been all over the area before and that cabin had not been there. Dao entered and Aaron, still with nothing better to do and unafraid, followed him inside.

Aaron was surprised again, although by this time he probably should not have been, that the inside of the cabin was much larger than it looked from the outside. Dao was busy at a counter by a potbellied stove so Aaron took a moment to orient himself and inspect the interior.

"Please, sit and be comfortable," Dao looked over his shoulder. "Would you like a cup of tea?"

Aaron sat at the table and nodded still looking around. He still did not feel threatened and neither of his swords spoke up so he figured he was not in too terribly much danger. It never occurred to him that his swords might not be the best weathervane as to the danger the old man might represent.

The main room of the cabin was large and separated into several areas. Aaron was sitting at what he assumed was the dining table, while Dao was busy in the kitchen. Over to his left was a sitting area and a small fireplace with a nice little fire going. There were three other doors off of this great room that were closed. Dao turned and brought two steaming cups of tea and placed one in front of Aaron.

"Honey?" Dao asked setting an earthenware jar in front of Aaron as well. "I have found that I have developed a sweet tooth in my latter years."

Aaron removed the lid and added some honey to his tea and slid the jar over toward Dao, who added a large amount to his own cup. Aaron watched Dao smile and lift the cup to his lips and slurp the hot liquid.

"You said you had information for me?" Aaron asked, trying to get the conversation rolling.

"Why, yes, yes I did," Dao set his cup down. "I understand that you are looking for something that went missing long ago."

"Yes, the Rose Throne," Aaron nodded in replied. "But, apparently you already know that. I was told the Sidhe either have it or know where it is."

"Yes, but unfortunately only a select few ever knew," Dao explained, "and they have passed on in the years since. It was not something passed down to remember. They never actually had it, they just had the knowledge of its location. My understanding was that it was assumed that it would be retrieved long before this."

"Then it is truly gone," Aaron sighed.

"Not necessarily," Dao remarked holding up his hand. "You actually know where it is. It has even reached out to you in a matter of speaking. You have definitely felt it for sure. Think back."

Aaron looked at Dao questioningly but Dao continued to hold up his hand. Aaron closed his eyes and thought, really reflected on his past. He did not know how long the retrospective look back through his travels lasted; it was as if time stood still waiting on him to finish.

Aaron went back over his life since awakening the rose swords, and there it was. He had another inspiration and went further back and realized it had been there all along, at different times, but always at the same place. Aaron opened his eyes, shook his head, and smiled at Dao.

"All of this time and it was right there in front of me," Aaron chuckled. "I confused the two events as one. I assumed it was always Deathbringer calling to me. I lumped them together as the same, but they were not were they?"

"You know the answer to that, too," Dao shrugged and smiled. "What will you do?"

"Go back, figure it out," Aaron shrugged. "It is there, I just need to find it."

"Let me ask you another question," Dao's smile grew wider until it reached his eyes, which danced with merriment. "Why would a highly magical piece of technology be sitting in the middle of the forest? In the middle of nowhere, in a clearing?"

Aaron's eyes opened wide in understanding and he shook his head chuckling. The thought never even crossed his mind.

"I never even thought about that," he chuckled again. "They were not placed randomly, were they?"

"No, they were not," Dao replied. "Your predecessors were the most advanced Eldritch Adepts of all the first-born children. They would have crafted and used them in places of significance, certainly not in the middle of a clearing in a forest. When your race came along you investigated and researched the technology. You then adapted them and increased their number, but the ones on Andor were the originals."

"Gods, I did not see the forest for the trees," Aaron laughed harder as he realized what he had said.

"Master Whiterune, it is time for you to leave," Dao stood. "You have things to do. The scales have swung over way too far. Bring them back into balance. Restore the Rose Throne for the future of the Rose Empire. That is your current destiny."

Aaron shook Dao's offered hand and departed his hut. As he started down the path he looked back and chuckled when he saw nothing but the top of the hill. He should have pondered what the old man meant by current destiny.

Calliope was a little concerned that she had not heard anything from the squad she had sent east. There was no trace of them and there should have been. The amulets that provided them protection while plane shifting were a tracking and communication device as well. The squad had not responded and more importantly they could not be tracked either. They had disappeared without a trace.

She dared not bring her concerns before the Most Blessed Mother. No, that thought process was fraught with peril. She did the only thing she could, she went after her clan mates. She knew where they had started from, so she would start there.

Aaron returned to the village to find his mates and Kalliste already well into the sword forms. He watched with a certain amount of pride the increase of skill that Kalliste was demonstrating after only a few days. She would be more than adequate if she kept her practice up. He melded right into their practice and continued through all of the forms and then sparring. After it was over he followed them down to wash up at the stream.

"So, the Rose Throne is not here and never was," Aaron announced to his mates. "And if you think about it, why would Sinthar remove it from Andor? He would not know that his people would be banished. No, it never left Andor."

"So, all of this was for naught?" Dana asked sweeping her hands around.

"No, Dana, important things have happened here," Aaron replied. "Lives have been spared and changed with us being here. Our group has protection because we came here. Kalliste is part of us because we came here. But, we have to return to Andor to recover the throne."

"What prompted this epiphany?" Tanith asked.

"A little old man," Aaron smiled. "Who probably has his own agenda, but right now I really do not care."

"So now what?" Kalliste asked a little nervously.

"We all return to Andor and find the throne," Aaron shrugged.

"What about the guard?" Kalliste asked.

"They go where they go," Aaron replied. "They follow me, obviously."

"Aaron, what of the covenant?" Tanith asked.

"What of it?" Aaron replied grimly. "Not my covenant, not my concern."

"Aaron, our return will raise alarms," Dana replied. She at least understood Tanith's concern.

"Look, I am not worried, so neither should you," Aaron replied firmly. "We need to focus on finding the throne and nothing more. If the Gods show up I will send them home."

"So how do we proceed from here?" Tanith asked.

"I know of only two platform locations," Aaron replied. "Obviously we should not use the one in the palace, wherever it is. The only other option is to return to that castle and make use of the one there."

"We have to backtrack?" Kalliste asked. "Do you not think it might be dangerous?"

"No, we will have Tanith move us," Aaron replied, and then looked at his mate. "If she does not mind?"

"I do not," Tanith smiled. "As you well know."

"We must bid goodbye to our hosts and thank them for their hospitality," Aaron stated. "And I guess we should not leave until after the last of the final delegations arrive. It would probably be better to wait and leave in the morning or the next day."

"Do not forget, the coronation is less than a week away," Kalliste reminded them.

"Yes, I want to be there for that," Dana smiled grimly. "I want to see the look on my mother's face when the coronation does not go as she planned."

"Now, Dana, do not be petty," Tanith chuckled. "After all, she will be getting a coronation and you will be a Queen, what more could a mother ask for?"

"Tanith, what about you?" Dana turned toward and grasped her hands. "You have greater claim to that than I."

"That certainly does not matter," Tanith told her truly. "You must take the throne as Queen, you are a member of the Tarran royal family. What could be better? Aaron, do you not agree?"

"I agree that you both will be my Queens," Aaron replied. "As much as I hate that old adage, it is certainly true in this case: Might makes right. And we certainly have the might!"

"Come let us discuss this with Brenn," Aaron announced, who had finished washing, was dressed and waiting on his entourage. "Today will still be a busy day, and there is much to do before we leave."

Calliope arrived in the small town of LaRoche and immediately went to the temple and questioned the acolyte in charge. Her squad had been there and learned about the attacks, then moved on. She did not stop in at the inn for fear that it would delay her excessively, and besides, there really was nothing more to be gained by staying in the town. She pushed on toward the great marsh and made a few more leagues before she had to stop for the night. She spent an uneventful evening camping off the side of the road, hidden from prying eyes. The next day she was back on the road and moving ever closer toward the great marsh.

By the time Calliope reached the great marsh, her quarry would actually be behind her traveling in the opposite direction. She also could not know that any trace of her clan mates had passed with the quarry.

It was late in the afternoon of the following day before all of the delegations had come and all bore the same news; not one clan had any information about a relic being guarded by the Sidhe. Aaron took it in good graces. And why should he not? He knew where the throne was and time was certainly on his side. He should be able to return to Andor, retrieve the throne and be back in Cumbra in time for the coronation. Except it would be he accepting the crown of Tarra, one way or another.

Aaron and his little group were up early and antsy to be gone. There were still the formalities to observe however, and they enjoyed a goodbye breakfast feast put on by their hosts. When it was over they thanked Brenn for the Sidhe's hospitality and help in searching for the relic and mounted their horses.

They rode off with Princess Aine and her entourage. She too was off; back to her father's lands with the promise of aid from the Sidhe. They travelled together until the road turned north for Aaron and his group. Princess Aine thanked them again for her life and the lives of her escorts. They all hugged and then separated, since Aaron wanted to put some distance between them before having Tanith transport them. He finally called a halt to their progress.

"Tanith, if you do not mind?" he asked circling everyone together.

Tanith nodded and raised her hands and began drawing power. She swirled her hands together creating a large ball of silver energy that engulfed the party, including a small tendril of blue mist. With a quick flash of light they vanished.

Aaron and his party appeared on the road in front of the castle where they had started their journey on Tarra. They dismounted and walked their horses up to the abandoned castle gates that stood open and inviting. As they entered, the Black Guard appeared and escorted them to the courtyard. They were not disturbed by the wraith and entered the castle, making their way down the hall to the room with the teleportation platform. Aaron could smell the stench of death and decay emanating from the open doorway of the room.

"Here, Tanith?" Aaron accused her in mock anger. "The smell is overwhelming."

"You did not give me a lot of time or options," Tanith chuckled and weaved her hands as she drew power.

A sweeping wind blew through the room cleansing it of smell and body and then blew out again.

"Better?" Tanith asked challengingly.

Aaron smiled and nodded, and then hustled everyone in to the room and closed the door behind him. Arranging everyone on the platform he then manipulated the gems to send them back to the platform in the Thangdaemon forest on Andor.

"My lady? My Lady?" a Godling called out to the ethereal.

"Yes?" Lady Rannath replied fading into view.

"My Lady we have confirmation that a transportation platform is in use," the Godling announced. "Multiple targets, mostly Tarran."

"Where?" Rannath asked.

"On the edge of the Thangdaemon Forest," the Godling replied.

"Hmmm. Lord Malak, Lord Azrael, Lord Gawain, please attend me," Rannath announced to the ethereal.

The three Gods appeared next to Rannath and she explained that the Godlings had detected a transportation platform in use and that she wanted them to accompany her there. The three Gods agreed to accompany her and they left for the Material Plane.

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