Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Chapter 19

Chapter 19


                Owen awoke on something soft. His feet and wrist hurt, and he felt sore all over. He opened his eyes. He could see sloping stone above his head. He was used to seeing stone. He had seen too much of it of late. He lifted his left hand. His wrist was bandaged. He sat up. His head swam.

                “Huzzah!” A voice rang out. “You’re awake!”     

                Owen turned his head. His vision cleared. At first, he thought he was seeing things, but it was real. Kallan and Marcus stood beside his bed. They both looked healthy. Kallan came down, and embraced him, clapping him heartily on the back. Owen winced a little, but put his good right arm around his friends shoulder, and thumped him on the back heartily.

                Kallan stood back up, his typical lopsided smile on his face. Marcus smiled, and bowed his head in greeting. Owen smiled, and leaned back slowly on the back of his bed. He looked around. He was in a stone room, although one wall seemed to be made of a glistening solid rock, complete with a few small stalactites. It went up at a diagonal slant, until it hit the stone wall on the opposite side. A door led out of the opposite side.


                “With the rebellion!” Kallan replied jovially. “Isn’t it grand?”

                Owen flipped off the covers of his bed, and rolled over, sitting on the edge. He looked down. His feet were bandaged. He remembered the frozen mud, and the shackles. He wore clean wool leggings, and a fresh wool shirt.   He tried to stand. His feet smarted and stung. He winced. He sat back down. He lifted his feet, as Kallan and Marcus watched.

                He looked at the bottom. Streaks of blood were on the bandages. He grimaced at the pain, then turned, and lay back down. He lay there, relaxing. Kallan and Marcus watched him, smiling.

                The door opened. A few small faces peered in. Owen shot up, a huge smile on his face. The children rushed in. Korbin, Kerwin, Kassi, and Kole. All of the children who were like siblings to Owen. They climbed up onto his bed, laughing, hugging. Owen laughed, and hugged in surprise. Kallan and Marcus pulled them off of him.

                “Come you, leave Owen alone. He’s hurt and tired.” Kallan said, smiling. He turned to Owen, and spoke quietly. “I never thought I’d be so happy to see the little blighters.” He had a wide grin on his face. Then more people appeared in the doorway. Keegan, and Kaylee. Angela and her three little boys. Owen grinned, and almost cried at the surprise of seeing all of them here. It was a happy reunion.

                He was wrapped in hugs. After a few minutes of joyous conversation, laughing, and reunion, they all stood back, watching Owen, beaming. Owen leaned back on the headboard of his bed, so overwhelmed with happiness, he couldn’t speak. He lay there, beaming. Then Keegan spoke.

                “We are all together again.” He was smiling through his beard. He placed an arm around Kaylee.

                Owen turned, and tried to stand again, this time ignoring the biting pain in his feet. Marcus and Kallan placed their arms under his shoulders, and helped him to the door. Kallan shoved it open, and they walked out. All of the surviving villagers followed them.  

                They were in a long hall, similar to that of Cardowac’s castle, but lit brightly. Two windows cast brilliant beams of light across the long tables inside. A few men bustled around, feeding the large fireplaces with wood, and gathering leftover food.

                “The midday meal just ended.” Marcus said. He let go of Owen, letting Kallan support him. He quickly walked out a side door, following several of the servers

                 Kallan led Owen to a bench on the table.  He sat down. His back ached. Marcus came back in. He held a bowl, and a trencher of food. It was more food than Owen had seen since he had left the village. Owen dug in, eating voraciously. He took the carved spoon, and began to eat the hearty fish soup. It tasted strange, but good. He dipped a thick hearty piece of bread into the broth, and ate it. He brought the bowl up to his face and drank the last of the rich broth.

                The children began to play near the fire, wrestling, and tugging at each other. Owen pushed the bowl back, and sighed happily. Kallan grinned.

                “Were ya hungry?” He said with a wink, and took the dishes, walking back out. Marcus sat down beside him. 

                “Nai is safe.” He said quietly, smiling wryly. “I know you were probably worried.”

                Owen nodded, blushing just a bit. “What of the other slaves?”

                “They are safe as well. Noren has them being treated right now.”

                Owen looked up, surprised. “Noren?”

                Marcus smiled widely. “Aye, Noren. He is high up in the rebellion. Otherwise, I don’t know if we would have been received as well as we were.”

                Owen nodded, smiling, still surprised. It seemed that everyone was here.  Then, the large doors on the far end of the hall opened. A number of men entered.  They talked, quietly. Some of them seemed to be old veterans, while others were younger men, tall and strong. One of them turned, and walked toward Marcus and Owen with a smile.

                “Owen! It’s good to see you!” Noren smiled broadly. He was clad in a dark blue tunic, down to his knees, with long dark leather boots, and a cloak held with a silver clasp. His dark hair was swept back, and his fuzzy beard had grown out, making him look more comical than anything else.  Owen stood, shakily. Marcus wrapped his arm around him, and supported him. Noren continued.

                “How are you feeling? I take it our facilities are good enough?”

                Owen smiled. “Aye.  I’ve been comfortable.” He winced a bit at the pain in his feet. “What happened?”

                “When your friends arrived, with your message….”

                Marcus interrupted. “From Sharp-eye.”

                Noren nodded. “Yes. I convinced my superiors to give me enough men to defeat Cardowacs troops. They did not wish to give me the forces at first, but I convinced them that it would give us a large group of new recruits, they agreed, a little reluctantly, if nothing else. Then I rode out our north entrance, down upon Moransford, and we defeated Cardowac, saved you from death, and rescued the slaves!”

                Owen smiled at his enthusiasm. “I am thankful. I thought I was dead.”

                Noren nodded. “Well, you are not, and we have more troops.”

                He held up a bag. “I believe this was yours. We recovered it from the armory of the Moransford jail.” He gave it to Owen.

                He opened it, and looked inside. There was his belt, with a flint and steel, and his pouch of food. His cloak was in a roll, and his leather jerkin was also there. There also was his small satchel. He pulled it out, and opened it. Everything was just as he had left it. The map of parchment was crumpled, but still in good shape. He put it back. Then he pulled out the small leatherbound book. He gave it to Noren.

                “This may be useful to you, I don’t know.”

                Noren opened it, and his eyes lit up, and a look of surprise came to his face. He paged through it.

                “You have no idea. This… this is invaluable information. I will share it with our council.” He looked distant, and excited in a strange way. He tucked the book away into his tunic.

                Kallan came back, smiling. “Let’s go to the healers. Owen needs to be looked at. And maybe get him something to help him stand on his own, so we don’t have to be his legs until he heals.”

                Noren nodded, and then led them off the main room, into a medium sized room. In it were several beds, and shelves of mixtures everywhere. Herbs hung from the ceiling, and a pot of something was boiling over the fireplace. A few of the beds were filled, and there were men and women in dark robes attending them. Marcus and Kallan set Owen down in a chair by the fire, and waited for one of the healers to be free.

                Noren walked over to one of the healers, and spoke quietly to him for a moment.  The little old man set down the small book in which he was writing.  He walked over, holding some bandages, and a short knife. He sat down next to Owen. His face was bearded, his face wrinkled. He looked Owen in the face, and his eyes grew wide for a moment. The look passed soon and he went to his work.

                “Lend me your foot, lad.” He said, smiling broadly. His wizened face looked only slightly insane, but Owen lifted his foot up, and the old man took it in his lap. He carefully cut the bandages, and pulled them off of Owens foot. They stuck a little to the wounds, and Owen winced as they were pulled off. The old man took some ointment off of the table on which he had set it, and began to rub it on the bottom of Owens foot. He used very little, making sure to only get it in the wound. Owen gripped the edge of the chair at the pain. The weathered little man began to wrap the wound again with the cloth. He wrapped it all around the foot, and then around the ankle, then he tied it off. He reached out, and Owen gave him the other foot. He repeated the process.

                Owen set them down on the ground lightly. He started to stand, when the old man stopped him.

                “Wait for a few little moments, lad.” He said, hurrying off past a few shelves. Owen heard him humming and rummaging for a moment, and then he came back, holding two curious sticks. They were straight, with a short piece of wood attached to the top. The top was wrapped in wool, tied around with leather. The man motioned for Owen to stand up. Marcus and Kallan lifted him to his feet.

                The old man held them out to the boy, and he took them, putting the crutches under his arms.. Marcus and Kallan let him go, and he carefully put them forward. He swung forward on them, landing on his feet a bit harder than he had intended. He winced, but kept trying. After a minute of practice, Owen could move himself around, even though it was slow.

                The old man clapped happily, then turned, bowed to Noren, and bent toward Owen with a strange and definitely not insane look in his eyes. It was a hunger, a joy, as if he wished to cry out, but could not. Finally, his voice hoarse and quiet, he spoke. “Good to see you again, Owen.” Owen started at the use of his name, then the crazy light returned to the old man’s eyes and he tottered off, back to work.

                 Noren smiled. “Now you should be able to get about on your own!” He said, and then opened the door out. Owen went through, with Marcus and Kallan following behind, but his mind was troubled.

                “Who was that man?”

                Noren glanced back. “That would be Ewan. He came to us when the rebellion had just begun; looking for his son… but his son had been killed in the battle against evil. So he has been here ever since… I’ve known him since I was but young, but he has gone a bit crazy in the last few years…”

                Owen nodded thoughtfully, wondering if the old man had lost his wits or just hidden them. He followed out into the hall, still puzzled over this mystery.

                 The rest of the villagers still sat in the hall, conversing freely. They all looked so happy, Owen thought. He wondered where Nai was. Probably with the other slaves. He thought of her father. He felt sorry suddenly. His family and his friends were here. But Nai had nothing. He wondered if she had met all the villagers yet.

                He took a seat near the fire. Kallan and Marcus sat near him. He felt drowsy. Marcus looked over at him.

                “Do you want to go back to bed?”

                 Owen shook his head to ward off sleep, then spoke, drowsily.

                “Aye, I guess. Rest would be a good thing.” He stood, and moved across the room, back to his room. He clunked through the door, and then sat down on his bed. He set the crutches next to the bed, and then lay down. Marcus and Kallan sat down next to him. Owen shivered. Marcus walked to a small chest at the foot of the bed, and opened it.

                “Noren had all of your old clothes returned to you, along with a few new ones that each new recruit receives.”

                Owen raised an eyebrow. “New recruit?”

                Kallan nodded, and grinned. “We’ve been recruited into the rebellion, did you not know?”

                Marcus didn’t look so happy. He muttered something under his breath, but didn’t say anything else. He held up a pair of woolen stockings.

                “These were part of the new clothes.” He handed them too Owen. Owen pulled them carefully over his bandages, careful not to disturb them. He lay back, his feet warmer, his toes no longer showing out of the bandages. Kallan sat down.

                “We’ll have to find you some bigger boots. So those bandages don’t get all torn up.” He leaned back on the edge of the bed. Owen lay back on the pillows, and then began to doze. The stress, the work, and the food had made him tired again. He drifted off.


                Owen awoke later. The room was dark, and empty. He felt for his crutches, and grabbed them. He sat up, and lifted himself lightly to his feet. He slowly worked his way to the door and opened it. The light was dim, but it was much brighter than the pitch blackness of his room. He hobbled out. Servers moved around, placing large trays of food on the table. Owen moved just to his right, to one of the large fireplaces. He took a seat on a small bench near it.

                There was no sign of any of his friends, so he just sat back and enjoyed the warmth of the fire. Through the windows above, a bit of snow filtered through. He looked up. The sky was clouded.  A bit of fog wisped through the window. He wondered how high up in the mountains they were.  A balcony went around the upper edge of the hall. He could see large wooden shutters that could be closed over the windows. He supposed they would be closed during the night to keep out the greater part of the cold.

                He warmed his hands, soaking in the heat. People began to light braziers around the room, illuminating it. Owen heard a creaking sound. He looked up. Two men were closing the large wooden shutters.  Someone sat down next to Owen. He turned. Kallan smiled, and held up a large pair of leather shoes.

                 “I managed to get a hold of these!” He said, passing them to Owen. “They should fit your feet.” Owen lifted his foot, and shoved it into the leather shoe. It fit. He put the other one on, and settled back onto the bench. He looked back at the preparations for dinner. Marcus sat down on the other side of the bench.

                “Dinner will begin shortly.” He looked back as well, looking slightly perturbed. “They are bringing in the last of the food.”

                Owen watched the people ready dinner. He looked at Marcus. “Why do we get to eat at the castle? We aren’t any more special than any of the other people of the rebellion.”      

                Marcus nodded. “We are Noren’s special guests right now. And it doesn’t matter much, anyway. Everyone gets the same food.”

                Owen looked slightly confused. Marcus continued. “All food and supplies are turned in to the leadership of the rebellion. They distribute it equally to all, so that ‘everyone gets their fair share’.”  Marcus sounded sarcastic. “Weapons as well, are given to the central leadership. No one has weapons except for the guards and leadership. It is meant to prevent crime.” Marcus quieted, looking into the fire. Owen noticed that he carried no weapons, save for a knife, the handle just showing over the edge of the cloth wrapping around his boots.

                Owen frowned. “About the food… wouldn’t that allow for some people to eat off of others hard work?”

                Marcus nodded. “Fortunately, they are few in this group of people.” He did not look happy at all. Kallan seemed oblivious to the discussion going on next to him. Owen turned to him, to ask him something, but stopped. Kallan’s eyes were fixed upon one thing. Owen followed his gaze to a young woman, one of the slaves. Owen recognized her as the girl who had first told him about Nai. She was talking with an older woman, but she turned, and looked at Kallan. He blushed, and looked into the fire.

                Owen chuckled lightly, and looked back to the fire as well. The three of them sat there for a moment, quiet, until they heard a loud clanging noise. The noisy room went silent. A tall, battered veteran, his hair shaven closely to his head, raised his voice.

                “Shall we begin?”

                Everyone began to seat themselves on the table. Marcus, Owen, and Kallan sat near the middle of one of the long tables. Owen saw many of the slaves in different places around the table. He scanned the crowd, searching for one particular blonde haired girl. He took a few bites of his soup, made with some game animal.

                Kallan elbowed him. Owen looked up questioningly. Kallan nodded his head toward the far side of the two tables. Owen saw her. She was busy eating, sitting with a few other slaves. Owen went back to his food, now assured she was alright. He would go to her after dinner.

                They all ate quickly, chewing the wheat bread and meaty game soup.  

                After the meal was finished, everyone stood, and took their dishes to the stairs. They were taken in piles by the kitchen staff. Owen immediately went to find Nai. She was at one of the fireplaces. She sat near a few other slaves. He tapped her on the shoulder. She turned, and smiled when she saw him. She stood, and hugged him gently.

                “How are you?” She said.

                “Doing alright.” He said, carefully balancing on his crutches.

                She turned, and started walking slowly. He followed her toward the main doors. They were cracked open. She walked out.  Owen glanced back. Kallan caught his eye. The other boy grinned broadly, and winked. Owen went out the door. Nai had taken a seat on a bench outside the doors. Owen sat down a few feet down the bench, keeping a respectful distance.

                He cleared his throat. She looked over.

                “Nai, I just…” He paused. His throat felt very dry suddenly.

                “Yes?” She said, smiling.

                “I just… wanted to let you know…” He felt his face grow red. He hoped that it wouldn’t show in the darkness.

                “Yes?” She said again.

                “I...I’m just glad you’re alright.” He finally spit out, stuttering. She smiled.

                “Thank you. I’m glad you are alright as well.” She leaned back against the wall. Owen got up the courage to speak again.

                “Where are you staying?” He said, fidgeting with his crutches.

                “On a room on the wall.” She said, pointing. “With a group of the other slaves.”

                Owen nodded.  He pushed himself up onto his crutches.

                “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

                She smiled. “Yes, maybe.”

                Owen worked his way back inside, and went back across to his room. He muttered angrily at himself, mentally kicking himself for not saying what he had originally intended. He wished he wasn’t such an idiot around girls. He sighed as he opened the door into the room.  Marcus and Kallan were already there. They had lit a lamp, and were pulling their cots out from under Owen’s bed. He lay down, and eased himself into bed. He pulled the covers over himself, and fell into a deep, dreamless, sleep.




                The next morning, he woke after the sun rose. In the darkness of his room, there was no way of knowing what time it was. He slipped out of bed, wincing at the pain in his feet.   He supported himself with his right hand against the wall, making his way to the door. He pulled it open. Dim light filtered into the room. He looked back. Kallan and Marcus were still asleep.  He closed the door behind him.

                He hobbled to the table. The only other man was the puzzling old man, Ewan, stoking the fires. The sunlight filtered through the windows up above. Owen looked up at them. Owen shivered. He stood, and walked to a seat closer to the fire.

                Ewan finished his fire tending duties, then turned and sat beside Owen.

                “How are those feet, lad?” he said, now returned to his dottering ways. Owen wondered if he had really seen yesterday’s change, or if it had just been his imagination.

                Owen held them up toward the fire. “Good, I think. Still sore.” He shrugged. “It’ll just take time.”

                The old man nodded. “You’re strong, lad. You’ll get through it.” He looked back at the healers door. “I must go back to work, I’m afraid.” He stood, and half bowed to the boy. “I will see you soon, I think, Owen.” He walked quickly back to the door, and Owen was left alone to think.

                  He leaned back on the table, putting his cold feet out to the fire. It felt good. He looked around the large hall. Two massive tables were in the middle. There were fireplaces on both sides, and one across from the large double doors. A few doors went out the back, next to the far fireplace. One of them went to Owens room.

                On each side of the hall, there were a few doors branching off. Owen knew one of them went to the kitchen. On the opposite side from the kitchen, the door to the healers sat next to the open fireplace.  A stair went up one side of the hall, above the doors to the healers. It led to the balcony below the windows. Another stair led from the far side of the balcony up to the ceiling. It entered another level.

                Owen went back to his room, since no one was awake. He took a taper from a small box near the fire, and lit it. With some difficulty, he made it back to the room without dropping or putting out the slow burning taper. He lit the small oil lamp and the candles in his room. They cast a warm light over the slumbering bodies of Marcus and Kallan. He went to the box at the end of his bed, and opened it. Inside were his wool shirt, his wool leggings, and his old weathered leather boots.  He smiled. It was good to see the old familiar things again.

                He wondered where his weapons were, and then remembered what Marcus had told him. They were all with the central armory. He frowned. He would have liked to have a few of his own weapons about him. It didn’t seem right that the normal citizens would not be armed. He sighed, and closed it with a click. He pulled himself up, and hobbled to bed.

                He lay back, thoughtful. He wondered if this rebellion was as wonderful as he had first thought. An dull ache in his stomach gave him second thoughts, but at least it was better than the current leadership. He would help them. But an edge of some uneasiness hunted his thoughts. He pushed it off to the corner of his mind.

                 Kallan rolled over, and opened his eyes. He sat up, yawning. Marcus woke in a moment. They both sat there. Owen smiled.

                “Good morning.”

                Kallan muttered something, and began to rummage around for his belt. Marcus nodded.

                “And good morning to you.” He stood, and stretched his lanky frame like a cat. He shook himself. Owen smiled to himself, wondering of Marcus knew how ridiculous he looked when he did that. Kallan slipped on his old brown tunic over his wool shirt, and put on his belt. He stood, and stretched, yawning.  He came over, and sat on Owens bed. He yawned again. Owen smiled.

                “Sleep good?”

                “Aye.” He stood, and went to the door, still looking drowsy. He walked out. Marcus smiled at Owen.

                “He is off to stick his head in a bucket of water.”

                Owen grinned. “Wake himself up?”

                “Aye.” Marcus slipped his jerkin and hood on, and went to the door. Owen stood, and took his crutches.  He blew out the lights, and followed Marcus out into the hall.


                After a piece of bread, and a dunking of the head in water (for Kallan) the three went to begin exploring the caves. They went down to the lake, and skipped stones off the dark surface. Marcus and Kallan climbed up on some of the small formations of rock, while Owen watched.  He felt a bit left out, but tried not to stress over it too much.

                They went to the animal pens, where the sheep and pigs were kept. Owen asked how they were fed.  Kallan shrugged, but Marcus said he thought there were some high mountain meadows from which they harvested feed for the winter.  Owen nodded. They moved on, going through the huge cave. The large gaps in the ceiling let in a much light. Owen looked up, and could see the sky, and the foggy clouds. Eventually, their explorations led them to the main gate. There were several guards around it, to prevent people from leaving, Marcus said, with an unpleasant look on his face. The uneasy feeling of earlier came again.

                They finally came back to the castle, at the time of the midday meal. It was once again soup. Owen asked if all they ever had was soup, and Kallan shrugged.

                “It’s all they’ve made since we’ve been here.”

                Marcus looked at it disgustedly, and then slowly began to sip it.

                Owen ate quickly, and then Noren came, his usual jovial self. He walked up, holding several fur cloaks, and a large smile.

                “Come, friends! I would like to show you a magnificent view.”

                He led them to the stairs, and they walked up, Owen coming slowly on his crutches. When they reached the balcony, Owen glanced out the open windows, but he could only see sky through the thick walls. He felt a rush of cold breeze. He shivered, and hurried after them, his feet stinging.

                They began to climb a second flight of stairs. It halted at a small landing. They stopped to wait for Owen. Noren pointed to a doorway.

                “I and all the other members of the council stay in those rooms.”

                He continued up the stairs. They ended with a trap door. Noren turned, passing them the fur cloaks.

                “It is cold.” He motioned to Kallan and Marcus. “Help Owen, he will not want his crutches.” Owen dropped them on the stairs, and they held him up. Noren pushed open the door, putting up his hood. A rush of cold wind came in. Owen wrapped the cloak tightly about himself. They climbed out of the trap door. They were hit by a blast of wind. Owen looked around.

                They stood on top of the tower, but rather than extending into the cave, it stuck out of the side of a mountain. Behind him, Owen could see the summit, rising above them. Around them, the stone was icy, and cold. Small drifts of snow were against the bulwarks. Several statues stood, icy, ahead of them, overlooking the edge of the tower.

                Noren led the way forward, up to the edge. Owen looked out. It was an amazing sight. Below them, the mountain dropped, mostly rocky and steep, down into the foothills, thousands and thousands of feet. Far below, nestled against a finger of trees, he could see the tiny shape of Moransford. Further east, he could see a city, much larger than Moransford. He looked north. As far as his eye could see, the mountains wove north. But in the distance, faded, and foggy, he could see a distant city. He looked south. The mountains went south for a while, but he could see that they began to curl westward. He looked outward, east, ahead. Plains stretched out, forever, it seemed. They were barren, dry, and yellow.

                Owen wrapped his cloak tighter around him. The wind chapped his face. He looked to his right, at one of the two tall statues. It was carved in the likeness of a man, clothed in heavy clothing, holding weapons. His head was wrapped in cloth, hiding the carven face. Icicles hung off his body, and he was covered in frost. Owen was studying him. Then, the statue turned its head. Owen jerked in surprise.

                Noren walked to the statue. They followed. Noren leaned close, and spoke a few words, but Owen did not hear them in the rushing wind. The statue man shook his head, and pointed down toward Moransford. Noren nodded, and then moved back to the trap door, fighting the wind. He opened it, and they scrambled back into the hole. They sat on the stairs for a minute, catching their breath. Noren pulled the trap door shut behind him, blocking the wind.

                “Amazing, eh?”

                Owen nodded. “Who are those men?”

                Noren smiled. “They are among our sharpest eyed, most resilient men. They are tasked to keep watch from the tower.”

                Owen looked surprised. “They can see anything from up there?”

                “Not much, but we must have a guard up there. There is a good dozen of them, and they trade off on the tower shift. We make sure to keep them warm.”

                Owen thought what an amazing sight he had just seen, as Marcus and Kallan helped him down the stairs. He held his crutches in his hands, as going down stairs on them did not sound entertaining to Owen. When they reached the floor of the hall, he took them, and began to go about on his own again.



                Owen went about on crutches for several days. On the fifth day after he had arrived with the rebellion, he woke ready to be done with them. It was very early, a few hours before sunrise.

                Marcus and Kallan were still asleep, so he lit the lamp, and began to unwind his bandages. Under the bandages, on the bottom of his feet, crisscrossed a pattern of scars. The scabs had worn away, and fallen with the bandages. Owen flexed his feet, then stood, barefoot, on the cold stone floor. They only hurt just a little bit. He pulled on his light leather boots. They felt good on his feet. He felt whole again.

                He walked out the door, carrying his crutches under his arm. It had only been a few days, but he was glad to be off the crutches. He went to the healers room, and knocked on the door. The old man, Ewan, greeted him. He led him inside, and he took a seat by the fire. The old man quickly took the bandages to be cleaned, and set the crutches in the corner.

                “Let’s see your wrist, lad.” He said, taking Owens wrist, still bandaged, in his hand. He began to slowly unwrap the wound. He pulled it away, revealing a nasty looking scab across the wrist.

                “You won’t need this anymore.” He said, taking away the bandage. He took Owens hand, and squeezed it tightly. “Careful, lad. Careful.”

                He made a motion to wait and then bustled off to make a pot of tea. Owen sat, savoring the fire, thoughtful. The old man was soon back with two small clay cups of herb tea. Owen sipped it, and looked at the old man. “Where do you come from, Ewan?”

                Ewan was silent for a moment, looking at Owen shrewdly as if trying to decide something. Finally he spoke. “I am from a village of no consequence on the plains of the great desert."  He looked far off, sipping his tea. Owen looked at him carefully, trying to judge him. After several quiet moments, Ewan finished his cup, and looked up at Owen again.
               "I will hope to see you again soon, Owen."
               With those words he smiled, and ushered Owen to the door. Owen thought how curious the old man was. He shook his head, wondering, and went out into the hall. He walked across to his room. He went inside. Kallan was getting dressed, but Marcus was not inside. Kallan slipped on his shirt, and then turned as the door opened. It was Marcus. He looked grim.

                “Make yourself presentable.  I just met Noren. He says the council wants to meet all of us in a few minutes upstairs.” He went to his cot, and pulled on his newer wool shirt, and his hood. Kallan turned to get something, and Owen saw Marcus casually reach down to check the knife in his boot.  An uneasy knot formed in Owens stomach.

                It was then that Marcus noticed his crutches were gone. “Better?”

                Owen grinned. “Aye.”

                Kallan turned. “What? Oh.” He noticed as well. He grinned, and then followed Marcus out the door.

                They went up the stairs, to the second floor. They opened the door on the small landing. They went in, and were in a hallway. On the far side, to their right, a door was open. They went, and looked in.  A group of men sat around a table. Marcus walked in. They all looked up, than Noren stood, and offered the three on a seat. They sat next to Keegan, who was already there.

                One of the men, on the far side of the table, rose to his feet. He was the same tall veteran who began their meals every day. He looked serious, but not unfriendly. He had a small thin beard, shaved on the cheeks. He cleared his throat.                

                “Welcome. My name is General Corwin. I am the leader of the rebellion as of now. Unfortunately, my duties have not allowed me to meet with you until now, but now I have called you to discuss something with you. You are some of the most interesting people that have come to us in recent months. We wish to talk to you.” He looked at all three of them. Keegan nodded his head to continue. The man did.

                “We first wish to ask you a few direct questions. First, are you interested in the downfall of the tyrant?”

                Keegan sat silent for a moment, and then replied. “We would not wish for others to stay under his reign.”

                Another man, clad in a robe, shorter and balding, spoke up, directing his question at Owen. “What did you intend to do with the slaves, after you had broken them free from Cardowac?”

                Owen had to think for a moment. “I… I don’t really know. I had not expected that result. I meant to get them away from Cardowac, and the empire.”

                The man nodded slowly. Another man, this one a scarred fighter, spoke. “Would you wish to help us put a new government in place?”

                Keegan’s looked at each one in turn. “First, may I ask a question of my own. What kind of government do you intend to put in place?”

                The man who had spoken first answered.

                “The same as we have now, with all people at the same level.”

                Owen felt Marcus tense beside him. He looked at Keegan.



                Keegan looked tense. “The same and equal are not the same.”

                The whole room was silent. “And why do you say that?”

                “Because all are created equal, but all are not the same. And all are not meant to be the same.” He paused. “If you take all weapons from everyone, then who will have the weapons?”

                The leader hesitated. “The enforcers of the law…”

                “What happens if the government becomes tyrannical again?”

                The room was silent. Keegan continued. “The people will have no way to defend themselves. There will be no rebellion, because the people will have no way of rebelling.”

                The leader spoke again. “But there will be less robbery and killing…”

                Keegan was on the attack now. “If everyone is the same, then what need will anyone have to rob? And, anyway, we know that the lawbreakers break the law. If weapons are against the law, it will not stop the criminals from having them, against the laws of the land. But those that abide to the laws of the land will have no weapons, and nothing to defend them.”

                “We will enforce the law accordingly. The criminals who possess weapons will be brought to justice.”

                The room was bristling with energy. All eyes were fixed upon Keegan. He looked directly at the leader.

                “You would never be able to bring justice.” He looked at them. The room was suddenly feeling very unfriendly. Owen fidgeted uncomfortably. He agreed with Keegan, but he also felt that it was necessary to get rid of the emperor. He was torn. Then the General stood again, fire in his eyes.

                “This meeting is over.”

                Keegan stood, and walked out. Marcus followed. Owen sat, silent. Kallan seemed torn. He looked back and forth from Corwin, to Noren, to the doorway. They both stood. The man spoke to Owen and Kallan.

                “What your father has said will not be held against you.”

                Owen stood, and nodded politely to the council, before turning, and walking out. Kallan followed. They reached the stairway.

                “That went well.” Owen said slightly sarcastically, looking at Kallan. Kallan nodded, but was frowning. He seemed to be having an inner turmoil.  Owen could read his face well, and the signs were not good.

                They walked back to their room. Marcus sat on the bed, his teeth gritted. He looked at Kallan.

                His jaw was stiff. “We are not welcome here.” Kallan said nothing, but just moved to his cot. He lay down, still looking torn. Owens stomach tightened into a knot.

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