Appendix A: Chapter 12

[Editor's note: Chapter 12 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland stepped into the doorway of the room. Inside, he saw Anna bent down on one knee, hugging a young boy he assumed to be Derek. Looking around, the room indeed didn’t look so much like a prison cell as it did a makeshift bedroom. A bed, with a missing leg propped up by a couple of stones, stood in the far corner of the room. Several upended crates, some with clothes slung over them, made up the rest of the room’s furnishings. An old wooden bucket and a man standing guard just inside the doorway completed the scene.

“You see,” Mattias beamed, “completely safe and unharmed.”

Roland grunted. “It’s hardly an appropriate place to raise a child.”

“Well, I never said it was a long-term solution. And to be fair, this is one of the few rooms that hardly leaks at all when it rains. Besides, it’s not as though he weren’t free to roam about within reason.”

“You have him under guard!” Roland protested.

“Surely you aren’t suggesting I let a boy run around, unsupervised, in a bunch of dark, decaying ruins,” Mattias protested. “He’s more of a babysitter than anything.”

“And if he wants to leave?”

“I’d encourage it, in fact, now that she’s here to watch over him. Don’t get me wrong, he seems like an OK kid to me, and he did help out a bit with exploring a few of the less-dangerous areas, but taking care of him has been slowing us down, even if he does mostly keep out of trouble.”

Roland turned to look at Mattias. “If you’re really so concerned about the boy’s welfare, why did you bring him here of all places?” he finally said, exasperated.

“Hmm. Well, I suppose I never did you give a straight answer to your question back there of what I’m doing here, did I?”

“No, you didn’t.” Roland glanced at Anna and Derek, neither of whom seemed to have noticed their presence at the doorway to the room yet.

“OK, it’s like this. Have you ever wondered why Telerand and Lantaria have been at each others’ throats ever since the end of the Demon War.”

“No,” Roland signed, chiding himself for having expected Mattias to actually give a straightforward answer to a question.

“Or, more to the point, why they weren’t at each others’ throats during the Demon War?”

Roland stared at Mattias, making it clear the answer was obvious.

“Exactly! They faced a common threat, and had just enough sense to put aside their petty squabbles long enough to fight it off.”

“The disputes between Telerand and Lantaria are hardly petty,” Roland protested. “If only the Lantarians would listen to reason and–”

“Please,” Mattias said dismissively, raising his voice. “Tantrums about on which side of Doomhammer a line on a map should be drawn when the two kingdoms are too large to manage the territory they conquered in the Demon War as it is? Or the ever-popular argument of whether those of us with magical abilities should be forcibly conscripted into the king’s armies or merely shunned from society? You’re right, they’re not petty, they’re asinine. And the two sides seem to be increasingly eager to go to war to prove who’s right. And if you think Doomhammer was devastated by a fire, imagine what’ll happen when two armies start fighting each other in towns all along the border.”

Mattias paused, taking a few slow, deliberate breaths before continuing.

“Sorry, but even if I did think once side or the other was undeniably in the right, no offense, and even if a war was going to settle it instead of triggering a cycle of revenge like the ‘good old days’ before the Demon King, the damage done still wouldn’t be worth it. Now tell me, good Sir Roland, if you had a chance to prevent all that from happening, wouldn’t you take it?”

“I’m listening.”

“History has shown that the only thing that will make Telerand and Lantaria be civil to each other — or at least start leaving each other alone — is if they’re too busy fighting some common threat. Therefore, what they need is a common threat.”

Roland worried that he was starting to see where this was going.

“Legends are notoriously unreliable, but here, I should be able to dig up enough information, no pun intended, to learn what the so-called Demon King actually did, and more to the point, how he actually managed to accomplish it. And armed with that knowledge–”

“You’re going to start a second Demon War?” Roland exclaimed. “You’re mad!”

“Frustrated with the status quo, actually,” Mattias corrected. “And no, I’m not actually going to start a new Demon War; that’s probably the only thing worse than the inevitable war we’re lurching towards now. No, I’m going to make the powers that rule this land think I’m starting a new Demon War.”

Words failed Roland. Except one. “How?”

“That,” Mattias admitted, “I haven’t quite figured out yet. Maybe some kind of phony magical doomsday device that both kingdoms will somehow need to work together to stop from being activated? Mind you, this is a long-term goal here. I’m talking years, not days. Whatever it ends up being, it’ll have to be something that looks like it poses an existential threat to everyone yet will keep the actual bloodshed to a minimum.”

“A minimum?”

“Well, ideally that minimum would be zero, but I’m not naive enough to think that nothing will go wrong. Really, the whole destroy-or-conquer-the-world thing is intended to fail, so something has to go wrong, right?”

“I’ve heard enough,” Roland said, raising his sword. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you right now and make sure your foul plans never succeed.”

“I’ll give you several,” Mattias replied, seemingly unintimidated. “If you really intended to kill me, you’ve had ample opportunity to do it, so you’re clearly just posturing now. Second, you don’t think I could actually pull such a crazy-sounding plan off. Third, we’re really on the same side, you and I, trying to save as many lives as possible. Fourth, deep down, you know I’m right about the coming war, and just don’t want to admit it. Shall I continue?”

Roland reluctantly lowered his sword and returned it to its sheath. “Don’t misunderstand me, I just don’t want to traumatize the boy by spilling your blood in front of him.”

Mattias smiled. “Whatever you say; I’ll just have to make sure I personally escort the three of you safely back the way you came, then, won’t I? Speaking of which,” he continued, turning to Anna and Derek, “I believe the two of you ought to start heading back before it gets too dark out. A place like this is no place to raise a young boy, after all.”

Mattias led the three back through the series of narrow halls. Anna followed behind, holding Derek’s hand firmly as he walked beside her. Roland stayed at the rear, keeping one hand on the hilt of the sword, ready if Mattias or any of his men should try anything.

“Well, here we are,” Mattias said when they had reached an opening in the outer wall, different than the one Roland and Anna had originally entered through. “Do be careful out there; the two of you have been through so much already. And Roland,” he added, “having a set of eyes and ears in your Order would help me out a lot. Don’t, I know what you’re going to say, but my offer still stands should you reconsider. I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to get a message to me if you do. And with that, I bid you good day.”

Roland let Anna, still clutching Derek’s hand, lead the way as they walked away from Castle Helioth. Roland certainly wasn’t going to take his eyes off of them until they had put a good long distance between themselves and Mattias’s henchmen.

“Don’t say anything, just keep walking straight,” he said.

And they did, down one hill, up another, and then back down. Roland occasionally chanced a quick look behind them, waiting until they were double the distance it took to be out of sight of the castle before he said anything else.

“If we head south from here, we should come to a forest,” he finally said. “We should go that way.”

“But Derinham is up ahead this way,” Anna said, pointing forward with her free hand.

Roland shook his head. “It’s not safe there. You learned yourself it’s a waypoint in the castle’s supply lines. We can’t risk Mattias’s men finding us there. Or out here, in the open. We’ll be harder to track in the forest.”

“Are we being followed?” Anna asked, her voice hushed.

“Maybe. I don’t see anyone, but Mattias’s men know this area a lot better than we do.”

“Hang on,” Anna said, her voice back at its normal volume, “why would they be following us anyway? That guy, what was his name?”

“Mattias.”

“Right. He let us go.”

“He’s up to something. He has to be. Normal people don’t live in ruins, normal people don’t abduct children, and normal people definitely don’t fight you and then let you go as if nothing happened.”

“He seemed OK to me. Well, relatively.”

“You didn’t spend much time talking to him, did you?”

“No. Why? What did he say?”

“Don’t worry about it.” He doubted Anna would believe him. Really, he didn’t believe it himself. But whatever Mattias really was up to in there, Roland was sure it was trouble, and it had to be stopped. But he wasn’t going to be able to stop it himself, especially not with two people that needed protection.

Anna threw up her hands in resignation. “Fine, we’ll go to the forest then. Come along, Derek.” She turned to head south, and Roland followed. “So if we aren’t going back to Derinham, where are we going?”

“Someplace where you’ll be safe,” Roland replied. “And someplace where they’ll be able to take care of Mattias, no matter what he tries.”

Chapter word count: 1,687 (according to wc)
Total word count: 21,846 / 50,000 (43.692% complete)

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