Dragon Fire: Episode 98

“I must see the king now!” Derali insisted. “I cannot wait until I am addressed! Every moment, Prince Lanidus moves farther away!”

After Riscio’s man forced Lanidus from the garden, Derali had frantically tried to follow and free the prince. But when he failed to find him, he had stormed into the king’s court demanding action and was now being restrained by King Isembart’s guards.

“What has happened to Prince Lanidus is regrettable, but everything will be done to free him,” High Priest Zephryses assured Derali.

“If we knew where they have taken him, we could mount a rescue,” Ethers, one of the King’s advisors, suggested.

Without a word, King Isembart sat on his throne deep in thought. Derali felt himself becoming enraged. Just as he decided to implore once again the king to send a search party, he saw that Princess Lillian wore a look of deep concern. Taking a breath to compose himself, he had just opened his mouth to speak when a messenger entered bearing news of the prince.

“Speak!” the king commanded.

Rising to his feet, the messenger said,

“My liege, they have taken Prince Lanidus to Copperhead Camp.”

King Isembart and the high priest grew uncomfortable.

“Why would they take him there?” King Isembart questioned the high priest. “I thought your men were in control of that place.”

“After much thought, I felt it best to dedicate all my resources to. . .,” High Priest Zephryses paused as he looked for the right words, “. . .take care of the problem. The camp was left empty.”

“What is this Copperhead Camp?” Derali asked.

“A military prison designed and built long ago by Beratio the Mad for use during the war. The camp has many tunnels that lead nowhere, and the entire lower level is filled with nests of snakes,” King Isembart explained.

“Now that you know where Prince Lanidus is being held, your majesty, you must mount a rescue,” Derali insisted.

“We cannot,” the high priest returned. “If this man Riscio is as you claim, when he sees the king’s army approaching, he will surely kill the prince before being captured.”

Then Zephryses turned to King Isembart and said,

“Let me lead this endeavor,” the high priest leaned toward the king to continue, “my way.”

King Isembart considered the idea for a moment then said,

“No. I will send a messenger to inform King Stephanus and ask if he wishes to trade Riscio’s men in his prison for his son’s freedom. If that fails then we will do it your way.”

“King Stephanus would rather lose a son than risk freeing the men who tried to overthrow his throne. If a king’s army would cause the prince to be killed,” Derali said, “we must find someone who knows the prison well enough to lead us in unnoticed. Is Beratio still alive?”

“Sadly, no,” King Isembart said. “He took his life soon after the camp was complete.”

“I beseech you, King Isembart, is there no one?” Derali asked.

“I fear not. All the guards and prisoners of Copperhead Camp have long since passed, and no one has been imprisoned there since my father was a boy,” the king lied.

“Allaster was there,” Lillian spoke up. “He escaped from the camp.”

“Quiet, Lillian!” King Isembart snapped.

“Who is this Allaster?” Derali insisted. “If he escaped, he can help us get in.”

“No!” King Isembart shouted, jumping to his feet. “Allaster is a worshipper of Authrax and one of the Children of Dusk! I will not align myself with such a man! Tobias Ashblood the Great freed this kingdom from their tyrannical reign! No I refuse!”

King Isembart stormed out of the throne room leaving behind a desperate Derali. After the high priest and guards followed the king, Princess Lillian approached Derali and whispered,

“Allaster is innocent! After dark, go to an inn called The Cruel Fortune and seek out a man known as Captain Gunner. He will help you.”

“Lillian!” Isembart yelled in his departure.

“Hurry!” Lillian warned then fled from the throne room.

* * *

It was just after sunset when Derali weaved his way through the drunkards, prostitutes, and thieves that filled the back streets of Ethion. After Princess Lillian left the throne room, he had not seen her nor any of the king’s court again. Angry at King Isembart’s apathy and convinced that King Stephanus would refuse to help, even to save the life of his son, Derali had marched off the castle grounds determined to find the escaped prisoner called Allaster and free Prince Lanidus. Afterwards, when he and the prince returned to Ethion, King Isembart would see that Derali had done what the king would not. He had no patience with royalty for their wealth and power made them more slaves then their subjects. Derali was tired of kings who had grown fat with idleness and forgotten how to use a sword or queens who only concerned themselves with their beauty. Princess Lillian, on the other hand, had been a surprise. Never before had Derali seen a princess defend herself with the spirit of a warrior. She had thrown the pike as though a seasoned soldier, impaling the fiend and thwarting his purpose. She was true royalty.

After some time, Derali finally came upon a worm eaten tavern signboard, The Cruel Fortune, swinging on its iron hinges in the night air. Not much larger than the rundown houses that surrounded it, it stood near the water’s edge.

Derali entered the door and was at once greeted with lusty song as minstrels played their lutes and jolly patrons banged on tables, sloshing their bitter ale. A few of the more jovial clicked their heels, stomping on the wooden floor in a drunken dance. Derali thought the place quite lively for an old rundown tavern.

He slowly moved through the crowd toward the bar as those who spotted his uniform shared hushed whispers.

The innkeeper stared at Derali with a clear look of disgust.

“I am looking for Captain Gunner. I was told I could find him here.”

“Captain Gunner is dead, eaten by a sea monster some three months ago,” the innkeeper growled.

“Nay,” a drunken man slurred. He stumbled toward Derali, slapped the bar with a filthy hand, and with his one good eye looked at the innkeeper.

“I saw Captain Gunner just the other day,” he insisted, his head bobbing.

“Where did you see him?” Derali asked.

“He was riding a dragon over the city and flew off the edge of the world,” the man said.

Everyone roared with laughter then enjoyed another drink of ale.

“It is very important that I find him,” Derali insisted.

“Why do you seek a captain who has no ship nor crew?” the innkeeper asked.

“Because I need to find someone and was told that he could help,” Derali explained.

“Would that the person you seek is not important,” a loud voice came from the back of the tavern.

When Derali turned to see who had spoken, he saw an old man with a thick white beard and long hair seated in a chair leaned back against the wall.

“Because, alas, Captain Gunner is dead.”

Derali felt his heart sink.

After a moment the old man asked,

“Who did you need to find?”

“Someone named Allaster,” Derali said.

“Because Allaster is in trouble,” a woman added.

Derali recognized her voice and knew at once that it was Princess Lillian. Dressed in a hooded cloak that covered her clothes and hair, she stood in the doorway, strong and unafraid.

When the old man rose from his chair and walked over to face Lillian, Derali slowly reached for his sword. As the old man looked at her, she kept her head lowered.

“Who is this lady who stands before me hiding her face?”

“Someone who needs your help,” Lillian answered.

At that, the old man took a step back and scolded,

“Young lady, you look at me when I address you.”

Derali prayed that she would not reveal herself, but Lillian lifted her head and slipped the hood off her hair.

When everyone saw that it was Princess Lillian, the tavern immediately went silent.

The old man’s eyes crinkled as he slowly smiled at her.

“I am sorry, Captain,” Lillian said.

“You should be,” the old man laughed.

Lillian smiled brightly as the old man moved in to hug her.

“It has been a dog’s age since last I saw you,” he said.

After a moment, she took the captain’s hand and led him to a confused Derali.

“Derali, this is Captain Knoll Ghastly.”

“Call me Gunner,” he said, seizing Derali’s hand and fiercely shaking it.

“You are friends?” Derali asked.

“Friends? Why I practically raised the lass. Every night she and that rambunctious lad Allaster would come down to the ship to hear my stories,” Gunner laughed.

“You also taught us to fight,” Lillian added.

“That’s why you knew how to throw a pike?” Derali asked.

“Yes. Lilly always was a fierce one, not as reserved as little Allaster.”

Then Gunner turned to meet Lillian’s eyes and asked,

“Tell me what has happened. What has my boy gotten himself into now?”

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