Burn the Map

...and the atlas and the guide book and the GPS and everything else that thinks it knows where you're going. 'Cause I'll tell you a secret, friend: They don't have a clue.

Welcome, traveler!  Is it a new world you're looking for, or perhaps a very old one?  Either way, your journey begins as soon as you click one of the links to the left (or up above, if you're inclined to the mobile devices).  Think of them as portals to other times and places... I mean, you could think of them as simple navigation buttons, but if you're going to do that, there are zillions of websites you could visit.  But you didn't.  You came here.  So saddle up, suit up, buckle up...  Grab your blaster, your sword, your spellbook...  Basically do whatever it takes to feel ready for adventure and dive into stories where no explorer or mapmaker has dared set foot.  Oh, and I almost forgot...  Where you're going, you might as well burn the map. 

Chapter 7

            "We?" Sir Reuben asked.  "You had expressed with equal portions of clarity and alacrity that you would be taking your leave after you broke your fast."

            "Well, I've changed my mind," Rebekah retorted.  "When those bandits set upon my troupe, our driver drove the mules so hard I bounced right off the back of the cart without anybody so much as noticing.  I'd thought to set out after them and try to catch up at our next festival, but clearly these roads aren't even safe for an armed knight and his page, much less for a lone girl.  So if it's all the same to you both, I'll sing for my supper a night or two and see how things go on from there."

            Daniel had been silent, regaining his wind and wrestling with his thoughts, but now he spoke up.  "I'm game to take her along, Sir Reuben, if you'd allow it."

            "Oh, I've no doubt," the knight replied.  "She's of an age with you, and skinny though she is, the lass stands not without her charms.  It may be that you both have forgotten that only the one of us has started this journey with any provender, and it starts to wear thin…  Oh, alright.  Far be it from Sir Reuben of the Roads and Dales to leave a young woman without aid or protection.  Chivalry will last at least as long as I do, as my father used to say.  We all walk, though.  Noble Karl has had a greater fright and a heavier fall than any of us, so we'll lead him easy until the page and I have time to give him a proper examination."

            They walked to the east at an easy pace for some while before Rebekah repeated her question.  "Where was it we were going, then?"

            "Lord Aidan's demesne," Daniel answered before Sir Reuben could launch into another monologue.  "Corngold."

            "Oh."  They walked awhile longer.  "What's there?"

            "Do you know the king is dead?"

            "I'd heard a rumor.  It doesn't make so much difference to roving players like me, especially in these little kingdoms.  By the time you've worked out the politics, you've crossed into some other land and have to start all over."

            "I could see that it wouldn't interest you much.  Until the war breaks out, anyway."

            "War?"

            "The king died without an heir."

            "Oh.  What does that have to do with Corngold, then?"

            "My Lord Hector has decided to back the king's brother, and so the mightiest baron, who's claimed the crown for himself, is trying to wipe him out.  We're appealing to Lord Aiden for support.  Clear enough?"

            "Mostly."

            "Except for what, then?"

            "How come your sword is better than your knight's."

            At last Sir Reuben spoke, though when he did, his thoughts sounded far away.  "When crownless stands the kingdom, the means will appear to reveal, by tests of mettle and gentle blood, who shall 'herit the royal seal."

            "What did you say, Sir Reuben?" Daniel asked.

            The knight repeated the rhyme, this time more clearly to his companions.  "My father had a steward that some said had the prophets' sight," he continued.  "For the forty years he served us, we had peace with our neighbors, prosperity for our people, and food enough in our stores to outlast any drought.  It was quite an estate that my elder brother inherited, and none could gainsay that.  This steward always seemed to know what was just over the horizon.  He died some years ago, before I went questing, and those verses were freshly penned on a sheet of fine vellum in his chambers when his mortal remains were discovered.  That blade, Rebekah, is no mere weapon or symbol, though I grant it would do a powerful work as either one.  No, much greater than that, those verses have been in my mind since the king passed, and I've kept my eyes and ears open, and I say as surely as any diviner's rod will it point to the next king, just as did the mystic blades of old.  We need only heed its call."

            "What?" Daniel shouted.  "Where was that tale this morning?"

            "Is it that you would have believed me this morning?"

            "…No."

            "And now?"

            The sword sang away in its scabbard, a song of triumph and pride.  Daniel listened with growing frustration.  How wonderful, he thought, how simple it must feel to know your purpose.