The trio looked at one another for a moment as the knock came a second time.
"Ask who it is," Rebekah hissed.
Daniel was about to call out, but William, ever obedient, boomed, "Who is it!?"
"You may trust me, children," a voice replied through the door. "I am a friend."
The trio continued to hesitate. The blade's song was neither aggressive nor welcoming, but equal parts fear and curiosity. Daniel was still unsettled after his macabre dream, but he found the sword's insecurity to be somehow comforting, making it easier to trust than if it had been cocksure with song. Daniel got to his feet and held the weapon defensively before himself and Rebekah. "William," he said, "open the door." He wondered whether he should have added "slowly" as William threw the door open so fast Daniel feared it would fly off the hinges. A small man, somewhere between Rebekah and Daniel's heights, stood in the doorway; his clothes, all in dark tones, were partially shrouded by a black cloak, but its hood was back, showing the man's bald head and weathered features.
His eyes were wide as they fell on the giant before him, but after a moment he regained his composure. I appreciate the need for discretion," he said quietly. "Won't you invite me in out of the hallway?"
"Let him in, William," Rebekah said, "but only just."
William took a step back, allowing the stranger only enough ground to close the door behind him.
"You say you are a friend," Daniel pressed, "but that is for us to decide. Who are you, really?"
"I am called Roland," the man answered, "one who has long awaited this day, along with my many brothers. And I already know each of you: She named for Isaac's beloved, Rebekah; he who faces the lions, Daniel; and the firstborn of the tribes, Reuben."
"What about me?" William asked.
"You're not Reuben?" Roland countered.
"No, he's no," Daniel and Rebekah both replied at once.
"No, I'm not," William responded a moment later.
"But you are Daniel and Rebekah?" Roland asked the younger pair.
Daniel glanced over his shoulder at Rebekah but found no advice in her confused expression. "We are," he finally replied, "and this is William. We are traveling with a Reuben, but he isn't here right now."
"William," Roland said skeptically, looking up and down the strongman's considerable bulk. "The prophecies make no mention of you."
"Sorry," William replied.
"What prophecy?" Daniel demanded.
Roland's eyes went distant, as though he had entered some kind of trance.
When crownless stands the kingdom
The means will appear to reveal
By tests of mettle and gentle blood
Who shall 'herit the royal seal.
He who faces lions
Shall take the blade in hand
Guided by the firstborn of the tribes
Who roams across the land.
They shall rescue Isaac's beloved
With battle swift and bold
And hasten thenceforth to a city
Named for fields of gold
Roland's eyes snapped back into focus. "There is more, but the brothers are not yet decided on whether to share it, and I will not preempt their ruling."
"This is impossible!" Daniel protested. "How could you know all these things? Why should we believe you?"
"Daniel," Rebekah whispered, her hand falling on his shoulder, "his first verse matched the seer's in Reuben's household. Surely that's no accident…"
But Daniel had had enough. "I just wanted to touch a sword! It was just there, not seeming to belong to anybody, and so I tried to touch it. I wasn't even going to keep it! Then that noble brat showed up, got blasted halfway across the clearing, and the next thing I know, I'm being accused of witchcraft. I saw a way out, so I took it, told a lie, and got out of there. That stupid countess and her entourage didn't say a word…"
"As if the Lord shut their mouths," Roland asked, "just as he did with the lions of your namesake's peril?"
"The Lord is mysterious, but gullibility is more likely. Well, I may be as ignorant as any miller's son, but gullible I'm not, nor anybody's plaything. I'm tired of being dragged from confusion to confusion! I'm not moving from this room until somebody tells me just what on earth is going on, in plain language, and just what I'm meant to do about it."
Rebekah and Roland both started to speak.
"I mean it!" Daniel shouted.
A knock sounded again on the door, this one a frantic pounding. "Daniel, Rebekah, are you alright in there? I'm coming in!" The voice was Reuben's.
Roland and William leaped out of the way as Sir Reuben threw open the door. His armor had been traded for a fine tunic bearing his family crest and colors, but a dagger was in his hand. His eyes darted around the room, taking in the tableau. At last his gaze settled on the small man in black. "Roland?" he asked. "What are you doing here?"
"Enough!" Daniel roared. Rebekah backed away as he raised the sword, then slammed its point hard into the floorboards, leaving it to stand there with its hilt quivering from the impact. Arms crossed, he glared at the two men and waited for his answers.