Lords of Freedom 24


Lords of Freedom is an exciting new novel including adventure, realistic action, surprising insights, and a touch of romance. Enjoy a new chapter every week. Prior chapters can be found here.

Lords of Freedom—Chapter 24—Preparation

The following morning was one of many happy reunions. Most of the children at the armory woke to find their parents waiting. Those whose parents were not among those freed from the prison were taken in by others.

Xan and Sergio, accompanied by Sheba, took a walk together to plan out their next move. The day was overcast, with the feeling of imminent rain so they didn’t stray too far, content to circle the armory as they talked.

“I think we should gather as many as we can from the city to join us—people who love liberty and are willing to fight for it,” Xan said.

Sergio nodded. “I agree; I’ll send some messengers into Merker at once. There are many who will join us.”

“Have the messengers tell any who care to join us to bring as much food and supplies as they can. Also, any here now, who know firsthand of Duke Grudo’s crimes, should sit down with Honbria. We need as much evidence as possible, in writing. The messengers can circulate it through the city.”

“That’s a very good idea,” Sergio said. “Honbria has kept a detailed journal through the years as well, which will be helpful I’m sure. Has she mentioned anything about that to you?”

“Not her journal in particular, but she said she had something important to talk about.”

Sergio gave a quick nod. “I’ll let her tell you then; it will be better that way. There are people still in Merker who could access court records and bring those transcripts to us here.”

Xan considered then shook his head. “Let’s hold off on that for now, to avoid raising suspicion with the duke. We’ll access the court records once we unseat him.”


Hon hurried along the armory corridor, shrugging into her cloak as she went. She’d decided to go for a little walk, to find Xan and see if he was free to talk.

The secret behind his father’s death was gnawing at her, demanding to be aired…again. She’d told her parents, but Xan needed to know. I should have told them all at the time, she thought, but I was just a little girl, and back then I didn’t fully understand it.

“All right men, you have your orders: recruit as many soldiers as you can and report back.”

Hon paused in the doorway of the conference room and looked in. Roghaar was there, with two of his rangers. They strode out the door with purpose, nodding to her as they passed.

“Honbria,” Roghaar said. “Come in a minute; I’d like to talk to you and give you something.”

She entered the room and took a seat, watching as he crossed the room to a metal box in one corner. Unlocking it, he retrieved something and tucked it behind his back, out of sight as he turned back toward her.

She furrowed her brow. Then, as he extended the little bow and arrows her mother had made for her, so many years ago, she broke into a smile and leaped to her feet.

“My bow; you saved it, Roghaar. Thank you; this means so much.” She hesitated only a moment before hugging him.

“The one arrow is still broken, but maybe you or your mother can mend it,” he said.

“I’m sure we can,” she assured him, taking the stash.

He nodded, making his voice gruff as he said, “Run along then; I’m busy.”

“Right,” she laughed and left with a parting curtsey.


Hon hurried back to the kitchen area where she’d left her mother. Loris was still there, cleaning up from breakfast with a few other women, laughing and chatting as they worked. She was delighted to see the little bow and assured Hon that she’d fix the one arrow straightaway.

“Leave it here with me, dear,” she said. “Did you manage to talk to Juel?”

“His name is Xan now, mother,” Hon corrected. “I never made it out the door; Roghaar snagged me to return the bow.”

With that, she set off again, out of the armory and into the courtyard. Looks like rain, she thought, pulling her cloak a little tighter.

Beyond the gates, she started walking and soon saw Xan and her father. They were deep in conversation, she could see, and skirted them, not wanting to interrupt. Obviously, the time wasn’t quite right to tell Xan any deep dark secrets. Sheba was with them as well and perked up at once, looking directly at her. Hon smiled, moving on; no one would catch them unaware.

Intending to circle the armory, she was rounding the first corner when a horse’s whiney filled the air. She stopped, turning in a slow circle. Was that Dawn? It certainly sounded like her, so Hon whistled shrilly.

Out of the brush, the horse appeared. Testing the air, she whinnied again and trotted forward, as Hon called out her name and ran to meet her.

Hugging Dawn’s neck a moment, Hon grasped her mane and swung onto her back. The horse blew out a pleased breath and broke into a canter. Left loose at the house, she must have wandered into the hills after a day or so, Hon thought, glad she’d wandered in this direction and come this far from home.


That afternoon, Roghaar’s two rangers returned with enough soldiers to form two full ranger patrols, combined with those already in place. On their heels came the messengers Sergio had dispatched, along with a hundred citizens.

Xan was most pleased and had Sergio and Roghaar gather the groups in a waiting area. One by one, they entered the conference room to find Xan there, seated with his staff. He asked each of them the following questions:

Do you love freedom?

Are you willing to fight for it?

Will you support our cause and not betray us?

The majority of the people answered a resounding yes to each question, and the staff warmed in Xan’s hand. A few admitted they weren’t overly concerned with freedom, and that they wanted the government to take care of them. With several others, the staff turned cold in Xan’s hand at their answers. In the end, twenty were disqualified and escorted out of the armory.

The rangers issued weapons to everyone willing to fight and set up a rigorous training schedule to begin at dawn the next day. Priority one was defense of the armory, with the liberation of Merker next.


In the crowded common room, warming herself at the hearth, Hon gazed into the flames. Upon her return to the armory with Dawn, she’d dismounted and turned to see her father striding up. His eyes were wide and his expression incredulous at the sight of the horse. Dawn nickered softly when he reached to stroke her nose.

“Don’t tell me you walked all the way home to fetch her,” Sergio said.

Hon shook her head with a grin. “I considered that, but no. She was wandering around nearby.”

He flagged a passing ranger who showed them a small, abandoned stable in the far corner and then helped them ready it. While she brushed Dawn’s coat out, and fed and watered her, Sergio outlined a task.

It involved her skills as a scribe, and for several hours she met with person after person in one of the smaller rooms, transcribing accounts of crimes they knew firsthand had been committed by the duke. Then those transcripts had been taken by messengers into Merker, to rouse others to their cause.

A boom of thunder drew Hon’s attention as the first raindrops spattered down. Standing up, she crossed the common room to the window and peered out into the falling dusk. Lightning streaked the sky, and the rain picked up its cadence.

In her hands she held her journal, wanting more than ever to talk to Xan. He’d been occupied all day though, testing each new person with questions and his staff. Now she feared he’d be too weary to talk to her tonight. She didn’t want to wait another day, but perhaps that was how it would have to be.

“I heard you found Dawn,” a voice behind her said.

She turned to see Xan there, smiling down at her. “I did, or she found me. Either way, she’s warm and dry in the little stable out back.”

He nodded. “Care to brave the storm, take me out to meet her?”


He gave another nod.

Grabbing cloaks on their way out, both fanned their hoods up, stepping into the rain. Hon tucked her journal into an inside pocket and was pleasantly surprised when Xan took hold of her hand. After several steps they broke into a run, laughing as they sloshed along.

Once inside the stable, they pushed their hoods back and stood panting. Dawn nickered warily and stomped a hoof.

“Easy girl; this is Xan. He’s a friend, so behave.”

Dawn laid her ears flat and stomped again.

“Sorry,” Hon sighed.

“That’s all right,” he chuckled. “I’ll admire her from afar; she’s beautiful.”

“Where is Sheba?” Hon asked.

“Somewhere nearby, out of the rain but keeping watch. Now, what is it you wanted to tell me?”

The journal seemed suddenly like a leaden weight, and slowly she pulled it out. “I’ve been recording things in this book since before you left Merker. Most of it is…private, but there’s one part I’d like you to read.”

She could feel herself blushing, thinking of all the things she’d written about him as a young girl. She’d die if he read all that, but considering earlier, she’d decided to have him read what she’d written in the duke’s stable loft long ago. Paging through, she handed him the journal.

“Just these two pages,” she advised. “Not a word more.”

He nodded casually, masking a smile. She paced off, folding her arms.

It didn’t take long after that, for the lighthearted mood to darken, as though the storm clouds outside had rolled in. Xan sucked in a breath; then blew it out. Reading on, he began muttering; then at last he snapped the book shut and handed it back.

“I need a minute; just wait here,” he said and walked outside.

Stroking Dawn, who seemed pleased that he’d left, Hon watched Xan pace, back and forth before the open door. At last, he stopped; fists clenched at his side, and tilted his head upwards, into the driving rain.

When he returned he was drenched and dripping, but he looked resigned. When he raised an arm slightly, she took the cue and moved into his damp embrace. For long moments they stood there, rain drumming all around, his heartbeat pounding in her ear.

“Duke Grudo planned this whole thing out, for years,” Xan murmured. “Back then, shutting the blacksmiths down was the first phase, culminating with the recent weapons confiscation and such stringent regulations.

“He might not have meant for my father to be killed, but he surely meant to put us out of business. When Father did die, all the duke was concerned with was covering up the truth…going so far as to tamper with official records. For that, he’ll surely pay.”

Xan kissed the top of her head and drew back then. “Thank you for sharing the truth with me, and I understand why you didn’t speak up at the time. Back then your father and I might have done something rash. My father was already dead; nothing could bring him back, but now…”

“Now?” she echoed.

“Now Ravi the blacksmith will see justice served.”


At noon the following day, a company of a hundred soldiers appeared on the horizon. As they marched nearer, the watchers in the tower saw that they carried five ladders, along with standard weapons. At the gate their captain demanded entrance, fanning his men out to turn away yet more people that were coming from Merker to join the freedom fight.

Three rangers holding shields accompanied Xan and Sheba onto the platform where the watchers were. Xan reached for the rope of the massive bell mounted nearby and rang it, commanding silence below.

“Listen carefully, invaders,” he called down. “I will only say this once: your lives depend on how you respond. If any of you love freedom and are willing to fight for it, run when the bell rings next; when, and only when it rings again, you will return to the gate.

“Those unwilling to join us are advised to depart. Anyone loyal to Duke Grudo and complicit in his tyranny will face imminent death if found closer than a quarter mile to this armory.”

The captain scoffed, “We come on orders from the duke, to execute all here who refuse to surrender, for rebellion.”

Xan rang the bell.

Nine soldiers ran as instructed, but the rest, on their captain’s order, drew their swords. Sheba leaped from the wall, startling the soldiers and tangling their ranks with her charge. Biting, clawing, and whirling, she moved in an expanding circle, so quickly that very few guards could even make glancing blows on her invisible armor.

Within minutes half of them were on the ground and the rest in retreat, leaving the ladders behind. Xan rang the bell again, and the soldiers who’d run returned to the gate, hands in the air for good measure.

Two rangers ushered the nine soldiers in, leading them to one room, while two other rangers rounded up the scattered citizens and escorted them to another room. All would be given a fair chance to join, but each would have to pass Xan’s test of truth.

While that transpired, six rangers, along with Sheba set off to patrol the area within a quarter mile, to verify no hostile soldiers remained.


Over the next few days, news spread about what was happening at the armory, drawing two hundred more citizens in. Among them were forty-six soldiers, all of whom passed the test of truth and joined the armory ranks.

Weapons were distributed from the vast supply in the armory, and patrols constantly scouted the surrounding area, keeping all within its walls safe and secure. Were these patrols to encounter a force too large, they’d fall back to the armory and gather reinforcements.

Eventually, Sergio sent messengers to warn the remaining citizens to evacuate as soon as possible, to avoid the coming conflict. Merker was in an uproar by that time, making it impossible to enforce the law that no citizen could leave the city, so those who desired could do so now with relative ease.

When the messengers returned, Xan drew them into the conference room. Sergio, Roghaar, and Charley joined them, to hear the report and make further plans.

“Duke Grudo is furious,” one messenger began. “Many loyal men had been executed, first for losing the armory and then failing to reclaim it and deliver the rebels. He intends to send spies out, to infiltrate our group and bring back solid facts regarding Sheba and Xan.”

The other messenger picked up: “He suspects the huge black cat is a trick of some kind, but he’s worried about the mysterious man with a staff. According to gossip, man and cat are a perfect team, able even to communicate. This is true, of course, but he doesn’t believe it.”

“Nor can he imagine one man with an imaginary cat triumphing against such odds, not only once but every single time,” the first said. “Duke Grudo is determined to crush the rebellion before it goes any further and restore order to the city. He’s instructed his spies to poison the great cat, if she is real, and assassinate the man with the staff.”

“Really?” Xan scoffed, looking over at Sheba.

The second messenger shrugged. “Once that’s done, any who refuse to fall back into line will be executed without trial.”

This was concerning to Sergio, Roghaar, and Charley, but Xan remained unmoved. Sheba worried even less. She challenged these spies, silently, to try poisoning her, as though she ate from a bowl like the foolish prison dogs. Xan assured the others that any spies would be quickly unmasked, answering his questions as he held the staff.

The last item to be reported was good news: Duke Grudo, not wanting to appear weak, had elected not to notify King Zortiger. Had he done so, plans would have had to be radically changed. They weren’t ready yet, to take on the king and his army.

Next, a general meeting was called, with mandatory attendance by everyone there. No single room was large enough for the group, so they gathered in the courtyard. After the recent rain, the air felt fresh and clean, and the afternoon sun shone warm in the sky above.

Once everyone was called to order, Xan spoke. “I cannot reveal the details of my ultimate mission with Sheba at this time, but our actions thus far have proven that we are friends who have come to help win and defend your freedom. I’ve known Sergio since I was a boy. He is a good man and the one I think would best serve as your leader. All of you who are willing to accept him in that capacity, to follow his orders and protect him, raise your hands.”

All the people who had gathered loved Sergio and trusted him, so every hand flew into the air, along with dozens of supportive cheers.

Xan raised his hands to silence them, pleased. “Very good; Sheba and I will help him and all of you, to defeat the duke and his forces. Not only that, we will stay until you gain the confidence and strength to stand on your own.”

“What then?” someone shouted.

Xan’s expression saddened somewhat; he’d grown to love these people, but they had to be independent. “Then we will depart.”

Groans erupted through the crowd, along with dissenting cries.

Again Xan raised his hands. “We must; once you have your freedom and learn all you need to know, you must stand on your own and defend that freedom. Can you understand?”

Cheers broke out, along with affirming shouts.

Sergio stepped forward then. “Duke Grudo will soon be unseated, rest assured. Life will be much better—like it was decades ago. Some of you remember those times, do you not?”

Many answered that they did; then someone shouted, “What about the king? He’ll not take kindly to this.”

“We will remain in Cavalon until the entire kingdom is liberated. Do not concern yourselves with that.” Xan assured them, resting a hand on Sheba’s back.

© Copyright 2017-2023 Gene Van Shaar

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