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. Next week is the last chapter. Prior chapters can be found here.
Lords of Freedom—Chapter 32—Cavalon Castle
Over the next few days, Xan assessed each of the captured Cavalon soldiers. Those who passed his truth test with the staff, confirming their love of freedom and liberty were incorporated into Sagal’s army.
Many of those remaining were serving the king out of fear, resentful of his tyranny but willing to carry out his bidding to avoid reprisal. Others served for the coin they received, aware that their actions violated God-given rights but falsely justified in their own minds.
Artorius cordoned off an area on the outskirts of the city and ordered a camp to be constructed. Those who had supported tyranny would remain there for the time being, with quarters, civilian clothes, books if they desired, and assigned tasks for which they’d receive minimal wages. Once they proved trustworthy—if they did, they’d be incorporated into the general population.
There were a small number who were truly loyal to the king and his repression, resigned to defeat for the time being, but waiting for a chance to escape and return to evil. They were dangerous and would be locked away until they could be exiled.
Now all that remained was to march on Cavalon, to defeat the meager troops left there and oust King Zortiger. Xan called for a special meeting, with Artorius, Belinda, and Roghaar in the royal conference room.
It was spacious, with a marble floor, a large round table with matching chairs, and fine velvet curtains at every window. In the center of the room hung a lavish chandelier that added sparkles of light to the marble floor. As well, there were potted dwarf trees in each corner and an elegant harp on one wall.
Once seated around the table, Xan cleared his throat. “The last phase of our mission is upon us, and I feel we should discuss the dawn of a new era.”
“You are the logical choice as king, Artorius,” Xan said.
Artorius widened his eyes in surprise. “I joined your fight for freedom, to liberate the realm, not to gain more power.”
“That is precisely why you qualify for the office of king. Also, you are a courageous and honorable man, renowned throughout the land. No other will be so readily accepted. Cavalon, as a realm, needs to remain intact, not splintered and warring for years on end.”
Belinda nodded in agreement. “He’s right, my dear; you need to be the new king.”
Roghaar nodded as well. “Never have I met a man who loved the people so. I’d heard of you, of course, but I thought those tales were exaggerated or embellished; now I see they fall short.”
In the end, Artorius agreed, and word passed like wildfire through the city. An impromptu festival was organized in the stadium, to see the army off, and nearly every Sagal citizen attended.
There was food and drink, entertainment, and ceremony. Plays were presented, jugglers and jesters performed and the recruited Cavalon soldiers were recognized. Artorius gave a heartfelt speech, rallying the crowd and Belinda, their future queen, spoke briefly as well.
Xan watched the proceedings with Hon at his side and Sheba nearby. He’d declined to address the crowd, explaining that the focus should be on Artorius, not him. Looking over the stadium, he saw Vida and Leif, in a cluster of other youths.
“Vida is always the life of the party,” Hon said, following his gaze. “Leif has other friends; I’ve seen it myself—now that they’ve gotten to know him, given him half a chance, the others genuinely like him. He’s awfully funny, you know?”
Xan raised a brow. “No, I didn’t know that.”
After a brief silence Hon leaned in against him. Sheba, lying at their feet gave a rumbling purr.
“It won’t be long before I send for you,” Xan said. “Once Cavalon is secure we’ll want Belinda, the twins, and Leif there. You’ll come along, of course, and likely Vida.”
“Most likely,” she agreed. “What happens then?”
“Sheba and I will remain for a time, to ensure things are stabilized.”
“And after that?” She laced her fingers in his.
Xan smiled faintly. “We’ll discuss things in Cavalon, once Artorius is king.”
The Alpha Team met no resistance either approaching or entering the city of Cavalon, but they took no chances. Artorius, Roghaar, and Xan were positioned in the middle of four hundred men with Sheba patrolling their perimeter.
Three groups of rangers scouted ahead and to each side, giving special attention to any elevated place from which arrow or crossbow attacks could be launched. Two of the king’s assassination teams were ambushed and eliminated as they went, but no others challenged them. Zortiger had sent most of his soldiers into the previous battle; most of those that remained seemed to be defending the castle.
As they moved through the city, it became quickly evident that most citizens had read or heard about Artorius’ proclamation. Groups lined the street, cheering them as they passed by.
Builders were commissioned to secretly construct a portable platform eight cubits high, and some ladders. The castle walls were twelve cubits high, too far for Sheba to clear from the ground. She could, however, mount the platform and leap to the wall top from there.
Roghaar and part of the army approached the front gate, retreated, and approached again, keeping the Cavalon soldiers occupied. On the castle’s east end, well out of sight, a squad of Sagal soldiers moved the platform into position near the wall. Sheba launched herself from the platform to the top of the wall and eliminated a few guards who came running.
Many of the Alpha Team ascended from the platform with ladders and begin fighting their way to the gate, with Sheba and Xan leading the way. As soon as the gate could be cracked open, Artorius and Roghaar lead an attack through the gate. With forces attacking from within and without, the castle was soon secured.
As a hundred men stood guard over the disarmed prisoners, Xan, Sheba, Artorius, and Roghaar, and part of the Alpha Team began searching for the king. They encountered small pockets of resistance throughout the castle, but each was quickly quelled and soon they reached the throne room and found it deserted.
They interrupted the search long enough to get to the dungeon to free political prisoners, as had been done in Merker. Two guards with spears stood at the entranceway, and one lunged forward to meet them, weapon raised. Xan knocked the spear aside with his staff, rotated his body, and struck the guard’s head with the staff, knocking him from his feet. Sheba bit the other guard’s spear in half and pounced, making quick work of him.
Artorius nodded approval, taking a set of keys from a nearby hook. When the door opened Sheba rushed in. A flurry of crossbow bolts met her, fired by the guards within, but each bolt glanced away, repelled by her armor.
Stunned, each guard lowered his bow momentarily, but as Xan and the rest appeared they raised them again. They were outnumbered and only fighting out of fear, so defeating them was really no contest.
“How many more?” Artorius demanded, pinning the captain against the wall.
“None, my lord…I swear.”
Artorius released him, and Roghaar began securing all the weapons as the Alpha Team restrained each guard. All of them begged for mercy, wanting liberty from the king. They’d heard of or read Artorius’ proclamation as well, it seemed.“You’ll each have the opportunity for that, once we oust the king,” Xan told them, raising his staff, though none of them knew what that meant.
Torture devices, found in the dungeon, explained the wounds and injuries that some of the prisoners bore. Each prisoner had a story to tell, fraught with anguish and sorrow, but there were also tears of joy, at finally being freed. Artorius recognized several prominent men among the prisoners, prone to speak out for freedom and justice, men he’d been out of touch with for quite some time.
Once the prisoners were free, the Alpha Team resumed their search for the king. Xan, Sheba, and Roghaar went through many corridors, stairways, and rooms, but the king was nowhere to be found. At last, they made their way to the keep—the last possible refuge for Zortiger.
They’d seen a battering ram at one point in their search, and Roghaar sent members of the Alpha Team to fetch it. Along the way, they’d seen an impressive weapon storeroom, and Roghaar had claimed a hefty battle axe for himself.
While they waited for the Alpha Team’s return, Roghaar tested the battle axe with mighty swings at the keep door. It trembled in its frame but held, and the hardwood showed little damage. Sheba moved in to sniff at the base crack, ears twitching then paced back to Xan.
The king cowers inside. I can smell and hear him. The last of his guards are in there with him, poised for attack.
When the Alpha Team returned with the battering ram, they lined up and charged on Roghaar’s signal. Backing they charged again and again. The door splintered at last, and the next impact broke through. Sheba surged forward, past the men, and into a shower of arrows that were deflected by her armor.
Then the screaming started, as Sheba struck down many of the king’s men. Dropping the battering ram, the Alpha Team drew their swords and followed Xan with his staff and Roghaar with the battle axe. Sheba terrified the guards even more than Roghaar’s axe, and they offered feeble resistance before surrendering.
Some of the Alpha Team marched them all out of the keep, through the castle, and down to the dungeon. King Zortiger was nowhere to be seen, but Sheba picked up his scent and moved out ahead, up a steep flight of stairs to the uppermost level. Xan and Roghaar followed, taking two steps at a time, emerging into a passage with a heavy velvet curtain on the far wall.
Sheba tore it down with a swipe of her paw to reveal King Zortiger backed against the wall. He had a sword and raised it, but Sheba batted it away and lunged. He shrieked as she took him by the nape of the neck and dragged him, kicking and flailing down the passage where she dropped him at Xan’s feet.
Scrambling up, trembling with a beet-red face, he cried, “I am the king and demand to be treated with respect. I rule by the divine right of kings which cannot be taken from me.”
Xan regarded him with disgust. He was a small, pudgy man with pig-like eyes and a double chin. His brown hair was thinning, his nose riddled with veins and his voice carried an irritating nasal tone.
“Many have testified that you are a tyrant, a torturer, and a murderer. By these actions and many other evils, you have forfeited any right to lead. The cause of freedom demands that your rein as king come to an end,” he declared.
Zortiger turned purple with rage and charged toward Xan, pulling from his cloak a jeweled dagger. Sheba’s paw moved so fast it was a mere blur and the king flew sideways in a spray of blood and gore smashing lifeless against the nearest wall.
A few days later, Xan, Hon, Roghaar, Artorius, Belinda, and selected colleagues, gathered in the throne room. It had been determined that those present would serve as advisors and councilors to King Artorius, and they all desired a set of principles or articles, to ensure ongoing liberty for all.
After discussion, Xan proposed the following nine articles which were officially accepted and adopted as laws of the land:
- The king is the presiding leader and nominates councilors to help govern.
- New nominations are to be approved by the council.
- The king and council agree on and administer laws that preserve order and freedom.
- All leaders and citizens are required to obey the law and protect freedom.
- Leaders, including the king, who violate the law and fail to protect freedom shall be deposed by the council.
- If the king dies or is deposed, the most senior counselor will rule in his stead.
- The king and council will be in charge of the military which will always stand ready to defend freedom.
- Guards will protect key leaders and their families at all times.
- The God-given rights to speak freely and bear arms shall never be violated.
Xan and Artorius knew there were other dukes not dedicated to freedom. Artorius vowed to continue the fight to protect freedom and implement the nine Articles of Government throughout the realm.
© Copyright 2017-2023 Gene Van Shaar
Gene Van Shaar is a master teacher whose lessons and stories have generated both laughter and tears. He has written many articles and books, some of which can be found here.