Lords of Freedom is an exciting new novel including adventure, realistic action, surprising insights, and a touch of romance. This is the concluding chapter. Prior chapters can be found here. Additional information can be found here.
Lords of Freedom—Chapter 33—Back to the Heart
Once the city had settled down, a royal assemblage was called, to formally introduce Artorius and Belinda as king and queen. The gathered crowd accepted them with gusto, clapping and cheering, chanting Long live our king. The nine Articles of Government, written on a scroll by Leif to be prominently displayed in the castle were then presented. Roghaar read them aloud, his tenor voice booming through the grand ballroom, and those gathered approved unanimously. After that a banquet was served, followed by music and dancing.
Xan and Sheba remained in Cavalon for several months, to teach correct principles and train those tasked with guarding key leaders and their families. Knowing that the new kingdom might need additional resources, Xan gave Artorius some of the remaining gold from the deposit near the underground lake.
During that time the people grew quite fond of Sheba. The great cat did not speak to many, but certain children talked to her and showered her with love which she seemed to enjoy very much.
Xan and Hon spent every spare minute together, reminiscing about past adventures and considering future plans. He spoke, often and at length, of his home and friends in the Heart of Freedom, as well as describing his appointment as Royal Guardian and Sheba’s as Regal Guardian.
Hon believed every word and at one point said, “One day I’d love to see the Heart of Freedom for myself, with you as my guide.”
They were in the castle gardens, walking hand in hand along a cobblestone path, admiring the flowers and shrubbery as they went. The sun was just setting, painting the sky in vivid hues as it dipped closer to the horizon. A light breeze stirred, and Hon breathed in deeply, enjoying the fragrance in the air.
Xan stopped, turning her to face him. “How about visiting the Heart of Freedom with me as your husband?”
Hon stood speechless, searching his face with her gaze.
He sank to one knee, still holding her hand. “Will you marry me, Honbria?”
“Of course I will,” she said with a breathless smile, pulling him to his feet.
Under a full glowing moon and a sky full of stars they kissed. Then they headed back to the castle with happy minds and hearts. Xan, Hon, and Sheba would depart Cavalon soon, bound for the Heart of Freedom, and intended to stop in Merker on their way.
Vida remained in Cavalon with Leif. She wasn’t ready yet to return to Merker, having enjoyed both Sagal and Cavalon, but she’d also missed her family in the time she’d been gone.
Xan and Artorius said their goodbyes as well, though much more formally. They’d begun as strangers, progressed to allies, and now parted as true friends. Each had the utmost respect for the other and agreed to meet up, from time to time. Roghaar joined in with them—another stranger turned ally, now friend. He promised to keep an eye out for Vida, whether she liked it or not, and jokingly insisted Xan swear the same concerning Honbria.
Xan agreed to that, good-naturedly as he and Roghaar left the castle. As they walked, Xan pondered the return to the Heart of Freedom, in particular crossing the underground lake. There was every chance of another serpent waiting to intercept them, but this time, with Hon on board the ship with him, he wanted to take no chances.
“Is there some sort of poison around, to dip an arrow into?” he asked.
Roghaar looked over and then nodded. “Plenty, in the weapons store.”
“Meet me there; I’ll just fetch Honbria and her arrows.”
Once there, Xan gave both Roghaar and Hon a cursory overview of the underground lake and the deadly serpents swimming in its depths. Understanding dawned for both, and without delay, Hon dipped seven arrow tips into the lethal substance, wrapped them in soft leather, and tucked them back in place.
Thus, with all goodbyes and well wishes made, as prepared as they could be, Xan, Hon, and Sheba departed Cavalon. The journey through the wilderness to Merker was peaceful and happy, including reflection on all they’d accomplished.
Xan was confident that Artorius, Sergio, and those they appointed would be great leaders and defenders of freedom. They discussed what Artorius termed the round table for his council meetings, thinking it symbolic of the open discussion so crucial in upholding freedom and prosperity.
Sergio and Loris were most pleased to learn of Hon and Xan’s engagement when they arrived at last in Merker. Dawn’s leg had healed completely by that time, and Hon took her for a ride the following morning at…well at dawn. Xan rode with her on another horse and Sheba loped alongside, ranging out ahead and circling back as they went. They rode into the hills, and Hon showed Xan the various spots where Sergio had taught her to shoot a bow as a little girl. They also visited the pond where Dexter and the other beavers had met their doom, and Hon pointed out the towering tree where Vida had hidden, attempting to escape the city.
Then, around noon they bid farewell to Sergio and Loris and continued on their way, deeper into the wilderness and into the secret canyon. Hon was awed by the beauty and majesty around her, not to mention the steep, unforgiving terrain.
Xan shared with her his first trek along this route, being stalked by a huge mountain cat, clearly capable of killing him with ease but never quite getting around to it. In fact, said cat saved his life several times, from the poisonous snakes and later from the herd of wild boar. Hon hiked alongside him breathlessly, both from exertion and from the inherent suspense of his tale.
At last, they emerged into the clearing of the healing spring. Hon had never been to any place like it and marveled at the beauty and peace all around. It was a sacred spot, she sensed, tucked away from the rest of the world, accessible only to those meant to find it.
They cleaned up, refilled their canteens and vials, and proceeded toward the hidden cave. After crawling through the thorn bush, with a few scratches and scrapes for their trouble, Xan knocked on the stone door as he had in the beginning.
Hon gasped when it transformed into a doorway. She was stunned by the underground lake and the waiting ship. Xan had told her about the lake and that there would be a ship waiting there, but still she was amazed. Staring hard at the lapping water, she wondered about the serpents he’d spoken of, reaching for a poisoned arrow in her stash.
Sheba sprang onto the ship first, followed by Xan who then reached to help Hon aboard. Then he snapped his long knife onto the end of his staff, making it a spear as he had the tree limb before. Hon meanwhile notched a poisoned arrow in her bow.
Xan grasped the rudder and at once the ship moved away from the dock, bound for the opposite shore. Hon and Sheba stayed low and out of sight, each watching over the rail.
Honbria; look this way.
She turned at Sheba’s call to see the lake water roiling. Moments later a large reptilian head emerged from the depths, needle-sharp fangs visible as it surged toward the ship. Xan nodded when Hon looked over her shoulder and she stood, raising her bow and taking aim.
When the serpent closed to within thirty cubits she fired—a perfect shot, right into the beast’s left eye. It shrieked, which was a most disturbing sound from such an unlikely creature, causing Hon to step back from the rail. Already though, it was dying, thrashing in the water and sinking as the ship passed by. The trio on board gazed at each other with respect and love: they’d defeated the serpent and come out unscathed.
On the far shore, Xan docked the ship, and they moved into the starry tunnel, which was a marvel to Hon. Explaining that they were moving between worlds Xan reassured Hon that all would be well. Trusting him completely, she continued in stride, braced to enter the Hall of Truth, to see with her own eyes the gods Thoth, Maat, and Sekhmet.
Dazzled by the room they stepped into, Hon reached for Xan’s hand. Her gaze roved across the room, locking on the throne where Thoth, Maat, and Sekhmet awaited. Their splendor exceeded her wildest imaginings, and instinctively she bowed her head.
“You have done well, Alexandros,” Thoth said. “Welcome home.”
Xan bowed his head as well. “This is…”
“Honbria, of course,” Sekhmet said with a cordial nod.
Maat gave an approving smile. “You too have done well, my dear, and are welcome here.”
Sheba padded up, pausing before Thoth and Maat and then circling to sit beside Sekhmet who reached to scratch her ears. Sheba closed her eyes briefly with an audible purr.
“You and Xan have faithfully fulfilled your mission, Sheba,” Thoth said. “Xan faced many dangers and could have died several times were it not for you.”
Sheba yawned, displaying her impressive fangs—her way of graciously acknowledging the praise.
The main door opened, admitting Jartan and Solomon who strode to welcome Xan with open arms. He introduced Hon to them both, explaining that Jartan was his teacher in the art of combat and Solomon the mentor he’d told her about.
“It’s wonderful to meet both of you at last,” Hon said, shaking each man’s hand in turn. “I hope we’ll have the chance to get better acquainted.”
“We will,” Jartan assured her. “I look forward to it in fact.”
“As do I,” Solomon said. “I will escort you both back to Xan’s home; then we’ll meet back here tomorrow for your mission report. Is that suitable, Jartan?”
“Yes; that will do for me. Thoth…Maat?”
“Of course,” Thoth said. “Both of them need to rest and freshen up.”
“Will there be a need for testing Honbria with the Scale of Truth?” Sekhmet asked. “If so, perhaps we should conduct the test now.”
“There is no need for that test with Honbria,” Maat said. “She has been tested sufficiently with the Staff of Truth and by standing so stalwartly with Xan.”
With that, Solomon led Xan, Hon, and Sheba out of the Hall of Truth and through the city. Hon was thrilled with all that she saw and was greeted warmly by Fredrik when they reached Xan’s home.
Fredrik arranged for dinner while Xan gave Hon a tour of the home and property. She felt like she had gone to heaven. They talked for a few hours after dinner and Fredrik escorted Hon to a nearby guest house which had been prepared for her.
At mid-morning the next day the three Lords of Freedom―Thoth, Maat, and Sekhmet, five humans―Xan, Hon, Solomon, Jartan, Fredrik, and one feline―Sheba, met in the Hall of Truth for the mission report. Once all were gathered and settled in their seats, Thoth called the meeting to order.
“We are aware of how your mission went, Xan, and know it was successful, but we would like you to recount the high points for us now.”
Xan did so, taking an hour and a half. Sheba and Hon added details here and there, giving a clear picture of what had transpired. During that time the Lords asked insightful questions and mentioned that they would follow up on a few details later. At the end of the account, each of the three Lords stood and hugged Xan, Hon, and Sheba.
Then, standing side by side the trio intoned: “Well done, thou good and faithful servants. Let freedom ring forevermore.”
New missions loomed in the near future for Xan, Sheba, and now Honbria. Training would commence several weeks after Xan and Honbria’s wedding. In connection with their coming mission, Sekhmet revealed the fact that additional gifts would be required to ensure their success. Jartan explained that study was in order, along with the mastery of new skills having to do with rudimentary firearms. Neither Xan nor Honbria had any idea what this would entail, but both were willing and eager to learn.
In the meantime, with Fredrik’s help, wedding plans began in earnest.
© 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.