A guard then handed the queen an ancient axe with carved runes and scripture covering the entire surface of the massive blade and oak handle. She grabbed it with both hands and set the blade gently down on Arthen’s upper forearm so the metal gently kissed his skin.
“No, no, no! Please! Stop!” He had forgotten all his Stahlg. He had forgotten how he had got there in the first place. He had forgotten the bear. He had forgotten Booker, Frayne, and Oakley. Arthen looked at Talon at the edge of the room who looked too shocked to do anything.
“Stop!” Arthen cried again. He tried to invoke the harsh voice he had used against the bear, but he couldn’t muster it. It was still his regular voice. Nothing was coming. There was nothing to empower him.
But Arthen looked quickly around the room one more time and spotted a timid black bear near him. It stared straight at him in a glaze. Looking at it in its beady black eyes, Arthen said to it quietly, “Please help.” But he didn’t say it in his common tongue, or in any other common tongue of Alaun or Ovella for that matter. It was the same calming voice he had used with the horses back on the farm, but to the bear Arthen spoke in a speech that was like a heavy breath and would’ve been mistaken as a low grunt to anyone else.
The black bear’s eyelids relaxed a little and it’s brow furrowed. It understood.
In a tremendous sprint in a split second, the black bear barreled toward the queen, very much like its massive counterpart, crashing and knocking over old men in its path. The bear then stood up on its two legs and tackled the queen. Guards ran towards the chaos to defend their lady, but all the other bears around the room roared them back into place. A wave of fur rippled throughout the room as all bears then stood up on their hind legs making them tower over a sea of white haired men and helmeted guards. Menacing growls and stances made the men cower to stand still.
Then the black bear removed itself from atop of the queen and strolled over to Arthen. It took a sniff at Arthen’s right hand tied to the anvil. Its mouth made for the rope wrapped on the underside and gnawed at the bindings until they broke. The rope fell. Arthen retracted his arm back to his body immediately in a snap. Rubbing his wrist nervously, he stood up.
A guard off the wall of the room started to make more aggressive moves toward one of the bears and in turn made the bear roar and swipe at him.
“Calm, now,” Arthen said in the bear’s tongue. “There’s no need.”
The bear let out a soft cooing growl.
The first bear nudged Arthen’s shoulder comfortingly. “Thank you…” he said to it.
Arthen looked around the room now with an aura of control. Even with at least twenty armed men there would be no contest between them and a pack of unified mountain bears. Both guard and councilman stood frightened whether they were looking at their bear enforcer or looking at Arthen.
“My fr–my friends!” Arthen croaked in Stahlg. “I want my friends brought here.” He looked around the room. When none moved, Arthen turned to the queen on the ground. The queen gave him a blank look until the first black bear started to stroll back over to her. Then she turned her head quickly to the edge of the room and told one of her guards to retrieve them from the cells.
Arthen looked to the guard who had brought in Talon. “Release his bindings,” Arthen said in Stahlg. The guard looked at the queen for assurance. She nodded. He unshackled the cuffs around Talon’s wrists. When he was free, Talon looked at Arthen and Arthen beckoned him with a weak nod.
Arthen then took a seat on the floor right in front of the oak throne. He looked at the queen and gestured her to sit back in her place. The queen obliged and returned to her throne hesitantly. She looked at Arthen with a face covered with fear and curiosity, like an elk witnesses a campfire in the night. The black bear decided to stroll over to the queen’s throne with a presence of menace.
“I want–” Arthen said in Stahlg. He paused to close his mouth to avoid vomiting. He took a deep breath. “I want to leave–here.”
The queen said nothing. The black bear let out a snort. Then the queen said in a quavering voice, “My kin need saving.”
Arthen sighed. “I know. But I’m–” he paused to close his mouth again. “I can’t save you. I’m–I’m sorry.”
Talon was now strolling around the center of the room with a smug expression on his face as he looked around at all the Stahlg leadership. “Well, sure doesn’t feel very great does it?” he said quietly at them.
The guard had returned with Booker, Frayne and–to Arthen’s surprise–Oakley whom Arthen was curious as to why he was in jail among the Stahlgs in the first place. But seeing as they assumed Oakley was his friend, it would make sense. The guard unbound their hands.
“What’s going on?” Oakley said.
Arthen was about to reply when he finally vomited on the floor. Booker ran up to Arthen’s side to keep him from collapsing. He called out to one of the guards, “Your water! The boy needs it.”
“Wasser,” Arthen whispered to Booker.
“Wasser!” Booker cried out. The guard understood and came by with a waterskin. Booker took it and gave to Arthen who gulped what he could without feeling more sick.
“I’m getting them to let us go,” Arthen said to Booker quietly.
“I don’t want to dawdle. We need to just go. We’re in control.”
“Good. But if we’re in control, we need to at least try to do what we came here to do.”
“We have Oakley, don’t we?”
“Yes,” Booker sighed. “But now we have to do the job he came here to do.” He gave a disapproving glance to Oakley. “The diplomatic agreement. I’ll need your help translating if you’re still up for it.”
Arthen nodded, still a little wary of this diplomacy attempt ruining their current advantage.
Booker stood up and turned to Frayne. He nodded and the Ovellan came forward and stood beside his partner. “Oakley–would you like to join us?”
Oakley grunted and followed Frayne toward the center of the room.
The three men and Arthen then faced the Stahlg queen on her throne.
“Honorable Queen of Stahlgs,” Frayne said with his arm open. His head gave a courteous bow.
“We come here on behalf of our leader, Faust the Headhammer.”
Arthen gave a quick glance at the two of them in shock. But then turned back and translated.
“As you may know, he seeks friendship with your mighty people for his revolution against the tyranny of Breagan’s crown and his Council. He hopes his first envoy has notified you with all the details.”
Arthen translated. The queen gave a confused expression. Frayne turned to look up at Oakley who said, “Nope,” shaking his head.
“Well then,” Frayne continued. “It is Faust’s belief that all people of the east, of Ialnem and the people of the Starting Ring, should live together in a unified kingdom and his new government would see to the inclusion of your great tribe along with the other eight in this new society. For your help in the revolution you would be granted a designated plot of land in the new kingdom for your people to set up agriculture and flourish. Faust hopes that this enticing offer will intrigue you to a meeting with him in person to discuss more benefits for our cause and your people.”
When Arthen had finished translating Frayne’s words there was a silence. The queen gave no indication that she understood or heard anything.
“I don’t think this is going to work,” Arthen heard Frayne whisper to Oakley.
“Just give her–”
But then the queen gave a short dry laugh. “No!” she barked. They all stared at her. The queen’s eyes darted around the room at the bears still on guard. Then she started to talk to them in Stahlg.
When the queen had finished, Booker, Frayne, and Oakley turned to Arthen. “She said ‘Do you not see the state we are in? We have no business with a hell-land rebel. No thank you.’ Except she didn’t say the last part as politely as I did.”
Oakley stepped forward. “Listen, we all want the same thing! A better society. Yours could bring a sense of strength and old-world values to our new one.”
Arthen translated his words. The queen gave another harsh chuckle. She replied and Arthen translated. “‘This is a waste of our time. Ashsong’s vile fruit has broken our people. The Norrands invade southward against our northern Stahlgs. And the Water is reaching! It comes! We have worse things to worry about.’”
“Come on! Your tribe is the largest of the major tribes. If you join, the others will follow. We can help you! ” Oakley said. Arthen translated.
The queen replied and Arthen was reluctant to translate his answer. “‘Not in the ways that we need. Your Headhammer is a fool to think we are in a position to join a foreign war. We will do what we must to survive. We’ll send word to your Headhammer that he must send supplies of medicine and timber if he wants his envoys to return alive.’”
“Not very subtle, huh?” Frayne said under his breath.
“Come now!” Booker said. “It would not show good faith to a growing power like Faust if you killed his envoys!”
Arthen was growing more and more anxious the more he had to translate this conversation. Volley after volley built onto the growing tension of the argument with him being the conduit.
“Your lives are forfeit to us!” the Stahlg queen cried. Arthen stood in silence, too afraid to translate. Then suddenly the bears all around the room started a raucous choir of angry growls, reminding the Stahlg queen who was still in charge of the situation. Arthen knew, like all the animals he had communicated with in the past, the bears could feel his feelings of anxiety and were reciprocating an outward anger to the danger.
The queen seemed to get the point as she made nervous glances at the bears around the room like before. She then looked back to Arthen who returned a glare that sent a mental message of, “Just let us leave, and we all will make it out of here alive.”
The queen sighed and waved her hand away in a defeated manner.
“She’s letting us go,” Arthen told the others quietly.
“Good,” Booker breathed. “Very good, Gleim.”
Oakley stepped over to Arthen and told him, “Tell her I want to stay.”
Arthen looked at him. Oakley gave a firm nod. Then Arthen told the queen.
“No,” the queen replied nonchalantly, giving another defeated wave. “Leave.”
Oakley didn’t need a translation. He gave a heavy sigh. “Right.”
“Let’s leave,” Booker said beckoning them all to turn around.
“I’m with you?” Talon said, looking at Arthen.
“Yes. You don’t deserve here.” Arthen said weakly with a smile on his face.
Talon bore a genuine smile of his face to match. “I can’t believe it.”
As they made their way out of the room the queen spoke again. “No! He stays.” She didn’t say it in Stahlg though. She said it in their Alaun tongue with a very rough accent.
They all turned around. The queen was looking only at Arthen.
“I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“Your hand is the Gauntlet! Our salvation is from the Hand of God! If you save us, our people will follow you and love you until the Floods come. You will be the our true king and savior,” the queen said in Stahlg.
“Quiet you mountain-rat!” Talon shouted in Stahlg, sticking his finger out at her. “You don’t deserve any salvation. Just let the rock-rot break you all to extinction. We’re leaving!” Arthen could tell Talon had been holding something like this for a long time, long enough for it to burst out to the queen of the Stahlgs.
“I’m sorry,” Arthen said again to the queen one last time. He gave her one last look and turned to leave.
“Aufhoren!” the queen cried. All of her guards unsheathed rusted short swords and blocked the doorway out. The five of them halted as there were no ways of them fighting their way out. All of their belongings, including their weapons, had been taken from them.
The bears growled but the guards stood on the offensive.
“There’s no need for any bloodshed,” Booker said confidently with his hands held up.
“The only bloodshed will be yours. Enough of ours already! The boy is ours! Kill the envoys!”
A fierce jolt of fear rattled Arthen’s nerves at the queen’s words. He could feel the fur of all the bears in the room ripple and straighten as a wave of Arthen’s emotion broadcasted among the animals. In the next second, all the bears attacked whatever guards were nearest to them with claws and teeth ripping skin and metal. Loud yelps and blood bursted around the hall.
“Run!” Booker yelled. “Kill no one!”
Using the distraction of the commotion, Oakley and Frayne knocked out the two guards blocking them and pushed open the door. The five of them sprinted from the hall down the steps of the mountainside castle.
“Lead the way, Oakley!” Booker called.
“Right!” Oakley replied. “Turn around you idiot, it was an acknowledgement, not a direction!”