The Last Tale of Yajikali

Interlude I

by Charles Matthias

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

“And that, I fear,” Laurence said, his voice strangely subdued, “is all I have for tonight.”

Lord Erick Matthias nearly bolted to his feet to protest his uncle’s ceasing. There was certainly much more of this tale to be told. How could he stop now!

“But what happened to Grandpa Charles?” one of Erick’s young boys asked with wide eyes. The sire of their clan, Charles Matthias, was several generations removed from any of his living descendants, but they all still called him Grandfather.

Laurence smiled to the boy, and stroked his grey muzzle with one finger. “What happened indeed! You will learn. Tomorrow, I will tell you more of the story.”

“And what about the priest!” another of the children asked.

“Please tell us more!” the boy begged.

“Yes, more!” chorused the other children. A moment later Laurence was surrounded by all of the little rats begging for more of the tale. Laurence could not help but laugh and pat the heads of the closest.

“Fear not, for you will learn, yes, you will learn.”

The storyteller’s words did not satisfy the children as their begging only increased. Erick shared their desire to hear more, but was beginning to feel embarrassed by their behaviour. His children were old enough to be dignified, especially in front of a foreign diplomat!

But where he would rebuke them with sharp words, his wife Lise was far wiser. She rose and swept amongst the little rats and touched several of them gently with her paws. “Come children, it is time for you to clean up and go to bed. Your Uncle Laurence will tell you more of the story tomorrow.”

The children were disappointed, but with a little more coaxing, they said their goodnights to Laurence, Erick, and the diplomat. Lise hurried them along and chased them from the room. Kalder watched all with a polite grin on his face. When the last of the youths had been led from the great hall, he burst into pleased laughter.

“What sweet children! And how many of them art thine, milord?”

Erick chuckled a bit and felt his whiskers twitch. “Four. The rest are nieces and nephews.” He glanced back at the dark furred storyteller who was now reclining against the steps with a satisfied smile upon his grey snout. “So, are you trying to keep all of these events organized by when they happened, or have you moved them around to heighten the tension?”

Laurence lifted his eyes dubiously and regarded his nephew with mild amusement. “Every word I spoke was the truth! Would you ever doubt a true storyteller to recount things that were made up? No, the greatest tales of our world are those that have happened!” He began to smile with elderly mischief. “If you would like me to tell another true tale to amuse our friend Kalder, then I can tell him a tale of your youth, nephew.”

Erick grunted and waved one paw, laughing politely. “Ah, that will not be necessary, uncle.” He had a pretty good idea which one Laurence referred to as well. He’d never be able to live down the incident with the pony, the waterwheel and his mother’s linens.

Kalder was polite enough not to laugh at the rat’s embarrassment. But he did rise to his feet and stretch his muscles. “Thou truly art a masterful storyteller, Laurence of the Narrows! I hope that milord wilt allow me the honour of hearing the rest of thy tale.”

“Of course,” Erick replied as he began to stretch his sore muscles. He looked for Timothy, but his cousin had already left. Quite suddenly, Lord Matthias realized that apart from the guards every one else was gone. “If I didn’t know better, I would say that your tale has scared them off.”

“It is late,” Lise announced as she reentered the room. “And it is not just our children who should be seeking rest.”

Erick nodded to her and inclined his head to the diplomat. “My wife speaks truly. I will have my Steward arrange quarters for you to stay the night.”

Kalder smiled and bowed his head. The amulet he wore to protect him from the curses slipped free of his tunic and dangled from his neck. “When shalt thee begin thy tale anew, master storyteller?”

Laurence leaned back and stretched his arms. “In the morning after I have something to eat.” His large ears twisted at the sound of hooves approaching.

When the doors opened, Erick saw his Steward Robert. The donkey was accompanied by a young woman dressed in the Hassan blue. “Milord,” Robert said with a wry grin of amusement on his equine lips, “a messenger has just arrived from his majesty. He begs your pardon for intruding so late at night.”

Erick waved one paw and took a step closer, making sure that his doublet was straight. “It is never late when there is news from his majesty, Eli bless his reign.” The rat turned to the woman and smiled. She was taller than he by a full foot, and had her brown hair tied back in a pony tail. Under one arm she held a scroll case bearing the royal seal of the King. “Since it is late, I will offer you a place to stay the night as well, good rider. That is unless your mission requires you to return to Metamor.”

She shook her head, bright blue eyes weary. “Thank you, milord. I would be grateful for a place to sleep the night. His majesty bade me deliver this message to you, but did not instruct me further.”

Erick took the case in his paws and with a twist broke the seal. Inside he found a small bit of parchment. He emptied it into his paws and quickly scanned the text.

Lord Erick Matthias,

It has come to my attention that your uncle, the venerable Laurence who served as Head of the Writer’s Guild for many years, has now finished compiling his greatest tale. I recall with fervent aplomb the manner in which he used to whisper snatches of the history surrounding both our families and of how each played into the story that he always yearned to tell. Long have I hoped for his sake that one day his story would be finished and we could all hear what he has spent the whole of his life to build.

And now I have learned that his year long sojourn in Cheskych has rewarded him with the missing pieces to his tale. What is more, he is at present telling it to you and your family. You are truly honoured to have Laurence as your uncle, for I have known no better jongleur in all my days. And one day soon I will be delighted to have him regale me with the beginning of this tale, for I mournfully regret missing it.

I will be joining you in the morning tomorrow. I look forward with all alacrity to the remainder of Laurence’s tale.

King Albert Hassan IV

Erick swallowed heavily. He glanced once to his uncle, then to his wife, and finally to his Steward. The donkey returned the gaze expectantly. They had been close friends in their youth and that friendship persisted to this day, even if Robert was maddeningly formal around others. “Robert, if you would be so kind as to prepare a room for our distinguished guest, and another for his majesty’s messenger.”

“Ambassador Kalder’s quarters have already been arranged, milord Erick.” The corner of his muzzle twitched in a sly grin. “I will see to Dahlia’s quarters immediately.”

Erick held up one paw. “When you finish, I would like you to have some wine brought up to my chambers. I will need a bit of a drink before I slumber this evening. And then you need to ready his majesty’s quarters as well. He will be coming here tomorrow.”

“King Albert? Here?” Lise asked in surprise. Already her husband could see plans forming in her eyes. By dawn, the great hall would be far more magnificently decorated.

Laurence was already chuckling in self-satisfaction when Erick’s gaze settled upon him. “That’s right. It appears he wishes to hear your story too, uncle.” Erick crossed his arms. “I do not know how he found out, but I would be willing to wager that more riders than my cousin were sent out this morning.”

“You would win your wager, nephew,” Laurence agreed with a twinkle in his eye. There was delightful mischief there. He may have been an old rat, but he was living proof that youth and vitality were no match for age and treachery. Slowly, he leaned forward, the posture maddening in its enticement. Erick could not help but lean forward eagerly waiting his uncle’s next words like some small awestruck child. “King Albert will not be the last to join us either. I told you this tale has touched many, many lives.”

He leaned back and yawned, stretching his arms. “But it is late, and I must have my sleep. Good night, nephew, Lise. I will see you in the morning. Make sure the yolk in my eggs are fully cooked this time too.” And with that little flourish, the storyteller climbed from his perch and left the hall through one of the side doors.

Robert chuckled under his breath and then excused himself. The messenger Dahlia followed after him, leaving Lise and Erick alone in the hall. She sighed heavily in exasperation, and her peach coloured ears drooped from weariness. “Your uncle is completely incorrigible.”

Erick nodded and slid one arm over her shoulder and behind her neck. “That he is. But I guess that’s why we love him so much. Shall we get some sleep?”

“You go on ahead,” Lise suggested. “I have a few things to do first.”

They kissed before parting. He idly wondered whether she’d have the red or the purple draperies hung in the alcoves when he woke.

There was so much to do before King Albert arrived that Erick completely forgot to check what colour the draperies were. It was not until he was mounted on his pony alongside his wife Lise at the Tree Gate awaiting his majesty’s arrival that he recalled his amusing speculation. Not wanting to embarrass himself, he leaned his head over and admired his wife’s satin blue dress.

“That’s a lovely hue,” Erick said, his whiskers twitching. Lisa’s dark eyes quickly scanned his face, and a small smile crept over her lips. She had to know he wanted to ask something else. They had been married long enough that he recognized the signs.

“Thank you, love. I made sure the children were also well dressed.”

Erick chuckled lightly. His children had risen two hours before sunrise demanding that he make uncle Laurence continue the story. He’d begged Laurence to keep them occupied, and the storyteller agreed to regale them with some other minor adventure while they waited for the King to appear.

And then he’d spent the rest of the morning preparing the welcoming party for his sovereign. At least once a year Albert Hassan spent a day or two in the Narrows inspecting Lord Matthias’s lands. It had only been a month since his last visit, and so the rats were unprepared for another. But his soldiers knew well the protocol, and after some furious shining that morning, they stood with gleaming breastplate and shield in a pair of lines along the road, each line twenty men long. On the battlements overhead two trumpeters stood ready to signal the King’s arrival. The soldiers with them held the grey banner of the rat of the Narrows aloft. A light breeze kept the flags unfurled.

And sitting on horseback between the lines outside the Tree Gate were Erick and Lise, his cousin Timothy, and Kalder the Vysehrad diplomat. Standing on his own hooves was his Steward Robert. The donkey was tall enough that the tips of his ears reached to Erick’s shoulder. It was not a grand spectacle, but it was the most Lord Matthias could put together on such short notice.

“So,” Erick began again, “I never had the chance to ask you this earlier, but what colour of draperies did you have displayed in the main hall? The red or the purple?”

Lise lifted one paw to her muzzle to hide the chuckle that wished to escape her lips. Her peach-coloured ears folded back against her head. “Neither. I chose the Hassan blue.”

“Cousin,” Timothy called, pointing with one arm down the road.

Erick lifted his eyes and smiled despite his chagrin. In the distance he could see the royal banner rising up the hillside. It looked like a relatively small party for the King to travel in, with perhaps only a single complement of Knights to accompany him and his coterie of advisers.

Metamor Valley was not nearly as dangerous as it was in the time of Laurence’s tale, but it was still a surprise to see his majesty take such a risk – especially for a story!

“Ready trumpeters,” Erick called over his shoulder. He put on a proud smile, as did his wife and cousin. Kalder was more circumspect, but he too bore a grin.

The soldiers all gripped their spears tightly, pinions snapping in the breeze. A moment later, the trumpeters let forth a noble paean, announcing to all in the Matthias Keep of their sovereign’s arrival. Erick sat taller in his saddle and sucked in his breath.

As the company of knights slowed, the four that rode in front spread out to one side, allowing the King to move forward to greet his vassals. Upon seeing his majesty, Erick and his family lowered their heads in a reverent bow. Ambassador Kalder merely inclined his head respectfully.

“Greetings, Erick!” Albert Hassan called in a loud voice. Erick lifted his face and smiled at his King. Albert was a stallion like all in his line. His hide was a deep roan and he complemented it with an elegant burgundy doublet and hose. A chain hung about his neck with the Metamorian seal resting against his thick chest. Broad of shoulder and already quite tall without the steed between his legs, Albert towered over the rats. His unusually long ears made him twice in height to the Lord of the Narrows.

“Welcome to the Narrows, your majesty. Your usual suite has been prepared for you during your stay.”

Albert did not nod, but his eyes gave ascent to the rat’s words. “Good morning, Lady Lise. Ambassador Kalder, I am not surprised to find you still here. I am given to understand that this story Laurence Matthias has prepared concerns your lands as well.”

“The legends of my kingdom it doth speak of, your majesty,” Kalder replied. “I wilt gladly delay the remainder of our deliberations to hear what is left of this tale.”

Albert let out a high-pitched laugh that almost had the character of a donkey’s bray. “Of course you may stay to listen. I have no desire to attend to such business now either. I and many others are very interested in hearing this tale. Lord Matthias, you will need to prepare more rooms, for I have brought guests with me.”

For the first time, Erick was able to stare past his liege to see those who had accompanied him. The first was a red panda whom he recognized as Prime Minister Ryman Ertham. He bore the customary blue of the Hassan family even if the King did not. His chain was heavy around his neck, and his tail looked as if it had been in a fight with a door that morning. But after knowing him for several years, Erick recognized this as Ryman on a good day.

Behind the Prime Minister were two other individuals whose presence was quite surprising. The black robed priest was familiar enough. Father Rouse of the Questioners had been at Metamor Keep for many long years now, but would rarely leave the Keep. Having become a bright yellowish green tree frog had not worked in his favour in the cool clime of the Valley, but he did his best to serve the Ecclesia. It was warm enough that he did not look uncomfortable, except for the fact that his legs made it hard for him to ride.

The last figure Erick did not recognize at all. She was tall and elegant, with sharp pointed ears and pearl grey skin. She wore a tabard of shimmering blue and silver, while a sword with sapphires ingrained in the hilt protruded behind her head. The handle appeared to have been moulded to fit her hand perfectly. Erick had rarely seen such craftsmanship.

“You know Father Rouse,” Albert said by way of introduction.

“Of course, it is good to see you again, Father,” Erick smiled to the priest.

Rouse spread his wide lips and croaked. “And you, Lord Erick.”

“I do not believe you have met Sinhåsa el-Abarei,” Albert gestured to the strange being on his right. “She recently arrived from the Åelfwood, and is to be their new Ambassador. She has come to hear this tale too.”

“You are most welcome in our house, honoured lady,” Erick bowed his head, unsure if there were any ritual greetings he should give to one of the Åelf. He knew of them, but had only ever met one other, and then only at a banquet years ago.

“I thank you, Lord Matthias for your hospitality.” Her voice was like silk lathered in honey – sweet and sensuous at the same time.

Erick blushed a bit and then gestured to his family. “With me are my wife the Lady Lise, and my cousin Timothy. My uncle Laurence waits for us in the main hall.”

“Lead on, Erick, I am anxious to hear this tale,” Albert announced.

“Of course, your majesty.”

They proceeded into the first bailey with the rats finding it difficult to say anything at all. The townsfolk were all lining the street to watch the King pass by. Many were shouting his name and throwing flowers before their horses. Albert waved to them all and stood proud in the saddle. It was not until they had dismounted and passed through Sun’s Gate onto the courtyard before Erick’s audience chambers that they were able to speak again.

“I’m surprised you did not bring your son and daughter,” Erick pointed out.

Albert nodded and crossed his hands behind his back just above his tail. “They are both still too young to travel far. In another year or two I would have brought them, but not yet. They will be well enough without me for a few days.”

Or their mother, Erick thought to himself. The Queen had passed away suddenly last year, and there was still a bit of melancholy in the King’s heart. “My children are thoroughly enjoying the tale so far. It is the reason that Laurence was unable to greet you at the gate. I told him to tell the children another story while we waited for you.”

Albert began to laugh again. “Good. Good. Oh, Count Floran will be joining us later today. He expressed interest in hearing the tale, but lamented that he had a matter to attend to this morning.”

Erick snorted and rolled his eyes. “Meaning he did not wish to accompany you like a vassal. Is he the best the Duke of Kelewair can send? I suppose I should have a room prepared for him too.”

“If his presence upsets you, then you should speak of it to your uncle. It was he who invited the good Count.”

Erick blanched and grunted. “I will have to ask him then.”

“Erick,” Lise chided softly, putting one paw on his arm. “You know your uncle does not do anything without reason.”

“Even if it seems like it half the time,” Timothy blurted with a rather arrogant grin crossing his snout.

“Very well, Robert, that is one more room you will need to ready for this evening.”

His Steward smiled and nodded his head. “Of course, milord.”

No more was said between them until they arrived in the main hall. Laurence’s voice echoed off the walls as he kept the children focussed on his cavorting form. He had drawn a cape over his shoulders and was even now holding one arm against his snout and stalking the children like some calculating monster. One eye noted Erick and the King’s entrance, and then the jongleur leapt forward, throwing wide the cape and shouting, “Ah ha!”

The children screamed in both terror and delight, some of them jumping back a few paces! Laurence let the cape fall to his sides and he lowered his eyes. “And no one ever saw him again after that.” He smiled wickedly, and then bowed low. “Your majesty, thank you for coming on such short notice! I am honoured by your presence.”

Lise may be a Lady, but she was also a mother. Before Albert could reply, she had crossed to where the storyteller bowed and smacked him in the back of the head. “What are you doing telling my children such frightening stories? If they complain about nightmares I am going to make you wash their sheets for a month!”

Laurence did his best to appear dignified. He bowed even lower, that mischievous grin still etched into his muzzle. “I merely kept them entertained as you asked. I assure you, there are far worse nightmares they could have. What I told you all yesterday was far more frightening than any bit of buffoonery I may have told them this morning.”

“He’s probably right there,” Timothy added, clearly amused by his cousin’s wife.

Lise looked to her husband for support, but Erick could only shrug his shoulders. “All right, children, look who has come to visit. His majesty King Albert Hassan IV.”

At those words, all the children turned, and then fell to their knees as they had been trained. Albert smiled and nodded his head. “You are good subjects, I am proud of you all. You may be seated again.”

“I have prepared a seat for you, your majesty,” Robert announced, gesturing to a wide chair with several large cushions buttressing the back and the sides.

When Albert Hassan had taken his seat, everyone else found a place to sit. Erick found the Questioner frog at his back. For a moment he yearned to ask him something, but the words never found their way to his tongue. A few seconds later and it no longer mattered, as his uncle had returned to the centre of the room.

“Your majesty, milord, and all noble lords and ladies who have gathered here this day, I bring to you the next chapter in a tale that has forever changed the course of history. Three hundred years ago, great evil festered in our world. It began first at the Chateau Marzac. All who ventured there were corrupted by the evil that Yajakali brought forth. It captured first the man who owned the land, the Marquis Camille du Tournemire. The Marquis used his influence to bring others into his service, including Bishop Jothay of Eavey, Agathe of the Runecasters, and Krenek Zagrosek of the Sondeckis.

“Nor were they the Marquis’s only allies. With a magical deck of cards the Marquis bent others to his will. And with his words he tricked others into giving him what he wanted. And soon, his plan would come to fruition, a plan whose success would mean the end of all history.”

Laurence paused for a moment and stared them each in the eye. “But there were forces gathering that would stand against the Marquis and his allies. Forces from Metamor, from Yesulam, from the Steppe, and from Whales. They made ready to strike back and keep our world safe from the evil of the Underworld.

“This is their tale. Listen once more to all that happened three hundred years ago to bring an end to Yajakali!”

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

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