THE KING'S COMMAND
In the palace gardens, surrounded by flowers and birds and beauty, Torin met the King of Arden to discuss a war.
"Torin!" said the king, walking down a garden path. "It's good to see you, son."
Despite the welcoming words, no warmth filled Ceranor's voice. His face remained hard, the lips down turned in a perpetual frown, the eyes cold and black. Torin knew to expect this; his father had often told tales of how King Ceranor never laughed, never smiled, never drank, and never seemed to enjoy anything but a good scowl. Torin had not seen the man in years, not since the king had visited Fairwool-by-Night for Teramin Greenmoat's funeral. Aside from a little more gray in his hair, he hadn't changed.
He wasn't much older than me when my father saved his life, Torin reflected. He could have died in the snow decades ago, skull shattered by a Verilish hammer. And yet this man lives on, and my father lies dead.
Torin made to kneel, but Ceranor grabbed his shoulders, tugged him up, and gripped his arm. He nodded firmly.
"Come now, you need not kneel before me," he said. "I am a king now and you a gardener, but we are both soldiers at heart."
Torin wasn't so sure about that, but he only bowed his head. "Your Highness, it's good to see you too."
The king scrutinized him. "You've grown since I last saw you. You look like your father."
Torin laughed weakly. "My father, they said, stood taller than every man in Arden's army. I'm short and too thin." His laughter died, and he took a deep breath. "Your Highness, I have so much to say. I came here as fast as I could. I . . ."
He didn't know where to start. So many words rose in his mouth they jammed, leaving him speechless. Should he begin by accusing Ferius of masterminding a war? Should he argue for peace? Should he plead that the king send men to free Bailey from the dungeon?
"I know, son," Ceranor said. "You don't have to speak. I know why you're here." The king sighed and they began walking down a pebbly path between hedges. "I know of your friend Bailey. I know of your conflict with Ferius. I know of what happened at Fairwool-by-Night. We'll sort this mess out."
Torin blurted out, "What happened at Fairwool could have been avoided. I don't know what Ferius told you, but I know what I saw. The man is a snake. He goaded the Elorians again and again like a man goads a war dog before a fight. He lusts for war; all his work in our village has been to start one. My king, war need not happen. We can still achieve peace with the Elorians."
The king stopped by a hedge of peonies, watching a bumblebee fly from flower to flower. "Torin, war is already upon us. I've met with the other Sunlit Kings here in our city, and we've all agreed: The threat of Eloria must finally be dealt with." He turned his cold, hard eyes upon Torin. "We will march into their darkness and we will defeat them. This cannot be avoided."
Torin froze. He couldn't even gasp. All the greenery, flowers, and beauty around him darkened. He felt as if he stood back in the dusk.
"My king!" he said. "You cannot do this! I've seen an Elorian. I've fought one. I know we can make peace with them. Don't let Ferius poison your mind--"
"My mind is my own," the king said sternly, but then his voice softened. "Torin, son, I hate war more than anyone. I have fought wars before. I fought in the snows of Verilon with your father. I fought the Nayans in their southern jungles. I fought the Magerians, the most ruthless of our enemies, in these very gardens. I do not lust for battle, but neither will I fear one. Your father fought bravely as well; he did not fear to fight."
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