A Quest of Heroes (Chapter Ten)

MacGil sat in the banquet hall, watching over his subjects, he at one end of the table and Cloud at the other, and hundreds of men from both clans between them. The wedding revelries had been going on for hours, and finally, the tension between the clans had settled down from the day's jousting. As MacGil suspected, all the men needed was wine and meat – and women – to make them forget their differences. Now they all mingled at the same table, like brothers in arms. In fact, looking them over, MacGil could no longer even tell they were of two separate clans.

MacGil felt vindicated: his master plan was working after all. Already, the two clans seemed closer. He had managed to do what a long line of MacGil kings before him could not: to unify both sides of the ring, to make them, if not friends, then at least peaceful neighbors. He spotted his daughter, Luanda, arm in arm with her new husband, the McCloud prince, and she seemed content. His guilt lessened. He might have given her away – but he did, at least, give her a queenship.

MacGil thought back to all the planning that preceded this event, recalled the long days of arguing with his advisors. He had gone against the advice of all his counselors in arranging this union. He knew it was not an easy peace. He knew that, in time, the McLouds would settle in on their side of the Highlands, that this wedding would be long forgotten, and that one day they would stir with unrest. He was not naive. But now, at least, there was a blood tie between the clans – and especially when a child was born, that could not be so easily ignored. If that child flourished, and one day even ruled, a child born of two sides of the Ring, then perhaps, one day, the entire ring could be united, the Highlands would no longer be a border of contention, and the land could prosper under one rule. That was his dream. Not for himself, but for his descendants. After all, the Ring had to stay strong, needed to stay unified in order to protect the Canyon, to fight off the hordes of the world beyond. As long as the two clans remained divided, they presented a weakened front to the rest of the world.

"A toast," MacGil shouted, and stood.

The table grew quiet as hundreds of men stood, too, raising their casks.

"To the wedding of my eldest child! To the union of the MacGils and McClouds! To peace throughout the Ring!"

"HERE HERE!" came a chorus of shouts, and everyone drank and the room once again filled with the noise of laughter and feasting.

MacGil sat back and surveyed the room, looking for his other children. There, of course, was Godfrey, drinking with two fists, a girl on each shoulder, surrounded by his miscreant friends. This was probably the one royal event he had ever willingly attended. There was Gareth, sitting too closely to his lover, Firth, whispering in his ear; MacGil could see from his darting, restless eyes, that he was plotting something. The thought of it made his stomach turn, and he looked away. There, on the far side of the room, was his youngest son, Reece, feasting at the squires' table, with the new boy, Thor. He already felt like a son, and he was pleased to see his youngest was fast friends with him.

He scanned the faces for his younger daughter, Gwendolyn, and finally found her, sitting off to the side, surrounded by her handmaids, giggling. He followed her gaze, and noticed she was watching Thor. He examined her for a long time, and realized she was smitten. He had not foreseen this, and he was not quite sure what to make of it. He sensed trouble there. Especially from his wife.

"All things are not what they seem," came a voice.

MacGil turned to see Argon sitting by his side, watching the two clans dining together.

"What do you make of all this?" MacGil asked. "Will there be peace in the kingdoms?"

"Peace is never static," Argon said. "It ebbs and flows, like the tides. What you see before you is the veneer of peace. You see one side of its face. You're trying to force peace on an ancient rivalry. But there are hundreds of years of spilled blood. The souls cry out for vengeance. And that cannot be appeased with a single marriage."

"What are you saying?" MacGil asked, taking another gulp of his wine, feeling nervous, as he often did around Argon.

Argon turned and stared at him with an intensity so strong, it struck panic into MacGil's heart.

"There will be war. The McClouds will attack. Prepare yourself. All of the house guests you see before you will soon be doing their best to murder your family."

MacGil gulped.

"Did I make the wrong decision to marry her off to them?"

Argon was silent for a while, until finally he said: "Not necessarily."

Argon looked away, and MacGil could see that he was finished with the topic. He was disappointed, because there were a million questions he wanted answered: but he knew his sorcerer would not answer them until he was ready. So instead, he watched Argon's eyes, and realized that they were watching his other daughter. Gwendolyn. He looked, too, and saw Gwendolyn watching Thor.

"Do you see them together?" MacGil asked, suddenly curious to know.

"Perhaps," Argon answered. "There is still much yet to be decided."

"You speak in riddles."

Argon shrugged and looked away, and MacGil realized he wouldn't get any more from him.

"You saw what happened on the field today?" MacGil prodded. "With the boy?"

"I saw it before it happened," Argon replied.

"And what do you make of it? What are the source of the boy's powers? Is he like you?"

Argon turned and stared into MacGil's eyes, and the intensity of his stare almost made him look away.

"He is far more powerful than me."

MacGil stared back, shocked. He had never heard Argon speak like this.

"More powerful? Than you? How is that possible? You are the king's sorcerer – there is no one more powerful than you in all the land."

Argon shrugged.

"Power does not only come in one form," he said. "The boy has powers beyond what you can imagine. Powers beyond what he knows. He has no idea who he is. Or where he hails from."

Argon turned and stared at MacGil.

"But you do," he added.

MacGil stared back, wondering.

"Do I?" MacGil asked. "Tell me. I need to know."

Argon shook his head.

"Search your feelings. They are true."

"What will become of him?" MacGil asked.

"He will become a great leader. And a great warrior. He will rule kingdoms in his own right. Far greater kingdoms than you. And he will be a far greater king than you. It is his destiny."

For a brief moment, MacGil burned with envy. He turned and examined the boy, laughing harmlessly with his son, at a table for squires, the commoner, the weak outsider, the youngest of the bunch. He didn't imagine how it was possible. Looking at him now, he looked barely eligible to join the Legion. He wondered for a moment if Argon was wrong.

But he knew that Argon had never been wrong, and that he never made pronouncements without a reason.

"Why are you telling me this?" MacGil asked.

Argon turned and stared at him.

"Because it is your time to prepare. The boy needs to be trained. He needs to be given the best of everything. It is your responsibility."

"Mine? And what of his father?"

"What of him?" Argon asked.