Roland, Natalie, and Orlauf were seated at the tables which had been set up for breakfast the day before. Blaadfork was at the table set up for him. It was breakfast time again, and Orlauf had insisted that they have their meal before discussing the contents of the parchment sheets. Natalie and Roland were both impatient, but Blade sided with the Seer, which effectively settled the matter.
When, and only when, all appetites were well satisfied, Orlauf drew forth the parchment sheets from a pouch. They had been cleaned somewhat, and treated with a preservative of Orlauf’s devising. Even so, Orlauf had a small windbreak set up on the table to shield them from the light breeze rippling the leaves in the trees. He tapped his glass with a table knife for attention.
“The writing on these pages varies greatly in quality. This is partially due to the light Torvalt had to write by, but mostly due to his condition. For reasons which will become clear, it was remarkable that he was able to write at all. It took a little bit of magic, but I eventually deciphered every word.” Orlauf looked over the sheets of parchment in his hands at the others and arched his eyebrows. “Furthermore, I have come here from the chambers of King Erwin, who required the text of these pages to be read to him before he ate, brooking no argument from me. I have not rested since the three of you returned, so believe me when I say that, at the completion of this reading, I will require a very long nap indeed.”
The other three laughed at this, despite the seriousness of the matter at hand.
“Very well then. Let us begin. I will read straight through without making any comments,” Orlauf arched his eyebrows again, “and with no interruptions.” It was a statement, not a request, and the other three nodded assent. Very well then. Everything you hear until I lay these parchments down again is exactly as Torvalt wrote it.” With one more look around the table, Orlauf picked up the small stack of parchment pages and began to read.
“To anyone who finds this, know you are reading the last earthly words of Torvalt, Crystal Knight to His Majesty King Elwen. While I have light and strength, I will tell what I can of why I am here and how it came to pass.
“Most important to record is that I was deceived and led forth from Castle Tonnalt by a creature who took the guise of King Elwen himself. So true to His Majesty in form, voice, and appearance was the semblance that I had not the slightest doubt but that it was the King who visited my chamber.
“The false Elwen told me that he had important news. The secret to making the crystal armor had been recorded on a scroll before becoming lost to the rest of the world, and word had been brought to him of its location in a vision from the gods. He was further instructed by the gods to enlist my aid in retrieving this scroll because it was guarded by a monster which I would be able to defeat. I suppose I should have wondered at all this, but who would doubt the word of his King or the word of the gods delivered to him?
“I summoned my servant to help me don my armor, and sent him also to saddle my horse. The thing bearing King Elwen’s visage concealed itself until my servant had left. He gave as his reason the need for secrecy, but I wonder now if perhaps the creature feared discovery if more than one person viewed it at a time. So far as I can recall, no one else in the castle saw this false Elwen but me. He told me that I should depart the castle, ride out of sight in the direction of Ruscane Hill, and he would meet me there to continue the journey. Again, I should have thought this odd, but saw it only as the King’s expressed need for secrecy.
“A short time later, he met me as promised and we rode to Ruscane Hill. There, the false Elwen produced a small map and directed our movement around the base of the hill, to a small rock formation where I soon spotted a cave entrance. The creature said I should go in first, as would be appropriate since the scroll was guarded. He came behind with a lantern. There also appeared to be a source of light within.
“Once inside, I saw this cavern in which you will have found me, with the table, chairs, shelves and such which surround me now. I saw no sign of a scroll and certainly no guardian. I turned to ask my King what this meant, and saw instead the most hideous monster, shriveled and twisted in form, dark and unnatural-looking skin in several mingled colors, but still wearing the clothes of King Elwen. I knew immediately I had been deceived and raised my sword to strike, but as I did the creature pointed a gnarled hand at me and muttered words I could not understand. Strength fled my body and I collapsed like a child’s rag doll.
“More words, as of commands, and I was grabbed by many hands. They stripped me of my armor and dumped me roughly into this chair where I now sit. I saw little of them or anything else, as I could not focus my eyes and the task was completed out of the lantern’s light. I still had no movement of my own volition.
“Now the creature spoke to me again. The voice had changed, and seemed to me to be female, but that is only conjecture, as it was hoarse and rasping. There was a mocking tone, though, that was unmistakable.
“‘See now how easily the King’s finest knight has fallen. Know you this, Torvalt. I have left you parchment, pen and ink, a lantern with a supply of oil, and the means to light it. Should you sufficiently fight off my enchantment – and I believe you shall, your will is strong – write that you were slain by Argantha the Maleficent in the Cavern of the Western Wind.’
“With that, such light as I could see vanished. I soon heard sounds that told me the entrance was being blocked. I knew then that I was trapped in the darkness, and unless I could break free of that monster’s spell no one would ever know what had transpired.
“I do not know how long it was before I could even move my fingers, but at length I was steady enough to find the lantern in the darkness and fill it using the flask. It was not easy to keep steady control of my arms, but I managed to fill the lantern without spilling a drop of the precious oil and get it lit.
“Since then, I have labored on this tale, pausing only when my arms became leaden and unresponsive and my eyes again lose their focus. At such times, I blew out the lantern and rested in the darkness until such strength as I have returned. I have not been able to rise from this chair a single time since I was placed in it. Only my upper body responds to my wishes at all.
“I am on the last of my oil and I feel the weakness growing again in my body. Weakness, not fatigue, and I know I near death. I do not fear it, but before I fail completely, I wish to send my regrets to those who loved me and those who will feel that I betrayed their trust, especially my King, who I love as my father.
“Alas, the lantern gutters. I am done.”
Orlauf laid down the last sheet of parchment and looked up, tears running unchecked down his cheeks despite his already having read these words previously as he pored over the pages in his lab and again for King Erwin. Silence and tears answered him.
“The reputation of Torvalt is vindicated, but King Elwen went to his grave never having heard these words.” Roland broke the silence at last, “If that creature yet lives it will pay for this outrage with its life.” The others, Natalie included, nodded solemnly.
Orlauf met Roland’s eyes and spoke plainly. “You echo exactly the words of King Erwin, lad.”