It was a clear day, in complete contrast to the gloom in which Thomas had arrived at the castle a full ten days earlier. After awaking he had eaten the remainder of the bread and curds that had been delivered by the guard the previous evening. Now he sat at the table. A shaft of early morning sunlight angled through the open door and cast long shadows of the pieces across the chequered squares. Picking up the white queen Thomas spun it thoughtfully between his thumb and forefinger before replacing it on the board.
He faintly heard the sound of the elevator being wound up from ground level.
“Are you ready for the show Thomas?” he heard Lord Vitan call, and moments later his form appeared at the entrance.
“I am, sire” he replied.
Once Thomas had joined him Vitan barked an order to the operators below. The platform began to climb once more.
It took Thomas some time to adjust to the bright morning light and to appreciate just how far it was possible to see from this elevation. The town, the forest, the river that snaked away towards the horizon, the distant mountains that bordered the district – they all took on a sharp clarity that was almost unreal. A cold wind blew, and became more pronounced as they ascended.
“Your machine looks the part,” said Vitan. “I believe you might just convince our king that his quest is over. ”
“At the cost of one of my sons,” said Thomas continuing to stare toward the horizon.
“There was no alternative. I am personally glad you came to appreciate that. To conceive of a device that would impress the king and take the matter from your hands and leave it in the lap of fate though – you have done all you could.”
“He will be impressed only if you follow the instructions I gave to the letter. The fire must be seen to create essence, and the sheet will be subject to the laws beyond our control. The dark portion will point to one of my sons, but only at the whims of nature.”
“Some might say the laws of the divine,” said Vitan. “The king must indeed believe so.”
They were reaching the top of the wall. Stepping between the crenulations they walked onto the large flat tower summit. The machine that Thomas had designed on parchment had been accurately built by the king’s engineers, and stood on one side of the roof. A large padded seat had been placed a distance away but facing it.
“The King of course desires to witness the method of these proceedings first hand,” said Vitan “So for all our sakes I hope it looks convincing.”
As he was speaking a second elevator could be heard ascending, and shortly thereafter the guard appeared above the wall with his beloved boys. They were unrestrained and Thomas rushed to meet them at the centre of the roof. As the three of them embraced Thomas knew that his opportunity to pass on any instructions would be limited. He quickly pulled them close and simply whispered softly and clearly “Trust me.”
“That is all for now,” barked Vitan. “We need to be ready for the King. He will not want to wait. Guards.”
They moved in and separated Thomas from the boys.
“You will stand here with us,” Vitan said to Thomas. Then to the guards “Place the boys in our machine.”
The third elevator arrived at that point carrying the king dressed in royal hunting livery. He strode onto the roof followed by the chief lieutenant, armed with a sheathed long sword at his side.
“We have a fine morning for our trial,” observed the king as he seated himself. “I trust the arrangements will be bear the fruit we seek, and thus shall our kingdom be quickly secured that we may once more enjoy our sleep.”
There was an edge to his voice intimating that there would consequences if things turned out otherwise.
Vitan and the guards began the proceedings just as Thomas had outlined. The boys were placed facing each other in the machine on two enclosed seats woven from wicker. Slightly above head height a large copper furnace was suspended securely by a framework of iron rods connected to the seating. The craftsmen had done a fine job in following the instructions.
“My lord the King,” began Vitan. “As you know this man has made the confession that one of his offspring is undoubtedly the boy you seek. It was revealed to him in a vision after the death of their mother. Although he knows not which boy is the one, he was informed that the answer could be divined by fire and spirit. My machine will collect the true essence of the parties on trial, and reveal itself. Let us proceed.”
He motioned to the operator who took the burning torch and touched the flame to the top of the copper bulb. The furnace instantly came to life, burning with a blue flame that was bright enough to be seen even against the clear sky.
“Now you must capture the essence,” said Thomas softly to Vitan.
“Pull the ropes and capture the essence” called Vitan to the operator, who did as he was bid. As the ropes were pulled a sheet like structure quickly extended over the top of the machine. Just as quickly it began to change form as the heat from the furnace pushed underneath, and the securing cords pulled the edges tighter together. One portion of the sheet had been dyed with a dark design which seemed to move of its own accord as both the heat and wind began to interact.
The king excitedly rose to his feet. “I see the essence – it’s taking form …”
As the center of the sheet rose the dark and light shades momentarily billowed above the seated boys, then suddenly the whole cloth became taut, standing tall like a large egg and the entire machine began to rise. The operator made a desperate but vain grab for it. Thomas’s design had ensured that there would be nothing to hold onto once the machine was even a man’s height in the air. Lord Vitan quickly paled, and began to run toward the ascending machine, but by the time he got there the basket and its passengers were safely airborne.
The king stood speechless. As the whole party watched the balloon float quickly away on the morning winds his face gradually turned a deep and angry colour.
The guards had been ordered to secure both Vitan and Thomas, and for want of any specific instructions had escorted the pair back to Thomas’s quarters.
Vitan had an air of defeat about him. “You outplayed us,” he admitted bitterly. “And now we are both destined for the gallows.”
He stared at the chess board. One piece had moved from it’s original position. When Thomas had replaced the queen that morning he had positioned it to make it a third target for the black knight.
“Ah,” said Vitan “It seems that your rooks are safe after all. The sacrifice of the queen is a rare strategic move indeed.”
Thomas breathed a long sigh. It was relief. There was nothing to say to Vitan. The king would stop killing innocent twins now that he believed he knew the identity of the sage’s prediction. He would try to track the boys, but they were resourceful, they had Thomas’s blood. With the enemy fully revealed, their own voyages could keep them safe now.
— END —