After setting out on their journey, the Animals, Sebastian, Plotonicus and Brand, encounter the elegant and stoic Feolorn. In the company of Captain Imris, they travel to the country of the Leonine, where they meet the Leonine Prince, Assyr. With Assyr, they travel to the great Leonine city, Yur-Aman-Kor, to warn King Shieldmane of the coming darkness . . .
Sebastian could see little in the gloom. At the far end of the hall there stood an obelisk, almost as tall as the ceiling. A flat disc of gold, twelve feet across, rested flat against it about halfway up its length; at its base there was a pit where a fire burned low. Beside the obelisk was an altar of stone. Twenty-four feet in front stood the throne upon a massive block, tall as a Lion, with steps leading up on each side.
The king’s robe was pale gold, his cape sable blue with a hem of silver cloth. His crown was a circlet of gold with a gold-and-ivory sun emblem at the center of his forehead. On his lap was lain a huge sword. The pommel was in the shape of a Lion’s head, the handle wrapped in dark leather. The scabbard was deep red, set with golden designs, and a tassel of gold dangled from the end. A dragon’s glass-like eye was set into the hand guard below the pallid blade. It was the Dragon Sword, of old.
The Lion sat absolutely still, breathing heavily, his face buried in the palm of his paw. It seemed to Sebastian that some invisible weight, heavier than the stone block beneath the throne, pressed down upon the king.
Such paws! Sebastian thought. I could curl up and sleep in one of them, if I dared! Sebastian shuddered at the reposing strength of the king. And yet, ‘though he was frightened by the sad, solemn figure on the throne, he felt pity also to see so great a lord bent low.
Gelmesh climbed the steps and sat at the feet of the king.
“Lord Shieldmane,” he said, quietly.
The king did not stir.
Gelmesh turned to the queen. “I warned you!” he hissed.
Queen Thrit ignored him. The Lioness climbed the steps of the throne and pushed him aside. She took Shieldmane’s free hand in her own, stroking it lovingly.
“My lord,” she said, “your son has returned.”
The king’s voice rolled through the hall like the approach of distant thunder. The words came slowly, disembodied, cold and hard, the weight of unrelenting grief upon them, “My…son?”
“I am here, Father!” Assyr said, stepping forward.
“Has Yur-Arnak-Kor fallen, at last? Is the enemy inside our borders?”
“Not yet, Father.”
The king now looked up, his eyes alight with anger.
“Then why have you disobeyed your father and king?”
“I come with important messengers,” said Assyr, “one of the Feolorn; and Little Folk, of Lavaliar.”
“Feolorn?” the king repeated. “Feolorn?”
Then, haltingly, like a statue coming to life, the king moved. The huge paw lowered from his face, revealing a contorted mask of sorrow. Sebastian stepped back, frightened by the visage of the king. Would the Lion leap upon them from his throne, tearing them to shreds? He knew little of Lions.
Instead, the king raised his eyes, with painful effort, as if to see if this was some jest played at his expense.
Imris stood straight. “I bring greetings, from Arborlawn,” he said.
Laughter, brittle and choked with sobs, peeled from behind the sharp teeth of the king. Fresh tears sprang from his almond-colored eyes. “Your greetings are late in coming and unwelcome, Feolorn. Do you bring me nothing else? Tell your lord and lady to save their greetings. I would ask of them other gifts, had I any faith remaining in their strength.”
The king sank back into his throne. His voice seemed to usher from the deep shadows of the hall: “Unless you have come to tell me that the lofty Feolorn are coming, at last, to the aid of Yur-Aman-Kor, to offer their own sons in exchange for mine…,” here the king faltered. His eyes widened, he stared blankly into space, his lips trembled over the words, “…sons…my sons…my sons…”
The queen looked at Imris. She shook her head, as if to say, “Do not weaken!”
“Mighty Shieldmane,” Imris said, bowing his head, “you shame me! We have remained behind our own borders too long. Forgive.”
Shieldmane seemed pleased by his contrition.
“I will think on it.” He raised a hand and beckoned to the Animals. Sebastian took another step back. Shieldmane said, “Come forward, beggars!”
Plotonicus put a paw gently on Sebastian’s back and pushed him forward.
The companions each bowed before the king.
“What are your names?” Shieldmane asked.
“Professor Hercule Xavier Plotonicus.”
“What manner of creature is that: professor?” said the king. “I’ve heard no tale of them before.”
“We are a book-learned folk, your majesty,” answered Plotonicus, “sometimes too much so. And we are fearful; we cluster together in cold halls, afraid that our learning will be proven to be false.”
The king appeared to smile, a flash of light in the darkened hall.
“Your answer pleases me. And what of your companions? What are they?”
“I am Brand Redtail, of the Redtail Clan.”
The eyes of the king and the eyes of Fox locked. Brand trembled from head to tail tip. The haunted hollowness of the king’s gaze was echoed in Brand’s eyes. The king rose from his throne, casting a deep shadow in front of him, which enveloped the Animals. Shieldmane lumbered down the steps. He stopped short in front of Brand, his mouth moving silently. Brand gasped for breath.
Sebastian took Brand’s paw. “Look away! Look away!”
“I cannot,” said Brand, “not from one who has seen the Darkness.”
“Yes,” the king said, “you have seen it!”
“A black hand, as wide as the sky,” Brand gasped, “seeking, always seeking…”
The king collapsed against the steps. Gelmesh and the queen rushed to his side. He pushed them away, wide-eyed and frantic.
“It is real, after all,” he said, breathing hard. A frightening grin spread across his face, revealing sharp teeth. He looked at Gelmesh and Thrit. “Are you listening, at last? It is no fantasy! As I said. Quite real.”
At last, with effort, Brand turned his head away.
The king said, “Remain in my city, if that is your wish. Be warned, it will bring you only ill fortune. But perhaps your coming is not without purpose.”
His stare bore into Brand.
“Our lord is gracious!” said the queen.