Xante reined his horse to stand in front of Rowan. His face showed that his patience was at an end. He looked like a man who had been forced to care for a spoiled, stupid, annoying child. “The wagons cannot go through. They will have to be unloaded and what furniture that will not fit through the gate will have to be taken apart.”
Rowan ground his back teeth together. He was reaching his breaking point. Had these people no respect for a man who was to be their king? “You will order your men to open the double gate.”
“This gate does not open,” Xante said contemptuously. “It has not been opened in a hundred years.”
“Then it is time it was opened,” Rowan bellowed at the insolent man. He turned in his saddle and saw four men carrying a twelve-foot-long log toward a carpenter’s shop. “Montgomery!”
“Yes sir!” Montgomery answered happily. He loved disobeying the Lanconians.
“Get that log and open the gate.”
Rowan’s three knights were off their horses at once. They were eager to do anything the Lanconians said shouldn’t be done. They grabbed, by the scruff of their dirty necks, six of the brawniest workers and set them to using the log as a battering ram.
Rowan sat stiff and straight on his horse and watched as the men rammed the rusty old gate again and again. It didn’t budge. He didn’t dare look at the smirking faces of the Lanconians.
“The gate was welded shut and it does not open,” Xante said, and Rowan could hear the smile of superiority in the man’s voice.
Rowan knew there was some superstition attached to the gate but he thought he would die before he asked what it was. Right now necessity outweighed any primitive superstition of these arrogant people. “I will open the gate,” he said as he dismounted, not looking into the face of a single Lanconian.
He had with him his war horse and those of his three knights. They were huge, heavy animals, capable of pulling tons of weight. Since the battering ram did not work, perhaps he could throw chains about the gate and the horses could pull it down.
Crowds were gathering now as workers ceased their tasks and came to watch this English prince make a fool of himself. On the walls above them were more guardsmen looking down on the scene with great amusement. So this was Thal’s weakling brat who thought he could open St. Helen’s Gate.
“Xante,” someone bellowed down, “is this our new king?”
The laughter was uproarious and it rang in Rowan’s ears as he walked toward the gate. Lora was right. He should have challenged a couple of men to a fight the first day and established who was in charge.
He stood before the gate and looked at it. It looked to be ancient, covered with rust and thorny vines. He pulled away a vine, thorns tearing his hands and making his palms bleed, and studied the old lock. It was a solid piece of iron with no sign of a weak joint. As far as he could tell, the battering ram hadn’t moved the lock.
“This blond Englishman thinks he can open the gate?” a man taunted.
“Didn’t someone tell him that only a Lanconian could open it?”
The crowd laughed derisively.
“I am Lanconian,” Rowan whispered, his eyes on the gate. “I am more Lanconian than they will ever know. God, help me. I beg You. Help me.”
He put his hands on the gate, both bloody palms touching the rusty surface, and leaned forward to get a closer look at the thick piece of iron holding the gate shut.
Beneath his palms, he felt the gates tremble.
“Open!” he whispered. “Open for your Lanconian king.”
Rust trickled down from the top, sprinkling his face and hair. “Yes!” he said, his eyes closed as he directed all of his energy into his palms. “I am your king. I command you to open.”
“Look!” screamed someone behind him. “The gate moves!”
The crowd and the guards on the wall quietened as the ancient gate began to creak. It seemed to shudder like something alive.
There was complete silence, even the animals were still, as the old iron lock fell at Rowan’s feet. He pushed the left gate back a couple of feet and the ancient hinges cried out in protest.
Rowan turned to his own men. “Now bring the baggage wagons through,” he said, and suddenly felt very, very tired.
But no one moved. The English were looking at th
e Lanconians and the Lanconians, hundreds of them, both peasants and guardsmen, were staring at Rowan with eyes filled with wonder.
“What’s wrong now?” Rowan bellowed up at Xante. “I opened the gate for you, now use it.”