© 1999 Eric Case, all rights reserved Please
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Arden led the group down the eastern foothills of the mountains. They were now joined by Thorium who was riding a sturdy mount, and Corbren who sat perched atop a Clisyden. Arden spoke to Corbren momentarily about his book and Corbren said when they were further from the mountains and to another safe place he would show Arden the book. Arden agreed it was a good idea and the group rode along talking back and forward between them.
Verdan rode with Arden atop Alkhor, and was followed by the other horses. When the horses reached the old bridge over the Borundine River Arden held the group to a stop. The sun was now high in the sky and just beginning it's descent into the Western horizon. Arden's goal was to reach the outskirts of the great forest before dark of the following day. The open plains south west of the forest were a troubled area like the Plains of Eingreth and wouldn't be a great place to set up camp but there was little they could do. The trek through Borundine Forest and into Oramune would take two or three days, and then the quick ride from Borundine to Tor Isen would take a day and a half maybe depending on the weather in the marshes. Once they crossed the bridge at Tor Isen, they would be able to reach the foothills of the Cragen Mountains within two days, then there would be the travel through the caves of the Cragen Gates. Then after a one day hike they would reach the plateau that enters the mountain side of Cragen Mountain..
Arden went over the plans with the group as they rode along across the rickety old bridge. The bridge spanned over 150 feet across the Borundine river. Verdan looked down and saw the water rushing quickly underneath the bridge. "Arden, the elves in Borundine. They don't answer to Mordak.. They don't answer to anyone. They're real independent and when Mordak offered them a treaty they refused. He sent a brigade of Ardunian troops and the elves killed half of them while they were marching towards the forest, and the rest came home a mess."
"So you think it's a bad idea to just show up on their doorstep?" Arden asked the boy.
"Well kinda yeah," Verdan said softly leaning back against Arden.
"I think I can cook a little something up to protect us," Arden said smiling. "I've dealt with Orion before. He gets heated sometimes but all in all he's a good elf at heart."
Verdan giggled, "yeah as long as Kurnos isn't pushing him too hard!"
"You know about Kurnos?" Arden asked the boy slightly taken aback.
"Yeah of course, I know lotsa stuff about the wood elves. My job was to study a big stack of books about them and tell Mordak about what I'd read. I know Orion turns into a big animal thing with horns sticking out of his head too," Verdan said cheerfully.
"Just his legs turn to those of a Kartas, and he does sprout horns and grow bigger," Arden said.
"You've seen it?!" The boy asked now showing his amazement.
"I've been to the great forest before," Arden said calmly smiling. Things that seemed so plain to him always seemed to amaze others. Arden had lived an interesting life but didn't think of it as such.
"Have you seen the queen? I've read and heard she's party fairy," the boy said.
"Aye that's also is true, and Ariana very strong with the sheen. Probably one of the strongest who aren't at least part Kayan."
"You're stronger than her right?" Verdan asked with a tone that melted Arden's heart.
Arden chuckled. "Well I've really never tested myself against her but I would imagine so yeah. She's clever though, she can use the forest itself to defeat the enemies of the wood elves when they reach the great wood."
The group was so busy chatting back and forward that they didn't notice the pack of orcs closing in on them in pursuit from the mountains until they were almost on top of them. Nearly 50 orcs were running towards the group when Arden heard their hooves hitting the ground. The four adult riders dismounted their charges and told the boys to take the horses a fair ways off.
Arden, Corbren, Darius, and Darien stood looking on at the advancing enemy. "I should have noticed the clouds covering over," Arden sulked.
"That's okay Corbren said simply as he pulled his humongous battle axe from it's strap at his back. The axe was nearly two feet from the front of it's blade to it's hammer-like blunt edge and weighed nearly 600 pounds. Darius and Darien drew their own swords and stood ready. The last to draw his weapon was Arden. Kyaszar was shining brightly. Anytime the minions of evil were near, the blade would glow blue at the edges. It was now gleaming! A moment later Jarin and Joshia came running back to Arden's side and drew their own small swords.
"I dunno about you guys, but I'm beginning to think that Mordak doesn't like us too much," Jarin said giggling.
"I think you're probably right," Arden said smiling at the advancing orcs.
Just as the charging enemy were upon them, Corbren let hollered out a thunderous battle cry and and ran forward swinging his huge axe like a child's toy at the orcs. Arden stepped forward swinging his own heavy sword easily slashing threw their assailants. Blood curdling screeches, came from the dying enemies as the group hacked their way threw leaving dark splatters of blood on the ground. Even Jarin and Joshia each accounted for two of the enemy. When two thirds had fallen, the apparent leader of the band gave out a yell, or rather a snort and the pack turned tail to run. Arden stood steady as the troop scattered away like rodents in torch light, and watched Corbren give pursuit cursing the "vile creatures". As they pulled away from Corbren a blinding beam of light shot after them across the field. When it struck it was like watching a thousand stars exploding into a brilliant blue and white explosion. Streaming light surged from the ground all around the remaining orcs and closed in in an ever tightening circle until it reached a tiny column of light that ran up into the heavens. The orcs were gone.
Arden turned to see young Verdan standing next to Alkhor with a satisfied look on his face. The sheer force of the burst got Arden thinking. He had only ever once sent out that kind of a blast of his sheen, and had been nearly unconscious. Verdan cast his sheen with seeming ease. For Arden, casting was slightly painful, or at least caused discomfort. Focusing a charge of magical energy and distending and concentrating it as it travels down your arm, and then expel it through the hand while directing the raw energy into a beam. It took concentration, control, patience, and a pain threshold.
The day wore on as they continued on their trek towards the forest. Soon it was growing dark and Arden decided it was time to set up camp for the night. They dismounted and got their blankets together in the tents they had received from the old man in Gracien.
The moon shone brightly above in the night. The sky was so clear it looked as if one could just reach out and pluck one of the stars form the heavens and hold it like a brilliant jewel. It was a cool night, and the air was crisp as Arden stood watch over the camp. He could see miles off into the distance where the forest rose from the fields strong and proud. There wasn't a cloud in the sky which gave Arden some comfort in the wide open spaces. Every time they'd been attacked it had clouded over. Mordak's evil was growing and he partially controlled the skies above, bringing storms wherever his forces roamed.
The night passed quietly as Arden stood guard and was joined by Corbren early in the morning. Arden's thoughts wandered back to Verdan's performance earlier that day. "Verdan.. he is your Lahnia yes?" Corbren asked bringing Arden out of his deep thought.
"Yes my Lahnia," Arden said softly.
* * *
"Is it true that their palace is one huge tree?" The Verdan asked innocently out of nowhere.
The group had been roused early by Arden, and packed up camp to continue on their way. The sooner they were safely into the forest, the better Arden would feel. Arden paused for a moment to discern what the boy was talking about having been deep in thought. "Oh, the wood elves.. yes In a way.. yes. It is actually many trees that have grown together to form a large palace. More work of the queen. The branches have woven themselves together to form a huge palace and each year it grows larger by a few inches. The queen had to slow the growth of the trees once they had reached the desired shape."
"So they live in a birds nest basically?" Jarin chimed in giggling.
Arden chuckled smiling over to the boy. "In a manner of speaking I suppose one could say it does resemble a bird's nest. Although a very large bird's nest with a lot of armed birds."
"Well I wouldn't be afraid of a king or queen who live in a bird's nest," Joshia added giggling.
"Mind your manners though, all of you when you are in Borundine forest. Ariana is understanding at times, but can also have a cold temper." Arden said making his tone serious for a moment.
"Suppose your right, but they don't like me there anyway," Corbren said from atop his mammoth-sized mount. "They've seen my axe before and they know it can cut down a tree pretty easy."
"You didn't go cutting down their trees did you?" Arden asked on the verge of laughter. Only Corbren could manage to cut down the protected trees of the wood elves and think little of it.
"Sure did.. we needed firewood. I was with some other elves and we were passing Borundine so I got some firewood.."
Arden began laughing despite himself. They rode on in silence for a time longer until the heath was before them. The heath was a wild area of open fields that surrounded the great forest. No one was allowed to cross it, and as the group looked on at the ominous wood, most of them felt a cold chill of foreboding. "Do we have to go here Arden?" Verdan asked in a hushed voice.
"That we do," Arden said in a soothing voice. "We'll be find though guys.. no worries."
"What about the archers?" Verdan asked persisting with his worried, hushed tone.
"I've got it all covered," Arden said smiling. "Have I ever let ya down before?"
"No," Verdan answered smiling and pushing back into Arden a little harder.
"Well then.." Arden said happily to the group. "Everyone get a little closer and close your eyes." The group did as they were told and Verdan heard Arden speaking softly in Kayan behind him. There was a bright flash of light that the group could see even with their eyes closed, and then Arden spoke again. "Okay you can open your eyes now," he said plainly. When they opened their eyes nothing seemed different until they looked away from their group. They could almost see a glass-like .. something in front of them. It was like a bubble and had rainbow shades across it as it thickened.
"Great.. we're in a bubble!" Jarin giggled. "Never thought I'd see the day!"
The group laughed and moved on towards the forest. The heath ran nearly 400 yards out form the forest and when they had traveled across about 50 yards, the group was startled when an arrow hit their shield and bounced off harmlessly. None had seen it coming, it was just suddenly there! "What the heck was that?" Jarin exclaimed.
"An arrow," Joshia said simply.
"A freakin arrow?" Jarin asked in disbelief. "They're shooting at us?!"
"Yup," Corbren answered flatly eyeing the forest.
The group was safe in their "bubble" but all the same quickened their pace as Arden said it took a lot of energy to keep the shield over them. A few minutes later, the group reached the edge of the forest and arrows had been bouncing one after another, off of their clear canopy. When they entered the forest and had penetrated no more than a hundred yards they were encircled by a platoon of elves armed with swords, spears, and arrows.
"Halt!" Came the order of one of the soldiers who was more elaborately dressed with a dark green cloak and a gold chain fastening the front.
"Who are you to bar my way?" Arden asked in a commanding tone.
"Gimli, son of Anterion," the soldier replied.
"Never heard of you," Jarin said nearing giggles at the elf's tone of self-importance.
Arden held in his own laughter, and gave Jarin a soft look to tell the boy to keep his mouth shut but at the same time that Arden was not upset. "I am Arden, son of Fengal. Now stand aside for I have business with your king and queen!"
"You are not expected in the forest," Gimli said flatly. "You will have to leave."
Corbren drew his huge axe from behind him and held it up for the elves to see. "My axe says we're not going anywhere!" Corbren, Arden, and Darien all knew well enough that Elves didn't like axes of any kind, but this was a huge axe! Several of the elves bared their teeth in anger at the axe on display.
A smaller elf suddenly came into the small clearing that was being occupied by the opposing forces. "The Kaya are to be brought to the palace," the messenger said out of breath. "The orders of the King," he finished after a quick pause to catch his breath.
"Surrender yourselves and your weapons," Gimli ordered.
"Pound that I will!" Corbren suddenly boomed. "I'll never see it again!"
Arden dropped their shield, leaving the group exposed to anything the elves might decide to use on them. "We keep our weapons," Arden said flatly. He had no intention of giving up Kyaszar, and knew it would take a miracle to get Corbren to surrender his axe.
"Your weapons," Gimli repeated as several elves fitted arrows to their bows.
"The Kaya are not to be harmed!" The messenger said sharply.
Two elves advanced towards Corbren and grabbed his axe near the hilt by his hands. "Give it up!" they said hoarsely.
"No!" Corbren bellowed. He pulled one elf off of his axe and tossed the elf lightly into the nearest bushes that were ridden with thorns. The other elf Corbren struck in the shoulder lightly with the back of his hand (at least lightly for Corbren), and the elf fell to the ground.
Arden turned to Gimli. "He won't give up his axe, and I won't give up my sword. I can promise you his axe will not be used on any elf, or tree in this wood. Kyaszar will remain in it's sheath unless to be used to protect me or mine from an enemy. The others will turn over their weapons," Arden said in a tone that was more of a command than a suggestion.
"Very well," Gimli said. He was under orders to do no harm, so he could do little to enforce the laws.
The group turned over their weapons with the exception of Arden and Corbren. They were to be taken to the royal chamber under guard, and the rest would be put up in rooms in the palace. The group were forced to dismount and their horses were led by the elves, while they walked along on foot. The elves led them on an obviously twisted path to hide the path to the palace although Verdan and Arden both could have drawn a detailed map. Their strength with the sheen helped them see on a more three dimensional level and gave them a better sense of direction and depth perception. Somehow it was easier when they walked side by side though, than it would have been when they were separate. It wasn't only that though, since Arden could now sense Verdan's presence from several yards away and always knew in which direction he could find the smiling boy.
They walked on in silence. Only the elves talked amongst themselves in their own tongue. Arden suddenly interjected speaking in the Elvin language which seemed to throw them off for a moment. They were obviously unaware of Arden's fluent speech in Elvin. It often amused him when people who spoke in a different tongue felt they could speak openly about him without him following them, but Arden knew most languages used in Nastradia, and could usually pick up any new language quickly just by listening.
"Where did you learn to speak Elvin tongue?" Gimli asked suspiciously.
"If you had half the wisdom your years could allow, you would know well that I've been here before." In a sense Arden was calling him an uneducated idiot right to his face, and the fact that Gimli could do nothing in return angered the elf to no end. Verdan, who could also speak some of the same, understood clearly what Arden had said and burst into giggled clutching at his belly, and this further enraged the elf. Totally taken aback and furious with anger, the elf drew his small dagger and held it to the boy's throat. With lightning speed and unquestionable force, Arden took the hand and twisted it backwards. The dry "snap" of Gimli's breaking wrist turned all the heads to him as the elf collapsed to the ground clutching his wrist and blubbering like an infant.
No one spoke a word, but Gimli was lifted to his feet and taken off to be tended. His second in command was much more polite, and was soon engaged in conversation with both Arden, and Verdan. They talked about the goings on in other lands, and the rumors of the events of the east. Then the group suddenly came into a clearing and there stood the palace. It's shear size blew the group of newcomers away. It looked like a million trees woven up and up into a huge building with towers, bridges, and of course a vast green canopy above.
"Wow!" gasped Jarin and Joshia simultaneously.
"Way bigger than a bird's nest," Verdan giggled looking over to Jarin who smiled sheepishly.
"Welcome to Athol Kutria," a middle aged elf said approaching them. The group was led inside where they parted ways.
"Don't take too long okay?" Verdan said softly to Arden.
"I'll only be an hour or two with the King and Queen, and then I'll join you in our room," Arden said as he smoothed the hair on the boy's head. He gave a smile and wink to Jarin and Joshia, and walking along side the giant Corbren, headed off towards the royal chamber.
* * *
Verdan paced his room. "Where is Arden?" He asked out loud to no one in particular. He looked out his window over the forest and could see the tops of the trees growing darker as clouds drew up and blotted out the sunlight. Arden had been taken off to see the King and Queen and had left Verdan with some not so nice elves who brought him and stuck him into this room. It was large and almost homely with a large fireplace that made the whole room warm and cozy. There was a huge bed with four posts, one at each corner, and it had a roof.
Thunder boomed outside as the first drops of rain began to hit the window. Verdan went over to a bookcase that leaned against the wall opposite the window and began thumbing through the books searching for something to read. Most of the titles were in Elvin runes which Verdan could only understand some of, but one book caught his eye. It was a book entitled "The Truth of the Ages," and was written in Kayan script. Verdan smiled and pulled the book off of the shelf and then went to the wardrobe where he pulled a large soft, but heavy blanket out. The boy took his blanket and book over next to the fireplace and made himself a little nest to curl up in to read. "There we go," he said happily.
The book was written in ancient Kayan. Some of the words even Verdan couldn't understand but he figured most of them out by reading them in context. Verdan was surprised to learn that the book concerned the life of the Wigami from his birth and ran through his early life in the first few chapter. The room was growing dark so he went to the door and asked the Elves guarding his room if they could light some more of the candles to which they agreed, and he settled back down to his reading. The Elves stayed in the room interested in what the boy as doing and sat down to listen to the story in common tongue as the boy read to them.
* * *
Jarin and Joshia chattered happily in their room about the day's events. They had been taken to a smaller room a few doors further down the hall and didn't even notice the clouds until they heard the first loud clap of thunder. Jarin went to the window slowly and looked out as the rain began to drive downward hard. "I hate thunderstorms Shia," Jarin whined softly.
"I know," Joshia giggled. "It's not like I haven't lived with you long enough to know that when there's a thunderstorm to look for you hiding under a bed!" Jarin punched Joshia's arm playfully. They went back to their table to talk some more and play with the cards the elves had left in the room for them. The wind was now howling.. almost moaning through the branches of the trees now. As hard as they tried to focus on their game, the sound of the wind worked into their minds and brought up images of monsters and evil things that creep in the darkness of the shadows.
"Okay I hate thunderstorms but that wind is even worse! I'd hate to live here if every time there's a storm it sounded like monsters and tortured souls were all about." Jarin said dropping his cards.
"Yeah it's kinda weird out tonight!" Joshia agreed. Shivers ran up and down the boys' spines and the feeling of being watched crept upon them as they began to breath a little harder. They turned their focus back to their game with difficulty, but being together helped each to be stronger.
* * *
"So the Wigami was a warrior then?" the one guard asked.
"No Korinus, he just said the Wigami was a powerful mage lord," the other guard said in a tone that made the boy smile.
"Actually he was both," said Verdan happily.
"How can a body be both?" asked Korinus. "That's what I don't understand. Every mage I've ever seen couldn't wield a sword if his life depended on it."
"Arden would be considered a very powerful mage lord," Verdan said softly. "And he can wield his sword better than any other warrior in Nastradia."
"Well I still don't get it. Being a mage takes years of training and by the time someone's learned it they're too old to fight with a sword. How come Arden's so different?"
"Well," Verdan began then stopped short and looked to the window.. Verdan's hackles stood on end as his sheen flared with feelings of danger. "Mordak," he whispered with a quaking voice. He looked back at the guards who were also beginning to feel uneasy. "This is gonna be really bad!"
* * *
Jarin and Joshia were still engaged in their card games and happy banter when they felt a strange sensation. They felt a strange presence. It was malevolent, and foreboding.. in a word they felt Evil. It was like seething anger and hatred had loomed in above them and filled each boy with uneasiness. They both looked up as if to ask the other if they'd felt it and instantly knew something was wrong. Jarin dashed to the window to look out and Joshia joined him seconds later. It had grown unnaturally dark outside and both knew something was terribly wrong. They looked out at the tops of the trees and could see nothing but leaves blowing being pushed and pulled by the heavy winds. Jarin looked down towards the ground fifty or so feet below them as lighting flashed brightly. Joshia had seen it too. The boys backed away and grabbed their swords which had been placed in their rooms. They put their backs at the door and faced the window while they called to the guards. No one answered.
* * *
Verdan and his guards looked up when they heard the glass of the window shatter inwards. Verdan was off guard and wasn't prepared to use his sheen for anything, he had been caught up in the story. The guards reacted but it was too late.
* * *
Arden felt a shock run through him. He heard Verdan in his mind, but no words were spoken. Verdan was afraid and Arden was instantly on the alert. He stopped in mid sentence and looked over his shoulder to the door that exited the royal chamber. Another wave swept over Arden and after one step towards the door he broke into a flat-out sprint through the halls. He took the stairs of the spiral staircase four at a time and had dropped his cloak and drawn his sword by the time he reached the forth floor of the castle. When Arden reached his room he pressed against the door and felt flashes.. jolts.. fear. He saw images of Verdan being attacked and he tried to turn the knob to no avail.
Arden struck the door once lightly then fear set into his own heart. It had been the need to protect the boy when he began his run to the room, but now Arden was afraid. He pounded the door with his fist and the hinges merely creaked. It was one of those damned wood-elf doors. The wood was enchanted and wouldn't break when locked from the inside. Arden drew Kyaszar above his head and brought the blazing blade down against the door which shattered under the thunderous blow. "Verdan!" Arden yelled, his voice cracking for the first time in years. He could feel his throat clogged with panic as he looked at one of the guards laying face down on the floor of the room. He choked back a sob as he looked at the window and saw blood stains from where Verdan, his Lahnia, had been pulled out.
Well there's Episode IV, Chapter 11 finished! CLIFFHANGER!!!! DUN DUN DUNNNN! lol sorry guys but I absolutely have to do this when I get a golden opportunity. But don't get too worried. Verdan's a major character so I can't kill him off.. or can I? teehee check back in a week or two to find out. I'll try ta get the next part out sooner than this one. :)