© 1999 Eric Case, all rights reserved Please
don't post this story on any other sites without my permission. Just email
me and ask and chances are pretty good that I'll say yes!
There are some things in the story that may not be explained all that
well and may leave the audience with questions. If you have the patience
to wait till I release the first three episodes, I think most or all of
your questions would be answered by it then, but if it's something that
can't wait, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and
I will respond ASAP wth answers to questions, or just to explain things
that aren't too clear.
With Alkhor's steady pace, in less than an hour, Verdan had left the Oran wastelands far behind him. He was now speeding through the feudal territories passing Ithilia, and Islan, rushing past the Forest of Eliri, and into the plains of Eingreth. Soon he saw the city of Tor Eingreth before him shining in the afternoon light. The river to the east of the city shimmered and even the mountains in the distance, now in full sunlight looked like they had been set there by God himself just to be admired at that very moment. Alkhor swiftly made his way along a path passing five dark bodies lying on the ground. Nothing had been picking at them, not even buzzards and Verdan felt a chill as Alkhor made his way past them. Alkhor's name mean True of Heart, and if he had any reaction to the evil bodies lying there, it was problably a chuckle, or whetever the horse alternative would be, at seeing Arden's work.
A few moments later, they arrived at the huge gates of the city. Arden, Joshia, Jarin, Darius, and Darien were all standing at the gates to receive him and Arden helped the boy down off the horse holding him in his powerful arms for a moment as he set him down. Verdan liked the feeling.. really liked the feeling in fact, but felt no trust towards Arden. He kept the Pendant of the Wigami under his clothes and made no pretenses of giving it to Arden. He was sure that once Arden had the pendant, he'd have no use for Verdan any longer and he would leave him somewhere, or let him be eaten by monsters or worse. Verdan ALSO knew that after his treachery, Mordak would be after him, but as long as he had the pendant, Arden would HAVE protect him to protect the pendant.
"Glad to see you here safe," Arden said as the boys feet touched the ground.
"Yeah no thanks to you," the boy said with a touch of anger.
Jarin and Joshia both shot the boy a look but a glance from Arden set them at ease. "You go on inside, and we'll be in in a moment," Arden said pretending not to notice the boy's tone. He could remember what it felt like to feel abandoned and alone.. not trusting anyone since the people you tried to trust had hurt you.
When the boy left Jarin said angrily, "what the hell is his problem?"
"Relax Jarin," Arden said softly smiling at the boy who was so eager to leap to his defense. "Verdan has been through a lot, and no doubt our friend Mordak has been filling his ears with bad things about me." He knew what Verdan had been through.. the feelings of fear in the pit of your stomach not knowing if what you were doing wasn't just right, you'd be beaten. Arden had been beaten and knew what it was all about. He automatically felt a need to reach out to Verdan.
The three of them went back into the palace and found Verdan waiting just inside the door of their room. Arden asked Jarin and Joshia to leave he and Verdan alone to talk for a little while. He then knealt next to the boy and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder noticing the boy jump slightly. "Verdan.." he began softly speaking tenderly to the boy. "I know that you've been through a lot at the hands of Mordak, and if Mordak is who I think he is, I've been through a lot because of him too!"
"What would you know about me or Mordak?!" the boy glared at Arden who maintained his calm. "Mordak puts a roof over my head AND my mother's head! He keeps me in clothes, and feeds me! More than you've EVER done! You left us.. you left everyone in Ardun to Kordum, and he handed everything over to Mordak and now look at the place! You saw! It's your fault... I hate you!"
"I know because I've been through a lot of the same things as you.." Arden said meeting the boy's glare with his own calm face. Arden pooled all his energy and magic into easing the boy's pain. "I was beaten too, as well as other things."
Verdan's look changed from anger to sadness. "If you hadn't left I.. I.. I'd never have had to work for Mordak.. I tried to serve him well...." Verdan said softly looking away at the ground. Arden squeezed his shoulder lightly letting some energy shoot through it into the boy who looked back up at Arden with tears in his eyes. "I prayed you'd come over and over Arden, but you never did," the boy said turning his shining baby-blues upward to look into Arden's deep brown eyes.
"I couldn't Verdan," Arden said slowly as their eyes locked on each others'. "You know how powerful Mordak is.."
The boy nodded and pulled away from Arden. He wanted so much to jump into Arden's strong arms and be safe, but he still didn't trust Arden fully. Mordak's anger had made the boy cautious, and afterall Mordak had given the boy everything he'd ever had. Arden knowing it would take more than one conversation to break through the boy's walls of defense wasn't upset that the boy had pulled away. He could remember how awkward he had felt when he had first been taken under Rafiar's wing. He also felt that same attraction to the boy that he did to Jarin and Joshia since he was Kaya.
The boy sat down in a chair behind him and looked at Arden there knealing in front of him. Arden rose to his feet and summoned the steward. "Are our supplies prepared so we can depart?"
"Yes Arden sir, the king as set out five horses for you to ride as well." The steward answered.
"We'll need only three horses.." Arden said.
"Three?" Jarin asked entering the room followed closely by Joshia.
"Yes, three. You two will ride together on one horse.. there is no need for two. Darien and Darius will each ride a horse leaving three. Young Verdan will ride on Alkhor," Arden said looking over to where Verdan sat listening intently. "He's had a long ride and I'm worried about him falling asleep and hurting himself." Arden said.
Verdan felt a wierd tingling in his chest at this.. Arden cared about him? "No, it must be something else.. Arden must want something from me." He thought to himself. "You're going to try to ride Alkhor?" Verdan asked somewhat surprised. Arden nodded saying that he wouldn't TRY to ride Alkhor, but that he WOULD ride Alkhor. By all rights, Alkhor was Arden's horse and had been given to Arden as a gift for his 11th birthday.
The group, now up to six members, were lead threw the city to the Anendin gates (the gates on the side of the river) and were shown to their mounts. Darien and Darius each had their own elvin steeds back who had apparently wandered through the main city gates in search of their riders. Arden easily mounted Alkhor and the great horse neighed like he was being reunited with an old friend. He then lifted Verdan easily into the saddle in front of him which surprised Verdan enough that he actually smiled at Arden, but remembered himself and turned his smile to a scowl. Jarin saw the look and instinctively wanted to protect Arden and sent Verdan a scowl in return from the horse he and Joshia sat atop.
They were about to depart when Verdan asked Arden if he wanted the pendant. Arden answered "no Verdan. When you trust me, you will give it to me on your own.. For now you hold on to it and you'll know that I won't leave you behind since I need the pendant." Verdan was surprised at this answer since it was so honest and it was like Arden knew EXACTLY what he was thinking. Verdan thought once Arden had the pendant, that Arden would cast him aside.. He wasn't so sure now.
The king and queen stood dressed in their royal atire at the gates to see the group off. Everyone could feel the evil brooding over the land, and it seemed to grow colder as the four horses drew off in the distance. "Let us get inside n..." The king was cut off as a bolt of lightning flashed through the sky and thunder boomed loudly. The sky clouded over as dark clouds rolled towards the city, then the watchman saw them. Two riders.. clothed in black. Such a black that it was more like looking into nothing than looking at two people. The sky grew as dark as night and it was only late afternoon. The riders rode right up to the Anendin gates and entered the city with no resistance. Everyone simply stood and watched as they rode up to the king and queen.
"Where is the boy?!" the one rider hissed.
"What boy?" The king asked looking up at the rider with obvious fear.
The second rider slapped the king. "The boy who came from Ardun!! WHERE IS HE!" Another loud thunderclap came on the end of the "he".
is with Arden! They rode off yonder!" The queen answered fearing for her
husdand who was clutching at his face rolling on the ground. The riders
turned and rode off at an amazing pace while people rushed to attend the
king. The once side of his face was burned.. not like the burn that comes
from something hot, but like the burn of something cold... it was like
frost-bite. It would also leave the king with a scar that he would carry
until the return of the King.
Arden led the group at a fair pace towards the bridge that crossed the Anendin, and lead into the mountains on the other side. Verdan suddenly felt a chill, and got the sickly feeling in his stomach that he always got when the minions of evil were with Mordak and he was serving them. He turned his head slowy to the right and saw the dark clouds racing out from Ardun. Arden looked over his shoulder when he heard the clap of thunder and saw the clouds as they continued their advance and loomed over the city of Tor Eingreth. "Quickly," he said, his voice rasping slightly as he anticipated their present danger. "Ride for the bridge as hard as you can!" He could already feel the cold growing around them. The Dark Assassins of Mordak, the Krias, were the only creatures alive that had this effect on anyone. They were after the boy, and the pendant. The horses were in a full gallop now but Arden kept the pace of Alkhor slower so that the other three horses could keep up. He held Verdan close to him. The boy was shaking with fear knowing exactly who and what was after him. "Verdan.. when we get to the bridge, I'm going to get off.."
"No no please don't! They'll kill you!" The boy said, his fear causing his voice to waiver.
"You stay on Alkhor. Hold on to him tightly okay? Don't let go no matter what, and don't turn around to come back for me! Do you understand Verdan? You keep going.." Arden said softly into the boys ear. He concentrated his sheen on easing the boys fear and calming him down. The darkness was now growing over them, and Arden knew the Krias were close on their tale. They were nearing the bridge and Arden let Alkhor loose and the horses bolted forward towards the bridge and reached it seconds later. The other three horses were now a fair distance behind and Arden jumped down from the horse and turned to run in the opposite direction but Verdan grabbed his hand.
"Don't die Arden.. please.. don't die." The boy said tears in his eyes.
"I promise you Verdan, I'll be back." The boy reached out and gave Arden a hug. He couldn't help it.. he tired to remain cold with him, but the moment was too much for him and he needed it. "Do you trust me?" Arden asked. The boy hesitated looking into Arden's deep brown eyes then nodded. "Then ride across the bridge.. you can stop there and you will be safe."
"Okay," came the reply. Then Alkhor bolted off across the bridge as the other three horses reached the bridge.
Arden stood at the bridges opening as the Krias rode up. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed as it started to rain. "Out of the way.." the one rider said.
"You cannot pass," Arden said horsely letting his cloak fall to the ground. He was already focusing his sheen and he drew his sword and gripped it tightly in his right hand holding his left hand out with his fingers pointed forward. His whole body was tensed and the riders could sense that they wouldn't cross without a fight. Krias feared no one, but they could sense a strength, or power in Arden and they were cautious. The first rider dismounted leaving the second rider on his horse. The Krias removed his cloak which fell to the ground and drew his two swords. Krias were like an evil elf.. with the strength of ten men, and a face as dark as the blackest night, their ears were pointed, and their forheads contorted in to a permamnent frown, most people dropped to the ground in fear when they saw one prepared to fight. The Kria's eyes glowed red as he approached Arden with his two swords held in each hand. Arden smiled his defiance at the rider. He knew they were the most elite soldiers he had ever encountered and had never fought one before, but he had been trained as a boy in the art of fighting, and the Krias used the same techniques he had been taught. Arden wasn't afraid or intimidated, but knew he would have to fight his best fight to make it through this.
The Krias lunged forward whirling his swords as he spun in a 360 degree turn as he closed on Arden. Arden easily blocked the attempted blows. One thing he did like about fighting people who used two swords was that they were never able to deliver as strong a blow as a person with one sword holding it with both hands. This would be the weakness he would exploit, he thought to himself. His face showed nothing but confidence and the Krias grew andry at this. The second rider dismounted his horse and began removing his cloak. The first was now swinging his swords with lightning speed. Arden swung his own sword deflecting the blows with some difficulty, but he was keeping up.
His five companions watched from the other side of the bridge, all holding their breath. Verdan looked on in silence as he watched Arden fighting with TWO Krias for him. "Is it for me or the pendant?" he thought to himself.
"We just want the boy!" The second rider hissed as another clap of thunder rang out over the plains of Eingreth and the Anendin.
Verdan looked nervously at the others in the group and Jarin spoke to him for the frst time. "He won't give you to them.. he'll die first so you can relax." Arden answered the Krias by casting a beam of light from his hand into the second rider's face blinding him for a moment and causing him to yell out in pain. The first was still swinging at him and Arden gripped his sword in both hands tightly and swung violently at one of the riders swords knocking it from the Krias' hand and hurting it's wrist. It cried out in pain as the second Krias, now able to see again, lept into the frey. The two advanced on Arden, and he was now warding off the blows from three swords. The swords whirled and danced in the darkness, reflecting the flashes of lightning while the three figures battled in the pelting rain. He started backing up as he blocked swing after swing of his opponents and wished he already had Arunfang. Verdan looked on at Arden fighting.. never giving up, pushing himself further even though he was slowly being warn down. Matching three blades with his own single blade, Arden seemed one with his sword and Verdan could tell, that to protect something.. Jarin and Joshia, the pendant.. whatever it was, Arden would never simply give up and surrender.
Arden was now half-way across the bridge and was still backing up as his concentration began to waiver. He was getting tired since he was focusing everything on his opponents and not focusing on keeping himself from tiring. He had also held the Sraltha that morning and felt drained. The whirling swords of the Krias slowly wore Arden down, then with a kick to his side, Arden was knocked off his feet and as he struggled to get up from his knees, the Krias came on him again. Even kneeling before them, Arden blocked their swings. Verdan seeing all this from the edge of the bridge knew he had to do something and he closed his eyes to concentrate the way he had seen Mordak do many times and held his hand out. He pointed at the Krias with the two swords and a bolt of light shot from his hand and struck the Krias knocking it backwards stunning it temporarily. The other Krias brought his sword down hard at Arden who held his sword parallel to the ground to block it. The Krias pressed downwards with all it's strength glaring at Arden with it's flaming red eyes. Arden looked back defiantly, looking the Krias in the eyes, something people never did. The two of them stayed in this position for nearly a minute, in a test of strength and will. Arden was nearly exhausted but he didn't give up, he didn't know how to give up and focusing all his energy in one last motion, he stood up violently, flinging the Krias backward onto the ground next to the other Krias who was coming to it's senses.
The Krias both lept to their feet and ran at Arden who was now almost completely spent. Mentally he had no energy left to concentrate, and standing up to the evil energy of the Krias drained him further as they advanced on him once again. He stepped backwards and staggered warding off the blows which were coming closer and closer to hitting him with every swing.
Jarin and Joshia could see their friend was now slowly being beaten. "Jarin," Joshia said softly. "We have to help him.. we have to focus." Jarin closed his eyes and nodded. They envisioned their own sheen like a ball of blue light and focused it into a beam aimed at Arden. Suddenly Arden could feel a charge.. a buildup of energy and he began to shimmer more brightly. Slowly the shimmering turned into a glow and the Krias could tell the tide was about to turn as Arden began moving faster blocking their swings and countering with his own. Arden started focusing his energy into his sword the way he had against the five dark riders before. He had never done it against Krias, but he needed a break and with the energy he was receiving from Jarin and Joshia his sword began to glow blue at the tip, then quickly the edges of the sword all began to glow, then the whole sword began to glow. Both of the Krias stepped back as fear.. actual fear crept into their hearts. They had never experienced it before and even Mordak perched in his tower looking on - for a brief moment as Arden easily cleaved both Krias in half - felt a sense of his own impending doom.
The blood curdling shrieks of the Krias sent chills through everyone who heard them as their cries rang out over the plains and up into the mountains. At the moment the sword passed through them, a blast of sunshine broke through the clouds, and the ice that had formed on the bridge melted in seconds as the hole in the clouds grew larger and warmth spread througout the plains. Arden turned his head up to the sky as the coulds broke, looking defiantly at the dark clouds (and Mordak) as they receeded. The people in Tor Eingreth, who had been huddling silently in their homes, stepped out of their houses to feel the warm sunshine and see the rainbow that ended on the bridge over the Anendin. The bodies of the two fallen creatures and their steeds began to smoke in the light and soon turned into dust that was blown away by the warm breeze. All the darkness and the clouds that had reached out from Ardun now drew back and the sounds of nature again filled the air. It was like a spring morning in a late summer afternoon.
Arden retrieved his cloak from the ground where it had fallen a few minutes earlier and shook the water from it and layed it over his shoulder as he crossed the bridge to where his five companions sat upon their mounts. Four of the five immediately congradulated him on his "amazing fighting," but young Verdan was lost for words. Jarin and Joshia both quickly dismounted and gave Arden a big hug which he returned happily. "Thank you both of you.. without your strength..." he trailed off. There was no need to say it. Verdan watched feeling a pain in his stomach. HE wanted to be the one to run to Arden and give him a hug. HE wanted to be loved by Arden the way Arden loved Jarin and Joshia, and he was near tears when Arden looked up at him and shot him a warm smile. He wasn't forgotten, and he smiled back holding in his tears as Arden walked towards him and got up onto the horse, sitting behind Verdan. Jarin and Joshia mounted their horse also and with one hand on the reigns and one hand lightly resting against Verdan's chest holding him steady on the horse, he lead them across the small valley of foothills that lead un into the mountains.
Arden took the lead giving Jarin a look to say "hang back a little." Jarin knew he probably wanted to talk to Verdan about some stuff so he hung back around 20 yards behind Arden's horse and Darien and Darius followed his example.
"So you're both from Islan?" Darien asked breaking the silence opening up a conversation going over their lives. How Joshia's parents were killed when he was young and Jarin's parents had taken him in. Growing up in Islan, and up to the fall of Islan to the Ithilians. Darius and Darien said little of their history since once they got Jarin talking, there was little pause for them to say anything. Arden and Verdan on the other hand, were talking quietly up ahead.
"Thanks.." Verdan said as Arden started them off towards the mountains.
"For what?" Arden asked somewhat surprised to have Verdan actually thanking him.
"Thanks for like.. not just turning me over to the Krias.." Verdan said softly. He was getting tired and was leaning back against Arden for support. Arden looked over to Jarin who understood and dropped their horse back so they could talk.
"I'd never turn you over to the Krias, or any other servant of Mordak Verdan." Arden said quietly into the boy's ear.
"Why?" Verdan said closing his eyes waiting to hear Arden say he had to protect the pendant.
"Well for starters it took a lot of courage to do what you did today. For another thing, your mother means a lot to me and I will bring you back to her one day and make it safe for you to be you. And for a last reason, if you want three as is custom, you haven't lost your innocense, and I will protect you as best I can from the evil of this world." Verdan said solemnly.
Verdan was getting more and more tired by the minute, and this statement by Arden surprised Verdan. Try as he may to feel otherwise, Verdan felt safe when he was with Arden. He felt protected, like he coud just be himself and act like he wanted.. "But you don't even know me. Why do you care what happens to me? It's 'cause of the pendant right?"
Arden chuckled lightly. "I don't have to know you to care about you. You're a human being, and Ardunian. You're one of my people and whether I know you or not Verdan, I care about you very much."
"Mordak said to never trust you.. he said you'd hurt me," the boy whispered.
"I'll bet he told you a lot of things about me right?" Arden asked. The boy nodded. "Were any of them good?" The boy shook his head no. "And do you trust Mordak? Did he treat you kindly?"
"No he was mean!" The boy said sitting up straight. "I never knew if he was going to be okay, or yell, and I was always scared that I'd get beaten.." the boy trailed off.
"Well let me promise you this," Arden said softly holding the boy close to whisper in his ear. "I'll never beat you, or yell at you, or let anyone else do either to you. You've lived a hard enough life already."
"Umm.. thanks.. Arden." Verdan said slowly as what Arden had said sunk in. Arden smiled at this reply. He knew exactly what the boy was going through since he'd been through the same type of mental duel before himself, and he looked back to what Rafiar must have felt when he was in Arden's position. He could also sense how tired the boy was and when he glanced over his shoulder and saw his four folowers falling asleep in their saddles.. well at least three of them looked like they were almost asleep. Jarin was still chattering away to the other three.
"And that's when we fell asleep in your house and you stuck your head inside and woke us up!" Jarin said happily.
"Okay guys.." Arden said. "We're going dig in for the night here.."
"Here?" Jarin questioned quickly with his usual "oh no!" tone, which in turn sent Joshia giggling uncontrolably. His laughter of course was contageous and soon the who group began to laugh.
"Well not right here Jarin, if you don't like this particular spot.. I was thinking of that little group of trees over there." Arden said still chuckling lightly. Even Verdan was smiling. "It'll be fine Jarin," he said smiling at the boy who looked back still a little unsure. "Eventually you'll get used to sleeping outdoors. It used to scare me too," Arden confessed to ease Jarin's concerns.
"I'll keep you safe Jarin," Joshia whispered into the ear of his friend, and now lover. Jarin smiled at this, and since Arden heard it clearly, he smiled too.
Arden lead the group over to the trees and they set to work on building their camp. An hour or so later, the sun was setting behind the Forest of Eliri, and the land was growing dark. The group was settling in for sleep around the campfire. Jarin and Joshia were laying cuddled one behind the other (Jarin being in front), when Arden came to say goodnight to each of them, and make sure they were okay.
"Will you sleep with us tonight Arden?" Jarin asked softly as Arden knealt over them. He glanced over in Verdan's direction. Verdan had been looking at him longingly when he heard Jarin's question wishing HE could be held close and safe by Arden, but when he saw Arden's head turning towards him, he quickly looked away. Arden's keen eyes caught the movement of the boy's head, as well as the slight shiver the boy gave leaning against the broken stump. He had no blankets, and the cold mountain air was blowing over the hills.
"No Jarin," Arden said softly looking back to the two boys huddled closely together. "I'll be keeping watch tonight, so you'll have to keep each other warm tonight." Arden would be keeping watch, but he also didn't want to come between Jarin and Joshia's love for one another. "Goodnight boys," Arden said softly as he stood to leave.
"Goodnight Arden, we love you." They chorused.
"I love you both too," Arden asnwered smiling as he looked over at Darien and Darius who were both fast asleep already laying the same way Jarin and Joshia were; they huddled together under their blankets. Then Arden returned his gaze to Verdan. He hadn't been given any supplies since he hadn't stayed with Derek, and the King and Queen of Tor Eingreth hadn't expected him. Arden walked over silently and knealt down next to the boy who was asleep with his back to the tree-trunk and his legs drawn up close to him to keep warm. Arden smiled and drew his own pack up next to the boy and pulled out his three blankets. He lifted Verdan slightly away from the stump to rest a blanket behind him and layed the other two blankets over the boy who didn't wake up. He then gently smoothed the boy's hair on his head and rubbed his cheek once. "Goodnight Verdan," he whispered.
Arden stood and walked closer to the camp-fire and closed his eyes listening to the forest around him. Verdan opened one eye to peek at Arden. He had been awake, and pretended to be sleeping. He saw Arden standing with his back to him and his arms folded across his chest. A single tear ran down Verdan's cheek. He wanted so much to have Arden laying next to him, keeping him safe, but his fear kept him from it. "Goodnight," he whispered almost inaudibly, and cosed his eyes to sleep.