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Copyright 2015 by billwstories
Chapter 21 – A Lesson Learned Too Late.
*** AUTHOR'S NOTE ***
This chapter contains graphic scenes of violence and gore, which some readers may find upsetting.
As Madumda sat working in his private study, his advisor, a smallish man dressed in dark, flowing robes, cautiously entered the room. As he crossed over to where the Dark Lord was sitting, Madumda looked up from what he was working on. He then eyed his advisor momentarily before he spoke.
“Have all of the patrols, scouts and spies been recalled?” he asked gruffly.
“My Lord,” the timid, hunched over man responded, “all of the members of your army are either back with their units or on the way to rejoin them.”
The sorcerer merely grunted and went back to his work. He ignored the man and acted as if he was now the only one in the room, even though his underling had not gone anywhere. His advisor was shifting his weight nervously from one leg to the other and appeared to be almost dancing about as he decided what he should do next. Several minutes later, Madumda looked up and became annoyed when he discovered the man was still lurking about.
“Why are you still here?” he challenged sternly.
The sorcerer’s tone caused his subordinate to start trembling slightly, because it was never wise to upset Madumda.
“Ah, I, uh, well, there is, uh, one more thing,” the man stammered.
He knew what he wanted to say, but was still trying to decide how he should phrase his question. Unfortunately for him, Madumda wasn’t known to be a patient person.
“Out with it and quickly! I do not have all day to waste with you,” the Dark Lord snarled. “Either say what you wish or leave.”
The slightly deformed advisor was now quaking, almost as if he was standing on the ground around a volcano that was about to erupt. He was extremely apprehensive concerning how his master might react to what he had to tell him and, therefore, didn’t know how he should proceed. Having no other option, he just dove into the matter, headlong.
“Lord Madumda,” he started, with a slight tremor in his voice, “I humbly suggest we do more to safeguard the sword…”
“To what end?” the Dark Lord snapped back, cutting him off.
Madumda not only startled his nervous advisor, but it was also quite apparent that his underling hadn’t been expecting to be interrupted. Since the timid man wasn’t sure if he should say anything more, since he had been cut off once already, he remained quiet and merely stared at his master. Madumda was exasperated and perturbed that he had not received a response to his query, so he rephrased his question.
“Why do you feel my enemies would still continue to seek that damnable sword?” Madumda asked, while intently glaring at his trembling advisor.
“My Lord, it’s, um, well they will still want it because,” the terrified underling stammered, “well it’s because they know it is the only thing that can harm you.”
“Even though that may be true, I have seen to it that the sword is adequately secured,” the sorcerer responded. “Besides, I am certain those who oppose me believe the sword is of no use to them without a champion to bear it forth and I have made sure no such person exists any longer.”
Madumda’s brow wrinkled above his crooked nose, as he studied the smallish figure standing across from him. He thought he had made himself perfectly clear and wondered why the man wasn’t currently begging his leave.
“Is there something more you desire?” the sorcerer finally growled.
“My Lord,” the persistent man continued, “isn’t it possible that someone else might try to wield the sword against you if they had it in their possession? Isn’t the magic in the sword, no matter who holds it?”
“There is a remote possibility that is true, but no one will ever be able to locate the sword’s hiding place,” the Dark Lord informed him. “Not only that, but even though the power comes from the sword, Beraut has been insistent that only an heir can summon its power. I was also slightly concerned that an heir might be able to harm me even without the sword, but now that the heirs have all been taken care of, I am no longer worried about that possibility. Since the prophecy specifically claimed it would be a descendent of Ethelbert that would destroy me, not some random person, I don’t see someone else wielding the sword against me.”
“How can you be so certain the prophecy is true?” the advisor challenged, suddenly finding a spark of courage somewhere deep within his timid soul. “Couldn’t the seer have misread the signs? Maybe it is just the sword and not an heir that is needed to carry it out.”
“Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve been saying?” the sorcerer screamed.
That last comment had shaken the Dark Lord slightly, because he had been trying not to think about the prophecy, especially after he had eliminated the last of Ethelbert’s heirs. Now, it seemed to be hanging over him again, like an executioner’s blade.
“I never heard any reports of that soothsayer ever making an inaccurate prognostication,” Madumda persisted, once again taking a very adamant stance. “That particular seer made many predictions during his lifetime, and as far as I know they were all right on the mark, so I have no doubts he read the stars correctly this time as well.”
“Then why did you kill him?” the timid advisor asked, more courageously than he possibly should have. Madumda just glared at him because of his audacious query.
“I killed him because I was infuriated that he had the gall to predict I would one day be killed,” the Dark Lord spat back. “Not only that, but he claimed it would be an heir of that blasted king who would do it. It was more of a reflexive response on my part, rather than a planned action.”
Although Madumda still exuded an outward air of confidence, he did so because he didn’t want his advisor to see how terrified and unsure he actually was. If the truth were told, however, his advisor’s comments had caused him to seriously reconsider his previous assertions. He had been dealing with these doubts for many years and it was doing him no good to have it all resurface at this late date.
After fighting with these newly awakened doubts for several minutes, Madumda eventually brushed them aside. After due consideration, he concluded that he’d gone over this ground many times before. He had taken several decades to consider all of the relevant issues and arguments concerning this stupid prophecy and what it meant for him. If that much scrutiny couldn’t uncover the truth behind it, then even more thought concerning this matter would be useless as well. Therefore, he felt this was neither the time to falter or to begin questioning his beliefs.
“Even if what you say is true,” the unconvinced counselor pleaded, “a few additional precautions still might be prudent. Why take any chances, especially now that you are so close to reaching your goal?”
“I have much more pressing business to attend to than worrying about such insignificant concerns,” the Dark Lord advised him, much more calmly than was his nature.
Even though Madumda did not agree with his subordinate, he realized the man was only showing concern about his welfare, so he was willing to cut him some slack. Upon second thought, however, Madumda considered that his advisor might merely be worried about maintaining his own position, but it didn’t really make a difference. Even though it was contrary to his natural impulses, the Dark Lord would not punish his advisor for his persistence – at least not this time.
“I have things to do, so be off with you,” Madumda ordered. “I’m sure you must have other duties to perform as well.”
Even though his advisor wasn’t pleased about how this had turned out, he knew better than to push Madumda further. He bowed and backed out of the chamber, leaving the sorcerer alone again. As he made his way down the hallway, he thought back upon his discussion with his master, but he still wasn’t convinced the Dark Lord was handling the situation as wisely as he should. He was worried that Madumda was ignoring a very real and serious threat, but he didn’t know how to convince him of this fact.
Several days later, Madumda’s advisor found himself in his master’s study again, but this time he had been summoned there. This was not an uncommon occurrence though, because he handled many of the Dark Lord’s lesser concerns and was routinely called in to answer questions about those affairs. This time, however, he immediately felt something was not quite right when he entered the chamber. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he had a very strange feeling about it the second he walked through the door.
“Yes, my Lord,” he said obediently. “You wanted to see me?”
The sorcerer looked up, but his advisor quickly noticed there was no readable expression on his face. The timid man wasn’t sure what this meant, but the hair on the back of his neck immediately began to stand on end.
“I thought you told me all of our operatives had been recalled, as I ordered,” Madumda began in a calm, yet alarming tone.
His advisor immediately knew from this statement and the way it had been uttered that his master was already upset with him. When he didn’t immediately respond, the sorcerer’s face also began to show signs of irritation, so the man realized he had to answer quickly or Madumda’s wrath would continue to grow.
“I reported that all members of your army had returned to their units, as you requested,” he assured his master once again. “Is there a problem?”
Unfortunately, the Dark Lord was now glaring at him, so he knew his answer hadn’t been satisfactory.
“If that is true,” Madumda countered, “then why are there patrols still wandering around the western perimeter of the Devil’s Horseshoe?”
The servant blanched at this pronouncement, as the blood completely drained from his face. He understood what this meant and his deception had been uncovered.
“Since I thought all of those groups had been summoned back by now,” the sorcerer continued, “I decided to do a magical scan of the adjacent areas, to make sure all was well. Imagine my shock and surprise when I discovered multiple squads still roaming about that area. Do you mind explaining to me how this could be possible?”
“Uh, well, um, those are merely mercenary patrols, my Lord,” the underling offered as justification, although he could tell by the sorcerer’s expression that he wasn’t succeeding in his effort. “All of the soldiers in your army have been recalled and have returned to their units, so I did as you ordered.”
“How dare you tell me what I ordered,” the Dark Lord shouted, as he jumped to his feet and towered above his quaking advisor. “What I told you was to bring ALL of my operatives back from the field.”
Madumda’s outrage was growing and his hair and beard were flying wildly from side-to-side, as his body shook and his anger grew.
“It is apparent that you intentionally disobeyed my directive,” Madumda spat out. “Obviously, you do not think I am capable of making proper decisions.”
“No, that’s not what I thought, master!” the advisor exclaimed, while cowering and trembling in fright. “I thought I was doing as you wished.”
“Balderdash,” the Dark Lord countered. “You were doing what YOU wanted, not as I commanded.”
“No, my Lord,” the man protested, while now nearly convulsing in fear. “I was just concerned about what happened to your spies at the High Pass and thought it would be best...”
“See you did go against my wishes,” the Dark Lord pointed out, while eyeing his advisor suspiciously.
“I was just worried about someone killing your…” the man countered, only to have the sorcerer cut him off again.
“I told you before that incident was just a fluke,” Madumda shouted, before the man had a chance to finish his pitiful excuse.
The mere mention of the High Pass had caused Madumda to reluctantly think about the circumstances of his only setback thus far, the slaughter of one of his patrols. Even though it was a small unit, one that had been assigned to scout the Citadel Mountains and watch the High Pass for activity, the incident had temporarily concerned Madumda at the time. However, since then he realized it was only an isolated occurrence; it no longer troubled him as much as it once had.
“A fluke?” the counselor asked, after he saw the Dark Lord’s attention suddenly focused back upon him. “Are you sure about that? Doesn’t it concern you that the other races are working together?”
“I’ve always suspected those types of alliances would eventually be formed,” the sorcerer answered, “but I don’t think Beraut will be able to get them to totally overcome their racial distrust of each other. I’m also fairly positive the particular group you are referring to was merely a rogue band of renegades attempting to hinder my rise to power.”
“That’s just my point,” the advisor persisted, in an attempt to get a firm commitment. “You don’t know for sure what they were up to and they might not be the only ones.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Madumda shouted, as his temper began to surface again. “They were dealt with and that’s the end of it.”
“What about the other things we’ve discovered since then?” the smallish man continued.
“What other things?” Madumda snapped, while glaring at his advisor.
“Like the large piece of dwarfish chain mail and the flail that one of the condors carried back to its nest?” the stubborn servant continued. “Doesn’t that prove to you that there are other conspirators still lurking about?”
“No!” the sorcerer screamed, as his eyes had narrowed into tiny slits and the muscles in his body began to tense. “It just shows that one of my pets went a little farther out of its way to find something to eat.”
Even though he was furious with his advisor, he couldn’t help but get a bit of enjoyment from that last thought. A little snicker escaped his lips, as he wondered how many more of his adversaries might have become a meal for one of his aerial watchdogs.
“But what if it didn’t go out of its way?” his worried subordinate persisted. “What if that dwarf had been snatched up because he was somewhere nearby? I fear those things mean there is more going on out there than what we have already seen.”
“So you truly did disobey me,” the sorcerer sneered. “You just admitted it for the second time.”
“No! Even though I am still concerned, I did what you told me and recalled your soldiers for the battle,” the advisor reiterated. “I merely failed to order a few of the mercenaries to return.”
“There, you just admitted it again!” Madumda shot back, as he smirked after tricking his underling into confessing his guilt yet again. “By not calling ALL of my operatives back, you were intentionally ignoring my explicit directive.”
“No, master! That’s not what I meant,” the subordinate whined, his fear continually growing and becoming very evident.
“I will listen to you no more,” Madumda screamed, as he held up his hand to silence his advisor. “You have defied me for the final time and it is long overdue that you to pay for your audacity and serve as an example for the others. They shall quickly learn what happens to someone who doesn’t do exactly what I have requested.”
“Please, my Lord,” the advisor pleaded, while prostrating himself on the floor. He now knew his only hope was to beg for his life. “I will never…”
“No, you won’t,” the Dark Lord responded, cutting him off.
The sorcerer’s eyes were now practically glowing as he slowly tightened his right hand into a fist. As soon as he did this, his advisor grasped his chest in agony.
“You shall come to regret your defiance,” Madumda hissed, as he raised his closed fist so that it was now shoulder level.
As he did this, the man’s body slowly rose off of the floor, until it was floating about two meters above the ground. With his lackey in severe pain and totally under his control, the sorcerer made his way out of the room. As the Dark Lord confidently strode down the corridor, his subordinate’s writhing form glided in the air behind him, as if being towed by an unseen rope.
The duo traveled along like this as they made their way down various corridors and descended the staircase, as Madumda made his way toward the main entrance of the fortress. Anyone who caught even the slightest glimpse of them immediately knew what was happening and jumped out of the Dark Lord’s line of sight, in an act of self preservation.
Madumda continued on at a steady pace until he eventually exited the structure and stepped into the courtyard that lay just beyond. Two of his guards spotted him as he emerged from the building and raced toward their master to see if he needed their assistance.
“Lord Madumda, do you require our help?” the first soldier inquired.
“Chain this worm up to the punishment post,” Madumda spat out, venomously, “and then I will deal with him once you have his body secured.”
“Aye, my Lord,” the trooper replied.
He and the other guard then grabbed the advisor’s body so they could do as they’d been told, once the sorcerer released the man from his control. Within a couple of minutes, the guards had the whimpering servant’s wrists clamped into the irons and then they pulled the chains tight and left him dangling from the punishment pole. As they made their way back to the main gate, Madumda approached his former advisor, while flashing an evil grin as he grew nearer.
“Although it will be too late for you to learn from your mistakes,” the Dark Lord announced, “you shall serve as a lesson to anyone else who considers defying the exact meaning of my words.”
With that said, the sorcerer held out his right hand, index finger extended, and slashed it about in the air. Without touching his underling, each pass of the Dark Lord’s finger produced an immediate effect. His advisor’s clothing was rendered and a fresh gash opened on the writhing man’s flesh, mimicking the way his finger had moved. Each time this happened, his former advisor would scream out in pain. Before long the man’s torso was covered with multiple nasty lacerations, as his shredded garment fell off of his body. His blood was flowing freely from those gapping wounds and running down his torso, before eventually dripping onto the ground. It was forming small puddles beneath his feet, which were several centimeters above the ground.
Satisfied with his handiwork and ignoring the pitiful pleas from the tortured soul before him, Madumda turned around and went back inside the main building. He would leave the man hanging there until his body either rotted and fell to the ground, or someone else replaced him on the punishment pole.
The air outside was chilly, mostly due to the fact that it was a dark and overcast day. The clouds were completely blocking out the sunlight and not allowing even a single ray to sneak through. This totally negated any warming effect the burning orb in the sky might have otherwise had on the area, so as a result the poor devil hanging in the courtyard was shivering from more than just his fear and pain. However, his problems were just beginning.
The scent of his blood was already starting to attract the fire ants from their nearby colony, as they gradually made their way in his direction. The ants had learned from past experience what the scent meant, so when they didn’t find anything in the way to hinder their progress, they climbed the pole so they could begin to spread out over the man’s gyrating form.
The fire ants that weren’t shaken off, as the man squirmed and struggled to shed as many of them as he could, immediately started to suck up the oozing blood, before they also began to nibble at the uneven edges of his open wounds. The burning pain caused by these multiple attacks upon his body caused the advisor to groan, scream and twist about spasmodically in the air, as he attempted to rid himself of these attackers. Even when he was successful and a few of them fell from his torso, he could never dislodge enough of the ants to give him any significant relief.
As he hung from the post, not only was he trying to think of a way to rid himself of this roaming horde of insects, but he was also thinking ahead and contemplating what was yet to come. He had seen enough others punished like this to know that the crows would be attracted to him next and they would go for his eyes, as they pecked them out of the sockets. Then, after dark, the rats would emerge from their hiding places, as they arrived to claim their fair share of this bountiful feast. The poor man shuddered to think about what it was going to be like when they also began to gnaw and tear at his body
Trembling beyond belief, the advisor tried to force all of these horrific images from his mind, so he could make peace with his gods before the end came. He prayed the deities would take pity on him and allow him to die quickly, before he suffered from the various violations he was certain would follow. Even though that was what he desired, unfortunately for him it didn’t happen quite the way he wished.
* * * * * * * *
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