By dabeagle - Chapter 10
The nightmares come often, almost every night, the screaming of a person who was alive and healthy, and at that moment being reduced to ash and dust. Pillars of earth with screaming soldiers riding them like a demented amusement park ride, and lightning crashing into the ground fountaining dirt and small bits of armor and flesh. In daylight I know that I did what I must do, or at least I tell myself so, but in the dark, in my dreams, its harder to convince myself.
The scene before me was something that was all too common since the city of Caralill had fallen to us. The blackened earth and roasted corpses of the simple folk that had tended to this land before the embers of Orunds army lit the field, and murdered its occupants. The house had once housed a small family, a barn stood not far off and the animals were inside, what remained of them.
I was traveling with Roland since Asmodean still felt it safer to pair us up since our powers complimented each other. I dont know what Kody saw in him, the prick could be a downright, well, prick. I have to admit, he was kind to Kody and considerate to him in a fashion I would not have thought Roland capable of. As my horse followed alongside Roland we came upon a corpse not burned, one of a man who had died with his eyes open wide, unbelieving at the treachery on his own land, perhaps.
Aaron, are you gathering wool once more? Roland asked with a benign smile. I looked at him, the awful images of the night before still burning behind my eyelids and the carnage before me reminding me that more horror was yet to come.
I am, Roland, in the here and now once more, I mumbled and Roland seemed satisfied. Soldiers were dispatched to gather the remains of the people who worked the fields.
So many deaths in the fields surrounding the city, it makes no sense to me, I said dully, for the killing made no sense to me anyway.
It is the work of Orunds remaining men, blackening the earth and making it barren, hoping to starve the troops. We will have need of you to make rain for the crops that must be planted for the next harvesting cycle, Roland said.
Why kill the people? I asked.
To prevent word spreading of whom in particular is burning the earth, Roland replied.
War is senseless, I mumbled.
So it is, my friend, so it is. May we bring peace, he replied before burning the villagers corpse to a crisp, allowing it some dignity so as rodents and scavengers didnt make a meal of it before its remains were laid to rest. We continued to patrol the countryside and secure it, breaking up knots of resistance as we happened upon them, or flushed them from their hiding places.
For the past several days we had thumped about to finish the unification of what was now the State of Corvan, and even now the news was filtering in of strange creatures roaming the earth to the south. Nightmarish creatures, some say they were once men, now twisted into creatures of darkness.
Tales too of Elves had begin to be heard, Elves who were supposed to be creatures of myth, but in my experience here, nothing can be ruled out as mere myth, not in a land where magic rules.
The city of Caralill had been Orunds stronghold, and when put to the question, Malodur proved a wellspring of information, just gurgling along you might say. After taking the city, Orund was executed in the main square and the united State of Corvan declared. Asmodean continued to pump the broken wizard for information, but he clammed right up when it came to the High Lord, dropping his pencil in a heartbeat. It seems clear that his loyalties are to the High Lord and not Orund, though that may be fear in reality rather than loyalty.
After the long day of riding, we were at last heading for the city when Rolands mount sidled up to my own and he rode in silence, a troubled look on his face.
Aaron, may I ask your advice? he asked quite suddenly.
You want advice from me? I asked, incredulous look firmly in place. He winced at my reaction and nodded as he continued.
I know how to run a kingdom, how to lead an Army into combat. I know how to manage grain stores and manage taxes, but when it comes to the heart, I feel as though I am inadequate.
I kept silent.
I have a problem that I had not realized would be a problem. As the heir to the throne, I must marry and produce an heir. True, the marriage is one of power and convenience, but I would be married and not to the one my heart holds dear.
When my father told me of my engagement to the daughter of King Alliandre of the Northern Barony, I took it as expected. Kody was a little more vocal about the arrangements. He was very rude to father, and I must make him see that he must apologize, Roland said with a sigh.
Ok, let me make sure I know what you are asking of me, all right? he nodded, So your dad is going to have you marry, you will sleep with this woman, nay, fuck this woman and expect Kody to apologize to your father because he wants you for himself?
Thats not quite the way it is Roland began and I glared at him.
Its not? Then exactly how is it, Roland? Would you have Kody be your whore? A kept boy that your wife has no knowledge of? Or have you thought what your wife may think when she knows you are sharing a bed with another, assuming Kody lets you share his bed? Roland looked shocked at the idea Kody might refuse him.
I know, for myself, I would not share William with another, nor would I share my bed with another while being his, and I am his, and as I said it I felt it somehow binding and powerful that I had so blindly said it.
I can see you shall be no help, Roland muttered sullenly.
You once asked me questions to find out why I thought the way I did, and now you have just found out more of our thinking. Maybe you should think on it well before discarding my words, Prince Regent, I fairly sneered the last part. He was so bullheaded and arrogant sometimes!
He made no reply and we passed through the ravaged city walls of Caralill, the new stones having been hefted in place by magic just the day before as we moved to put the city back into livable conditions. The city was rapidly being repaired and its people coming to terms with the new order, which for most was better than the previous system. Rights were had by citizens and a new set of laws had been posted to the city square for all citizens to see.
Unfortunately, most could not read. The king, it seems, had plans to rectify this in the future, but for now he was intent on consolidating and securing his holdings. I was seeing many similarities between Roland and King Corvan, especially in the arrogant department. Roland handed his reigns to a groom as he walked away swiftly from the stables. I dismounted and walked my horse to its stable, where a groom placed fresh sweet hay for it to eat, and I proceeded to brush down the strong animal, much to its pleasure.
Do you enjoy trying to make my brother crazy? William fumed from behind me.
Does your brother have a single notion of how to deal with people, unless it involves a sword? I retorted.
This is a necessity for the kingdom, William began as he strode to my side, and it must be done, an heir must be had!
William, I replied as I continued to brush my mount, I would not share you with someone else, and Kody will not play second fiddle to whatever arranged marriage your father has cracked up, I replied in my most reasonable tone of voice.
Why can you not see that having an heir, and orderly passing of power, is essential to the survival of the kingdom? William asked his frustration showing.
William, I have decided I want a son. I shall go to the gaudier section of the city and find a willing woman, but once my child is born, I shall return to you, I said in a thoughtful tone.
Like hell! he blurted.
My point exactly, I replied as I resumed brushing the horse.
Your desire to have a child and the stability of a kingdom are hardly comparable, William informed me.
But the same basic principle applies, youd not have me sleeping about and Kody wouldnt tolerate it from Roland either.
You fail to see the larger picture! he whined.
And you, my love, fail to see the whole picture. You are only thinking of the kingdom, and each choice one makes has consequences.
So, he must choose between ruling his people or taking Kody as his own? William asked.
He must choose between having a Queen or Kody, that is the real choice to be made, I replied, that he will be king is no doubt.
Should he not marry and choose Kody, do you not wonder if the title would fall to the next in line? he asked in a low voice.
I stared at him as the full implication set in.
Well, I guess well cross that bridge when we get to it, but if it comes to that then I have no choices, I replied unhappily.
A dark pallor was cast about the city for days amongst us four, the tenseness rivaled only by the contrast of the day with our moods. Truly the newly acquired lands were a beauty to behold, and the city unique as it was repaired, latticework in the stone of the buildings so vivid they seemed to move in the breeze, carved vines appearing to sway and leaves rippling from an unseen wind.
Traders filled the city markets and squares; all hawking wares as the gates opened to trade from the other half of Corvan. Previously, trade had been restricted between the states, and now a fresh avenue was open to traders and prospective businessman.
For all the bustle, the buildings in which court was held were cold and forbidding. William and I hardly spoke, and Roland only did when he had to. Kody had grown introverted and I was saddened to see him fade from the fine progress he had made. I was equally pissed that Roland was sticking to his attitude about the whole affair.
Things finally came to a head a week and a half later when we were told we would be expected to accompany the princes to greet the arriving Queen to be, Princess Marcella. Kody refused flat out, and I guess a king isnt someone you refuse. Roland was thoroughly embarrassed and I seethed at Kody being locked in new, private chambers.
I hope you wont make a show about all this? You do realize it has to be done? William asked me as he readied himself to meet the woman his brother was to marry.
Oh, yes, completely, I replied sarcastically.
Are you being sarcastic? he asked, eyes narrowing.
Not at all, I replied, refusing to face him. The time for decisions was upon me and I wasnt looking forward to this one. My back was to William, my love, the one that I wanted to marry. He filled my dreams and made the nightmares dissipate with soft words and a softer touch. This whole affair had been hard on us all, but without Roland all Kody had in the world was me, and I couldnt let this happen to him.
I had to leave, because Kody had to leave as well. Roland was going to be married, and Kody was heartbroken. No matter, I guess, the king was getting his way. Things had been somewhat cool between William and I, and now I could see he was already married. To the kingdom, and his duties, and those would always come first. I planned to leave before the official welcome, she had arrived earlier that day, and now I had to say goodbye to my first real love. What else was there to do?
I turned to face William who stood but a few feet away, face wary and it broke my heart to see that the trust once held there was not in evidence. I had planned not to face him, but there was no way around it now.
William, I love you as I have never loved another, I began and I walked to the window as I spoke, not trusting myself to look upon his face, but I can see the divisions between us now. This matter is something that must be, to you and your family, and Kody and I simply do not believe in the same things you do. I spread my arms in a helpless gesture as I turned to face him, a sad beaten look on his face.
Kody has no one, now that Roland has made his choice, and he cannot survive on his own. I promised to look out for him, he is my responsibility. I must leave you, I said, words trailing away to a mere whisper.
The night was ripped asunder suddenly, the building rocking on its foundations and the crack of thunder and tortured earth ruled the night. I moved to the window to see a gaping hole in the eastern wall of the house we occupied. Kody moved on a ripple of earth through the ruined hole in the building. He moved faster than I could track with my eyes and was out of sight a few moments later. No more than seconds had passed when Asmodean appeared at the opening, glaring into the distance.
Now more than ever I had to hurry, Kody was angry and would soon be afraid in this place, and he was my responsibility. I had to pack.
In the Caralill Forest
I awoke to the sounds of the forest waking around me, small creatures hurrying through the underbrush and the light step of a deer just beyond the stand of trees we were nestled in. I suddenly realized I was alone under the blanket and sat up straight. The fire from the night before was still in place; TelJasin must have banked the fire well as heat still came from the small patch of coals. Through the underbrush I heard the sound of approaching feet and stood slowly, stretching.
Are we to move on soon, TelJasin? I asked to the approaching sound.
Yes, Cyrix, quite soon, he replied as he stepped from the trees, have you been lying awake listening to the forest? he asked, tilting his head in my direction.
I just woke a few moments past, I realized I was alone and, I hesitated with shame, I thought you might have left me behind.
You have news, you cannot be left behind, he replied matter-of-factly. Now Ill see to catching us a rabbit for breakfast.
There is one over there, just beyond that tree, in the brush, I replied unthinkingly.
I dont hear but then maybe I do, he gave me an odd, appraising look before coolly drawing his arrow and, notching it in his bow, claimed our breakfast. The speed was amazing, the shot no more than a flicker and the arrow was flying, true to its mark much to the rabbits unhappiness.
After having breakfasted on the meat and some dried fruit that TelJasin had in his pouch, we began to move East-ward. The forest was alive with sounds, both the predatory and the innocent prey moving about their daily tasks. The trees bent in the breeze and the wood groaned silently, as if the trees were doing some stretching exercise. Birds feet clicked on the bark of the trees and the heavy breathing of some laboring creature could be heard.
What am I saying?
TelJasin, do you hear creatures breathing? I asked, trying not to panic. Surely my Elvin master would know what was wrong, or if anything was.
I do, if the world is very still, he replied.
I must be mad, master; my ears think they hear birds walking on the trees, heavy breathing and heavier footfalls deeper in the trees.
I felt his hand on my shoulder, and then it was gone, just enough to still my walking. He stood still and silent beside me, listening with those odd ears and unnaturally smooth skin. I was attempting to replay the fleeting feel of his hand on my shoulder when his eyes began to grow wide and he slapped my back, quickly human, no time to waste!
We were moving through the forest, dodging between trees and over small bushes, and around the larger ones. I heard animals breaking for cover in the underbrush as the sounds of feet became louder in my ears. We broke into a clearing and my lungs were on fire, but I dare not complain or fall behind, there is no telling what might be done to me if I were to displease. I might even be left behind to whatever was fast approaching. I could tell now that they were closing the gap, whatever they might be.
We reached the end of the clearing and TelJasin moved me behind cover of trees and we watched the opposite side for signs of the approaching creatures, and then the first appeared, face a boiling mass, rivulets of a viscous, pussy substance dripping from its chin. The substance oozed from open sores on the face, arms and chest of the creature, as if every inch were diseased. In fact it did seem to grow more decomposed on the spot, small pieces of ragged flesh seceding from the larger body. Its ruined nose sniffed the air, as if it sensed our presence by smell alone, and was even now tracking us.
It gave out a small grunt, then a whooping call, tilting its head back and letting loose a tortured cry, almost a strangled sound. Almost immediately more of its kind moved to the edge of the trees, filling the spaces between and hooting softly as they gathered ranks.
Master, what are they? I said in abject terror.
I am not sure, I have never seen their kind, but I can say they will advance no farther, he said through gritted teeth.
The creatures advanced cautiously into the field, sniffing about warily, but TelJasin was chanting at my side, and my sense that the trees were swaying grew to a fever pitch. Suddenly one of the creatures screamed in pain, in fear and surprise as one of the massive trees scooped it up into its waiting arms, higher and higher the trees threw the creature until the branches were no more, then all shifted away as the hideous creature fell back to earth once more, plummeting like the worlds ugliest stone.
The trees roared with anger as my master continued to mutter in his strange elfish tongue, as multitudes of creatures fell victim to the wrath of the forest. Tree branches acted as if they were massive brooms, throwing the creatures great distances, and still others acted as if they were great hammers driving the worlds homeliest nails. The vanguard ran forward in terror, across the open field and towards our position, though our position was unknown to them.
TelJasin notched an arrow and stepped just into view, and began felling targets with out fail, Elvin arrows piercing hearts and throats, even boring straight through the hard bone above ones eyes. There proved to be more creatures than arrows in his quiver, and at last we were forced to take flight. Trees stooped to scoop one or two of the pursuers as they chased hard on our heels, but they scrambled loose of the slow moving trees, avoiding them a little better than they had before.
Quick, faster, they are trying to flank us! he cried and I, in my panic, fell over my staff to the ground. I heard the drawing of swords and as I raised myself as quickly as I could and was greeted by the creatures about us as they drew their blades, and terrible blades they were. They wiggled back and forth, like a snake might if it were just one long squiggle. They gleamed with a malicious glow, blades dark and forbidding. TelJasin stood over me, protectively, with two swords drawn and a look of determination on his face. I stood slowly; staff still clutched in my hand and pushed my back up against my master. Even now, gripped with more terror than when the riders had pursued me through the forest, I felt the electricity of my contact with him. I began to twirl the staff, the sound of the wind as it moved and increased in speed my courage leapt with the thought that my master was at my back, holding the same bit of ground with me. I owed him my life, for he saved me once, and now it was time to pay.
Stay together, give no openings, he growled to me.
Aye, master, as you say, I replied smoothly.
I said, dont call me master, he screamed as he dashed forward a step, slashing at the enemy and then pulling back to me once more.
Yes, Master, I am sorry master, I replied as I stabbed out with my staff, parrying the blow from one creature and striking another squarely on the nose before retreating to my position.
If I am your master, I reserve the right to whip you for disobeying me! he shouted, punctuating his strikes with his sharpening breath. Two of the creatures closed in on me and the staff broke in half under their assault, and in a panic I screamed.
I was suddenly blinded by the ground in front of me flying in deadly spikes, cutting the creatures in front of me to ribbons and spraying me with the fluids from their ravaged and seemingly faltering bodies. They whooped and cried out in pain and I felt a hand grab onto me, spinning me around as I continued to scream in anger and fear that my master would be hurt, and the anger of the land continued. The spikes of dirt began to rain back down on the fleeing company that had just so recently threatened us, flying parallel to the ground and cutting the legs out from under them. Once more they swooped, as if they had a life of their own and embedded themselves in the ground; some spikes as much as three spans high. I began to weep helplessly at the magic my master had wrought to save us, as my own staff had not the strength and I not the skill to keep my master safe from harm.
Its all right, Cyrix, you are fine, TelJasin soothed. He soothed me! I had failed him and he was not angry, only concerned! What good fortune I had to be owned by him, surely the fairest master one could dream of?
They have fled, calm yourself, you are not harmed! he said, voice laced with impatience and worry.
I wail at my failure, Master TelJasin, I havent the strength nor the skill to protect you! You trusted me to guard your flank and I failed! I wailed miserably. He should beat me for being so poor a slave, I knew he should, and yet his touch was soothing.
Cyrix, none of what you say is true, and we have no time for debate, we must move before they regroup and come again. Come, we have but a few more hours before we can stop, he urged as he lifted me to my feet.
Master, you should be angry and yet you are not, you should beat me and leave me, but you do not. I failed you, I whimpered.
If you wish to be beaten and you wish to see me angry, then stand here and continue to defy me, he snarled suddenly, Ill box your ears if you dont step quickly!
He placed a hand in my back and firmly pushed me forward, and I moved not wanting to rile him further. As I calmed and my senses began to settle I heard the hooting and grunting in the distance that would be the remnants of the creatures we had faced. Rather that he had faced, I had simply stood there like a dolt and nearly gotten us killed.
We came at last to a great wood, my lungs felt as though I were breathing fire rather than air, and my legs ached as If the muscles had never been used like this before. My feet seemed as if they could fall off my ankles at a moments notice and at last TelJasin halted and I with him.
My breakfast was long before, but it was very evident at the moment as I tried to contain it. I stood with my hands upon my knees, breathing deeply and attempting to regulate my fluttering heart. It seemed like hours, but in reality it was but moments, I felt no more than bone tired as opposed to being on deaths doorstep.
Cyrix, welcome to the Elf city of Lilliandre, he intoned softy, with more than a bit of reverence. I looked up from my knees and saw nothing.
Master, forgive me, but all I see before me are trees, I replied.
My dear Cyrix, you must relax your eyes and allow them to see beyond the trees, beyond to the minds eyes, he replied, almost hypnotically.
I looked and looked, and finally grew weary and my eyes relaxed. Trees blended together, overlapping like feathers of a great bird. The trees did not creak as before, and I heard no creature stirring, nor could the beating of hearts be heard. With suddenness I found shocking the city was there. One moment not, then in the next moment, highly visible. Great columns rose into the air, kissed with green leaves and brown hues like a microcosm inside the color of brown. Gates were now plainly seen, and TelJasin approached them reverently, tapping upon them solemnly.
They opened as if by magic, trees suddenly swinging wide like some enormous, intricate childs puzzle. A soft light, I sensed some how also a healing light, descended upon my face and my aches became no more than a faint memory. TelJasin nudged me forward and I stared in wonder at the city in the trees, disguised by magic or by cleverness I wasnt sure. Possibly a combination of the two.
We must see the Praetor, she will have the wisdom to guide our actions, he stated near my ear, near enough that I felt the warmth of his breath, or so it seemed. Our feet had been placed upon a wide path, flat and almost polished if such could be said for a patch of earth. No ripple from rainy weather, nor any small stones or pebbles to the comfort of our feet. Elves, so fair and fey were these creatures that I turned to comment to my master. I was struck by his fine features in profile, soft and yet a sense of quiet power lay about him, a beauty that was both timeless and fleeting, something to be treasured deeply in ones heart.
Master, what is a Praetor? I asked, willing my mouth not to state aloud my feeling of love and devotion for this creature that had so recently come into my life.
Praetor is voted on each year by our people, and they who are elected preside over each city so that the King and Queen have eyes and ears in each city. They govern the people daily, overseeing the functions of government in stead for the King and Queen, he replied knowledgably.
This is not the capital then? I asked.
It is, even the capital has a Praetor, he replied, Come, the gates await our arrival!
We passed between two enormously round trees, a golden hue was kissed upon their smooth skin, and ten large men could not have linked hands about the trunk. The boughs from the trees hung low, creating a pale green canopy as the sunlight filtered through small breaks between leaves. A woman, nay an Elvin woman, stood from a chair that seemed to be a small tree, grown to the shape of a chair, and greeted us in a musical voice that made the trees quiver, and the leaves seem to glow.
TelJasin, Lord of the Glen and Master of the West Wood, Lilliandre welcomes you, she intoned.
Mirra, Praetor of Lilliandre, Guardian of the Leaf, I greet you with great need, TelJasin replied, his voice adding to the musical cacophony. The life surrounding us responded to his voice, the green moving to hues of silver and gold with tiny streaks of the pale green they first displayed, and they moved around us making a room of gently fluttering and color changing leaves.
Speak, brother, what brings you in such haste? Mirra asked as she resumed her seat.
Sister, this boy has made for such haste, he replied and my cheeks colored in shame, I came upon him but days past. Men from the broken land chased him across the stream, onto our land with the intent to spill innocent blood. His family was butchered, but that is all too common among the broken lands.
His eyes, Sister, his eyes betray him. Only today we were set upon by creatures that defy my knowledge, but they were no match for Master Cyrix!
I stood in disbelief; he was crediting me with actions that could not have been further from the truth!
Nay! Good lady, if it pleases you that I speak, my master does not do himself justice! Creatures lay siege to us, it is true, but they were bested by the powerful magic of my master. The very land grew angry, Praetor! I nearly cried to her.
Silence reigned and I hung my head in shame, I should not have spoken, I contradicted my master and have surely embarrassed him. The touch of delicate, tiny feet could be heard, but I dared not look up to see to whom they belonged. A hand guided my chin, and thusly my eyes, to meet those of the Praetor.
Cyrix, Son of Man, your eyes do betray you. Ancient power of the land is in your breast and is clearly in your eyes. Your nerves betray you, she replied, and then her sweet voice filled my head though not my ears, and your love, that too betrays you. Your heart is well placed, may he nourish and tend your love, dear Cyrix.
The leaves bout us changed to a mellow pink glow, and I shouldnt be at all surprised to find that my cheeks were very close to that color as well.
Is he one of the foretold? Is he Quatar? TelJasin asked.
Foretold? Quatar? Master! I wailed, What is wrong with me? I cried out, an overwhelming sense of dread passing through me.
My dear Cyrix, you are not ill, you have been both blessed and cursed, light and dark, and good as well as evil. You are limitless in the glories you may achieve, and bottomless in the depravities you might inflict. You are Quatar, an ancient magic that has not been seen in Lilliandre for time immemorial. You are foretold, she spoke, and as she did so the leaves in the canopy that formed our walls shook, changing from bright greens to burnt black before settling on their pale green once more.
I am only Cyrix, my father was a farmer and I am only a slave now, a slave to the one who spared my life, I mumbled as I felt my knees lose the ability to keep me upright. Strong, warm limbs surrounded me.
Cyrix, Son of Man, TelJasin shall guide you as we teach you the meaning of your true self.
We shall show you the meaning of Quatar, the Foretold.