Dragon Fire: Episode 69

Like a mother fleeing with her children, a light breeze hurried the swirling leaves down the road as the sky over Ethion grew dark. Aric and Degan gently rocked side to side in the saddle, their horses slowly walking down the road toward Willowthorne Monastery. The air was eerily silent. No sounds of life, not even a bird’s call.

As they passed the castle of Ethion, its stones broken, Degan whispered, “A dark familiar energy is in this place. Something draws me toward the castle.”

Aric’s eyes searched the castle grounds then the surrounding fields.

“Not since my youth have I seen the land so empty and the skies so black.”

“Something evil has returned, my friend. It lingers over the land like a poisonous vapor,” Degan warned.

The castle behind them, they continued across the rolling hills until they reached the field of Willowthorne. When they noticed that several men had gathered in the long grass, Degan slowed his horse to a stop and suggested,

“I should stay behind. It is not safe for me among civilized men.”

“This is a safe place,” Aric reassured him.

“Not for me, my friend,” Degan insisted. “Word has spread of what I am, what I can do. Warriors hunt and kill necromancers. I have suffered attacks simply because papers bearing my likeness have been posted in Ethion and the neighboring kingdoms.”

When Aric looked across the field and saw the wind whipping the old monk’s robe, he said,

“But you will like Brother Egil. He is not a warrior. He will provide you shelter, protection. When my mother died, he took me in and raised me.”

Aric’s words gave Degan a measure of peace, so he encouraged his horse to move on.

“I will take you at your word, my friend,” he said. “If I may ask, what happened to your mother?”

“I was never told. I heard rumors that she was attacked and raped by bandits. They said she escaped to Willowthorne and died there giving birth to me,” Aric replied.

“I am sorry for your loss,” Degan replied.

His eyes straight ahead, Aric answered,

“One cannot miss what one never had.”

As they drew closer, Aric saw that around Brother Egil stood a creature in black, a barbarian, and Prince Alidus.

“My liege!” Aric shouted, pushing his mount into a gallop.

When Aric first heard that the prince had been kidnapped, he vowed to find him but was driven off course. Now he flew across the field, his heart pounding.

Whirling at the sound of rapidly approaching hoofbeats, the barbarian looked past Aric and saw Degan following.

Drawing his weapons, he growled,

“Foul demon! Death dealer! You will come no farther.”

Raising his weapons, the barbarian raced towards them with a battle cry.

Aric at once slowed and dismounted, drawing his swords.

Tossing one sword into the air, he threw the second at the barbarian’s feet. The weapon stuck deep into the soil, forcing the barbarian to stop. Aric quickly moved in close between the arms of the barbarian. Grabbing his left arm, he twisted his body and flipped the barbarian over his head, sending him to the ground. Then twisting his left hand, he pinned the right to the ground with his foot just as the airborne sword came down, piercing the ground at the barbarian’s side.

“You will not harm him,” Aric insisted.

“Enough!” Prince Alidus commanded.

“But, sire, my friend is innocent,” Aric explained.

“I said enough!” Alidus shouted, slamming his foot to the ground. Suddenly all around him, the grass burst into flame then curled into blackened ash as the fire died.

“Please,” Brother Egil pleaded. “We must not fight here. The enemy has cast his power over this area. You must not let his malice turn you.”

“Release him!” Alidus demanded.

Aric retrieved his swords then stepped back as the barbarian rose to his feet.

“Forgive me, sire,” Aric requested.

“We have much to discuss and very little time. Already the enemy calls his generals,” Brother Egil warned. “He gathers the siblings Edron and Nyraid and the ranger Vanamir.”

“Vanamir is dead,” Aric and Alidus said in unison.

“Both times, the enemy has brought him back to life. The only way to destroy him is to destroy the power that now grows in your absence,” the old monk said, turning to Alidus.

As he approached the barbarian, Degan said,

“I may have been born of the evil that now spreads over this land, but I do not answer to it.”

Eyeing him suspiciously, the barbarian only said, “We shall see.”

“He speaks the truth,” a voice said from within Degan’s leather pouch. “Too dangerous here. Must leave at once.”

“What is that voice?” the barbarian asked.

“My keeper,” Degan explained as a small toadlike creature with gray leathery skin peeked out of the pouch, its pale red eyes blinking in the light.

“This is Gonorap and I am Degan.”

“Cerros,” the barbarian said, with a slight bow of his head.

“My brothers, we must hurry if we are to stop this evil,” the old monk cautioned as he approached.

“Already the darkness draws in his army to defeat us. His generals are feared by all who stand in his way. If no one dares to oppose him, he will tear down the false king and place himself on the throne.”

“The false king. You mean Nesmoru?” Alidus asked.

“Yes, Nesmoru. Your uncle,” Brother Egil said then looking at Aric, he added,

“And your father.”

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