Dragon Fire: Episode 98

“I must see the king now!” Derali insisted. “I cannot wait until I am addressed! Every moment, Prince Lanidus moves farther away!”

After Riscio’s man forced Lanidus from the garden, Derali had frantically tried to follow and free the prince. But when he failed to find him, he had stormed into the king’s court demanding action and was now being restrained by King Isembart’s guards.

“What has happened to Prince Lanidus is regrettable, but everything will be done to free him,” High Priest Zephryses assured Derali.

“If we knew where they have taken him, we could mount a rescue,” Ethers, one of the King’s advisors, suggested.

Without a word, King Isembart sat on his throne deep in thought. Derali felt himself becoming enraged. Just as he decided to implore once again the king to send a search party, he saw that Princess Lillian wore a look of deep concern. Taking a breath to compose himself, he had just opened his mouth to speak when a messenger entered bearing news of the prince.

“Speak!” the king commanded.

Rising to his feet, the messenger said,

“My liege, they have taken Prince Lanidus to Copperhead Camp.”

King Isembart and the high priest grew uncomfortable.

“Why would they take him there?” King Isembart questioned the high priest. “I thought your men were in control of that place.”

“After much thought, I felt it best to dedicate all my resources to. . .,” High Priest Zephryses paused as he looked for the right words, “. . .take care of the problem. The camp was left empty.”

“What is this Copperhead Camp?” Derali asked.

“A military prison designed and built long ago by Beratio the Mad for use during the war. The camp has many tunnels that lead nowhere, and the entire lower level is filled with nests of snakes,” King Isembart explained.

“Now that you know where Prince Lanidus is being held, your majesty, you must mount a rescue,” Derali insisted.

“We cannot,” the high priest returned. “If this man Riscio is as you claim, when he sees the king’s army approaching, he will surely kill the prince before being captured.”

Then Zephryses turned to King Isembart and said,

“Let me lead this endeavor,” the high priest leaned toward the king to continue, “my way.”

King Isembart considered the idea for a moment then said,

“No. I will send a messenger to inform King Stephanus and ask if he wishes to trade Riscio’s men in his prison for his son’s freedom. If that fails then we will do it your way.”

“King Stephanus would rather lose a son than risk freeing the men who tried to overthrow his throne. If a king’s army would cause the prince to be killed,” Derali said, “we must find someone who knows the prison well enough to lead us in unnoticed. Is Beratio still alive?”

“Sadly, no,” King Isembart said. “He took his life soon after the camp was complete.”

“I beseech you, King Isembart, is there no one?” Derali asked.

“I fear not. All the guards and prisoners of Copperhead Camp have long since passed, and no one has been imprisoned there since my father was a boy,” the king lied.

“Alaster was there,” Lillian spoke up. “He escaped from the camp.”

“Quiet, Lillian!” King Isembart snapped.

“Who is this Alaster?” Derali insisted. “If he escaped, he can help us get in.”

“No!” King Isembart shouted, jumping to his feet. “Alaster is a worshipper of Authrax and one of the Children of Dusk! I will not align myself with such a man! Tobias Ashblood the Great freed this kingdom from their tyrannical reign! No I refuse!”

King Isembart stormed out of the throne room leaving behind a desperate Derali. After the high priest and guards followed the king, Princess Lillian approached Derali and whispered,

“Alaster is innocent! After dark, go to an inn called The Cruel Fortune and seek out a man known as Captain Gunner. He will help you.”

“Lillian!” Isembart yelled in his departure.

“Hurry!” Lillian warned then fled from the throne room.

* * *

It was just after sunset when Derali weaved his way through the drunkards, prostitutes, and thieves that filled the back streets of Ethion. After Princess Lillian left the throne room, he had not seen her nor any of the king’s court again. Angry at King Isembart’s apathy and convinced that King Stephanus would refuse to help, even to save the life of his son, Derali had marched off the castle grounds determined to find the escaped prisoner called Alaster and free Prince Lanidus. Afterwards, when he and the prince returned to Ethion, King Isembart would see that Derali had done what the king would not. He had no patience with royalty for their wealth and power made them more slaves then their subjects. Derali was tired of kings who had grown fat with idleness and forgotten how to use a sword or queens who only concerned themselves with their beauty. Princess Lillian, on the other hand, had been a surprise. Never before had Derali seen a princess defend herself with the spirit of a warrior. She had thrown the pike as though a seasoned soldier, impaling the fiend and thwarting his purpose. She was true royalty.

After some time, Derali finally came upon a worm eaten tavern signboard, The Cruel Fortune, swinging on its iron hinges in the night air. Not much larger than the rundown houses that surrounded it, it stood near the water’s edge.

Derali entered the door and was at once greeted with lusty song as minstrels played their lutes and jolly patrons banged on tables, sloshing their bitter ale. A few of the more jovial clicked their heels, stomping on the wooden floor in a drunken dance. Derali thought the place quite lively for an old rundown tavern.

He slowly moved through the crowd toward the bar as those who spotted his uniform shared hushed whispers.

The innkeeper stared at Derali with a clear look of disgust.

“I am looking for Captain Gunner. I was told I could find him here.”

“Captain Gunner is dead, eaten by a sea monster some three months ago,” the innkeeper growled.

“Nay,” a drunken man slurred. He stumbled toward Derali, slapped the bar with a filthy hand, and with his one good eye looked at the innkeeper.

“I saw Captain Gunner just the other day,” he insisted, his head bobbing.

“Where did you see him?” Derali asked.

“He was riding a dragon over the city and flew off the edge of the world,” the man said.

Everyone roared with laughter then enjoyed another drink of ale.

“It is very important that I find him,” Derali insisted.

“Why do you seek a captain who has no ship nor crew?” the innkeeper asked.

“Because I need to find someone and was told that he could help,” Derali explained.

“Would that the person you seek is not important,” a loud voice came from the back of the tavern.

When Derali turned to see who had spoken, he saw an old man with a thick white beard and long hair seated in a chair leaned back against the wall.

“Because, alas, Captain Gunner is dead.”

Derali felt his heart sink.

After a moment the old man asked,

“Who did you need to find?”

“Someone named Alaster,” Derali said.

“Because Alaster is in trouble,” a woman added.

Derali recognized her voice and knew at once that it was Princess Lillian. Dressed in a hooded cloak that covered her clothes and hair, she stood in the doorway, strong and unafraid.

When the old man rose from his chair and walked over to face Lillian, Derali slowly reached for his sword. As the old man looked at her, she kept her head lowered.

“Who is this lady who stands before me hiding her face?”

“Someone who needs your help,” Lillian answered.

At that, the old man took a step back and scolded,

“Young lady, you look at me when I address you.”

Derali prayed that she would not reveal herself, but Lillian lifted her head and slipped the hood off her hair.

When everyone saw that it was Princess Lillian, the tavern immediately went silent.

The old man’s eyes crinkled as he slowly smiled at her.

“I am sorry, Captain,” Lillian said.

“You should be,” the old man laughed.

Lillian smiled brightly as the old man moved in to hug her.

“It has been a dog’s age since last I saw you,” he said.

After a moment, she took the captain’s hand and led him to a confused Derali.

“Derali, this is Captain Knoll Ghastly.”

“Call me Gunner,” he said, seizing Derali’s hand and fiercely shaking it.

“You are friends?” Derali asked.

“Friends? Why I practically raised the lass. Every night she and that rambunctious lad Alaster would come down to the ship to hear my stories,” Gunner laughed.

“You also taught us to fight,” Lillian added.

“That’s why you knew how to throw a pike?” Derali asked.

“Yes. Lilly always was a fierce one, not as reserved as little Alaster.”

Then Gunner turned to meet Lillian’s eyes and asked,

“Tell me what has happened. What has my boy gotten himself into now?”

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Dragon Fire: Episode 97

After the king’s meeting with the envoy of Acimeth, Princess Lillian had slipped away to the royal garden, a place where she always found peace. The sound of birds’ morning songs filled the air as Lillian moved slowly through the soft grass. Closing her eyes, she breathed in the sweetness of the lilacs’ pleasing fragrance and listened to the hum of bees, busy about their work at the brilliant purple and bluish blossoms. Lillian longed to remove her shoes and run through the grass barefoot as in the days when she and Allaster were children. But when she had grown from a child to a youth, her father posted guards with strict orders to bring her in should she do anything unbefitting a princess.

“This marriage will unite our two countries, my daughter,” the king had stressed. “You must show character and bravery as well as meekness. If this arrangement fails, King Stephanus will take us to war.”

Although Lillian knew a war would hurt her people, she could not deny her heart’s desire. She wanted only to marry Allaster, her childhood friend. Now it seemed as if disappearing, fleeing from her homeland, was the only way she could be with him.

Hearing the soft fluttering of birds’ wings, Lillian glanced up to see a male bird, carrying a bit of food in its beak, returning to a nest where patiently waited his hungry mate sitting on a clutch of eggs. As the princess watched in awe, the male fed the female then quickly flew away in search of more food. Lillian’s spirit was lifted for a moment at the wonder. But then her grief overcame her and she bowed her head to hide the tears. It seemed that the price of her happiness was war with Acimeth. Yet, she reasoned, the king was strong and wise. He would surely find a way to keep the peace. Lillian considered this for a moment as she eyed the guards and struggled with what to do.

Then she remembered Allaster’s words as he looked into her eyes, “We cannot run away, Lillian. It would break your father’s heart and put your brother Nesmoru in line for the throne.”

Cursing his logic as she paced, she began to consider how she could keep her brother from the throne and still be free.

When the answer suddenly appeared, she stopped in midstride.

“I will wait until I am queen then bring Allaster back as my personal advisor,” she said to herself.

“Once I am queen, I shall do as I wish,” she said aloud, her head lifting. “My father used to say that the most fearsome day is when the lioness first discovers her howl.”

Hearing a twig snap behind her, Lillian whirled around to see Derali standing there, his manservant just behind him.

“For it is with this voice she will establish her place and protect her family,” Derali said, finishing the proverb.

Lillian recoiled, worried about how much Derali had heard.

Derali laughed, “Do not fear, Your Highness. I have seen many arranged marriages. Some prospered, others not. This I can tell you, though. Prince Lanidus is a good man who is only concerned. . .”

Derali paused glancing back at his servant. . .”for the welfare of others.”

Lillian smiled and took one last look of longing at an open spot between the guard and the hedge surrounding the garden. Then she turned to face Derali.

“In truth, I am not at peace with this marriage, but I will respect my father’s wishes and do what I must to guard the safety of my people,” Lillian said.

“Safety?” Derali asked confused.

“It is well known that King Stephanus has his eye on Ethion. My family has ruled over this land since the days when Tobias Ashblood freed it from the children of dusk, and your idle threats of war and fear mongering will not daunt King Isembart. He will not fall into defeat.”

Derali was taken aback.

“I know not of what you speak,” Derali answered, his brow furrowed. “The only purpose of King Stephanus is the marriage of his son. Prince Lanidus is the fifth of six sons, and King Stephanus only wishes his son to wed well.”

Derali’s servant coughed suddenly.

“King Stephanus is a gentle soul,” Derali said, glancing back at his servant. “And Prince Lanidus is far more uneasy about your reputation than your father’s.”

“My reputation?” Lillian asked.

“Far and wide, word has spread of Princess Lillian’s wild heart and unmatched beauty. My king was certain that when you saw Prince Lanidus, you would flee,” Derali said.

Lillian slightly blushed, turning away to hide her guilt.

When Derali’s servant coughed again, Lillian saw a smile work its way across Derali’s face.

“That is not to say that the prince is hideous. In truth, many maidens were distraught by the news of his marriage.”

“He sounds quite spirited,” Lillian said. “But he must know that I will not be a queen who sits by waiting for his consent before I act.”

Derali laughed, “Of course, Your Highness. The prince is an honorable man of courage with a fierce loyalty to his kingdom and its people. He is the best among his brothers.”

“You know him well?” Lillian asked.

“I grew up with him,” Derali said. “Although I am merely a humble guardian, the prince is like a brother to me.”

Suddenly the joy fell from Derali’s face as he yelled,

“Step aside, Your Highness!”

Just as Lillian turned out of the way, the guard nearest her fell, a bloody wound in his back.

A man wearing colors she did not recognize walked toward her. When she looked toward the second guard, she saw that he was already down while another man in matching colors stood over him.

“Get behind me, Your Highness!” Derali warned, drawing his sword.

“I can take care of myself,” Lillian said.

“I do not doubt that, but please allow me this,” Derali said.

Before she could answer, two men ambushed Derali from behind, striking him and grabbing his servant.

“Let us be gone,” one of the two men yelled.

As Derali’s servant fought against their hold, the two men struggled to drag him out of the garden.

“Are you injured?” Lillian asked Derali.

“I am unharmed, Your Highness, but they have taken him!” Derali said in anguish.

“Your servant?” Lillian asked, confused by the messenger’s distress.

“Do not fear. My father will see that your servant is returned.”

“He is not my servant! He is Prince Lanidus!” Derali confessed.

Lillian looked up to see that the men had reached the edge of the garden. Glancing over at one of the fallen guards, Lillian quickly reached down and lifted his pike. When she threw the weapon, it arched through the air and pierced one of the escaping men, pinning him to the ground.

The other man fled, taking Prince Lanidus with them.

“Who were those men?” Lillian asked.

“They work for Riscio, a disgraced guard captain who, after failing to depose King Stephanus, fled with those loyal to him. Since his defeat, he has been searching for a way to take the throne for himself. The man you struck is Drilli, once a trusted guard before he joined Riscio’s band,” Derali said.

“My father will find those who took Prince Lanidus and see that he is released. You must not worry,” Lillian said.

“His life will be preserved, but I fear he will be held captive until King Stephanus releases all of Riscio’s men from the prisons of Acimeth,” Deralli explained.

Dragon Fire: Episode 96

As the carriage of Prince Lanidus neared the kingdom of Ethion, two of Riscio’s men lay in wait. Drilli, the more adventurous of the two, rested his arms on his knees as he leaned against the stone wall of the narrow passageway and looked up, watching the wind sweep the clouds. Riscio’s orders had been clear. Drilli and his comrade Brakor were to stay hidden in one of the many alleys branching off the main road of Ethion and watch for a sign of the carriage bringing Prince Lanidus to King Isembart and his daughter the princess Lillian.

“My head aches from a night of too much ale, and I grow weary of waiting in this dank place of fish bones and rotten fruit!” Drilli complained as Brakor kept his eyes on the road.

“Last night you merrily embraced dank, rotten things,” Brakor pointed out.

“What do you mean?” Drilli asked.

“The wench in the tavern,” Brakor laughed.

“Why she was as beautiful as the morning sun,” Drilli insisted.

“She was not a she,” Brakor teased.

“What?” Drilli roared.

“Be still! Remember why we are here,” Brakor fussed. “I only spoke in jest.”
“No,” he continued. “Your morning sun was a woman, although at one point you praised the beauty of the tavern owner’s mongrel.”

Deciding not to respond, Drilli closed his eyes and remembered the previous night. It had been a night of drinking and laughter.

“Ah. We filled our bellies with good ale, did we not? It was a fine celebration,” Drilli smiled.

“It was ill advised,” Brakor scolded.

“Ill advised? Our brothers will soon be free,” Drilli said.

“Perhaps,” Brakor answered with uncertainty.

“Do you doubt Riscio’s plan?” Drilli asked.

“The plan seems sound enough, but we must not strike too soon,” Brakor explained. “Why kidnap Prince Lanidus before he is king? Once he has taken the throne, we will have so much more to bargain with.”

“Riscio said that our brothers must be freed at once. Then we will have our revenge on the son of the man who imprisoned them,” Drilli said.

“I too wish for our brothers’ freedom, but we shall have a greater advantage if we wait until Lanidus sits on the throne,” Brakor insisted.

“You do not trust Riscio. For that he will surely hang you,” Drilli warned.

“Disclose this and I shall tell everyone that you kissed the tavern owner’s dog last night,” said Brakor.

Surprised by the threat, Drilli’s eyes grew wide as he protested,

“They will know it is but folly!”

“Perhaps some, but those who have seen you swill your ale will believe my account,” Brakor maintained.

“Last night I—,” Drilli began.

“Peace! A carriage approaches,” Brakor interrupted.

The clop of horses and rumble of wooden wheels grew louder as Drilli struggled to his feet. When Brakor cautiously peered into the street, he saw a carriage with the distinct markings of King Stephanus’ court. The driver pulled to a stop and Derali, captain of the royal guard, climbed out followed by Prince Lanidus.

“Why this pretense whenever we meet someone new?” Derali asked.

“Because no one will be at ease if they recognize me,” Prince Lanidus explained, removing an old dusty cloak from the carriage.

“But they will suffer no discomfort with me?” Derali asked.

“Not if they see you as a simple messenger. They will merely look down upon you and treat you as a servant. With this cloak, I may discover with whom I shall be shackled until I breathe my last,” Lanidus said.

“Word of your deception will one day spread across this land and you shall have to lay it aside,” Derali pointed out.

“No, my friend. My fate has been written. I shall marry the king’s swinish daughter and run the kingdom for my father while she produces a beastly heir. And for the rest of my days, I shall proclaim my love for her until sweet death releases me,” Lanidus sighed.

“Let me tell her you said this, and I will go along with your ridiculous plan,” Derali laughed.

“Please do. I shall be spared the untruth of loving her,” Lanidus said.

As Lanidus slipped on the large worn cloak and covered himself, he added,

“And remember that I am your servant, and you are but a messenger sent ahead to announce that the arrival of Prince Lanidus has been detained.”

“Yes, yes,” Derali said. “I remember what to say from the last time you did this.”

As the two men climbed back into the carriage, Brakor told Drilli,

“We must go at once to tell that the prince has arrived and has disguised himself.”

Quickly the two men slipped away to bring Riscio the news.

 

 

*          *          *

 

That same day as King Isembart sat on his throne, he raised his hand to his face and lowered his head in weariness. The High Priest Zephryses had just brought news of the prisoner Alaster’s escape.

“Why does this happen on the very day I am to receive the man who will wed my daughter?” Isembart sighed, looking toward the princess Lillian. At his glance, she quickly turned her head away, refusing to meet his gaze.

“Forgive me, my liege, but it would appear that the burned priest has followers. My men were beset upon, mortally wounding many in the escape. But I pledge to send my best men after him. I will not rest until he is ended,” the high priest assured the king.

“Grant that this is not an omen of things to come,” the king groaned. Then pointing to the priest Zephryses, he commanded,

“You will remain here in the castle while your men search the countryside. They are not to return until Alaster, this burned priest, and his followers are captured! While you are here, you will protect me as well as my daughter, and you will take measures to insure that her marriage suffers neither interruption nor ruin.”

“As you wish, my liege,” High Priest Zephryses answered.

“It is enough that he has infected my daughter’s mind. Now I must suffer the threat of his return to avenge his punishment. I fear for the lives of this court and my people.”

At that moment, a herald appeared in the doorway.

Bowing low, he said,

“Sire, a messenger has arrived from Acimeth.”

“Very well,” Isembart said as he forced a smile on his face.

Once the king bade him enter the throne room, the messenger stepped forward, followed by a second man who wore the robes of a servant. When they bowed subserviently and waited, the king commanded,

“You may approach.”

As the men came nearer, the messenger said,

“I am Derali of Acimeth. I bring word from Prince Lanidus.”

“Yes, yes. What is your news?” King Isembart asked.

“Prince Lanidus has been detained and will not arrive until tomorrow,” Derali said.

“He is well, I hope,” the king responded.

“Yes, your majesty. Affairs of state delay his arrival,” Derali explained.

Looking at the high priest Zephryses, King Isembart said,

“It appears that you have been given one more day to set things in order.”

“Also, your majesty, I have a message for Princess Lillian,” Derali said.

When Princess Lillian rose and drew near to Derali, he realized that the paintings of her had not done her justice. Stepping slightly to one side, he made certain that Lanidus could see her. Suddenly, Prince Lanidus loudly snorted and began coughing. Derali, understanding the prince’s reaction, smiled at the princess and said,

“Prince Lanidus offers his most sincere apologies for his late arrival. He wishes me to tell you that although word of your beauty has reached the Kingdom of Acimeth, he is certain that it far surpasses the hand of even the most skilled of poets and artists.”

Princess Lillian politely offered a quick smile, bowed then returned to her father’s side. Derali noticed that her countenance was woeful as she turned her face away from King Isembart.

Dragon Fire: Episode 95

As High Priest Zephryses quickly descended the stairs, two of his guards stepped forward and slipped a chain around the stunned Allaster.

“I do not understand. The potion was to have worked only once,” Zephryses cursed, pacing across the courtyard as the wind lifted his robes.

“What shall we do, sir?” one of Zephryses’s trusted priests asked.

“As yet, I have no answer. I could spend the rest of my life killing him, but he will keep rising from the earth,” Zephryses complained.

“King Isembart expects a report on the prisoner,” the loyal priest said.

“Precisely. I was to find a way to kill him and send a report to the king. Now, that is not possible. I cannot leave him alive in the dungeon for fear someone might free him or listen to his account of what happened. He must die once and for all!” the High Priest fumed.

As Zephryses continued to pace, a giant of a man bearing dual swords at his sides and another strapped to his back strode through the doorframe.

“How have you ever tasted victory?” the man asked.

The towering man was known as Riscio, the leader of the mercenary group Zephryses had engaged to compliment his small army of loyal soldiers. An outlaw in his own land, he moved freely in the kingdom of Ethion, safe from all but the bounty hunters.

“What is this you say?” Zephryses asked enraged.

“You have been given the perfect opportunity to win the king’s favor yet you waste time whining like a woman. Lock the prisoner away in a deep dark hole—,” Riscio began.

“I cannot do this for the king will want proof of death,” Zephryses interrupted.

“Then you must tell the king that the prisoner has escaped and assure him that you will faithfully search to the ends of the earth until he is found,” Riscio answered with a dramatic wave of his arm.

“But of course I cannot make this adventurous journey but must remain in Ethion to protect the kingdom,” Zephryses responded, considering the plan. “Perfect.”

“Of course,” Riscio said with great self-satisfaction.

High Priest Zephryses leaned toward Allaster and peered into his eyes.

“These men will take you to a place where no one will find you,” Zephryses explained, smiling as his eyes grew wide with delight, “and there I want you to stay. Never forget that I will always be within reach of the princess. If I hear of your escape or attempted escape, she will be dead long before you can save her. Do you understand?”

Weakened by his helplessness, Allastar bent his head and slowly nodded.

As Zephryses turned, he gave instructions to Riscio.

“Far out in the sea is an island where no one goes. Legend has that it is haunted. Take him to the prison there and lock him away. Once you have secured his chains, you and your men are free to go. If I have need of you, I will send word.”

“What of my people? I have men locked in the dungeons of Acimeth, imprisoned by King Stephanus,” Riscio said.

“After the marriage ceremony of King Isembart’s daughter, I will see to it that your men are released. Until then, stay out of my way,” Zephryses said turning.

“You are in error. We will take this prisoner to the island after my men have been released. They will not be freed at your pleasure.”

 

 

*          *          *

 

As the horses pulled the wood and iron carriage down the narrow, well-worn road that cut through the king’s forest, Prince Lanidus rested his throbbing head against the soft cushions. The fragrance of wild flowers filled the air as the birds greeted the new day.

“You know, your majesty, if you had slept last night instead of gambling and drinking, you would be in better spirits,” Derali the Captain of the Guard pointed out.

“I am to wed soon,” Lanidus reminded him, “so why not have fun before then?”

“Marriage is not something you should resign yourself to. It represents the union of two souls, two travelers who will forever journey together,” Derali said.

“What would you know of this?” Lanidus remarked.

Derali’s expression grew somber and he lowered his eyes, aimlessly adjusting the ring on his finger. As soon as Lanidus realized what he had said, his heart sank.

“I am sorry, my friend. How long as it been since she passed?”

“The last full moon,” Derali said.

“I forgot. I was not thinking of your loss. I am just concerned about my upcoming marriage. How can I be joyful?” Lanidus asked. “This marriage is merely a union of the kingdoms Acimeth and Ethion. I wish to wed for love.”

“I hear the Princess Lillian is quite beautiful,” Derali said, trying to encourage him.

“Surely you know that the bride of an arranged marriage is never beautiful,” Lanidus said, “only convenient.”

Derali shook his head in laughter. “I wish to be there when you meet her so that I can see your surprise and delight.”

“I have heard that until recently the kingdom of Ethion was beset upon by a demon of some sort,” Lanidus said.

“Not a demon,” Derali corrected. “A priest of Authrax who was immune to death. They burned him alive yet he rose from the ashes. The townsfolk call him the burned priest. But truly such things are but legend.”

Lanidus laughed and said, “And I suppose it is also legend that giant plants grow in Ethion that can consume a full grown man? My favorite story is the one about a large pantherlike creature with the wings of a bat.”

“All legends,” Derali assured him. “Ethion has been thriving since Tobias Ashblood drove out the Children of Dusk.”

“I was taught about Valkovians in my youth,” Lanidus said, “but I never saw one. My teacher said some of them were kind and honorable.”

“That may be so, but many who have been seen have tried to kill anyone who is not a Valkovian,” Derali informed.

“So I am to be king of a perilous land,” Lanidus said. “Wonderful.”

Prince Lanidus did not realize the truth of his words for unbeknownst to him, Riscio and his soldiers were hiding in Ethion, and Riscio would do anything to free his men locked away as prisoners of the kingdom. Hearing of this threat, King Stephanus had commanded Derali to accompany his son the prince.

“Well I am not a weak man,” Lanidus continued. “I was one of the greatest soldiers in the last war. I can defend myself and no demon priest will stop me. I will marry King Isembart’s hideous daughter and make this cursed land my own!”

Derali could not help but laugh at the prince’s words for he had seen drawings of Princess Lillian and knew Lanidus would be at a loss for words when he saw her beauty.

Dragon Fire: Episode 94

As Allaster rose from the ashes, the villagers who had lingered until the fire burned itself out began to scream, fleeing in their terror. For just a moment, Allaster stood then collapsed to the charred ground.

“Authrax gives him power,” one hysterical woman cried out.

When King Isembart turned toward the chaos, he saw Allaster and commanded, “Seize him.”

Weak and confused, Allaster struggled to stand but was hindered when the strong arm of the guards restrained him.

While they held him, Allaster watched as King Isembart approached.

“I do not understand this power you hold,” Isembart roared, “but know this. I will see you locked away for the rest of your days. In the deepest, darkest dungeon, you will remain until the world has long forgotten you.”

“Father, please,” Lillian pleaded. “Have you no mercy?”

Exhausted and bewildered, Allaster cast his eyes upon the suffering princess, and his heart broke.

But when King Isembart saw the glance, he shouted,

“Do not look upon her! You will never see her nor daylight again!”

“My liege, if I may put forth a proposal,” High Priest Zephryses said as he came closer.

“What do you suggest?” King Isembart asked.

“I think it unwise to keep the prisoner here in Ethion. There may be those who would seek to free him. Perhaps, if your majesty agrees, I could take him to Copperhead Camp where he will be safely locked away, under the watchful eyes of my most trusted guards, while I discover how to reverse this power Authrax has given him.”

King Isembart considered for a moment then said,

“I do not favor this plan, but I must keep my people safe.”

King Isembart looked at Princess Lillian, her hands trembling as she covered her tearful eyes.

“Do so at once. Get him out of here!”

“But, Father, you—,” Lillian began.

“I will hear no more!”

“Take her back to her room!” the king ordered as he turned and headed to the palace.

As the king’s guards escorted Princess Lillian away, High Priest Zephryses turned to Allaster and said,

“Now you will stay locked away where no one can help you.”

With a nod of the priest’s head, Allaster lost consciousness.

* * *

When Allaster awoke, he found himself in a carriage, his hands and feet bound tightly with ropes. On either side of him sat a guard, staring straight ahead as the carriage rumbled down the winding dusty road. In the distance on a small island in the middle of a lake rested Copperhead Camp. Once a large towering castle, its true name had been lost in time long ago and it became known as Copperhead Camp. The lower levels of the castle had been sealed to constrain the countless nests of snakes that covered the dungeon floors, offering no hope of escape.

When the driver reached the lake’s shore, he brought the carriage to a rolling stop. The two guards slipped out of the carriage and waited as Allaster slowly worked himself to the ground. Positioning themselves at Allaster’s sides, the guards led him to the boat then tied his ropes to a great iron ring just before the boatman steered the craft to the island. When they reached the shore, the guards took Allaster through the castle’s two large doors and into a courtyard.

Allaster noticed that none of the soldiers in formation wore the uniforms of the Kingdom of Ethion. As they walked through the courtyard toward a door in the wall ahead, a voice from atop the wall called out,

“Wait!”

Allaster looked up and saw High Priest Zephryses.

“Bring him to me,” the priest ordered.

At that, the guards turned and took Allaster toward a flight of stairs leading up to where the High Priest Zephryses waited.

“My boy,” Zephryses said, taking in a deep breath.

“You will not escape the penalty for what you have done,” Allaster warned.

“Then tell them,” Zephryses sneered. “But you must realize that no one here cares what I have done. Every man is loyal to me.”

Zephryses put his arm around Allaster and said,

“Now if you were willing to keep what you saw to yourself and swear loyalty to me, I might be able to arrange for circumstances to work in your favor. I know of your love for the princess, and I know that she professes her love in return. I could quite easily arrange for the two of you to be together.”

Zephryses turned Allaster around and looked into his eyes.

“Even now, King Isembart arranges the wedding of Princess Lillian to Prince Lanidus, the son of King Stephanus.”

Zephryses laughed and said,

“But that is of no consequence for I can easily remove Lanidus and put you in his place. Sadly the change will not be permanent, so you will have to return to me to reestablish your mask, shall we say. Getting the princess to fall in love with you will not be difficult. After all, she loves you.”

“No!” Allaster refused.

Zephryses quickly removed his hands from Allaster and stepped back in surprise.

“Really? No? I just offered you everything you desire, and you slap my hand away?”

“I will not do this to Lillian no matter what you offer me. You are wicked, vile. I will never give you what you want,” Allaster insisted.

“You seem to forget that you do not have any power here. That trick that brought you back from death worked only once. Give me what I want or stay dead,” Zephryses demanded.

“No!” Allaster shouted, straightening up as he glared at the priest.

“You always were a stubborn child. I see nothing has changed. No matter. I will still get what I want. You cannot stop me. No one can stop me.”

Suddenly, Zephryses slipped one of the guard’s swords from its sheath. Turning to Allaster, he said,

“You cheated death once, but now you will stay dead.”

As Zephryses drew back the blade, Allaster closed his eyes.

“Goodbye, Allaster,” Zephryses said as he ran him through.

When Allaster fell to his knees, Zephryses raised the sword and with one clean pass, removed Allaster’s head. Then he pushed Allaster over the side of the wall, his body and head smashing to the ground below.

“Let the animals have their fill of his flesh. I will be in my chambers.”

Zephryses handed the bloodied sword to the guard and walked away.

When one of the guards peered over the wall, he called out,

“Sir? The body is gone.”

“What?” Zephryses replied.

Storming to the edge of the castle wall, Zephryses looked to see that Allaster’s body had vanished.

“The predators of this place must be quite bold. Find what is left,” he ordered.

But before the guard could respond, Zephryses noticed movement in the soil where Allaster’s body had fallen.

“Impossible!” Zephryses responded. “The potion was to have worked only once.”

All of a sudden, the ground began to shake and swell as something pushed through its surface.

“No!” Zephryses roared.

In an instant, a hand had emerged from the ground and Allaster had pulled himself out of the earth just as he had at his execution.

Horrified Zephryses screamed,

“Seize him!”

Dragon Fire: Episode 93

Late that night in the palace dungeon, Allaster sat on the floor of his cell, chained to the wall as he watched the rats scurry back and forth across the cold stone patiently waiting for the prisoner to surrender to death. Allaster considered all he had lost as he thought back over his life. First, wolves killed his mother as she gathered firewood at the edge of the forest. Then his father died on the battlefield of Ethion. The only light in his dismal childhood was Princess Lillian, and in a matter of hours, he would lose her as well. His father used to tell him there was a time and place for everything. Soldiers did not cry on the battlefield, and Allaster knew he was in a fight for his life. He had fixed his heart on hope, determined not to yield to despair, but as the hours passed, his resolve weakened and he broke down and wept until his tears were spent and he slipped into a troubled sleep.

 

*          *          *

 

Allaster woke suddenly to a rapping on his cell door. When he lifted his head, he saw through the bars of the cell door High Priest Zephryses flanked by two of his personal guards.

“You were having a nightmare it seems,” Zephryses said.

“Oh sir, have you come to help?” Allaster asked, knowing the answer the moment the question escaped his lips.

Zephryses laughed, “Dear me no. I have come for another reason.”

With a wave of his hand, the cell door unlocked and opened.

Giving orders for his men to stand guard, Zephryses stepped inside the cell and stood over Allaster.

“The king is convinced of your heresy. Easily done. However, not everyone is convinced. Tomorrow when you die, I fear the princess will use her influence to plead your innocence. So to guarantee my legacy, you must appear guilty.”

“What do you mean?” Allaster asked.

“I will simply see to it that your alliance with Authrax manifests itself,” Zephryses said.

Zephryses took a step back and from his robe removed a small vial. Black flecks whirled through the deep purple liquid.

“What is that?” Allaster asked recoiling.

“A potion I have been working on. It is not as yet perfected, but its power will serve my purpose,” Zephryses boasted.

Allaster drew back against the wall in fear, struggling to distance himself from the mysterious liquid. But with a wave of his hand and snap of his fingers, Zephryses lifted the helpless Allaster into the air then opened his mouth.

He uncorked the vial, releasing a strange, unpleasant odor, then drew near Allaster and poured the foul mixture down his throat.

“Do not worry, my boy. Tomorrow you will die, but it will not be the last time.”

Allaster choked as the purple liquid made its way down his throat. When the vial was emptied, Zephryses stepped back and Allaster fell to the floor.

Slipping the bottle back into the folds of his robe, Zephryses turned to leave but stopped when he heard Allaster cry out in pain. Looking over his shoulder, he watched as the young man he had once called his son clawed at his stomach and writhed in agony.

“Oh yes. I neglected to tell you about the painful effects of the potion. But have no fear. The pain will soon subside and then you will die,” Zephryses smiled.

As Allaster’s cries grew louder, Zephryses moved his hand in a circle then closed his fingers, sending Allaster into a deep sleep.

“Much better,” Zephryses said. “We must not have your cries disturbing the palace guards.”

Zephryses stepped out of the cell and ordered his guards,

“Stay here until dawn. No one is to see him, especially a wayward princess with illusions of liberation.”

 

*          *          *

 

 

Princess Lillian begged her father to show mercy to Allaster.

“He is innocent, Father. He did not do this!”

At last the king shouted,

“Enough!”

Her heart broken, Princess Lillian fled to her chambers. All through the night, she paced the floor, planning how she would free Allaster. She would summon help with the reward of a rich purse. Her mother’s jewelry should buy some loyalty. Once Allaster was free, they would leave the country forever. But Allaster had been accused of joining the Children of Dusk. Would anyone dare to help him? Would they oppose the High Priest? As the sun’s crimson light appeared on the horizon, Lillian knew she had no choice but to charge the pyre and free Allaster herself. She cared not what happened to her nor what her father wished. She would gladly die to save her true love.

She quickly dressed in her hunting clothes and waited in the shadows until she saw the guards leading Allaster out of the dungeon. His hands were bound and his eyes wore a look of hopelessness. With bowed shoulders, he stumbled along, turning his head away as the villagers cursed and threw rotten food at him. Lillian steeled herself as they tied him to the stake. As the guards poured oil over the pyre, King Isembart rose and said,

“On this day, it is with great sorrow that I put to death Allaster—.”

Overcome with grief, the king suddenly stopped to compose himself.

“As a boy, he was like a son to me, but when he grew into a man, he joined the Children of Dusk, lost to the darkness that once poisoned this kingdom. I will not let my people suffer that evil again, so by the law set down by Tobias Ashblood the Great, I decree that Allaster a priest of Authrax will be burned at the stake until dead.”

Turning to Allaster, the king said,

“If you wish forgiveness, now is the time to ask for it.”

Overcome by sorrow, Lillian watched as Allaster struggled to speak, to lift his head and once again plead his innocence.

“You have nothing to say?” King Isembart asked. “No defense to offer?”

When Allaster remained silent, the king nodded toward the executioner then walked away, his chin pressed against his chest.

“This is my chance!” Lillian thought.

But when she tried to race forward, she found that her body was frozen. As though bound with rope, her arms and legs would not move.

One by one, the guards lit the torches then turned toward the pyre and lit the wood.

Lillian tried to scream but found she could not speak.

The only sound that filled the air were the cries for mercy as the fire consumed the helpless Allaster.

Suddenly the mysterious hold on her disappeared and Lillian fell to the ground unconscious.

The fire climbed higher and raged until it had finished its work. As the flames died and smoke filled the air, the satisfied villagers began to return to their homes. Lillian slowly awoke but had no will to rise. She heard footsteps approaching her and a man’s voice say,

“Your Majesty.”

“What do you want?” Princess Lillian asked.

“My name is Genfyre, and I believe he was innocent.”

Lillian looked up to see Genfyre extending a hand of help.

Reaching up, she took his hand and fought to stand on her trembling legs.

“You do?” the princess asked.

“He was my friend, ma’am,” Genfyre said.

“Look!” someone screamed. “Something stirs!”

Lillian and Genfyre whirled around and saw movement in the ashes of Allaster’s death.

“What sort of magic is this?” Genfyre asked, his eyes widened.

Suddenly a hand covered in soot exploded out of the remains and the form of a man stepped forth from the ashes.

“Who is that?” Genfyre asked

“It is he!” Lillian said, her heart overjoyed. “My one true love!”

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 6:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 92

The next morning, Zephryn woke to the rumble of distant thunder. For just a moment, he indulged himself, letting his mind drift back to Lillian’s night visit, her soft kiss before she stole away. With a heavy sigh, he rose to his feet and walked over to the window. Looking up into the heavens, he saw that the sky was filled with dark clouds. An approaching storm. He quickly said his morning prayers then left his chambers, heading for the castle and the meeting with King Isembart.

As Zephryn crossed the courtyard, an unseasonably cold wind struck him, stirring leaves and dust in its path.

“Good morning, Priest Zephryn. Unusual weather for this morning, is it not?” Caulder, a local fruit vendor, said to Zephryn as he passed.

“Good morning, Caulder. Yes, it is, but nothing to fear,” Zephryn smiled.

“Thank you,” Caulder sighed with relief.

“Blessings upon you,” Zephryn replied.

Zephryn’s thoughts were filled with the beautiful Lillian as he hurried to his meeting. Nothing could dampen his spirits. When his father died, leaving him an orphan, Zephryn had no hope, his only future begging on the streets. But in his mercy, the high priest Zephryses found him and raised him as his own son. Now he held a high seat in the church and every day could see the woman who won his heart. Truly the gods were favoring him.

“You are looking well,” Genfyre said catching up with Zephryn.

“Yes. I enjoyed a good rest and was blessed with a dreamless sleep,” Zephryn smiled.

“Alas, I did not get to my bed until quite late,” Genfyre said.

“Something troubles you?” Zephryn asked.

“No, no. When we reached the home of Hannable, we discovered that his daughter Ahnkaret had been awakened by a frightful dream and would not close her eyes again in sleep. Hannable insisted on staying up with her, convincing his wife Anastas to let them play hide and seek out in the front yard. I, of course, was pulled into the game,” Genfyre laughed. “I can deny my niece nothing.”

“My brother may be skilled in hunting and combat, but he cannot hide. Everything he chose as a hiding place was much smaller than he,” Genfyre said.

“Perhaps he was hiding poorly for the sake of his daughter,” Zephryn suggested.

“Perhaps,” Genfyre said. “I am just on my way to his house. Enjoy this glorious day, my friend.”

“You as well,” Zephryn said.

The market was coming to life as Zephryn ascended the steps of the castle. Just as he reached out for the front doors, they opened.

Standing in the doorway was the Princess Lillian, her eyes bright with merriment. She wore a sky blue gown, and her gleaming hair was pulled back with matching ribbons. Zephryn’s gaze traveled the length of her graceful neck. If only he could touch her, kiss her as his heart commanded.

Instead, he said,

“Good morning, Princess Lillian. I have come to speak with King Isembart.”

Lillian smiled and responded,

“He is expecting you.”

As she escorted Zephryn through the passageways, she repeatedly brushed against him, touching his hand. And with each touch, she politely excused herself.

When they finally entered the king’s court, Lillian announced,

“Father, I found Priest Zephryn at the door. He says he is here to speak with you.”

With a jolly smile, King Isembart reached out and hugged Zephryn.

“Greetings, my boy. What brings you here this morning?”

Trying to recover from the king’s crushing embrace, Zephryn took a deep breath and said,

“High Priest Zephryses regrets that he cannot attend the meeting with King Stephanus. He is in his private sanctum conducting his morning prayers and cannot be disturbed. He sent me in his stead.”

At this announcement, King Isembart’s posture quickly shifted from cheerful to restrained anger.

“Peace between Ethion and Acimeth is delicate, and a union of marriage would ease tension between our two countries as well as heal old wounds. The importance of today’s meeting is beyond mere words! You have done well, my boy, to come here as the high priest’s representative, but I will have the high priest himself in attendance today! His far-reaching reputation is one of the reasons King Stephanus agreed to meet. I do not care that Zephryses is otherwise engaged. Return to him and tell him that his king demands his presence now!” Isembart shouted.

“Yes, your majesty,” Zephryn replied, bowing.

Lillian protested, “But, Father, Zephryn is more than capable of—”.

“No!” Isembart snapped.

Zephryn hurried out of the castle and rushed to the church to retrieve the high priest Zephryses.

Racing through the halls of the church, Zephryn pushed past the high priest’s assistants until he made his way to the private sanctum of Zephryses. Taking a deep breath for courage, Zephryn pushed open the door and stepped inside.

“My apologies, High Priest, but King Isembart insists on your presence at once,” Zephryn explained.

As soon as the words were spoken, Zephryn’s eyes grew wide as he seemed paralyzed by what he saw before him. His chest bared, Zephryses stood in the center of a pool of blood encircled by a ring of fire. His skin was covered with cuts and markings Zephryn had never seen before. With his left hand, he held a woman by a rope tied around her neck, and with his right palm open towards her face, he drew a blackish energy from her eyes and mouth. Zephryn could hear the woman trying to scream, but only a low gurgle escaped her mouth. Behind her, suspended in midair, hung the emaciated body of a man, blood trickling down his arms and legs. From his mouth poured a black fluid, running down his chin and dripping to the floor. The high priest Zephryses turned and with oil black eyes, screeched,

“Get out!”

Zephryn managed to turn and flee from the room in a state of shock. His blood rushed through his veins, his heart raced, and he felt as though he might fall to the stone floor senseless. He could neither fathom the horror he had seen nor speak a word of it to anyone.

Behind him he heard the high priest screaming,

“Guards! Find Priest Zephryn and bring him to me at once!”

Fleeing from the church, Zephryn stumbled out into the courtyard, gulping the fresh air. His head was spinning.

“What should I do? Where can I go?. . .Lillian!”

Now seized with desperation, Zephryn ran for the castle, pushing aside vendors and knocking over stalls as he scrambled to get away. Once he reached the castle, he bounded up the stone steps, pulled open the doors and ran inside, hurrying to King Isembart. But when he reached the king’s quarters, he slid to a stop. Standing beside the king was Zephryses the high priest.

“Seize him!” the king commanded.

“No!” Lillian screamed as the guards descended upon Zephryn.

“What has he done?” Lillian demanded. “What crime has he committed to receive such treatment?”

“He came to my chambers, and when he saw that I was not there, he engaged in unspeakable acts of heresy. When I returned to my chambers a moment later, I saw him offering up a prayer to Authrax. I am sorry, my king, but it seems Zephryn has joined the children of dusk,” the high priest accused.

Turning toward Zephryn, the king said,

“You will no longer bear a holy name,” King Isembart commanded. “Henceforth, you will take up the name of your birth Allaster. You will be thrown into the dungeon, and at the first rays of dawn will be burned at the stake for heresy.”

“But, Father, he is innocent!” Lillian cried. “You will see this truth when the gods deliver him.”

“Take him away!” King Isembart ordered.

As the guards dragged Zephryn away, Lillian dropped to her knees heartbroken, her tears splashing against the stone floor.

Published in: on December 16, 2017 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 91

Before Zephryn could respond, he heard the soft melodic laughter of Princess Lillian. When he turned around, she reached up and began kissing him.

After a long tender kiss, Lillian pulled away and smiled at Zephryn, her eyes full of adoration.

Dressed in a long white gown covered by a black hooded cloak, she slipped off the hood and her golden brown hair fell below her shoulders, shimmering in the moonlight. Zephryn felt his heart beat faster and his knees weaken.

“You never could stand on your own,” she teased.

Zephryn shook his head clear and nervously asked,

“Did you come alone? What possessed you to come here?”

“I missed you,” Lillian said, her fingers playing with his hair. “If you think hiding out in this damp old building will keep you safe from me, you are mistaken. I will always find you.”

Then she twirled across the room on the tips of her bare feet.

“But if you are found here, it will be the end of me,” Zephryn warned.

“Who will catch me? No one knows I am here. I sent away my handmaidens and gave the guard strict orders not to disturb me until morning,” Lillian explained.

Overcome with emotion, Zephryn crossed the floor to her and kissed her as though he would never have another chance.

Then he asked,

“Do you know what your father will do if you are caught here?”

Lillian sighed, “He will scold me and punish me, but I do not care. Being with you is worth the risk of his displeasure.”

“I will not receive a scolding, Lillian. You must realize that he will have me executed!” Zephryn pointed out.

“Nonsense!” Lillian insisted, removing her cloak. “I will not allow that.”

“The king does not always listen to you,” Zephryn reminded her.

“Then we will run away together,” Lillian giggled. “I care not whom my father wishes me to marry. I shall tell him that my heart is gone, stolen away by a priest.”

As she twirled on the tips of her toes, her gown billowed and rippled.

“You will be the death of me one day.”

“Then I will send the greatest warrior in the land to find you and bring you back,” Lillian promised, looking deeply into his eyes. “I will always find you, my love. You are mine and no one can take you from me.”

“What if the gods do not want us together?” Zephryn asked.

“Then I will defy them,” Lillian said, lifting her chin in unwavering determination.

Zephryn laughed and acknowledged, “You will surely make a great queen one day.”

Lillian stopped dancing and sat down on the edge of Zephryn’s bed.

“And with you as my king, we will reunite the lands then throw a wildly lavish party and invite no one,” she laughed as she fell back onto the bed.

Gazing at her in wonderment, Zephryn felt truly alive. Every moment away from her was like travelling in shadows for without her, the light was gone.

“The people will never accept me as their king. You know that,” Zephryn said. “Even with your father’s blessing.”

“Then we shall run away together,” Lillian said once again.

She sat up in the bed with a faraway look and watched as a cloud slowly drifted across the face of the glowing moon.

“We will steal two horses and ride off into the night to a land far away where no one knows us, and there we’ll grow old together, husband and wife, father and mother.”

Zephryn let himself imagine, just for a moment, a life with Lillian. His heart seemed to stop as though a single beat would tear him away from the dream.

“Are you ready?” Lillian asked, breaking the spell.

“R-r-ready?” Zephryn stammered.

“To run away together, silly,” she laughed. “I do love it when passion steals away your tongue.”

Suddenly there was a knock at the door and Zephryn jumped.

Lillian quickly rose from the bed and slipped into a dark corner of the room.

When Zephryn opened the door, he saw a servant of the high priest Zephryses.

“Yes?” Zephryn asked.

The servant bowed then said,

“Please forgive my intrusion at this late hour, but I bring a message from the high priest.”

Zephryn took the parchment scroll and broke the seal.

“As you know, tomorrow King Isembart is meeting with King Stephanus of Acimeth to negotiate a union of the two kingdoms through marriage of his daughter Princess Lillian to King Stephanus’ son Prince Lanidus. Although my presence is required, I will be unable to attend due to prayer time in my private sanctum where, as you know, I am not to be disturbed. You are to go in my place.”

While Zephryn read the message, he struggled to ignore Lillian tickling him.

“I will expect a report once I have completed my prayers.”

Zephryn closed the scroll and looked at the waiting servant.

“Tell the high priest I will do my best.”

At that, the servant nodded and turned away as Zephryn closed his chamber door.

He waited a few moments then turned to Lillian.

“Are you mad?” he questioned.

When Lillian did not respond, Zephryn bent down to look under the bed. Lillian jumped out of the shadows giggling.

Whirling around, Zephryn repeated,

“Are you mad? What if he had seen you?”

“Then you would have no choice but to run away with me,” she teased.

“We cannot run away, Lillian. It would break your father’s heart.”

After a pause he added, “And place your brother Nesmoru in line for the throne.”

The smile dropped from Lillian’s face and she grew quiet.

With a sorrowful tone, she said,

“My brother is selfish, wicked, and cowardly. He would tear the kingdom apart.”

“I shall return to my quarters,” she sighed. “Why must you spoil passion with reason?”

“I am sorry, beautiful Lillian, but I must speak the truth,” Zephryn said.

“Yes you must, and that is one of the reasons I love you,” Lillian admitted.

She cupped his face in her hands then softly kissed him on the lips.

Pulling on the cloak, she said,

“Goodnight, my love.”

Then she raised the hood over her hair and slipped out the window into the night.

Zephryn watched her until she disappeared into the shadows. He crawled into bed, feeling the sweet warmth she had left behind, and stared up at the moon until a cool night breeze soothed him to sleep.

Published in: on November 17, 2017 at 6:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 90

Zephryn smiled as the drunken Hannable and Genfyre danced to the spirited, cheerful music of the lute and the joyful voices of patrons. When Hannable offered to buy drinks for anyone brave enough to join the fun, the tavern floor filled. Soon everyone was dancing and singing with no thought of Hannable’s reputation or his blood-soaked clothes. One man, too full of good ale, stumbled into Hannable, knocking him sideways and spilling his drink. When Hannable turned to the man, he seized him and head-butted him. The startled man stumbled backwards and fell to the tavern floor. Hannable roared with delight, grabbed the man by the shoulders, and lifted him to his feet. Thumping his great forehead, Hannable laughed,

“It is good only for ramming things.”

He clapped the man on the shoulder and dragged him over to the ale barrels yelling,

“Two more, please.”

The tavern owner happily filled two mugs and gave them to Hannable.

“Thank you, sir,” the man said, reaching for one. But before he could touch the mug, Hannable lifted both drinks. As he turned to leave, he asked,

“Thank you for what?”

Staring in confusion, the man watched as Hannable headed for the table where his friends sat. Then suddenly Hannable turned around and walked back. Handing one of the drinks to the puzzled man, he smiled and said,

“You must laugh, my friend. It was all in fun.”

Then he clapped the man on the back, knocking him forward.

Leaning toward the nearest woman, he whispered,

“My friend here fancies you. He has been gazing at your beauty all night. Said he has not seen beauty such as yours since he was visited by the gods as a lad.”

Clearly flattered by the praise, the woman studied the man, grabbed his face and began fiercely kissing him. Hannable laughed then stumbled back to the table where Genfyre, Cerros and Vanamir were in conversation. Having seen the performance, Zephryn covered his smile as he watched Hannable approach.

“That will teach him to spill my drink,” Hannable said as the woman pinned down the man, covering his face with kisses.

“The woman is attractive,” Vanamir said, confused. “I do not understand.”

“You are young, ranger,” Hannable said, spilling some of the dark ale. “When a man sees a lovely young woman, he desires her and wants to act upon that feeling. Some call it lust. I call it love.”

“I understand this. What I do not see is how you have made him suffer for spilling your drink,” Vanamir explained.

“Suffer?” Hannable asked. “Why would I want him to suffer?”

When Vanamir started to ask another question, Genfyre raised a hand to stop him.

“So you are a ranger and an archer?” Zephryn asked, trying to draw Vanamir’s attention elsewhere.

“The best in the land,” Vanamir boasted.

“Truth?” Zephryn asked. “Why do you think so?”

“Because I am,” Vanamir chuckled. “Why should I not be the best? I have practiced all my life.”

Zephryn stared at Vanamir for a moment and asked, “Why did you study for so many years?”

“Give him no attention,” Hannable said. “He is far too curious in trying to understand others.”

“I do not want to die,” Vanamir simply said.

The others at the table were silent, waiting for Vanamir to continue.

“As a boy, I loved hunting with my father. When I became a man, I grew to enjoy hunting bandits but was never skilled with a sword. So I learned archery. Now I can hunt from a distance, do what I love without putting myself close to danger.”

No one spoke a word of response until Hannable said,

“Where is our gladness, our joy, my friends? More ale! I am going to pick a fight.”

“No, you are not,” Genfyre corrected. “I promised your wife Anastas I would get you home before your daughter Ahnkaret goes to sleep.”

“Yes, brother. You are right,” Hannable agreed. “We must be going.”

Zephryn got to his feet and said,

“And I must be returning to the church.”

“Forgive me, but why is a man of the church in a tavern?” Vanamir asked.

“He is not a man of the church,” Hannable said, turning back to the table. “He was merely adopted by the church.”

“Goodnight, my friends,” Genfyre said, escorting Hannable toward the door.

When Genfrye opened the tavern door, Hannable turned his head and let out a drunken howl.

“Adopted?” Vanamir asked as Zephryn started to walk away.

“My parents died when I was young, just a small boy, and the high priest adopted me.”

“The high priest?” Vanamir asked. “Then you have met the princess?”

“I have. We were childhood friends,” Zephryn said.

“In truth?” Vanamir pressed. “Must be lovely spending all your free time with her.”

At that remark, Zephryn excused himself and left the tavern.

* * *

As Zephryn made his way back to the church, the words of Vanamir kept repeating in his thoughts.

“Must be lovely spending all your free time with her.”

By the time he reached the church, darkness was creeping across the city as the sun slowly slipped below the horizon. Zephryn stopped to feel the soft breeze cool his face then slipped inside the quiet of the church. Keeping his steps light so as not to disturb anyone, he watched his feet as he made his way to his quarters. No more at peace than when he had left the church earlier in the day, his heart was filled with images of the princess—her smile, the sunlight illuminating her golden brown hair, the way her face lit up when she saw him. He breathed deeply, remembering her scent, like spring flowers. Zephryn knew she could never be his. He was a man of the church, she a princess. If he were caught watching her, he would be thrown in prison or executed. In his pain, every day he prayed for release from his longing for her, and every night he wept at the emptiness without her. If he could not be free of this torment, he would exile himself, leave the church and disappear. Spending the rest of his life in solitude would be a relief when compared to the anguish of never touching her, holding her in his arms.

When he reached his quarters, he quietly opened the door and stepped inside the chamber, locking the door behind him. Slowly he stepped to the window and opened the casement, letting the moonlight wash over the room. His strength spent from his struggle, he sighed then turned toward the bed. Removing his tunic, he hung it on a peg and slipped off his shoes. He drew comfort at the thought of Princess Lillian in his dreams. It was closest to her he should ever be.

Suddenly, Zephryn felt movement behind him, but before he could turn around, a pair of hands clasped over his face, and a woman’s voice said,

“Now I have you!”

Published in: on October 14, 2017 at 12:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 89

Branches snapped underfoot as Cerros and Genfyre made their way through the brush in search of the bandits. When the band of thieves fled the market, two had run one way while three chose a different route of escape. Hannibal pursued the two, leaving the other three to Cerros and Genfyre.

Suddenly a howl sounded through the trees followed by a sharp cry of fear that quickly faded.

Cerros turned toward the sound then rotated the axe he held in his hand.

“What is wrong with that brother of yours?” he criticized.

Brushing away the leaves from his rough, green and brown wool tunic, Genfyre asked,

“Hannable? What do you mean?”

“He runs through the woods covered in blood. The villagers call him an animal. They think he is mad. It grows more and more difficult to get work beyond raiding camps and chasing bandits. A widow in the town, saddened by the loss of her husband, came to me for help, but when she discovered that I travel with the Animal, she turned away,” Cerros complained

Genfyre laughed but when he saw the expression of Cerros’ face, he quickly apologized.

“Hannable has heard all the tales. He knows the villagers fear him. It was he who first told the stories.”

“And I suppose he gave himself the name Hannable the Animal?” Cerros asked.

“No, my friend. I’m afraid I am responsible for that,” Genfyre smiled.

Just as Cerros opened his mouth to respond, he spotted two of the three bandits lying in ambush behind a group of trees up ahead.

Tapping Genfyre on the shoulder, he nodded toward the hidden bandits as he loudly asked,

“So is it true that he really eats the people he catches?”

“Yes. Quite true,” Genfyre agreed, playing along. “I have pleaded with him to stop, but the animal within him is too great.”

When they drew closer to the bandits’ hiding place, Genfyre knelt down and with a sweep of his hand, lifted a small bit of earth. Whispering into his clenched fist, he blew the dirt into the air.

Cerros readied his axe as vines began to grow from each spot where the dirt landed. The vines stretched, twining and creeping towards the two thieves. When the tendrils reached the men, they panicked, struggling to free themselves as the plant began to wrap itself around their bodies.

As soon as one of the men cut away the vines attached to him, he bolted, leaving behind his terrified friend.

“That one is mine,” Cerros said, charging after the escaping thief.

While the vines twisted and coiled around the bandit, holding him tightly, Genfyre called down more vines. Soon the horrified thief lost consciousness as he hung upside down, cocooned in the plant’s tendrils.

With Cerros in pursuit, the fleeing bandit yelled over his shoulder,

“I did nothing wrong!”

“That is not for me to decide,” Cerros yelled back.

Although Cerros loved the chase, he knew it unwise to leave Genfyre alone. Up ahead stretching across the bandit’s path was a large, heavy branch. Cerros quickly threw his axe, sending the weapon spinning through the air. Its keen blade struck and held deep within the wood. No longer able to support its own weight, the limb fell to the ground in front of the thief. Before he could stop, he tripped over the branch and fell to the ground. Cerros hurried up to the bandit and struck him unconscious before retrieving his axe.

Just as Genfyre was lowering the ensnared bandit, Cerros returned with the other man thrown across his shoulder.

“As I was saying,” Cerros said, “if it is just a name, why have I seen Hannable covered in blood?”

Genfyre stifled a laugh then explained,

“The blood is not that of man. It is the blood of animals. Hannable pays the local butcher to fill two wineskins. Then when he is on the hunt, he covers himself with it so as to appear more fearsome.”

As his eyes searched the woods and fields, Cerros nodded his understanding.

“What is it, my friend?” Genfyre asked.

“Hannable has two of these brigands, and here are another two. Were there not five when we set out?” Cerros asked.

“Yes, they were a band of five. It seems the newest member of our team has become lost along the way. Perhaps he is tracking the last one,” Genfyre suggested.

Suddenly an arrow sliced through the air between Genfyre and Cerros, striking a man hiding in the branches of a nearby tree.

Clutching a bow and arrow in his hand, the man fell from his perch.

“Ah. The fifth bandit I see,” Genfyre said.

When Cerros turned in the direction the arrow had been fired, he saw the ranger Vanamir walking towards them, the newest member of their team.

“I have been tracking this one,” Vanamir paused. “You are welcome.”

* * *

Zephryn strolled towards the prison cells. He had left the churchyard after performing his duties and headed for the market. He had to clear his head.

“I am a member of the church, a priest. I must not have these feelings for Princess Lillian,” he scolded.

He wanted to speak about this conflict with his father the high priest Zephryses, but lately the priest had been spending more and more time shut away in his private chambers, refusing any disturbance. So when the struggle between duty and his love for the princess became too great to bear, Zephryn would wander through the market with its colorful stalls and high-spirited bartering on his way to the prison yard where he would speak to the convicts about forgiveness and thus overcome his feelings.

Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by a large man whose skin was golden brown. As he proudly strode toward Zephryn, his bright red hair glistened in the sunlight. The young priest smiled when he saw the people cover their noses and turn away.

Zephryn shook his head as the man approached.

“My priest, I come to ask for forgiveness,” Hannable announced.

Hannable was covered in blood, and behind him horses pulled a wagon carrying five men wrapped in canvas.

“What did you do?’ Zephryn asked with a smile.

“I ask not for forgiveness for what I have done but for what I will do tonight to celebrate yet another victorious hunt,” Hannable said with a cheer.

“You know the people look at you as though you were a wild beast,” Zephryn pointed out.

“They do?” Hannable responded, feigning surprise. Then turning toward the crowd, he let out a deep growl.

“My friend, why do you behave this way?” Zephryn asked.

“Because it amuses me!” Hannable roared with laughter.

“Now come join me. We shall celebrate with song and a fine ale,” Hannable said.

“I do not drink, my friend,” Zephryn said.

“Then I shall drink, and you shall sing,” Hannable smiled.

“I’m afraid I must return to the church. It grows late,” Zephryn said.

“You and I both know there are many souls in the tavern to be saved,” Hannable whispered. “And there is no better place to break free of love’s hold than the tavern with friends, song, and the finest ale.”

Zephryn considered for a moment then said,

“Then I shall come with you, but only to see you safely home.”

Hannable laughed with delight as he threw his arm around Zephryn and led him to the tavern.

Published in: on September 17, 2017 at 2:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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