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?”

Advertisements

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 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 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  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Dragon Fire: Episode 88

When the high priest Zephryses neared the castle of Ethion, he saw King Isembart strolling along the porch. Bending down to the young boy Zephryn, he said,

“There is the king. Stay by my side, bow your head in the presence of his majesty, and do not speak unless the king questions you. Do you understand?”

After Zephryn shyly nodded, the two began to climb the stone steps leading up to the porch.

King Isembart, a tall robust man with a beard reaching down to his stomach, saw the priest approach and with surprising exuberance and agility bounded down the steps toward him with the palace guards, the queen and the princess close behind.

“Zephryses, my dear friend. I knew sending you to the woods was a wise decision. There is no man I trust more,” Isembart said with a deep laugh.

Clapping the priest on the back, Isembart looked at Queen Calathene and asked,

“Did I not tell you?”

Turning back to Zephryses, he continued.

“She did not believe you would succeed. Why the news reached my ears that you moved the elements themselves!”

With a hearty laugh, the king said in jest, “Perhaps I should build a temple to you instead of the gods.”

Although Zephryses found himself somewhat uncomfortable at the idea, he could not help by remember that the captain of the king’s army had made a similar remark.

Suddenly King Isembart noticed the child standing next to the priest and asked,

“And who are you?”

“Al—,” the boy began but was interrupted when Zephryses corrected him.

“Zephryn. The boy’s name is Zephryn. He is my son now and shall be joining me in the church, taking the title of priest when he grows up.”

“Well it is a pleasure to meet you, little priest,” the king greeted. “You know my daughter Lillian is about your age.”

Turning to Princess Lillian, Isembart instructed,

“Lilly, show Zephryn around the castle while I speak with the high priest. Take care that you do not wander beyond the castle walls.”

“Yes, Father,” the princess answered.

As King Isembart continued his stroll along the castle porch, with Zephryses at his side, Princess Lillian walked up to Zephryn and introduced herself.

“I am Princess Lillian.”

“I am Al—Zephryn,” the boy said, still struggling with his strange new name.

Princess Lillian looked around to see if anyone was listening. Then she softly asked,

“What was your name?”

“Allaster,” Zephryn answered, “but the high priest said that I am to be called Zephryn from now on.”

“This change of names is a tradition here in Ethion started long ago by my great-great- grandfather King Estmon. When he was chosen to marry the princess and become king, he wanted to be seen as king and not the boy who grew up in the streets. So he made a law that all who take up the rank of royalty or a position in the church must adopt a new name so they will be seen as a new person for a new age.”

As Princess Lillian recited, she held her hands together and slightly raised her head as she had been taught.

With the sweet smile of innocence, she giggled then said,

“When I become queen, Father says I shall adopt the name Lachert, renouncing my birth name.”

Shyly, Zephryn softly said,

“I like the name Lillian better.”

Princess Lillian leaned in and whispered in Zephryn’s ear,

“I do too!”

As she reached out and took Zephryn’s hand, she said,

“The high priest spends a great while counseling with my father, so we have a lot of time to play games. My favorite is hide-and-seek. Do you want to see some of my favorite spots?”

“Yes,” Zephryn agreed.

With her best smile, Princess Lillian whirled around and hurried into the castle, pulling  Zephryn along with her.

 

*          *          *

15 years later

 

 

Valdis and Trystan raced across the field, the pouch of gold bouncing with each step.

“Why did you have to stab that man?” Valdis demanded.

“He saw you stealing his gold! You would have felt the blade of his knife! What choice did I have?” Trystan snapped.

“Not to stab him! Now we are running for our lives. Know this! I will crawl over you to survive!” Valdis warned.

“If we can just reach the others, we should be safe,” Trystan said, ignoring his threat.

They dove behind a fallen tree in their path to hide and catch their breath.

“Yes, if we can. But in truth, we will be fortunate if we live long enough to be arrested. Did you not see who is after us?” Valdis asked in exasperation.

“A creature?” Trystan answered.

“He is a man, a warrior called the Animal. There are tales of him prowling through the forest at night with a large wolf at his side. They say he never brings anyone to prison because he eats them instead,” Valdis claimed.

“Foolish tales,” Trystan insisted.

Suddenly a long howl came from the grove of trees behind them.

“You may wait and discover how foolish the tale is, but I will not!” Valdis said.

When Trystan tried to rise and flee, he found that his legs would not move.

Valdis jumped up, flew over the log, and tried to dash away, but before he could escape, a man with skin browned from the sun and red hair bright as fire leapt out from the trees and grabbed him, pulling him into the tree line.

Trystan listened in horror as Valdis pleaded for mercy. Then he heard a thump and silence.

From out of the woods, the brown man tramped, blood on his chest and pants. As he held a dagger dripping with blood, his wild eyes seemed to look through the terrified Trystan. With each breath, his great chest heaved. Then he slowly came toward Trystan, growling as he moved closer, his bare feet crushing the roots and rocks beneath them.

Published in: on August 17, 2017 at 1:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Dragon Fire: Episode 87

The Priest

 

 

 

Settling into a chair by the fire, Brother Egil thought carefully about how he would begin the story of the king’s father.

King Alidus gazed into the flames, waiting patiently.

After a few moments, the old monk began.

“The Kingdom of Ethion has a troubled past. First came the Valkovian invasion then the Children of Dusk—”

Alidus raised a hand to interrupt.

“My apologies, but what is the Valkovian invasion?”

Brother Egil studied the king’s face for a moment then his eyes lit up with understanding.

“King Lanidus did not tell you. Despite his love for your mother, he was ashamed of the history of Ethion. The Valkovian invasion took place one hundred forty-seven years ago when a race of men known as the Valkovians took control of the kingdom, ousting your great-grandfather Tobias Ashblood from the throne. After a time, King Tobias regained the throne and exiled the Valkovians from the land.”

“What kept them from returning?” Alidus asked. “Could they not enter the land and live hidden among the people?”

Brother Egil nodded and said, “Valkonian men and women are born with the same physical traits, a gem the size of a coin imbedded in their right hand and small spikes running down the back of their neck. Among the Valkonians, these strange features have many different colors, passed on from parents to children. But whatever color a child is born with, both gems and spikes share that color. More importantly, these unusual traits store a great amount of magical energy.”

“Making obscurity difficult. I understand. And who were the Children of Dusk?”

“The Children of Dusk were a small faction of religious zealots within the Valkovian race who worshiped an ancient evil named Authrax. They believed Authrax lived in a cave deep beneath the castle. They would capture people from the surrounding villages, drag them into the caves under the castle, and sacrifice them to their god. When Tobias Ashblood exiled the Valkovians, he commanded that the Children of Dusk be burned alive for heresy.”

“And what about my father?” Alidus asked.

“Your father did not enter into the history of Ethion until many years later, after the siblings Dellano and Arabella. They were known as the Troll King and the Warlton Witch. When your grandfather King Isembart heard that the siblings were marching on the kingdom, he sent his high priest Zephryses to find the source of their power. That search led the priest to Wildeye Woods and the water where the siblings had gained this force. When he drank from the pool, that same power coursed through his body and he returned to drive out the siblings and their army of trolls. But in the aftermath of the battle, Zephryses made the first of two mistakes that would one day end his life. The first mistake was adopting an orphan boy named Allaster. That boy, sire, grew up to be your father.

 

*          *          *

37 years ago

 

The high priest Zephryses stood on the battlefield of Ethion, its lush green hills covered with the dead of both men and trolls. Overcome with grief, he wept at the sight of the city, its walls blackened and crumbling by the hand of Arabella the Warlton Witch.

“Many have fallen in this grievous battle,” lamented Captain Dellmore of the King’s Army.

“The price of peace is always high when those who oppose it crave blood,” Zephryses said.

“This new power you wield is like no weapon I have ever seen,” the captain exclaimed. “Did my eyes deceive me or did you move the ground? It was as though you commanded the elements!”

“Perhaps. I do not yet know what powers I drew from the water of the pool,” Zephryses said.

“Soon people may perceive you as a god,” the captain laughed. “I would be most uncomfortable were people to worship me.”

Zephryses laughed in agreement.

“Yes, indeed,” Zephryses said.

At that moment, his attention was distracted by a small boy wandering through the battlefield, his red face stained with tears.

Zephryses walked around the bodies to reach the child.

“What troubles you, my son? Why have you come to his place of grief?” Zephryses asked.

The boy, no older than ten, looked up at the priest, sniffled and said,

“I am looking for my father. He is a soldier.”

“You should be at your mother’s side,” Zephryses said.

“Wolves took my mother last winter. My father told me to stay at home. But I was frightened, so I came looking for him,” the boy explained.

“Come with me. Let us see if we may find him,” Zephryses said

Zephryses lifted the boy and carried him to Captain Dellmore.

“Captain, I am searching for the boy’s father. He is a soldier.”

“What is your father’s name?” the captain asked.

“Ardouin,” the boy answered.

The captain’s face darkened when he heard the name, but before he could speak, Zephryses told the boy,

“Son, your father has gone to be with your mother. They are at peace.”

The boy’s face went pale and he dropped his head. After a moment he looked up and said, “I am alone now. I do not have any other family. I do not know how to be alone.”

Trying to comfort and reassure the child, Zephryses patted the boy’s back and gently set him down.

“Then you shall not be alone. I shall adopt you. Would you like that?”

When the boy failed to respond, Zephryses knelt down and asked,

“What is your name, son?”

The boy looked at the priest and answered,

“Allaster.”

“That is a fine name. From this day forward, Allaster, you will no longer be alone. I shall take care of you.”

When Zephryses opened his arms to the boy, Allaster stepped into the embrace with fresh tears.

Then Zephryses lifted the boy and said,

“Because you will be taking a place in the church, I shall give you a new name, a holy name.”

Zephryses thought for a moment then asked,

“How does Zephryn sound?”

As the child shyly nodded his agreement, Zephryses patted him on the back and said, “Yes. Zephryn will do. Now let us leave this place of sadness and go home.”

At that, the high priest and the boy walked away from the battlefield.

Published in: on July 17, 2017 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Dragon Fire: Episode 86

The sun’s rays poured through the open window, resting on the face of the sleeping king. The warmth slowly roused Alidus from his deep slumber, and he raised his head, shielding his eyes from the light.

“For three days and three nights you have slept, sire, but on the morning of the fourth day when the sunlight broke through the clouds, I knew you would rally.”

Alidus struggled to see who was speaking.

“Who is there?” he asked.

A figure stepped into the light then moved close to the bed.

“Degan,” Alidus greeted.

There was peace in his eyes as a soft light shone forth from Degan’s face, a light Alidus had never seen before.

“Are you well?” Alidus asked.

“I am more than well, sire,” Degan said. “I am free. When Zulagareth died, I felt his power leave me. No longer am I an outcast followed by the dead.”

“Wonderful news. What will you do now?” Alidus asked.

“My father worked the land, so I thought I might take up the plow. It will be most rewarding to work with living things,” Degan laughed.

Alidus felt something bump against the bed, but before he could react, Degan reached down and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Olon has not left your side since you fell unconscious,” Degan explained.

Alidus peered over the edge of the bed and saw Olon raise his long black snout and look up at him.

“What about Atol and Idrian?” Alidus asked.

“Idrian is on the roof where she awaits news of your health,” Atol said, climbing in through the window, “and I am here.”

For a moment, Alidus looked far away then closed his eyes.

“The dragons are gone,” he said. “I can no longer feel them.”

“Soon after you fell, they flew away, returning to their home. The ruby dragon, though he bears the wounds of battle, will heal in time. The pearl kept close by his side in their flight,” Degan explained.

“Already the carpenters and stone workers bid to build a statue in honor of the two great dragons that bravely fought to save the people,” Aric said as he entered the chamber.

“I am pleased to see that all is well,” Alidus smiled. “But where are Razham and Brius?”

“Razham had to return home, and Brius chose to follow his old friend.”

Aric’s countenance grew sad.

“This displeases you?” Alidus asked.

“Before they left, Razham buried a dear friend of mine.”

“I am sorry for your loss,” consoled Alidus.

Aric shook off his grief then said,

“Enough. Now that you are awake, there is much to do. The king’s army must be rebuilt and properly trained. The city needs repair, and an ambassador from the faraway land of Kallimandil has arrived. He requests an audience with you.”

“Indeed. There is much to be done. I will speak with the ambassador at once. Thank you, Aric,” Alidus said.

When Aric bowed and turned to leave, Alidus said,

“Aric?”

“Yes, my liege?”

“To begin, remember that you are a prince. Do not call me liege. And secondly, you have skills as well as my trust. Begin rebuilding the king’s army as you choose.”

Aric nodded and left.

“So now what for you?” Alidus asked Atol.

“I must be going as well, sire. Idrian is nearing her birthing cycle, and I know she would like to be home when she gives birth.”

Alidus was surprised.

“There are others of her kind? I did not know this.”

“No, sire,” Atol said. “I believe she was born pregnant and will not stop growing until she reaches her birthing cycle.”

“When she does give birth, you must send word. I would like to see them.”

“I will, sire,” Atol smiled. “Olon, it is time.”

Olon came out from under the bed and followed Atol out the window to where Idrian waited. Alidus rose from the bed and watched as they climbed upon her back and Idrian lifted into the clouds.

* * *

In the days that followed, Alidus, King of Ethion, repaired the castle, while Prince Aric rebuilt the army. Under their watch, the kingdom flourished and the royal coronation was the grandest anyone had ever attended.

The dragons were never seen again, but it is said that should the king ever need them, they will return.

One wintry day, as Brother Egil stoked the morning fire in the great room, one of the other monks Brother Bavan stepped in.

“Good morning,” Brother Egil greeted.

“Good morning. A representative of Ethion is here. King Alidus wishes to speak with you,” Brother Bavan announced.

“Thank you. I will leave at once,” Brother Egil said.

Brother Bavan nodded and hurried away.

* * *

At the castle, Brother Egil was led to the bedchambers where King Alidus, now dressed in royal robes, sat by the fire. The king rose and walked over to the old monk, extending his hand.

Brother Egil took his hand and asked,

“Why have you summoned me, my liege?”

“After all this time, the title still sounds strange to my ears,” Alidus confessed.

“I am afraid it is part of being king,” the monk laughed.

King Alidus sat back and looked deeply into Brother Egil’s eyes. After a moment, he said,

“I want to hear about my father.”

“The king?” the monk asked.

“No,” Alidus answered. “My true father.”

Published in: on June 18, 2017 at 10:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Dragon Fire: Episode 85

As the flames of the black dragon flowed over Alidus, enclosing him in their blaze, the ice breather, her pearly white skin glistening in the sunlight, shot up into the clouds while the fire breather, the ruby dragon, rose on his hind legs and lunged at the black dragon, tearing its skin with his great claws. Twisting to face his foe, the black dragon fought back, imbedding its teeth into the flesh of the red dragon.

Summoning all his strength, Alidus shot twin columns of fire at the black dragon just as the white dragon fell from the clouds. Driving her claws into the black dragon, she blasted him with a stream of ice before releasing him and returning to the sky.

Three steps and Alidus leapt into the air, landing on the head of the black dragon. He grabbed a horn then poured fire over the beast, but with a whip of its head, the dragon threw Alidus to the stone floor.

Rising to his feet, Alidus saw the black dragon bite into the red dragon’s neck drawing blood. As the creature screamed in pain, the black dragon dug in deeper. Quickly Alidus thrust out his arm and formed a whip of fire. Drawing back his arm, he lashed out and wrapped the whip around the black dragon’s neck. With all his strength, he pulled backward, trying to free the red dragon from the black dragon’s teeth. As he struggled to keep his footing, the white dragon again shot from the sky and landed on the black dragon’s back, driving her talons deep into its flesh.

As the three great beasts fought, Alidus pulled harder on the whip of fire.

 

*          *          *

 

In his haste to rally the soldiers and help the prince, Aric raced down the stairs and out into the courtyard. He soon saw that all the warriors had fled, fearful of the battle raging overhead.

When he rushed to the city gates, he saw that the guards there had also deserted, dropping their weapons as they retreated. Just as his hope was fading, Aric saw Degan and Atol coming over the hill.

As he ran the distance to them, he heard the sound of a galloping horse and turned to see his noble steed Colby.

“Degan, Atol,” he yelled as Colby drew near. “Prince Alidus needs our help!”

“Sadly, I can offer no help,” Degan sighed. “My power comes from Zulargareth. If I were to rise against him, the victory would be stillborn.”

“There must be something we can do,” Aric said, turning and looking up toward the battle.

Atol sensed Idrian’s emotions stir. He slowly turned and saw that she was intently watching the battle. Gently laying his hand on her side, he said,

“No, my valiant friend. This battle is beyond us. If we fight, we will not survive.”

Atol felt a rumble within her as she growled deeply in her throat. When she cast her eyes upon Atol, he held her gaze for a moment and knew what she would do.

“Very well. If this must be, we shall go together.”

Quickly he slipped on her back then helped Olon climb up behind him.

“Wait!” Aric called out.

But his word was lost in the wind as Idrian lifted into the air, her great wings pushing them onward to battle.

 

*          *          *

 

Alidus released the whip and held forth his hand as he looked deeply into the eyes of the black dragon.  A thin stream of fire shot from his hand and struck the black dragon’s face, forcing him to release the red dragon.

As the wounded ruby dragon fell to the earth, the black dragon clawed at his burning flesh, tossing the white dragon from his back. Alidus kept the stream of fire steady, his eyes fixed on his target. Suddenly Idrian broke through the smoke and pounced on the black dragon’s back. Digging her claws into his flesh, she wrapped her tail around the dragon’s tail and bit deeply into his neck.

When the dragon cried out in pain, Olon leapt from Idrain’s back and dove down the dragon’s throat. Idrian twisted and whipped her head around, tearing at the black dragon as he struggled to breath. Black smoke poured from his nostrils and engulfed Alidus.

“You cannot win this battle, boy,” Zulargareth said.

“I will fight to the death. I know you killed my father,” Alidus said.

“Not your true father,” Zulargareth said.

“And you murdered my mother,” Alidus added. “I will withdraw when you are dead.”

“I did not murder your mother, boy. You did,” Zulargareth corrected.

“Liar!” Alidus snapped.

“I speak the truth. The fire that rages within you killed her.”

At that, Alidus roared and exploded into glorious blue fire, the flames glowing brighter until they burned away the black smoke.

As the black dragon slowly dried to a burned husk, Idrian tore off the head and the remnants broke into a powder. Olon dropped onto a nearby section of scorched wood in what was left of the destroyed tower. Alidus, his strength spent, fell to the stone floor unconscious.

 

*          *          *

 

Razham carried the body of Lady Elisabeth to the top of a nearby hill. At the last, she had turned from evil, bravely fought her demons, and could now rest in eternity. He gently laid her body beneath a majestic tree, its great branches spreading out to shade her, and knelt down. Whispering a prayer, Gonorap watched as vines slowly grew over her, forming a thick emerald cocoon then turning a soft brown.

As he marveled, he saw a slight movement beneath the vines, something stirring as it worked its way out. A bright blue and yellow butterfly appeared, slowly fanning its wings before taking to the air. Fascinated, Gonorap cautiously moved up to the vines and reached out to touch them. Suddenly the vines broke apart and thousands of butterflies flew up, filling the air with their glory.

“Her soul is free now, and her body has been returned to the earth,” Razham said.

“There you are,” a voice called behind Razham.

Razham turned to see his old friends Brius and Olds riding up.

“Where is the boy?” Olds asked.

“Terrin,” Brius added.

“His name is Prince Alidus, and—,” Razham stopped when the clouds suddenly parted and the sun broke through.  “And it appears that he has saved us.”

“Well it would have been nice to know,” Olds complained, unaware of the battle now won. “We’ve been wandering the woods searching for him. We were almost set upon by bandits.”

“I am pleased to see that you are well, my friend,” Razham smiled.

“No thanks to you,” Olds protested.

“Stop your complaining, old man,” Brius teased. “We were protected by the most unusual of friends.”

From the back of the cart stepped out a cougar. She slowly approached Razham and sniffed him.

“I am a friend, great huntress,” Razham said.

His brow furrowed, Brius asked,

“It is time for you to return to your home?”

Razham watched as the cougar walked back to the cart then he looked up at his friend.

“Yes, it is time. I have used the last of my blessings and must reach home before my life fades and I return to the earth that bore me. Take care and tell Prince Alidus that Navhena watches over his land and brings it new life.”

“I will go with you, my friend,” Brius said. “We began this journey together and we will finish it together.”

“So I’m alone with the cougar?” Olds asked.

“Unless you wish to come with us,” Brius offered.

“No thank you,” Olds said, stroking his white hair. “I am far too young to lie down and die.”

Brius laughed and said, “Then take care, my friend.”

Published in: on May 18, 2017 at 3:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dragon Fire: Episode 84

When they neared the edge of the next rooftop, Razham slipped past Lady Elizabeth and bent down. Her hand on the bow, Lady Elizabeth scanned the area while a quivering Gonorap clung to Razham. Up ahead they saw a great fire, its flames reaching heavenward, as soulless worshippers danced at its edges, bowing and chanting before it.

“They worship this fire?” Lady Elizabeth wondered aloud.

“In his weakness, man will worship any god that asks nothing of him,” Razham replied.

Her eyes searching through the droves of followers, Lady Elizabeth furrowed her brow and asked,

“Where is he?”

“The archer?” Razham asked. “He is called Vanamir.”

“Yes. I do not see him,” Lady Elizabeth said.

“He will show himself, but we may have to draw him out,” Razham explained.

Lady Elizabeth reached back and pulled a cloth from her quiver.

As she gathered her hair into it, she said, “Then let us drawn him out.”

Pulling back on an arrow, she released and let it fly. The arrow soared through the air and struck one of the worshippers, pinning his head to the ground. Instantly the other followers stopped and grew quiet. Turning toward the rooftop, they began to shriek in an unearthly chorus.

At that, Lady Elizabeth dropped from the rooftop and began slaughtering the worshippers as fast as her weapon would allow.

“Stay here, little one. I must go to help her,” Razham said.

Razham dropped to the ground and scooped a handful of soil. Lifting it to his mouth, he began to mutter mysterious words while he walked away from the building to the middle of the road.

As some of the worshippers poured out into the road, Razham slowly opened his hand, letting the wind stir the soil and lift it into the air in a spinning circle over his palm. Suddenly the worshippers halted their charge and stood perfectly still. In the road behind Razham appeared the faint image of a great bear, its majestic muscles rolling in waves. As the worshippers stared in terror, the towering bear slowly took form and charged toward Razham. Moments before the bear reached him, Razham released the soil and began to fade out of sight. When the bear passed through Razham’s vanishing form, the creature became solid and attacked the stunned group of worshippers. While Lady Elizabeth fired at the followers emptying her quiver, the powerful bear roared and destroyed each worshipper with one swipe of its paw.

On the rooftop, Gonorap watched Razham and Lady Elizabeth, determining in his heart to be brave despite his fear. Clutching the small dagger Lady Elizabeth had given him, he commanded himself to climb down to the ground and join his comrades in the fight.

Her quiver empty, Lady Elizabeth drew her sword from its sheath and sliced her way through the mindless mass as they came at her. It seemed that for every one she brought down, dozens more poured out from the buildings.

Gonorap crept closer toward the battle, hiding behind fallen bodies and anything that would keep him hidden as he looked for a way to help in the fight.

Suddenly he saw the shadowy man with the black oil encircling his frame. Gonorap was puzzled by the change in him for he looked more human than before, enabling him to move closer to Lady Elizabeth without her notice.

When Gonorap tried to call out a warning, he found that his voice caught in his throat. He was too frightened to speak, too afraid to draw attention to himself, even if it meant saving Lady Elizabeth.

 

*          *          *

 

Lady Elizabeth felt a presence behind her, but before she could turn, someone had torn the cloth from her head, seized her hair, and pressed the blade of a knife to her throat. She shuddered when she heard a voice like a file across metal,

“Drop the sword.”

“Vanamir!” she thought.

When she hesitated, Vanamir pressed harder against the blade, cutting the skin and sending blood trickling down her neck.

“Now!” he demanded.

With no other choice, she dropped her sword near her foot.

“HALT!” Vanamir commanded.

The worshippers immediately obeyed.

Speaking to Razham, he said,

“The power you possess is truly amazing, but I cannot be stopped, not by you, not by anyone. Yield or I will open her throat.”

When the bear stood on its hind legs and let out a roar, Vanamir shouted,

“NOW!”

The bear froze then turned as all its color drained away and it broke into a thousand dead leaves that blew away in the wind. Standing in its place was Razham bracing himself on his staff, his strength spent.

“Weary are you?” Vanamir asked. “Excellent! That will make everything easier.”

Lady Elizabeth focused, waiting for a chance to free herself.

“Throw yourself into the fire or I will kill her,” Vanamir threatened.

“You will kill her if I do,” Razham returned.

“Perhaps,” Vanamir said. “But if you refuse me, she will die this day.”

Razham slowly removed himself from the support of the staff then threw it aside.

“No!” Lady Elizabeth pleaded. “Not for me!”

“Quiet!” Vanamir snapped. “I prefer that my future bride be alive, not back from the dead, but I will have you either way.”

Razham spotted movement behind Vanamir and slipped his hand into his pocket.

“You will not move again unless it is into the fire,” Vanamir ordered.

With the loud cry, “I am going to die!” Gonorap leapt at Vanamir, plunging the dagger’s blade deep into his calf.

Just as Vanamir howled in pain and kicked away Gonorap, Lady Elizabeth quickly reached down and snatched up her sword.

But before her blade could find its target, Vanamir had once again seized her and pressed the blade of the knife to her throat.

“Not so fast, my sweet,” Vanamir hissed.

Razham slowly withdrew his hand from his pocket.

“Stop fighting!” Vanamir shouted at Lady Elizabeth.

“Never!” Lady Elizabeth returned.

Raising her sword, she ran the blade through her stomach, impaling Vanamir.

As he gasped for air, Vanamir pushed her away and staggered back on shaking legs.

Razham raised his hand and tossed a small object at Vanamir as a dying Lady Elizabeth crawled away.

Vanamir stepped back when a small acorn landed on the ground before him. He looked up at Razham and smiled.

“You missed.”

“Did you really think you could end my life with a small acorn?” he laughed, stomping it into the earth.

“Navhena does not take life,” Razham said. “She gives it.”

When Vanamir felt the ground beneath him begin to stir, he looked down to see green vines rising up where the acorn had landed.

As the vines tightly wound around Vanamir’s legs, Razham said,

“Her vines will hold you. Her roots will feed you. Her bark will protect you, and her sap will bring life back to this dead soil.”

Vanamir’s struggle proved useless for the vines continued to break through the soil and wrap themselves around him. At last he grew still, and in his place stood a giant tree, its branches sending forth an abundance of blue starflowers. The vines spread from the tree’s base, encircling each of Vanamir’s followers and pulling them underground with a small sapling springing from the earth in their place.

With a woeful heart, Razham walked over to Lady Elizabeth and bent down. When he found that the life had gone out of her, he closed his eyes and said,

“May your soul at last find peace.”

When he stood, vines began to wrap themselves around Lady Elizabeth’s body, but Razham pulled them free and gently lifted her body up over his shoulder. He walked past the tree that now held Vanamir and bent down to pick up Gonorap. The brave little creature was unconscious but alive.

“Fear not, little one. You are safe now. Navhena will protect you and welcome you home,” he comforted.

Tucking Gonorap comfortably into his satchel, Razham retrieved his staff and moved on.

Published in: on April 18, 2017 at 3:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,