Editor's note: I've had the privilege of beta reading and editing several parts of this story so far, and it is amazing. The White Knight is a very talented author, who's strength in story telling (especially world building) is incredible, and I love reading everything he writes. That being said, this story deals primarily with such themes as darkness and depravity, and if you haven't yet read any stories from the world of Ildathore, or are looking for a lighter read, I would suggest Icestorm or The Mapmaker.
Click here to read Part One, here to read Part Two, here to read Part Three, and here to read Part Four.
You dream, and my cousin dreams, and my brothers dreamed before they died. I dream too. I feel as if I have dreamt the way that no son of man before me has ever dreamed. Water was pooling around my feet, and I sank into a well of sadness. The Man in the Mirror Shield watched me as I fell, and the Pale Maid waved to me. I passed through the waters, and the feeling of falling surrounded me for many days while I cried.
“Fly.” A Voice spoke over my shoulder, and I screamed. I had never heard a sound that filled me with such fear. My screams surrounded me, and I knew that I wasn’t alone, for there were other screams in the darkness. I stretched out my arms, and attempted to slow my descent, but I only seemed to fall faster.
“Are you human after all?” the Voice asked me with a deep rumble. “Dream faster and fly, it shall make you stronger, harder, better. You will be more than just a man after all.”
I landed with my face on the ground, and I knew I had broken every bone in my body. I lay there crying, though I had long since run out of tears. Grass grew up around me, until my eyes were glazed over with green. I waited for the sun to rise, yet it never did. I could not move without the greatest agony. Winter came. I froze, and was covered with a sheet of ice, but my bones were set back together. I did not hunger or thirst, as one might do in a dream, but I was sustained by every whisper of the wind.
Suddenly, just as the ice had come as a relief, I shattered into a million piece like glass. The ground disappeared again, I was floating in a sea of a purple-blackness. I looked out from my square of glass, and I saw thousands of squares of glass. And I was standing in all of them, and on all of them I was screaming, trying to escape.
“Do you remember, child?” a Voice asked me. I imitated my counterparts as I shrieked and rammed myself up against the square of glass that caged me in. I was trapped here. Could I never get out?
“Remember what?” I half shouted and half wept the question. I sunk to my knees; I had never felt so trapped.
“Life,” the Voice said to me.
“No,” I said, wiping my nose. It was true. I had fallen for so long I could remember nothing before it. But that didn’t stop me from knowing that Life was some good beyond my realm of understanding.
“You are living,” the Voice responded. “As every being who has ever been has.”
“But what is Life?” I shouted it into empty air. The glass was gone, and I was stepping onto a field, with a house. I saw a man by a bed in the house, and a woman in that bed. The woman hefted a boy child into the air with a laugh of amazement as the boy shouted and breathed for air. The man, the father, reached out a finger to his new son’s hand. The air around them shimmered with light. The light shone so brightly I raised my arms to shield myself from it, yet I was blind.
I wandered around and when my sight returned, I looked about me to see infinite fathers, infinite mothers, infinite children. Their eyes and skins were of all different colors, there was not one face amongst them that was the same. I heard the chanting of the priests of Night all about me. “Praise the mother eternal, she who brings forth life from the womb. Blessed be the first and foremost of all beings, woman.”
I wanted to be them. I wanted to reach out as a father with wonder, to hold a being that was from myself. I wanted to be a mother, to be the most honored being that carries and shepherds new life into the world as a great hero. I wanted to be a child, and I realized that I was once one myself.
“I was once one like unto these,” I said aloud. I feel to my knees. There was never such joy in the world, never could there be a feeling like that which I felt.
A hand was upon my shoulder. I was in a room filled with weeping people. I looked up and saw a woman on a bed, blood covered the sheets. She was without life. Dead, I realized. An old woman handed me a swaddling bundle of a babe. At least, I thought, there is some joy here. A child saved nobly. But no, once the baby was pressed into my hands, I knew the babe was as dead as its mother, and there was naught I could do about it.
“Is this what Life looks like?” I yelled unto the skies. I no longer held the babe, but instead held a woman’s hand. She too had given birth, and instead of reaching out for her child, she simply stared at the sky and said nothing. I held millions of hands. Eventually the hands changed. The bodies were no longer confined to birthing beds. As many people as I had seen be born were buried. I buried some myself. There was no one else. I stayed by two young girls and their dead mother on a riverbank longer than I should have. I felt an especial sadness for them. I felt the trauma of a young man seeing his parents slain before his eyes. I felt the hurt of having come so close to finally having a parent as a daughter buried her long lost father. I felt the regret of a father as he realized that he couldn’t save his family whom he loved, and had to watch them die.
I was in the Endless Torment, I realized, or some form of it. Life was a lie, that only had an ending of sadness. Some men may fade softer than others. Some men may even leave in peace. All but the worst of men left behind someone that was forever marred by their departure. Sorrow was the chief end of Life so it seemed. And so Life seemed to be for me through many deaths and many funerals.
Death eventually led me to a battlefield. It was everywhere there. I saw the eyes of men, black and white they were, like beady jewels on a statue. Men fell on the swords of other men, some fell on their own. When knights cooked in their armor, arrows rose overhead to provide shade, and men roasted in their places. When the arrows turned to rain, men raised their shields. When men raised their shields, others pushed spears into the soft places the shields uncovered, and that with no armor was left bare. So men lowered their shields and locked them together, and placed back on their armor. It rained until the field turned to muck and grime, and men yet writhed in pain and agony. Boys and beardless youths and bearded men and old grey beards came to battlefields, and they sunk in the muck. I saw the battle where my brothers died, where my cousin died, and I saw the ones where my ancestors had perished as well. There were many and more of these battlefields that I came and witnessed. Many and more young boys and old men’s eyes faded into blackness and stared into my eyes as if they were being entranced by a pair of glimmering stars.
My mind was gripped with such a fear of death, and of the pain, that it was all I could do to run away, but I saw that all the earth was turned to a battlefield. I ran from the sunrise to the sunset, and taking wing I flew from ice to ice without a place to alight upon green earth or blue waters. There was not a sea that was not sailed for blood, or fields that were not plowed with swords. I saw a great battle in the black. I saw a great battle in the white. I saw a battle so great that the rivers ran red and the lands were stained with a crimson sheen. Banners innumerable were everywhere, each one so downtrodden and soiled that I could no more make out their various devices then I could discern the one side from the other. Men used crossbows that fired the rays of the sun, they crawled along in tortoises of lobstered steel, their swords were as ribbons of light, and they flew dragons whose roars were great and terrible. And I saw them then, a red heifer roaring through the night sky at the scarlet-handed one, while the saffron souls poured across the starry spirits like the desolation of a fiery mountain. A great greaved gauntlet stained with innocence swept up through them all, and it pulled them down. The stars. The Seven Stars. With Roger’s colors.
They descended as a rainbow of Purpe, Azure, Verde, Gules, Or, Argent, and Sable. And they fractured the great battle. The great battle that fractured a war. The war. And that war had shattered the world. And the world was made new with a roar that was greater than ten thousands of dragons. And the world was so changed that men could not walk along the face of the earth.
Golden eyes met mine with rushes of seething hate, and blackness masked all else, and I felt the rumbling of the earth as the flame of the stars enveloped me, and the golden eyes rushed upwards in a dark tower. Those eyes made me shiver, and I was driven to my knees as I observed more and more, of what seemed to me great heroes of yore. Warriors great and terrible I saw, giants, kings, lords and tyrants, of great valor, and of great cruelty. In one eye I saw a giant’s son on a horse, bearded, barded, and in green. He bore a crown of flowers upon his head, and he led men with a holy fervor against the kin of his fathers with a booming laugh and an outstretched sword. Through my other eye, I saw a gaunt grey man with a black crown atop a throne of crumbling bones, passing sentence on his young sons. I saw a boy on a blue dragon, a girl with the power to summon ice walk on water, I saw a woman walking through the woods singing the song of earth against her enemies, a hero breaking empires with his bare hands and igniting the flaming sword, a child reaching out to a burning horse, a man running from his wife and life through an endless mirage of faces and sadness and dreams, a man stuck between his son’s life and burning the last book of yore, a bowman firing his weapon with the accuracy of a thunderbolt, a young maiden sprouting wing and taking flight. She waved at me, and blew me a kiss. I realized that I was flying with her. I looked at the clouds, the shapes they made, the wisps and winds that seemed like the waves of the sea. I had forgotten what peace felt like. I had forgotten there was such a thing at all. I turned back to the woman with wings. I was to tell her that I loved her. I had flown with her in her silence and her smiles for so long that I knew that there was no one else for me. I had the body of a young boy with the soul of a champion in his prime and the mind of the most ancient of heroes. Who would refuse me my love? Who would not give it in return?
I turned back to the woman, and the clouds turned grey, and lightning clashed with thunder in streaks of light that served only to make my ears bleed and illuminate the body of a great black beast that stared at me with a sworl of a golden eye the size of a thousand suns. I realized then that I had the soul and mind of a young boy still within me. The beast smiled with his great fangs bared at me and growled out a roar that would shatter the foundations of Londkongkai. In its rumble, all the fears and emotions that I had withheld from all the death and battlefields was let loose in one scream. I was falling. I was a boy. I was going to die. I fell from where the stars had been pulled down through a midnight haze of darkness to a shining jewel of green and blue; a pinprick of light in an ocean of eventide. I came back through the clouds I thought I had left far behind me with the speed of a space dragon, and I felt my soul return into the spaces of our world.
Crack. My wings had broken. I was sobbing. My wings, my wings, my beautiful white wings. Did I have them when I had begun flying? Had the woman given them to me? That did not matter, for they were broken and gone with my heart. I felt for it… My heart… It was not there. I screamed and tore at my chest, the pain in my wings becoming more intense as my fingernails clawed and clawed in the place where my heart should be. Blood was soaking my hands now, and I thought I touched a rib, when suddenly a voice laughed.
“Silly boy, why are you trying to find your heart within yourself? It appears to have run away.” This voice was strange, rumbling and womanly, ancient and young, hard as stone and fluid as a rivulet of fire.
“I loved someone…” I whispered to no one, huddled on the cold green grass, my eyes closed tight as a vice, and yet bursting with diamonds of salt. I placed my red-stained hands upon my face, to cover the tears. “She was good and kind and… and… I lost her…” My eyes snapped open and I sat up. “She took my heart.”
“Yesssss…” The voice agreed. Or sang. Or suggested. Or implied. Perhaps it intoned it. But the voice went on. “She has it. And she is waiting for you. She can take away your pain…”
“Where?” I was standing now, forcing my wings to spread again. I yelped at the pain, but I stretched them again, making a weak flutter that took my feet off the ground, before falling face flat on the earth again.
“I can take you there…” The voice said to me, and a mist rose from the earth and surrounded me. A cold wind came from before me, and blew it away. I was at an angle now, on a slope of some mountain. There she was, by a tree and a cave, from which poured forth four streams of water. They were afar off, yet within my reach. One of them splashed down into my face, filling my mouth with its sweet taste. Was it only sweet because of her? Or was it sweet because this mountain was special? I scrabbled up from my knees, invigorated by the cool drink. The pain in my wings dissipated, and I lifted myself up lightly from the cold stone of the mountain with an experimental flap. I hovered up the hard rock face, and I came to where my love was. She was as beautiful as I recalled her to be, surely, it had been a thousand years since I last saw her form, exquisite and perfect. Her wings were gone though, and I looked around for them. I heard a flutter a flap and behold! There they were! But they were changed… where were the feathers?
All that remained of them now was grey sinew and muscle, stretching like a canvas over long thin bones. And what they were attached to… A small scaled creature, sinuous like a snake, whiskered, and preeningly licking its new wings with a forked tongue. It was wound around a branch of the tree, which I saw now bloomed with beautiful fruit. It seemed to me that there were a stem and two branches, one to each side, lobed at intervals with globes of light, bound together with twigs of the same. Then, there was one stem and six branches, now eight. And it grew and grew, till it shaded the whole mountain in it’s great green shadow. Fresh fruit fell and landed at its roots. They splattered on the ground with a satisfying sound that echoed around the winds. Round and red and four-chambered they were; they seemed like… hearts.
I looked back at the woman. My woman, I thought to myself, a maid pale and beautiful. She had bitten into one of the four chambered fruit, the red juice running down her face and on to her neck. She smiled at me, and extended the fruit out at me. The little grey beast wagged its tail excitedly. I had never seen anything as good as that woman with that fruit… I had to have them. Both. Right then and there.
She giggled at me then, and asked in a delicate voice: “Are you not hungry, young one?”
“Very much, lady,” I replied. I could not discern her age, she might have been my age from her laugh, perhaps a woman in her prime from her form, or maybe even older, for eyes seemed to shine at me with the same sadness and longing and weariness which I had felt while I had passed through this world. But all this did not matter to me. She was going to make me happy, take away all that sadness and tiredness, embrace me, and she would be mine and I hers.
Her smile widened, and I felt an ache, and I felt the void where my heart should have been, more than I had ever before. “Your hands are red,” she said to me, looking down at them curiously. She took a step towards me, fruit outstretched. I saw then that her hands were red too. “Did you already eat of it?”
I blushed sheepishly. “No.”
“Then wash out the stains on your hands with something new, and beautiful, and healing.” Her violet eyes bored into mine like endless pools, and I could never look away. I found myself floating towards her and her fruit. Mine hands touched hers. The fruit was in my hands now. Her red hands brushed a hair away from my face. “Go on, eat, and be like me. Be whole, have your heart return to you.”
I bit down then. It was sweet and luscious and everything good. It was the smell of the hearth, and the words of honey and love. It was my mother’s warm arms, I had forgotten her. It was my father and my brothers and my cousins ruffling my hair. I had forgotten them too. It was the woman I love leaning down and taking my lips in a kiss that lasted forever. Could it be that I had forgotten her? The moon was beautiful.
And then the fruit was ashen. I was eating some sort of amniotic paste, with a strange texture and a heat that stung my mouth and throat like a thousand bees. I choked, and threw the fruit down, but it was no longer a fruit. It was an egg… cracked and leaking, full of pus and blood. And then… my wings started burning. I screamed to crack the moon. I could feel the flesh being ripped away, the bones turning to ash, the light and airy feeling disappearing from my body, to be replaced with a scraping brutality of an eternal pain. I felt my head swimming, it was about to burst open. I fell to the earth clutching my skull, and landed in a pile of white feathers, swirling about in a fierce east wind. And the laughter was a cacophony of noise in my bleeding ears. It surrounded me, and all I could do was smash my hands on my head and howl at the moon which was blood.
“Yes! Yes!” the voice thundered, and I raised my head from the earth. The pale maid waved at me again, and was crushed by a great smash of a mass of vicious talons.
I shrieked and leapt back from the feathers, landing in a pile of ash… my wings. My eyes gazed upward once again, and the little snake had turned into a great, long worm. It lifted its head and released a mass of flames up into the tree with a roar that shook the foundations of the mountains. And from its sides, before the smaller, weaker wings that already protruded from its frame, came two beastly, grotesque, and bat-like grey wings. The tree was black now, scarred by golden flames, charred beyond recognition, with only a few of its scattered leaves falling to the earth unscathed. The fruit at the bottom of the tree I saw now were eggs, black and grey and red and golden, shimmering and rippling with an allure that rang of a deathly beauty. The great worm rose up into the sky on its four rings, and quickly spun up into the air, till it was almost out of sight, before crashing down like a thunderbolt upon the eggs, stomping and smashing them into a mass of red pulp. It was the same pulp that filled my mouth. My eyes were dry, and I chanced to take a hand off of my ears, which continued bleeding in torrents. While the cries and laughs and bestial howls increased in volume, I felt my back, where my wings had been. They were gone now, and so was she.
Where she had once been was a crimson stain upon basalt, and I crawled to reach her. She was to be mine, she could not leave me, she could not. But she had gone into nothingness, leaving me unfriended, unprotected, alone.
A shudder of an earthquake rattled my crippled and earthbound frame, breaking the ledge which I lay upon in my sorrow. I fell down the mountain, and I flapped wings which were not there. I fell slowly, amongst the rocks and shattered stone, down the mountain, over and over, head over heels, heels over head. My heart was still missing.
I did not stop rolling when I reached the bottom. I landed in a river, large and wide and swift. It was dragging me out to sea, away from the land, away from where she died. I pushed my head above the water, and saw that evil beast flapping its four wings around the mountain… but it was no mountain. It was a great oily black stone, four sided, and monolithic. It towered above everything else, through the clouds to heights unknown, but the clouds were parted… A great streak of smoke ran through the sky, to where the great stone sat. That eldritch horror that had taken my woman away from me still snaked through the sky, singing in its slinking screams in worship… to it.
“I want in!” I could hear it begin to tantrum, once its singing did nothing. “I want in, I want in, I want in!”
“I want what you took from me!” I shook my fist at the monster, although I knew it could not hear me. Then the waves of the river filled my lungs and sunk me to the bottom of the river. All sorts of monsters were there. Some were reptilian, some seemed fishlike, some were great tentacled beings, and yet some were even stranger things of ancient evil and profound knowledge which seemed to have been sleeping beneath the waves since before the world began.
They whispered to me there.
“We hear your pain.”
“You are like us, poor, poor worthless creature that you are. Where are you?”
“I’ll eat you.”
“You’ve lost your heart, do want your heart back?”
“You want to die like your brothers? Do you have one left to you?”
“What is a heart? Is that not something pertaining to humans?”
“What makes a human being?”
“Come to me, and I will give you rest, and answer your questions.”
“You don’t truly want a heart, a heart gives you pain, and sadness, and unrest.”
“Is that one of us? Come, let us bring him to ourselves.”
“Yes… He dreams as we dream. Come to us, and learn how to truly be at peace, and to bring peace to others.”
“The only true rest is found in sleep. So sleep with us here in the dark beneath the waves.”
“No!” Water filled my mouth, but I did not care. It wiped away the sordid taste of the fruit that was an egg. I kicked and kicked. I had to find the surface. My hand shot to the surface, where another hand seized it and pulled up.
I emerged in the ocean, coughing in the midst of a great storm. It was black, and lightning flashed around me.
“Where is my heart? What happened to it? Where did it go? Where did she go…” I faltered. I no longer kicked my feet, and long smooth arms of slime wrapped around my shins, to drag me back beneath the waves.
“Behold! She is waiting for you at sea,” one voice said with an air of thoughtfulness.
“Nay, for look! She meets you at the mountain!” another voice broke in with a sharp hiss.
“Behold! She we will be with you, and you shall find your broken heart, and you will come to houses of healing, and love will be within you again, once you see me through her.” This last voice spoke with calm and confidence, and filled me with the same.
“Who is speaking to me?” I shouted, as the slimy tendrils tugged at me. I placed my hands on the water, and strained upward, the liquid supporting my weight.
“It’s me that’s speaking to you boy.”
The voices came with the rolls of thunder and roared together into a discordant melody. I yelled with all my strengthen, and pulled myself up, inch by inch, but I knew my strength would not last forever. The rain lashed my face, and I felt it ripping into my skin.
A man came to me then. He was hooded and cloaked, and his visage was shrouded with shards of glass. He floated above the tempestuous waters, and looked down at me in a sinister silence. A metallic clicking filled my ears, in time with the thunder, in time with what should have been my heart.
“Help me!” I shouted to him, trying to make my voice heard over the deluge. “Help me! You saved me before, right? Help me now! Curse you!”
He extended his hand, just as my strength gave out. I began to slip beneath the waves, and my head submerged again. The water was grimy and salty now, revolting and full of slime. I gritted my teeth, trying to not take any of it in, but it flooded down through my nose. It was the end for me… But the man seized my hand, and flung me up, up, up. It was a different hand than the one that seized me before, metallic and cold, but our touch was so brief that I could not fathom anything else. I passed above the clouds once more. I saw cities below me, and continents, and the mountains in the oceans. The sea enveloped them all. I heard the cries of men, women, and little children, as their homes were swept away, and all their lives vanished. Only the black stone remained.
I was still going up, I realized. The man had thrown me high indeed. I needed my wings back, so that I would not fall. But wait, why did I need them? I had risen for a thousand years now, and was amongst the stars, those myriad eyes. I past the Lions and their roaring jaws… Why did I need wings? I would not fall. I had soared too high for that.
“For love,” I whispered to myself. “To find my heart… And the girl who holds it.”
A blinding light surrounded me. Seven creatures swirled around me… A rainbow they were, Purpe, Azure, Verde, Gules, Or, Argent, and Sable. They cried about holiness, and purity, and about a love that does not die by the hands of man. A shield they gave me, fit for a warrior, polished to reflect the arrows of my enemies, to defend all the weak, women, and children. A singing began, pure and beautiful, and my pale maid was there, in a palace of purest marble. But she was all I could think to look at in that gilded place. She was clothed in white, as if for a wedding. I was taller than her, I realized, and my arms were strong and powerful… and I too was in white I realized then. Still all I could think of was her, my heart, before me again. Were we to wed? Was she to become mine? What was I doing here? She smiled at me, and took my arm… and I felt it… my heart was within me again.
But, then… a boy appeared. He was dressed in golden silks, and seemed no older than twelve. It seemed to me that he was the most radiant being that ever existed, and that his visage was the image of all that that was right in the world. He looked at us, and smiled, a perfect smile. She smiled back. My stomach turned.
“You have finally come?” he asked, his lip trembling slightly. “Have you brought her to me?”
“What?” I took a step back, incredulous. “Is she not mine?”
The boy laughed. “No! You’ve kept her safe for me! I cannot thank you enough, she is my life, and reflects my light perfectly. My heart is in her, and hers in me. Thank you for bringing her to me!” He extended his hand to the woman, and in it was a band of purest gold, surmounted by a burning ruby, that beat with a shimmering light. It was my heart. “You brought her to me… And now, if she accepts, she will be mine, and live with me, forever.” His smile widened, and it could have soften the most hardened of warriors, wooed dozens of maidens, and brought light to thousands. But to me it was a mockery. I did not speak. I did not think. But with a single sweep of my arm I brought my shield across his face with the most resonating crunch. The maid shrieked as he collapsed to the floor, blood pouring from his nose in a torrent, staining his doublet and the marble floor on which he lay.
“No!” she yelled at me, but I was already atop him.
“She’s not yours!” I brought the shield down into his chest, and I heard a rib crack. I raised my arm back and shouted with all my might. “She was never meant for you! She’s mine! She’s mine! She was always mine! She can’t leave! I can’t let her leave me again! You think you can steal her from me? My life! My light! My everything?”
The boy’s face was a mush now, all black and blue. I hacked away at him so many times. Over and over, up and down, the shield crashed into his frame. I was crying. She was never meant for me. She never loved me like I loved her. I would have killed for her, and now I finally had. But I killed the one she was meant for. Is this what being human was? To be heartless, soulless, devoid of any meaning? I would have my heart back from the one that stole from me, I would take it, I would take it and guard it and let no one touch it again. It was mine, and he took it from me!
“You took my heart you monster!” I plunged my hands into his chest, and ripped out the beating mass of flesh. “And now I’ve taken yours!”
I threw it across the floor, and heard it splat in some corner. It was only then that I heard her weeping again. I turned, and saw her in a corner, bawling. I looked down at my hands. They were stained red with the boy’s blood, and a strange device had been splashed in crimson upon my once spotless shield. The boy grabbed at my leg, pulling weakly. I whirled hacked down at him again.
“Can’t you die!” Tears were coming to my eyes now. “You’ve taken everything from me! Even… even her love… my…”
The words died in my throat. The boy was holding out his hand. There was the ring with my heart. He was giving it to me. It glimmered and shone brightly in his trembling hand.
“Take it…” he gasped, tremors seizing him. “Take it…” His face… was familiar. Was it… Paul’s? The boy collapsed onto the floor, the ring splattering along the samite I stood upon. I fell to my knees, clutching the ring. It was mine, mine at last. But what had I done to get it? What had I done to deserve it?
I gasped. The boy spoke my name. I knew that voice now… It was Paul. Young, foolish, broken, alone, but Paul. I felt sick. He reached up and held my face. Tears flowed freely now. I’m so messed up. I’m disgusting…
Paul looked up at the sky, with eyes swollen almost shut. He pointed towards the heavens. We were on the beach now, and the sea was rising to swallow us whole. “The… The moon…”
I nodded, wiping my eyes. “I know. It’s beautiful.”
Written by The White Knight
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2019 by The Flabbit Room
Editor's note: I've had the privilege of beta reading and editing several parts of this story so far, and it is amazing. The White Knight is a very talented author, who's strength in story telling (especially world building) is incredible, and I love reading everything he writes. That being said, this story deals primarily with such themes as darkness and depravity, and if you haven't yet read any stories from the world of Ildathore, or are looking for a lighter read, I would suggest Icestorm or The Mapmaker.
Click here to read Part One, here to read Part Two, and here to read Part Three.
“I dreamed of you.”
The words cut me to the bones, harder than any chill. What kind of nightmare could that be? Could he have shared my dream? Relived the horrors of that day?
“Bran?” I said the boy’s name again. “Are you alright?”
The boy looked up at me, and the eerie blue of his eyes stared through my flesh and to my soul. He glanced back down at the flames and poked down at it with his foot. His brow furrowed as if he was trying to remember something. At length he spoke:
“Yes. I am Bran.”
I sat down across from him and gawked at the odd sight before me. The sea had rolled back, and left an empty swath of sand behind him.The moon’s light was bearing down ever brighter. It was then that I realized his nakedness, dripping wet hair, and I realized his shivering was becoming more and more violent.
“Bran, what have you been doing?” I asked tentatively.
He shrugged and shook his head. “I’ve been in the sea… trying to drown the voices….”
My mind could not wrap itself around this strange and otherworldly statement. What could he mean? Had he been trying to drown himself? He was freezing, that was obvious. “I’m going to get you a blanket, alright? Stay here.”
Bran nodded. I slowly stood up, and his eyes never ceased to follow me as I walked back to the tent. I could feel them going through my head, and into my nightmare. I noticed his clothes now as I walked back. His breeches first, not far from the fire, and then his shirt, closer to the entrance of our shelter. I didn’t need to ask to know he had taken them off running. His footprints, though windblown, made that clear enough. Picking up his clothes as I went, I ducked into to the darkness, and swiftly grabbed the blanket. Returning to the fireside, I quickly saw the tide of the sea rushing up towards us and our tents.
Not hesitating, I extended my arm and pulled Bran to his feet, and I yanked him back across the flames.
“Ahh! Paul!” His feet were dragged through the burning embers, and I smelt that horrible stench of burning flesh. His screams pierced through the night to a height no boy child should be able to achieve. I knew my ears would never be able to unhear it, such screams as I had heard at the Battle of Serenity. And to hear them coming from my cousin was worse than any nightmare.
The sea had splashed over the fire, extinguishing it. It knocked into the Twins’ tent, bowling it over in a salt filled tide. Spray hit my chest, and the water lapped at my feet. Bran immediately stuck his feet into the icy water, yelping like an injured animal. He buried his feet into the now wet sand as the water retreated away from our now dead campfire. I could hear spluttering and the rustling of material coming from the Twin’s fallen tent as the hapless pair began to awaken. I could hear the frightened bray of the mules at the edge of the dunes. I could hear Beaumont stir in the tent he shared with Smithers. But my only concern was for the young boy in front of me.
“Bran... I’m so sorry,” I threw the blanket over the boy as he danced upon the sands in some irregular pattern and held him close till he began to still. He pressed his head against my chest, crying, his shuddering almost constant. He could catch a fever soon, without warmth. We had to get out of the sea’s grasp and start a new fire.
“The sea! The sea came for us!” Derrick yelled from under the soggy burlap.
Beric tunneled out, shrieking and brandishing his knife. His face was frozen in absolute terror. He saw me holding my cousin, naked but for the blanket, which he held about himself as a cloak. His face twisted into what my face must have been but moments ago. Derrick’s head emerged from under the canvas; wriggling like a fish, he too escaped it.
Beaumont came out of his tent yawning, his sword laid casually over his shoulder. “What’s going on?” he asked sleepily. His sword slipped down his side, nicking his shoulder. He hissed sharply. “What on Ildathore?”
He always had been a horrible soldier, I thought.
“What is going on?” Beric asked. He stared at my cousin and me, his face quizzical, almost disgusted. He mopped his wet face with his hand. His brother had already begun pulling their belongings away from the water as the waves receded. The tide was going back out.
“Bran had a nightmare…” I began.
“Some nightmare,” Beaumont said sleepily as he inspected his wound, more interested in it than in myself and Bran. I was grateful for that. Beaumont turned his nose up at his cut. “Yup, that’s a scar for sure. Lovely.”
“Well whatever happened, put some clothes on your cousin and help us with our tent before the tide returns.” Beric shook his head. Turning, he leaned over and began rooting about with his brother, seeing what could be saved.
“And help me with Smitty while you’re at it,” Beaumont added. “He sleeps like a log and weighs about as much as one too. And with the tide how it is, our tent could go next. Wouldn’t want him to be waterlogged now would we?” He chuckled at his own joke, and plunging his sword into the sands, he began to take down his tent.
Bran was still huddled against me, his shivering had not slowed. The Twins and Beaumont were right though; we had to move our belongings before the sea came even closer in. I grabbed Bran’s shoulder’s and he looked upwards. His blue eyes were still fading, and the wind blew the blanket out behind him like some cloak of darkness as it rippled.
“I have to help the Twins and Beaumont,” I said, extended his clothes. “Put these on and see to the mules. When we’re finished and have a fire started again, then we can talk.”
Bran lowered his face again.
“Hey, are you alright?” I asked, shaking him a bit. He seemed so far away, I wondered if any of my words reached him. I must get him warm, and soon, I thought. If only the Boy in the Sun would rise. Or is it the Young Man in the Sun as the Tajmalani priesthood teaches? A boy child the Sun must be for certain, in order to wed the Pale Maiden every year. Either way, he would do us better than any fire, I knew.
Bran nodded stiffly, and took the clothes from my hands.
“Come on, Paul,” Derrick called as he and his brother attempted to pull their fallen shelter from the icy grip of the soaking sands. “Help us out!”
“Yeah, I’m coming,” I called out, my words echoing off the grains of the shore. I turned my attention back to my shivering cousin. “Be safe. Call me if you need me.”
When he nodded again, I moved past him, brushing against the blowing blanket. I skirted the now cold fire, and made to help the Twins in their endeavors. We pulled their tent away from the shore, and then moving quickly we grabbed up all their mail and clothes, along with their other possessions. We swiftly deposited small brass figures of the Lions of Night, some candles and a pair of spears farther inland and away from the oncoming tide.
Once their items were sufficiently protected, I moved to help Beaumont wake a still snoring Smithers. I looked back up the shore for Bran then. He was walking towards a dark round door, and nearby a pair of snickering shadows stamped and snorted. The blanket billowed as a cloak, and a long line of footprints trailed behind him in an uneven line. The moonlight from the Man in the Mirror Shield shone upon him in the dark, and I never knew a human being could seem so alone.
Bran rode the mules away from the camp and over the dunes at the sun’s first gleaming, and I wondered when or if he would return. I would have gone after him, but Beaumont’s waking of Smithers caused such a raucous that it woke the girls. It was a miracle that they hadn’t awoken before.
As they came out of their dugout and rubbed their eyes, the first sight they saw was we boys running back and forth, spreading canvas on the sand. The place of our bonfire was nowhere to be seen, lost beneath the waves.
Brianna groaned, disgusted by our bad luck. It seemed that she had entrusted two rusted spearheads and a buckle to Smithers for the polishing, which had been washed out to sea in the night. Suffice to say that Smithers received a duly deserved clout on the ear, and a pat on the back by means of apology for five of his cobbler nails been washed away as well. Emily merely laughed at our fortunes, and kissed Beaumont’s cut, wiping the boy’s long face into a beaming smile. What problems he once had quickly faded when the pretty girl sidled into his arms once more.
Laza however, was a different story. The sea had risen. Nagodoroth had been rumbling the night before. It portended something. She demanded an exact account of all the night’s occurrences. She had deduce the reason for the rising of the waves. She pontificated to us in great and sweeping gestures the modes of the gods, and the possible outcomes and reasonings behind the world. Was it judgement for a deed done? It would be ill to warrant the wrath of the sea. Was it for one of us? Or was it merely Nagodoroth’s war with the land, and his attempts to drown all green things beneath his waves, and gather all souls to his watery halls?
None could answer, for none knew the ways of Nagodoroth, and thus did not know if any offence had been given.
At last Beric broke the silence in a hushed voice. “Bran had dreamed a nightmare. He was awake with Paul when the waters came.”
“Where is Bran?” Laza’s head snapped up in alertness, eyes roving this way and that. “What has become of him? Is he gathering wood? Speak! You have tongues do you not?”
“He’s taking the mules for a ride through the dunes,” I answered, withering under Laza’s gaze. “He should be back soon.”
“M’lady,” Smithers interjected, bobbing his head towards Laza. Now that the gods were moving around us, Smithers had seen fit to refer to our priestess as her birth allowed. “We have yet to prepare a fire, or get a meal together. Like Paul said, Bran’ll be back soon. Please be patient with the boy, while we get your breakfast ready, and provide warmth to dry our things.”
“Do so,” came the curt reply. “Break into the bread. I’ll not have us remove anything from the sea this morn, and thus incite Nagodoroth’s anger.” Laza raised her hand in blessing. “Go, and to each serve his tasks.”
“To each his tasks, to each his gods,” we all intoned, and we bowed towards her. I turned my back to the doorway where she stood in her red stained robes, and my eyes roved up and down the sands for driftwood, with which to start a fire.
“Not you Paul,” I heard her voice cut the salt air. “Come with me. It would appear that we have matters to discuss. The rest of you, keep watch out for Bran. Send him to me the instant he returns hither.”
I turned, and saw her standing under the lintels of the short door, leaning against the beams. Following Smithers example I spoke to her as befit her rank. “As mi’lady commands,” I said softly, bowing. The others were looking at me as they nodded their compliance with Laza’s orders. I could feel their questions as their eyes bore into me, as hers did. I will not lie, their questions did not matter to me. For she held my gaze.
Her eyes roved over me for a moment, resting on my face, and then she turned with a sweep of her robes and entered into the dugout. Gathering a deep breath, I walked forward, past the well, and to the door of the darkness.
The smell of dead fish was overpowering. Death in general really. The place reeked of it. It took all of my power not to wretch. How could anyone sleep in this place? I wondered. As my foot moved over the threshold and into the old shelter, by boot came down on something soft. Brianna and Emily’s blankets, I thought. So that’s how they must have coped with this place. Sleep by the door so you can still get the air.
Peering into the darkness, I could see Laza’s bedding in the far back of the dugout, the furthest possible place from the door. Her form glided through the dark recesses of the dugout, and I could barely discern her motion to me. “The door Paul, close it.”
I blinked, not understanding.
“The door Paul. Lions of Night, you are slow. The door, close it,” she sighed in annoyance as she sat down on her bedding.
Slowly, I closed the door. The creak of those rusted hinges was like no sound I had ever heard, and they filled me with dread. What does she want of me? I wondered.
When the door was closed and the darkness was all about me in a way that made my head spin, I heard a snapping, crackling sound. Light filled the room again. But it was not from the doorway. Flames coated Laza’s palm, the way slime covers a sea creature’s scales. It played over and over her fingers, as she raised her hand to look at it.
As the room around us was illumined, I saw the Twin’s catch laying on the ground next to her resting place. It’s stomach was exhumed, and a slab of its flesh removed so that one could see it’s innards. Circles, triangles, and strange symbols and shapes that my mind could not comprehend were worked into the dirt around the dead fish, and into its flesh as well. This was the way of the gods and those who read their words. As the fire from her beautifully perfect hand made the shadows along the wall move as men do, the holiness of the moment overwhelmed me.
I fell to my knees and prostrated myself before her. “Laza… Priestess, I am your humble servant. Tell me what you’d have of me, and I will follow whatever you command.”
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered, ignoring me as her eyes followed the dancing of the fire. “This is what the Boy in the Sun gives to humanity, to guard his bride from the Lions of Night.” Her face hardened, and she closed her fist. The flame went out, and darkness covered the room again. As the light disappeared, the last thing I saw was her fist opening widely as her eyes stared at it. “It’s a pity beauty is a lie. The ‘gift’ that the Sun gave to humanity burns us, kills us, and all things around us. It’s heat and warmth has killed many men and beasts. But the Night has never hurt anyone. The Lions that prowl in the darkness are our protectors, not our destroyers. They simply take those from the flock whom whilst keeping the others safe from those threats who’s power is too great for us to imagine.”
“Yes m’lady,” I said, bowing lower. She was speaking of the gods here, a matter in which I saw nothing, but where she could provide light.
“Don’t pretend to say ‘yes’ as though you understand what I say, Paul Farms,” her tone was direct and biting, yet somehow it was sad too. “The Lions of Night are the gods. Those they take from their flocks are their priests and priestesses, their chosen harlots and sorcerers, their oracles and their augers. These they take, and these they consume, so that the rest of humanity may lie down in pastures of the shadow and be undisturbed from… other beings. Demons, gods, call them what you will. There are more things out there in the darkness of the world that even we, the emissaries of the gods to humanity do not see. The gods see all but… we here on earth, even whom they have chosen, know nothing of all that they perceive. We can only serve as the gods have allowed each.”
“M’lady,” I began. Every word she said confused me more. With each sentence her voice had grown more sad, weaker even. I could not comprehend the matters of the gods if I tried, why should she try to speak of them to me? “If there is something I could do to help you see what the gods would have of us…”
“Paul,” she breathed. The exasperation in her voice was evident. “What I’m saying is, there are things at work here. I cannot tell you everything of what is happening.” Her hand on my shoulder made me flinch. It was the hand the fire had been on. Even through my tunic I could feel its heat. What is she saying? She’s the priestess, is she saying she’s as blind as we are?
Her breath became uneasy, almost a pant. She swallowed and continued. “We are mortals, and we cannot see everything. But I think your cousin saw something too. I think it’s no accident that the sea came against us on the night that Bran Nong Chang dreamed a nightmare. And I think you dreamed something too…”
The door opened. The sun’s light flooded in. Flinching, I turned my head to see Bran in the doorway. “Laza,” he said boldly. “Your hand is burnt.”
I rose from my prostration as Laza’s hand fell from my shoulder. She pushed her hand into the folds of robe quickly, but I could see in the light what I could not see in the darkness. The perfect white skin of Laza’s right hand was a bright crimson, raw to the point of bloody. I could feel my eyes widen as Laza shifted uncomfortably.
“Bran,” she said quietly, seemingly suddenly smaller and younger. “Close the door.”
“It would seem you enjoyed the fish,” Bran didn’t acknowledge her request, but nodded toward the dead creature lying beside her. I shuddered, the sea smell in the room becoming more pungent as a breeze blew in the door.”
“Bran,” Laza repeated. “Close the door.”
“You wish to hear my dream,” Bran asked softly.
Laza leaned forward, and with an expression both of fear and excitement intoned, “More than anything this world can offer.”
“The fish’s stomach can only tell you so much,” Bran said. He said it as if he knew. “Promise me light, and I’ll tell you of my dreams.”
Laza’s eyes were fixed on Bran, but she waved aside, “Paul, you will find an oil lamp in a recess against the wall. Light it.”
“Yes m’lady,” I said. I scrambled to my feet to do her bidding. I retrieved the lamp, but there was nothing to light it with. “M’lady,” I whispered turning around. “There’s naught to light it with.”
“Bring it here Paul, and close the door. Once you close the door, stand by it. Ensure no one enters,” Laza reached out from the lamp which I gave to her. Bran had moved across the room so silently I hadn’t noticed his advancement. Now he was sitting cross legged across from Laza, his blanket cloak wrapped around his middle like a skirt. The two stared at each other, studying one another’s eyes. Bran’s face was a calm sea, resolute and deeper than any man I had known. Laza’s face was a picture of a cornered lion, roving back and forward, looking for a place to strike, twitching out of the feeling it was meeting with a being outside of its control.
I closed the green door. Darkness covered us all, and I felt the black about me. I heard the rustling of fabric, and brightness emanated from Laza in a swirl, and the lamp’s light’s soft glow pushed back some of the atramentous air around the pair.
“Now, Bran,” Laza’s eyes glowed like a tiger’s. “There is a dream you would relate to me, that we might divine a glimpse of the doings of the gods.”
Written by The White Knight
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2018 by The Flabbit Room
Editor's note: I've had the privilege of beta reading and editing several parts of this story so far, and it is amazing. The White Knight is a very talented author, who's strength in story telling (especially world building) is incredible, and I love reading everything he writes. That being said, this story deals primarily with such themes as darkness and depravity, and if you haven't yet read any stories from the world of Ildathore, or are looking for a lighter read, I would suggest Icestorm or Beginnings.
Click here to read Part One and here to read Part Two.
The sky was blood above me, and the clouds were as smoke. The air was so thick a man could drown in it, or cut it with a knife. I trembled in the drizzle of the rain and clutched my sharpened spear, it’s tip blackened from the flames. We stood on the south side of the Valley of Tranquility Gap, thirty thousand in all.
Against us stood the enemy. Fifty thousands of the men of the Seven Stars arrayed in their myriads of darkness, perched on the northern side of that valley of death. Their banners flapped in the winds. Long serpentine dragons slithered in the air, their colours reversed to the Divine Emperor of Se Sing Be. Under these marched the Singing men, rebels all. Hundreds of banners of lesser lords flew, some from burned down Wotantown. There were token banners from the lords of Dresden away to the north, displaying a broken heart aflame, and many and more flew under the Ermine and Serpents of Lord Alcquakellie, who had sold his eldest son to the altars under the Great Oak to save his city and his lordship from destruction. The banners of his fourth son, with two headed Ermine, flew over the command pavilion of the enemy, a boy of 10 years of age. Still others yet flew the Silver Drums of the company of the Long Marches. Much dismay had been caused in our camp when it was learned that the Old Axe had taken his contract with the foe.
Above them all flew the Seven Stars. Silver, Gold, Scarlet, Azure, Green, Purple and Sable they fluttered and rolled. Raised in praise of the seven fingered god they served. The scourge of the world was Roger of the Seven Fingers, god on earth. That he had power, none could deny. How else could he have dissuaded so many men and women to his side? There were rumors, but rumors of the powers of the heathens were not good things to listen to the priests said. I hung my head sadly that my world should come to such a war, and I looked back at the banners of my lords, and my gods.
The banners of five cities, joined together in the Grand Alliance of the Gods flapped on top of a mound raised on the very top of our hill. There above us, waving proudly was the long sinuous Dragon of Se Sing Ba, the Four Hooded Brothers crossing their swords upon the Vault of Giza, the Pale Sickle and Sun of Otamay, the Thousand Eyes and One of Ravenna, and the banners of my gods, the Lions of Night of Londkongkai. All these cities had joined together in holy league against the pretender Roger of the Seven Fingers, to protect their lands, their gods, and their sons.
For Roger of the Seven Fingers had declared his fell purpose at the burning of Wotantown, proclaiming his plan to make the world anew. Under the Great Oak at the Lake of Divinity, he would sacrifice seven of the purest and whitest bulls of the lands, seven of the sons of his own body, and seven of the finest princes of this earth. This he claimed, would summon the Seven Stars of Heaven, and they would fall into the Lake of Divinity, making the world a perfect place for his followers, and all who believed in the power of his name. He called then for these seven princes of the World to be brought before him, that in their deaths they might honor their families, find peace eternal, to bring about a new world.
Those with sanity had refused, and we were marched forth to war. Some 2,000 men and boys had marched out from Lord Cairwell’s fief to Londkongkai to declare their allegiance and support to old King Willem, and to prostrate ourselves at the grand temple of the Lions of Night. We had joined with many Lords from many other fiefs, and eventually marched besides men who spoke another language, and who’s city fought under different banners and different gods, and our duty had brought us here.
If only to guard the wagons, I thought bitterly, as I turned away back to the far side of our hill. It was true. The boys were not allowed to fight. Forty boys from our fief guarded the baggage train of Lord Cairwell, and the tents of our fathers and uncles. The air was so thick, a man could drown.
As I returned to my charge, Bran called to me. “Do you think we can stop them Paul?” he asked, tears welling in his eyes. His three brothers were all deemed old enough to be on the front lines. We worried if we would ever see them again.
“Fear not little one.” The daughter of our village priest slid between us, her robed form the picture of beauty, poise, and grace. “The gods will show us favor this day.” Thunder rolled to the west. The rain would soon be upon us.
“Please priestess,” Bran fell to his knees and touched the hem of her garment. She recoiled with disgust and raised her hand to slap him. I saw the danger and quickly prostrated myself face down to the ground as well, drawing her attention. My nose pressed into the mud.
“My cousin means you no harm priestess,” I said trembling. “His brothers fight on the front lines for the gods against the heathens, under our Lord Cairwell’s banners. We would have you pray for them.” I looked up into her eyes, and they seemed to soften.
“Please, my lady,” Bran said, his voice wavering. “Please, remember them in your prayers. Travin, Weaver, and Daerrin are their names. Please my lady.”
The priestess’ eyes looked up from our prostrate forms and stared coldly across the valley at the enemy. “Fear not, brave soldiers of our gods, they will see your suffering. I will remember both you and yours in my prayers, that the gods may look down upon your sacrifices, and show mercy.” She extended her hands toward us in blessing, and intoned to us the ancient rites for those about to die. Her ruby lips chanted the phrases, on and on it went, as we pressed our faces further into the muddying ground. When she finished, she drew her robes closer about herself and raised a crimson hood over her venereal face. She looked to the weeping heavens.
“Rise children. Noon is almost upon us. The Ravens are here, with a thousand eyes and one, searching for the souls of those about to die. Pray that you are not to be found among them, for soon, many men will die.” She slid away from us, silent as the breeze that blows the chaff. She was right I knew. As I arose, I looked up at the sky. The ravens were here. And they needed to be fed. For the gods.
The trumpets were calling for assembly. Battle lines were to be formed. Bran and I rushed away from the wagons and crested the hill. For all our fear, this moment of nervous excitement filled all of us. The battle’s first clash was about to begin. As I ran, the thunder rolled, and the rain seemed to dissipate. It’s a good thing, I thought. Our arrows can fly swifter, and truer.
The boys assembled around the standard mound and, with the banners above us, we looked down the hill into the valley that was to be washed with red. I knew that the dale would be so red, a man could drown in it. The army was going into it’s formations, and across the gap the colors of the foe fluttered, as the enemy repositioned like so many ants. We could hear the famous silver drums of the Old Axe’s company, responding in defiance to our trumpets.
Rat Tat Tat! Titterat Tat Tat!
Priests wandered up and down our front line, consisting of so many peasant levies from so many fiefs and lands. There were priests of Londkongkai were calling out to the Lions of Night, yet there were Holy Men of Ravenna and Otamay that were calling out to the slayer of the lions, the Man of the Mirror Shield. Even after all these there were priests of so many different gods, and languages, and customs, that it was impossible to know to whom all they prayed. Some stood still and intoned long sonorous notes over the men. Others walked back and forth, chanting and swinging their hanging burners of incense, filling the heavy air with perfume. One man was calling out to the dragons, another to the Lake of Divinity. Another man brought forth a young boy, and cut open his throat into the valley, the first blood to be shed. From behind us on the south of our hill, the ululation of female voices rose up. Over the din, I detected a shrill high pitched voice, reaching heights far above the others. Our Priest’s daughter, I knew.
The levies accounted for nigh on half of our force, and I spotted Lord Cairwell’s banners on our right flank. My cousins must be there, I thought. Behind them there stood several free companies. There were the Straightened Swords on our right, in mail of burnished steel. The Grizzled Bears there in the center, wearing the pelts of their namesakes in great ferocious collars. And there on our right was the Order of the Pale Maiden, with a banner of a goddess in silks flying over their silver helms. In heavier armor, and made up of more ferocious veterans of war, these men would be crucial to our victory. We could only pray they would not turn against us should the battle go ill.
Six hundred archers from Otamay, with banners of our accompanying High Lord Ravata tied sharply to their backs against their wooden armor followed these. These were famed throughout Sabine for their accuracy and the power of their bows. Some few poorer hunters joined these.
To our left flank there stood some five hundred of the finest Yumi archers ahorse, under the command of High Lord Haduko, and some three hundred lesser horse. To our right the thousand horses of the Company of the Lancing Scarab pawed the ground impatiently.
Behind them was our final line of our infantry. A expeditionary token force sent from far away. Here were some three thousand Gizani Legion in scale and mail, holding great square shields and long shining spears. These were the reserves. The finest in our army. The troops that had been brought here by our Army’s supreme commander…
A cry went up from every throat, as four horses trotted out in front of our lines: white, red, black and pale. The soldiers lifted their spears and shouted, the priests lifted their voices in unanimous chant, and the screams of the women rose ever higher and loader, filling the air. Lords from every city save Se Sing Ba filed out behind them, some 30 in all, each carrying their own banners, save those few selected to carry those of our four High Commanders.
“Laegyus!” His men shouted his name with pride. “Laegyus! Laegyus! Laegyus!” It rose again, and I heard the priests shouting as well. “Laegyus! Laegyus! Laegyus!”
The man upon the Pale Horse raised his hand. I could not see his face, but the booming of his voice I could hear even from my position atop the hill. It cried out in a foreign language, strong, clear, and beautiful. This then was the great Gizani General sent to save us. General Laegyus. I did not know his tongue, but I knew the words he spoke.
“Men of the gods!” he shouted. “Our purpose is clear! The enemy has come before us today, in the sight of gods and men to make war upon us! We shall not allow them to ravage your homes and your villages! We shall not permit them to sack your cites and burn your temples! In the name of the Heart’s Desire, the cities you serve, and the families you love, I command you to be strong! Nay, it is not I, it is the gods themselves that command you! You have these holy men here before you! What is their judgement concerning their enemies?”
“Death!” the Priests cried with one voice. It echoed throughout the valley.
“Then as the gods command, we shall serve these heretics and traitors their due judgements! Stand strong, and I shall lead you here to victory!”
“Laegyus! Laegyus! Laegyus! Laegyus!” From thirty thousand voices the call went up. I yelled at the top of my lungs. There was no air left in me. The gods would surely hear our devotion here today. The blood would be shed, our homes would be saved, and the gods would have their vengeance. The sky was blood above us.
Screams leapt up from the throats of fifty thousand men. Young Lord Alcquakellie had sounded the advance. The battle was now. Death was coming.
General Laegyus turned and, with his generals, saw the swarming heathens as they poured into the ravine. “Lords, the time is come to prove your loyalty to the gods! To battle!”
Our trumpets rang out. The banner bearers returned to their respective companies and the archers spread out. I saw our two wings of cavalry depart from the camp and move out to our flanks. The Yumi bows were likely to do well, peppering the enemy to their deaths. I had heard no account of the Company of the Lancing Scarab’s cowardice either. They were like to prove true and strong.
“Advance the first line! And may the gods be with you!” General Laegyus pointed his sword at the foe atop his pale horse. The screams began again.
“Laegyus! Laegyus! Laegyus!” A storm of ironfaced men rushed down the valley to meet their enemies. The cries for their general slowly turned into shouts for their gods, and after that into shouts for their mothers as a blanket of arrows hit them. The cries of dying men was deafening. The air shrieked as it was cut by missiles from both sides. I saw that while the archers of the foe were firing directly into our infantry, the majority of our archers were firing into their counterparts of the Seven Stars.
Our men clashed against those of the enemy as they reached the base of the ravine. Our men had the advantage. We were fighting a defensive battle, the enemy’s task was to push through, and they were fighting uphill. The battle at this point was simple. Levy against Levy. Farmers armed with simple tools, fishermen with spears, village drunks with sticks, ruffians with long knives. Not true soldiers. The mettle of these men would not be tested until the real fighters arrived, our mercenary companies and the Gizani legion, against the Long Marches and Lord Alcquakellie’s personal levies would be the true deciders of the battle I knew. But despite the lack of training those simple smallfolk received, they were brave, and proved themselves just as honorable as the noble men by charging in to fight hordes of the monotheists. They died all the same.
For though men do not naturally kill other men, they excel at it when it is necessary. The cruel and murderous strokes I saw there were without count, the screams unbearable. And against the flapping flags of little lords of little villages, fighting for little gods with smaller men - there raged the united tide of Seven Stars, threatening to drown the world. A large banner fluttered in the center, bearing all seven of the unholy stars shooting through the sky.
Arrows landed amongst both sides, although theirs were fewer now, for High Lord Ravata’s archers had decimated those of the enemy. They were holding the majority of their fire, only loosing an arrow here and again against the ever dwindling number of enemy bowmen. The chanting of our priests seemed to be attuned to the singing of bowstrings, and the women behind the hill had not once been silent. But our lines were thinning, while at least a third of the foe had died, there were no more than half of our levies men holding back a tide of almost thrice their number, and our men were dwindling fast. A battle that had started at the third hour of the morning was now well past midday. The earth now matched the sky, for both were soaked in the reddest colors I had ever seen.
Our trumpets blew again. The free companies charged down into the fray. There were the Straightened Swords, the Grizzled Bears, and the Order of the Pale Maiden, all rushing down against the foe, cutting them to pieces with their swords, axes, and heavy maces. Our banners pushed the heathens back to the bottom of the valley, and started to move across it themselves. Roger’s rabble shivered, it was not to last long.
We boys cheered. We could smell victory. All it would take would be for General Laegyus to order in the Gizani legion and the day would be won. Priests shouted, cut themselves, some produced flames in front of their feet. The shrieking of the high priestesses changed into a cacophony of laughter. The call of the gods was loud, and leering. Sure enough, the trumpets sounded.
There went the legion, bounding down the hill side, ready to carve the enemy to pieces. The ground was shaking, as if a great flood was rushing towards a shore. Our men pushed down, into the very heart of the enemy, the Gizani forces swelling the ranks of our mercenaries and our dwindling levies. The enemy levies faltered, and some began to flee.
The Long Marches rushed down, to save the dwindling army of Roger. I could see the Old Axe, swinging his massive labrys. His axe was like a bell. Back and forth he swung it, hewing scale from mail, flesh from bone, head from shoulder. The Long Marches stemmed their wavering levies, and reached the massive banner, as it was about to be pushed back up the hill of the enemy. The time had come. The foe rallied, and held strong.
Now the true horror of the battle became real to us. Lord Cairwell’s banner faltered. We could see arrows land amongst both sides of men; cutting through the heavy air, the arrows flew upon the dead and dying. At the bottom of the valley there was now a mound of bodies that stretched from end to end. I could see now that it was taller than the tallest of men. Arrows protruded from it at all angles, and the armies climbed upon it in their rush to kill the other, and add more men to the pile. And indeed, more men were.
Up from our right, the clattering of hooves could be heard. The cavalry of our forces and the Seven Stars had not been seen throughout the whole of the battle, what could this be? We boys climbed over each other to see what the commotion was. Was it the enemy coming into the camp? Was it the Company of the Lancing Scarab bringing news of victory?
It was indeed the Company of the Lancing Scarab, and indeed on their heels came the enemy. Black they were, and huge. Armor covered them like beetles. Not in scales and mail were these, but in suits of the strongest metal. Great black impenetrable beasts they were. A great banner bearing the Black Star streamed above them. Their horses plodded after the multicolored tatters of the Company of the Lancing Scarab through the mud, weighed down with I had never seen the like, and knew I was not like to again. We are like to die, I thought. They will come into the camp and kill us all. Boys were beginning to run. The high pitched ululations of the priestesses rose infinitely higher. I thought of the priestess Bran and I had met earlier in the day, and wondered if she had offered up a prayer for me too.
But then, the heavily armored monsters turned, abandoning the chase of their much swifter prey. No danger remained from the Company of the Lancing Scarab that day. They had advanced halfway up our hill from our right, and now, as the Hammer of the Waters upon a bridge, they turned as one and charged back down the hill.
They crashed against our forces mercilessly. I saw the banners of Lord Cairwell be surrounded, and fall underneath the withering charge. Screams erupted in such terror and unison, I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the cries of my cousins. But I didn’t need to hear them to know what had become of them.
“No!” Bran shouted. I turned and looked at him. Tears streamed down his cheeks. I remembered then how truly young he was, how he shouldn’t be seeing any of this, how he should never of left his home.
“No! No! NO!” He cried and cried. I held him there. He shouldn’t see any of this. I turned his head away, but he shook it violently and tore it from my grasp. He shouted their names, and I held him to my chest. He wanted to run into the fray, and die with them. I understood. I wanted to as well. But I would not let my last cousin die this day, any more than I would allow myself that honor that I thought I wanted. I turned my head from the battlefield where I knew my family died and dropped my spear. Bran struggled until he had not the strength to struggle anymore. A man could have drowned in our tears.
I heard horses’ hooves. I turned my head once more. Down in the valley, the mound seemed to be floating in a red lake, that the Black horses were now having to swim through. A young man of the Grizzled Bears stood upon the highest peak of the mound and hefted high a torn and tattered banner. His collar was high and stained; his wicked sword curved and bloodied. He shouted in defiance of his enemies, urging our soldiers on. The Old Axe arrived atop the mound, and began to face the young captain in battle.
Elsewhere, the Order of the Pale Maiden had turned their colors to the Seven Stars in the middle of the battle. Once the black armored cavalry had smashed into them, they had deemed that their only way to survive was to begin to kill our men.
But through them all, I saw the young priestess from before, leaping over the bodies of the slain. It almost looked like she was dancing. Her robes were covered in crimson, and she hefted two bloody axes in her hands. She grinned, with an almost wicked grin, finishing off the enemy’s wounded. Her laugh echoed through the valley like some enchanted song.
But the sound of the hooves stood before us, for there was General Laegyus on his Pale Horse. He pointed his sword at us, mere boys.
“Sons! Squires! The time is come! Here the battle will depend on you! Do this thing and charge down into that valley of death, no man would dare hold his honor against yours! Your fathers, brothers, and uncles need you! Your gods need you! Now is the place and the time, nay, the hour, where you are men! Slay the enemies of our peoples, and put an end to their evils! With me now! With me!”
He turned from us and kicked his horse into a gallop down into the battlefield. His staff followed after him, not a man of them younger than 50. Boys cheered and followed suit, rushing down with their pathetic excuses for weapons and headlong to their deaths. The banners of the five cities of the Grand Alliance of the Gods were lifted up from their poles, and they flew down the hillside. The archers of High Lord Ravata ran down, exchanging their bows for long curved blades. Their flags too streamed behind them.
In all this, Bran found new life. He punched at my chest and kicked at my knees until I let go of him. He dashed towards the battle. “I’m coming!” he cried, tears still streaming down his cheeks. “I’m coming! Don’t leave me! Don’t go!”
“Bran!” I called after him, my feet tripping as I began to descend the hill running after him. I left my weapon there. The ground was so muddy my feet sunk into the mud and I began to slide down the hill toward the red lake. Still Bran ran and ran and ran.
“I’m coming!” he called again. “Don’t leave me!”
“Bran come back! You’ll die!” I could no longer move my feet, or struggle against the crimson muck. I fell faster and faster, but Bran still ran ahead of me, and did not look back. He raced towards Lord Cairwell’s fallen banners, to his brothers, toward the black horsemen that would take his life.
“Bran!” I called again. Then it happened.
I heard nothing, but my throat was caught. I looked down and saw the tip of an arrow shaft protruding from my neck. I gurgled in shock and fear. I tumbled over and over and over. Blood filled my airways, I was drowning. I heard the priestess laugh amongst the sound of my disgrace.
I’m dying, I realized as I tumbled down the hill. I’m drowning, I’m drowning, I’m dying. The hill seemed to extend forever, down and down I fell, faster and faster I rolled. I’m drowning. I’m drowning. I’m dying.
I thought of Bran and how I wouldn’t be there to save him. I thought of my dead cousins, would they be waiting for me in the afterlife? I thought of the priestess, who had the kindness to pray for them, and her ruby red lips. I thought of brave General Laegyus on his pale horse. I thought of the village I would never see again. I prayed, for my soul, for my cousins’ souls, and I prayed for Bran.
“Don’t leave me!” Bran called through the mire. I don’t want to leave you, I tried to say, but all the came out was the rattle of a dying boy. A drowning boy.
I was at the bottom in a sea full of blood. The sky was red above me and the clouds were as smoke. It was raining again, as if the sky was crying for me. I heard feet splashing towards me. It was Bran.
“Don’t leave me!” he cried as I sank beneath the waves. Tears and mud streaked his face.
“Don’t go!” he called again.
I’m drowning, I thought. I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying.
I awoke in a sweat and clutched at my throat, feeling as though I might throw up. It was then I noticed than Bran was not next to me. I sat up right, and felt around me in the tent. Even my hands were covered in a salty layer of grime. I shook involuntarily, shivering with a sudden sense of cold.
“Bran,” I whispered. There was no answer. “Bran? Where are you?”
My grasping in the dark revealed nothing. Bran was not there. I shook my head. Am I still dreaming? Is this another nightmare?
I reached for the tent flap and winced as this Night’s Lion was failing, and a glow fell on my face. The Man in the Mirror Shield was finishing the Lion off, and had escorted the Pale Lady across the sky. The sun would soon be up, and morning would then begin. My head brushed against the tent flap, and I looked out over a blue sea and the smoldering campfire, from what seemed a half remembered dream.
I saw a boy with blue within blue eyes, seated with his back to the second moon, and the ocean lapped around him. He clutched his legs and stared into the red embers of dying flames, with all the somberness of an old man. He seemed to be searching for something. The Man in the Mirror Shield shone down upon his head, shimmering off the waves, reflecting wisdom from the stars.
More shivers racked my body as a chilling wind swept across the dunes, blowing sand and smoke into curls that snaked through the air. The eerie cold that raked through me told me I could no longer be in a dream. The air was too icy for me not to be awake.
“Bran?” I asked the boy tentatively. Who was this? Was that huddled, scared, strange haunter of the dark truly Bran?
The boy turned his head to look at me, and his eyes widened. He shuddered as I did, but not from the cold I realized, from dread.
In a quiet whisper I heard the boy say, “I dreamed of you.”
Written by The White Knight
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2018 by The Flabbit Room
Welcome to The Flabbit Blog! Here you will find writings by the many members of The Flabbit Room, most of which will be set in the world of Ildathore.