05 – The Tower of Eäron
Ardeth was the last to awake in the tent, but was not the least excited. About the tent, Kari and Jama were talking to Meoc; Jorma was in a corner by himself, but wide-awake. The night was still young, and the air still cold; dew was falling outside, and thus covered the village and empty market square with a thin fog.
‘Hurry and have a light breakfast.’ Jama said. ‘The others will meet us by the docks.’
It was the morning of the journey planned by Jama and friends to go to the tower to the west, the fifth morning after the fighting with the wizard, and the second-to-last day for the market. Ardeth quickly finished his light breakfast (which was a piece of bread and egg) and went out with Jama, Kari and Meoc. Jorma was left to take care of the tent and to make the absence of the four unnoticed.
Meoc led the three to the docks, with Kari carrying some food parcels she had prepared the day before. Jama knew the way quite well and walked sometimes ahead, looking for adults. But the night was uncommonly quiet, the days of the market had tire everyone a lot, and most people were just looking forward to getting back to their respective villages. There were many stars in the sky, but all faint due to the thin fog.
They reached the docks, and there, they met Han and Caldrin waiting for them. They had brought out a boat from where they were stored. They had already placed blankets and their things they thought they would need. Ardeth checked himself, he made sure he had his sword with him, and he and Jama brought a knife each, though they did not know why; they surely hoped that they would not need to use it.
Jama and Ardeth entered the boat followed by Han and Caldrin, who kicked off the boat from the docks. They all said their goodbyes to Kari and Meoc, and the last thing they saw of them were them going back to the tent.
Quietly did Ardeth row over the river, but swiftly. Morning had dawned red in the east, and now the sun has risen and was bearing down on them, but more often than not, a cloud would come over the sun and shield them. They had another breakfast, mostly because they had nothing to do. Han continued to tease Ardeth, as usual, while Jama and Caldrin talked of many things. All except Ardeth had done this journey before, and nothing were new to them.
The river was a narrow as it was, and on both sides were plains, with scattered trees. The river then branched off: one route continued south, the other west. Ardeth turned west for without anyone telling him, he knew this was where he was to go. To their left (in the south) some mountains were seen rising up like teeth out of the ground. Far ahead could clearly be seen the tower, rising tall above the ground, a guard tower overlooking the plains. Ardeth began rowing faster, for his destination was in sight. And his desire to be there grew even stronger.
About mid-morning, they came upon the foot of the tower, which was overlooking the river. The taller chambers of the tower were unseen, lost in the tower’s height. The tower itself was old, and weed had taken over its walls, and many broken stones lay about the tower’s foot. The tower had many entrances, all grand, about its base, and to the northern end, the great road came from the north and met with it, after running off again along the bank of the river.
The four got out of their boat, and Caldrin brought it ashore (it was small and light). Then the four walked about the towers base, which was as great as a village itself. Ardeth went unto the road and realized that it was the continuation of the same road that they had seen the wizard on.
Here they stayed for a while, while Ardeth admired the greatness of the tower. The tower seemed to be made of a black type of rock that was smooth to the touch, and there were many carvings on its walls.
‘Hurry, would you?’ Han said. ‘There are more fascinating things inside.’
But Ardeth did not hear him he had heard something else. Quickly he turned to look up the road westwards as it ran along the river. For a while he heard nothing nor saw anything, then it came again, hoof-steps of many horses galloping at great speed. Then everyone heard it, and all ran inside the tower to hide themselves, keeping a look on the road.
Up the road they saw about twenty horses, all dark and fearful to look upon. Their riders were all clothed in black, and none could tell what they were from such a distance. As they came closer, Ardeth recognized the leader. It was Lord Vorlund, clothed in black, and no longer hurt. He had another staff in his hand, but it looked more like a spear. The other riders were men, what else could they be? They were terrible, and probably the most hideous men Ardeth had ever seen. They had burnt flesh and long nails or claws, their eyes were large and snake-like, and few had any hair upon their head. But they were large, as tall as a man of Guijan, but of greater built. They all carried broad swords with bows upon their backs.
‘Who are they?’ Jama whispered as they were passing. ‘And where are they going? They seemed ready for war.’
Just then Ardeth remembered the threat made by Lord Vorlund before he fled. He then thought of the Shirìsh village, but a wizard and twenty men could not assail that village, especially now that it was so crowed and full of people. Yet he wished that he were there, though he did not know what he could do if he was.
Ardeth kept his last thought to himself, and watched as the last rider passed them. Another soft call there seemed in the air, and it came from deeper in the tower, and higher up. The company halted, and Ardeth once again felt to climb the stairs of the tower to reach the source of the sound.
Lord Vorlund turned his horse around and looked at the tower, but the call was gone. He instructed one of the men to go inspect the tower, for he was probably curious of the call. ‘Why are they returning?’ Han asked.
‘Did you not hear they call from the tower? I think that the wizard heard it too.’ Ardeth answered. ‘He knows there are people here.’
‘What call?’ Jama asked, and everyone looked at Ardeth. Apparently none else had heard the soft call.
The horseman came and circled the tower, but never did he look at where the four were hiding, for always his eyes were upwards. Caldrin was glad that he hid the boat, for if he did not, then the rider was sure to find it, and later discover the four. The rider kept sniffing the air, as a hound searching for a scent, and he paused when he was in front of the four. But then a strong breeze came from over the east rolling over the river, and the horseman gave up, returning to his group, and on they rode, as if nothing had happened.
After the company was out of sight, the call came again, a soft song, and Ardeth looked at his friends. ‘You heard it didn’t you? There it was again.’
Again the other three looked at each other, none had heard anything. Mid-day was approaching, which meant that it was getting late. Inside the tower they went, with Jama leading the way. They entered through one of the many entrances and into the great hall of the lower floor. The ceiling was high, and it had many vines growing about its walls. The floor was broken but the hall seemed fair for lots of light came in the many doors and windows (or what is left of them). Many stairways ran along the walls to the floor above them. Without saying a word, Ardeth ran towards one of these and started to climb it. It was old and crumbling, and he had to test each step before he placed his feet on them.
Normally, this would be a thing that others would object to, but not Jama, neither Han nor Caldrin; they too went up the stairs after Ardeth. As they did, a sweet song rang out through the hall, as if of a memory of greater days. Everyone heard this, but all thought it was his imagination of what the tower was when it was in its glory days.
They reached the other floor, which was many roomed and less vast than the previous, but no less magnificent. They searched for a while before they found another stairway to the upper floors. Many more such floor they found, most Jama, Han and Caldrin had remembered from their previous journey, but they reached a level where the three had never gone before. They were almost to the top of the tower, and here the three had to stop on their previous journey because of time, but now they went on, for they had more time than before. They searched, and eventually found another stairway, and this led to the top of the tower, or what is now the top, for the rest had broken off.
Here they halted, and as they looked about, they realized that they could see far in any direction, and as Ardeth looked eastward, he thought he saw the Shirìsh village. He knew that the tower was taller in older days when it was full of people, but now, here, the tower opened up to the sky, and the stones were weather beaten and dark colored. This floor had no rooms, but many broken blocks of rocks lay about the room, and in the afternoon sun, cast many shadows about the floor.
‘What is this place?’ Ardeth asked aloud, but never thought to get an answer.
‘It is the ruins of the Tower of Eäron.’ A soft but ancient voice said.
They group all turned to look upon the speaker, and Jama, Han and Caldrin drew their knives, while Ardeth drew his sword. All feared that is was one of the riders who climbed the tower after them, but the voice was too soft, too kind to be any of these.
Who they saw they wondered, what kind of man was he, Ardeth pondered upon for years, before he finally got his answer. For now, what they saw was an old man, for so his green eyes appeared, but he was young. He calmly stepped out the shadows of the rocks, and was clad in a hood, which was over his head, and green long clothing. He had no weapons, but a flute in his right hand. ‘Who are you?’ Ardeth asked, stepping forward, his sword still in his hand, pointed towards the stranger. ‘Where did you come from?’
‘Don’t tell me you haven’t seen me when you climbed those last stairs?’ The stranger asked. ‘I wondered if you even saw any of daughters.’ And as he spoke, two ladies stepped forward that neither Ardeth nor any of the others had seen. ‘These are Celérà and Elen my daughters, and I am Sir Reignor of the wood people of the west.’
‘I am Ardeth, and these are Jama son of Jor, Han of Arák, and Caldrin of the Shirìsh village.’ Ardeth said, putting away his sword, for he no longer felt afraid.
‘We know who you are, heir of man, Ardeth O’Atlantia.’ Sir Reignor said, taking off his hood. Ardeth saw that he had long straight black hair, and upon his forehead was set a gem of silver. Sir Reignor put away his flute in his clothes and walked over to the eastern end of the tower. ‘I called you here.’ He said again as he looked out eastwards. ‘Six nights ago, when you first entered the Shirìsh village.’
‘That was you?’ Ardeth asked. ‘I saw the tower and immediately felt that I must be here.’ ‘Yes, I called you.’ Sir Reignor continued. ‘But I was afraid you would not make it.’ He again looked over to the east. ‘Five evenings ago, your second in the village, I saw you, and your friend-Jama son of Jor.’
‘You saw us?’ Ardeth asked, more surprised at the fact that Sir Reignor could see so clearly over such large distances, for he only just saw the outline of the village when he looked out from the shelf.
‘Yes I did. I always kept a close eye on you ever since you entered the village, for that was why I came here. But another got to you first. I saw you take on the Dark Wizard Lord Vorlund, and to my surprised, you broke him, destroyed his staff. This was beyond my expectations from you.’
‘I had help.’ Ardeth said, looking at Jama, and remembering the deeds of Annul of Luijan. He then signaled to the other three to put away the knives they still had in their hands. ‘What do you know of know this wizard, what did he want?’
‘That was the reason you were called. I thought you would have guessed when he confronted you.’ Sir Reignor said. ‘You have not brought it with you, it was close to you the night you were attacked, but it was lost…’ The man stopped. ‘Do you remember what happened?’
‘Hardly.’ Ardeth answered, remembering the creatures attacking the boat and the man who tried to save him. ‘What happened?’
Sir Reignor stared at Ardeth for a while. ‘Son of man, many things you have yet to do, many things are in your future. You have a greater role to play than most in the events that are to follow. And without your memory, you are at a disadvantage.’ He paused again. ‘The treasure Lord Vorlund was seeking was lost to the sea.’
‘But who are you? You seem to know who I am. Are you from my city? Can you take me back?’ Ardeth asked, hastily.
‘No, I am not and cannot.’ Sir Reignor replied.
‘Then what do you know of my past? What is to happen?’
‘I know this. The sword you hold, Ardeth, belongs to you now. But once it was held by your father, and his father before that. It is an heirloom in the line of kings of Atlantia, and of the Sons of Aria before that.’
‘Belongs to me? So then my father is dead?’ Ardeth asked, and a tear came to his eye. He took out his sword again and looked at it. He remembered the night when the sword fell from the man who was fighting off the creatures from the sky, trying to save him. That man was his father, but he fell, into the sea. And the foul creature dived after him. Why were those creatures attacking him? What were they? These things Ardeth thought silently and tears flowed from his eyes.
All of his friends stood there, silent. They knew that Ardeth had passed through great dangers, but never had the thought that he had suffered such great loss, or how much it had affected him. ‘Why?’ Ardeth asked, there were anger and hatred in his voice. ‘Why did they kill him?’
‘For the same reason that Lord Vorlund attacked you, Ardeth. They are seeking the treasure that you should posses.’ Sir Reignor spoke. ‘Even I do not know what this treasure is, but it is clear that it was taken by the sea with your father, for he kept it then. Maybe it is safe there, I do not know either. But I know that Lord Vorlund would not stop at this, even if he knew it fell.’
‘What do you mean, surly I cannot retrieve it and give it to him.’ Ardeth said. ‘I have nothing that he wants.’
‘You broke him, Ardeth O’Atlantia, and not an easy task it was. Great warriors of my kin cannot do such a thing.’ Sir Reignor said, and he looked upon Ardeth with wonder. ‘But after you did, he promised that he would destroy you and your village, and of all the people of this world, wizards are the least likely to go back on a promise. He will not take what you have done to him lightly. He will strike your villages with all his strength.’
‘Then I will destroy him, fight him to the end as I have done before.’ Ardeth said, wiping the tears from his eyes, his hand fingering his sword.
‘He will not assail you, not now, and not by himself.’ Sir Reignor said. ‘As you have seen, he is gathering an army to him.
‘After you broke his staff, he rode out northwards to the great road, and then came eastward. He passed here at mid-night that night. Then I should have challenged him, for he was broken and weak, but I did not, no harm he is still capable of doing, I thought. I was wrong. He went by freely. To what purpose I only learnt of today.’
‘Yes.’ Ardeth said. ‘We saw him passed by today. Who were those men with him? Where is he going?’
‘Those were not men, but orcs, evil creatures of the earth.’ Sir Reignor said. ‘He went westwards and southwards, I think. It did not take him long to gather those orcs to him, other errands too, I think he accomplished, before he rode off again, for he has a new staff, and new powers. But do not fear, he would not assail any of your villages with such a small force. ‘He is gathering his strength, though. He will bid his time, precious time, which you should use to learn all that you can to save yourself. For if you are no more, your father’s death would have been in vain, along with the deeds of other creatures that you are unaware of.’
Ardeth thought for a while, trying to understand all that has been said to him. He realized that he is part of a greater story that is in the telling; yet he does not know what his task is, neither does anyone else, it seems. He turned his gaze from Sir Reignor to look at his friends, but their expressions showed that they understood less.
‘Why do you burden him, father?’ One of the daughters of Sir Reignor spoke, her voice as soft as cloud on a sunny day. It was Celérà, the elder daughter. She was tall and fair, and her long golden hair touched the ground, her face as smooth as a calm river. ‘He is but a child, and does not understand anything. His memory has betrayed him, as will other things.’ The sweetness of her voice reminded Ardeth of the hooded woman in the market.
Sir Reignor looked at his daughters, then to Ardeth. ‘And thus comes the time of the great undertaking of our time.
‘Take this, Ardeth.’ He said again. And went to a stone across the room which stood as a table. From it he brought a sword, encased in its sheath. Sir Reignor drew the sword, and Ardeth saw that it was broken, and its blade was as black as night. But the sword reminded him so much of his own. ‘I believe that you have met the great sword maker of Guijan. Give him this sword. The time of man is come. He will forge it anew. Tell him that he should bestow it to the person who seems most fit, he will help you before the end.’
Ardeth took the sword. ‘So it was you?’ Ardeth asked the daughter who spoke. ‘It was you in the market place who warned me?’
Sir Reignor looked at his daughter then to Ardeth. ‘You were spoken to by one of my kin? Then others too know of your plight. It was not my daughter, but one of our kin that we have not seen in long ages.’ And he was silent.
The evening grew older, and already the sun was in the west. Although the group had not eaten lunch, none felt hungry, and all amazed at the company with which they now stood.
‘It is time to go.’ Jama said at length, more to the others than to Ardeth, who was lost in thought.
‘Remember.’ Sir Reignor said as the four were walking down the stairs. ‘You must not let the Free Villages fall, for if they do, then little hope have Guijan against this new enemy.’
‘Thank you for your help.’ Ardeth called back and bowed, before he disappeared in the floor below, the broken sword still sheathed and firmly grasped in his hand.
Ardeth was silent for the remainder of the journey down the tower, so were everyone else. No longer did any fancy anything in the tower, they all wanted to get back to their village, they all wanted to help Ardeth, if they could. And most of all, none wanted to see the fall of their own village.
They reached the boat, which Caldrin set into the river from its hiding place. Into this they all went, and drifted slowly along the river by its own current. They had a late lunch while the river carried them along at her own pace. The tower moved away from them, from its roof Ardeth saw Sir Reignor looking out at them, then he was gone. A call he heard and then three great eagles came from the west and landed atop the tower, bearing Sir Reignor and his daughters away; none saw this except Ardeth, and he was silent.
As Han ate, he dropped crumbs into the river, as a careless act, or for fun, to see the tiny fishes nibble at the pieces of bread.
‘Don’t do that.’ Caldrin said, looking at Han with fear in his eye. ‘You might call the Great Serpent.’
‘I thought we all agreed that was just a myth.’ Han said, and Jama agreed.
But Ardeth was not sure, with the many things he has seen, a Great Serpent seem just normal, but he stayed quiet, all he did was look back at the tower, and when he grew tired of this, at the softly flowing water behind them.
The water was calm, and nothing broke its surface. The water itself was clear, though Ardeth could not see the bottom, for it was deep. The river was probably older than the tower, for the tower was made there as probably a refuge for those traveling by road or river.
As Ardeth looked, he saw something broke the surface of the water, but far behind them it was, and from such a distance, it looked like a log floating on the river, as they were doing, but it was moving faster then them.
Ardeth, not wanting to alert his friends, took up the oars and began rowing, slowly at first, then faster and faster.
‘You haven’t finished your lunch.’ Jama said to Ardeth. ‘You could row later.’ But Ardeth did not answer him, he just kept rowing, taking occasional glances backwards. The log was now closer to the boat, but still it looked like a log. His friends saw the log too, but were not afraid.
Ardeth realized that he could never out row the thing and stopped rowing, and unsheathed his sword. His friends did the same with their knives, though none knew what to expect. Ardeth crept to the rear of the boat and waited as the log drifted closer to the boat.
When it was in arms reach, Ardeth slashed at it, more than hoping that it was just as he first thought, that it was only a log.
But he was wrong, a great shriek came and the log was lifted out of the water. It was merely the head of a great beast. High above the water the Great Serpent stood, its tail still under the water, how long it was, Ardeth only guessed.
The serpent hissed at them, its black smooth body glistening in the afternoon sun. Its yellow eyes fixed on Ardeth. Far away, where the foot of the tower lay, Ardeth saw the great beast’s tail flicker above the water.
Ardeth stood up, his sword in his hand ready to strike. Little did he know of the power of the Great Serpent that they disturbed. Again the Serpent hissed, revealing it large fangs, deadly poison dropped from them into the river.
‘Row to the shore!’ Ardeth commanded, and Jama took up the rows.
The Great Serpent strike, but Ardeth dodged, having his sword just wounding the great monster. The Serpent hit the water and was gone below its unseen depths.
Jama rowed faster as Han, Caldrin and Ardeth searched for signs of the Great Serpent. Jama reached the northern bank of the river, and got off, when the Serpent appeared again.
Again it strike, but Ardeth was not prepared. It hit the boat as everyone went jumping away, most of them to the bank. Ardeth hit the water; his sword fell unto the bank along with the sword that was given to him. He struggled to reach the shore, but the serpent was coming for him. Before it reached him his friends pulled him out of the river.
Ardeth ran for his swords, and turned around to face the beast.
‘Don’t fight!’ Jama said. ‘Run!’
Jama, Han and Caldrin were running northwards towards the road, but Ardeth stood his ground. If he could not face a mere serpent, he thought, then how would he face Lord Vorlund and his army? The Great Serpent came out of the river, its head towering above Ardeth. The size of its body was massive, and its hiss deadly.
The three friends stopped running, and turned around to look at their friend and the serpent above him. They all looked towards the tower for help that Sir Reignor would come and save their friend, but they did not know he was gone.
Ardeth stood there, the Serpent over him. He knew his friends were gone, and he was left alone with the beast. He knew Sir Reignor and his daughters were gone, for he saw them flying away on great eagles. Two swords he had in his hands, his own, and the one given to him by Sir Reignor to give to the sword-maker from Guijan. Both of these he had, his own sword in his right, the broken one in his left. But he knew that these were no match for the serpent.
The serpent strike at him, and he rolled away in the soft grass. Again and again it came at him, and Ardeth kept dodging the blows. Again the serpent came, and Ardeth hit it with both swords. Deep were the wounds and the serpent fell back, hurt, but not dead.
The blood of the serpent was black, and Ardeth feared it would stain his sword forever, but presently the danger was not gone. Again the serpent came upon his, this time, along with the two swords he had, three other knives sunk into the serpents scaly body. Ardeth’s friends had returned to help him.
The serpent drew back, surprised at the courage of these four small children. Grown men feared him, and armies devoured by him, but here, four friends were sinking knives into his flesh. The Serpent drew back, ready to make one final blow. It struck Ardeth, biting at his feet. The serpent’s fangs went deep into Ardeth’s leg, and Ardeth fall backwards. His friends struck at the serpent with their knives, but this the serpent heeded very little. Then Ardeth, with his last strength, stuck down at the head with both swords. Deep into the creatures head, the swords went, and when Ardeth tried to pull them out, he found that he could not do so.
The serpent shrieked, black blood oozing from its eyes, for there was where Ardeth’s blow had struck. Ardeth’s vision became hazy, and the serpent fell back. It could no longer see, but still it smelled Ardeth. It wanted to destroy the child who had struck so fatal a blow to him. Ardeth saw the serpent coming at him again, and he saw his friends stabbing the creature with their small knives, but to no avail. Then hoof-beats were heard, and Ardeth prayed that it was not the return of Lord Vorlund and his orcs, for they would watch Ardeth die, in their cruelty, then they would kill each one of his friends.
The horse stopped, and neighed. The serpent lifted its head and looked in the direction of the horse, sniffing the air, still Ardeth could not see who it was. Arrows came whizzing by and hit the serpent in the head. More and more came, until the Serpent shrieked and lay dead by Ardeth’s feet. All his friends ran towards him, tears in their eyes.
Ardeth’s sight failed as the serpent’s poison cursed through his veins, and his vision was gone.