Chapter Six: Peace and ProsperityEdit
The wood was stacked, and now, with the help of Kyle's flame breath, a fire was blazing. Solena had a pot of oatmeal simmering, and the four men were now out preparing the sows to be sold to Selom the butcher later that day. Silas loaded hay into the cart so that the hogs could have a comfortable ride, and Jonas and Ezra were feeding them one last time. Kyle was fixing up the cart with his magic touch, as well as keeping the barn warm.
"Father," asked Ezra. Jonas looked at him. "I'm not your father, you know, although I wish I was" he said.
"You've been like a father to me for so many years!"
Jonas smiled. "All right then, what is it you want, son?"
"How long have you and Kyle known each other?"
"We in the court called him Fardin," answered the farmer. "He's been around a lot longer than any of us."
"He looks like a Wizard," Ezra remarked.
"You think so?" said Jonas, looking in Kyle, or Fardin's direction. The old man winked. "Few have ever seen a Wizard, for they are so rare nowadays. They keep well hidden, coming out only when the powers of darkness are at their peak. As for Fardin, I've never heard his full story, but I've a feeling there's more than can be told in the time we have." He stopped suddenly. "He's the wisest fellow I know, however. Has he told you much?"
"Pretty much the whole history of Armesia."
"Then you know who Elgira is?"
"Yeah, he was my ancestor."
"Well," Jonas began, "When the Union of Four Kingdoms first arose, a Wizard was sent into each to guide the kings. One called Sardion was sent with Elgira to help him to govern wisely, which he did. He was the personal advisor of many of the kings of Armesia, but he disappeared into the histories of the kingdom. I do not think any have heard of him since. At any rate, he would have proven an invaluable ally when Nardek arose," he said, shaking his head sadly. "We were all forced to flee when Nardek rose to power, although we managed to rescue your mother. She died shortly afterwards, but gave birth to you first."
Ezra felt a sadness welling up inside him. "I wish I could have known her," he said. Jonas nodded and put a hand on his charge's shoulder. "I wish you could have too," he said. "She was an Elf, one of the fairest and wisest creatures around. Both she and Kyle helped your father be the best monarch he could be."
"What are Elves like?" asked Ezra, curiously.
Kyle took over from there. "They have pointy ears, as you probably know," he said, "And they're the fairest of the natives of Gaela. They're quite tall and have long hair. Some have beards, but usually they are clean-shaven. They have many different colors, and they hide their prominent features well, which makes them quite difficult to identify. They're very wise, which is what made them so hard for the Dark One to corrupt."
"I heard from stories at the tavern that they're arrogant and extremely dangerous, and that they'll kill anyone who comes near their forests," remarked Silas.
Kyle snorted. "A filthy lie spread by Nardek!" he said indignantly. "Elves are actually quite humble, and they welcome travellers. But they are very cautious, and don't want any servants of the Dark One coming inside their borders. And as for woodsmen who come to cut down and burn forests...I needn't go into them. At any rate, these people in the village seem a bit ignorant of the world outside their mountains!"
"Lord Ceeziak isn't," said Silas. "He told me that he was once a knight."
"Aye, and one of the best!" said Kyle in admiration. "I remember when that one was just a boy. I taught him everything he knows about fighting! He and I came close to killing a Vampire once."
"A Vampire? Aren't those bloodsucking creatures that live in coffins?" asked Ezra. "I've heard stories about them."
"Another example of just how ignorant these folks are," sighed the old man. "Vampires don't suck blood; nor do they live in coffins. They are similar to liches, but far greater in power and terror, controlled utterly by darkness. Most are quite bat-like, but they can take other forms if they wish."
Suddenly, a bell began to clang. Jonas whirled around. "Breakfast, everyone!" he said, dropping his pitchfork and making his way toward the door. "We'll finish up later."
In a flash, Kyle was in front of him and out the door. "Last one inside's a dead goblin!" he shouted, running for the house. The other three looked at each other. Jonas grinned. "That's Fardin, all right," he chuckled. "Aside from His Majesty, he had one of the biggest appetites in the palace!"
The goblin army was on the move again. Oruk had allowed them three hours of rest the previous night, not nearly enough for all the running they were doing, and yet, fueled by Oruk's black magic, they were able to keep going. Accompanying the goblins were about forty Gurkles, tugging the great seige engines. The Gurkles, as they were called by Dwarves, were huge, lumbering war-beasts that somewhat resembled rhinos. They had two horns on the edge of their snouts, a single horn between their eyes and thick skin which prevented damage by fire or arrows. As they pulled the great war machines, they let out great bellows which could be heard for several miles.
"We're approaching the Brama Pass," shouted Oruk from the head of the army. "It's a good thing it's winter, otherwise the grizzlies would get us!" A bitter wind was blowing from the north, and the distant crashing of the surf on the shore could be heard. "Come on," urged the lich, "Get movin'! We'll be there soon!" The goblins riding the Gurkles urged the huge monsters onward by jabbing sharp pikes into the animals' backs.
Unbeknownst to any of them, a short, stocky man with a thick beard was watching the army's progress from the foothills. "Curse them," the Dwarf said under his breath. "What in the name of Bushis are they doing here? I must warn my people!" And with that, the Dwarf ran back to the cave entrance from whence he had come.
Having eaten breakfast, Jonas and Silas drove the cart down the cobblestone road which ran through the village of Cirta, while Kyle and Ezra rode in the back. The pigs had been very uneasy about being carted away, but Kyle had calmed them with gentle words.
Ezra watched the magician curiously, and felt compelled to question him yet again. "Where did you acquire your powers?" he asked, as humbly as he could. "No non-lich I know of can ignite flame inside his very lungs!"
Kyle turned and looked out at him from under his bushy eyebrows. "Great are the mysteries of the world, young man. Some you cannot fully comprehend. Be content to know that my powers shall protect you for as long as the Guardians protect these shores." With that, he continued walking behind the cart, dismissing any further interrogation for the moment.
They stopped in front of the butcher shop, and then went around to the back. There they saw Mursho, the butcher, surrounded by hundreds of delicious-looking cuts of meat. When he saw them, he gave a large grin. "Jonas!" he exclaimed. "Goodness, them's the finest looking swine I ever did see!" He came out into the open air to examine them. "You sure did a fine job of raising these here animals! I'll give you seventy-five crescents for them!" Jonas' eyes bulged.
"I couldn't accept that much!" he said.
"I'll make it more if you persist," the muscular butcher said, looking Jonas squarely in the eye. Finally, the farmer had to give in. "Oh, all right," he said. "At that price, you might as well have my wagon too!" The two men laughed heartily.
Leaving the shop, Jonas looked back at Kyle. "We've got to get back to the farmhouse. There's a feast tonight at the castle, and we don't want to be late!"
Chapter Seven: Eye for an EyeEdit
The wagon, containing Solena, Jonas, Silas, Ezra and Kyle, clattered up the road, accompanied by the many other wagons and foot travellers, to the gates of the lord's castle. The massive gates were standing open, and great flags hung over the sides. "This is a great time of year," said Jonas happily. "Ceeziak always holds a feast to celebrate harvest. Everyone in the village comes and partakes of the year's crops, meat and wine, and while eating we're entertained by the court jesters as well as the castle magicians." Kyle snorted when he heard that. "I could put any of 'em to shame," he said. "They have to trick people into thinking that what they're doing is magic. What I do is magic!"
As they entered through the walls, the old man couldn't help but be impressed by the great structure. The great towers reaching up to the sky, the great white walls on which knights stood guard against invaders, and the strength of the stone out of which the fortress was built all spoke of the former grandeur and beauty of Sengeredrim, now Carouk, the Black Palace. Kyle sighed as he thought of the deterioration of the great city that had once been full of light and beauty. But, no time for that! Tonight was a happy night, a night of feasting and joy.
The air was full of exited talk and banter as the villagers drew further into the great fortress of lord Ceeziak. As Jonas' wagon passed the next door, a guard stopped them. Looking intently at Kyle, he said, "Lord Fardin, you are known to us!"
All eyes were on the old man now. Kyle eyed the guard, then jumped out of the cart with an agility that didn't befit one who appeared so old. "Etheran!" he exclaimed. "It's been ages since I last saw you!" The guard laughed and clapped the old man on the back. "I never thought I'd lay eyes on you again, you old warrior! How did you find us, anyhow?"
"You've know me how long?" Kyle teased. "All I had to do was follow—" He cut himself off here, and his face grew serious. "A small party of goblins was in the mountains last night. I followed them up into the mountains; they're searching for young Ezra here." Etheran was horrified. "How did—how Nardek know?"
"This is just a guess," said Kyle, but I get the feeling that those three Resistance leaders that he caught may have revealed it to him!"
The guard sighed. "Lord Ceeziak must know then," he said. "You all go on, I'll talk with you later." Kyle got back into the cart, and the wagon continued. "Who was that?" asked Silas.
"That," Jonas said, "Was Etheran, another palace guard. He was my best friend, and one of the king's. I never did see one so loyal as him."
The carts stopped at the entrance to the palace. The villagers were now all on foot, pouring into the great banquet hall by the hundreds. Guards stood by, making sure everything was orderly and that there was no pushing or shoving and seeing to it that no one was hurt.
When they got into the great hall, there was a great, long table there. It had been set already and the food had been placed. Ezra saw many mouth-watering dishes; golden-brown chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys, large, fatty roasts, sausages, steaming bowls of punch and more desserts than could be counted. There was one in particular that caught Ezra's attention. It was dark brown and covered with a creamy white glaze. It gave off a delicious aroma, one that Ezra had never smelled before.
"That is made of chocolate," said Kyle, pointing to it. "It comes from a bean which grows in lands in the southern seas. It's the Elves' favorite food!" Ezra nodded, able to understand why.
He looked toward the end of the table, and saw Ceeziak. The lord was dressed in a fine scarlet robe with a golden belt around the waist. He was a tall man with a scant beard and long, brown hair that extended to his shoulders. He had a very imposing image; he had a great muscular build that was enough to discourage most foes from attacking. Yet he had the kindest, widest smile of anyone in the room.
Soon, most of the people were seated, and a bell was rung for silence. Lord Ceeziak stood up. "Welcome, everyone," he said. "I am honored to have you all here for the feast, and I wish to thank you for your wonderful contributions. Jonas," he said looking at the farmer, "The pigs you gave us this summer have proven to be the best I've ever tasted. Many thanks!" Jonas smiled modestly. "It's the least I can do," he said.
Then the lord looked toward Kyle. "I see a familiar face in the room today," he said. "Fardin, it's been a long time since I saw you last!" The old man grinned broadly and stood up. "It's an honor to be here tonight," he said. "Your castle and village are truly admirable, even by the standards of Sengeredrim!"
"You're too kind," the lord replied, then went on to mention the other villagers who had raised animals which were now on the table. Finally, he said, "Let the feast begin!" He clapped once, and then several servants appeared. "Serve our guests," he said, turning to them. They bowed and, starting at the head of the table, began to dish the food out onto the plates.
On the southwestern edge of Cirta were the ruins of an old stone fortress, which had apparently been used by the Dwarves in the past. Now it was an outpost for the knights of the village, to watch the Braman Pass for any signs of invasion. Germeran, the captain of the guard, stood on the highest wall and looked out toward the great gap in the mountains, which were now white with snow. He shifted uncomfortably. "There's a foul scent on the air," he said to a knight standing next to him. "It smells of goblins." His subordinate nodded. "I've had the feeling all evening that something evil is on its way here."
Down below, a group of soldiers sat around a fire, eating bowls of stew. Suddenly, one of them looked up. "Did you hear that?" he asked his comrades. Several of them turned toward him. "Hear what?"
"That distant bellow! Didn't you hear?"
"You must be hearin' things," the one next to him replied. "I don't hear nothin'."
Suddenly, an arrow whizzed through one of the openings in the stone ruins and took a soldier in the shoulder. He grunted, dropped his bowl and fell backwards. The rest of them looked at him for a minute, then ducked.
Germeran heard the commotion, looked down and saw the knight with the arrow sticking out of his shoulder. "There're goblins out there!" he said, just as an arrow brushed past his ear, grazing it. "Get down!" he said to the five knights who were standing watch with him. They got down and looked through the slats in the stone. A host of lights were visible, moving rapidly eastward, toward the village. "Goblins!" whispered Germalan in an urgent voice. "We have to warn the lord!"
From his post on the walls, Etheran caught sight of the bloodied horse and his rider. "Carlan!" he called urgently. "What has happened?"
Carlan struggled to speak. "We...we were...attacked..." He couldn't finish, and collapsed on the ground beside his now-dead horse.
The drawbridge opened and several guards hurried down to meet the bedraggled soldier. Two of them supported Carlan under his shoulders and brought him into the ward, where the dirt and blood were cleaned and his wounds were dressed. As he lay in bed, he recounted as much as his dazed mind could recover.
"Goblins...they attacked our stronghold. I don't know how many...most of us...killed...wounded...Lord Ceeziak...he must know at once!"
Etheran placed a hand on the man's laboring chest. "Sleep now," he said gently. "They shall not take our castle." He turned back to his men. "Much as I hate to do it, we must interrupt the feast. We cannot risk a surprise attack."
A panic immediately broke out among the villagers. People ran two and fro, all trying to reach the castle at once. They and practically everyone else there were rushing frantically uphill toward the hill sitting on the side of the village and the majestic castle standing on it. Meanwhile, the smell of refuse--that detestable smell characteristic of the goblins--began to permeate through the alleys of Cirta.
Everyone was understandably worried. The goblins were a formidable opponent indeed, and they had reportedly destroyed the human castle in the most recent engagement somewhere to the north. But one had only to look at the castle on the hill, at the four turrets striving toward the sky, the faultless curtain walls, all white and stone, to feel the warmth of security return.
Lord Ceeziak strode to the window of the main wall, his bow tucked under his arm and a quiver of arrows strapped around his broad shoulders. He gazed out the window at the army of goblins, and past them at the burning village of Cirta. He cursed them under his breath, then composing himself, prepared to try to negotiate.
"What do you want? You've destroyed our village. We require no more reasons to destroy you instantly, but we are prepared to negotiate reasonably for you to leave our valley peaceably."
For a minute, the air was filled with a horrible guffawing, as the goblins mocked his attempts. Then, they parted ranks to allow a particularly large goblin riding a monstrous wolf-like creature through. He stopped before the gates of the wall.
"We demand that you surrender the castle to us, as well as telling us where we might find—Elias's son. Do so, and we will spare you and take you as prisoners to serve in Nardek's army."
"We will not surrender to you," replied Ceeziak. "As for this lost son you speak of, we do not know where he is. As far as we're concerned, Elias and all of his sons were killed by Nardek. Now leave, before we are provoked to fire upon you! Look at those we have already killed." He pointed to the line of dead goblins lying on the ground surrounding the wall.
"Your insolence has sealed your fate," replied the goblin leader viciously. "Now you shall all die in your miserable little—" He was unable to finish his speech, as Ceeziak's arrow found its mark between his eyes. He shrieked, cursed and disintegrated into a cloud. "Oruk!" muttered the lord under his breath.
Ceeziak signaled to his archers on the wall, and another volley of arrows flew into the front lines. The rank of goblins closest to the castle fell down uniformly, and fiendish cries of pain came calling out from the battle front. The goblins had brought up their siege engines, and were planning to take the castle: they brought up the battering ram, scaled the walls with siege towers, positioned trebuchets, and launched ballistas. Under the barrage of the goblin attacks, the very walls of the fortification shook.
Then another volley of arrows rained down on the besieging army, this time brilliant with fire. They landed on the wooden ramparts, blazed red and yellow on the siege engines, and encompassed the ballistas. Amidst yells of horror, the goblins saw their only hope of taking down the castle fall to ruins around them. The scorched remains of the siege engines, burned and twisted, collapsed onto the ground in heaps.
The goblins blasted at the walls of the fortress, creating such a loud boom that made the tingling sensation travel up Ezra's spines. Goblin archers fired up at the walls, taking down several of the knights on the walls. However, the walls were too strong for the ram to break easily. And it wasn't going to happen.
Another array of arrows, this time aimed at the battering ram. The goblins pushing the ram forward freezed their movement in pain, tossed backward, and flopped onto the ground, whole groups of them at a time. Meanwhile, the blazing fires below had darkened the visibility of the slopes.
The goblins began their retreat half-heartedly, but more arrows rained down, scattering the retreaters. The whistling noise of the volley was incredible; a beautiful, slithering music it was to Ezra's ear. The siege was broken; the goblins in full retreat; even yet more and more of their number fell, and now battle was joined by the dwaven knights, their avatars blazing, spinning in the air, paving the field with destruction. Standard after standard was pierced, fell, amidst the turmoil of the new strike, the shocked agony of the unfortunate; the horn sounded once again, scratching noises were all that could be heard now, very loud ones; the smoke of the flames drifted across the fields as the guards above threw their pails of water onto the roiling scene below.
All was silent, and the battle over. Disfigured, tortured corpses of the goblins rose everywhere, arrows sticking out of their chests or backs; broken fragments of war materiel lay everywhere, astrewn beside the dirt road which was now muddied with a river of black, foul-smelling blood.
A large raven had been perched atop the roof of one of the towers, observing the battle and listening to the conversation. Satisfied, it prepared to fly off east, toward Carouk, when Kyle spotted it out of the side of his eye, noticed that something unusual was with this raven, raised his bow at it, and shot an arrow.
Fzzt--and a cloud of red blood spurted into the air, the raven split into two halves, the pieces falling toward the ground.
Jonas turned toward his old friend. "What was that?"
"A messenger. But he's dead now." As the others watched, Kyle ran off toward where the raven had fallen, in the middle of the village commons, made sure that it was dead, then blew an immense stream of flame over it, as the corpse gave way to nothing but ashes. Then he returned. "That raven was sent by the Black King Nardek," he told them, as their mouths fell open in astonishment. "He called the goblins here, and had his raven report the aftermath of the battle. But we'll have that raven tell him that the goblins won, and that they had crushed all resistance.
Kyle nodded over to the pile of smouldering ashes. As the others watched, it seemed to come back to life--phoenix-like--and a black raven soared into the air, ready to report the lie to the Black King.
Chapter Eight: RevolutionEdit
Chapter Outline: With the threat over, the villagers are angry and band together, with the urging of Lord Ceeziak, to form a Revolutionary Army. Before long, the villagers are trained in the arts of war, and with the accompanying forces of Lord Ceeziak, they go marching off to a nearby village, to arouse their neighbors to war as well.
Ceeziak stood on the wall with Jonas, Kyle and Ezra. "I cannot imagine how these goblins might have found us," he remarked. "I thought we picked a well-hidden spot for this village." He turned to Kyle. "You've been around at least 2,000 years," he said. "What do you know of this?"
"Goblins have a good sense of smell," replied the old warrior. "Nardek is not stupid. But how on earth could he have found out that Ezra is alive?" Suddenly Ceeziak snapped his fingers. "On his last campaign against our resistance he captured three men, according to one of our messenger pigeons. They may have betrayed us!" Kyle shook his head. "They are stout fellows," he said. "They wouldn't have done such a wicked thing! Unless, of course, Nardek used his foul magic to extract the information from them!"
"That may bery well be," said Jonas. "I was not around the usurper very long, but I know from the news coming from the various divisions of the empire that Nardek is using foul magic. It's the work of The Shadow!"
"That it is," said Kyle. "He has been communicating with Nardek for a long time through dark magic. He has come close to taking over his mind!"
Ceeziak kicked at a goblin carcass. "These are larger than the ones I fought in my campaigns for King Elias," he remarked. "What could be happening?"
"It's his black magic," said Kyle. "Nardek is using it to breed bigger and stronger goblins. I can only hope that the Black King won't discern the fake raven I've sent. If he does, he will come after us again. And the next battle may not go so well."
Nardek heard a caw. Standing up, he strode over to the window where the black raven alighted. "My lord," it croaked, "The campaign has succeeded. The village is destroyed, and all in it are dead!" Nardek smiled a twisted fiendish smile under his hood.
"Excellent work, Gark," he said. Suddenly, however, he caught the scent of creosote. "You smell of fire," he said.
"I was nearly burned," the raven told him. "I was fortunate to escape with my life!" With that, the raven Gark took off into the air again.
Nardek turned to Jabnul. "I sense treachery," he said. "That raven does not seem like the same one I sent out. Therefore, Jabnul, I want you to go and make sure it is so. Take an army of goblins with you, and destroy any who are left living. I do not want any of the fool's descendants alive."
Jabnul nodded his terrible head, and then stalked off to do his master's bidding.