The Hawk and the Black Horse
Three years ago, Garril would have never even tried to hold a sword. The glimmering metal thing looked too heavy for the boy. Who knows―he could have even hurt himself, with the sword or not, just trying to lift it.
But that was three years ago.
Now, the boy―rather, the man that was a boy―would proudly heft such a thing into the air. The sword given to him by the ever-passive Tarja fit his hand properly; he knew it was the perfect thing for him.
Every morning and afternoon, he would go outside into the wide pasture of Tarja’s farm and swing the thing about until his arms became as weary as the moon. He was driven by that one book Tarja showed him three years ago, to wield Lithium Edge. He could feel it now―the feel of his hand perfectly forming around its hilt.
It concerned Tarja that her nephew forced himself to strain himself each day and each night. To some extent, however, it made pride intensify within her mind. She found it impressive how fast he was growing as a man. It was quite unusual for a person who had been banished from a kingdom, but he was so full of spirit and energy. He was rather mature for someone his age―more so than she was when she was fifteen all those years ago.
Still, it would not hurt to take a vacation once in a while.
“Garril,” Tarja called from the window of her cottage one August evening.
As always, Garril was outside, swinging his sword around.
“Yes?” he called back without taking his eyes off of his inanimate target.
Tarja scraped the last of the scum off of the pot she had been cooking with and dropped it into the cistern nearby. Wiping her hands on her violet robe, she stepped outside to where Garril was.
At last, he paid attention to her, and put his sword down.
“Yes, Tarja?” he said when she drew near.
Tarja glanced at the sword, then at her nephew, then down a distant road.
“Do you want to learn how to really use a sword?” Tarja asked him, hefting his downtrodden sword with ease. It seemed to almost break in her arms.
“Yes I do!” he exclaimed with exuberance.
Tarja smiled; she knew that would lift his tired spirits. She threw the sword onto the ground, and it landed with a soft thump.
“What are you doing?” he gasped.
Tarja lifted her right hand once. In the dimness of the August night, her hand started to scintillate and sparkle magnificently with many dots of light. Soon, the dots of light disappeared, and a dazzling burst of blinding white followed suit. Garril shut his eyes tightly―so tightly he thought they would come apart.
When he opened them next, there was a small wooden wagon noosed to a lustrous black horse. Tarja climbed onto the horse’s back; the horse whinnied and stamped its heavy feet.
“Get in, dear,” she commanded rather gently. “We’re going somewhere.”
Garril nodded; he absentmindedly reached down onto the grass where the sword fell. He climbed into the wagon, still amazed by Tarja’s feat.
“To Elbenath!” she shouted, and the horse soon careened across the field, headed for the road in the distance―and Tarja steeled herself for the bumpy days-long journey to Elbenath.
Though it was the late evening, the knights-in-waiting at the Elbenath Academy were still rigorously training; some in a synchronized manner. The ugly smell of cold steel and the heavy colliding of metal were all that could be observed about the academy during the early evening.
Normally, when one would just see the group of young knights polishing their swordsmanship, he or she would assume they all had perfect form. But in every gathering, there is always a weaker link.
That weaker link was the young knight Solnel.
If Solnel had been given one czrona for every day he had been at the academy, he would have enough to buy a new suit of armor altogether. Solnel was the only person who joined the academy when he was twelve and is still the only one who has not graduated by fifteen. Now he was seventeen years old and still far from even attempting the test of graduation.
So, Solnel merely sat along the sidelines, too proud-headed to feel dejected, with his sword at his side. He watched the other would-be knights as they fought the air with their weapons; inching ever-closer to their ultimate goal of becoming a knight. And Solnel was left out of the fray.
There was a noise coming from the outside. Maybe grandmaster Denbeld did not notice―but of course, the old fox noticed everything that happened about his school. He thrust out his palm into the air; the sign for everybody to stop. Solnel looked up, startled by the sudden silence in the room. Grandmaster Denbeld was on his brittle old ankles toward the doorway. The halted students watched the old man go by, dragging his sword―that looked far too heavy for his limitations―behind him. He grumbled as he ambled slowly along.
Once he opened the door to the academy, he was greeted with the sight of a dark-clothed woman on horseback. Her long black hair tumbled down across her face, and her rich mauve robe kicked the air at her ankles. The horse was also very dark, and it dragged a wagon right behind it.
“Eh? What’s this?” the old grandmaster snorted. “What’re yer business at Elbenath?”
“My business,” the woman replied in a Tulla accent heavy with warning; “is that of my nephew.”
“Yer nephew?!” the grandmaster cried in shock. “We don’t accept yer witchin’ Tulla kind here.”
The woman leaped off her horse and walked up the short steps of the academy until she was eye-level with the hunched relic of a man.
“I do hope you’d be so kind as to let me through,” Tarja stated coldly and pointedly.
An almost white glint of light flashed across her visible eye when she said that. The old man inhaled sharply―his armor was rattling.
Concerned murmurs were ambient amongst the students. They had their swords down; they were casting odd glances at one another.
“Um, yeh,” the grandmaster mumbled; “yer allowed in.”
Tarja half-smiled triumphantly and descended the steps once more. Taking the lash, she tied the horse to a nearby post and went over to the wagon.
The grandmaster noticed there was a lump sprawled on the wagon. The woman was shaking it.
“Garril,” she whispered to it. “Garril, wake up.”
“Did ye say Garril?!” the grandmaster gasped, half in shock.
The young man in the wagon awoke.
He sat up in the wagon―his pale blond mop was mussed and messy. But, the grandmaster could recognize those almond-shaped green eyes anywhere. The boy was definitely the son of King Syrami.
But why would a son of the King be wearing such lowly farmer clothes? Surely he would be proudly sporting the deep blue of the Elvin heraldry, or even the gold armor of the Elvins.
And what would he be doing with a Tulla sorceress?
“Yer highness,” the grandmaster said, genuflecting, when Garril ascended the narrow steps.
The grandmaster looked up; Garril looked uneasy, looking down at the grandmaster.
“Please don’t,” he murmured.
Denbeld tired to stand from his place―his old bones could barely muster the will to stand. Immediately, Garril grabbed his arm and lifted him. Denbeld was greatly surprised.
“Why, yer not at all like yer brothers,” he gushed. “Yer much kinder if I say so meself.”
“Brothers?” Garril half gasped, gaping at the old relic.
“Yeh, brothers,” he repeated. “Three of ‘em―two of ‘em were like twins; the last one was just quiet.”
Twins? That could only mean Terronen and Syrregain for sure. Garril knew they were not twins, but Terronen only tried to exactly imitate Syrregain’s mannerisms.
By the quiet one, the old man could only mean Letorry. Out of all of Garril’s brothers, Letorry was the only one who did not give in to anything.
“Well, come in, says I,” Grandmaster Denbeld said, ushering in the people at the door. Solnel tried to get a good look at them. One of them was a woman―dressed in dark, dark colors―and had long black hair, unusual of even a Tulla. She moved like some sort of shadow.
The other looked like a beggar off the side of the road, with his dirty, dusty tunic, and his less-than graceful tangled hair. Yet there something―something so minuscule that only Solnel, with his intrinsic perception, would notice. Something about him rang so familiarly in Solnel’s mind.
The day was clear then, and the coming cold of autumn was still a million years away. Elbenath was in full movement.
Solnel remembered; Valnade was still at the Academy.
He and Valnade were in the main hallway, sparring as they always did. Solnel was doing at least a good job. At least, that was what he was thinking.
Grandmaster Denbeld was sitting in his chair as always, watching the two of them fight as if they were mortal rivals, vying for the end. Solnel remembered Valnade attack in such a way that it created a rain of sparks.
A knock came from the door. Grandmaster Denbeld was either too weak or too lazy to stand; he had sent Solnel to get the door.
He was greeted by King Letorry. Following suit behind him were his brothers Prince Syrregain and Prince Terronen. Three magnificent white horses were nearby, tethered to a post.
“Hello,” the king had said with genuine politeness in his voice. “We’ve come to see if you can enroll my brothers at Elbenath.”
Solnel merely stared up at him, too shocked to say a thing. The king peered inside, eying a stunned Valnade and a half-asleep Grandmaster Denbeld.
“Denbeld?” the king called to him.
Grandmaster Denbeld awoke, startled by the presence of royalty. He rose immediately from his chair and genuflected.
“Yer highness,” he croaked as he bowed.
King Letorry stepped inside the room.
“No need to bow, Denbeld,” he said, lifting the ancient man from his knees. “I’m sure your old bones can’t take it.”
Denbeld slowly stood, still taken aback by the king’s grace.
“Hurry up and get the old man to take us,” Prince Syrregain had demanded impatiently from outside.
Solnel half-leered at him―he was idly leaning against the immense door frame, face smug. Solnel wanted to slice off his face.
“Syrregain, shut up,” King Letorry hissed.
Prince Syrregain only shrugged and went outside to sit on the steps. Prince Terronen followed suit.
“An impatient one, he is,” Denbeld murmured, his voice trying badly to conceal his contempt.
King Letorry frowned disdainfully.
“A better word would be ‘stupid’,” he mumbled, casting his stare off around the room.
Solnel and Valnade were standing far apart from each other, but he looked at Solnel first.
The first thing Solnel noticed was his almond-shaped pale green eyes, like that of a Tulla. Too haunting they were―he did not think he was to forget the image they left so easily.
That was what this Garril made Solnel remember so vividly. He stood from his place on the side bench and walked over to them. Grandmaster Denbeld was taken by surprise as Solnel suddenly was beside him.
“Damn it, Solnel!” Denbeld sputtered.
“It’s all right,” Garril said absentmindedly, staring down at the ground.
“Excuse me,” Solnel said, half-stammering; “are you the brother of King Letorry?”
Grandmaster Denbeld leered at the nosy boy in seething shock and fury. It was as if it was a sign to get Solnel to shut his mouth.
And if Solnel had been given a czrona for every time he’d been given that look, he’d have enough to buy three suits of armor.
“Yes I am,” the ragged-looking boy replied.
Solnel nodded slowly at his discovery. With a wide smile directed at Grandmaster Denbeld, he silently pardoned himself, and started to walk away.
“Damn it boy,” he cursed at him as he walked away. “Yer as bad as them wicked Tulla!”
The whole of his class gasped in unison, glancing at him, then each other, then Tarja.
Then, there was silence, and only silence.
Tarja’s face was twisted in a cold, angry half-frown.
“I…I did-I didn’t mean all that,” Denbeld mumbled pathetically.
“Garril,” Tarja said lowly in the deafening silence; “I don’t think we’re wanted here.”
She took him by the shoulder and led him outside. Garril followed, still partially shocked by the old man’s hostility.
Solnel watched Garril and the Tulla woman leave the school, leaving behind a distraught Denbeld to wallow in his own guilt. He spied the sword Garril carried with him. It was tarnished and broken in a few places, and its hilt was starting to bend a bit. It was not suit to fight with.
“Vätilne,” he called to a nearby student. Vätilne heard his name, and went over to Solnel.
“Can I see your sword for just a moment?”
In a flash, Solnel took Vätilne’s sword and hit him hard across the face with its hilt. A loud gasp made its way through the students. Solnel started to run out the door.
“So yer a traitor, Solnel,” Denbeld grumbled, still only starting to regain composure. Solnel was bolting out the door, carrying the unconscious Vätilne’s sword. “Elbenath,” Denbeld started. “Attack!”
Outside, Solnel had already caught up with Tarja and Garril just as they were beginning to depart from Elbenath Academy. He jumped into the wagon with Garril.
“What are you doing here?” Tarja demanded with rancor, halting her horse in the middle of the road.
“I’m running away from that academy and that stupid old fossil,” Solnel replied.
In an agreeing sort of manner, Tarja made her horse go forward once more. The horse ambled slowly down the road.
“I think you’ll need to go faster,” Solnel said, worriedly.
“Why?” Tarja demanded without looking back.
“Elbenath…destroy the traitors…” were some of the noises that erupted behind them.
All three of them looked back. All of the students at Elbenath were running after them, flailing their swords in the air. Like a giant mass of liquid iron, they moved toward them, running quickly.
“I see!” Tarja replied in astonishment.
She whipped her horse, urging it to go faster. The giant thing whinnied and in an amazing burst of speed, it bolted rapidly down the road. The trees and the sky flew by them in a phantasmagoric haze. Every shape and form melted into one as the horse moved faster toward the distance of the moonlit road. The students at Elbenath were gradually falling farther behind.
Soon, they had stopped and were out of sight. Tarja’s horse ground to halt at the border between Elvinia and the land of the Sycrate people.
“Where are we now?“ Garril wondered aloud, looking around the darkness.
“I think we are in Sycracia,” Tarja replied.
Down the road there was a small shack. It had a little candle in the corner of the window, and seemed to be the only thing for miles.
“Maybe we should ask the people there where we should go,” Solnel said, uneasily shifting Vätilne’s sword in his left hand.
He looked at Garril; he was no longer holding that half-ruined sword.
“This is for you by the way,” Solnel said, extending the sword to him.
Garril eagerly took it, and to Solnel’s surprise it did not seem so heavy when he held it. It seemed to be weightless for him.
“Thank you,” Garril said gratefully, cradling the large thing.
Meanwhile, Tarja was eying the thing disdainfully.
“I expect you’re not getting the wrong idea with such a big sword?” she hissed almost coldly.
“Of course not!” Garril exclaimed.
He was still obviously enchanted by his new toy. There was a thunderous sweeping noise overhead which made Garril look up.
Up above in the dark sky, there was a dark form of a bird of prey, soaring overhead on strong wings. In the light of the pale moon, he felt almost as if the hawk looked down at him. The reflection of the silvery light sparkled in his beady eyes, and he flew away.
Garril noticed Tarja was looking at it too, and she had a mildly sour expression on her face.
“Old hawk,” she muttered to nobody.
There was another, heavier noise in the distance. It sounded like a large, heavy horse, galloping as fast as it could. It made Tarja’s own horse whinny in fear. The heavy horse’s galloping became louder soon enough.
“What is that…?” Solnel muttered.
Louder still, the galloping horse’s noise seemed to be right behind them. Tarja’s horse whinnied apprehensively once more. Abruptly the night around them seemed to become more stifling. The trees began to whisper coldly; creating a dark, deep frothing noise. The air became cold and frightening. Tarja’s horse whinnied once more bucking angrily. The sound of a large horse galloping became louder still.
“It’s all right―”
Their horse was dead. Being conjured of sorcery, the horse began to scintillate and vanished soon after. Tarja was being lifted in midair, seemingly by nothingness. The large horse was indeed real, and it was right in front of them. Garril squinted; he could now: a black armored hand held the flailing woman in midair. Faster, it galloped down the road. Solnel and Garril followed suit, but the horse was too fast. It sped down the dark Caspedile road and vanished out of sight.
“Tarja…” Garril groaned in a half-enraged, half-depressed voice.
His sword suddenly became rather cold in his hand. He threw his head back toward the sky, and howled a long, mournful howl of horrible anguish.
“Tarja!” he roared.
“Garril…” Solnel said in a discouraged voice that not even he could believe.
Garril fell to the ground.
There was a rumble in the distance, and rain began to fall from the sky. Cold, unfriendly rain, that had been waiting to fall for days. Its cold drops mixed with Garril’s burning tears and fell down in a waterfall down his face.
“Come on, we should get inside,” Solnel said. He lifted Garril by the shoulder and carried him over the little house with a candle in its window.