The Legender: Book I: Myths Awoken
By Jason Link
to my wife Jessenia
who is the hero of her story
and to my son Mateo
whose wonderful story
has just begun
Table of Contents
The Bone Carver 6
Prayers on Paper Ships 11
When All Nations Gather 20
The Beginnings of the Merhala War 24
The Flight of the Aeriatheas 26
Ferocity Unloosed 32
Of Tierrion’s Kings 40
The Under Hollow 45
Appendix A: The Rise of Dakor 58
About the Author 65
With his carving knife, the craftsman etched the story of a war onto the rib bone of a great beast. The bone curved up from the floor and reached the ceiling of the craftsman’s shop, the carved story beginning at the top of the rib and concluding at the bottom where the craftsman worked. He etched the setting and characters in fine detail, forming the expressions on faces no bigger than his fingernails. Nothing was overlooked, not the slashes on the wounded or the jagged edges of broken spears.
All about the shop sat countless other carvings, dusty carvings made from animal bones, each telling a different story of battle. They were the only company the craftsman had, and the etched characters watched him work with unblinking eyes and silent faces. He worked so intensely on his craft that he hardly noticed the passing of days and nights from the dark insides of his shop; it was as if he himself were in the battle he was etching. It seemed that nothing could break him from his work, neither sleep nor want of food. But then he heard a knock on his door.
It was the strange hour between morning and night when all colors were grayed and no one walked about the city. No one except for a young flower girl, a child of no more than twelve years. She hid in the shadow of an empty street, clutching to her last bouquet and shivering in the cool early air. The dress draped over her frail frame kept in little warmth. It had been a nice piece of clothing at one point in time, but there were dirty smudges in the embroidery and all the edges were tattered and frayed. The leaves and twigs tangled in the flower girl’s hair showed that she had slept in the city’s orchards the night before. She looked up and saw that hints of daylight painted the monoliths high above, the monoliths that stood on the top of the enormous tower in the center of the city. She did not have much time.
She knew this and scouted out the marketplace square to be certain she was alone. It was a still and quiet place except for the shushing of the fountain and the distant bark of a jagg as it hunted for rodents in the gardens. Besides the occasional osarrow flying to and fro from the nests set in the façades of the library and temple, no other living creature stirred. Even so, the flower girl did not feel entirely alone as she ventured into the marketplace square. The city teemed with life in its architecture; gargoyles peered down from the rooftops and there were dramatically posed figures of warriors and lovers molded into the stonework of doorways and window ledges. The traveling merchant wagons, obscured by shadows, appeared to huddle around the square’s fountain like a herd of sleeping beasts at a watering hole. The flower girl crept across to the other side of the marketplace as if trying not to wake them. The closer she came to her destination, the tighter she held onto her flowers.
Opalias, flowers that grew on the tops of Mount Serdacia just to the southwest, spread their petals out like a silver, seven-pointed star with white lining the edges. The front doors of every shop and home had a bouquet of opalias hanging from them, all except for one. Wedged deep into the darkest corner of the marketplace, a tiny shop made of mossy stones and clay shingles appeared outcast from the rest of the buildings. A harguar skull, the remains of a giant predator, jutted out above the doorway with a few of its vertebra attached to the wall as if to give the building a head. Within its sharp fangs it held a sign that read: Arkos’ Artifacts ~ Bone Carvings and Relics of a Wilder Age.
None of the city residents ever went inside. Occasionally travelers from other parts of the world visited the shop, some coming from the desert far away in the south, others from the mountains that surrounded the civilized world, but no one knew of the business that took place behind the shop’s doors. The flower girl had heard that the shopkeeper talked to rocks and to the air as though they could understand him, and she had even heard stories that he stole away children and used their bones to make his carvings. But on that morning she did not let herself grow fearful of such stories. The other girls had sold all their flowers, and Darish the trader had promised to give her a whipping if she did not come back with money before breakfast. She had scoured the city for doors without bouquets, but she could only find one. Morning approached swiftly, and so she crept towards the bone carver’s shop.
Crossing into the shade that darkened the outside of the shop, the flower girl immediately felt a chill brush against her skin. With every step the large door drew closer and closer as if ready to swallow her. Going no further than she needed to, she reached out and tapped a pale fist against the dark wood of the door. Her knocks echoed in the lonely marketplace, and the flower girl jerked her hand back in surprise, looking around to make sure no one else had heard. She had no desire for rumor to spread that the bone carver had taken a servant or a spy; no one would buy flowers from her or talk to her again. When she was certain that she was still alone, her eyes were drawn up to the harguar skull that loomed overhead. It looked fearsome, forever smiling in death, with fangs each a finger long. If she or any other children had wandered into this corner of the marketplace, it was the sight of the skull that chased them out. But upon closer inspection, the flower girl saw something she had not noticed before. Engraved designs and spirals flowed all over the contours of the bone, working their way around the eye sockets, over the forehead and down the length of the face until they were stopped by the vacant nasal cavity. Only an artist of great skill could have embellished something so ornately. The flower girl’s gaze moved to the sign held in the jaws. It had been made out of the top of a wine barrel. There were two crossed sabers attached to the back of the sign, elegantly curved blades that shined with bright silver. All of it together looked like a makeshift crest for one of the families of renown. The flower girl’s gaze dropped from the sign to the doorway, and a yelp of fear escaped her mouth.
She had not heard footsteps or the door open, yet in front of her stood the bone carver. At first her instincts told her to flee, but upon seeing him, the beatings of her frightened heart began to calm. It was not the monster from the children’s tales that had come out to the street but a man, and there was nothing at all sinister about his appearance. He was thin and tall like a tree limb, his hair like the grain in wood—the flower girl also thought she could see strands of very deep green. The hue of his skin looked earthen, and the dark greens in his clothing brought forests to mind. Sleek features marked his face with a slash of brow to shade each of his eyes, which were grayish blue like polished bits of a rainy sky. He appeared as ageless as a wind carved rock. If the sign above his head was to be trusted, Arkos was his name.
At first his brow was furrowed in mild irritation, a sign that he was being interrupted in the middle of things, but the furrow quickly disappeared as he noticed the flowers.
“Opalias,” he said flatly. “Merhala draws near.”
“Yes,” the girl replied. “It begins tomorrow and yours is the only empty door.”
The bone carver stuck his head further out the doorway and looked slowly around the marketplace. It was just as the girl had said; in preparation for Merhala, all the shops had flowers hanging on their doors.
“Merhala begins tomorrow?” he asked.
The flower girl cocked her head in confusion. Merhala was the single most important gathering of people to take place in Tierrion, which meant it might very well have been the most important gathering in the world. Merhala came only once every five years. The people looked forward to it the same way they looked forward to the first break of heavy rain after a long dry season. Friends and relatives who had not seen each other in years would reunite at Merhala. Wars would cease and lands would come to peace. To not know when the festival occurred was absolutely unthinkable.
“It is not too late,” the flower girl replied. “Hang your opalias now and you may yet receive good fortune.”
“Good fortune?” the bone carver asked slightly amused. “Why would they bring me good fortune?”
“Surely you must know why.”
“I have heard many stories regarding the opalias, but none that make such a promise.”
She eyed him suspiciously, unable to believe he could be so ignorant of the tradition. Everyone knew, even children. But his expression showed genuine interest.
“It is said that during Merhala the legenders come out from hiding,” she explained, “and they wander the city at night seeking opalias, for the smell reminds them of those they lost in the great war long ago. If they stop before your door, you will be blessed with good fortune, which is why we hang them so.”
“That is what they say now,” mused the bone carver. “Do you believe that there are legenders in hiding?” he asked, turning his gaze on the flower girl.
“Of course not,” she replied as she lifted her chin up and stood importantly. “It is a tale for children.”
“Of course not,” the bone carver repeated, more to himself than to her. “How much for the flowers then?”
The bone carver disappeared to the back of his shop to find some coins. The flower girl stayed outside, but as she waited there, curiosity nudged her towards the entrance. She gingerly placed one foot inside and peered into where few children had dared to go. The inside was dark, but as her eyes adjusted she began to see a vast collection of bones turned to art: femurs, shoulder blades, breastbones, and even a rib reaching from floor to ceiling. It was the rib of a kolosorus, a massive grazer that could not be tamed by man. The bones held scenes of warriors fighting monsters and scenes of armies engaged in battle. There were also countless pieces of ancient weaponry and armor that lay about with the carvings. The flower girl shuddered when she saw the breastplate with a large hole punctured into where it would have guarded the belly. Silence pervaded the shop, but with all the violence around her the flower girl did not feel at peace.
“My coffer is starved,” the bone carver said as he returned from the backroom, “but here is something that will serve.” He produced a white flower and showed it to the girl.
“Sir, I have plenty of flowers,” she scoffed. “I’m far from need of another.”
Arkos handed the white flower over to her, and in the darkness of the shop its paleness seemed to glow.
“It’s made of bone,” she gasped in amazement. “But how? It looks so real.”
The bones of a lithenbill—a bird that went on great migrations across the sea and that needed a light and elegant skeleton to do so efficiently—were perfect for making something so fragile. One of the bird’s long and slender wing bones had become the delicate stem that turned in the flower girl’s fingers. Fragments of its white beak made the circle of petals that overlapped and curled in on one another. The shards of bone used for the leaves were inlaid with intricate lines of cormantle to appear as veins, and precious ovalad stones borrowed from other treasures throughout the shop made up the flower’s center.
“What beauty,” the flower girl whispered. “Yet why bone? Why not something more civilized?”
“Will you trade for it or not?”
“But it is too much.”
It was true. With its ovalad and cormantle, the bone flower was more than Darish the trader demanded that morning, much more. By the flower girl’s guess, it was enough for her to pay off her debt and end her days of indentured servitude.
“Are you putting me under a ruse?” she asked.
The bone carver shook his head.
“But the opalias will wilt and die,” the flower girl pointed out. “Your flower will last much longer.”
“Now you see why I use something so uncivilized as bone.”
The bone carver took the opalias from the flower girl and completed the trade. The flower girl smiled and ran with excitement down the street, disappearing from the bone carver’s sight as she turned a corner.
Arkos the bone carver was left alone in the marketplace, and he put the opalias up to his face to take in their perfume, eyes closed as if in prayer. The scent of the opalias stirred his imagination and took him to the only place where opalias grew, a high up place where his bare feet felt the velvety mountain grass springing up between his toes. It was there the opalias grew in the thousands bowing their heads in the wind and coloring the mountaintop silver and white.
“Morning’s bread! Two lankas a loaf! Morning’s bread! Five lankas for three!”
Arkos’ daydream was interrupted by the monotone call of the baker rolling his cart down the next street over. Arkos no longer pictured the silver and white mountain but looked upon his sublunary storefront. The door was still open, and he was about to go back inside to return to his work but stopped and remembered the flowers in hand. The bright silver on the opalias and the crisp feel to the morning air made the dust and gloom of the shop more profound. He decided not to go inside and began looking for something to occupy his time, something other than going back to his carving on the rib bone. He remembered that the barrel for uncarved bones was nearly empty and decided that it needed filling. Locking the shop door behind him, he left for his errand on the other side of the city. Before he left, he tied a string around the opalias and hung them on his door.
The monoliths of the Avahorn had been the first to catch the morning sunlight. The heights of the massive tower glowed with a shade of orange while the rest of the city was still in shadow. High on the rooftops, high enough to see the beginnings of the sun peek over the horizon, was an old chimneysweep with a beard as gray as soot. Normally he would have crawled down chimneys to the mouths of fireplaces, cleaning as he went, but since Merhala would start the next day, the city had recruited him for his skill in the high places. Decades of traversing the roofs of the city made him the expert at marking the boundaries for the grand race in the sky that would take place during the festival. He climbed up a stone wall and a spire with the skill of the marmakins that dwell in the trees and scurry up the branches. Once he reached the top, he pulled a red banner from a satchel on his side and tied it to the tip of the spire. The banner caught the breeze and displayed a white image of a winged creature sewn onto the red fabric. The old chimneysweep climbed down the tower’s peak onto a much larger rooftop below and once he was safely perched, he pulled out a map of the city from his belt and plotted where he needed to place the next banner. After he determined where he needed to go, he tucked the map back in his belt and then placed his portable footbridge of planks across the span between two rooftops. As he was about to cross he looked down to see the bone carver in a square examining a kudan tree.
Sitting in the palm of bone carver’s hand was a smooth, blue stone. There was nothing unusual about the stone except that the bone carver talked to it. The chimneysweep listened in but could not make out what the bone carver was saying. He was certain it was something of a suspicious nature. Everyone took it for truth that the business of the bone carver was dark business and if it were done before daylight it would be doubly so. Uneasiness came over the chimneysweep, and he felt a need to leave that place as quickly as possible.
Arkos paid no attention to the creaking bridge as the chimneysweep hurried to the next roof. The kudan tree in front of Arkos interested him too much. He examined it thoughtfully and ran his hand over its smooth bark.
“Much time has past since we last walked this part of the city and stood before this tree,” he said to the blue stone resting in his other hand. “A sapling then, thin as a finger, and grew but a few leaves. Now look at it. Its branches spread out wide and hang low with its fruit.”
After studying the tree for a time, Arkos returned the stone to its pouch on his belt and entered a nearby alleyway. Rubbish piled high against one of the walls; fruit cores and peels, eggshells and husks among other filthy things covered in mold. Within the narrow confines of the alleyway, the stench had festered so greatly that the air felt sticky.
Arkos rolled up his sleeves and put his hands into the depths of the pile where the prickly legs of tomb-wigs and other insects crawled across his arms. When he pulled his hand out of the pile, he produced the jawbone of a croac thrown away by the butcher shop around the corner. He turned the bone over and over in his hands while his eyes studied it not as a piece of garbage but as what he could make of it.
By the time the sun peered over the lowest of rooftops, Arkos left the alleyway with a collection of bones bundled up in a rag and went to the nearest square. Like every square in the city, a fountain spouted from the center. It had massive tiers of green stone with statues of women pouring water from their jars. Arkos dunked his head into the fountain pool, washed the dust from his face and scrubbed the rubbish stench from his arms. When he finished, he watched his reflection slowly reform itself as the water grew still. The square was also still with the wooden shutters of all the windows shut and no one walking the cobblestone streets.
When Arkos was certain he was alone, he held his hand out a little less than a finger’s width over the water and swayed it back and forth as if he were conducting a gentle piece of music. He never touched the water, but ripples began pulsing out under his hand. Then the water grew more turbulent, and distinct shapes began to swirl about. The silent rhythm increased in speed creating a tiny whirlpool that gurgled and foamed. Arkos lifted his hand in the air and a clear fish sculpted out of water jumped from the pool and dove back in. Again and again the fish-like splash leapt from the water under the guidance of Arkos’ extended hand, and each time it left the water it looked a little more detailed than the time before. As Arkos perfected his creation, little things like the scales and the ridges on the fins became more and more defined. When he was satisfied with the way his water-fish appeared he had it paddle its fins as fast as it could across the fountain pool. A little wake rushed across the surface, and then the water-fish jumped so far that it leapt out of the pool and splashed onto the flagstone ground.
Arkos stepped over to where his water-fish had landed and began to measure with his footsteps how far he had sent it. All that was left of his creation was a little puddle, yet when he looked at it he noticed something very unusual.
As far as anyone was concerned the language the heavenly realm was dead, known only to a handful of scholars whose vocabulary of it was very limited. So the way the puddle had shaped itself on the ground would have held little concern for anyone else but Arkos who could tell that it spelled a grouping of the ancient words. He studied it for a moment and then read it aloud.
“From the splinter comes a war.”
For the first time in a very long time Arkos encountered something that confused him. He had formed water into fish shapes many times before, but a puddle shaped into the ancient words was something he had not intended. It had not been of his making, and for that he found it very disturbing. Looking for answers, he first turned to the fountain. The women in the stonework of the tiers continued to empty their bottomless jars; time had not worn away their patient expressions for they were made of erthmarrow, an adamantine stone.
“Why have you spelled out such a riddle,” Arkos asked the water from the fountain.
The water answered him with a very subtle voice, a voice hidden in the gurgling.
‘My child,’ the fountain shushed, ‘I have spelled out nothing.’
“There is a puddle here that bears words of war.”
‘You are mistaken; I am not the writer of such things. Listen to my song. I am free once more from the darkness of wells, and I have sprung out to the light of day; my thoughts are far from war. Men will have their wars, and their dead will feed the soil. When have beings like you and I ever held concern for the ways of men?’
“It is not the ways of men that worry me, but how this word was formed.”
‘Perhaps Ahatho or the Everyn shaped it. They are mysterious beings.’
Arkos thanked the water of the fountain for its advice and began searching for anything else that might aid him in this mystery. It was yet a still morning and no breezes or winds had passed through the square since he had been there. They were high up in the sky playing forever like children and therefore would be of no help. The lamp tender had not come by yet with his snuffer, so there were still a few flames in the lanterns about the square that had not yet died out from the night before. It was possible the flames had witnessed the formation of the puddle, but Arkos knew that it was useless to ask them what they knew. If he asked, the flames would interrupt him with questions of their own. Having been born on the dusk of the day before, they would first ask about the names of all of the things around them. Then they would begin pleading for freedom from the lanterns, begging to play about the trees and rooftops. At the mere mention of the fountain they would sputter in instinctual fear of being extinguished.
Arkos took the blue stone from the pouch on his belt and spoke to it.
“I would like a word with the flagstones.”
He placed the stone in the gap between two flagstones that were each partially covered by the puddle. The ground shook with the slightest of tremors, and Arkos heard a deep voice come from below him. To Arkos’ ear the voice resonated throughout the square, but no one threw open their shutters to see what was causing the noise. No one but Arkos seemed to notice the ground speak.
‘Why do you wake us?’ one of the stones asked.
“Forgive me,” Arkos replied, “but you bear a very curious puddle. It is curious in that it spells a riddle without obeying the shaping of your grooves and contours. Do you know of how it was formed?”
‘We have slumbered long and know nothing of what you speak.’
“I knew your answer would be as such, but one must try when no answer has presented itself.”
‘Thorough work is honorable,’ said the flagstone, and then it drifted back to sleep.
Once the deep voice faded Arkos retrieved the blue stone from the gap. Since nothing else around could advise Arkos, he sat down on the lip of the fountain and on his own pondered the riddle of the puddle.
Water poured from the fountain pool and into the stream as it had always done, gently and with a soothing babble. The stream swiftly flowed through the city, alongside streets, over weirs and under bridges. Eventually the stream joined with other streams gaining enough water to be called a river and to be given the name Asetsi. The Asetsi meandered through the city’s gardens and orchards where a group of women walked barefoot along its banks carrying baskets filled with dune berries and lasamelon. When the river came to the giant wall that encircled the old part of the city and the gardens, large culverts at the base of the wall accommodated the flow. Beyond the wall the river passed through the newer section of the city. Unlike the older section, which was made almost entirely out of erthmarrow, the newer part was made of inferior material, bricks and lesser stone. The buildings were squat and weathered, bearing weeds here and there on the roofs. After the Asetsi turned a wheel mill on the city’s outskirts, it entered the countryside and went on its way.
Eventually the Asetsi would reach the ocean in the north, but it had much land to cross before it got there. The river would first have to weave its way through fields where farmers tended to their ripening shoots; the river would curve around small villages where the people hardly ever spoke the words “coast” or “sea.” On a particular bend in the river, about a day’s journey away from where it sprang, the Asetsi grew a wide belly and voyaged at a leisurely pace. Here the stout osip trees sank their roots into the river’s edge and the sounds of man were too far away to be heard. It was on this untamed bank of mud and reeds that a young woman sat on a large flat stone and crafted a fleet of paper ships.
By the young woman’s appearance it could be assumed that her land was not the countryside that surrounded her. She wore an ornate cormantle circlet shaped like the rolling waves and embedded with seashells. Dappled washes of ocean hues colored her long peplos. Her skin was tawny as beach sand, and her eyes flashed like a pair of fish scales in the sun.
She wrote and wrote with ink and quill.
Ahatho, King of land, sea, and sky,
and all that is above the sky;
Read my words and grant my prayer:
Do not let me fall into humiliation.
Do not lower my head
in the presence of those who would scorn me.
Once the ink dried, she folded the paper into a little ship and placed it in the Asetsi’s current. Again and again she did this, and one after another the little paper ships went downstream where they braved dangers proportional to that of actual ships; swallowing whirlpools formed in the eddies of submerged debris, and the minnows were the fearsome sea monsters.
As the woman worked and as the fleet voyaged onward, an aeriathea’s head emerged from the middle of the river, a head with sweptback crests of bristly fur. The aeriathea had a pointed muzzle and strong jaws, and in his mouth writhed a bull galmo held fast by his fangs. With a gulp the aeriathea swallowed the ponderous fish whole and then began to swim for shore. When he entered shallower waters, his powerful neck grew more and more exposed, followed by his vast feathered wings, each as large as a ship sail. He padded onto the bank on all fours, sinking paw prints into the mud as he went, and shook himself so as to dry his coat of short, striped fur. He approached the young woman and rubbed his immense muzzle against her shoulder, and she favored him with a long scratch behind his long ears. Dropping down onto the bank to rest, the aeriathea formed a semi-circle around the flat boulder where the young woman sat. He let the feathered end of his tail carelessly splash in the shallows, and the black slits of his pupils darted here and there with the minnows.
It had been dark when the young woman and the aeriathea left their camp and came down to the river, but when the sun was shining through the trees on the opposite shore, then leaving the hold of the highest branches and rolling into the wisps of clouds—it was then that the young woman placed her last paper ship on the river.
“Thirty prayers,” she stated. “One for each day of Merhala.”
The aeriathea’s stare left the minnows and turned to the woman. He purred in the language of his kind, a deep rumbling purr that asked her a question.
“No,” the young woman replied. “I have not made my decision. It is too soon.” She took the circlet from her head and began studying it. “Only three full moons have passed since this was placed on me. I will wait until the festival is finished to decide whether I will keep it or not. Much can happen in thirty days, and we do not know what will be revealed during that time. Perhaps I will find a man of an honorable house.”
Again the aeriathea purred, yet he did not sound pleased with what she had said.
“The trician men back home have heads full of salt. No, I cannot take such a man. A man must have wisdom along with an honorable name. How else could he advise me in leading Havamir?”
The aeriathea responded, sounding more displeased than before.
“A husband may advise me, but you will remain my guardian and protector,” she assured. “Without you, I could not be queen.”
In growls and purrs, the aeriathea swore on the heavy rope from which she had freed him—the rope that had held him when he was just a cub—that he would remain the faithful servant he had always been.
“And so you will,” said the young woman. “But you would better serve me by preparing for the race. Here I see you glutting on fish when you should be making yourself light and lean.”
The aeriathea purred contentedly.
“The Asetsi has been good to you, has she?” the young woman replied. “You should not heed her temptations. Remember, you do not fly well when your belly is full, and I would not have you sick as you race tomorrow. I would have you win the bell for me and make Havamir proud.”
The young woman’s eyes dropped to the circlet at her side. The sight of it seemed to weigh heavily upon her for she then stared out at the river and pondered many things that made her face grow solemn. The aeriathea went back to watching the minnows and imagined himself victoriously flying across the finish; the thought made him purr to himself.
The sound of the breeze brushing against the reeds and the hum of insect wings played alongside the babble of the river, but the pair’s tranquility did not last for very long. There came a sound from the woods behind them, the sound of someone treading on dead leaves. The aeriathea raised his neck to its full height and looked into the woods. The young woman stood up so she too could see over the eroded edge of the riverbank. An old soldier was coming their way. His beard was as white as sea foam, and his skin was dark and rough from years of salt and sun. His rolled up sleeves revealed brawny arms covered in tattoos that twisted into the shapes of sea monsters. His breastplate bore the engraving of a ship with crossed spears above it, the mark of the Arch Captain, the highest military rank of Havamir. There was also a short sword sheathed to his side. The young woman did not think of it as something that had killed men in the Maofin Wars but only knew of it as the paddle that had spanked her when she had been a disobedient child. At the soldier’s coming, she sighed in disappointment.
The Arch Captain came to the bank and stood before the young woman and the aeriathea. He looked down at the young woman for a time, his face severe. When at last he spoke, his voice sounded like grinding stones, his tone a restrained rebuke.
“I know why you seek out the lonely places, queen Maris, but you cannot leave your people for an untamed shore. What if a servant had come down to fetch water and saw you? There would be talk among the people that our queen plays in the mud.”
“I was praying,” the young woman informed.
“Yet you were not giving Ahatho good service by putting yourself in danger. There are wurns in these parts,” the Arch Captain warned. “They do not have mouths big enough to swallow you, but they can take an arm or leg.”
“Haloreth was here to protect me.”
“And he was guarding you this whole time? He did not go off to play or to fish, leaving you here alone?”
The young woman said nothing and looked away. The aeriathea bowed his head in shame.
“It is as they say,” the Arch Captain grunted, “those who are starved of wisdom do not know that they are hungry. But come. Let us go. See how the east reddens?” He pointed beyond the other side of the river where clouds were beginning to gather. They were ripening to a bright scarlet. “We should leave now before the rain turns the road to mud.”
“As you wish, Haeron,” the young woman conceded. “None of us want to be dirtied in front of the people.”
Maris, Haeron, and Haloreth crossed through the woods and came to the top of a knoll where their caravan had encamped. The camp was already astir when they arrived. Like the queen, the people there were tawny skinned and dark haired. They dressed in the fashion of the coast, many wearing necklaces made of seashells and clothing dyed in blue. The rich among them wore smooth robes made of tyruk hides and jewelry made of salt gems. Hundreds of people bustled in and out of the camp’s remnants, passing through the smoke of extinguished breakfast fires and working on their respective morning chores. All about the camp, tents collapsed and were shaken of dew. The servants, soldiers, and poor worked quickly; for they had traveled far, and striking a camp had become routine for them. Once the wagons were loaded and hitched to the bronteos—those stout beasts of low heads and heavy horns—the caravan took to the road. The soldiers led the way, a marching column of spears and banners. Their blue and tan banners were emblazoned with the design of the sun on the ocean horizon, the symbol of Havamir. If a foreigner had called it a sunset they would have been sternly corrected; it was a sunrise.
The road that lay before the caravan disappeared and reappeared with the curving of the hills and knolls, ultimately rising until it came to the wide, round hill on which Tierrion sat. Even from far off the caravan could see the Avahorn rise up from the city like a great spike. By where the tower stood, the Havamirians judged that they had less than a day’s journey before they reached the city.
Queen Maris traveled in a canopied howdah on the back of an indramon, a long necked, pillar-legged creature that elevated her above everyone else in the caravan. Everyone except for Haloreth who padded alongside her. In front of Maris marched the soldiers and behind her came the pilgrims arranged from greatest to least. There were the tricians riding on their gandas, gentle snouted mounts with heads that came to pointed crests. These were followed by the fishers and lowyns who took the road on foot. At the very end of the caravan walked Metaro the Broken, whose bare feet were blackened and calloused from the long journey. His lank hair and beard hung down his chest and back, and his clothes were made of ruined sails, the clothes of a wreckman. He walked alone behind the wagons and through their clouds of dust, for his was a path of penance.
As the morning gave way to noon, two tricians rode up from their place in the caravan and came alongside the queen. One of them was very withered, his head completely bald and his beady eyes spying out from wrinkled folds. The other was younger, nearly forty years old, a slender man with skin and hair that shined with expensive oils. Both tricians bowed their heads low and retrieved their speaking totems from pouches on the belts. The speaking totems were small spheres of fired clay, dark blue and lustrous. They made a rattling noise, for within them they held the teeth of great ancestors. The men placed the speaking totems in a cloth bag that hung at the indramon’s side. Maris pulled the bag up to where she sat and took the speaking totems in her hand.
“Wrane Coracal. Wrane Garafin,” she said, nodding to them. They again bowed their heads low.
“He who greets the queen, greets wisdom!” they said.
As was the courtesy and custom, the slender wrane began their conversation by speaking of this and that, everything other than what he had come to tell her.
“How do you believe Haloreth will fare in the Flight tomorrow?” Coracal inquired.
“How can I say anything other than Haloreth will win? When he flies, he catches the wind by the tail, as they say. I do not believe there is an aeriathea who is faster.”
“Yes, he is young and has strength in his wings, but the people say that Solanan and Wayrasi are arrows from a bow, and they say so rightly,” Coracal informed.
“I have been to many Merhalas,” stated Garafin, “and I have seen the way those two fly. Solanan has taken Merhala’s Bell these last four Flights, but not without Wayrasi coming in close behind. Haloreth must know sweat and pain if he is to take the Bell.”
Haloreth had been passing his time on the road by watching the rodents and reptiles that scurried through the grasses and the birds that flitted from tree to tree. Upon hearing his name, however, he began listening to what the two wranes said. They talked of Solanan and Wayrasi, making those two sound as powerful as the aeriatheas that carried the sun and the moon, but Haloreth did not flinch at the names of his competitors. He was confident in his youth and strength, but most of all he wanted to win the bell for Maris; such motivation would put a fire in his blood. The suitors who courted her at the festival could have vast amounts of land and great herds beyond counting, but they could not win her the Bell.
“Haloreth will have to use more than just his wings if he is to win,” said Garafin. “He will need to keep his wits, not to use all of his strength too early or too late. Solanan and Wayrasi are older and know the course well. This is Haloreth’s first Merhala, and he is inexperienced with the ways of the Flight.”
“But this could also be his strength,” Coracal assured, addressing the slight furrow of disappointment he detected on the queen’s brow. “Solanan and Wayrasi have been studying each other throughout the years. They know nothing of Haloreth, and so he should surprise them.”
As the wranes continued on, their talk spread to Merhala in general. Haloreth lost interest and returned to looking for creatures in the grasses and trees. The wranes told Maris all that there was to do and to see, the feasts and the music, the plays and the evening storytellers. Maris had heard much of the same before. Because she was a young queen, it seemed that there was no shortage of older tricians who wished to tell her the wonders of Merhala and reminisce of festivals past. As the wranes continued to speak, her attention drifted and she found it difficult to appear interested in what they had to say. She absently watched the road as it passed below her. But then Coracal mentioned something that caught her attention fully.
“When you meet the kings and queens of other nations, they will be very curious of you, for you are new among them.”
The way Coracal spoke made it sound as though Maris would receive a great honor in this, but she did not find his words at all comforting. Coracal detected a nervous shudder in the queen.
“Do these gatherings worry you?” he asked, his tone concerned.
“No,” she lied. “Merhala sounds as though it gives all a kind spirit. I have no need to fear the other leaders.”
“I wish it were as you say, my queen,” said Garafin. “But the gatherings are happenings of rumor and judgment; and all will study you, for you are new. Beware of King Kayor. He is all teeth, and harguar blood runs in his veins; more of a hunter than a king he is.”
“But do not wet your brow with worried sweat,” said Coracal. “Wrane Garafin and I will go with you to these gatherings if it pleases you.”
“It would please me very much,” Maris sighed in relief.
Coracal and Garafin then bowed their heads, and Maris returned their speaking totems to them.
It was not long after they retired to their place in line that Haeron the Arch Captain rode up beside her and put his speaking totem in the bag at the indramon’s side.
“That was not wise,” he said in a voice intended only for her—Maris had to lean down some from her high seat to hear him. “Those two wanted something, and you gave it to them without a struggle.”
“What did they want?” Maris asked, confused. Haeron looked up at her with thorough disappointment.
“You did not hear? You did not see? As queen, you will need different ears and eyes then.”
“If you are here to teach me, tell me plainly what error I have made.”
“Do you believe that Coracal and Garafin wish to accompany you to the gatherings of kings for your benefit?”
“Are they not wranes on the Council? Are they not here to advise me?”
“Politicians will not extend an open hand to you unless it will come back to them full. You believe that if they accompany you to the gatherings they will aid you in speaking. Beware of not speaking at all and being nothing more than their ornament. If Coracal and Garafin speak for you, the kings and queens will remember their voice, not yours. That is what those two want: a firm place in the minds of kings.”
“So grim and dark! That is how you have always seen the world. I cannot believe that their intentions are as you say. I do not smell such a foul wind as you do.”
“You cannot trust them,” Haeron warned, shaking his head. “Coracal has a cunning tongue, and Garafin has the blood of the old Sarchean lords.”
“He also has the blood of the noble Elemari, and he is no wreckman. Very honorable and ancient ulavyns watch over his family’s ships. They would not give such protection to a Sarchean.”
“The wranes may have their timbers intact, but tell me when my counsel and corrections have led you to harm. Tell me when they have been made of poor material.”
Haeron waited patiently for a time, staring down the road, but Maris gave him no reply.
“The road is a good place for thinking,” Haeron said at length. “And there remains a bit of it before us. Remember what I have said.”
Biting her lip, Maris lowered the Arch Captain’s speaking totem to him. He took it without a word and retired to his place in the caravan.
The morning gave way to noon and the caravan’s road passed through a thick patch of woods. A jackadey, perched on a low hanging branch above the road, harassed the travelers with its shrill cries. Upon seeing the truculent bird, Haloreth studied it keenly, and he twitched his tail back and forth in anticipation. His neck grew tense, and just as he was ready to strike, a greasy odor of musk and filth stung his nostrils. None of the people around him caught wind of it, but they did not have his sense of smell. His instincts warned him that the scent came from an unpleasant kind of creature, something that was possibly dangerous. Haloreth took his eyes off the bird and looked into the woods for any sign of movement, but all he saw were insects whirring in the spaces between the trees.
The jackadey grew fearful of the approaching aeriathea and flew away, croaking an angry note as it went. Haloreth turned his eyes away from the wooded depths and watched the jackadey fly beyond the high boughs. After the bird was out of sight, he smelled and studied the air again, but the scent of the unpleasant thing had grown fainter. He looked into the woods, his tail wagging anxiously with the desire to hunt. But then he looked to where Maris sat on her mount. Back and forth his gaze went between her and the woods. He then remembered Haeron’s reprimand early that morning, and therefore he decided not to track down whatever it was he had smelled but to continue down the road and stay at Maris’ side.
Back in the woods where the trees grew thick, something hid behind an osip trunk and panted heavily. A cloaked figure—covered from head to foot in dusty, torn rags as if he were embalmed—lingered in the shadows. He had been hiding in the underbrush by the roadside, so close to the travelers he could have reached out and touched their ankles. It was when the aeriathea had sensed him that he crept back deeper into the woods. From the safety found behind the trees, the cloaked figure watched the procession of Havamirians with keen interest. His smoldering yellow eyes stared through the holes of a crudely made wooden mask, watching the caravan the way a predator watches a herd. There was a tension in the figure’s limbs, a shudder that longed release from hiding, that longed to strike, but the figure restrained himself. The time would soon come when he would strike his mighty blow.
As the first day of Merhala began, Arkos went up to an abandoned turret that budded off the Avahorn. The turret room was carpeted with moss and mold, and cobwebs hung from the ceiling. Wiping the grime off one of the window ledges, Arkos cleaned himself a place to sit and let his legs hang outside over the city. While he waited for the festival to begin, he took dirty bones from his makeshift bag and began cleaning them with his carving knife. The carving knife, with its cormantle blade and its handle made from rokuli antler, looked too handsome for the gritty work, but it took off the dried pieces of matter and meat so smoothly it seemed as though it had been made especially for the task. One by one the clean bones fell in a small pile on the mossy floor.
From where Arkos perched, he could see the nations camped outside the city gate, the colorful groupings of tents far below appearing like flower gardens. Pilgrims from all six nations had gathered there. Even some of the tribal leaders from the Baladune Desert had come with their followers, but they had come more for trade than for the festivities. They did not follow the lore of Tierrion and believed in gods that were strange to the people of the six nations. While all the people below bustled about in excited anticipation for the Merhala that was about to begin, Arkos looked out beyond Tierrion’s walls, beyond the camps of the nations to where farmlands hatched the landscape with rows of crops, beyond to where there were forests and grassy hills. Three of the four great rivers meandered in Arkos’ view, rivers that sprung from the city and headed in the cardinal directions; the Asetsi to the north, the Vasden to the east, and the Eyamara to the west. The Weloc went to the south, but the massive Avahorn behind him blocked it out of sight.
“Look at the Asetsi now,” Arkos said to the blue stone as he took it from the pouch on his belt and set it on the ledge beside him. “Look at how she veers towards the east more and more. Her thirst for the Kanna Sea has grown great. Or perhaps she runs from the Catchamina and cannot get away.”
He envied the rivers, for they could leave the city and he could not. Even though the city gate opened every morning and even though no one would have stopped him if he tried, he had never left. A promise kept him there, a promise he had grown to hate but greatly feared to break.
Arkos held out his carving knife in front of him, closed one eye and looked down the length of his arm and the length of the blade. Then he ran the edge of his knife against the far horizon from east to west as though he were cutting the land from the sky. When he reached the end of the horizon, his arm dropped to his lap and he let out a heavy sigh. He then went back to scraping bones.
Splinter, splinter, splinter. War, war, war. His thoughts went to the rhythm of his knife strokes. The sky was clear and the surrounding land was still, but the message of war had come to him. The heavens had sent it—of that Arkos was certain—for no other element had claimed the words: from the splinter comes a war. He would have to speak to the king and give him warning, but a poor bone carver could never obtain a speaking totem great enough to do so. The rhythm of his knife strokes began to slow as his eyes narrowed and as he turned his thoughts to how he could gain an audience with the king.
A wind picked up and began circling the turret. Arkos listened. The wind’s tone was anxious, as it was eager to finish the chore Arkos had assigned it to do.
“Keep searching,” Arkos said. “Search every alley and every height. When I am certain that the entire city is secure, only then will I let you resume your games.”
The wind blew a gust in his face to show its impatience and then flew back down towards the gate where everyone else in the city had gathered.
All the way from the inside of the gate, through the gardens, and into the city’s interior, the main road was squeezed thinner by the swelling crowds that pushed at its sides. So tightly were the people packed together that the smell of perfumed people and unwashed people wafted together, but it was an occasion where such smells were tolerated. Mothers held tightly to their children’s hands, and the smaller children sat on their fathers’ shoulders. The old men and women sat at the back of the crowd, chuckling at their old jokes. When a hundred horns blew from the tops of Tierrion’s wall, idle talk changed to excited whispers. The city gate began to creak open, and all turned to face the widening gap between the doors.
The people had waited five years for the gates to open, five years for a time when the tables from every home would be pulled outside onto the streets and piled with food. It was a time when bonfires lit every square in the city at night, and the audiences gathered around the coals to be enchanted by the ancient tales of storytellers. It was a time when the music never ended, and everyone knew the words to the songs. But what everyone waited for most of all was the Flight of the Aeriatheas. The nations would revive peace between each other, the stories that founded their cultures would be relived, but the reason people came from far and wide was to see the Flight. Each nation had its aeriathea, and on the first day of Merhala it was the aeriatheas who led their people into Tierrion.
Even before the gates were opened to their fullest, an aeriathea bounded through with her nation of Tersia pouring in after her. She shined with crimson fur and padded into the city with bells jingling on her ankles and ribbons streaming from her tail. Tersian musicians passionately played upon their marimbas, and their people danced on the road. The Tersians drank their timber wine as they danced, and wagons heavy with casks followed them in. Theirs was a land of rich soil where the winewood trees grew. If there were a bad season and the land turned poor, the Tersians would have to drink the dregs from the year before. But on that Merhala the Tersians were in high spirits, which meant the land was healthy and the wine was good.
After Tersia entered, there burst a cloud of blue and red smoke, and the smell of incense pervaded the crowd. The aeriathea from Omberia leapt through the cloud, her silver fur and iridescent wings flashing in the sun. The dark-skinned Omberians played flutes with glowing embers cupped at the ends, spitting up flames that made notes bend and crackle. Their fire organ came in on a wagon and looked like a ceramic beast with clay pipes coming out of its back and mouth. There was a fire burning deep in the belly of the device and musicians pumped the bellows making flames and smoke burst from the mouths of the pipes. Different temperatures played different notes creating a volcanic music that made the crowds wonder at how Omberians could make fire sing.
Through the clearing smoke came the aeriathea from Anshaw. He was covered with thick gray fur, and scars streaked his sides, marks that showed he had had his bouts with the giant deogren birds of the mountains. As he entered Tierrion, little Anshine children flocked about his wooly feet, and he herded them into the city. The Anshines who followed were tall and fair skinned people with hair ranging from blonde to white. Tribal symbols in blue paint spiraled up their arms and legs much in the same way the clouds curled upon the high crags. The men blew on pipes, and the women sang their mountain songs.
The horns of Patarah sounded, and a beautiful aeriathea with golden fur and with a crown made of golden horns entered the city. He tilted his head upwards to receive the crowd’s praising eyes. The Patarans who followed were also a people who believed they deserved their pride, for they had knowledge that was yet undiscovered by the other nations. Great inventions, such as the mills that harnessed the wind and the rivers, marked the tops and bottoms of the canyons from where they had come. They had massive white stone universities that created apothecaries and inventors, priests and philosophers, makers of medicines and makers of laws. They had become a great people, and they wanted everyone at the festival to see it.
Once the golden nation had passed, the crowd turned their gaze to see entering through the gates the aeriathea from Dariseum, a creature of black fur with a white blaze running down his forehead. He walked into the city with a disciplined posture, keeping his chest out and his wings tall and trim. The Darisan soldiers entered in likewise, marching through the city gate in strictly regimented formations. The drums thundered through their ranks, and they sung in deep voices of how the spear was their brother, how the bow and arrow were their sisters, and how they feared no beast of the forest. So powerful were their voices and appearance that as they passed, all the young boys watching from the crowd wanted to grow up to become Darisan soldiers.
The final nation to enter the city was Havamir. Haloreth led the way, though it took much restraint on his part not to run and leave his people behind. The millions of colors and smells tempted and teased, and he was afraid that if he did not hurry he would not experience them all before the festival was over. He panted wildly, twisted his neck this way and that, and kept his feet steady so he would not run ahead and break company with his queen and nation. Maris followed on the back of her indramon. She wore a silvery peplos made of tyruk hide, and her lady servants had rubbed oils into her skin so that her face shone. They had plaited her hair in thin braids and adorned her head with a headdress crested with a silver half sun. Maris felt the eyes of the crowd on her, drawn by her newness and examining her details. A nervous smile trembled on her lips and her fingers fidgeted with the folds of her peplos. The rhythm of the festival carried the procession onward, and she had no choice but to weather the gaze of the crowd while on her high seat.
Havamirian musicians followed behind Maris and played on horns made from giant mollusk shells and coral branches, flutes that mimicked the calls of seabirds, and drums that sounded like the pounding of waves. It was as if the seashore had composed its own melody and sent it to Tierrion by the wind.
But the music suddenly crashed into discord and then abruptly came to a halt. The rhythm of the festival stopped, and the crowd felt it as if it were their own pulse that had stopped. They desperately searched for the source of the rhythm’s collapse, and at last they came to Haloreth.
He stood crouched in the middle of the road, his claws dug into the grooves between the cobblestones as if he were ready to lunge out at something. His eyes narrowed, and he sniffed the air frantically. The same scent he had picked up the day before, the greasy odor of musk and filth, stung his nostrils once again. A low growl came from his throat and his lips snarled to show his fangs. The crowd backed away while Haloreth’s eyes darted through their masses, looking for whatever evil thing hid among them.
“Haloreth!” Maris cried out, but he did not hear her over the nervous commotion of the crowd. She looked for a way down from her mount so she could go over to him, but her elaborate trappings held her within the howdah. As Maris was about to call out a second time, Haeron pushed through the stunned servants and came up to the aeriathea without fear. The crowd held its breath. Haeron dared to grasp a handful of scruff from Haloreth’s neck and yanked down so the aeriathea’s eyes met with his. Immediately, Haloreth’s growls were silenced.
“What vile thing has crawled into you?” Haeron asked fiercely. “You are causing a strong fright here!”
Haloreth responded with whimpering, but Haeron did not let him finish.
“You wail over a foul scent? Move on or you will move the Darisans to spear your hide!”
Haloreth looked back at Maris. She met his eyes and frowned. Ashamed, Haloreth looked away and turned his great neck and shoulders towards the city center, pushing himself onwards once more. The musicians played again and the procession went on as it had before, though it took some beats for them to regain their music fully. It did not take long for the rhythm to revive, for everyone was anxious to continue the celebration. Maris gave a great sigh of relief; the incident was quickly forgotten. Haloreth walked many steps with his tail between his legs, but the further he went the more Merhala enticed his senses with its foreign aromas and sounds. Even the smell of musk and filth had faded away.
As the last Havamirian, Metaro the Broken, entered through the city gate, the spectators began to fill in the road behind the procession of nations. The crowds went up the road and into the center of the city where all would gather. Only the city’s poor stayed behind to pick through the litter on the lawn. Two grimy men, who wore the trampled hats that they had found, came across a pile of rags leaning against the city wall. The men began arguing over who had found it first but stopped when the pile began to move. First a hand wrapped in ruined cloth emerged from the pile, and as the hand pressed down on the dirt, it revealed lumps that became an elbow and a shoulder. Slowly, the pile unfolded itself into a whole body covered with rags. Over the head and shoulders there was a hooded cloak and over the face was a crudely made wooden mask where two smoldering yellow eyes glared through the eyeholes. The two grimy men were frightened and ready to run away, but the cloaked figure pulled out a handful of coins from inside his wrappings and set it on the ground in front of them.
“For your silence,” he rasped; his voice sounded as that of an animal taught to speak.
As the two grimy men were about to come to blows over the money, the cloaked figure got up and looked to make sure that there were no more aeriatheas around to sense him. Once he was certain all of them were gone, he picked up his thin staff from off the ground and headed towards the thickest part of the gardens where he would be hidden and his business in the city kept secret.
A summary of taken from The Osaegis
These excerpts are traditionally read at the beginning of Merhala
Dakor, the Living Shadow, lamented at his gloomy fate, the long ages of dwelling in the Abyss below the World. Although this was his realm and in it he had great size and strength, he longed to escape the eternal darkness and ascend to the Heavenly Realm of Ayveria, for he had once been of the Everyn race and had once known the celestial comforts and pleasures. Yet as the Living Shadow he was an enemy to the Everyn and would not be welcomed by them if ever he returned. Therefore he resolved that he would need to defeat them if Ayveria was ever to be his own.
Driven by his desire of what lay above, Dakor escaped the Abyss and climbed up to the mortal lands of the World; yet he suffered a grave consequence, for in the light of the sun he lost his size and strength and shrank down into the smallest of shadows. In this form he traveled secretly throughout the settlements of Humankind and created discord among the people, whispering of fears and sinful desires to them while they slept. Dakor collected the growing amounts of Humankind’s Sin and Fear and took the supply deep into the Forest of Kreed where he poured Sin onto a vine that in turn grew into a giant thorny knot. Out from the knot came the first dremorns.
The centuries passed, and the dremorns spread out across the world. At first they were seen as no more than vermin that stole animals away from the herds tended by Humankind, but then they became more dangerous, attacking villages and eating the people. Seeing what the dremorns had done, Humankind came to understand that the creatures were created from the evils of people.
The Fear grew and grew, and Dakor drank it in, and from it he regained the great size and strength that he had once possessed in the Abyss. Shrouded in dark thunderclouds, he roamed the lands seeking out the dremorns and gathering them up unto himself. When he revealed his sword to them, the Erthedge of Dusk, which flashed like darkened lightning, the dremorns bowed before him in fear. Having mustered his armies, Dakor prepared to make War on Ayveria and looked to the Passage, the great light that once shone from Avahorn Tower and served as the gateway between mortal lands and the Heavens.
“Yet Dakor and his armies did not go unchallenged. There were those who did not fear him and barred his way to the Passage Light. The legenders gathered and did battle with him.”
King Mercius, the king of Tierrion, spoke to an audience of thousands that had gathered in the city’s amphitheater. Like his ancestors before him, Mercius read the legend of the Merhala War to initiate the festival. He stood tall imposing before the crowd and carried a pensive look on his face as he read. The gray that flecked his mane and beard showed that he was in the middle of his years. The garland of golden leaves that adorned his head and his golden robe, with patterns of vines and branches weaved into the fabric, gave him the look of a tree changing color and making ready for the winter. It was late summer all around the king, but his autumnal appearance gave him further distinction as a man who pondered long on ancient and forgotten things.
He read to the multitude before him, telling of how the legenders confronted the dremorn horde, how the legenders fought using great beasts formed out of the elements—heavy footed land beasts formed from stone; great birds of prey formed from wind; dagger fanged predators formed from fire; and massive, coiling serpents formed from water. In a mighty collision of fire and rock, water and blood, the legenders routed the dremorns and drove them back. But Dakor reformed his armies and commanded them to attack again and again, marching ever toward Tierrion and the Passage Light that once glowed atop the Avahorn.
It was not a single battle but a long war that spread over many lands, for Dakor grew to lust after the world on which he fought. He built fearsome strongholds on the land he took and raised grisly monuments to himself whenever he had a victory. For forty years the legenders tore down the strongholds and kept back the advancing hordes. The legenders were mighty and powerful, but their numbers were few and could not be replenished. The dremorns, however, only grew in number, spawning from the dungeons that Dakor had carved out of the depths using his great sword, the Erthedge of Dusk. It was this sword that proved the greatest bane to the legenders, for when they sent forth their elemental beasts, Dakor would fell the shapes with a stroke of his blade. Rock crumbled and fire fell to ash. Therefore the legenders were pushed back, footstep by scraping footstep, all the way to Tierrion where they made their final stand.
The world was devastated, and humankind had fled to the caves in the mountains. They had seen the fear that Dakor had brought with him, and so they hid in the dark and waited for the war to pass. Yet as the smoke began rising up around the walls of Tierrion, young Merhala dared to go outside and gaze long in the direction of the city. When he grew sufficiently restless, he returned to the caves and hammered out for himself a large bell. He then carried the bell up to a lofty crag and rang it loud. At its sound, his people came out from hiding and Merhala cried down to them:
The fate of the world will not be decided by the battle of good against evil but by the choice to do good or do nothing. Therefore I will not hide in the dark and watch our world end. Today I march to where I see the smoke rising, where the legenders are fighting, and I pray you come with me so that we can join them in their final stand. Do not be afraid! The enemy carries fear, but we carry an edge that is sharper and more enduring. Do you not love your women? Do you not care for your sons and daughters? Even the smallest creature will make its stand between its young and the harguar’s jaws. To some creatures Ahatho gave horn and antler; to others he gave a sturdy leg and a kicking hoof. To man he gave wit and heart, and he will deliver our enemies into our hand. Therefore march with me, and see if Ahatho does not bring the dremorn armies low and feed the soil with their dead.
And so the men rallied to young Merhala and marched with him to Tierrion. Yet as they marched, the legenders had come into despair. Most of their number had been slain, and the hordes of dremorns stood vast before their gates. Many believed that one final responsibility remained: to set the Passage free so that Dakor would not have entry into Ayveria.
The legender Osyra did not agree. She urged the other legenders to believe that Ahatho would not yet abandon them, that there was a better end in store. The others, however, did not share her hope and therefore opened the columns atop the Avahorn and let the Passage Light go free. And as the light rose and disappeared into the heavens, there came the tolling of a bell. With it came the charge of mortal men, for Merhala came down from the hills and into the battle, changing the balance of the war in an instant. Osyra’s hope came to be the truth after all.
“And that is why we are here today,” said Mercius. “We are here to remember that hope and those who fought for our salvation. For Ahatho blesses those who remember and curses those who forget.”
When he finished reading, he delicately and reverently closed the Osaegis before him, for it was ancient and its pages were as brittle as dried leaves. It had supposedly been written by Lyron’s own hand, and that made it more valuable to Mercius than any other treasure in his vault.
He slowly crossed the amphitheater’s stage and looked up to the balconies where the kings and queens of the other nations sat. Towering over the audience were three giant statues depicting celestial women—female Everyn—each holding a balcony in the palm of her hand, one for each of the nation’s leaders. Maris sat on the balcony farthest east with Haeron and her guard to accompany her. Roosts had been built on the statues’ wrists especially for the festival, and, when the aeriatheas perched on them, it looked as if the statues wore living bracelets.
“Queen Maris Elemor,” King Mercius called out, “Daughter of King Maofin.” No matter how crowded the amphitheater may have been, the acoustics made his voice fill the space between the flat circle stage and the balcony where she sat. “The poet Naleus once said, ‘Whether under the flashing azure or haunting gray sky, the sea and its ways always hold men’s eyes.’ You come to us from the far northern shore, and as you entered I saw your beauty hold the eyes of many men.”
His words were meant to complement her, but he delivered them with such seriousness that they held little charm. Maris bowed her head respectfully.
“You have taken your father’s place,” continued Mercius. “Know that Tierrion mourned him.”
Though she was reminded of her father’s passing, she remained expressionless. His death had not brought her sorrow.
Mercius went on to greet the leaders of every nation. He also administered judgments as he went.
“King Kayor Morcast of Dariseum and King Grexus Teralorn of Patarah. The rivalry between your two nations is no secret. It is an old thing, older than the borders of your lands, but it is foolish as it is old. My ancestors dealt with the same dilemma between your kingdoms, and still there is no peace.”
It seemed that there were land disputes between the lords that lived on the borders of Dariseum and Patarah, disputes ripe enough to turn into violence if not resolved. King Mercius ordered the Offspring Bond, which meant that each of the Darisan lords would send their eldest son to live with one of the Pataran lords for one year, and the Pataran lords would do the same with their eldest sons. These adopted sons were to be given the same treatment as the blood children of the lords’ houses, and the adopted sons were to respect their surrogate fathers. After the year was over and the Offspring Bond finished, the lords were to hold an outdoor feast between their lands where sons would return to their own fathers. At this feast the lines between their lands would be discussed and redrawn.
Once Mercius gave his order, there was no doubt the kings would see them through. Mercius’ domain may have been smaller than theirs, only the city and its surrounding land, but the king of Tierrion had the most powerful voice of all. If another king mishandled his allegiance with Tierrion, there would be dire political effects, and the ramifications could even mean justice from the heavens. A disobedient king risked bringing drought or famine upon his land, while an obedient king surely brought the blessing of abundant harvests.
But the minds of the audience were far from politics and the future of their lands. They were anxious for what was to come that day, and restlessness spread throughout their numbers contagiously. The aeriatheas caught the worst of it. Their tails twitched back and forth impatiently, and they anxiously flapped their wings from time to time, sending powerful gusts into the crowd. Once Mercius finished speaking with the kings and queens, he finally announced what everyone had been waiting for.
“Bring out the Bell!”
The crowd roared their approval and the aeriatheas flapped their wings even stronger than before, barely able to keep their toes on their perches. Two men carried a large bell out onto the stage and set it next to the king. It was Merhala’s Bell, the one he had used to rally his men, a bell roughly smithed in a time when humankind was exiled to the wilds, and so it was devoid of symmetry and the sides were pocked and bumpy. The aeriatheas, however, stared at the bell as if it were made entirely out of precious stone.
A robust man—the medallion hanging from his neck marked him as the head official of the Flight—followed the bell onto the stage and called the competitors to their places. Maris smiled at Haloreth and patted his paw; he nuzzled her shoulder before he left. With a leap off their perches and a short glide over the audience, the aeriatheas landed on the stage. It was just large enough to hold all of them. Side by side they faced east and formed a starting line. The official announced the names of each of the competitors, their breed, and the nation for whom they flew:
Talagos, the crimsonari from Tersia. Aysu, the dusky gray from Omberia. Wayrasi, the ash coat from Dariseum. Quenyal, the snowtail from Anshaw. Solanan, the amberan from Patarah. Haloreth, the sea stripe from Havamir.
The head official then went on to give the rules for the Flight. The aeriatheas were not to use violence or aggression, and they had to stay within the boundaries marked out by the red banners. Breaking any of the rules would result in immediate disqualification. The first competitor to pass in front of the stage after ten laps around the city would win their land Merhala’s Bell. The nation with the Bell would take the seats of honor throughout the festival, but more importantly they would have five years of justified boasting.
“On the third toll you may begin,” the head official announced.
The honors of beginning the race belonged to the king of Tierrion, so Mercius took the mallet and struck the bell once. The aeriatheas creased their eyes in concentration. The bell tolled a second time and the crowds held their breath. The aeriatheas crouched with every muscle taut, as though they prepared to make the eastern sky their prey. A final swing of the king’s mallet and the bell made its third toll.
The aeriatheas launched off the ground in a rush of beating wings, pushing themselves into the air with hurricane strength and thunderous snorts that blasted from their nostrils as they heaved themselves forward to gain good position. The crowds leapt to their feet to see the aeriatheas pass the first tower with a red banner waving on top. The thousands and thousands of voices roared and resounded as people cried out the names of their aeriatheas. The amphitheater pulsed with life and color as a myriad of national banners waved throughout the multitudes. Maris longed to join the sound and movement of the crowds below, but her position as queen would not permit it. She had to remain composed. Tapping her hand anxiously against the parapet, she looked to the other queens on their balconies and saw that they were as rigid as the statues that held them. Maris could only whisper her cheers, but they were just as impassioned as the shouts of those below.
The aeriatheas weaved their way in and out of towers at a breakneck speed. Haloreth flew in third behind Solanan in second and Wayrasi in the lead. Wayrasi swerved back and forth, preventing both Solanan and Haloreth from pulling in front of him. Wayrasi cut in for a close turn on one of the course banners while Solanan tried to pass him on the outside. Solanan’s pull to the outside gave Haloreth an opportunity to get directly behind Wayrasi, but Wayrasi’s tail came in too close to the spire and clipped the red banner from its place. Haloreth caught the banner on his face so that it covered his eyes. Blinded, Haloreth pulled up above the race so he would not crash into any of the towers. He hovered there for just the moment he needed to tear the banner from over his eyes, and once he could see again he shot down from the sky and continued the race. His mischance put him in last place, so he gritted his teeth and mercilessly pushed his muscles onward, beating his wings fiercely. Gleaming with sweat, he regained his speed and passed Quenyal like a tempest.
In the turret, Arkos observed the races with mild interest. The other half of his attention he gave to preparing bones. Most had already been cleaned. He would then study them to figure out what he would make of them. Before every carving, Arkos would begin with a rough idea of what he wanted, yet while he carved he bargained with spontaneity and let the result of each cut help determine the outcome of the finished piece. After he finished carving and smoothing, he would then set to polishing with the oils on his fingers until his creations gleamed.
While he was cleaning the bones he noticed a creever web hanging in the corner of one of the windows. The creever, a creature no bigger than one of Arkos’ buttons, swung from thread to thread with spindly limbs and shook the dew from the web as it went. Occasionally the creever would strip the dew off the gossamers with its tail and then bring it to his pincers for a drink. Arkos paused from his craft and studied the delicate intricacies of the web—one craftsman admiring the work of another.
There was also a dinny-pike hive on the turret’s ceiling, and a red dinny-pike, its body a thumb’s length, crawled out of the hive and buzzed its wings madly. It flew a few mad circles around the turret and then went right into the web as if to break through, but one of its wings got tangled in the strands. No matter how much it thrashed about, it could not free itself, and it tangled the web into ugly knots. The creever scrambled to the edges of what remained of its web and tried to find a way to pull in the dinny-pike, but the little creever could never capture such a large insect.
Arkos’ carving knife flew across the turret room and pinned the dinny-pike to the wall. Stuck, the dinny-pike angrily chewed on the blade with its pincers and stabbed wildly with the spike on its head, the weak venom leaking out of its tip. Arkos retrieved his knife letting the dinny-pike fall to the ground where he crushed it with his foot. He looked for the creever, but it had fled into a crack somewhere in the wall. As the aeriatheas made another pass around the turret, the ruined web shivered in the wind.
Then Arkos heard a dire urgency come with the wind’s passing. The air howled. It was calling him, for something was very wrong. An evil thing had come into the city.
The crowd below Maris was just as tumultuous as it had been when the race began. She gripped the balcony’s parapet with all of her might and leaned out from her seat as much as propriety would allow. Wayrasi still held the lead, but he was growing tired and the distance between him and the others was shrinking. Solanan remained in second, and Haloreth had fought his way back to his former position in third place. He had the speed to be in second, but Solanan kept flailing his tail back and forth so that Haloreth could not pass. Haloreth gained some daring as they passed the amphitheater and tried to slip though Solanan’s right, but Solanan’s tail cracked him hard across the jaw. The force of the blow would have knocked a weaker creature out of the sky, but Haloreth shook his head and continued onward. The Havamirians roared in anger and howled out their rulings to the head official, but he acted as if he saw nothing and ignored the crowd. It took all of Maris’ strength not to yell out and curse the official.
On the other side of the city, the cloaked figure climbed staircase after staircase in the empty observatory tower, his footsteps and slender staff clicking echoes as he went. When he reached the final stair of his climb, he leaned against the wall wheezing and grunting in unnatural sounds. Once he caught his breath and found his bearings, he went straight to the doorway of the top floor. The door was heavy and sturdily built yet had a lock that was easy to pick.
The observatory was a large circular room with a hole in the dome ceiling that opened up to the sky. The wall was covered in a mosaic that charted out important constellations, and the sky-glass and other golden instruments for viewing the stars sat out on the white stone table in the center of the room. All of the instruments could have made the cloaked figure a small fortune, but he was there for a purpose other than theft. He went to one of the windows and stepped outside onto an ice-glazed ledge barely wide enough to hold his rag-covered foot. Very slowly, he shuffled along the footholds of the ledge until he reached the corner of the tower where a massive gargoyle leaned out over the city. Suddenly, a powerful gust of wind threatened to knock him off his perch, but the cloaked figure fell to his knees and gripped the gargoyle’s back. The aeriatheas raced past less than a stone’s throw away.
Once the violent winds of their passing had died down, the cloaked figure quickly went to work. Out from under his cloak he pulled a black cord and strung it to the ends of his slender staff so that it became a bow. Then he produced an arrow and a vial from secret pouches in his coverings. He uncorked the vial and smelled it. Even with the mask and all the wrappings over his face, the vapor still stung his nostrils and caused him to jerk his head back in revulsion. He dipped the arrowhead into the vial, and something like dark tree sap stuck to the point. He then placed his arrow on the string. It did not take very long for the aeriatheas to make their next pass.
Wayrasi remained in the lead with Solanan and Haloreth following close behind. With only one lap left, Haloreth made the push to get past his two remaining opponents, but whenever Haloreth tried to slip through an open pocket, Solanan’s tail would be there to bat him away. Up ahead of them lay a bridge between two towers. Underneath was a small arch, barely wide enough to fit an aeriathea. Wayrasi and Solanan went above the bridge but Haloreth took the risk, closed his wings and dove under it. His feathers grazed the walls on either side, but he made it through, and not only did he overtake Solanan but he also moved up right next to Wayrasi.
As the aeriatheas turned the last curve, the amphitheater came into sight. Seeing that the end of the race drew near, the creatures called upon whatever reserves of strength that still remained. Both Wayrasi and Haloreth huffed and puffed for air. The price of being in the lead had taken its toll on Wayrasi since he had acted as a shield for the others to draft behind. Haloreth was in a similar state having spent most of his energy making up for the position he lost in the beginning. His body cried out for rest, but when he glanced at the balcony ahead where Maris sat, the moment halted still and he could see the pride she had for him glowing on her face. Time burst into motion once again. Suddenly he no longer felt the pains of his exertion, and with easy breaths he pulled into the lead.
But it was in that moment an arrow laced with poison hurtled through the sky.
No one knew where aeriatheas came from. Some said they were the children of the great aeriatheas that carried the lanterns of the sun and the moon and that they came down to the world as shooting stars when they were cubs. Some said they came from across the oceans, from islands near the edge of the world. No matter the belief in how aeriatheas came, each nation had their sacred place where young cubs would appear after the old aeriathea of their land had died. In Havamir, the receiving place was a glen ringed with tall trees in the middle of a wood. Monks had built a monastery nearby so they could wait for the arrival of new aeriatheas and then raise them until they were old enough to fly.
When the aeriathea Taelafin died after a life of one-hundred-and-forty-three years, Maris, a little girl then, came to the monastery to stay for the summer. Given that she was very young, she had an unusually keen interest in Havamir’s traditions and wanted to be with the monks when the new aeriathea arrived. The monks told her that she could not wait at the tree ringed glen to watch for the cub’s arrival because the cubs had never come when anyone was watching. The monks’ story proved to be true, because every night that she stole away to the glen, she came back tired and disappointed. It was only on the night she was caught and sent back to bed that the cub came. The monks had found him at the glen in the morning and took him to the monastery where they tied him up in the courtyard. When Maris saw him for the first time, he was alone, tugging at the heavy rope. She named the cub Haloreth, which meant “pulls at the rope” in the old Elemari language. She then freed him from where he was tied, and he was loyal to her ever since.
~ ~ ~
The arrow struck Haloreth in the shoulder and buried itself halfway up the shaft. Haloreth let out a roar so full of hurt that it pained those who heard it. The arrow’s jagged point had torn at his muscle, and with every beat of his wings the arrow seemed to cut its way deeper and deeper into his shoulder. He bared and gritted his teeth as he made for the temple roof, a wide surface for landing, but then he felt a second stab of pain more excruciating than the first. The poison began to do its work, diving into the wound to burn and boil. Haloreth moaned and writhed so that he missed the roof and crashed through one of the temple’s large stained glass windows.
The Temple of Tierrion, a place for the worship of Ahatho and for the recognition of the Everyn, had been built so that everyone who entered would be humbled by its vast architecture. The ceilings loomed stories and stories above so that the trespassing birds flew around as freely as they did outside. The massive pillars held up the roof like a forest of stone trees, and the sanctuary’s length swallowed up voices before they reached the other side. It was a vast and silent place, a place of whispered prayers. But when Haloreth fell through the window and crashed to the floor, noise that had never before been heard inside the sanctuary destroyed the silence.
Haloreth lay on his side in a ruin of broken glass, many of the pieces stuck in his sweat soaked fur. So much like a shipwreck on a rocky shore did he seem, hull bent and cracked with open sails torn and plastered to the sand. Reeling from his crash, he groaned and growled where he lay. Then he remembered the arrow in his shoulder and made to remove it, but snap and snap as he would with his jaws, he could not catch the broken shaft, for his neck would not bend so far to his shoulder. The arrow was just out of reach. Defeated, Haloreth let his head drop to the ground and let his body remain still. Despite the twisting of his form with wings stretched out at odd angles, Haloreth had no desire to move from where he lay for at last his body had found rest from his exertion and even some relief from his pain. His ribcage rose and fell as he felt the firmness of the floor beneath him, a promise for rest undisturbed. But then something happened that he did not understand.
It came as another sharp jolt of pain that shook his entire frame, a jolt of pain that would have had him roar from the torment of it all, but breath had suddenly escaped him. His muscles began to twitch and jerk about. To here and there on the broken glass he writhed, and no position of his wounded form could bring him comfort or reprieve. Then his limbs—as if by separate wills—began working on their own, lifting him off the floor with great shudders. So began the change in Haloreth. No longer did he appear as a pitiful creature sprawled out in misery but stood erect and mighty, his muscles swelling under his flesh, carved by a new unnatural strength. So came his body moved and mastered by the poison that boiled within him, and Haloreth felt his mind was next besieged. Like an enemy’s voice, the poison seemed to speak to him, demanding that he let a new rage rise. Then quickly came the memories, those that tempted anger—Solanan striking him in the race, the foul smelling being of threat in the crowd, back and back all the way to the rope that held him as a cub. Then the poison conjured an image, attacking Haloreth’s very will to be Maris’ protector. There came a horrible image to his mind, one of her being dragged into the woods by an unseen creature, of her being taken to their place by the river to be held underwater and drowned. In his mind he saw her struggle in the shallows as she was murdered, and the water of the river turned the dark color of poisoned tree sap.
Finally Haloreth found his breath, and out of his mouth came a shaking roar that filled the city with his rage. Never could he let such a thing happen to his Maris. Her protection was all that mattered; all other laws and virtues he had once held would bow to that.
Upon hearing the tone of sheer anger in Haloreth’s roar, the multitudes in the amphitheater filled with panic. People moved in all directions as they sought out ways to flee and find refuge. The soldiers tried to maintain order, but they too were wary of what an enraged aeriathea might do. The maddened roars and bellows continued to resound from the temple, and the multitudes grew more and more fearful, fleeing the amphitheater in panicked droves.
Maris stood above it all on her balcony, hands shaking and eyes unblinking, color drained from her skin. The anxious tumult of the crowds below did not move her. She stared and stared at the far, broken window through which Haloreth fell; yet she could not believe.
“Queen Maris, we need to leave,” Haeron warned, but she made no sign of leaving.
“What has happened to you Haloreth?” she whispered. “What has happened to you?”
Haeron then grabbed her hand and took her down the balcony steps where they entered the streaming crowds. Maris felt arms and shoulders roughly jostle her about as she held onto Haeron’s hand, but as they squeezed through the masses her arm was stretched and their hands pulled away from one another. Maris reached out and called Haeron’s name but no one took her hand. She was shoved off to the side and fell to the ground. Countless knees and shins knocked her about, and she saw her headdress knocked from her head and crushed to pieces by the stampeding feet. Through the feet and legs Maris crawled to a nearby wall and pressed herself against it for protection. As she cowered there, she felt something leak into the corner of her eye. Her fingers touched her brow, and she drew them back to see that they had blood on them. It suddenly became hard for her to see as the blood stung her eye and tears blurred her vision. The sound of thumping feet started to dwindle, and Maris, blinking terribly, caught glimpses of the last people fleeing the amphitheater. Following behind them, she began feeling her way along the wall and headed towards the sound of Haloreth’s roars.
“She is here,” cried a nearby voice. The voice startled Maris, for she thought she had been alone. Forcing her eyes open, she saw that Metaro the Broken stood before her. He was a half dozen paces away but would approach no further. His eyes did not meet hers but looked down to the ground. Haeron then came around a corner and ran to where they stood.
“Why do you leave her stumbling?” he asked, rebuking the man in tatters.
“I cannot take her hand,” replied Metaro submissively. “Great shame would fall upon her if I did.”
Haeron grunted at this reply. He took Maris by the arm and quickly led her out of the amphitheater and onto a street. She looked back to see if Metaro was following them but he was nowhere to be seen.
Another roar came from the temple and it echoed in the street where they ran. Haeron took them into the protected confines of an alleyway and began checking each door they passed. Most of them were locked. Not until they were halfway down the alleyway did he find a backdoor to a stable left open. The stable was dark and the air was stuffy and still, muffling the noise of distant roars. Bronteos and gandas shifted nervously in their stalls and stamped their hooves. Haeron led Maris inside and latched the door behind them.
“We will stay here until it is safe,” Haeron said. He kept by the door and listened to the noises outside. Maris found one of the troughs in the stable and washed her face, cleaning the blood from her eye. Like Haeron, she too listened to Haloreth’s roars and bellows coming from the temple.
“I need to go to him,” she said at length.
“You cannot go,” Haeron replied, his eyes looking out of a chink in the door. “Something drives him mad.”
“I will reason with him and calm him.”
“He is beyond such counsel.”
“You do not know him as I do.”
“And you do not know what you are hearing. That is the cry of bloodlust, a cry I heard many times in battle, and those who made such a sound were not to be approached, even if they were your closest allies.”
“You may fear, but I will go on my own,” Maris said, her voice trembling. She went for the door but Haeron blocked her way. “Let me pass!” she ordered. Haeron turned his back on her and continued to look through the chink in the door.
“Bold defiance!” she cried. “I ordered you to let me pass!”
Maris grabbed a hold of his arm and tried pulling him away from the door, but it was of no use. She then started pounding her fists against his back with all her might.
“I can save him!” she screamed, “I can save him!” But no matter how much she yelled and hit, Haeron could not be moved.
The cloaked figure spied down from the top of the gargoyle where he perched. He saw that his poisoned arrow had done its work. With his task finished, he returned the bowstring and vial of poison to the pockets within his rags, but when he turned to leave, he found his way barred.
Arkos stood but a few steps away on the gargoyle’s shoulder, blocking the only way to the observatory. No one could have ascended the observatory tower that quickly, but there he stood, still as if he were a part of the tower, firm despite the wind whipping wildly about. Startled, the cloaked figure had to catch himself from falling back, and once he steadied himself, he slowly edged his way backwards on the gargoyle’s giant snout while sizing up his opponent. The first thing he noticed was the knife gripped tightly in Arkos’ right hand, but then he studied the eyes and sensed something deeper and more fearsome than the blade.
“I know of your kind,” the cloaked figure growled from behind the mask. “The Thorn Harbinger said that one of you would bring about the end of me. But how can you be what he says when I entered this city without your eye catching me? How can you be what he says when I shoot one of the flying beasts and you do nothing to prevent it? Even as I think it now, I begin to doubt that you are a legender.”
Arkos flinched at the rebuke, if but a little. The cloaked figure reached for the dagger at his belt.
“Let us see,” the cloaked figure rasped, “if the Thorn Harbinger really knew the truth.”
He charged at Arkos, dagger raised high, and Arkos held his hand out in front of him in response. For a moment the cloaked figure thought he saw the ghost of a giant bird fly off the end of Arkos’ arm and come straight for him. A blast of strong wind struck the cloaked figure full in the chest, and it was enough to knock him back. He slipped on the ice and slid off the gargoyle’s head. Fingers clawing, he got a hold of the gargoyle’s snout, and there he hung, body dangling over the city.
Arkos peered down at the cloaked figure and into the strange yellow eyes that glared through the holes in the crude wooden mask. Defiance stared back at him.
“To the new world that comes after me,” the cloaked figure hissed, and with that he let go of gargoyle’s snout and fell out into nothing.
The aeriatheas Wayrasi and Solanan came to the temple and landed on the edge of the broken window. When they looked through the opening that Haloreth had made, they saw him on the temple floor doing battle with himself, shaking his head back and forth, rolling on the ground as if his skin had caught fire. In one moment he would run for the temple doors with a mad eye fixed on rending and tearing those who would hurt his Maris, but then in the next moment the bit of good sense that in him remained would halt that will and have his rebellious body stumble to the floor. All the while his throat would roar in despair and anger. Never had Wayrasi and Solanan seen an aeriathea act in such a way, and they sensed that something had corrupted him. Wayrasi called down to Haloreth in soothing bellows, asking for him to calm himself. Haloreth looked up to where they perched. He disregarded Wayrasi but had bared fangs for Solanan. He remembered the blow he had taken in the race—indeed a tinge of pain lingered on his jaw. Wayrasi again called down for peace and reason, but Haloreth only snarled in reply, his ears folded back and the fur on his neck on end. Therefore Wayrasi turned to Solanan and bellowed somberly of what they would have to do. Haloreth was to be subdued, even killed if they could not restrain him, for he was mad and too dangerous in his state. Solanan agreed. Haloreth may have been mad, but he understood what the two aeriatheas meant to do: his own kind would turn on him. Such a thought was enough to have the poison finish its work—enough to overrun what little remained of his good sense. Like chaff in fire, his mind was then alight with rage.
The two aeriatheas leapt through the window and descended upon Haloreth. With startling quickness, Haloreth took the statue of a saint in his mouth and hurled it through the air. The statue struck Solanan in the chest with such force that he fell to the ground in a heap. Haloreth then leapt through the air, caught Wayrasi’s forearm in his jaws, and threw the dark aeriathea across the room to where he crashed into an altar of burning candles. Wayrasi rolled on the floor and howled in pain as he clutched his bloodied forearm to his chest. The joint of the shoulder was undone, and for the rest of Wayrasi’s life, he would have a limp to remind him of that battle.
Haloreth, standing over where Solanan lay in senselessness, prepared to tear out the golden aeriathea’s throat, but something fell upon him and pinned him to the ground. The other aeriatheas had entered in through the broken window, and Quenyal and Talagos had landed on Haloreth’s neck and tail. Aysu alighted on the temple floor, but she was too afraid to approach the knot of wrestlers. Haloreth’s eyes were too red with blood and rage, and she sensed that he could not be subdued. He threw himself with Quenyal and Talagos at the columns of the temple. Talagos was in her prime with a strong back and sturdy limbs and Quenyal had done battle with many beasts of the mountains, yet the way Haloreth wildly struck the two of them against the columns made them look as if they were made of nothing more than cloth and stuffing. Again and again he swung them. Quenyal and Talagos held on as tightly as they could, digging their claws into Haloreth’s flesh, enduring the pain that ran tremors down their spines. Haloreth, however, felt no pain. He did not tire or wince, for the poison had made him immune to weakness. Never had an aeriathea shown such strength or speed. It seemed as though time had slowed in Haloreth’s eyes, so what he saw was the shape that blood took when it flew from his enemies’ gashes and wounds. There was only so much agony Quenyal and Talagos could take, so they lost their hold of Haloreth and were thrown to the floor. Haloreth looked down on the limp forms of the aeriatheas, but the poison had broken his pity for them.
Aysu remained standing, but she was smaller than Haloreth and had seen what had happened to the others. She bolted for the temple doors in hopes of escape, but Haloreth caught her by the tail and pulled her back, her claws scratching uselessly at the floor. Haloreth threw her as though she were a small stone, and she hurtled through the air and through the broken stained glass window, breaking more of it as she went. Shards of colored glass rained down on the marketplace outside, and Aysu crashed onto the steps of the library. Haloreth leapt through the broken window after her and came to the middle of the marketplace, crushing the merchant carts where he landed. He turned on her with eyes that sought out something to rend and tear. Aysu met those eyes and cried out in fear.
While leaning over the edge of the gargoyle and looking down to where the cloaked assassin had fallen to his death, Arkos heard the terrible howl of an aeriathea. It was different from the roars he heard before. It was the sound of another aeriathea, one in danger, and at the sound of it, something stirred inside Arkos.
A riverbed in the desert can lay dry through the passage of many seasons, yet with one heavy rain, torrents of water can come rushing down its dry trenches and swell at the banks. A cliff can mark the edge of land and sea for thousands of years, but with enough gnawing of the waves, the cliff will crumble into the sea. Like the sudden and mighty acts of nature, unexpected forces began to work inside Arkos. His limbs became enlivened, and his skin began to tingle. Something deep within him began to rise, an ancient, fearsome, wondrous thing. Therefore it seemed to him that his task had not ended with the fall of the cloaked assassin. Yet if he were to serve the aeriathea in danger, the steps leading down the tower would not bring him to her in time. So he did the only thing he knew to do. He jumped.
Winds hissed passed his ears, and the rooftops below that promised him death steadily grew bigger in his sight. He reached out his hands and began to craft the air around him. It was difficult to work with such matter since it was moving so quickly, but Arkos concentrated hard on his task and pushed away all the distraction of the doom that lay below him. It was then that a translucent material began forming itself around Arkos in the shape of a bird; wings like cirrus clouds began beating along his sides and wispy tail feathers followed in his wake. Just when he needed it to, his crafting of the wind came to life. A translucent deogren, a giant bird of prey made from crafted air, held Arkos within itself like a cape, and Arkos began to glide rather than fall. His creation soared with all the speed of the wind and took Arkos towards the danger.
Aysu attempted to crawl her way behind the library pillars for some form of protection, but in her battered state she could not escape. As Haloreth approached her, she could see more and more of the madness in him. His legs stepped in all directions at once as if they were fighting amongst themselves, and his head tilted to the side so the foamy drool in his mouth spilled to the ground. The blood of the other aeriatheas stained his mouth and fur, and Aysu couldn’t help but think about her own blood being shed. Haloreth drew closer, teeth bared and snarling. But then something hit him and made him tear his gaze away from her. A carving knife was stuck hilt-deep in his front paw. He looked down at it quizzically, only to pull it out with his teeth and then spit it to the ground. When he turned to see who had thrown it at him, he saw Arkos standing alone in the marketplace.
Without warning, Haloreth sprang at Arkos with a gaping maw of fangs. His teeth came crashing down with a force that could break a man in two, but Arkos dove to the side of the bite. Quickly bounding up Haloreth’s wing, Arkos climbed onto the back where he was safe from the deadly fangs. Haloreth snarled, flapped his wings, and bucked in anger. His wing beats blew over the merchant carts and created a windstorm in the marketplace, but Arkos took handfuls of the aeriathea’s fur in his fists and clung on. Eventually the wing beats became so powerful that Haloreth began to fly. Higher and higher he rose until most of the city could be seen below, and when he reached that height, he dove down from the sky, straight for the rooftops. Haloreth pulled his head to his chest so that his back would receive the brunt of the impact with a large chimney. But before Arkos crashed into the brick, he jumped from Haloreth’s back and tumbled down onto the roof. Haloreth made a sickening crack when he collided with the chimney, and he spun through the air and went crashing down into the street.
Arkos, dusty and bruised, hung on the eaves by his fingers. He looked down at Haloreth lying motionless on the street below. It appeared that the aeriathea had broken his neck with such an impact and that he would rise no more. But the poison would not let the aeriathea die. Only it could kill him now. Without a groan of huff of pain, Haloreth got to his feet and immediately hunted for Arkos with his eyes. There he saw Arkos pulling himself up over the eaves to run the rooftops, to head towards the gardens. Too narrow were the streets for his wings to open, so Haloreth did not fly but pursued Arkos by foot, plowing through a cart of timber wine and loosing a flood of scarlet down the street. Arkos jumped from roof to roof and nimbly maneuvered his way around chimney pots. He made sure that Haloreth followed close behind. When he reached the last roof before the gardens, he leapt from its eaves and into an orchard of tansi fruit. Leaves and branches broke as he fell through them, and he landed on the lawn with a soft thud. Through the rows of tree trunks, Arkos spied Haloreth charge into the gardens from the street. The aeriathea uprooted the tansi trees and tossed them aside as if they were no more than weeds. With space enough to open his wings, he flew up to where he could see Arkos running through the orchards.
The walls of the city lay a good distance ahead of Arkos, but he ran as fast as a ganda in full gallop. With a score of long strides he made it through the tansi fruit trees and entered into the kudan trees. Just beyond them lay the road that led to the city gate. Arkos pushed branches aside as he ran and squashed fallen fruit with his feet, nearly slipping on the orange pulp. A large shadow then began to cover him. Only when Arkos could feel the mighty gust of wind that Haloreth brought did he dive off to the side and hit the ground. Just above Arkos’ head, Haloreth’s jaws snapped shut but closed down on nothing. As he flew by, he dragged his tail along the ground, plowing the earth as he went. Arkos would have been crushed at the bottom of a freshly cut trench had he not quickly rolled out of the way. When Haloreth passed, Arkos picked himself up off the ground and kept running. Soon the cobblestone of the road that led towards the city gate pounded under his feet.
As Arkos ran, he took the blue stone from the pouch on his belt and began speaking to it, giving it instructions. “Do not break him,” he told the stone lastly, and when Arkos reached the archway of the open gate, he quickly found a crack in the mortar and jammed the stone inside. With the stone in its place, Arkos went through the archway to the outside of the city and waited for Haloreth to come.
The stone left in the wall began to rattle in its place as if the land were quaking. At first it rattled by itself, but then the shaking spread to the other stones, big stones and little stones alike. Soon the whole gateway began to shift and change as if it had taken on a life of its own. The doors buckled on their hinges, and it seemed that the whole section of the wall would collapse, but it all held together. From a distance, Arkos conducted the movements of the stones and mortar with the unseen guidance he possessed in the movements of his hands.
Then came Haloreth, sweeping down from the heights and heading straight for Arkos, rage fueling his speed. Arkos held his ground even in the terrible moment right before the fangs and claws would be upon him. There was a great rumble that shook the city walls and a crash that made an explosion of dust fill the air. Then all became suddenly quiet.
No claws had torn into Arkos and no fangs had bloodied his flesh; he stood quite whole on the road outside of the city gate. The stones on the top archway had become like teeth and the cobblestones on the road below did the same. The gateway had been shaped into something like that of a mouth of a giant beast, and it had closed down on Haloreth as he tried to fly through. The stone jaws held fast to him. They could have crushed his neck with ease, but the stone Arkos had put in the wall had honored the request not to break the aeriathea. Haloreth’s head and neck stuck out from between the stone teeth and even though he was pinned there, he still tried to lunge at Arkos. A wall made of any other stone would have perhaps given way to Haloreth’s unnatural strength, but the stones and the mortar were made of erthmarrow and would not move. His throat growled angrily, and his fangs snapped at his foe as Arkos stood a safe distance away.
Arkos paced back and forth and explored Haloreth’s eyes with his own. Their vessels had cracked and bled the whites into red and showed Arkos that he could do nothing. He knew the poison had gone too far. Arkos kicked the nearest stone he could find with all his frustration, and in the same motion he let himself fall cross-legged on the ground. Sitting just a few paces from Haloreth, Arkos bowed his head and waited.
It did not take long for the poison to end its work. Eventually Haloreth stopped trying to lunge at Arkos and the red in his eyes clouded over. In the last moments a peaceful calm overcame the aeriathea as if he were going to sleep. He lay his head down on the road and closed his eyes.
A charge from King Merhala to his son Merahaen, given in the 67th year of the Virescent Age
Listen my son: Death goes where he pleases; he knows the rich man’s bed and knows the corner where the beggar sits. Though I command men to come and go, no order from my high seat will halt Death’s arrival. Yet let him come; my bones are ready to lie in the ground, for I am weary and long for the company of those who have passed into the Dead Country before me.
My son, remember the houses of Beraseth and Osgolo, for they were the first to respond to my call. Remember also Fenhaer’s widow for her husband took a spear for me in battle. But keep a heavy hand on the house of Jaerun, for he refused to come when I rang the Bell, and he persuaded many to bow to fear and remain in hiding. Only after we had routed our enemies did he follow us to Tierrion. Therefore may his line always follow after others, like a servant follows his master. May his sons and daughters be the slaves to those who lead. See to it that none take a title and that no teeth give sound to their speaking totems.
Be wise, my son, and seek counsel from the immortal legender after I am gone. He is bound by vow to serve my line, for I saved him from the enemies’ spears as he wept over the slain Osyra. He will serve you well, for his word is true and his knowledge deep.
I go to the final gates, but you, my son, remain. So look to Ahatho and work out his justice. Do not deny the poor their bread and give them a fair ear when they are judged, for your fathers knew hunger and oppression. Before you take the throne, go to the Terravaults in the west, to the caves where we hid during the War. Bring your hands to the stones there; do not forget the humble place from where we came.
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An excerpt of the history of King Merafar, taking place in 100th year of the Virescent Age
And Merafar raised three pillars in honor of the warriors who had fought at his grandfather’s side in the War: one for Fenhaer, one for Osgolo, and one for Beraseth. Merafar also raised a pillar for the legender to honor his servitude to Merhala’s line. The pillar of Fenhaer stood on the east side of the city, for his sons went east after the War and founded their settlement of Ilyisan, which would become the capital of Patarah once the nation was later established. The pillar of Osgolo stood on the west side of the city, for he went west after the War and founded his settlement of Ebalorna, which would become the capital of Tersia once the nation was later established. The pillar of Beraseth stood on the south side of the city, for he went south after the War and founded his settlement of Beracantum, which would become the capital of Omberia once the nation was later established. The pillar of the legender stood on the north side of the city, for after the War all of his surviving kin, went to the northern sea and sailed far away in search of a place where they could make a settlement of eternal peace.
On the day the pillars were raised, the first day of the month of Erthos, there began a celebration to remember the deeds of the War that occurred one hundred years before, and King Merafar proclaimed: “Those who remember are blessed by Ahatho, and those who forget are cursed by him.” The celebration lasted for the entire month and came to bear the name Merhala after the great warrior of mankind, the first king of Tierrion.
~ ~ ~
A message by King Dartahaen to his son Dartenon, written in 162nd year of the Virescent Age
You have been away from Tierrion for too many years. End your sojourn in Ebalorna and return at once, for I grow old and the people will forget your face and your name if you are gone for much longer. Be swift in your return, for I fear there is one who would take your place.
The legender has many who call his name and ask of his counsel. I know that there are those who would have him seated on the throne, and they offer him positions and titles. Though the legender seeks solitude and does not walk the halls of Avaroot, I do not trust him. He refuses the people’s offers, for in his heart there is only one title he desires and that is of the king.
Your mother believes that I am unwell, and I am certain she has told you this in her writings to you; but it is for your inheritance that I do not sleep. My mind grapples with the thought of how to preserve our line. I cannot end the legender’s service to our city, for if I did, the people would despise me. The legender must be forgotten, yet how does one cast away a name? Even my word and power cannot do that. Yet it is your presence here that will keep our loss at bay.
Therefore, my son, return now or risk bowing to another.
~ ~ ~
An excerpt from the history of King Dartahaen, taking place in 164th year of the Virescent Age
In that year, grave robbers intruded into the Under Hollow and attempted to loot the resting place of Merhala, yet they were found by the city guard and executed. So that no desecration could again be attempted, King Dartahaen appointed the legender to be Guardian of the Patriarchs, a new title and position, and Dartahaen sent the legender below the city so that he could stand watch over the tombs of the former kings. When Dartahaen announced his decision to the people he said: “Who better to watch over our Great Father in death than the one who owes him his life?”
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An excerpt from a message by the dying King Dartahaen to his son Dartenon, written in 168th year of the Virescent Age
…When you become king, do not go on pilgrimage to the mountains in the west as our fathers have, for you have already been away for too long. You cannot bring any further risk to our throne…
~ ~ ~
A message from King Dartarael to Monk Olmeld, given in the 207th year of the Virescent Age
In the night I was awakened by a dream of powerful meaning. It seemed as though the winds lifted me from my bedchamber and took me north to the faraway coasts, and there I saw the pagans worshipping their gods of the sea. On the altars lay fish and all manner of marine creatures, but before the heathen knives could gut and drain them, the animals fell from the altars and crawled with all speed back into the sea. Then the sky grew dark and there came great bolts of lightning, and the lightning smashed the altars and scattered the pagan priests. When the beaches had been purified of the idolatry, a voice like ten thousand peals of thunder came from the sky saying: “Here is a true alliance to Tierrion, a nation that will worship me and will aid your city in due time.”
Therefore Brother Olmeld, you and your disciples must go to the coasts of the north and teach the people there the way of Ahatho. A sign from him has come! We must take heed…
~ ~ ~
A message from King Dartarael to Monk Olmeld, given in the 209th year of the Virescent Age
…Do not preach only to the poor. Though they flock to where you speak, they will not make suitable allies for Tierrion. Seek rather to win the chieftains to our religion. They may be hostile to your words, but it is their position we seek…
~ ~ ~
A message from King Dartarael to Monk Olmeld, given in the 216th year of the Virescent Age
I am pleased to hear that the chieftains are at last receptive to your teachings and have given you a piece of land to build a temple. Your request for funds has been granted, and I myself will give a portion from my treasure house to help pay for materials and labor. Raise a worthy house for Ahatho’s presence, and may many repentant pagans enter through his doors…
~ ~ ~
A letter from King Osaelus to his uncle Aervid, written on the 396th year of the Virescent Age
To my kin of trust and mother’s blood,
Today we laid my king father in his tomb, yet do I grieve? The desert bears more tears for him than I, and although my clothes are black, nothing of my true self mourns him. Only in my writing to you will I confess the ungrieving heart I bear; and so I must confess, for if I do not, a guilt would grow in me like a darkened weed that drives its roots through all my being. My uncle, my counselor! Am I wicked for being so? You know well the story of what keeps me from a son’s love under his father.
Remember when I was very young, when he would not permit me to sit on his lap as other affectionate fathers would do; rather he would push me away and tell me that he was not dead yet, that my time on the kingly seat would come. Remember when I laughed, when he would cuff my mouth swiftly and say that only wisdom should come from the mouth of a future king…
Although his breath and blood are now forever stilled, he had turned cold long before he died. He was not a man but a pillar of ice…
After we placed my father in his tomb, I was immediately tested by Heaven to see if I would not only take up his seat but his cruelty as well. The test came to me as such: there in the Under Hollow we found a man who had long been living in the crypts. He was gray-eyed and gaunt, and his time underground had turned his skin pale like a sick man’s. Great was his illness of mind, for he claimed to be one of the immortals and a guardian of the kingly dead. When I saw him, I felt so strongly that Heaven had placed this poor man before me so that I could restore him to health and therefore restore my line to kindness. Yet I did not do such a noble thing. Instead I saw strength in the man’s eyes—strength I could not understand—and took it for a threat, a threat to the very crown and seat I had inherited. From where my fear and anger came I do not know, but they came so strongly that I beat the poor man with a rod and cast him from the tombs, telling him to return to the lowly station from whence he came, to suffer among the heaps of rubbish. I had failed Heaven’s test, and it is forever lost to me. I confess to you with greatest shame that I am my father’s son…
~ ~ ~
An excerpt from King Mardecan’s chronicles, written on the 557th year of the Virescent Age
The poet Naleus has composed a new song in which I am called the “Merciful One,” a title I am honored to bear, but with it I bear more the burden. I cannot plead for every innocent who is bound in the dungeons of foreign lands, as I did for Bochtaur. Now come the letters from nearly every pit and cell, and especially from the dungeons of Aecoden where Bochtaur was held. Some of the criminals who write to me have been sentenced for crimes of which I loathe to think, and sadly the multitudes of pleas drown out those of the innocents.
Not only do I feel the strain of foreign lands but also from here in Tierrion. Today a man of pitiful state came before my throne. He called me “King Mardecan the Merciful” and asked if I could live up to my name. Then he claimed to be a legender who has been guarding this city since the first kings. Had it not been for his utter humility, I would have had him taken away for his madness. So greatly did he believe that Tierrion was his prison that he begged for me to release him from his service. For proof to his claim of who he was, he formed fire from a torch into the shape of an osarrow and had it fly about the room. Such a trick I have never seen, one that would impress even the jugglers and magicians, yet I reminded the poor man that real sorcery is punishable by death and that not even a hint of dremornic work should be found in a man’s interest lest his soul fall into dark ways.
Although this man walked away more pitiful than when he arrived, with such high penalties surrounding sorcery, he should be happy he walked away alive. Surely I was merciful, was I not?
~ ~ ~
An excerpt from the history of King Sarwold, taking place in 726th year of the Virescent Age
It was in that year that King Sarwold fell under a grave illness that turned him mute and brought him to the point of death. No physician or apothecary could cure him, but the monk Manaxis from the Order of Olmeld in Havamir had a vision in which Ahatho told him to go down to Tierrion and present a handful of soil before Sarwold. Manaxis did as Ahatho commanded. When Sarwold saw the handful of soil, he understood its meaning and wept. His voice returned to him and he cried out, “I have coveted another man’s land, his fields and his crops. By my power I sought to take it from him, but when I was about to give the command to seize that land, I was struck mute and fell ill. Forgive me, Ahatho, and have mercy on your fool.”
Manaxis then mixed the soil with water and had Sarwold drink it. When he drank it, he was cured and he leapt from his bed and danced in praise to Ahatho. So grateful was Sarwold to the monk that he raised a statue of Manaxis’ likeness. The Legender Pillar was torn down and the statue was raised in its place, for Sarwold desired to honor Manaxis in a place of prominence and in the north part of the city, the direction from which the monk had come.
The only time Haeron, the Arch Captain of Havamir, could remember being afraid was when he had sailed into the world of the dead. It happened in his younger days when he made a living by going far out to sea with his harpoon and coming back with the skins of tyruks. The dangers of the ocean had toughened the men who took up such work, and so they believed that drinking and fighting could not kill them. At nights grog made Haeron fierce, and in the mornings purple and brown bruises blended into the ink of his tattoos. Only when his money ran out would he leave the taverns and go back out to sea to hunt down more skins for selling. It seemed that he would live that way until a tyruk killed him or until grog burned up his insides, but as some wild men do, Haeron had an experience that changed him.
One night on his longest voyage out at sea, he sailed alone, passing from moonlit waters into a dense wall of fog. The time he sailed through the fog felt longer than a natural night should have been, and just as he thought of turning back, the moon broke through and revealed an unknown shore. It looked like a beach with a wide plain behind it, but instead of being made of stone and soil, it was made of smoke and mist. Haeron could see people, who were no more than wisps, walking around on the ethereal land.
The fog pulled back even more to reveal a ship near Haeron’s leeward side. It too was made of a ghostly material. The sticky smell of dried beer wafted from its deck, underworld barnacles covered its hull, and its tattered sails were full of wind that had swept across the Dead Country. It creaked and groaned to go forward, but a ghostly chain anchored it to the land. Oblivious to what kept them from going, the ghost crew worked the ropes and tiller as if their journey was underway. The gray and withered captain of the dead ship, with a century long beard, caught sight of Haeron. The hollow sockets where his eyes should have been emitted smoke like that of extinguished candles. Their emptiness took in Haeron.
“Sea of Drink! Sea of Drink! Tell me where it is!” The captain called out with frightening desperation. Haeron was too afraid to find his voice, but despite Haeron’s silence, the captain howled at his crew as if Haeron had told him the great secret of their quest.
“He says it lies south! We must hurry for my thirst is strong! My thirst is strong! To the south we must go!”
The crew groaned from the pain of their eternal and fruitless labor. The captain leapt to the bow and desperately searched for nothing with his smoky, eyeless sockets. Then he caught sight of Haeron and gave an expression as if it was the first time he saw him.
“Sea of Drink! Sea of Drink! Tell me where it is!”
As fast as he could, Haeron turned his boat around and sailed away from that fearsome place.
On the following morning when Haeron awoke, he found that his boat was in open water with the sun blazing down. He could not determine whether he had had a dream or whether he had drunk too much the night before. Whatever the case, Haeron vowed that he would never put his lips to drink again. He returned to Havamir, renounced the trade of tyruk hunting, and took up more disciplined work as a soldier. With the fearlessness he had gained from his former life and the discipline he longed for in his new life, he quickly rose up the ranks until he became the Arch Captain, commander of all ships and soldiers of Havamir and protector of the queen.
Haeron remembered his venture into the world of the dead when his duties took him to the catacombs below Tierrion. Haloreth’s killer had yet to be found, and so Haeron—along with the kings, queens, and advisors from other lands—went underground to have their emergency council in safety. Haloreth’s murder had changed everything the gathering of nations should have been. That night, instead of strolling through the festivities, the people of Tierrion stayed tucked in their homes; and the foreigners from other lands stayed in their tents, keeping by the light of their lanterns. All doors were shut as tightly as tombs leaving the streets as empty as graveyards. There were no festive noises of laughter, storytelling, or music, the sounds of Merhala. Instead there was only the blow of a cold wind haunting the trees and the boots of soldiers as they patrolled the streets.
The kings and their companies went deep under the city to a large round chamber called the Under Hollow. From it went tunnels in all different directions, each one leading deeper into the catacombs. The Under Hollow was a place where names like King Merafar and King Osaelus were carved above the stone seals of each tomb and statues with vacant eyes kept guard. Cool, damp air filled the chamber and made those from the warmer lands shiver. Dripping water echoed in the tunnels and sounded like the murmuring of voices forlorn and faraway. The captain of Tierrion’s guard determined it was the safest place for the kings and queens, but they could not help but feel uneasy while surrounded by the dead.
All of the nations’ leaders were present in that gloomy council except for one. Maris’ grief kept her beside Haloreth’s body as it lay in the gardens. Wrane Coracal and wrane Garafin submitted that they would go in her stead, and Maris complied. Haeron accompanied them to keep a wary eye on them.
In the center of the Under Hollow sat a large bowl. It held the speaking totems of the kings and queens, spheres made from precious stone or valiant metals. King Mercius’ sphere, studded with pebbles of erthmarrow, sat on top of the other totems. His company of advisors and guards gathered around him on one side of the chamber. Mercius sat rigid in his chair with the lantern light making the folds of his brow look deeper than usual and his concentration more severe. He studied the pipe smoke he exhaled as it rose up to the dark, unseen ceiling high above.
The first to speak at the council was not the city’s king but an apothecary from Patarah, the best in his craft. In his hand he showed the broken arrow shaft found in Haloreth’s shoulder. He told the council of how he had examined it with his instruments, how he burned the dried blood from the arrowhead and read the ashes. He found that the arrowhead was laced with a very rare and deadly poison. Madman’s Venom he called it, the sort of the potion that took great skill and dedication to make with ingredients that were hard to come by, and whoever had made it knew well the ancient mixtures. Everyone in the council had all seen what Madman’s Venom could do, but the apothecary wanted to give a long lecture as to why Haloreth had become so violent and strong, how the poison took all life he would have lived and condensed it into half of an hour, how nothing could have killed him but the poison itself. But the apothecary was never able to give such a lecture.
He was interrupted by the captain of the guard bursting through the door of the Under Hollow. The captain entered with urgent footsteps, knelt down by Mercius, and whispered into the king’s ear. The words jolted Mercius out of his pensive state, and he blinked in disbelief.
“You are certain?”
The captain of the guard nodded. “We have found him.”
“Bring him in then,” ordered Mercius. “We need to see for ourselves.”
A patrol of soldiers came through the door carrying the limp body of the cloaked figure, and dropped it in the middle of the chamber. The wooden mask had been removed, and his face lay exposed for all to see. Some stared in disbelief while others turned away in horror. None of them had seen one before, but they could tell exactly what it was: the face of a dead dremorn.
Until that moment it was believed that such creatures only lived in the scary parts of stories, but one lay on the floor glaring at them with lifeless yellow eyes.
“Here is the assassin,” reported the captain. “We found it impaled on a treetop in a courtyard in the northern quarter.”
“Is it dead?” trembled the queen of Anshaw. The captain assured her that it had been dead most of the day.
Mercius left his chair and knelt down beside the dremorn so that he could study it closer, catching the greasy smell of musk and filth. He inspected the creature and determined that when it was alive it had stood upright and walked on two legs like a human, but with its brutish features and bristly fur, it looked more like an animal. Rigor mortis had begun to freeze a snarl on its beastly jaws and revealed sharp broken teeth and a long gray tongue hanging out the side like a worm. He had a flat snout, large triangular ears, and hoofed trotters for feet.
“Does anyone else know of this creature?” Mercius asked as he returned to his chair.
“As soon as we found it, we brought it straight here.”
“Very good. Lock it in a vault and do not speak of it. All here must not speak of it. There would be great fear among the people, and they would despair, forgetting the victory that this festival celebrates. That may have been the very purpose this dremorn planned on achieving. There are even darker and more sinister things fear could accomplish than the work of poison.”
“Not from my lips,” spoke Grexus, king of Patarah, as he stood up from his chair. He was a tall man with a golden beard, white robes, and strong beliefs in the studies and inventions of his nation. He had ambitious eyes, eyes that were always examining.
“Nor will it leave the mouths of my company here,” he added, sternly looking at those who accompanied him. “If they do, I will find punishment for them.”
Following Grexus, the other kings and queens stood and made their pledge not to tell of the dremorn. Haeron, Garafin, and Coracal did so as well. All feared divine consequences for not obeying the king of Tierrion.
“Your vows are good, but they do not conclude our gathering here. We have to decide what to do, yet none of us have dealt with such a creature. Whom now can we turn to for counsel?”
There was silence, for no one in the Under Hollow could answer his question. No one had any word on how address that which was once fiction.
“Captain,” called Mercius, just before the captain of the guard left through the door with the dremorn’s body. “I believe it is time he was brought forward.”
“Who am I to bring forward, my king?”
“You know of whom I speak.”
“But, my king, we are still uncertain if he is safe. I tried questioning him all day, but he refuses to answer.”
“He says nothing?”
“He says he will only speak with you.”
“All the more reason to bring him here.”
“But he could be dangerous, and with all the leaders in one place—.”
No one knew what to think of Arkos that day; no one knew whether he was a hero or a villain. City guards had found him by Haloreth and the city gate after he had changed the gate back to its usual form and taken his stone from it. All that the guards saw was the slain aeriathea with an arrow in his shoulder and the bone carver standing next to him. Questions on how such a scene could occur struck up suspicion among the guards, and it had been enough for them to take the bone carver to the dungeons. That was where he stayed until the king ordered him to be brought forward.
Through narrow twists of the tunnels with only torchlight to guide them, Arkos and his armed escorts made their way from the dungeons to the catacombs. Clanking chains on Arkos’ shackles and the shuffling of a dozen pairs of feet echoed in the tunnels. No one spoke. The ceilings were low and at times they had to crouch as they walked. Their passage became particularly difficult when another patrol of guards came from the opposite direction. A pungent odor filled the air of the tunnel, a smell Arkos recognized. Few words were exchanged between the head of each group, but both seemed intent on the urgency of their respective tasks and continued on their way. The guards leading Arkos pressed themselves against the walls so that the other group could squeeze by, and as they passed Arkos caught a glimpse of the dead, cloaked figure.
The Under Hollow brought relief from the tunnels with its high ceiling and ample torchlight. The hour had grown late and the kings and queens looked drowsy, but they immediately perked up when the captain returned. The guards put Arkos in the center of the room where everyone could see him. While Arkos stood there, Mercius studied him for a long time. There was whispering about the Under Hollow, people wondering aloud at who this man was.
“So you are the man that brought down the wall on the aeriathea’s neck,” Mercius said at length, seeming to answer the whispers. “From what I have read in the ancient texts, only the legenders could perform such an act. Tell me if you are a legender.”
“It is as you say,” Arkos responded.
Many in the Under Hollow gasped in astonishment. Upon hearing Arkos’ claim, they looked at him with fresh eyes, and what was ordinary about him seemed to fade away. They noticed the agelessness of his face, his lithe yet sturdy frame, and even the subtle strands of deep green among his brown hair. These traits made it plain to them that he was indeed a legender. Those who saw him in such a way did not know what to do other than to stare at him in wonder, their mouths agape. Yet there were others who eyed him suspiciously. They saw him as a mere trader and nothing more.
“The legenders died out long ago,” king Grexus asserted. “We have no proof that this man is as he says. Who of us here saw the wall hold the aeriathea’s neck?”
“A shameful state for the body of such a noble beast,” stated king Kayor, “even if he did bring about ruin. I would not expect the legender to leave him so.”
“The crushing gate was a killing blow,” said Mekelur, the king of Omberia. “Sounds to me to be the work of wicked sorcery.”
“None of us saw the supposed wonder at the gates,” Grexus continued, “and all we have are stories of a few who claim to have seen him—from a distance mind you—seen him change the walls back to how they had always been. Some of these witnesses were overfilled with the ferment of their cups.”
“What of the marks on the aeriathea’s neck?” said Kayor.
“Battle wounds!” Grexus replied. “See what that monster did to my Solanan! It rouses my anger, yet we are not here to talk of that or of any passions that may cloud our judgment. In matters so grave as poisoning and assassination will we turn to the fireside stories the women tell to our children? Are we not people of logic and reason? Let us not be clouded by our fathers’ fantasies of legenders and let us make this a council of intelligent dialogue. First, I propose we—.”
“You have seen the dremorn, have you not?” Arkos interrupted. Grexus was taken aback by his audacity. Never before had anyone dared interrupt him. When he looked to Arkos to make a pardon, he received none.
“You now know that dremorns are real,” Arkos continued, “yet now you say that I am false. See the cuts and bruises from when I fought with the aeriathea.” He held up his arms and opened his shirt to show his chest. “They are my only proof. You cannot deny my battle, for all of you were in hiding and could see nothing. And I did not kill the aeriathea,” he added, looking king Mekelur’s direction. “That death was the work of poison and poison alone. Know that I have guarded this city for a long time, and I have seen kings come and go.” He nodded towards the tombs around them. “But for reasons I do not know, the last two days have strayed from what is usual. Yesterday I received a message from Ayveria. The message came to me in water. It said: From the splinter comes a war.”
“How did Ayveria speak to you?” asked Grexus skeptically.
“Through a puddle.”
“Through a puddle? Was it a voice you heard coming out of it?”
“No. The puddle spelled out the words.”
“False divination!” Grexus scoffed. “You speak in nonsense.”
“This council has asked for my help, and if you do not want it then you can leave.”
Color rose quickly to Grexus’ face, and livid words were about to spit from his mouth, but Mercius spoke before they were loosed.
“You bring us a warning of war. I wish for you to address that, but first tell us how you know that the assassin was a dremorn.”
“I confronted him by the observatory,” Arkos began. “I knew from his eyes.”
“Do you know from where he came?”
“I am not certain, for it has been a long time since I have been out in the world, but I believe that the dremorn came from the Wrath-wilds since it is the last place left empty on your maps. The surviving dremorns of the Merhala War could have fled there to hide when your ancestors hunted them. Also, the winds rarely speak of the Wrath-wilds, yet when they do they speak, they say only that feral winds are there making wicked storms in the dust. In such a hostile land the dremorns could survive, for they are hardy creatures.”
Mercius nodded pensively and then said, “Tell us of your encounter with the dremorn.”
Arkos told of how the dremorn spoke of someone called the Thorn Harbinger, yet no one in the room had heard of such a person. The story became all the more cryptic when Arkos spoke of the dremorn’s last words before the dremorn fell to his death: “To the new world that comes after me.”
“From what happened today,” Arkos stated, “and from the word I received yesterday, I would say that the dremorns are going to bring war. The arrow that killed the aeriathea is the splinter and the war’s harbinger.”
Mercius motioned for the captain of the guard to come to his side. “What did your patrols find outside the city?”
The captain of the guard explained that messengers had returned that evening from meeting with all the guards in the surrounding villages, but they had nothing unusual to report. Tierrion soldiers, with the aid of Darisan soldiers and hunters, searched the forests and fields for anything that might have been in hiding, but they found nothing as well. In short, the captain believed that the dremorn had come alone. Mercius sat still and quiet for a few moments, with everyone doing the same so as not to disturb his thoughts.
“These are heavy words you bring,” he finally said to Arkos. “You say that Ayveria and the dremorn are warning us of war. These are heavy words indeed. Yet Tierrion is a strong city. The walls are higher than the distance a shaft can fly from a bow, and we could marshal a great multitude of soldiers to put inside her walls. If the dremorns were bringing war to this city, then they would need an army so vast that even from far off their march would rumble these caves. Yet that army is nowhere to be found and because of that I do not know what to do with these warnings.”
“Perhaps the dremorns have managed to stay in the dark,” said Mekelur, “but even before it could come, a war on Tierrion would make not only the world but the sky shudder as well. We of Omberia have not read such things in the stars.”
“Perhaps—perhaps—the heavens would give us warning of a coming war,” said Grexus, his voice heavy with doubt. “But why would the dremorns give us a warning with the coming of this assassin? Why tell us that they come? They are beasts, but surely they do not have such a great lack in cunning.”
“You do not know what to do with these warnings,” Arkos stated, “because you think the war is coming to Tierrion. When I turned my mind to simpler signs, however, the answer was clear. It was Havamir’s aeriathea who was shot. It is Havamir that lies nearest to the Wrath-wilds by way of the sea. If this assassination is a preparation for an attack, then the nation where the war will go is clear. While you focus on Tierrion, the dremorns will attack Havamir.”
Arkos’ words immediately divided the council in two. There were those who agreed with Arkos, saying that it would be wise to adhere to the warning of a legender, and there were those that disagreed with him, saying that there was not enough evidence to prove a war was going to happen. Arguments shot across the Under Hollow, and the heated debate of war roared through the hours of the night. Only kings and queens had the authority to speak in the debate, so Haeron, Garafin, and Coracal were reduced to no more than listeners and nodded their heads when they heard something with which they agreed.
There did come a point where Mercius called upon Havamir for its thoughts on the coming of war. Haeron spoke before Garafin and Coracal had the chance.
“If the dremorns seek blood with us, they will find us ready with spear in hand.”
After some time, the debate in the Under Hollow died down, and all the kings, queens, and their followers got up from their places and drowsily shuffled off to bed. Then the only people who remained in the Under Hollow were Mercius, his guards, and Arkos. Arkos sat on the ground with his back against the doorway of a tomb, patiently waiting for what would be done with him.
“He will do me no harm,” Mercius said to the guards. “He is free.”
“What do you mean by that?” Arkos asked as the guards took the shackles from his wrists and ankles.
Mercius looked puzzled. “You are no longer a prisoner.”
“I have been a prisoner for a long time. Putting me in a dungeon only changed the size of my cell.” Arkos then stood up and approached the king, drawing nearer than what was comfortable for the guards. “I pledged myself to this city when Merhala was king, for I owed him a life debt, and I have stayed within the walls ever since.”
Stories from history suddenly rolled through Mercius’ head, and he was awed to think that the simple looking bone carver who stood before him had lived through all of these stories and more.
“Tell me, are there any other legenders here in Tierrion?”
Arkos shook his head. “They all sailed away to the island of Avenshore. If they are still alive, I suppose you would find them there.”
“You see Tierrion as your prison, yet you have not left. You have not gone to this island Avenshore. No one here keeps you to your oath.”
“A legender does not make an oath lightly. There are dark consequences for legenders who break them. The only way I can be freed from my oath is if the king of Tierrion releases me from service.” Arkos stepped even nearer to the king. “I ask that you release me from service.”
“The city may need you now more than it has in the last thousand years. You say there is a war coming.”
“The war will go to Havamir.”
“I am not a fool. I believe you when you say you confronted a dremorn, and I believe you when you say the beings of Ayveria spoke to you through water, but I see that you yourself are not convinced that war will go to Havamir. I may be a mortal and you a legender, but I can still see the subtleties in your eyes that tell much. You made that prediction so Tierrion would appear safe. As long as Tierrion is safe you are no longer needed, and you can go free. Tell me if I am wrong in thinking that this is your plan.”
Arkos did not reply.
“Even if you are trying to deceive me along with the other kings,” Mercius mused, “Tierrion will not ignore what you have done for us this first day of Merhala.”
“Then give me my freedom.”
“The treasure houses here are full.”
“What the treasure houses hold mean nothing to me. I want my freedom.”
The silence was long, and the deep creases in the king’s brow showed that he was deep in thought.
“In the tales I have read,” Mercius said at last, “the legenders were noble creatures. They did not plot or scheme but thought of the greater good, thought of what the world needed other than what they themselves wanted. Yet you would forsake who you are so that you can leave these walls.”
Arkos said nothing.
“This theory of yours may be a scheme to gain your freedom,” said Mercius, “but it is still a sound theory. I will compromise with you: carry out one more act of service and then you can be free.”
“What would you have me do, king?”
“It is possible that war will go to Havamir, therefore you will go to Havamir as well. Serve Havamir and protect it in anyway you can. If there is a war, defend the nation until the war is finished. If much time passes and we become certain no war will come, then you may leave and have your freedom.”
Merhala’s Bell tolled in the Havamirian camp and sounded out across the city. Haloreth, even with his mortal wound, had been the first to cross the finish during the race. The bell, however, did not sound with a ring of victory but with long tolls of sorrow that echoed the mourning of the people.
It was tolling when Arkos emerged from the Under Hollow, when he came to the marketplace where the wreckages of merchant carts cast strange shadows in the weak light of the sinking moon. He crossed over to the library, over the broken wares that lay strewn about on the cobbles. Throughout the marketplace, impos and a few stray jaggs scavenged the ruined food that spilled out of broken carts. The impos scurried away from their pickings as Arkos passed, slithering their scaly bodies into the nooks and crannies of destroyed timbers. When Arkos came to the foot of the library, he started turning over the debris in a search of something. Blood from Haloreth’s paw wound speckled the ground nearby, a sign that what he was looking for was near. He turned over a broken cart door and as he did so, something underneath it caught the faint moonlight, something silvery. Picking up his carving knife, he returned it to its sheath on his belt.
Arkos returned to his shop and lit the candles inside. Once the soft glow illumined his shop, he sat down beside the kolosorus rib and continued to etch out the story of the Merhala War. As he began to work, the flames on the candles cried out in wonder at their new existence, marveling at all the things around them. They soon wanted to jump to the shelves, the door, the rafters—anything wooden—to create stronger light and heat. They called and called to Arkos but he set about his work without paying them much heed. At length he said, “A little water drips from the jar in back,” and the candles were silenced.
Arkos’ depiction of the Merhala War was nearly finished. There were the dremorns laying siege to Tierrion, and there was Merhala charging down the hills with his men, the famed bell in hand. Using a small chisel and mallet, Arkos worked on the lower end of the rib and began to etch two figures caught on the battlefield. The entire story’s flow down the rib seemed to culminate at where these two were placed. One was a woman slain, her sabers fallen at her side. The other was a bloodied man kneeling over her body, his mouth opened in an anguished cry. He very much resembled Arkos.
It was dawn when the carving was completed. The candles had burned out and sunlight shone through the chinks in the shutters. Arkos gently etched the closed eyelids of the slain woman, and her face was then finished. Compared to the desperate man above her, she appeared serene, lying on the battlefield as if asleep. Arkos leaned back to look upon his work and took the blue stone from the pouch on his belt so that it too could observe the carving.
“Osyra,” he exhaled, looking at the slain woman. “What disappointment you would have if you could see me as I am now.”
The stone did not comprehend what it was that Arkos felt. Arkos was whole and did not bleed, yet still he felt pain. Long ago, the stone had asked what this pain was, and Arkos had compared it to the fires that burned deep underground. The stone had then asked why Arkos chose to remember things that made him feel that way. Pain, he had explained, showed him that he still had a heart, that he was still a legender; he would have been like the bones if he forgot his pain. Centuries had passed since Arkos had given his answer, but the blue stone never forgot it, for stones remembered everything.
“She is gone,” Arkos said, still gazing upon the carving. “She is gone, and I need to rid myself of these walls.”
~ ~ ~
If Haloreth had died in Havamir, the people would have bound him in elegant chains of cormantle and adorned him with treasures of the kingdom. After his body was prepared, they would have sailed him far beyond the fishing waters and sent him overboard. The depths would have received him, and he would have become a part of the ocean. It was a funeral for an aeriathea, a king, or a man with titles. But Haloreth had died far from the ocean. Whether by wagon or by riverboat, his body would suffer great corruption if it were sent on the long journey back to Havamir. Maris voiced her desire for Haloreth to be put on a pyre so that his ashes could be scattered on the ocean, but wrane Coracal and wrane Garafin advised against doing so.
“It is not wise to swing a staff in a potter’s house,” Coracal stated. “Tierrion sees the burning of the dead as a pagan and savage thing, and it would give them great offense. We also do not want them to mark you as the queen of a wild people, nor do we want Haloreth’s funeral to be a time when foreigners come to mock us.”
“I too thought a burial would disturb his spirit,” said Garafin. “But did not Meir bury Kilyos under a pile of stones? Do not be troubled, my queen. Haloreth will find rest here in Tierrion.”
Havamir was given a glade in the gardens to use as a burial site, so the fisher and lowyn men moved Haloreth’s body there atop rolling logs, the same method they used to move ships to and from the shore. They laid Haloreth’s body in the glade and built a tent up around him so that the gravirs would not spot him from above and fly in foreboding circles. Once the body was in place, Metaro the Broken took up his spade and began to dig the grave.
As the man in tatters cut away at the topsoil, Maris left her people and headed towards the base of the Avahorn where the king of Tierrion dwelled. Maris sat aboard her litter with four menservants carrying her up the steep streets of the city and with guards walking alongside. As they neared the Avahorn, it appeared that it was leaning more and more in their direction, ready to fall on top of them. Maris opened the curtain to her litter and stared at the tower, for she had never seen any structure like it before. There were veins of erthmarrow’s color striping its sides—deep blues and greens, burnt yellows and oranges—a sign that the Avahorn had been hewn from a mountain long, long ago. Waterfalls rushed from the Avahorn’s sides, and turrets perched along its heights. Gigantic columns spiraled upwards, rising higher and higher until they came to four monoliths at the top. Each monolith was glazed with ice, a testament to the Avahorn’s great height.
The menservants carried Maris across a bridge over a ravine and came to the outer wall of Avaroot, the dwelling of Tierrion’s king. Though it was carved into the base of the grand tower, Avaroot’s entrance held a commanding view of the city’s southern half, for it sat atop a wide ledge on Tierrion’s hill. The gates of the outer wall opened for Maris’ litter, and the menservants carried her into a round courtyard where there grew scores of trees, green and laden with fruit. The way into Avaroot had no doors but opened like a rounded cavern mouth. Intricate patterns of tracery ran along the walls of the opening much like tree roots tunneling into the ground. A cascade fell from high above and crashed onto the eaves that stuck out over the opening, but the eaves came to a peak and split the cascade in two so that water flowed down both sides of the courtyard. Hundreds of opalias shimmered with white and silver along the stone path that led up to Avaroot’s entrance. The flowers grew only on Mount Serdacia and did not survive anywhere else for very long, but they had been planted for Merhala and would last the thirty days of the festival. The constant misting of the cascade kept them well watered.
There were statues all around the courtyard as well. Men and women, each many stories tall, were made to look as though they were clad in leaves and vines. The men braced their backs and brawny arms against the walls as if the Avahorn would collapse if they faltered. The stone women stood by the men and vigilantly watched different points of the southern horizon. In the very center of the courtyard stood the tallest statue of them all. It was the figure of Avalayo, the Right Hand of Ahatho. At his base, creatures of strange elemental shapes encircled him and snarled at him. Avalayo looked down at them and held aloft a stone replication of his famous sword, the Erthedge of Dawn.
As Maris stepped out from her litter, she stared and stared at all that surrounded her, but it was Avalayo’s statue that entranced her the most. She found the expression on his face so truly fearless yet so pained that it seemed a living being had hardened into stone.
“Surely Ahatho crafted this place,” Maris whispered to herself.
Maris left her escorts in the courtyard and came to the opening where there stood a company of guards. They wore dark green capes that fell to their feet and breastplates with polished erthmarrow stones worked into the metal. Their helms covered most of the face so that only the eyes showed.
“I have come to speak with the king,” Maris said when she stood before them.
Without a word, a pair of the guards bowed and led her into Avaroot. They went down a long hall lined with statues holding up the ceiling. It would have been a dark hall had it not been for the shafts of sunlight that shone through tunnels above. Maris and the guards walked in silence with only a soft rumbling coming from the walls and floor, the sound of water surging up from wells deep underground. Other passageways diverged from the hall, some wide and others narrow, but the guards continued going straight and led her to where the hall widened and came to the pair of tall doors. The guards opened the doors for her, and Maris entered alone.
“Queen Maris Elemor of Havamir,” one of the guards announced. Her name echoed in the throne room, and then the sound vanished, swallowed up by the vast space.
The throne room had tall columns that looked like trees, each branching out before they reached the vaulted ceiling. Leaf designs were etched into the ceiling, and tracery appeared as branches interwoven with one another, the sunlight shining through the gaps. There were places where the tracery opened up wide, and large shafts of light came in as angled pillars. Mercius’ throne stood atop a dais on the far end of the room. There the king sat with half a dozen men with books gathered around him. When he saw Maris enter, he sent the men away with a motion of his hand. Maris approached the throne and drew her speaking totem out from a pouch on her sash. It was a sphere with dark blue glaze and silvery monk shells. The teeth of her ancestors rattled inside with the trembling of her hand. When she came to the foot of the dais, she placed the totem in a bowl that lay before the first step. Mercius nodded to her, and Maris bowed.
“She who greets the king greets good counsel and receives Ahatho’s blessing,” she said, her voice shaking ever so slightly.
Mercius called his servants, and they brought out an ornately carved chair for Maris to sit in and placed it before the throne. They also brought a jar of timber wine and served it to king and queen. After pouring libations to Ahatho, Mercius and Maris drank in silence. Only when their cups were empty did Mercius begin to speak.
“Tell me why you have come.”
“I have come to plead for Haloreth’s honor,” she responded. “The vow of secrecy that prohibits us from speaking of Haloreth’s slayer—such a vow, though created in wisdom, will bring great ruin upon Haloreth’s name. If my people do not learn of how he truly died, if they do not learn of the poison and the dremorn, they will think of Haloreth as a beast who filled his cup with rage and drank it of his own accord. He was no such beast but a gentle creature. I ask of your permission to speak the truth to my people so they will not think of him with tarnished thoughts.”
Mercius looked down on her, his face pensive.
“I hear your words,” he responded, “and what you say is true, but my command will remain. We must make such sacrifices for that which is greater than ourselves and our personal desires. The people cannot learn of the dremorns. Not yet, for it would bring them great fear. Remember that it was fear that fed Dakor, and fear would feed many wicked things if it were let out among the nations.”
“So I am to abandon the defense of Haloreth’s name?”
Mercius gave a heavy sigh and picked up a small wooden box from a small stand beside his throne. He held it out to Maris.
“Take this,” he commanded.
Maris rose from her seat and cautiously ascended the dais. She gingerly took the box from Mercius’ hand and quickly returned to her chair. When she opened the box, she saw an arrowhead inside. There was dried blood and a black substance on it.
“A time may come when you will be able to restore Haloreth’s honor,” said Mercius. “But no one is certain of when that time will be. If it comes, you may tell your people the truth. Show them the dart with its poison, and it may placate any who are in disbelief—but only when the time comes. This is all I can offer you now.”
With that, Mercius bowed his head, a sign that Maris was dismissed.
~ ~ ~
After the kings’ council in the Under Hollow, word of the legender’s existence quickly spread throughout Tierrion. Down the streets and up the towers, it was all that the people would talk about. This was not a tale or a myth but a truth—a legender was alive and among them! There were those who were afraid, for they had heard of what the legender had done to Havamir’s aeriathea at the city gate; but there were also those who held a childlike awe and fascination, and these people came to gather in front of Arkos’ shop without fear. First there were dozens, then hundreds, then over a thousand crammed into the dingy corner of the marketplace where his shop stood. While most had come just to see the legender and look upon a breathing relic, some were there because they desired to be his disciples and followers. The most zealous of them pressed against the shop, knocking on the door and shutters. An hour would pass and then another, but they would receive no reply.
“I saw him enter early this morning,” someone asserted. “I have been watching this door ever since, and he has not left. He must be in there.”
“But why does he not answer us,” another questioned. “Is this a test of our patience?”
Although Arkos did not come out at their beckoning, the crowd continued to swell and push against the shop door. The bolt that kept the door locked groaned against the pressure and eventually broke from its hold with a crack. The door made a mad swing inward, and a mound of people tumbled into the shop. To their surprise, it was empty. The legender was not to be found. Even the carvings and old weapons were gone. All the shelves were bare, and all that could be found was an empty coffer in the back of the shop and a wilting bouquet of opalias lying on the table.
The crowd dispersed. Many grumbled in disappointment, yet there were others who felt even more amazed than they had before, for the legender had somehow made himself disappear. The shop had been searched, and the stones in the walls and floor had been checked to see if any were loose and hid a secret hollow or passage. All the stones had held firmly to their places just as Arkos had asked them to.
Before the crowd had gathered, Arkos knew that unwanted attention would come his way. So before it did, he had the blue stone from the pouch on his belt create an opening in the floor of his shop. The opening went down to a small underground chamber. It was there he stored all of his carvings and old weapons. A tunnel ran from the chamber to other deep places under Tierrion, but Arkos did not worry about his collection ever being found. In the long, dark years he had been set to watch over the old kings’ tombs, he had never seen anyone wandering in this region of tunnels. There his collection would sit until he returned. He did not know when, nor did he care to think of it.
Two pieces from his collection, however, would go with him on his journey: the two sabers that had been on the sign to his shop. He spoke their names when their handles made themselves at home once again in the palms of his hands. Ara he called the one in his right and Tol the one in his left.
“Both of you may soon be needed.”
~ ~ ~
It took three days for Metaro the Broken to dig Haloreth’s grave. A small crowd had gathered around the widening hole. They silently watched as Metaro went deeper into the ground. As he tossed up soil, the mound he made grew higher and higher. He passed through layers of different colored soils—black, orange, and gray—and unearthed large rocks of erthmarrow. The sweat and dirt turned to mud on his naked chest and back. Though his old bones made him slow, he worked all the hours of the sun. By evening of the third day, he finished the grave.
The lowyn women had prepared Haloreth’s body for burial, cleaning off the dust and odor of blood. They had rubbed oils and sweet smelling spices into his fur and skin so as to keep corruption at bay. Once the ground was open and the body prepared, it took over a score of men and many ropes to lower Haloreth neatly to the bottom of the grave. They positioned him so that he was curled up, and it looked as though he were sleeping.
As twilight dimmed and turned into night, the Havamirians built tall bonfires to give light to their wake. Maris took her place on a seat prepared for her on the edge of Haloreth’s grave. Beside her stood a priest from the Temple of Tierrion, and he spoke to all of the Havamirians gathered there. Sympathizers from other nations stood on the fringes of the crowd. The priest spoke some words over Haloreth’s body and led the people in a long prayer to Ahatho. Maris could hardly pay attention to what was said. She instead thought of the morning a few days before when she sat on the riverbank with Haloreth. She longed to go back to that time, yet no matter how close it seemed, it was gone. A fit of grief struck her, and she buried her face in her hands.
After the priest finished speaking, he sprinkled water from the Asetsi River onto Haloreth’s body. The people deemed this a good ritual, for the river fed into the ocean that surrounded Havamir. The musicians then began to play mournful songs on their flutes and drums, and singers added their voices to make elegies. One by one the Havamirians dropped what treasures they possessed into Haloreth’s grave. Jewelry made from salt gems and rich outer robes of tyruk hides piled up around Haloreth’s body. Casks of timber wine were opened—gifts from the king of Tersia to show his condolences. Tricians, fishers, and lowyns drank together, for all—whether rich or poor—had been reduced to humble clothing and appearance.
As the drink flowed, the drums and flutes began to quicken, and the lowyn men and women heeded the music’s call. With grim faces, they began to dance in the glade. Since these poor had not placed treasures of great value around Haloreth’s body, they paid with sweat their tribute to the dead. The men deftly stomped against the grass and the women swayed this way and that, reaching out with their arms towards the grave. The rising of the moon over the trees intensified the fervor, for the moon was nearly full and cast a strong pale light upon the glade. The drums and flutes quickened even more. The women wailed and some of the men tore branches from the trees and beat them against the ground. It was a fierce dance of grief.
As the music was about to reach its climax, a group of lowyn women shrieked in fear. The music ceased and the dancers halted. The women cried out, saying that they had seen great shapes moving among the trees of the garden. They said that ghosts had come from the Dead Country to dance with the living, but their fears subsided when they saw that the great shapes were not ghosts but the aeriatheas from the other nations. The people at the wake watched as the creatures emerged from the trees. Coming to the open grave, the aeriatheas sat along its edges and looked down at the body. Aysu and Talagos sat on either side of Maris, but the queen did not turn to acknowledge them. She, along with the other aeriatheas, concentrated fully on where Haloreth lay.
The last time the aeriatheas had gathered around Haloreth was when he had been very young. They had left their nations and flown to Havamir, responding to the mysterious sense that told them a cub had newly come to the lands of humankind. With secret words that only aeriatheas knew, they had blessed the cub. As they sat by his grave, they quietly purred the secret words once more. The aeriatheas then raised their heads in unison and howled woefully like the lovos of the wild. The aeriatheas’ cry sounded throughout the city, echoing off the towers and walls, through the streets and alleys. The entire city stopped to listen. When the long howl finished, the aeriatheas gave one last look to Haloreth and left his graveside, disappearing back into the garden’s shadows.
Maris spoke up while all was quiet.
“I would like to be alone with him.”
At her command, the instruments were put away and the casks of timber wine were sealed. The people left the glade and went back to their camp, while Haeron and a small company of soldiers stayed to keep watch over their queen. They stood at a distance, gathered under the trees. Once the glade was clear, Maris left her seat and kneeled down at the very edge of the grave.
“You flew so swiftly,” she whispered, “and the bell is yours. You would have carried it back to Taracasti for all our people to see. It will sound in Havamir, but now it makes an empty sound.
“Oh! How can you leave me Haloreth? You were to live for many more years, yet now I am left alone. Who will walk beside me? Mine is an empty path where there is no companion. How can you leave me now when they talk of war? How can I lead during such a time? The enemy will not show pity to women or the young. Nor will our people show me pity if I lead them to destruction. Therefore I have made my decision: just as the bell is empty, so will be my crown. I will give up my crown, for you are no longer with me.
“Yet my speech is muddled,” she said, shaking her head, “for I know that you will always be with me.” She then took out a short piece of cord she had tucked into the sash on her waist. “I want you to have this.” She placed the piece of cord into Haloreth’s paw. “The other half is mine.” Her fingers rubbed another piece of cord that was tied around her wrist as a bracelet. “I will never untie it, and it will go with me into my grave. Even now, we are still connected.”
The last few words came out in a sob. Maris buried her head in her hands, hot tears wetting her palms.
All through the night, Maris stayed at the graveside, and when the dawn came, Merhala’s Bell tolled in the Havamirian camp, a sign to all that they were leaving for home.
Here ends The Legender – Book I: Myths Awoken
Journey onward as the adventure continues in The Legender – Book II: Kingdom by the Sea
Excerpts from Book XI of The Osaegis
written by Lyron, the legender poet and storyteller
translated from the heavenly tongue to the humble tongue by Naleus the Bard
Into the Pit long ago was I cast
where shadows and chill did my shape unform
to the creature I am of murk and ash.
While present dark homes me in long exile,
my arms reach as far as covering Night,
but in Light I turn to creature fragile,
so expelled am I from glow of the sun
to a bleak realm not easily conjured
by mortal mind and imagination;
those executed out at sea, anchor
tied to their feet for sending to the Deep,
have had but a taste of my long torture
when dark and heavy brine fills final breath.
Below the world landless, empty, and cold,
shadow filled rather than watery depths,
I, hunger manifest, am left to swallow
what scrapings that from the World’s edges fall
down into my realm so cold and hollow;
for long ages without sweet taste and pleasure
of Ayverian rivers or her orchards,
luxury beyond an emperor’s measure.
The great arch of sky! The forest of stars!
The fount from where all Beauty and Good springs!
If but a leaf were to fall from afar,
down from high boughs of celestial trees,
and soft alight the World of Men, a treasure
coveted by lords and kings it would be.
Though dull race of flesh on mortal lands
would not hold Heaven’s windfall as well as I,
no piece of the Welkin graces my hands.
A final day of eternal torment
and days of Empyrean rest I warrant
will not come to me by Above’s consent,
but I must wrench the hinges of Heaven
to take unfathomable trove within…
…Driven by desires of Kingdom on high,
by dying endurance of torment below,
Dakor ascended peripheral cliffs
that steeply cut horizon’s final edge,
fleeing dark and depth of abysm realms
to mount firm material of the World
yet there entered fiery sunlight glaring.
The noontide orb did burn his gloaming flesh—
if flesh his murky outermost be named—
as a croac plump roasts upon the spit.
Down to the merest of shadows he shrank,
a darkened wisp and fume, a gravestone’s shade,
so into caverns deep he fled until
o’er head twilight gloomed and on eastern sky
the Mariner* shone under crescent moon. * a star in the east
Only then did Living Shadow venture
forth from underground to enter cover
of Erádi’s* heavy mantle and hood. * a pagan goddess of night
Nocturnally he trod on path and plain
for ranging disc design of World entire
where he encountered settlements of Man.
With smoky stealth he stole through lattice or
crack in wall, with phantom step and approach
so he encroached upon slumbering hearth
and subtly haunted underneath the roof.
By day the garret of Man’s ear did keep
him hid from the glassy fire of the Sun.
While there he lodged, to his host he whispered
of Fear that turned the ways and words of Man,
therefore crying “Thief!” became the common
and “Brother” an utterance rare to hear;
of lusts and wicked things that first appall
yet from sly tongue do don a pleasant guise.
Of Man’s own accord did Sin and Fear grow
like a weed with root indestructible,
and Dakor gathered fruit from tendrils black.
In two earthen jars he horded his crop
to shoulder into the Forest of Kreed
where gnarled branches coiled and twined, blotted
out sun with nets of twig and bearded moss,
so leafy trackless floor took form of Night.
In wooded depths a burgeoning vine reached
for hidden daylight above, but Dakor
poured out jar of Sin on roots tender white,
vile swill drunk deeply yet unwillingly.
Verdure corruption came swiftly, strangling
trunk and bough, piercing with poisonous thorns.
When swelling knot o’ertook the highest trees
with vicious tendrils that could stretch no more,
it erupted forth the first dremornkind…
…There came creatures of fangs, claws, and hooves
making haunts in the wilds, forests, and caves;
hunting with ways like those of the vermin,
predator to flocks, menace to herdsmen;
simple animals to catch in a snare
like beasts of the fields and birds of the air.
Then there came stories that multiplied Fear:
the creatures had wit to wield blade and spear,
to kill and pillage in Mankind’s fashion,
to home themselves in the shadow of Sin.
They ate flesh and bone of those they had slain,
thus Fear swiftly spread through settlements of Man.
There came heavy thoughts placed on all people
that dremorns were not simple but evil…
…With greed Dakor drank black essence of Fear,
and, as Carthul* blasts forth black smoke and ash * a volcano in Omberia
when subterranean hearts release
pent conflagrations and molten rage
that to firmament do roughly ascend,
so Dakor did rise in ominous shape
and regain vastness of abysm breadth.
High seat of Sun made him cautious no more,
for fabricated Night did robe his form
that covered the lands in dark where he tread.
When Man saw him pass o’er faraway plains,
they thought him a storm cloud of fearsome height
that rains down a sea where dry land once lay,
but there came no floods from his darkened mass
for he would see the lands withered and parched.
In tempestuous garb, Dakor journeyed
forth to all chasms where dremorns made lair.
He summoned them with a thunderous call,
with voice that had wrenched them from thorny knot;
obediently from dens they emerged
and amassed under the Living Shadow.
Out from his sheath came the Erthedge of Dusk,
and it flashed as lightning with darkened hue.
‘Twas sharper than any razor or curse
of Man, more stalwart than Terravault spine;
all weapons and tools hardened on the forge
were but brittle chaff beside Dakor’s sword.
Shadow so armed, he declared himself god
of all that spanned ‘tween zenith and nadir,
and as the stalks in fields of Man do fall
at Mozaley’s* breath, so every dremorn * a wind from Baladune Desert
fell prostrate in dust, trembling in their Fear.
To the host Dakor spoke the words of War,
and taking up blade and spear they obeyed,
rising in bristling ranks like thorny land
from edge to edge of horizon’s measure.
With Erthedge aloft and armies below,
Dakor turned his eyes t’wards Heaven’s Passage,
that great light once shone from Avahorn’s spire
not with mryn* or fire but with holy glow, * a tree that glows at night
like noble gleam from Nature’s countenance
yet more: the o’erwhelming white of desert blaze,
the dazzling glare of a noontime sea.
So bright the Passage shone that Man dared not
draw near for fear that looking would snuff out
the lanterns of the eyes and turn to dark
all color and shape of world once perceived.
Yet on Passage Light Dakor set his gaze
maleficent, for through highest threshold
he saw the conqueror’s road opening
to Ayveria and a new empire
where Light is slain and there dawns Age of Night….
Ahatho – the supreme deity of the heavens.
Avenshore – the island where the surviving Legenders went to live after the Merhala War.
Ayveria – the city of the heavenly realm; the dwelling of the Everyn.
branzt – a common metal of dark color.
cormantle – a precious shiny metal of silver color.
Dakor – the Living Shadow of the Abyss; the malicious spirit that brought about the Merhala War.
erthmarrow – the hardest substance in the world; the stone that makes up most of Tierrion.
Everyn – those of the heavenly race; powerful and immortal servants of Ahatho.
lowyn – a simplification of “low one”; a member of a family that owns no ship or boat.
opalia – a silver, star-shaped flower that has white lining the edges of its petals.
the Osaegis – the sacred book of humankind; the history of the world from the Creation to the end of the Merhala War.
ovalad – a dark precious stone of spherical shape.
ravyre – a fallen Legender.
trician – a member of a wealthy family; the owner of a ship.
ulavyn – a guardian spirit said to dwell within the timbers of a ship.
maenyr – a human servant of the ulavyn.
wrane – a member of the Council of the Mast.
wreckman – a person seen as cursed by the ulavyns for past sins; they hold the lowest place in Havamirian society.
My thanks to…
…my dear friend Zac Wendland, who was there at the beginning of the idea and helped me see it through to the ink you read now.
…David Russell, another dear friend and editor whose wisdom and honesty I highly value.
…Uncle Bruce, who listened to me tell stories through the long hours of the night when I was just a child, who helped me dream up what would one day become the world of Arkos and Maris.
…Kevin Willson, who gives me constant encouragement through writing and life and who is quick to name me a legender.
…Nathan Scoggins, who pushed me to create the very first draft.
…my writing professors at DePauw—especially Joseph Heithaus and Tom Chiarella—whose teaching went beyond the classroom and into great conversations.
…David Ramage, Kris and Randy Wendland, Ted Coulter, Jeff Cobb, Susan Hall, Liam Starkenberg—the wonderful mentors I have had along the way.
…the NCA Community for always asking me how the book was coming. My thanks especially to the Loftsgard family, the Chen brothers, and Lauren Diebert, who served as editors and gave valuable insights.
…my students, who taught me much.
…my grandparents, who have always been my fans.
…my mother-in-law for her prayers and my sisters-in-law for their encouragement.
…my mom, dad, and sister who not only served as editors but who have always supported me in my pursuit of the arts.
…my wife Jessenia, who gives unconditional love and support, who did everything else so that I could write and create, and who struggled with me through the rough drafts and the hard times. If it were not for her, this book would not have seen the light of day.
…God, who calls me his child and made me a storyteller.
Jason Link lives in La Grande, Oregon with is wife Jessenia and his son Mateo.
You can learn more about Jason at . Sign up for his mailing list to receive updates on his latest projects and other fun bits of information about his adventure as a writer.
“The pacing is brisk…the action is fun” – Publishers Weekly “At last, a great fantasy novel!” – Vine Reviewer Arkos, a reclusive artisan, bides the long age of peace carving animal bones and remembering his days of adventure. In the ancient city of Tierrion where he dwells, no one suspects he is one of the legenders—those forces of nature clad in human form who spoke with the elements and shaped them into mighty beasts. After the legenders fought in the bygone war against the Living Shadow, they faded into myth and have remained in historical obscurity. That is until a great evil strikes Tierrion and Arkos saves the city with his power over the elements. This grand revelation of his true identity comes at a cost, however, for there are kings and politicians who would use a legender for their own purposes. But Arkos devises a plan to gain his freedom.