DESTINY OF THE WULF: Chapter Four.

December 24, 2017 Leave a comment

THE GOLDEN TEMPLE

The morning sun cast long shadows and warmed the cold earth. A chink of light passed through a crack in the bedroom shutters and illuminated Coinin as he slept. His wound was still visible, though it no longer bled. A loud rap at the door woke him.

‘Yes?’ said Coinin sleepily and stifled a yawn.

‘Breakfast will be served in a moment, Sir,’ said an unfamiliar voice through the door.

‘Thank you, give me a few minutes.’ Coinin rubbed sleep from his eyes.

‘As you wish,’ said the voice.

Coinin listened to the footsteps retreat down the corridor and pulled back the covers and sat upright. He was stiff and sore, and yesterday’s antics had taken their toll. After he prised himself from the soft bed, he took a few moments to splash water on his face from a wooden bowl sitting on an ornate dresser, and then gingerly pressed the bruises on his upper arms with his fingers. They would heal in time but the goblins had done well, their aim true. He dressed quickly and left the room, and wondered why he had not dreamt that night. Perhaps the blow to his head had been severe enough to block his nightly visions.

He tapped on Marrok’s door and entered to find his brother already awake and halfway through a shave.

‘Morning. Just a second, I’m almost finished,’ Marrok called from behind a velvet curtain that separated the washstand from the rest of the room.

‘Do you trust these people?’ Coinin asked.

Marrok considered his response carefully. ‘Only until they break our trust. I think we need to see what they have to say before we pass judgment.’

Coinin nodded in agreement.

‘What troubles you, brother?’ Marrok asked.

‘I guess finding out that our father walked these halls. It’s a strange feeling.’

‘I think that’s why we need to trust these people. If father did, then so should we.’

‘That makes sense. Although, I still can’t help but be worried that there’s something odd about all this.’

Marrok wiped his face and tossed his drying cloth aside. He appeared from behind the curtain and threw his arm around Coinin. ‘You worry too much, brother. I thought that was my job.’

Breakfast that morning was delightful. Hot melted butter smeared over lightly toasted bread, slices of piping hot pork, fresh crab, and salmon, and a fruit bowl that held delicious apples, oranges, and grapes, all ready to be washed down with gallons of wine from the temple vineyard.

After the previous night’s intake of wine, Coinin in his wisdom requested milk. Beautifully warm milk straight from the cow arrived minutes later, accompanied by Curator Menin.

‘Good morning. How are we today?’ she asked. ‘Rested well, I trust?’

‘I’ve never slept so well,’ Coinin answered.

Marrok merely gave a courteous nod, his mouth full of salmon fillet.

‘That is good news indeed; we have so much to do today,’ said Menin gleefully. ‘If you would like to follow me, we shall start in my study.’

Both boys looked mournfully at the breakfast table. Coinin more so, his chance to drink his milk lost. They stood and followed Menin from the room.

She led the way through a maze of corridors, and at each turn, people greeted Coinin and Marrok in much the same manner as the night before. It became so tiresome by the end that Marrok indicated that he was not happy.

‘Don’t worry, I shall ask them to stop,’ Menin assured him. ‘However, I feel you will understand why they act this way shortly. Ah, here we are. If you would, please go on inside and make yourself comfortable.’

Menin opened the door to her study and ushered them inside. The room was quite a contrast from the rest of the temple; it was simple, even drab. The shelves held endless scrolls and bound volumes, and a small desk occupied the centre of the room. Upon this sat a quill and a handful of tightly rolled parchments. A candle burned steadily and lit a small area of the desk. To the right of the desk a wooden bookstand with a gilded leg and clawed foot held a large red book. It had the same wolf paw and sun disc emblem embossed into the front cover, and strange repetitive symbols decorated the edges in bright gold leaf.

Warm sunlight drenched the space from a window high in the room, and dust flitted in and out of its rays. The room smelled heavily of incense. It burned the back of the throat and tickled the nose. In front of the desk, two wooden chairs were slightly angled towards each other, and Menin invited the boys to sit.

‘Welcome to my study. As you can see, it is full of fine treasures. All I ask is that you be gentle with them while you spend time here,’ she said.

‘I don’t see treasure, there’s no gold or diamonds anywhere,’ Marrok objected.

‘Quite right too. The treasure I talk about is written in these scrolls and books. Knowledge itself is a treasure, one to be cherished like a precious necklace.’

Marrok looked at Curator Menin with a raised eyebrow.

‘To me, these books are as precious as that sword you carry. They too can strike an enemy down. It is knowledge and information that wins battles, is it not?’ said Menin.

‘Yes, I suppose. We must know all about our enemy, including his strengths and weaknesses, if we are to defeat him,’ Marrok replied.

‘That’s correct; these books are a valuable resource in our battle to maintain order.’

‘Maintain order?’ Coinin asked. ‘What do you mean?’

Curator Menin rose and clasped her hands together in thought. ‘Sometimes I forget myself. It seems I must start at the very beginning.’ She paused a moment. ‘Long ago, and I talk about thousands of years, the world was a different place. For one it was savage and mean and young men like you would not hope to survive long. Often they would be sold into slavery or worked to death in mines. A group of people desperate to flee the violence travelled many miles in search of a safe place in which to start a new life. They settled under the shelter of a mountain, in a lush green forest, and lived there quite happily for many years. Then one fateful day, a band of travelling slavers surrounded their camp and cornered the terrified group. During the night, the leader of the settlers heard a strange voice call to him, and through sheer desperation he investigated the source. The voice led him to a stairway that ran up the side of a cliff. Sound familiar?’ Menin smiled.

Both Marrok and Coinin nodded.

‘Under cover of darkness, and surrounded by the slavers, they quietly slipped up the side of the mountain after their leader, all the while guided by the voice. He led them to a cave, the cave to a river, and the river to a beautiful forest that teemed with life. Can you imagine the trust this man must have possessed to have led them on that journey? For many years the people lived peacefully in the forest, and all they wished for was at hand: safety, fresh water, and plentiful food. They could not have been happier. It was there that the founder of our order, Archmage Soliath Wulf, met them. That is he up there.’ Menin pointed to a portrait of Soliath above the door. He had a slight smile, and his wise grey eyes seemed to twinkle knowingly. He was dressed in the now-familiar white robe of the order, and wore a thin gold band over his wrinkled forehead. Around his neck, a large red stone encased in an ornate gold mount hung from a chain. The stone shone with an unusual intensity from the portrait.

Coinin turned back to Curator Menin, and he realised for the first time that she wore around her neck the very same red stone.

‘I see you have noticed my adornment. It is very old and provides the order some protection. It is called the Rose of Cerathil.’ Menin fingered the necklace draped around her neck.

‘What kind of protection?’ Marrok asked.

‘All in good time. I should finish the story of our beginning. Our ancestors had just met Soliath and he explained it was the God Rindor who had guided them to safety.’ Menin paused, and offered drinks to the young men in front of her. Both refused, eager to hear more.

‘Rindor’s heart was saddened by the tribes of Er’ath and their inability to rule themselves, so he asked Soliath to find individuals who would bring order to the chaos. Rindor had observed our ancestors for some time and liked what he saw. He witnessed creative free thinkers, who were strong of mind and desired an end to injustice. The God Rindor approached Soliath in a vision and they made a decision that day. Between them they decided that they would create a safe haven for those keen to learn, and a place where they could worship the gods freely without fear.’ Menin took a drink of water and continued.

‘Soliath sat our ancestors down and talked well into the next day. Morning came, and they had hashed out a plan. One half of our ancestors would join Soliath, to study religion, philosophy, and the magical arts, for those were the three key ingredients that Soliath most enjoyed. In return they would create a great Brotherhood that would endeavour to rid the world of injustice through belief, magic, and might. The other half would set in place a High King who would rule as head of the lands that surround Rosthagaar. Our common task was to unite the tribes of Er’ath under the banner of peace and under one belief. With Rindor’s support, together we soon restored order and brought the people to know the gods. Rosthagaar and the Brotherhood have always remained separate entities, but united in our goals. Since then our order has grown from strength to strength, not only in belief and knowledge, but also in the magic arts and swordsmanship. Rosthagaar has ever since ruled the people with a High King.’ Menin stood and crossed to the bookstand and retrieved a large red book. ‘This book contains a historical account of the founding years of our order.’

Menin opened the first few pages and showed them illustrations that represented the founding of the Brotherhood and the travels of the ancestors who ventured into Soliath’s safe haven.

‘What’s that picture?’ Coinin asked with great interest.

‘That is the creation of our protection, and the building of this temple,’ Menin replied. ‘Rindor and Soliath knew that one day unwanted visitors would find their way to us, so they built the safe haven you see here, and they created a few distractions on the way. Firstly, Rindor hid the stairway from view with a giant boulder and a waterfall, and then he extended the mountain to an impossible height, which made the cliff climb a daunting task. Secondly, he hid the cave entrance behind the vine, and collapsed a tunnel to create that lovely drop into darkness I so enjoy, and then he turned the river into blood. If that did not stop anyone from venturing further, the final act was pure genius.’

‘I think I know what it is,’ Coinin interrupted. ‘Is it the falling on air trick?’

‘Correct, although not a trick, we call it the Cliff of Judgment. Soliath added his own mix to the pot, and created the illusion that there was an impossible drop, when in reality anyone who had been invited to the temple, and that included companions, would be permitted to fall softly. Those who are not invited, or have not visited the temple grounds, will have a very severe headache.’ She allowed herself a smile. ‘It does, however, cause us no end of trouble with so many goblin bodies. They will persist in their attempt to find new ways down. Ropes or ladders are no use, Soliath saw to that. The only way down is to be invited.’

‘Trenobin said that there was no way back. So how do you leave?’ Marrok enquired.

‘Magic.’ Menin winked. ‘Please let me finish. Since the beginning, our reach had spread and we dominated religious, scientific, and philosophical thought. Millions worshipped the gods through our direction.’

‘Isn’t that a bit odd, mixing religion and the sword?’ Coinin asked.

‘Some say we are conflicted, and have set up rival religions, but I see our order open to all free thinkers who seek a purpose in life. We encourage our Brothers and Sisters to work together to better the peoples of Er’ath. Surprisingly it works for the most part, thanks to Soliath’s teachings. Sadly, though, in the last fifty years, things have changed, and many of Er’ath’s races have broken away from the true faith and have begun to follow their own teachings. I fear this is something we cannot recover from. It was different thousands of years ago, when the peoples had no belief in the gods. It was easier to convert them, and show them the true path. But now–’

‘What happened fifty years ago?’ Marrok asked.

‘The High King Hantestum, who rules in Rostha, ousted the other kings, who by Rindor’s decree must reign alongside him in the lands that surrounded Rosthagaar. He replaced them with overseers who have no real power. This was the turning point in our history; people began to believe that they could think for themselves without interference from the Brotherhood or Rindor. We have fought a losing battle ever since to uphold order, and now we only maintain tenuous religious thought for the human population. Of course if you look around the temple, you can see many from other races follow Rindor’s teachings, and can be found among our ranks. But new converts seem to be waning.’ Menin looked sad as she finished.

‘Could you not have stopped Hantestum?’ Marrok asked.

‘We sadly do not have any say over political matters. If we had, we would have restored the balance.’

‘Did you reason with him, show him how he has hurt the balance, as you put it?’ Coinin asked.

‘Of course Archmage Orodor did what he could, but Hantestum cares not for the people’s revolt. He can sit each day and eat and drink his fill, content that he has what he wants: a seat of great power, and control of a grand army.’ Menin shook her head in disgust.

‘He sounds like a disgusting man,’ said Marrok.

‘So how do you intend to restore the balance?’ Coinin asked.

‘There is a prophecy that reads that two young men from the line of Soliath Wulf will restore order and balance in a time of great upheaval. I believe you are the two men the prophecy speaks of.’

Marrok snorted and Coinin gasped at this news, quite unable to believe it.

A deep resonant bell interrupted the meeting.

‘That is the signal to meet in the Grand Hall. We will talk later on this.’ She stood to leave.

‘You can’t just leave us hanging like this,’ Marrok objected.

‘I am afraid that I must. I have other official duties to attend to. I promise I will take the time to explain all in due course. But now we really must make a move.’

Marrok was silenced quickly by Coinin, who was not eager to upset the Curator at this early stage. He had just learnt some exciting news about his future and was keen to hear more.

Menin escorted her charges from the room and through the temple. She took the time to indicate points of interest as they went, and it was not too long before they arrived at a long prayer hall, two floors below her study. It was plain, yet functional. Two oak tables ran the entire length of the hall, at which sat two hundred or more white-robed individuals. The noise of chatter and laughter abounded.

Curator Menin led them to the far end of the hall and invited them to sit at the head of the left-hand table. She walked up the steps to a low platform at the far end of the hall and sat at the right-hand chair of three. The left-hand chair was occupied by a short plump man, and in the centre chair, by far the biggest, sat a thin old man with a beard that trailed on the floor before him. He stood carefully and raised his arms.

‘Welcome, Brothers and Sisters,’ he croaked, ‘and esteemed visitors, of course. I am Archmage Orodor. Welcome to Sanctuary. I am pleased to say word has reached me that our Brothers have defeated the giants who attacked Astanoth for the umpteenth time in as many years. However, we do not have cause for celebration just yet. Many of our order did not survive the struggle, and we have learnt that a rogue Tomorite clan chief is behind the latest attack. We must plan a strategy to defeat this tyrant. A general council will be held later today to discuss the matter and I invite all to attend. Yet here I prattle on and I see that the time for prayer has arrived, so I will interrupt you no more. Curator Menin, please lead the ceremony.’ Archmage Orodor sat and appeared to doze almost instantly.

‘He’s doing that more and more of late; perhaps the time has come to choose a new Archmage,’ a voice said to Coinin’s left.

‘Shush, Bealam; Orodor will decide in his own good time when he wishes to ascend to Rol’as.’ A squat brown-haired man noticed that Coinin had overheard and turned to him. ‘Please forgive my Brother, he is impetuous.’

Coinin raised a hand. ‘Think nothing of it,’ he said, not quite understanding what had been said.

Draken awoke like a bear with a sore head, after the consumption of an inordinate amount of alcohol following his murderous act. He had felt the need to hide from himself, and the only way he knew to rid himself of his guilt was to drink it away.

He sat up, and his eyes flicked to Trenobin’s body, which now lay stiff and cold under its bush. He felt a small pang of remorse for his old friend, but he pushed the emotion deep down inside.

He stood and hid his pack behind a large tree and then checked the campfire was out. He now needed to enact the plan he had devised and this would help to disguise Trenobin’s murder.

He ventured towards the Cliff of Judgment and closed his eyes, and then uttered an incantation, one he had not performed for three decades. He felt light as air and began, slowly at first, to rise from the ground, unsupported by any physical means. He began to perspire from the mental exertion needed to keep airborne, and yet he rose higher and higher, until he reached an outcrop of rock and made a grab for it. This arrested his ascent, and he scrambled onto the ledge. With a kick of his leg he hauled himself over the edge. He lay back, his heart pounding from the physical effort, and it was ten minutes before he felt able to stand up and assess the area. He had returned to the mountain pass in search of his cover story, and this would bring him one step closer to completing his personal quest.

Then he saw why he had returned. A lone goblin poked at the stone shaman with a stick.

Draken crept up to the goblin, smothered its mouth with his hand and placed a dagger to the goblin’s throat. The goblin froze.

‘I know you do not understand me, vermin, but move and you are dead.’ Draken pushed the knife harder into the goblin’s throat. The creature understood the threat more than the words, and consented to be led by the man.

As they neared the edge of the cliff, however, the little goblin dug its heels in, frightened. It knew what happened to its race when they approached the cliff. Draken took a firmer hold of the goblin and as he did so, he had to unclasp his hand from its mouth. Immediately the small creature screamed, and pleaded in its tongue for mercy. Draken looked up. Thirty or so goblins thundered towards him and his stricken captive.

‘Too soon,’ he fumed. ‘Oh well, come and get me, here I am.’ He picked up the goblin, and slung it over his back. It kicked, screamed, and even bit Draken’s shoulder, but he ignored the pain and raced back to the edge. Rocks pelted him and spears were thrown perilously close. He prayed his next action would work and held tight to his captive. He dove off the cliff edge, and for a moment he fell fast, too fast. His pitiful life flashed before his eyes, and then, just feet from the bottom, the old magic sensed he was there and slowed his descent. He stopped with a jolt, in mid-air, two feet above the ground. He twisted and stood and then gave a sigh. He looked up and to his delight three goblins had slowly begun to drop down the cliff face. He quickly dived out of their way.

The goblins had landed safely and chattered excitedly to each other, basking in their glory that they had succeeded where others had failed. Draken thought quickly. His mind raced. Then he raised his free hand high into the air and called out a new spell. Immediately a localised wind kicked up that sent dust and debris in all directions. The wind grew stronger and formed into a small twister.

The column of air grew faster and stronger and Draken aimed it at the goblins, who turned heel and fled. He took a moment to smile. He had done it, he had broken the spell holding back enemies from the Sanctuary. Now more were free to join the others at the bottom of the cliff unharmed, and that would afford him a suitable distraction to commit an act of theft.

So as to not lose any more time, Draken quickly dragged his captive through the thicket of trees to his campsite.

‘I’m sorry for this, little one, but needs must,’ he said, and swung the creature to face him. He plunged his knife through its chest and into its heart. It let out a squeal and a solitary tear ran down its face. Shock emblazoned its ugly face, and it was minutes before it collapsed.

Later, when the life force had left its body, he dragged the lifeless corpse of Trenobin out of the bush, and placed it beside the goblin. He then laid his knife in the hands of the goblin as evidence of its complicity in the murder of the dwarf.

Satisfied, Draken grabbed his pack and ran to the temple entrance, and there he was greeted with sharp spears pointed in his direction.

‘Wait, wait. Trenobin has been killed. A goblin attacked him.’ Draken raised his hands in submission.

‘What trick is this, Draken?’ a passing officer demanded.

‘No trick, go see for yourself, Zaruun,’ Draken sneered.

‘Fine then, but if this is some ploy I shall not go easy on you. Nethlith, seek out Trenobin and check his story. Draken stays here,’ Zaruun ordered the gate guard.

Nethlith laid his spear against the temple wall and jogged over to the campsite. He returned soon thereafter out of breath.

‘He speaks the truth, Zaruun. Trenobin is dead and a goblin beside him.’

‘How can this be?’ said Zaruun in puzzlement. ‘I shall have to consult with Curator Menin. Stand guard in case there are more goblins. I shall fetch reinforcements.’

‘Actually I do think there were more of those beasts,’ said Draken.

‘Great, that’s just wonderful!’

Draken watched Zaruun leave, happy that his plan had worked this far.

It was not too long before Curator Menin stormed from the temple, accompanied by General Jericho, and marched up to Draken, fire in her eyes.

‘What deception is this, Draken? Explain yourself,’ Menin thundered.

‘I do not know what you mean, Curator,’ Draken blustered, in an attempt to appear innocent. ‘We were attacked by four goblins while we talked. I somehow killed one of them and the others ran off.’

Menin stood nose to nose with Draken. Her eyes bored holes into his as she searched his depths for the truth. Draken swallowed hard. Now was the time his plan could fail. He had to keep cool. Easier said than done, he thought, while a sharp pain at the back of his eyes invited him to spill his guts. Menin used simple mind tricks, he reminded himself. He had learnt many years ago how to counter the urge to reveal true intents while under duress. He just hoped he could hold out.

To Draken’s surprise, he floated above the cold marble steps, just an inch, and barely noticeable. As the pain behind his eyes swelled, he began to perspire; beads formed on his brow that slid down his nose and stung his eyes.

Seconds later, images began to flash before him: distant memories, ghostly and distorted. They sped by at high speed, a child to teen in mere seconds. This had become dangerous; she was getting too close to his darkest secrets. Curator Menin was reading his mind. She searched for the truth, and he had to stop her. But how?

Moments later, an image flickered before him, a warm memory of a time he and his Great Uncle Neld practiced sorcery together. He knew instantly what he must do. He clasped his hands together at his breastbone, and summoned all his strength. He concentrated on a little-known piece of magic. It started as a pea-sized ball of force that grew rapidly within his chest, until it was large enough that it filled his chest cavity with a pressure wave that pulsated. The wave would break the bond between them, but he had a second attack. He would reverse Menin’s magic, and this would cause it to rebound upon her. He would ensure that Menin could never see into his mind again.

The force began to build, and Draken shook uncontrollably until he could hold it back no longer. With a cry, his arms flung outward. The full force of the magic left his body and hit Menin squarely in the chest. She careened several feet down the marble steps and crumpled into a heap at the bottom. General Jericho and Zaruun immediately seized Draken’s arms and roughly pinned him to the floor.

‘Get off me, what are you doing?’ Draken demanded, his face squashed against the cold marble.

‘Stay still and be quiet,’ Jericho barked. ‘Nethlith, please see to the Curator.’

Nethlith nodded and leapt down the steps two at a time.

‘No real damage done,’ said Menin with an embarrassed air.

‘But Draken, he–’ Nethlith began.

‘A simple miscalculation, I’m afraid. The magic appears to have rebounded on me,’ Menin interrupted.

On the cold floor, Draken allowed himself a smile. His plan had worked; Menin believed she had caused the spell to fail.

‘I will, however, be rather bruised and sore in the morning,’ she finished.

‘What of Draken?’ Jericho asked.

‘Let him go. Although he is treacherous, I do not sense deception in him,’ Menin replied.

Jericho gritted his teeth and snarled at Draken, and then punched the marble next to his face. ‘One day,’ he threatened, and released his captive.

Draken stood stiffly and stretched his back. He allowed it to crack, and it eased a cramp sustained while pinned to the ground. ‘Maybe, but not today.’ He turned to face Menin at the foot of the stairs. ‘My dear Curator, I trust you are unhurt? That was a nasty fall,’ he simpered, a sickly smile upon his face.

Menin looked at him with derision. ‘You may have passed my test, but do not think for one moment that I trust a word you say.’ She turned to Nethlith. ‘Please take Draken inside, and ensure he is fed and watered. I believe he will need some time to recover from my efforts. Nevertheless, be warned, he is not to venture anywhere other than the guest chambers. Understood?’

Nethlith nodded agreement and grasped Draken’s arm, then escorted him inside the building.

‘Zaruun,’ Menin began. ‘Please assist me to the Hall of Seers. I have work to finish.’

Zaruun, her personal guard, offered his arm. She winced in pain as she stood and attempted to put weight on her left foot.

‘It seems my ankle may be sprained. Would you see to it that the healer visits my chambers?’

‘Yes, milady.’ Zaruun bowed his head and supported Menin to walk up the long flight of steps.

Jericho marched down the steps to see Trenobin’s body for himself. Something about this whole affair did not feel right to him.

At the summit of the stair, Menin turned to face the paradise she had called home for thirty-eight years. A change was in the air, and she feared that more than anything. A new danger threatened the existence of the Brotherhood, and it had to be fought head on if they were to survive.

Draken lay back on a pile of cushions at the head of Coinin’s velveteen bed. He breathed easier now that his plan had thus far succeeded. His eyes closed and a satisfied smile spread across his face.

Marrok had watched his uncle from the moment he had entered Coinin’s chambers. ‘You smile, Uncle. Why?’

Immediately Draken snapped out of his self-indulgence. ‘I am grateful to be alive. Those goblins are fierce creatures,’ Draken bluffed.

Marrok looked incredulous.

‘I could be lying there dead, just like Trenobin.’

‘Poor Trenobin. Will they bury him? I know I’d like to pay my respects.’ Coinin said.

‘If tradition is maintained then he will be interred at the first available opportunity. You will get to say your farewell.’

‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about, he was just a stupid dwarf,’ said Marrok.

‘Marrok!’ Coinin snapped.

Marrok shrugged and joined his brother at the window. Coinin looked out in the direction of the Cliff of Judgment. What he saw shocked him. An army of small green creatures had begun to form at the base of the cliff, and more descended with each second that passed.

‘You know, Coinin, I don’t know what it is, but I don’t think I trust Uncle,’ Marrok whispered.

‘I think we have more to worry about than him. Look.’ Coinin pointed out of the window.

‘I need some fresh air,’ said Draken, and stood. He grabbed his pack and stepped outside onto a small but functional balcony. He closed the door behind him and rummaged in his pack. He withdrew his orb and held it aloft.

‘What are you doing?’ he said to the glowing orb. ‘This is not part of our deal. We agreed only to get the item, not this, a goblin army at the door. Only a handful were meant to invade the Sanctuary, enough to provide a distraction.’

‘I chose to strike while their defences were at their weakest. My plan worked, it destroyed their protection, and you provided me with the way in,’ the globe responded.

‘You used me to do your dirty work, to what end?’ Draken asked.

‘The destruction of the Brotherhood, what else? It is too late to cast the blame, you betrayed the order and agreed to break the charm at the Cliff of Judgment. You have an equal share in this deception. Besides, this provides an increased chance of success. Watch for my signal, and you will know when to act.’

‘How will I know the signal?’

‘Trust me, you will know,’ the voice cackled.

A call to arms sounded in the distance, and a bell chimed a warning. Coinin heard shouts from the corridor and he left the window. He stepped across the room and opened the door to his chambers and poked his head out.

A hustle and bustle of people ran here and there, and donned armour or carried armfuls of weapons. A young guard jogged his way along the length of the corridor and called loudly.

‘To arms, man your stations, the Sanctuary has been breached. All guards report to your stations. Brothers are to gather in the meeting hall.’

Coinin grabbed the arm of the guard as he made to pass. ‘What’s happening?’

‘Goblins have penetrated our outer defences; all Brothers are to meet in the Great Hall. I think perhaps you should attend also,’ the guard replied, before he again ran off and shouted his instructions.

‘Yes, but where is the Great Hall?’ Coinin called after him uselessly.

‘Don’t worry, nephew, I know the way,’ said Draken behind him, and placed a hand on his shoulder.

‘You’re not meant to leave this room. Nethlith said so,’ Marrok reminded.

‘And you are better off seen and not heard, boy,’ Draken growled.

‘I think the fact that we are overrun with goblins outweighs everything else. I’m sure we’ll all be needed to join the fight before the day is out,’ Coinin offered wisely.

‘Well-reasoned, my boy,’ said Draken cheerily. ‘Follow me then.’

The Great Hall was the most magnificent Coinin had ever seen, so high that songbirds nested amongst the rafters. Their calls were faint, but pleasant to the ear, and gave the sense of being outdoors. The glass roof reflected blue and red as a column of light emanated from a large well-like structure at the centre of the room. This must be the same light he had seen reach to the clouds yesterday. Guards lined the circular room between columns, which held a rotunda, filled with an anxious audience. The hall was cool, mainly thanks to its height, and decorated with friezes of battles won and fought. Portraits of long-dead Archmages adorned the rear wall of the hall. An air of unease hung in the air, and a hum of voices chattered nervously.

Coinin found seats amongst a throng of others. A door opened, and Archmage Orodor entered the hall to an instant hush. Coinin was puzzled by a noise that whooshed every few seconds or so, accompanied by a flash of light behind one of the columns. He turned to a red hooded figure to his left.

‘What’s happening behind that column over there?’ he whispered, and nudged the figure. He was instantly struck dumb, and his mouth dropped open, as the most beautiful, green-eyed woman he had ever seen turned to him. A hint of blonde hair slipped from her hood, and when she smiled at him, he felt his heart leap.

‘There are Brothers and Sisters arriving; they have come to hear Orodor speak and to strengthen our numbers,’ she replied.

Coinin recovered enough to question the young woman. ‘Arriving?’ he murmured.

‘Yes, a specialist piece of magic, used to transport people or objects great distances in an instant. Though not everyone can do it, and many people need a more experienced individual to port them here.’

‘Oh, I see, thank you. I’m Coinin, by the way.’

‘Lieutenant Reena Lifor. Now, if you don’t mind, Orodor is about to speak.’ She half smiled and turned away.

Coinin sat back and permitted himself a moment to savour his few precious seconds in conversation with the woman. He had missed her name, such was his fixation on her beauty, and hoped he would find time to meet her again.

He was snapped out of his thoughts when a gong sounded and signalled the meeting to order.

‘Brothers and Sisters,’ began Archmage Orodor, ‘I thank you for coming at such short notice, and many of you for travelling so far. I am sure the rumour mill has told you of the danger at our door. Let me reassure you that we are in control of the situation. Curator Menin has drafted a defensive strategy, so I will now hand over to her. Curator?’

Menin stepped forward, her limp obvious to all, and a few onlookers murmured. Menin raised her hand for silence, which was immediate.

‘Friends, I will be blunt. There is a horde of goblins interspersed with a number of giants amassing very quickly outside our walls. We can only assume that since the defences that have protected us have failed, they have found the way through the mountain pass. They are preparing for battle. Our inner defences hold for now, but they will fail. Our plight is such that all present are required to defend the Sanctuary; our very survival depends on it.’ Menin paused a moment to gather her thoughts and took the time to observe the tense crowd before her. ‘Generals, if you would report to my study after this meeting. Captains, take your troops to your designated zones. All those not assigned duties, please report to the lieutenants at the rear of the hall. Visitors to the temple are not required to fight and will be guarded.’ Menin looked deliberately in Coinin’s direction.

Coinin immediately jumped up. ‘I choose to fight,’ he said resolutely, eager to impress.

‘I too,’ said Marrok, and thrust his hand in the air, keen not to be outdone by his brother.

Draken, however, remained silent as a hundred pairs of eyes focused on him expectantly.

Menin sighed. ‘Thank you; your help will no doubt turn the balance in our favour. Friends, I have talked enough. May the gods bless us. For Rindor, Soliath Wulf, and the Brotherhood. To victory!’

The crowd cheered and rose as one with a scrape of boots on the polished wooden floor. They began to file to their stations or headed to the rear of the hall to seek an assignment. Coinin looked around the room, eager to spy the young woman who had snagged his heart. After a few moments, he saw her near a column surrounded by a small group of heavily armed individuals. He made his mind up, and turned to Marrok.

‘Marrok, I’m heading to that group there.’ He pointed. ‘Are you coming?’

‘Where you go, I go. Besides, they don’t look too bad at all.’ Marrok admired the polished steel of the battle armour.

‘Uncle?’ Coinin turned to Draken.

‘I will be right here. This is not my war,’ Draken responded with a bored tone.

‘It isn’t ours either,’ Marrok sneered.

Coinin looked disappointed. ‘Very well, Marrok, with me.’

Draken called after the brothers. ‘Try not to get killed out there now. Who will I get to look after me in my old age?’

Coinin gripped Marrok’s arm to stop his attempt to thump Draken.

‘He’s not worth it,’ Coinin hissed.

‘You should’ve let me,’ Marrok complained.

‘He’s annoying, and yes, there are times I’d like to put him in his place, but now is not the time.’

The brothers took up position behind an outfit of soldiers who intently listened to Lieutenant Reena.

She spotted them. ‘You there, step forward,’ she said.

Coinin’s face turned beetroot red as he and Marrok pushed their way through the group of bodies that surrounded the lieutenant.

‘Identify yourself, strangers,’ the lieutenant demanded.

Coinin was again overwhelmed by the beauty of the woman, and left Marrok to answer the challenge.

‘I am Marrok Wulf. This is my brother Coinin.’

The group took an audible intake of breath and nudged one another, or whispered behind hands.

‘Silence,’ said the lieutenant abruptly. ‘Am I to be impressed?’

Marrok looked lost.

‘Well, I’m not. Others may believe you and your brother are special. I do not. If you are to join me then you will do exactly as I say, and only then will you prove your worth,’ she said.

‘Okay,’ Marrok muttered. What did she mean, special?

‘My name is Lieutenant Reena, and you will do as I say if you are to survive this day. Got it?’

Marrok looked at Coinin, who silently mouthed the beauty’s name with a faraway look on his face, and had to be nudged back into existence.

‘Yes, lieutenant,’ said Coinin dreamily.

‘Good, now go with Rendal the armourer and suit up. You’ll need it.’

A fearsome man who towered seven feet tall stepped forward. His muscles bulged beneath his shoulder guards and held many scars. He glared down at the boys, and then smiled big and wide.

‘Come on then, boys, this way,’ he boomed.

Keep tuned for more…

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DESTINY OF THE WULF: Chapter Three.

December 17, 2017 Leave a comment

PARADISE FOUND

The castle guards were struck down one by one as the horde slew all in its path. Two figures headed the crowd and made their way towards a high tower, the way barred by heavy doors.

Brother, if you will.

His companion frowned a moment in concentration and then reached with his hand as if for the door.

He clenched his fist and pulled his arm back quickly. As he did so the huge oak doors ripped from their hinges, flew twenty feet in the air and crashed through the roof of a nearby stable. As the dust settled they saw a guard, stationed at the gaping entrance to the tower, scream and run terrified into the night.

The brothers wound their way up a never-ending spiral staircase and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the few remaining guards of the castle. As the last was dispatched, the two shadowy figures reached a small wooden door and entered a dark tower room. A cowering old man with an extremely long grey beard, and sharp, piercing eyes greeted them.

You know why we are here, old man? Coinin asked.

Yes, but please, spare my life; I am merely a pawn in the game,’ the old man replied. He shook and prostrated himself before them.

Game? Marrok roared. This is not a game!

The morning proved to be a wet one. The climate they had ventured into was not pleasant and the humidity was unbearable.

It amazed Coinin how diverse Rosthagaar and the surrounding lands were. One moment you might find yourself in a desert or open plain, and the next a tropical forest, or indeed battling snowstorms in the high mountains.

The unlikely foursome set out early that morning and wasted not a moment of light. The going was easy but extremely wet and Draken complained of the cost to replace his boots. All around them birds chirped and sang melodious tunes or squawked at their presence. Strange unseen animals made even odder noises, and a foolhardy monkey attempted to steal Trenobin’s hat. The only thing it left with was a bruised ego and a swift kick up the backside. It sat on a high branch of an oak tree and screeched at them.

‘I’ve not seen trees quite like this anywhere in Arrom,’ said Coinin after some time. ‘Where are we exactly?’

‘We are on an island near the coast of Rosthagaar. We have travelled under the sea from the mainland,’ Trenobin replied.

‘Can other people find this place?’ Marrok asked.

‘Well, it is visible from the mainland, but the only way to get to it without magic is the route we took yesterday.’

Trenobin had led them to a natural pathway that snaked its way up the mountain and was as wide as twenty men. To Coinin’s dismay it spiralled for miles around the peak at a steep incline. Trenobin stopped at the entrance and there he cocked his head and listened. His eyes squinted in concentration.

‘I think I’ll be going back,’ Coinin announced.

‘There is no turning back; you know that. This is the only way to our destination. We will need to follow this path till we reach the exit through the pass,’ Trenobin informed him.

‘Don’t worry.’ Marrok smiled. ‘I’ll carry him if I must.’

‘There now, that’s spirit for you. Shall we?’ said Trenobin, and strode into the pass.

An hour and a half into the journey, Draken lost his temper with the boys, as he had done many times before. ‘Will you two shut up once and for all? I do not care who the better swordsman is. Marrok is better, and that is final.’

Coinin had baited Marrok for some twenty minutes before this outburst and had not heeded repeated warnings to be quiet. Marrok had, though, resisted any attempt to silence his brother for a good while, but now he had pounced on him and pinned him to the ground, and then demanded that he tell the world that he was better at wielding a sword. Coinin of course refused to succumb to pressure. Secretly, though, both boys had a hidden agenda.

‘Will you two get up? We still have a way to go. I am tired and hungry and I swear I will beat you both black and blue until you beg me to stop,’ said Draken, with eyes that flashed menacingly.

Marrok smirked at Coinin and winked, and then clambered off his younger brother. He then held out his hand to help Coinin to his feet. He accepted the assistance and stood, and then took a moment to brush dirt from his leathers.

‘I still say that I’m better at parrying,’ said Coinin.

Draken balled his fists and ground his teeth. He stormed off ahead of the group and uttered oaths and curses under his breath as he went.

‘Nice,’ Marrok admired, and patted Coinin on the back.

‘Thank you,’ Coinin graciously accepted.

‘Hold on. You two planned this?’ Trenobin asked.

‘Yes, that’s right. We wanted rid of him for a bit. He is a bore, don’t you think?’ Marrok chuckled.

‘He talks endlessly about the cost of boots or the women at the tavern,’ Coinin said.

Trenobin burst into fits of laughter.

‘If he thinks we’re beating on each other then he won’t strike us.’

‘Clever, and crafty.’ Trenobin winked. ‘You’ll need that in this life.’

A yell cut the silence, followed by high-pitched laughter and wails of delight. Out of the dust thrown up by a wind that filtered through the pass, Draken ran full-tilt as sweat poured down his brow into his eyes. He moved swiftly, helped by the sloped path. As he ran he breathlessly tried to convey a message, and it was only when he rejoined the small group that he was able to finally get his message through.

‘Goblins, there are hundreds of goblins back there. Take up defensive positions. Move!’ Draken ordered, with his hands on his knees as he gulped for air.

They stood back to back and then moved forward gingerly, eyes peeled for the unseen enemy.

‘Goblins? Why didn’t you tell us?’ Marrok asked. ‘There may be another way around.’

‘There is no other way. I had hoped we’d be able to cross their territory without hindrance.’

‘Well, you thought wrong. I hope it doesn’t become a habit,’ Draken growled.

Trenobin briefly considered punching the man, but thought better of it, as it would alienate the boys. He needed to get through this, and all hands would be needed to do it.

Draken issued orders. ‘Watch your left, check above, ready your bow,’ he shouted.

They moved quickly, although the dust blown down the pass made it hard to see ahead. Coinin issued a cry of pain and raised a hand to his head to find a trickle of blood had run down his face.

‘I’m hit, not bad, but I think they’re throwing rocks,’ Coinin said.

‘That’s not good, there’s no cover,’ Draken began. ‘Change of plan. Run!’ he bellowed, and sprinted forward.

The others took the hint and raced at top speed after him. Rock after rock crashed down around them, amid laughter and cries of triumph, as one or another struck home. The sizes of the projectiles were not enough to kill, thanks to the small hands of the goblins, but they stung hard and left welts where they hit.

Draken stopped short, for ahead of him a line of goblins carried sharpened sticks and clubs. They taunted him with jeers and rude gestures. A goblin, taller than the others, wore a leather strap across his chest that held the finger bones of his enemies. He wore a ragged covering cut off at the knees, and carried a staff with a blue orb that emitted rays of crystalline light. Within swirled a light blue mist.

The goblin shaman yelled a spell in his language and directed his staff at Draken. A blast of green light flew through the air as fast as lightning and struck Draken in the chest. He was flung backwards ten feet and landed hard, his face a mixture of shock and pain.

Marrok’s instinct overtook him and he knelt to aim his crossbow.

The shaman saw the bolt coming and dodged the shot. However, the bolt hit home and smashed the orb. It released a blinding flash of light and a shock wave that hit each goblin in its vicinity with such ferocity that their poses were instantly frozen as they turned to stone.

Trenobin was stunned, gaping at the most wonderful crossbow shot he had ever seen.

Coinin whooped for joy. ‘Great shot, Marrok!’ he said and punched the air.

With a self-satisfied smile Marrok ran to his uncle and helped him up. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

‘It’ll take more than that to kill me,’ Draken replied. ‘Besides, he hit my breastplate, it took most of the force.’

‘We must keep moving, there are still goblins above us, and they look pretty angry that we killed their shaman,’ Trenobin said.

‘They still need to find a way down,’ Coinin offered hopefully.

‘They already have.’ Marrok pointed. ‘Let’s move, and fast.’

They ran as they dodged missile after missile. The green, bony goblins gave chase, their yellow eyes ablaze with fury. After several minutes Coinin was all but spent when Trenobin bellowed ‘Stop!’

‘Are you crazy? With those things behind us?’ Marrok cried and stopped to gesture at their pursuers.

Trenobin walked up to Marrok. ‘Look down,’ he said quietly.

Marrok obeyed and instantly recoiled; he stood, or floated, on thin air, yet it felt to him like solid ground.

Behind him, the pass had suddenly ended, and below, a high cliff dropped away to the ground.

Trenobin smiled. ‘Dive, as you would into water.’ He mimed the action. ‘Trust me, this is the only way down, and the goblins will not follow us; the air doesn’t agree with them. They seem to have a quick flight, and an unusually violent landing,’ he chuckled.

‘Is it safe?’ Marrok asked.

‘For us it is, yes.’

‘That’s all I needed to hear.’ Marrok shrugged his shoulders and dove as if he was diving into the lake back home.

The sensation was unlike anything he had experienced before. His senses told him he was falling; yet he was doing so slowly, as if on a cushion of air. He kicked his legs as he would underwater and found to his surprise that he dropped faster.

‘This is fantastic,’ Coinin yelled as he zoomed past him, his hair wafting in the breeze.

‘Slow down, you idiot,’ Marrok called after him.

It was a disappointingly short ride, although the sight that beheld them as they fell was magnificent. In the distance, a golden building sat in a high-walled courtyard, surrounded by manicured lawns and majestic fountains. People dressed in white robes, with what appeared to be long spears, stood motionless at the entrance to the courtyard. There appeared to be a vineyard and two or three vaulted canvas tents within the grounds.

One by one the group twisted upright in mid-air and landed softly on a pebbled road that led to a grove of apple trees.

Each stared in amazement at the sheer beauty of this new location. The colour was so intense that it threatened to hurt the eyes; greens, blues, and the yellow of the flowers shone like the midday sun.

‘Are you okay?’ Trenobin asked. ‘Is anyone hurt?’

‘I could do with a dressing,’ said Coinin as he dabbed painfully at his head with his fingers.

‘We will fix that right up when we get inside. For now, though, you must do exactly as I say. We are entering a sacred temple. You are here by invitation, and only those invited may enter.’

‘Who invited us?’ Coinin asked.

‘That would be Curator Menin who oversees the temple library.’

‘Do we know the Curator?’ Marrok asked.

‘No, however, there is not a man or woman here who has not heard of you. There is a great deal of excitement about your arrival.’

They set off up the pathway through the grove of trees and bushes, and soon halted at the entrance to the courtyard. Robed guards crossed spears and blocked the entranceway.

Trenobin stepped forward and spoke to the guards. ‘Make way; we are here by invitation from Curator Menin. This is Coinin and Marrok and their uncle.’

The guards uncrossed spears silently and gestured that they might enter. Coinin and Marrok took sideways glances at one another and shrugged. Trenobin led the way into the courtyard and slowly walked towards the golden temple. The full majesty of the building enveloped his companions.

The temple consisted of fine panels of gold that overlaid the finest of woods. At its heart was a glass dome. From this, a column of pulsating blue light emitted, and around it spiralled a red stream of misty light.

At each corner of the building a high tower reached skyward, and from this hung vertical banners that depicted a paw print of a wolf, surrounded by a sun disc. The pathways were of solid marble that glistened in the sun. A low marble wall ran alongside the pathway that enclosed finely cut lawns, and fountains gushed clear water. In a clearing to the left, a roped-off arena had been erected amongst canvas tents. There was a commotion in the arena and men and women stood and cheered or offered encouragement.

Marrok strode over to the enclosure and was greeted with his favourite of sights: two individuals locked in combat. This was a training arena, much like the one Draken had set up at his home. Little did the boys know that Draken had been preparing them for such events since the day of their arrival at his home. Double-edged swords swung and created sparks as they collided with a clang, or made a dull thud as they struck wooden shields. Marrok could see, to his disappointment, that the participants used training weapons; but then, no self-respecting warrior would use a fine sword as they trained. Trenobin, impatient as ever, had to drag Marrok away from the spectacle, much to his annoyance.

‘All right, I’m coming,’ said Marrok grumpily.

They continued along the path, and were greeted by a dozen marble statues in various noble poses. These led up to the temple on each side of the pathway.

‘Who are they?’ Marrok asked.

‘The order’s finest warriors,’ Trenobin replied. ‘Look to your left and you may recognize that statue.’

The boys stopped briefly to examine the sculpture. Draken merely looked bored and played with his fingernails.

‘Father?’ Marrok gasped.

‘Really?’ Coinin asked, and looked closer.

‘No doubt, it’s him all right.’ Marrok grinned. ‘There’s his name there on that plaque.’

‘Your brother is correct; indeed that is your father. He once served this order and is revered by many.’

‘What happened, why did he leave?’ Coinin enquired.

‘She happened,’ Draken growled. ‘Your mother. He fell in love, abandoned us all and left the order.’ There was an edge to Draken’s voice and he turned away.

Trenobin sensed that the boys wished to know more. ‘Today is a day of surprises, and there is yet more to come. Follow me.’

However, Coinin had stopped. Before him stood two marble statues whose faces had been crudely removed, and their brass plaques were missing. ‘Whose were these?’ he asked.

‘I cannot answer that question, we are forbidden to speak of it to outsiders,’ Trenobin replied, eager to change the subject.

‘Oh, surely you can tell the boys, Trenobin,’ Draken smirked. ‘After all, you and the owner of the statue there on the left are still very good friends.’

‘Draken, enough of this. I warn you not to broach this subject again. Now we really must move along,’ he said with a glare.

‘Very well, as you wish.’ Draken bowed.

The group again moved off, and as they ventured up the main steps to the temple entrance, a handsome white-robed woman waited at the top with a broad grin on her face. She was in her mid fifties with green eyes like that of a cat. She held a leather-bound book and an eagle-feather quill in her arms. A severe looking man in gold trimmed steel armour stood by her side.

Trenobin stepped forward. ‘Curator, I present Coinin and Marrok Wulf.’

‘Thank you Trenobin. Welcome my friends, welcome. I am so pleased you have arrived safely,’ the robed figure began in soft, pleasant tones. ‘Those goblins have given us a hard time of late, but we will rid the pass of them soon, I am sure. My name is Menin; I am Curator here at the Temple of Rindor; the big fellow to my right is my First General, Jericho.’

The brothers clasped arms with Menin and felt a warmth and peace as they did so. They nodded politely to the general who smiled and nodded in return.

‘Well done, Brother Trenobin, you have again proved your skill and brought the boys here safely.’

‘It was touch and go for a while,’ Trenobin admitted with a sly grin.

‘Yes, quite,’ said Menin. ‘Who might this be?’ she asked with a nod to Draken.

‘Have you forgotten me so soon?’ Draken sneered and dropped the hood of his cloak. ‘Have I really changed that much, Laliala?’

‘This is Draken, the boys’ uncle,’ Trenobin said.

‘I can see that. He is banished from this place. Did I or did I not forbid his presence here?’

‘You did, I am sorry. The boys would not accompany me without him,’ Trenobin said feebly.

‘Then he shall have to stay out of my way. We have much to do and little time in which to do it. General, please remain here. Trenobin, if you will.’ Curator Menin grasped the dwarf by the arm and led him out of earshot of the others. ‘You will keep that man as far away from here as possible. I trust you remember why he was banished?’

‘Yes, I am aware,’ Trenobin replied.

‘That man is one of only two members of our sacred order to have introduced dark magic into our midst. He is not to be trusted; he mixes with the wrong sorts of people,’ Menin spat angrily.

‘You will not know he is here, Curator.’

‘See to it that I do not. Fail me, and I will kill him, and hang you by your ankles for a very long time,’ Menin warned.

General Jericho glared at Draken, and he in turn avoided the eyes of his old friend and former military superior.

‘You dare to come back here?’ Jericho asked.

‘Why should I not? My nephews needed an escort.’

‘They had an escort. Trenobin.’

‘What kind of uncle would I be if I allowed my flesh and blood to wander these dangerous lands with a stranger?’

Jericho opened his mouth to retort when Menin swept back to the waiting boys and smiled. ‘I’m sorry I kept you. I had some final orders for Trenobin.’

‘That is quite all right, madam,’ Draken replied, and his eyebrows rose in anticipation of the inevitable.

Menin looked affronted that Draken had even spoken to her. Her features darkened a moment, before she turned and smiled at the boys. ‘If you would follow me, Trenobin will make sure that your uncle is comfortable.’ Menin gestured that they should venture inside.

‘He will not be coming with us?’ Coinin asked.

‘His journey ends here. You will see him again soon, but first we eat,’ Menin replied.

Marrok’s ears pricked at the thought of food and he raced ahead. Coinin on the other hand savoured every moment as he entered the wondrous temple. Besides the gold that overlaid the temple, the sheer beauty of the entrance hall was astounding. The doors were made of thick eaglewood, inlaid with bands of fine marble and gold. The handles were placed centrally and shaped from the finest jade. The hallway inside was pillared again in marble, as were the walls, which helped to cool the room.

Majestic paintings adorned the walls and depicted diverse battle scenes in which figures dressed in white fought overwhelming odds. Along the walls ran long marble benches, and upon these sat white-robed men and women who talked in hushed tones. On seeing the new arrivals they stood, and as the boys passed, vigorously grabbed a hand of each and shook them until Coinin and Marrok had to wrench their hands free.

‘Welcome.’

‘It is so good to see you both.’

‘We have waited for this day for so long.’

The greetings continued in this fashion until Menin ushered them inside a room off a long hallway, and then shut the door. ‘I am sorry about that. This is a big day for us, and I promise I will tell all tomorrow, but for now, please eat.’

Spread across a large table was a feast fit for a king. Never had the boys seen so much food, all set out in the finest of tableware. Tureens of delicious fruits sat amongst various sweet-smelling dishes, while a huge boar head steamed in the centre of the table surrounded by dishes that overflowed with cooked vegetables.

‘Dig in, gentlemen. I have a few matters to attend to.’ Menin motioned to the table.

Coinin did not need to be told twice. He ripped a leg from the nearest turkey dish and devoured it. The taste was delectable, and the succulent meat melted in his mouth. He and Marrok did not notice Menin slip from the room as they ate, with a smile of satisfaction on her face.

It was a full hour later before Menin returned and her eyes widened at how much the boys had actually eaten.

‘You have hollow legs, I see,’ she chuckled.

‘What do you mean?’ Coinin groaned and rubbed his stomach. He had eaten far too much and now paid the price for over-indulgence.

‘Nothing, it’s just a saying. If you two are finished, I’m sure you’d welcome a warm bed. You must be exhausted after your trip.’

The brothers lit up at the thought of sleep and prised themselves from their seats. They followed Menin through the quiet temple and it seemed everyone had retired for the evening also.

Glowing orbs of light floated above them and ignited individually as they ventured deeper into the temple. They cast pools of luminescence before them, and then extinguished as they passed each.

‘I’m really beginning to like magic,’ Coinin whispered to Marrok.

‘I have a feeling we’re going to see more of it very soon,’ Marrok replied. ‘But I agree; I quite like it too.’

Menin had led them a circuitous route, via an upstairs corridor, to the front of the temple. A dozing guard quickly revived and saluted. Menin rolled her eyes and was easily forgiving. She knew full well how hard night duties were on the individual. She saluted in return and directed the boys down the corridor.

‘That will be your room, Coinin.’ Menin pointed to a doorway at the end of the long wide corridor on the third floor of the temple. ‘Marrok will take the room opposite.’

‘Thank you, Curator.’ Coinin beamed at the thought of a whole room to himself.

‘You are quite welcome. Coinin, inside you will find water and a clean cloth to tend to your wound. I don’t believe it’s bad enough to warrant a healer. Otherwise, rest well.’ Menin turned and walked away without further word.

‘Thank you,’ Coinin called after the quickly disappearing Curator.

Menin merely waved as she walked and stopped briefly to speak to the guard in the hallway, who then saluted her as she walked on.

Marrok had already opened his chambers and stuck his head around the door. He turned back to his brother. ‘Goodnight,’ he said and stepped inside and closed the door.

‘Goodnight,’ Coinin replied and yawned. Tiredness had caught up with him at last.

He stepped into one of the most lavishly decorated bedrooms he had ever seen. Tapestries adorned the walls and fine drapes and shutters covered a small window. In the centre of the room, a bed unlike any he had ever seen rested invitingly. It had four posts and a dozen or more feather pillows. He stripped to the waist and wandered over to the window. He drew aside the drapes and opened the shutters and looked outside. Moonlight cut through the darkness and he noted from his position that he must be in one of the tower rooms.

A light from a campfire outside the temple walls flickered and caught his attention. A dark figure sat and warmed by the fire, and he wondered who it might be. But a yawn ended his curiosity and he realised how tired he was. He closed the shutters and the wine-red drapes, and then he tended to his wound. He decided it was not so bad that it needed to be dressed; instead, he concluded his headache would go away with sleep.

He jumped into bed, and what a bed. It was the most comfortable he had ever lain in, a world away from his well-worn cot back at his uncle’s home.

Warming his hands by the campfire, Draken cursed his luck. He had not feasted at the temple like the old days. Instead he had dug into his pack for some salted beef, which he sat and chewed with a look of intense dissatisfaction on his face. He turned to look back at the temple and noted a lit window in a tower room, where a figure silhouetted by candlelight looked out. He wished he were in that room.

Full of regret that he hadn’t insisted on being allowed into the temple, he looked away and sighed. He lay down on his bedroll and gazed at the night sky. It was then that a low voice whispered his name. For a moment he was confused and then he realised the voice came from his pack. He quickly sat up and reached for the bag and from within he extracted an orb that glowed a pale yellow.

An unearthly voice issued from the orb. ‘Is it safe to talk, Draken?’

Draken took a moment to check he was alone. ‘Yes, it is safe.’

‘Good, how is progress?’ the voice asked.

‘The boys are inside the temple under the guardianship of the woman,’ Draken replied, and cast glances around him to make sure he was not overheard.

‘You are sure this is the only way our plan will work?’ the voice demanded.

‘I am certain of it. I do, however, think–’

A crack of a tree branch startled him and he thrust the orb back inside his pack, and then whirled around.

‘Who is there?’ Draken quizzed, on edge, his heart threatening to burst from his chest.

‘Trenobin,’ the dwarf said as he stepped out of the shadows. ‘To whom were you speaking?’

‘That is my business, dwarf. I do not answer to you,’ Draken snarled.

‘There is no need for rudeness. I know of your past misdeeds and yet I remain your friend. I hope that you will not bring danger to the temple. I have been entrusted with the safety of this sacred place, and I take my task very seriously.’

Draken scowled.

‘What are you up to?’ Trenobin continued.

‘You really are a bulldog, aren’t you? It’s unlikely you will let this matter go, so I will show you.’ Draken again reached into his pack and removed a long, thin object that glinted in the firelight. ‘This is what I am up to,’ he smirked.

‘My sword? How dare you! That is a family treasure.’ Trenobin looked shocked.

‘Oh, it is more than a treasure, my friend, it is so much more,’ Draken continued, his voice taking on a menacing tone. ‘I have the means to obtain the other swords and I intend to retrieve them.’

‘Then why are you here?’ Trenobin demanded, while his hand reached for the axe tucked into his belt.

‘Fool, I need help, and who better than Coinin and Marrok? You know the power they possess. I intend to use them to my benefit and they will bring the swords to me.’

‘You cannot; I will not let you,’ Trenobin growled.

‘How do you intend to stop me when you are dead?’

‘The guards shall stop you.’ Trenobin turned his head to yell for assistance.

Draken was lightning fast. The sword that once graced the wall of the dwarf’s cabin now pierced the soft flesh of Trenobin’s neck. It crunched past bone and sliced his spinal column as it exited through his windpipe. Trenobin’s eyes were wide as he fell to his knees, unable to utter a word. Air escaped from his wound, and his life drained away in a pool of blood. A gurgle in his throat and the odd twitch of his limbs were the last signs of life.

‘You have always underestimated me, old friend. That was your fatal mistake,’ said Draken coldly.

Stay tuned for Chapter Four…

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December 12, 2017 Leave a comment

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Categories: General

DESTINY OF THE WULF: Chapter Two.

December 10, 2017 Leave a comment

UNCLE DRAKEN

Ædelmær chuckled to himself at the sight of his two boys as they swung their arms in unison and skipped behind him.

Come on, you two, we have things to do, he said, gently pushing the boys ahead of him and into the forest surrounding Arrom.

The clearing before them permitted practice in the art of swordplay out of sight of Godwen, and if they practiced well he would reward them with tales of glorious battle between witches and wizards, of dragons, and most importantly of the gods, the former to be kept strictly between them of course.

Right boys, if you recall, I told you that our ancestors date back to when time began, to when the gods created man and all the other races and creatures, aside from the trolls, goblins and orcs, that is, Ædelmær began. You will remember that I told you that the gods favoured our family, among several others, and blessed them with certain magical gifts to be called upon by the gods for use as they saw fit.

Oh, you mean like when Coinin can find me with just his mind? Marrok asked.

Yes, that’s exactly right. Ædelmær beamed. I want to prepare you for a time when the gods may call and request your help. As we do not yet know what your gift is, Marrok, I have a game in mind. We know Coinin can find you with his thoughts, but can you find Coinin with just your mind?

I don’t know. I’ve never tried, Marrok replied.

Well, there’s no time like the present, Ædelmær said. Coinin, go and hide somewhere and make sure that you cannot be seen. Think hard about where you are. Marrok, I want you to focus your mind only on Coinin. Really think about him, and only him.

Ædelmær looked up and saw Coinin still standing there and picking his nose. Why are you still here, boy? Get off with you and hide. And how many times have I told you not to do that?

Coinin stuck his tongue out and ran into the trees.

All right, Marrok, close your eyes, make your mind go blank just as I have taught Coinin. Now, really focus on your brother, imagine in your mind’s eye that he has left you a trail to follow, and that you need to flush him out.

Marrok closed his bright blue eyes and tried to make his mind go blank.

After a minute he slapped his sides in frustration and opened them again. It’s not working.

It won’t work if you keep talking, Ædelmær whispered into his ear.

Marrok jumped in shock at the proximity of his father and shut his eyes tight. He was determined to make it work so his father might allow him to play with the swords. He thought hard on his brother and tried to picture him, what he looked like, that silly expression he wore. Almost immediately the depiction of a stone footpath appeared in front of him, strangely lit and yet inviting. The image rushed at him and nearly overwhelmed him, but he fought back the urge to open his eyes. He decided to follow the footpath and set off. As he walked with his eyes still closed, the path led him true.

That’s it; you’re doing well, concentrate, said Ædelmær proudly.

I can’t concentrate if you keep telling me to concentrate, said Marrok through gritted teeth.

Sorry, it’s just so exciting to see your gift on display.

Marrok again closed his eyes and permitted the sensation of rushing water to envelop him. Moments later, the image of the footpath rushed up to meet him once again. The path, however, had changed from one of stone to a sparkling white marble. He was again compelled to walk along the pathway. Outside of the vision, Ædelmær merely followed his son along the forest floor, unaware they were headed along a set path.

Marrok never set a foot wrong; his eyes were closed, yet he avoided many obstacles and the odd fallen tree trunk with ease. The vision provided not only a path to Coinin but also one that skirted the flora and fauna within the forest.

A new impression flashed before him. It was almost like he was looking through the eyes of his brother. However, the image was blurred and he had the sense he was underwater and began to gasp for air in panic. His brother was in the lake alone. He woke from his vision with a start and his arms flailed as if drowning.

Da, he’s at the lake. I think he’s in the water, said Marrok worriedly.

Ædelmær took a sharp intake of breath and checked his bearings. Marrok, this way, quickly.

Both he and Marrok tore through the undergrowth and took the shortest path possible back to the lake. After a minute they broke through the trees directly opposite it. They both scanned the water for signs of the small boy but he was nowhere to be found.

Marrok, you go left, I’ll go right. Find him!.

Marrok sprinted along the lakeshore, eager to spot signs of his brother, though not even a ripple from a light breeze seemed to disturb the surface.

Ædelmær began to tear off his boots to jump into the lake, when a small voice behind him stopped him dead.

You shouldn’t believe everything you see.

Ædelmær whirled around and scooped Coinin into his arms, and with a hug, crushed the air from the small boy’s lungs. After several moments he gently lowered him to the floor and knelt before him.

Never, ever do that to me again. I thought you had drowned, Ædelmær scolded.

Coinin was close to tears. I was joking.

It is no joke to make your brother believe you are in danger.

I’m sorry, said Coinin. His head hung low and tears flowed.

Ædelmær could not stay angry with the boy for too long and his heart melted at the sight of his tears. I should think so. I have half a mind not to allow you to visit the feast tonight, he said more softly.

No, please, I must go. All my friends will be there, Coinin pleaded.

Ædelmær relented at his son’s anguish. Fine, you may go, but you have not heard the last of this.

Coinin awoke with a yell and sweat poured from his brow. He panted uncontrollably and clasped his head in sweaty hands as his body shook. He looked to where his brother lay and heard him snore soundly. The dreams had grown stronger each day, more detailed, but always the same dream. It described the nightmare of events that occurred just hours before his parents’ deaths.

Coinin clambered out of his cot and stumbled to the small window through which a soft moonlight bathed the room. He gazed out at the night sky, comforted by the presence of Er’ath’s sisters Rol’as and Tal in the vast darkness, aware that the gods looked down on him.

His features had changed this last year and had taken on a more manly shape. Coinin, now seventeen years old, had lived with his Uncle Draken since the deaths of his parents some ten years previous. He and Marrok had arrived at their uncle’s house in the dead of night while their uncle slept. Draken had barely batted an eyelid before welcoming them.

He had questioned their arrival and learnt of the attack on the village while he dressed Marrok’s wound, and without further hesitation, he had ordered the boys to stay put and set out on horseback to Arrom.

Draken had ridden hard and arrived quickly. He was shocked at the scene that met him. Survivors of the assault by the Madorine had laid out the dead in long rows to bury them en masse.

After speaking with several people he was told by a gravedigger that the Madorine had attacked over Elder Rangsan’s failure to supply the clans with fish as agreed, in return for their assistance the winter before.

Over half of the dwellings in the village were now smoking piles of rubble, and orphaned children scoured the remains in a vain search for loved ones.

He raced to his brother’s farmhouse and noticed immediately the lifeless body of Ædelmær. He reined in the horse outside of the enclosure and dismounted quickly. He rushed to his brother but knew before he even got there that it was too late. Sinking to his knees, he cradled the lifeless body in his arms and wept.

He buried the bodies of Ædelmær and Godwen beneath a large oak tree they would play under as children, and spoke nothing of this to Coinin or Marrok. Even though they asked repeatedly, his answer was always the same. ‘Your parents are dead, now leave it.’

Life throughout the years had been tough but fair. Uncle Draken had of course welcomed them to his home only to promptly set them backbreaking chores. The boys, however, did not complain; as a treat Draken would work them hard in the art of swordsmanship, and like their father, he taught them basic magical arts.

Every day they spent upwards of four hours learning to thrust and parry, slice and dodge, without a break, and the rest of the time was spent in study, much to Marrok’s annoyance.

Marrok, Draken noted, was adept at swordplay and would astound him with his feats of cunning. Often Draken would find himself, to his chagrin, pinned to the ground, a sword point at his throat.

Not all was pleasant in their new home, however, as Draken would punish them severely for any wrongdoing, or if they failed a task he had set. Marrok and Coinin were no strangers to the lash. The past week had thankfully seen no such punishment, as their uncle seemed distracted.

Coinin felt a connection to his brother Marrok, one stronger than any he had ever felt. He sensed the feelings of his brother and knew in his heart that Marrok screamed for revenge, his bloodlust high since the murder of his parents. Marrok did not know from whom to exact his retribution, so he blamed the only being he could: Rindor, the King of the Gods, to the dismay of the devout Coinin.

A light flickered in the distance and caught Coinin’s attention as he stared out of the window. A figure dressed in black headed towards the house carrying a fiery torch.

Coinin expected danger and was immediately on guard. However, as the man drew close and removed the hood of his cloak, Coinin recognised his uncle. The stoop and cruel face gave him away.

He was tall, yet stooped with age, and wiry with dark sunken eyes. He had grey hair tied in a ponytail, but what set him apart from most men were his long pointed nails that he often used as a punishment.

Where had his uncle been at this hour? It was at least three in the morning, judging by the moon’s position. Coinin quickly returned to his cot and pretended to sleep just moments before his uncle opened the cottage door. The boy sensed there was something unusual in his uncle’s actions and peeked between his eyelids to try and get a better idea of why Draken had acted so oddly this past week. He saw the dark shape of Draken approach a locked cupboard, take a key from a string around his neck and unlock it. He placed a small round object wrapped in cloth inside, and then carefully locked the cupboard once more.

Draken took a quick look around at the sleeping boys to make sure they had not moved or observed his actions, and then lay down on his own cot. Minutes later he added to the snores in the room and slept soundly until cockcrow.

Coinin awoke the next morning to Jip the wolfhound licking his face with a big slobbery tongue and breath so foul it could knock a man dead at three paces.

‘Get off me, you beast,’ laughed Coinin, as he attempted to push the mighty hound off him.

Jip immediately thought this a game and leapt on the boy with his crushing weight. Coinin struggled with the hound until Marrok sat up bleary-eyed and saw that Jip was squashing his younger brother. He smiled with a shake of his head and came to the rescue. He lifted the large hound off the small boy who had very nearly turned blue.

Marrok had grown into a strong man of twenty, muscular and tanned from hours of practicing sword techniques in the open air. Coinin on the other hand was naturally thin and pale. He practiced like his brother, but Draken’s teachings for him focused more on the magical arts and study of religion and culture.

‘Go on, get out of it, you smelly oaf,’ Marrok ordered as he opened the cottage door.

Jip lifted a leg and let a warm stream of urine splatter the doorframe. Despite his advanced age, he was ill trained and still behaved like a pup.

Marrok turned to his brother. ‘You’d better clean that before Draken sees it.’

‘But it’s your turn,’ Coinin retorted.

‘No way, I just saved you.’

‘I always have to clean up the mess.’

‘Yes, that’s because you’re the squirt.’

‘Thanks,’ said Coinin, and pulled a face.

‘You’re welcome,’ Marrok laughed, and then swaggered from the room.

Coinin wiped the sleep from his eyes and yawned, and only then contemplated the clean-up job.

A minute later as he finished, Draken stormed through the open doorway to find Coinin on his knees.

‘What are you doing on the floor, boy?’ he asked grumpily.

‘I’m cleaning, sir.’

‘Yes, well, no time for that, we have things to do. Get your equipment and come outside,’ Draken ordered.

Coinin quickly finished his task and threw aside his cloth. He raced to his cot and heaved a heavy package wrapped in linen from beneath, which he unwrapped energetically.

Inside was a set of leathers with plated armour sections accompanied by a long sword. Underneath lay a small dagger, and wrapped separately was a quiver of arrows and a short bow. The boy swiftly donned the leathers and attached a cowhide belt around his waist. On this he hung the dagger and sword and finally he slung the bow, complete with quiver, across his body and stepped outside into the sunlight. He squinted at the low morning sun and saw Marrok stood several feet away.

‘What took you so long?’ Marrok demanded impatiently. He was dressed in similar garb to Coinin. The only difference was that Marrok carried a crossbow and his father’s sword.

Draken had not set up the usual roped training arena in the yard as he had so many times before. Instead, the compound was empty. Coinin raised an eyebrow to his brother who shrugged and mouthed that he did not know why the training ring was missing.

‘We are doing something different today.’ Draken spoke softly behind them.

Both boys whirled around in surprise and each promptly received a smack to the side of the head with the flat of a blade.

‘First lesson, use your ears. I am old and not so light on my feet, but what would a trained assassin be able to do? Honestly, why do I bother sometimes?’

‘I wonder the same thing,’ Marrok quipped.

‘What was that?’ Draken thundered.

‘Nothing, Uncle,’ Coinin jumped in. ‘He just wondered what today’s task is.’

‘For that, boys, you’ll have to follow me.’

Draken motioned and headed outside of the compound with his charges in tow.

Coinin stopped and turned, and then whistled for Jip. A moment later, the huge hound joined them from behind the house.

‘Are you quite finished?’ Draken asked.

‘Yes, Uncle, I couldn’t forget Jip,’ Coinin replied.

‘No, of course not,’ Draken sneered. ‘This way.’

They headed into the forest that surrounded the homestead. It was dark and ominous the moment they stepped inside. Huge trees stretched high and the canopy let little light onto the forest floor. Every so often a strange animal cry startled the boys and made Draken chuckle. At each new sound he would explain the animal that had made it and how best to catch it.

‘What you need to remember about the forest is that almost everything is a potential enemy and what remains must surely be an ally,’ said Draken darkly.

Draken led them deeper and deeper, and after many more miles the forest began to thin slightly and became less oppressive. Before long, Draken indicated that they should be silent. He dropped to his knees and examined the dirt from the ground between his finger and thumb. He brought the mud to his nose and took a long sniff, and then encouraged the boys to sit quietly within the fronds of a leafy bush.

After a few minutes, a wondrous spectacle cantered almost silently past the hiding place. The white body of the creature glowed softly, as did its single horn that protruded delicately from its forehead. It glinted in a shaft of light that penetrated through the forest canopy. The small group felt at peace as they watched the magnificent animal make its way into the distance.

‘What was that?’ Coinin asked after a few moments.

‘That was a Unicorn, a beautiful and rare creature imbued with ancient magic. This is only the second time I have seen one. They do say that they are the favourite of the gods and to harm one would incur their wrath.’

‘I don’t think I could ever hurt such a creature, it was magnificent,’ said Coinin, and attempted to quiet Jip who had begun to growl in a low rumble with his hackles raised.

‘I should think not, unless you want to displease the gods. Okay, boys, the animal is gone and it’s time we did some practice before bed.’

‘I’d hoped we could take a break for once,’ Marrok grumbled.

‘Our enemies do not take a break,’ Draken growled.

‘Enemies? What enemies?’ Coinin whispered. ‘He’s crazy; he jumps at his own shadow.’

Marrok chuckled and nudged Coinin to shut him up.

‘Today we’re going to concentrate on Coinin’s favourite, the mind swap.’

Coinin looked indifferent and too tired to care.

‘Marrok, you go and collect some firewood,’ Draken ordered with a dismissive wave of his hand. ‘And take that damned dog with you.’

Marrok huffed off into the tree line to gather wood and glanced sideways at his uncle with such a dark look that Coinin was surprised he had not dropped dead there and then.

‘Now that the brawn has departed, we can focus on the brains,’ Draken smirked. ‘What do you think is the most prevalent creature in these woods?’

Coinin was lost for a moment before he answered.

‘Birds.’

‘No, let’s try again. What is this forest called?’

‘White Stallion?’

‘Correct,’ Draken smiled. ‘Why is it called that?’

‘Because there’s a white horse here?’

‘Yes, but not just one, there are literally hundreds, all living here,’ Draken replied with a grand sweep of the arms.

Coinin made a face; he did not much care that there were hundreds of horses in the forest. He was exhausted and wanted sleep.

‘Your task today will be to take over the mind of a horse and become the animal for a time,’ Draken announced.

‘I’ve never gone that big before, we’ve only ever done beavers and squirrels. I don’t know if I can do it,’ he said uneasily.

‘Nonsense, boy, you are by far the most intelligent young man I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching. I believe here,’ Draken struck his chest, where his heart was, ‘that you can do this.’

‘If you say so, Uncle, I will try it.’

‘Good. Now, it is important to let yourself go and focus all your energy into becoming the horse. Let the moment wash over you. Allow your conscious self to explore its new home.’

Coinin closed his eyes and focused on being the horse. He imagined the long silken mane flapping in the breeze and the wind in his face as he galloped alongside the herd, the breath steaming from his nostrils. Then it happened like a sudden rush of water that engulfed him. He was the horse, powerful and majestic. He was galloping at top speed, free and content.

Draken restrained the small boy who kicked and flailed and smiled at the successful transition.

The horse that Coinin became, as it happened, was a horse not too far away that had been enjoying an evening gallop with the herd. He was the new temporary resident of this horse’s mind and could control its actions. The horse itself now inhabited Coinin’s mind and he felt certain the animal was utterly bewildered or, at the very least, terrified.

This was by far the biggest animal Coinin had controlled and he felt its power surge through him along with its great strength.

He left the herd and galloped through the woods in search of his uncle. It was not too long before he saw him sitting on top of the body he had left behind. It struggled to get away and made odd whinnies of fear and he was quite overcome at the sight.

Marrok appeared out of the trees with a bundle of twigs and wood. He stopped short and looked from the horse to his uncle sitting upon Coinin. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked.

‘Restraining your brother’s body.’ Draken pointed to the large white stallion that puffed great clouds of breath into the twilight air. ‘There’s your brother. Coinin, why don’t you give Marrok a ride?’

Coinin, the horse, hoofed the ground and raised his powerful head in a whinny of delight. He enjoyed this new adventure immensely.

Marrok smiled and rushed forward, and then leapt onto the large horse. He held tight onto the mane as Coinin reared and took off like lightning.

The hair whipped around Marrok’s head and the wind stung his eyes. But none of that mattered now; he was content to enjoy the moment and the exhilaration of the ride.

A few minutes later the horse bucked and reared and threatened to throw him off.

‘Whoa! Coinin, what’re you doing?’ Marrok yelled.

The horse turned its great head and looked at him, only to buck fiercer than ever. Marrok held on for dear life as the horse tried even harder to eject him, and as a final desperate measure the terrified animal galloped into the forest and wove around trees and bushes.

Marrok sat up a few moments later with a pain that blazed across his chest and an egg-sized lump on the back of his head. He groaned and rubbed gingerly at his swollen head.

The horse had done its job. It had careened Marrok into the nearest low-slung branch and had knocked him clean into the dirt. The horse stood some distance away and panted, with what Marrok would swear later was a haughty expression upon its face. Or was it satisfaction? Either way the horse had won.

‘Nice job, horse.’

The horse snorted and took off into the undergrowth to join its herd.

‘Shall we make camp?’ Draken asked and leant against a tree. ‘That is if you are quite finished playing in the dirt.’

Coinin stepped out from behind Draken and looked sheepish.

‘What happened, runt?’ Marrok demanded as he stiffly stood up.

‘I’m sorry, Marrok, the connection broke. I lost my concentration, I couldn’t hold it.’

‘No harm done, I suppose. Though next time, Uncle rides the horse.’ Marrok smiled and ruffled his younger brother’s hair.

The small group made camp and then settled down for the night. Draken told them stories by the dancing light of a campfire. He told of ancient peoples who were said to inhabit the forest thousands of years ago, and how they had destroyed themselves in a civil war. He also showed Marrok how to make a snare to catch rabbits, and once he had mastered the trap, he and Draken set several around the camp while Coinin slept.

The next morning, Coinin awoke to Marrok standing over him.

‘I wish you wouldn’t do that!’

‘What? I brought breakfast.’ Marrok held up a pair of rabbits and threw them on his brother’s lap. ‘Now you clean them.’

‘Thanks, much appreciated.’ Coinin wrinkled his nose in disgust as blood and bodily fluids leaked over his hands.

Coinin skinned and gutted the rabbits while Marrok built a fire and Draken watched lazily from his bed of heather.

After breakfast had finished, Draken led the boys deeper still into the forest and slowed only to ford a river that teemed with fish as they headed for spawning grounds.

They had weaved in and out of endless trees for several hours when Draken finally stopped to check his bearings.

‘We are almost there. I warn you not to make any sudden moves, and you will be quiet until spoken to directly,’ he said sternly.

‘Almost where?’ Marrok asked.

‘Did I not just say to be quiet?’

Marrok and Coinin looked at each other and then nodded.

‘Then shut up and follow me.’

After a few minutes they approached a clearing deep inside the forest. Draken stopped at its edge and his eyes flicked sharply left and right.

‘Trenobin, it is I, Draken. Show yourself, you mangy excuse for a rat’s tail,’ he called to the air.

‘I wondered when you would turn up, you foul-smelling dung heap,’ a deep, throaty voice piped. ‘Although I heard you coming five miles hence.’ The newcomer chuckled.

A figure formed in front of them like a morning mist in the air.

One moment Draken was alone and the next, a short, stout fellow stood in front of him, barely coming up to his waist. He wore a green tunic and carried an axe nearly as tall as he. His face was ruddy and lined with age and dirt, and his forearms bulged muscle, born through hard work. He carried a drove of rabbits slung over his back, a considerable catch by any standards.

‘Welcome to my humble home. I am Trenobin.’ He bowed slightly.

‘You live here?’ said Coinin with a puzzled expression. ‘There’s nothing but trees.’

‘Coinin!’ Draken roared, and clipped his lug smartly.

‘Let the boy be, Draken, he asks a fair question,’ Trenobin interjected. ‘I see you boys have a lot to learn. First you must learn to open your eyes and see what cannot be seen.’

Trenobin raised his hand, and in the same manner in which he arrived, a small dwelling began to form before their eyes. It was as if a mist had descended, and then a chimney appeared and belched wood smoke that filled the air. Next, log-by-log, a cabin began to take shape, until finally, in all its splendour, stood a woodsman’s home. It was a single storey with two small windows and a very small door in its side. The home had stood for many years, judging by the moss that clung to its timbers. Outside, a vegetable patch grew varied and delicious fare.

‘I see that you are hungry,’ Trenobin smiled, as the boys eyed the rows of carrots and potatoes. ‘My vegetables are the best in the forest. Come inside and I shall let you try my broth.’

The boys cheered at this, for they had travelled for hours with no food or rest.

The inside of the cabin was wondrous. All manner of curiosities adorned the walls, including animal traps, and even the hides of the trapped. An alcove built into the wall opposite the door held a bed with storage underneath. Also built into the wall were a hundred or more small wooden drawers that held unknown items. Two tallow candles either side of the bed lit the cosy room, and a small fire warmed the room, over which a blackened iron pot hung full of simmering broth.

Marrok spied a large sword above the fireplace, oddly thin and encrusted with green gems, and with what appeared to be a golden hilt that held strange markings in a language unfamiliar to him. ‘I have never seen such a sword, Master Trenobin.’

‘Nor shall you again. This is the last of a family of swords made for our ancestors long ago. Four were cast for four ancient sovereigns, mirroring the Sword of Unity. This is held in the palace of Rostha. Sadly, the others are perhaps destroyed, I do not know.’

‘Have you looked for them?’ Coinin asked.

‘Of course. Forty years I have looked, but it is a big task when you don’t know where to look. I grow too old to search now. But enough about this, I promised you broth, did I not?’ Trenobin smiled.

Never had a meal tasted so fine to Coinin and Marrok. The broth was so thick you could have stood a spoon up in it, and Trenobin had provided them all with thick wedges of bread that served well for dunking. Even Jip the hound contented himself with a large bowl set down for him. They sat around a small oak table and enjoyed the meal, though Draken complained bitterly that he could not stretch his legs in the cramped quarters.

Draken had refused the broth and merely contented himself to drink wine, which Trenobin regularly topped up from a leather flagon he kept in his alcove.

‘Boys,’ Draken began, ‘today begins a new day in your tutelage. I need you to open your minds and follow Trenobin’s instructions exactly. Do you understand?’

Coinin and Marrok nodded without question.

‘What will we learn?’ Coinin asked.

‘What I will say is you will find out the reason why you have trained so hard all your lives. So let’s not spoil the surprise, shall we, and put that enquiring mind aside.’

‘Yes, but–’

Draken growled. ‘How simple can I make this? You will find out in good time if you do what our friendly dwarf here tells you to do.’

Coinin began to object, but Marrok grabbed his arm to silence him.

‘We will, Uncle,’ Marrok intervened.

Satisfied, Draken returned to his drink and pulled out his pipe, and after he had filled it with tobacco, he lit it with a long match and puffed away.

Trenobin was quite animated during the meal and regaled them with stories of battles where he had fought against giants. It seemed unbelievable to the boys, but Draken reassured them all that what was said was true.

It was not long before Draken’s head had fallen to his chest and long drawn-out snores erupted.

‘Ah, about time,’ Trenobin said. ‘I thought he’d never drop off.’

‘What do you mean?’ Marrok enquired.

‘Your uncle will not be coming with us. He should sleep for an hour. That wine is my finest batch.’

‘But why can’t he come?’ Coinin asked worriedly.

Trenobin sensed Coinin’s fear and clasped an arm around his shoulder. ‘Because, young sir, your uncle is a man of advancing age and we have much to accomplish. He will only slow us down. Moreover, he has not been invited to our destination. Don’t worry, I have waited for this day to arrive since your birth. Rest assured you are safe with me.’ Trenobin shook his head and walked to the door of the cabin, a strange twinkle in his eye.

‘Somehow I trust him,’ Coinin began. ‘Besides, Uncle Draken has ordered us to do as he asks.’

‘If you make one false move I’ll run you through,’ Marrok threatened the dwarf.

Trenobin merely laughed. ‘Boys, if I wanted to hurt you, you would have been sorry a few hours ago,’ he called over his shoulder.

‘Fine, but if this is some trick we will see who will hurt whom,’ Marrok grumbled.

Outside, Trenobin smelled the air and noted a stiff breeze. He faced downwind and whistled a long note. Marrok looked at Coinin and signalled that Trenobin seemed to be a couple of arrows short of a quiver.

Three large horses burst into the clearing and came to a standstill opposite the trio, tossing their heads. Coinin gently stroked the nose of the brown mare meant for him and spoke softly to her. He felt he owed her a new respect after becoming one of the beasts for a short time earlier that day.

Trenobin nodded his head with approval. ‘Boys, there are harnesses on the wall inside the hut.’

A couple of minutes later all three were ready to go.

As they rode through the forest the trees started to become more enclosed and made them feel claustrophobic. The very air seemed stale and as they rode deeper Coinin glimpsed flashes of war, battles, and death. This shook him and he struggled to force the images from his mind.

‘Trenobin, I sense there were great battles here in the forest,’ he said after a time.

‘That is not strictly true; most of the forest grew after the last great war. I was in that battle and many of my closest friends lost their lives here.’

‘Impossible,’ Marrok objected.

Trenobin laughed. ‘Have you ever met a dwarf before, young Marrok?’

‘No.’

‘Then you have no idea how long we live?’

‘No, I don’t.’

‘Then until you do, I suggest you keep your mouth shut and your ears open.’

Marrok made a rude noise and looked sullen.

‘Exactly how old are you Trenobin?’ Coinin asked.

‘Ah, well, I lost count after nine hundred years,’ Trenobin replied.

Coinin looked at him in awe, altogether unsure if he should believe him.

‘The elfs, however, can live three times as long,’ Trenobin mused.

As they rode on, the night grew cold and dark and this made it harder to see. Trenobin acknowledged this and stopped to fumble in his pack for a second, and immediately there was a strange shift in the air that made the boys momentarily lightheaded. The space around Trenobin began to glow and lit the way as they rode.

They travelled for several hours and then Trenobin called a rest.

‘Thank you, Trenobin, my behind feels like it’s fallen off.’ Coinin winced as he dismounted. He rubbed his sore behind and stretched the kinks out of his body.

‘You’ll get used to it young sir,’ said Trenobin, and clapped a dirty hand on his shoulder. ‘Don’t get used to the rest, though, we must make haste. It grows light and our destination looms.’

‘Where exactly are we headed?’ Marrok asked.

‘Beyond this thicket is a cliff at the side of Mount Rostha. High up this cliff is a cave and inside is – well, it’s hard to explain, and perhaps it is better if you see for yourself.’ Trenobin instructed the boys to follow him without their horses. He and the boys undid their saddles and laid them against a tree. Trenobin then gently slapped the rump of his horse, and this made it trot off. The boys followed suit.

‘Don’t worry, they’ll find their way home.’ Trenobin winked.

Marrok immediately understood the lack of horses as he fought his way through a particularly nasty thicket. His clothing and his bare arms were constantly under attack from sharp thorns and stings, and the horses would never have been able to make any sort of headway. He noted Trenobin did not seem to have the same trouble as he glided effortlessly through the fronds of plant life. Marrok unsheathed his father’s sword and hacked a path, which Coinin followed closely, as it seemed the moment they passed the thicket it grew together again, thicker than ever. Jip the wolfhound seemed to have the most trouble. His thick fur became entangled in the undergrowth, to the point that Coinin had to cut him free and Marrok had to carry him the rest of the way.

‘Stay close to me, boys; this place has a mind of its own,’ Trenobin called over his shoulder.

‘You can say that again,’ Coinin muttered, as he fought off a particularly vicious plant.

A few minutes later the trio exited the thicket, to Marrok’s relief; he had not been able to use his sword while he carried Jip and was left to use brute force to push his way through the undergrowth, and he now bled from dozens of thorn cuts. He dropped Jip to the ground and stretched his sore back.

The boys gazed in wonder at a sheer cliff face before them. No matter how far they strained their necks, the top could not be seen before it disappeared into a misty cloud. A waterfall cascaded down it from some hidden point far above, and crashed into a pool below. The river then wound its way back through the thicket.

‘To go up, we go this way,’ said Trenobin confidently, and strode ahead. ‘Unfortunately the dog must stay. It would be impossible for him to follow.’

‘Now hold on, Trenobin. First you lead us a merry way, half kill us through the thorns of hell and now you expect us to climb that, and fall to our deaths as likely as not?’ Marrok stood fast.

‘And leave Jip behind,’ Coinin added.

Trenobin turned and smiled. ‘Of course I expect you to follow.’

‘Well, I think our little quest ends here, Trenobin,’ Marrok said. ‘I’m not following you up there.’

‘You knew the cliff would be the stumbling block and yet you fail to allow me to accompany them,’ said a familiar voice. A moment later, a figure stepped out of the shadow of the cliff.

‘Uncle Draken?’ Coinin gasped.

‘Why did you let me drink so much, Trenobin?’

Trenobin appeared momentarily shamed. ‘Draken, you cannot come, the guardians forbade it.’

‘Nevertheless, I will accompany you,’ Draken said. ‘Boys, a new life of discovery begins here. Your path has been foretold, and your destiny lies ahead. You are about to begin a journey of enlightenment and I wish to be a part of that journey.’

‘Enlightenment?’ said Coinin and turned to his brother, excited. ‘We have a chance to see or do something other than share our lives with Uncle. We should go with him. I need to know more.’

Marrok looked torn and then resigned. ‘If Father wanted this, then so be it. I vowed years ago to protect you, brother, so I guess I’m going too.’

‘Again, I say Draken cannot join us,’ Trenobin reminded them.

‘Then we don’t go either. Uncle Draken joins us, or we turn back now,’ Coinin warned.

Trenobin clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. ‘Fine, this way then,’ he said sullenly. ‘If the Curator did not need to speak with you so urgently, I would turn around myself and head home.’

‘The Curator? Who is that?’ Coinin asked.

‘All in good time. I don’t want to spoil the surprise.’

‘Fine, keep your secrets, but what about Jip?’ Marrok asked.

‘As I said, he cannot come. Perhaps there is somewhere he can go?’

‘There is a place where they will take care of him, Coinin. Lambic from Relton quite likes the dog, he will do well there,’ said Draken.

Coinin was deeply unhappy at the thought of leaving Jip behind, but understood he could not go with them, and so conceded. He hugged the dog tightly and kissed him on the nose. ‘Go to Lambic, find Lambic, boy,’ he said in a high playful voice.

Jip gave a deep woof and licked Coinin’s face, and then headed off into the undergrowth without a second glance.

‘I guess he’s tired of travelling with us,’ said Marrok, wrapping his arm around Coinin.

‘He’ll be okay, won’t he?’

‘Overfed, most likely,’ said Draken. ‘Lambic enjoys his ratting ability and no doubt will reward him well. I presume the next time we see him he’ll be rolling home.’

Coinin gave a brave smile and fended off Marrok who had decided to ruffle his hair.

‘If we are ready, this way, if you don’t mind,’ said Trenobin in a bored voice, an arm outstretched to indicate the path.

He led the group to a large boulder that jutted out from the cliff face directly beneath the waterfall and located a small hole at its base, into which he inserted his hand. A moment later the boulder swung aside and he disappeared behind it. Coinin was next to round the boulder and was greeted by an astonishing sight. Hidden in the cliff face, a set of roughly hewn steps wound their way up the cliff side. Only from this one position would the steps be visible. The waterfall hid its secret well.

The boulder swung closed to hide its secret once more and Trenobin led the way up.

He reminded them to be careful as spray from the waterfall made the steps slippery. They climbed cautiously for more than two hours without rest. Their hands were cold, wet, and numb, and they were barely able to grip the rock, yet they soldiered on.

‘Is it much further?’ Coinin puffed.

‘We are almost there,’ Trenobin called from above.

Several minutes later Coinin collapsed on a shelf that jutted out from the cliff. Below, low clouds drifted slowly westward and the whole of Rosthagaar could be seen clear to the lands of Madorine and Lushan with the open sea beyond. A twin peaked volcano smoked at the heart of Mador, and the boys were awed by the sheer size of the city of Rostha laid out before them. Marrok arrived next and looked fresh as a daisy with a huge smile on his face.

‘That was fun,’ he said, and turned to offer a hand to his uncle who sweated profusely and was considerably red in the face.

‘Boys, grab my pack and bring us water and vitals. We still have some way to go,’ Trenobin gasped through breaths.

The small group rubbed life into sore feet and hands and then ate salted beef in silence as they admired the view. The downside of being so high up was that they had to wrap up in cloaks to keep warm from the high winds. They also had to keep dry from the waterfall spray.

The meal eaten, the boys curled up and slept soundly, warmed by a fire Trenobin had started. Where he had obtained the firewood the boys did not know or care, for they slept.

A ferocious storm lashed rain down the mountainside and cascaded into the citadel below. Thunder shook the foundations and struck fear into the hearts of young and old alike as they cowered in their beds. Lightning flashed across the sky and lit the castle towers within.

Such a storm had not been seen for hundreds of years and many feared it was a bad omen. Wind blew dark clouds across the sky, scudding across momentary glimpses of a full moon. All around, debris flew so violently that no one but the most foolhardy ventured outside. A flagpole lay broken, its standard in tatters. Horses kicked at their stables in terror, eyes wide and mouths frothed, while stable-hands dodged kicks in a futile attempt to calm them.

Atop the castle walls, sentries found it near impossible to hold on to the ramparts. The wind and rain blurred their vision and their cloaks flapped wildly.

At the entrance to the castle, two shadowy figures observed the chaos. The interior of the smaller companions hood began to glow with a golden hue, obscuring his face. Wolf-like eyes shone brightly and illuminated the ground around him.

His hands extended and his fists formed claws. The castles portcullis gates began to vibrate noisily and slowly bent inward to his will until they shattered in a blast of air. The remainder of the gates lay in ruins and the edges glowed softly as would a sword in a blacksmiths forge.

The pair moved forward into the portcullis and a heat radiated from the remains of the gates. A flash of lightning momentarily lit the features of the taller figure and glinted off the hilt of a sword.

Are you ready, brother?

Yes.

A sword rose and motioned forward. The two figures ran into the castle followed by bloodthirsty roars as a horde of armour-clad warriors piled into the courtyard.

Coinin sat up with a start, his heart thumping and his brow beaded with sweat. His dreams had taken a new turn and they had again progressed beyond the recurring theme. He looked about him and saw his uncle by the light of the dying embers from the fire. Draken hastily hid a glowing object from sight.

‘Go to sleep, boy,’ Draken hissed, his eyes hard. ‘We have quite a journey ahead of us.’

Coinin lay down and closed his eyes and listened to his uncle’s movements. Why was he so secretive? He mulled over what he had seen and once more sleep overtook him.

Morning arrived and with it a warming sun. Trenobin was already awake and had prepared breakfast. Coinin awoke to the smell of food; he nudged his brother and gratefully received a plate from the dwarf, which he bolted down. Breakfast did not take long to finish, not with two growing boys to hand, so Trenobin gathered the small group for instruction.

‘Now listen carefully, all of you. We shall head into there.’ Trenobin indicated the wall of the cliff.

‘I don’t mean to be rude, but your plan has a flaw,’ Marrok pointed out. ‘All I see is rock and vine.’

‘Indeed you do, but you must look deeper. Have you not recently learnt this lesson?’ Trenobin chuckled. He stepped forward and prised the vine fronds apart. The plant parted easily and revealed a dark cave beyond. Marrok muttered to himself and Coinin caught a curse word or two. He wondered why they had stayed the night out in the open and not in this cave.

‘Behold the Cave of Destiny. None who venture forth can turn back. The path to enlightenment is a singular journey fraught with many dangers,’ Trenobin announced dramatically.

Coinin looked at him wide-eyed and excited, and Marrok credulous, until Trenobin broke into fits of laughter.

‘I am joking, it’s only a cave, and we must journey through it. Come on,’ he said, and disappeared behind the fronds.

‘Why did we spend the night out here, and not in the cave?’ Coinin asked.

‘The cave seals itself at sundown, and reopens at sun up. We didn’t reach the cave before sundown yesterday,’ Trenobin replied.

The moment Coinin stepped inside, the light was almost as bright as the day outside, thanks to Trenobin once again providing his magical illumination.

The dwarf led them through a cave that grew taller and wider than any Coinin had seen. Thousands of stalagmites and stalactites attempted to reach one another and the group had to dodge and weave around them.

‘Is there not an easier route?’ Marrok complained.

‘Sadly not for you,’ Trenobin replied.

It took twenty minutes to reach the other side, and at each step the cave became smaller until they finally arrived at the far wall.

‘Now what?’ Marrok enquired, bored with Trenobin’s games.

‘This,’ said Trenobin cheerily, and promptly stuck his hand into a second hole in the rock wall. An instant later he dropped through a hole in the floor that had appeared.

Coinin shrugged and followed suit. His heart immediately jumped into his throat as he hurtled down a long shaft that twisted sickeningly with dozens of turns, until finally he landed with a bump.

‘I have not done that in years. I forgot how much fun it was,’ Trenobin guffawed.

Marrok, followed closely by Draken, arrived with equal force several moments later.

They took a moment to shake the ride from their systems, and then Trenobin led them to a shaft cut into the rock wall. Each member of the group, except Trenobin, had to stoop to enter it. Coinin grew so anxious at the closeness of the rock walls that he began to sweat and grasped at his brother for comfort. Ten minutes later the shaft widened and the ceiling raised enough to stand upright, and it was now that Coinin began to relax, his fear of enclosed spaces eased.

The faint sound of running water echoed up the tunnel and bounced off the rock walls.

‘Is there a river nearby?’ Coinin asked.

‘Yes, and a fairly swift one at that, but don’t worry, there is transport available,’ Trenobin assured them.

‘We have to ride a river in pitch black?’ Marrok indicated the lack of light ahead.

‘Trust me, Marrok, you do not want to see this ride. Safe as I know it to be, it has been known to drive man and dwarf alike out of their minds.’

‘That’s very comforting, I’m sure,’ said Marrok sarcastically.

‘What are we waiting for? We have a river to ride,’ said Trenobin as he sped his way down the tunnel.

As he disappeared, so did the light. Marrok cursed and dug into his pack, and after a few moments he managed to get a torch lit that cast a warm glow around them. With no other options, the group followed Trenobin’s example and emerged minutes later on a ledge only slightly higher than the river itself. The river looked strange, glowing red with blood.

‘Curious, is it not?’ Trenobin smiled.

‘How many rivers of blood do you see a day, Trenobin? Of course it’s curious,’ said Marrok rudely, and promptly received a cuff to the head from Draken.

‘Respect, boy, show some.’ Draken glowered.

‘Yes, Uncle.’ Marrok glared back.

‘Is it really blood?’ Coinin asked.

‘No, it’s an illusion designed to scare intruders away. There’s more to see if you’ll follow me. Now, be careful as you step into the boat; I wouldn’t want any of you to fall in and be swept away by the current.’

As if piloted by an invisible oarsman, a wooden flat-bottomed boat appeared in the glow of Marrok’s torch. They boarded swiftly. Trenobin cast off and asked that the torch be extinguished.

To the uninitiated, the ride was the most terrifying anyone could endure.

It twisted and turned so sharply that Coinin had to hold on for dear life for fear of being thrown from the craft. There were many long drops and sudden jolts that he wondered why every bone in his body was not broken. The journey was in pitch black, which only added to the fear, as there was no warning of what lay ahead. The wind howled and bit at the face as they swept down the black tunnel, and the roar of the water deafened them. Marrok understood why Trenobin stated that men’s minds would turn.

Trenobin hummed a merry tune to himself the whole of the journey, but Coinin lost his breakfast several times over.

‘Are we going uphill?’ Coinin asked queasily, and hung his head over the edge of the boat once more.

‘Yes, indeed we are.’

‘I don’t think I want to know how, my brain hurts enough as it is,’ said Coinin as he fought a fresh wave of nausea.

Finally, after many more minutes of gut-wrenching movement, the boat slowed as the river became less violent, and a faint light began to bounce off the walls of the cavern. The walls of the chamber seemed to move and slither, and as the light grew the reason became apparent. The walls crawled with thousands of small beetle-like creatures that made Coinin shudder in disgust.

‘Don’t worry they won’t hurt you, unless you fall into the river,’ Trenobin reassured.

The boat rounded a bend and was bathed in sunlight as they exited the mountain into yet another forest.

Colourful birds flew overhead and landed in trees or squawked loudly to each other.

Coinin had passed out, while Marrok stated he would like to ride the river again. Draken looked at him as if he was crazy.

‘Told you it makes you go mad.’ Trenobin winked. ‘Help me get Coinin to the shore.’

Marrok located the oars tucked under the seats, and rowed the craft to the side of the river. It bumped against the shore and Draken grabbed for a tree root and held on, while Trenobin fastened rope to the roots to secure the craft. Marrok picked Coinin up and threw him across his shoulder as he would a sack of grain, and then deposited him on the shore, while Draken and Trenobin dumped their cargo next to him.

‘Shall we make camp, rest the night and move out in the morning?’ Trenobin asked.

Marrok nodded his agreement. Draken, however, had fallen asleep exhausted, with his arms crossed and his head on his chest.

‘I told you he was too old for this trip,’ sighed Trenobin.

Stay tuned for Chapter Three…

Categories: Destiny of the Wulf Tags:

DESTINY OF THE WULF: Chapter One.

December 3, 2017 Leave a comment

DESTINY’S ASSAULT

The village of Arrom, with its prominent stone hall and ring of wooden houses, rang out with music, laughter, and singing. Torches lit the square and a fire, crackling at its centre, cast shadows that mimicked festival-goers dancing around the flames.

Colour adorned everything and everyone; greens, blues, and reds blurred into a myriad of hues. All the while, the smell of delicious food wafted in the air and excited the senses.

The village hall was a hive of activity and heaved with villagers eager to hear the speeches and taste the delights laid before them. A high table sat at the far end with three highly decorative chairs behind it, reserved for the elders. A fireplace smoked at the centre of the hall and three huge boars roasted on a spit, each turned by a small boy. At either side of the hall, a dozen high-backed chairs carved with family crests sat in long rows, used by the heads of each of the village’s families. Perpendicular to these ran several long benches in front of oak tables, now occupied by the children and visitors.

Elder Rangsan, a tall, thin man dressed in fine furs, rose from his central chair high on the podium and raised a hand for silence. A hush fell inside the hall, and the only sound came from those who enjoyed the carnival outside.

‘Friends and invited guests, I welcome you to Arrom and our celebrations. We have had a difficult few years, but this year has seen our deliverance. I urge you all to enjoy tonight’s feast and thank the gods for providing us a fine bounty. Enjoy, eat, and be merry!’ He raised a cup of wine to a rousing cheer.

It had been a good year, but it hadn’t always been that way. For two years previously, the villagers had barely survived the winter. Food had been scarce, and the few fish that managed to make their way to Lake Arrom failed to spawn.

The village elders had discovered a colony of beavers that had built a dam further up the river that supplied the lake. It was torn down immediately, and a guard was placed near its former location deep in the great forest to ensure that the like would not occur again, but not before the damage had been done.

Lushan, home to the Dwarves, was itself in a state of famine, and Astanoth, land of Elfs, had suffered in battle with the Giants of the Northern Wastes, and so were unable to offer aid. Westeroe, peopled by self-serving humans, outright refused to help, their leader claiming that they sought independence from Rosthagaar and that any assistance would have shown weakness.

The capital Rostha stated on parchment that, as sorry as they were, they would not help.

Dear subjects of Arrom,

Due to an oversight on your part, and due to your failure to return a tax record, the Treasury is not currently taxing you. We thank you for your interest in Rostha; however, we cannot offer assistance at this time.

Yours fervently,

Milanus Horinch.

Rosthagaar High Treasurer.

P.S. Please find enclosed your tax bill for the past twenty years. M.H.

That left Madorine, home to Orcs and Trolls, as the only means of support, and the elders were forced to negotiate trade with the much-feared Madorine warrior chiefs.

Certainly, the warriors of Madorine had a right to be feared. They were bred to kill from childhood, and theirs was a civilisation bent on its own destruction. Civil wars between the clans was rife in this land that lay on the far side of the great forest.

Arrom Forest grew at the entrance of the valley and afforded shelter to the residents of the village within. Through the forest lay a high mountainous pass, accessible only in good weather, unless someone were a fool or desperate enough to venture that way in mid-winter. Beyond lay a waterway that surrounded the island of Rosthagaar, which led to Madorine.

The elders had been desperate enough to send a delegation of emissaries across this pass in search of food. Fortunately, the last such emissary sent returned with enough supplies to last the winter, but unfortunately along with the heads of his companions. These deadly negotiations with the clan chiefs eventually secured food supplies, however, the elders of the village had failed to fulfil their end of the bargain and had not supplied the Madorine with their share of the catch at the end of this year’s fishing season.

As a celebration of the village’s good fortune, the festival had been organised and neighbouring townspeople had been invited to attend, none of them aware of Elder Rangsan’s betrayal.

Coinin and Marrok had fallen asleep early during the feast and slumbered on sheepskins laid behind their father’s chair at the side of the stone hall. They’d spent the morning fishing on Lake Arrom, and after a few hours of lazing by the water’s edge and listening to the waves lap the shore, they’d practiced their swordplay in the forest. It had been a hot day, with the sun beating down from a cloudless sky, and both brothers were exhausted from the heat.

As the feast slowly wound down, Godwen and Ædelmær picked up the small boys in their arms and walked the moonlit way home towards a small farm situated on the outskirts of the village. The familiar discs of Er’ath’s sister planets, almost as bright as the moon, reflected their own light onto the scene. The family crossed a rickety wooden bridge spanning a river that supplied the lake, and made their way up the hill. They had just reached the farm enclosure when the village bell pealed a warning.

To arms! it cried. To arms!

A young rabbit that grazed nearby looked up in alarm and scurried to its burrow, whilst Marrok awoke with a start and gazed up at his father with sleepy eyes. Ædelmær put his son down and immediately checked for danger. ‘Fetch my sword, boy,’ he demanded.

It took a moment for the request to sink through Marrok’s tiredness and then he turned on his heels and sprinted to the farmhouse, his wild brown hair billowing in the breeze. He slammed the door aside, retrieved his father’s sword from its setting above the fireplace and returned quickly to his father, to see that a runner from the village had joined him.

‘Ædelmær, it’s a raiding party from Madorine; I don’t know if we can hold them off,’ he panted. ‘It’s not safe. You should get your family to the village hall.’

‘There’s no time,’ Ædelmær replied. ‘They’ll be safe here.’

Marrok pressed the sword into his father’s outstretched hand.

‘All of you, indoors now. I’ll be back soon.’

Godwen grabbed her husband by the hand, pulling him back. ‘Be safe,’ she said.

His piercing blue eyes softened. ‘Godwen,’ he said, tucking a long blonde strand of hair behind her ear. ‘Carve me some bread, and perhaps a little of that fish from supper. I’ll be back soon, I promise.’ He leant towards her and kissed her forehead, then rushed off towards the village.

Coinin and his mother immediately retreated to the rundown, ivy-covered farmhouse, while Marrok watched his father disappear out of sight. When he heard Coinin scream, he raced inside.

‘Where is he? Where is Jip? I can’t find him anywhere.’

‘I don’t know. Now be quiet, we have to be very quiet,’ his mother replied, the sparkle of her green eyes now nothing but a flat, worried stare. She thrust a sheepskin over each of them and anxiously paced the floor.

‘Ma, what do we do?’ Marrok asked.

‘We need a place to hide.’

Coinin stood transfixed at the kitchen window. ‘Ma, it’s burning!’ he gasped.

‘What’s burning?’

‘The village, the whole village is burning.’

Godwen pushed her sons aside and pulled back the gauze in the window, peering out and covering her mouth in horror. The village hall was surrounded by dark figures silhouetted against an orangey glow, and she watched as several fiery torches were hurled through the windows. Almost instantly, balls of flames erupted from within, the rush flooring undoubtedly aiding the fire’s intensity. She knew the enemy would block the hall’s entrance and those inside would be met with a most horrific death.

‘We have to hide,’ she urged.

Marrok moved quickly. Although he was just ten years old, his strength and steadfastness was ingrained, and she watched with pride as he dragged sacks of grain across the floor to expose the trapdoor in the corner.

Ædelmær ran as fast as his legs would carry him, and he left the runner behind. He headed straight for the nearest house and crashed through the doorway. Terrified screams had brought him there. By instinct, he plunged his sword deep into the spine of his opponent who had raised an axe to strike a child who cowered in a corner of the room. The steel exited the chest with a crunch and a splatter of blood upon the opposite wall. He withdrew his sword and thrust the body aside.

He did not bat an eyelid in the knowledge that he had just killed a female. She was Madorine, and that was all that mattered. Defend the village at all costs, that was the duty of every man.

He briefly checked the child was okay and wiped the blood from her face.

‘Run and hide,’ he told her.

He scanned the room for more intruders then left the house. He looked to the square and his heart skipped a beat. The village hall was ablaze and screams ripped through the air, but there was nothing he could do to save the poor souls now. Here and there, people fortunate not to have made it into the hall ran screaming, looking for places to hide. Several mounted Madorine cut them down like rag dolls.

A Madorine warrior kicked heels into his horse and charged towards Ædelmær. Swiftly, he swung a long spear horizontally and gripped it in the crook of his arm, then roared and aimed at Ædelmær’s heart as he bore down. Ædelmær aimed and flung his sword. It whistled through the air and struck the astonished orc in the chest, who fell lifeless to the ground.

Ædelmær raced after the orc’s terrified horse and reined it in, then hoisted his large frame upon it.

He galloped to the village square and pulled up short as a horde of Madorine warriors gave a roar and charged him. He barely had time to turn the horse and make his escape back to the farmhouse.

Seconds later he was at the village exit when he felt a heavy blow to his side. He fell heavily from the ride and rolled down the incline into the river.

Godwen had almost lowered Coinin into the cellar when a crash from behind made them freeze. She hoisted him back up and whirled to see a silhouette of a man in the doorway. The man stumbled and groaned, and as he fell, the sword he carried skidded across the floor to land at Marrok’s feet. Sounds from the village filled the room: yells of agony interspersed with screams and shouts of distress. Marrok ran forward to catch his father but found he was not strong enough to hold him, and he sank limply to the floor. He heaved at his father’s arm, desperate to turn him over, and after much effort succeeded in doing so, only to find a large wound across his torso. Blood flowed heavily and left a sticky, dark stain on the wooden floor.

‘Da, talk to me. What happened?’ Marrok pleaded.

The only response was a groan, and his father’s eyes screwed up in pain.

Marrok heard movement and looked out of the open doorway. As he did so, a blinding pain seared his left shoulder and he fell back. His mother screamed in terror and darted to her child’s aid. A solitary arrow had pierced the tissue and sinew of the small boy. Coinin screamed and stood transfixed, his eyes wide with fear.

Loud shouts and whoops of joy erupted in the yard outside. Instinctively, Godwen jumped up and slammed the door to the yard, and then fastened the bolt.

Moments later, the whole room shook as something crashed into the door. Dust fell from the ceiling joists as the door cracked and creaked. Again, a heavy object hit it and the hinges began to give way. A pot that had been sat in an alcove to the left of the door crashed to the floor and splintered into a dozen pieces.

In the full knowledge that she was the only adult left to protect her children, Godwen reached out for a weapon she could wield. A statue from the family shrine was the first thing she grasped. Seconds later, splinters of wood flew at the small group in the farmhouse as the door gave way to brute force. A silent scream masked Godwen’s face as three Madorine warriors blocked the doorway. As tall as the tallest of men, dark brown and green, with rippling muscle, they snarled at the occupants of the farmhouse.

‘Ha-ha! You got him good, and the boy too. Nicely done, Meroth.’

‘Yeah, and my reward is the female,’ Meroth snarled.

‘Who says it’s your turn? You had those twins last time.’

‘I say so, that’s why. So be quiet, there’s a good boy, or I’ll cut your tongue out.’

The leader of the group pushed aside his comrades and moved further into the room. He wore tight-fitting, well-worn leather armour, and across his breast and stomach sat six crude iron plates. Strapped to his waist, a curved sword hung with its blade cruel and jagged.

He had a scar across his left cheek and a hunger in his eyes, and the room already began to reek of his foul breath. He looked terrifying, with eyes that were almost black, and long thin fingers that ended in talon-like nails. His sharp canines accentuated a wide, lustful smile.

‘Get out! Leave us alone!’ Godwen cried.

Laughter resounded as the intruders delighted in the woman’s pleas.

‘What do you think, boys? Should we do as the woman asks?’ the leader mocked, his black tongue licking his lips.

‘And miss out on all the fun? I don’t think so,’ a sallow-faced warrior cackled, as he chewed on what appeared to be a leg of lamb from the feast table.

Scarface lunged towards Godwen. She screamed and threw the statue, which bounced harmlessly off his armour with a clang before it crashed to the ground. He laughed harder and grasped her tightly around the wrist, pulling her to him, then grabbed a fistful of her hair. Taking a big sniff, he moaned with pleasure as he drew her face close to his. He flicked his dark, leathery tongue up and down her face and she writhed and turned away in disgust. Scarface laughed louder, his head thrown back in glee.

However, his laughter did not last long as a puzzled expression suddenly spread across his face. A trickle of blood emerged from his mouth and ran down his jaw.

‘You bitch!’ he mouthed, and promptly flopped to his knees before his eyes glazed over. Green blood pumped from a slit in his neck, and he fell to his face, dead. A pool of blood formed around him as the only sign of his swift demise.

Godwen stood there and shook, with a small knife in her hand that dripped with blood. She had snatched the weapon from the belt of Scarface and had struck him in a heartbeat.

Sallowface took a few moments to work out what had happened, then he wasted no time. He drew his sword and struck Godwen with a roar of anger.

She stood there a moment, her mouth gaped and her eyes widened. The light left her eyes, and she too slumped to the floor.

Marrok’s scream was bloodcurdling, and he stretched to pick up his father’s sword. With no thought for his own safety, he thrust it into the midriff of his mother’s assailant who had turned at the sound of the boy’s cry. The warrior fell without a word.

A growl more animal than human broke the silence, and then a howl which could be heard clear into Madorine ripped through the valley. Ædelmær, ferocious and full of death, with eyes like that of a wolf, leapt at the third intruder and bowled him over backwards into the compound. Terrified screams filled the air and then there was silence.

Coinin padded softly over to Godwen’s corpse and gently prodded her. ‘Mummy, wake up, Mummy,’ he said tearfully. ‘Why won’t you wake up?’

Marrok painfully lifted himself to his feet and wrapped an arm around his brother. ‘She’s dead, Coinin. She’s with the gods now,’ he said, as tears rolled down his cheeks.

Coinin burst into fresh wails. The sobs shook his body.

Marrok picked up his smaller brother, and wanting to spare him the pain of his mother’s death, carried him out of the farmhouse and into the night, dragging his father’s bloodied sword behind him.

He gently dropped Coinin onto the grass outside and clutched his painful shoulder. Thankfully, the tip of the arrow had exited the other side cleanly, and Marrok knew it had a good chance of healing well.

The air was filled with smoke from the burning village. Their father was shirtless, and on all fours, panting with his head bowed low. A mutilated body of a Madorine warrior lay dead several feet away and a young black wolfhound sat with Ædelmær and licked blood from his face.

‘Jip!’ Coinin called, and rushed to the animal. He wrapped his arms around it and the wolfhound responded with a whimper of delight.

‘I thought I’d lost you,’ he wailed, and buried his head deep into its fur.

Marrok knelt by his father’s side and took a blood-soaked hand in his.

‘Da, they killed her,’ Marrok cried.

‘I know. I know. But Marrok, be certain, you will see her again someday.’ Ædelmær tried to comfort him, yet in doing so, his eyes filled with tears.

‘You promise?’

‘I promise.’ Ædelmær choked. ‘Marrok, I have something very important for you to do. I need you to take care of Coinin for me. Now I must send you away.’

‘No, you can’t! I won’t let you. You can’t leave me too.’

‘I am mortally wounded, Marrok, and you know what that means. I must send you away for your safety. You will go to your Uncle Draken and he will show you many wonders and teach you many things. Promise me you will do all that he asks without question.’ Ædelmær suppressed a coughing fit but failed to hide the blood that spluttered from his mouth.

The tearstained boy wiped away the blood from his father’s lips. ‘I promise,’ he said, and gripped the hilt of Ædelmær’s sword.

Ædelmær forced a smile. ‘May the gods protect you, my son. I will love you always.’ He raised his head and stretched to kiss Marrok on the forehead, a single tear cutting a path down his bloodstained cheek. ‘Now go. Run as fast as you can to your uncle’s house and don’t look back.’

Marrok gritted his teeth and choked back tears as Ædelmær’s eyes closed in pain. He lay there in the dark for a little while, cradling his father and tracing a finger over the familiar scars on his father’s back, shining silver in the moonlight. He studied them closely for the very first time. What he’d thought had been battle wounds appeared to be claw marks, interspersed with soft indented paw prints. He’d never seen the like of them before, and wished his father had divulged their secret during the many times he had asked.

‘Go, now!’ Ædelmær ordered sharply. ‘Please, before it’s too late,’ he finished softly.

With a heavy heart, Marrok did as his father asked. He took his seven year-old brother by the hand, and ignoring the small boy’s protestations, silently led him away.

Keep tuned for the next chapter…

Categories: Destiny of the Wulf Tags:

5 Stars for The Aduramis Chronicles 1-3.

September 23, 2017 Leave a comment

The Aduramis Chronicles: The Definitive Collection: Volumes 1-3

ByMR RT PARTRIDGEon 23 September 2017

Verified Purchase.

5 Stars.

Just for transparency, I used to work with Harrison a long time ago; however, after we each left that job we lost touch, Only when I was forced to use Facebook did we re-connect. At that time I found out he was an author, I have been told such by friends before and asked to read their “books” for it to be bad fanfic at best – so I admit, I was sceptical going in…..That said…..I was so very very wrong.

It has been a while since I read a book where I genuinely looked forward to the next time I had a chance to read. That is how I felt with the Aduramis Chronicles. I read it during my lunch at work, I read it before bed and I would even read it after getting home from work while my evening meal was cooking rather than watching TV.

The mix of magic (not an overpowering “I win stick”), sword and shield combat, fantasy races, pirates, dragons and almost steampunk airships was really well blended. Many of the main characters I gradually become more and more invested in. Redemption stories, grief and loss, impossible odds, acts of sacrifice, codes of honour – all can be found within the pages of this trilogy.

I have spent my life reading fantasy and sci-fi novels, and I can quite honestly say that the story arc and writing style would quite easily see this sitting on the shelf next to The Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Dragonriders of Pern (and the other series Anne McCaffrey wrote – Todd’s are on the bottom shelf, out of sight), my extensive Star Wars EU (now legacy) collection, Song of Ice and Fire and others.

If you are looking for a trilogy in this setting that is easy to read and does not melt your brain (looking at you Silmarilion) that I would give serious consideration to picking this up.

Categories: General

My first 5 star review for The Aduramis Chronicles: The Definitive Collection. 

Available now on Amazon Kindle, Kindle unlimited, and Kindle Lending Library.


Categories: General
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