|namfle||Apr. 9th, 2013 10:41 pm New Fiction: The Lost Heir Saga. Book One: The Heir Exiled Chapter 7|
Alright, drama fans, here is the seventh chapter of "The Heir Exiled", rough draft. Comments are encouraged and welcomed.
To repeat, this is a work of fiction, taking place in a fantasy setting of my own creation. What you see here is a rough draft after only slight editing for punctuation and spelling issues. The final, finished product may look very different.
Chapter one is here, chapter two is here, chapter three is here, chapter four is here, chapter five is here, and chapter six is here in case you missed something.
And now, I bring you...
THE LOST HEIR SAGA
BOOK ONE: THE HEIR EXILED
by V Peter Collins
PART I: Havencliff Keep
CHAPTER 7: Down and Out
Guided by the light produced by Tilly's magic, brother and sister made their wary descent. The stairs wound down nigh interminably. As their altitude dropped, so did the temperature. A moldy slime appeared along the wall which Callan used to steady himself. Everything around them was dull and grey, the same stones as what with the Keep had been built, yet in this setting they seemed dreary, lifeless.
The Prince tried his best to track their climb down, matching in his mind their level with what he felt should be the appropriate level of the Keep. When they passed the entrance level, he began to feel apprehension again. Either his estimation was incorrect, or they were descending into the very cliff itself. This was a possibility; the Kingdom's primary mints were in the basement levels of the castle. And still, the steep stairs continued.
Tilly began singing to herself nervously. After a few phrases, Callan picked up the melody; it was first of the Creation hymnals, a tale, writ in verse, of how the world came to be. He found her voice comforting, and the thought choice of song well made one given the circumstances. He took a breath and added lyrics to her vocal performance, singing softly to match her volume.
"And His land, the Father's land, was brown and barren,
And Her sky, the Mother's sky, was blackened darkness,
He reached high, to touch and caress,
She reached low, with tenderness
And His land, the Father's land, did stretch into mountains,
And Her sky, the Mother's sky, was ablaze with new stars..."
They continued singing, a song telling the tale of how the Earthsea Father met and became enthralled with the Skynight Mother. From the empty land and seas, life sprung, and from the empty sky, the sun and the stars sprang into life. It was a song of hope, sung most frequently during the Renewal celebrations held every year at the end of winter, where blessings were counted and a new year was marked, bringing a hope for a future filled with prosperity, be it a continuance of such or a change in fortune.
The echoes of the siblings' voices turned their duet into a chorus. Callan found himself trying to harmonize with the reverberations, and welcomed the distraction. Before they could end the song, however, they encountered an unexpected break in the monotony. They halted their progress along with the song.
A few steps before them lay two of the grey stones that made up the Keep's primary composition, somehow affixed together lengthwise, taking up nearly the entire width of the passage. Leading from its wide ends were chains that disappeared into the darkness high above.
"Curious," the sister said. She guided her light with sure movements of her hand, illuminating the area. Just beyond the bricks, a rust-covered lever jutted at an angle from the wall. She immediately scrambled over the obstruction, making for the tantalizing lever.
"Till!" Callan sighed with exasperation. Hampered by his injury, he was slower than Tilly in getting over the bricks to the steps and lever beyond. She had already taken a firm hold of the rusty thing when he secured his balance. She hauled, her entire weight behind the effort. There was naught but a slight, pained creak.
"Some help?" she said over her shoulder. Callan felt entirely unsure of the endeavor but could think of no sufficient reason to belay. Taking hold, he added the strength of his uninjured arm to her effort. With a noise like that a wretched beast crying out in agony, the lever gave until it was nearly perpendicular to the stair it hung over. There was a metallic moan from above. The chains attached to the bricks rattled, and the great thing began to lift, a metallic ratcheting sound echoing about from over their heads. As the stones rose, Callan spied something on their bellies. He leaned closer and was struck with the fetid odor of rotting flesh. Grimacing, he stepped down and away, giving him a greater vantage. There appeared to be a flattened swatch of clothing and armor stuck to the bottom of the bricks. Callan recognized the shape of a skeletal hand and realized that he was looking at the remains of some poor, unfortunate soul. Beyond, on the stair he had vacated moments prior, a twanging hum came, the sound of a taught string plucked.
"A genuine booby-trap," he whispered with amazement.
"I never thought I'd see one," Tilly comment. They met eyes then and, with silent agreement, continued further down the stairs, with more confidence than when they had begun.
The air continued to cool and gained moisture as they descended. Soon the gentle, rhythmic sounds of lapping water tickled their ears. The walls became increasingly slick with slime and mold, and Callan abandoned the use of the wall for support and decreased his speed; the steps had also become slick, and he feared the lack of purchase his bare feet gained would lead to another injury. Moving fearlessly, Tilly would not be slowed and forged ahead. She disappeared around the curve, frustrating Callan's growing sense of caution.
"Brother!" her excited voice echoed back, "You must see this!"
Callan's frustration increased. How was he to protect his sister if she insisted on running ahead and courting danger at every opportunity? He turned sideways and numbly negotiated the last of the winding stairs quickly. The fading glow of Tilly's receding light did not make the going any less difficult.
Once at the threshold, Callan could immediately see what aroused the princess' excitement. Before him lay a large cavern that encircled a small lake, with perhaps fifty paces of shore between the rocky wall and the water's edge. Tilly's magic orb cast sparkling reflections off the gently swaying surface of the lake, which illuminated the whole of the cavern as if it were under the twinkle of bright stars.
"Brother! Come see!" Finding her was easy enough; her light remained fixed above her head as she moved. She was already in the deepest part of the cavern, vibrating with her typically excessive excitation. Callan stepped off with his right foot, and with a sharp cry of pain, leaped right back onto the stairs. Something had stabbed deeply into his bare foot. He leaned against the stairwell wall and bit down a longer howl of pain. With his name upon her lips, Tilly scurried to his side. As she approached, her light returned with her, and Callan could see the reason for his pain.
The cavern, ceiling to floor, consisted almost entirely of jagged rocks, occupied by slithering and crawling insects and the like. There was a particularly sharp, tall peak just at the base of the stairs, now dripping with his blood. Callan's stomach flipped. At both the site of the injury and on his wound, he could see what had to had once been a crawling creature in the very recent past, now reduced to crushed pieces, some firmly imbedded into his foot.
"Callan, what is the ..." Tilly saw the answer to the question upon her lips as soon as she was within a few paces of her bother. Callan's blood appeared bright red under her light. She became distraught almost instantly. "Oh! I am so sorry, brother! I had forgotten, totally forgotten about..."
"You may repay me with some assistance," he cut in, waving her down. The prince looked to the slippers on his sister's feet, and shook his head in disbelief. He was beginning to feel emotionally numb, having far too much to process at once. She moved to his side immediately, and under his instruction, helped him tear the bottom of his sleeping shirt into a strip, which they then tied around his foot as a poor, make-shift bandage. Gingerly, Callan tested the wound by gently putting his foot back down. It hurt to put any weight on it, but his injury was just at the arch, which made it bearable. He would have to limp, but he could amble.
"Now," he said, leaning bodily against the stone wall of the staircase, "what is it that you would have me see?"
"There are packs, full to bursting." She pointed, but Callan had no hope of seeing them from that distance, and with the bright light just hand-spans before his eyes.
"Perhaps they were left by the last travelers here?"
"I sincerely doubt that. Come, see with your own eyes."
With Tilly leading the way, brother and sister made a slow pace from the stairs to the packs that Tilly had spoken of. Their speed was determine by Callan's ability to find tolerable footing. He quickly grew accustomed to the crunching and squishing of the crawling critters under his feet, and although he said nothing of it, he was quite amazed at his sister's utter lack of a reaction to the insects. To make the going more bearable, they cut close to the water's edge, where the rocky floor was smoothest. Occasionally, they would find sea shells and the remnants of fish, always partially consumed, always covered by a living carpet of many-legged things.
Presently they came within view of the packs in question. Even before they reached them, Callan could see why his sister had doubted his original theory. There were two tan goat-skin traveling packs, stuffed to capacity, laid neatly beside each other on the rocky floor. The princess bounded over to them and brushed the insects off one before lifting it to inspect. She sniffed it, puzzled.
"It smells new," she commented, and took another sniff to be sure. Callan joined her, and together they emptied and explored the contents of the pack she had examined. Inside was an waxed traveling cloak, two full water skins, a hefty helping of dried and salted meat, a small knife, and flint and steel for making fires. They took to the second pack, and found it's contents nearly identical; the two difference were the cloaks, and the second pack contained a brass key.
"This is my old cloak," noted Callan, surprised and perplexed as he examined the cloak within his hands. It had been years since he had outgrown the thing, made of wool dyed brown, with a matching linen liner. It would be too small for him now, but it fit Tilly quite well.
"And I believe this was once Father's," she said, holding up the cloak from the second pack. It was a much older garment, once dyed black but now faded. Callan examined it. The lining to be silken, not linen, and was a faded blue in color.
"This belonged to Mother," he said in a hushed, haunted tone. There were days when it would take a great effort to remember her face, but at that moment, the visage came to him readily. She had large, soft eyes and round cheeks that wrinkled when she smiled.
A wave of grief swept over him, powerful enough to weaken his knees and steal his breath. He fell upon the leather sack beneath him as a sob unexpectedly wracked his body. He clutched the cloak tightly to his chest, but it offered no comfort to him.
"I get jealous, sometimes," his sister said quietly. She stood beside him and put her hand on his shoulder. "I only know her face from the paintings and tapestries Father had made. But you got to hear her voice, be held in her arms."
She sighed, moving past the moment, and suddenly realized something.
"There should be three packs," she noted. She scurried away, searching the walls for the third pack. She returned in a few short moments. By that time, Callan had recovered and collected himself, if barely. He took Tilly by the hand, ending her frantic search.
"These were made for us, sister," he said. Then, with a shake of his head, "We shall be traveling alone."
"No!" She snatched her hand away. "We must wait for Father! We three will..."
"He's not coming," Callan said, fighting back another wave of grief. Tilly looked to him as a betrayer, eyes wide with horrified disbelief.
"You shan't say that! You can't know that!"
"I heard him fighting Garunth, just before we trod down the stairs."
"You're daft! Father can defeat that blowhard monster with his eyes closed!"
"No! Why would you say such a thing! Why must you make jokes now?"
"I jest not, Tilly. Why do you think I helped you reset the trap in the stairwell?"
Tilly's agitated movements ceased suddenly. The light orb above hear head flickered. Her large brown eyes, wide open, brimmed with tears. Callan felt his own reforming.
"He must have known this was to happen," he said softly, head down, shoulders slumped. "Garunth had years to plan, generations to train the army towards his way of thinking." He lifted his head in a failed effort to hold back his tears. "Perhaps that is why my classmates always hated me."
"How could this have happened?" Tilly's tears flowed freely now, and her face was contorted in heart-wrenching anguish. The sight of her pain caused Callan an even worse sort of heartbreak. He repressed his own feelings and drew his sister in for an embrace. She wept hard, and he did his best to console her.
Time lost all meaning to them, so they were startled when their feet suddenly became wet. The gentle lapping of the lake had become a thrashing while their attention had been otherwise occupied. The water level was clearly rising.
"We must flee this place," warned Callan. Moving quickly, they donned the cloaks - Tilly in the brown and Callan in the grey - and repacked the bags swiftly. Callan began scanning the walls for an escape route.
"This way," said Tilly hoarsely. "I spied an opening here earlier." With sure footing, she lead them to a narrow hole in the wall, barely tall enough for a man to fit through, and almost impossible to see without the strong light she provided. Once through, Callan was pleasantly surprised to encounter more brick stairs instead of rough, jagged rock-faces. The climb was steep and challenging. Just as they were beginning to strain their strength and consider a break, Tilly's light struck something metallic above them. Callan switched places with her and examined their finding. It was a brass gate of some sort, old but cleared of growth. There was a keyhole, also cleared and cleaned, fairly recently. The implication made Callan's heart ache, but he made no mention of it to spare his sister the same pain. He produced the key and tried the lock; it turned without so much as a squeak or the least bit of resistance.
"Douse your light," he whispered. Tilly made a concise gesture that appeared dismissive to Callan's untrained eye. The orb winked out of existence.
When the knock came on the door to the War Room, Garunth had been leaning heavily upon the thick table, his head bowed, one leg trembling. He was no stranger to battle, having donned armor and wielded sword for King and country through a solid decade of war. This day, however, was the first and only time he had ever executed a plan of attack against his own. There would be questions, and possible revolt from those who would remain steadfastly loyal to Jardinne. At best, he could expect the older soldiers under his command to abandon their posts in favor of self-exile as a gesture of protest. At worst, they would try the mettle of the younger soldiers. There very well could be more blood shed by his countrymen over this endeavor. His sense of loyalty found the very thought repugnant. However, it was the loyalty he felt towards the former King Durst and his vision of a grand Havencliff Empire that drove the self-proclaimed General to the extremes he found himself embracing.
Garunth was haunted most by the calm acceptance he found waiting for him in his best friend's demeanor. Jardinne had always been an excellent tactician, a skill fueled in part by his ability to predict, with alarming accuracy, the movements of their enemy commanders.
For one, slight moment, Garunth questioned himself. If Jardinne had seen the attack coming, however, then he reasoned he was following the only course open to him. Havencliff's glory would be secured.
The knock upon the door behind him broke his introspection. He rose to his full height and took a deep, steadying breath. It was not for those beneath his command to see him even slightly vulnerable and unsure. He turned and strode to the door, his armor making his steps heavy, to match the feeling in his heart. He threw the many bolts and flung the door open, to find one of Liendra's sub-commanders before him, a young man he remembered from his class quite a few years prior.
"Report," Garunth ordered.
"The head servants have been assembled," the young man said quickly.
Without a word, Garunth stepped through the threshold and began locking the door. He paused before throwing the last bolt with his key; the sound of those locks had once offered a sense of calm and security. Now they seemed to mock him. He turned the last lock with a grunt of displeasure and made long, swift strides to the nearby throne room, the sub-commander hard pressed to keep the pace.
Dressed all in their sleeping clothes, their heads of the Keep's staff were lined up for Garunth, hands bound with rope behind their backs. Mistress Stern stood glowering as her round-bellied husband cowed behind her. Her hatred was nearly palpable. The brother's Ian and Kuord were huddled together. Their resemblance to each other would have been uncanny, save that Master Kuord was gagged as well as bound. Mistress Ayen and her young son stood next, the young boy trembling violently with fear. She, however, wore open defiance like a banner.
Garunth paced their ranks for one full circuit, taking in each of their faces. Only master Ian, whom he had known for nearly as long as he had Jardinne, held his gaze for the duration. The others, cowed or irate, averted their eyes when he came to them.
"Today," began Garunth, his voice booming, "your reality has changed. The reasons for this change are, at the moment, irrelevant. Here and now, I offer you a choice. You may swear fealty to me as Lord of this Keep and sovereign of the Kingdom, or accept banishment and live the remainder of your lives in exile. Regardless of your choice, if you ever are caught planning or participating in any plan to challenge my authority, you shall be put to death."
There came, at that moment, a distracting commotion from the hall beyond the great doors. Seven soldiers, lead by Liendra, were herding a handful of teenagers and children toward the throne room. The young ones were making the going difficult; one girl with long brown hair was being particularly troublesome.
"Be still!" bellowed Liendra before walloping the girl with a fist wrapped in iron The girl dropped to her knees, her hair whipping about from the force of the blow. The rest of the children ceased their protests. The struck girl rose to her feet quickly, and Garunth recognized her as Glory of Rotherford. As they entered the throne room, he saw that they were all children of nobles, sent to the Keep to receive their education. They, too, had their hands bound behind their backs. Garunth quickly scanned their frightened, sometimes tear-strewn faces, but the two he sought were very much absent. His ire rose quickly.
"Where are the Prince and Princess?" he demanded. His captain stepped forward. Shame was clearly upon her.
"I could not find them, General," she said, eyes low. "I searched their rooms, and the King's..." Garunth raised an eyebrow at her. She swallowed audibly. "I meant, I searched the royal bedchamber, but Jardinne's children could not be located."
How could they be missing? Garunth had planned and executed a swift attack, seizing those that would interfere while they slept. Somehow, Jardinne had still managed to anticipate the move and be awake and ready to face him with sword in hand. Was it possible the children had been similarly prepared?
Garunth's eyes darted about the room, quickly counting the candles. He saw the darkened corner of the room and remembered the children would need no candles. Anxious, he hurried to the great pillar to the right of the thrown. He violently flung back the Banner of Rotherford and found the secret switch that activated the door, revealing to all the once hidden escape route.
"Retrieve them," he growled. Liendra's cheeks flushed and her lips became a thin, white line. She exchanged nods with her sub-commander, then bade two soldiers accompany her. At the entrance, Garunth held her back, his hand on her arm, and ordered her soldiers to proceed with a jerk of his head. He pulled the nearest candle from the wall and handed it to her.
"Bring the girl alive and unharmed," he secreted.
"I care not about the boy. Send him to the bottom if you must." She gave him a hard look, incredulous. Her cheeks flushed even more.
"Aye, sir," and she was gone from sight.
The General strode to the children. He spared Samjin a distasteful look, then studied Glory. Her left eye was swollen shut, and the entire side of her face was puffing out to a red mess. Garunth realized he had not witnessed the first time she had been struck in the evening.
"Sword," he barked, pointing to the space behind the throne where he had left his blade. A new recruit scrambled to retrieve it as the general drifted back to the servants. He stood before Master Kuord and waited briefly until his sword was back in his hand. Kuord eyed the blood that dripped from the weapon.
Garunth considered his options once more, iteration after iteration. The best choices he could make to strengthen his position and secure respect of his word fro the future were also the ugly choices he never wanted to make, and planned so diligently to avoid. He was reminded of his own thought, formed just minutes earlier, of how much more blood would be shed. He had not imagined it would be so soon.
"I am altering your choice," he spoke to the line before him. "You may swear fealty to me, and continue to serve this Keep to the best of your ability, or..." and he paused, for he knew once the words were loose, there would be no retraction without dire consequences, "...or you forfeit your lives."
A murmur shot through the prisoners, adult and child, like an arrow. Garunth took a measured step back and quickly motioned for two guards to join him.
"Kuord, Master Mage. Step forward." Shaking, the silenced sorcerer obliged, his brow knitting together in a clearly legible expression of anger. "Kneel before me, and bow your head." The Mage complied, never lowering his eyes until the last possible moment. "Hold him," ordered Garunth quietly. The two soldiers swiftly grasped Kuord. Garunth brought his sword around and down faster than the eye could track in the darkness. Kuord's head struck the bare stone with a dull, wet crack. Blood splattered audibly. All of the prisoners, and a few of the younger soldiers screamed sharply in horrified surprise.
"Silence!" roared the General. In a heartbeat, the only sound was his own voice echoing, and the quiet drip of Kuord's emptying body. Garunth stared up and down the line of shaken, trembling adult prisoners. "That demonstration was your proof that I am as good as my word, in the chance that you may have thought me bluffing. Mistress Stern. Choose."
He made heavy steps to her. Tears flowed openly from her eyes, and her bottom lip quivered. Her husband trembled terribly behind her. She looked to him and he nodded, now weeping as well.
"You are a wretched, terrible monster," she spat, her voice shaking.
"The sword, then," Garunth returned. He shifted to Ian. The former head of the Keep's staff was still, almost vacant, eyes fixed on the stillness of his brother. "Master Ian."
"Like The First Son, you've the coldness of the ocean's deep in your heart," he said softly. Finally, he shifted his wide-eyed gaze to the General. "I curse your name. I curse the ground upon which you walk, and the air you breath. I pray you will suffer a hundred fold for every drop of blood you have shed in this mad night."
"Forfeit," Garunth said simply, and moved to Mistress Ayen and her son. The boy had been shocked beyond tears. Garunth felt a wave of pity for the child, but fought it down, lest he appear weak before them. He knew from the set in his mother's eyes that she would not choose fealty. At first, he thought he had gone too far, but in a heartbeat he reckoned, he had moved so far passed "too far" that changing course just seem as madness to him.
"Stop!" cried one of the soldiers behind him. The man broke ranks and rushed to approach. Garunth had his sword ready, but the man fell tearfully to his knees in desperation. "Please, sir! T'is my wife and child. I have already pledged fealty to you. Spare them. Please, sir."
The General wanted to swear a streak into the stone, he was so angry with himself. He had known the head of the kitchen staff had married one of his soldiers, but he had been sure the man was loyal to Jardinne. For him to be in that room with them now meant he had taken the oath Garunth had made all of his guard take. Somehow, one more ugly choice was added to his list.
A loud concussive sound echoed out from the once secret entrance of the escape passageway, followed immediately by the faint screams of frightened or injured women. Whatever had just occurred in the stairwell, it now required his immediate attention. His frustration grew. He wheeled on Mistress Ayen, sword extended. She flinched backward and cowed, protecting her son as best she could.
"Do you swear by your husband's oath of loyalty to me?" She nodded nervously and vehemently. "Then stand with him now." She hurried to her husband's side, dragging their son with her. The three embraced, clearly relieved. Garunth addressed the rest of the soldiers, lowering his sword. "I want this room cleared, save for the two forfeit lives. Have the children escorted out of the Keep, all the way to their proper homes. They are to be packed and gone within a notch's time."
The general turned his back, aiming his legs for the pillar's gaping entrance. That being his signal to execute his orders, the soldiers quickly rounded everyone up; the children were shoved into the hall and force-marched to their quarters, while Ian, Stern, and her husband were corralled into a corner and guarded at sword-point. The three of them wept openly as they huddled together, watching their executioner in silence.
That's the end of Chapter 7. Any comments will be treated as from a beta reader, and will be sincerely appreciated.Leave a comment