Sunday, 10 April 2011
#SampleSunday – 10th April 2011
A little more from Prison of Power.
“Don’t stop!” As soon as the flames appeared, the strangers hurried towards them. The dandy bolted past and the other, whom Clavis assumed was the Enchanter, stopped and laid a hand tentatively on his arm, urging him to turn and resume their flight. “It’s only an illusion and will not hold them long.”
Clavis turned away. He caught Abbethia’s eye. “Which way?”
She pointed downhill. At the bottom of the slope another street crossed the one they were on, and they could see a squat square tower between two even shorter buildings. “There, if we can gain entry.”
As a group the four hurried away from the flame barrier and the enraged Troll who bayed for their blood.
“What of Durval?” Clavis asked.
“He will act as he sees fit,” Abbethia replied shortly.
Clavis found time to wonder what was occurring in the rest of the town. Where were Ernan’s troops? Had there been any other fighting? And where was Durval?
They had covered half the distance toward the fortified building for which they headed when the tone of the howling Troll changed, taking on an outraged yet joyous tone. He risked a glance behind. Two beasts stood proud on the near side of the flaming wall. The illusion had been breached. Even as his eyes fell on the scene two more leapt through the flames. Looking ahead he judged they would be lucky to gain entry before they were overwhelmed by their pursuit.
“Covering fire!” he shouted in a voice used to being heard over the din of a battlefield. “Covering fire for Laventha!”
“Open your door in the name of the council!”
Abbethia’s voice, Clavis noted, was every bit as loud as his own and carried no little authority. He knew with a certainty that on the field he would obey any order of hers without question. His respect for her strengths increased again. She is every bit as large as her legend, he thought as they pounded up to the barred door of the bastion.
“Who calls?” A cry came from within the building. Other voices clearly indicated that the defenders had been roused and were taking their places but not a single shot was fired.
Clavis turned and placed his back to the door. Nine Troll were through the flames and halfway to where they now stood at bay. “Fire you whoresons or I’ll climb up there and rip your damn lungs out!”
“And get this damn door open!” Abbethia ordered.
The nearest Troll were but thirty yards away and closing fast. Clavis watched them come. They were an imposing sight, armed with heavy halberds or pole-axes and clad in chain, an enemy to strike fear into the heart and turn the knees to water. Clavis licked his lips, nervously. His senses heightened by the danger of the moment he noticed details; a tattoo on the face of one Troll, a nose ring in another’s snout, a thin gold band about the tusk of a third. He had time to wonder why they wore such voluminous cloaks and hoods before the command was given from within to fire and two dozen bolts slashed out into the night, strings thrumming and the heavy thunk of impact almost simultaneous. Two Troll fell at once; a third staggered and then took a single pace before falling. Two others slowed, the feathered ends of bolts protruding from their bodies, but the rest came on. In moments the Troll would be upon them, the angle would be too steep for covering fire. In fact, he realized, it was over already. There would not be time to crank back the strings and place another bolt before it was too late.
Clavis glanced at the stranger, who in return nodded and turned his attention back to the Troll. A rush of imminence burst onto his awareness, a sudden flash of light streaked from the Enchanter’s upraised hand and a Troll burst into flames, staggering forward and howling with rage and pain. The Troll hesitated for a bare instant when their companion caught fire and then put on a fresh burst of speed. In that second Clavis heard bolts being thrown. The door behind him began to move and Clavis threw his weight back against it and almost fell through the doorway.
“Be ready to bolt the door!” Clavis commanded as he cleared the entrance.
A battle cry sounded outside. Clavis stopped in his tracks and turned about, taking in the scene through the open doorway. A band of men charged in on the right flank of the rapidly advancing Trolls. The small group just outside the door stood frozen in a moment’s indecision. He opened his own mouth to shout for the newcomers to retreat, to not engage the Trolls, to not be there! But it was too late. There was no time now to take sanctuary inside the tower, the walls of which felt so secure to him, the doorway open right there under his nose, ready to be slammed shut. The temptation made him grimace. In that instant of indecision, just before the first of the thirty made contact, Abbethia opened her mouth and let loose a battle cry that had not been heard in decades. The sense of imminence that followed was abrupt and strong. Clavis turned his eyes to its source, his eyes falling on Abbethia, the halberd aglow in her hands. A second imminence followed, equally strong and abrupt, and her armor shimmered as though viewed through a heat-haze. One imminence followed another, each hard and fast on the tail of the one before, maybe a dozen in quick succession. Clavis had no time to count. Almost as soon as the cry had left her, Abbethia had begun to move, her speed increasing suddenly when she was just three paces away. With an oath he was moving after her.
Abbethia rapidly engaged one of the three Troll who were close enough to count. Clavis had just awareness enough of his surroundings to see that the thirty men had split; half moving toward the wall of flames where a fourth Troll stood undecided on the wrong side, and the rest surrounding one of the three that posed the immediate threat. The last of these fell to him. He turned aside a powerful thrust and stepped in close, knowing the beast had the reach on him both by height and choice of weapon. The powerful slash he brought against its belly would have disemboweled a man, cutting to the backbone if not slicing him in two. His blade rang against chain, parting it and opening a wound, but not a killing wound. Keeping his balance and using his momentum he stepped past the charging Troll and took two swift paces before turning back to find the dandy swarming all over the creature, arms wrapped about its head and neck and teeth busy on its throat. Accustomed to his savagery Clavis did not hesitate, but came up on the back of the beast and rammed his blade deep into its back. The Troll arched backwards, one taloned hand clawing at the blade. Slowly, it sank to its knees. Clavis gritted his teeth, gripped the hilt of his blade with both hands and twisted it free. The dandy leaped clear and the Troll fell onto its side and lay twitching helplessly. Clavis turned away, content to let it die in its own time now it was no longer a threat.
His eyes fell on the body of another Troll. An arm had been severed from its body and lay several feet distant. The head of the beast had been split in two, from crown to breastbone. He shivered. Nearby Abbethia stood over the body of a third beast. This had been cut in two at the waist. The halberd held loose but ready in her hands glowed bright. He spared it but a brief glance. Up the street from him a dozen men had ringed the last Troll around and brought it down by weight of numbers. Still further away the wall of flames had faded to nothing, and a second band of Troll, two dozen or more, were advancing down the street. He opened his mouth to call for a retreat but Abbethia beat him to it, her voice loud and clear in the chill night air.
Calmly, seeing clearly that he did not need to hurry, he walked to the open doorway of the fortified building and stood to one side of it, the stranger and the dandy close by. Abbethia came close and stood ready on the far side of the door. The men passed through in rapid good order. As soon as the last were within Abbethia nodded to him and he stepped over the threshold. The stranger and the dandy came in behind him, Abbethia following. Together they slammed the door in the face of the Troll and rammed the first bolt home an instant before a shuddering impact rattled the door in its frame.
When all the bolts had been thrown Clavis stepped back and took a deep breath. His back hurt and he felt slightly dizzy from the kick in the head he had received. All in all he was glad the remaining Troll were outside and he was inside. He glanced around the room, noting Durval and two others of Abbethia’s men leave by the stairs to the roof. His gaze rested briefly on the soldier who had opened the door. He took in the old armor and faded uniform, the belly, the day’s growth of stubble, and put him down as militia. A spearcarrier of little use in a serious fight.
“Who are you people, and what in luck’s name were they?” He thumbed at the door.
Abbethia said. “I am the trader Bethindra, you will have heard of me?”
The man allowed that he had and hung a slightly more respectful look on his face.
“And this is Clavis, a mercenary in the employ of Councilor Dormisadias.”
The soldier acknowledged Clavis’ presence.
“As for these others, perhaps they could make themselves known.”
Clavis took a moment to take in the look of them. The Enchanter was a tall man of middle years, with dark eyes and mousy hair grown long and plaited in a single braid that hung down to his waist. The other, covered in drying blood and grinning cheerfully about himself, was as tall and slim as the other, but his dark hair hung in ringlets about his shoulders and his eyes were a pale blue that Clavis found somehow disturbing. He became aware that the Enchanter was pausing overlong in his answer and caught his eye.
“You are among friends?” the Enchanter asked him.
Don’t commit yourself!
Puzzled at the question and his father’s vehement response, Clavis answered. “I believe so.”
The Enchanter waved a hand, dismissively, his expression resigned. His image wavered like a gently disturbed liquid, and in place of the dark-haired man stood a more androgynous figure, hair white as snow and eyes as pale as a wolf’s. “Then I am Allay Yhar'sharem. This is Oran, my servant. And you,” he turned to Abbethia, “are Abbethia, who after that display can no longer hide under the name Bethindra.”
Abbethia opened her mouth to protest but Allay had already turned to lock eyes with Clavis, “and you, though I do not know your name, are the one for whom I have been searching.”
Clavis had only a moment to wonder why a Yhar'sharem might be searching for him, only a moment to begin to put it together in his mind before Abbethia thundered her anger. “Say no more!”
In the silence that followed every eye fell on her. She pointed to the soldier, his mouth agape, unshaven jowls twitching. “Out! Everybody out! I will have none here but Allay Yhar'sharem and Clavis!” Her own men jumped to it with alacrity. In moments they were alone. Even Oran had left them at a gesture from Allay.
“What possesses you to toss secrets around like rice at a wedding?” Abbethia demanded of Allay.
Allay shrugged his slight shoulders. “I like to cut to the meat of the matter.”
“Meat is all we’ll bloody be if this gets out! How many Heirs have your people found over the last century? Why did none of them reach the throne? Because they all died! Were killed, more to the point. There isn’t a power alive wants to see another High King and won’t kill to stop it.”
Just one more thing to try and be free of, Clavis thought.
“There are such powers,” Allay answered mildly. “The Yhar’sharem, to name two hundred and fifty. And you.”
“My fighting days are done,” Abbethia growled.
“So you have just made clear to everyone,” Allay gestured mildly to the barred door. As if on cue it shuddered in its frame, the crash echoing through the small hall.
“No. So you just made clear to my own men. I trust them to keep silent, if I ask it. I will take Clavis’ word that he will not reveal me, and you can place an oath of silence on that guardsman and no harm done if you don’t speak of it again.”
“And if you don’t shout your battlecry and release spells that every Enchanter for miles around can hear? Do you think Kuramidas did not hear you and recognize you?”
The door shuddered again under a terrific impact but held.
“I plan to kill Kuramidas,” Abbethia told him.
“Before or after he speaks the secret to Chaltrask? And how will you know if he has or not? Face it, Abbethia, the secret is out and you let it out. Besides, these people don’t need Bethindra the merchant; they need Abbethia the hero. And so does Clavis.”
“No I don’t, actually.”
“Yes you do. A secret is only a secret as long as only one person knows it. Allay is right.” She changed tack so suddenly and completely that Clavis lost track of his own thoughts. The door shuddered a third time and this time they all turned to look.
“Hadn’t we better do something about that?”
“Aye,” Abbethia agreed. “And the rest.”