Finally I have managed to finish this kind of short story set in the city of Queitaris a few years before the events of "El Héroe Durmiente". Like anything else regarding the blog, this has been stucked for many months, but now it is completed (sigh of relief...).
Once again I do apologise for the awful grammar and the many mistakes that I'm sure fill this text. Any feedback is more than welcome.
Enjoy the conclusion of this short adventure, and keep in touch for more blog updates!
NEWCOMERS IN THE ELDEST CITY (II)
Sënn looked around, scared like never before. He was alone in that narrow and silent street, with absolutely no idea of the way back to the inn. Gasping and shivering, he slowly walked down the street while trying to hold his breath a bit. But the night was cold and dark; the thief had vanished with his valuable silk and his stomach was painfully arguing for a bite of warm relief.
“And now what shall I do? –He though, freezing under his thin cloak.
He kept walking aimlessly, with no other light than the pale shine of the stars upon his head. The city slept deeply, his quiet rest only broken by the gentle song the wind played with the branches of the trees. Sënn felt lonely and miserable, and cursed those same streets he had so deeply admired just a couple of hours before.
Suddenly he glimpsed a red light dancing beyond a line of bushes. It was a warm and inviting glow, likely a torch or a lamp, and Sënn hastened and turned around the corner to find him in front of a weird scene. A tall man stood still under an old Holm oak, his hands raised over his head. A small fire was lit in a little brazier next to him, and the flames painted a mask of red and shadow upon his face. A woman and a kid waited in front of him, their eyes shining with respect, expectation and maybe a bit of fear.
Sënn froze and look at them, amazed. The man was chanting in a low, trembling voice. His arms shook like leaves waved by the wind, dangerously close to the flames. Suddenly the woman raised a hand and pulled the man’s hand into the fire. Sënn shout with surprise and dismay, but the man did not complain and kept chanting despite the awful smell of burnt meat.
“What are you looking at, you worm?!
A pair of vile eyes stared at him. The woman had an ugly face distorted by suspicion. Sënn gulped and stepped back.
“I... I... I am...
“Shut your bloody mouth up and get the hell out of here, you scum!!
Sënn nodded and slowly pass by the trio, paying no attention to the woman’s expression of disgust as his eyes were still focused on the mysterious man who kept murmuring his ominous charm.
“Stupid kid... you could have broken the spell. –The woman spitted, turning his head towards the man.
Sënn walked away quickly, but he abruptly stopped as the flames grew up and the man screamed with pain and surprise. Sënn looked back and gave a start, stunned by the twisted face of the man. The fire drew a strange symbol in his forehead, a third eye set in the shape of an hourglass.
“He’s sailing the River of Time! –The woman cried, delighted, and pulled her kid’s hand towards
the fire–. Quickly, Prophet! Tell me the fate of my son! Tell me how to run away from the Storm of Doom!
The kid started to cry as he felt the flames close to his skin. But the man ignored the woman prayers and slowly walked towards Sënn, his eyes veiled by a white shine, his face deformed by distant visions.
“You are the first drop... –He gasped, his skinny finger pointing at Sënn–. You are the first drop of a terrible rain. You are the small stone that announces the landslide. You... insignificant boy... lost in the shadows of the Eldest City... you...
The man stepped once more and hit the brazier with is right foot. The flames roared and ate his robes, lighting the corner under the Holm branches. The woman cried, horrified, and took her son in her arms. Sënn tried to run away, but his legs were frozen and his heart beat like a drum calling for battle. The man took another step, his worn gown partially devoured by the flames climbing towards his chest.
“You... you... the first drop... –He said, his voice almost broken–. You... you better run... run... RUN!!... RUN AWAY NOW!!!
Finally his legs came to life and Sënn turned back and ran as fast as he could, escaping from that horrible corner and that ominous man. He ran until the screams of pain and fear faded away and his chest started to hurt. Breathless, he stopped in the middle of a wide street, with no other lights than the starts over his head.
Gasping and shivering, he walked slowly along a file of pine trees. Such a quiet place that street was that for a second he though all what he had seen was just a nightmare. But that terrible smell was still floating in his nose. Besides, he was still lost in the big city and there was no chance of recovering the valuable silk.
“Gods… what a horrible place! –He cried, sitting on the cold ground, feeling hungry and miserable. Where have all those marvels gone? Where was that bright city full of people and joy? Now he only saw darkness and solitude around him, and the quiet cracking of the branches which sounded like a wicked laugh at him.
He sobbed for a while, nestled under the pine tree. But he had been raised in a merchant family, and he knew that just complaining and waiting for a solution was useless. He had to move and at least try to come back with his uncle. As for the silk... there was nothing he could do for it right now.
A bit more calmed, Sënn stood up and walked down the street. It ended in a big avenue half covered by orange trees. There was a fine scent under the branches that somehow raised his spirits and made him walk faster. Some lights shined here and there, torches hanged in the walls and candles behind some windows. Life sparks that helped him lighten his loneliness. He thought he might find somebody kind enough to help him find the inn.
After a while, the avenue ended in a square. The ground was covered by an ancient, cracked cobblestone, and there were many olive trees. There was a fountain right in the middle, a pool of calm water with a fractured and eroded rock in its centre. A trickle of water flew out from the stone cracks.
Sënn approached the fountain and saw his reflection in the water: a pale face crowned by the trembling lights of the stars. For a second he forgot all his troubles and felt a funny calm, like he was far beyond pain and worry, beyond any harm or joy. Just a shadow under the olive trees, less that a spirit, only attached to live through the vague image captured by the water mirror.
“This is not a common fountain... –He managed to think, his mind almost defeated by a strong desire of sleep and oblivion–. What’s this? It is like a window... like a door opened to... to what?
Suddenly that weird feeling of non-existence vanished and Sënn found himself looking at a dark pool of rough water. His reflection had disappeared amid a twist of foam. A cold wind was blowing across the square and its chilly voice made him shiver. There was no more feeling of serenity now, but a rising sense of danger and warning.
“What’s going on?
He walked away the fountain, amid the olive trees, hesitating whether to hide or just run away again. But before he could decide, somebody grabbed his hand and pulled him down behind a small stone bench. Sënn tried to scream, but a hand firmly covered his mouth.
“Shut up kid, or we are dead!
It was a nervous voice whispering in his ear, but somehow kind and friendly. Sënn nodded and stopped fighting.
“That’s better lad. Now keep quiet and don’t move.
Sënn nodded again and curled up behind the bench, next to that mysterious man. It was dark under the trees, but Sënn could see that he was short and wore a tunic and some kind of gown. His eyes were deep black but glittered like gems touched by a bright light. He seemed anxious and looked around uneasily.
“So, mate, who are you and what in the world are you doing here? –He whispered with an easy tone of voice, like trying to hide his worries.
“M... my name is Sënn. I’m f... from...
“…Moi’Xian. That for one is obvious, lad. And from a merchant family, isn’t it? That’s not so obvious but still quite easy to figure out.
“How do you... –Sënn was so amazed he couldn’t finish the question. Besides, the man was again looking around like he had lost any interest on him.
“You’re lost, don’t you? –He asked after a while. Sënn nodded–. Poor fool! I wouldn’t say Queitaris at night is a safe place for a naïve moijurean kid like you... but this is a particularly dangerous place and a particularly dangerous night! What were you thinking about, kid?
“I... I... I don’t... It wasn’t...
“Enough chatter. He’s almost here.
“Who’s here? And who are you? What’s this place? What...
“Shhhhh!!! –He covered his mouth again, worried–. I told you to be quiet, remember? This is the Fountain of the Immortals, the most ancient place of this quite ancient City. And for the rest of your questions... trust me; it is much better for you not to hear the answers. Just keep in mind that you owe me your life... so far.
The man was really serious now and Sënn didn’t dare speaking again. Besides, he was really scared now. He felt a discouraging shadow slowly covering the square, like a mist of fear that haste the beats of his heart and froze his thoughts. For a moment the need of running away took control of him and he tried to stand up and escape. The man grabbed him and warned him in a low but frightened voice. Sënn fought for a while, until the man beat him in the stomach and grabbed him for the neck. There was a murmur of words, and Sënn felt a sudden weakness. Incapable of standing still, he fell down with a deep sight.
“You owe me your life twice now. –The man said–. But it may be not enough yet... Now keep quiet and for all the Gods’ sake, don’t move!!
It was pointless to say that as Sënn was so weak he couldn’t even open his mouth. The man smiled and then looked at the fountain, his face turned into a pallid mask of worry.
“There he is...
The man seemed like a statue. Sënn felt the cold ground in his back and the chilly bite of the wind in his face, but he realised he couldn’t hear the fountain anymore. Actually there was no sound in the square, and he thought he had become deaf. But he could certainly hear his own heart, and the deep breathing of the man next to him.
After a few seconds, his body started to recover a bit of strength and he managed to stick his head over the bench. First he saw nothing, but then he realised there was a figure standing in front of the fountain. It was a tall and thin figure, cloaked in dark robes, the hand slowly waving over the water surface.
“What’s he doing? –The man whispered to himself. He looked really concerned now.
The cloaked figure splashed the pool, but there was no sound of water. A gloom of blue light rose instead, covering the figure with a mist of shiny drops. Sënn gave a start and hide his head behind the bench.
“Witchcraft!! –He muttered, frightened.
“Sorcery, if you please. A very uncommon one, though. The question is: what for?
He stared at the mysterious figure, ignoring Sënn’s expression of terror.
“What do you intend to find here? –He murmured–. Oh, if I could get just a bit closer!
“No, please! –Sënn cried, holding his arm–. He’s an evil sorcerer, for sure. Let’s run away while we can, please!
The man grab Sënn’s hand and for a moment the boy though he was about to be beaten. But instead he just felt a caress in his forehead and a sudden feeling of relief.
“Calm down, kid. I’ll let you here in a deep and safe sleep. Tomorrow you won’t remember anything. Just calm down...
“No... Please no... –Sënn’s eyes closed and he started to sink in a warm, inviting dream. But it broke down when he hear the man’s voice cursing next to him.
“Damn, damn!!! Gods’ grief, not now!!
Sënn heard the noise of horses and men shouting. He woke up, still a bit dizzy, and looked over the bench. A few horsemen had stopped next to the fountain, around the cloaked figure. They carried spears and shields, and some of them had also torches.
“What is...? Who are...?
“Be quiet. –The man urged–. They are Iron Riders, the most loyal soldiers of the Archon. They are Soloscrán’s dreadful bodyguards.
“The... the Archon?
“That’s what I said. –The man raised his head a bit over the bench to see better the fountain and the horsemen–. I also said bodyguards. Do you understand?
Before Sënn could answer, the men became suddenly quiet. One of them dismounted and walked towards the cloaked figure. At the trembling light of the torches, Sënn saw a hint of a black armour under the white tunic and the purple cape. That man brandished a strange spear, just as long as his height and with a large, dark blade. His face was covered by a purple hood.
“Why are you here? –The man in the armour asked to the cloaked figure. He had a menacing voice,
full of authority–. You have a task to fulfil. Why are you wasting your time here?
The cloaked figure turned back, like he had finally realised he was surrounded by the horsemen.
“My lord Soloscrán… –He said, bowing his head. He had a deep, warm voice–. I was just walking around, enjoying this wonderful night. The stars...
“Fuck the stars and fuck you, sorcerer!! –The Archon shouted, beating the ground with his spear–. Don’t dare piss me off!! I know your dark soul better than any other living being. Your twisted mind is always working in the shadow, isn’t it?
He waved the spear right in front of the sorcerer’s face, who didn’t move. He just stood there and bowed his head again, putting his throat dangerously close to the blade of steel.
“I’m your servant and my wish is just to serve you well, my lord. That’s the only reason of all
Soloscrán put down the spear and laughed, loud and surly.
“You lie to me, but it is useless, you pitiful sorcerer, for I am the Archon of Queitaris and the sovereign of all Helárissos. You are still of use for me, and so I’ll keep you alive... for now. Remember that: your life is in my hands. Now come back to the Stronghold, you have a task to do and I need it done before tomorrow dawn. Is it clear?
“Of course, my lord. –The sorcerer answered; his voice filled with sarcasm–. Let us merge in the shadows again, where our dark souls are tied together and our deepest desires are revealed.
The sorcerer bowed again and, after a quick look at the fountain, walked away, vanishing in the night. The Archon grunted, clearly disturbed by the sorcerer’s last words, and got closer to the fountain. He looked at the calm water and hit the surface with his spear.
“Curse him!! –The short man muttered, disappointed–. All my efforts during those days wasted in the last moment! –He looked at Sënn and showed a sad smile–. You see, lad, how the Gods laugh at us. You should never trust them.
“What do you mean?
“Never mind, boy. I’m done here and I have to go. You should do the same. Come back to your people and flee from this city before the storm catches you.
“But I’m lost! I can’t…!
Sënn fell silent. The man was already gone and he was alone again. Looking over the bench, he saw the Archon and his men still gathered around the fountain. Soloscrán had just mounted his horse.
“To the Stronghold, Riders!! –He shouted, waving his weird spear over his cloaked head–. Call back the sentinels, Captain Nemicles!!
“Yes my lord.
“I better wait until they’re gone… –Sënn thought, and hid behind the bench, hoping not to be found by the Archon guards. But the sound of a horse trot behind him made him gave a start.
Scared, he turned his head and held his breath, terrified. An Iron Rider had stopped very close to him, under an olive tree. He was apparently waiting for another one which was a few metres afar, slowly moving towards them.
“Hurry up, Calakés! –Shouted the closer rider–. Our lord is calling us!
“Hold on, Merios! Something’s wrong with my horse. He’s limping.
“Damn. The Captain’s gonna crush our heads if we are late.
Sënn tried not to make a single noise, petrified. Miraculously they had not seen him yet, but they were so close they may hear even the sound of his heart hammering his chest. He closed his eyes and quietly prayed to the spirits of all his ancestors, asking for just a bit of good luck.
Suddenly he felt a warm breath right in his face. He slowly opened an eye and found the horse snout sneaking over his head. The horse touched him and neighed, attracting the attention of the two riders.
“What the… somebody’s here!!!
There were cries and the menacing sound of steel, and Sënn found himself running blindly amid the trees. He could hear angry voices behind him, curses and the gallop of the riders getting closer and closer.
He stumbled with the cracked cobblestone and fell down behind another stone bench. A horse jumped over both the seat and his head, and Sënn heard a cry of rage and a horrible curse. Terrified, he got up as fast as he could and ran again, avoiding the trees by mere chance.
Suddenly he was again in the avenue with orange trees. He stopped, gasping, and looked around. There was no sight of the riders, but he could still hear the horses’ gallop and the threatening voices of those men. Sënn prayed silently for the gods’ mercy and walked away, hiding between the orange trees.
After a few minutes Sënn found a small alley almost concealed by two lush lemon trees. He ran into it and fell down in the sandy ground, his breath almost gone and his legs trembling of exhaustion and fear. For a moment he closed his eyes and tried to calm down. He started to think he might have escaped.
Suddenly he heard two voices quarrelling. Surprised, he got up and walked away as quietly as he could. But then he realised those were women’s voices which came from an opened window in the building next to him. Sënn’s thoughts fought between caution and curiosity, but the later proved to be stronger, particularly after he heard the word “Archon”.
Fearing his own shaking legs, Sënn walked towards the window and fell on his knees. A bit of light came out between the shutters, mixed with the voices. One of them was warm, confident and a bit angry. The other was soft, cold and yet even more angry.
“This situation has gone too far, Bresia. We must do something! –Said the first voice.
“Like what? –Answered the second voice–. What do you pretend us to do, Atela? We have sworn loyalty to the Archon.
“But he is crazy! He is a bloody lunatic!
“Our oath does not include any clause regarding the Archon’s sanity.
“Oh, don’t piss me off, Bresia! You talk like one of those miserable courtiers that surround him in his Stronghold. We are Guardians of Hacra, for the Gods’ sake! We are warriors and sentinels of Queitaris, not servile dogs willing to carry out the slaughter Soloscrán desires!
“We are warriors, indeed, and thus we must obey our leaders. The First and Second Sword have not yet talked against the oath.
“C’mon, Bresia, you know both of them despise Soloscrán and his madness. Even the Grandmother has suggested that our Order should break any alliance with the Archon.
“Rumours, idle gossip! –The cold voice grumbled–. You don’t know that. We are mere pawns in this game, Atela. It is not our duty to decide such complex matters.
“There’s a war coming, Bresia.
“We are already at war.
“Don’t be a fool! The war that is coming will be far worse than those little skirmishes. Every single nation of Helárissos will rise against this bloodthirsty tyrant. Do you really want to take part in it?
“Whether I want it or not, it doesn’t matter. I’ll do what I must do. –The cold voice sounded now thrilled–. It is going to be such a great war to fight on… You said it, Atela, we are warriors. We are meant to battle, to brandish our swords and defeat our enemies. That is our destiny, the fate of the Order of Hacra.
“And yet I’m afraid we are in the wrong side...
After that there was only silence. Sënn waited for a while, hoping to hear something else, but apparently the two women had left, although the light was still lit behind the window. He thought about the words of those mysterious women, but apart from their evident fear of an incoming war due to the Archon’s craziness, Sënn hadn’t understood anything.
“It seems everybody in this city is scared of the Archon...
Suddenly he felt a hand in his neck. Sënn shouted, frightened, and tried to escape, but that hand was strong and hold him firmly.
“Why were you spying us? –A cold voice asked in his ear.
“I… I wasn’t! I’m… m… not…! –He tried to answered, but his tongue was frozen by fear.
“What did you catch, Bresia? –The other voice was surprisingly friendly–. A kid?
“A busybody, I think. Perhaps a spy.
“No! –Sënn cried–. I’m just lost! I was... that burglar stole our silk and then... I’m not a spy!
“Calm down, kid. Just relax and tell us what are you doing here.
Sënn gasped and breathed deeply, looking at the two women. The one with the cold voice was tall and thin, short-haired and quite pale. Her face was strict and a bit intimidating. The other one was shorter and dark-haired, and looked at Sënn with a sincere smile that somehow made him think on his mother.
“C’mon, lad. We won’t hurt you. –The kind one said. Sënn felt a bit relieved, but he also noticed that both women wore chain mails and were armed with sharp falcata swords. Trying not to look at the shining steel, Sënn explained everything he had gone through since he was stolen his family’s precious silk. He even told the women about the fountain, the mysterious sorcerer and the Archon, and how was he chased by the Iron Riders.
The two women looked at each other with an expression of concern.
“I told you. –Atela said–. He is using some kind of witchcraft. We must stop him!
“First of all we should inform our leaders. –Answered Bresia, pursing her lips.
“Anyway, our Order has nothing else to do with that bloody coward!
“E... excuse me. –Sënn asked with a tremulous voice–. What...?
“Don’t worry, kid. –Atela said, smiling–. I believe you. We will help you find your uncle. Will we, Bresia?
“Yeah, why not? –Bresia frowned–. Let’s take care of this child! What else must we do?
“You know, dear, that sometimes you are rather annoying. –Atela laughed quietly–. I hope I’ll never share any command with you.
“So do I. –Bresia shown a fierce smile and pushed Sënn towards the avenue–. Move on, kid!
They came out the alley and slowly walked down the wide avenue. Sënn was still a bit concerned and doubtful, but for the first time in the whole night he was not running or feeling truly scared, and that was something. Atela gently hold his shoulder.
“Don’t worry; I think I know where your inn is. We’ll be there really soon.
“Thank you. Really...
“Not at all! The streets of Queitaris are not a place for a boy like you during the night. The sooner you are back in your land with your family, the better.
Sënn tried to speak again, but the sound of horses made him quiet. Scared, he looked around. The two women put their hands on their swords and waited, ready to act. Soon five horsemen caught them and circled them, aiming at the two warriors with their spears. Sënn fell on his knees and embraced Atela’s leg, terrified, as he had recognised the Iron Riders.
“Guardians, hand that kid over to us! –The captain shouted, waving his spear very close to Atela’s face–. He’s a criminal and deserves punishment.
“Really, is he? –The Guardian stood still, her hand over the sword handle–. I would say he is just a frightened child.
“Hand him over!
Atela and Bresia looked at each other. There was worry in her faces, but also a kind of weird amusement. They both showed a twisted smile, a rather fiery expression which caused a chill on Sënn’s spine.
“What do you think, Bresia? Shall we obey those men?
“I think we should. But I don’t feel happy doing it.
“Neither do I. These men tend to forget who we are.
“Guardians, I’ll ask only one more time! –The captain insisted, aggressively–. Hand him over!
“We shouldn’t do this, Atela. –Bresia looked now truly concerned.
“It is time to choose sides for the war, Bresia.
“We don’t have the right to do that. Not on behalf of the entire Order.
“You’re right. But you know what, dear? I’m doing this only on my behalf!
“You bitch! –Shouted the captain, enraged–. I’ll teach you to obey the Archon’s Iron Riders!
“How rude! Do you think that’s the proper way to address a woman?
Atela smiled and, quick as a lightning, drew her falcata and cut in half the captain’s spear. Before he could react, Atela was on his side and waved his sword again. The rider fell down, screaming, his chest red of blood.
The two Guardians moved between the horses with incredible dexterity, blocking the riders’ spears and throwing a rain of steel over those men. Sënn saw the combat open-mouthed, astonished by the unbelievable skill of those women. After a few seconds, the five riders were lying in the ground, dead or severely wounded. The horses ran away, scared, and the two women cleaned their swords with an air of routine.
“Done! –Atela said, satisfied–. Now it is war between the Archon and the Order.
“Or perhaps it is our heads on a spike to avoid a punishment for the Order. –Muttered Bresia.
“Either way, I feel really good now. –She ducked and helped an absolutely shocked Sënn to get up–. Don’t be scared, kid! Everything is going to be well. We’ll guide you back to your inn, all right?
“But... but… you…
“Don’t say anything. –Atela smiled and caressed his face–. C’mon, let us go.
They walked slowly along the lonely streets of Queitaris. Nobody tried to stop them; nobody had apparently noticed what had just happened. After about half an hour, Sënn recognised the square where his uncle and he had tried to sell their silk. That had happened just a few hours before, but it seemed like ages for Sënn, just a dream of an almost forgotten life.
Finally they found the inn. Sënn almost cried of relief when he saw his uncle. He tried to explain, but his mouth just tremble as the tears break out his eyes.
“My poor kid! –His uncle cried, hugging him–. I was so scared...
When they calmed down a little, Atela briefly explained what had just happened.
“I think you two should leave the city early in the morning. The Archon’s guards will seek for revenge and they are merciless.
“We’ll do. Now that the silk is lost, nothing keeps us here. But I would like to repay you somehow, brave Guardians.
“Never mind, merchant. We’ll be happy to know that you two are safe, far from the walls of Queitaris.
“Atela, we should go now. –Bresia said, looking around with a concerned face.
“Just a second. –Atela took Sënn’s hand and kissed him in his forehead–. Take care, you brave kid. You’ve lived such a terrifying experience tonight, and yet you have survived and hopefully got a bit wiser. You may not realise now, but you have started great things. Whether they will be for good or bad, I think not even the Gods know...
“I’m sorry I caused you so many problems.
“Don’t feel guilty. This should have happened sooner or later. You were just the first, small drop that announces the storm. For there is a dark storm coming and Helárissos will not be the same anymore.
Sënn remembered the words of that gloomy prophet and felt a touch of freezing fear deep in his heart. What did all that mean? He had no idea, but suddenly the city felt even darker and more ominous around him, and he just wished to be back at home, far from sinister sorcerers, cruel tyrants, deadly warriors and disheartening omens.
Atela realised his agitation and sighed. There was a sad sparkle in her eyes. But she kept smiling anyway, and it was a smile full of confidence.
“Don’t feel discouraged, Sënn. Helárissos is much stronger that the ambition of any man, even one as bloodthirsty as Soloscrán. There will be suffering and pain, of course, but nevertheless he will fall at the end, no matter how cruel and ruthless his reign is. This is the fate of every despot. Just keep some hope within your heart, will you?
“I... I will.
Atela kissed him again and walked away with Bresia, waving her hand as a last gesture of farewell. Sënn and his uncle remained at the door of the inn for a while, silently watching as the city woke up with the first signs of dawn. They were relieved for being together again, but also distressed for all what have happened over the last hours.
When the sun finally rose over Queitaris, the two packed their scarce luggage on their donkey and walked away amid the multitude, leaving back the cheerful crowd, the woody streets and the latent shadows of a war that would shake Helárissos for years to come.
For they, humble merchants of a distant land, did not know that they have lighted the first sparks of the Great War, a terrible conflict between all the nations of Helárissos. Thousands would die; cities would burn to the ground; the Archon would fall amid blood and fire and the whole land would lie wounded and sorrowful for fifteen years, waiting for a Chosen One prophesied by a dying Augur.
But that is a different story...