Prologue

Hi friends and visitors,

here, for the very first time is the first draft of the Prologue to The Four Edged Sword. Obviously this book is undergoing a thorough writing, so forgive any small errors. I can promise the final product will be likely quite different (read better) than this first offering. Enjoy.

 

The Four Edged Sword

Kings of BenEden

Prologue

The Seven Scrolls

The Hermit cursed to himself as he crawled between the bearers. A rodent scurried across his hand as he placed it on a loose board. He pulled his hand back and arched upward, hitting his head hard against a beam above him. A blanket of dust cascaded down over his hair and he made the unfortunate mistake of inhaling just as it fell across his mouth. Coughing and spluttering madly, he cursed again, but when he looked to see where the rodent had gone, it had already disappeared.

“High lord of hades!” he shouted hoarsely. But just as he was about to get down and crawl through the beams, the rodent reappeared, cheekily squeaking as it watched from the relative safety of a hole in the side of a rotting piece of timber not more than four feet away. He was tempted right then to turn it into a roach. In his younger days he would not have hesitated. He’d had a hot temper when he was an understudy to the Grand Mage. It was an age ago now and he had learned through hard experience to manage his anger, especially when it counted most.

The rodent scurried back through the hole and he listened as its incessant squeaking faded. It was then that he saw the canisters, partially visible behind some broken beams which had fallen in times past and now lay like discarded kindling across the front of an old store hold, it’s small iron gate shut and held by a large padlock. He crawled through, stood up and stepped over to remove the broken timbers. The iron door was shut tight, but he could now clearly see not one but several ceramic canisters, neatly stacked on their sides, one on top of the other, sealed at the end with a ceramic lid.

“Could it be?” He said to himself. “After all these years could it be?”

His search had taken him all over the neutral territory, where the old writings told of seven scrolls of ancient songs, written in the times of the first souls. They had been hidden from invading marauders who had sailed from a land far across the Eastern Sea. It was the Mountain Mage and his priests who had hid the scrolls and then made them all swear upon pain of death to keep it a secret to their last breath. But with their deaths, their secret was lost and the legendary scrolls fell into the annals of myth.

Yet here they were, seven in all, marked with the unmistakable stamp of the Grand Mage himself. An ivory throne, with a crown sitting alone upon it, absent a king to take it upon his head. The Hermit had only ever seen the actual throne once, when he was apprenticed to his own Grand Mage. He remembers well the ivory teeth from the rare white dragon of ancient times. Each tooth was emblazoned ornately with inscriptions, filled with gold and then polished flush so that it was impossible to tell upon the touch which was gold and which was not. The back of the throne was the crest of the beast, it’s shoulder bone concaved and nine pointed horns fanned outwards from the crest of the shoulder blade. If ever there were dragon bones destined to be a seat for a King then these were them. The hips of the dragon formed the arm rests of the chair, each one studded with emeralds, jasper, opal and pearl. Under the seat the spine of the creature supported the frame.

Now he saw the same throne again, though a small carving stamped in ceramic pots was a small wonder when compared, but a wonder none the less. He prized open the door, which took some doing without the proper tools. Then he carefully removed each of the canisters and sat them on end in the middle of the floor.

In the fading evening light, the Hermit struck a candle and sat it upon an upturned cup. He took the first canister and examined the lid. He turned the canister ever so slowly upon his crossed legs, peering in the dim light to see if there were any breaks in the waxen seal around the rim of the lid. He was pleased to discover the seal was well stuck. He then found some sack cloth and wrapped each canister, tying reed rope around them to make sure the cloth didn’t fall away when he carried them.

The Hermit took the canisters back along the loft, taking extra care to move slowly and deliberately, with each canister tucked neatly under one arm. Down the ladder to the lower room he carried the last canister and rested it in the sack that lay at the ready where he had left it hours before.

Under the cover of darkness, he strapped the sack to his donkey and took the lead and without wasting any more time, he walked all night until at last, upon the morrow dawn, he was home.

In his study, he once again carefully opened the sack, unwrapped the canisters and, in the brighter light from the East facing window, he was able to make out the markings under the Ivory Throne.

Each canister had a number, prefixed to the signit of the Grand Mage of the day. The Hermit guessed that the canisters predated the first great war, mentioned in the Songs of War. In one of the songs the Mage was mentioned as being Grand Mage Ar-Merise. Sure enough, each of these canisters bore the letters GMA They were preceded by numbers from one to seven. These in turn were followed by the year, which in this case was nine hundred and sixty ninth day of the fiftieth year of the second age. A simple enough system to catalogue simple jars, but there were no ordinary jars. The signit, together with the Ivory Throne and the letters and numbers all added up and it was all the Hermit could do to stop himself bursting out in song.

If he had time, he would surely have made himself some fine black tea and sat there staring at the find. The old keep in the abandoned folly held no promise of such a discovery. Perched near the summit of a cold and unimpressive mountain as it was, the folly had not seen inhabitants in half an age. As far as the Hermit knew, no soul had been near it in all this time.

But he did not have the luxury of time. He knew by the stars, by the songs and by the setting Jovial bodies, that the time of the great dark was upon all the world and this particular dark would be protracted, bitterly cold and almost unbearable for all but the most stubborn of people and animals.

The distant howls of the Trithorns at night of late was a sure sign of things to come. They had been difficult to evade and the Hermit had had to resort to the unspeakable act of ripping the tongue from his donkey to silence it from bleating. It had worked, but the beast still made too loud a clopping in the dark, much too loud for the Hermit’s liking. It had not been something he wanted to do, but what else could he. His and the donkey’s lives depended on the dreadful act. Over the subsequent nights the Hermit had done his best to comfort the poor animal. To its credit, the beast still carried the supplies and did what it was raised to do. But the Hermit had forced back a growing regret and more than a little uncomfortable guilt.

On the last eve he had heard a Trithorn too close for comfort. He and his donkey had hid in the hollow of a Bitterwood Tree, whose massive hulk was more than enough room for two men and their donkeys if need be. The creature had flown, howling and screeching with hunger from its long hibernation in the mountains. How they knew their time had come was one of the great mysteries. Even dragons were known to cower at the sound of their terrible sounds as they flew low over the treetops, their immense white incandescent wings made even more impressive by the light of the moons, which shone through the skin between their limbs like candlelight through rice paper. Its long beak stretched a full yard in front of its disproportionately small head, it’s long neck craning as it jerked its beak this way and that. Three small horns protruded from the point between the shoulders. These strange flying beasts had no eyes, unlike the many birds and other flying creatures that filled the skies in daylight. They spent decades in the mountain caves, much of that time sleeping, only venturing out at full moons to hunt on the rarest of occasions.

But now their time was near and the Hermit knew that the terror of their screeching would be soon matched only by the horrifying screams of pain and death each night for near on a full year.

So, he broke the seal of the first canister and tipped out the broken shards of clay from the lid. Then he reached in and pulled out the first of the cloth scrolls. To his considerable surprise, the scroll was not only in tact, but the writing inscribed throughout was as clear as the day it was written.

It didn’t take the learned Hermit long to find the right passage. But when he read the song, his heart sank and his eyes began to water. He knew as he sang softly the words of the song, that worse things than darkness, than the haunting sounds of Trithorns awaited men in the lands of BenEden. He would need to report this to the King. But how to form the right words would be difficult.

Together with the knowledge he had gathered along the way about events in the lands of the East, this knew information, though crucial, was a burden he was reluctant to carry. He and his King had discussed this at length, along with Elders in the King’s council. Much debate had raged about the worth of ancient scrolls and forgotten words. Yet, the King had sent him on this journey, having full faith in what he might discover. Now that he had discovered something tangible, the last place he wanted to go was South. Yet South he would go.

On the return journey he tried to convince himself that he was mistaken, that the words were merely the ancient musings of a long forgotten poet. But he knew better. His skipper lay in wait for him in a hidden harbor, the ship still at anchor and his trusted servants waiting where he had last seen them many days before. They were pleased to see their master safe and well, but were not so pleased when they saw the look on his face, which he could not disguise, though he braved a weak smile. They asked no questions, but tended to his needs, fed him and let him sleep.

They could not risk to sail at night because of the Trithorns. But sailing during the day brought its own problems. This time of year a brisk wind was forever being whipped up from the South and heading into it was difficult even for the most experienced skipper. Yet, they made their way over dangerous waves in a treacherous seas and battered almost to despair, three days later arrived safely on the northern shores of the mainland.

The two almost unbearable nights at sea brought a constant fear of attack from above, while the days brought threat of drowning. But the Hermit would rather either fate than delivering unwelcome news to a King who had purposely sent him on his mission, hoping all the while the rumors were not true.

Upon his reluctant return, he bowed low and long before the Southern King, who stood a full head above any man in the kingdom. As imposing as he was forthright, but a more honorable man in all of BenEden, the Hermit had never met.

“What news Mage?” greeted the King rather cheerily. But the expression on the Hermit’s face said it all.

“So it’s true then.” Said the King after pacing about for some time.

“I’m afraid so your majesty.” Answered the Hermit as respectfully as he could.

“But she has only one shard? One blade?”

“As far as anyone can tell, yes.” Said the Hermit, quickly adding, “Had she all three others your highness, we might not be having this discussion right now.”

“You are right, of course. Does she seek them?”

“According to my best information, I’m afraid so.”

“And my son, Jesop, you did not see him?”

“I’m afraid not sire.”

The King paced around in his chamber for quite some time, occasionally glancing over at the Hermit, who stood waiting, uncomfortably, patiently near the vestibule. Eventually the King stopped, turned towards the Hermit and the Mage knew what the King was thinking before he said the words.

“We must not let the King of the East and his Eastern mistress, the Queen find the three blades. I don’t need to tell you what will happen if they do. If the prophecies in the scrolls are wrong, we have nothing to fear, if they are right, we must prepare for war.” Then the King indicated with the wave of his hand for the Hermit to follow him. “Come.”

The King led the Hermit through the grand hall, down a narrow corridor, through a  heavy wooden door and down a spiraling staircase. At the bottom of the staircase, a good three levels down, a huge iron door was opened only on command of the King. He and the Hermit were met inside by two brawny guards. The Hermit wondered what new mystery lay in the dark beyond the large door. He was one of the King’s most trusted advisors and yet even he did not know of this underground dungeon.

Through a dark and damp corridor, the guards led them both through another iron door, locking it shut behind them. For a moment they were in darkness, until torches were lit by the second guard.

Through a thin, but ornate stained glass window, a strange glow shone from the center of a small room. The King left the guards stationed where the torches were lit and took the Hermit through a double door and into the small room. In the middle of the room a large crystallite pedestal stood about a yard and a half from the floor. Atop it was a polished marble slab. But it was what was suspended above that which caught the Hermit quite by surprise.

There, apparently suspended by some strange force, a long blade slowly turned this way and that as it hovered above the slab. It glowed with a strange yellow hue. Of course the Hermit recognized the shard. But he was having trouble taking it in, as he had never actually seen one. In books, yes, many times, on scrolls, hanging in frames on the walls of palaces, but never for real.

“Is it really…”

“Yes.”

“But how…when? I mean I don’t…”

The Hermit stood there, mouth open, unable to speak coherently. After a few moments he looked at the King, who was now smiling back at him.

“If you could but see your face.”

The Hermit managed a slight smile back, unsure whether the King was teasing him. He could see the fabled shard, one of four such blades, right there in front of him. It hovered by strange magic as if it were lighter than the air. Yet it looked for all the world like a large, heavy sword. The Hermit himself understood magic and had on many occasions used it in its various forms, but trickery, potions and turning small mammals into smaller creatures were the limit and range of his abilities at this stage of his life. In Mage years, though he was nearly fifty years of age, he was but an infant in skill and would need to practice his arts for a good many decades yet before he was proficient enough to pull of something like this.

But the King apparently knew no limits. He always had a surprise or two up his sleeve. It was as charming as it was unnerving. If this amazing trick were the end of it, the Hermit might well have had time to process. But the King had other ideas.

“My dear Mage. My most trusted advisor. You see much and know much, but for all your knowledge, you lack the single-mindedness that is the constant companion of the simple of mind. You know, but you cannot see. Look again.”

The Hermit looked again at the sword and noted something strange about it. A beam of light trailed through disturbed dust and smoke from the flaming torches until it narrowed at the wall on the far side of the room. The Hermit went over to investigate, much to the amusement of his King, who watched curiously to see if the Hermit would figure out his scheme.

He stopped in front of the beam of light and braved a hand across it. As soon as he interrupted the unnatural beam of light, the sword to his left disappeared from its floating position, much to the astonishment of the Hermit. When he took his hand away again, the object reappeared, exactly as it was.

He smiled unwillingly, suddenly embarrassed that he was at the wrong end of a King’s joke.

“What trickery is this?” he said, finding it difficult to disguise his annoyance.

“Come now Hermit, you of all Mages should know a Wizard nor a King never reveals the secrets of his tricks. Suffice to say this, as much as it is indeed a trick of the eye, is nonetheless the most powerful weapon we have against the King of the East and his mistress.”

The Hermit was catching on. “So, you plan to deceive her, with this?” He hadn’t meant to sound so unconvinced, but clearly he had.

“It worked on you, did it not?” the King said in a rebuking tone. He was right of course and if one can trick a Mage, then surely so another King and his Queen. “Come now Hermit, there’s time tomorrow for plans, you have traveled far and must surely be hungry. Now we feast, for tomorrow…oh yes my good man, on the morrow, we will lay a trap the likes of which can only be found written in the songs of ages.

Copyright 2015 Paul G Day

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