The Wizard King
Chapter title – Chapter 1
Death is an ugly visitor, sometimes ushered in by the loveliest of messengers.
The bored Guard of the King’s Chambers battled sleep. On this, the eve of battle, the King had left strict instructions that no one was to bother him. He wanted a good rest, in preparation for the chaos that would reign tomorrow.
A slight sound in the hall caught his attention.
“Lucieanne. You should not be here.”
He watched as the lovely young woman glided towards him. She held her heels between her delicate fingers. Her soft feet made no sound as she glided towards him across the stone floor, a smile playing across her pretty face.
“I am lonely, Darne. I want your company.”
She touched his chest with a dainty white hand, rubbing it while she kissed his cheek. The other hand withdrew a dagger from the top of her stocking.
A moment later, Darne slid to the floor, blood gushing from his slashed throat. She looked down at his body, now silent on the floor. She had completed her first task. She glanced at the door. Behind the entry lay her second task.
She turned the knob, being careful to turn it slowly. She stepped inside. A window above the bed admitted the soft light of the lamps in the courtyard outside. She could see, in the dim light, the sleeping form of the king. My, he was fat.
She laid her heels on the foot of the bed. She needed both hands for her grisly task. Quiet as the moon’s rays that stretched across her intended victim, she crept to the side of the bed. The King lay on his back, his eyes closed, deep in sleep.
Grasping the dagger in both hands, she drove it deep into his chest. His eyes fluttered open for a brief instant, his hand groped towards the wound. His silk nightshirt darkened in a widening circle as his life streamed from him. His eyes glazed. He was silent.
Lucieanne withdrew the dagger and wiped it clean on the bedclothes. She replaced the dagger in the sheath through the slit in her skirt.
She had struck the first blow. King Awl was dead. This would please Gault.
The darkness covered the mountains like a black ocean. The mountains regurgitated the men hiding in their recesses. They assembled in a valley, awaiting the arrival of their King. Finally, Bort arrived and all was ready. The order came down. The great pirate army began its sweep south. Stef Marne rode behind Bort, the Pirate King, and watched as the miles swept by in the darkness. A trusted member of Bort’s inner circle, Stef had been with Bort since the beginning. He was riding as part of Bort’s bodyguard, which followed the army on this thrust into Torne.
By morning, the army would sweep into Cleery. Bort’s brother, Frak, would have the pirate fleet off the coast of Cleery. His task was to divert the Tornese from the real threat, this sweep down from the mountains.
They swept by many small hamlets that would be ripe for plunder after the battle. As they thundered through the darkness, Stef thought about the long road they had already traveled. Stef had been with Bort since the beginning on the Death Talon so many years ago, before Bort became the Pirate King.
Stef could see Bort’s sword at his side. It was the sword of a king, and its magic aided Bort on his rise. It helped him defeat Captain Jarn when he became captain of the ship.
Bort used the sword to assemble a fleet of captured Sylvanhaven ships. He gained enough strength to challenge Captain Blocke, the Pirate King, and take the kingship from him.
Bort’s strategy for gaining ascendancy of The Six Kingdoms had been flawless. One after another, five of the Six Kingdoms fell to the pirates. They enriched themselves on plunder and slaves from the kingdoms.
Only the debacle at Ghree stained the record. That disaster, caused by the wizard Tarque, Bort rectified later when they took the Kingdom of Ghrond.
The Barnish kingdom of Rhee fell next. Stef marveled at the plan Bort put together for this final push. He assembled an army in the Barnish Mountains and now this final mad dash through Torne to Cleery. Soon the pirates would be masters of five of the Six Kingdoms as Torne, the last kingdom fell. Only Sylvanhaven, now the realm of Gwaum, remained.
The hours passed, as did the night. The eastern sky began to lighten. They approached the hills that marked the small village of Jarna. This was the last town they would pass through before they arrived in Cleery.
That is when Bort’s plans went awry. Stef could hear, ahead of them, the sounds of conflict. The column slowed. Trumpets blared ahead of them and the sound of swords and men dying rang out in the early morning.
He glanced from one side to the other. Soldiers appeared in the tree line at the base of the hills that lined the road. The army had ridden into an ambush.
Stef and the bodyguard drew up and surrounded Bort, who began shouting orders. A flurry of arrows fell in amongst them. Several of the bodyguard fell from their horses, their screams punctuating the dawn.
Bort wheeled his horse around. Archers, guarded by pike men had surrounded them. They could see men waiting behind the archers, swords drawn. He could see one soldier who appeared to be in command of this body of troops.
Bort withdrew his sword and pointed at the body of troops on the west side of the road behind which this man rode.
“Charge,” he cried. “Ride them down.”
Stef spurred his horse and the pirate force sped across the small meadow that separated them from their attackers. They hit the line of pike men, and many around Stef fell. However, they broke through. The commander of this unit moved to challenge Bort.
Stef fought a mounted swordsman and killed him. He turned to see Bort, now unhorsed, in combat with his challenger. He waited to see Bort strike the young man down.
He watched in disbelief as Bort’s sword flew from his hand. The challenger held the point of his sword at Bort’s throat. A second later blood spurted from the severed jugular and Bort fell.
All around him, he could hear his fellow pirates bellow in disbelief. Their leader had fallen. The tide turned against them and the Tornese pushed them back to the road. Stef saw an opening in the Tornese lines. He spurred his horse and galloped through.
Flooded with shame and terror, he fled the battlefield. He rode into the trees. Fear ruled him as he spurred his horse into greater speed.
He climbed higher and higher into the hills and finally reached the top of one. The top was clear, affording him a clear view of the surrounding countryside. He turned back towards the road. Below him, in the distance, he watched the final annihilation of the pirate army.
He rode down the hill and found a campsite. No one had used it in a long time. Rain had packed the ashes in the fire ring down. He dismounted and sat on a rock near the fire ring. The disaster he had just seen numbed his mind.
Bort was dead, the pirate force decimated. His mind ran to Frak, commanding the pirate fleet off the coast of Cleery. Helplessness overwhelmed him. The fleet was expecting to capture the Tornese fleet that tried to escape the fall of Cleery. The pirate army, after capturing Cleery, had planned to annihilate this fleet.
Instead, the pirate fleet would face the full strength of the Tornese armada. Stef was helpless to warn them.
The sun approached zenith before Stef’s mind registered his predicament. The army had traveled fast. They had not burdened themselves with rations. They had expected to dine that evening on the rich fare of Cleery.
Stef arose from the rock that he had been sitting on. His muscles were stiff from inaction and his throat burned with thirst. He spied a tree-lined valley just below him. There might be a stream there for him to replenish his water skin.
He tethered his horse and walked down to the line of trees. There was a stream there. He knelt by it and washed his face. He drank from its waters and found it to be sweet. He filled his water skin.
That slaked his thirst. His stomach gnawed at him. He needed food. He could see fish in the clear water of the stream, just out of his reach. His memory stretched back to his childhood. He was Barnish, though all allegiance to that race had left him many years ago. He remembered spearing fish in the mountain streams of his boyhood. He pulled his knife from his belt and cut a long pole from a small tree growing near the stream. He fastened his knife securely, using vines that grew along the trees.
He positioned himself on the bank of the stream and waited. The fish grew accustomed to his presence. One nice one approached him, finding small minnows in the pool to chase. His strikes at them disturbed the water’s surface, creating concentric rings that spread ever outward. At length, the fish approached close enough for Stef to strike. Stef thrust downward. He missed.
After several tries, he finally speared one. He walked back to the fire ring where he cleaned the fish. He laid the fish on a stone and gathered some firewood. He lit a small, hot fire that emitted little smoke. He cooked the fish and ate it as the sun went down.
With darkness, he decided he could keep the fire, as long as he kept it small. The ring of stones that surrounded it would hide it. His mind began to work.
There would be more refugees from the pirate army roaming these hills. He would use the darkness to search for others who survived the carnage.
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