Knights of Iyatula

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Another child is rescued amidst the far reaching arm of the war, but why is she so special?

Chapter 2 (v.1) - Across the River of Blood

Submitted: October 30, 2017

Reads: 106

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Submitted: October 30, 2017



2 Across the River of Blood
In the middle of an army camp near the clear waters of the Halume River stood the tent of General Ersus son of Tok. He was standing inside his tent bent over maps that showed the area east of the river where the village of Anthea lay. General Ersus was certainly an imposing figure, battle hardened but always willing to watch out for his troops. To go along with the military honour inherent in his character, he had a huge heart and would always act with compassion. He never questioned his orders, it wasn’t in his nature, but what was expected of him this time was in direct contrast with the rules of engagement, although he knew that, for the Shadow King, there probably weren’t any rules.
General Ersus had joined the Shadow King’s army out of necessity and not because he believed in the King’s cause. Growing up had been difficult for him, as his mother and father had both been taken by a strange illness. The healers had been summoned, but arrived too late and both of them had perished the night before the healers’ arrival. This left him and his younger sister to fend for themselves. 
Young Ersus took to the streets and started stealing from the merchants that lined the streets of his village. Finally he had been caught and thrown into jail and he knew that they would most likely chop off his hands. This prospect scared him and he knew that his only option was escape.
He had been placed in a tiny cell with fifty other men and the heat and air inside had become stifling and unbreathable. He clambered up a tiny ledge in the one corner of the cell, where a tiny barred window still promised hope. He sat on the ledge breathing in the sweet air that was wafting in from the outside and hoped that his sister was safe. He heard the key turn in the lock of the massive cell door that was made from a solid piece of steel hinged into the wall. He jumped down from the ledge just as the heavy door swung open and crashed into the wall with a massive clang. 
“Ersus son of Tok and Zane son of Kia from the outer Realms step forward,” the guard shouted, his voice booming and echoing off the walls, despite the overcrowded room. Ersus stepped from the crowd and headed toward the door. He reached the guard and moments later another boy, not much younger than himself, was standing next to him. 
“Follow me,” the guard ordered and both boys obediently did as they were told. He led them down the passage they had been led through on their way to the cell, but just as they came to the stairs that ascended to the outside door and freedom the guard stopped and opened a wooden door on the left.
He led them inside a dimly lit room that smelled of death and drying blood. Once they were inside the guard exited through the door, closing and locking it behind him. Ersus frantically looked around for an escape route, but the room was windowless and bare except for some nasty torturing devices that Ersus had never seen before. He noticed some movement in the one corner and saw a rat sitting next to a spiked mace, chewing on what looked suspiciously like a human toe. Next to him stood the youth named Zane and as he was about to speak to him when he heard the key grind in the lock again. The door swung open and the guard that had brought them into the room followed by another guard and a small man that reminded Ersus of the rat in the corner.
Ratman unrolled a scroll and started reading as the two guards took in a position behind the boys.
“Zane son of Kia from the Witches Wood, you have been found guilty for insulting our beloved King while drunk with ale, the punishment for this is death, and your punishment is to be carried out forthwith. Your head will be severed from your body and your remains will be fed to the Shire Vultures. Ersus son of Tok you have been found guilty of theft, it is hereby declared that the hand that had perpetrated this crime will be severed from your body and you will wear your stump as a sign of your shame.”
Ratman stepped back into the corner closest to the door and nodded his head. This was obviously the sign for the guards to carry out their gruesome deed. He saw the fear in Zane’s eyes as the bigger of the two guards grabbed him by the shoulders and wrestle him down to the floor to place him in position over a log that had been mounted in the floor. Ersus was not planning on losing a hand on this day or any other. 
The second guard lifted his sword way above his head and readied himself to bring it down with all the strength he could muster. From this point everything seemed to move in slow motion to Ersus. He turned and grabbed the mace from the nearby corner, sending the rat scampering into the dark recess of a hole in the wall. This startled the men in the room and the guard with the sword spun around and swung at Ersus. He easily dodged the blow, Ersus’ first opponent charged in, stopped with a blow to the head from the mace Ersus was now swinging around the room. 
The second man, wary, tried to size up Ersus from behind. Ersus felt the attack and didn’t hesitate. He turned and stepped in swinging. The second guard went down and was bleeding profusely from the wound that the spikes had inflicted on his head. He paid no attention to the little ratman as he did not perceive the blubbering lump in the corner as a threat. He ruffled through the guard’s pockets and found the keys to the door. He placed a key in the lock and turned but it was the wrong key. He pulled it out and inserted the next one, thankfully this one turned.
Ersus turned and saw that the youth named Zane stood frozen looking around at the carnage he had just caused.
“Come on!” Ersus screamed and bolted through the door. This ripped Zane from his daze and he ran after Ersus. Both boys bolted up the stairs and came to the door to their freedom, Ersus tried it but it too was locked. He raced back down the stairs to retrieve the keys he had used to unlock the torture room door. Feet away from the door he saw ratman emerging from the room, he saw that he was about to sound the alarm and felt the heavy mace still in his hand. He swung and hit ratman in the stomach just as he was about to scream, the blow winded him and the little man fell where he stood. Ersus grabbed the keys from inside the door and ran back down the corridor and up the steps to where Zane was waiting. He thrust a key into the door and thankfully scored on the first try.
The two boys burst through the outer door into the courtyard and ran toward the stalls lining the market at the edge of the prison. They darted and jigged through the throng of people, which had already filled the market place, until they had escaped through the last arched doorway that led out of the Wolf’s Corridor and into the mountains. They finally came to stop under a tree next to a crystal clear stream close to Witches Wood.
“I heard the guard say that this was your home,” Ersus said as he bent down to scoop up a hand full of the cold water in the stream. At first Zane did not answer he merely did the same and both boys drank until it felt as though their stomachs would burst. They both stepped into the shade of the tree and sat down resting their backs against the trunk.
“It is true that beyond this river is my home, but my home will be wherever you go,” Zane said distractedly.
“Are you mad? I have to look after myself; I can’t have some stray following me. The road to the outer regions of Abad-el-Sin is fraught with danger and death lurks around every corner,” Ersus said a little irritated.
“You misunderstand me, you have saved my life and for that I owe you a life of servitude, which is the way of my people.” Zane countered.
“You’re mad,” Ersus stated before jumping up and walking along the path that would lead him to Abad-el-Sin, the place where everybody that wanted to hide did so in peace. Zane jumped up and followed him, much to his irritation.
Furrowing his brow, Ersus intently studied the maps and charts that the map maker had brought him earlier that morning as they were setting up camp, and tried to make sense of the orders that were sent down the previous week. He took a step back from the map table and removed the parchment with the orders from his tunic and re-read them:
“From: Strategic Command, Shadow Castle,
 To: General Ersus, Commander Shadow Army
 Proceed at once to Anthea,
 Destroy entire village,
 Burn down and destroy all dwellings,
 No Anthean to be left alive,
 No man, woman or child to survive battle,”
His tent flap flew open as Captain Zane entered his tent, and he quickly returned the parchment into the secret pocket in his tunic. 
“You summoned me, Lord General.” 
“Yes, Zane, come in and sit down,” Ersus said motioning to one of the chairs standing in his tent. 
“Wine?” Ersus asked his guest. Zane nodded and Ersus poured dark red wine from a pitcher standing next to the maps on the table into a glass and handed it to Zane.
Ersus stepped back behind the table where the maps lay and looked over to where Zane was sitting. The captain knew that he was about to receive his orders for an attack, but had never seen the General so flustered. 
“We attack Anthea at first light,” he finally blurted. Zane was astonished at this revelation and was speechless. He now understood why the General was unable to mouth the words, and he opened his mouth to speak but could not think of what to say and closed it again. 
“I have studied the maps thoroughly, and I think we should start moving the divisions to surround the village tonight. At first light we will sound the attack…” 
“I’m sorry General,” Zane interrupted Ersus. “You want us to attack a village of healers?” Zane had finally found his voice and the words coming from it tasted strange and acidic. 
“Those are the orders I received, it…it’s utter madness, I know. Those people have saved countless lives for the Shadow King.” Ersus sagged into the chair behind him and Zane could see the despair on his face.
Anthea lay in the valley of Thet; the founders of the village had chosen this particular place for its beauty and for the abundance of fresh water and fish from the Halume River. The village was surrounded by rolling hills and dense forests which were overflowing with game for them to hunt, but these natural elements also offered protection to its inhabitants. They had built the village at the edge of a hill where the river sprang from the earth and flowed outward to sea. The village had developed as its inhabitants grew, to lie on both sides of the river. 
The Halume River was two hundred yards wide and ran for six thousand miles before it reached the Sea of Serenity in the province of Af- Luence. The Antheans were sworn to peace and the village only had a small armed force to protect it from attack. However, in the five hundred and twenty years the village had existed, it had never needed to defend itself from invaders. 
Antheans were born with the magical ability to heal all ailments and wounds and could even heal mortal wounds if death was still far enough away. These abilities had afforded them protection on all battlefields, as they did not partake in wars and healed all injured soldiers without exception. It was because of this that General Ersus and Captain Zane could not understand the orders that they had been given by the High Command. 
“I want you to take the 101st brigade, those things that claim to be soldiers are heartless, brutal, vicious murderers and a mission like this is for men like that,” Ersus spoke up again. 
“Do we expect any resistance?” Zane asked. 
“Maybe some, that is why I want the village surrounded. When the attack sounds, let the dragons into battle first. The 101st will only kill those fleeing from the village.” The General could barely hide the raw emotion in his voice. Zane could see this and said, 
“I’ll get the men ready, and have the handlers deploy the dragons. Will you be joining the battle?”
The General let out a deep sigh and answered, “I have no choice, as always I will lead from the front. Now go, I need to be alone for a while.” Zane stood up from the chair and placed the wine goblet on the table before exiting the General’s tent.
General Ersus’ trepidation to attack this village was not only because he knew it was wrong, but also because it was thanks to a healer that he had five healthy boys waiting for him at home. 
Ersus and his wife were unable to have children and ten years into their marriage they had all but given up hope. In a last effort Ersus had brought his wife to this same village and after three days of healing they left for home. Ten months later their first son, Hothosis was born. Four more sons were born after that and Ersus was proud as any father could be. How could his King expect him to destroy that which creates? He stood up from his chair and started dressing in his battle dress, readying himself to do the unthinkable.
Ersus moved out with the 101st brigade, riding at the head of his army as he always did. Riding next to him was his trusted Captain, Zane. 
“I have put Captain Licentious in charge of the attack. This may spare us some blood on our hands, and leave it on his,” Zane whispered. 
“I am spared nothing. The deaths of all these people are on me. But I am glad that you will be spared some blame, and I am glad that you are with me now,” General Ersus replied. They reached the boats and Ersus called over Captain Licentious. Licentious lifted his right arm into the air and closed his massive hand into a fist. The whole army came to an abrupt halt. Licentious moved forward to join the General. 
Ersus dismounted and the two captains followed suit and joined him where he now stood, bent over a soft patch of earth next to the river. Ersus picked up a twig and started drawing an outline of the village with the river running through it in the sand. 
“You will send half of the men across the river on the boats and have the position themselves here and here. Captain Zane and I will ride with them,” Ersus said pointing to the drawing he had made in the sand. 
“Each of these divisions will be accompanied by two dragons. You will lead the other half of your men and position them on this side of the river here and over there,” he pointed to his drawing again. 
“These divisions will also have two dragons each. At first light I will sound the attack, the handlers will let the dragons loose on the village, and your divisions will stand their ground and cut down any healers trying to escape. When the village is blazing, I will sound a second trumpet, this will be your cue to move in. You are to kill every man woman and child, no one is to be left alive! Is that understood?” Licentious nodded and Ersus could see the sadistic pleasure that he was getting from his orders.
Licentious mounted his horse and rode back to carry out his orders, unable to hide the satisfaction on his face. He hated the healers and he was savouring every moment of the attack. He felt that he owed the healers, but not in the same way as Ersus. No, he owed them for the way he looked.
 Licentious was a huge man at seven feet twelve inches tall. When but five years old he had a virulent attack of the pox which left his face grotesquely disfigured and contributed to his mother’s dislike and disgust of him. His mother had taken him to the healers, but they refused to help the boy, as even then the evil inside of him was evident.  Spurned by his mother he was destined for the army. He was entered at the Royal Knight’ army camp, at Badlands Desert by his father, and upon graduating from the training camp he received a commission in the Royal Cavalry Regiment, which his great grandfather had commanded years before. 
His brutality and mercilessness became evident in the first battle he had been part of and he was placed at the front of every battle because of this and also for his complete lack of fear. Yet, it was his merciless killing of a woman in the battle of Formangue that earned him the attention of his then commanding officer Cronos, who had him brought before a disciplinary commission. The commission was so outraged at what he had done, that they found him guilty and imprisoned him for life on the Island of De Mise. He hated every minute of it, and swore vengeance on the prison guards who treated him as though he were something they had scraped from the bottom of their shoes.
A year later, at the start of the war between the Shadow King and the King of Iyatula, the shadow King’s Army broke him out of the prison, killing everyone. He had partaken in the killing and relished every second of it, seeing the fear in the eyes of his captors empowered him and he knew that it was the fear people had of him that made him strong. When they reached the safety of the mainland he was inducted into the Shadow Army and has been loyal to the Shadow King ever since that day.
The current of the river was slow and lazy and the men and horses on the boats had an easy crossing. The dragons followed behind, and straddled on the back of each dragon was its handler guiding it toward the other side. The beach was quieter than ever, and the stars were covered by a thin veil of mist and were barely visible. Ersus imagined small birds standing shivering on their branches, restless looking as though they were expecting something. Later he understood that death must have whispered to the creatures in a language that only they understood.
The night still lingered as they arrived in the twenty longboats out of the mist that had spread over the river during the crossing. They were less than five hundred yards away from the village and, as each armed man waded on to the shore, he lit a torch on the breath from one of the dragons that had already reached the other side. They were silent, silent as death as they approached the eastern side of the village and spread out along its outer limits, a glowing worm of death. The six dragons that had come across with them were placed, two each, in front of the three divisions of a thousand men. The soldiers stopped moving as they reached their positions and drew their swords from their scabbards with an audible, ‘Sheeeek’, of metal on leather. The electricity of the tension and adrenalin-filled soldiers was tangible. On the other side Licentious had done the same, he was filled with anticipation and was ready for the kill.
As the first rays of the sun appeared over the ridge, the village lay defenseless, no one expecting a thing. Ersus gave the signal and the trumpets blared, signaling the start of the attack. The handlers cracked their whips over the backs of the dragons and they moved forward, bathing the village in a firestorm of death and destruction. 
On the opposite side of the river Licentious heard the trumpet and ordered the dragons into the fray. But his bloodlust could not be contained and he lifted his sword and spurred his horse’s flanks and sped off into battle shouting at his regiments. 
“Follow me! Draw your weapons! Destroy everything! They deserve no pity, kill them, kill them all! Leaving your homes you swore to exact war! Now fulfill your destinies! Go down and bathe yourselves in the blood of your enemies!” He was laughing hysterically and had the look of a deranged man as he rode down into the village, sword held high above his head.
Licentious saw a man fleeing while trying to tear an arrow from his back; he jumped from his horse and ran toward the man, stabbing him through the chest.
“Take it all! Burn it all! Kill them all! This is my revenge!”
The lightning strike at dawn had left few survivors and Ersus let his men loose with a second trumpet, to round up and kill the remaining healers. He looked over from his vantage point high on the hill and saw Licentious in the thick of the battle, cutting down people left and right and the dragons setting house upon house alight. The roofs were burning and people came running out of their houses to escape the flames only to be met by the sharp swords of the 101st. No sword was ever lowered. Ersus felt a wave of shame wash over him as he started moving toward the village to look at the destruction in which he had been an unwilling participant.
As he rode through the broken down, burning gates, he could see the high flames mirrored on the river. The dragons were resting shamefully in the midst of all the carnage, their gaze following the axes and swords of murderers. Seeing this Ersus knew that he was possibly not the only unwilling participant in this travesty. 
Ersus noticed that one of the dragons was looking at him and for a moment it seemed as though the dragon was motioning him toward an overturned cart that was burning at one end. He tried to dismiss this as coincidence and turned his head away from the dragon, but could still feel the unflinching stare of the dragon upon him, as his horse galloped past where it stood. He turned in his saddle and looked back at the beast and this time there was no mistake, the dragon was motioning toward the cart. He stopped the horse and jumped from its back and walked toward the cart, sword drawn.
Nearing the cart he heard the unmistakable whimper of a person below it, he reached out and overturned the cart holding his sword at the ready. Below the cart was a little girl of no older than four or five. He was appalled at what the dragon expected him to do. He turned away from the cart, lifted his sword above his head and stormed toward the dragon, closed his eyes and brought the sword down hard. His sword struck and he felt as it cut through flesh and hit bone. He opened his eyes and was surprised to see that his sword was buried in the mighty claw of the dragon instead of its chest. The dragon had blocked his blow, and he could see the pain in its eyes. He drew back on the sword, but was unable to remove it. The dragon lifted its mighty claw, with the sword still embedded in it, roared and hit Ersus across the chest onto the ground.
Suddenly there was a voice in his head and he knew that it was coming from the dragon, he did not know how it was possible, but he heard the raspy voice clear as day; 
“Save her!” it said. Ersus was taken aback, he had misunderstood the dragon. 
“I thought that you wanted me to kill her…” he could see the pain in the dragon’s eyes, and he knew that this time it was not from the sharpness of his sword but of the bluntness of his tongue that had cut him deeply. 
“I’m sorry,” he stammered. Inside his head Ersus heard the dragon speak to him again. 
“I have looked into your heart, Ersus, this is not you. Take this child and keep her safe. We dragons have no choice in this matter, but you do. Now hurry before you are seen by that monster across the way.”  He jerked his head around and looked at the devastation and destruction that Licentious was wreaking on the innocent healers, this spurred him into action.
Ersus jumped up and ran toward the fallen cart. The dragon let out a ball of fire shielding both man and child from any onlookers. Ersus removed his tunic and threw it over the child’s head covering her and shielding her from the view of any prying eyes. Ersus put the child on the back of his horse before mounting it himself; he turned the horse’s head in the direction of the fallen gate and raced out of the village.
The horse sped through the gate and Ersus never looked back, not even a glance. His heart was pounding in his chest and he hoped that no one had seen him. The distraction that the dragon caused was effective and hid his escape from the battling soldiers.
He drove the horse as hard as he could up the steep hill outside the village walls. To Ersus it felt as though he and the horse were trudging through heavy mud, because the crest just didn’t come any closer. After, what felt like an eternity to Ersus, he and the horse pushed over the summit. He let out an audible sigh of relief as he felt a little safer. Drawing to a halt over the hill just inside the forest, Ersus’ dark eyes surveyed the landscape, taking in the peace of the place. 
“What have we done?” he questioned himself under his breath. Despite the noise from the ongoing slaughter on the other side of the hill, this place granted him a moment of calm and he was able to gather his thoughts.
“Save her!” The dragon’s voice boomed in his head again. This time he did not know whether he had imagined it or whether the dragon had reached out from below to spur him on. Either way he would have to hide the child until he could fetch her again and quickly. 
From over the hill came cheers and he knew that the battle was over. He was running out of time and needed to get back before anyone would notice that he had been gone. He jumped from the horse and looked around frantically. He was about to mount the horse to search further into the forest when he saw a tree that had been snapped in two, he hurried over and looked inside the stump that was left. The stump was hollow and it was big enough to fit the child comfortably. 
Ersus headed back to his horse and quickly lifted the child down; he felt an increasing need for urgency. Then the dragon spoke to him again. “You must hurry! They are gathering up the spoils and are readying to leave.” 
“I know!” Ersus shouted out loud raising his head to the sky in the direction of where the village lay. He turned his attention back to the task of hiding the child.
He carefully placed the child inside the stump and ran back to his horse where he removed some bread and milk from the satchel. He was tiring and only managed a brisk walk back to where he had hidden the child. 
“Here take this in case you get hungry,” he said handing her the bread and gourd of goat’s milk. 
“Thank you, Sire,” the little girl said. Ersus was startled at the sound of her voice as she had not made a sound since he found her. He saw that she was watching him intently with her translucent, azure eyes; he was almost hypnotised by her gaze and came close to forgetting that he was in the middle of hiding her.
Ersus shook his head and the mesmerizing feeling left him. Drawing his sword he rushed over to a nearby tree and started chopping off branches with which he then covered the stump. When he was satisfied that the stump was well hidden he said,  
“I am going to leave now, please stay quiet as you can and I will come back for you by nightfall.” 
“I shall do as you ask, sire,” her muffled voice came from the inside of the stump.
He reached the barges just as the last soldiers were boarding, the dragon division had already started crossing. He galloped onto the barge behind the last man. It closed behind him and he felt a tug as it pushed off drifting away from the shore. Looking back he allowed himself a last second to worry about the child, and then hid the feelings deep down, so that no one would read anything on his face. 
They reached the opposite side of the river and he disembarked riding out from under the men on the barge, racing to get to the head of his army. Seeing the entrance to the camp, just as he reached the front of his troops, was a welcome sight. He felt, as a wave of relief wash over him that he had pulled it off and no one was the wiser.
He rode in amongst the men inside the camp to cheers and congratulations, though he could feel that the undertones amongst the men were that of total disgust at what they had just done. As he dismounted his horse he saw Captain Zane waving at him from in front of his tent. Ersus tied his horse off and walked toward Zane who was now jogging toward his General. 
“The Lord High Chancellor is here,” he said out of breath as he reached Ersus. Ersus tensed at this and asked,
 “What does he want?” 
“Don’t know, he has been here since you departed. He is sitting in your tent, and has ordered me to summon you the moment you arrive,” Zane was starting to catch his breath. Ersus’ could feel a knot tightening in his stomach. What he had done was the ultimate betrayal and if the Shadow King knew, today would be his last.
Entering his tent he saw the High Chancellor sitting behind the table on which he kept the maps. Ersus felt the raw power the man radiated from the entrance of his tent. Even though he was a short, stocky and balding man of at least sixty, he was definitely not a man to be trifled with. Ersus bowed his head and cleared his throat to make his presence known, although he knew that the High Chancellor was aware of his presence the moment he had entered the camp.
“Ah, General, please come and sit down,” the High Chancellor said, motioning to the chair Zane had sat in earlier. Ersus did as he was told and it did not escape his notice that the High Chancellor was making him sit down on the opposite side of his desk. He was clearly showing Ersus who the superior man was. The High Chancellor leaned back in his chair and brought his staff out from under his robe, Ersus felt the stomach knot tighten another inch and he instinctively reached for his sword. The High Chancellor noticed the movement and said, 
“There is no need for that. Had I wanted you dead, I am sure I could have thought up a more entertaining way to do so, don’t you agree?” Ersus nodded and dropped his hand away from his sword. The High Chancellor poured two glasses of wine and handed one to Ersus.
“I suppose you are wondering why I have come all this way to see you. This is good wine,” he said as he sipped the wine he had poured. 
“Indeed, it is an honour to have one such as yourself visit our humble encampment,” Ersus said trying to sound relaxed, but not quite sure if he had pulled it off. 
“Humph, do not patronise me General,” the High Chancellor snorted. “Hah, I am well aware of your, how can I put this mildly? Ah, dislike of me, I think is an appropriate word, so that neither of us feels offended. But as I am but a humble servant of him who is great, I have demeaned myself to come here at his request.” The knot tightened even more, Ersus felt like screaming that he had done it, he was guilty and have the whole business be done with. However he kept his raging fear from reaching his calm and collected exterior.
“So, General, was every man woman and child killed?” Ersus swallowed before lifting his head and simply answered, 
“Good, good,” the high chancellor said bending down and lifting a leather pouch, “I have watched and listened carefully and I actually believe you, quite the pity for me,” he said throwing the pouch at Ersus. Ersus caught the pouch and was unsure of what to do. He did not have to wait long for his answer as the High Chancellor said, 
“In that bag there is one thousand gold pieces, severance pay if you will?” Pulling the string on the pouch, Ersus opened the pouch and peered inside. He was surprised to see that contained in the bag was actually a large amount of gold pieces. 
“I do not understand, what is this?” 
“As I said, severance pay, you are no longer in command of the armies. I bring you this message from the high commander himself,” the High Chancellor answered. 
“Lord High Chancellor, I have served the King well. This village we destroyed is the same village that cured my wife, and now we have five healthy boys and a little girl, if that is not proof enough, then I do not know?” the High Chancellor lifted his eyebrows, “A daughter?” Ersus had known that he was taking a chance, but he had to try and seize the opportunity to explain the girl he had taken. 
“Yes my Lord, Cassandra. She was born to us four winters past,” he said remaining calm.
“I see. Look General, there is no doubt of your loyalty, and that is the reason that you are still alive,” he said, sitting back in the chair before continuing, “I will now tell you what has come to pass, but understand that you may never speak of these things, or a slow painful death will be in your future.” Ersus sat forward in his chair, and was anxious to hear what the High Chancellor had to say. 
“Our King consulted with the royal augur, Ubesius, who foretold him of a time when the great General Ersus would betray his master. I was then dispatched to ensure that it would not happen at this battle, if it had happened here, well, I was to kill you and fix the problem. If it did not happen here I was to pay you, relieve you of your duties and send you on your merry way.” Ersus swallowed hard and sat back in his chair, the knot was back and tighter than ever. His mind was racing, he somehow knew that his betrayal was bigger than even he had imagined.He needed to know in how much danger he had put himself, and the fear of it drove him to ask, 
“But what of Anthea, why did we kill a peaceful village, destroy people who lived to help others?” 
“Ah, therein lies the question. You see Ubesius was actually summoned so that the King could satisfy himself that there were no more protectors, but what the old augur saw in his vision outraged our great King.” As soon as he had spoken the last words, Ersus knew that outrage did not drive a man to decimate a village, but fear did. He found this intriguing; could it be that the Shadow King actually had a weakness? 
“What did he see?” Ersus asked, as he saw that the High Chancellor was suddenly lost in his own thoughts.
“See? Oh his vision,” the High Chancellor said coming out of his daze. “Ubesius foretold that there was another that had the ability to become a protector and that this child was born to this village. But as this child had not yet been ordained by a King, he could not see clearly whether the child was born yet, or whether the child was already in the village. Of course as you know, without being ordained, the protectors are hidden from foresight. That is why the King destroyed the entire village. No healers, no protector.” Ersus was appalled at what the High Chancellor had just said, but it confirmed his theory that the Shadow King was vulnerable.
Ersus stood up from his chair and walked from his tent, explaining to the High Chancellor that he needed to pack his personal belongings, and that he would be gone by dawn. He saw Zane standing near the horse stables and whistled loudly at him. Zane looked up at this and Ersus waved him closer, Zane immediately broke into a run, and was out of breath when he reached the General. 
“You should really start exercising with your men, this is the second time today I have seen you tired from a bit of running,” Zane grinned and nodded. 
“I have been relieved of my command; I need you to get me a cart with two strong horses to pull it.” Zane straightened up, and was even more out of breath at this revelation than from the running. 
“What’s going on General?” Ersus opened his mouth to speak, closed it and opened it again; he was sure that he looked like a fish lying on the banks of the Halume, trying to catch its breath. Finally he said, 
“I can’t tell you, please just do as I ask,” his voice came out in a strengthless whisper, and with that Ersus turned and walked back into his tent.
By the time Zane had returned, Ersus was standing outside his tent again, surrounded by wooden crates and trunks in which he had packed his personal items. Zane helped Ersus pack the cart, and neither man said a word. When everything was tied down Ersus walked toward Zane to greet his old friend one last time. Zane moved toward him at first, then side stepped him and headed straight into his tent. Ersus followed and entered as Zane was bowing to the High Chancellor. 
“My Lord, forgive the intrusion,” he stammered. The High Chancellor turned and was surprised to see a captain standing there speaking. 
“What do you want?” he barked. 
“My Lord, my loyalty to our King comes from my loyalty to my friend General Ersus; all I ask is that I too may be allowed to leave with him.” The High Chancellor looked at Zane amused and said, 
“Very well go, go with your friend, but know this, should our paths cross again I will kill you. The Shadow King does not look favourably upon cowards.” He dismissed Zane with a wave of his hand and turned back to the plan he had been studying before.
“Have you lost your mind?” Ersus asked following Zane from the tent. 
“No, the only reason I stayed in this wretched army was to fulfill my oath to you. If I stay behind, I will never fulfill the oath, bringing dishonour to my family name.” 
“I told you before; I relieve you of that oath.” Ersus said irritated. 
“I will fulfill the oath. So, until I have given you a lifetime of servitude, you’re stuck with me,” he stated flatly. Ersus smiled and got onto the cart patting the seat next to him. 
“By the gods you are stubborn, and by now I know better than to argue. Well then, let’s go.” Zane jumped up next to Ersus and the two men left through the gate. 

© Copyright 2018 PJL Dawson. All rights reserved.


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