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Some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness. And they live by what they hear. Such people become crazy... or they become legends.

 

- Jim Harrison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prologue

The Boy

A chill ran through the boy as the cheers of the crowd drifted through the thick walls of the cold room; that meant the last man was done with.

The cheers continued, growing louder and he wished they would never end. At least then he could sit here, in dark safety; for even the dank, damp walls seemed a gift compared to the beast that waited out there.

No! He told himself, he could not afford to let fear affect reasoning, not now, for it would cripple him as much as the chains linking his hands to the wall did. He had to be strong...he had to, if he wanted to survive.

 He shook his head, but jumped as a bloodcurdling roar rose outside, cutting the crowd off. He cringed, covering his ears in shock. It felt like a thousand rocks crashing down a mountain, and he could feel a tremor running through the walls, even the bellowing roar of the crowd seemed like a whisper compared to this.

His throat closed painfully as hope seeped out, strong or not what chance did he have against that?

No! This was exactly what they wanted, to break him down even before he entered the Nest. Wasn't that the reason the Prisoner's Pen was kept closest to it, so they could hear the screams of those who went in before them? And if he gave in to that, if he gave in to the terror; he knew he would lose the only weapon he had for survival, his will.

The roar ended in a spine chilling growl, and there was a pause for a few seconds, then the cheering began, again.

Maybe the beast wouldn’t notice him right away, he whispered feebly, and he could crawl under a rock and maybe it would rain, maybe that would put out the fires, but even he knew how pathetic it was. Dragons always noticed and nothing could put out Dragon fire!

The door opened with a rusty clang, letting in a slab of bright light. Shielding his eyes from the sudden glare he squinted at the two tall figures silhouetted against it.  A waft of warm air drifted in, brushing back the dusty locks of his wild red hair, and raising the thick dust from the floor, making it dance like specks of gold … and giving him, a taste of the world outside. He would have welcomed it a few days ago, but right now it was lost on him; for they were the guards come to take him to the Nest.

A cold sweat broke out on his forehead as he realized the dreaded moment had arrived at last. He swallowed through the bitter taste in his mouth, and realized his heart was pounding madly, like a carriage and if he didn't control it, it would simply explode killing him even before he left the cell.

He gave a short wry laugh; somehow the thought was extremely funny.

One of the guards stepped forward and taking a large silver key from his surcoat began to unlock the chains.

Outside, the crowd had settled, waiting, so that for the next few minutes, the only sounds were of the guard’s mail and the clicking of the chains as he worked. He closed his eyes, he had to snap out or he would lose it and seal his doom. He took a few shallow breaths and listened to the monotonous rattle of the chains, concentrating on nothing but the dull clank of metal, the hot breath of the guard bending over him, and the sun glinting on the helm of the one in front.  He watched them like they were the only things in the world, letting the mundane wash over him, shutting out what was happening, so that when the chains came off, and the guard pulled him to his feet he was more of an observer than the terrified participant from a few minutes ago, even if only a little.

For he was still afraid, how could he be human if he wasn’t? But there was also room for rationality, the fact that he didn’t beg the guards for mercy like the others before was proof, the fact that he wasn’t resigned to his doom but wanted to survive was proof.

A dry smile crept upon his lips; he had once heard that half the battle was the mental one, that the battle on the field was already lost, if the battle on the mind was, if so he seemed to be making some progress, at least in one half, he thought flexing his sore wrists. His muscles felt stiff, out of use, so much for reflexes, he thought scornfully.  

The guard who had unchained him, shoved him forward and pinned his hands to his back, holding them firmly with one gauntleted arm as he slipped on a pair of iron cuffs and started marching him toward the door. The other one walked ahead, one hand on the sword hilt at his belt.

The guards didn’t carry spears as prison guards did, he noted and their cloaks were silver, with the five spiked wheel carved on their breast plates; that meant they were the GodSwords, guards who only served the High Cardinal, superior even to the Emperor’s bodyguards and ones who ‘honoured’ death row prisoners by escorting them.

And as they marched him along the long stone corridor, he counted the circular stained glass windows along its length, partly to take his mind off, but mostly because they looked so beautiful, filtering in beams of multi-coloured light, to fall in shimmering pools on the floor, almost magical, after being locked up for so long in a cold stone room.

Twenty seven windows later, the guards came to a halt in front of a black iron door. He blinked; he had expected to be led outside directly.

One of the guards pushed it open and led him inside; the door was not locked as he had expected which meant the others had also made stops before him. And when he entered a torch was already burning on the wall.

The guard in front took it and led him to a wooden table, illuminating the contents.

He started at it wide mouthed; every conceivable weapon known to him lay there, illuminated in the dull orange glow. There were swords, lances, spears, morningstars, double axes, a bow, spiked maces, and even weapons he didn’t recognize, he looked at the guard holding him.

“Choose” he said gruffly.

“What?”

“Pick your weapon, boy” the other one spat impatiently “Don’t you know the rules? You are entitled a defence”

He wanted to laugh from how idiotic it sounded, what could possibly defend an untrained, half emaciated 15 year old boy from a Dragon, unless it was a thick walled castle?

He had heard legends of ancient times, where there had been knights strong enough to slay a dragon; that brave men rode out looking for them, that once you slay a dragon you were no longer human, but so powerful that you were considered half a God. But they were just legends, and the fact that they were only proved the impossibility of the feat.

For Dragons were too wild and too violent to be tamed, so much so that even for the bloody ritual they had to travel here… to the Dragon’s Nest, instead of the other way around. Not all the royal armies or the Magi had ever managed to capture one in any Kingdom, not for centuries…and maybe not ever.

 And they wanted him to defend against that?

“Come on, we haven’t got all day” the guard’s voice cut through to him.

He again looked at the display before him, the swords looked sturdy, but they were too heavy, same went for the mace and axe, the bow, lances and spears would require aim, which would need practice, not to mention retrieving after use, and he didn’t know how to use any of the other weapons. It was beginning to look like the weapons were going to do him more harm than good when he saw it.

A small dagger, almost hidden in the shadows, he picked it up and held it, it was made of iron, a little rusty from lack of use and no longer than his forearm. He flexed it and made a swishing motion in the air, clumsily due to the cuffs, but it was light and not unlike the ones he had used to rob travellers.

“This one” he said holding it up.

The guard before him started laughing.

“Poor choice boy should have picked the sword. Are you simple in the head?” he jeered.

“Must be…why else would he get caught? The other replied, and they laughed again, a harsh raucous sound.

“Yeah, been looking forward to this one….the others made it past a minute, how many seconds do you reckon before the Dragon roasts this Loafbone?”

“The little twig ?” The one holding him exclaimed gesturing “I’d give no more than ten…that is if he doesn’t drown in his own piss first

They both exploded howling, a cold mirthless sound, like the cawing of crows. It rankled at his nerves, tearing the edges of the tiny bauble of peace he had so carefully managed to construct.

Godswords Indeed!

“What are you looking at boy?” The first one asked “You want your mother? Wanna hide behind her skirts?” asked mockingly, clapping him on the back, hard.

“I want my momma. I want my momma.” The other mimicked in a shrill high pitched voice.

“Think the dagger will save you?” the one in front of him asked quietly, viciously; leaning in so his face was just inches from his own “Think you are being smart? Not all the armies in the world will save you boy, not all…so what good will a rotten little dagger do you against the Dragon?”

They erupted laughing again; they were both looking at him with the grin of a child before crushing a bug, because they both knew what would happen. His eyes narrowed and his stomach clenched in a wave of anger. Maybe he was alone and almost defenceless and about to die, but he wasn’t about to be ridiculed, for something that he was forced to do, as a punishment for something that every creature in the world had the right to do, for trying to survive. His hold on the dagger tightened as a surge of pure rage coursed through him, primal and raw, and a feeling so potent but so alien that it startled him, directed not just at the guards, but at everything, the Emperor safe in his throne, the nobles gathered to witness his death, the guards protecting them while people died and killed to survive, the people themselves for being too weak to do anything but destroy each other…and the world for making him stand there with a rusted dagger in his hands, and he wanted them gone, he wanted them dead… all of them

Looking at the guards squarely in the eyes without so much as a tremor in his features, he replied in a voice that cut through them like sword cutting through flesh.

“Just as good as any of the others will”

The guards stopped dead in their laughter and looked at him, mouths half open, eyes wide. Not from the answer, but from the voice that had uttered it. It was the voice of a man so completely devoid of feeling, save for one, a voice so utterly in control, so perfectly calm yet laced with such absolute hatred that it was impossible to believe the thin, petrified boy before them had uttered it.

It was the voice of a killer.

For a moment there was silence, so complete it was almost physical, the guards looked at him like an apparition as he stood still, meeting their gaze, then averted their eyes.

“We’ll see how bold he is when he’s up against the Dragon” one of them said at last, but his voice was weak, dilute, a sign of retreat.

The other one nodded.

“Let’s go” he said quietly, and tucking the dagger to the side of his rough tunic, began to wordlessly march him through the door.

He smirked savouring the tiny victory.

For all though the twenty minute walk leading outside they never spoke again!

*************************

Bright sunlight hit him as he stepped into the deafening roar of the crowd. He raised his eyes to the clear skies and a smile crossed his lips as he remembered his pitiful prayers for rain a million years ago.

The guards now considerably bolder walked him to the floating crystal platform erected above the volcanic pit where the dragon nested. Dragons always lived on volcanoes or other hot places, thriving on the heat and the conditions that would have been fatal to any other creature.

And walking along the sparkling column, he could see other platforms, giant slabs of floating stone. Platforms of marble for the High Lords with silken cushions, bards to play harps and servants to pour sweet wine; platforms of black basalt for the Magi, representing the colour of their order, where they stood in solemn waiting; platforms of Redstone for the merchants where they sat in rows of rising seats, and platforms of earth and rock for the peasants where they squatted, chatting animatedly. All held suspended by the combined magic of 50 Stone Magi who stood along the circumference.

There were also chariots floating between, drawn by creatures of magic, to get a better view than that offered by the static platforms. One stood out, grander than the others, a silver carriage drawn by two winged black bears, with thick collars of gold; a handsome Lord sat inside, a beautiful Lady at his side, she held a baby in her arms and locks of golden hair spilled about her shoulders. They looked almost angelic, he wondered if all High Lords and Ladies looked like that.

A man rolled a wooden cart among the Magi’s granite platforms, selling roasted chestnuts; while some peasants and merchants looked at him in open contempt, and the nobles avoided looking at all. He rolled the nuts in paper with one hand, collecting coins with the other, a pair of extra arms sprouted from his back, which he used to push the cart. That explained the looks; he thought wryly, a good magic user would never let his magic manifest physically. He would command the power in the wood to move the cart, not grow a pair of extra hands!!

The Magi didn’t seem to mind however. A circle of young Magus stood to his right, chatting boisterously; some of them had paper cones with the golden nuts. They were not much older than him and still in training judging from the grey hem of their cloaks, one of them waved as he passed.

“Good luck” he cried smiling, giving him a thumbs up, when their teacher, a greying man in grey robes pulled him back with a scowl.

And he almost wanted to smile, for they seemed so carefree, so happy.

One of the prisoners had told him once that witnessing the yearly executions was a compulsory ritual for the Magi, unlike the Lords and peasants, but while the magi witnessed it all, the Magus in training were brought in groups, with a new batch brought in for every new prisoner. Which meant this was the first time the guys before him were watching an execution; no wonder they were so excited, they probably expected a heroic battle, not a gristly murder, he thought disdainfully.

But Execution?  Didn’t he resolve to survive? Then he’d better well avoid the gristly murder part!!

One of the students hailed to him as he passed:

“Wagered you’d win” he cried, eliciting a look of horror from his teacher.

This time he did smile, and wondered if this clamorous lot would indeed become the grim, silent figures of their order in  a few years, and what the students would do, if in his shoes, would they use their magic?

Every creature sensed it from birth, even unconsciously, like breathing and replenished it from the environment where it coursed like blood, through rock, leaf and bone, even the bodies of the dead…magic was life….some would say it was the world.

But the minds of Animals, plants and insects were said to be too primitive to do anything with the wonderful force other than possess. Though there were exceptions, animals which had awakened magic, like the Unicorns, creatures said to possess the intelligence of a small child.

Yet while even such creatures had only managed to extend their lifespan or gain a new ability like flight or speed….humans had gone farther, and developed a method, a means to control the amazing force, thousands of years ago, that would give them the power to alter the laws of nature themselves, where a rock thrown above need not necessarily fall back down. And passed it on through a secret system for generations and that was how the Order of Magi came to be formed.

Every child at birth was given a test to determine its natural magical affinity. The church did it, even for peasant children and once identified they were taught to live in harmony with it. Children with affinity to earth became builders, peasants, potters or miners, children with affinity to fire became smiths, animal trainers, soldiers or alchemists those with affinity to water became sailors, fishers, medicine men or cooks  and children with affinity to wind became musicians, bards, illusionists, and so on… unless one had an affinity to Void. If a child had an affinity to Void, the rarest and the purest of the magical elements, the Order took them in, as early as five, to start a lifetime of training to become its future members – the guardians of the sacred force. Not even the children of the High Lords were an exception.

But he wondered what affinity he might have had, had the test ever been conducted on him, there was no way of finding out anymore, as it could only be conducted on a new born, and without knowing the affinity his hopes of learning Magic were zero.

‘I am like a rock….’ He thought darkly ‘…a dead rock….’…helpless even more so than the winged bears he had seen….

Though he doubted if magic could help him at all in this case, Dragons were intensely magical creatures, the ability to convert the heat generated by the body to fire and survive the flames generated within was a feat no human could ever replicate or even comprehend.

But Dragon magic was pure and raw; undiluted power, like a raging forest fire that was of little use except for destruction; while the magic of the Order was like the carefully built flame of a lamp, infinitely less powerful but so much more useful.

But useful or not a lamp was just charred rubble, when thrown into a flaming forest!

The guards halted; he snapped out of his musings and noticed that they had reached the end of the crystal platform.

And sitting straight ahead of him, in a jasper and jadeite throne was the Emperor.

*************************

The guards deftly stepped back, visibly relieved as a pair of Magi stepped forward to take their place.

They were not armoured like the guards and held no weapons, wearing only the long black robes of their Order; but there was a precision in the way they moved, sliding in swiftly and silently on either side, but with such ease, that carried a sense of power and a note of threat he had never felt on any guard before.

The Emperor and the High Cardinal rose to their feet and the people in the floating platforms rose with them.

He stared at the Emperor as he stepped forward, getting his first look at the most powerful man in all of Agrymis. He was a tall man, with a powerful build wearing an ornate robe of deep green with the royal coat of arms- two cranes their beaks crossed before them like swords; embroidered on the chest in white gold. Around his waist was a thick golden belt, set with moonstones and agates and if he looked carefully he could see it was fashioned in the shape of a flock of cranes at flight. A heavy golden crown encircled his head, crusted with emeralds and fire opals and a gilded sword hung from his waist. He was already into his late forties but if the phrase ‘gracefully aged’ applied to anyone he thought it would be to him, for his hair was still thick, and there was no belly or excess flesh in his body.  

But that was the only credit he would give him, for he was the man who had started a war with their neighbouring kingdoms; Terin and Balirid over a stupid border dispute and plunged Agrymis into chaos and murder.

He felt the anger from before rising again, watching the Emperor, but he gave no hint; the man was surrounded by Mage and Archmage who could kill him easy as swatting a fly. But the knowledge that he didn't lash out made him feel powerful, for he still held the fire from before, but he was controlling it; not consumed by it. 

He smiled faintly.

The greatest power truly, was the power over oneself.

He felt the iron cuff slip from his wrist as the Magi removed it; instead binding chains of magic to his body. They had a faint translucent glow and felt like cool glass; and did not wrap around like the iron chains, but barely just touched, almost floating over his skin and yet he felt his body growing numb, his strength flowing out, almost as if they were sucking it, all with barely a movement from the magi.

‘So this was the power of magic’ he thought with awe, looking at the silent grey figures beside him.

Cardinal Essunda came to a stop in front of him, wearing a long flowing robe of white and gold, to represent purity and justice. He was a short man, in his mid-fifties, with a rotund frame and large bald patch at the centre of his head. He had a grandfatherly face and a kindly smile, but his eyes were too small and too sharp and constantly darted about, giving him an appearance of a rather large rat.

He raised his hands in a sign of blessing, smiling around good naturedly, and the people on the platforms, the GodSwords, the Emperor’s guards and the Emperor himself bowed down in respect; but the Magi did not, the Order was above the church and served neither Priests nor Emperors being unbound to Kingdoms. 

But he sensed the chains around his legs inch a little closer and felt them go completely numb, so that he fell hard on his knees, finding himself effectively kneeling before Essunda.

He looked at the Magi, standing still beside him, they had not even twitched, but he knew they had done that. But he also knew it wasn’t out of respect for Essunda.

Essunda gave the sign for the crowd to be seated and spoke to him.

“Kael of Esterham, you stand here before God, the King and his Good Folk, accused of joining a band of Highway men and rebels, on the fog marsh, of threatening merchant and traveller carts, of robbery, theft and renouncing the King’s Rule. Do you deny them?” He asked in a voice that was magically amplified by the vibrations of the crystal they stood upon.

He shook his head.

This was the first question.

Every trial required the Cardinal to ask seven questions to the prisoner before passing a sentence; seven being the church’s Holy number, representing the seven mysteries of life, the seven days of the week and the seven colours of the rainbow.

But he saw no point in even trying to lie his way out now, especially when the sentence was already decided and whole trial was just a namesake.

 “No” he said out aloud.

“Do you have anything in your defence?” the Cardinal asked again.

“No”

“Why did you abandon the King’s justice?”

“For the gold and because the King has no justice

There was a shocked murmur and a gasp from one of the guards, Essunda’s eyes widened making them look like dull white marbles.  Then he smiled, trying to look amused, but failed.

“Strange are the words of a mind in darkness” he said in a voice that was meant to sound sympathetic but was too silvery to be genuine.

“If you say so” he said almost nonchalantly, surprised at how little he cared anymore.

Essunda looked taken aback for a moment, but this time managed to quickly regain composure.

“Why did you not seek honest work?”

“Because there is little honest work in war time; and even that I wouldn’t get. I have no affinity”

There was a pause for a few seconds, the Emperor and Essunda looked at each other, frowning.

"By that do you mean the Void?" he asked cautiously.

"No" he shook his head "I truly don't have an affinity. The test was never conducted"

“I see” the priest said slowly, thoughtfully shaking his round head….”Then you truly are a Lost One”

He didn’t even bother to respond, he was beginning to get tired of the whole thing; it didn’t matter what the fools were doing, their petty games and pointless rituals. What mattered what he would do, once they threw him to the beast waiting below, as they had planned to all along.

“But even you could have found honest sustenance had you truly wanted, a Scribe or a Songwriter do not require magic”

“But they require lettering”

Essunda shook his head again, making pitying tusking noises.

“Do you have a family?”

“No”

“Then how did you manage to live all these years?”

That was a stupid question.

“By doing what I have been charged with”

“I see…” Essunda said, watching him like one would watch a wounded animal that was preparing to charge…”Though my heart goes out to the poor child, I am but a servant of God, and God has given us His laws, and people straying from His Holy path must pay the price and as a man who has devoted his entire life in His service, it is my duty to make sure His will is obeyed”

He paused impressively, waiting for his words to sink in and continued:

“In the name of the Emperor, Phairdon Ves Heghr, ruler of Agrymis, the Land, it’s Men and Magic, I Essunda Tries ve Lon Ni Mae, High Cardinal of the realm and servant of God hereby sentence you Kael of Esterham to Trial by Fire, for your crimes against God and the Realm, if be you guilty, may the fires purify your soul and burn away your sins.” He finished dramatically.

Fancy way of saying ‘I’m throwing you to the Dragon so we can all get some entertainment eh?’ he thought darkly.

The Emperor nodded his acknowledgment walked back to his throne; the man had not spoken a word through the entire trial other than stand beside the priest.

Everyone knew the Emperor ruled Agrymis and Essunda ruled the Emperor. But he wondered why he had even come, having done nothing.

For the same reason why the others have, he supposed. To have fun!

“Would you like to beg mercy to the Lord Almighty so He may find a place for your soul in His House?” Essunda’s voice cut through to him.

“No”

“I see…” Essunda said nodding thoughtfully…"And should you be judged sinful, do you have any last wishes?" 

"No" he said again… then added, more to himself than to the priest “because it won't be a last wish “

"What makes you think so?"

"The seven questions are already over."

Essunda’s eyes narrowed for the briefest second, the dull black orbs meeting his own clear green ones. Then he said:

“Well then, may the sentence be carried out.”

The magi lifted him to his feet; each holding one of his arms, their fingers hard and cold like steel; his body was still numb from the chains, but he felt them loosen just enough to let him walk. They marched him onto a small marble platform, just big enough for one man, and remained behind on the crystal one.

Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw a slight movement of their hands, and the faintest whisper of an incantation and the platform began to descend, spiralling downward, into the Dragon’s Pit.

*************************

A/N:

So that is part one of the Prologue, it’s not a chapter, but you’ll see why.

My first attempt at medieval fantasy, worked a lot on this baby, if you took the time to read it, take some time tell me how it was, it’ll mean the world to me.

 


Submitted: October 12, 2013

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Lina Greene

I love the way you did your prologue because right now it is hard for me to do a prologue, so i just usually put a poem from someone like you did and, then start the first chapter. I particularly like your story because I adore stories that involve dragons that are either slain or not. Overall, I think you did a very good job with it.

Wed, October 16th, 2013 4:09am

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Thanks Lina...actually it's the first of a three part prologue before the main story starts...I am glad you liked it :)

Wed, October 16th, 2013 3:46am

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