A Gathering Storm: The Return of Sargonnas

Reads: 74  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


A Gathering Storm:

The Return of Sargonnas

By

Erick Nason

 "There weren't always dragons in the Valley," mused Frederick as they clopped along the dirt trail winding through the deep forest. Looking up above the treetops, he could see the jagged peaks of the White Mountains. Through Gryphon Pass, they will enter the high valley surrounded by the White Mountains and determine if these wild stories are true about dragons returning.

"Dragons," Frederick snorted and then shook his head.

"My lord, you say something?" Peter, his trusted squire, riding next to him, asked, and Frederick shook his head.

"Just musing about our task from his excellency," Frederick responded. "What do you think, Peter, are these tales true about dragons returning?" While Peter was his squire, Frederick knew he had an affinity with the common people, who would be more open to speaking to him instead of himself.

Peter thought about it for a moment, then responded, "Aye, sire, I do. Something scared those mountain folks, and it's more than ancient tales and ghost stories. It takes a good bit to push them out of their homes. But, it does warrant a look."

"Warrant," Frederick mused once again; that is how this whole adventure began over a week ago. Tales and rumors began to filter out of the White Mountains, first by trappers and miners, but then more and more yarns were arriving from the common folk who lived near Gryphon Pass. Enough so that his holy Excellency Bishop Andrew had called for assistance to his militant order.

Frederick's knightly order, The Order of Livonia, received the official request and then called him to the chapter house in Burzenland. At the time, he, along with his sword brothers from the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, had been on campaign against incursions by the dark forces from Afsharid Empire, raiding and pillaging the southern half of Ansalon. So it was to his dismay that he received the summons to return.

When Fredrick arrived at the chapter house, the guard instructed him to report straight to the Grand Master Treyden in his study. Concerned about the urgency, Frederick did not remove his armor but told Peter to take care of their mounts while he went to the Grandmaster.

When Frederick arrived, the guard opened the door, where he saw the chapterhouse cleric, Bishop Rohrbach, along with the Grandmaster. As required by custom, Frederick knelt before the Grandmaster, left hand to sword hilt, right hand to heart.

"As summoned, I report master," Frederick stated, head bowed.

"Rise, my friend, while good to follow the custom, we have known each other far too long to settle on ceremony. So sit and refresh yourself."

Smiling, Frederick nodded, rose, and took a chair that must have been positioned just for him. Memories flooded back to when Treyden was the Master of Sword, instructing Frederick when he was a novice in the order. It had been long, and they had bonded as warriors and friends.

After seating himself, a page brought a cup of wine, and Frederick took a sip.

"How goes the campaign in the south?" The Grandmaster inquired. "When will we finally throw those bloody heathens across the border back into their dark lands."

Frederick spoke of their campaign, chasing these raiding Afsharid horsemen, who he had to admit grudgingly, were holy terrors on horseback. They fought with a darkened zeal and felt no mercy for their victims. For the militant orders, fighting a hit-and-run campaign was not their usual means of battle, but they were adapting.

"If I may be bold," Frederick asked, "You called me here not to discuss the campaign. What have you for me?"

The Grandmaster chuckled and smiled. "Just like old times, straight to the point." The Grandmaster turned to the bishop, "Your Grace, I believe you should explain it to him."

Though wearing his common cleric robes, Bishop Rohrbach was a robust figure, having been selected from the Brotherhood of the Lance instead of the ordinary priests. Frederick knew he understood the martial and the clergy's responsibility well.

"What do you know of Sargonnas?' he asked Frederick.

Frederick responded, thinking about the question, "A dark deity, I believe if my studies were correct. Cults used to follow Sargonnas in the ancient days, and some said it led to the downfall of the Hafsid Kingdom and were in the process of beginning a dark crusade to take Ansalon until the militant orders met and finally defeated them. The rest is history, so to say."

The bishop smiled and nodded, "Very good; you are well versed in your history." Then, the bishop paused as he formed what he would say; Frederick waited while sipping his wine.

"We strongly believe that the Cult of Sargonnas is returning and may be involved with the recent raiding by the Afsharid. Rumors are circulating that the two may be connected, but that is not the worse of it."

Frederick looked at the Grandmaster and the bishop, "If I may ask, that is not the worse? What can be more terrible than those bloodthirsty Afsharid may be involved with this Sargonnas?"

"Dragons," was the simple response from the bishop.

Frederick looked directly at the bishop. "Dragons, you say, there has not been a sighting of dragons in eons, and most are stories."

"Aye, that is true," the Grandmaster replied as he nodded, "Recently, though, numerous tales from the White Mountains have arrived concerning dragon sightings, including attacks on small villages."

Frederick raised his eyebrows and then nodded. Bishop Rohrbach continued by rising and handing him a rolled parchment.

"This is a direct summons from the Arch Bishop for Ansalon; you are to report to the High Cathedral in Fellin and receive your orders from him. May the light watch over you and strengthen your sword arm. You may just need it."

Frederick rose and nodded to the bishop before turning to the Grandmaster. "With permission, I will take my leave to prepare for the journey." The Grandmaster rose and placed his hand on Frederick's heart, "May the strength of our brethren fill you and bring you victory. With sword and honor."

Frederick bowed to the Grandmaster, responding with "With sword and honor."

Returning to the present, the sound of leather creaking and chain rattling mixed with the sound of birds, a lute, and the wind in the trees. Shifting slightly in the saddle, Frederick worked on settling his plate armor in a better position. "You would think after all these years, I would find a better way to be comfortable riding in this suit without getting hotspots."

Frederick wore his traditional plate armor, covered in the black surcoat with a silver sword pointing down like a cross. His great sword hung from his hip and bounced with the movement of his large warhorse named Engel.

Beside Frederick was his squire Peter in his second year of serving. Peter was pulling a packhorse that contained their food, water, lances, and gear needed to keep their armor and weapons in proper shape.

As they were potentially facing a dragon and the return of an evil cult, the Arch Bishop had called for a champion from the other militant orders. With Frederick was Alfonso, the battler from the Military Order of Monreal. Alfonso was a large man, armored in plate and chain, and instead of a sword, he carried a great battle-ax for which his order was known. Alfonso, surprisingly was an outwardly humorous warrior until the battle, where he can demonstrate his finesse and skill with his ax.

Alfonso was joking and speaking with their other champion, Bernard from the Order of the Tower and Sword. Frederick found Bernard to be more stoic than outward like Alfonso but knew his business with the large two-handed sword he carried. Bernard only wore chainmail, as he needed the freedom of movement to swing his sword. Alfonso's goal was to get Bernard to laugh and not be so severe.  

Brother Victor rode a stout mountain pony, following the knights and squires. While the pony followed the warhorses, Brother Victor was deep in an old tome, reading of the ancient times surrounding the fall of the Hafsid Kingdom, the history of the Cult of Sargonnas, and of course, dragons. He would be their historian, cook, and, if required, healer.

Then there was the lute. Riding next to Brother Victor was a minstrel named Karl the Magnificent. While Frederick believed Brother Victor would be a better source of recording the events of their quest for posterity, Karl wanted to turn it into song and prose

The last person in their band was an oddity in itself. Tyrd was stocky, near giant of a man, standing a good hand or taller than the six-foot Frederick. A Fjall tribesman originally hailed from the great Corusk Mountains. Tyrd only wore a heavy chain shirt, his arms and legs exposed. Around his wrists were thick leather bands, and tall leather boots protected his shins.

Riding a great horse, Tyrd was not a knight from one of the militant orders; instead, he was a siege specialist from the artificers attached to the Order of the Dragon. Frederick was more interested in what Tyrd had on his packhorse, a ballista of some type. Tyrd was quiet and even made Bernard appear to be a joking jester. Alfonso tried to joke with him; Tyrd reached out and lifted Alfonso with one hand a good six inches off the ground, then settled him back down on the ground. Alfonso, since then, had left Tyrd alone.

The trail wound through the forest that soon gave away as the path began to climb as they left the plains and began climbing the foothills towards the mountain pass. Finally, the track was approaching an opening as the trees started to thin. The scent of smoke reached them as they exited the forest and rode into the ruins of a mountain town. Frederick led them into what had been the town's center and dismounted.

Black fingers reached for the sky; nothing stood but the skeletons of destroyed homes and barns. The knights walked around and looked at the destroyed town, supportive of the tale of a dragon attacking towns. Frederick walked over to Brother Victor, rubbing his chin while looking over the ruins.

"Is this a dragon attack?" Frederick asked, and Brother Victor shook his head slowly. "I am not sure; everything is gone; it could have been a house fire that went out of control."

"Yes."

Frederick and Brother Victor turned to see Tyrd looking at them.

"How do you know?" Frederick asked. Tyrd walked up and began to point out distinct scorched marks, which were a different color than the burnt remains.

"It attacked from the sky, starting along this way," Tyrd pointed and indicated the flight path, "Then it turned and came back this way. It did not leave anything unburned."

Brother Victor had a disturbed look on his face. "Why would it do that?"

Tyrd shrugged. "Must have been hungry; dragons will burn livestock or townspeople, then eat them."

Brother Victor looked disgusted at the destroyed town, the signs becoming more evident. He shook his head, "These poor souls."

Now it made sense; if a dragon was attacking to burn towns for food, it made sense for the mountain people to leave. Frederick thanked Tyrd, who simply nodded and headed back to his horse. Once everyone remounted, Frederick led them back onto the trail and into the forest until the sun began to sink, and they stopped for the night.

In the morning, they had a quick breakfast before they all helped pack up their gear, and then the squires helped their knights into their armor. Frederick shook his arms and shoulders in his armor, making it settle into the right spots. They mounted once all was ready, and Frederick led them back onto the trail.

The higher they climbed, the sparser the trees became. It took them two more days to arrive at the open fields of mountain grass and rock before the opening the pass between two great peaks. A chilly wind blew across the field, the tall grass waving as the knights rode by when they arrived at a large open area with numerous outcropping rocks.

Frederick had them dismount to rest their horses before they rode through the pass into the valley. If there was a dragon, or something hostile waiting for them on the other side, he wanted the horses to be fresh. So he watched as the knights, squires, and the rest dismounted and stretched the saddle soreness from their backsides. They needed to be as fresh as their horses if they were going into battle.

Peter went to check on their horses as Frederick moved down the line of men to check on them. He saw Brother Victor head towards some jumbled rocks off to the side, more likely to relieve himself. As he approached Alfonso and Bernard, he could hear Alfonso speaking with Bernard about its expected to be more relaxed and not so uptight.

"You must admit, being so pious and dedicated is very boring. Why not live a bit? Is that not our sacred duty to have a reason to die for? Fun! If evil wins, there is no more fun. Frederick, you tell him."

Having seen Frederick walk up, Alfonso pulled him into the conversation. With really no opinion in the matter, Alfonso and Bernard were both looking at him, though he thought there was a twinkle in Alfonso's eyes.

"While I agree we have our sacred duty to our orders, I do admit there are times where we do need to let off some steam that does not require us hacking away at training posts or each other. However, Alfonso is right in the aspect of having a reason to fight for."

Bernard's expression did not change but nodded. "I shall dwell upon what you both have said and perhaps see what will happen in a few days from now."

"Lord Frederick, come see this!" Brother Victor called out and, with a sigh of relief, got away from the conversation and walked to where Brother Victor stood near a jumble of rocks. Alfonso, Bernard, and Karl were following behind. When he arrived, Brother Victor had pulled some grass away from the stones, had a book open, and laid on the ground.

Brother Victor looked at something on the rock, then into the book. "Well, I be! It's what I thought."

"What is?" Frederick asked when he arrived, and Brother Victor stood, showed the book to him, and then pointed at the stones.

"These are not normal stones," Brother Victor explained with excitement, "these are ancient buildings that have collapsed and been grown over. What drew my attention was these carvings preserved by the ground."

He paused, then pointed at the numerous rocks covered in moss and tall grass, nearly making them indistinguishable from regular piles of stones. Frederick began to notice the mounds were not random but rather in the shape of squares. Frederick began to nod slowly; they did resemble the outlines of buildings.

"This is the kingdom," Victor excitedly, "This is Hafsid!"

Frederick looked around and where it was in relation to the pass started to make sense. If the Cult of Sargonnas was its means of destruction, they must have flowed out of the valley and down here to destroy the one obstacle before launching a campaign to conquer the land. There must be more to the history and story of Hafsid than what he has been told or read. Not an ideal place for a city to be built unless it was a center for mining.

"So, this is good old Hafsid?" Karl asked, then thought, "Now that would be a great title for a song." He turned and headed down to his horse. The three knights and Brother Victor stood there and looked at the pass in the distance. Frederick looked at Alfonso and Bernard.

"Thoughts?" Frederick asked.

Alfonso scratched his chin, looking towards the pass. "Aye, you are correct, Frederick; this is not a good place for a city. Too cold, not enough dirt to grow crops, don't see anything that resembles mines. So why build a city here?"

"Perhaps it wasn't just a city," Bernard offered, "what if it was built to keep something from coming out of the high valley, a gatekeeper?" Both Alfonso and Frederick looked at Bernard, who had a determined look on his face.

"That is brilliant," Alfonso stated, slapping Bernard on the shoulder. Then he pointed out with his finger the outline of the city. "This is too angular to be a city, but it does remind me of a fortress. Perhaps they were like us, a holy or a militant order in ancient times, and not a kingdom."

Brother Victor nodded, "Of course, the scholars, not having much information to go on, would call it a kingdom which is what they would know today, but not what it was known as back then. There is still so much about the Hafsid we don't know. I see I have my work cut out for me."

Frederick nodded, "We all will see what we can learn on this quest and perhaps shed some light on the darkness."

Returning to their horses, their squires helped them mount up before they mounted their horses, and once all were ready, Frederick waved his hand forward. The pass was growing in size the closer they approached. Now the plain was open, with no trees making it easy to see. As Frederick scanned, he noticed a dark area of land as though it had burned recently. He turned his horse and headed in that direction.

As they closed on the darkened land, Frederick could smell the distinct order of burnt grass, dirt, and flesh. Holding his hand, he halted their column at the very edge of the scorched area. Dismounting, Frederick went to investigate the darkened earth.

It was elongated, almost like a tear-shaped area of burnt ground a good hundred feet in length. Scanning the ground, Frederick was trying to determine if this was natural or unnatural when Alfonso called him.

"Frederick, you need to see this."

As Frederick walked over, he saw several lumps of black lying in the middle of the scorch mark. As he got closer, he could see the distinct shape of a mule's body and two humans based on the bones and charred forms. Looking closer, Frederick could see the burned handle and scorched heads of pickaxes, burned leather, and melted gold and silver nuggets.

"Miners," Bernard stated, looking at the remains and then up the scorch mark's length. "They were not caught in a grassfire; something burned them."

"You mean like a dragon?' Karl asked, and then they all looked at him. "is that not why we are out here? From the stories I know, don't those beasts breathe fire? Well, it sure looks like something big scorched these poor souls."

"They do, just like back at the town," Tyrd stated, having approached silently from behind them. He moved forward and looked at the remains, kneeling, looking closely at the destruction. He moved from point to point, sometimes reaching down to feel the earth. Then he stopped and began to trace an outline before calling Frederick over.

When Frederick and the others joined Tyrd, he pointed at an enormous footprint, reptilian and three-toed, and a twelve-foot long print. Tyrd was shaking his head.

"The dragon briefly touched down here to do this, but it didn't eat the mule or the men, just destroyed them."

Frederick looked at where the footprint was and where the remains were. "Why is this a problem?"

"Now, it is no longer hunting but defending. The dragon has a lair somewhere in the valley above."

Frederick nodded, and they headed back to their waiting squires and horses. 'Arm up, lances and shields. We may have contact as soon as we ride into the valley."

The squires moved to unlash the lances and shields from their packhorses; Tyrd went over to his and began to assemble what appeared to be a small ballista. The thick bow portion was pinned to the front of the stock with two large iron pins. With the muscles in his arms flexing, he pulled the string back to the firing mechanism. Then he pulled out a quiver of the heavy bolts and hung them from his saddle. After mounting, he loaded a bolt into it and carried it as a man would have a crossbow.

Reaching down, Frederick loosened his sword in its scabbard to make sure it would pull cleanly, having been sitting for so long inside. Alfonso and Bernard did the same; Peter was there handing up his shield, followed by his lance. Looking back, Frederick made sure all were ready, lances held vertical, and even the squires had their weapons at the ready. Then, waving them forward, Frederick led them back onto the old trail and towards the pass.

By midday, they arrived at two ancient stone pillars built into the side of the two peaks that were the opening of Gryphon Pass. Frederick rode up and halted his warhorse where he could look down the old trail into the valley. Stretching far as he could see in the distance was the jagged White Mountains, capped in snow and grey rocks. The forest was thick, with numerous rolling hills along the side of the mountains and the reflection of light off a river flowing through the valley.

"Well, if I were a dragon and needed a place to lair up, this would be it." So Frederick thought as he looked below. An odd feeling was starting to pull on him, a sense of dread and an evil presence, but far off.

"That is a lot of ground to cover," Alfonso stated as he rode up to Frederick, "Brother Victor found some more history and wants to show you. He thinks it's essential." Frederick nodded, turned Engel, and followed Alfonso to where Brother Victor examined a stone pillar.

"What did you find, Brother Victor?" Frederick asked.

Brother Victor looked up with a very concerned look on his face. "A warning, my lord, an old one and a new one."

He went around to the side of the pillar facing the ruins of  Hafsid, knelt, and pointed to a series of ancient scripts that was barely readable, having been worn down by wind and rain. Then, referring to another book, Brother Victor spoke to himself, lips moving as he read the book, before looking up at Frederick.

"From what I can gather, this is ancient Hafsid carvings, a warning to those entering the valley."

Frederick nodded, "What does it say."

"Be warned those who enter this place, as we the guardians are tasked to keep the darkness at bay. We keep the great beasts away, but if you enter, your souls will feed that great darkness we guard."

Fredrick nodded as Brother Victor went to another side of the same column. More recent carvings were easier to see as they were darker." Brother Victor shook his head and pointed at the carvings.

"Whoever carved this used blood to darken the words. It is also a warning but directed at us, not into the valley."

Frederick nodded, waiting for Brother Victor to continue.

"Enter at your doom, for she will rise again, and on the wings of dragons, all of the lands will be ours."

When Brother Victor finished reading the warning, rising from the valley was a tremendous roar, a cry of a dragon on the hunt. Face set, Frederick ordered, "To horse!" The knights remounted and took up their shields and lances once more. The knights formed a wedge, with Frederick in the center, Alfonso on the right, and Bernard on the left. Tyrd was behind them, followed by Brother Victor and Karl.

Frederick's senses were tight, listening for any sight or sound of the dragon. Finally, the knights rode into s small-forested area; the only sound was that of the wind and some birds. Then there was a tremendous swooshing sound like a giant flying creature had just flown over. The warhorses' noses flared, and the other horses nickered.  

As they exited the trees and out onto an open field, in the distance, they could see the dark shape of the dragon flying between clouds. "Be on your guard!" Frederick commanded as they all scanned the sky for the beast. A roar echoed from the mountains as the dragon glided through the clouds.

Suddenly it burst from the clouds, diving into the knights. "Scatter!" Frederick commanded, and they all broke in different directions. With its feet claws open, the dragon plunged on the knights as they sped off in different directions. The dragon only scored a hit on one of the packhorses who had frozen in place out of fear. Looking down, it could see the knights were circling back around.

As the knights reformed, the dragon landed with a crash before them, roaring a challenge and in defiance. The dragon was a reddish black-scaled beast, standing four feet wide and five feet high. Its wings were around thirty feet across, the bulky neck seven feet long. Red eyes focused on them, its great mouth open showing the long rows of dagger-length teeth. While standing on its hind legs, the length of the dragon was a good eighteen feet long.

Without hesitating, Frederick ordered, "Charge!" The three knights kicked their warhorses forward as they lowered their lances. Then, setting his shield and lance, Frederick braced for the impact as he hurtled towards the roaring beast. The dragon shifter around to face the charging knights, talons readied to fight.

A shuddering impact struck Frederick as he ducked under a sweeping claw attack; his lance broke upon the armored scales of the beast with such an impact hurled him from his horse. Landing with a thud, Frederick rolled away from the dragon, coming to his feet as he drew his sword. Looking over, he could see one lance had pierced the dragon's neck while Alfonso lay on his back before the dragon, the wind knocked out of him and dazed.

Sensing the impending danger, Frederick charged forward as the dragoon began to step towards the stunned Alfonso. Then, with a great war cry, Frederick struck his great sword against the dragon's flank, causing sparks to fly as the steel hit the scales. It was enough, as the dragon flapped its wings, flew backward, and turned to face Frederick.

With an evil glare, Frederick saw the dragon pulling in the air, and smoke began to come from its nostril. Then, as the dragon stretched out with its neck and opened its jaws, Frederick could see the glow of flames. When the belch of flame came from the dragon, Frederick dropped and rolled forward towards the dragon, the flame going over him but scorching his surcoat.

Continuing his roll, Frederick brought his sword up, found a space between the scales, and bit deep into the beast. Roaring, the dragon backed up, shocked that someone had hurt it. The dragon lowered its head, arms and talons outstretched; it began to charge forward as its great hind legs churned up earth.

There was a whistling noise, and a great bolt struck the dragon in the joint between its left wing and shoulder, stopping it in place. Looking over, Frederick saw it was Tyrd pulling the cord back on his ballista and then setting an iron bolt in it. The dragon roared in defiance as Tyrd rested the weapon upon "V" topped rest. Then, although the dragon began to charge toward him, Tyrd calmly fired the second bolt that struck the other joint.

The dragon stood in shock; both wings were damaged, preventing it from flying. Then with an uncanny battle cry, Bernard jumped from his horse, with his great two-handed sword, swinging down in an arch on the dragon's neck. The blessed blade cut through the neck, and the dragon's head thumped to the ground.

The dead dragon fell to the ground, its great wings folding over it as it lay on its side. Frederick looked over at Bernard, who was breathing heavily but with a pleased look on his face. Walking over, Frederick helped Alfonso to his feet, still rubbing the shock from his head. Then, shouldering his small ballista and with the stand in his hand, Tyrd joined the knights.

"Good shooting there," Frederick stated, and Tyrd just shrugged in thanks. He then began to look closely at the dragon as Brother Victor and Karl joined them. "Magnificent, so bloody magnificent!" Karl explained, "I shall become rich and famous from your tales now that this hunt is over."

"It's not over," Tryrd said, simply standing, "This is only a juvenile, not more than a year old."

"A juvenile," Alfonso asked, "Then where is its mother?"

As if answering the question, a more resounding dragon roar could be heard in the distance.

Tyrd looked down into the valley, "The hunt is not over yet."


Submitted: June 13, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Erick Nason. All rights reserved.