| Jerocan was only 40 years of age. But his destiny was at hand.
The great iron doors of the fortress groaned as they slid open, twin ogres pushing each door. Shackles around their hands and feet rubbed against their gray, knobby flesh, leaving black, bloody scars. A soldier half their size wielded a cat-o-nine-tails, shouting and cursing as he lashed their backs.
Such scenes were common across the Kingdom of Megrecia. There was a time when the ogres ruled. When men stayed outside the borders of this land. It had been called Ungarad then.
Jerocan walked through the gate, quietly placing a soothing hand on the nearest ogre as he passed. The ogre gave a low, rumbling growl of acknowledgement, then roared as the glass on the end of the cat ripped at his back again. Jerocan set his face in a blank passive expression and moved on, crossing a courtyard filled with people. Peasants hugged the outer wall, avoiding the eyes of nobility weaving their way through the market surrounding the castle.
Queen Megrecia ruled now. Her followers lived off the fat of the land cultivated by the ogres, now slaves in land that was once their own.
Now she sat on a throne of gold set on a dais of silver, studded with rubies. The great marble throne of the ogre king behind her, brought to her fortress as a symbol of her power.
He had seen it when it was brought in. A team of 20 horses towing a great iron carriage was only just able to bring it into the fortress. The arch over the gates was taken apart to accommodate its height.
He looked at it now, towering above the heads of all those present. Courtiers whispered to each other, casting disapproving glances at his worn, weather-stained robes. He had been among them, once. He had worn robes of office, the queen's personal prophet, watching as “lesser” men came and went. But a prophet is charged with seeking Truth. And that was a thing not well accepted in a kingdom ruled by a conquering usurper.
A cold, expectant silence had fallen over the throne room. Megrecia sat on her golden throne, white hair flowing down over her robes of deep crimson. Her steel-gray eyes examined him, calculating, measuring his intent.
Their parting had not been pleasant. The Truth had led him far into the wilderness, showing him the right and wrong of things. And now it had led him back.
“Welcome, seer,” she said, the hint of a sneer showing in a slight twitch of her lips. She had used the lesser title, hoping to goad him. But he would not rise to her bait. Not when his destiny was so close at hand.
“Hail, Queen Megrecia,” he said, bowing to her. “I have returned from my travels.”
“As I recall, you left seeking truth,” she said. “I trust you found it? I should be disappointed if your time away was all a waste.”
“I have found Truth, my lady. And it has led me back here,” he replied. “Truth has chosen me to bring a message to you.”
“A message from Truth?” the queen asked. She gave an airy laugh, echoed by others in the room. “Please, tell us this message. I long to hear what marvels you have discovered while chasing an idealistic concept.”
Jerocan looked around at the people. For an instant, he saw their fates hanging above them, the general with a chain around his neck. The ladies fleeing in fear, clothes singed and torn. He looked back at Megrecia and saw her poor, penniless and broken, lost in a wasteland of alternating fire and frost.
He closed his eyes, feeling Truth stir inside him. And the words came:
From a nearby village comes
An angry, bitter slave.
Leading others for a fight -
They naught but freedom crave.
He carries scars upon his back,
Well knows the snapping sounds
Of the whip and then its sting,
His fury knows no bounds.
One more battle he will lose
And he'll be flogged again.
But after that he'll never feel
The shaming or the pain.
An usurper sits enthroned
Pretending to be Queen
As the true King, who's now the slave
Ends darkness felt and seen.
The rightful King will sit enthroned
And the Queen's teeth will gnash.
Freedom's day is coming when
The slave's hand holds the lash.
The throne room was silent as the final words echoed through the room. The queen stared, eyes wide and shocked.
“This is the Truth which you bring to me?” she asked, her voice cold.
“Yes,” he said. He heard the whispering begin behind him, more urgent now.
“And what may be done about this?”
“Nothing, my queen,” he replied. “Truth is inescapable, as your father well knew.”
“My father?” she shrieked, cold fury gleaming in her eyes. “You dare to mention my father's death before me?”
Her words echoed through the room, silent once again. There was a feeling of shock, mingled with terror in the crowd. Everyone knew the fate of those who spoke of the old king's death.
“I remind you of his decision to defy Truth,” Jerocan said. “And the consequences thereof.”
They stared at each other. Time seemed to slow and no one in the room dared move.
“Guards, take this impertinent seer to the dungeons. I'll decide his fate later.”
Guards in gleaming silver armor surrounded him. They pointed their spears in toward him, then marched him away, deep into the innards of the fortress.
“Bring me Neflu,” the queen said. “I have some hunting for him to do.”
Word count: 941 (832 without the prophecy)