Faldashir takes action.
The Red Hall of Fangog
“Halt!” A pair of Takinthad riders drew rein and lowered lances.
Faldashir commanded a halt, which his company echoed. Tyollis called a halt as well. Saddles creaked as men settled, and the rattling of bags and mail filled the silence. The sky was clear, though obscured by the many trees surrounding them. The army was no longer orderly, divided between the thick trunks.
“Why are you–” the soldier began. “Commander Tyollis, you’ve arrived.”
“Yes.” Tyollis squared his shoulders and straightened in his saddle. “King Krassos is here?”
“Yes, he is.” The soldier looked to Faldashir. “And you are?”
“I am Faldashir of Veresses. I’ve come with my own army, on order of King Dendlo.”
“Ah,” the soldier said. “Well, if you’ll follow us.” The horsemen turned and rode at a trot.
Faldashir ordered an advance, and the army moved. The ground was clear, no fallen branches or detached leaves. Already Faldashir smelled the stench of a dormant army. Horse manure and greasy food and the stench of men wafted on the cool breeze.
Faldashir barely noticed anything. His mind was on the task at hand.
They came to the edge of the army camp, passing latrine pits and horse-lines. Soldiers tended horses or campfires, pots and pans made lunch, sizzling meat or boiling oats or beans. Men tended to their weapons and armor, polishing or sharpening. Little round tables set up here or there hosted dice games or board games. The clack of wooden pieces moving across wood boards marked in tiles or rows mixed with the chaos of every other sound. Men spoke and laughed.
But here or there men cried. Some sat staring with watered eyes while others bawled openly while other men comforted them. It was these Faldashir noticed most. Did they lose family? Friends?
Tents of brown or red sat in rows throughout the massive camp. Thin ropes running between the top of the tents held clothes-lines
“Commander Tyollis!” A young man in a loose brown shirt jogged alongside the Takinthad commander’s horse. “It’s good to see you again, Commander.” His voice bumped as his feet hit the ground.
“Who are you?” Tyollis looked down at the young man.
“I was there when you wiped out the Margolan raiding party last year.”
“Ah, okay,” Tyollis said, though no familiarity touched his voice. “Well, that was a great victory, and you are alive, so you must have done well, lad.”
“Thank you, Commander!”
“Tell me,” Tyollis voice grew serious. “Has King Julionne arrived?”
Faldashir focused on the boy, who frowned now. “In short, Commander, King Julionne is dead. Best to talk to somebody else about it.” The boy stopped his jog and turned away to a dice game.
Tyollis swore violently, staring ahead.
“So the king of Dasoren is dead,” Faldashir said. “What does that mean for the defense?”
“It means his son better hurry here.” Tyollis brooded as they rode.
Soon they were led to the slope, and their guides drew rein and turned.
“Only the commanders,” said one man. “Leave your armies and weapons here.”
Faldashir commanded a halt, and was promptly obeyed. He unbuckled his sword belt and handed it to Robert. The guides resumed riding, and the commanders followed.
The camp grew sparser as the ground sloped toward the ridge, rising above the trees. Soon they were before the wall of Fangog.
The two guides dismounted and one said, “Leave your horses. Spread for search.”
Two soldiers flanked the entrance, armor gleaming in the sun and spear tips high. A pair of soldiers approached from behind Faldashir and took away the horses.
Faldashir spread his legs and arms while a guide patted him down. Tyollis received the same treatment. Faldashir winced as his knee was touched.
“All good.” The guide stood and turned to a soldier. “Open the doors.”
A soldier turned and pounded on a door with with a steel gauntlet, and the twin set opened.
“We wish to see the King,” Tyollis said.
“Um...” The smallest of the guides looked to the doors, then down the slope. “There are guards in the courtyard who will handle it.”
Faldashir’s heart pounded, but he kept his face blank. An easy accomplishment. Faldashir would hate to hurt Tyollis in action.
But if it’s necessary…
They strode into the courtyard, where dozens of men sparred with wooden swords or staffs.
The clacking and grunts of effort followed Faldashir and Tyollis across the courtyard, and when they stopped at the door Tyollis spoke to the four guards flanking it.
“I am Commander Tyollis. This is Commander Faldashir of Veresses. We are here to supply men to the King’s army.”
One of the guards narrowed his eyes, his bushy black brows
dropping, but he nodded, handing his spear to a fellow and striding through the door next to him.
He emerged a moment later. “The King will see you.”
Two of the guards followed the commanders through the door.
The hall was large and round, with flags of Takinthad running along the stone. A tall window above the door let in the harsh afternoon light. Empty fire pits sat on either side of a long table, behind which sat the King.
His stern, age lined face watched them approach, his grayed beard and fringe of hair shining in the sunlight. On the other side of the table stood two men, one short with a hairline far too receded for his age and greaves of steel on his bulky forearms, and the other a broad-shouldered man with his white hair tied into a ponytail and his murky blue eyes sparkling in the sun, seeming to swirl.
That brought to mind the dark being in Faldashir’s vision. He suppressed a shiver of fear, squaring his shoulders as he stepped
between the two men.
Both men were here to help Faldashir. Prince Othderis had sent ahead a letter, presumably telling them to prepare for Faldashir’s arrival on this day. One was a wizard, the other a Dragon Guard. But which was which?
Problems scattered about the room in the form of a dozen armored men standing stiff as stone, spears high.
Tyollis dropped to his knees, bowing his head and thumping fist to heart. “My King.”
Faldashir repeated the gesture, his knee giving him enough leeway to bend so. Though he said something else. “King Krassos. I am here to serve in your campaign against the dark
forces in the north.”
“Rise, both of you,” the King said. He was stern, a hard man. “You are Faldashir?”
The strange men stiffened, and looked to Faldashir.
“Yes, Your Highness, I am.” Anxiety gripped Faldashir, anticipation crawling down his spine. The strangers on either side of Faldashir turned toward him.
“Good afternoon, I am Bolthos.” The man in the greaves extended a hand. On his palm was a dragon mark.
Faldashir shook the hand, meeting Bolthos’ gaze.
“And I am Ezrelli.” The old man in the ponytail extended a hand, showing three wavy black lines. He was a wizard specialized in air magic.
“I can’t say I’m met either of you,” Tyollis said, extending a hand toward Ezrelli.
Ezrelli shook Tyollis’ hand hastily, then turned to Faldashir. “Commander Faldashir, have you met the Prince in your travels?”
“Yes,” Faldashir’s stomach churned, his nerves buzzed. “The Prince sends his regards.”
Faldashir spun, elbow smashing Tyollis’ nose. Ezrelli roared and thrust out a hand, a pillar of air striking a soldier, who went flying against the other wall.
Cries of fright and pain rang through the room, Tyollis spun away at the strike. Ezrelli pelted men with pillars of compressed air, fueled by magic.
Faldashir leaped across the table, colliding with the startled king. The high backed chair tumbled and the king smacked his head against the wood. Faldashir struck hard with his fists.
Men fell to Ezrelli’s assault, allowing Faldashir to land his blows. The king’s throat collapsed under Faldashir’s fists, blood gurgling from his mouth as he clung to Faldashir’s shirt, reaching for his neck. The king cried out and coughed, and Faldashir pounded again and again. Bones broke under Faldashir’s strikes, the king’s windpipe shattering and his spine snapping as his throat broke.
When the king no longer twitched, Faldashir stood, and screamed through his teeth. His hands shook violently, blood dripping. His heart hammered, and his nerves frayed.
The guards in the room were lying on the floor, Tyollis as well. The double-doors burst open, men in armor filing in shouting and drawing swords, or men in no shirts bearing wooden weapons.
“Hold still!” Bolthos shouted, his voice ringing above the echoes of steel boots on stone. Faldashir flinched as a bestial roar poured into the room, and the soldiers froze.
Behind them, out in the courtyard, stood a dragon, though Faldashir got no clear look.
“Leave,” Bolthos announced. “Turn and head back out to the courtyard, or my dragon will roast you alive.” The soldiers froze, quivering, some half-turned but didn’t step an inch in any direction. “When you’ve all turned around, and face my beast, I will command him to let you exit the castle.”
Faldashir panted from exertion, and prayed the men would turn around. No one else has to die. Tyollis lie on his back, but his chest rose and fell. Ezrelli had moved quickly, putting down every man in the room. But then, Faldashir had no idea how long it had taken to kill King Krassos.
The soldiers turned, some wept. The vague shape of the dragon backed away, and the soldiers inched into the courtyard.
Bolthos let out his breath, along with a loud curse. “Are you ready?” He looked to Faldashir and Ezrelli.
Faldashir nodded, and Ezrelli muttered a curse.
“I hate this,” the wizard said.
“Yes,” Bolthos said sadly. “But it’s necessary.”
They stepped out of the castle, and Faldashir saw the dragon in full light. Light gleamed off it’s gray scales, its wings folded over a sleek flank. It stood on paws half the size of a man, vigilant yellow eyes watching the soldiers.
There were more men here than had entered the hall of Fangog, and more poured out from doors ringing the courtyard. They halted as they saw the dragon Faldashir’s bloody hands.
Branston entered the courtyard, his mouth parting as he saw Faldashir.
“The King is dead,” Bolthos announced.
The crowd broke out in whispers and cries of fury or grief. The dragon stamped a paw and growled, head lowered to show teeth. The crowd fell silent, save for weeps here or there.
Faldashir looked to the double-doors that led away from Fangog. If they made too much noise here, the massive army outside would know something was wrong.
If they weren’t careful, more blood would spill.
Bolthos stepped closer to the crowd. “The King is dead, because he could not lead us to safety. Prince Othderis will right what King Krassos wronged. The King would not accept Margolan help, but the Prince will. The Prince will allow more wizards to be made, so we may better fight the supernatural forces threatening our world.”
Faldashir caught Branston’s terror-filled eyes, and frowned apologetically. It had to be done.
“Now,” Bolthos continued. “The new king is Othderis, and we will follow him. Long may he reign.”
Few men took up the call, though they echoed with vigor. It became a chant, and soon others took it up.
“Long may he reign! Long may he reign!”
Faldashir sighed relief. Measures would still need to be taken, but reports said many in Takinthad believed Krassos to be slipping in sanity. Many wished for Othderis to take the throne.
“They will accept Othderis,” King Dendlo had told Faldashir. “And the world will be better under his reign.”
This was the day. It should be over. Othderis sat behind his desk in Fort Emari, only a few leagues from Fangog, staring at the door.
Othderis cursed himself. His father was likely dead now, and he was eager for the news. He loved his father, the kill order had been hard to give. But it was necessary. Othderis could do better, he was certain.
But that didn’t dispel his grief. He gulped down his silver goblet of wine and stood. Then, the door opened, and a man strode in.
The man was mousy, his fringe of gray hair poking above his large ears would have made Othderis laugh on a happier day.
“A message, Prince.” The man offered a scroll.
Othderis strode across the candle-lit room and snatched the paper, before doubling back and stopping before the window. Moonlight touched the paper, illuminating the wax seal bearing the Sun and Star.
The seal crumbled in Othderis’ ringed fingers as he hastily unrolled the paper.
The task is accomplished. Your deed is done, and you will now lead the assault of the north.
Many here have faith in you, and the army outside the gates have been alerted as to the situation. The other Dragon Guard have been placed in cells until your arrival, and the Veressan has sent word to his king.
I and others wish you congratulations on the throne, and we believe in you. You will lead us to victory, King Othderis.
Othderis sighed, tears filling his eyes. I’m sorry, father.
Looking to the stars and the moon shining over the surrounding forest, Othderis said “Send a message, I will arrive tomorrow.”
“Yes my Prin–” The sentence stopped with a sickening crunch and gurgling.
Othderis spun and cried out at the sight.
A figure of black stood behind the messenger, red points of light in place of eyes boring into Othderis. No human feature marked its face, and its body was sleek shadow. A sword of the same shadowy matter protruded from the messenger’s chest, blood dripped from the mousy man’s chin.
“No, please.” Othderis voice quivered. He knew it was futile to beg. He spun to flee out the window, a thump hitting the floor as he did.
A cry of pain tore from him as the sword found his back. He slumped against the window sill, the sword tearing his organs.
Not like this. Not now!
A twist of the sword ended Othderis’ life.
END OF CHAPTER NINETEEN