A revised opening chapter for my epic fantasy novel.
|The coming day would decide whether Boroden Ulfharen lived or died. If this night was to be his last, then he could not have asked for a more beautiful scene before him. The full moon shone in perfection, her attendants the stars were but drops in the ocean of her silver radiance. The midsummer sky was already softening with hues of rose and hazy blue. Dawn approached all too quickly.
The loveliness of it was distant from Boroden’s own pained heart. He pulled the hood of his silver lined cloak close about his face and turned away. He was sick of his mind churning out nightmarish visions of how the hobyahs might attack.
That evening he had diligently practiced his sword skills with his uncle, Leon. Usually so deft, Boroden’s sword arm had felt leaden as he forced himself to stop trembling as he trained. If Leon had not ordered him to get some rest, he would have gone to him now as he stood alert by the watch fire.
Another figure crossed before the red glow. It was King Mazgrim, Boroden’s father.
Boroden gingerly entered the nest constructed of moss and cobwebs that was suspended from the beamed roof of the circular King’s Hall. The scent of the damp thatch and the herbs strewn over the floor to freshen the air was now mixed with the tang of the metal polish that Ulfmolt had been busily applying to their armour and weapons in readiness for the coming battle. Boroden did not want to disturb his brother’s slumber.
There was no point in putting it off. Boroden knew that he would not sleep. He pulled on his mail shirt as softly as possible, though it gave a few treacherous clinks. The greaves and vambraces were harder to put on by himself. He was used to his younger brother, Ulfmolt, helping to arm him.
Boroden settled before the opalescent pool of the mirror to comb out his mane of black hair before fastening on his helmet. His face was not exactly handsome, though it was not easily forgotten. Most striking were his eyes; solemn and intense, they were the eyes of one whose past had aged him beyond his 466 years. When he smiled the sparkle in his eyes was a gift of pure sunshine. His eyes were midnight blue, like his mother’s. He squinted, trying to imagine that it was the yearned-for face of his dead mother that he gazed upon.
The comb slipped from his shaking fingers. He rose to retrieve it but it had already been snatched up.
Ulfmolt dropped the comb into his brother’s outstretched hand. ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
‘Sorry, did I wake you?’
‘No. I had a nightmare.’
‘About the hobyahs?’
Ulfmolt nodded. Boroden beckoned him to sit beside him with an understanding smile. He pushed aside his fear; his brother needed him.
‘How will it be do you think?’ Ulfmolt fretted.
‘Hobyahs are different to most foes we’re trained to fight. For a start they don’t use swords. Their weapons are whatever they chance upon, be it twisted stinging nettles or briar thorns.’
Ulfmolt shuddered. ‘Will you keep by my side? I’d feel braver with you there.’
Boroden ruffled his brother’s hair. ‘Of course I will. Do you want to do some more weapon training now?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t want to be too tired for the fight.’ With well practised efficiency, Ulfmolt stood on tiptoes to place the helmet on Boroden’s head. Ulfmolt still had a good two heads height of growing to catch up with Boroden, but then at just over three feet high Boroden was tall for a brownie.
‘You must have been terrified when the kraken attacked Velmoran. I often wonder what happened,’ Ulfmolt said.
Boroden turned away to fetch his sword. ‘You know. The others have spoken of it many times.’
‘But not you. You weren’t with us. Carnelian only found you a few years ago in that circus.’
Boroden cringed as he recalled the long, miserable years he had spent in the circus facing the desperate curiosity and lack of respect that humans had for House Elves. He glanced at Ulfmolt. He owed it to his brother to tell him the truth. After all, this might be the last chance they had to talk.
‘The day the kraken came I was sailing my toy ship in one of the quays in the cavern beneath Velmoran. Hobyahs had been sighted on the beach so I couldn’t play there. Alfarinn went to deal with them.’
‘Weren’t you worried about him?’ Ulfmolt asked, although he knew already that King Mazgrim’s eldest son Alfarinn had been renowned as a talented warrior.
‘Not more than usual. Hobyahs often made raids only to turn cowardly back when our warriors came.’
Ulfmolt anticipated him. ‘But on that day they didn’t.’
Boroden nodded. ‘The happy bustle of the harbour vanished into screams. Terrified brownies ran by, almost toppling me. I ran too. Amongst the wreckage I saw her. The kraken. In Krysila’s eyes there was only hate. I hated her too, her senseless cruelty.’
Ulfmolt winced. ‘Did you fight back?’
‘I wanted to, but I was only a small bairn, so I ran. A hoard of hobyahs were ransacking the palace, searching for the fruit of the Tree of Life that Krysila sought in order to become immortal.’
‘What about Alfarinn?’
‘Alfarinn had been beaten back to the throne room. Father disappeared into a secret escape tunnel along with many others.’
‘But you never made it.’
‘No… My best friend, Aira, was caught on the stairs. Hobyahs in front, hobyahs behind.’
Ulfmolt shuddered. ‘That’s awful. What was Aira like?’
Boroden gave a wistful sigh. ‘She was always smiling and chattering. Like a bright little fire sprite - she was tricksy and hardly ever still.’
‘She sounds like a wonderful lass. I wish I could have met her…’ Ulfmolt hesitated before asking his brother with a tremor in his voice, ‘did they kill her?’
‘I… I don’t know.’ Boroden cast rueful thoughts upon his own inability to save her. ‘Father shut the escape route on me. I tried to reach Aira but there were too many hobyahs. They had with them a great prize: the fireball from a dragon. I would’ve been burnt to a cinder had it not been for Alfarrin. There was nowhere to hide but in the well, so we dived in. But, the fall… It knocked Alfarinn senseless. I tried my best to revive him, but by night, I gave up hope.’
Ulfmolt’s face crumpled with anguish. ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘When it was safe I searched for Aira. I couldn’t find any trace of her. If you hear word of her and I’m no longer here, promise that you’ll look out for her?’
‘Course I will. Don’t say that Boroden. You’re a way better fighter than me.’
‘You’ll come through just fine,’ Boroden said, trying to reassure Ulfmolt despite knowing his callowness at training. Now was not the time to seed doubt in his brother’s mind. Boroden could not understand why his father pressed Ulfmolt to fight, but King Mazgrim was impossible to argue against. ‘It’s my first battle too.’
Ulfmolt’s lips trembled. ‘I’m scared.’
Boroden squeezed his hand.
A light came into Ulfmolt’s eyes. ‘Boroden, we could leave now - slip away from the camp. No one would recognise us and we’d run fast if we used our ability.’
‘Ulfmolt, Mother told us to keep it secret at all costs. We don’t turn cowardly from a fight, no matter how scared we are. We fight for our clan, trusting that good will triumph.’
Ulfmolt’s mention of their shared ability made Boroden pause as he buckled his sword belt. Boroden’s anguish at their situation was nothing compared to his guilt. If he had used his secret power when Velmoran was seized then he might have done more to help his clan. Instead he had been too afraid of bringing his father’s wrath upon him. Would it be the same today?
Boroden debated with himself. Could he risk everything that he had to save the lives of his comrades? Wasn’t that the very thing that was required of them all in battle?
Hideous screeches and snarls tore jaggedly in the stillness, closing in on the camp. Ulfmolt’s eyes widened with terror and he looked to Boroden.
The nest shook. It was Leon, the risen sun flaming bright on his golden hair. ‘The hobyahs are advancing.’
Boroden drew his sword with a strength previously unknown. ‘I’m ready.’