Chapter 5 - Survival

Arnai ran down the sloping defences away from the fort, seeking the tree line. He had no idea where to go, but anywhere away from the clan was good as he knew that Kieran hated him from the bottom of his heart, and doubted he would stop to talk if he found him. The ground rushed past underneath his pounding legs as he ran through the forest, twigs whipping past him and small animals rustling out of his way. He managed to keep the pace for about ten minutes before he had to slow down to a fast walk, panting slightly. He had never had the chance to run far within the fort, and part of him relished the new freedom that he had now. As he walked, he rolled his feet like one of the hunters had taught him when he was out learning with Gregor. It minimised the amount of sound from his footprints and he was able to get closer to animals before they sensed him and ran away, startled. He had enough food for three days, which he thought would probably last long enough for him to get outside the hunting range, and after that he would have to fend for himself somehow. It was pitch black under the pine canopy, and he stopped rolling his feet, letting his feet simply sink into the peaty floor, littered with decaying pine leaves and rotten twigs, in favour of speed. Glancing round and spotting glowing animal eyes all around him, he broke into a jog, then a run, scrambling up slopes as fast as he could, not feeling the need to breathe as often as he had a couple of minutes ago – fuelled by fear.

 

The darkness was suddenly lit from above, as Arnai reached the old clearing near the summit of the hill. Panting, he rested on the stones in the moonlight. It was not late into the evening but, being winter, it was already dark and beginning to feel cold, especially to a boy who was used to the constant warmth of a forge. Shivering, he pulled on the thick skin coat, it was lined with wool and the outside of it had been worked with fat, giving it windproof and waterproof qualities. The stone circle, with its smooth rocks that towered above Arnai offered him some protection against the dark, and he was relieved to see many of the watching eyes disappear back into the shadowy forest. With a sigh, he leaned back on a rock in the centre which was flatter than the others, and lay on its side. How was he going to get far enough away by morning if he was too scared of mystery monsters in the dark to travel after sunset? Some birthday this was! He sat in silent desperation for a while, before his naturally analytical mind sought for a solution in the gloom. If he was unable to travel in dark, he would have to carry light with him. With a frown, he stood up, scouring the ground for a thick stick that he could use to make a torch. Having found this, he wondered at the best way to keep it alight, and to prevent it burning through the stick. Curious, he pulled some black fungus off of a dead branch that lay nearby, not too far outside the circle for him to be afraid. Arnai knew that moss smouldered, as did other plant material, especially if it wasn’t fully dry. The fungus he held in his hand was hard to the touch, concentric circles within it where he had snapped it away from the dead wood. Gathering more of the fungi, and moss and lichen from the rocks, he created a bundle of plant material which he bound together with cloth ripped from a spare tunic. There was some tall, dry grass growing up from beneath the stones, and he tore this up too, stuffing some in a pouch to use later, the rest being carefully pushed into his torch to provide fuel that would light rather than merely smoulder. Satisfied, he used more of his shirt to bind it to the stick, experimenting with its balance until he was sure he would be able to carry it and run at the same time. He smiled and puffed his chest out, sure that Solaris would have been proud of him, and wondered how to light it. Should he build a small fire? – it would definitely leave a huge impact and would be easy for any trackers to determine what he had done - or try and light the torch itself, which could result in it falling apart or not burning properly.

 

He still hadn’t decided when a voice sounded behind him. He span quickly, right hand crossing over to the hilt of his dagger. Stood before him, bathed in a blue light that seemed to come from the stones themselves, was an old man in green robes. A flash of recognition flew through Arnai and he uncoiled slightly. This was the man who he had seen in his dream last night. “Diecre flaed tan shur num ba haered” The man smiled. Arnai shook his head, he didn’t understand, and he didn’t want to understand – the man was obviously some sort of magician, and he didn’t like the idea of being prey to his spells. He turned to run, but was confronted by a shimmering wall of light that wound round the outer stones. He was trapped. The old man stepped towards him, a smile on his face. “Ina haerem su num” Arnai shook his head again, and stepped back, plastering himself to the magical wall behind him.

“I don’t understand! Leave me alone!” The words whined out of his mouth, and the old man stopped, a puzzled expression on his face, then began to create small sounds, like a child. Arnai watched as the man’s puzzled frown deepened , his eyes narrowing and looking upwards, as if he could see into his own brain. The green robed man blinked and tried again. “I mean you num haerem” Arnai’s eyes pierced into the man as his brain tried to work out the meaning of the words. “I mean you no harm” the man repeated, and Arnai relaxed slightly – the man certainly didn’t seem vicious, and he hadn’t cast a spell yet. “My name is Haertov” he continued, “and I have little time left, so listen closely.”

 

Haertov motioned Arnai to sit, and began to tell the legacy that he had been tied to the mortal world with – the fall of the Tanoi;

“The imperial ships had been sighted when they were still far off shore, a great brown mass that travelled over the water, grey sails pulling the ships in close formation every towards Lantos. The guardians of Lantos had deemed to let them land, as the country had enough resources, and many of the ships looked in poor shape, having been battered by the cruel winds and high seas of the waves. The king of the Tanoi was still suspicious however, and sent riders to scout the ships, and attempt to determine the intention of such a large fleet. The two scouts took to the skies on their dragons, flying high above the clouds until they were above the mass of ships. What they saw did not put them at rest, for the ships were full of men, all armed to the teeth. One of the lookouts spotted a rider, and a flurry of arrows was sent into the air. The dragon riders were not put off by this but pulled up and flew back to report to the king. Hearing of the hostile attitude, the king issued a general warning to his people, the message being spread instantly, passed down through the system so to the people each dragon lord protected – The Tanoi were few in number but acted as guides to each race that lived upon the land, marshalling the wars that broke out and intervening to prevent loss of life. All clan wars were stopped within hours, the mighty dragons and their riders warning Lantos of a greater threat that came by the sea, and calling a great council. The king spoke quickly and briefly, the newcomers were to be welcomed by him himself, as they may just have been frightened of the huge beasts that flew above them. The rules would be set out, and defences put in place in case they were broken. The people would be welcoming and fair, but wary of a foe that came in such large numbers. This having been decided, each went back to his own task, to prepare their armies ready to defend, while hoping that it would not come to such an aggressive action.

 

The imperial ships landed a day later, in serpent bay. No time was wasted by the foreigners as they began to unload, setting up a defensive perimeter with rigid precision. The king, on his golden dragon, swooped down upon the ships, performing aerobatics as they flew, fire leaping out of the dragons mouth and into the sky, power radiating from the duo. The dragon landed lightly before the picket line, prompting archers to loose arrows at its giant form. The king was not put off however, and simply called upon a gust of wind to throw the useless projectiles to the side as he stepped down from his mount. Stepping forwards, he spoke and welcomed the stunned warriors to Lantos, requesting an audience with their leader. The imperial leader did not appear, but rather the 1st admiral of the fleet, the emperor’s brother stepped up to him. The admiral was unfortunately a quite a short man, and beside the king came only to his chest, so that he stood in shadow.  The shorter man in his uniform looked shabby next to the magnificent king, who stood tall in his plain clothes. Disgruntled by such humiliating glory, the imperial had bitterness in his heart as he agreed to the terms – to be kind to those who shared this land, and leave any hostile thoughts out at sea. The imperial had no intention of keeping to these rules, and as soon as the foreigners had a firm foothold in the land, they attacked the Tanoi overlords, attempting to convince the clans that they were under an iron clad rule that allowed them no freedom. The petty magic of their mages had little effect as the might of the Tanoi fell upon them, dragons wiping out whole sections of the armies. The imperials had almost been pushed back to the sea when disaster struck – a troop of imperials had passed undetected through the lands, and made it to the dragon’s breeding grounds, where they slaughtered the defending mothers and Tanoi youths, and through powerful spells, twisted the dragonlings minds, using the inherent magic as their own. These new riders attacked from behind, and the Tanoi, trapped between two fronts, with the dragons naturally unwilling to attack their offspring were gradually worn down. A third front was made by mages, utilising the free magic to boost their skills.

 

Desperate, the king ordered his people into hiding, but they were brutally pursued and wiped out. The king himself continued to rain terror upon the imperials, along with his golden dragon. But one day they were ambushed by a legion of imperials, the emperor’s son included. Archers fired arrows, imbued with magic, at the poor dragon as it lay resting, having been injured only a few days before. The arrows tore through its wings and deep into its sides. This was the first the king knew of the attack, and he awoke with a rage that none could match, slaughtering many men before they finally overwhelmed him with the aid of their mages. The dragon too fought until its last breath, and managed to cook the prince in the process. Only a few men remained out of a hundred, but the king and his mount were dead. It wasn’t long before the entire race of Tanoi were wiped out, betrayed by the people they had once worked to protect. Well, almost entirely. One Tanoi ensured the continuity of his race, leaving a woman pregnant with his child when he was captured. Of course, the imperials were on the lookout for this, and the bloodline was protected only through the vigilance of the tribe that kept the child alive. Of course, other children were found and put to death, even a prince, but a couple of bloodlines continued, thinning as the generations went past, until the carriers didn’t even know what they were, and lost control of much of their magic. It was only recently that the bloodline re-emerged, in you, Arnai. I’m not sure how, but I have a feeling it was due to this safe circle, put in place before the war, while we still had to gain the trust of the clans.”

The End

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