11: Old GhostsMature

“Jarrah, you’re ill,” Oliana said.  “There’s a healing spring nearby, or so I’m told.  We should go there first, and then you can tell me everything.”

“Healing springs do not help when the problem comes from being old,” Jarrah chuckled.  Another wheezy series of coughs made their defiant journey up and out of his aged lungs.

“He’s right; we can’t help him,” Ghillie added.  “He is in the winter season of his life.”

“I would like to just sit here and unload an old man’s burdens,” Jarrah insisted, finding a worn stump and propping his spotted knuckles atop his cane.  “I know that Dechar is not with you.  Would that I could tell him the truth, for I owe it to him most of all,” he sighed.  “My story begins when your father was just a young man.”

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Link to end of flashback: http://www.protagonize.com/story/the-bandit-queen/250976

BEGIN PROLOGUE/FLASHBACK

Prince Zolan rode out on his steed to greet the balmy summer wind.  He was wont to find an escape in nature at times like this.  His older brother by less than an hour, King Gillireth, had been on the warpath.  Expansion! Zolan could hear him say.  If Eirethstead is to thrive for generations to come, we need to secure more resources, and that means--

Expansion, Zolan thought.  But at what cost?  Why make war when Eirethstead could gain allies?  That helps the kingdom, too.

He had played the conversation over in his head what seemed like a thousand times.  Nothing could sway Gillireth.  The latest of the king’s campaigns involved attacking an extensive kingdom to the northeast owned by the Dechi, a very mysterious race with magic running through their veins.  They used great warbeasts, giant greywolves, to help them fight.  They had cost Gillireth’s kingdom many lives, but he stopped at nothing.  The coast lies at the far end of the Dechi kingdom, he liked to point out to Zolan.  The ocean is the richest resource of them all!

Zolan returned to the tents that had been pitched at the edge of a field.  He entered the largest to find his fresh-faced brother pouring over war maps.

“Zolan!” he cried cheerfully.  “Tomorrow.  Tomorrow is the day we bring these savages to their knees.”  He called any and every other people savages.  “Jarrah says so,” he gestured.  “Isn’t that right, old man?”

Jarrah sat in the corner and faked a smile to confirm, then went back to squinting at his tome.  As the king’s mystic counsellor, it was his responsibility to reach where others could not and divine truths that had not yet come to pass.

“I’ll just be glad to have this business over with,” Zolan said.  “When you have the coast, will you then be satisfied?”

“Satisfied?  I am a beast that is never sated,” he smiled.

“I’m serious, brother!”

“Really, you must stop calling me that,” Gillireth insisted.  “I am king now, and if the men hear you calling me ‘brother,’ they will not take my authority to heart.  Now please, leave me to study these maps.  I will see you on the battlefield.  Tomorrow is the day of our glory!”

Zolan left the tent hesitantly.  Tomorrow is the day of a thousand men’s deaths, he thought.

Morning arrived, and the great army had amassed as a line in the midst of the field.  Their enemy was there, too, sporting red flags with the insignia of a white wolf’s head on their speared lances.  They were small in number, an encouraging note in Zolan’s mind.

A moment of pause, and Gillireth cried out the order to charge.  His brother rode next to him.  Both wielded swords with which they had slain many enemies before this day.  The Dechi released an arrow strike, which Zolan narrowly blocked with his shield.  Then he let his horse gallop into the throng of footmen ahead of him.  Before he knew it, he had lost his brother in the fray.

It was not long after that a black beast locked eyes with Zolan, rising from its fresh kill, bearing its teeth.  Before Zolan had time to react, the wolf had clamped its teeth deep into his horse’s neck.  The animal tried to resist, but the powerful jaws of the greywolf could not be persuaded.  The horse fell to the ground, leaving Zolan very much exposed.  He glanced around him to seek out help, but all the others were occupied.  He could see some of them desperately trying to gang up on powerful mages who could teleport to their next enemy and strike them with intensely powerful blows.  For a moment Zolan considered just how little he knew about this mighty enemy.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Zolan heard a bitter voice say.  “Magic.”

He quickly spun around to see the black wolf wearing what looked like a smile.

It tread slowly over to Zolan, who had yet to get up from his fall.  “Shame you won’t get to see more of it,” the wolf said before it leapt toward Zolan.  The young man had reacted quickly, launching his sword into the beast’s mouth and through its body.  He was now crushed beneath it, barely able to breathe.

A great sound rose up from the battlefield, which Zolan recognized as the howling of many greywolves.  The Dechi were signaling their surrender.

Eventually, Zolan could hear footsteps approaching.  “It seems you’ve killed the Alpha, brother,” he could hear Gillireth’s voice.  “Well done.  Now let’s get that off of you, shall we?”

The giant corpse was painfully rolled off of Zolan, revealing his pale countenance.  “It spoke,” he said.

The End

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