Chapter 20: Relics from the Past
by Julian Lawler
Table of Contents|
Chapter 19 appeared
in issue 141.
The Conquest. To many of the people from the Nations, the Conquest had never happened. The Conquest was an event of such a grand scale it was an ungraspable notion. The peoples of the Nations lived their lives never believing for once that whole cities were burned to the ground by an angry, riotous mob the size of a city larger than any that existed in the modern world.
But the Conquest lived in myth and in legend. The Nations were dotted by relics of the past. The remains of structures — so big they must have been giants — rose out of the long abandoned woods like bones. Castles, so vast and awesome it would take a hundred men a month to completely search it out, rose out of some of the highest peaks men had ever reached like silent guardians.
And then there were the cemeteries.
Historians knew the Conquest had happened. They knew as well as the sky was blue. Philosophers, scholars, and historians alike had the books and the documents of what had transpired. But to the common man, and only to those who believed, the cemeteries were proof enough.
Cemeteries existed in various parts of the Nations that stretched as far as the eye could see. Some of these cemeteries contained more graves than some of the largest capitals in the Nations had of citizens; cemeteries that were made on the spots where some of the largest battles in history had taken place; places where men had died by the hundred thousands.
Men, women, historians, and philosophers alike could not refute the fact that the Conquest had taken place once they laid eyes upon these grave sites.
And it was into one of these god-forsaken places that Ereen, Ventra, Alguin, Aurin, and Ivan found themselves stumbling into from the bushes of the ravine.
The sight was enough to make them stop in their tracks despite being pursued. Monuments to the dead stood before them as far as the eye could see. Stones lay scattered here and there with ancient inscriptions that no historian could decipher because nature and time had eroded them. Symbols from past beliefs and gods adorned headstones, a lasting legacy of a dead custom.
“It appears to go straight up into the mountains,” stated Ivan.
Aurin shook his head solemnly. “What could have made so many people die in one place like this?”
“It is a relic from the Conquest,” explained Ivan. “We may be the first to lay eyes upon this place in a thousand years.”
“Some of the writings on these stones is beyond our age, from a time before Nomen existed,” proclaimed Alguin, as he inspected some of the blurred epitaphs.
The sound of footprints snapped them out of their surprise. They had forgotten all about their plan. It was too late to do what they had set out to do.
“Maybe we should move further in,” stated the old lady. “We can try to dodge them among the grave stones. Maybe we can lose them entirely.”
Ivan nodded. “That’s a good idea. Let’s go.”
The band of companions darted away through the city-sized cemetery, making their way like rats being tested in an experimental maze. They ran past sites half sunk into the ground, where hollowed ground had given in to time and age. They ran over uprooted trees and past broken symbols and tipped-over headstones, all in a struggle to put distance between themselves and King Alias’ men.
The land dipped before them and they followed the lay of the land, letting it guide them almost as if it had a will of its own.
Behind them, they heard the shouts of men bursting through the edge of the ravine. They hoped their surprise at what they found would stall them for a moment.
Within minutes, the sound of footsteps could be heard. Ivan reached over and took Ventra from Ereen’s grasp when she began to lag a little.
Within moments, the arrows began to fly. Ivan had to duck once as a shaft hit a headstone and splintered, sending a piece of broken wood ricocheting and hitting the side of his head.
Alguin, speaking softly beneath his breath, turned to face his pursuers and a flash off light quickly emanated around the group in a complete circle. The bright light cut everything in its path in half within a thirty-yard radius. Headstones fell apart and two of King Alias’ men went down beneath their horses after the beasts were cut in half.
“Damn,” complained the Light Bearer. “I misjudged the distance.”
“Let’s go,” commanded Ivan. “You did what you could. That’s two less we have to worry about.”
As they ran, King Alias’ men started gaining on them. Ivan could tell the five of them weren’t going to hold out for very much longer. Quickly, he turned to the side. The group followed suit like a herd. Unsheathing his sword, he jumped on top of a gravestone.
“Down!” he ordered. This better work, he thought darkly. As he imagined, arrows were let fly and they came down on him like rain from the heavens.
Swiftly and deftly, he dodged four and cut two down right in front of his chest. And then he attacked. As he ran towards his enemies, he took quick count of all the men. Nine, seven on horseback and two on foot. His actions took Alias’ men by surprise and he took full advantage of it.
It took him fifteen steps to close the distance. The first man, on foot, met his demise trying to knock an arrow. Following the blow, Ivan quickly pierced the side of a horse. The rider went down with a yell. The second man on foot came at him quickly, and with the experience of a trained soldier. Ivan took him down with a quick parry and a thrust.
The Iinnin Lodar was mildly aware of an arrow hitting and piercing his arm. He felt a flash of light and a rider was sent flying off his horse to land on top of a gravestone. Judging by the way the man’s back was bent Ivan knew the man would not be getting up.
Two men on horse came at him and he slashed at them. He barely squeezed out of being caught between beasts. As he parried one thrust from above, he ducked beneath the opposite rider’s horse and cut its belly. He rolled to keep from being pinned beneath the animal.
As he came up, he was relieved to find Aurin piercing a rider on the side. It was not a killing blow, but it was effective enough to drop the man from his horse. The man from Nomen jumped on a headstone and parried a thrust from another rider and delivered a killing blow to the same man’s neck all in mid-air.
Keeping mind of the rider at his back, Ivan turned quickly. He met an arrow with his shoulder. The blow sent him staggering and the pain drove him to his knees. The loss of blood from his earlier wound threatened to knock him out.
Ivan fought his wave of dizziness and watched as the rider confidently approached him. King Alias’ men would enjoy their first kill, soon.
The rider never saw the rock that took him in back of the head. With a groan, the man slumped over on his horse.
Ivan was quick to finish the job.
Aurin finished the last rider with relative ease by severing the horse’s legs with a clean, deft sword cut.
It was only then that he allowed himself to sit down on a tree stump, probably cut down in the days of the Conquest, to rest.
* * *
Ivan awoke to the sound of a crackling fire. The next thing he registered was the heat: a slow spreading of warmth across his body. Then came the pain. He immediately opened his eyes to find that the pain could have been worse. It was more of a soreness sensation that he felt instead of a sharp pain arising from the holes in his body.
Ereen noticed he had come awake. She quickly came over to him and mad him drink from a flask of water. The water was cool to his throat. He didn’t realize he had been this thirsty. How long had he been asleep? On second thought, he didn’t remember ever lying down to rest.
“How long?” he asked.
“About six hours, Ivan.” she replied. She quickly went to work redressing his wounds. “I gave you something to dull the pain. Unfortunately, it made you sleep longer than was needed.”
It was then he waited for the anger to come, the slow hatred he had come to loathe in himself because he had no control over it. As he waited for it to come, he realized it was getting dark. They had lost most of the day.
“We have to get moving,” he said. Where are the others? Where were his bags and his things? No one could know that he had two notes, identically sealed notes that belonged to the king, and only one was supposed to exist. No one was to know, not until he knew what in the world was going on.
She shook her head. “It would not be wise to move you until morning. Your arm is severely injured.” She touched his arm tenderly. “It will heal cleanly. I made sure that any infection was burned out.”
“What did you use to clean the wounds?” He tried to move his arm. To her credit, his arm didn’t hurt. It felt quite good.
“I used bits of mold I scraped off some mushrooms nearby,” she explained. “It helps the wound heal faster, and it numbs the pain while it is doing it. It would help if you ate something.”
He wasn’t sure how sanitary that sounded to him as she helped him to his feet. “What is there to eat, and where are the others?”
“We are eating mushroom soup.” She smiled. It was the first time he had seen her do such a thing. “As for the others, they are scouting ahead. They don’t want to run into any more of the king’s men. I think they are thinking of cutting a path north from here, to skirt the mountains and reach Geamehn within the next week.” Ivan nodded his approval. “I think that sounds like a good plan. The traveling will be slow, but we should be able to keep ourselves hidden. I am not sure I like the idea of traveling next to the Raven’s Reach, but I guess we have no choice at this point. We will have to decide our course of action when we reach Geamehn.”
“I think it would be wise to scout the city first before we get too close.”
Ivan nodded his agreement. “We will have to make sure that we can still come within the city without getting attacked or arrested. After that we will have to gain entrance through one of its gates. Then we will have to think about who to contact.”
The old lady looked around for a second. “We will come to that when we get there.”
She was right, he knew. “Where is the child and how is she doing?” he asked.
“Ventra is sleeping right on the other side of this tree.” She reached for a sack and grabbed a wooden bowl and a spoon. She pulled the lid off a small pot and proceeded to pour him some of her fresh soup. “I am trying to get her to come out of her catatonic state. But it is proving difficult.”
“I can only imagine what that would have done to me if I was her age.” He thanked her with a nod as he took the bowl and stirred the contents with the spoon. The aroma smelled delicious and he felt his stomach growl with hunger.
A look of horror crossed her features. “I knew all those people. They were my friends and family. What could make the dead come back to life? There are few who have such power, none that are alive today. The forces of the world are becoming more aggressive and they mean to destroy us. It will be a bloodbath before we are done with all of this.”
Ivan couldn’t bring himself to say anything that would make a difference. It was a soldier’s lot to lose friends and family. If a man couldn’t muster the harsh realities of life, then he had no business carrying a sword. Instead, he changed the subject. “What happened to the bodies of the fallen soldiers?”
His question brought the lady back out of the memory of the night.
“Aurin and the Light Bearer buried them. They didn’t want to leave them out like that as cadavers for scavengers to find. Besides, there is something unholy about leaving the dead out to rot.”
“Speaking of the rotting dead,” he said and then took a mouth full of mushroom soup. He wiped his chin as broth spilled down his chin. “You said something about a ghost speaking to your child. I have never heard of anything like that. So you will have to explain a bit.”
Ereen came over to a nearby headstone and sat down. “There was a ghost speaking to Ventra earlier, but I am not sure who or what it was because we were attacked before I could figure it out.”
“Is such a thing really possible?” He took another mouthful of soup and bit down on a piece of plump mushroom.
Ereen watched him for a second as he enjoyed her soup. “We are in a cemetery the size of Geamehn, Ivan. Like it or not, this is a city. Cities are meant to have things live in them. What better to live here than a ghost?”
Ivan looked around at all the headstones poking their heads out of the ground. The sight was still staggering. How many graves were out here? There had to be thousands. It was daunting to think that so many people could have died at once. He could picture the dying littered across the forest floor like pieces of wood after a flood. “The dead have certainly made a palace of this place,” he said.
“They certainly have,” she agreed. “It will take us days to get out.”
“As long as we head north,” he said, “we should be able to avoid the king’s men, skirt the Raven’s Reach and be in Geamehn before too long. I need Aurin and Alguin to come back to camp. I would like to move a little north before it gets completely dark.”
He scanned the area once again and found himself getting caught up in the loneliness of the place. The fact that no one knew this cemetery was here gave him the chills. How could so many people be forgotten by time and space? Ivan had read many history books, he had received an education before joining the Iinnin Lodar, and he could not recall anything of this magnitude being so close to his home.
He reached out to a nearby stone and brushed away the dust and overgrowth. He was surprised that he could read it. It was written in the common tongue. It read:
Gerrin Hsendorf RIP Survived by Damien Hsendorf 2 days after Conquest
Ivan lost himself in the engravings. The carvings were written in an old style, probably one that hadn’t been seen in over a hundred years. Who was Gerrin Hsendorf? Had the man believed in the Conquest? Did the individual who was buried here truly understand the magnitude of what he was doing? Come to think of it, whom had Gerrin Hsendorf fought for? Did he burn books to the gods above for the sake of a purpose and a belief that would throw man into the dark ages for generations? Or had Gerrin Hsendorf resolutely defended the tyrants of old?
Ivan wondered how many more names he would find out there. Was his name out there somewhere, lost among the dead? Who had his ancestors fought for? It didn’t matter, he told himself. He carried the name now; he fought for Palance Demondread, and he would kill Alias Demondread if he had to. There was no doubt in his mind where his alliances stood. Somehow he knew that no spell would ever make him go against that principle.
“Look at the dates on this headstone,” he said. “They are in the common language we have today.”
Ereen stooped over from her sitting position. “You are kidding, right? I can’t read that headstone and I know over six different languages.”
Ivan nodded his head. “I don’t like to joke around, lady. Come over here and look at these markings properly. You’ll see that they are written in the common tongue. It is clearly in the language of today.”
Ereen looked at him strangely. “Ivan, those markings look like chicken scratch. I might not know what it reads, but I can tell you that those markings are southern, possibly Mor’Sham in descent. That language has not been spoken in over a thousand years.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Julian Lawler