Shadows of Forever
by Bryce V. Giroux
Table of Contents|
They came one evening without warning.
Great ships of wood and iron appeared on the eastern edge of the world, beacons of mystical light beaming high on their masts.
Léod of Glærn was the first to see the signs in the east. Joy filled his heart. The gods, who had left them long ago to fight the Holy Wars, had returned at last. The village Elder sat alone on the beach, watching the gods’ ships approach the harbor. When the ships got close enough so he could see their billowing sails with their blue crosses, he stood. He whistled as he returned to his hut to change.
Padraig, the fifteen-year-old Smith’s apprentice, sat at a table reading a hefty book. Léod smiled at the young man. He would make a distinguished Elder someday. He had excelled at all his studies and had even shown interest in joining guard. “It would serve the village well to have a constable as the Elder,” the boy often said. “Hunting bandits and wayward predators are no place for the Elder,” Léod would constantly remind him.
“Magnificent times are upon us, Padraig. The gods have returned. At last, after over two centuries of waiting, Nin Colaim shall walk among us again. Quickly, lad, tell your master that they have returned. Tell him to retrieve Moradon. Tell him to polish it. The sword must be ready for its return to Nin Colaim’s hand.”
The lad dashed from the hut, shouting to the awakening village, “They’ve returned! They’ve returned: Nin Colaim, Nin Brigte, Nin Pitair! They have returned. The gods have come home.”
Léod guffawed at the youth. Had he the energy, he too would be dancing in the square. The Elder rubbed his head. “Now, where did I put my dress kilt?”
Within an hour, the entire village — about a hundred and fifty men, women and children — had gathered on the beach to watch the ships in the harbor. There was much talk in the crowd about the return of Nin Colaim. Many gossiped of the wielding of Moradon.
“Make way. Make way.” Léod pushed through the crowd. Never before had the entire village turned out to an event. Léod felt a little nervous standing before the crowd. He adjusted his red-and-black tartan kilt in an awkward motion. Licking his palm, he combed back his long gray hair, his stomach full of butterflies. Still, he assured himself, it was his right, his responsibility to stand here.
He looked back at the sea, then back to the crowd. He shook his head. “Padraig boy, where are you, lad? The shore boats have already left the galleons. Nin Colaim will be on shore shortly. He will want Moradon when he lands.”
Padraig broke free from the crowd. “I’m sorry, Master Léod.” He clutched a parcel close to his chest, black satin cloth bound with golden cord wrapped around a hidden sheath. “The Smith polished and honed it.” He panted. “He said that a momentous occasion such as this shouldn’t be a cause for rush, but for patience. He wanted Moradon to be primed for Nin Colaim.” Padraig bowed his head and extended his arms saying, “Glory to Nin Colaim.” Padraig presented Léod the package.
The Elder bowed his head. “Glory to Nin Colaim; and may his kingdom rise again under Moradon’s justice.” Licking his thumb, Léod pressed it to his forehead.
The crowd chanted in unison: “Glory to Nin Colaim.” Each villager made the symbol Nin Colaim had taught them many years ago: They licked their thumbs to represent the word of Nin Colaim on their lips, then pressed them to their foreheads, representing that the word shall be on their minds. All except Padraig, who still stood with his head bowed, arms extended.
Léod relieved Padraig of his burden. Padraig made the sign of Nin Colaim. Léod untied the knot, revealing the sword. He marveled at the wondrous weapon he held. It was purported to be five thousand years old, yet the wooden sheath looked new. Nin Colaim had carved back the wilds of the lands with this blade, making a haven for his people. This sword had charged into more battles than Léod could count, slaying armies the size of thousands of villages. The artifact held immeasurable power in Nin Colaim’s hands. To the people, it served as the symbol of peace in the land of Ægrin.
Léod wiped a tear from his eye. His frail fingers stroked the polished black wood of the sheath. As he gazed deep into the brilliant Ruby of Justice sparkling in the pommel, he was tempted to unsheathe the sword. He remembered protocol when he glanced at the crowd.
The scribes wrote that only Nin Colaim might draw the brand. Nin Colaim had decreed, before he left for the Holy War, that only his priests, the Smiths of the Sacred Anvil, sworn to the Sacred Anvil that forged Moradon — of which Colban, the town Smith, was a member — might touch it; only then in preparation for his return. The Smiths swore that they would not speak of what they saw.
Léod respected the wishes of the gods. His fingertips traced down the black iron hilt to its sheath. Visions of him holding Moradon high above his head, the crowd cheering his name, flashed in his head. No. He had to respect the will of Nin Colaim or suffer the fate of the Last Climb up the Red Mountain.
He turned his back to face the sea. A gentle breeze played with his hair. He wept inside. Their Lonely Time was over. The gods had returned.
“There,” the crowd gasped as one.
A black shore boat crested a wave, its occupants visible. A man dressed in golden armor stood at the prow, one foot on the side, his arm resting on his knee. His head, too, shone of gold. A red crest of hair rose from the top. Behind him, an ermine standard waved in the sea air. Léod could see no other details. Soon Nin Colaim would be home.
“Nin Colaim.” Léod realized there was no one near to hear him whisper.
Eight men in white robes rowed the boat, their backs to him. In spite of this, he could tell that they were taller than average. Their heads were long and had no sign of hair. Their skin was a dark shade of grey. The villagers could hear the rowers’ grunts from the beach as the thrust the oars into the waves.
Two other warriors stood at the stern of the boat. Their chain-mail armor glittered of silver. Beneath their mail, Léod could make out red robes that fell just above their knees.
Léod leaned to Padraig. “Those are Nin Pitair, and Nin Brigte. Nin Micheil and Nin Eascoib must have stayed on the ships with the others.” Léod remembered that the Chief of Gods always traveled with his brother, Nin Pitair and sister, Nin Brigte. These were surely them. The armor, Léod guessed, must have been spoils of war.
Léod swallowed when the boat reached shore. Two of the tall rowers leapt out — their deeply set black eyes peered from smooth tattooed faces — to steady the boat. Léod’s head barely met their shoulders. When Nin Colaim stepped off the boat, Léod saw the stark contrast between him and the tall rowers. He was willowy, almost as if he had not the strength to wield Moradon. Strapped across his back was a broad sword with a silver hilt.
Padraig dropped to one knee. He bowed his head low in the presence of the god, the villagers of Glærn following his lead, except for Léod, who stood trembling with Moradon held at arm’s length. The crowd chanted prayers to the gods behind him.
“Glory to-” his words fell short. His heart panicked when he saw the figure he regarded as Nin Colaim remove his helmet. The warrior’s wispy hair danced about his shoulders. His eyes were brilliant violet. His ears ended in points above his hairline. This was not Nin Colaim. This was not even human.
The being uttered something in a strange language. Léod stood staring at the odd warrior; the blood had left his face. He clutched Moradon close to his chest. “Who are you?”
The warrior spoke more strange words. He turned to the other two and spoke again. The female, not Nin Brigte, stepped forward. She saluted by pressing her fist to her chest.
She took the flag from the boat. When she returned, she held it toward her leader. He took it and nodded his head. He drove the shaft deep into the sandy beach. Raising his head and arms to the skies, he spoke again. The others responded in unison.
The shock had now worn off the villagers as they began to whisper to each other. Léod tugged Padraig to his feet and whispered in the lad’s ear, “I sense something foul, boy. Take Moradon. Return him to his sanctuary.”
Padraig gathered the sword from the Elder. Without a word, he disappeared into the crowd, back toward the chapel.
Léod cleared his throat, and ran his hands through his wiry hair. He turned to the first being. “Greetings wise visitors from beyond the sea.”
The stranger stared at the Elder.
“I am Master Léod, Elder of Glærn.” Léod pressed his hand to his chest. He got a blank stare in response. “I welcome you to our village.”
The stranger spoke. Léod could not understand a word. The two who stood behind the stranger stepped forward, stopping on each side, the female on the left and the male on the right. The male shouted an order to the tall rowers. They responded with a bow. The rowers began hastily unloading crates from the boats. The leader uttered more strange words to Léod.
Léod responded with a tentative smile. This did not impress the leader. He spoke again, his tone harsh. This time, Léod caught the word “Vreshik.” Léod thought for a moment; the word was familiar to him. Something he had learned in his studies. He’d studied many things in his years.
His memory returned: In his days as a lad, he had apprenticed for a short period under an eminent lore master. In his studies, he had learned of an ancient empire that had once passed by this land. The only evidence of their presence was a hefty tome of which a majority of the pages was illegible. Only one phrase was prominent throughout the tome, which was “Talin vreshik.” The meaning had eluded the lore master, but he presumed it was a reference to some kind of deity, for also prominent throughout the tome were drawings of a well-armored man with “Talin” written below. There must somehow be a relation between these strangers and that ancient empire.
* * *
Padraig, ragged of breath, reached the chapel; the large stone building dominated the center of the market square. He stared at its oak doors. The only sound he could hear was his heart pounding deep in his chest. Waves of terror washed over him. The sword would not be safe behind those doors. No, he had to take it far away.
A hand fell on his shoulders. He jumped in fear and gripped the hilt. Ready for a fight, Padraig spun around. The red-haired butcher’s daughter beamed at him. “Curse you, Mairgie. Don’t ever sneak up on me like that again.”
Mairghraed giggled. “What do you have there, Paddie?” she asked, her sparkling brown eyes fixed on the sword.
If Padraig could have clutched it closer, he would have. “That’s none of your concern.” His eyes narrowed. “Why aren’t you on the beach with everyone else?”
Mairghraed shrugged. “Gods arriving don’t interest me much, I guess. Why aren’t you?”
“I was. Only, it’s not Nin Colaim.” His attention turned to the path to the beach. He could hear the crowd making its way back to the village. He grabbed Mairghraed by the wrist. He darted into a merchant’s booth, yanking Mairghraed with her. “Come on,” he whispered. He crouched down behind the counter, pulling Mairghraed down as well.
“What by Pitair’s Anvil is going on?” She began to stand up.
The youth pulled her down. “Hush. Keep your head down. We don’t want them to find us.”
“Who are you taking about?”
Padraig poked his head up. He saw Léod walking beside the white-haired leader, ushering him toward the chapel. What was Léod doing? Why bring them to the chapel?
“Everyone thought the strangers were the gods, returned to us. When Nin Colaim, or who we thought was Nin Colaim, removed his helmet, we saw it was not him. At least that he did not look like the portraits. He didn’t even look like us.”
“What do you mean?”
Padraig saw Léod’s eyes fix on him. Léod’s eyes were wide, his skin pale. Léod mouthed, “Go.”
Padraig ducked down. “Well, his hair is white.”
“He has been gone a long time, you know. Maybe he’s aged.”
“Nin Colaim doesn’t age. His eyes are purple.”
“Yes. And, his ears are pointed.”
“Yes. Do you have to repeat everything? Now, listen; Léod sensed something wrong about these strangers. He told me to return Moradon to the altar. Only, when I got to the chapel, I felt sick and uneasy, like it was the wrong thing to do.”
“So, what are you going to do? Just steal a religious artifact and run away?”
“What can I do? Léod did not trust the looks of these people. If they get hold of Moradon, the king would be in real trouble. They could conquer all of Ægrin. I’ll have to take the sword to the king myself. There, it will be safe. If they are invaders from a strange world, King Drustan will be able to fend them off.”
“King Drustan can’t wield the sword, fool.”
“Why can’t he?”
“Because the Holy Book says that none shall wield Moradon except for Nin Colaim.”
“Who’s the apprentice Smith here?” Padraig grinned. “Besides, it says in the Book of Tova that, ‘The Heir to the Power shall know no enemies with Moradon by his side’. King Drustan is the direct descendant of Nin Colaim.”
”That’s if you only follow his male descendants.”
“If you follow Nin Brigte’s lineage, the female lineage, you’ll see that Lady Éua is her descendant.”
“Nin Brigte isn’t the Chief of Gods, is she? Listen, I don’t want to argue with you about this.”
“Besides, I think we should go to Éuarægh rather than Drustanrægh, since it’s closer.”
“What do you mean ‘we’? You don’t expect to tag along with me, do you?”
“You expect me to stay in the village with those strangers? Besides, if what you’re saying is true, and the long-ears are here to invade, and that giving Moradon to the king would save us, I don’t want a man hogging all the glory.” Mairghraed poked her head up. “If we’re going to leave, we better do it now. Everyone is in the chapel, probably to ‘gaze upon Moradon’. They’ll be out as quick as can be once they don’t see it there.”
Padraig looked deep into Mairghraed’s eyes. There was no way he could leave her here to face those strangers, not alone, not without him. “Fine, Mairgie. If your father finds out, Colban’ll have my hide for sure. You can come with me as far as Éuarægh, but that’s it. You’ll be safer there than you are here for sure.”
Both Padraig and Mairghraed dashed out of the booth. They took cover in a small grove on the edge of the square. They traveled unseen to a grassy field through the grove. Behind them, in the village, they heard shouts and screams. Padraig’s heart sank when he heard Léod shout, “Run, lad. Run! They are after you. Don’t let them find you.”
Padraig froze in fear. Run. The word echoed in his head. He could not move.
“Padraig, come on!” Mairghraed’s screaming voice snapped him back. She sounded terrified, scared. Just like him.
He spun. His feet crashed on the ground. The sword weighed heavy in his arms.
He ran, kicked, and thrashed his way through the green field, staying close behind Mairghraed. His body felt light. The sword felt heavy.
“I am!” He was too terrified to say more.
They ran until they reached Gallim Creek. “We need to rest.” Panting, Padraig collapsed to the ground.
Mairghraed paced. “It’s all right,” she gasped. “I don’t think they’re following us.” She turned to Padraig, who was adjusting the sword belt around his waist. “What are you doing?”
Padraig turned his head back to her. His eyes were narrow, lips tight. “I am not hauling the sword around in my arms the whole way. If you don’t like me wearing it, then you carry it.” The lad bent down and splashed some cold creek water on his face. “Now which way do we go, O Wise One?”
“Well, Drustanrægh is north of here, on the King’s High Road. Éuarægh is north and east on the coast. They will be looking for us on the way to Drustanrægh. We’d do best to head to Éuarægh, where the fair Lady can give us a proper escort to Drustanrægh.”
“So which way is east?”
Copyright © 2006 by Bryce V. Giroux