The Spear of Destiny
by Slawomir Rapala
Table of Contents|
Chapter 2 and Chapter 3
appear in this issue.
|chapter 1 of 5|
Dispossessed at an early age, Aezubah has wandered the world in search of vengeance. On arid mountaintops, remote glaciers and burning deserts he has conquered demons from the edge of creation, wicked sorcerers, and evil kings. As a General, he is beloved of all the warriors who follow him.
But his victories are never final; he goes forth again and again with nothing but his horse, spear and sword, in loneliness and solitude, seeking the treasure that always eludes him: peace.
“The Spear of Destiny” recounts an episode early in Aezubah’s career.
’Twas his anger, his heart of stone,|
His hand that launched the spear with hate.
And from that day on, forever more,
Blind darkness ruled the Nekryan day.
Two warriors, both giants known to gods,
Gave birth to a vengeance that lasted years.
And in their hateful, vengeful plots,
They spilled oceans of blood and tears.
— from “The General’s Hymn”
The sun had already traveled much of its path along the cloudless sky. The heat was intense, even by Nekryan standards. The morning breeze that had cooled the merchants on the first leg of the day’s journey was long gone and the merciless sun now scorched the earth with its intense light.
Although the surrounding forest offered some protection against the sun’s deadly rays, the merchants instead suffered the stillness of the humid air, which made the journey even more difficult. Beasts of burden were weary and slow to make their way through the air thick with moisture. But with still much distance to cover before reaching their destination, the small convoy of oxen-drawn farm carts pushed on.
Presently the merchants neared a clearing in the forest. A small man rested atop one of the wagons, carelessly holding the reins with one hand. He had long ago stripped off his sweat-soaked shirt and was now clad only in a pair of dirty britches. His bare feet rested against the wooden floor of the wagon. With his free hand he clutched a small cage close to his chest, as if it were a child. It was covered with a dirty rag and it was impossible to peer inside and see what sort of a pet the man kept.
The wagon he rode was occupied by several more men who lay on the hard floor and rested their heads against the side boards. They cursed from time to time as the wagon traveled over rocks that lay scattered along the road.
“Milo! Mind the oxen, see where they’re going!” one of the men shouted with frustration after the cart rolled over a another bump and his head recoiled off the hard boards. “Stop thinking about your pet monster and mind the gaps!”
“Yeah, yeah,” the driver shook his head indifferently. “Have some more wine, you filthy sot...”
“Whadda ya have there, anyway?” someone else’s interest was stirred by the exchange and the man lifted his head to see better. “What’s in the cage, Milo?”
“Nothing,” the small man was quick to respond. He pressed the cage tighter against his chest and a scowl passed over his face.
“He’s found a lizard of sorts,” the first men explained. “Been feeding and raising it for months.”
“He’s no lizard!” Milo’s face flushed with anger. “Don’t call him that!”
“What is it then?”
The driver fell quiet, concentrating on the road before him.
“He says it’s a dragon,” the first of the men sneered as he reached for a leather bag with the remaining bit of wine they had brought along for the way.
“A dragon?” someone else laughed.
“Little dragon bastard, that’s what he says it is.”
“Been a while since a dragon’s been seen.”
“Shut up, all of you!” Milo let the reins loose and turned to face the men. “What do you know of dragons?”
“Mind the road, Milo!” one of the men quickly scrambled over the boards and reached for the reins. He pulled hard on them and stopped the oxen from leading the heavy farm-cart off the beaten path.
“Haaalt!” he shouted for the convoy to stop.
“What’s going on?” voices were heard.
“Why are we stopping?”
The man threw the reins down with frustration. The heat was intense. With a heavy sigh, he sat beside Milo and peered into his determined face.
“Let me see it!” he demanded, reaching for the rag-covered cage.
“No!” the small man drew back as if in fear, and held the object away from his companion’s greedy hands.
“Let’s see the dragon, let’s see it!” more voices were heard.
“C’mon, little man,” the man reached for the cage again, but Milo fought him off and slipped down to the ground.
More people left the carts now, eager to stretch their bones and quench their thirst. They had traveled a long way over the past few days, covering much ground. Their journey was soon to be over now that they were nearing Arrosah, the capital of Nekrya. It was their final destination, where the merchants hoped to trade the goods they carried for a sizeable profit before returning home.
Milo scuttled away from the men who swarmed him. A dragon, they laughed. There must be gold involved in owning one, they said. The small man ran a few steps forward and turned to face his pursuers.
“Leave me alone!” his voice lost its sharp overtones and now verged on the brink of tears. “Leave him alone, he’s so little...”
The remaining of the sentence never left his mouth and he stumbled forward, as if pushed by an invisible hand. Releasing the cage he had thus far clutched to his breast, Milo dropped to his knees, locking his puzzled and pained eyes with those of his companions who halted before him, just as frightened and vexed. The small man tried to utter a word, but only foamed at the mouth. His eyes rolled back and then he collapsed to the ground. A heavy arrow had pierced his back with such savage force that its hooked tip protruded from his breast.
The stunned merchants gazed for a moment longer at the limp body of their companion and the cage that rolled slowly over the green grass before coming to a halt. The cover slipped and fell, revealing a small and starved creature scrambling to break free from its tiny prison.
In the next moment, the air was filled with dozens of arrows. They left the trees with a quiet whisper and soared towards the merchants with great speed. Cries of pain and fear rose from their throats as the missiles found their marks, and several of the men collapsed to the ground. Some died immediately while others fell wounded, cursing and spitting blood, pulling on the long shafts that protruded from their bloodied limbs.
The rest turned amidst frightened screams and fled for shelter towards their wagons. Their escape was thwarted when a dozen or so men armed to their teeth appeared before them and blocked their path. Wielding swords and battle axes, they charged amidst blood-curdling war cries.
The unarmed merchants had virtually no chance. They were butchered unscrupulously in the quick and uneven struggle that followed. Their pained cries rose to the sky before dying down as the last of the men were murdered. Their corpses lay twisted and hurt, bloodied and defiled by the crude weapons of the savage assassins. The earth was soaked with blood and the trees still carried the echoes of the tortured screams.
The murderers busied themselves rummaging through the carts and stripping the corpses off clothes and jewelry. They exchanged merry jokes and laughed as they found more riches and goods hidden beneath the double-floors of the seemingly poor merchant caravan.
The merchants had taken all the normal precautions against bandits and thugs, having exchanged their usually rich garments for farmers’ clothes and masking their wagons as farm-carts. But this seasoned band of pirates was not easily deceived by appearances, and as they continued their meticulous search, they were more and more pleased with the loot.
A tall, slim warrior left the group and approached the spot where Milo’s limp and broken body lay like a ragged doll left behind. The man bent over the corpse and examined the spot where the arrow pierced the merchant’s breast. A smile lingered on the murderer’ face as he straightened his back. The missile had struck the heart.
The man’s gaze rested on the small cage that lay a few steps away, where it rolled to a halt after Milo had dropped it. The small creature locked inside it was nearly dead from fright and fatigue, but it fought to regain its freedom. The man watched it with interest for a few moments, before one of the thugs called him back. “Aezubah! We found the gold!”
The thug nodded with satisfaction and turned to walk away, leaving the cage behind. But then he changed his mind and picked it up. He raised it to the level of his eyes and twirled it around in his fingers, holding it by the hook fixed to its top.
Aezubah watched the frightened reptile with growing interest. The small animal was so weary now that it had no more strength to struggle and simply collapsed to the floor of the cage. Its breath was quick and the thug could see its small heart beating fast beneath the hard dragon scales.
“Strange,” he muttered to himself, before turning on his heels and returning to his companions. He held the cage in his left hand and kept it away from his body. On the way, he picked up a dirty rag which he had spotted in the grass and used it to cover the cage, bringing darkness back to the world of the frightened creature.
“We’re done here,” Aezubah said as he approached his men. “Load one cart with whatever goods you can, leave the rest!”
“There’s so much here!” one of the thugs wailed in protest.
Aezubah drew his brows together. “Then you stay and stuff your arse with it, you fool!” his voice was sharp. “We’re too close to Arrosah, we must leave! Unless you want to have a taste of the executioner’s fire and sword?”
No one else protested and the men busied themselves loading the wagon. They gathered four oxen to pull the heavy vehicle and soon they were ready.
“What’s that?” one of the thugs asked, pointing to the small, rag-covered object which Aezubah held in his hand.
“Nothing,” the man said firmly, ending any discussion before it had even begun. He commanded so much respect among his men, that no one else expressed any interest or paid any heed to the strange object in his possession.
As the group slowly disappeared in the thick Nekryan forest, Aezubah remained behind. With one last look he took in what remained of the merchant caravan: twisted and naked corpses, half-ruined and emptied carts, scattered beasts of burden grazing the grass on a nearby clearing, the blood-stained dirt road, and small pools of blood slowly seeping into the earth. He expressed no emotion at the sight of the carnage. Instead, he simply turned and disappeared amidst the trees.
Copyright © 2006 by Slawomir Rapala