Glanderxe – Chapter 4

Making my way across through the forest I bade farewell to the memory of my late father, who was buried in that same field at the back end of town where he had died.  There was no sense in dwelling on the past.  Neither my father nor Farah were coming back to me.  I left them behind, turning to what lay before me.  The tall trees of the Mhoarid forest stretched high above my head as I made my way in silence.  It did not seem as foreboding as the tales had wished me to believe.  That seemed to be the way of things in the grand city.  Tales were of plenty, but truth was few.  Not too many were interested in what went on outside those walls, and those that did were involved in matters of politics and thus their duty was for the Coessarde as a whole.

The small towns and forests were left untouched except by the tales of men and women, often aided by a little drink.  It was good to get out and see things for myself.  I shouldn’t be so harsh on my new-found neighbours.  I knew nothing of life outside Coere Ghante until fortune brought me to the great city.  At least I had room to dream.  As a child I often wondered what it was like in the great city and even beyond.  Those of a higher class than I were afforded the luxuries of education and knowledge of the histories of the land.  Myself without such enlightenment, the land stretched before me as a blank canvas, ready to be discovered.  Not that it seemed so open at the moment.  The trees crowded around me, seemingly watching my every move.  But what did I care what trees thought?  They could watch me all they liked.

My march through the forest was disappointingly uneventful.  Not that I wished my journey to become difficult so close to its onset, but after all of the grand tales of ghosts and the like, one can imagine the let down such an ordinary trek could afford.  As the sun began to grow dim, I saw no end to the trees before me.  It was said that the great Mhoarid was a days journey deep and countless many more in length, however, having travelled all day the end was not in sight.  It had always been a wonder to me who counted the journey?  Was it a days journey on foot or horseback, and if horseback would it be a gallop, trot, or mere saunter?  Regardless, the days journey had obviously been recorded by someone of greater speed than myself.  It could be that because of the tales of the forest many chose a swifter pace than had been my preference of the day.

The trees seemed to grow closer and closer as the light continued to fade.  There was no sense in travelling through the night.  The journey would be long and I needed my strength for the following day.  Dismounting, I proceeded a short distance into the trees before tethering my horse.  Firewood was easy to find in the surroundings which I found myself, and soon I warmed myself by the comfort of the flames.  As the night grew darker and air colder, the heat was welcome.  I pulled a map from my pack and began examining it.  Never having been past the great bridge I had little knowledge of what might lie ahead of me on the road.  It would be best to be as prepared as I could.  I followed the road with my finger as it went through the Mhoarid forest northward toward Dete Plych after which it veered to the west.  This would be my first stop.  There was no way of knowing how long it would take to get there.  Once I was out of the trees I would have a better idea of my surrounding.  Perhaps tomorrow would afford me with such luxury.

As the fire began to die down my thoughts turned to Miranda.  I didn’t want to think about where she would be tonight.  It worried me, not knowing where she was, or more importantly, who she was with.  Not that my presence in the city would change that.  I knew naught of her whereabouts most nights, but the change in scenery made me especially astute to such facts.  It seemed no matter where my mind would wander it would cause dismay.  If it not be Farah or father, it would be mother or sister.  This journey will be quite lonely and ultimately unpleasant if I’m to be left with naught but my thoughts.

The sound of the wolves in the distance brought back remembrance of that night so long ago which left mother a widow and myself without a father.  Even after all these years, fear went down my spine at every wolf cry and the baying of a hound.  Though renewal of strength was my goal, I did not attain it.  The canine cries left me to sleep with one eye open and my mind racing.  As I saw the sun begin to peek through the treetops, it could not have come too soon.  The sound of wolves departed with the morning light and some sense of comfort returned to me.  Though the night was as uneventful as the day previous, my emotions were at a high from the incessant howling which accompanied the woods.

Today’s goal would be to leave these blessed trees behind.  They lacked any tale-worthy nature by day, but night allowed the wolves to prowl much more than I had become accustomed to.  The luxuries of living in Glanderxe had gotten the better of me.  Not a sound was heard in my quarters inside those castle walls.  It surprised me how jarring the sound of a howling wolf would be after all these years.

I doused the fire in a manner suitable as to not cause the coals to erupts once again into flame, which being left unattended could result in a catastrophe that no one wished to be responsible for.  After watering my horse, I mounted once again to continue through the trees.  It was about noon by the time I reached the edge of the forest.  The sun on my face, unobscured by the branches, was a comfort I would have taken for granted if not for spending a day shrouded by trees.  The sun brought hope that I was actually moving forward, for previously the scenery had remained the same, this tree looking no different than the one ahead to my left and its twin on my right.  The path before me was well worn as it was the only route through the forest to the isolated capital of Glanderxe.  Travellers usually formed in large groups and spent some time in the great city before returning home.  Two treks through the trees of Mhoarid within a fortnight was virtually unheard of.

The most common of such travelling groups could be seen in the distance on the road ahead: a merchants travelling caravan.  As they drew closer, I could see the party was no less than 50 in number.  “Ho, young traveller!”  A friendly voice hailed me from within the caravan.  It was from a short stocky-looking man pulling a cart of goods by horse, or more specifically, pony.  I presumed that his short legs would not allow him to mount a steed of greater height.  I replied to his greeting in a friendly manner, drawing near to him.  Stopping his cart did not seem to bother the rest of the travellers.  They found their way around him as a large stone in the path.  It seemed that the group I had encountered today did not travel together for the purpose of comradery.  “What brings you through the forest at such an hour as this?”

“I journey for Dete Plych on business of the crown.”  There was a hint of pride in my words as I sat tall on my mount.

“Well, don’t let me get in your way!  I’m just a humble merchant.”  He aimed to pass me by.

“You are not in my way.  A friendly face is welcome on this lonesome road.”  I had not meant to offend this little man, however I had done so.

“The road would be less lonesome if status did not dictate your attitude.”

“I had not meant it to.  My sincerest apologies.  In truth, this is my first mission on business of my lady Calwen.”  Humility began to set back in.  My words seemed to set the little man in a better manner than I would have expected.

“And what manner of business might this be?  Sir Reuben has been off to Glanderxe himself.  If you are meaning to meet with him you have either been misinformed or are a fool.”  He was overly intrigued by this business of mine.

“My journey be not of a political manner.” I said and then quickly added, “And I am not a fool.  I journey to Dete Plych for a mere reprise in the longer journey ahead.”

“And where might this journey take you?”

“The great River West.”

“You travel to the River West, yet say you are not a fool.”  He laughed a little, clearly amusing himself.  “And what has her majesty given you in preparation for such a journey.”

I was baffled by his question.  “Nothing extraordinary.  Just some coin for supplies and other sundry essentials.”

“As she should for such a long journey… but wouldn’t it prove of greater profit to use said coin on well needed supplies than hoarding it like some miser?”  His eye glinted as he spotted my coin purse.

“Certainly so.  That is why I travel to Dete Plych.  I aim to gather supplies for the journey ahead.”

He laughed once again.  “Look around you, boy!  Is this not a caravan you have stumbled upon?  Supplies be of plenty, and greater treasure be found here than in the drear city of Dete Plych.  It still be a days journey ahead.”

Clearly this man was trying to play me for a fool.  What could a little man such as himself know of riches.  His cart was small and couldn’t contain much of interest to anyone.  “And what, may I ask, would this small cart of yours carry that would interest me greater than all that Dete Plych might have to offer?”

“What a strange question that is.  What a strange question, indeed.”  Getting off his horse he took me to the back of his cart where he unpinned the canvas to reveal a small chest.  Unlocking the chest with a big ring of keys he carried on his belt he pulled out what looked like the horn of a mighty stag.  He handed it to me and a grin stretched across his face from one to ear to the other.  “What do you think?”

It appeared to have been shaped into the type of horn one would use to signal a battle cry or the arrival of royalty to a small village.  Turning my attention from the horn, I gave the little man a curious look.  “This trinket seems suitable for a knight, not a traveller.”

“Aren’t you both?”  The little man eyed my attire, clearly noticing the seal of Glanderxe which I wore emblazoned on my cloth.

“That be true, but of what use could this provide me more than a instrument to amuse myself with around the fire.”

“Ah, I see that you misunderstand what it is that you hold in your hand.”

“I misunderstand nothing.  These horns are of common use in the castle of the grand city, especially with the frequency of Sir Reuben’s visitation as of late.”  The sound of the horns was in my mind’s ear as I remembered the announcement of Sir Reuben’s arrival at Glanderxe a few days prior.

“This is no ordinary horn.  What you have there is Riul’s horn of Tranquility.”  He said with a sense of awe in his voice.

“Whoever this Riul is, he can keep his tranquility.  This horns proves of no use to me.”  I handed it back to the little man who looked at me, dumbfounded.

“You know not of Riul!  What kind of imposter knight of Glanderxe might you be that you have neglected your education.”  He looked horrified and I quickly tried to explain before he caused a scene pointing me out as the “imposter” he thought me to be.

“I am not of Glanderxe by blood, but have gained the favour of Lady Calwen and have been administered into her ranks.”

“Certainly!”  He did not look convinced.  “What of it!”  He laughed again.  “Pardon me.  It is not my business who you chose to masquerade as.  My business is as a merchant of such fine works as Riul’s Horn of Tranquility.”  The little man, though unconvinced of my legitimacy, seemed to regain his composure.  “It is said that the Talri worshipped Riul, the goddess of nature.  It is she who created the earth on which we stand and has power over nature itself.”

“And you believe such foolish stories?”  I was less impressed now that he had shared his knowledge of Riul with me.

“Stories!”  The little man looked offended.  “This is legend!  Tales of old!  You should put more faith in such things if you are headed for the River West.”

“And why might that be?”

“Beyond the River reside the only remaining race of old, the Pharosh.  They know all of the history, even more than us mere men remember.  It is said that they have vast libraries, books upon books, of legend all but forgotten.”

I had heard of the Pharosh, as all men hold curiosity of the unknown in high favour, however my knowledge of history and legend was clearly surpassed by the little man before me.  The Talri I knew nothing of, nor did I know of Riul, the goddess of nature, but my journey would definitely be aided by such knowledge.  “And what of this horn?  Is that in one of those books the Pharosh keep captive across the great River West.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it, but one has no need to travel so far to hear of Riul.  It is said that she spoke the earth into being through merely her voice, and this horn has captured the essence of that voice.  The sound of the horn gives the user power over nature through the voice of Riul.  The road to the River West will be long.  The further west you go, you will find that nature shrouds the road and begins a hostile takeover of the untravelled western route.  Power over nature may prove a useful asset to a traveller like yourself.”

There was some truth in his words.  I knew not what lay ahead of me, but I knew the road to be less travelled than most.  Perhaps this little man did have something that would prove useful to me, but I still wanted to prove its authenticity.  “How might a little man like yourself have come across such a powerful trinket as this.”

“Don’t let my size fool you, boy.  Small yet mighty!  In my younger days I travelled the mountain passes of Keltone in search of treasures unimaginable!  I found the horn deep in a cave on one such expedition on an altar in the depiction of the great Riul herself, with an inscription beneath on great stone tablets telling of the horn.”  He handed me a piece of parchment well worn by the years.  I could not make out any of the words on it except for “horn of tranquillity” and “Riul.”  “I copied the inscription here, but the years haven’t been good to it.”

I scanned the note attempting to gather a sense of its reading, but could not make out any more words.  “Very well, little man.  You seem to know much of legend and are clearly well travelled.  What would it cost me to take this off your hands.”

“You can imagine the danger I went through to acquire such a piece.  that alone would make it worth 100 gold pieces, but the magical powers it beholds easily doubles that price!”  Scratching his beard he continued, “However… I am a loyal citizen of Glanderxe Coessarde.  It would not be my place to get in the way of the business of the queen.  I could let it go for a mere 150 gold pieces in service to her majesty.”

I easily had enough to pay the little man, but having not been on a journey of this magnitude before, I had no way of knowing how much money I would need along the way.  Not wishing to seem ungrateful I offered 120 gold pieces for his trouble and told him that her majesty would hear of his generosity and he would easily be rewarded over and above the 30 gold pieces which I shorted him.  The exchange being made I put the horn in my pack and bade him farewell.  “You have been too kind, but I have a long journey ahead of me.”

“As do I,” replied the little man.  “I must make it through the forest before nightfall.”

This time it was my turn to give a little laugh.  “May luck smile on you, for it took me one day and extra to pass through Mhoarid.  The sun is already at it’s highest point and will begin to set as the day progresses.”

“I best be off then.  What is it they say in the great city…” scratching his beard once again he remained in thought but a moment then continued.  “May your steed be swift and your arm be true.”

The customary response held no meaning in response to this man for he was neither my brother in arms nor a resident of Glanderxe proper.  Not knowing quite how to respond, I acknowledged the respect he had bestowed on me through his words and gave my best wishes in return.  “And you little man.  May your steed be swift and your arm be true.”

 

Glanderxe – Chapter 3

The sun breaking through the darkness of the room brought new hope to a new day.  Today would be different: the beginning of an adventure.  Confusion filled my mind as to why I was chosen to carry out this mission, but it was quickly eradicated by an overwhelming sense of loyalty to the requests of the queen.  Whatever the reason and whatever the cost, this mission would be carried out.  How hard could it really be.  I was basically a glorified messenger.

Loading my pack with provisions for the journey I made my way to the kitchen to wish mother goodbye.  As I stepped into the kitchen she stopped what she was doing and came over to me.  “So, you have chosen to leave me as well!  Not that I am surprised.  I always expected you to walk in the footsteps of your father.”

I was not so taken aback as I maybe should have been, but this was something that mother had said countless times before.  “Father did not leave us, he passed.  It was not by choice that he is no longer with us.”

“Not by choice!”  Her words bit the air with the harshness of the wind on a cold day.  “He never should have gotten involved.  Let the younger men scare off the wolves.  He was not fit for such a task and he knew it!”

“Hush, mama.  Not now.  That is in the past.  We must look to the future from the eyes of the present.”

“The present gazes at your back while the future dictates your lack of presence here.”

I could hear that she was hurt.  “Mother, what can I do?  The queen has requested it.”

“Don’t speak such drivel!  She has been poisoned by that sly intruder Reuben if you ask me!  Secrecy never led to nothing but lies!”

It was apparent that she was unmoved on her position and more conversation would only get her into more trouble.  I kindly requested that she watch her tongue and kissed her farewell.  What more could I do?  She had convinced herself and no amount of logic could refute.  These thoughts filled my head as I made my way to the stables where Sir Reuben and his men in arms awaited to see me off.  As I made my way down the road I kept my eye out for Miranda.  God only knows what trouble she has gotten herself into the night prior and any chance to say my farewells could only be found on the streets.

As I drew near to the stables fortune did not offer me with the sight of my dear sister and searching for her among the many alleys of the great city would prove time-consuming and more than likely not the least bit profitable.  Sir Reuben got down from his horse to greet me.  “The horses have been watered and I see that you are prepared with provisions, but that will only get you so far.  The trip to the borders of Glanderxe will be long and take you on not oft travelled roads.”  Pulling a coin purse from his belt he continued.  “Take this.  You will surely need to purchase supplies along the way and the message must be delivered safety.  Make sure that you are always well stocked and do not veer off the common road.  Who knows what dangers lie beyond the civilized settlements.”

“Yes, my lord.”  I answered. I took the coin purse and placed it in my pack.  After making a final check of my supplies I mounted my horse ready for the road ahead.

“We were hoping to accompany you as far as Dete Plych, but duty calls me elsewhere.  I must gather the people of Glanderxe Cossarde as we must be united in these future endeavours.  May your journey be blessed and our thoughts are with you.”  Sir Reuben unsheathed his sword and lifted it to the sky.  I did the same as a gesture of respect and acceptance of his good wishes.  “May your steed be swift and your arm be true.  The hearts of your brothers are with you.”

A chorus of knights and men at arms rang out from around me, “The hearts of your brothers are with you.”

Feeling a sense of pride and excitement for the mission ahead I raised my voice to the customary response. “For Glanderxe and for Calwen!”  The company around me cheered as I rushed off leaving naught but a cloud of dust behind.

***

I travelled but a moment before slowing down my pace.  I never been too far from the great city.  No need had ever arisen for me to travel further than the small town nestled in the shadow of the great city which I once called home.  As Coere Ghante came to mind I stopped and turned my mount to gaze down the winding path which would lead to the small village.  For a brief moment I thought about going to bid the lovely Farah Bailey farewell… but that wouldn’t do.  She had made her intentions clear at our last meeting… not that I had forgotten.  The nightmares still haunted me more nights than they didn’t.  How I longed to gaze into those sweet crystal eyes of hers, to touch that delicate skin, feel her warm lips against mine once again.  One day, I told myself.  One day I will come back for her.  When the time is right I will return.

Finding no more comfort in the thought of her, I turned to face what lay ahead.  I could see the great stalks of the Mhoarid forest in the distance.  This would be my first challenge along the road to Dete Plych.  Glancing at the sky I noted that there was still plenty of daylight ahead of me.  It shouldn’t be too foreboding during the day, though some say otherwise.  I had never been one to hold too strongly to superstition, yet never having travelled across that mighty bridge which separates Glanderxe from the rest of the Cossarde, I was a bit apprehensive.  There was no telling what lie beyond the bridge shrouded by the great trees of Mhoarid: none but the tales I have heard.  Some say it is haunted by the dead and still others say that all manner of wild beasts find their home among the trees, preying on any who dare to trespass.  Beasts I could handle, but I had never had dealings with the dead except at the graveside to give my respects.  That is where the dead belong, and as far as I’m concerned, that is where they stay.  Those who believe otherwise are fools poisoned by superstition.  Beasts, however, did not remain in their dens and no amount of superstition was needed for proof.  Growing up, I remember spending many nights with the other men, watching the fields for any sight of wolves.  Then there was that night… mother hated to talk about.  Yes she mentioned it a lot, but always out of malice spoken from a hardened heart.  She would never breach the subject with any sense of civility.

The wolves had been especially brutal that night.  It was right before harvest, the crops being mature and the cattle plump: always the most dangerous time of year.  We rejoiced by day and cursed by night: the developed crops being a welcome sight, softening the load of the labour we had put in.  With the night, however, came an increasing sense of dread as the season approached.  We weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the mature produce and buxom livestock.

Working in shifts through the night, we kept the pasture torches lit, not only for sight but safety.  The wolves usually stayed away, finding joy in picking off the cattle that wandered in the dark.  They were strong yet sly, not wishing to fight for their food unless necessity called them to.  Working like thieves in the night, they swept in without a sound and left no trace but trampled crops and trails of blood as they dragged off the less fortunate of the livestock.  Their howls could often be heard off in the distance, but they never drew such attention to themselves when stalking close to town.

I was on the third shift that night, waking from my cosy bed to be passed the baton by Mr. Bailey.  Father and I arrived just as Mr. Bailey and his son were returning from the fields.  It was customary to have father and son work the shift together where opportunity allowed.  As a boy, I watched my father, learning from him not only how to grow a crop but to protect it.  “Quiet night?”  He had said as Mr. Bailey handed over his torch.

“You’d better hope it stays that way.”  His reply came in a threatening tone.  He had been a harder man in his younger days.  Age had mellowed his tone.

“Hope and prayer, brother.  Hope and prayer.”

“Amen.”  Addressing his son he continued.  “Let’s go.  Comfort is weakened by the will of frigidity.”

“Agreed.  Tonight’s conditions are colder than most.”

“Don’t let the air cloud your demeanour or the hour will be prolonged.”  Mr. Bailey, motioning for his son to follow, retired from the scene.

The chill in the air did make the hour seem longer than it usually did, however it remained uneventful… until the winds came.  A slight breeze was stirring throughout the night, not bringing much alarm until it increased.  I had never experienced such wind, and it made the job more difficult as we rushed from post to post, attempting to keep the fires lit as we fought nature with every blast.  Eventually it became imperative that father give me a torch as well so we could cover ground at a greater pace.  In a race against the wind, we parted ways, entering the battlefield from opposite directions, hoping to trick nature into revealing its weakness.  It seemed that our efforts did not afford us such a luxury, but rather provoked our opponent to anger as it rushed this way and that, battling us both with greater ferocity than I had known nature could produce from the mere manifestation of wind.

Suddenly a great gust buffeted us both to the ground, not only putting out those beacons of light we were desperate to keep lit, but the source torches we held in our hands.  Above the sound of the wind I could hear my father yelling my name.  “Mert!  Son!”

My response was swift but shrouded with fear.  “Father!”

“Stay where you are!  I’m going to get more torches!”

I could not muster a reply.  It was as if the wind itself took on a face and bore deep into my soul, threatening me not to utter a word.  The only thing I could hear over the sound of the tempest was the wolves baying in the distance.  As I waited for my father to return, the sounds grew closer and closer, creeping in as I lay there: poor, helpless.  I could see dad’s new torches approaching in the distance, but the light moved slower than the sound.  I began to cry out, “Dad!  Hurry!”  Closer now, they must be just on the edge of town.  In just a matter of moments they would reach the fields, not only taking away the cattle, but anything they deemed meal worthy.  Wolves hold no code of ethics.  Their hunger drives them to the hunt, and easy prey is their target.

“Mert!  Come towards the light!  The wolves are out!”

As if his words needed to be uttered.  I was already on my feet the moment I saw his light and ran, fighting against the wind to reach him.  The rustling of the crops behind me was now enhanced as the wolves tore through the fields towards me.  They were practically at my heels when I reached dad, who had begun to run in the opposite direction, attempting to reach the bell that hung by the stables which would signal the town of the trouble which followed us.  I had almost reached the stables when my feet were wrenched from underneath me as I could feel the teeth of a hound digging into my skin.  Screaming I began to shake my leg violently in an attempt to loose the predator from his grasp.  Dad came running, torch in hand, and struck the beast in the face with the burning end.  It yelped in pain loosing its grip on my leg.

“Go!  Call the men!”  Eager in my obedience I ran for the bell which dad had previously attempted to reach.  No longer was I pursed as dad remain, torch in hand, holding the beasts at bay.  Reaching the stables I lunged for the chord which hung from the bell and swung on it with all of my might.  The sound was deafening and cut through the wind like a blade.  Light erupted from every house in Coere Ghante as men lit torches and ran for the fields to face the threat which awaited them.

Mr. Bailey, having the closest residence to the fields was the first on the scene, his son in tow.  I grabbed a torch and ran, joining them as they rushed to join my father on the battlefront.  He was faced with more adversaries than I could count and was becoming overwhelmed.  Despite the torch he held as a weapon, one of the beasts leapt for his chest, taking him to the ground just as we drew close enough to act.  Mr. Bailey Junior, being older than myself and holding a bravery unmatched by anyone I have met dove for my dad, striking the attacker on the snout with more might than I knew could come from such small arms.  He landed on top of my dad with the wolf sandwiched in the middle.  Mr. Bailey Senior sought to reach his son and aid, but his foot caught a stone and he was thrown to the ground face first.

The other men were getting closer.  Soon this would be a fair fight.  I, however, was not the only one who perceived this impending change of events.  The wolves, not wishing to fight such a great number of us began their retreat, but not before grabbing a snack to go.  Two more wolves pounced on top of Mr. Bailey the Brave and he screamed in pain.  Mr. Bailey the Fallen cried out in agony as he watched his son get dragged away by the pack of beasts.  Getting up, he chased after them, followed by a host of men armed with torches, broomsticks and improvised weapons of every shape and variety.  Though gifted by God with bravery, passion, courage, and every host of emotion, men were not gifted with the speed of a cheetah, or for that matter, a wolf.

Fortunately for the town of Coere Ghante, not much was lost that day.  Some of the crop was trampled, but not a cow was touched by the cruel attackers.  Unfortunately for the families of Bailey and Whatley… much was lost.  Mr. Bailey the Fallen fell once again, in the middle of the field, this time out of grief.  I’m sure that his cries could be heard all the way to the great city.  My tears, however, were soft and internal as I kneeled over my father’s dying body as he remained fallen from the wound in his chest, never to rise again.

Glanderxe – Chapter 2

The festivities were coming to a close as night began to fall on the great city.  While the partying in the castle was concluding, the night life of the town had just begun.  Much noise could be heard as the taverns filled with men and women looking to enjoy yet another night of pleasure of the most indecent variety.  Courtesans walked the streets, but remained indistinguishable from the commoner except by their clients.  As many in the great city, pride filled their craft as they remained prestigious offering their services only to those holding the most wealth and social prowess.
Oh, how I hope that Miranda is not out again tonight.  It may be that her antics from last night will have diminished her wishes to return to the entertainment of the town.  However, her youthful passion does so often get the better of her that I fear she may soon be resigned to a fate that should not be at all her own.
A nudge in my side returned me to the business at hand.  “Aye, the lasses shall be especially fine tonight.  Nothing warms the heart more after a hot meal than liquor and ladies.”  Such a statement could only come from Sir Yoyde and it most certainly did.
Some other knights around the table continued the conversation.  “Would it not be of greater pleasure to but first enjoy the maidens and then rum thereafter, for if your mind be full of froth how can love add any fullness.”
“Aye, but the key is balance” chimed another.  “Both should be enjoyed of the same amount in order to attain the best drink to maiden ratio.”
“But how better to discover such a ratio than through continuous practise.  Trial and error, friends.”  Sir Yoyde had the table roaring with laughter with his concluding statement.
“Error indeed.” I mumbled under my breath as I took a final mouthful of wine from the cup in front of me.
“Mert, you old drip!  Can you not enjoy life!  Why so drear!”
“I would not say that my life in drear: rather sensible.”
“Pay him no mind, my dear fellows.  He is but a boy inside waiting for spring.  Once manhood introduces itself he will understand with the rest of us the joy of the drink and the pleasure of a strumpet.” Sir Yoyde chided.
I saw the futility of argument and thus excused myself for the evening to retire.  Returning to my quarters I found the light low.  Getting into my nightly attire I lay in my bed.  If only gentlemen would be greater and bastards few.  There must be more than wine and women to the people of this city.  Sir Reuben’s continual return should signify that something of grave importance is at hand, and yet no word of it has been heard.  Why should these political dealings remain so secretive?  I am by all measures the lowest in rank of those who should be told, yet none seem to know of the dealings that Lady Calwen and Sir Reuben so oft discuss.  Curiosity would have gotten the better of me, but I am an honest man and trust the queen and her associates.  I am sure that the proper people know and those who need to will be told in time.
***
When morning arrived I took up my daily routine of checking in with mother in the kitchen who had more than a word to say about the festivities of the night before.  “I pray that it be more than a fortnight before that Sir Reuben returns to disturb us.  Does he not have his own business to take care of in Dete Plych!”
“Certainly, ma, there is good reason for his hasty return to us here.  As a member of the counsel of Glanderxe it is his business to travel to the capital whence he likes if such intrusions are of a political matter.”
“Intrusions indeed!  I do not sweat for days on end for an intruder!  They come and go as quickly as they can be chased out.  If intrusions they be, I shall no longer treat him as an honoured guest but let him come and go as he pleases, letting the guards chase him out as a mouse on the head of a broom!”
The head matron of the kitchen caught wind of the conversation that I was engaged in and directed a sharp reply to my dearest mother, who although correct was oft too outspoken for her own good.  “Cool your tongue!  It is not your place to talk of one of the counsel so.  It is an honour to have Sir Reuben Duke of Dete Plych oft as our guest.”
Mrs. Whatley gave no reply.  She could not rightly agree with her matron thus any words she could have uttered would have simply made things worse.  Instead, she turned to the work in front of her while I shared a closing remark with her.  “That tongue of yours will get you into great trouble some day.  I am not saying that I disagree, but just be careful.  We have been fortunate to be noticed by Her Majesty and do not want to stretch our welcome by getting on about politics.”  She said nothing to this but the rate at which she worked indicated her annoyance with the whole situation.  I left her to her duties making my way to the courtyard overlooking the city below.  Urban life remains unchanged day after day.  I miss the days when Mr. Haig’s cattle would get loose and the whole village got involved in herding them back to their rightful place, or the nights when the men of the village chased off the wild coyotes.  Every day seemed to have a different adventure of its own.  Here each day proceeds just as the last.  There is something to be said about the comfort of the city, for there is no need to worry about the “little” things of rural life like getting food on the table or saving the crop from the flooding of the river, but where is the sense of purpose or meaning in life amidst such monotony.
I was so deep in thought that I failed to notice two of the castle guard had entered the scene.  “Sir Mert!  The queen has requested that all of the knights of Glanderxe meet her in the throne room at once.”  One of the guards addressed him with some annoyance in his voice.  It had now become clear that he had been addressed multiple times but had not responded for lack of conscious knowledge of their presence.
“My apologies.  Certainly, I will satisfy the wishes of Lady Calwen.”  I accompanied the guards through the winding halls of the castle until I reached the throne room.  Stopping, they motioned for me to enter.  Such a great party of knights was present that I must have been the last to arrive or nearly such.  As the final few stragglers gathered we all awaited the meaning of such a great company to gather together in haste.  Lady Calwen, Queen of Glanderxe was seated on her throne accompanied by Sir Reuben on her right and Sir Kherine on her left.
The doors to the room were promptly shut and the room became very still: naught could be heard but the glad tidings of birds outside in the cool of the morning.  Such silence was broken by the sweet voice of Lady Calwen.  “Loyal knights of Glanderxe!  I am pleased that you have all gathered so quickly per my request.  I am certain that the frequency of meetings between Duke Reuben and myself has not gone unnoticed by anyone of you.  Until now secrecy has been of utmost importance, but it has been decided that the knights of my grand city should be informed as to minimize suspicion.  Not only has Glanderxe and Dete Plych been in frequent contact but members of all of the cities of this grand region have been collaborating for this one purpose.  It is my privilege to present Duke Reuben to this congregation for the explanation of such meetings.”  Motioning to her right, Sir Reuben rose and greeted us.
“Welcome to all.  I am privileged to have played such a prominent role thus far in the dealings of Glanderxe region on behalf of Her Majesty.  Times are changing and politics is the engine behind change.  Glanderxe is not the only province in the land.  The swamps and deserts of Coaniarim border us to the south, the icy peaks of Keltone to the north and the lush land of Kho Arian across the river to the west.  Age upon age has passed since men have braved the bitter cold of the north or the heat of the south.  What treasures lie in these lands of inhabitable waste have yet to be seen.  The West river and the land beyond has long been closed to the feet of men.  However, today is a new day!  No longer will men fear the parched earth of the desert or the frozen lakes of the north, nor will we ignore the land of the Pharosh across the River West.  Men will no longer be caught in the middle but expand to the outskirts of the land where untold treasures shall be found.  It is such that politics will allow.  The Pharosh guard their borders well fearing the men of the Glanderxe region.  Today is the start of a change greater than any one of us.  It is up to the loyal knights of Glanderxe to carry out this change.  Sir Kherine has been employed with the task of leading you all, thus the following decision has been left up to him.  A message must be sent to the Pharosh of Kho Arian.  The importance of this message cannot be left to a simple messenger thus one of you has been chosen to carry it to the Pharosh.  This mission is dangerous and should not be taken lightly.  Everyone will get their chance to act but the first phase starts now.  I now call on Sir Kherine to announce his choice.”
The Captain stood and we all waited for what he had to say.  “A difficult decision was mine.  Who should carry this message to the Pharosh.  Who shall brave the great River West!  Who shall be sent into the camp of our enemy!”  After a short pause, Sir Kherine continued.  “Sir Mert Whatley of Glanderxe.”  Shock was felt through the congregation by all, including myself.  I stepped forward.  “You are charged to deliver this message to Kho Arian.  May all my knights gather in respect of the wishes of Her Majesty.”  Everyone gathered around me as Sir Kherine continued.  “May your steed be swift and your arm be true.  The hearts of your brothers are with you.”
A chorus of voices rang out around me.  “The hearts of your brothers are with you.”
“Now, with the blessing of Lady Calwen, queen of Glanderxe, go forth.  Make a name for Glanderxe where no name is known.”
Sir Kherine handed a note to me sealed with the seal of Glanderxe.  Holding it in my hand I raised it high and shouted, “For Glanderxe and for Calwen!”
The company around me roared their approval.  “For Glanderxe and for Calwen!”

Glanderxe – Chapter 1 (Part 2)

The sun shot through the small window in my room hitting my face with such a force that I shot up from where I had been sleeping.  It seemed impossible to get those final words of the beautiful Farah out of my head.  “Come for me now or not at all.”  Those eyes.  So pleading.  How pathetic she had looked up at me.  If only circumstances were different.  How could I leave Ma and sis… but how could I leave Farah.  I was convinced that if anyone had to leave it should be this nightmare, recurring night after night reminding me of the uncourteous bastard I must have seemed.  Why did she not understand?  Could she not acknowledge and respect the loyalty that I held for my family?
What little I could do about and understood of women had no matter now.  It had been six months since I last saw Farah and dwelling on it would not bring her back.  There were more important matters at hand. It may not be of great interest to me but today was an important day for Glanderxe. Sir Reuben was to arrive today and God only knows what profits his arrival.  The Duke of Dete Plych travelled to Glanderxe often as of late, and always on business of a political sort.  I suppose as a sworn servant of Her Majesty I should be more enthusiastic about those things that relate to her kingdom but I have never been much of a political man.  It profits irony that I now serve as a knight in the great city.  As the capital of Glanderxe Coessarde all that is important as it relates to politics happens within the confines of these walls.  I suppose, if nothing else, Sir Reuben is a respected member of the counsel, and as a knight of Glanderxe I embrace his arrival.  It would profit me if his news were pleasant, for memories of Farah have commenced my day in such a glorious fashion that I dare not endure any news of criminality.
I finished my morning preparations and proceeded to the kitchen adjacent the great hall as was my customary routine.  Among the many women scurrying about the room was my dearest mother, whose garb by this point was dotted with the remanence of preparation.  Spotting me she excused herself from her duties and came to me, kissing me on the forehead.  “Her Majesty has us working harder than ten-score oxen on a blistering day getting the preparations set for the Duke.  Why in the name of all that is holy should we continue to greet him as a favoured guest of the crown.  He has been here time enough to be considered for a regular setting in the grand hall.”
“Now, now, mother.  Despite his frequency, a guest he still be and it would not profit pleasantries to treat him as anything else.”
My words brought little comfort to her.  “Still, it must be understood the great work that he has caused us here in the kitchen since much pleasantries be desirous.”  She was not a hard woman but had no fear of speaking her mind.  If something was amiss, no guess work should ever be needed, for mother would be sure to let everyone know who had two ears to listen.
“I am sure that such need for pleasantries will subside in due time.  For now we must suffer politics with the greatest level of eloquence allowed our nature.”
“My nature allows for not much more, but suffer I shall.”  Grumbling, she bade me farewell with a wave of her hand and returned to the tasks of preparation.
Leaving her to her business I made my way toward the great hall to see how the preparations were coming when I was caught by Sir Yoyde.  “Mert, my dear boy!  How was your night?”
“I cannot say it was grand but no matter, the day awaits.” I brushed him aside as I continued down the hall.
“The day awaits!” Sir Yoyde repeated in disgust.  “Certainly it does but how can the day seem so fair it being a mere shadow of the night previous?”
“The night is an unavoidable casualty in the day as one’s duties are set aside in wait til the sun bids service once again.”
“Ay, there be much you have still to learn about the great city.  Perhaps in Coere Ghante it was as you say, but here the twilight lacks no indulgences.”
“I have no desire for indulgence.  What can the night offer but distractions from my duties.”
“Duties!  As men whose blood runs red indulgence is our duty.  If it were not for such, life would be understandably unpleasant. If I were but an ox, perhaps indulgence would pass me by, but as a gentleman I have a certain duty to the fairer of the race that cannot be denied.”
“And do the women consider you a gentleman or an ox for engaging so oft in indulgence?”  His constant nagging quickly got on my nerves.  He was but a twelve-year-old lad in gentlemen’s garments.
“Ah!” He let out a short laugh.  “You jest!”
Satisfied that our conversation was finished we parted ways as I entered the great hall.  Woman scurried about setting tables and preparing the decorations for the soon to arrive Duke of Dete Plych.  Candles were being lit and placed on tables amidst an elaborate array of fruit platters and other various decorative delicacies.  The great table was covered with a majestic red cloth which showed underneath the golden place settings complete with jewelled goblets that, later that day, would be filled continually with that scarlette drink that holds the power to turn the most proper of gentlemen into something of a scoundrel.
My observations complete I found my way outside into the courtyard, hoping to enjoy some fresh air before being held within the castle for hours as the business of the Duke was attended too.  Lingering but a moment, I walked out into the streets of the city.  Men and women went this way and that hurrying to accomplish the business of the day while children dodged between their legs doing nothing of grave importance and holding the attention of no one except when getting in the way of those around.  I had not been mingling long when I heard the voice of one who I am embarrassed to say was so familiar to me.  Finding the darkest corner of the nearest alley-way I detected the source of the noise.  An argument had risen between a rough looking man and a woman whose delicate figure made the man look as if a giant in comparison.  Such a scene had become common to my eyes as of late but it did not get any easier to see.  This woman was my sister.  “Why do you bother me so?  Go away, Clive.”
“I will not leave until you give me what is rightfully mine.”  The rough-looking man, whose name had been revealed as Clive, was agitated to the point of rage.
“I gave you all that I wish to.  Now leave me be!”
“It is not wish that I come for, but the right of a man.  Why do you flirt with me so and then leave expecting me not to follow you.  Were the inventor of seduction called to court you would be found guilty of misuse.  Why tease if you have no intimate desire?” Clive reached for her, pulling her in for a kiss while she wriggled from his grasp.
I had seen more than enough to know the nature of such a disturbance.  I rested a heavy hand on the man’s shoulder and he whirled around to witness me staring him down looking more menacing than he in my knightly garb that luck had so favoured me with the opportunity to attain.  “I am afraid, sir, that you have picked the wrong lady to pursue this day.”
“Sending your brother to save you, eh Miranda.”  Turning back to her he shook his fist.  “This isn’t over!”  With that less than menacing promise he withdrew leaving my sister rattled, yet no worse for ware.
“Why do you persist in getting yourself into such trouble, sis?” I addressed her with a look of pity in my eyes.
“It was nothing uncomely for a woman as I am.  Just some harmless flirting, nothing more.”
“I see how harmless it must have been,” I said with a hint of belittlement.
“I am not a child anymore, Mert!  You do not have to treat me as such!  Other men in this city see me as a woman.  Why can you not do the same?”
“I fear that too many men see you as such, and if it were not so your trouble would be lessened.”
She stormed off in disgust, hopefully to wash off the stench of that Clive character which unfortunately continued to permeate the air.  No sooner had she left that the report of instruments of brass could be heard from the watchtower far above the grand city.  This signal of the arrival of the Duke hastened my steps to the front gate where I joined my fellow knights in welcoming Sir Reuben.  He was the first of the procession through the grand gate of the city, the chestnut mane of his steed blowing in the warm breeze of late morning.  He was rugged in feature his face hardened by many a battle fought.  Why such a decorated man of arms would get himself so heavily in politics baffled me.
The stable-boys were summoned and with good speed gathered the horses of the Duke and his company.  Sir Kherine, head of the guard, addressed the Duke and directed him to follow.  As we reached the throne room, Sir Kherine spoke briefly with the two guards at the door who motioned for us to proceed.  Bright light streamed in between the red draperies that decorated the great windows of the room.  A carpet on the floor of a similar colour led us to the throne ahead.  As we continued into the room we passed under the most elaborate chandelier in the whole castle.  Great chords of crystal stretched down from the ceiling, spreading out at the base where the lights were mounted.  The sun reflected off of the series of decorative prisms causing them to glisten like the sea under a setting sun.
We stopped in front of the throne where the queen sat with an advisor to each side of her.  The satin of her dress flowed down from her shoulders shaping her body as it went and gathered in as a pool of freshly squeezed grapes at her feet.  The gold filigree danced upon her chest slowly fading out as it spiralled downward.  Such majesty and beauty was unparallelled in the whole of the great city.  It is to this angelic goddess that Sir Kherine addressed his greeting.  “Lady Calwen, Sir Reuben Duke of Dete Plych here to see you.”  No sooner had the introduction been given that she motioned for everyone to leave the room.  I followed Sir Kherine and the others in company out of the room leaving only the Duke with my Lady.

Glanderxe – Chapter 1 (Part 1)

INTRODUCTION

Whether truth or fiction, every tale must be told.   Some are tales of history, others of the present age and still others a prophecy of times still to come.  All tales from all times tie together creating what this author calls a story.  Tales of old provide cultural information about the land and peoples therein while prophecies give insight into what is to come.  Though past and future are vital to a story, every story must begin in the present.  This is where characters are introduced and developed.  A story without characters is said to be bland and lacking character.  The character that this story begins with is one of common heritage.  He was raised on a farm, knowing what it means to work.  His father trained him up as a man until he was old enough to recognize what made him one.  It was at this point that his father grew ill and passes into a place and time unparalleled to this.  The baton of provider was passed to him as his mother and sister remained.  It was at this time that he ran into his first bit of luck.  Loyal as he was to his family, he did not go unnoticed by those around.  News of his loyalty reached the ears of the queen, at which point he was recruited for her personal order of knights.  No longer did his common heritage define his status, for his family was moved into the capital city of Glanderxe.  It is within this great city that our tale begins.

CHAPTER 1

I am sure that if it were not for the portions that I had become accustomed to at the queen’s table, this common meal would have been delightful enough.  The stew was watery and tasteless yet held all the nutrients the body desired.  Not long ago were the days that this staple meal was common at the Whatley house and my days in the castle had only spoiled my taste-buds, not my etiquette.  “The meal was delightful Mrs. Bailey.  I thank you for entertaining me as your guest this evening.”
“Nonsense,” came her reply, re-entering the room after clearing away some of the dishes.  “I am sure that your time at Glanderxe has spoiled you for what is common.”  She, with a hint of shame in her voice, looked around the humble little shack that the Bailey family called their home.  Mr. Bailey reclined in his chair, sipping on a pipe that had long since been lit while Farah timidly sipped her tea.
Attempting to lift the spirits of my former neighbours I replied with grace and tact.  “On the contrary, my good lady, I am of common heritage myself and it has been good to leave the glories of the city for a time and enjoy the luxuries that have been so common to me but of late.  Home is where the heart is, and my heart remains with you fine folk here in Coere Ghante.”  I slipped a glance at Farah who lingered but a moment then coyly turned away as my eyes met hers.
“Such kind words from an esteemed knight of Glanderxe.”  It was difficult to discern whether Mrs. Bailey spoke with a deep sense of pride for a former resident of her home town or that of disgust behind a thick veil of sarcasm.
“I would hardly consider myself esteemed.  I have been in service to her majesty but a moment compared to the time that I have spent here.  My status in the great city is not yet fully realized.”  I searched for the words to bring myself to the status level that in my own eyes I was still considered to be.  I still share a great bond with the people of this village and it would be beneath me to consider them less than myself.  It is but luck that has bestowed such a status upon me and to consider myself any greater than them: I would be a hypocrite of the worst variety.
Either by lack of conversational tact or enmity toward my newly acquired “superior” status, Mrs. Bailey let my words hang in the air not offering a reply.  Perceiving such silence, Mr. Bailey took the time to remove his pipe from his lips and cleared his throat.  “My dear boy, I understand that it has been but a time that you have not been with us, and I wonder how Mrs. and Ms. Whatley are adjusting to their new life in the castle.”
“My mother, as can be imagined, is not too keen on life in the big city.  Her heart still rests here.  As for my sister… well, let’s just say that her youthfulness shrouds her better judgement far more oft than I would like with the freedoms that Glanderxe has to offer.”
“I imagine that she is a handful,” Mr. Bailey replied showing great amusement.  “Concerning Mrs. Whatley, do not be overly concerned over her lack of adjustment as the soul of the late Mr. Whatley remains with us here at Coere Ghante.  Not even the grave can easily separate those who have been joined in matrimony.  It is for this reason that marriage remains for the young.  As senility begins to overtake you, eternal silence grows ever closer.”  Mr. Bailey turned to his pipe for a brief reprise before continuing.  “What of yourself, Mert Whatley.  Your adolescence is wayward and maturity has discovered you.  Are there no alluring young maidens in the great city of Glanderxe?”
What a blundering position that I find myself in.  If only this same man who speaks to me now was not the very same who has fathered Farah throughout her childhood to this point where her womanhood has blossomed.  “Oh, my good man, alluring maidens there be but not of the sort who share such pastoral sympathy as I possess.”
“Pastoral sympathy you say…” Mr. Bailey appeared to be in deep thought and after a long draw of his pipe he continued.  “If love of the country beckons, your return to Coere Ghante may glean more than a simple hot meal and the company of acquaintances.  There is many a young lass in such a borough as this that may share much the same rural sympathies as you seek.”
Glancing at Farah, she gave me an embarrassed smile before turning her attention back to her tea.  If only this opportunity were to come at a different time.  I am still in transition from rural to urban and the new responsibilities that I hold in the great city leave no room for a bride.  All these excuses flooded my mind as I targeted the heart of the issue with my next statement.  “If only time were controlled by the wills of men.  Though it be true that maturity has found me and the maidens of the town be fair, a wife would not prove profitable for me at this time, sir.”
“Oh?” Mr. Bailey revealed his shock, reducing his recline as if coming to attention for my explanation of such a bold statement as this.
“Though time be short and maidens be fair, Mrs. Whatley be of an age where great care be needed in the common areas of life, and Miranda, my dear sis, whose wanton passions have no restraint, needs great direction in the areas of morality and decency.  How can I be so ungenerous as to leave my family to start another when there be no patron gentleman to attend to my kin.”
“Are there not those in Glanderxe who, for service, would attend to the needs of Mrs. and Ms. Whatley?”
“Most certainly there are, but what uncourteous a man I would be to leave the affairs of mine own to one of hire in order to pursue such desires as my manhood may suggest.  If I were not to provide for my own kin, how can a wife be suggested unto me with even the remotest of sincerities?  Would not such a wife, becoming kin herself, be of comparable importance, and my actions concerning them considered, be just as likely to be given up to some patron for hire instead of cared for by my own hand?  No, as you can see, it simply would not do to take a wife even if desirous passions thus inflame.”
“Your words ring true, my dear boy.  Though peculiar it may be, your words claim logic in their own right.  Although I do say, many a maiden be saddened by such, if not their fathers as well, for no greater man there be as to lift a family such a mine, having no beneficiary of blood, from the status fate has handed them.”
These words hit me at the heart.  The truth of his words be undeniable and my feelings for Farah had not gone unnoticed.  “Fate plays a cruel trick, yet luck desires to duel with fate and holds triumphant.”
“For some this be true, but not all are favoured by luck as you have been.”
I had clearly reached an impasse with Mr. Bailey.  Addressing the issue at any greater length would have crossed the conversational line of cordiality.  After a brief lull in the conversation that, at this point, would have been unpleasant for any who consider Adam to be their oldest ancestor, I excused myself, thanking Mrs. Bailey again for the pleasant meal.  Exiting the Bailey house I found my way to the post to which I had tied my horse previous to the engagement.  Farah had slipped out the back way as I said my farewells to her parents and was now waiting for me.  Though her garb was plain, lacking the elegance of the clothing of those more fortunate that my eyes had now become accustomed to, it held greater beauty to me than logic could explain.  Golden tresses fell upon her shoulders spreading to both sides before descending down her back a short distance.  Amidst all this beauty, it was her eyes that caught my attention.  The calm waters that her eyes did usual reflect had now risen into a tumultuous storm that if tried would crush even the most seaworthy of vessels.  Such indignation crashed down in my direction manifesting itself it a mighty slap across my face.  I would not have known that such delicate beauty could cause such pain if I had not experienced it first hand.  “How dare you persist in waxing elegant yet scheming such crude offence!”
“My dear Farah, I have schemed nothing of the sort.”  I attempted to grab her hand but she pulled away with such ferocity that I scarce recognized.
“Do not call me dear, for only my love has such a right.”
“But, I do love you Farah.  You must understand…” She cut me short, clearly not willing to listen to reason.
“I understand nothing!  I have shared such love for you ever since I knew the meaning of the word, yet you spit at the very core of such a feeling.  Were love to have limits I would not claim them, yet your love for me has such limits that it is beyond access.  You know that my father is aged and that mother and I will soon be much the same as your own.  How rare it be for a father to beg for a gentleman caller, yet mine has done just this.  If your eyes be for another then give me courteous knowledge, but if they be mine then let them be mine!”
“You know how much I long for you and my heart is truly yours. …Yet, I cannot claim you as my own in this present time.  My words have not been of plain courtesy, but truth be at their core.  Know that my heart beats true for you.  Accord me with the knowledge that yours remains a mirror as of my own.”
With pain in her eyes her head fell to look at her feet.  “I cannot accord you such.”
My attempt to grab her hand was this time successful and touching her chin I raised her eyes to meet mine.  The storm had broken and now a waterfall began, cascading down her cheeks and creating lakes upon her dress.  “I will always love you.  You must understand that.  when the time is right I will come for you.”
Between the tears her stubbornness remained.  “Come for me now or not at all.”  Her lips met mine, prodding the fire in my heart with excitement and leaving me longing as she pulled away and ran.  Mounting my horse I gave one last parting glance, tears beginning to well up in my heart.  My departure kicked up dust which covered the shallow lakes left on the ground by Miss Farah Bailey.

Glanderxe – Prologue

Here is a teaser prologue that is meant as an artsy representation of the book as a whole

What if you could see the future? To pass beyond all conception of time and space, transcending this reality of life itself: that would be a gift indeed. Time has never been my friend. She tickles my neck, tantalizing, breathing sweet mysteries into my ear. That great deceiver caresses me with her voice, enlivens me with her touch, and tempts me with her power. She hears my idle fantasies and tempts me with possibility… for a time.

She has me by a chain now, wrenching me back into her arms. Submit to her once, I will be hers forever, and only Death will save me. She tortures me with visions of the past, visions of the future, visions of pain. That tempting breath on my neck turns fowl, stinking of cold sweat and long deceased tears, promising one thing, giving me another, but it is too late. I am held back by her chains: the chains of memories.

“If only I could go back.”

“But you can’t!” she screams, laughing while I struggle to run from her clutches. Memories’ chains are taught on my throat as I am caught in a fool’s attempt to flee. Time has bound me, and only Death will free me.

Death comes in many forms, but which one will I choose. Time has played a cruel trick, but can Death be trusted? This God of Death has seen my past, can see the future, and watches my present suffering. Time gives him no restrictions. He hunts me down from the plane beyond life itself, but what is his intent? He has seen me beyond the Void, that place of death to Death itself. No spirits are born there, and no spirits die, but mine he has seen. He hunts me for what I know, hunts me for who I am.

“What is beyond the Void?” His voice almost sounds soothing, but I know it to be a lie.

Death and Time battle for my will, but this war of gods is not mine. I run from the duelling deities, but they are ever with me. Time haunts me like a shadow in my mind, pulling me from myself. Death stands ahead of me, a lightning-storm in the night. His purple streaks of power shoot through the darkness, lighting my way.

“Come for me now, or not at all.” He teases, forcing me to make a choice. Death’s knife is in my hand, but can I make the plunge?

“My name is Mert Whatley, and Death will not claim me!” The knife is bloody in my hand as I seek release. I cast my spirit to the ground and pull myself from Death’s grasp. The light of Death’s storm fades, as I fade from his view. He sees my spirit lying there, still dripping with life’s promise, but I am gone.

Time throws memories ahead of me. I trip over them in the dark, stumbling over my past without knowledge of the future. Time is the darkness around me now. All I can do is wait and hope. Hope that I wake from this nightmare that has become my life.