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Amensol's Shadow: In The Shadow Of The Sun (Part Five)

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    August 14, 2020 10:00 PM PDT

    Amensol’s Shadow: In the Shadow of the Sun (Part Five)

    The 13th Tale of the Unseen Pillar of the House of Amensol, by Benonai

     

     

             “I already told you I’m no puppet,” Kador said to Kole.  Kador flexed up as he spoke to get the message across.  His mother had been a strong woman, enduring poverty and a cruel father growing up, and working her way to command several troops under the Cavalry units before her life was ended in battle.  That same cavalry had been led by Kole’s mother during the Deicide War thtirty years ago; a thought that had not been lost on Kador and added some credence to his story.  But, after her death, he was taken at age 10 to live with a stranger, and old man with no children out by the coast.  The old man was nice enough, but very distant, keeping to himself mostly and never allowing him to go on his trips to the towns out closer to the capitol city.  He was apprehensive of everyone.  He had a few friends in the village close by, but mostly he had grown up wishing he could be back home in the Capitol city of Thronefast.  The old man’s phobias had robbed him of a normal life, a life to which he had grown accustomed. He had been told many times living on that farm not to ask questions.  The old man didn’t like sharing anything with Kador, even when it didn’t make sense.  Most of what Kador had learned of the world had happened outside of that house on his adventures when he would periodically run away.  At 17, just three years ago, he had taken it long enough and decided he would leave home and move close to the city for work.  And, although the old man had kept a thumb on him the entire time he lived there, he did not fight the decision.  Kador assumed he was tired of taking care of him and decided to take the gift of him leaving.  He never saw that old man again.

             Kole had totld Kador that he was foolish for doing what he was told, not being his own man.  That made him more infuriated given his life and his abandonment.

             “You’re a joke, old man,” Kador continued. “If you claim to know so much about my life then it would be obvious to you I am my own man, since no one else was around to teach me how to be one! If you’re so concerned about how I turn out, then why didn’t you try to teach me yourself!”  Kador had no idea why this stranger was starting to get to him.  Why did he care so much about what this man said to him?

             “My lot was cast long ago, just like yours was,” Kole responded, ignoring the rising emotions in Kador. “Like you, my adolescent years shaped me into what I needed to be, whether I liked it or not.  And once I was old enough to understand what I was, it was my sense of honor and commitment that shaped how I used the lot I was given.  And don’t think I don’t know that honor and duty have been bred into you, because I know they have,” Kole said leaning closer as his tone turned commanding.  “You can’t tell me you don’t feel compelled to fight when you see a weak man oppressed or a man of wealth or power taking advantage of others less fortunate.  Don’t tell me you don’t want to tear down false pretenses of status imposed on men not worthy of their accolades.  I ensured that was bred into you your whole life, through your mother, through your struggles, through my absence…”

     

             The old arches to the long-destroyed city of Havensong towered over the path leading into Thronefast, the capitol city of the nation of Men.  The last of the scaffolding was piled to the side of the road no older than a season.  The work of salvaging the great stones from the shallows of the southern sea had taken several years with the help of some Elven magic to assist with their transportation through levitation. It was a project King Avendyr had started after the defeat of The Ravaging Lord that signaled the ending of the Deicide War, where peoples from all races fought against and beside their own deities to preserve their existence.  It was one of the only things that Allistan had agreed with Avendyr on, and Kole knew his positions on pretty much everything Allistan thought about all of Avendyr’s decisions.  He had to hear about them everyday.

             As Kole walked under the arches, he rubbed his hand against the still smooth stone and passed it over the iron pins upon which the gates to the city once hung.  Carinna, his mother, had given the order to set the gates on fire to obstruct the advance of the Revenant Army into the city.  She was buying time to save her people.  Just walking under them, he felt close to her again. Imagining her having to set fire to the city she defended to her death.  She and Kole had walked together through the gates of the city many times and having this reminder of her brought him comfort on his current mission.

             Allistan had laid out the plan.  Avendyr was the target of an assassination plot being carried out tonight.  If they succeeded, men would be weakened, less peaceful nations would try to acquire the knowledge of the powerful magic that was inherent in ancient Dragon writings and speech, not to mention the knowledge that was hypothesized to be in a document called the Dragon Accord, the mysterious agreement made between the dragons and some celestial power that may deal with why so many races from so many different worlds were suddenly ripped away and stranded on this new world of Terminus.  The desire for this knowledge and power would ultimately lead to war and, with Men in a weakened state with their king dead and no son old enough to succeed him, nations of less free societies could snatch control from others.  But, on the other side, if an attempted assassination fails and Avendyr retaliates, it could push him to use the power he has only began to understand.  This move could also be dangerous leaving many nations in fear which leads to conflict and war.

             Allistan insisted that they do whatever they can to prevent the assassination without alerting Avendyr of it.  This involved sneaking into the hall and taking care of an adversary with little to no noise.  Kole had been training all his life for ranged combat: from bows to throwing daggers, and trained on horseback and while running.  He also had been taught to move silently and, along with the assistance of Allistan’s limited knowledge of the magic of the Dragon tongue, his abilities were amplified.

             Kole’s backpack bounced against his back  as he strolled through the last archway thinking about the task ahead.  He could begin to see the walls and buildings of the city of Thronefast.  It was all still under major construction, but obviously Avendyr had done well in engaging in trade with other friendly nations, most of the Sacred Six races that had fought together in the Deicide War.  There was plenty of money and work in this city and it had brought refugees and migrants from many different races for the opportunity to build an empire in business.

             The last time Kole had traveled to Thronefast, he was tasked by Allistan to acquire a map in Narian’s office that showed locations of rumored fragments of the Dragon Accord, recorded by different races many years earlier.  The map was precisely where Allistan’s informant told him it would be, but to his surprise, it had contained many more fragments than he had thought there would be.  It was unsettling how much of this dangerous information was rumored to be out there, and even scarier that King Avendyr had access to the information.

             After he had fulfilled Allistan’s wishes, he spent an hour walking around inside the city walls checking out the busy scene, far busier than anything he had ever seen during the second watch.  A blacksmith was open for business, soldiers were training behind their barracks, the taverns seemed to still be full.  It was exciting for a country boy of his age and part of him longed to be in the mix instead of training his life away out on the ranch.  He could get used to this, he remembered thinking.

             There was no time to play games today.  The sun had already disappeared over the horizon and he had not made it to his access point along the southern side of the outer wall.  It was the farthest place from the guard posts and still relatively close to the King’s Hall. Kole veered off the road leading to the front gates of the city.  The terrain dipped on the south side of the city and became slightly more dangerous at night.  Kole’s coat had saved him on his last trip, walking into a nesting area of wolves.  He had been able to climb a tree just before his odor reached the animals.  There were at least eight in the pack, and had he not been wearing the glyphed coat, he would have been heard by them far before they had been seen by him.

             The area was densely packed with an old forest, being far enough from the impact of the great Collision that had brought men to Terminus 31 years earlier that it had not been ruined.  Tales of the early days of their arrival on this new planet were filled with danger and despair, so many lives being lost from lack of shelter and food.  The climate also had been impacted by the collision, bringing torrential downpours of precipitation in the middle of a severely cold winter.  Many called it the cursed frost of the first year.  It was when his father’s grandfather had perished, he had been told by his mother.

             …snap…

             Kole instinctively headed for the nearest low tree branch and bounded up as fast as he could.  The sound had come from the east, and he peered under the dark canopy hoping to catch a glimpse in the streaks of moonlight that made it through.  The short time of anxiety felt like an eternity until movement caught his eye, followed by a low moan.  An elderly orc crawled through the foliage under the trees, dragging his body and crying out as he did so.  Kole finally noticed it.  One of his legs was missing and he had scratches all over his back. With almost no sound, a wolf jumped from the darkness and pressed his front paws into the orc’s back.  He wheezed. The wolf jumped off and bounced around him, playing with his prey like a puppy.  It obviously was a younger wolf, but full grown.  It stood over two cubits at the shoulders, with his large face standing probably pretty close to Kole’s shoulder height.  Another wolf appeared, then another.  The older wolves snapped at the young pup.  This was no time for games, this was feeding time.  Another wolf lunged at the orc, grabbing him by the back of his neck.  The elderly orc yelled out in pain.  It would take fierce strength to break through the thick, muscular neck of an orc, but they needed to kill their prey, so the others barked and goaded him to finish the job.

             Thwack!

             An arrow suddenly appeared through one of the onlooking wolf’s head, and the impact was enough to topple it and roll it several time on the ground.  Kole heard yells coming from the same direction as the wolves and orc. A large man carrying a shield with the crest of Avendyr crossed into the small pool of light, weapon drawn.

             “I’ll keep their attention,” he hollered over his shoulder.  “You just keep firing. You’re doing good.  But… don’t hit me in the back, ok?”

             “Ok,” said a nervous voice from the shadows.  Another arrow sang through the wind and found its target, just below the neck where it meets the breast.  The animal went down instantly.  The wolf that was holding tight to the orc’s neck finally let go and lunged at the new threat.  The large man braced himself behind his shield and the full weight of the large wolf sprang directly into him.  It knocked him back several steps, but he recovered and brought his sword back up.  Two wolves were left and they were circling the man in unison on opposite sides.  Pack hunting.

             A glimmer stole Kole’s attention away from the standoff as it came into the small clearing.  It was green and shiny, but unnatural amidst an array of greenery.  A young woman appeared behind the warrior.  She held her bow upright, nocked and ready.  She had what appeared to be a green ribbon tied into her hair and it fell just to the side of her face amongst her dark hair.  She paced sideways, looking for an opening for a kill shot on the wolf behind the warrior to eliminate the larger threat.  Her movements were so graceful, her footwork not disturbed by the uneven terrain, as if she knew every bump and branch. Her strafing stopped for a brief moment as she shot with planted feet.  The arrow plunged into the side of the wolf, just behind his front right shoulder blade, looking for the heart.  She had found it; the wolf dropped wheezing its last breaths.  At the death of his last support, the young wolf, the only one left, barked once and spun around and flew off into the cover of night.

             “He’s dying,” the girl said, dropping to the side of the elderly orc.

             “We might be able to keep him alive long enough to get some intelligence from him, “the warrior said, looking over his condition.

             “He’s really suffering, Uncle,” she replied, and looked up at him distressed.  She stared at him with her beautiful, concerned face until he acquiesced.

             “I’ll take care of it,” he said, and walked over and knelt by the orc, who was weezing but not moving.  The man pulled out his knife with one hand and placed his other on the shoulder of the orc, seemingly to comfort him.  The he thrust his knife into the side of his neck near the back. The orc died instantly.

     

             Kador’s demeanor changed in an instant.  Kole knew what was coming, so he paused for a moment for him to get it out.

             “My…” Kador stammered, “my… mother… wore a green ribbon in her hair.  Almost every day. It was a gift from a soldier in the cavalry, a female cavalryman who had saved her life in the war when she was young.”  Kador sat blankly as his mind reeled.

             “Her name,” Kole said, “was Jalia.”  She was part of my mother’s elite cavalry unit.  Apparently, she had been rescued as the Revenant army torched her house in the plains between Havensong and the Elves’ Faerthale.  The ribbon had been part of the special tunics they wore into battle, and it had nearly been ripped completely off during a skirmish.  Jalia cut it off and gave it to her as a memento of their rescue.  And she wanted to be in the cavalry from that day on.”

             Kador sat in silence, not looking at Kole, not looking anywhere, his eyes were not seeing, his mind was.  Flashes of his mother, cooking, training, lying dead in the cart as she was brought back from battle, all came rushing through his mind’s eye.  Until now, Kole had been spinning yarns that had not connected them or their lives at all.  It wasn’t until just now that he really thought Kole may actually be what he claimed. And it relieved, frightened, and angered him all at the same time.  So, in reaction to so many warring emotions, he sat perfectly silent.

             Kole leaned toward him.  “Val was… the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. Of course, I had not been around a lot of girls being out on the farm for so long, but…  She was special.  And she reminded me of my mother.  Strong, yet caring; focused in her work, but playful when we could be.”  Kole also had a brief moment where his focus left the table and whisked him away to their brief life together. Valerin had made him so happy… before…

             “Um.  Anyway, I, uh, need to finish before it gets too late,” Kole said, trying to get back to his mission here.  He knew Kador would only be half listening for the next few moments, but he had no time to waste.

     

             Kole waited until the two guards disappeared through the forest toward the road leading back to the castle.  Their hunting party had been successful at whittling down the aggressive predators in the forests around the city.  Apparently, there had been multiple attacks lately, even during the day, and there had been some lives lost.  The soldiers had been sent in small parties to thin the numbers of predators in the area.  The most notorious around here were the fierce and large wolves.

             Kole’s feet hit the ground with no noise, and he headed with a new sense of haste toward the city wall.  He had been stuck in that tree for far too long and he needed to arrive at the King’s Hall before the king retired to his room for the night.  His bed was in an inaccessible room from anywhere but the door which remained guarded at night.  But the King’s study is where he spent his evenings, and there were multiple entry points to that room and, unless he was speaking with them directly, he never had guards in his private study.  It was the obvious weak point, Allistan had pointed out to Kole.

             The wall to the city was tall.  It reminded him of the walls built in layers leading into the Sanctum.  He had nearly fallen off of the top of one of those walls as a child, but it was nothing for him now to throw his hook in one throw, and scale the wall with his rope with no problems whatsoever.  He waited until he had a sense of where the guard was, and at the furthest point in his route, Kole began to climb.

             The top of the wall looked out onto the valley outside, the arches of Havensong standing tall, far in the distance. Their white stone gleamed in the moonlight, easily recognizable even at night.  Inside the wall, a row of stone buildings had been constructed connected to the wall.  They were large enough to drop down to the ceilings from the wall, and from there, Kole used stacks of building materials that were stored by the last building in the row as stepping stones off of the room.  He slid down a board leaning against a stack of stones and found himself on the still unfinished ground inside the city of Thronefast.

             The King’s hall sat in front of him across a clearing on the south side of the city.  The amount of construction that had been done in this city in the last five years was staggering.  The spoils of war, and according to Allistan, bribe money from other nations, had brought workers from all over in construction trades.  All those who had spent a decade honing their crafts on the Silent Sanctum found themselves lost after the war ended.  Avendyr had bought their labor, and set up homes inside the city walls to help with cost and to assist in growing the population of taxpayers.  The King’s Hall was one of the first to begin construction, but it had undergone constant work since the city began.  Grander, bigger, bolder, Avendyr pushed the limits of what his crews could create.  And they did not take Kole’s job of sneaking in and out into their list of things to accommodate.  The walls were a polished white stone native to the area. There was a large, local quarry where all the stone for the city was cut and transported.  The stones left little to no finger holds and tossing his hook up to the balcony or through a window would certainly be found out in short order.

             Kole ran to the side of the Hall and searched the ground near the back wall.  Kole was amazed to find it laying there, still untouched over the last several months.  A javelin lay in the dirt and weeds in a trivial corner of the grounds surrounding the Hall where he had dropped it last time he was here.  He picked it up and ran back around to the side by the balcony.

             Four cubits up, Kole saw the hole, a slightly off plumb meeting of two stones that was just enough space to ram the blade of the javelin.  Kole searched around for something to stand on and eventually brought back a crate and placed it under the hole.  Once on top, he lined up the javelin with the hole, looked around just to make sure he was still alone, and thrust the javelin in as hard as he could.  The blade sank to the shaft.

             Kole ran back and put back the box from where it had come.  Luckily, this area was still underdeveloped and had no visitors at night when construction was not happening.  He jumped up and wrapped his hooked right arm on the staff.  The hook pulled at the straps that kept it in place on the stump at the end of his arm. He reached up with his hand and pulled himself up onto the shaft. He worried each time about the shaft breaking under his weight, but the hardwood handle was strong and he had never had a problem the handful of times he had used it.

             From his perch, the balcony was still a good distance, but manageable. Kole readied himself, breathed deep, and thrust himself through the air toward the landing.  His left foot missed the block between the buttressed wall, but his right foot luckily landed with his toes on the edge. His hand found the knob at the top of the buttress and he pulled himself up and stopped for air.  He bent over and put his hands on his knees. The physical part may be done, but the hard part was still to come.  Kole had given little thought to killing someone at the climax of this mission, but the reality was starting to sink in.  A cool breeze blew onto the beautiful stone and wood balcony outside the king’s study and Kole let the wind calm his nerves.

             Something blew across his shoe.

             Kole looked at what appeared to be a cloth, folded up by the wind and trapped around his ankle.  He lowered his hand and grabbed it. He used his hook to spread it out on the ground in front of him. It was a black cloth, square, smaller than a piece of note parchment, about a man’s handspan across. He could vaguely see something through the fabric.  He turned it over and spread it out again.  His breathing stopped for a moment.  In the center of the cloth was a symbol, a bird, raven, brushed on with red paint.  They were here already.

             Kole panicked. He wasn’t sure if he was too late.  He looked around, through a narrow window into the study. If only he hadn’t been stuck in that tree.  If he was late, think of the consequences.  His heart was racing.  He stepped back from the window, looking around everywhere, trying to get an image of anything that would give him a clue.  Just then, movement caught his eye two windows down from him.  The slightly curved wall shot out to his left where he had just jumped from and just above the javelin still in the wall was a window into the study.  The inside of the window was draped with thick cloth curtains that could slide open and closed to let in light or fresh air.  Someone was behind it, mostly out of view of the window, but the edge of a shirt was visible.  He took off toward the window, his magical coat flapping behind him. There was no time to climb his way around there using the windows.  Without thinking, he bounded off of the bannister of the balcony and sprung off of the javelin handle under the window.  His foot caught the inside of the window sill and he reached in with his hook and grabbed the shirt behind the curtain and let his weight fall back away from the window of the King’s study.

             He was weightless for a moment. Then, a dull pain moved through the better part of his body as the wind left his lungs.  He lay on the ground below the window, having fell a full large story.  He gasped for air but it didn’t come immediately.  All his attention was on the idea of suffocation.  He wasn’t even sure if anything was broken.  All he knew was he couldn’t breathe.

             Slowly, the air came back into his lungs.  He took several large breaths and coughed.  Everything hurt. He moved parts of his body one at a time to make sure they were still working. And then he heard a groan. 

             Next to him, on the ground, lay an assassin of Red Raven.


    This post was edited by benonal at August 14, 2020 10:42 PM PDT