© Aug. 30 2013 William Myrl

Mok's mount was a young, muscular roan that seemed infected by his own bright sickness. No sooner than that strange, foreign word had escaped him than the mare bolted forward, carrying him ahead of his men. Galloping down the road into the blaze of Loesser, he raised his sword and laughed. There were four men on horses riding to meet him. One was marked as a knight by his armor. The white lion rampant and facing the black on a divided field, this was the emblem of House Orming. The others were his men. Mok barely registered the hoof beats that signaled Mallo closing behind him when he thundered into the enemy.
      He sliced off the head of a halbred as it seemed to fall at him in slow motion. On the backswing he twisted, knocking another blade aside. A heartbeat, and he was past them, listening to the ringing as blows fell on Mallo's cuirass, and then a horse's scream, and he was through as well.
      Mok glanced back. He saw the lead knight had gone down, his destrier bleeding profusely from a gash in its neck. The others were stopping to form around him. Mallo looked unharmed. Without slowing, Mok continued down the main street. Arrows whistled from the ramparts, plugging the ground and the riders. Mok's little army was only beginning to come out of the main gate at a trot.
      Mok didn't feel the heat or breathe the smoke. He pounded down the central road without seeing the bodies, without seeing even the men that he cut down. Their weapons and their faces were shadows flashing in his peripheral vision. The crystal blade moved of its own accord, sweeping in glittering arcs that protected as they maimed. His sight was focused on the single golden horseman, the leader who had thrown the first torch, who had begun the slaughter of his people.
      The man was unmoving, sword at the ready. He was waiting for Mok and seemed in no hurry. He had waved aside his attendants, and now wore the slightest of smiles.
      They came together suddenly, like leaves caught in the winds of a storm. Their blades met; once, twice, and a third oblique slide like a parting kiss, before his horse pulled him ahead and Mok had to saw on the reins to pull them both about. The knight had turned to face him. He saw that Mallo had been caught up in fighting a full run back, and his footmen were still further into the town. Mok was cut off from all support, as many as twenty warriors surrounding him. But they all remained out of range. The knight in the golden armor had clearly given orders to that effect.
      It would be the two of them, until there was one. With his knees, Mok guided the excited mare forward. He had no shield, but neither did the man. Their armor juxtaposed, however, made him feel naked. The hilt thrummed in his palm, and white motes of light flickered in the sapphire of the crystal sword.
      The knight in his marbled armor looked almost bored.

      They came together again with eerie quiet. The sound of their swords was lapped up by the magic of the crystal. It was quickly apparent that the knight was the more skillful of the two. Mok had never had any formal training, and little enough informal. It was only the sword that gave him strength and quickness enough to compete with a far more experienced warrior.
      Mok came with a straight thrust, and it was batted aside. Their mounts circled, and he delivered three quick blows to the right, to the left, to the right again. The knight parried them all easily, following with a thrust of his own that made Mok twist out of the way and out of balance. He suffered a minor cut to his upper arm. The lazy expression of the knight's face suggested that he was toying with Mok. They parted a moment.
      "What is your name?" Mok asked, intending to buy himself a moment to regroup. He did not dare look back to the larger fight, but he had no doubt that his men would be able to plow at least this far. The lances from Lanolier were too spread out to overwhelm them, and too hindered in their movements by the burning village.
      "Godelae nae Questler," the man declaimed, "true son of a noble House.  I know you well, Sir Mok, true son of a traitorous line." He paused, seeming to savor his own grandiose presence. "Tell me, from whom did you steal that marvelous sword?"
      "I took it from a monster in a palace of ice to the far, far south."
      Godelae brayed laughter, throwing his head back. "A marvelous story for a marvelous blade. I won't ask you what the truth is. I will use that story myself when I show off my trophy from this day."

      Mok shrugged. "And what story should I tell when I display that armor, Lord Godelae?"

      The knight chuckled. "You must tell them that you took it from a tomb guarded by a mad half-fae with one hand. Tell them that he filled a room of treasure with illusions, and bade you choose only one. You saw through his trickery, and chose the most valuable treasure in his hoard. Once you had it, he could not harm you, not for all the foulest mancies in the realms."
      "That's a fine story," Mok said. "Is it true?"
      "His name was Nicademus," the knight said seriously. "He is a great part of the reason that I have never lost an engagement and never will."

      Mok breathed deeply and readied himself. Surely he had wasted enough time, and yet the sounds of battle were no longer approaching. They might have stopped.

​      "Look," Godelae suggested. "Go ahead, I will not attack you."
      Mok shot a quick glance, and then another, longer stare. The Gates of the Keep had shut, which was well, as his whole guard had given up their arms. They were even now in the process of surrendering, that is the ones who were not down from arrows or more dramatic wounds. Mallo was nowhere in his sight.
      "They are only serfs," Godelae said, commiserating.  "You couldn't expect them to stand their ground. Though they might have, had you stayed with them. I have a sense for these things." He flashed his teeth. "You have to learn to behave differently, if you want to be a leader. Though it cannot matter now, of course."
      Mok forgot them, those who had failed him. There was nothing beyond his contest with this Godelae; nothing beyond the flame and the flakes of ash that had come to float between them. None of this had happened as he'd planned. That did not matter, the blade told him. We are invincible. We will not die. The flush of victory filled him, though they had yet to begin.
      The ringless silence began again, their mounts drawing them parallel, and then circling again, each trying to prevent the other from taking the rear. Godelae was more aggressive this time, so much so that Mok was unable to do aught but defend himself. He blocked an overhead cut, and barely turned aside a diagonal slash that would have taken him at the shoulder.

      Mok knew that his armor would hardly slow his attacker's sword should it slip past his defense. He felt his body straining as if he were a distant observer, and his lightness of spirit dissipated, replaced by a building frustration, the emotion of the sword. Mok felt awkward and slow against the practiced facility with which Godelae handled a weapon. The crystal blade would not have it.
      There was a sudden surge, a fierce crackling as of fire consuming kindling by the handful, the wood breaking and sending out sparks. At the end of Mok's arm was a burning blue bland, roiling with canescence. Godelae's mount startled, caracoling to the side, and he took a defensive posture. The surge of power took control of Mok, and with his whole body he swung his blade perpendicular to the knights chest. Godelae shifted his defense slightly, intending a full block, but tallo sheared as easily as grass where the crystal blade struck.
      There was a flash, and the roiling of a gong. The knight had been knocked from his horse, and he lay on his back staring upwards. His gauntleted hand still clutched half a sword. The top piece had fallen by the way. There was a low buzzing in the air, and a black scorch mark like a keloid scar stood prominently across Godelae's chest piece. His surcoat had disintegrated.
      Mok was still mounted, and his skin tingled as if spiders danced there. In his nostrils was a tang like roses laced with lightning. There was no light in the crystal any longer.
      Mok dismounted, and his painfully acute hearing alerted him to the half dozen bows being drawn taught around him. For a moment, he had forgotten that he was surrounded.
      Godelae nae Questler coughed twice, and relinquished the fearsome grip he had maintained on his now amputated sword.
      "Do not shoot him," he commanded, and rolled onto his side, rising like someone who had forgotten the use of his legs. He turned back to face Mok directly, who still stood beside the roan. The knights barded mount
was watching them both obliquely, having retreated to a safe distance from what it considered a very bad thing. Mok held extremely still.
      "That was surprising," Godelae said. He fingered the mark across the upper portion of his cuirass. "You should know that I have been struck many times, but never has this suit been marked." He paused. "An ice palace, you say?"
      "An ice palace," Mok replied.
      Godelae met his eyes. "I should like to go there someday, I think.
      "Were there any other such weapons there?"

       "None that I saw."
      ​"Could you lead me there, were I to promise you your life in return?"
      "The palace was destroyed after I left it. And I do not know the way, even if it stood."
      "Destroyed?" The knight chuckled quietly. "I suppose ice does not make for the surest foundation. How did it happen, and how is it that you do not know the way?"
      "I was brought there by a wizard. The wizard used sorcery to battle the monster that guarded the sword. It was their battle that destroyed the palace."
      "By the Lord," Godelae swore, "I should almost like to keep you alive just to hear the story in full. If you were a knight I would see to it that the tale was commemorated in a ballad. As it stands, I can only promise you that I will remember it." He made a gesture of open hands. "Relinquish that sword, and I give you my honor that you will not be slain by me or mine. The rest of Carrolan, of course, is beyond my promise."
      Mok actually considered it. After all, he had not asked for any of this. He had been a manservant, and no more than a manservant, content to look to the horizon in his spare hours. It was Timothean who had given him the flask, who had set him to thinking. It was Timothean who had brought him the sword. What madness had taken him, that he thought he could play the Lord? A madness that had passed.
      His hand tingled as a numb thing returning to life and sensation. "Give me your answer, Mok. Relinquish the blade, or perish." In Godelae's eyes, there could only be one outcome. This had been no grand adventure, as of his youth, but rather the quashing of criminals. It was something to be done quickly, without fuss. He had been glad of the little fun this strange, seditious serf had afforded him.
      Now, though, it was time for the games to end. He would keep this Mok alive, as a pet. No less than he deserved.
      But the blade whispered, "No." Godelae turned suddenly, his jaw clenching, and in that same instant Mallo came charging out of the smoke of a ruined inn. He ran down to halbrediers who had had their backs to him, and rammed into a mounted bowman, swinging two-handed. The bowman took the slice just under the back of his rib cage, all the way through, gore spilling out over his stomach. His leather armor had parted as easily as curtains. A brief moment of opportunity, almost too brief. Mok didn't react swiftly enough to take advantage of it. The sword did.
      The flat of his blade smacked Godelae's temple even as Mok continued to move forward, following through so that he was behind the stunned knight, drawing his weapon up against his throat.
      The minor chaos that had begun with Mallo's charge quickly stilled. Taut bowstrings were relaxed, and polearms lowered.
      "I'm taking a second hostage," Mok said, his voice carrying across the scene of their duel, and even into the town, or what was left of it, "as none of you seemed interested in the first."
      "We have hostages as well," Godelae countered. And indeed, the whole force that had surrendered, nearly one hundred and fifty men, were now on their knees, facing the points of swords and halbreds, surrounded by grasping flames.
      Mok hardened. "Killing them will not save you," Mok said. "I can promise you will be treated well, which is more than you would have given me."
      Godelae chuckled even as the crystal edge pressed more deeply into his throat, drawing out a bead of purple blood. "Very well, serf King. I have been captured before, and I will allow you to capture me as if you were a knight. There will be a ransom, I suppose."
      Mok did not smile. "I already had one in mind."


                                                                                      *      *     *


     Mok had no punishment for the ones who had surrendered. He took Godelae's advice seriously. He should not have gone ahead. Leading from the front is not the same as leaving one's banner in the dust. Mok blamed himself for thinking and behaving as an individual fighter instead of as the head of a more significant unit. If he was going to be a lord, he was going to have to change the manner in which he thought about others.
     So the men and women were set about dousing fires and saving what could be saved, while the banners that had rode behind Godelae went downcast into the distance. The knights who led after him considered going through with the attack, but there was no agreement between them. Once Mok and Lord Godelae were inside the keep there was nothing to be done for it anyway. Kevon and his fifty bowmen had held to the wall, even as the men below had given up their arms. It was a question whether they could have taken the fortification with the forces they had, except by means of a long siege, and neither Lord or Knight was in any kind of mood for that.
     So with a few casualties, and a large material loss, Mok had won the day. Gowsson was quite honored at the stature of his cell mate, whose magnificent armor had been removed.
     Mok found himself in the court yard, giving orders, when his vision blurred, and he nearly fell. He was caught by the old and spindly Quay. "You are wounded, Lord."
     Mok blinked, and he saw that he had been cut rather more often than he realized. Most of them were shallow, and had already crusted. One on his side still bled. He could not recall receiving it.
     "You need to be tended," Quay insisted. "Kevon is able enough to manage all out here."
     Mok allowed himself to be ushered into the main building where he had made his quarters, the room with the tapestries of woven peace. A unicorn watched him out of finely detailed foliage. Quay summoned the medicine woman, and Chalice appeared behind her, full of solicitous concern.  
     Mok didn't see any of them with particular clarity. He was exhausted beyond reason. The fighting had not lasted long when it was all finished, but he felt drained nonetheless. It's the sword, he thought, something to do with the sword, but he couldn't fathom what.
     The medicine woman began to apply stitches to his side, and he winced whenever the needle entered him.
      "I want that armor," he said to Quay. "I want to wear it the next time I have to go into battle."
     "What armor, my lord?"
     "The white tallo. I've never seen anything like it."
     "I'll see that it's ready for you," Quay said, and he drifted away. Chalice was preparing a drink on the
medicine woman's orders, and she soon offered it to Mok, who accepted it gratefully. The liquid was dark brown and somewhat grainy, a bitter ale that had some additional ingredients, so doubly bitter. It went down easily, and turned his exhaustion into a comfortable lassitude. The scene passed interminably until the woman was finished washing his newly sewn cuts. She seemed to vanish between one heartbeat and the next. Mok struggled to remain awake as Chalice removed his boots. He was still not clean, but any kind of bath was out of the question at this juncture. His eyes were slits, and with a blink, he discovered that he was on his back on top of the coverlet. Chalice came to lay beside him, like an animal laying claim to a nest as much as like a lover.
      Oddly, Mok's thoughts drifted toward Mallo, who had vanished once they returned to the keep. The knight had shown himself an ally, had played a pivotal role in the victory of the day, and Mok wondered what he should do about him. Most of all, he wondered what was behind the visor of that helm.
     An image of Timothean came to him, stern visage and eyes of midnight blue, and he shivered.
     Then he was asleep.

Chapter  Nineteen






William Myrl

 Updates:  Chapter 17 of Mystic Seasons Series Mythopoeia Book -8 posted, chapter eight of Lady in the Labyrinth posted