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William Myrlhigh fantasy books, young adult fantasy books

Chapter Twelve

       A light. A light of blazing clair de lune that deepened into the hues of a distant sea. Mok saw nothing else, but he heard a single ponderous boom, as if the disk had been converted into the skin of a cosmic drum, followed by the howl of a tremendous wind.

       He woke on hard ground, laying on his side in a shallow crater in the permafrost. His cheek rested on a frigid scrape of bedrock. Timothean loomed over him.

       "Well done, Mok. The Sword seems to have taken to you as a suitable wielder."

       Mok tore himself free of the ground, slivers of ice pulling loose with thin strips of skin. Fortunately, he was numb, being covered in frost. The ominous cloudscape had begun to relinquish its long hoarded cargo, and now fell with quiet grace all about them. He peered beyond the hulking sorcerer to a tremendous causeway of frozen blocks and shards so near that the perimeter of its collapse had nearly swallowed them. All around, the massive walls had avalanched into unrecognizability. The whole mess gave them the impression of a titans cairn. 

       "What did we do?" Mok asked in a hushed voice.

       "Much less than we will," Timothean answered phlegmatically. "Now it is time we left. Caelian will be in an unpleasant mood when he manages to dig his way out, and the others are approaching as we speak."

      "Others? There are more of those monsters!" One had been terrifying enough. Mok had heard tales of demons dwelling in the wastes south of the Keepholds. Upon meeting the Jabhut, having seen his demense, he'd imagined that they'd trespassed on the king demon, unique in his power. How could there be more?

      "Yes. Others. He was not being metaphorical when he said that he was one of the Seven. Now take my hand." The power of the command in his voice was such that Mok responded automatically. As soon as he had done as he was bade, a whirlwind swept them up again, the same that had brought them, and the Blue Wastes went streaming out below. 

      Mok's return to Loesser was greeted with joyful relief. He had only been absent for a day, and talk had already begun that he had abandoned them. Kevon and Quay had managed to keep everyone in line. A leaderless House is not a House at all, though it will stand for a time. Mok entered through the front gate alone. Timothean had left him some distance away from the town, an hour's brisk hike, with scant answers to his crowding questions. What is this sword? Who are the Jabut? Will they come for me now that I have it? You are the one who gave me this life. Why, and what am I to do with it?

      Timothean had given only a single statement to weigh against all of this. "Everything decays, and all growth is a byproduct of rapine and destruction. If there are changes you would wish to see enacted in the world, do what must be done." 

      What must be done? Mok hardly knew what he wanted, other than to survive, and to sleep, let alone what he could do to ensure even that. Peasants crowded him as he entered the courtyard, craftsmen who saw in him an intimation of the divine. When they saw the sword, the crowd drew back.

      Mok carried it in his left hand, a crystal blade winking in the light of morning. Men whispered, and pointed, and were afraid. Word spread within an instant of his return, and Quay was ready to meet him as he mounted the stairs that led to the tower where he slept.

      "My lord, what has happened?" The old man kneaded his grossly articulated hands, his joints popping in distress. "You're hurt! I will send for the surgeon at once."

      "Leave it," Mok said. The sword came up as he waved his hand for emphasis. Quay followed the crystal with his eyes. "I need rest, that is all."

      He pushed open the door and ascended to his chambers. These were not the rooms that had been inhabited by Midlim. Those had retained memories Mok no longer needed, so he left them unoccupied. For himself he had taken a chamber once occupied by the lady of Loesser, who had been dead so long he did not remember her. It was well-appointed, with windows of glass set in to the casements that allowed them to swing open at the need. There was a rich carpet of a style Mok did not recognize, and the stone here was relatively smooth and clean. The deciding factor had been the tapestries. No scenes of war here, or broken swords. Instead, there was a forest and a lake, scenes of serenity and placid, endless time. In one a thicket of wild fruit trees stood to the side of a rambling path. Barely visible for the skein of foliage was a white, gracile form, just discernable as that of a unicorn. From behind the veil of life it seemed to watch him, and it's violet

gaze was cool enough to soothe his nerves. For that reason alone he had made this his place. He needed that vision now.

       "My lord, there are other things," Quay had followed him up the spiral of the tower, "no doubt the tale of what you have done can wait until you've had your rest, but there is something that cannot wait."

      Mok sat on the end of a down stuffed bed. The sword laid beside him, he removed his boots.

      "What cannot wait, Quay?" 

       "A messenger from Lanolier, Lord."

      "Wait he most certainly can. I will see him in the evening."

      "Quay squirmed, his limbs popping. "Forgive me, but this one saw fit to deliver his message to me, as he does not recognize you as a lord. One commoner as good as another, I believe he said, being himself distantly related to the Wardens..."

      "Out with it."

      Quay paused querilously, then found his strenth. Adjusting his dozen vests he said, "The messenger informed me that a landed Knight and his retinue are already riding from the city. The Wardens have awarded him this Keep, and with it the town of Loesser and the surrounding farmsteads. He gave me to understand that you will not be needed here when they arrive, given the, ah, stories people tell of you."

      Mok sighed. "Bring him to me."

      "Absolutely, lord." Quay bowed himself away.

      Mok sighed again, more deeply this time, and ran his hand along the black pommel of the magic sword. He could not fathem what it was made of. It was not wrapped in leather. It was silken to the touch, but easily gripped, and firm as obsidian. As for the blade itself, that, too, was a mystery. At least it no longer glowed.

      Mok closed his eyes, and then he was no longer alone.

      Kevon Quick and Quay stood with a third man between them and slightly to the fore. As young as Mok himself, this one didn't have the appearance of a messenger. His clothes were fine, and absent any of the strain that would be concomitant with daily travel. He was blonde, and his hair was slicked back with an oily pomade that smelled of apples, far too ripe.

       Mok wrinkled his nose at the dandy.

       "You have something to tell me," he stated flatly.

       "I have no such thing," the man said disgustedly.

       Kevon slapped the back of his head. "Answer the Lord of the Keep."

       The man spun on him, and said furiously, "Watch yourself, or I'll have you in the stocks! You think another cannot put pikes in the hands of a few useless old men in your place?"

      Kevon smiled tightly. Mok rubbed his temples.

      "Enough. Who are you, and what is this about a knight being awarded the Keep?"

      The man turned again, and glowered down at the still seated Mok.

      "I am Dimly Gowsson," he said as if it meant something. "Remember that name. I am cousin to the honorable Sir who approaches even now. Gravis Gowsson is a noble warrior, and champion of the Grand Tourney's. His prowess is famous in all of Carrolan, and he is my cousin. The Wardens of Lanolier have seen fit to reward his courage and skill and the good works he has done in their service with a Keep, as a man of his stature deserves."

      "Is he very tall, then?" Mok said dryly.

      "He paid them an awful lot of coin," Kevon translated.

      Dimly grew red in his anger and embarassment. He was certain that he had never been so thoroughly and unjustly insulted. 

      "You are lord of nothing," he sputtered at Mok. "You are no Sir. You have no land. If you are still in this place when my noble cousin arrives I will see it that you are stripped and flogged unto death!" At this last his eyes fell upon the sword, and his anger was momentarily forgotten in confusion.

     "What, what is that?

       Mok ignored his question.

      "When will your noble cousin arrive?"

       Dimly, fascinated by the glamour of the blade, lost much of his pugnacity. "Tomorrow morn, or this day by the closing of the sun if they come apace."

      "We will expect them by this evening then," Mok said amiably.

       "Kevon, would you be so kind as to escort this one into Loesser and have him locked in the stocks in the square? Afterward, return to me."

      The master of arms seized the fop by the collar of his suit. Dimly went protesting all the way, and Mok listened to those outraged cries and wrathful declarations until they had faded down the stairs. Quay looked at him questioningly.

       "I want to give them fair warning," Mok said. "Of course, they will come anyway. They will cut him lose and wave their banners. But they will have been warned."

       Quay nervously adjusted his vests. "The knight in question will have at least twenty men at arms, Lord. We outnumber them, only I'm not sure many of our men will be willing to fight anyone who comes bearing a writ from Lanolier."

       "I won't ask them to fight for me."


       Mok was calm. He felt as if all the doubts, all the weaknesses of his mortality had been burned away beneath the falling of the ice. His duty, and his life, were rendered with a sudden clarity and purpose.

       "I won't ever ask anyone to fight for me. I will deal with this Gowsson myself. I want you to begin preparations. We are going to have a feast tonight. I want the battlements decorated as if it were the day of the first bloom after the long darkness. In fact, I want everything arranged as if we were have the Festical of First Light this evening."
      Quay was nonplussed. "Lord?"

      "I trust you, Quay. You are a good steward. I ask you to trust me as well."

       The stick figure man, sinewy bundles of knobs and knuckles, straightened, and donned a certain gravity that had been absent before.

      "As you will." He bowed away, for their was work to do. Not or the first time, Mok marveled at the uncanny series of events that had precipitated his rise, and the uncanny manner with which the people of the Keep had accepted him as their lord. 

      When Kevon returned, Mok bade him dismiss the men from the training yard, and to leave the gates open but unguarded. The men were to polish their arms and armor, but otherwise take holiday.

      "Wake me when the commotion starts in the town. Have the men man the walls, but only to watch."

      Kevon agreed without understanding, all questions dying still born on his tongue. There was something unknowable and hard growing within this young man. Kevon would do just as he was commanded. He would watch.

​       Seasons on the disk are marked by the cycles of the Sunflower. Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring; these are the phases of the flower that waxes and wanes as it blooms more or less fully. By arbitrary convention the year is divided into ten months, with winter dominating four of these. This cycle continues perpetually, and with a single regular exception. At the end of every ninth year the sunflower hides its face, and night stretches far beyond its customary hours. This is the Long Darkness, and it can last as little as three days. In the fourth year of the stewardship of the 480th Council of Wardens, it had endured for forty-seven days. That was centuries past, and a rare extremity. If the darkness lasts more than ten days, men wonder aloud whether dawn will ever bloom again. In the days of darkness, work is set aside, and families huddle in their hovels. Gardens languish, and fields wither. Animals go mad and are often slaughtered. Children do not wander far from their homesteads. They tell stories about the monsters that writhe out of the underearth, rampant in this season alone. 

      Then the day breaks.

      Among the poor, food will have run short. This is not enough to damp their sparks, not when there is so much promise in the light. The Lords, in this one instance, show genuine beneficience. The stores of the manors are opened, and there is a day of fete's and feasting. From bloom to closing, the gold  banners stream, and no work is asked of the common people.

       They are given one day.

       The bright gamboge tabards were hung from the battlements, and the gates stood open. There was confusion among the adults, and joy among the children who were too young to realize what the rarely used ornaments meant. Something different, something new. That was all.

      Gravis Gowsson snarled when he realized what was rippling against the high stone ramparts. The fete of the First Light was a sacred celebration, a symbol of the bond between Lord and lorded. This insolent upstart, this slave who would be king, had dared to usurp the trappings of festival to exalt his sins. Gravis spurred his destrier, its hooves tearing into the beaten dirt of the main road. Ten mounted men followed him in a double column, the rest of his retinue maintaining a more sedated pace. There were pack animals to protect, and these townsfolk had already proven themselves treacherous.

      Gravis did not particularly care for his young cousin, or what became of him. However, to have him pinioned in the stocks of Loesser, derided by the common folk, shamed before all men and gods, that was unforgivable. Dimly would return to Lanolier. He could not be seen in this place again. The people of Loesser would have to be shown what the line of Gowsson was capable of. Whatever end the House of Loss had come to, Gravis was certain that they had deserved it. Clearly, they had been unable to educate their charges in the piety and respect due their betters.

       The gates stood open, and faces watched from the crenelated ramparts. No one challenged them. How could they be challenged? Commoners leapt out of their path. A few were overrun. 

      What was that? A man in the courtyard standing alone. What was that? A sword unlike any Gravis had ever beheld. It was a sword of glass. Who would wield a sword of glass? This man was mad. It must have been Mok. The slave who, if certain rumors were to be believed, had murdered his master and somehow taken his place.

      What was wrong with Loesser? What had happened here? No matter. 

       Gravis would fix it.

       Mok watched the knight rise high in his stirrups. He watched the destrier gallop and watched the foam slip from the corner of its open mouth. Mok watched the individual clods of dirt soar in graceful parabolas as they were torn from the road. He watched the dust rise and form nebulous communities, drifting and congregating and finally scattering as the next horse passed.

       The lead rider had drawn his longsword, and a liquid lambency fell upward along the edge as he raised the blade. Hooves thundered like a giant's heart, slower, and slower.

       The lambency reached the tip of the longsword as the weapon reached the peak of its arc. Gravis swung down, his arm curving the blow so that it would decapitate the man with the glass blade.  Mok sidestepped, doubling over. Gravis found that he was flying, briefly. 

       The knight landed on his shoulder, his epaulet crumbling. Something dislocated and he rolled, tangling in his riding cape. The column of horsemen parted around him and his own dying mount. The horses shrieked and balked, frightened by the sudden musky scent of beast blood. The destrier was on its side, chest heaving. Mok's cut had taken it at the knee, and his sword tip had scored a line down the animal's rib cage. A red gout stained the ground behind him like a hellish shadow as he faced the circle of men at arms. Swords rang out of their sheathes, and the men on the walls held their breath, immobilized.

      "No!" Gravis had untangled himself and was on one knee. "Leave him to me! Do not touch him." His longsword had landed some distance away, and he gestured at one of his men to retrieve it. His left arm was numb, but with a gruesome shrug he was able to pop it back into place. He could flex his hand.

      Mok stood motionless as winter-rimed stone as he waited for the knight to ready himself. Gravis unfastened his cape. He wore a chain shirt, the rings sullied by his fall, and leathers underneath. His mailed hand brought his weapon forward and held it perpendicular to his body, the point directed at Mok. It was a clear challenge.

      "Peasant," he spat.

       "Lord," Mok said mildly. It could have been an acknowledgement as easily as a rebuke. There was a moment of unmotion, and a cloud came to rest over them, throwing the courtyard and all within it into shadow.

       "What manner of blade is that you carry?"

       Mok glanced down at his weapon, tilting it, the motion casual. Despite the umbra they were under, its inner matrices sparkled and flickered with imperceptibly blue light.

       "A special one," he said absently.

       Gravis assumed a simple offensive stance, gripping his sword with both hands, and holding it at a diagonal to his body. "I will hang it above the high table," he promised, "just as I will have you hung over the outer wall."

       Mok looked as if he had only just woken from an all consuming reverie. If he heard Gravis' threat, he gave no sign of it, but only smiled pleasantly.

      The knight advanced purposefully and tested his opponent with an almost playful thrust. Edge touched edge, but there was no sound, no ring or scrape. Mok slashed at Gravis' chest. He was parried, and again it was a noiseless meeting of steel and crystal. Confused, the knight struck two quick blows, battering Mok's weapon on each side. Silence. There was no mistaking it now, the peasant's glass sword carried some strange enchantment that explained both those distracting sparks and the unnatural quiet. Gravis snarled. 

He was a renowned swordsman and a champion of the Grand Melee. He had bested a hundred men; he was not frightened of this crystal sword.

       Their pace increased as he maintained his offensive. Mok was forced back a step, and then circled around. The eerie soundlessness of the magic blade seemed to spread. In the whole square there was no noise but that of their boots in the dirt and gravel, and soon even that grew muffled, and then was gone.

       Gravis' heart pounded in his ears. It was all that he could hear. This was absurd; absurd that this treasonous peasant had lasted so long, and that he still wore his exertions so lightly. The knight unleashed a flurry of blows intended to overwhelm all possible defense. Mok parried, sidestepped, and nearly ran him through. Gravis avoided being skewered by the smallest of margins, bringing his word up at the last second, diverting the thrust so that it only severed a few of the rings on his side.

       "Enough!" he shouted, his voice sounding distant to his own ears. He began to attack in a fury, striking repeatedly with all his considerable strength, holding his sword in a two-handed grip. In another moment he held his weapon high above his head and bellowed as he swung down, intending to shatter the blade of glass. 

       The crash of a cathedral bell and a flash of light accompanied the falling of a score of tallo shards. The fragments of Gravis' blade steamed where they touched the earth. He clutched his useless hilt, shock writ large upon his face.

       Mok slapped him with the flat of his blade, and the knight buckled, hitting the ground nervelessly. 

© Aug. 30 2013 William Myrl