The magical waters welcomed them once again, and they swam out of the lake that was within the lake and traveled across the sandy expanse in the middle of which the once frozen pyramid had now melted and stood before them in its fleshless, inner, alabaster glory. They entered the ancient structure as if for the first time and within it they now saw that no room, no labyrinth, no trap existed any more, other than a glorious hall, grand and illuminated, in the middle of which they marveled at an imposing monument. It was made of alabaster itself and surrounded by magical nature.
The triangular shape that it depicted was levitating ten feet above the ground and was rotating in the air. Within it, an alabaster cube was rotating in the opposite direction to the triangle frame and within the square, a sphere was rotating in a chaotic manner and on every possible axis.
Beneath that magnificent monument that was as large as a hilltop, the portal that the hierophant created for Thalldon was still standing open and through it the former paladin could discern the northern pass that lay on the borders of his domain.
“Let’s go.” He said and all three of them passed through the waygate.
“I should close this if it is within my power.” The blackguard announced.
And indeed he felt that he had a connection with the magic of the portal and with a swift gesture from his hand the gate collapsed within itself and disappeared out of thin air.
They had reached the cold steppes of the Helmaer realm that were geomorphically defined by a large mountain range called Haathoogard “Giants Bones” that surrounded Cewick Tower as natural defense. On the slopes of the mountain, lay a small region of forests, the “ghosts of spirits past” , where it is said that was once the site of a massive genocide that the Atranaar elves conducted on their former cousins, the Faerie. On the outskirts of that forest that lay on the crossroads that connected the Ocean of Silver Eyes to the northwest with the inland empires of old to the northeast, one could find an old inn, the Black Fox Lodge, whose chimney now smoked in the darkness of the deep winter. It was morning when they passed through the gate and now it was nighttime. The magic of the lake was at play when they went through the wormhole.
“Are we going in there?” Alkanke asked. “If so, we must agree on our course of action. Who are we and what are we doing here?” She added.
“We can pose as a group of mercenaries that seek to enlist to the Helmaer ranks and join their upcoming conflicts.” Kiko suggested.
“That is a descent idea.” Thalldon said nodding in agreement. “In that case though, we should split. You two go ahead and enter the inn and I will scope the area for a while and enter later. It would be best if we feigned that we are unacquainted.”
All three agreed and so Alkanke and Kiko went inside the lodge, while Thalldon skulked about cloaked, and spied the mesh hall from the window to the back.
The cold was piercing even more so than the darkness of the steppes.
“I am Alorna and you are my squire.” Alkanke told Kiko who frowningly agreed to the scheme.
“Squire… Everyone thinks of me as a squire.” His angelic eyes mournfully looked towards the dark skies. The child still kept the vision of its death close to its heart. That Movaru Goddess and that tune were now paramount to its being, to its new life, as the Urchin felt it at least.
The interior of the inn was more welcoming than it was warm, regardless of the rather large fireplace that covered the southern wall. It was as big as a room, housing an antithetical to its size small fire, and its face was almost as large as the main entrance to the mesh hall. Under its cragrock mantlepiece, a dwarf sat, holding an iron rod and shuffling the embers.
A long wooden table made of bodagot root, run across the length of the inn, and on its equally long benches, only a gathering of human male hunters sat, old and younger, conversing and drinking ale.
On the other side of the room, just in front of a small storage room door, the innkeeper, a short-clean shaven man in his seventies, roasted meat on a barbeque slab. Across the place, various mounted heads from animals and beasts decorated the walls, the “crown jewel” of which – resting above the fireplace – was a Jhahkar – a forest dragon long extinct now.
“How rustic and manly.” Alkanke whispered and sat on the edge of the table, across Kiko. “The look on their face seeing a woman in armor entering a tavern is similar to the look they would have seeing a Jhankar walk in and order ale.”
“What can I bring you, strangers? “ The innkeeper asked.
“Ale and food.” Alkanke replied, removing only her left gauntlet.
“Coming up. What brings you to our icy steppes? You are not from around here are you?” He asked smirking, in his heavy accent. He spoke a variation of the Golagondish tongue which was the human dialect.
“We are!” Kiko rushed to respond before Alkanke could.
“Oh! Where from? From Pine Fang to the west maybe?” The man continued, in an interrogating manner.
“Yes! That’s my homeland.” Kiko declared happily.
“We are mercenaries. We come to enlist to the Helmaer army. Heard they seek swords. I am actually from Cewick Tower. Returning after some years. This here is my squire.” Alkanke cut in to announce, kicking Kiko’s leg below the table.
“I see, I see. “ The innkeeper said and went back to the slab to prepare the order. Thalldon who overlooked the scene from outside, saw him whispering something towards the small storage room in the back.
“Pine Fang is not in the west. It is an abandoned village to the southeastern hills. He was testing us.” Alkanke whispered to Kiko. “Let me do the talking from now on.”
The hunters across the table regularly looked over towards the two travelers, giggling amongst themselves.
“Ok I will!” Kiko replied, got up and walked over to the fireplace where the dwarf sat.
While the child was walking across the room, a group of three men, soldiers, wearing the Helmaer colors, walked in. One of them was an officer of sorts, Kiko could tell by his snobbish demeanor. Another was an older man, gruff and moody, and lastly a youngster, with a red nose and barely any facial hair. Immediately the innkeeper brought a small table and two stools and set them up near the corner next to the fireplace.
The officer and the older man sat down and the youngling stood behind them, tense and nervously looking at the ceiling. Kiko sat next to the dwarf. A thick and long dirty cloak hung over his shoulders. He wore a long mustache that moved funnily in a wavy motion while he chewed on something. Possibly a herb. Kiko could smell it. It had the odor of mint and orange flakes.
“Hey there lad.” The dwarf said without raising his eyes from the fire. “I would be more careful ‘round ‘ere. The Helmaer lands aren’t so welcoming as of late.”
“It seems so! Who are you?” Kiko inquired while rubbing its small palms near the fire. Its knuckle cut mitten gloves were nearly frozen.
“I would be Kloverdan. And you?” The dwarf said and spat a blackish blob into the fire. It scintillated and flared up, scenting the room with spearmint.
-“Kik- I mean Starly.”
-“Nice to make your acquaintance Starly.” The dwarf remarked and smiled.
-“What are you Kloverdan? A warrior?”
-“I am a naturalist of sorts. I collect and sell rare gems and herbs on the side.That’s the only reason the humans still tolerate my existence here.”
-“What’s YOUR cover child?”
-“Well, ehm. We and the lady there are mercenaries.”
-“I see! Well, be careful lad. And stay clear of the main road. Atranaar and Helmaer patrol it. And trust me; they are more inclined to break the peace than keep it. If you know what I mean.”
Kiko nodded, stood up and walked over to the soldiers. It stood in front of their table, cleared its throat and spoke.
“Are you with the Helmaer army? Me and my companion wish to enlist!”
Everyone in the tavern started laughing.
“Is that so child?” The officer said, wiping the spilled ale from his beard, using his beard.
“Yes! It is! We-“
Before the bard could finish the sentence, Thalldon walked in.
The patrons turned towards the door. Some of them knew Thalldon and recognized him, while others had heard of him but never saw him in the flesh before.
“Prince Thalldon!” The innkeeper exclaimed. “I did not know you would be honoring our lowly establishment! Please have a seat.” He said and rushed to bring plates and mugs for the Helmaer noble, behaving as if overcompensating for something.
“It was not a planned visit. Nor do I usually need to announce my steps. Do I?” The blackguard said and looked straight at the soldiers table who were still sitting down.
The officer noticing Thalldons' glare, dropped his half eaten mutton in the plate he was holding, stood up and ordered the other two soldiers to stand attention in the presence of the former paladin. They complied as hesitantly as the order was issued by the officer, except for the youngling who was already as stiff as a cane to begin with.
“At ease. Bring the soldier here a seat. Why is he eating standing?” The former paladin directed pointing at the younger patrolman. “Eat and then you will escort me to the Tower.”
-“We cannot do that my lord. We have orders coming from the king. Specific orders.”
-“What orders are those?”
-“We are not at liberty to divulge details to anyone.”
-“Anyone? I am not anyone. I am the king’s son.”
The soldiers remained silent.
“There have been rumors.” A hunter remarked.
“Rumors of what kind?” Thalldon turned and asked.
-“Regarding your travels and the Atranaar.”
-“And you would hold rumors coming from the Atranaar as more valid than the history of what I personally have done for this land?”
-“The Atranaar are our allies. Much needed allies if you ask me. We need to reclaim our lands and secure them from unwanted trespassers like the orcs and the various raggedy nomads and refugees that come and go. This is OUR land.” The hunter said and grimaced grotesquely, his face displaying both pride and hatred, as if he had just killed an elk with a headshot.
“Clear thinking is our ally. Not the Atranaar. I have seen their ways. They do not befit our heritage. YOU best remember that.” Thalldon said and walked out, knowing where this would escalate had he stayed.
Right after his exit, the patrons resumed their murmuring and the innkeeper, after spiting on the ground in contempt, leaned in the storehouse once again and whispered something, that sounded incoherent to Kiko who was eavesdropping.
“We need to leave also.” The child told Alkanke who agreed and dropped a few coins on the table.
“Where can we rent a horse around here?” She asked the innkeeper.
“A horse? How did you come all the way here in the first place?” He responded confused.
“Our horse died of exhaustion a few hours before we reached the inn. We continued on foot the rest of the way.” Kiko responded swiftly and with conviction.
-“I see… Well there is a farmer right outside who keeps a couple of horses. Maybe he will rent you one, if he is still awake.”
“Thank you.” Alkanke said and the two left the tavern within nerve-racking silence.
The two met up with the former paladin just outside, near the farm and away from the prying eyes of the patrons of the tavern. The snow was falling rapidly while they were inside and now it had covered the main road that run between the mountains all the way to Cewick tower. They stood there ankle deep into the cold powdery whiteness, in Kiko’s case, knee deep.
The Stars hung from the sky hazy and dim while the twelve moons of Barastir reigned above them like an argent crown.
As they were conversing in the dark of midnight, a lone rider sped inside the gloom and got lost into the night over the horizon. “The Innkeeper send him off, I am sure. He had been preparing something with someone in the small room behind the counter. He's trying to inform the authorities of our arrival.” Kiko explained trying to make out the riders features to no avail. Had the child succeeded, it would have recognized Crane, the old errant man that met with Thalldon at Olsahir.
“I think we should take another road not the main one. The dwarf inside informed me that there are Patrols there.” Kiko suggested.
“Yes that would be a good idea, provided that we do not run into wild beasts or worse.” Alkanke added.
“There are not many things that I would call worse than the Atranaar elves.” Thalldon noted as he looked at the dark slopes of the mountain Haathoogard. “I agree that it is best we took the longer way around and took our chances. It is after all just two hours more than the main path.”
And so the three companions traveled in the last hours of darkness and through the first light near the forests that run to the side of the mountain and through the path within them. Soon they reached a clearing where strangely how, a few tree trunks were severed and others completely uprooted, lying covered in the snow that was now melting away under the morning light.
“These are signs of neither lightning nor a rockslide. This must be the work of a large animal.” Alkanke deliberated.
Kiko went ahead to scout the area and the other two followed behind.
They came across the following spectacle. A giant was engaged into melee with a Helmaer soldier who was barely standing his ground. The giant was bellowing curses in the faerie language and was pointing towards a pile of logs that were formed into the base of a house. Nearby across the clearing, a cart was running in circles pulled by a horse which was evidently startled by the event. Inside the cart the companions saw two tied up humanoid figures, possibly Sarakhil – dark skinned elves. Rare, reclusive, forest and mountain dwelling elves, in a long standing war against the Atranaar.
Kiko sneaked towards the cart to investigate while Thalldon and Alkanke neared the skirmish.
“What is the issue here, why are you fighting? I am Thalldon, heir of the Helmaer!” The former paladin shouted.
The giant pushed the soldiers shield aside and then lowered his arms. The patrolman took a few steps back and looked at the companions disoriented and perplexed.
“This… this giant seeks to build a house in the steppes using our trees. Both of these actions are illegal and I am forced to stop him. Thalldon you say?” The soldier explained.
“I AM NOT DOING ANYTHING WRONG!” The giant bellowed. “This is our land as much as it is yours, and so is the timber!” He added and raised his huge sword once again, this time more as a warning rather than a threat.
“At ease soldier. The giant is right. There is no such law. Everyone is free to use the natural resources according to their needs, so long that they respect the needs of others.” Thalldon clarified.
“This is not so my lord. The king has issued other orders altogether. I am obliged to keep them.” The patrolman insisted, and maneuvered to keep equal distance both towards the giant and towards Thalldon.
“You will cease at once, soldier. That is an order. My order.” Thalldon retorted and stared angrily at the soldier who hesitated and then started withdrawing cautiously towards his horse and cart.
“Friend!” The blackguard announced addressing the giant. “What is your fair name?”
-“I am Algaragan from the mountain tribes! I came down as many of my kin do in the months of frost, to build lodging in the steppes. This is our way of old.”
-“I understand and you have the right to do so.”
-“Thank you Thalldon. I hear you are the king’s son. Do you not agree with him?”
-“No. I do not. And I need your help Algaragan! You are my kinsman as much as any Helmaerite and I want to maintain those bonds intact.”
-“That is good to hear Thalldon. I hope your vision is accepted by the Towerfolk.”
“Why don’t you join me? I am on my way there.” Thalldon replied while Kiko crept beneath the cart and climbed on the axle that connected the wheels. While the giant conversed with Thalldon, the Helmaer patrolman had sneaked back to his horse and was about to mount it.
“Stop where you are!” Alkanke shouted.
“We must stop him, he seems to be carrying prisoners.” She exclaimed.
The soldier wasted no time, hopped on his horse and galloped away. Kiko, unable to hold on, fell flat on the snowy grass, while the cart sped away in the distance, where the ancient Tower pierced the skies.
-“It seems you will reach your homeland, announced. Unfortunately for you, not in a manner befitting your position it seems.” The giant said to Thalldon smiling. He was a massive man. Giants live to be hundreds of years old. This one seemed middle aged. Various crafting tools hung from his belt and his boots had seen better days. He must have been hiking for days to descent from the mountains and build his home on the frozen flats.
“Unfortunately, I cannot escort you to your castle. The humans are hostile towards my kind lately. I would be less intimidating and more of a target. Regardless, you have an ally in me Thalldon lordling. I will converse with my kin and decide our course of action. Look to the skies in the mornings to follow. If you see the golden hawk circling above you, come and see me here.” The giant announced and continued building his home.
The three companions took their leave of Algaragan and continued on their course and reached a rocky hilltop, underneath which the town of Cewick Tower appeared in its gray depression, surrounded by the granite cracks of the highlands. Less than a mile ahead, Kiko noticed a patrol approaching. The child saw one Helmaer pikeman, one Atranaar and one bulky creature, possibly a hill giant.
The companions hid behind a rock, while the patrol turned and approached them. They took a closer look. Indeed that creature was a hill giant. Around its neck a blue energy in the form of a rope was tied. It was a weapon of some kind. A magical whip perhaps that the Atranaar elf was holding. The giant started sniffing the air intensely as the patrol passed near the hiding place of the three, and then the startled elf jerked the whip causing the giant to stride straight towards the companions.
"We have no choice but to fight." Thalldon announced and called upon his mystical blade.
Kiko rolled to the back and started whispering a spell.
Alkanke rushed ahead towards the elf drawing her longsword.
The Helmaer pikeman, ignoring Thalldon's orders to fall back, attacked with his spear but missed miserably and fell flat on his back, while Thalldon suffered a severe blow from the hill giants club and retaliated with a vicious strike to the creatures belly. As the former paladin was getting ready to deliver the mortal blow, the bard interfered and directed his dissonant whispers towards him causing his strike to fail!
“The giant is a prisoner, we need him on our side, do not kill him!” Kiko telepathically implored Thalldon who instinctively turned from the giant and assisted Alkanke who was trading blows with the elf.
The child then heated the metal handle from the elf’s weapon causing him to drop it on the ground and thus released the giant from the shocking grasp that was enthralling it. Immediately Kiko healed the wounds on the giants body and the creature nodded in gratitude, picked up a boulder from the ground and let a thunderous cry resound in the steppes as it let it fly and land on the pikeman who lay prone, crushing him and sending him to meet a very gruesome demise.
Alkanke picked up the magical whip, with her battle gauntlet that could withstand the heat from Kikos’ spell and snapped it towards the Atranaar's legs, giving the perfect opportunity for Thalldon to strike. The blackguard raised his sword above his head in a combat pose known as the stance of the swooping falcon and awaited a misstep. The desperate elf extended his arms to cast a spell towards them and Thalldon executed his preplanned offensive, dropping his blade through both the arms of the elf, severing them at the wrists.
It took a few moments of shrieking cries for the Atranaar to die and turn into a marble statue right there on the snow.
“We have no time.” Alkanke said. “We must go.”
“Thank you dweller of the hills.” Thalldon told the giant.
“There is a kinsman of yours to the southeast, seek him out!” Kiko added and bid the creature farewell.
The giant teared up as it run towards the forests, and managed a mere “Thank you”, as it left.
“Who knows what the poor creature suffered under that whip.” Alkanke remarked.
“Indeed. The Atranaar are a true plague.” Thalldon said in agreement.
“Passage! Passage to the north near the marsh.” The hill giant shouted departing.
“I know the place. There is an opening in the old walls there. It leads through the stables. We should be able to sneak in through there.” Thalldon explained, looking towards his birthplace.
“What are we going to do? I suggest we walk straight to the tower and state our minds. I have no fear.” Thalldon professed to his companions.
“I will walk with you as well.” Alkanke declared. “There are things that the people, the women of Cewick Tower, need to hear.”
And so they entered the city through the stables and reached the cobbled path that run though the whole stronghold and led to the Tower gates. Half way on the path, Thalldon removed his casque and let his face show.
The second tenhour of the day, the Greylight, had arrived and the uncanny phenomenon of the triangular sun, arose in the sky once more.
The former paladin walked slowly on the stone paved avenue.
No flower petals decorated his return, but rather the icy snowflakes of the frozen skies that fell on his metal armor as the disapproving tears of Uman the Skylord. All he could hear was the hissing gust of the zephyr.
Wreathed in black determination Thalldon strode, while the onlooking people of the Helmaer town, confused and skulking, gazed at him as his heavy steps sank inside the black snow that blanketed the land. They had heard the mandate of the King declaring his son's actions as “befallen from the grace of the Helmaer family”, but now there he stood striding towards the throne room. Slowly a trail of soldiers amassed behind him, much like when a Lords power is usurped and he is taken to the executioner's block accompanied by the very warriors that he once commanded. He walked in grim silence, only looking ahead to the open metal doors of the Tower that appeared before him piercing the skies, gray and devalued in this age of deterioration and frost, but still alluding to the shadow of a majesty long gone.
A crowd had also gathered around the steps of the Tower.
“It seems they have been notified of our presence.” Alkanke whispered smirking in defiance.
“I will be at your side when the time is right. You might not be able to see me but I will be there for you.” Kiko promised and disappeared into the alleyways of the town.
The grim knight and Alkanke reached the tower and crossed the inner walls as the gathered crowd parted in their wake. Dozens of sets of eyes gazed intensely at them.
“Halt!” A senior officer demanded as Thalldon ascended the stone steps towards the door.
Before Thalldon could push the officer aside, a voice from within the hall, a voice familiar yet not welcoming, directed the officer to fall back.
“Let him pass. Let him face the judgment of the Law firsthand. He is after all, still a Helmaer.” This was the slithering voice of Aruthir. Thalldon’s older brother.
Aruthir was a cowardly person in Thalldon’s eyes. Always eager to nod his head even at the most absurd of orders or opinions that his father, King Kantagor, would spew. He spent his whole life grooming his unworthy self for a throne that was not fit for him as he was likewise, not fit for the throne. He was a person devoid of any non-traditional political incentive other than the structure that was already laid out before him. A person devoid of vision and personal opinion.
Regardless, he was the person that was sitting on the throne right now.
Thalldon looked down at the officer, who shrunk and stepped back allowing the two ironclad travelers to walk through the entryway into the throne room. The Greylight shone through the stained glass windows of the hold, showering the gathered crowd beneath in a hue ochre and foreboding.
The whole of the Helmaer nobility stood there, beneath the ancient banner of the family that was hanging on the rafters above the throne, which like it, was in raggy tatters.
The clothes of the nobles were dim and gloomy like their hearts. To the sides of the hall, commoners gathered from all walks of life – their faces capturing both suspicion and bewilderment – and in front of them, a circle of spearmen surrounded the audience floor.
Atranaar elves stood behind the throne, and next to them, Theshpiah, Thalldons’ mother. His brother Aruthir, indeed sat on it, clad in his boisterous shining armor, holding and casually leaning on his unsheathed longsword with an elitist grimace painted across his middle-aged looking face, even though he was just thirty seven.
“Step forth brother. Step forth and explain yourself. A rider from the borders informed us of your arrival. I am sad to not be able to welcome you on better terms. You see there have been rumors, or rather – reports – that hold you responsible of various problematic acts and wrongdoings.
What have you to say to this?” He monologued while pointing the tip of his blade towards Thalldon.
The blackguard stood next to Alkanke in the middle of the audience floor and gazed at the banner above, then at the crowd and then finally his dark eyes transfixed on his brother’s face. As Thalldon’s looming presence grew proudly, his long shadow cast at the stone, mirrored his resolute charisma that was slowly creeping around the hall. He did not outright speak. Instead he took a deep breath, so deep and resounding that echoed to the back of the room which was suspended in silent anticipation.
Finally he spoke.
“Under whose authority is it that you are sitting on that throne my brother? Have you not understood by now the limitations of your character? And what are these rumors that you speak of? Since when does our family operate on rumor, especially regarding its own son? Long have I traveled the far reaches of the land doing the bidding of our King and father, never forgetting what the legacy of this family is and I return after months of doing what's right, only to be greeted by this threatening atmosphere, by this, may I say, poisonous assembly. I see that Atranaar are amongst the nobles. That means that the rumors that I heard are indeed true, if it is rumors that we are discussing after all. Since when do we need the arrogance of the elves to dictate the necessity of alliances and the future of this land, and since when do you command the manner in which I, heir of my king and father, will be accepted and greeted within my own Hall?”
His voice echoed heavy, and fell like a dark cloud above the tower. A cloud overclogged with rain.
Murmurs spread around the room.
“By the will of our King and father himself, Thalldon!” His brother replied sharply and stood up, still using his sword as a mannerismic supplement for his speech. “It was he who forged this alliance with the elves, a great alliance at that, and it was he who ordered that you should be held accountable and disowned for your actions. It was also he that gathered our forces and is as we speak marching to secure the future of our Land by the grace of our alliance with the Atranaar. In all these, you are the odd one out, to put it simply. You do not belong. Is it not true that you obstructed the duty of our patrols only hours ago and even slew an elven patrol leader? Is it not true that you murdered several Atranaar only to revenge an uncivilized orc? Is it not true that you embarked into some sort of an obscure personal quest to who knows where; completely deviating from your sole purpose which is to safeguard these lands and act as an agent for the well-being of this family? But this does not ring true only now – at this moment – my brother. This has been true since the beginning of your “career”. Always you placed yourself above others; you and our useless sister alike. I am the only one who will continue to be both willing and capable to do what's best for this family and this is exactly why I am the only one who is still by the Kings side, and that is exactly why our own father gave me this throne to act as his voice during his absence. Now that you know your true position in this equation, given the fact that you were once heir of this family, I give you the following two choices. Either accept your lifelong banishment from these lands forthwith, or accept your death by the hands of the very family that you betrayed and abandoned.” He added raising his screeching voice while subconsciously tracing the sharp edge of his sword with his metal glove.
“What have you done to my sister, where is Elonkara? Mother I see you there behind the throne, what have you to say on this? Is this your will as well as my fathers?”
Thalldon barked, taking one step forward, while the spearmen suddenly lowered their spears towards him.
“She suffered the fate that every woman who is overstepping her bounds, suffers. She thought that she could deviate from her path and become a student of the arcane. The myth that the sorcerer, who gave the name “Helmaer” to us, was a woman, is nothing more than exactly that. A myth. Your sister should have known better than to defy her rightful place as a lady of the court like her mother is.”
Aruthir hissed in contempt.
“You mean her rightful place as interior decoration for men.” Alkanke shouted abruptly at the crown prince, and walked right in front of a spear, pushing it aside with her gauntlet.
“You do not even call your mother by her true title. Queen. This is exactly why your family, the Helmaer line and all the human communities also, have gone to waste. This is exactly why you are rotten to the core and you deserve the utter deterioration that has befallen you. I was once part of this town like my mother and my grandmother before her and I have seen first-hand your blatant disregard for anything that is not male, that is not human and that is not noble, and I am here to declare that this will end one way or another. I am speaking to the women of this town!” She shouted standing tall. “Some of you are in this hall and some outside it. Remember how you have been treated ALL YOUR LIVES. Remember how your existence was always dictated by the will of your husbands, your brothers, and your fathers. Remember that your destiny in this life was to be helpers, servants, second grade caretakers, child bearers as well as objects of pleasure for men. Did you choose that life? Does it fulfill you or does it not? Stand up against it!”
Aruthir turned around and looked at her baffled, unable to grasp the notion that a woman - an unknown woman at that – was talking back at him. He mumbled a few words and before he could utter them, Thalldon interrupted him.
“People of Cewick Tower, I call upon your intuition. This man here, who calls himself rightful heir of my family, is nothing more than a puppet, than a would-be tyrant. Long have we lived peacefully in these lands. Long have we accepted others in our midst. Yes we have erred many a time but instead of doing what we must to correct our mistakes, what we now do is to elevate hatred as our way of dealing with things. Where shall this path take us? Where shall this alliance with the elves bring us? What will happen when the elves deal with everyone else that is in their path? They will then turn against us and eliminate us in their hunger for total domination. I have seen that happen, I have seen their blood magic at work at Olsahir, where they would demand a bloody signature that would enthrall people to their cause. This is what I defended myself against and now I stand falsely accused. I call upon you people of this town to stand behind me and to stand against this madness that is evidently the workings of my own father. Every man, woman, human or otherwise, is welcome here in these lands and we can defend our rights against those who seek to take them from us. All we need is strong leaders not obsessed and sell-out lordlings like him!”
He said pointing at his brother who was now red with rage. A number of citizens along with an old councilman openly agreed with Thalldon and Alkanke and declared the Kings alliance with the elves “folly”. They went on and stood behind Alkanke and Thalldon.
Aruthir felt a creeping uneasiness. He dropped his fist on the arm of the throne.
“How dare you utter these words? We defend our lands against our enemies. This is exactly what we are doing! And I am doing what your father has envisioned. Long have these lands been ravaged by foreigners. Long have our natural resources being robbed from under our own eyes. The giants descend from the mountains stealing our lumber and building houses on our steppes. Every poor and destitute refugee seeks to settle down here, even the Orcs you call friends, pass through this land in their pilgrimages, using our pathways, hunting our game and even camping down in our fields without even paying tribute. Our heritage as humans is to be leaders and to dominate all the lesser uncivilized races and we will pursue this destiny with no other ally than the pureborn of the Gods. The high elves themselves.” The prince said and arced his open palm across the high elves that stood there, as if they were in display. Thalldon noticed a familiar face among them. The Nameless Atranaar. “This Is the destiny of this family and together with the Atranaar we will pursue it and we will rule Barastir through true Elegance, Purity and Reason against the savagery and the brutality and the sickening deviation of all that oppose us, be that the Orcs, the Faerie, the Women or anyone else.”
Aruthir said raising his sword. “Sieze him!” He directed and the spearmen encroached the gathering of Thalldon, Alkanke, the councilman and those few that followed.
“ONXAAAAAARRR!” Thalldon immediately roared!
His thunderous call shook the walls as a long dark nebula started forming inside his raised left hand. That dark nebula suddenly burst into frostfire that blazed hungrily in the throne room, and took the form of Onxar the invincible, The Black Blade of legends.
“YES MY LORD! ONXAR THE INVINCIBLE IS HERE!” Onxar bellowed as its voice resounded not only inside Thalldons head this time, but throughout the walls of Cewick Tower, as if it was the voice of Sareul the Demon King himself, lord and master of swords. Everyone in attendance froze where they stood.
Thalldon dominated the atmosphere completely. The spearmen trembled and labored to maintain their composure as the dark aura around the blackguard seeped around the room like the grim mist of a lightless dawn.
“You will Halt where you stand!” Thalldon declared. “Cease and desist. This audience is not over. Mother, long have you stood silent. This is your time to speak! Stop this madness and take the reins of this family. I hold Ontrothon the first star – the way for the Glass to break.”
Kiko was in the meantime creeping around the gathering, slowly making its way near the former paladin and before either the bard or Thalldon could act, Aruthir lunged ahead with his sword raised and shouted!
“I gave you choices that you would not take and thus I will deliver judgement myself. Kill him where he stands – I will not stain my own hands with the blood of my brother. As for you woman, I will make sure that you learn your position today. It was a mistake to return to this Tower shouting the obscenities that you have marred our walls with! You will both serve as a bloody reminder of what the true law and the true legacy of our family really is!” He said and attacked Alkanke attempting to hack at her with his weapon but inches before he hit his mark, the experienced female warrior casually stepped aside and raised her battle gauntlet capturing the swords blade within it effortlessly, crumbling it in her grip as if it was just a sheet of papyrus and then with a quick move placed Aruthir in a headlock still holding his destroyed sword in her grasp, a reminder of his defiled authority.
“As I was saying I have Ontrothon – the first star – in my possession! “ Thalldon resumed his addressing of the crowd still holding Onxar in one hand and the gloomy Star in the other. “Witness its true glory people of Cewick Tower and understand that through the power of our common cause, through the power of tolerance, through the power of true leadership, we will stride in this world guided by the light of the Stars!”
It was at that crucial moment that the bard stepped in and stood in front of the blackguard. The queer looking being called Kiko, opened its small arms as if wanting to embrace the whole universe around it, and with watery eyes looked at the gathering projecting the same amazement that was mirrored in their eyes as well, and only spoke one word.
A massive burst of white light violently illuminated the whole room as if the immortal hand of Ahraaserah herself, tore Huol – the brightest of the three suns – and plunged it in the halls of the Tower. That pure radiance that emanated from the stellar body of the child, lasted for a few seconds and when it ended, all in attendance were speechless and sightless, lest for one Atranaar, forever nameless, who exited the room knowing that the crowd was now half swayed to the cause of Thalldon.
Suddenly Theshpiah spoke. “Alkanke I am honored that you returned here with my son. You are both right in your deliberations and the timing of your arrival.”
“Fall back!” She ordered the soldiers who complied, half confused and half afraid of what had transpired.
“I will do my best to restore stability and buy time, but know this my son. When your father returns with the Atranaar in full military power, my best will not be enough. Go and find your sister, she is exiled to the chasm of Samuth. Maybe she will agree to return and save this land from madness.”
“I Will find her.” Thalldon declared and picked Kiko up is his arms.
Alkanke released the crown prince from her headlock and he dropped on his knees gasping for air.
The companions turned and exited the Tower and the stronghold, back to the wilderness in search for Elonkara.
That day was forever remembered in the lore of the Helmaer lands as “The Return to Cewick Tower”.