Darigan's Truce: Part Five
The feast began as happy music filled the hall, and the
Blumaroo court minstrel began one of the many traditional tunes of Meridell. From
time to time he cavorted with the best of the jesters and tumblers, and together
all the entertainers put on quite a show. The guests enjoyed themselves immensely,
but none more than Sally's family. Their enjoyment was more bewilderment at first
from being so suddenly in the midst of the extravagant banquet, but they soon
began to enjoy themselves, all the while giving thanks to the two leaders who
permitted them to stay.
When everyone was in a good humor from the food
and drink, the minstrel decided to let the newcomers take their turn in story-telling.
"You there, m'lord!" the Blumaroo called out
to Lord Darigan. "Tell us a tale of your kingdom that we would thrill to hear!"
The guests, warmed by the mead they had drunk, loudly agreed and clamored to
hear a tale. Darigan smiled in his reluctance.
"But I don't know many tales that you would care
to listen to," he said. "Stories from my realm are so often thoughtful and brooding,
very different from the joyful ones you tell." But the guests insisted.
"We care not if the tale is gloomy!" one cried.
"If it must be so, at least let it be frightening, a tale we may tell by night
to scare the children!" Vex leaned over to Darigan and motioned for him to listen.
"Why don't you sing for them, my lord?" Vex suggested,
the hint of a smile on his face. "Often was the time you gave voice to song
in times of peace." Darigan's ears swept back, surprised at these words and
he shook his head in modest refusal, but the sharp-eared minstrel had heard
"What's this, a song? Master Vex has requested
a song of his lord!" he cried, rollicking about the table as the guests cried
out in fresh delight. "Will his lordship sing for us?" Darigan at first demurred,
but at the coaxing of Master Vex he at last stood and addressed the hall.
"Very well," he said, and happened to glance
at little Sally, who smiled at him brightly. "I shall sing."
"Excellent, Lord Darigan!" King Skarl exclaimed
over the applause. "A happy song, I hope?"
"I will try, though I have forgotten many of
the ballads sung in the halls of the Citadel long ago." He paused for a moment
to remember, then closed his eyes and began his song, chanting in a deep, spellbinding
thrum that penetrated the minds of each listener. Such was the hypnotic power
of his voice that all could see and hear every detail that his words conveyed,
for Darigan possessed a singular gift of language.
The guests were silent as Darigan's echoing
voice faded into obscurity, but only for a moment. The spell was broken and
all applauded and shouted loud praises for his song. Yet none applauded more
than Master Vex, whose heart was lightened to hear his lord sing again the songs
of old. Darigan accepted the praise, bowing.
"Well done, Lord Darigan!" King Skarl said. "I
only wish I had your voice, so I could sing as splendidly!"
"Thank you, King Skarl," Darigan said. "It was
merely an old folk tune of which my people are quite fond, but I am glad it
pleased you." It has been a long time since I have sung that, he thought
suddenly, a long time indeed.
The merry feast continued, and much food and
drink consumed in the name of friendship. Skarl was just in the act of ordering
a second roast turkey to the table when the most fantastic screech of pain broke
the joyous mood.
"GAAAHH!!" It was Captain Rhyf, who fairly leaped
out his chair as though he was on fire. Before anyone at the table could inquire
as to what had happened, Master Vex suddenly let out an explosive, mirthful
laugh that echoed in the vaulted hall. Great Fyora, Darigan thought,
Vex never laughs!
"Rhyf, Vex, what is it?" he asked, baffled.
"It bit me!" cried an outraged Rhyf, clutching
his tail. "Gad, that thing has sharp teeth!"
"What are talking about?" But soon the cause
of Rhyf's discomfort became clear: a white Gallion rose on tiny wings until
it hovered above the table, squeaking at Rhyf indignantly. All the guests exploded
with mirth at the sight; Vex was uselessly doubled over in a kind of silent
laughter, his face red, unable to speak for the hilarity that Rhyf had unwittingly
caused. But it was King Skarl who laughed loudest, a great throaty roar that
rose above all other noise in the joyous hall. For the first time in months,
the residents of Meridell Castle were able to truly laugh again.
"I'm sorry, Rhyf," Darigan said through his laughter
as the hall quieted somewhat, "but you must admit it was- amusing!"
"Yes m'lord," grumbled Rhyf, scowling at the
mischievous Gallion, which was now performing mocking loop-the-loops in midair.
"Very amusing..." He waved the pest away with the back of his hand and the little
dragon-creature fluttered over to where Skarl sat wiping his eyes, still chuckling.
"Oh, you devil!" he cried affectionately, catching
the pet out of the air and setting it on his knee. "Darigan, have you ever seen
anything like him? One of my favorite pets, he is. I call him Drache. Have a
look at him!" Darigan reached out gently to touch the creature. The softest
of downy white fuzz covered its bright scales, and it looked about curiously
with very large and liquid eyes. It chirruped happily and nuzzled Darigan's
hand in the manner of a playful kitten.
"I think he likes you, Lord Darigan!" Skarl exclaimed.
"Careful, though, you saw what he did to your Captain there!" And he laughed
again. "Teeth like razors!" Rhyf only glowered silently at the offending creature,
his feathers standing on end.
"Indeed," Darigan said, and he looked at the
Gallion again. "He rather reminds me of my own pet, a Drackonack. He likes to
chew on my fingers..."
"Ha ha ha!" Skarl laughed and then paused for
a moment, suddenly thoughtful. "Tell me, Lord Darigan," he said slowly, scratching
his chin, "Would you like to have him?"
"Drache? But you said he was your favorite-"
"Yes, but I have many pets, and Drache seems
to like you. Will you accept him in return for your generous gifts?" Darigan
looked at the Gallion again, a smile crossing his features as the pet sneezed
and a drifting puff of smoke escaped its nostrils.
"Yes, I will."
"Good! Then it's settled. I will throw in some
other trifle in addition to your new friend, after the treaty is signed tomorrow.
But for now, a toast!" King Skarl stood, beaming, and lifted his goblet. "A
toast to the Lord of Darigan!"
"To the Lord of Darigan!" cried the guests, rising
to their feet, and they held aloft their goblets overflowing with good wine.
Darigan raised his own glass.
"To a newfound peace," he said simply, and they
* * *
A cold mist set upon his hooded frame as he
followed ghost-like in the sorrowful procession through the streets. The sky
was gray and covered over with impenetrable storm clouds that gave no comfort
to his crushing grief. Aside from the low rumble of thunder in the distance,
only the slow tolling of the tower bell and the chanting of the dirge could
be heard throughout the silent realm, and it was as though all who heard its
chilling sound were themselves struck mute by death. But his own eyes hidden
beneath the black hood only stared fixedly at the bier that hovered silently
before him, winding its slow path through the streets to the Catacombs unguided,
for none were left to bear the shrouded bodies and none but he was left to weep
for them. They glided on in the darkness of the coming storm.
After what seemed hours the floating bier
came to rest at the stony entrance of the Catacombs, the final resting place
for the rulers of the realm. A heavy hand pressed his shoulder; he raised
his head slowly and turned to see General Kass standing behind him in full ceremonial
gear. His eyes were softened yet still stern and penetrating as always as he
spoke to his lord and friend.
"Now they must be burned," Kass said in a
firm yet compassionate voice.
"Burned?" He rose to his feet. "No, they must
be buried here. This is no pyre, this is a tomb."
"The pyre has already been built, my friend,"
he said sorrowfully. And true to his word, a funeral pyre had suddenly appeared
where the bier had hovered, and the lead singer-of-the-dirge was dousing the
shroud with oil.
"Stop! You cannot burn my wife and child!"
But Kass held him back as a torch was brought forward and touched to the oil-soaked
pyre. Instantly a sheet of flame rose and enveloped the bodies, he felt the
heat pressing against his face, a palpable wall between him and his beloved.
"NO! What have you done?" he asked in horror,
and sank to the ground as he watched the pyre crackle and burn ever-higher to
the sky. The threatening storm now broke above them in its fury, and released
a torrent of rain, yet it did nothing to quench the pyre's flames. Lightning
struck the tower of the Citadel with a deafening crash, and with the darkening
of the stormy sky he felt a terrible, surging wrath. A wave of despair and pain
escaped his heart and found vent in a long howl to the disturbed heavens, and
he heaped curses upon those who had taken his happiness, his love.
"Let there be war! War! I call Darigan to
war, for I will have my revenge!!"
Lightning flashed again and suddenly he found
himself in utter darkness, alone. His head throbbed unbearably, and when he
put his hand to it his fingers came away smeared with blood. Groaning, he dragged
himself to his knees, feeling pain in every limb. He flexed his wings but cried
out again in fresh pain; the pinions were broken and the thin, brittle flesh
stretched between the bones hung in shreds. Powerless to do anything, he waited
in the cold night with his head bowed, crouched in silent suffering. The rain
had ceased and the moon began to rise, hanging large and bright over the fields,
and in its ethereal light he caught sight of his own weak and shriveled body.
Indeed, the power of the Orb had once made him strong, but corrupt and terrible,
a mighty slave dependent on its pale light for strength. Without it, he was
reduced to a mere shadow of his former self, a creature twisted, gaunt and feeble.
In horror he stared at his curled and wasted fingers, and stretching his neck
skywards to his unseen Citadel he gave forth a hissing, gurgling shriek of wordless
rage and grief.
Exhausted, he fell to his knees and lay like
a dead thing until hunger drove him to search for food. Ah, such hunger he had
never known, not even since the famine when he had eaten less so that his people
might have more, only in vain. But now, there was no food to be found anywhere.
In the dead of winter no corn grew on the frost-burnt stalks in the fields,
no fruit ripened on the leafless trees. Weakness crept throughout his battered
body and yet there was no one to offer aid, no place to hide and nothing to
eat. For in only a few short hours he had lost everything, the power that had
been within his grasping fingers had now forsaken him forever.
After what seemed an eternity he came to a
barn on the outskirts of a Meridellian farm. Shaking from the winter wind that
sliced through his body, he crawled miserably into the shelter- and immediately
discovered the stockpiles of wheat and vegetables that the peasant families
had placed there for safekeeping through the barren winter. He leapt upon them
and began devouring the vegetables raw, slavering like an uncouth beast over
its kill. When he had eaten his fill, he crawled to the loft, hoping to find
a more comfortable place to hide for the night, and there he slept concealed.
Thus he wandered in obscurity for months,
a year, stealing food from the Meridellian farms. His body slowly healed; he
could once again fly but he only did so by night, avoiding the prying eyes of
the superstitious peasants. As summer waxed, he took to slinking through the
cornfields and tearing the corn from the stalks to gnaw, never visiting the
same field twice in a week to avoid suspicion. Slowly, as he learned to survive
in secret, he forgot the rush of the Orb's true power, he forgot the dark, dignified
halls of the Citadel, he forgot his friends; these things were lost to him.
For he had forgotten that he was ever…
"Lord Darigan! Darigan, my lord, help me!"
To be continued...