Yet another part from the story, this one from Chapter 4: The Island of Gelnar.
It was summer in Validor, so when Aduan walked outside in a long-sleeved dress, she was very hot and it made her angry at Taon.
“Why did you want me to dress like this?” she demanded.
“Because it is chilly on the sea,” he told her.
She looked at him, startled. “The sea?”
“Yes,” he said. “We are going to Gelnar.”
Aduan frowned. “But it will take an eternity to get there!” she complained.
“Only about a week, Your Highness,” he told her. “The ship is fully provisioned and I have readied the crew and those who will tend to you. Your bags have been loaded into the carriage. Are you ready to leave?”
Knowing she had no choice but to go, Aduan nodded. Taon helped her into the carriage then mounted his own steed, and they rode off toward the Northern Sea.
By the time they reached the ship, night had fallen. Aduan was so tired that she didn’t even meet the captain. She ordered Taon to show her to her room.
When Aduan awoke the next day, she drew a shawl over her shoulders and stepped out onto the deck. She looked in all directions, but no matter where she turned, she could not see Validor.
“G’ mornin’ Yer Highness,” a loud voice said. Aduan turned to see a tall dark skinned man dressed in the garb of a sailor.
“Who are you?” she asked as he bowed.
He rose. “I’m Cap’ain Kura.”
“Charmed,” she said, holding out her hand. The captain obediently took her hand and kissed her fingers with a grace she would never have thought him capable.
“Ah, I see you have met our captain,” came Taon’s voice from behind. He walked up and stood beside the princess. “How are we doing, Captain?”
“Splendidly, suh,” he said. “The ship’s makin’ good time—be’er than I had expected. If it keeps up like this, we’ll reach Gelnar in ‘bout seven days.”
“Good,” Taon said. “Now, if you will excuse us. . .?”
“Of course, suh,” Kura said. He bowed and left.
“Why are we not sailing with the Royal Fleet?” Aduan demanded of Taon.
“Those who serve on the Royal Fleet get paid whether they are working or not. Our people need money, so I hired some good sailors to take us to Gelnar.”The princess’s temper flared. “Without consulting me?”
“You must learn what things call for heated discussion and things that do not. This does not call for it, because no matter what, the situation cannot be changed.”
Aduan surrendered. “Very well. But you might explain to me why we are sailing to Gelnar. It is the land of the centaurs, is it not?”
“Yes,” he told her. “As for the reason why we are sailing there, I will not tell you. You will, hopefully, get more out of it when you see it for yourself.”
Aduan laughed. “How can looking at an island bring me anything?”
“You’ll see,” Taon said and went below.
For the entire trip, Aduan tried hard to persuade Taon to tell her why they were sailing to Gelnar, but he would not yield. The crew claimed to not know why they were sailing to the island, but the princess could see in their eyes that they did know and were under orders not to tell her. Finally, after many days, she heard a sailor shout, “Land ho!” Excited and relieved, she pulled a heavy cloak on over her long dress and climbed up to the deck. She went to the starboard railing where Taon and Captain Kura were standing, and looked at the sight they were beholding.
It was the island of Gelnar. But instead of the green lush land that Aduan had envisioned, she saw a land that had been burned. Grey ash covered the ground, burnt twigs stood in place of tall trees, and a thick layer of black smoke lingered over the land.
Aduan looked at Taon. His mouth and jaw were firm. She had known this man nearly all her life and knew that no matter what she said to him, she would get no response. A young sailor came up to say that the boat was ready.
“You sure you want to do this, suh?” Kura cautiously asked Taon.
He nodded and motioned for Aduan to follow him. They climbed down the ladder and into the small boat. The line was cast and the princess realized that only they were going ashore.
Taon rowed the boat to shore. The entire time they were completely silent—not one word passed between them. It was only when they touched shore and got out of boat that Aduan spoke. “I think now you can tell me why you brought me here.”
“Let’s walk for a moment before I explain, Your Highness,” he said.
She gave no argument and walked behind him on what used to be a frequently used road. What used to be structures now lay in ruins on both sides of the road. There were also several carcasses littering the way, sometimes blocking their path and they had to step over them. Aduan wanted to vomit at the sight and smell, but she managed to fight the feeling down.
Taon stopped to gaze down at a carcass of a young male centaur, no more than eighteen. He had been impaled through the heart. Aduan looked up and saw the extreme sadness in the vizier’s eyes. “What caused all this?” she asked.
“Arvil,” he said.
“Why would he do this?”
Taon opened his mouth to answer, but a feminine voice called out, “Who’s there?”
“Friends,” he called, looking around to see where the voice had come from.
Slowly, a centauress walked forward, emerging from the smoke. She carried a long bladed staff, holding it as if she were about to strike. Her hair, which grew only on the right side of her head and down to her shoulder, was tri-colored with blonde, light and dark brown in thick chunks, and the same hair color and pattern was in her tail. Her skin was pale and her coat was a rich chestnut. She wore a tattered sleeveless shirt that fit very close to her body. She was covered in dirt and ash, but it hid nothing of her beauty. “Who are you and where are you from?” she demanded.
“I am Taon and this is Aduan,” he said. “We are from Validor.”
Upon hearing who they were, the centauress relaxed and lowered her staff. Her beautiful blue eyes no longer held determination, but extreme sadness, guilt, anger, and depression. Aduan had never seen anything that profound in a person and it shocked her. “Who are you?” she asked.
“I am Irsa,” she said. “I am. . .was. . .the leader of my people. Why have you come here?”
“As you know,” Taon said, “our land borders Dark Land. The part of our land that is near Arvil’s terrain is dying.”
“He’s preparing his attack,” Irsa said.
“What attack?” Aduan nearly shouted, frustrated at all this talk about Arvil and war. “If he hasn’t attacked by now, he never will!”
The centauress looked at her. “You’re Princess Aduan, aren’t you?”
“I thought as much. I once thought along similar lines as you do.”
“ ‘Once?’ What happened?”
Irsa stared at her, shocked. “So, the rumors I’ve heard about you are true. You really don’t know what’s happening in the world around you.”
“Perhaps you should tell her what happened,” Taon said. “I’m sure you can elaborate better than I.”
Irsa swallowed and looked back at Aduan. Though both the humans would hear her story, it was mainly meant for the princess. “Unlike you, Princess Aduan, I knew that Arvil would one day attack all the lands of the world so that he could conquer and rule over all. Like you, I underestimated him.
“I had the idea that if someone attacked Arvil secretly, they might catch him off-guard and defeat him, thus being the heroes to everyone else in the world. So, very quietly, I began to train my massive army. What we were doing was so secret, not even their families knew what was going on.
“Finally, the day came. We sailed for Dark Land, sure that we would surprise Arvil and his followers, certain that we would win. But we were wrong. Before we touched shore, we noticed that several humans, Excadians, and Unicorns were lined up, waiting for us. It was then I learned that you can’t do anything without Arvil’s knowledge. He has spies lurking everywhere. . .birds, insects, and even the wind.
“Though I was horrified at seeing Arvil’s army waiting for us, I realized that the amount of soldiers he had couldn’t be any more than what I had. In fact, it was probably less. I, and the rest of those under my command, felt sure that we would defeat this army. The moment we touched shore I sprang forth, shouting my battle cry. The rest of my band flew into battle. It was the most horrendous and bloody fight I have ever witnessed. Within fifteen minutes, three quarters of my band was slaughtered and barely ten Dark Ones had fallen. I ordered an immediate retreat. The Dark Ones did not follow.”
Aduan was confused. “But what happened here?”
“Ah,” she said. “The most traumatic part of my tale. We came home defeated, thinking that our battle with Arvil was done. For three days we lived as we had before. Then a dark fog settled over Gelnar. No one knew or even suspected what would happen next.” She paused to take a breath and when she spoke again, her voice was filled with hate, anger, and a touch of sadness. “It was Arvil! Arvil himself came to Gelnar! Though not one of us had seen him before, we all knew it was he. No other Unicorn’s coat is so dark, no other’s eyes are so evil. We were defenseless—even with our weapons. They had no effect on him, even though silver blood poured from his body. Most of us were too frightened to do anything except shiver and weep in fear, crying out for mercy, which of course he didn’t give. As he roamed the land, killing and destroying all that he saw, he smiled. And it wasn’t just the men he killed. Oh no, he killed women too. And the younglings—” She broke off, tears filling her eyes. “As he slaughtered the younglings, he laughed. He laughed as he slaughtered our innocent! It was the most terrifying thing I have ever had to witness.
“At last, only I remained. I was prepared to die with the rest of my race, and Arvil saw it. His twisted lips turned up in an evil grin and. . .” She shuddered. “. . .I will never forget what he said to me as long as I live.”
“What did he say?” Taon asked.
Irsa looked at him. “ ‘I leave you with a fate worse than death.’ ”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Aduan asked.
“Our race has a high sense of honor,” Irsa explained. “I led my people to death and destruction because of my ambition and idiocy. The only way I could regain my honor was to die in battle or perform a ritual suicide.”
“But I still don’t understand what it means,” the princess said.
Sighing loudly in frustration, Irsa quickly scooped a dagger that lay on the ground and plunged it with all her strength into her gut. Aduan shrieked as she jumped back and Taon blinked several times and his jaw went slack with disbelief. They stood waiting for Irsa to collapse. She had given herself a killing blow, but her respiration wasn’t elevated or labored. She pulled the dagger out and blood flowed out of the wound, but she did not grow dizzy. “This is what I mean!” she yelled. “I’m being forced to live in shame and without honor as the last survivor of my race!” Tears streamed down her face and as they did, her wound healed itself before their eyes. “If we had just stayed on Gelnar, none of this would have happened!”
“You can’t say that,” Taon said comfortingly. “Arvil may still have chosen to attack your people.”
“Perhaps,” she said, but her eyes were doubtful.
For a moment, no one said anything. Finally, Taon broke the silence. “Irsa, why don’t you come back with us? There is no reason for you to remain on Gelnar.”
“Actually, there is,” the centauress said. “The island has been burning for ten days. There is nothing left here so I tried to leave. For some reason, not matter how much I want to force myself, I cannot go near the water. I believe it is Arvil’s doing.” Solemnly, she lowered her head. “I deserve this fate for what I have done to my people. But I will walk both of you back to the boat, though there is no longer anything to fear.”
They walked in silence. Aduan wasted no time in getting into the boat for she wanted nothing more than to leave this awful place. Hesitating, Taon turned back to where Irsa stood on the edge of the beach. “Can you really not come with us?”
“Look, I’ll show you,” she said. Irsa walked towards the sea and both Taon and Aduan watched her, expecting her to suddenly stop walking and say that there was no way she could take another step forward. But surprise filled her face as she approached the water. She increased her speed and cantered into the ocean. She looked back at the humans, smiling, laughing, and crying at the same time. Apparently, her time on Gelnar as a prisoner was at an end, so she climbed into the boat with Aduan and Taon.
Later that night in her cabin, Irsa lay curled up on the floor, happy for the first time in weeks. She had been able to escape her prison and Taon had told her that she could regain her honor by fighting in the Validor army.
You escaped only because I let you.
Irsa started, her heart racing. She knew that voice, the deep tones filled with evil that haunted her in her nightmares. “Arvil!” she shouted, trembling in fear.
Yes, it is I.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door, which made Irsa cry out.
“Ma’am, are you all right?”
Irsa rose and walked with shaking legs to the door. She placed her hand on the knob, took a deep breath, and opened it. A young seaman stood in the doorway.
“Are you all right, ma’am? I heard you cry out and…”
She managed to smile pleasantly at him. “I’m fine. I was simply reliving a nightmare.”
“Oh,” he said. “Can I get you anything?”
“No, thank you.”
“Well, then, good night.”
“Yes, good night,” she said and closed the door, sagging against it.
Arvil! she thought. How can you talk to me through my mind? Telepathy?
Call it whatever you can easily comprehend.
All right. What do you want?
He chuckled. What I want I have already gotten.
You mean killing my people?
No, he purred. A spy who can live within the castle walls in Validor. A spy who can report back to me all that transpires.
You’ve placed one of your fiends in the castle while Aduan and Taon are gone?!
No. You are my spy.
Arvil laughed. It is useless to resist me, for there is no way you can stop me.
I can try! You won’t destroy my will that easily!
Oh no? he asked, laughing. Whether you want it to be or not, Irsa, it is already in my control. You are now my slave, always to do as I bid.
No! Irsa began to tremble. She was Arvil’s slave? Could it be true?
Yes, of course it’s true. I do not lie, Irsa.
I must tell Aduan, she thought, hoping Arvil wouldn’t hear. But it was obvious that he did.
Oh, Irsa, you of all creatures should never underestimate me!
The centauress began to weep as Arvil started to laugh, taking pleasure from the distress he knew she felt. Though Aduan was not a capable ruler, Taon was a person she could respect, and now she would be forced to work as Arvil’s spy. He made it clear that she would not—could not—tell anyone that she was under his spell, and Irsa knew that nothing in the universe could save her from this terrible and immensely shameful fate.
Copyright 2008 by Madison Hood
You know the drill! :-)