The Three Kings
by Slawomir Rapala
part 3 of 6
Iskald, son of a powerful duke of a Northern Realm, is mentored by an aging General Aezubah. The duke is murdered, and Aezubah cannot rescue the boy from the clutches of the Tha-kian slave traders. Years pass before a princess, Laela, saves him from his masters’ whips.
Iskald is then torn between love for his home and the passions stirred by the princess. On the deserts of the Southern Realms he seeks to bury his life as a slave and soothe his tormented soul. In the process, he becomes a warrior.
Two powerful Viking Kingdoms vie to conquer Iskald’s homeland. His people, led by Aezubah, have mounted an impossible resistance. Iskald’s life is henceforth shaped by the swirling challenges of love and duty.
Iskald always liked the fact that unlike townspeople, these villagers were not overtly meek. One could easily tell they had a sense of identity and pride about them that people in larger towns often lacked. To them, Vahan was not a divine-like being that should be revered, he was almost one of them. He was accepted here because Dynah had accepted him, and by marrying her, he married into this tiny community.
It was obvious that the villagers liked the Duke. They knew him very well; he stopped by often enough. In fact, they probably saw him more frequently than did the people of Hvoxx. It was here that Vahan searched for peace of soul when he prayed in Dynah’s crypt. Uaal was almost like his second home, a refuge and haven for his troubled heart.
The villagers made way for an aged man who emerged from one of the larger huts and was led toward the Duke by two youths. Grand age had left his head completely hairless, but a long snow-white beard that almost reached his waist complimented his face.
It was Aaron, the great-grandfather of Dynah, who had cared for her after her parents and grandparents succumbed to the fever that swept the coast of Lyons some time ago. Dynah was only eight years old at that time, and she and Aaron were the only two of their family that survived the plague.
Since that time Dynah and her great-grandfather had been almost inseparable, until Dynah married and left Uaal to live in the Jewel. Aaron chose to stay behind. Uaal was his home and the villagers were his family. Because of his age and wisdom he was elected chief of the small community, and these days no one attempted any undertaking without discussing it with him first.
Vahan slid off the horse, approached the aged man, knelt before him and kissed his trembling hands, a gesture that displayed the enormous respect he held for Aaron. When the Duke rose to his feet, the elderly chief touched his face, as if to make sure that it was indeed Vahan standing before him.
“Welcome, my son!” his voice cracked under the merciless burden of age. “It’s good that you have come again. You haven’t been around much lately, and we were beginning to worry about you.”
Vahan put his hands on the old man’s shoulders and smiled. “Forgive me, father,” he said. “The business of the Estate has kept me occupied, and I couldn’t come earlier, though I much wanted to. I am here now, however, and I’m glad to see you all again.”
“Will you stay longer this time? We are blessing the sea tomorrow morning. It would be an honor if you’d stay to witness the ceremony.”
“Nothing would please me more, but I’m afraid that the affairs of the Estate don’t allow me much leisure time. I must be back in the Jewel tonight; we only came to spend a few moments with Dynah and to honor her memory.”
Aaron nodded his head with understanding. His seasoned face saddened. “Dynah was my great-granddaughter, but I raised her as I would my own, and she was the only family I had for a longer time than I can remember. I loved her when she was among us, and I love her still, now that she’s gone.” His voice trembled.
A moment of silence followed. Vahan lowered his head, overcome with sadness as well. Then Aaron placed his hand on his head.
“She chose you to be her husband,” he said. “I did not object to the union because I always trusted her. You became my son and a part of our family and community. You make us all very happy by visiting us very often, though deep inside I wish your visits were prompted by other reasons. But we are happy to see you, nevertheless, especially since Iskald has come with you again.”
The boy approached the elderly chief when he heard his name mentioned. Aaron held him close to his chest for a long time and tears streaked his weathered cheeks. He too suffered greatly as a result of Dynah’s untimely death. He had always pictured himself dying in bed, surrounded by her sons and daughters, perhaps even their children as well, and closing his eyes for the last time having in them the image of her farewell smile.
It was not meant to be, though. Her death had left him alone. He saw his own children pass away and witnessed the deaths of their children and their children as well. By now, having reached an age of a hundred and sixteen, Aaron welcomed the idea of death. He had suffered greatly following Dynah’s passing and wished to join her and the others as soon as possible.
But death was not coming, and the pain of loss persisted, chewing away at his soul. Perhaps that was why, much like Vahan, he tried to lessen the hurt by seeking similarities between Iskald and his mother. He saw the same fire in his eyes, the same passion, and the same determination. Iskald was a part of Dynah and so Aaron felt happy to be able to hold the boy close to himself, knowing that he was holding on to a part of Dynah herself.
Finally, though, he released the boy and turned back to the Duke. “It’s good that you came today,” he said. “I have been feeling unwell lately and I think maybe time is coming for me to join those who have gone already.”
“Your thoughts are grim, father,” Vahan saddened.
“Don’t worry, son,” Aaron responded. “I do not fear death, I wish it. I have lived for too long, and I have seen too many things. I am tired. My body is feeble and it can hardly control my soul these days. More often than ever does my soul leave Uaal and visit our forefathers while I sleep. My eyes see more than the eyes of ordinary people and I can hear voices whispering at night. They tell me that my time is coming and that I should be patient only a little longer. I feel death is close now, but I fear it not. I will welcome it because I am old and I need my rest.”
The prophetic words of old Aaron left Iskald feeling uneasy, especially since he was still under the impression of the warnings given by Aezubah. He glanced at his father and for a moment he thought that Vahan shared this feeling.
But the Duke quickly regained his composure, took Aaron by the arm and led him back to the hut he occupied, where he was cared for by two families. Though on more than one occasion the Duke tried to convince him to take his belongings and come live in the Jewel, where he would have everything he needed, the old man relentlessly rejected the offer with a courteous smile.
Having been born and raised in the woods, he wished to spend the rest of his days here and it was here that he wished to die as well. He wanted to close his eyes hearing the hum of the ocean and the whisper of Northern winds in the trees, the singing of the birds and the roar of the wild beast. He also refused to leave Dynah’s burial site, wanting to always be as close to her as possible. The thought of spending the few remaining days he still had in the closed walls of a fortress, no matter how luxurious, far away from all that he loved and cherished, appalled him.
The hut they entered at present consisted only of one room, but it was fairly spacious and two families could live in it comfortably, by the villagers’ standards. It lacked any windows and the resulting dimness was at this moment illuminated only by a multitude of sun rays that found their way through the poorly thatched roof.
The hut offered modest accommodation; the entire furnishing was comprised of two long wooden benches, both covered in wolf-skin and situated by the sidewalls, and a simple stand that served as the table. A hearth was set up in the middle of the hut and that was all.
Aaron motioned the guests towards one of the benches while he himself, along with members of the cordial families that shared the household, rested opposite to them. Women made haste and quickly set up a fire; soon, water boiled and they poured it into cups filled with wild, aromatic herbs. The Duke and their hosts engaged in a conversation that concerned the doings of the small village and its near future.
Iskald quickly became bored by it, so as soon as he finished his herbal drink he slipped out of the hut in order to have another look at Uaal. After a little walkabout he noticed that the villagers paid little attention to him and left the boy free to wander around. Taking advantage of this freedom, Iskald took his time to watch as the fishermen went back to their daily tasks after having welcomed the Duke.
Vahan, however, who found his son standing on the beach and watching the villagers haul nets filled with fish onto the shore, soon interrupted this interesting and pleasant task. The Duke stood beside the boy and looked on for a while as well.
“Are we going to see mother now?” Iskald asked quietly.
“Yes,” Vahan turned to his son. “I was just going to ask if you’re ready to go.”
Iskald nodded quietly and the two of them headed to the familiar path leading through the forest to the top of the crag.
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Copyright © 2008 by Slawomir Rapala