The Three Kings
by Slawomir Rapala
Chapter II: A Line Undone
part 5 of 6
The path leading to the top of the crag where Dynah’s crypt was erected took Vahan and Iskald over an easy to climb forest-covered slope. After a short and relatively undemanding journey, the two found themselves standing before Dynah’s final resting place.
The Duke stopped here for a moment and silently gazed at the black monument, unsuccessfully trying to hold back the eagerness that almost made his chest explode. His heart raced and his breath shortened as he approached the burial site of his beloved wife.
The crypt was beautifully crafted, erected out of solid granite slabs and bound together with clay. It was covered with magnificent ornaments, carved out by the most talented stone workers in Lyons. The crypt itself was essentially a large oval granite chamber, very spacious, built around an altar that hosted Dynah’s remains.
Since there was no visible outline of a doorway in its walls, the crypt appeared inaccessible, but Vahan walked over to it without any hesitation. He glanced at the ornaments covering the wall, found the one representing a rose wrapped around a sleeping wolf, and gently touched the flower. Without the slightest sound a large slab moved to the side, revealing an entrance into the dark crypt.
Vahan lowered his head in humility and entered the cold chamber, followed closely by his son who was quietly experiencing a sudden explosion of nearly divine adoration towards his deceased mother.
Once inside, the boy took a moment to adjust his sight to the overwhelming darkness that governed the crypt. He heard his father move about the chamber, then a strange, weak sound he could not at first identify until he realized Vahan was lighting a torch. Soon it burned brightly and the Duke used it to light the other five that were permanently fixed to the walls. The crypt was then filled with light dancing off the ornamented walls and played shadow games with the objects in the chamber.
Iskald lowered his head.
She was here, in this dark chamber, sleeping soundly in the cold arms of death. He lifted his head and his eyes rested on a large stone altar located in the center of the crypt. Its surface was covered with strange mystical signs he could not understand. Vahan had once told him they were supposed to make the journey into afterlife easier for the deceased.
A gold urn holding the remains of the Queen of Lyons, rested on top of the altar. In accordance with the Northern traditions, Dynah’s body had been cremated with all the necessary ceremonies, and her ashes placed in an elaborate urn that was then displayed in the crypt.
Around the granite altar, Iskald could see items that the villagers felt were needed by the deceased Queen in her new life beyond their realm. There were several hand-woven baskets filled with food that they made sure was always fresh, water and wine in silver containers, as well as clothes and adornments that Dynah used during her lifetime.
Iskald glanced at his father.
The Duke of Lyons slowly approached to the altar, took the urn in his hands, brought it up to his lips and kissed it with great reverence. Then he put the cherished container back in its place with no less respect and having knelt before the altar, he lowered his head, closed his eyes, and prayed.
Overcome by divine adoration toward his mother, the boy knelt beside his father. They remained like this for a long time, father and son, and the longer the silence and prayer continued, the closer they felt to the deceased. They could feel her presence, they thought they could nearly hear her sweet voice of musical quality; they could almost feel the touch of her soft hands and the warmth and love that her presence exuded...
Suddenly the spell was broken. Startled, Iskald opened his eyes while Vahan sprang to his feet, unsheathing his sword in one fluid motion. The boy scrambled to his feet as well and they both remained quiet for a moment, listening to the noise coming from the village.
They looked at each other in disbelief, but there could be no mistake. They could now clearly hear the growing sounds of battle coming from below: vicious war cries, people screaming in pain and fear, and the sound of metal clashing against metal.
Wasting no time, Vahan raced out of the crypt and Iskald sprinted behind him, his short blade in hand. They climbed the few yards that separated them from the edge of the crag and looked down with frantic eyes. Helpless rage filled their hearts. Several dozen aggressors moved between the burning huts with bare swords and axes in their hands, dragging the unarmed and surprised villagers out into the open and butchering them without any thought or mercy, disregarding their pleas and cries for help.
Right before their eyes, a young woman was forced down to her knees. She raised her hands to heaven, tears streaked her pained face, but then a sudden and brutal blow drove her to the ground where she stayed motionless in the growing pool of blood. Her murderer turned away without casting another look at his victim to run after an older man who tried to sneak past the attackers and hide in the woods. The assailant drove the sword through his chest and spat on his body as the man collapsed. Iskald closed his eyes at the sight of this atrocity. He trembled all over.
Vahan took one look at the burning village and tightened his lips until all blood flowed away. He then turned to run down the slope to aid the villagers in their futile struggle, but stopped dead in his tracks confronted by three men standing directly before him. They looked very much alike: of average height, of dark olive complexion, and save for sashes tied around their waists, almost completely naked. Straight black hair hung low and covered their faces, and their burning eyes gave all three a demonic appearance.
As soon as Vahan spotted them he turned to his son.
“Tha-kians! Run, boy!”
No sound or war cry preceded their attack when pointing their swords at the Duke they suddenly lurched forward. Vahan straightened his back and stood tall, ready for his foes. Iskald turned swiftly upon hearing his cry, only to see his father waiting calmly as three savage-looking men raced toward him with bare swords high over their heads, grinning maniacally, frothing and snarling like wild beasts.
The boy started forward with a faint cry, when all of a sudden a set of powerful hands seized him from behind and twisted his arms until his short blade slipped out of the pained hand and dropped to the ground. The crushing embrace of yet another Tha-kian held the boy still and forced him to watch helplessly as his father fought an unfair battle.
In the fleeting moment before the Tha-kians reached him, myriad thoughts ran through Vahan’s head. So Aezubah was right! The Tha-kians had somehow learned of their presence in Uaal and raided the village, knowing they would find him and Iskald here! But how did they know? Who told them, who betrayed him?
Unable to find answers, Vahan exploded violently and darted forward to meet the approaching Tha-kians. He killed the first man within the reach of his sword before the enemy even had time to prepare for the crushing blow. The straight and sharp edge of Vahan’s blade bit deep into his head and split his skull in two in the very moment the Tha-kian raised his weapon.
Pulling the blade out of the falling body, Vahan moved swiftly to the side, gracefully avoiding the second man’s powerful thrust. Catching ground firmly and regaining balance, the Duke moved his sword up and skewered the Tha-kian’s bare chest. The man was swept off his feet as if by a vicious gust of wind and dropped to his knees with a hideous groan a few paces away.
His last remaining companion, however, stepped over him and assaulted the Duke with such frightening strength and fury that he left him no immediate chance of delivering a mortal blow. For the moment, Vahan resolved to check the Tha-kian’s savage blows, retreating with all the calmness of a veteran fencer, waiting patiently for an opportunity to finish the fight.
Beads of sweat appeared on the face of the Tha-kian, and his burning black eyes soon began to show signs of frustration and fatigue. Time went by painfully slow and he still could not break through the Duke’s solid guard. His blows became erratic, and Vahan spotted an opportunity.
With great skill he pushed the Tha-kian’s blade away and stepped backwards in order to make his opponent lean toward him and lose his balance. Then the Duke’s face changed suddenly from a look of triumph to that of surprise colored with a hint of fear because he felt no ground beneath his feet. During the exhausting fight the Duke had failed to remember that all the time he was edging closer and closer to the verge of the crag.
“Father!” Iskald shrieked terribly, vainly trying to escape the Tha-kian’s powerful embrace. For a split moment the Duke tried to regain balance, but just then the Tha-kian sprang at him with a mad, triumphant shout. Gathering all strength, he drove the sword deep into Vahan’s exposed chest.
The Duke tried to block it, but was too late. The sharp blade pierced his breast and the point of the sword dug into his heart. Vahan gasped in pain and surprise. He raised his sword once more to deliver a deadly blow, but the Tha-kian pushed him hard with both hands and the Duke lost his ground.
Everything slowed in that moment.
The Tha-kian’s savage grin and the wild satisfaction in his eyes seemed to linger forever. His lips moved slowly as a triumphant howl escaped his throat. It was deep and barely audible to Iskald who stood paralysed with fear and disbelief. Vahan’s eyes found the boy’s and the Duke sent his son a farewell smile.
Then, quietly and without a sound, Vahan plunged into the abyss. He fell faster and faster still, in complete silence and finally crashed into a burning hut at the bottom of the crag. The large household groaned painfully, swayed from side to side, then crumbled under his weight, collapsed and buried him underneath.
With a horrifying scream Iskald finally freed himself from his assailant’s hold and scrambled towards the edge, but the victorious Tha-kian blocked his path. The brute stopped the boy, grabbed him by the hair and pulled him down to the ground.
Iskald tried to rise but the other savage quickly ran to them and with the marble handle of his sword he delivered a hard blow to the back of the boy’s head. Iskald’s eyes glazed over, he tried to free himself one more time with the last bit of strength he had, but then he received a second blow to the head. He blinked at the sudden flash of light, then began tumbling into a bottomless pit, and then finally complete and absolute darkness enveloped him whole.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2008 by Slawomir Rapala