Read The Eternal Darkness Online

Authors: Steven A. Tolle

Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Sword & Sorcery

The Eternal Darkness (6 page)

BOOK: The Eternal Darkness
3.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Marcus came over, bowing to her when he stopped.  She ached to reach out and pull him close.  She saw the love in his eyes as he waited for her to speak.  She gestured for him to come stand next to her.  His raised eyebrows were the only things to show his surprise at that.  Once he was standing next to her, she reached out and took his hand into hers.  She took a deep breath and faced the nobles.

“I have pledged my love to Lord Marcus and he to me,” she announced.  That set the room buzzing with conversation.  She could see the disappointment and consternation on Genela’s face as she raised her hand for quiet.  “It is our intention to be married after a suitable engagement.  Lord Marcus and I will rule jointly once we are wed.  Until such time as a wedding can take place, Lord Marcus is Prince of the Realm, second only to me in authority.”

“Your Majesty,” Genela protested, “surely this is a subject to discuss with your council.  There may be other suitors or factors that you should consider.  A decision of such importance should be agreed upon by all impacted parties.”

“Lord Genela, I have made my decision,” Keria said sharply.  “Will you honor the oath you just swore to obey me?”

Genela’s face turned bright red at that.  “I always honor my oaths, Your Majesty,” he said stiffly, though the anger was clear in his voice.  “If this is your will, then I congratulate you and Prince Marcus and wish you nothing but happiness.”  He gave them a deep bow, although his fists were clenched tightly.

Seeing that, the rest of the nobles followed suit.  A flurry of bows and curtsies greeted her.  Cries of “Hail to Queen Keria and Prince Marcus!” sounded in the hall.  Keria felt satisfaction and relief, knowing that her intentions were clear and she would no longer have to endure any more would-be suitors.

“It is time to present myself to the people,” she declared, gesturing to Helgrant.  A group of Royal Guardsmen came over at his command, forming up around her and Marcus.  They headed for the main doors, with Marcus taking her arm.

Jonas came over and joined them.  “Bravely done, Majesty,” he said quietly.  “You know that I have great affection for you and Marcus.  I rejoice in your love and wish nothing but the best for both of you.”

He chuckled softly.  “I thought Lord Genela was going to literally explode for a moment.  Using his oath against him was a nice touch.”  His humor faded.  “Still, I urge you to proceed with some caution for now.  I think it would be counter-productive to rattle the nobles’ cages any further.  You have proven your point and got what you wanted.”

“As always, I appreciate your counsel, Jonas,” Keria said.  “I will allow you to guide me in the days to come.”

They exited the palace and proceeded to the main courtyard where crowds of the city residents had gathered to greet their new queen.



Several days later, in the foothills of the Gray Ridges, Dominic reined Shadow to a halt.  He was on the last large hill that overlooked the valley that contained the city of Sanduas.  A southerly breeze, cold and steady, swirled past him as it pushed the gray clouds overhead.  An occasional patch of sunlight would reach the ground from a break in the clouds.

As he stopped, one such break occurred over the city itself.  Even at this distance, the white walls gleamed, reflecting the sunlight, a bright point in an otherwise bleak day.  As he contemplated the city, he scratched at the bandage covering the healing wound on his arm.  When he did so, he immediately felt eyes rest on him.  He twisted and glanced at the horses behind him.

He led a small party of seven.  Moshanna and Sharin were on his right, speaking quietly with each other as they waited for him to start again.  Behind him were the clerics and the two Sanduan soldiers providing an escort.  They had picked up the escort near the border when they crossed over from Aletonia.

It was from the clerics that he felt the eyes.  Taric looked somewhat sheepish and leaned over to speak with Halana, who was focused on Dominic’s arm.  She had been dismayed that he had refused healing after the battle at the arena.  Refusing her, she had stared at him in frigid silence while Taric stitched up the deeper of his wounds. 
The quest for the sword is over, so is the need for healing
, he thought as he smiled sardonically at the female cleric.  She gave an irritated shake of her head and turned to speak with Taric.

Signaling the others to continue, he got Shadow moving.  The road was in good shape and lightly traveled, so the journey to the city should only take a few hours.  He set a steady pace, one that should not tire the horses and turned his thoughts inward.

He was troubled by the reports of the battle in Sanduas.  It was a victory in that the demon was destroyed and its followers crushed, as well as that Jonas made it out alive.  Still, he did not believe that it was a coincidence that the demons attacked the capitals of the two strongest kingdoms, trying to replace the rulers with ones they could control.  He did not think any such effort had been tried in the past, so it was a disturbing escalation.

As the land leveled out and they rode through the rolling fields, the plants turning color as autumn deepened, he considered the reasons for the sudden change in the demons’ tactics.
One reason, actually
, he thought dourly. 

The fate of the boy had been weighing on his mind.  He had decades of fighting behind him and the support of experienced soldiers and clerics when he followed the sword’s trail into Parshalthia, but it could have easily ended badly.  Jake was inexperienced in the world and only had the girl as a companion.

Was he even still alive?
Dominic mused as the city began to fill the horizon.  The demons had dedicated forces to protect a site where the sword had once been hidden.  If they went to that effort to defend an empty table in an abandoned city, there would be much stronger defenses at the actual location of the sword. 
Could Jake and Hailyn actually find it?  Would they survive such an encounter?
He had long made hard choices and took risks that meant possible death for himself or others, but the thought of losing the boy troubled him more than any other had in the last twelve years.

Sharin’s soft laugh at something Moshanna said pulled his attention over to the couple.  Free to pursue their love by the death of Darrius, they were now inseparable.  While he was pleased for them, their behavior had only encouraged Taric and Halana to follow suit.  He found himself grateful for the soldiers providing his escort.  They granted him a welcome reprieve from all of the love-struck looks these otherwise reasonable adults engaged in.

Of course, we are lucky to be alive
, he thought as he turned forward.  As he absently scratched at his wounds, his mind drifted back to the battle in the arena and its aftermath.

The sound, cries and curses of the fighting in the stands echoed all around them as he and Moshanna raced back towards the queen’s box.  He could make out Anatan and Taric, glowing in power, standing near the queen and shielding the small group of defenders from the demons’ dark power.  Halana was moving behind the soldiers on the line fighting, healing them as they were wounded.  Farrious had organized them into a defensive ring around the queen, but he was badly outnumbered.  He only had around twenty soldiers, but faced two to three times that amount.  He needed assistance soon, or his defenses would be overcome.

Quickly surveying the rest of the stands, he came to halt and grabbed Moshanna as he started to continue forward.  “Sharin is with the queen, so she is safe for now,” he stated grimly.  He could see the concern and fear written on the man’s dark face, but Moshanna eventually nodded.  He was a soldier after all and could see their dilemma.  The two of them, skilled as they were, could not hope to fight their way to the queen against so many.  Moshanna looked the question to Dominic.

“There,” Dominic said, pointing with his sword at a group of four soldiers fighting against a slightly larger group of attackers.  There were several small pockets of soldiers battling in the stands.  “We need to gather as many soldiers as we can, and then make the assault on those besieging the queen.  If we can gather a dozen or more, we might be able to break through.”

“I agree,” Moshanna said quickly.

They started for the soldiers, who were standing shoulder to shoulder in a small semi-circle.  The steps of the arena made fighting difficult, but the soldiers retained the elevation on their attackers.  Dominic and Moshanna came up behind the attackers and killed several before their foes realized their danger and tried to turn and fight.  Caught between the soldiers and two skilled swordsmen, the assailants found that they were exposed no matter which way they turned.  The soldiers took advantage of the sudden disarray and drove into the attackers.  The fighting was brutal, but short, as they finished off the remaining enemies.

“Follow us,” Dominic said as he led them towards another group of soldiers.

They rapidly overwhelmed the next group of attackers and gathered the soldiers.  They continued clearing the small pockets of fighting as they moved towards the queen’s position, swelling their ranks.

Dominic kept a watchful eye on the fighting at the queen’s box. With his line losing soldiers despite Halana’s best efforts, Farrious had joined the combat directly.  He had placed himself near the center of his line, their enemies hesitant to push too hard, as his use of his warhammer had created a pile of bodies around him.  Despite his heroic efforts, his men were slowly losing ground.  Dominic determined that they had to launch an attack now to relieve the pressure or there would be no one left to rescue.  He had ten soldiers plus Moshanna at his command.

“Moshanna, take half the men higher and drive into the enemy near the end of Farrious’ line,” he called out.  “I will take the rest lower to attack upward and attempt to squeeze them between us.  If we succeed, we will join up with Farrious.  Once the queen is secured, we can push against the rest.”

Moshanna nodded, gathered his soldiers and climbed higher on the arena steps.  “For Aletonia and the queen!” he called out as he charged forward.  His men crashed into their foes, their swords slashing and stabbing.  The attack sent the closest of the demons’ followers reeling back, like ripples on a pond.  At the apex of that ripple was Moshanna, his face a mask and his sword flashing as he moved, carving into the enemy.

“Stay together and watch each other’s backs,” Dominic said to the soldiers with him as they moved forward.  “I will deal with any demons.”  The men, their faces grim, nodded as he turned and led them into the mass of attackers.

“Lord Demonhunter!” his men called out as they slammed into the milling enemy.  The soldiers were disciplined as they fought, acting as a single unit, felling nearby foes.

Dominic slid away slightly from his men, his sword and dagger moving, as he searched for any nearby demons while fighting their followers.  The steps were tricky to fight on, the stone slick with blood, their narrowness not allowing great footing.  The human followers turned to face him, their numbers great, but he refused to be daunted.  He cut into the enemy as he pushed upwards, forcing his way towards Moshanna, his blades actuate and deadly.  He trusted his armor to turn most blades, but his arms and legs were exposed, yet he did not hesitate.

He parried a high sword thrust from the man in front of him, and then struck home his dagger, the man staggering back, clutching his chest.  Before Dominic could recover, another sword thrust darted in.  He attempted to spin away from it, but the steps limited his movement and the blade scored his arm, cutting deep.  He ignored the pain and warm blood running down his arm as he completed his spin and brought his sword down on his attacker’s exposed head.  The man dropped, but another took his place.

It was a slow, bloody slough up the steps.  Dominic saw the closest demons attempt to engage his men, but the clerics would react and blast the demons’ attacks out of the air.  The screaming of men and the clash of magics filled the air with deafening noise, but his men reacted swiftly to his hand commands.

After several minutes of brutal fighting, his group finally linked back up with Moshanna, who had reached the end of Farrious’ line.  They had lost half of their soldiers, but they succeeded in driving the enemy back and relieving the pressure on Farrious.  Dominic ordered the men to join the line and he and Moshanna slipped behind the soldiers to find Farrious.

“Well met, Lord Demonhunter,” Farrious greeted him over the clash of steel and conflicting magics as Dominic slid into position next to the big man.  “You have bought us some more time, but we are still outnumbered.  If the queen were not here, I would charge into the midst of these traitors, but I am duty bound to protect her.”

“We need to change the dynamics of this fight or we will be eventually ground down,” Dominic replied.  “I will lead most of the men in an attack to try to clear a path.  Keep several soldiers with you and move the queen if I am successful.  If not, then today is as good a day to die as any other.”

Farrious grimly laughed at that.  “I hope that you are successful then, for I’m not quite ready to leave this world, my lord.”

Moshanna had gone up to the queens’ box to speak quickly with the queen and Sharin, but now returned to join the line.  Dominic explained the plan and Moshanna nodded.  “It will be my honor to stand with you, Dominic,” he said.  “Luck to us all”

Word went down the line and, at Dominic’s signal, all of the soldiers attacked while Farrious and four soldiers fell back around the queen.  Dominic and Moshanna took the center, pressing forward side-by-side, their enemies falling around them.  It quickly became a blur of blood and steel.  With Dominic’s forces having the advantage of elevation, as the enemy fell, it impeded their ability to reinforce their front.

The demons attempted to press forward, but the three clerics filled the air with golden blasts of clerics’ fire, driving them back.  One Imp, trying to get into a position to attack, made the error of getting within the reach of Dominic.

BOOK: The Eternal Darkness
3.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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