Princes of Purt:
The ship was one of the great ships of the Norwood fleet that now was attempting to patrol nearly all of Purt’s waters. It was by far the grandest ship that Tavia had ever seen, let alone been on. Her cabin was nearly as large and fine as her chambers in the palace. It had widows that looked out of the starboard wall of the ship, far above the water. She had it alone, while Salma and Kelly shared another across the hallway of the lower-deck. Theo had one at the bow that was no less grand, but the one Shannon had…
Tavia swallowed a little harder. She had not spoken to Shannon more than a word or two since all of this had begun. He neatly avoided her, down to the point of having the Empress’s court and his own, the empress’s dinners and a separate dinner for those who would deem themselves worthy of him. It played well for many who felt that they disliked each other for the same reason racial conflict was sending the empire into civil war… again.
The other rumor was simply that he didn’t care for the touch of women, but was in love with the stunning and powerful regent. They whispered that the partnership was not real as those of the priesthood, but only played to be. Poor Oirion, if he knew of that rumor he would be a bit upset and unable to do anything about it.
Shannon stood at the window of his chamber looking out over the night. The moons had risen, but the clouds hid most of the light. They were the only lighting in the chamber and Shannon was just a dark outline against the windows. She knew that he knew she was there, but she wasn’t sure how to deal with him. Here, in this role, he was not who he had been in the wilds of the forbidden lands.
“The elves have attacked Purt?” she asked finally.
“Yes,” he said with a soft voice, but not the Purtan Whisper he used nearly always. The show of intimacy and openness made her even more uneasy.
“For now,” he said.
“All I wanted was to have a quiet place on a river bank and plant a little garden. That’s all I wanted,” she tried to apologize.
Shannon didn’t move at all. She didn’t know how to react to him here. She missed the way she had been with her friends in those days. Not even Salma was herself, nor Dave, nor Kelly. They were all strangers pretending to be friends. Kelly, of all of them, seemed most honest. She at least offered a warm strong arm to hold her with.
“Tell me, at least, that we will get him back,” she breathed.
Shannon turned from the window. He was just an outline to her, but she was certain he could see her just fine, maybe even better in the dark than in the light.
“If we were not over so much salt water, Theo could just step over and grab them up and bring them back. If I was certain it wasn’t a trap, I could do it now.”
“Are we following them?”
“Not exactly. We are expecting them to land in Northern Dacan. We will land and Theo will go for them. If we are close enough, he and I might time it to go together. We do not need to overtake them on the water.”
“Why am I here then? Why are Kelly and Salma? You do not need us.”
“We are not going back to Purt. I do not think I will ever go back to Purt.” He turned back to the window. “Once we have the boys, we head for Ulam Ar.”
She stood shocked and still, and yet part of her thrilled. Maybe, just maybe, he would become the Shannon she had known and trusted with her life. In this one conversation he had said more to her than since they had had been on the fields of the nomads.
She shifted on her feet, then walked toward him. She stopped when he almost turned to look at her, but he stayed where he was and made himself look back to the window.
“I fled my past. I had to. I did not mean to not tell you… it just didn’t matter.”
“You do not need to explain yourself. I likely know more about it now than you do. My family has been at odds with the Ep’Shek’s for three generations. After what his Teppe’s grandfather did to Malkoot, the elven lords swore they would end the line. They failed. When I was still the second son, I was supposed to marry an elven princess to mend that rift between races. When my brother died and I was made heir, that was revoked.”
“I didn’t know you had a brother.”
“His death pushed my father over the edge. TyRen was his favorite. I was born to be his playmate and for no other reason. He never forgave me that I lived; that Ren did not.”
“You can’t know that.”
“Yes, I can.” He almost laughed. “I was an adept empath by the time I was twelve. I had to wear shields as tight as I do now so that I did not go insane with the conflicts of the city or make the entire city feel the way I did. Playing with the emotional energies of others has always been a talent I guess.” He said it almost with mock pride, but bitterness crept into it.
“You must find it a relief when others shield their emotions away then.”
She stood, not sure what to say, but wanting to say something, anything to him. She wanted him to know she had forgiven him and understood it was not his will and not his actions that had made him do what he had done to her.
“My earliest memories were of being a slave. I had dreams then, but few. I can’t even tell you where I was born or to what race. I know he altered me. I know he used magics and I know why. For all his magic, he could not force the gender. The girls were killed right away. I planned, I studied, I hid my mind and my emotions and when I was ready… Travis was born in a wood someplace in Ramdell. When the storm hit the ship I thought it was him trying to get Travis back.”
Shannon didn’t move for a long time, but she stayed. Sooner or later he would have to turn, or talk… or something.
“Victa and her people are the descendants of the Druids from Malkoot, the few who fled north,” he finally said. “The fact you know their language, it stands to reason that so are you. Many were taken as slaves in the invasion. The druids were hunted out. Purt moved too slowly to save them.”
“So, either I was born a slave or am very old.”
“Either or,” he agreed.
“It does not matter to you?”
She took several more steps to stand at his side so she could look at the moonlight on his face. He didn’t move, just stood with perfect stillness.
The door opened with Theo coming in. “I got a hold of Ivan. Ezeer is taking to ship to aid Purt and Ivan will meet us in Amen Ren. He’ll sail south until he meets up with us. I think I found Riven, as well, but it’s hard to say. Shannon, I can’t step through the Barrier. I have tried you know. Once we go in, I will be as foot-bound as anyone.”
Shannon nodded. “I suspected as much.”
“Riven is in Feno, as best I can tell.”
Shannon nodded. “Good. Why don’t you go tell Kelly and Salma to start sparring and get back in shape; they have both gotten softer than they were. They have become guards and politicians more than warriors.”
“And me?” Theo asked. “Should I spar with Kelly?”
“Not unless you want to get hurt,” Shannon said glancing back with a hint of a smile.
Theo grinned. “You sure that’s all we need?”
“Once we have the boys, then we will have enough.”
Theo nodded. “Alright. I’ll go warn them that we aren’t headed back. Anything else?”
“Tell Kelly the temple fires have been lit and false priests are appearing like maggots all over the desert. She might want to consider Raz’s reaction to false priesthood and act on it.”
“I don’t think we need Raz awake right now.”
“That was not my fault. Dave was behind that one.”
Theo made a little face. “I’ll go talk to them. You want me to look in on Oirion or anything else before I get some rest?”
“No. He is safer if we don’t. Sooner or later someone will learn your trick and lay-in-wait for you. Limit it if you can.”
Theo nodded. “Alright then, good night, Shannon.” He slipped out, closing the door.
“It’s funny, you know,” Tavia said. “To think of Theo as that pathetic little man that he was. To see him now you would never think it and of all the men of the company for him to be your friend…”
Shannon actually looked at her. “The warp was very good for him. Being allowed to be accepted for who he was, not hated for the powers he held, was even more important.”
She had to admit it was oddly intimate to have him both talk openly and to look at her as he did. “Maybe he wasn’t the only one who needed that,” she said.
He looked back to the window and the setting moons. “Theo isn’t my only friend,” he said softly, almost sadly.
“Who?” she teased. “Oirion?”
He actually groaned. “I was actually referring to Owenmen.”
“He is an Ezeeren holy man. He found me drinking in a tavern in Norwood on the verge of losing control. He drug me to Ezeer to pull myself together.”
“He is five thousand years old?”
“He was old when he found me; I have no idea how old he is. I don’t think he does either. He was born high on the moors and was a grown man with children when he was called to the priesthood. He left grown children to live as a hermit on a northern island until he felt he was ready. He wandered Ezeer a time; then knew he was needed in Norwood. He’s been with me since, I suppose. He wanders off for decades at a time, but he comes back.”
“That’s how you knew Ivan was more than he seemed?”
Shannon shrugged. “If I could escape myself and my pain the way Ivan did, I would have. Block it out, drink it away, and try to get killed seems a good method to me. Do that a few hundred years and a man might even forget who he was.”
“Ivan’s that old?”
“He’s about eight hundred years old. He was crown prince when Gerome invaded Ezeer about that long ago. He led a rebel force for a long time before the end came. He imposed exile on himself when his father knelt down to Gerome after betraying him.”
“He has his throne back now though, right?”
“Thanks to Theo, and the right timing. Gallus commanded all Church out of the kingdom of Ezeer about a week before the massacre would have hit the major cities. Ivan would have won, but at a high cost. The priests who stayed died and were hung from the walls of the churches, just as Gerome had hung the Ezeeren priests when he invaded. They burned the churches to the ground and have been taking the stones to build harbors.
“I imagine an army of Ivan’s can move a lot of stone.”
Shannon nodded a little. “I imagine so.”
She stood and looked out as Omegan set below the horizon of water far to the west. The night became dark.
“Do you realize you have said more to me tonight than since we were in the mountains of Ulam Ar?” she asked, almost to herself.
“When we crossed the lands before, the body I had was immortal, build of magic and energies. This one is not. I was far stronger then and it still nearly destroyed me. If I take the wrong injury, I will lose every last bit of Tyredelle.”
“This time Gerome is not hunting us and we do not go unaware. This time you go with allies, not burdens. Your choices then may well save the world today.”
He looked over at her. She wished she could see his face, but it was just too dark.
“Too much has been asked of you already, Tavia. If I didn’t need you to hold one of the points in the ring I would have sent you to Norwood to find that river bank and plant that garden you desire.”
“You plan to get to Ulam Ar and beyond, and just who did you think would be making tea and fires? Kelly? You?”
To the east, pink light flushed up into the sky and lit the tattered clouds into gold and oranges. “You don’t have to make peace with me Tavia. I know your value. I am still what I was then, only weaker. Don’t try to pick my shields apart.”
She watched the light show his face and debated what to say and what to do. She knew whatever she did would affect the entire trip.
“This time you can’t refuse to eat. This time you need to.”
He actually smiled before he caught himself. He looked out to the sunrise, squinting his eyes against the light. She almost cheered for it. The smile played at the corner of his mouth as he watched the sun lift over the water.
“Purtans have very good memory. It is why things affect us the way they do. It is the way our energy cords connect to the brain. Sometimes this is a great benefit… it makes learning complex things easier to retain, but on the other hand, you remember other things as well. I remember every word, every motion, everything you ever did in those camps.”
She let him watch the sun for a bit before she was able to put her words together.
“You don’t have to make peace with me, Shannon,” she said. “I know you loved Travis. I don’t blame you for what happened; I just miss him.” She turned and left him to be alone and think. She didn’t know what else to say and the silence was starting to be uncomfortable. She returned to her cabin, but it was still, empty, and her baby was not there. She turned to the door on the other side and knocked softly.
Kelly opened the door almost at once and let her in. Tavia entered the chamber to take a seat where Salma was at a small table picking at the breakfast of fruits and cheese that had been brought.
The sphinxen woman wore a dress very like Tavia’s, but it seemed to steal away the woman’s brightness. Tavia hated the way Salam’s fire seemed to be so crushed. She sank down.
“How was it?” Salma asked.
“How was what?” Tavia asked her softly.
“Talking to Shannon! Is he mad? Was he nice to you?”
“Shannon is always nice to me,” she said looking to the stunning green eyes of the woman across from her.
“Always?” Salma asked picking a fruit. “I don’t believe you, Tavia.”
“Rajak was not born of kindness,” Kelly said, allowing Tavia to know they knew. The big woman set down tea she had made and took a seat as well.
Tavia sighed and folded her hands in her lap. They had never mentioned it and had never spoken of it, but it made sense. Neither of them looked at Shannon the same way as they had once. They had to know the truth. Tavia didn’t want to remember it, but for the friends and for the fact they would soon be traveling as a company again, they had to know.
“The palace was stripping energy from him faster than he could recover. He was pushed over into revelation of his… darker side.” She smoothed her hands. “Somehow he pulled himself out of that. He recognized me and fought for control. He had already choked it down and fallen away before anyone else got there.” She looked to her friends. “He just fell on the floor, sobbing, saying he was sorry over and over. You ever see Shannon cry?”
“No,” Salma admitted softly.
“Well, he did. Next time you see him, you think about that. And trust me, I have been hurt far worse. Compared to Travis, Rajak was born of kindness and gentleness.”
Salma looked away with a troubled sadness. “It is his father then? The elf who attacks Purt?” Kelly asked.
“Yes. He is a terrible man. He savors his darkness as much as Shannon hates his. He enjoys inflicting pain for the sake of pain itself, not just for the magic he could drink off of it. It is better to die than to be captured by him.” She looked at Salma all of a sudden. “So how did DaHane come about again? You took off before you even showed at all.”
Salma sliced at her chosen fruit. “It just happened. I only meant to help him sleep. A back massage you know, but…”
“Was he clumsy?” Kelly asked, surprising the other two. Salma laughed a little.
“Oh yes, but he was honest and with a bit of practice…” she sighed. “No one has ever compared. I bet Dave was no clumsy-handed priest, though.”
Kelly smiled and actually blushed. “Certainly not.”
Tavia laughed a little at the honesty they had just shared. It was not about court, about who might be there to overhear, or anything else. It was just them being together.
“I miss him,” Salma whispered, “and the way it was. I miss how he made Shannon both stronger and more mortal at the same time.”
“We all do,” Kelly said.
“He’s not dead, you know,” Tavia said. She took a bite of the fruit.
“Yes, he is. I saw the tomb, Tavia.”
“He’s not dead. He’s no more dead than Tyredelle Von Armond is,” Salma said.
Kelly shifted uncomfortably in her chair. Both women looked to her.
“Whisper to yourself the stories and you’ll know,” Salma said. “I can’t say anything; you have to see it for yourself and then still say nothing. I don’t understand the magic, but not even Shannon can talk of it at all.”
Kelly leaned forward dropping an arm on the table and glared at Tavia. “If you tell me that that pompous regent has anything to do with it, I am going to break his jaw!”
Tavia shrugged. “He did save Salma and DaHane from a mob. And he does certainly look after that boy like he is family.”
Kelly hit the table making the bowl jump. She growled in some form of Dacan, while Salma stared at her in horror. “You couldn’t even hint?” Kelly asked hurt.
“I tried,” Salma admitted. “I told you not to grieve.”
Kelly looked at her with a hurt expression. “I’m going to make him pay for that deception.” Kelly dropped back in her chair with a grumble. “Well, why isn’t he here then? If we are headed inside the Barrier, why isn’t he with us?”
“Shannon expects him to make his way to us somehow if he is supposed to be there. Shannon is testing a theory, I think, and poor Oirion is going to pay the price for it. That poor man just can’t win. I do miss him as he was, though.”
“Poor Oirion…” Kelly scoffed. “God! Poor Shannon, to be bonded to him? God must truly hate him.”
Salma chuckled. “…or love him more than most,” she said.
Oirion looked at himself in the mirror and saw himself. Oddly, it felt more him than the face of the handsome Purtan. His once grey hair was all white now. Soft as a child’s, yet still as thick as ever. It fell in loops and un-kempt freeness. His eyes looked almost shockingly blue against the white hair. His body hurt a great deal, but he was able to get up and move around.
Borrdick was working on the illusion of the regent, working it into a stone that Oirion would have to wear. Right now he wore another great amulet that reminded him of the one that now held a grim. He also had on a long great cloak that Borrdick assured him hid all his powers and his truth.
The days spent with the man had been interesting. He talked about magics of many sorts and put a few Oirion knew into working order, explaining how different things worked together.
“God, I look old,” Oirion said softly to himself.
Borrdick laughed a little. “No, I look old. You look your age.”
Oirion looked over to the man who was barely in his fifties and yet looked older than Oirion by far.
“I feel really bad about not being out there.”
“Dave and DaHane have it under control. They know you were injured. Tyra’Ara is working with the magic of the city and we are better off than I thought we might be. There is nothing you can do right now. You’re too injured to fight, so you are stuck here with me no matter what you look like… so just relax.”
Oirion turned from the mirror to walk over to where Borrdick was working on the amulet. His arm hurt, his head hurt, and his back hurt. He could only imagine what he would feel like without the magic that Borrdick had given him.
He watched the man work with fine tools, whispering words for a bit until Dave entered with a soft knock. Oirion turned as his old friend entered. Dave shut the door and came to a stop seeing Oirion.
“Ah,” Borrdick said gesturing. “Come in; there is tea if you like.”
Dave moved to get the tea kettle. He couldn’t help but keep looking at Oirion. “I heard you were injured…” was all he could say before he lost his voice.
“I nearly had my arm ripped off and a building fell on my head,” Oirion offered.
Dave reached out and touched Oirion’s face as if to make sure he wasn’t an illusion.
“Now that is interesting…” Borrdick breathed.
“What the hell happened?” Dave asked Oirion, then Borrdick. “I was led to believe that this face was nothing but illusion, that scars left were energy flaws, not true scars.”
“Yes, well… it was.” Borrdick said. “I have been trying to get my head around it as well. All we know for certain is that the soul is the same and that the storms make the body flash back and forth. In this form, he is hunted by something far older than Gerome or even the war with Raz. I know that much. It is old and it is hunting Oirion. For whatever reason, it can only see him this way.”
“So it is making him go back?”
“My theory is that it is using the storm power to reveal to him the man he seeks and that means making him be ‘revealed’ to make him findable. It’s like what happens with Sanctuary Law. Inner truth is always revealed.”
“So you’re telling me some forgotten god is hunting Oirion?” Dave demanded. “Only a god could do that here.”
Borrdick shrugged. “That’s one way to put it.”
“Why?” Dave asked shocked and mortified. “Other than the obvious… I mean… I thought all that was settled.”
“I have no idea,” Borrdick said, “but it is older than Shannon. I don’t think that his…” Borrdick looked for the words carefully, not to say openly what they were talking about, “… his ‘favor’ with Malkazadon is the reason, just a complication.”
“Great!” Dave threw his hands up. “Oh, by the way the harbor wall came down.” He dropped into a chair. He had to look back at Oirion. “The water is on fire with ruins of ships, and by morning the elves will be hammering Port Hall to the ground.”
“I’ll be ready to be there by morning,” Oirion said.
“Why? One more body won’t help.”
“One more body helped the nomads. This is no worse than that. Maybe even less than that.”
Dave looked at his friend. “We don’t have Shannon to help us; they did.”
“No, we don’t have him at the moment. You aren’t a boy anymore, though, and we have other things. We have Borrdick, we have Tyra’Ara, we have Victor, we have the Elites, and we have Gallus.”
Dave shook his head. “Gallus is lost in meditation, as he has been for months.”
“You know, you are rather pessimistic,” Oirion said. “Aren’t you the great Captain Sailor? Aren’t you the man who went to the fortress of the Forest of the Damned for a friend, aren’t you the man who seduces warrior women? Aren’t you the man who led us through the bog? Really, Dave, you need to get a grip. This is far better than that… just more visible bugs swarm.”
Dave scowled. “We are out-numbered a thousand to one. The city is a warren of terrified rats who would rather rip their own families out of the way to hide deeper in the sewers.”
“You’re pouting because he burned up your ships,” Oirion said easing himself down into a chair. “You have them building a wall along the wharf?”
“Yes. We started days ago.”
“Good. Then go to bed and I will meet you there in the morning.”
Dave glared at him, tucked his arms in and stayed where he was. Borrdick grinned and went back to work. “I hope Kelly is alright…” Dave muttered. “I hope Zou is alright….”
“Kelly is fine. I am sure Zou is, as well.”
Dave grunted and tucked himself in deeper to sleep where he was. “I messed up, Oirion; I should have reached out to him. I bet he hates me.”
“Go to sleep, Dave,” Oirion said, pouring himself and Borrdick more tea.
The harbor fires died down as dawn neared. Clearly timed for mass effect, the elven ships began to push into the harbor seeming to form out of fire, mist, and smoke. Dave stood in his flame-red coat with his hair free, his pirate flare making him grand and exotic enough the army that stood behind him had a bit of hope from him alone.
Dave had no hope for them. They would hold for awhile, but it wouldn’t last. Shannon had turned an entire army to their aid when they fought with the nomads; there was no army coming to their aid now. They were alone. He almost laughed, alone in Ulam Bac, the largest city in the world, it sounded ridiculous.
There was a sudden cheer from behind him. He turned and watched Oirion dismount from his black horse to jog light footed up stairs to the wall top to join him. He wore the black leather that he had adopted from Shannon, added a red sash and lined his cloak in red as well. His left arm was in a sling but he was there.
Oirion caught Dave’s wrist in a firm grip.
“How’s Borrdick’s work?” he asked.
Oirion smiled. “I told you I’d be here. Now,” he turned to look at the elven ships. “Have I ever told you I hate elves?”
“I think you have.”
Oirion turned his back on the ships. He looked up and down the wall to the men who stood together watching the two of them on the top of the wall. He cast his voice out so all of them could hear him.
“The last time anyone was fool enough to attack Purt, it was the Razzan and the entire world knows what happened. Not only did a handful of Purtans and Awens drive them back, we took the war to their own lands… and still they cower in the desert! No one attacks Purt and gets away with it!” He walked down the wall so more men could see him. Dave smiled and stood with an easy pose, admiring his friend’s efforts.
Oirion might hate politics, but he had the right looks and magics for the game. “We are Purt, mixed blood, pure blood, a thousand years old or twenty – the power of Purt flows in our veins and makes us brothers. How dare they think they can intrude on us? One of us is a worth a hundred of them and the very Wells of the Angels have lit fires to fuel us all with power and strength that only a Purtan can have!” He pointed behind them. “From the forests of Norwood to the wilds of Et, our armies are summoned against them! Even now armies pour into their lands and set fire to their unguarded fields! Even now armies move to gather and join us! Across the globe allies come to aid us! North from Ezeer, south from Pusa, dwarves, men, pirates, and even Dacans rise up to join us now in our need as we have aided them in theirs!
“Gerome may have staggered us a moment,” he dropped his voice, going on as he began to walk again, “but for it he made us stronger; he made us warriors ready to prove to heaven and to hell that we are Purt and we will not fall to any force on earth. We were here first!” He declared. “By the blood of angels, the names of gods, and the earth itself, no power shall take us down!” He roared. As if to drive it home, bells all throughout the city began to toll. A storm flashed with power outward over Oirion and cracked with deafening power. He turned to the harbor and threw out his arm with a shout. Power hit the harbor with such a blast, the backlash nearly knocked Dave off the wall.
Ships, smoke, mist, all of it was blasted outward on a massive wave. The wave that slammed out from Oirion hit the outer wings of the harbor and slammed upward and over them. Oirion had created an instant tsunami. Dave had counted over a hundred ships in the harbor and instantly there was nothing left. They were simply obliterated.
The Purtan army roared. Oirion stood on the wall, holding a staff in his hand. The staff glowed softly of golden light as clouds boiled up, filling the sky over them. Dave walked down to his friend as the storm exploded above.
A sudden chorus of “Oirion” was taken up. The men chanted it and stomped with each roar. Oirion stayed on the wall, looking out to the harbor.
“That was dramatic!” Dave yelled at Oirion over the storm. The harbor waves slammed up against the wall they stood on. Oirion looked over.
“If I take a step, I’m going to collapse,” he said softly, but Dave somehow heard him. He nodded to Oirion. He waved the men up on the wall. They surged forward. Standing on top, they shouted at the elven army beyond the harbor, now hidden from sight in driving rain and darkness. Dave helped Oirion off the wall, using the crush of men to hide the fact Oirion needed help. They ducked inside out of the rain. Oirion sagged against the back wall, out of breath and shaking.
“I’m impressed, but was that necessary?”
“I didn’t do that,” Oirion whispered. He slid down the wall to the floor.
“No. Shannon did it. The same way he fought the demon.” He looked up at Dave. “He channeled all their fear into that blast. He knew it would cause a storm, but it buys us time and the elves can’t attack through this.”
“Are you alright?”
“No,” he started to cry. He pulled his knees up and drew his cloak around himself as men began to pour in to escape the hailstones outside. Dave stepped over to hide Oirion. No one noticed him at all. They cheered and shouted his name, cheered for Purt, and cheered the emperor.
Dave clasped their hands and laughed with them to ease their fears and make it seem like this was how it would always go. It was late when the men left them to make their way to taverns, to homes, and to beds. For once the storm was seen as a blessing. So long as it raged, no elven army could attack. Dave helped Oirion to his feet and down the street to a nearby inn and up to a bedroom. He aided his friend to the bed. ”Get some rest, Oirion. I’ll see you in the morning.”
The eleven army hit the wall as the storm slacked off. DaHane had expected no less and was ready for them. They waited for the elves to get close. Everyone who had come but didn’t know how to use sword or bow had been ordered to bring oil of any sort. They were the first assault. They waited, wide-eyed and terrified for DaHane’s order.
DaHane waited for the first elves to actually begin to climb the wall. Then with a shout he rose and hurled down his own jar of oil. The people on the wall who were not frozen in fear rose and aimed at the elves, but DaHane had assured them anywhere would work. Children as young as ten were there throwing part one of the first round of attacks.
The elves didn’t seem impressed with the little missiles. From covered fires, the archers lit their arrows and stood as one over the wall and with a shout from DaHane released them all. A few arrows ignited sections of oil at once, others took a moment longer, but the flames spread as different oils caught fire up and down the wall.
Bundles of straw and strips of oil-soaked fabric were hurled over the wall to add to the fire. The elves tried magic to stop the flames, but the storm energy made their magic fail in places, suffocate men as well as fire in some places, and in other areas it made the fire flare out with horrific heat.
The attack was driven back. The rain slacked off, allowing the fires to burn and for the people to cheer for it. It was a tiny victory, but it had to be a blow to the elven pride.
Once the elves had retreated, the common people began to hurl glass, hooks, splinted wood, nails, anything with shards to it. The idea was to make running over the streets very painful on the feet. It would slow the elves down and that was all that mattered. DaHane needed more trained men, but even if he had them, what more could he hope to do?
He had already sent many of the wall builders back into the city to begin building barriers behind them. He wanted all the dangerous or new buildings torn down and made into walls or at least rubble piles to block streets. “Make a maze” had been an order and to “be creative.” The masons had looked at him in shock, then grinned, nodded, and took off. It was unlikely they had ever been given such free rein or such trust.
DaHane ordered the common men to flee back behind the next wall and help build them up while the trained men braced for hand-to-hand fighting. He stood looking at the slowly scattering storm and dying fires. He wished he knew how many more elven ships were coming and how many of them were planning to head inland. There was no way to do anything about it or to even know the numbers. All he could do was hold the wall he had here and hope he looked courageous, inspiring the men.
“Have you heard?” a man ran up to DaHane. “My lord, have you heard?”
“Heard what?” he asked, wiping rain off his face.
“The Regent! The elven fleet attacked the harbor; a thousand ships rushed in and with a wave of his arm, he turned them to ash! That’s what started this storm. He blew them away to nothing!”
DaHane was thrilled to hear it… his heart pounded. “He is the regent for a reason.” He tried to sound unsurprised and as calm as any general might be.
The man rushed on to tell others. DaHane caught his breath and stood trying to calm his heartbeat. He looked up as Umren dropped a hand on his shoulder.
“You have every right to be proud,” he said with a hint of a smile. “You’re part of that legacy, Prince Valreen.”
DaHane grinned. “I just hope when he hears how we still hold this wall, he feels a little proud as well, but mostly sends us some trained men.”
Umren smiled. “Oh, trust me, my Prince, he wishes a great deal to be able to tell you how proud he is. Some magics must be kept in the heart and that is one of them. Now about the attack we are about to face. I have an idea…”
The shards and glass the elves had to cross over were little more than a nuisance. It slowed them only slightly, but that was all DaHane needed it to do. It had the added effect of making the elves angry and bit reckless. Once at the makeshift walls, they slammed up ladders and surged forward. Their pride told that them no one had attacked out of fear, but when they reached the wall tops they found it utterly deserted.
Silently DaHane rose from a rooftop behind the elves. All along the wall length his archers did the same. They took a breath, aimed, and DaHane roared, “Volley!”
Arrows shot out over the street, down on the walls and into the backs and heads of the momentarily confused elves. Up and down the wall elves toppled even as they spun to face the archers. From the beyond the rubble wall, from the highest rooftop Umren rose.
“Volley!” he roared as his archers fired. His were carefully chosen to be lesser skilled archers, but faster runners. Not nearly as many elves were hit or nearly as many fell due to the arrows, but the effect split the enemy.
DaHane roared for another volley, but this time several men up and down the wall set heaps of straw and other trash on fire. The elves would be driven inside out of the smoke or be standing targets for the archers on both sides. As soon as the smoke grew thick enough, three-quarters of DaHane’s archers raced to places where they could take cellars or carefully hidden passes to join the men on the inside. They rest remained firing at the elves.
Umren had carefully explained to the people what the plan was and how to make it work. The younger they were, the fewer arrows they were to fire before they fled either to hiding places to help with the next segment of walls or to the slums. He took his time. With eyes closed, he focused on each elf near the commander and put an arrow in his face or neck. To the commander, it would seem that the arrows flying were all deadly and that cover would be needed. Trying not to smile, he let one skim across the elf’s face so close it cut his cheek. At this point, the real fighting had not even started. He was just playing and trying to keep DaHane and as many trained men alive as he could.
“We are ready,” Solmack let him know telepathically.
An order was given among the elves to move off the wall and to attack the archers inside. Umren stepped off the rooftop and dropped lightly on the ground three stories below. He struck an elf across the face with his bow with such force it cracked the wood. “Oh bugger…” he muttered and snapped it in half to drive both ends into the elf’s stunned chest. He turned and jogged towards the slums, picking up a shoddy peasant bow from a middle aged man who had taken an arrow in the back.
He stopped to pull the arrow from the man’s back and fire it back at the elves who were running up the street at them. The peasants fled into buildings, daring the elves to get as close as possible, but out the back they went. Inside it was Elites who waited, not with butcher knives and axes, but dragon bone swords and hundreds, if not thousands, of years of training to be here.
What buildings didn’t have Elites inside, men had been set to bring down with carefully placed glyphs and massive explosions.
Umren turned inside the door and drew his sword. He waited just inside. Three elves rushed in, expecting untrained human peasants. One lost his head before the other two even realized they weren’t alone. The second elf he simply cut so deeply across the chest his own weight broke his spine as he fell backwards in two pieces, connected only by his back skin. The third he grabbed by the neck. He let his eyes flush red.
He let the man’s fear grip him before Umren breathed it in, replacing the energy from the strain of the battle, from the storm, from being around so much blood. At this point all the Elites would be using the elves to replenish their needs, hidden in the wreckage of rotting buildings where no mortal would see.
His shields replenished, he began to withdraw when pain lanced into his back. A sword sliced through the leather he wore, through his back, and out his chest. Staggered by the force, he looked down to the see the tip of an Elites blade.
A sick magic slid over him like oil, making him unable to communicate with any other Elite. The blade jerked free. Holding his chest where blood poured out, he twisted to look back to see an Elite slip out a window. He was alone. He coughed up blood.
Fighting whatever magics had been laid on him, he managed a lock spell to seal the injury, but he had lost every ounce he had gained from the elf and more. He might even die from this, but if not he would be pushed to the brink and into Madness. Madness would be worse than death. At his rank, there was no forgiveness and to have Shannon think he had lost control would be a grief to his soul he might never recover from. He fought desperately to reach his master, his teacher, his king… but his mind felt weighted down.
“Malkazadon… I need help…” he whispered, desperately praying somehow his need reached the Regent of Purt and somehow, by some means, help would come.
Removing the buildings certainly made it easier to see the elves coming. It made it clear as well that the Purtans still had the city and the elven army camped outside the city had to turn its attention to the ancient Purtan fortifications more fully. The smoke and fire had been put out by elves and the air had cleared. The rain had let up and allowed the people of Ulam Bac to look out of the rubble of the outer city to the vast elven camp beyond. At least now the elves would have to look to the city and not march inland to the unprepared and already struggling farmlands beyond.
“Where is Umren?” DaHane asked the first Elite he saw.
“I do not know, My Lord,” the man replied.
“Find out. I know you can all talk to each other. Where is he?” DaHane was annoyed at the blow-off. Umren treated him like a prince; the others certainly did not and he didn’t like it. He understood it, but he didn’t like it.
“We don’t know,” the Elite said after a moment. “No one can reach him. He must have gone into a trance, but at his rank if he is busy with something important, he can block us out. My Lord Valreen, he is our commander; we do not question him if he blocks us.”
DaHane looked back out to where the elves had begun to clear away the vast rubble enough to make their way to the wall he now stood on. He looked around and spotted an older Purtan man he had seen with both the bow and the sword in the last two days.
“You,” he said.
“Yes, My Lord?”
“What is your name?”
“TySaemenn,” the man said with a bow.
“You stay here; keep the men calm. I want them to rest while the elves work. Eat, sleep if they can, get wounds bound, and try to get them dry.”
“You’re leaving, My Lord?”
“My Elite has opted to wander off. I am going to go find out why.” He put a hand on the much taller man’s shoulder, “I will not be far and I will be back. You know who my father is?”
“Yes, My Lord. Father Oirion Hennen.”
“And like him, I will never abandon my post, but nor do I tolerate insubordination. I hear he had a bad temper.” He grinned, “I’m told it runs in the family.”
The man nodded and smiled. “Aye sir, I hear the same.”
“Hold this wall for me; I won’t be long.”
“My Lord Valreen…” the Elite began to object.
DaHane looked at him sharply. “Do you know who my father is?” he demanded with a harder truer knowledge. “I hear he has a bad temper. Stay and help my new commander with whatever he needs.” He jumped, scrambled down the wall, and dashed off to the last place he knew Umren had been.
The rubble made it difficult to move. He could, however, sense the energy long before he got to it. He was half Sphinx and such a pool of power was something he simply could smell like a sweet flower in a field of dead fish.
He heaved away a heavy plank from a building that had been brought down. Squeezing in through what had been a door, he squinted to let his eyes adjust to the dark. Slumped against the wall, his hands in his lap was Umren. He looked dead for a moment but DaHane knew he wasn’t, not yet.
“Umren,” he crawled over the rubble to get to the Elite. Umren slowly lifted his head.
“You shouldn’t be here, DaHane,” he said.
DaHane shoved a chunk of broken wall out of the way and knelt before him. He could see the injury now and the amount of blood soaked on the man.
“What the bloody hell happened?”
Umren looked up, his eyes actually glowed red.
“You need to get away from me,” he pleaded.
“What happened?” DaHane demanded.
“I was stabbed in the back and I am slipping. You need to get away before I lose control. It’s not easy as it is…”
DaHane grabbed his hand. “Don’t even think it is going to be that easy. Purt needs you and Shannon needs you. Once this is over, we will need you to keep order. No going Mad, no dying on me.”
“I’m trying, DaHane, but I can’t… it’s so hard…” he almost started to cry. “He blocked me, I can’t reach anyone, I can’t reach Shannon… I need help.”
“I’m here. Let me help.”
“I can’t do that.”
“I’m not leaving you, so either you do it now while you have some control or you kill me in Maddness. Then my father kills you and Purt comes crumbling down. Shannon will be furious at us all. Chances are he’ll have Tharadon drag you from the beyond to make sure you know it, so just do it. Try not to kill me is all I ask.”
Umren caught his breath in a sob, then slowly took DaHane’s face in his hands, leaned forward, pulling DaHane’s forehead to his.
“I’m so sorry, DaHane,” he whispered.
DaHane gripped his wrists. “It’s alright, Umren; in fact, I’m sort of ordering you to.”
The touch burned. Memories were drug up, the worst and most painful; the pain and exhaustion in his body seemed to be felt twice over, then melt away until he was simply suspended in space and time. He felt his breath calm, his heart slowing, his cores dimming. He kept whispering, “It’s alright, Umren, it’s alright…” He had no fear at that point, no pain, all of it turned utterly over to trust.
He came back as if waking from a dream to find himself right where he had been, but so damn tired he wanted to go back to sleep. His hands had dropped like heavy weights to his lap. If he had considered it fully there were many things he might have thought about, but at the moment, other than sleep, all his sphinxen mind could think was how nice it was to be have physical contact with someone. It was so nice, he actually started to cry.
“I’m so sorry, DaHane…” Umren whispered, fighting his own tears. DaHane wanted to tell him that the reason he was crying was actually relief. He was so damned lonely it caused him mental and physical pain to not be touched. He was startled and woken up all at once when Umren kissed him.
It wasn’t the innocent little kiss one gives a child, but something far more and something DaHane had never been given. It was something he starved for as much as for food or air, he realized. He was just so tired.
Umren looked down to stop himself, but did not pull away. “Oh, I did not mean to do that,” he said as he caught his breath.
“That’s a shame,” DaHane managed to say.
Umren almost laughed. “Do you have any idea how so very young you are?”
“Compared to you, everyone is young.” He caught his breath, knowing there was a battle about to happen and he had to get back. He and Umren had to be there. “How are you feeling?”
“Not great but I’ll be alright as soon as I can get my hands on a few elves. You?”
“Tired but…” he couldn’t help himself… he shifted to steal another kiss, desperate to feel it again. For one moment Umren gave in then pulled back. Umren swore under his breath.
DaHane turned to crawl for the door. “We should get back to the wall. They need us.” Umren followed him out. Once out of the rubble door DaHane stood, feeling very tired, but somehow elated and energized in a way he could not even begin to put to words.
Umren got to his feet and looked at his ruined leathers.
“I didn’t think you would be in a building set to be dropped,” DaHane said, trying to bring himself back to the world. He scowled at the collapsed building.
“I wasn’t. Nor was I stabbed by an elf. It was an assassination attempt, DaHane.”
“That won’t make Shannon happy.”
“No, it won’t. It doesn’t make me happy, either. I have no idea who did it, though, so until I do… let’s not say anything. No one can know there is any division or trouble.”
“I didn’t think there could be. Don’t you all belong to Shannon?”
Umren looked at him seriously, than smiled a little. He caught the hem of DaHane cloak and wiped his face. “No,” he said, trying to be serious about it. “I didn’t think there could be, but the fact of the matter is that it was the Elite who stabbed me, blocked my ability to reach out, and brought the building down on me.”
“I’m glad I spoiled his plans then.”
“We should get back. I need new leathers and you aren’t much better off.”
They headed back, picking their way around to the wall. They stopped at a water barrel wagon to wash the blood off as best they could.
“I need a sword and a bow,” Umren told the first Elite he saw, “and new leathers.”
“You want mine, my lord?”
“Weapons, yes, leathers, no. Get me a set however you can, but these are ruined.”
The Elite handed over his weapons and took off at a run. Umren looked to DaHane. “Whatever magic he used on my head, it’s still there. That could be a problem.”
“I’ll give orders; you just make damn sure you don’t get stabbed again. I have plans for you.” DaHane strode ahead so Umren couldn’t see his mischievous grin.
“Where are they?” DaHane demanded of the one Elite on the wall.
“We had orders to retreat to the ancient walls,” he said confused, looking at Umren. “Your orders.”
“Like bloody hell! Get them back here now!” Umren snarled low and under his breath. “The next Elite to not look to Prince DaHane for command, I will rip his blood heart out and eat it. Do I make myself clear?” he whispered in Norwood.
“Yes, Master…” the Elite took a terrified step back.
“Tell them!” Umren roared at him. “Now!”
“Yes, Lord!” he dropped to knees. His bowed his head.
Umren turned to DaHane. “They will be here.”
“I hope so, Umren,”
Umren stood watching the elves halt just outside the range of bows, and waited for the full force to gather. The men on the wall began to whisper and worry.
“Hold!” DaHane called to them. He needed them to see he was there, that he had not left them, that they had a commander. They had a Von on the wall with them. The men who had begun to fidget took deep breaths and watched him for orders.
DaHane re-gripped his sword and waited, trying to be as calm and relaxed as he could. Behind him he heard a whisper. He looked back to see many Purtans moving up along the backside of the wall. These were not just men of Ulam Bac, but men and women of pure Purtan blood, most with white in their hair and weapons in their hands. Some wore various types of uniforms; others wore everything from stable-hand clothes to nobleman clothes.
“Keep your eyes ahead and show no fear!” DaHane roared to his men. “We are Purt and it is time the world remembers what that means! We are born priests and healers, but anger us and we are all warriors!”
“Warriors!” someone yelled, trying to encourage himself.
“Warriors!” DaHane roared back at him with power in his voice so the man could hear how a warrior shouts.
“Warriors!” several roared in reply.
“Warriors!” DaHane tried to make them feel it, to know they fought as one. They stood on the wall as one people, one force, as brother, as warriors!
The elves moved in a rush, but the Purtans remained on the wall with their chant of Warriors. Arrows were drawn, and as the elves hit the wall, the newly arrived Purtans below rushed up the back side on the wall with their bows ready and fired a thousand more arrows than was expected. The Purtan warriors didn’t stop at the wall, but leapt off the front right down among the elves. DaHane went with them. Those who could, followed.
The attacked on the elves carried beyond the makeshift wall. DaHane fought with a skill he didn’t even know he had. He held his ground with the Purtans and felt as if their style of fighting was what he was born doing. He laughed as he realized he was accessing his father’s skills. He shouted with triumph and power. He leapt at his enemy. He blasted away magic attacks, thrilled and awed at the skills and ability his father held so hidden and yet had given him as reward for knowing him. He was DaHane Von Valreen, Lord of Purt! He roared at the elves before him. His voice and power tore through his chest and burst out him as a roar of power far more than any normal lion, but bordered on the roar of a dragon.
Elves staggered back, shocked and uncertain. DaHane used it to surge forward. With stunning speed and force, the army of newly arrived Purtans led by DaHane forced the elves back over the rubble beyond the outer walls.
There the elves were being forced to regroup. The shock of the utter skill of those they faced was beginning to sink in and their tactics were shifting. DaHane was not about to let them do that. His path was blocked by an elf who attacked him with a sword that burned blue and red. He took the elf on, but the fight had him outmatched. The elf’s sword had cut through his own like it was nothing and left him suddenly weaponless.
Power slammed DaHane’s shield so hard he was staggered back. He tripped, forcing him to roll to get his feet even as another magic attack came down at him. He slammed up a shield with a power that would have stunned most, but the elf hammered on it. His shield took three blows before it shattered on him. His ears rang and he was knocked off his feet crashing back onto his elbows.
The elf stepped over him and grabbed him up. “The son of Father Oirion,” he spat in DaHane’s face. “You’re as weak as your father!” DaHane felt something inside him boil with rage, and deep inside a power that had been hidden clicked. A lock, so deep that even his awakening to his father as Von Valreen had not exposed it, opened. He surged up and grabbed the man’s side, ripping into him. The elf gasped at the sudden pain.
DaHane didn’t even think about it as he ripped away armor and fabric, cutting through muscle and ribs with his claws. He tore the man’s side out in one hand and grabbed his throat with the other.
As he roared at the elf, DaHane felt it tear out of him with such power it shivered through his muscles and body. The very air about him shimmered and seemed to glow in his rage and anger. He crushed the man’s throat in his grip, shredding it to nothing with his claws. He flung the elf aside as if he weighed nothing. DaHane surged forward, attacking the elves with claws and rage. After that he needed no weapon.
DaHane looked up from where he was trying to clean his claws in a bucket of water that had been left in the elven camp for a horse not too many hours ago. Several men were walking toward him with Umren. One of them seemed rather familiar. He was a tall Purtan with white hair and a golden tunic under his shimmering silver chain-mail.
DaHane looked back to cleaning his claws… claws, real claws like a cat’s. His fingernails had been ripped away and his hands hurt from it. His face hurt, his bones ached, his entire body hurt. He was blood-soaked, his clothes shredded, and he just wanted to make his hands clean so people would not fear him.
“Umren,” he said as they reached him. “What can I do for you?”
“I would like you to meet two very important men. This is TyDiaden,” he said of one of them. “He joined you behind the wall.”
DaHane stood up and shook his hands dry as best he could. He had nothing to dry them on, so he just shook them.
“I am TyDaiden,” the man said with a bow to DaHane. DaHane noticed that he looked half starved and not at all healthy. “I was once a guard in the house of Armond.”
“This is TyBelden, King of Valreen,” Umren said of the other. DaHane looked at his great-grandfather. He had not seen the man since he was a child and had not recognized him. He bowed his head to hide his shock.
“He managed to get to the western flank in time to stop any inland progression.” Umren said.
The man grinned openly, looking DaHane over. “Damn, boy!” he laughed suddenly. “I’d love to see your father’s expression if he could see what you look like right now.”
“I have the field, DaHane. Why don’t you take them to see the Regent,” Umren said. He motioned the men toward the city. As they turned to go, Umren caught DaHane’s arm. “Ignore the claws. Walk as a general of Purt and nothing less. Your efforts today left even me impressed and awed,” he said very seriously. “You saved this battle and brought down a king. Not even I could keep up with you and Norwood will sing of you as a hero.”
DaHane smiled a little. “Thank you Umren. I’ll try to keep that in mind when the women hide their children from me so I don’t eat them.”
Umren grinned. “Then we shall drink together and be glad we are not asked to baby-sit.”
DaHane smiled back. He wanted to say something, to somehow let Umren know the brief contact and energy they had shared in the rubble meant something more than battle-demanded actions. He could think of nothing, but felt rather silly; like a foolish sixteen-year-old fool thinking he could win over the High Commander of the Elites. He turned to join the other two men who were headed for the city.
“DaHane,” Umren said seriously.
DaHane turned to look back at the most powerful Elite in Purt. He was backed by a number of other Elites and surrounded by battle-bloodied warriors.
“Once we get the field cleared, I will come give you reports. I think we will have plans to make.”
DaHane nodded. “I will expect you then,” he said, swallowing how distant the Elite seemed. He turned to jog after his grandfather.