The Chronicles of Valana Volume 3: Open Doom

by AB

Chapter 4

All-out war

Cold perforated his senses as warm tears fell from his bleary eyes onto the thigh thick snow. He could feel himself shaking.

From the distance, cries. Around him nothing, still silence as everything lays dead. The Royal caravan, horses, guards, and everyone slain, as well as two Elven warriors clad in their winter armour. Blood pooled staining the snow.

With trembling hands, he rubs off the wetness from his knees, looks to the dead Elves before looking back at the spot he had crawled out from.

The chorus of cries and armour clanging feels closer, it starts to snow again, dense, large flakes touched his clothes and skin.

"Wake up, human child." Kermenos woke to Viskeras' voice, the boar's rhythmical sway having lullabied him to an uneasy sleep.

Rubbing his eyes, Kermenos studied his surroundings. The sun burned bright atop the sky as they passed under heavy-looking gates of solid granite pulled open by four teams of eight ox each, on the inside tethered to thick wooden poles, led by two teams of two Orkhavoc warriors fully dressed in full-plate armour.

The City gates replaced by large white and ochre coloured buildings of marble, granite or stone with blue windows and flowers hanging from balconies.

"This is…not what I expected." Kermenos stated to no one.

"Orkhavocs and our cities have changed much the last few…millennia. Other aspects have remained the same, like size of buildings and materials."

"It is more beautiful than I thought it'd be, the city. Are all Orkhavoc cities like this?" Kermenos asked in awe as they passed below great marble arches full of dangling plants and bright coloured flowers. Kids run around playing and adults went about their business.

Viskeras led them to the boar pens, leaving his animal there with the youth who attended to them.

They walked to the Royal palace, situated in the center of the city atop a hill in the middle of an Orkhavoc-made lake of pristine-looking clear blue water. Fish swam in it and corals could be seen on the bottom until the waters became too deep to see. A bridge connected the hill on the center to the rest of the city.

"The water is constantly renewed by underground irrigation pipes, curtesy of the Elves."

"This is amazing. They gave you the pipes?"

"No, they taught us how to do it ourselves. Construct them, place them, maintain them and so on."

"Makes you want to swim in there…" Kermenos whispered.

Chuckling, Viskeras replied. "Not if you like being in the realm of the living. It is one of our holiest sites defining our connection to the world. The site, water, fish and endemic birds that eat the fish are all protected, touching them means instant death. No one has touched the waters since its construction nine thousand years ago."

They crossed the cobblestoned bridge. "What happens if a pipe bursts?"

"It gets fixed and it is an exception, yet with magic-users the water still is not touched, by Orkhavocs."

They climbed the steps to the Royal Palace's entrance, the guards saluting before opening the doors.

Four high towers guarded the exterior of the Palace with various buildings popping up above the parapets.

Viskeras walked them through the courtyards and corridors to the throne room. Two guards opened the gates for them.

"My son! Have you slain your prey?" A three-meter-high Orkhavoc with hair falling down his shoulders and a beard to match them with long tasks and horns greeted Viskeras, bear hugging him, almost crushing the teenager in his embrace. A cape hung from his back, his body covered in white and red silk garments with a breastplate adorning his torso and a crown of white stone and ochre, polished dragon horns on his head.

"No, but I bring you a human who I found wondering the jungle near Fusnilsbetet. He asked for an audience with you, father." Viskeras reciprocated the hug before pointing Kermenos to the older Orkhavoc.

"And a child as well? You wanted an audience with the High-King of the Orkhavocs? You have him before you." He studied Kermenos' small frame, peering into his eyes with his own dark emerald ones.

"He…you…you are the…?" Kermenos stuttered. "You are the Crown Prince of the Orkhavocs? How come you had no guards? No protection? Why did you not tell me?"

Father and son laughed. "That you cannot see something, means not that it does not exist." The High-King said.

"You never asked, and I found it amusing not to offer the information, for this look you have now." Viskeras grinned, displaying his growing white teeth that would one day extrude from his mouth like his father.

"I am Kermenos of Hordivar, your Highness, and I am here to ask you for sanctuary." Kermenos said after a bow of respect.

The High-King's cheery disposition changed in an instant.

"Everyone except for my son, empty the room." He ordered. A moment later the throne room was void of courtiers, guards, and anyone else except for Kermenos, Viskeras and the High-King.

"Speak. Sanctuary is granted." Viskeras had never seen his father accept requests or demands so easy, his brows frowned.

"Oghelle is unleashed, Riavad, Vordurn and Hordivar have been raised to the ground, kingdoms and cities no longer exist and refugees are flooding to both water and Orkhavoc borders to escape. Nikoth, Rene, and Halnrod are marching their armies to meet Oghelle's in the planes south of Vordurn. It is going to be a bloodbath without…My father ordered me to come alone and ask for sanctuary and your armies against Oghelle." Kermenos said fast.

"How does he know these things?" Viskeras heard his father mutter to himself.

"Do they know you're here? The Oghellen army?" He asked the boy.

"They think I'm going to…" He was cut off by the King.

"Dara and your father sent a decoy ship there and had you walk here alone from the northern borders." Kermenos nodded.

"Guards." The King yelled and within a second or two, two heavily armoured Orkhavocs came through the throne room gates.

"Send for Commander Tolkavos." The guards bowed and left.

"Artakta," he called a servant she-Orkhavoc, "show Kermenos to a room. He'll be staying with us for an unknown amount of time and find someone to tend to his needs during that time." The servant bowed and waited for Kermenos. "Son, stay behind."

Sea water filled his boots and dampened his clothes. Minaroth and Vicanoth jumped in behind him pulling the boat ashore as he walked along the sand banks.

"Leave it, we won't need it any further. We'll walk to Padala's watch and hire a ship to take us to Artha."

They grabbed their things leaving the boat to the currents.

"Who sold you the Elven items?" Fauj demanded, his hands on his sword and the merchant's shoulder.

"I cannot tell you." Fauj tossed him two silver coins and gripped his sword's hilt tighter. The merchant eyed the sword and then the coins.

Pocketing them he turned his eyes to the man's face. "My son and my son in law. They find them in battlefields, new or old as well as abandoned Elven sites, graves and settlements."

Fauj observed him for a moment. "Who did you sell them to?"

"Many different people. Many different items."

"Don't play coy with me, merchant. I mean these items here." Fauj replied with a stern voice, pointing at the Elven objects on the stall table between.

"I cannot tell you."

"Who are you afraid of?" Fauj asked.

"I cannot tell you, they will kill me."

"I am the captain of the City Guards, we can protect you."

"No, you cannot. No one can protect me from them."

Fauj stepped closer placing a hand on the man's shoulder, his other hand pulling on the sword's hilt.

"You are in between a rock and a hard place then, for if you do not tell me I am also going to kill you right here where you stand." Panic filled the merchant's eyes.

"Your choice is simple, my good man, die a little richer or die poor." Fauj retrieved two gold coins from his pouch offering them.

The merchant pocketed the gold coins. "Meet me here, at midnight." Fauj nodded and left.

"Stenoros!" The Elf turned his head, his lips instantly forming a grin. "Enthronos!" They ran to each other closing their hands around their shoulders in a hug.

"What are you doing here?" Stenoros asked stepping back.

"Oh, you know, nothing much just trying to go to Varaghia for an adventure…who is he?" Enthronos interrupted himself seeing Lothron.

"What is an Elfling doing in Dara?"

"Daran Crown Prince meet…Enthronos, the youngest son of Aer'andil."

Lothron's eyes almost fell from their sockets. "You mean…Aer'andil as in the High-King of the elves?" Enthronos giggled.

"Yeah…him, cool dad as well, stubborn too and can make mum wanna hex him." Stenoros and Enthronos laughed. "You don't want to know what my dad says either."

"What is an Elf…prince doing in Dara all by himself?" Lothron enquired, staggered.

"I'm not by myself! Look, that Dragon behind me brought me over from Arthalon forest."

" Fraevnaras?" Lothron's eyes having almost popped out of their sockets for the second time in less than an hour. "That…that's the Dragon-Queen of the Wyrm-Kingdom of Arthalon, she is my father's dragon's nest-mate."

Fraevnaras walked closer before sitting on her hind legs. "Really? Cool!" Enthronos beamed.

"Cool? It is quite warm, it is the beginning of summer." Lothron furrowed his eyebrows.

"Oh, that's a word my father has taught us, it means amazing or awesome or great." Giggling, Enthronos replied.

"Oh, well okay then." Lothron smiled.

"I shall be leaving you now, young one. But we shall see each other again in the future." The She-Dragon said unfolding her wings.

Enthronos gave her a hug around her scaly neck. "Thank you for the lessons." Lothron threw them a look but said nothing.

With a leap, she was aflight.

"So, what are you doing here?" Lothron asked, again.

"I want to get a ship to get me to Varaghia." Enthronos stated. Stenoros rolled his eyes as if he knew something Lothron did not, who furrowed his eyes.

"Why not get an Elven ship?"

"Because, even if I could convince my father to allow me to go north, mum would not, and I was getting bored of the life in the Royal Palace and Glinthala."

"Yeah, sure having all those friends around and being Aer'andil's son must be boring." Stenoros teased him.

Enthronos poked his tongue out at him, "well it can get…monotonous after a while, so I wanted to get out of it for a bit. State visits are not the same, not with a battalion of Honour guards, armed to the teeth."

Stenoros gave a snort.

"Whaaaat?" Enthronos giggled.

"You are capable of making anything into an adventure, even a stroll through Gel'anr's forests.

"Hey! That wasn't my fault, how was I to know the ground would give way under us and there'd be an underground waterfall beneath it?" Enthronos protested while the other Elf-boy chuckled. "What are you doing here?"

Stenoros' face darkened. "We were traveling to Feran, for a diplomatic visit as Udala's Crown Prince when we were attacked by an unknown force. They slaughtered my entourage and would have killed me if it wasn't for Lothron and his guard passing by on air. Apparently Feran's under siege."

"What? Since when?" Enthronos queried, shocked.

"For a few days now, almost a week." Lothron replied. "But Daran envoys carrying the news have been turned away from the Human Kingdoms in the alliance and..."

"And Elves do not intervene in the affairs of men unless there's Darkness afoot." Enthronos completed his sentence.

"You can stay here, as Dara's guests, if you wish. In the royal palace until your parents can be contacted to send ships to retrieve you." Lothron told them. His escort of dragon riders, atop their dragons, behind them.

"Is it safe?" Lothron stared at Enthronos with a "you're here, unharmed are you not?" expression on his face. "That's Batorn propaganda. Dara has never and will never hurt an Elf, despite Gel'anr's betrayal, ten thousand years ago."

Stenoros knew it, even if Lothron did not. Accusing Gel'anr was a mistake. "Gel'anr has betrayed no one." Enthronos replied, aloud, his hands, now, aflame.

Lothron was about to respond when Stenoros passed a hand over each of their shoulders, grinning. "How about we continue this conversation somewhere safer, like the Daran Royal Palace? Perhaps over a nice, hot meal? Please?" He blinked rapidly making Enthronos roll his eyes. Lothron could not help but chuckle.

"To the Royal Palace, then." Lothron said pointing the way to them.

"Fauj!" Panting he woke up with a start. The four-poster bed closing in on him, he sat on the bed's edge. The darkness of the room broken only a candle near his bed and the light penetrating from outside his window.

The door opened and a man rushed in. "The old dream?" His voice calm and placating.

"It's not a dream though, is it?"

"Gundrun…no it is not, but while it is your past it does not have to rule your present."

"Where are you in the investigation? I do not feel safe in the Royal Palace."

"You were not safe in the Manor." Fauj sat next to him. "It has been seven years since that day, we may not find…" Fauj cut his sentence, he knew the look on Gundrun's face. A faint smile broke on his lips.

He stood up from the bed and kneeled in front of the fireplace. "I've found the merchant who sold the Elven artifacts…" He stoked the fire, bringing it to life.

"The Elven weapons and brooch? Found in the…site?" Gundrun whispered.

"Those." Fauj confirmed. "I have…persuaded him to tell me the truth, I'll meet him tonight."

"It is night."

"Indeed, later. Some business is best conducted in the cover of darkness."

"Why are the Elven artifacts important? Did not Elves do this? K…murder my mum and younger sister?"

"No, I do not believe so." Fauj countered him.

"Were they not real? The items?"

"Authentic of high quality."

"Then?" Gundrun was getting vexed, unable to grasp what Fauj was getting at.

"Do you remember Elven warriors attacking your convoy?" The man stood up, the fire now burning bright again.

"N…no, I don't remember much of that day, except for snow and blood. All I can hear is screaming and all I can see is blood, so much blood on the snow."

Fauj sat next to him again. "The investigation continues, my husfab , it is not conclusive yet but I will find who murdered the ones we loved."

"How is it not? My brother is ranting about the Elven artifacts and slain warriors from dawn to dusk."

Fauj smiled, crooked. Picking up Gundrun's silver coronet from the night stand he placed it on Gundrun's lap. The silver gleaming the firelight.

"This is yours, yes?" Gundrun nodded.

"So, let us assume I wait for you to fall asleep again, pick this up and leave it next to someone along with your sword, someone that I have killed. Does it mean you killed him or know anything of it?"

Gundrun's eyes bulged out as he slapped his forehead. Fauj chuckled.

"You're right!"

"It happens from time to time." Fauj continued the conversation until the prince lied back feeling sleepy.

Two hours later he found the owner under one of the buildings in the market square.

"Who did you sell the items to?" Fauj cut to the chase. The night felt stale, the air queer.

"Fredjon…" A large, black hound jumped from the shadows, seemingly out of thin air wrapping his dripping jaws around the man's neck while another attacked Fauj from behind.

Fauj turned on his heels unsheathing his sword. The second hound attacked him trying to bite off his leg. Fauj pivoted avoiding the muscled jaws before kicking the hound right between his ribs. It whined and coiling back with the agility of a snake it attacked him again. Bringing his sword to his fore he defended against the flurry of fangs and claws before swinging it above his head and down the hound's neck.

It fell dead before turning to ash.

He felt a stabbing pain on his thigh. Falling to his knees he saw the hound having killed the merchant bearing his canines snarling at him ready to pounce.

A hooded figure jumped between him and the creature brandishing a short sword in hand and a bow around her shoulder.

Clutching his injured thigh Fauj saw the rather short-looking hooded figure fight the hound. The fight did not last long before the hound fell lifeless on the square floor.

"How is it its claws could not injure you or penetrate skin?" Fauj asked.

"A question for another time. If you have a death wish there's much easier and pleasant ways to go about it than fighting nether hounds." She replied without turning around.

"She?" Fauj thought. "Wait! Who are you? Who are you working for?" Fauj yelled at her as she jumped run up the columns and then to the balconies of one of the buildings. Her figure and pose betraying a younger individual.

"I work from the shadows to serve the light. The man you're looking for is in one of the inns outside the city." She replied before leaping on a nearby roof and away from his sight before he could ask any more questions.

"We look a ridiculous, my Liege." Minaroth complained.

"We look the part of a rich human merchant, his wife and their teenage son. From now on I do not want us being recognised as Elves." Aer'andil replied. "The illusion should be enough…for now." They boarded the ferry to Fomi, Udelon's Northern port. A short while later they left Artha behind them.

An hour or two later Vicanoth walked outside to the deck. Searching with his eyes he found Aer'andil standing on the bow of the ship, gazing at the horizon. Vicanoth stood next to him, feeling awkward.

"Is Enthronos not going to Dara? Why are we going to Fomi?" Vicanoth spoke a moment of silence later.

Aer'andil continued gazing at the horizon, in silence.

"Going to Dara would be disastrous as of yet, the circumstances are not yet prime to disturb him."

"Him?" Vicanoth could not help but ask.

A moment of calm later Aer'andil changed the subject. "Why have you come here, Vicanoth, son of Minaroth and Gla'oros? I do not require more protection than what your mother can provide."

Vicanoth stammered before regaining his composure. Taking a deep breath, he let it go with a sigh. "I wish to prove myself…a worthy successor to my parents."

Aer'andil didn't move his gaze from the horizon.

"The Federoth Runes, I believe have accomplished this much and their use during the battle against Taycon. What is the reason, really?" Aer'andil pushed on.

"I…I wish to marry the woman I love, and I wish that her parents do not reject me. Her father has done much for our people."

"And you think embarking on a journey that can cost your life will ensure her parents' favour?"

"I hope protecting the High-King of the Elves will."

Aer'andil's lips broke with the faintest of smirks, if only for a moment.

In a second he was fire, then he was back to his self of flesh and bones. "You really think I require protection, child?"

"I guess not."

"Do you think you deserve her love, if you abandon her to embark on an adventure? Should you not be by her side?" Pained, Aer'andil carried on.

"I…do not know."

"Better an answer than believing that you do."

"You speak as the spirits do, my Lord."

Aer'andil smiled. "Indeed, and knowledge is gained by three ways. Realising you know nothing, admitting you know nothing and comprehending that you know nothing, you have realised so and you are ready to learn. The first part is not true."

"I do not understand."

"Good, maybe you will. One day." Aer'andil joined Minaroth in their cabin.

"So, my son has found his Aru'vial?" He is so young and yet he is no longer a child." Minaroth stated to herself.

Aer'andil gave a pained chuckle. "Parents are that way. We forever see our children as kids when they no longer are so. Mine no longer have that luxury and neither do I."

Minaroth eyed his right arm. "Everything alright, my King?"

He stared at it for a second, "it is nothing I did not expect. I am not protected by Gel'anr's wards or healers anymore. My spirit will give me what I need to see this forth." He said in nothing more than a whisper.

"My Lord?" Minaroth asked, worried.

Aer'andil closed his eyes. "Goodnight, Minaroth."

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