Silent Harbinger, страница 1
By Julian Saheed
Copyright 2014 Julian Saheed
Cover Art by Julian Saheed
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Other titles by Julian Saheed
The Valerious Chronicles
Book One: Dawn of the Valiant (Out Now)
Book Two: The Tyrant's Onslaught (Due Mid 2014)
They are coming.
A dull rumble approaches from the west, just audible over the deafening cracks of thunder. I can make out the heavy strides of their mounts, tearing apart the already soaked road into a scummy quagmire. Yet there is nothing I can do but wait.
The chilling soak of the icy rain has now seeped into the very marrow of my bones. The mere touch of the rotting wood I'm lying on sends shivers down my spine. And the rusted clasps around my hands and feet - much too small for one as large I - begin to cut into the lower layers of my flesh. How I despise the drops of rain, pelting my eyes as I stare out into the darkened sky. Mottled black clouds are all that I have seen for months; the sky afire with a constant assault of wind, downpour and in the winter months biting sleet.
Around my neck a leather binding pins me to the worm ridden oak of this massive table. I can crane my neck somewhat to each side, but there is little I can see. The rustled tops of the dying cedars around us, the smoke rising from a fire that has failed to stay kindled in this endless storm. I can move my arms a bit, for the shackles are attached to lengthy chains, but my feet are kept still. The hands are always free. With neck and feet bound there is no escape, and no one would dare unfasten the bindings of this altar. Fear of their retribution is too strong.
Next to me lie the other men. Three unfortunates. Two sick, one so old and starved that the skin on his body grips his frail frame as it would a walking skeleton. I can hear one man cry, a low moan that is carried over the din of pounding rain and wind. I do not think less of him for it. Had I the ability to do such a thing, I would gladly cry out into the night air, so that my anger could be heard. Pointless. That will never happen.
I could shed tears as he sheds, but what point is there to the flow of salty sorrow when there can be no noise to carry away the anger? The feat of crying in itself serves two purposes. The tears cleanse away the sorrow and fear that come with a dire event. Then the sobs and cries act to let out the fury that builds up inside of us. To allow its escape into the outside world.
This fury always gathers. It is there because we blame ourselves for not being able to stop terrible things from happening. How do I know this? Because I have never cried out. The fury inside of me has never had a chance to be released into the world, where there is too much space for it to cause harm. Maybe therein lies the reason for the life that I have lived. One in which I only now see what truly matters.
The noise is growing louder. I can hear it approaching from behind my chained body.
Hooves, the loud crunch and splatter of horses running along the muddy road. Horses that hit the ground with an impact that can only mean they are burdened by a heavy weight. Lightning arcs brightly in the sky followed by an explosion that causes the running horses to snort and openly cry out their terror. The ringing from the thunder has left my ears and the rhythmic clatter of hooves still drones on, despite the horses objections to this storm of gigantic proportions. How can they carry those riders on their backs? Are they unaware of the evil that exploits them? Perhaps they have come under a spell. Who knows, and what does it truly matter? They have come. The appointed time is near.
How vividly I remember the first time they came. I was oblivious to what was happening back then. We were forced into a hold and when we were freed the table that I now lie upon had been erected. Already then it gave off a sense of hidden malevolence. Now, one would barely recognize it for what it was. Blackened by fire, human waste and mould, it is a testament to the way the village has changed since they first came.
The horsemen are entering the village. The women will be cowering on the roadside, heads kept down with eyes staring nowhere but the mud they trudge through. That is how it has always been. And that is what infuriates me the most.
Grave circumstances are not something I am unfamiliar with. How many times came I to within an inch of my life? How many times have I faced a certain death, only to be saved each time - by some ironic luck - to return to my pitiful existence? From the very first day I recall, lying in tears besides the bloodied corpses I would find out were my parents, a shadow of haunted fate has followed me.
All those who have sheltered, or pitied me, have come to know only sorrow and pain. My uncle, taking in - out of duty rather than good of heart - his brother's son, found his end in a blaze that engulfed his home. From that day I was branded accursed and thrown to the rats to become a child of the slums. Worth less than the grime under the horse's hoof. I was almost lost. I lived so akin to the vermin that scurried around my feet in the sewers, that I truly believed I was one of them.
Then I was taken by the slavers. Whipped and tormented until I was once again something comparable to the men around me. But it was not long until I managed to escape. I trudged through forests and over mountains. Through wastelands so dry that the trees were burned grey. I walked with no real direction. Until I once again came to pastures, though by that stage I was lost in my own mind, barely noticing my surroundings. Swaying pines and cedars surrounded me and the land turned to rolling hills. In the distance a new mountain range sprung up. On its base, where forest met earthen giants, I found Avelline.
The people of Avelline showed me mercy. Sympathy for one who in his whole life had known no such thing. A strange feeling it was to have the people I lived with treat me with a level of respect, small though it was. The old farmer who allowed me a dry corner of his barn is the one I remember most in my dreams, once I pass into my troubled slumber. He showed an adolescent boy, who could not utter a single word since childbirth, that even a mute could be a man.
Thus I stayed here and lived, not fully with the villagers, but more beside them. They were a people oblivious to the outside world. A folk who lived with the land itself and knew nothing of the larger cities. I at first wondered in my early days whether in my long journey I had stumbled into another world, for it was unlike anything else. There was no theft, no crime, only a symbiosis in which those able to, looked after those who were less fortunate.
I built my own makeshift house once I knew how, though I kept it a goodly distance from the village itself. The remoteness allowed me the peace I so often craved. I helped out as I could, offering my services to those who needed them, though there was little that I could actually do. The ability to speak is something I always struggled to live without. I saw myself as a useless waste to the commune. That was until I met you, Lily.
You showed me that I could be what every other man was. More than anyone else you showed me compassion. Every day I yearned for a moment of your time, to smell your intoxicating fragrance, to brush against you as we walked. And how we walked, for hours on end, you talking eternally of your friends and reciting poems too elegant for my ears. And me listening, with the same stupid smile on my face day after day. But it has been a long time since we basked in sunlight by the lakeside, my dear, dear Lily. The shadow has drawn its unending veil over Avelline and there has been no more happiness.
They took you from me. Curse them! Curse them to the fiery pits of the deepest darkest hell. Not a moment goes by that I do not wish I had been h
The horses have stopped.
The few seconds of silence which have taken over are gnawing at my heart. A heavy thump strikes the floor. Then another. Soon they are too numerous to count. Two steps draw near and I feel something warm running against my hand. From the vinegary smell I can tell the man next to me has lost control of his body. I cannot blame him, for the fear coursing through my own heart has strangled my breath and frozen my limbs.
If only I could tilt my head back, I could see them coming, but it is no use. The steps grow louder, drawing closer and closer until finally a man walks past me to the foot of the table. There is always a man with them. A gangly old serf who does their every bidding. He and those who they steal away are the only ones who will ever know the true identity of these demons. They walk on two legs, imitating man, yet from their heavy robes extends a muzzle of bone.
There is one behind me, its breath shallow and raspy, sour and rancid. The man at my feet is inspecting us, feeling our legs and checking our