The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, страница 23
“What now?” Jared asked. Mordalayn was staring out at the woods beyond the main entrance, past the vast bridge. Jared was still shaken from the knowledge that the traitor had been Madame Veer. Her bitterness and rage as she’d pounded on the walls of the trap intended for queen Sophie was an image he would find hard to shake from his mind for a very long time.
“We wait,” Mordalayn replied without looking back. “Sooner or later they will come to us. They saw the light fade when the trap activated. They believe the Emerald Queen is dead. Their treachery and cleverness will be their downfall.”
Bue was helping soldiers to move the bodies of the Glavers to one side. One groaned and then was still. As Jared watched a small blue figure materialised out of thin air and waddled up to the corpse. He watched as the creature sat next to the body and started to talk.
“What’s that?” Jared asked to Mordalayn who turned round and looked where Jared was pointing at the body.
Mordalayn looked at Jared quizzically. “It’s dead. Does that matter now?”
Jared watched as the creature faded out again. “Not the Glaver the little blue thing.” He pointed but the creature was gone.
Mordalayn looked concerned. “What did you just see?” he asked.
“Like a short…err, blue rat…kangaroo I suppose..”
Mordalayn looked around but no one else had heard Jared. “You could SEE that?” he asked quietly.
“Yes, why? Couldn’t you?”
Mordalayn stared at him for moment then sheathed his sword. He looked Jared up and down and then gently placed his hands on his shoulders and said quietly. “Jared that was a Gryphoid. No one is meant to see them or know of their presence unless they have just died.”
Jared swallowed hard. “Does, does that mean…?”
“No, you are not dead. It does prove however that you being in this world was something that was not meant to be.”
“But you brought me here!” Jared snapped, exasperated.
“That was out of necessity. You are witness to knowledge and power that no one bar Our Lady is meant to know.”
“Riders at the entrance!” a voice bellowed loudly and Mordalayn turned back to where a soldier was pointing.
Approaching the vast, curving, white entrance at the end of the huge bridge were five riders of King James’s army. They galloped to the marble entrance and dismounted as one. One of the Alegrian guard went to them and after a few words of exchange the lead rider pointed towards Mordalayn. Mordalayn turned to Jared. “You come too,” he said and Jared scurried to catch up as the warrior strode purposefully down the wide steps.
They reached the bottom and walked across the green grass of the gigantic, circular main courtyard. The soldiers could see them approaching and waited patiently. Mordalayn strode proudly forward, his jaw set in a hard, determined line. As they came to the waiting horsemen the leader bowed and spoke formally.
“Takoba Mordalayn. May I present myself. I am Captain Agostios Primmel of his royal majesty King James’s army.”
Mordalayn glared angrily at him and Jared looked nervously from the silent Caracalic to the captain. The man straightened up and adjusting his cloak continued.
“King James sends his regards to you. He respects your strength and your honour in defending your realm.” The captain paused, feeling unnerved under Mordalayn’s silent yet razor-like eyes. The Alegrian guards glared angrily at their counterparts who glared back just as hard.
“His majesty wishes you to know that he offers you terms of unconditional surrender.”
Mordalayn said nothing. There were no others sounds in the vast courtyard. Jared didn’t know what would happen next.
The captain was nervous and after a pause cleared his throat. “The alternative is that we take this castle and your kingdom by storm, which as I am sure you are aware, would not be a task now. Your queen is dead and your magic is extinct.”
The two figures stared at each other and the captain spoke again. “Surely you can….”
“I agree,” Mordalayn snapped.
The captain twitched slightly at the sudden response and then gestured his hand to Jared. “His majesty also insists that this boy is given to him.”
Mordalayn glanced down at Jared and then to the captain. Jared’s heart skipped a beat and he swallowed hard.
“Tell your king I will formally discuss surrender at the foot of the stairs to Our Lady’s palace,”Mordalayn turned to the bottom step of the vast staircase. White marble statues of previous kings and queens and brave warriors of Alegria lined the high balustrades either side of it. “I’m sure your king will allow us that one piece of tradition in his flawless victory.”
The captain smiled; relieved his task had been even easier than he had hoped. “But of course,” he said curtly, bowing again and turned to signal to his men. They remounted their horses and as they wheeled them around. “We will return in two hours” the captain said loudly and then spurred his horse away, his men following at the gallop.
Mordalayn turned to Jared and placed his hand on his shoulder. He looked down. “Do not be scared Jared, this is far from over.”
Jared stammered and then replied. “But you told him….”
“I know what I said Jared, but believe me this is not the end. We still have hope.”
“Will you turn me over to him?” Jared said scared at the thought of being in King James’s cruel clutches again.
Mordalayn stared at him. “Come, we have work to do,” he said.
The soldiers marched on Alegria. After centuries of living in the shadow of the accursed Alegrians and their ethereal monarchs, Anghofio would now be a proud and mighty kingdom once again. The soldiers marched happily, their feet stomping heavily on the road to the castle. Regularly the drummers leading them would beat four beats at double time and the soldiers would raise their rights fists high and shout at the top of their lungs “KING JAMES!
Every one of them was grateful to be there and everyone was hoping that the Alegrians would try to resist the conquest, so King James would give the order to sack the palace and city. He had ordered a peaceful march on the rival kingdom, solely to avoid the inevitable bitterness and resistance of a people who had not known oppression in over a thousand years. However, they also knew that their ruler would not hesitate to give the order if things did not go as he wanted.
The captain of the King’s Shield had returned from his meeting at the castle and the excited buzz amongst the camp had been that it was none other than Takoba Mordalayn who had agreed the surrender. Many had seen his battle in the king’s personal amphitheatre. While awed by his agility and skill, they were secretly pleased that the once mighty and legendary Queen’s Sword had now been forced to humble himself.
“A pleasant day for an invasion don’t you agree?” King James said to Galfront Siavy who rode next to him, near the front of the mighty column of men. Galfront smiled carefully, unsure if the king was speaking rhetorically.
King James smiled to himself. His Shield soldiers rode ahead, either side and behind him while the rest of the legion followed up. He could see the bridge ahead of them, maybe two hundred metres further and he braced himself, drawing in a breath as he savoured this moment. “The final conquest of Alegria,” he thought. His forefathers had hated their impotent status in the face of Alegria’s infuriating complacency and the tremendous power they wielded through their monarch. Anghofio’s once legendary status as a mighty state of warriors had paled centuries ago, as soon as Alegria had found a way to bring a leader to their throne who wielded almost inestimable power. Their secrets were jealously guarded and it had taken the mysterious vanishing of Queen Sophie before anyone had been able to find out anything. The truth had been staggering and cost King James dearly in men and gold but the revelation of just where the Alegrian monarch came from had been shattering. With careful researc
As they approached the start of the bridge, as one huge voice the legion shouted “KING JAMES!!!”, their fists again pumping the air.
The bridge was colossal. Pure white, solid marble. Around fifty metres wide and at least half a mile long. The walls either side were chest height to an average man and the view over the sides was heart stopping. Beneath the bridge was a drop of about half a mile, above a forest of trees and two snaking rivers. The kingdom’s main city was four miles west. The castle could only be approached by this bridge but as Alegria had not had a standing army for centuries there was no longer any strategic advantage in the design of the defences. The huge main courtyard led up to the palace but the battlements either side again looked down via a sheer drop to the forest far below. It was a simple yet ingenious piece of engineering. Back in the days when Alegria had been a kingdom of warriors it had done the Alegrians proud in the many battles that history had recorded. Now the castle and all its power would belong to him and for that King James was determined to enjoy every second of this day. He needed someone to run the kingdom as his vassal and who better than a former Alegrian ruler unable to use her power and bereft of her magic. The king laughed out loud and the nearest members of his bodyguard twitched their heads in his direction. King James knew that Veer would rule as he told her, she was bitter and twisted after years spent having to pretend gratitude. That hatred of the kingdom she had once ruled would be the ideal tool to keep the confused Alegrians in line.
They crossed the middle point of the bridge. Ahead there were no guards. Alegria had no gate or portcullis to their entrance or their bridge. In hundreds of years they had needed no protection other than their magic and King James threw his head back and laughed once again as he thought of how such a mighty nation could be so oblivious to threat.
Further ahead and at the top of the huge steps they could see a few figures dotted along, outside the main doorway to the palace. The Caracalic and a smaller figure began to walk down the staircase to greet them and the King was pleased. The boy was the only remaining link to the waking world and would be a useful prisoner. He may also know much with the right persuasion and as they marched on the drummers again reached the beat and again the soldiers yelled out for their king.
The legion was vast. Jared could see the huge numbers of men marching in time together, a moving wall of armour bristling with spears and swords. He and Mordalayn walked down the stairs to the bottom and stood on the last step, waiting.
He turned and looked at the tall figure who stared grimly at the approaching mass. “Let them come,” Mordalayn said quietly and Jared didn’t understand how he could be so calm in the face of such overwhelming numbers.
Some of the surviving soldiers were in the magisterial tower behind them, others formed a guard of honour. Their presence, although welcome was insignificant next to the mighty army sweeping across the land towards them.
The deafening “tramp, tramp” of booted feet resounded over the courtyard. Jared knew that while they had succeeded in saving Sophie’s life they were far from safe and the kingdom may still fall without its leader.
A trumpet sounded as the troops neared the white marble palace courtyard, large enough to swallow four football fields. The orange and black cloaked men came steadily inside.
Jared watched open mouthed as hundreds of men marched into the building and stood in lines in the vast square.
Jared looked up at Mordalayn again and spoke above the steady pounding of feet. “I hope you know what you’re doing.” Mordalayn didn’t look at him but moved back to one side. He looked to the soldiers around him. “Go back to the top of the staircase, do not come down it again no matter what happens,” he said with finality. The soldiers looked at him and then moved away.
The approaching legion finally came to rest as the last of the troops stood in the circular plaza. With the sound of pealing trumpets they came with an almighty crash of feet to a shuddering stop.
There was a pause and then, as if by some unheard signal, the centre of the mass of men separated and a path appeared directly in the middle. Slowly two riders walked to the entrance and then dismounted. Handing the reins to a servant they slowly walked up the path cleared for them. “King James!” Jared said loudly and Mordalayn stared ahead, his face full of silent fury.
As the king approached he looked left and right and then up the huge steps to where Mordalayn and the others watched them.
He came to rest at the foot of the stairs and placed one foot upon the lowest one, saluting and then bowing with a flourish. Captain Primmel stood beside him.
“Gentlemen!” he shouted loudly, the sound echoing as there was absolutely no other noise in the huge courtyard.
“Gentlemen, I commend your loyalty to your departed queen.”
Mordalayn said nothing.
“Your loyalty knows no bounds. For that we are willing to spare your lives.” King James paused for effect then looked round at the hundreds of men standing silent and armed behind him.
Mordalayn simply glared at him.
“Come, come” King James said laughing slightly. He turned to his gathered legion. “What do you think gentlemen?”
As one they responded with a deafening roar; “KING JAMES!!!”
He looked up again at the small group above him and smiled, the humour not fading from his eyes. “You are heroes now my friends, try not to become martyrs too. I offer this once only. Lay down your weapons and kneel to me and I will spare your lives.”
Mordalayn replied in a rumbling voice. “James you are a traitor and a coward. My place is at the side of my queen. In this world, her world or the next world. I will never kneel to you.”
James looked up and for the first time Jared saw disappointment on his harsh face.
“You agreed surrender Takoba,” the king reminded him. “Are you willing to see your city and palace destroyed for your foolish pride?”
Mordalayn continued. “I agreed to discuss surrender. I never said whose. I now offer you one chance to turn around and return to Anghofio and never come back.”
James stared at the Caracalic in disbelief. Then he threw back his head and laughed, a deep throaty roar. Agostios Primmel looked nervous, and glanced around quickly.
“My, my,” the king said wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. He turned to the troops behind him and shouted. “What do you think men? Should we turn and leave with our tails between our legs?”
There was a mighty roar of laughter from the assembled troops and the king turned back to Mordalayn, still grinning. “Takoba Mordalayn, sword of the Alegrian queen. Your loyalty and courage are equalled only by your stupidity.”
Mordalayn said nothing, his emerald eyes boring into the king. Then he spoke slowly and clearly. “Leave now and swear on what little honour you possess to leave Alegria in peace and I will spare your life and the lives of your men.”
The king’s face hardened and his amusement vanished.
“Very well,” he replied and donned his helmet, the ornate gold and pearl armour shining in the bright sunlight. “You now leave me no choice. My men were hoping you would fight.”
He turned to the gathered soldiers, drew his sword and raised it high above him. “Gentleman today we take Alegria.”
His men roared louder than they had ever roared before.
Jared was terrified. The king’s obvious amusement at Mordalayn’s arrogance had vanished once he realised the Caracalic was not simply making a gesture of defiance. As King James turned to face the thousand or so men assembled in the courtyard Jared’s mind flashed to his family back home and wondered if they would ever find out what became of him. He looked up at Mordalayn to try to persuade him to accept the king’s terms and to his astonishment he saw that he had his eyes closed and was silently mouthing words. The crystal on the pommel of his sword glowed brightly, green and clear as King James addressed his men. They roared as they prepared to follow his command to attack the castle. Jared then looked left and saw one of the huge, white marble statues on the staircase wall turn its head with a scraping noise and stare at Mordalayn. The statue was of a warrior, bare headed and designed with the armour of a knight. It frowned at Jared and then squatted down and jumped to the stair below it with a crunch.
Before he could say anything two more suddenly turned their heads and looked at King James. One looked like Kulkrain, with even the braided hair as part of the design and the tattoo chiselled on the upper left arm. The other was a woman, designed with a military uniform and holding a marble sword. A few of the front ranks of King James’ss men shouted in alarm and then the statues climbed down from their positions and jumped down onto the stairs with loud, crunching thuds. Mordalayn was still mouthing something almost silently. “Whatever the spell was, it was clearly something that King James’s research had overlooked,” Jared thought.
The statues were elaborately carved and detailed. As King James turned in alarm, Captain Primmel leapt forward and stood in between the approaching statues and their leader. The nearest statue raised its arm to block the sword swing and then brought its other arm forward like a huge hammer into his chest. He flew back into the ranks.
The other statue reached King James, who was attempting to move back to the safety of his men, and took his arm. He yelled in fear and another soldier ran forward and tried to tackle the implacable stone figure. It brought its arm round and slapped the man who landed like a rag doll at the feet of his comrades.