Deerward – Chapter 2 – ‘Secret Meeting’
I stood there staring into the old man’s eyes, unable to utter a word.
Was he jesting or was what he just say true?
“Do you realize how serious what you’re saying is?” I told him, keeping my eyes on his, reading his expression.
“Yes, child, I do. But I must go now – I hear footsteps closing in. Please, don’t dismiss what I told you. Meet me tomorrow on this hour at the town’s smallest square – the round one with the well. I will tell you all the truth about the past, both yours and Charna’s.” The old man swiftly ran out of sight, leaving me dumbfounded in the cold alley.
I moved on through the narrow streets of Silver Fir, the old man’s words stuck in my mind, leaving me full of questions. I was itching to find out how he knew all that he claimed he did and honestly just couldn’t wait for the night to pass so I can meet him again. After a while I passed through the castle’s enormous gate. The accumulating snow was at ankle height and there was not a soul to be seen; turned out the guards had fallen asleep in the guardhouse. I started walking along the long path leading to the main entrance of the keep. A row of tall pine trees was on each side of the path, resembling lined-up soldiers. The warm light coming from the keep’s windows fell upon the pure white ground, drawing patches of gold on it.
Entering the keep, I headed to my room and tossed my cloak to the floor, quickly moving to stand in front of the big mirror. I stared into it intently, as if I had never seen myself before. I hesitantly peered into my black eyes, as the very sorrow within them threatened to shatter the mirror to pieces.
“Alcander, you really can’t be her son!” I told myself, placing my hand where my sad eyes reflected on the mirror. The air around me grew heavy… almost suffocating. As if some invisible string had tightened around my neck, strangling me. I felt an enormous weight, pressing down upon my very soul, sending every living moment I spent within these cold walls, hurtling into an empty oblivion. Evil is seething within this castle. At the same time, a growing feeling of dread welled up inside me, like a dark premonition.
Painful memories of the past spilled from my mind once again. I was sixteen when I brought Chrisantha here in my room. She was a farmer girl that liked me, and I returned the sentiment from the moment I met her. Just before I got to shyly kiss her lips, Charna barged into the room and started insulting the innocent girl hysterically. In her tantrum Charna threw a clay flower vase against the mirror and the resulting shards injured Chrisantha’s face. Since then the girl was so terrified of Charna she wouldn’t see me again, but the scars from her wounds remained. Whenever I happen upon her out in the streets I can clearly see the misery in her expression. That memory always hurt me, and it became yet another reason for me to hated Charna ever more.
I felt so mentally drained, so fatigued, I almost dragged my feet to my bed and accidentally stepped on a small piece of parchment that was lying next to my cloak on the floor. I picked it up and observed it. The only thing on it was a small drawing, showing something like a door adorned with the symbol of Silver Fir – a pine tree surrounded by ornamental branches. I didn’t even have to wonder how that thing got there – I was almost certain that old man slipped it into my cloak’s pocket. I looked time and again at the sketch; it was indeed a door with Silver Fir’s emblem, yet I do recall having seen it like this before. Ah yes! The emblem is etched on the door of a room within this castle – on the top floor of the central tower.
Without wasting any time I started for the top story of the tower. In my rash, though, I forgot an important detail: the keys to these locked rooms were held by Melantha; I must find a way to retrieve them from her. Melantha is my mother’s right-hand woman; a person of innocent demeanor but truly sly nature. That strange woman looks ageless – years go by but she seems to remain unchanged. I knocked on her room’s door, still not having found a good excuse for me to take her keys. She opened the door and smiled at me.
“What do you seek in my bedroom at such a late hour, cub?” she inquired. As usual, her hair was unkempt and her draping clothes made her look like a standing bat. Her thin face and pitch-black eyes gave me the shivers.
I looked at her awkwardly, trying to find a good reason to ask for the keys and saw, in the corner of my eye, that she had left them on an iron end table in her bedroom.
“I need a chainmail vest and you’re the only one I know that could provide it,” I told her uneasily, thinking that this was a rather silly excuse.
Melantha studied my face; she didn’t seem convinced at all.
“Hmm… give me a minute and I’ll go get you one. You wait here,” she dryly replied and swiftly moved to a room across the hall. The key I was looking for had the symbol of the Silver Fir on it. I grabbed it quickly and with a few fast strides returned to where Melantha had asked me to wait.
Melantha came out of the room a few seconds later, holding the chainmail I requested. She kept on staring at me suspiciously as cold sweat doused my forehead.
“Here’s your chain vest…” she said, almost ironically.
“Thank you very much,” I replied, taking the armor and within seconds vanished from her sight. It was dead silent within the castle halls, as no one wandered around at this hour – which made things quite easier for me. Torches lined the tower’s stone walls and I took one with me, before starting my ascend over the countless steps leading to the central tower’s highest floor. When I finally closed in on the top, the cough of a guard on patrol made me stop short. I leaned against the wall along the stairs and peeked over to the hallway up ahead. The patrolling guard turned the other way, giving me a chance to quickly tiptoe like a cat towards the door with the Silver Fir emblem.
I quickly unlocked the door and let myself in. Under the light of my torch I noticed that this room was set aflame in the past; the walls were blackened and the smell of ash was irritably present. Around me were some half-burnt items like scrolls and textiles. In the center of the room was an iron bed and next to it a small table and an iron cradle. A strange feeling engulfed me; being in this room made my heart pound for some reason, even though I don’t recall ever having entered it. And yet, I somehow felt I had memories of this place.
An incredible curiosity grew in me and I started frantically searching through everything around me. My gaze then fell upon a half-burnt framed picture on the floor. Lifting it up, my eyes locked upon what was on the painting. It was obviously a family; a majestic man with an imposing look and rich beard, his cloak draped across his right shoulder and holding in his hands what were probably his two children. It was a boy and a girl that looked alike, though their features were not particularly clear. In the middle sat a woman, tenderly holding a baby in her arms. For a moment I started thinking that this picture represented my own family, painted at a time when my father still lived – but no, the woman proudly sitting holding the infant was not my mother – it wasn’t Charna.
I kept staring at the painting, lost within my own thoughts but I still couldn’t make any sense of it. The old man’s words, the scroll and this painting all seemed like parts of a riddle to which there were no answers to be seen. But I was now convinced of one thing: this demonic woman is not my real mother. Even though the old man’s words took me by surprise a few hours ago, I think deep down I felt this to be true for a long time. The blood coursing through my veins cannot be the same as hers.
The next morning I was woken up by a terrifying scream. A man’s cries were echoing across the whole castle. Within moments I went to the throne room, from where the screams seemed to be coming. A servant informed me that they had found a beggar stealing bread from the storehouse. Charna stood at the center and at her feet laid the man, pulling at her black velvet dress and begging her to spare his life. In her left hand she held an iron staff which she had just pulled out of the fire. She viciously pressed it against the man’s skin and he writhed in pain, crying and begging her to forgive him. I couldn’t bear to just watch this – it made my heart cringe.
“Stop it, Charna, don’t you see how much this man suffers!” I exclaimed but she seemed to ignore me as my brother Nicodème pulled me aside by my arm and told me to be quiet.
My sister Phaedra sat on a smaller throne, looking utterly indifferent.
A bit further away Melantha stood unmoving near the fireplace. Charna kept on mercilessly torturing the helpless man, who seemed to be gradually losing consciousness from the overbearing pain.
“I won’t stand for this anymore – just stop! Whatever he did you already punished him enough – show some mercy!” I pleaded again. She suddenly dropped the iron staff as the man was unconscious at her feet. She slowly turned her gaze on me, her poisonous black eyes staring at me bloodthirstily. In steady, majestic steps she came near me and slapped me with all her might, making me bleed.
“You shut that mouth, brat!” she shouted and kept on staring at me angrily. My anger almost overcame my patience and I barely managed to stop myself from returning the strike. She then went and sat upon her throne and started lecturing me.
“What am I going to do with you, Alcander? You need to stop behaving like this already. You’ve grown too soft you know. You hear a scream, see a little blood and you go ahead and make a whole issue out of it! From now on you must learn to play by my rules. I’ve had enough of your whining and stubbornness – as your mother I demand respect!” she commanded, but merely hearing the word “mother” made my stomach turn. I clenched my teeth to keep myself from responding and making things even worse. She really brought me to my limit; what rules was she talking about? Next she’ll be telling us that torturing and murdering for little reason is an act of virtue. This woman really has no conscience. As Charna’s lecture went on, a little girl in dirty rags came and, kneeling down, started mopping the stained floor in front of Charna’s feet with a wet piece of cloth.
“I’m sorry, what is this little girl doing here?” I asked surprised.
“Is there a problem, Alcander? There are no age restrictions to my slaves!” Charna replied sarcastically, roughly kicking the little girl.
“She’s but a small child!” I exclaimed infuriated, while my brother Nicodème tried to stop me. Charna suddenly rose from her throne and slapped me again, somehow even harder this time.
“You just don’t get what you’re told, do you?” she growled, looking so mad she seemed about to have me killed.
“I hate you!” I shouted back, trembling with rage and then turned and quickly left the room, under the sound of her cursing and threatening.
Just before I reached the door, I heard Phaedra’s voice.
“Alcander, wait!” she exclaimed. I had to force myself to stop, unwilling to listen to her griming.
“What is it, Phaedra?”
“I want you to come to your senses already. Stop going against mother and causing trouble all the time!” she said, with a surly face that resembled visibly Charna.
“You can’t be serious, Phaedra. Wake up already! This woman is insane!”
“Ugh! Enough of your selfishness, Alcander!”
“Phaedra, I care about you a lot and so same goes for Nicodème, but this woman – she just can’t be our mother!” I spat out despite myself.
“Alcander, grow up!” she said, sounding like she was scolding her little brother.
“Look Phaedra, there’s something you should know… no, never mind,” I slammed the big door behind me as I left.
For the next few hours I wandered around the snowy streets of Silver Fir, anticipating the darkness of the night. I was looking forward to that secret meeting in the town’s smallest square, which would be after midnight. As the afternoon hours passed, the streets of Silver Fir grew ever emptier. Only the pine trees remained, looking like shady figures in white cloaks. The temperature start going down again and sparse snowflakes came slowly gliding onto the ground. A spark of curiosity had grown in me, making me want to explore and find out more about my past and that of Silver Fir. I decided that a brief visit to the central library might prove useful. Arriving there, almost covered in snow I hurriedly entered the stone building that hosted the library. Shaking my boots and cloak clean of the snow I politely bowed before a good evening to the librarian.
“How may I be of service, your majesty?” the wizened man asked eagerly.
“I’d like to take a look at any books telling of the royal family’s his-
tory please,” I replied.
“I’m sorry young master, but I am under strict orders by your mother to not allow access to historic books to anyone.
“But I’m not just anyone, I am a prince and I demand to see these books,” I insisted, raising my voice a little.
“I beg you your majesty, don’t bring me into such a difficult position.
If your mother found out the repercussions would be dire indeed.”
“Mother will not hear a thing, I promise you. Don’t worry about that.”
He lowered his head and, turning slowly, he walked to the library’s basements. After a while he returned holding a book and, with an alarmed look, gave it to me and asked me to read it in as a discreet corner of the building as possible. I hurriedly found a secluded little desk and immediately opened the book, but to my surprise it had rather limited information in it. In the front page was an old map of Silver Fir, followed by some tales about heroes of old and after a while went straight into Charna’s reign. Nothing about the past seemed particularly suspicious. This however only confirmed my suspicions about the validity of this book, as quite a few pages of the last part seemed to have been ripped off.
Someone purposely had reduced this book to half its size.
“Please your majesty, you must have seen enough already,” the librarian said, taking the book from my hands.
“But that’s the thing, I didn’t see a thing. This book looks tampered with; there are many pages that have been ripped off and there is no mention of the kings of the past. I suspect you are hiding the full version of this book ad that this is but a decoy,” I said, staring intently into his eyes.
“The library is closing now your majesty. I apologize I could not be of further help,” the librarian said and abruptly pointed me to the exit, avoiding any further talk.
Annoyed I tossed away the chair behind me and grabbed my cloak, leaving the library. The cloud of mystery and doubt about my past had grown ever larger, to the point of becoming frightening. Suspicion got hold of my mind and I started looking searchingly upon every person I happened upon out in the frozen streets. The air suddenly felt thinner and I couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone in this town was trying to hide something, something important – and they would do anything in their power to keep me from finding out what.
As dusk, I went by Methodios’ house. He seemed to have sobered up since last night and now seemed to be in a normal state – well, almost, since when I entered their humble house Methodios was busying himself scarfing down a large pie just out of the oven. The smell of it was almost hypnotizing and for a while I felt my stomach rumbling. Andrianna was there too, focused on making herself a new weapon. With skill she sharpened the tip of her wooden spear, looking absorbed into her task. Thankfully Eadric didn’t seem to be here; I didn’t feel like having any more unpleasant encounters for now.
“Looking lost in thought today, Alcander,” Andrianna said, glancing my way while she sharpened her spear with a blade.
“Ever since you came in you haven’t said a word. What’s wrong?” Methodios inquired while munching on the flaky pie.
“Let’s just say that tonight, after midnight, I’m going to go meet someone and that this meeting might change my life for good…” I replied and they both turned and stared at me.
“What do you mean?” Andrianna immediately asked.
“I cannot say more for now, but tomorrow, if everything goes smoothly, I will explain everything that happened,” I simply replied.
“Oh, great, and you think I can just settle down now after what you just said? I’ll explode with curiosity before tomorrow comes,” Andrianna said, leaving her new weapon on the side and coming my way.
“Can we help with anything?” Methodios quietly said, putting down the tray with the scrumptious pie and coming to sit next to me.
“I’ll let you know if I need you, but I don’t want to put you in harm’s way,” I said protectively.
“What are you on about Alcander? Friends are there to help out in the hard times, right?” Andrianna said.
“Thank you both, but as I said I’d rather not put you in danger. This seems to be something very serious, and when I have the information I need I’ll let you know,” I went on, avoiding any further discussion and trying not to reveal too much of what happened last night.
I stood up and was about to leave, but before I closed the door Andrianna ran to me.
“Alcander, be careful!” she said and gave me a kiss on my forehead, lightly stroking my cheek with her hand.
I returned the gesture by holding her hand and nodding in understanding. I then let myself back out into the icy streets of Silver Fir. Darkness had now fully fallen over the city. Carefully moving through the narrow streets, I paused in front of a window and quickly glanced on my own reflection. Fear and worry could be seen on my pale face, while the moonlight outlined my long, unkempt hair, forming light blue lines on loose strands. Snowflakes had settled on my eyebrows and beard and my lips were dried out from the chilly breeze.
Through some of the most secluded by-streets I eventually reached Silver Fir’s smallest square. Right in the middle was a large well and next to it stood the old man, silent and unmoving. My heart started beating faster and harder when I saw him. I looked around suspiciously for any signs of pursuit and, taking a deep breath, walked to him.
“I came as promised, as you can see,” I said and he smiled, looking intently into my eyes.
“I’m really curious to hear what you have to say,” I said without wasting any time.
“You coming here tonight means that deep down you do doubt that Charna is your real mother,” the old man said, carefully observing my expression.
“To be honest I now more than doubt it, I am almost convinced she isn’t,” I admitted.
“Alcander means “he who holds the power” – this splendid name is what your real mother, Queen Aurora, chose for you. She almost lost you at birth you see, but you persevered, showed a great will to come to this world… you were a strong child,” the old man said, while I was frozen still by his words.
“How do you know all this, old man? Just who are you?” I asked, gulping in awe.
“Oh, that’s right; forgive me for not properly introducing myself before. I am Lysandros, and I am your uncle – younger brother of your father, Great King Tyrone.”
I was at a loss; it all sounded farfetched, yet in my soul I felt it to be true.
“Go on please, tell me what you know,” I encouraged him eagerly.
“You are the youngest son of Great King Tyrone and Aurora. Tyrone ruled over Emerald until twenty years ago. He met his wife next to the largest lake of Emerald and later gave it her name – “Aurora Lake”. They had three children, your brother Nicodème, then Phaedra and finally you. I could have spoken to your elder siblings of this too, but unfortunately they’ve both been enchanted by Manasés, while you haven’t,” the old man revealed, looking around every now and then for anyone that might be eavesdropping.
“Wait a second, what do you mean “enchanted by Manasés”? Manasés is simply a servant of Charna…” I interrupted.
“Simply? Nothing is simple in that castle you live in Alcander,” Lysandros replied, smiling darkly.
“You were always different, and I’m certain it’s the power within you that makes you strive to be better and that has warded off Manasés’ dark magic; the magic he casts upon people and with but a touch they forget their own past and start having a will to do evil,” the old man replied, while things were completely tangled up in my mind.
“Please uncle, try to explain things from the start,” I asked, as the suspense engulfing me felt worse than the frigid air, pinning me down with arms made of iron nails.
“Twenty years ago, Charna, a terrible and powerful demon sorceress, along with her three demonic servants – Slaughterer, Manasés and Melantha – invaded Silver Fir. Murdering your real parents, King Tyrone and Queen Aurora she stole, along with the throne, their three children, keeping them as her own – that would be you and your siblings. With the aid of her servant Manasés, who like I said has the power to magically charm people, she robbed the memory of two of the children so they would have no recollection of the past or their parents. You however, a mere infant back then, were unaffected by that spell. Her servants then proceeded to subdue and control the whole city and ever since then we all live in misery and slavery. All the people of that time that tried to approach and talk to you and your siblings and tell you the truth about who Charna really is were all mercilessly killed by Slaughterer, which was what befell the parents of your friend Andrianna as well. Naturally, all evidence concerning the country’s true past were thoroughly destroyed. And so the younger generation knows nothing of what came to be; their parents never dared speak of it, fearing for their own lives. I myself managed to escape the palace on the day the royal family was murdered. I fled to the forest where I cut my hair and beard and marred my own face, hiding all signs of nobility lest I end up sharing their fate. I later returned to the town and since then have been wandering around like a beggar.”
Fear took hold of me. It all sounded like a dark fairy tale, yet within me a feeling of great anger grew to the point of bursting. The mere thought that a horrible demon had been raising me for all these years and that my own brother and sister and the people here had become her slaves was tearing me apart. Dazed, I kept on looking at the old man with eyes wide open. Truth had turned out to be more than cruel.
“And where did Charna come from in the first place? Where was she before she invaded Silver Fir? Why did she not do so earlier?” I asked the old man.
“Ah, that is because someone literally opened the very gates of hell and freed her,” Lysandros readily replied in a deep voice.
“Who would do such a thing?” I desperately asked.
“That would be…”
Just before Lysandros could finish his sentence the rumbling sound of horses galloping reached us. We both turned our heads to the alleys in alert and within seconds at least ten soldiers appeared from the surrounding streets, followed by Slaughterer on a black steed. He proudly dismounted and with a steady pace headed towards us. Lysandros held my arm while I already had my hand on the hilt of my sword, carefully watching Slaughterer’s movements.
“You always did get on my nerves, Alcander. The benign, innocent boy – an example of honor and virtue. The purer you looked the more I wanted to kill you, and tonight I have a good excuse to do so. You know the truth so there’s nothing stopping me from making short work of you! Makes me wonder why I hadn’t done so earlier really,” said Slaughterer with irony in his voice and started coming towards me faster. Quickly drawing my sword I asked him, almost stuttering.
“How could you know I learned the truth?”
“Melantha’s powers proved useful on this one. Didn’t your good uncle get to tell you about them? Melantha followed you and heard it all. Her wings carried her high and fast and she came to the castle and told us that you discovered the truth. So here I am now and I have a duty to gladly fulfill,” he replied wickedly.
“Don’t you dare touch him, you murdering scum!” came Andrianna’s voice, echoing across the square. Next to her was Methodios, aiming at Slaughterer with his bow. Andrianna proudly drew her sword and assumed battle stance. Beside her, her brother Eadric stood holding two large daggers and looking ready for anything. Although it surprised me to see him there together with my friends, his eyes were ablaze and his muscles tensed while veins pumping could be seen all over his arms and neck. The rage in his face was so intimidating it could match Slaughterer’s.
“Will you look at this – the brats came out to challenge me. This is rather amusing,” Slaughterer laughed tauntingly.
“It’s going be even funnier when one of us “brats” gets to vanquish you after all!” Eadric shouted, almost fuming with anger – but my own wrath was even greater. With a loud cry I attacked Slaughterer, but he swiftly parried with his axe and we engaged in combat. With the corner of my eye I watched my friends engage the soldiers, fighting bravely. Under the cold winter night the four of us were fighting for our lives, but more importantly we were fighting for our honor.
“You impress me, little brat. I see you know how to use that little toy of yours well,” Slaughterer commented sarcastically, while I desperately fended off his every strike, each powerful enough to instantly end my life.
“Indeed, well enough to see that you on the other hand leave much to
be desired with that axe of yours!” I taunted back and he grunted, using excess force and losing balance. I grabbed the opportunity and thrust my sword deep into his thigh. Slaughterer contorted with pain and wildly grabbed at my cloak, but I pressed my foot against his chest and pull my sword free, making him fall to the ground.
“Run while you can Alcander – more of Charna’s troops will be coming! Take your friends and run!” Lysandros implored us.
“Come with us uncle,” I told him, holding his arm, but suddenly I saw Slaughterer rise and come towards me, looking completely unhurt. Andrianna and the rest were already in one of the dark alleys, calling for us to escape.
“Go my child, save yourself! I don’t care about myself anymore; I’m old and I already fulfilled my duty and told you the truth!” Lysandros shouted, urging me to leave, as Slaughterer came closer. I then felt Eadric’s hand grabbing my cloak and forcefully pulling me away from the square.
“We’re leaving right now lad, don’t be stubborn,” Eadric said firmly.
“But Slaughterer’s going to kill that man – I must help him!” I shouted back, trying to break free of his powerful grip.
“If we stay they’ll kill us all! You want to see us all die like this?” Eadric said while we had already closed in on the others. I looked at Andrianna, her eyes looking back lovingly and at Methodios, looking as innocent as ever. With a heavy heart I ran with them, direction and destination unknown – running for survival. I hesitantly glanced back to see my old uncle fall to the ground bleeding, stricken down by Slaughterer’s axe, as his last words echoed.
To be continued…
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DEERWARD COPYRIGHT © 2013 BY MARILENA MEXI. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED