Triumvir: Chapter Twenty-Four

Fiction By Clare Marie // 5/20/2010

 

A watchful silence lay over the Crossroads. Eight roads here met, forming spokes as of a wagon wheel. A small, dilapidated building stood at the point where the roads joined, a common resting place for weary travelers. Inside were dubious maps, worn tables and chairs, and sagging beds with ragged blankets upon them. A collection of cast-off donations made up the comforts of this small cottage, though there was a small fireplace that could be lit quite pleasantly. At any rate, travelers who stopped there were usually too weary to be less than grateful for a night’s shelter, however poor it may be.
            But now no travelers were to be seen at the Crossroads, and the cottage had long been neglected. Yet as the afternoon wore on, a faint dust could be descried on the road coming up from the South. As the dust grew larger and closer, dark shapes could be seen in its midst. There appeared a great army, grim and evil. No sound did this army make, save the cold tramp of many painfully-ordered feet.
            At its head rode a man, hideously clad, and astride a scrawny horse. Spiked and black was his armor, and a vulture helm was on his head. With one hand on his reins and the other hand caressing his sword hilt, he rode with grim determination to fulfill what he had been ordered to do.
            The Vulture General held up his hand, and the army halted. Surveying the cottage before him, the General spoke two words.
            “Burn it,” he said, his voice chillingly smooth.
            And there he stayed, watching impassively as a group of soldiers set tinder and flint to the house. When hungry flames began to lick the wooden walls, he threw his hand forward, and the army began again to march. The General did not look back, even when the fire roared to such extremities that the nearby trees burst into flame. No, the General had work to do. He must be about his master’s business.
            By the time the cottage and the trees about were crumpled and smoldering black, the army was long gone on the Northeast road, leaving behind naught but ashes on the wind.
 
~
 
            Hogo stood outside the white stone house, smoking his pipe. It was a cloudy night, but cool and fresh. He watched the pipe smoke dance lazily upwards in the light streaming out of the windows of the house. Inside he could hear his children playing a game around the fire. He heard Anya giggling baby talk to their newborn son.
            Adar. That was the baby’s name. “A strong name for a strong and healthy lad,” Hogo had laughed when he had first held his son, and felt the feeble kicks of the swaddled child.
            Adar. His son. How proud Hogo felt, as proud as when his first son Rami had been born to him. Rami was now quite grown up – and in love. He had only just recently began courting a pretty lass. Hogo chuckled.
            “How Elinor would tease him, if she were here!” he thought. And his smile grew bittersweet as he worried tenderly over her, the girl he had raised as his own daughter. He wondered what she and Eltar were up to, where they were, if they were still…safe.
            He was startled out if his thoughts by a clear voice addressing him.
            “I beg pardon, sir, but would you happen to know of an inn or such place where we may stay the night?”
            Hogo looked up and saw two cloaked figures standing outside the garden gate, illuminated by the light of the lantern hanging on the gate. They were both of short stature, and slender also. He could not see their countenances under their hoods but he guessed, by the sound of the voice that spoke, that one at least was a woman. They stood patiently, leaning wearily on their staffs.
            “I’m afraid there are no inns in these parts,” Hogo answered. “We don’t get travelers often. But,” he added, his deep voice kind and friendly, “if you like, you may stay here with my family. It’s a little crowded, maybe,” – he chuckled to himself – “but I can promise you warm beds and good, hot food.”
            The figures glanced at each other, and then the same voice addressed him once more. “We would be most grateful,” it said in a tone of relief.
            Hogo smiled in his quiet friendly way. “Well, come on in then!”
            They opened the gate and glided softly up the garden path.
            “By the way, my name is Hogo,” said Hogo, nodding to the travelers.
            “I am Asani,” spoke the voice, belonging to the figure closest to him. It gestured as the voice continued, “and with me is my sister Anomien.”
            “Good to meet you both! Come in, come in!” cried Hogo, opening the door for them, and hiding a grin (he had, of course, recognized their names). “Anya, sweetheart, we have company!” He ushered the travelers in. Inside was warm firelight and a lingering smell of fresh bread. Anya walked over holding Adar in her arms and smiling pleasantly. 
            “Welcome!” she said gently, hoping she didn’t look surprised at the arrival unexpected guests. “I am Anya.”
            Slowly the travelers uncovered their heads. Both Anya and her husband held back looks of awe, for the travelers were the most beautiful women they had ever seen. A resemblance could indeed be seen between them. Both had pearly skin, delicately shaped faces with pointed chins, and striking blue eyes. But the one called Asani had hair of midnight, and her sister Anomien had hair of gold. (It might have been a trick of the light, but Anya thought she saw droplets, like water, resting in Anomien’s hair.) The hair both was combed down around the face, covering the ears.
            “Asani is my name,” smiled the Fairy Queen. “This is Anomien, my sister.” Turning to indicated Anomien, neither fairy noticed Anya start ever so slightly – she recognized the names, also – and Hogo ever so gently lay his hand on her arm to quiet her.
            “We thank you very much,” Asani continued, “for your generous hospitality. You are most kind.”
            “Oh, it’s nothing,” exclaimed Anya sincerely, mastering herself. She looked at her husband, smiled, and winked. “Hogo, would you like to introduce the children?”
            Hogo turned to the children – who had all been staring – and named each one. Anya, meanwhile, quickly set out a warm supper, balancing Adar on one arm expertly. When Hogo had finished (it had taken a while), she invited Asani and Anomien to sit down and eat.
            “Is that also one of your children?” Anomien asked, speaking for the first time in her flute-like voice. She nodded with tender eyes at Adar.
            “Oh yes, this is Adar,” answered Anya, smiling lovingly at the little face in her arms. Adar was sleeping, cuddled up against his mother’s shoulder. Anya called Epsy over, and placed the baby in his sister’s arms. With a few quiet words, Anya sent the younger children to bed in the care of their older siblings. Hogo began passing the food to the guests. Only Asani and Anomien were eating, but Anya and Hogo sat at table with them.
“I once had a baby boy, too,” said Anomien wistfully, watching Adar go. “But he, well…grew up.” Her voice was miserable, and her face strained. 
            Hogo glanced at Anya, who nodded. He cleared his throat. “Was your boy’s name, by any chance…Ficum?”
            Asani started forcefully and Anomien’s lips grew white.
            “What do you know of him?” whispered the Water Fairy, her eyes begging for an answer.
            “It isn’t just that we know of him,” said Anya excitedly. “We know him. He stayed here a few days.” She turned from the astounded fairies and smiled at Hogo.
            “Why don’t you tell them all about it?” she said. “Meanwhile, I’ll serve the tea.”
 
~
 
            So it was that the foster families of the twins were made known to one another, and they were glad in each other’s company.
            Anomien could not get over her astonishment over her boy’s past, nor could her joy be quite contained at knowing he had a sister, and was not alone. Asani, however, only smiled.
            “I knew there was something special about him,” she said. She winked at Anomien. “You see, I am right, sometimes!”
            Their talk was mostly of their foster children, with each parent eager to tell of all the things his child had done. The virtues, the pranks, every memory of the twins was brought forward and relived so that it seemed the twins were in their midst again.
            “So tell us,” said Hogo in a break of their conversation. “What are you ladies doing in our parts?”
            Asani rested her arms on the table and slowly spun her cup of tea. “We are going to the halls of King Bettle, a dwarf king who lives with his people in the Black Hills. Bettle has long been an ally and friend of ours. So we are on our way to warn him.”
            “Warn him?” Hogo exchanged glances with Anya. “About what?”
            Asani looked strained, as if a long memory wearied her. “Up until a couple of weeks or so ago, our land was under siege by a great army of vermin. Many, many monsters were they, all horrible and bloodthirsty; dark and mangled. There were so many, so many of them. They seemed endless. I – we – think there was black magic behind it. What else could be the explanation? I have never heard of so many vermin in one place, except for the War of the Daemon; and a witch was the cause of that. This points to one person, then – one who I know has long been a dark necromancer.” She lowered her voice, leaning earnestly over the table.
            “Glayde.”
            “Aye, it makes sense,” sighed Hogo, rubbing his stubble with his hands. Anya paled and quickly grabbed her husband’s big hand.
            “So it does,” said the wife. “The twins’ own uncle, the jealous brother and murderer of their parents. He must have sniffed out Eltar’s home. I pray God he doesn’t sniff out ours.”
            Hogo squeezed her hand and wrapped his arm about her waist. She leaned into him, grateful for his strength.
            “Well, we don’t know that the twins’ father, Lord Gladio, is dead,” said Hogo, searching for a ray of hope. “Take courage, my lass.”
            “And remember,” stated Asani, “we don’t know for certain that it really was Glayde behind the vermin attack on our home. We are only surmising. Even if we did know he was the cause, we don’t really know his motive. That is why we are going to warn Bettle. We managed to drive off the vermin, but they may be back, and in greater numbers; and their whole plan, perhaps, is to strike at once every race of peoples.”
            Hogo frowned. “But what if the monsters attack your land while you’re gone?”
            “Well, it would have been easier to send a messenger,” allowed Asani, “but all our people are too weary, and all my birds were scared off by the battle. It would have been easier also to fly, but my wings got damaged in the battle and aren’t healed yet; and Anomien can only manage to fly a short distance at a time, for she is still weary.”
            Hogo and Anya stared at Asani, looked at each other, and burst out laughing.
            “I guess we both forgot you were fairies,” chuckled Anya. “The idea of flying seemed so absurd to us at first! Your disguises work well.”
            The fairies laughed. Their laughter was so different, but suited to each personality. Asani’s was a hearty, infectious guffaw, while Anomien’s was like the clear ringing of little bells.
            “I’m glad to hear it,” crowed Asani, amused. “Anomien and I both were so desperate to go, we just used simple cloaks and combed our hair down. We were a little worried we would be discovered.” She sobered a little and took a sip of tea.
            No one knew what to say. The laugh had lightened their hearts for a moment, but now the cloud of doubt and apprehension had settled on them again.
            Asani glanced up. “I didn’t quite fully answer your question, did I, Hogo?” she asked quietly. “About the vermin attacking our land while we were gone? Well, they fled due South.”
            Hogo grunted. “Another reason to suspect Glayde.”
            Asani nodded. “We are – somewhat – following their trail. They skirted this valley, going around about the Eastern way. Anomien flew across to the other side, to make note of where the trail went after that, and it still leads South. We still plan to follow them, picking up their trail after we leave this valley. So, in order to come back, they would have to get by us first. Anomien flies a routine aerial check in case they choose to come another way.”
            Anomien, acknowledging, raised her head. “We are determined,” she said simply. Her eyes steeled. “Many people have tried to dissuade us. They say we wouldn’t be able to stand up by ourselves to the vermin, if they came back. They say we are being rash. I know they only care for us and want us to remain safe. But – in the battle with the vermin – one of my dearest friends was killed. She, she was my best friend. She was almost my sister.” Anomien shot a half smile at Asani. “She was very, very dear to me. And the way I feel right now…well, I feel as if nothing could stop me. Not while there is innocent blood shed. Not while there are innocent lives to be avenged.”
 
            Anya stood up and gently put her arm around Anomien’s shoulders. Saying nothing, she only smiled. Her eyes said it all. 
            Hogo, furtively wiping his eyes with his burly hands, cleared his throat. “There is one thing I was wondering,” he said quietly. “I’ve always heard stories of fairies and other wonder-folk, and it seems to me that you people are renowned for your healing powers. Forgive my ignorance, but was there not something in your land that could heal your wings, Lady Asani?”
            Asani closed her eyes sadly. “There were once such things,” she said. “A fairy named Syla was in charge of them. She was a great healer. But alas, she fell in battle. She was the friend Anomien talked about – and she was my friend too.” The Queen glanced at Anomien. “She loved Ficum – Eltar – very much. Although,” she chuckled, “at first she was rather against the idea of a fairy-raised human, wasn’t she, sister?” 
            The Water Fairy’s face brightened considerably as she recalled Syla’s first initial reaction to the human baby. The evening ended with cheerful remembrances, a memorial of joy to Syla. So it was that they went to their nightly rest with smiling faces, and hearts eased of sorrow.

Comments

I love the scene with the

I love the scene with the fairies, Hogo, and Anya (btw Hogo reminds me of a hobbit name! :0) And the scene with the Vulture General makes me shiver! I think you picked a good, original title for the general. I know I would've done something cliche like Snake or Eagle or Hawk. ;0)

Heather | Tue, 05/25/2010

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And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

Thank you! :)  And thanks

Thank you! :)  And thanks especially for commenting, even though you already read this chapter on the email. ;D

Clare Marie | Sat, 05/29/2010

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"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve." -Bilbo Baggins [The Lord of the Rings]

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