Athera’s Dawn: Chapter 19

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Chapter Nineteen

IN THE MOUNTAIN’S SHADOW

Mt. Dakka was free that night, something Brax could hardly have imagined just a few days ago. He stood on the balcony of the King’s Chamber with a commanding view of the southern city. He wore a plain white wrap around his waist and left the air to warm his naked chest. The streets were emptying of people, the clansmen retiring for the night, eager for the hearth fires and conversation. Their hard day’s work deserved a good rest and the ministry of food and kin. Music had once more returned to the homes, lyrics and melody wafting upward through the chimneys with the curling smoke of the cook fires. A dog barked in the distance, and children ran through the streets, calls of mothers echoing after them. It was as if all was back to normal. But he did not share their revelry.

Brax stretched his arms and felt the numerous sources of pain throughout his body. The battle had taken its toll on his spirit and his flesh. He noticed in these recent days how he had become used to the ailments of his body; injury and pain seemed to linger far longer than when he had been a youth—than when he had been on Kirstell. He could remember Gorn’s words.

Pain is the absence of the Most High’s presence.

The King of Tontha lightly touched a large bruise that shaded his shoulder dark blue.

What did you replace Him with?

He moved the shoulder in circles, feeling the ache and clenching his teeth. He searched his heart. Where had he forsaken the Great God? Where had his vigilance failed? It had been so long since he’d felt the presence of the Most High, since he had heard the Master’s Voice. He wanted things back to normal, not just because the enemy had fled Mt. Dakka, but because the enemy had fled Dionia; but with such a powerful home established deep within this world’s bowels, Brax doubted it would be possible. He knew the enemy hadn’t retreated.

Despite everyone’s adamant declaration of Morgui’s defeat, Brax didn’t believe it for a second. Morgui had had them on the run. The city had been hours away from falling and the Dairne-Reih had simply left. They had taken Anorra. They had breached the City Wall. Morale had been low. Luik had been gone far too long, and there had been no word from Anondo in Ligeon. Tactically there had been no reason to flee—

unless there was something greater to gain elsewhere.

In his spirit, Brax knew Morgui had found Ot. Maybe he wasn’t in Ot, but he knew where it was. And it scared Brax. The fading light turned the pink clouds to purple, but the black in the southern sky remained ominous and ever foreboding. While Brax had never doubted the enemy’s power or his intent, he had never really thought Morgui would overcome this beautiful world. Even when Brax had been taken from the High King’s chamber during the council of the Gvindollion, even when he had been whisked away to Kirstell and all knowledge of reality been disclosed to him, even after the fall of Adriel and his induction into the Lion Vrie, he had never doubted his countrymen’s abilities to vanquish the enemy; he had never doubted the Most High’s strength and desire to uphold His Creation. But right now, standing here on the portico, he was suddenly aware that Dionia was in trouble. And there was little he could do about it. And little he saw the Most High doing about it…

“Beautiful night,” Gorn said from behind him.

Brax remained fixed on the southern sky, his hands gripping the stone railing. “Aye, a beautiful night indeed.”

Gorn came to stand next to him in silence. They listened to the inhabitants of the city playing out into the evening watch. Brax liked Gorn. Not just because of his tutelage or experience, but because he knew how to revere a moment; he didn’t need to nervously fill every empty gap with words. Whatever he did say, he meant. There was no confusing his meanings. For this Gorn had earned the trust of many a king, Brax now one of them.

“She is in trouble,” Brax finally said.

Gorn waited.

“I have never thought her in jeopardy before now,” Brax continued. “Somehow, some way, I just knew we’d defeat Morgui. I knew we’d win. But perhaps I was naive.”

Gorn placed his hands on the railing and leaned into the sky, gazing off in the distance. When he spoke, it was slow and even. “There is still time, my King. Remember, you are a Lord now, a ruler of the realm, and with it comes new understanding—and a new awareness. Things have not changed so much from when you were a boy, or even from the days of the First Battle. The threat has always been the same. But you see more now. You feel it.”

Brax pondered his words. There was a great amount of truth in them, and he had failed to consider the fact that he was now connected with the land. To him it was always more of a myth than a reality: a King feeling the needs of Creation. But now it made sense. It was true.

“Morgui has found Ot,” Brax offered.

“I would say so,” Gorn replied. “Why else would he hasten away so quickly?”

“Aye,” Brax nodded. “And with the portal closed, we have no way to communicate with Li-Saide. How I wish he was here now.”

“But I am,” said a voice behind them both. They spun around and there, standing neatly in the doorway, was the famed chief of the Tribes of Ot, with his billowing, patch-worked hat and his bundled green robe. Brax found his presence an instant comfort.

“Li-Saide!” Brax sputtered. “What are you—? How did you—?”

“It’s good to see you, too, King Brax.” And with that he stepped forward, and Brax knelt and bestowed a large embrace, enveloping the dwarf.

Standing up, Brax turned to Gorn, who merely nodded to his old friend. “Li-Saide, it’s good to see you again.”

“And you, mighty warrior.” Li-Saide edged closer to the railing and peeked above it, surveying the city and the gathering darkness in the south.

Neither man wanted to resume the discussion, fearing what news it might bring. So the dwarf did.

“Morgui has found us,” he said.

The words were as a blow to the stomach. Brax dropped his head, and Gorn looked away.

“How long do you have?” Gorn questioned.

“Another day, maybe two.” He stared off into the night sky, gazing into the blackness, as if seeing into the future.

Gorn and Brax both noticed the dwarf’s eyes fill with a dark mist that swirled around his pupils. The air changed on the balcony around them, and when Li-Saide spoke next, his voice took on a strange quality, words carrying a mournful burden.

His hounds are very close and the shield that hides the Secret City will not hold against Morgui’s powers much longer. He is growing stronger, the bloodlust full in his mouth. The barrier will break, and Morgui will cross over. Then the Dairne-Reih will pour into Ot and consume us. Nothing will survive.”

Li-Saide continued to stare off in the distance, allowing the words their full weight, disappearing out into the night air. The joy of the reunion was traded for heaviness of heart. Although Brax knew the words were spoken in truth, he would do everything in his power to stop it.

“We must keep this from happening,” Brax said. He looked at Li-Saide. “You speak the truth, I know. But as long as we have breath, we must confront evil, no matter how inevitable our fate.”

“And this is why I have come,” Li-Saide replied. “I will not give in so easily, even knowing how sure are the words of the Sacred Tongue. Of all those living, I know. But I will not bow my knee to him.”

Brax had never heard Li-Saide speak like this. There was a transparency about him he had never seen. He understood in that moment that Li-Saide was not greater or lesser than he. The dwarf was his equal, just as reliant on the Hand of the Most High as he was. Just as he had seen Gorn as mentor and teacher, Brax now understood both of them were his friends—both with limitations and shortcomings.

“Nor will I,” added Gorn. “And I will gladly give my life in defense of Dionia. As I have pledged, so I will do.”

“You have my sword,” Brax said, feeling a breeze rush against his chest.

“And you have my sword as well,” came a strong voice behind them. The three of them turned and stared in disbelief.

“Luik!” Brax hollered and stepped swiftly. The two clasped forearms and embraced, giving up a mutual laugh for seeing one another again. “It is good to see you, brother.”

“And you, King of Tontha.” Luik closed his eyes. “And you.”

“I say,” Li-Saide leaned in to Gorn, “It is a night of grand entrances and reunions.”

“Aye!” Gorn chuckled and then moved to greet Luik, followed by Li-Saide.

“How is your warband?” Brax questioned.

“Heavy losses,” Luik said. “More than half.” The three others lowered their heads in respect and made the sign of blessing.

“I’m sorry,” said Gorn.

“They knew the price well,” Luik said. “But their deaths will not be in vain. We adjust and carry on.” He paused out of reverence. “And what news from Ligeon?”

Brax lowered his voice. “No news, my King.” And he knew more bad news was coming.

“I see. And Mt. Dakka? The gatemen who let us in spoke of mighty tales. A victory for you already, King Brax?”

“The enemy departed, but it is not as they say.”

Luik looked puzzled.

Li-Saide spoke up, “They have found Ot.”

Luik’s face flushed. “So it’s true, then.” He reached for the rail to steady himself. “How long?”

“We haven’t much time,” Gorn said. “If we move now, we have a chance.”

“We’ve reopened the portals,” Li-Saide added.

“Then we can have men there at once.” Luik turned to Brax. “How many fighting men remain in the city?”

“Our losses were minimal.”

“Then we leave immediately,” Luik stated. The rest of them nodded, but no one spoke. Something was pressing them, he could feel it. He looked between them. “What is it?”

“There is more news to tell,” Gorn said.

“Then speak it.”

An awkward silence fell over the balcony. Luik looked to Brax. “What is it, Brax?” Suddenly his heart stopped beating.

He knew.

“We were defending the southern City Gate,” Brax began. “It was late in the day when they began pummeling the walls with their fedchults.”

“Where is she?” Luik demanded. No one spoke. His eyes darted between them.

When Brax looked away he grabbed him by the arms. “Where is she?

“We told her to stay away from the wall, but she wouldn’t listen!”

What did they do to her?” he seethed. Luik began shaking Brax, tears flowing from his eyes and anger burning in his mouth.

“A ball of fire hit the wall beneath her—”

Tell me, Brax!” He shook him violently.

Gorn stepped in. “She lives, as far as we know, Luik.” He placed his hands on Luik’s arms and tried to ease him away. “She fell over the wall and was carried away.”

Luik turned his wrath on Gorn, glaring at him. “She—she what? You watched them carry her away? You didn’t even try to stop them?” Spittle flew from his mouth as he spoke. The long, battle-laden journey combined with his injuries had made Luik uneasy as it was. But no one blamed him for his aggression. They would have done the same. “How could you?

Li-Saide stepped in between them and touched Luik’s elbow lightly. Suddenly a wave of peace washed over Luik, and his countenance softened. He looked down, now aware of the dwarf.

“What trickery do you play on me, dwarf?” But he could not move away.

“Only that which your own strength cannot afford you at present.” He continued to touch Luik until his whole body felt refreshed, if even in the slightest. “A man ruled by his emotions alone is no use to anyone and brings with him a fate worse than he would normally wish.”

Luik continued to feel the tension ease until he understood that his quarrel was not with his brothers. “We must get her back,” he finally said with resolve.

“Aye, and we will,” Gorn assured him.

“But we have a more pressing concern,” Li-Saide admitted. Luik made to argue, but he knew the truth of the matter. “Luik, she will hold her own. She is strong. If she is to be saved, we must believe that the Most High will uphold her until we are able to intercede.”

Luik bowed his head. The dwarf finally released his touch and gazed up into Luik’s downturned face. “She lives, mighty warrior. And she well waits for your rescue. We will go to her, do not fear.”

“Aye,” he replied finally. He closed his eyes. “I’m coming for you, my love.” There was a moment of silence that passed between them all, perhaps allowing Luik’s message to take wings on the wind and fly to Anorra, no matter how far away she might be. Love would never fail.

“There is much to be done,” Li-Saide finally said. “I move that we gather the remaining fighting men and prepare to defend Ot.”

“Agreed,” said Luik.

But Gorn put a hand on his shoulder. “You and those who traveled with you are to rest, however. We’ll do the rest.”

Luik started to object, but Brax spoke up. “My Lord, you are now in the Realm of Tontha, and according to Dionian Law, you are subject to the rule of the realm’s King, even as High King.” Brax noticed that Luik quickly glanced down to Li-Saide. But Li-Saide didn’t falter in the least. “So,” he continued, “I order you to take your leave. It would be ten and four days normally, according to protocol, but seeing as how we are pressed, we will leave at dawn.”

No one argued, least of all Luik, who, truth be told, was grateful for the order and needed the rest.

“There will be much to talk about, and much time in which to say it, when we are all in the Great Throne Room, eh, brothers?” Gorn said with a grin. “For now, we are men of action! Come, Luik,” he added, taking him by the arm, “I see that you are weak and will help you to your chamber. You do remember the way?” The two of them exited the King’s Chamber, leaving the dwarf and Brax to themselves on the balcony.

“Taking to studying Dionian Law lately, Lord Brax?”

Brax smiled widely. “It must be a bylaw somewhere, don’t you think?”

The dwarf laughed and patted Brax on the thigh. “Anything to get the High King to get some rest, or else we’ll all be daft, bereft of our sanity!”

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