Great Shadow: Prima Earth Chronicles
Sir Laury’s eyes were as wide as an owl’s, the firelight danced in their whites and enhanced their crystal blue facade. The old man smiled while looking past him into the forest. Still no sign of Gailec, Dant and Britt. He needed more time.
“Did the first story meet my lord’s satisfaction?”
The knight shook his head and chuckled. “More than met. Exceed is a better word for it.”
“Wait until you’ve heard this one … it’s about the greatest sunken treasure never to be recaptured.”
“A mass of people gathered next to the sea, wailing with terror filled expressions. Mothers, children, even some of the men sat crying while staring at the host that bared down the road toward them. Hundreds of golden chariots with officers at the reigns rode behind a king. He wore a blue helmet with a gilded brim and a pair of golden leaves at the forehead. A blue colored beard, that matched the color of his helm, almost touched his chest. The leader’s stony eyes focused on the people trapped at the edge of the water. ‘Why did you lead us here just to die?’ Several of the people screamed at an older man.
“The old man climbed to the top of the tallest rock and looked down on the people. His unkempt beard frolicked in the wind. ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm and you will be saved. The gods will fight for you.’ With that the old man raised his arm exalting his staff into the air. The winds swirled almost blowing several people off their feet. A rush from below shook the ground. The people screamed and panicked. The torrid sea beside them halted like it hit an invisible wall. The army gained quickly on their position.
“The water began to bubble and foam along a seam that stretched from one side to the other. Thousands of fish leapt out, their shiny bodies flailing in panic. The ground trembled as if all the animals on Prima Earth marched at the same time.
“The water started separating. One side retreated to the north and the other to the south. The old man held firm at the top of the rock keeping his arms extended. The gap widened further. Two massive walls of water stood hundreds of feet above the sea floor. The people stood with mouths agape staring at the miraculous feet. ‘Pass through, quickly now!’ The old man yelled.
“The people scurried to pick up all their belongings as the chariots barred down on their position. The old man climbed down from the rock and ran behind them. The thousands sprinted down through the seafloor between the walls of water.
“The chariots tore through the air gaining on the people with every stride. The horses galloped onto the mud of the seafloor. The soldiers’ faces snarled. The king raised his sword and his men followed suit. The people hobbled toward the edge of the sea. The mud slung out from the golden wheels as the chariots burned through the sludge. The old man turned his head back as he ran. The blue bearded leader pointed his sword at the old man, cursing in a foreign tongue.
“Turning back around, the old man jostled through the thick mud. The chariots gained on him with each step. He breathed easier as the last of the people made it up the edge of the sea. He had fifty feet to go yet. He could hear the horses pants and felt their mud kicking into his heels. It felt as though their noses were at his ears. He pushed with everything he had as arrows whizzed by his face. The rock at the edge of the sea was his last obstacle. If he could only reach it on time. He wailed in pain as an arrow caught his shoulder. He fought through it and took two giant strides and leapt onto the rock. The walls of water released as soon as his foot touched stone. The massive waves crashed down on the army throwing the men from the chariots and the horses from their constraints. The foamy sea engulfed the army in seconds. The men thrashed in the water, unable to escape the tide’s grasp. The horses’ eyes bulged as they wailed. The men’s’ screams faded as the swift current carried them south and their lungs filled with the salty red water. The entire army sank to the bottom of the sea.
“Their decadent chariots and gilded armor no doubt would become sunken treasure for the pirate smart enough to search the marine floor.”
The old man barely finished before Sir Laury applauded. His armor clanking together as well. “You are the most marvelous story teller I’ve ever heard!” The flames lit up his crystal blue eyes again.
He bowed to the knight and paused as he saw something move in the forest: the boys with a pheasant in hand, were weaving through trees back to their camp. The old man smiled and nodded to his daughter. She looked and saw the same thing. Both returned to what they were doing, not trying to draw suspicion.
“One more short story, my lord.” Walther returned to his seat. “This one is about an old man whose ship had finally come in.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jessemal motion to the boys to approach quietly. All three of them looked at sir Laury and back to her and continued to creep through the last patch of trees to their camp.
“The old man had spent his entire childhood slaving for a nasty lord north of the Dragon’s Backbone. From sun up to sun down, since he was knee high, all he did was work the fields and eat scraps barely fit for a mutt. His parents fealty grew every year and they nearly starved most winters. Yet, somehow they would always make it through by the blessing of the gods and a fresh roast on occasion delivered by an unknown benefactor. Life carried on like this for years … that is until one day, when he was no more than 10, he saw a horrible thing.” The old man’s voice grew dire. Until the day he saw how that roast was earned.
Sir Laury’s perfect face grew pale and his breathing halted.
“He had caught his toe with a scythe, skinning the end off to the bone. He came home to have his mum bandage it and that’s when he saw it … the nasty lord ravaging her from behind at their supper table … all for the winter roasts.”
The knight gasped and dropped his stew, its contents splattering on his perfect armor.
“Anger enveloped him immediately. All the whippings, all the starving nights, all the work for someone else’s gain unearthed an anger that scared even himself.” The three boys exited the forest and crept toward sir Laury’s back and waited for Walther to finish.
“The boy grabbed his mother’s cleaver and without hesitation drove it into the lord’s spine. More blood than he could ever imagine spilled from the fatal wound. He hacked and hacked until it drowned the floor. He saved his mother that day … but doomed himself. For the rest of his life he would be a wanted man. His mother forced him to run away to save himself, even if they would torture her for information. Every day since, he’s been running. Unable to stop and raise a proper family. Settle his own land and make a decent living.” He nodded to the three boys and they walked to the knight’s sides.
Sir Laury turned startled and went for his sword. Gailec was ready for that and put his dagger to the young lord’s throat. Dant grabbed the sword and threw it to the ground. Sir Laury clubbed Britt in the groin and went for the two others. Gailec held the knife closer to his throat, reminding the knight he was one slice from death. He sighed and reluctantly held both hands up and slunk back into his seat.
The old man stared into his lovely blue eyes and gave an ever so subtle smirk. “Until this day, the old man never had a chance at a grand life … until a great lord’s son came strolling by and gave himself up freely, so that he may ransom him for half his father’s wealth … the old man’s ship had finally come in.”
All three boys sniggered as they kept the dagger at the knight’s throat. Sir Laury once jovial face turned to hardened scowl aimed at Walther.
“Don’t be angry, my lord.” The old man motioned to his daughter. She knew exactly what he meant and filled up five cups of wine from one of the farmer’s flagons. “This is a time of celebration.” Each of the three boys took their cups, still unable to control their laughing. “Soon you will be back with your father in his castle, safe and sound … and soon we’ll be wealthy enough to buy our own castle.”
Jessemal gave the final cup to the old man and sat beside him on the log. The three boys instantly threw back their drinks and Jessemal soon followed. Sir Laury watched all of them and his scowl met the old man’s smiling face. Walther swirled his cup around as the visions of gold piled up in his mind.
“I suppose that story was about you and me then?”
“Aye. You’re a clever one, my lord.” The old man japed.
The three boys yipped like a pack of hyenas.
“My father will pay your ransom, but he will not let you live for long after. You’ll be rich for a month before your head’s on a spike.”
“I wouldn’t trouble yourself on how I plan to stay alive. I have my ways of getting his money and keeping my anonymity.”
Jessemal put her arm around Walther. Sir Laury looked back and forth to the both of them.
“It sounds like you thought of everything. How to escape a death sentence. How to lure all manner of people into your confidence. How to survive when most others would have surely died. How to ransom a noble born for the fortune you’ve always sought … there is one question though. How’s the farmer’s wine?”
“Even sweeter now that you’re here!” Gailec joked and the other two young men burst into laughter.
Jessemal joined them, but the old man looked at him queerly.
“How’d you know this was a farmer’s wine?”
“It’s the smell that gives it away. Of course no one else can smell it … but I can.”
Walther peered into his own cup, his hand still swirling it. The purple drink sloshed back and forth, causing it to bubble. “Looks like regular wine to me.”
“That was the point.” The knight came back. “When I created these … grapes, for lack of a better word, they were meant to look and taste like the real thing. Eating them straight from the vine and you could never tell the difference. In reality there isn’t any difference in their design. That is … until they’re fermented.”
Gailec gagged and clutched at his throat. The veins on his neck bulged, turning purple as they crested to the point of bursting. The other two followed seconds after. Walther went to go help them. On cue Jessemal breathing wheezed as she clutched her throat. Walther looked down at the wine and tossed into the fire, it evaporated instantly, tendrils of steam mingled with smoke. He ran to his daughter and swatted her back repeatedly, desperate to clear her passage way. She gagged and clawed at her throat like a rat in a drowning ship. Her back cracked in the spots he slammed his hand.
“It won’t work …” the knight spoke up. “The poison, a remarkable little thing, causes one’s insides to swell to the point of rupturing. However, she’ll have choked to death long before then.”
“Please help her! Don’t let her die!” the old man yelled with tears streaming down onto his daughter’s back as he continued to pound and she continued to gag.
“You see, the grapes themselves are not poisonous.” Sir Laury ignored the question. “They truly can be eaten straight from the vine and nothing would happen to you. It is only in their conversion to wine that the killing agent is released.”
The three boys sputtered to a stop. Their eyes bulged out of their sockets, their tongues turned purple and inflated to the size of a horse’s. The old man caressed his daughter’s face as her movement slowed. All their memories together flashed by like they were attached to a windmill in hurricane. Her eyes bulged and her body stiffened. A cold like the bottom of a glacier enveloped her body. He went to shut her eyelids, but they could only make it half way because of their new size.
“Why?” Walther asked, his voice as broken as his heart. “How?” He could not look at the man that killed his daughter.
“I knew you would come for me.” Sir Laury’s voice turned to a raspy whisper. “I had to toy with you … make you think you’d won.”
“That’s … that’s impossible.”
“Look at me, old man.”
Walther hesitated, continuing to rub his daughters frozen forehead.
“Look at me!” The knight’s voice caused a pack of nearby crows to caw and fly off into the night.
The old man turned to him, his body hardly retained the strength to do so. Sir Laury stood up, glowering down on him. A patch of clouds passed over the moon behind, causing the knight to go dark. As they cleared, the celestial’s light shone even greater. The old man jumped back, dropping his daughter to the ground. Sir Laury had grown almost two feet in height. His chest was as thick as a bear’s and his legs stood like pillars of an ancient castle. His blonde hair now down to his shoulders was like golden lace, his face chiseled out of granite had known no equal, and his eyes … those crystal blue eyes … were a blue that Walther could not comprehend.
The old man cowered and teeth chattered. “You’re a … a demon!” He pointed a trembling finger.
“No.” The knight’s voice felt like winter and sent a freeze up the old man’s spine. It had lost all manner of pleasantness. “I’ve had many names.” He took a step toward the old man. “Great Shadow.” He took another step. “The Immortal.” Another step. “Nightmare.” Another. “Brother.” Another. “Reaper …”
The old man backed up slowly until the carriage prevented him from retreating further. What was once sir Laury came toward him still. The old man’s eyes started to jitter and his chest tightened. He had to use all his strength to draw in a breath. His vision blurred as his retinas flickered. He put his hands out to feel for the knight. Tremors of pain tore through his eyes into the back of his skull.
“What are you doing to me!” he yelled as he helplessly swung his arms.
The tremors turned to burning. A sizzling, like wood chips in the flames, echoed in his head. He screamed and scratched at his eyes to stop the pain. “Stop! Stop! It’s too much! Please! Mercy!” he pleaded.
The steps stopped. He shrieked as the knight hand clasped his throat and lifted him off his feet. The pain jolted through both eyes and thumped his entire skull. The sizzling turned to searing. Blood gushed from the man’s eyes. Imaginary daggers stabbed them and pierced his brain. “Make it stop! Make it stop!” he wailed as all shapes and colors vanished.
The knight yanked him forward. Walther’s chest slammed against the man’s metal breastplate. Fire erupted in eyes, eating his face and skull, his scream drowned in blood and melting skin.
“You … old man.” The icy voice of the knight spoke into his ear. “Call me … Death.
A.P. Stayberg has been writing and creating characters since he was twelve years old. His favorite subjects to write and read are Fantasy and Literary fiction. His first book, The Earth Mover, a young adult high fantasy novel will be debuting this Fall. Check out his website at www.apstayberg.com and look for his book on Amazon, barnesandnoble.com/Nook Press, Kobo, and Smashwords.