Authors: Conner McCall
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Fantasy, #War & Military, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Sword & Sorcery
The Flame of Temperance
Copyright © 2015 Conner McCall
All rights reserved.
For my parents, who have always encouraged me to do what I love.
The Message from Titus
March for Balgr’s Monument
The Battle of Balgr’s Monument
Duels for the Lady
The Ha’avjah Desert
Seige of Nur’tokh
If I Must
A Message from Archeantus
Ride to Amnigaddah
The Battle of Balgr’s Bastion
A Talk with Aela
Lessons with Ullrog
Night of Shadows
Bad Tidings of Great Misery
The Battle for Fort Rocksabre
The Defense of Fort Rocksabre
The Road to Poalai
The Light Goes Dark
The Friend Among Friends
n each of the eight clans across the land, there are many cities and many people. These clans are: Mohonri, Cumeran, Herak, Gilgal, Ryth, Zjod, Tygnar, and Diagrall. Each is ruled by two or three regional figureheads, called Jarls. A Jarl rules over a designated area of the clan’s cities and lands. In addition, every clan also has a Lord Jarl, who has authority above the ordinary Jarls and delegates responsibilities to them and his people. The acting Lord Jarl of any clan is also the clan’s highest military leader.
Once, many years ago, there were the Great Wars. During this time, no clan had allies, and every man was an enemy. Terrible was the war, and blood covered the land. Then a hero rose out of the clan of Mohonri, by the name of Njord. He was a warrior mighty on the battlefield and righteous in judgment, and through his leadership he was able to bring peace to the land. In an effort to keep such bloodshed from ever happening again, he convened an assembly composed of the Lord Jarls from every clan. There he established the crown of the High King, who would have authority above even the Lord Jarls of every clan. In this way the land was united under one crown, and he himself became the first High King.
The position of High King was not always required. There were times when the High King would simply sit in his palace drinking wine until he was needed to solve a dispute of some sort between the clans. But always he was there, to be called upon at any time by any one of the Lord Jarls.
The High King was an interesting authority in the way that the power was not passed down by blood. When the High King died and was buried in the King’s Barrows, the eight Lord Jarls would gather together to elect a new High King, often voting for themselves, but the process effectively avoided a scenario in which an evil High King ruled.
This was enforced until Ollgorath came into being.
Ollgorath had worked his way into the seat of the Lord Jarl of Diagrall, the clan that had a reputation for being disagreeable anyway. Thusly, when the High King died, he was called upon to help elect a new leader.
With his own aspirations in mind, he voted for himself and defended his vote with heavy debate. He managed to win the vote of Tygnar and Zjod, but much to his grievous disappointment, the new High King was elected to be Lord Jarl Tharantus of Mohonri. Jarl Ollgorath went back to his lands furious and vindictive, believing that he himself should be the ruler of the entire land.
High King Tharantus ruled in peace and prosperity from his throne in Venebor for only a few years. Ollgorath sat in his fortress of Hurodor, in the province of Vjurrkstad, boiling in his thoughts of power and revenge. He confided his thoughts into his Jarls, namely Jarl Gurbog Sythian and Jarl Brulltori. They gave him what they called ‘advice,’ but what happened next, Ollgorath did of his own accord.
He traveled to Venebor, claiming to have need of guidance from Tharantus. When Tharantus received him into private conference, however, Ollgorath pulled out his sword and stabbed it through the old king’s heart. He raised the cry of murder, used the watching guard as a scapegoat, and watched as the guard was chased from the city. Some of the other Lord Jarls were not so easily fooled. Ollgorath was sentenced to die for the murder of the High King, but he lived and escaped to his fortress Hurodor.
A great and terrible rift split the land. There were those who stood behind Ollgorath with promises of power and wealth. The only son of High King Tharantus, now the acting Lord Jarl of Mohonri, rose up against him. His name was Archeantus.
Thus was the beginning of another terrible war. Ollgorath fought on one side, warring to obtain the throne, and Archeantus on the other, fighting to protect the beliefs and traditions that High King Njord had established many centuries earlier.
Ollgorath’s side included Diagrall, (his own clan), Zjod, and Tygnar. Archeantus managed to rally the clans of Mohonri, Herak, and Gilgal to his cause. Ryth, the orcs, and Cumeran, the men of the north, kept to themselves, unwilling to choose sides.
Eventually the war reached a little Gilgal town on the northeastern edge of the Wolfpack Mountains, called Virfith. Upon this attack, a beast was awakened. Though a man, this beast fought like no other on the battlefield, bringing utter ruin to all that dared stand up against his might. He destroyed with such fire and strength that both his enemies and his allies began to call him a name that struck dread and reverence into all those who heard it.
The Message from Titus
t’s been a long day.
This morning I departed the ruins of an ancient fortress called Dracynnval’s Pass. The night before, my companions and I had cleared it of all soldiers from Diagrall, but not without taking a few wounds ourselves. I still have yet to find out how they got into our lands to possess the place, but truthfully it’s the last thing on my mind. Currently I’m several miles away, running across the titanic bridge to the front gate of Fragruss with only two of my five companions: Aela, (a friend), and Nathaniel, my younger brother by two years. The other three, Percival, James, and Jericho, were delayed because of a major leg wound Percival received in the battle at Dracynnval’s Pass. To top it all off, an enormous hostile army sits on the doorstep of the city, and if they don’t hear from me by nightfall, they will attack with all the force they’ve got. And right now I don’t exactly feel like fighting an entire army.
But there’s more.
Jarl Titus Swordbreaker of the clan Tygnar leads this army only because I killed his father, Lucius Swordbreaker, in battle about a month ago at a fort east of the Kindred Forest, called Fort Rugoth. Vengeance is his motive; ironic, because I had gone after his father out of reprisal for my own.
This colossal bridge is the only way to get into Fragruss because of the city’s placement; the river creates a natural moat, and the cliffs of the surrounding mountains act as its walls.
We reach the end of the bridge, which drops off probably fifty feet to the violent water below. Several yards in front of us, the gate stands closed. A guard yells down to me, “State your business!”
“I am Dragonhammer!” I respond. “I have been summoned by Jarl Hralfar!”
He does not respond, but within moments the gate opens.
The drawbridge slams down, spanning the dangerous distance and allowing us into the city. We cross it quickly and enter. As we walk down the main road of Fragruss, the drawbridge raises behind us.
I waste no time in the city, and make straight for the fortress at the back, which is built like an enormously wide tower. Two similar, taller towers stand behind it, connected with walls to make a colossal rounded triangle.
The fortress has an entrance similar to the one to get into the city: an arch sits on top of a raised plaza, accessible only by a wide set of stairs, and a drawbridge spans the distance between the plaza and the portcullis of the fortress. Ignoring the guards, I walk over the bridge and straight under the raised portcullis.
Navigating from memory, I stride down the left hall and turn with the curve of the rounded structure. Eventually I find myself at the throne room of the fortress, standing in front of a huge arched pair of spruce doors reinforced with iron. The guard next to the doors straightens as soon as he sees me round the corner. It takes him a moment to recognize me, but as I approach his eyes widen. Before I have the chance to tell him that my presence was requested by the Jarl, he has opened the door and loudly announced my arrival.
“He’s here! He’s here!”
A large figure barrels through the doors, just about knocking the guard off his feet.
“I’ve never been so happy to see you!” Jarl Hralfar exclaims, shaking my hand vigorously. “I was afraid you may not get here in time!” His light brown, wavy shoulder-length hair bounces as he continues, “Come inside. Hurry.”
His beard is a little longer as isn’t as well kempt as I remember. His jade eyes are bloodshot and his skin slightly pale, though it is usually darker and full of color. He ignores the large plain throne at the far end of the stone room and instead sits at a table off to the side, gesturing for me to join him. Aela and Nathaniel stand beside me, studying the arched room.
The ceiling is vaulted and very tall. Pillars stick out from the walls, supporting the great roof, and enormous purple tapestries bearing the white symbol of Mohonri, (a burning torch in front of a sword crossing three stalks of wheat), hang between them. This is the place where I met Archeantus, the leader of our cause.
“How did you get here so quickly?” he asks. A bead of sweat drips down his flat, hooked nose.
“Dracynnval’s pass,” I reply. “It was guarded by several of Diagrall’s men, but we got through them.”
“I’m glad to see that,” he says. “You know what Titus has demanded?”
“You told me vaguely in the letter you sent to Jarl Kjunn,” I answer. “Though I do not know its extent.”
He holds out a letter, wrinkled and bent. “Read it,” he instructs.
I take the letter. Aela and Nathaniel read over my shoulder.
You have made enemies, and will continue to make them as you wreak your destruction in the cities and armies of Tygnar. Unfortunately for you, one of those enemies is me, Titus Swordbreaker, son of Lucius Swordbreaker, Lord Jarl of Tygnar.
You have murdered my father and you will die for that. I hereby challenge you to a duel to be held at Balgr’s Monument. Reply within one week. If I do not receive your reply in that time, I will attack and destroy every city of your precious clan Gilgal.
Do not keep me waiting.
“Do you have a quill, ink, and parchment?” I ask.
He gestures to the items requested that already sit on the table. “Today is the seventh day,” he says. “Write quickly and we can get it to him before nightfall.”
Immediately I set about writing my response.
It is with the utmost respect that I must decline your offer. Frankly, I fight for the defense of my home, friends, and family. What does that make your motive? To destroy them. Your father died as a casualty of a war that he began, and I feel no sympathy for you. My fight was with him, not with you. Keep your life and the lives of your soldiers, and stay out of our lands.
You have my response.
I allow the Jarl to read what I have written. “He’s not going to like that,” he mutters. Nonetheless, he allows me to fold it, and then he seals it with wax, pressing it with his ring. The symbol of Gilgal is imprinted on the hardened wax: the roaring head of a bear, with a broadsword crossing its neck.
“Thank you, Kadmus,” he says. “Or, Captain, I should say.”
“Either will do,” I respond.
We stand together and Hralfar turns to the nearest guard. “Find our fastest messenger,” he commands. “Get this to Jarl Swordbreaker immediately.”
The guard takes the letter and obeys with a bow, leaving the room.
“It is done,” says the Jarl, his shoulders sagging like an enormous load had just been taken from him. He plops into the chair. “But I fear what Titus may have to say to that.”
“I don’t want more blood shed than needs to be,” I defend. “His father’s life was enough. He needs only to see past his need for vengeance. It is blocking his sense.”
“We will see,” says the Jarl. “This may shed more blood than that.”
“I’m not so sure,” I reply softly.
He doesn’t hear. “You are hungry?” he asks. “You must be. Come eat. You may not get such a chance as this for a while.”
I agree and follow him to the dining hall.
Percival enters later with James and Jericho supporting him on either side. James looks a little out of place next to the other two, as they are both much taller than he, but not quite as tall as I. Percival keeps his weight off of his right leg, where he received a laceration in his thigh.
“Percival!” I greet. “James, Jericho!”
“Kadmus,” says Percival with a forced smile, sitting heavily in the chair next to Nathaniel, who sits on my right. He stretches his leg and winces.
“Feeling better yet?” I ask.
“Not quite,” he answers. “Walking on it all day doesn’t help either.”
“I believe it,” I respond. “You made pretty good time even with your wound.”
He only nods.
“Hungry?” I ask.
Even sitting down, I tower over Percival by a few inches. His broad shoulders sag and his hulking arm reaches out for a bit of bread.
Aela sits to my left, eating quietly. James sidles up next to her and whispers in her ear, “You look fabulous today.”
She rolls her eyes and ignores him.
I allow myself a small smile. Aela seems immune to just about every trick, flirting or not, that James has tried to pull on her.
He is unaffected by the lack of response and begins to eat. His short, stocky frame is almost comical next to Jericho’s tall and twiggy one, especially because he presents himself so loosely while Jericho always seems to eat like he’s having dinner with the king.
Aela’s dirty blonde hair cascades in waves about her face and shoulders almost midway down her back. Freckles stand out against her white skin across the bridge of her nose and on her upper cheeks. She has a slight build: short and athletic.
As James says something else, she glances at me with an eyebrow raised. Her eyes are deep blue, with a sort of ethereal misty feel inside of them. They are beautiful as the rest of her and their gaze holds me for a moment. Then she looks away and takes a chunk out of her bread.
She has asked my permission to join the military and help fight. It’s her decision, I decide, but I have never seen her fight and it’s rare to find a woman in the army. The only other one I’ve met is Commander Genevieve Magnus, but as of yet, I have not seen the commander here.
“How’s your shoulder?” Aela asks.
I rub my left shoulder as I answer, “It’s fine.”
“You took an arrow in it yesterday.”
“I know. I’m the one who took it.”
She shakes her head. “Kadmus, you can’t tell me it’s not bothering you today.”
I shrug. Only a dark red line remains where the arrow pierced my skin.
She shakes her head again and glances down. I can tell what she’s thinking before she says it. “Why would you do that for me?” she asks. It’s not the first time she’s asked, and this is an issue she addresses quickly, “I know you’ve answered ‘because I’m your friend,’ but… but… my life isn’t worth yours!” Her brow is furrowed as she inspects me, and I realize that she is genuinely asking. She does not understand.
“Well,” I begin, “As you can see, I am not dead. Better for me to risk death than for you to surely die.”
Her eyes narrow for a moment, and then she turns back to her food, unsatisfied.
After dinner, Percival and James go to the infirmary. Jericho accompanies them. Aela and Nathaniel follow Jarl Hralfar and me out of the fortress and through the city, to the drawbridge, and up the stairs that lead to the top of the wall.
Dusk is falling. The Tygnar camp sits uncomfortably close, but they make no movement towards the city. Orange and red bands streak the undersides of the sky-borne clouds.
“They have received your message,” the Jarl observes.
I know full well what his response will be. I just had to give him my side of the story, and not while he was under my warhammer. I have full confidence in my ability.
The guards atop the wall light torches at increments along the crenellations. The bridge remains dark and ominous.
As a result, we see the torch of the messenger quite clearly.
He rides a horse at a run, but not quite a full gallop. The torch races along the bridge towards our position.
“Let down the drawbridge,” Hralfar commands.
The guards obey and release the chains. The drawbridge booms downward and the messenger rides across.
As he enters the city, he slows the horse and jumps off. “Message for Captain Armstrong,” he says to the nearest guard, who points upward at me and the Jarl. The messenger darts up the stairs and hands me an unenclosed piece of parchment. Titus has not bothered to seal it. I position it so the Jarl can read it as I do, and a dark smile begins to tug at my lips as I read.
I care not for your respect or your condescending words. I am feeling especially generous tonight, so I will offer you a final chance. If you refuse, the same fate will befall you had you not replied at all. My father was killed in cold blood and you are to blame. You must die for him to be avenged.
My request stands. Meet me at Balgr’s Monument south of here, and there we will duel on behalf of our armies. Send your reply. I do not think you will disappoint me.
“Somebody have a quill and ink?” I ask. To my surprise, the messenger pulls out a black quill and a small inkwell.
“Thank you,” I say. Then I write my response on the back of the letter, using a crenellation as a table, with the others looking over my shoulder.