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Authors: Shawn E. Crapo

King Of The North (Book 3)

BOOK: King Of The North (Book 3)
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King of the North
By Shawn E. Crapo

eBook version

Cover art by Shawn E. Crapo

Copyright © 2013 Shawn E. Crapo

All rights reserved

 

 

DEDICATION

 

For Dad and Uncle Ed

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

There are quite a few people who have inspired me in life and in my writing. For the purposes of this series, I would like to acknowledge and thank the following: Steve Smith for proofreading my work, Mike Bartley for helping with some names, R. Garret Cynar (one of my oldest friends,) Kumar Jadhav, Eamon Ankney, and Siobhan Kelly for being the inspiration for some character names. I would also like to thank Shirley Johnson, Peter Birk, Mark Boyer, Amber York, and Casey Holloway for their friendship in High School and beyond. I can’t forget my Dad and Uncle Ed for taking me in when I escaped from Limbo.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

The witch squatted in the dirt near the southern shore, gathering ingredients for her creation spell. Two nights before, she had witnessed an utterly terrifying vision of pure evil. As she sat on the stones of Eirenoch's rocky shore, enjoying the smell of the surf, a host of dark things had emerged from the sea. Dark things that should not be, nor spoken of. These were creatures that she had been told stories of when she was a child. They were stories that terrified her, made her lie awake in fear, and tormented her very dreams.

Wights, her grandmother had called them. They were vile, soulless creatures that lived for nothing but the taste of human flesh. For centuries, her grandmother had said, these creatures roamed the night in search of men and women to devour. They haunted the dreams of everyone who had heard of them, and drove anyone who saw them to madness. No one knew where they had come from, or why. All that Aeli knew was on that night, she had witnessed a whole army of them writhing and screaming as they stumbled onto shore.

But the reason she had now decided to gather things for her spell was not these dark things, but something that horrified her even more. Hours after the horde of dark things had dispersed into the countryside, ten tall black armored Knights had casually walked onto the shore and disappeared into the trees.

As they passed her, she had felt such an emptiness and soullessness exuding from them that she had been frozen in terror. Never had Aeli felt such evil in her long, long life. They were like death itself, incarnated into ten separate bodies, and placed on the Earth to destroy all life.

She could not follow them, she knew. They would sense her, eventually. No, she would have to watch them from far away, with something else as her eyes. She needed a homunculus, a tiny pawn she could use to follow the strange entities. Safe in her cottage deep in the woods, she would see through its eyes, and learn more about them.

As she neared her cottage, she laid the leather bag she carried on the stoop she while ran to her well. She would need water to boil. As she lowered her bucket into the deep shaft, she went over the rest of the ingredients in her head. She would need her leather bag, which was filled with the crushed bodies of thousands of ants, some clay, and several drops of her own blood.

When she heard the bucket splash into the water, she waited for it to fill and brought it back up. Unhooking it from its rope, she grabbed the bucket and ran back to her cottage.

Standing in front of her door were two men, dressed in the robes of Lord Galen's hunters. One of them had her leather sack, and had opened it to look inside.

"Aeli!" the other said. "What are you doin'?"

Aeli stopped short, her heart pounding in fear. "Nothing, sir," she replied. "Just gathering some water."

The guard with the bag was still staring into it, an odd look on his face as he examined the contents. Aeli eyed him nervously.

"Well," the first man continued. "That's all fine and good. But we heard some strange noises a few nights ago, and there are some hunters missin'. Would ye know anything about that? What are ye up to?"

"Is this a bag of ants?" the other hunter asked.

Aeli swallowed. "I haven't been up to anything, sir, and yes, that is indeed a bag of ants. Why do you ask?"

"Why do you have a bag of ants?"

"They're for my stew," Aeli said. "Meat is hard to come by. Especially for a poor, helpless woman who couldn't hunt for it if her life depended on it."

The first man grunted. "Right," he said. "And I believe that like I believe yer a simple weaver."

Aeli sighed, pointing to her loom and spinning wheel that were tastefully arranged near the side of her cottage, in the sun. "You can see my loom and wheel, sir," she said. "And you've seen my work at the market."

"Ye better not be up to nothin," the first man said, pursing his lips in suspicion. "The magistrate'll have ye!"

"Thank you for your concern, sir," she said, snatching her bag from the curious, well spoken man. Though aggravated, she winked at him as she turned to enter her cottage. He smiled, smirking at his partner, who simply shook his head.

"Ye'd lie with a fish if it flopped its way into yer bed," he said. "Stay away from her, she's dangerous."

Aeli heard the last statement from underneath her window, feeling its sting in her heart. She peered out, seeing the two men disappear into the woods, and breathed a sigh of relief. However, the familiar feeling of sadness overtook her. The man's words were common things she had heard most of her life. The people looked upon her with fear and suspicion, even when she had helped them cure their diseases and treat their other ills.

Like her mother, and her grandmother before her, Aeli saw herself as a natural healer, a sage attuned to the Earth. Her knowledge of herbs and tinctures was for the benefit of her health, and she shared that knowledge with those who needed it. Still, her spells and potions were looked upon with suspicion. She and others like her, who studied the arts of natural science, were simply deemed witches. Not Druids, not sages, not seers; witches.

Aeli sighed again, resigned to live out her life alone and in the shadows of society. It was the way her ancestors had lived. Why should she be any different?

As she wiped away her tears, Aeli poured the water from the bucket into her iron pot and hung it over her fire. It would take some time to boil, but the preparation for her spell would take even longer.

She took a jar from her shelf, opening it to scoop out a lump of clay. She then placed the clay inside the bag of ants and reached for her dagger. Holding out her palm, she carefully made a small cut in the skin and allowed the blood to drip into the bag. She then bandaged the wound and pulled the bag closed.

The mixture would have to be kneaded to blend the ingredients together. The clay would provide the base for her creation. The ants would provide the organic material. Finally, the small amount of her blood would provide the essence of life. Her homunculus would be a part of her, and would be connected to her in ways that the average person would never understand.

When the mixture was complete, she removed the lump of material from the bag. The clay was soft and moist, with flecks of exoskeleton, and the smell of blood and Earth. It was perfect. She squeezed the mixture, shaping it into a vaguely human form with arms, legs, a head, and a pair of crude wings. She ran her fingers over the surface, smoothing out the lumps and cracks, and pushing it into a more perfect model.

With her dagger, she carved out facial features, and split the ends of the arms into five-fingered hands. Finally, she rolled out a small amount of the excess and shaped it into a tail, and two more lumps into rough wings. It was not perfect, but that mattered not. The magic would take care of the finer details, and correct any proportion mistakes.

In the space of less than an hour, Aeli had a fully formed simulacrum. She stared at it proudly, anticipating the moment when it would come to life. As she admired her work, the sound of her water boiling caught her attention.

It was time.

She went to the suspended pot, gathering her charms and talismans. Kneeling in front of the fire, she tossed in some herbs, strange smelling spices, and a scrap of iron for strength. She then went to her jewelry box and removed a small black gem. It was warm, telling her that the energy she had trapped inside it was still there. She kissed the stone, retrieved her clay model, and pressed it into the very spot where a man's heart would be.

She then placed the model in the leather bag and sealed it tight, chanting the beginning of her spell.

"Great Mother," she whispered. "Bestow upon this humble form the gift of life. Let my body be your conduit, your vessel, your giver of life."

She tossed two lumps of incense into the fire, adding their power and aroma to the spell. Then, she continued.

"Take from me all that is needed to bring my familiar to life. I offer my own energy, and my blood."

She dropped the leather bag into the boiling water, sealing the pot with its heavy iron lid.

"Bring these components together with the formula of life, in the shape I have created. Let it be my eyes and ears in my quest to know the evil that walks in these lands."

She then closed her eyes, focusing her thoughts on a silent chant. She did not repeat it out loud, as this was forbidden. Should anyone nearby hear the words, they would learn the secrets of life and death. Only those that served the Great Mother and her Firstborn were deemed worthy of such knowledge.

As she finished her chant, the pot began to swing with the impact of something knocking against the sides. Hastily, she removed the lid, and fished out the leather sack with her tongs. The leather was still steaming, and was moving rapidly as its contents struggled to break free. Laughing, and bursting with excitement, she opened the bag. From within, the small, winged, creature stood. It was perfectly formed; shaped like a tiny man with an almost comical face, reddish-brown skin, and leathery bat wings. Its tail lashed around excitedly, and the creature chattered as it stared up at her.

Aeli smiled. The spell had worked. She now had her spy, and she could follow the dark Knights closely without putting herself in danger. She reached out her finger to poke the homunculus, laughing again as the creature squealed.

"Hello, little one," she greeted it. "I shall call you Belo, after my grandfather."

The homunculus squealed again, flapping its wings and swishing its tail.

"Yes," she said. "Belo it is."

She picked Belo up from the table, holding him close to her face. "Belo, my little friend," she said to him. "I have a task for you."

Belo chattered, leaning in closer to listen.

 

     Siobhan's lifeless body l
ay still upon the royal surgeon's table. Maedoc sat next to her on a stool, his head lowered, and his face resting in his open hands. He wept softly, grieving the loss of his Queen and sister, and his tears were many.

Days ago, Siobhan had been taken in the night, by forces unknown, to the city of Faerbane. There, as she wandered in a poisoned daze, she was killed by her own lover and body guard, Garret. A former assassin for King Magnus, Siobhan had asked him to assassinate her twin sister, Queen Maebh of the Southern kingdom. Somehow, as he entered the castle at Faerbane, Siobhan had been put in Maebh's place, and Garret had murdered her instead.

After a brief communion with The Dragon, Maedoc learned that Garret had also been killed that night. The Druid, Jodocus, and his apprentice, Farouk, had witnessed him fall to his death from the distant cliff tops, and Jodocus had informed the imprisoned Dragon of the man's fate.

Jodocus had also said another man was present on the balcony that night, and had attacked Garret. The assassin did not fight back or attempt to parry the attack. He had appeared to be unarmed, and in a daze himself. Perhaps, Maedoc reasoned, he had immediately known that he had killed his own Queen, and the shock of such a deed was far too much for him to handle.

It was the only explanation.

"Siobhan," Maedoc whispered, as he looked at her face. "You were a great Queen. You were every bit as loved and honored as our father. You will be avenged."

From behind him, Maedoc heard footsteps. He did not turn to identify their source, as his grief had taken away his desire to be social. However, as the footsteps grew near, he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Maedoc," Ebhan, the watch Captain spoke. "We have received word that Ulrich has been successful in defending Gaellos. The Jindala have been driven back to Faerbane."

Maedoc nodded. "Thank you, Ebhan," he said, quietly. "That is good news."

"He awaits word of Eamon and the Knights," Ebhan continued. "But we have heard nothing."

Maedoc stood, still facing Siobhan. "Erenoth is on his way to him now," he said. "He and the other priests will return them to Morduin for Eamon's coronation."

"Shall I send word to him of Siobhan's death?"

Maedoc sighed. "Not directly," he said. "Send word to Lord Ferrin. He is in Gaellos now. He will tell Ulrich."

Ebhan bowed. "Very well, my lord," he said. "I will send a messenger immediately."

Maedoc said nothing as Ebhan left, remaining silent and watching over his sister. It pained him to leave her here all alone in the cold, lifeless lower levels. Though she was now only an empty shell, the thought of her lying on the table in the darkness was hard for him to imagine. She was the Queen, after all.

Maedoc leaned down to kiss her forehead. He then pulled her shroud over her head, and sobbed again.

"Goodbye, sister," he lamented.

 

Eogan and Kassir glared at the small pub that sat slightly off the wooded path. Their horses, in need of water, shifted restlessly as the two men looked for any signs of the Jindala soldiers that should be patrolling the area. There were four men stationed here at all times, with three rotating shifts that traveled between here and an abandoned trading post to the north. So far, there were no guards in sight.

Frustrated, and thirsty himself, Eogan dismounted his horse, leading it to the trough of rain water that sat against the deck wall of the pub. Kassir dismounted as well, motioning for the six men who accompanied them to stay put.

BOOK: King Of The North (Book 3)
5.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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