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Authors: Dan O'Sullivan

The Fallen (Book 1) (6 page)

BOOK: The Fallen (Book 1)
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Valeska smiled as he gazed at her. His heart began to accelerate and he felt a strange thrill of ownership race through him. Once he would have been skeptical had any suggested a man could fall in love so quickly, but he had no doubt about what
was happening. He didn’t move as these new emotions flooded through him. Adoration, devotion, and as she gazed into his eyes he knew the feelings were mutual. He wondered if this was normal for the guardians.

He felt a
hot flash of desire and she stepped back, turned away and started down the trail. Danil stood still for a moment, calming his mind, and then he followed Valeska.

They had moved only a short way down the mountain when the wind began to blow in earnest and smattering rain
fell. Within minutes the rain was torrential and the already damp group was soaked. It became difficult to negotiate the smooth rocks without slipping and several times King’s Marshall Danil reached out and steadied King Dannicus to prevent him sliding awkwardly down the mountain. Valeska looked back anxiously towards Yarrabyth.


Lady Valeska,’ Danil shouted over the now roaring wind and rain, ‘it will be a miracle if one of us doesn’t fall off the side of this mountain!’

Valeska
shouted back. ‘The mountains are riddled with caves. We’ll take shelter until the rain passes. Yarra, can you scout ahead please?’

Yarrabyth disappeared into the rain. The group huddled together under a small overhanging
cliff face which did almost nothing to lessen the impact of the pelting rain and deafening wind, and waited in hope that the guardian would find proper shelter quickly. Yarrabyth took longer to return than Danil had hoped, and he could hardly believe it when the storm worsened. They moved away from the cliff face and slightly higher, as water began to pour over the overhanging rocks sending chunks of stone flying over the edge with the torrent. Yarrabyth seemed to appear out of no-where and gestured for the group to follow him. He led them back up the track they had recently used and then turned aside and scrambled higher up the rocky mountain side with Danil close behind him.


There is a small cave just there,’ Yarrabyth called to Danil, pointing to the rocky mountainside, ‘but it’s not large enough for all of us. We need to go a little further north.’ A moment later they were inside a reasonably dry, deep cave and out of the howling wind and rain. There were masses of old sticks and branches which had been washed into the cave in previous storms but were at this moment well out of reach of the puddle of water forming at the entrance to the cave. Danil wondered just how bad the storm had to get to push branches of that size so far back into the cave.


Start a fire then strip off and dry your clothes,’ Danil ordered the soldiers. ‘Your Majesty, I’m sorry, but dignity must be forsaken in preference of relative comfort.’ King Dannicus said nothing but began to peel off his wet clothing, whilst two soldiers quickly kindled a fire as close to the entrance of the cave as practically possible. Valeska stood next to the fire looking out into the rain, with her back to the naked soldiers. Danil, who was still wearing his drenched uniform, walked up to the Lady and placed his hand on her shoulder.


King’s Marshall,’ she said, without turning her head.


Danil, Lady Valeska.’ Valeska turned and smiled at Danil and ran her hand down the sleeve of his wet uniform, sending a shiver through his body.


Lady,’ said Danil hesitatingly.


Valeska.’


Valeska,’ said Danil softly, as to be unheard by the soldiers. ‘We need to dry your clothing. My cloak is as close to the fire as I dare place it. As soon as it’s dry, you may use it while your clothing dries.’


I’m not cold, Danil,’ she said smiling. ‘But I am uncomfortable,’ she admitted. Yarrabyth, who was also still clothed and dripping, made his way forward to stand with Danil and Valeska.


Vali, there’s another small cave only about fifty paces back, which I pointed out to the King’s Marshall as we were climbing. If someone were to take you back to it, you could kindle a fire and have privacy while your clothing dries.’


You know I can always find my own way, Yarra,’ said Valeska.


After the last attack, I’d rather you didn’t go alone. Perhaps the King’s Marshall would be willing to go with you?’

Valeska
looked questioningly at Danil who nodded.


Allow me first to attend His Majesty, and then with his consent I will be happy to help, Lady.’

Minutes later Danil grabbed his almost dry c
loak from beside the fire, rolled it tightly and pushed it down the front of his uniform. He picked up his pack and he and Lady Valeska darted from the cave into the howling storm. It took only seconds to rush to the small cave and soon Danil and Valeska had a decent fire burning within. Danil stood uncertainly, not wishing to leave the Lady by herself, though he reminded himself that as a guardian she was easily able to defend herself and it was unlikely anyone would find this tiny cave in such terrible weather.

Her thoughts came to him.
‘Please don’t go.’

His heart beat wildly, but he managed to think back to her.
‘I’ll stay as long as you wish me to stay.’
He pulled the rolled cloak from his tunic and handed it to Valeska then turned away as she peeled off her clothes and placed them on rocks around the fire.


Danil, there’s plenty of space for your wet uniform.’

Danil turned to see
that she had wrapped the cloak around her torso and was sitting on the ground leaning against a rise of rocks. Her wet hair hung around her bare white shoulders and her blue eyes twinkled with the reflection of the fire. He stood looking at her for a moment and then began to remove his clothing. He seemed even bigger without his uniform and a huge scar ran from near his left shoulder almost all the way across his chest. He removed his trousers and crouched close beside the fire allowing his undergarments to dry.

There was no
‘spoken’ thought this time but Danil could sense quite clearly that she wanted him close. Without comment he rose and moved to her side. He sat close without touching her and fought back an overwhelming desire to wrap his arms around her. She turned her face towards his and reached around his neck. Danil took her face in his hands and leaned down to kiss her. He slid his hands over her shoulders and carefully pushed her backwards until she rested against the rocks, then he leaned forward and kissed her again. Feeling a little shocked by what was happening and how much passion he felt for this beautiful and strange guardian, he drew back wondering if he should leave at once. She reached out and touched his cheek then she sat up and placed her head against his chest as if listening to his heart.


What are you doing?’ he murmured.


I need to know if you are mine,’ she replied, just as softly. ‘Are you?’


I want to be yours,’ Danil admitted, rubbing his hands up and down her back. He took a deep breath and tried to force himself to think rationally.


I don’t mean physically.’


Neither do I.’ Danil groaned, ‘though right at this moment it’s extremely difficult not to mean physically.’

Valeska laughed
then leaned back once again to study his face. Her smile faded and she looked questioningly into his eyes.


You need to understand. Before...before anything.’

Danil rested his hands on her shoulders as he gazed at her.
‘Strangely enough, I think I do. No. That’s not entirely true. I have no idea
how
I could feel this way so quickly. I just know what I feel is right.’


What do you feel?’


Possessive. You are mine!’ said Danil forcefully.


But if you change your mind?’


I... It’s...not possible.’


How is it not possible? You are human. What if I were to leave here right now and never see you again?’

Pain struck Danil
’s countenance. ‘No!’ he whispered, picking up Valeska’s hand and gripping it tightly. ‘Please...never say that! I don’t understand, I truly don’t, but I know if you go I will be incomplete forever. Ah that sounds crazy, but it’s true!’


You do understand.’ Valeska exhaled in a soft sigh. ‘You truly do.’ She turned herself and rested across him wrapping her arms around him and snuggling against his warm body.

It
continued to rain, though very lightly, as Valeska lead the group down the rough path and through the maze of rocks on the side of the mountain. Towards the bottom of the mountain the track turned into a thin dangerous ledge with sheer rock up to the left and on the right falling down an unseen distance into darkness. The group moved along the rain slickened ledge in single file with Valeska leading, followed by Danil and King Dannicus with the soldiers behind the King and last of all Yarrabyth. Yarrabyth glanced at Danil several times with a look of wry humor and Danil wondered if he knew what had happened between himself and Valeska. He avoided looking down into the great dark void to his right as they moved quickly along the ledge whilst hugging the cliff wall. Several times small pebbles fell away from the precipice and the group listened for an ominously long time before hearing the sound of the stones hitting the rocks below. They were all relieved when the ledge suddenly widened and fell in cascading steps to grassy foothills.

The hills soon gave way to rough bush land, covered in belah trees and brigalows, running down towards a rocky creek bed. There were signs that the whole area might flood in times of summer rain but these late winter showers
and storms were infrequent and would have little impact on the land. In the early hours of the morning they began to move uphill once again, ascending into mountains thickly forested with massive bon-yi trees. The tired group moved slowly as Valeska led them through the jumble of dark, scaly tree trunks. The rain had either ceased or was unable to penetrate the thick clusters of prickly leaves at the top of the huge trees.

The sun was
rising when the weary group broke through the edge of the forest. The trees ended abruptly and grassy pastures stretched down towards massive cliffs overhanging a small glittering lake, and beyond the lake a beautiful city was perched beside the sparkling sea. The vertical cliffs encircled the city and at each end the sea broke against the cliffs. There was only the narrowest of stairways built into the rock and it was obvious there was no other way to enter the city than to climb down the rocky stairs or to arrive by sea. The city was fashioned of sandstone in creamy white, rose pink and sandy yellow. An elegant structure stretched towards the now clear blue skies, its warm stone walls ending in tall thin towers tipped with cornflower blue banners which fluttered in the light breeze. Most other buildings were of similar construction, smaller but with the same gentle elegance. The streets were lined with gardens and trees loaded with fruit, and little stone bridges passed over the many waterways which ran through the gardens and alongside the paved pathways and roads. Guardians could be seen everywhere, many dressed completely in black clothes of similar style to Valeska and Yarrabyth and these guardians were carrying swords, but others were dressed in soft colors with light sandals as they went about their daily business. Many of the men wore only trousers and sturdy boots and they were carting goods to different places around the city using hand drawn carts. There were women tending some of the trees and they were dressed in short shift dresses and had bare feet. A deep quiet bay sheltered the city. Further south crops shone in the morning sunshine and beyond the crops cattle and sheep could be seen grazing peacefully on the gently sloping fields. Beyond the southern cliffs, turquoise green breakers rolled onto the white sandy beach.

For some time, King Dannicus, Danil and the soldiers stood in awed silence.

 

Chapter
6

Abduction

 

Tears of
shock and frustration prickled in Kelian’s eyes. He could see the bodies of soldiers littering the decks and several in the water caught in overhanging roots. The barge was jammed against the bank of the river and the shelter was burned away, leaving little recognizable. On the far bank of the river he could see more bodies. Alexander and David overtook Kelian as he waded across the river. They clambered up the slope and for a moment Kelian stood in silent despair. He turned back to look at the burning barge, wondering if the girls had managed to jump overboard, then he moved around amongst the dead and his heart ached as he recognized soldiers who had long served his father, and friends with whom he had grown up. A slight movement to his left caught his attention and he ran across the flattened and bloodied grass to kneel beside a stricken soldier. He gently rolled the soldier’s body over and then gasped as the helmet fell from a head of curly blond hair.


Gil!’ Kelian was shocked to see the face of Elena, Louisa and Immosey’s brother.


Kelian,’ Gilgarry’s voice was rough and blood dripped from his forehead.


No, you mustn’t die!’ said Kelian as Timbul appeared beside him. ‘Where were you Timbul? Where did you go?’ Kelian asked as he looked up at the guardian.


I went a short distance to see which way the fallen went, but I didn’t go far.’

Gilgarry reached a weak hand towards Kelian and caught his shirt.
‘I’m not dying, I just can’t move. They took the girls.’ Timbul looked startled for a moment and then frowned as if concentrating as he looked down at Gilgarry.


Where did they take them?’ Even as Kelian asked, he knew the question was futile.


Cassic…he went after them with Mathis and Kyle.’

At that moment Borgulnay and
Araas burst into the clearing.


Now!’ shouted Borgulnay and the two turned simultaneously as four warriors ran from between the trees. In a flash David, Alexander, Timbul and Kelian crossed the clearing to stand beside Borgulnay and Araas. The four warriors, seeing two guardians before them, turned and rushed back into the trees. Timbul and Araas leapt after them. David and Alexander made to follow but were stopped by the raised hand of Borgulnay who stood listening intently. For a minute they heard nothing, then out of the trees stepped Timbul and Araas.

Kelian
crossed the clearing and knelt beside Gilgarry. He removed his own cloak, rolled it, and placed it as a pillow under Gilgarry’s head.


The fallen?’ he prompted Timbul.


They are returned,’ said Timbul simply.


Will you look at him?’ Kelian gestured to Gilgarry. ‘Please?’

Timbul knelt beside Gilgarry. He unlaced the front of Gilgarry
’s shirt and pulled it away from his neck. Gently, Timbul examined the soldiers jaw and neck and then rolled him onto his side.


Gil, can you move at all?’


I can move my arms a bit. One of them hit me with some kind of magic I think, and my legs just collapsed from beneath me. That’s what happened to most of us and then they murdered everyone where they lay.’ His face was contorted in anger and pain. Araas and Timbul knelt next to Gilgarry.


It’s not magic Gil,’ said Araas. ‘Was there smoke? Were they burning something that smelt like…something strong?’


There was a funny smell. I don’t remember any smoke.’

Kelian
was mystified. ‘Smoke? What was it?’


It’s made from grinding up….’ Timbul hesitated. ‘It’s from a plant and when it burns the smoke is paralyzing. It has the same effect on guardians.’


But not on the fallen, so it seems,’ Araas observed. ‘Or perhaps they know a way to stop it influencing their own bodies. It’s as if the effect of the smoke takes on a life of its own. It spreads like a plague. I imagine I can force it from Gil’s body.’


You know it will be painful to remove,’ said Timbul.


The pain can be managed, Tim.’

Gilgarry frowned.
‘I’m already in pain. I can handle a little more. Do it!’


Together?’ Timbul asked his brother. They leaned forward, placing their hands over Gilgarry’s head and his heart. Gilgarry gave a shout and rolled onto his knees as Timbul and Araas fell screaming to the ground, their bodies writhing in pain.


What’s happening?’ Kelian shouted as he reached down to try to help Araas and Timbul. As his hand touched Araas’ shoulder, a flash of pain exploded up his arm and he leapt back in shock. Then Kelian saw that even as they wrestled with pain, Araas was desperately trying to reach Timbul’s hand. Kelian grabbed Araas’ hand and started screaming as his own hands and arms blazed with pain. He dragged Araas until his hand reached Timbul’s outstretched hand. A moment later the two brothers stopped struggling and lay still, panting and with sweat dripping from their faces.


What happened?’ Kelian asked again.


It was a little stronger than we expected.’ Timbul’s voice was hoarse. ‘It seems to affect guardians more than I thought it would, even more than humans.’


Timbul, Araas, I’m sorry.’ Gilgarry was appalled. ‘I thought you meant painful for
me
.’


I would have caused you to sleep first Gil, if it was going to be more painful for you,’ said Timbul. ‘Thank you for your help Kelian. I noticed you felt some of our pain?’


I did. Why did you need…?’

‘In touching Araas, some of our pain was taken into your body, which probably saved our lives. I wasn’t expecting the pain to be quite so intense.
We will know what to do if this happens again.’


Why did Araas try to reach me?’


Because we are brothers,’ Araas answered simply. ‘For a second I thought we might be returning and I wanted my little brother to know I was there with him.’

Gilgarry got to his feet.
‘Thank you,’ he said to Timbul and Araas. ‘You will say it’s your duty but my gratitude is no less.’


You are welcome, my friend,’ said Araas.


What now?’ David looked questioningly at Borgulnay. ‘We were too late,’ he added dispiritedly.

Borgulnay
’s face was set in determination. ‘The girls may still be alive. So we follow.’

Araas
studied the clearing for a long moment. ‘There’s someone else who’s still alive,’ he said. He began to move amongst the bodies and seconds later he knelt beside a soldier. He leaned forward and placed one hand over the soldier’s heart and the other on his head and as he drew his hands away the soldier began to move. Araas fell to the ground. The guardian lay in obviously intense pain for a moment before rolling onto his knees. The soldier stood with trembling limbs.


My legs!’ he said looking horrified. ‘I thought I was crippled!’


It was some sort of plague of the fallen, Josif,’ Gilgarry explained. ‘Now as soon as you’re fit I want you to return to Castle. The King needs to know what happened here.’


Yes sir!’ Private Josif looked in horror at the carnage surrounding him.


You need to tell the King that Elena, Louisa and Immosey were taken from the barge by the fallen and that we’re following them. Captain Cassic is already tracking them with Mathis and Kyle.’


The King left to visit the Daoine Maithe. He wants information,’ said Borgulnay.

Private Josif
winced as he touched his shoulder gingerly. ‘Perhaps he will have returned by the time I get back to Castle. Sergeant,’ he said, looking at Gilgarry, ‘the bodies?’


There isn’t time. When this business is over we will return but right now-’ Gilgarry stopped as he noticed blood seeping through Josif’s uniform sleeve. ‘You’re injured.’


Yes sir. I took a blade across the shoulder. I’ll be alright, sir.’


Remove your shirt, Private!’ Gilgarry left no room for argument. Josif lifted his shirt over his head and Gilgarry drew breath sharply. Kelian glanced down at Araas who shook his head.


I could normally heal him easily, but right now…’ He shook his head again and Kelian noticed both Araas’ and Timbul’s arms and legs were still trembling with pain and fatigue.

Gilgarry
picked through the contents of a pack which had been slashed open during the battle and now lay littering the ground. He grabbed several items. The smallest container was a metal tube containing several lengths of thread and a needle which had been pushed into the cork before the cork was placed into the end of the little container. The second was a small skin containing vinegar. He handed the skin to Alexander who removed the cork and poured the vinegar over the deep cut on the Private’s shoulder. Josif flinched then gritted his teeth. Gilgarry threaded the needle and held it out to Alexander who poured the remaining vinegar over the needle and thread, and over Gilgarry’s hands. Josif didn’t move as the Sergeant stitched the wound closed.


Josif, you need to go to Three Ways. You’ll find an inn and you’ll recover there for two days. Then I want you to return to Castle as quickly as you are able.’


But sir, I won’t need so much rest-’


That’s an order, Private!’


Yes sir!’ Josif removed a pack from the back of a dead soldier. He looked sadly at the body. ‘I doubt you will need your gear any more Murray,’ he said as he leaned over and ran his hand over the dead soldier’s face, closing his eyes.


Your friend?’ asked Kelian.


His brother,’ said Araas sadly.

Josif
rose to his feet with unashamed tears running down his face. He turned to Kelian. ‘Highness, I’ll go to Three Ways as ordered, and then I’ll make for Castle as quickly as I can. I won’t let you down, sir.’

 

BOOK: The Fallen (Book 1)
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