The Extraordinary Adventures of Lyric Hawkeslayer and Vala Kainen
In the High Fantasy style
Lyric paid no heed to the aubergine-colored clouds that were gathering over the hills behind him. He sat, light and confident, astride the colt that Yvon had forbidden him to ride, the earthy scent of water on dry rocks that heralded the coming rain filling his nostrils. Pushing thoughts of his certain punishment to the back of his mind, he reveled in the wild rush of animal power he had waited so long to enjoy.
The air was quick with the sounds of chirring grasshoppers and crickets, the clipped rhythm of horse hooves on hard ground, and the wind as it sung past his ears. Yvon’s old sword, also off-limits and much too large for a boy of eleven, slapped hard against his thigh. One way or another, he would have bruises tomorrow.
With a deft touch of the reins, he guided the half-broken colt along the rim of a dry gully where the rounded hills flattened to grasslands. The gully narrowed, the colt vaulted across, and with unaccustomed freedom surged recklessly into the river of golden grass that ran in rippling waves before the wind.
A sudden prickling, like a million excruciatingly-sharp needles, stung Lyric’s young hide. Despite the rushing air, his hair stood on end. The world split and the sky flashed white-hot. Teia had hurled her dazzling lance with all the violence for which she was known. Sure hooves foundered and cannon bones snapped with cruel precision. The colt’s scream drowned inside the deafening thunder. Unhorsed, Lyric rode a wild, tumbling arc into the ground.
A heavy, slanting rain pummeled the boy back to consciousness. Shielding his face with an arm he blinked his eyes open. He was flat on his back in the tall grass, tasting blood and grit. He struggled to one elbow and surveyed the damage. At first he did not understand why the rain splattering onto his shirt was red, then gingerly his fingers found the gash that had opened on his forehead. He felt around, wiggled his arms and legs. He was hurt bad, but not too bad, and no broken bones.
Lyric tried to rip a strip of cloth from his shirt to make a bandage for his head but the wet cloth refused to give. As he cursed Fera for her skill at weaving, he began to wonder where he was. Had he been allowed a few hours or days to ponder the question he might have concluded that he definitely was not where he should be, but a movement above his head made him completely forget the question and his slashed forehead altogether.
A cone of dull blue, which seemed more like the absence of sky rather than a thing of substance, had formed in the air high overhead. Inside the cone a pixyish woman teetered precariously, in apparent defiance of the laws of gravity, wrestling to bring something long and shiny green to the precipice. Lyric was not too surprised, then, when she let out a yelp and dropped like a sack into the nearby grass. He couldn’t see her for the tall grass, but he could hear an unladylike stream of swearing, enough to make a brush-cropper blush. Then she cleaved aside the grass that reached nearly to her shoulders. Wearing a triumphant grin, she gazed down at Lyric with inquisitive eyes of such stunning viridescence that they must surely have been illuminated by some inner light. The rain that pelted him without mercy was but a gentle mist encircling her pale and silvery self. Lyric blinked and tried to wipe the apparition from his sight.
Preferring to remain fully within his field of vision, she drew in a sympathetic breath past her tiny canted teeth, and leaned in close to inspect his forehead.
“Hmm,” she mused. “Looks like the old girl rubbed some bark off you, but I reckon you’ll live.” Her speech sounded old-fashioned, almost foreign.
“What old girl is that?” Lyric burbled through the rain.
“Why, the one what knocked you off your high horse, so to speak,” the small woman said, hitching a slender thumb up to the sky. “Teia.”
Lyric stared at her purple painted fingernails, and started at the name. He cupped his hands over his eyes and peeked fearfully into the sky. The blue cone was gone. “But I didn’t do anything!” he cried.
“They all say that, sooner or later,” she said, sounding skeptical.
“Why does Teia want to punish me?”
“I don’t know. What did you do now?”
She spoke so casually that Lyric wondered if he should have recognized her. “I said, I didn’t do anything,” he replied, hoping it was true. Sometimes he did things that he only later found out were wrong.
“Well,” she said, putting a finger to her pale, dimpled cheek. “If memory serves, you’ve run afoul of her before.”
He didn’t remember doing that.
The rain mercifully lessened, then pittered to a stop. Carefully avoiding the gash on his forehead, Lyric squeezed the water from his hair. He kept a watchful eye on the woman, who was keeping a watchful eye on him. Northers like her weren’t welcome in his village of Peeling, and he had never traveled beyond the borders of Cynthylan Riding.
“You seem familiar,” he said, rising on unsteady legs. “Who are you?”
“Liath!” the woman lightheartedly admonished as she assisted his rise with a light touch to his elbow. “Have you forgotten your old friend Lele Kainen?” The laugh that followed was clean and appealing, like a rivulet chattering through a cool, deep forest.
“My name is Lyric, not Liath,” Lyric corrected.
“Details, details,” she replied airily. “The Tain by any other name is still the Tain, you know.”
The Tain! Lyric was instantly peeved at her cavalier attitude. Couldn’t she see that something terrible had happened to him? His head was torn open and bleeding, and he was not in the mood for socializing with a stranger, especially the likes of her. Everyone in Peeling knew that Northers were traitors and sneaks, and not to be trusted under any circumstances. Besides, he wanted to go home before Teia decided to return.
“Upon my word,” the woman said, planting her hands on her boyish hips. “You look like you swallowed a pickle.” Then she stepped aside and brought forth a scabbard of glimmering green that was nearly as tall as she. “This ought to cheer you up,” she said.
Lyric’s mouth dropped open in amazement. He had never seen such a strange scabbard.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” she wheedled, tilting her head charmingly to one side. “It’s made of dragonskin, from a real dragon.” Her eyes grew wide. “You don’t suppose—” as she paused to wonder she withdrew a sword from the scabbard, “—that the old warhammer is after this?” With both hands and a grunt of effort, she held the sword aloft for him to see.
Lyric’s breath caught. The sword was not plain and workman-like like his grandfather Yvon’s, but was made of some lustrous metal which had been worked all over with whorling designs, its hilt crusted with red and emerald gems. It was a sword, he imagined, of a great king. He suddenly rued the fact that only queens ruled the ridings. Who did it belong to? he wondered. Why did Teia want it? The pain in his head was forgotten as fear and excitement coursed through him. The sword was a fabulous, yet surely dangerous, treasure.
Lele laughed as she parried the heavy sword clumsily in the tall grass, playfully cutting and thrusting as if in a game of pirates, yelling ‘Ha!’ whenever an especially worthy tuft of grass fell to her assault. While she cavorted she only pretended to ignore Lyric’s frank stares, when on every turn of her lithe body her eyes briefly met his and she smiled.
“This thing’s too heavy for a runt like me!” she declared at last. She made one final stab, then handed the sword to Lyric. “Here, it’s your time to take it,” she said.
Did she mean to say ‘turn’? Lyric wondered. It didn’t matter, for a jealous thought sprung up in his mind and he realized that he would give his very soul to possess that jeweled sword. He took it by the hilt, and when he did, a radiance shot from the tips of his fingers to the tip of the sword, infusing the metal with a brilliant, living light. He was too stunned to speak, but Lele clapped her hands and shrieked with delight.
Lyric managed a gasp as a silver fountain of light began to pour from the sword in all directions, filling the world, until there was only himself, the Norther, and the sword, shining like a triad stars in an iridescent universe. Then, as if two bars of maggot iron had suddenly drawn together, a violent pull wracked his body.
With the echoing finality of a dungeon door closing on its doomed occupant, something locked inside him. His rising fear was quelled by Lele’s touch upon his arm.
“Look at this,” she said in a voice filled with wonder. Her smile was pure and sweet as she cupped her palms together, peeking inside them to confirm some small treasure hidden there. In one fluid movement she flung her hands up into the air. Hundreds of dragonflies of unearthly brilliant colors poured from her palms to dart around Lyric. Mysterious waters churned inside him as ancient dust swirled at his feet. He gazed into the green mirrors of Lele’s eyes, and saw the hard lines of his face, the rough stubble on his chin, and the hard muscle where none had been before. He was no longer an eleven-year-old boy, but a grown man, a fierce leader of fighting men. He wore a coat of steel mail and a breastplate of Angelan leather, and over his shoulders fell a crimson cloak. Upon his head was a shining falcon helm. Except for the double cross of red on white that blazed upon his breast, it could have been the garb of Tain Liath, whose own emblem had been a single cross of white. Lyric’s heart burst with joy as he thrust the radiant sword into the swirl of liquid light.
In the next instant his happiness was cut short and an icy terror gripped his soul. A sound like the screech of a thousand ungreased wagon axles broke his ears. A stench like the grave. A growing blackness encroached upon the light that surrounded him. A vast sucking conduit into the Demonian abyss, it advanced rapidly, relentlessly. Leering faces with features frozen in macabre death grins formed inside the blackness and scabrous, black-nailed hands reached out, raked his cheek. He struck at them with the sword, but his movements were as slow as if he had been dropped into a vat of lard.
A thought that wore the sound of his own voice intruded: The enemies of old have returned to enslave the world. Again you must stop them.
From far away Lele cried out. The sound fell dead against the blackness that had obliterated the fountain of silver light, reducing it to a torrid, quivering speck, perilously poised upon the tip of the great sword. It fell from his hands and thudded to the ground as a great weight of fear and hopelessness forced him to his knees. The silver light flared with the brilliance of an exploding sun.
Slowly through the fog of his grief Yvon Esvanir became aware that someone was shaking his shoulder.
“Leave me to my misery,” the old ridderknight muttered. He shrugged it off and fell back into his mind…
He had much to be proud of. Runen queens sought the Esvanir stallions for their racing stables. Lesser humans clamored for his prized fighting cocks. Yet seen from the inside of a whiskey bottle, his life had been little more than a series of tragedies interspersed with brief period of pleasure. During the dark times of drink, he forgot the Tessaroth’s training that turned mere mortals into ridderknights. Each memory piled one upon the next, crushing him beneath their collective weight. The plague-death of his wife. The murder of his eldest daughter and her infant son, victims of Shadoman. And there were other things, too, that played upon his mind. Killing had been his profession for forty years, and as the personal assassin of Berengaria, the eldress of the Tessaroth, he had done more than his share of it. In that capacity it was not always an enemy whose life he dutifully cut short. He bore it all, and when not in his cups he hardly gave these things a second thought.
But Lyric’s death was more than he could bear. His grandson lay pale and cold atop a table in the best room, dressed in his finest clothes, surrounded by flower garlands and weeping women. Unable to stand it, Yvon had taken a bottle of whiskey and gone to the barn.
The shoulder-shaking continued. “Master Yvon! Come quick!” It was Henry, the fifteen year old son of the housekeeper Fera.
Roused to the present at last, Yvon looked up into eyes that were as round as two full moons. From somewhere he heard women screaming.
Lyric wondered who was making that annoying noise, and why. When he opened his eyes, his sister Elise was staring down at him, looking surprised. He tried to sit up, but couldn’t.
“What’s going on?” he asked. He turned his head in the direction of the annoying noise and saw that the servants, Brenda and Lei, their faces blotchy and red from crying, were shrieking and staring at him as if he’d just come back from the dead.
“You were dead, ” Elise explained. “For a while, anyway.” She shrugged.
“Yup,” Elise confirmed. “Struck by a lightning bolt.”
Cheryl Lassiter © 2012