Chapter 11: The Dawning Light

Risawal blinked awake, staring up at the green roof above. Shafts of light fell all around him, and for a moment he could fool himself into thinking the last few days had been a terrible dream. A young woman placed a hand on his shoulder, pulling the ropes away with the other. The good feeling melted away, leaving an empty feeling in his stomach.

“Ready to go?” Ja’eshuk asked sweetly.

“Yes, I suppose,” he replied glumly, crashing back to reality.

“Glad to hear it,” she said brightly, handing him a piece of toast. “Got some butter and honey on it, need to keep your strength up.”

He looked at her suspiciously. “This can’t be an act,” he said, taking the food, “Who are you, really?”

“I’m a hunter,” she replied, a flash of menace crossing her face, “Nothing more.”

She tapped him in the back, forcing him to his feet. After flexing his hands several times, Risawal began munching on the breakfast as Ja’eshuk led the way back to the road. At the edge of the forest Ja’eshuk stopped and patted her dress flat. Then she combed out her hair, turning completely into a sweet young lady. With a coy smile, confusing Risawal further, she walked out into the field and down the winding road. The two walked in silence for a time, admiring the flowering meadow around them.

For much of the morning, Risawal was overcome with a bizarre feeling. At times the events of the last few days melted away completely and he was a normal gentleman escorting a young woman on the road. Then he would crash back to reality, again becoming the hostage of a cold blooded assassin. For more than an hour he drifted between the two states, uncertain which was more discomforting. By midday he felt on the brink of madness. Risawal had taken to slowly circling his captor, considering every aspect of her for any sign of truth.

“You’re enjoying that, are you?” she asked, smiling, not a hint of malice in her eyes or voice. “You’ve circled me about ten times now, should I be worried?”

“I-I, I know what you did,” he said, uncertain what emotion he was expressing, “yet, when I look at you now, I can’t imagine, it doesn’t seem possible that that assassin and this woman standing here are the same. How?”

“Heh, if it’s keeping your mind occupied, I’ll just let you,” she trailed off, a serious look flashing across her face.

A knife appeared in her hand, though still partially concealed. Risawal tensed, the sound of hooves bearing down on them. As the horses approached, the thought of escape surfaced again. This noise was different than a slow moving wagon. It was heavy and fast, moving with great purpose. From the west a patrol of knights appeared around the bend.

For an instant he considered shouting for attention. Then a hand arrived on his shoulder, a sharp poke hitting his neck. The knights slowed anyway, the leader pulling up his visor.

“Young ones, where are you heading?” he asked concerned. “You’re miles from the nearest town.”

“Shushwuk,” Ja’eshuk said in a weak voice, “we-we can’t take the violence anymore, so we’re off to try our luck in the city.”

“I’ve heard that too many times,” he said nodding. “Perhaps you may be able to return home. We’re expecting good news from Wanevap.”

At the sound of the name Risawal flinched, a terrible fear flooding through him. The siege party, Glusdan, Torvipan. He clutched his gut, knowing something terrible had happened.

“You all right, Boy?” The Knight asked.

“Yeah, uh, what’s the matter?” Ja’eshuk asked, the concern seeming genuine.

“Haven’t eaten much,” he replied. “We couldn’t take much with us.”

“Here, lad, have some food.” The knight said, shaking his head.

He reached into his saddlebags and pulled out some dried meat. Ja’eshuk accepted the offering, not wanting to pass up free food. With that he kicked his horse and continued down the road, soon vanishing from sight. For a moment they stared after them, Risawal knowing it wasn’t hunger that bothered him. Ja’eshuk removed the knife and turned him around, looking quite concerned.

“What’s the matter?”

“Wanevap,” he uttered.

“You know something?”

“No,” he said, straightening up. “But I can guess.”

-#-

Deep in the sanctuary of Wanevap monastery Father Tovipan knelt before the great statue of Valtor. He whispered his prayers under the gentle glow of his lord’s warmth. It was a time of reflection he cherished each day. Without warning the door behind him burst open, interrupting the tranquility.

“Father! Father quickly!” Cried a young brother. “To the main gates! Glustan has finally lost it!”

Knowing that the dreaded day had finally arrived, Torvipan quickly spoke his final prayers before making the sign. With that done he hurried with the brother through the corridor and out into the market square. Down in the valley clearing he could see all manner of siege machines and columns of troops marshaling before the wall. He gulped, knowing they would certainly need Valtor’s strength on this day.

He raced down the path to the parapets below, meeting the guard captain atop their humble gate. Easily five hundred Mahlapren soldiers and knights had taken positions before the monastery and its defenses. Hurriedly dug trenches and wicker shields protected numerous archers as engineers positioned half a dozen catapults. Father Torvipan griped the wall tightly, knowing they were no match for this force. After a moment of consideration he decided to try the only card at his disposal.

“Glusdan! What is the meaning of this!?”

The soldiers called for their commander. The sheriff, accompanied by a thin lieutenant in leather armor, rode to within spitting distance of Torvipan. They stared daggers at each other, hate leaking from their very souls.

“You send your armored bullies up here for months to intimidate us and now you threaten a siege? Have you lost all senses? This will mean war with Simkagle and Thotbinge!”

“Quiet you old fool!” Sheriff Glusdan roared. “There will be no war. Once I have proven how your support of the rebels has killed scores of innocent people, they would not dare!”

Torvipan, was sweating now, but continued his tirade. “Liar! The only rebel here is you and your bastard king! You have rejected the peace of Valtor! You have shunned his light and now you’re attempting to extinguish it!”

“There was no peace of Valtor!” Glusdan roared, “Only persecution, death, and betrayal! If His Majesty, King Shvalah, had not put an end to the order’s power, we’d be on crusade in Hanesttaala killing them, or in the jungle, or sailing across the sea!”

“If only you could see the true glory of Valtor, then you would understand!” He pleaded.

“Can you even hear yourself? Are you so blinded by ignorance that you cannot see what you’ve become?” Glusdan called, his voice softer this time, “Out of goodness of my heart and the mercy of Nlitprig, I shall give you one, final chance to turn over the rebel leaders!”

“You shall see the light, one way of the other!” Torvipan cried, raising his hands.

At that moment a shower of flaming stones rained down from the terraces of the monastery proper, several pitch pots bursting near Glusdan. The Sheriff fell to the ground as his horse reared to escape the flaming debris. Instantly the lieutenant jumped to his side and checked Glusdan for any sign of injury. Then she turned and glared at Torvipan with icy blue eyes. Her hands started to glow a similar shade of blue, pulsing with magical energy.

The father was taken aback by the sorcery. The woman flung her arms over herself and her fallen commander, forming a mystical barrier over their heads. The second volley of stones slammed into it, the magic deflecting them harmlessly. Three soldiers dashed out of their trench to aid their leader. By the time Glusdan was back on his feet, he was shaking with rage.

“Arrgh! You will swing for this Torvipan! Let’s get out of here Degrnuud.”

The sorceress nodded, pushing the barrier towards the top of the wall. The defenders jumped away from the magic blast, giving them enough time to bid a hasty retreat. Once in the safety of the shielded trenches, Glusdan took command of the battle.

“Krakthirr, have the catapults light the monastery up!” He commanded before turning to his lieutenant, “Degrnuud, gather some men and ram that gate to pieces.”

“Yes sir!” Everyone cried.

Above them, rebels emerged from the woodwork, taking positions in the monastery’s windows. Arrows began falling upon the trenches. The Mahlapren soldiers took cover as best they could beneath angled shields. The first ballista volley slammed harmlessly into the cliff face, far too low. Before the crew could recalculate their aim, several rebel arrows wounded the lead engineer.

Torvipan watched as the second volley landed low as well, the three oil pots hitting nearly the same spot as the first, feeling vindicated. Despite their overwhelming numbers, the heathens where unable to make headway. Then a crossbow bolt hit the man next to him. A small group of soldiers was advancing on the gate, a rolling shield protecting them from the archers above. Torvipan wavered, but did not fall. He leaned behind a crenellation spike for cover, but waved his men on.

The five remaining guards did their best to beat back the advancing troops, but the sorceress protected them and even picked off one more of the archers. It seemed nothing could stop the soldiers. Then he spotted Pamulja, the great rebel warrior, racing to their aid. He and his bodyguards were hurrying down the path and looked ready for battle.

Just as the soldiers arrived at the gate it burst open. The startled men took a step back as Pamulja and his four bodyguards leapt into action. One produced an amulet and blasted the sorceress with a potent charge. She collapsed, overloaded, and her shield fell with her. The archers on the wall picked off two soldiers as Pamulja sliced the nearest crossbowman’s arm off. Five of the Mahlepren fell before they could even draw their swords.

The remaining men fell back in disarray. Torvipan looked down at his good friend, knowing that Valtor was with them. The he spotted flames out of the corner of his eye. To his horror he discovered that the catapults had found their mark. Nearly the entire front face of Wanavap was in flames.

The archers and stone throwers above now attempted to extinguish the blaze, leaving the gate ready for attack. Pamulja realized this nearly too late, running for the gate as a wave of Mahlapren soldiers charged from their trenches. The gate was barred only seconds before the crowd battered against it. Then a proper ram slammed into the gate. Knowing the wall was lost, Pamulja lead Torvipan up the path back to the monastery.

Despite the fire, they knew it was their only hope of holding out. The small town on the plateau was in a frenzy. Panicked people ran around the plateau, trying to find a nonexistent way out. Pamulja’s bodyguards raced to their midst and got a few to follow into the monastery. Torvipan panted, his ancient frame aching, as they made it through the entryway. Behind him the Mahlapren soldiers spilled into the town and captured everyone who had not made it inside.

Torvipan had the entryway sealed, knowing that somehow they would be saved. He reached under his robes and rubbed the amulet of Valtor. The rebels took position in the windows the shot at the soldiers outside. The men took cover, delayed once again. The two sides took pot shots at each other as engineers erected movable barricades outside.

The Mahlapren soldiers advanced again, coming as close as their dared to the walls. The fires above were nearly extinguished, many of the brothers now arriving before the entry to join the battle. Heartened, Torvipan walked into the courtyard and approached several families that had made it inside, taking to comforting the Women. Then Pamulja approached him.

“Father, I have just been informed. The Mahlapren catapults have stopped shooting. It seems they have broken down.”

“This is good news indeed,” he said, “Valtor is with us today.”

A shout echoed from the entryway. A hundred soldiers outside hurled pitch pots at the monastery wall. A huge blaze began; smoke pouring into the main hall and courtyard. The defenders ran from their positions, coughing a sputtering, as the sorceress pushed the stone gate away. With a wave of her hand the fires extinguished and the Mahlapren troops smashed into the entryway.

Father Torvipan stood still and watched the heathens pour into his sanctuary. Brothers and rebels fell around him as his world collapsed. He dropped to his knees and stared into the sky. Then the Sorceress herself, flanked by ten men, marched up to him. Torvipan had no energy left to resist and submitted to his fate.

-#-

The smoke was beginning to clear when Glusdan marched into the monastery’s ruined entryway. He examined the destruction, finally spotting the man responsible for it all.

“Bring him to me!”

Within moments Degrnuud dragged Father Torvipan before his conqueror. He slumped down low, refusing to look upward.

“Look at me,” Glusdan snapped, “Up here, Torvipan, look at me.”

“I will not gaze upon a monster! You have attacked our peaceful…”

“Enough,” Glusdan roared, “Show him!”

Another man was dragged out in chains. Some of the Sheriff’s men gripped their weapons in anger as the prisoner kneeled next to Father Torvipan.

“Look at him, then,” Glusdan breathed, “the butcher of the east, murderer of a hundred men. Pamulja.”

Torvipan shook in despair, finally gazing upon his friend. The man who had shared his table, who had prayed beside him, who had shared his most precious secrets over the past ten years, and who had minutes earlier laid down his life for him.

“I-I do not know this man,” the father whimpered, “he may have been offered shelter, but, but if I had known who he really was…”

“Lying does not befit you. Or perhaps, it does, you pathetic creature.”

“What of us now?” Torvipan asked bitterly, “You plan to open trading routes to the east and negotiate, with, with that monster Karriv! How can you?! You know of what he has done!”

“Is that the tale you told yourself? You are truly the epitome of why the Order needed to be crushed.”

“But think of all the suffering, all the bloodshed and misery you’ll cause! You’ll prop up Karriv, give him money a weapons to…”

“Silence! You believe yourself fit to speak about suffering? Eh? Well let me tell you about suffering. Rebels have murdered seven of my tax collectors in this month alone, and who has seen to their grieving mothers? Their widows? Their children? Not you. I know this for a fact.”

“We had to, keep the pass closed, cut off Karriv, for his crimes-”

“This is getting close to a confession.”

“I no longer care! You have what you wanted. Valtor has failed, and now the Wanevap monastery is in ruins and Karriv’s vile kingdom shall be strengthened. I had, I had to oppose Karriv. Please, you must understand what open trade will do…”

“Krakthirr! Get these creatures out of my sight!”

“Had to, had to,” Torvipan murmured, tears flowing down his cheeks.

The guards clapped the father in irons, and lead him back down the torturously long stairs to a prison cart in the valley below. He looked at his fallen monastery, knowing he would never see it again. The banner of Kagnzatb had already been raised, reclaiming it for the old gods. Below a pair of soldiers emerged from the gates, each proudly holding a familiar looking ruby aloft. He buried his face in his hands, knowing that all was lost.

The prison cart jolted as the horses got underway. Until the moment the trees blocked it from view, he gazed at the ruins of his monastery, feeling as if he’d betrayed an old friend. When finally the great tower vanished forever from his sight, Torviapn sat back in his seat and stared into the sky. A calm finally came over him. With his left hand he removed his amulet and brought it before his eyes. For a moment he looked over the image of Valtor.

“It has ended,” he murmured, letting it drop uselessly to the planks below, “You have won, Dwirshol.”

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