Friday, February 6, 2009

The Narrow Gate (Continued)

Slaying of Demons

Althalo woke with a stiffness deep in his bones, unquestionably the result of a restless night spent curled on a ledge. After leaving Warez at the gate he did not wander long before seeking shelter. He settled for a dark nook among the rocks where a man in a foreign land could go unnoticed.

As dawn became day he was taken by the desolate and mountainous terrain that stretched before him. No fields, forests, or creatures; not a single sign of life. Warez had spoken plainly about seeking assistance, but in a landscape where obscurity lay nestled among nothingness where should this journey begin and where might it end?

His father had emphasized traversing the path, so Althalo set out upon the winding road in search of Quintara. Like a spider’s web, deep crevices shattered the surface of the path and plumes of dust swirled with each plodding step. As his weight shifted from one foot to the other he could almost hear the mournful cries from a land languishing in a perpetual state of thirstiness. The sun climbed further into its journey across the sky and scorching rays dealt angrily with that below.

A few precious drops of water dripped from his chin as he pushed the cork back into the skin. He stretched and allowed his body the luxury of soaking up the coolness from the rock that supported him. Somewhere between consciousness and the place a mind drifts he observed a slight noise, but it was trivial in nature and did not warrant the opening of his eyes. Perhaps only the sigh of a boulder as it baked helplessly in the heat. As he slipped further from reality he experienced a slight pressure on his leg, but dismissed it as cramping in his calves. When the annoyance returned a second time it felt more like a deliberate tug and without warning a vision of a great dragon appeared before him.

Althalo unsheathed his sword and scrambled to his feet in a single fluid motion. Before thoughts became coherent his sword was swatted from his hand and his body struck the ground with surprising force. His spirit wilted as he felt the pressure of a boot in his chest. The sickening sound of his only defense clanking against the stones reverberated in his ears. He blinked in an attempt to merge two distinct sets of images that floated before him, with little expectation other than to clearly view the slashing teeth before they ripped into his flesh.

“How is it that you hold any hope of defeating a dragon when a dwarf such as I should separate you from your weapon like an infant from a mother’s breast?”

Shoulder-length blonde hair did little to dull her harsh words or the weathered and wrinkled face it surrounded. Pale blue eyes twinkled with curiosity as a twisted smile overpowered her lips. Raucous laughter filled the air as she offered her hand. Displaying the strength of a warrior twice her size she snatched him onto his feet. Althalo hung his head, lingering longer than needed to chase the dust from his clothing. Upon retrieving his sword she admired it a moment before placing it into his eager hand.

“Shall I assume you are Quintara?”

The top of her head barely reached his belt as they now stood on equal ground, but there was no doubt her spirit belied a miniature stature.

“I believe assumptions have landed you squarely on your back, Sire; perhaps it wiser to rely upon facts. I am indeed Quintara and you are the soon to be ruler of a kingdom.”

He knelt on one knee and as he pressed his lips gently against the back of her tiny hand.

“I am deeply offended that your game should separate rules for humans and dwarves? ‘Soon to be ruler’, barring assumptions would leave me simply as Althalo.”

The attention of his lips brought a rosy hue to the apples of her cheeks.

“Your charm may sway maidens and dwarves, but dragons are not so easily impressed.”

Althalo moved his hand to a leather bag attached to his belt. The rhythmic rustling of coins accompanied his words.

“Warez has directed me here. In my own mind I question how it is that a dwarf should know about such things as dragons, yet I trust his wisdom. He has advised I enlist your assistance in this battle I seek. How much will it take to secure your allegiance?”

Quintara smiled and invited him to sit with her.

“You have much to learn about dwarves and dragons. While gold can buy many things, my allegiance is not for sale. It stirs within my core, and is already pledged to you, Althalo.”

He did not comprehend the loyalty she displayed, but sensed genuine sincerity in her voice.

“And what advice can you offer in the way of dragons?”

The corners of her mouth drooped and the sparkle in her eyes turned cold like embers of fire left unattended. She gazed across the horizon and began to reveal a painful tale.

What you see before you used to be lush and alive, but now I alone must bear the brunt of barrenness. I should have become queen of this kingdom; it was my destiny. Yet I refused to answer my own dragon’s call. Many times he summoned me to the battlefield, but each time I fled. Putting my own personal desire above the masses has now brought unbearable sorrow and regret.

Without a strong leader this kingdom was overtaken by marauders. A mighty clan of dwarves, once numbering in the thousands, has dwindled to merely a dozen. Now we cower in dark places and are forced to live underground like animals. Do not let this happen to your land, Althalo.

These mighty dragons Warez and your father sent you to defeat, they are of your own creation. Every one of us has dragons to face. Our inability or unwillingness to meet them eye to eye only feed their spirit until they become colossal. Each fiery breath is a direct challenge we must defend against or eventually we become the beast.

There is great satisfaction in serving and leading others. I recall seeing it in my father’s eyes as he sat upon the throne, and it was a thing of beauty. Although those chosen for such high purposes must defeat their own demons before they step in and can assume the burdens of those they lead. As much as I wish it were so, Althalo, I cannot physically assist you in this battle. It is your own. Do not waste your time seeking the beast; he will come for you soon enough, but also do not hesitate even for a second when he challenges.

He stared across the empty horizon, absorbing what could have been.

“Your eyes have seen many things and they have made you wise. Once I’ve defeated my own challenges where should I find you? A king would be honored to have such counsel at his disposal.”

Quintara stood, their eyes locked for a quiet moment.

“It is best you return your land and your people and I return to mine. The few that remain need my service. It is all that I can offer them. Someday in a kingdom far from here, the name Althalo will become great. I shall carry with me the peace of knowing I spoke with him.”


Bob said...

Well, it would appear that Athalo now has his marching orders, even if a battle plan would seem to be nebulous at best. It should be interesting to see how he affects a resolution. I like this, Dan.

Anonymous said...

Bravo!!!! What a great story. When we don't stand up to our own dragons in life, we are left with much regret!

Blessings Dan!

Jo A. T.B. said...

Hey Dan,

Are you building this up to the actual slaying of the dragons? When Althalo comes face to face with the double headed dragon, and whaps the heads off with his mighty sword! I like how he meets the dwarf lady Quintara, and how she's little but strong.

Maybe you can incorporate a lovestory into this one, where after he slays the dragon he comes to pick his queen! :)

Anonymous said...

It has been a while since I have read fantasy fiction that I have enjoyed so much. I do love dragons. Athalo is a great character. Can't wait to see how this pans out. Excellent writing!!

Jo Janoski said...

I see room for love between Althalo and Quintara. Please, please, for us girls for Valentine's Day.

terrymcdermott said...

Another great post. Looking forward to more.