Paladin - the path north volume 1

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Chapter 18

Rorgard, King of Keldran looked upwards as the demon cloud dispersed overhead, everything the Elf had told him had come to pass after all. He stepped down from the great halls tower, entering the hall and leaving through the main doors, his daughters looked at the open door with fear from under a long table.

“Don’t worry girls, nothing out there can harm you. I promise.”

His girls all seemed calmed by his words, he would never let anyone hurt them, they meant everything to him... especially now.

“Do you have to go, father?” Velainna asked, she was usually the calmest of his daughters... but the storm had unnerved her.

“Do not fear for me, the Elf has been right about all things so far and there is something now that must be done.”

She went back to her mother and sisters, now huddled by the fire pit. What it must be like to feel the warmth and the bite of the cold... he shut the door behind him and set off for the main gate, his sons falling in behind him, led by his eldest Rorhelm, all his sons took after him, each with dark beards... except for Rordan his youngest, he had the fiery red hair of his mother and a temper to match.

“Are the preparations complete?” he asked of his eldest as they descended the first great stair down to the third level of the city.

“They are, father, the men are placed as you asked and enough pigs blood has been distributed.”

“Excellent. Rorgam, Rorvan, supervise the operation,” he ordered of his sons. Each bowing before leaving for their respective positions.

With the storm having passed the wind had now dropped, perfect conditions he thought. Rordan stood beside him, clenching his fists.

“Why can I not fight father? I am my brothers equal in battle” he demanded, his face starting to redden in frustration.

“Because there is a hierarchy to these things, your eldest brother will be King one day, you and your other brothers his captains. Before I entrust you with any task you’ll control that damn temper. I will not tolerate your hot-headedness to ruin over a decade of preparation... do you understand me, son?”

Rordan nodded, though his face was still flushed and he was sure dealing with his youngest son would be a pain in the future. They all made their way down to the second level where Rorgard’s bodyguards joined them, forming a protective shell around him and parting the growing crowds. The journey down to the first level took a little longer, the people were now out in large numbers, his guards trying not to injure those in his way. They emerged out on to a stage, guards posted all around. His sons following him as he ascended onto the raised platform that looked down into the lower city. The main courtyard hung with banners and flying flags from each of the tribes... now they just had to wait.

Rorgard didn’t have to wait long, a rolling of drums signalled the arrival of the approaching Paladins. The gates swung open and the group of hundreds passed through the gatehouse and out into the courtyard, the gates swinging shut behind them.

“Welcome to Kendral castle, all peoples are welcome to enter in peace,” he called out, his voice carrying down to the gathered Paladins.

The group of them bowed in unison, becoming less tense after arriving in the city. Rorgard looked to Rorhelm who nodded at him in acknowledgement. A trumpet sounded from beside them, two more sounding from below in the wings of the courtyard.

“But you are not people, you are demons, filth in need of extermination!” he called out.

The Elf had warned him of their arrival after the storm and he had prepared accordingly. As the trumpets ceased, crossbowmen and archers rose from the courtyards wings, the demons backing up against each other in fear.

“Please, we just want to live in peace... we cannot help how we are birthed into this world!” called out one of their number, it’s voice laced with fear.

“Perhaps not, yet you are abominations and must die,” he replied calmly and dispassionately.

As his words faded the archers and crossbowmen loosed their arrows and bolts into the mass of demons, their shrieks audible to everyone in the city, usually, a demon would take hundreds of bolts each to kill, but pigs blood rendered them mortal and every bolt and arrow had been dipped in the stuff. After ten minutes of relentless bombardment, the rain of missiles stopped. The King made his way down to the courtyard with his guard and sons. Looking upon the mass of bodies littering the courtyard, the flagstones running red with blood he approached one of the bodies that still moved, crawling towards him with its torso and legs full of bolts and arrows.

“Why did you murder us? All we wanted was a sanctuary...” the demon croaked, coughing blood as it spoke.

“Because this had to pass, destiny and fate. These things I have come to find, are true... you and yours were always destined to die here, as the Paladin order was destined to fall, these are dark days for the civilized races. Now die and be at rest,” he whispered as the demon sucked in its last ragged gulp of air.

He turned to his sons, taking care not to get blood on his cape. “Burn the bodies and clean the flags, I have other business to attend to.”

Rorgard walked away from the scene of slaughter and back towards the fourth level and the crypt of heroes.

Rorgard passed by his twenty hand-picked men when he had first taken control of the city many of his comrades had wanted to destroy the tombs within. He may have been a traitor in the eyes of the Saints, but he still respected the sacrifices of those that died here a thousand years ago. descending the first set of stairs into an open chamber another thirty of his chosen men either rested or trained in here, the great vaulted ceiling rising high into the mountain. Passing through the opposite door he descended further down more steps and into the first of the burial chambers, thousands of caskets and tombs were in here. Mainly the previous chieftains and kings of Keldran. He took a right here, passing under the never dying lights that shone from the ceiling vents day and night. After travelling for what seemed an hour he came to an archway decorated with golden scroll work and carved pillars depicting dragons, fashioned after those that were killed here. He passed through to a double staircase that led deeper down into the mountain, a crane fitted to the roof for the lowering of the dead, though the thing was automated and had never accepted anybody since the defence of Keldran that apocalyptic day, or so Dagarn used to say anyway. He passed by the last twenty guards, descending the right stair and into the great hall below. The stonework here was at its finest, carved figures of the Dwarviari guarded each side of the large double doors, a multitude of warrior Elves around their feet and carved upon the doors were Tar’mine, Sah’ravel, Kardan, and Findar. The great companions, though he always felt Torgard should have been on there with them.

“How did the storm fare?” asked Tar’gon from his cage, his hair was long now, nearly down to his waist, his beard covering his chest. He had hoped the young Paladins would break easily, he had been wrong, even without a sword the boy practised his sword forms with a stick.

“Not well for you and yours, the Paladin order is all but destroyed. The young have killed the old, and I have cleaned up the mess,” he replied solemnly, hearing the gasps of several of the other Paladins he’d kept imprisoned here.

“They can’t all be gone,” cried one of the younger women, he couldn’t remember her name and didn’t care to know it.

“Well they are, and if it weren’t for me... you’d be laying amongst them.”

“Forgive me for not thanking you,” Tar’gon replied sarcastically. “What are you going to do with us now?”

“You? I was giving serious thought to having you beheaded in the public square, perhaps that would shut you up,” he replied.

He liked Tar’gon and had hoped the young Paladin would have come over to his side long ago.

“Are the saints truly gone?” asked Tar’fen, a hulking man with dark skin and long black hair, he had sworn not to escape and Rorgard had let him roam the hall freely, though he too wouldn’t abandon his Saints.

“Try your prayers, I assure you, they no longer work.”

Tar’fen took a knife and opened a small cut on his arm, then pressed a hand over the wound, chanting the familiar prayer of Salnah... nothing happened and the Paladins heads fell.

“They are truly dead then... what do we do now brothers and sisters?” Tar’fen asked, looking at each of the six in turn... but never looking to the seventh.

“Why not join me now? I will treat you all well and loyal service is rewarded, you ladies will be well treated and strong husbands found for you,” Rorgard stated firmly, for even without their magic the Paladins were great fighters.

Most of them seemed to nod their heads in submission, though Tar’lin looked over to the Paladin chained by the great doors.

“What about him?” he asked. “We don’t even know his name.”

“He is quite broken, you hear that Paladin? Your Saints are dead, your army broken, and your order destroyed. Will you join us now perhaps?” Rorgard called over, passing by the three Paladins that had made an oath not to flee.

None dared approach the man chained up here, even though he had but one arm they feared him greatly. One of his guards had gotten too close and the Paladin had torn out his throat with his teeth.

“Come out from the shadows, I know you lurk there Paladin,” he said, coming within four meters of the doorway.

Suddenly the Paladin charged him, the chain snapping taut on his wrist as he stood mere inches away, trying to throttle him, though his right arm was missing at the elbow.

“Why do you fight me? I only want what’s best for all of you, for you to follow the plan,” Rorgard asked, circling the safe zone around the Paladin.

He sized up the man, his hair had prematurely greyed, his hair hanging long, dirty and unkempt upon his shoulders, his beard still short and unmanly. The loss of his arm had been cruel, especially for a man that only knew how to fight, and fight well. It had been his whole identity.

“Will you give up this foolish hatred of me? Will you regain your mind?”

Still, the Paladin stared at him with wild eyes, only murder in that cold stare. There was a flash from behind him and Rorgard gazed once more upon the Elf, the being looked exactly as he had done over a decade ago, his hair almost golden with a gown made of the finest silk, he seemed to glide over the ground.

“Master Elf, it has been many years,” he said kneeling before him.

“Rise, my King. You should kneel before no one. I have come now, for this one... I have needed him in this state, for his blade would surely have given him away years ago. Now it resides with another and will not return. The Elf fearlessly stepped in front of the Paladin before clamping a hand on his forehead, he removed a dark orb from his robe and crushed it, a blue glow surrounded his hand before flowing throughout the Paladin’s body, dropping him down onto his knees.

The other Paladins gasped, Rorgard heard them mutter whether the Elf could truly remove such a madness. He looked around to see Tar’lin smile, the Paladin rising to his feet once more. He looked at the Elf, then to himself, then surveyed the Paladins standing nearby before studying the stump of his arm.

“What has happened to me?” he asked in confusion.

The Elf stepped back as Rorgard stood before him once more. “All will be explained to you in time, until then... welcome back Tar’vid.”

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