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The Soldier's Song

By stoughe All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy

I

The rain fell violently on the temple, drizzled down the rooftops and flowed onto the courtyard, very much like a waterfall, where it mixed with the dirt and formed a large mud- filled puddle.

Father Prolur watched the process from the sanctuary of the roof covering the porch of the temple. He let out a deep sigh, for he needed to run across the muddy courtyard to the monastery proper. Why they hadn’t built the two buildings as one he would never understand. He detested rain, more than anything in the world for he had been caught in his share of storms during his army days. So he was very familiar with the being wet all the way down to the bone, boots filled with mud and the physical problems it would bring. He ran his dry fingers through his graying hair, took a deep breath, pulled his hood over his head pulling it far down his forehead and rushed out into the downpour.

The wind seemed to increase as soon as he got out into the open, suddenly a crack, as if a tree broke in half just above his head, it roared through the air for a moment and slowly fell softer and softer until the wind and patter of rain on the muddy ground was all that he could hear. He paused, gazed up and saw a bolt of lightning flash across the dark sky as if a giant stood there swinging a blade split the darkness in two. It left him blinded for a moment, leaving a white aura hiding the world from him.

The water running into his eyes woke him from his momentary daydream and he began to run again. This time with some difficulty for his feet had stuck in the mud. Ungracefully he took a leap onto the porch on the opposite side from the temple, his robes, colored in crimson and gold, billowing around him.

He shook his head, dispelling the excess water from his hair and looked around when the world stopped spinning.

The porch surrounded the entire monastery and the roof was supported by rows of columns carved from marble by the priests of long ago, when the country was founded some said. By order of the founder; King Tieto the first, the same people claimed.

There was only one entrance to the monastery, it made defending it easier. It consisted of a set of double doors, so tall that they touched the ceiling. On the doors were carvings of the first king kneeling before a large sword that had been stuck into the ground.

Prolur moved to the right side of the great doors where a life- sized statue of the god of war; Haugar, stood.

The deity was almost seven feet tall, muscular with ancient runes spiraling down his arms. In his right hand he held a sword, very similar to the one depicted on the doors. Haugar was missing his left hand as well as his right eye. According to the legends he had lost both body parts battling the dreaded Tirans, the godlike creatures who controlled the world before the gods emerged. In the place of his left hand the statue wore a three- pronged iron claw and where his eye once had been, a gaping hole.

Prolur touched the right hand of the red stone statue, bowed his head and quickly recited a prayer of protection, kissed the cheek of Haugar, which had been smoothed down from thousands of men doing the same over thousands of years. He grabbed one of the brass handles on the double doors and slowly the right one opened. The dampness in the air caused the door to swell and offer more resistance than usual.

He only managed to open it slightly, flattened himself as much as possible and snuck inside, pulling the door shut behind him.

The main corridor, which he now had stepped into, was made up of pure, gray marble, with very few windows, just enough to allow daylight to peek inside. At the end of the long hallway stood the door leading to the living quarters of the Haugén, the head of the order.

Decorating the wall between the sparsely placed windows stood busts depicting former Haugéns and high priests, known as the Allguén, sharing their space with large paintings of old kings.

The men in the paintings all bore a striking recemblance to the red statue outside. According to the lore of the kingdom the first king, Tieto de Haugar, was the bastard son of the god of war, naturally making him a demigod. The kings of the land, being ancestors of Tieto, therefore also bore the divine lineage. Knowing this made the people in the kingdom of Haugar feel safe and also made them somewhat overconfident, who wouldn’t be when your king is the barer of divine blood. What they didn’t know was that the original family line of de Haugar died only a few generations after Tieto I and that several families had ruled the kingdom since, all of them claimingf to be carriers of this godly essence.

It didn’t matter to Prolur which family ruled the land as long as there was a good king on the throne. The current king was not one of the better ones. He had assassinated his brother and banished his nephew, the rightful heir, to place himself on the throne. A sordid tale if there ever was one, not uncommon among the nobility.

Prolur knocked on the door to the Haugén’s room and waited. The door opened slowly and a young unwashed novice dressed in the traditional dirty white robes stuck out his head.

“Father Prolur?” he asked in a quiet voice. Prolur nodded and forced himself to smile, an action which had become increasingly difficult to perform as the years had passed by. “He is expecting you.”

The novice opened the door completely and Prolur stepped inside the room.

Only the floor was marble in here, except for the four ornamental pillars standing in the corners pretending to support the ceiling, a pretence which fooled no one as it was clear that they never quite reached it. The room was not as large as one would have thought at first, but it was filled with secret passages and hidden storage areas and off to the right side a door leading to the inner sanctum of the Haugén’s private living quarters. Every inch of the room, built in a dark wood, was decorated in some form; statues of gods, kings and priests. Even the ceiling was decorated with carved figures depicting Tieto I setting his foot on the island which would be known as the Kingdom of Haugar.

In the center of the room towards the back stood a desk covered in scrolls and candles and behind the desk, dipping a quill into a bottle of ink sat Saulo Deo, Haugén of the monastery and highest of the monks of the order.

He was completely wrapped up in his work and took no noticed of Prolur. The novice coughed quietly and caused Saulo Deo to raise his gaze and make him aware that his guest had arrived. He smiled, rubbed his bald head and stroked his gray beard then rose to greet Prolur.

“Thank you brother Prolur for coming by” he snapped his fingers at the novice. “Maux, bring us some wine!” he then pointed to a chair and Prolur sat, as did Saulo Deo. “How was todays ritual?” he asked.

“It was as it is always your eminence, nothing much changes” Prolur answered.

“I am so pleased that you agreed to take care of these late night rituals, none of the brethren care for them.”

“Just doing my duty your eminence”

“I wish I could go back to those days when I had time to perform rituals or help our people. Alas I have to complete this translation of the Holy Scripture for our brethren on the mainland.” Saulo Deo sighed as his eyes fell on the thick book on his desk which was the Haugarian scripture.

Maux the novice entered the room carrying a tray with a crystal jug and two wine glasses also made from crystal. He put the glasses on the desk and poured the red wine into them. When he was done Saulo Deo waved him away, raised his glass to smell the deep red liquid.

“Pardon me your eminence,” Prolur said in a stern tone. “I do not mean to be rude in any way, but I know you did not summon me here to discuss your work on the Holy Scripture, to drink wine or even to commend me on my work. What can I do for you, your eminence, is what I want to know.”

Saulo Deo paused his sniffing for a moment and looked at Prolur, waited a few seconds, took a sip and then proceeded to put the glass back on his desk.

“Well, yes you are correct,” Saulo was trying to find the right words. “As you are aware His Highness King Crauco has begun rounding up and executing all known supporters of the former prince Quale.”

“Yes I have heard this” Prolur replied.

“The King does not believe in keeping his enemies closer than his friends and has therefore sent many suspected loyals away to the edges of our Kingdom.”

“What does this have to do with me?” Prolur interrupted.

“Since you were one of the most outstanding generals in our army prior to becoming a monk here, the King has you as one of the likeliest suspects when it comes to Quale loyalists in the Kingdom. Because of your standing both historically and religiously he thought it best to not arrest you without evidence. Instead, with the assistance of His Holiness Boulo Allguen, he has ordered you to be transferred to Saurania; to a new temple close to the city of Barnavor.”

“So I am to be sent away?” Prolur looked accusingly at Saulo Deo who seemed a bit nervous.

“I am so very sorry, but it is beyond my control. The King believes that you will be less of a threat to him if you are far away, across the ocean in fact,” Saulo Deo sounded deeply apologetic “or would you rather risk beheading?”

“When do I leave?”

“There is a ship waiting for you tomorrow and it has been decreed that you be on it.”

“I guess there is nothing I can say that could change this.” Prolur rose from his seat and raised his wineglass. “I hope you will excuse me your eminence. I must pack for my journey tomorrow.”

Saulo Deo nodded, rose as well and stuck out his glass and Prolur met it with his own. “I wish you the best of luck and may Haugar and all the Gods guide you on your way.”

They both emptied their glasses and Prolur turned to leave when Saulo Deo halted him by speaking: “Prolur!”

Prolur stopped in his tracks and turned towards him.

“Are His Majesty’s suspicions unfounded?”

“Does it really matter?” Prolur asked and left the room before he could hear the answer.

Prolur leaned against the marble wall in the corridor, it was late and a novice had already walked through to extinguish the few candles that lit the place.

Now the only light came from the sporadic flashes of lightning that escaped through the windows and lit the stone and painted faces of kings and priests.

Prolur stared into the dark nothingness trying to gather the thoughts in his head. During his days in the army he had only followed the code, the unquestionable loyalty to the King, whoever it may be. He was not interested in revolt; he was tired of war, of seeing blood on his hands. In any case to have the dark cloud of a king’s suspicion hovering over you was not an ideal situation. He knew that leaving the island would be the best thing he could do. He was tired of it all, in Saurania he would still be in the Kingdom, but at least he would be far away from the center of it, away from power struggles and backstabbing nobles.

He opened the door to the monastery just as thunder exploded above him and lightning flashed. It was dangerously close, maybe it was warning him.

“If you look for signs you will find them” he said to himself as he closed the door behind him.

The windowless corridors of the monastery were almost completely dark save for a few candles burning on the walls placed there to guide his way.

It was late and evening prayer had already begun. Prolur could hear the chanting from the other brothers, mixed with the rumbling thunder from outside. It sounded very powerful. He stopped in the doorway to the main hall of rites, which was well lit and filled with almost fifty monks dressed in gray kneeling in front of a statue of Haugar, dressed in a similar fashion.

Prolur stood there still, bowed his head out of respect for his fellow brothers and then he moved on down the dark and cold corridor.

The actual monastery was not as fancy as the guest area as the first hallway was known as. Most of it was not made up of marble, but out of normal gray stone. The building was never heated or properly lit and none of the rooms had doors: All this was to remind the brothers to be humble and that their service to the Gods were to take up most of their time, not staying warm or admiring architecture.

Most of the monks of the order were not running through the corridor because they were pious people who had decided to dedicate their lives to the patron god of the Kingdom. The two most common ways to join one of the many orders in Haugar were either that you were an orphan who had been left in the care of the monks; once this had happened one very seldom left the protective, yet drab walls of the monastery.

One could choose to join to avoid going to war. This reason guaranteed that you could never leave because the army always waited on the outside to draft you once you tried. It was mandatory to serve at least five years in the army for men, no matter how old, there was only one way out, becoming a monk or a priestess, for even women had to do their duty, but then only for a year. With these reasons in mind it was not strange that few monks performed their daily chores or rituals with any true enthusiasm. There was, of course ,always exceptions to the rules, even among the monks. There were the ones who had chosen the road divine, not to save themselves or because they had been forced into it by fate. They had been given a sign when they were children or were only too happy to dedicate their existence to worship and obedience. To them the endless rituals every other hour and the tedious work in the gardens or fields only came as a blessing and they performed it all with so much joy that they were almost hated by the other brothers. These were the men who became Haugéns and kept the order and made sure that the less devout brothers continued the fine traditions of work and prayer.

As Prolur quietly wandered down the dark corridor towards his room he could hear the quick footsteps from someone coming up behind him. One of the enthused few, he thought to himself.

“Where are you headed father Prolur?” someone called out to him.

He was slightly startled when he turned around, because standing so close to him that their noses almost collided stood a man younger than him, with sandy hair and sharp blue enthusiastic eyes.

“Excuse me father Rauman,” Prolur replied as he took a few steps back. “I did not mean to interrupt the prayers.”

“You did not interrupt.” Rauman answered. “I was expecting to see you pass by when you did not show up for the rites.”

“What can I do for you? I am on my way to my quarters.” Prolur said as he began to turn, obviously not very interested in the answer.

“I will accompany you.” Rauman stepped up next to Prolur and they began to walk. “It would appear as if Thaugmal is on the rampage tonight.”

“It would appear so” Prolur’s reply was short and uncaring. He cared not for the workings of the God of thunder.

They walked in silence until the open doorway into Prolur’s room was visible. “How did the late night ritual proceed?” Rauman asked cheerfully.

“Very well” Prolur answered as he halted in front of his room. He turned to look at his fellow monk. “Father Rauman I do not wish to appear rude, but I am somewhat pressed for time, so if you could please tell me why you followed me I would greatly appreciate it.”

Rauman looked at him for a moment and then smiled. “Forgive me; I just thought you might need some company.”

“That was very nice of you. Now if you would be so kind as to let me pack my belongings in solitude.” Prolur bowed and stepped into his room.

“Are you taking a trip?” Rauman made Prolur halt once again.

“His eminence Saulo Deo has, together with the King, assigned me to the new monastery in Saurania. I am to leave tomorrow morning.”

They were both quiet for a moment. As Prolur walked over to his closet, the only piece of furniture in the room apart from his bed, Rauman cleared his throat.

“I am very sad to hear that you are leaving brother Prolur.” It sounded as if he was choking on his own words. “On the other hand I am very happy for you.”

“Why is that?” Prolur had opened the closet door and was staring at the few worldly possessions he owned.

“Not many of us get to see the world outside. Of course you have already seen the mainland during your army days.”

“It is not very impressive” Prolur said as he sat himself down on the bed and continued to stare into the depths of the closet, “the same people with the same problems and the same sense of right or wrong.”

“I only wanted to say that it is a great honor to be part of a completely new branch. I wish for it myself, someday maybe.” Rauman fell silent and stared intensely at the silent figure sitting on the bed. He sighed and turned to leave.

He had joined the monastery as a young boy, barely eight, he had promised his dying mother he would. All his life he had been taught to love and worship the Gods and first and foremost Haugar the god of war. For years he had been surrounded by dull army dodgers and orphans unaware of the outside world. He had therefore been very excited when he heard that Sir Prolur di Sangior heroic general of the Kingdom was joining the convent, finally there would be someone who had seen life to talk to and learn from. He had tried so very hard to be his friend, but father Prolur was always so quiet and wanted to be left alone more than anything. Even though he was rejected time and time again through the years he kept trying to befriend the solitary man.

“Goodbye brother Prolur” he said. “May Haugar keep you safe on your journey!” He didn’t bother to wait for a reply, he just left, heavy hearted.

Prolur kept staring, not at the two grey robes that, apart from the ceremonial ones, were his only permitted outfits. He was staring at a brown bag that lay in the corner.

He got up off the bed and grabbed the bag which had an opening at the top closed by a drawstring and bore the symbol of the Haugarian seal.

He slowly opened it, turned it upside down and let the contents fall upon the hard wooden board that served as his bed. He knelt beside it and began to rummage through the objects. They were all his things from his army days. He picked up his old dagger, his black leather boots, his chain mail. With both of his hands he picked up his helmet, the only part of his beautiful silver and gold armor still existing. It had been especially made to fit his head and the visor was shaped to resemble the face of a hawk. He put the helmet aside and picked up his ceremonial tunic. It was black with silver trim and the seal of the Kingdom covering the heart. On the left shoulder it bore his family crest; a yellow shield with a black hawk sitting on the hilt of a sword on it. Below the crest his family motto was written: Vicigio a procucho, victory through blood.

He looked back at the closet and saw what had been his most cherished possession, his blade. He walked over to it and gently picked it up as if it were a babe. As he did so he knocked something over. He bent down to see what it was.

An old bottle of his favorite wine faced him. He had picked it up during the Dourian campaign ten years earlier.

He had always had a weakness for wine, he had found that it numbed him jsut enough so that he could sleep safely through the night. He grabbed the pear shaped bottle by the neck, leaned the sword against his bed and sat down next to it. He let his hand caress the cold steel. The sword was not very fancy, not like some of the blades belonging to the generals he had served alongside. It only bore the motto of his family, inscribed close to the hilt.

Slowly he opened the bottle of Dourish wine and closed his eyes as the familiar scent rose from it. He put the bottle to his lips and let the sweet liquid flush down his throat. With it came the memories; of battlefields, grown men crying, the killing, the burning of homes, all of his crimes and sins. And flashing by the woman he left behind. He couldn’t handle it at all, everything he had tried to forget for such a long time.

He raised the bottle once again and drank until everything went black, no more memories.

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