Date Published: 6/30/12
The last of an ancient group of wizards leaves a gift to the newly arrived race of men. It is revered and cared for by a line of priests until it is stolen, and the high priest and his sovereign murdered by a king who believes himself destined to be a great wizard. But from ancient writings the high priest had discovered that the gift is not benevolent as was thought. This forces the son of the high priest, unexpectedly elevated to his father's position, and the young prince who is equally suddenly King, into a race to find the gift before it can be used as that may cause the destruction of the world. Accompanied by the retired captain of the palace guard they hope to speed their journey by crossing the Wasteland, a seeming desert, which is fabled to be populated by monsters, and from which no visitor has ever returned. In the course of their adventures they are hunted by dog faced men and captured by slavers, but the young prince truly becomes a king, and the priest discovers that he has a destiny that goes beyond the bounds of his world.
Hiding behind the trees they waited for the approach of the dogfaced men. The defile was cut deeply into the hillside and was flanked by rocky crags that rose almost vertically to the top of the hill. Their pursuers would have no alternative but to follow them up the defile as the climb on either side of it would be almost impossible in the fury of the thunderstorm.
Carantor, crouching behind a tree was the nearest to the gap through which the dogfaced men would have to come in single file. His plan was to allow a small number of them through before he broke from cover to face the remainder as they tried to climb through the gap. Caran Tuith and Bataan stood a few yards back their swords drawn and ready to deal with those first few in the tight confines of the gully. In the flashes of lightning they could see down the rocky stairway with its steep sides, all the way to the bottom, and they were sure that in their present position they could not be caught unawares. Water ran over the slippery fragments of rock and between their feet before cascading over the tangle of exposed tree roots, much of it falling onto Carantor’s back. Oblivious to the cold water he waited, anxious and alert, for the arrival of the creatures that had pursued them for three days. He knew that there was no possibility of hearing their approach amid the noise of the storm, and although the lightning when it came illuminated the defile and its approach, the heavy rain and the pitch darkness between the flashes could hide their arrival until the very last moment.
All three strained their eyes and ears. Their fingers clenched and unclenched around the hilts of their swords. The rain had soaked them to the skin and though Caran Tuith and Bataan had been oblivious to how wet and cold they were during their flight, now, standing still and quiet, they began to shiver and feel the numbness growing in their toes.
Bataan thought that he saw something move to the right of the defile, a large figure silhouetted for a moment against the blinding white of the lightning. He turned to tell Caran Tuith that he thought the dogfaced men had succeeded in climbing the cliffs and were coming over the top of the hill when, in another flash of lightning, he saw in the young King’s face a sudden alertness as he moved away from Bataan as if readying himself for combat. Bataan did not need to ask what the lightning had revealed to his friend. He too readied himself, and turned his eyes back to the defile trying to discern any shape or movement in the darkness, the figure on the crest above forgotten.
For a moment the storm seemed to lessen a little, like a squall at sea that suddenly abates to give a moments quiet respite before returning with renewed force. In that lull they heard the sound of movement amongst the rocks as feet dislodged loose stones and sent them clattering downhill. As the wind and rain returned Bataan thought that he heard the sound of shouting voices. Then the whole sky flashed white with a tremendous sheet of lightning that lit the ground before them in stark black and white. In its glare the three stared in disbelief at the scene in the defile. The dogfaced men where there, but they were not climbing up to fight. They were struggling in the mesh of nets whose ends were held by large figures straining to keep their footing on the crest above. Once more all was plunged into darkness, and an immediate and deafening crash of thunder showed that the storm was directly overhead.
Although their faces were hidden in the dark, both Bataan and Caran Tuith’s wore the same bewildered expression. The strange tableau, cast into such stark relief by the lightning, was unexpected and confusing. Almost before they had time to have a second thought Carantor was with them.
“Run” he yelled over the noise of the storm.
About the Author
Michael Waller is British and was born in the industrial north of Yorkshire. After being asked to leave school by his Headmaster he began a varied work career. This went from Chemist to Dog Catcher with stints as a Bingo Caller and door-to-door Insurance Salesman in between. For twenty years he worked in the oil and chemical industry which took him to the Middle East and finally the USA where he is now retired and living in upstate New York.