Paul lay on his back wrapped in his sleeping bag, the hood pulled tight until it all but covered his face. The tip of his nose was cold, but it troubled him not. His eyes were filled with the wonders of the heavens. The all encompassing ring of standing stones stood around them; comforting in their silent protection.
The stars; so close, so bright. The mesmerizing flickering layers of green which filled the sky to the North, so mysterious and enchanting. It had taken a great deal of cajoling from all three youngsters to obtain his mother’s permission for them to spend two weeks away from main camp on a hunting trip. He had promised to check in mentally each day.
Xjang had commented earlier, as they huddled around the tiny camp fire, that the shimmering green sheets were created by the souls of warriors who had died in battle. The diminutive Finn, in a counter argument, insisted that Bes himself had cast infinite handfuls of glow-worms into the sky to shine forever and defeat the darkness in those times when Khonsu, the god of the night hid his face.
Paul smiled at his friends, he knew the stars were suns like the one that shone down on them daily, but tonight he was happy to accept their more simple explanations. And watching the dazzling Aurora Borealis displays he was almost inclined to agree with the two young warriors.
Paul grinned to himself in the flickering firelight as he contemplated his dilemma; fourteen years old and living his dreams. Dreams that had been fuelled by countless fantasy stories, avidly consumed from the moment he could read. The books had spoken from under his bed covers in fading, diming torchlight of ancient happenings and dark prophecies unfulfilled. The books had sung stanzas of dragons, wars, beautiful princesses, strange creatures, heroes and their stalwart companions.
They and so much more were now a part of his life. His Grandfather, who knows how many ‘greats’ removed, was a medieval Baron, the commander of two thousand mercenary knights, a veteran of countless battles and the wielder of a fabulous magical sword.
Mira, rider of the Purple Queen had returned with Baron Adalstan and the Lizard knights. How strange that his mother had chosen the same name for her troopers, well not so strange considering. They were marching, approaching the plains at full pace through the tear near the Twelve Shamans, to join with the Croman warriors waiting on the northern plains.
He searched the skies for familiar constellations, The Great Bear, The Dragon, The Twins and the bright North Star, he ticked them off mentally, how new they looked, how clear and bright.
Finn remarked that he had been named for the morning star, Finnistre. Paul knew that at this time of year comes the dawn, it would be hidden behind a grey blanket.
‘We are all born to shine,’ Finn had mind spoken. ‘It is taught that we should strive to live our lives so that we may be like the stars above, forever bright in the eyes of those who gaze upon us. A Tirnano warrior is taught to first polish his soul in prayer to Bes before he polishes his weapons; for then he may contemplate his fate, and accept it, or fight to change it. Such a warrior is a glory and gift to the earth, for few are marked out to create their own fate and to change that of others.’
‘Pavel is one such’ added Xjang naming his hero. The other two nodded silently in agreement.
‘Lady Jeanne too, she is like a giant walking,’ Finn added, looking sideways at Paul through his bushy mane.
Paul laughed, “That’s only coz you’re such a short-ass,” he said out loud. Inside he glowed with pride at the compliment paid to his mother.
The fire had reduced to a glimmer. Above them clouds began to gather in readiness for an early morning snowfall. Paul was vaguely aware of Finn slipping from his furs to quietly re-build it. The tightly bunched dried grasses burnt with a soothing soporific scent.
The morning mists were thick, the snow falling steadily through the gloom. Paul dragged himself shivering to the nearby stream and dared a quick mouth rinse and a splash of freezing water across his face. With a ‘Whoosh!’ of in-drawn breath and a skittering dance back to the warmth of his sleeping bag, mopped his face with a little green towel. “Sheesh, that’s cold,” he said loudly.
‘So why did you do it?’ Xjang commented, arching his fore-finger in the query sign. Other than to fill their water skins, he and Finn had steadfastly shied away from the icy trickle of water.
A shrill warbling whistle from Finn brought the Runners back into camp, Paul’s heart jumped at the sight of the three magnificent beasts as they tiptoed to a silent halt in front of the youngsters. An alien thought crept into his mind, ‘I greet you Paul, slept you well?’
“I did, thank you Carilla, I trust you hunted well?” Paul said as he looked up at the giant yellow lizard, (he found it difficult not to think of them as such, for they reminded him of Desert Lizards, the comical hot-foot tapping, little creature from the deserts of his own world).
But there was nothing comical about this lizard, it stood taller than a Shire horse and was pure carnivore through and through. The Runners had long manes, and their bodies were covered not by scales, but by soft fur. The two long horns which adults sported, along with their four massive, talon equipped feet and razor sharp teeth, made them highly capable killing machines.
It was around noon when they came across the game they sought, a small herd of antelope browsing in a little dell near a bend in the river. As much as it aggrieved Paul to be party to killing the beautiful creatures, he knew full well that here there was no friendly, joke cracking butcher available to wrap anaesthetic cling film, around neatly packaged anonymous chunks of protein, but it still felt un-natural and strange to him.
To take one of the antelope would require stealth, for at the slightest sight or smell of the hunters; they would bolt, bounding in great leaps across the plains.
Had the trio been of a mind, or in a hurry they could have requested the Runners to provide them with fresh meat, for not only were the huge lizards faster than, but they were as nimble as any deer despite their size. However chances of any edible flesh not being shredded beyond use were high, plus he knew his two friends loved the thrill of the hunt.
The young Scot marvelled at the way the two moved silently through the tall grasses, he was hard pressed even to follow their progress. They had reverted to their traditional weapons, spurning the high powered crossbows provided by the Black Suits which they had left in an menacing pile at Paul’s side.
The teenager became aware of the disturbance at the same time as the three Runners. The sun morphed to an portentous green ball; its heat dissipating immediately, the air shimmering with cold. The ground began to vibrate, a low bass rumble. The exposed skin on his arms felt as though a thousand spiders wearing high heels were running across it.
The Runners spun about, turning outwards to scan all directions, rising high on their rear toes, but not before first ensuring Paul was within the protective circle they created.
Paul relieved, that he had previously slipped to the ground, for although the Brosynan hunters could remain mounted when a Runner rose, it was a skill he still felt a long way from accomplishing.
Finn called him, ‘Run, Paul, run, go tell the others we have found a break in the barricade, you must be outside the fall with great haste, we will cover up. We stay to observe, but you must go quickly.’ Paul caught the full blast of fear and anxiety, not something he was used to from his little friend.
He tapped Carilla’s hind leg, ‘we must away from here as quickly as possible.’ The Runner bent his front leg to provide a step-up.
‘Hold tight to my mane.’
It was a matter of pride amongst the Brosynan never to use their hands to stay mounted on the leaping sinuous mounts, which, when at full gallop travelled at breathtaking speeds on their hind legs. Paul clambered onto the Runner’s neck; he not only grasped two handfuls of mane but also wished for a saddle and stirrups.
As his Runner moved away from the others, from his elevated position Paul could see his friends rushing back towards their own mounts. He waved and mentally caught a faint farewell call from the Brosynan.
Then, in the distance he saw them; his mind screaming in identification; three of them. Striding across the plains; giants, the massive, stone clad Golem. He recognized them easily, to him they were more than familiar; these horrific creatures were the same as those portrayed in the newscasts that had terrified his world. Their appearances in his version of this world had been the sole reason for the presence of the Black Suited Troopers in the Tirnano lands.
The sensations came again. Paul screamed, burying his face in Carilla’s neck, now the spiders were walking on red-hot spikes, and the pain all over his body was almost too much to stand. He forced himself not to release his grip on the mane and fall writhing to the ground. Carilla, with a swift warning thought lengthened his stride, lifting up to his full height he streaked across the plain on his powerful hind legs like a golden arrow.
Within minutes the Plain’s Runner had galloped sufficiently far from the disturbance for Paul to be able to recover his sanity and ride, rather than cling on blindly.
He gasped deep breaths to counter the panic he felt, concern for his friends rode in his mind. Paul pushed a desperate mental call back to them; there was no reply.
“Carilla, Stop!” he shouted.
‘What danger?’ The Runner sent as he slid to a halt.
“I can’t run off and leave my friends, my mother wouldn’t dream of it, and my grandfather would be appalled.”
Paul clasped his hands to the side of his head and gave a powerful mental call; ‘WINN, CAN YOU HEAR ME?’
‘Paul? Yes, what’s up?’ came the immediate reply.
‘Giants, three of them,’ he gave a mental picture of his location, and urged Carilla to break into a gallop back to join the two young hunters.
The issue of a powerful battle scream came from overhead.
M’ntar; the mighty Red Leader, Dominie, and his daughter Alushamenta, the Purple Queen, along with their riders Winn and Mira flickered into being.
Two of the giants had vanished, having already passed through a tear, the last one just about to follow, it hesitated as though it felt a hint of the presence of other beings nearby.
Lusha flew directly into its face, a spout of searing flame spewing from her mouth covering the giant’s visage with blazing fire. Lord Dominie flew to the back of the giant’s head, his great talons tearing and clawing at the rock armour; chunks of granite were ripped off and fell to the ground.
In tune with Lusha, Dominie and Winn leapt away from the giant as The Purple Queen once more blasted the giant’s features with a jet of flames.
They returned as the conflagration subsided, tearing and stabbing. The giant began to spin slowly, its mouth opening wide in a horrendous screech, its arms flailing, blindly reaching for its tormentors.
Paul came to a halt, a mere hundred feet from the battle.
“GRANDFATHER, HOLD THE SWORD ALOFT, I HAVE NEED OF IT,” he shouted at the sky.
‘Ready, grand-son,’ was the instantaneous reply.
With the power of his mind, Paul willed the sword into his hands.
The blade appeared, blue steel glimmering in the sunlight.
‘Make a cut and let it drink, then seal the wound with the side of the blade,’ sent Adalstan.
Paul remembering his mother’s first touch of the blade did as his ancestor bid. Wincing he cut his palm, then allowed Meinrad to absorb the crimson flow, it sealed the wound as expected. All pain immediately left him as the slashed skin closed. In moments he could feel his body beginning to fill with the sword’s power and lust for battle.
‘Attack, bring me close to its ankles,’ he sent to Carilla.
The Runner without a moment’s pause sped fearlessly towards the monster. Meinrad flamed, the sword spewing blue fire around the charging pair. A humming sound from the sword rose higher and higher, reaching an ear piercing scream as they closed on the colossal being. Paul struck at the giant’s exposed heel severing its Achilles’ tendon. The giant bellowed and staggered.
Carilla spun on the spot and raced for the other leg. Paul filled with blood-rage spun Meinrad above his head, the sword primed by the lad’s blood, now able to slice through steel, bone and flesh, cut deep.
Above him Lusha blasted the giant full in the face once more with a stream of flame, blinding it. Dominie then with tooth and claw continued to shred the back of its neck open. Ichors flowed from the massive wounds.
As the protective granite slabs fell, Winn sunk her spear deep into the back of the monster’s head. Unable to remain standing, the Anakim sunk to its knees. Carilla, nudged mentally by Paul, rapidly climbed up the back of the stone clad giant. Reaching the open wounds left by Winn and Dominie, Paul thrust Meinrad deep into the bloody mess and left the sword to drink its fill.
The Golem fell forward onto its face with a huge crash; the red bag it carried tumbling to the ground and flying open. From within crawled men and women terrified beyond imagination, others remained within, either dead or seriously injured.
Finn and Xjang galloped up having observed the entire episode. Paul dived from Carilla’s neck and gathered his little companions in his arms.
“Thank God you’re alright,” he gasped.
Excerpt from the WIP – Book 3 of The Tirnano – ‘THE PURPLE QUEEN’ – due for release September 2015