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The Sword of Erasmus

by Mark 'Ponyboy' Peters 6 months ago in Fantasy · updated 5 months ago
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A story from the Chronicles of Candor

'There weren't always dragons in the Valley. They only came down from their mountainous worlds when dark times fell upon their lands and food became scarce,' the knight said to the group of children gathered at his feet. They were listening in awe to the stories he told of great battles and grand and dangerous adventures, hanging on every word.

Across the lap of the knight, whose name was Chandar, sat a heavy sword, almost black in colour, forged from the finest metals that could be sourced from the Seven Lands of Candor, as was the custome for all swords created for these revered knights. It was not adorned with fancy scrolls or rows of precious stones, it was the sword of a man with a common touch. At the base of the hilt, however, there was a single black gem-stone, which came from some distant land to the south, and when the sword was moved in the sunlight the stone would flash with all the colours of the rainbow.

As he told his tales the knight would lovingly pass his hand along the blade and across the gem-stone, sometimes even without realising that he was doing so, for his devotion to this sword was eternal. This was the sword for which all knights of the Order of the Dragon owed their existence, the sword which this knight had long ago been charged with its safekeeping. This was the Sword of Erasmus. The sword of the founder of their ancient order. The sword that had slayed dragons.

Chandar fell silent and gazed down at the sword. As he did so a small boy, of no more than six summers reached out tentatively and touched the tip of the weapon, only to immediately pull his hand back, as if he had been cut, or perhaps burned by the weapon.

With eyes wide the boy asked, 'Is it alive?'

Chandar smiled. 'It has a power of it's own,' the knight answered. 'This is the sword that saved all our people many, many years past.'

'How?' one child asked.

'Please tell us the story,' another pleaded.

Chandar gazed down at the beautiful faces of the children, all eager for more. When he looked up once again he spotted his young squire, leaning against a tree across the small clearing where they were gathered, his arms folded in front of him while smiling at Chandar.

'What do you think, Benito? Should I tell them?'

'Of course, sire. Don't all children love to hear tales of dragons and the brave knights who battle them?' the lad replied.

'Quite right, lad. Well children, you asked about dragons and then you asked about this sword. To tell you the truth, the two stories are actually one. It is a story about when the dragons came down from the mountains and when the knight, Erasmus, fought them and won, saving a village and all the people in it, and perhaps even saving our world.'

‘Who was Erasmus?’ a small fair-haired boy asked Chandar.

‘He was the bravest knight who ever lived,’ the knight earnestly replied. The story was one that had been passed down for generations, from knight to squire, from elders to villagers, from parents to children, and Chandar never tired of telling it.

‘Many, many years ago, in a valley just like this one, there was a village, just like this one. The villagers were being terrorised by dragons which had strayed from their home in the mountains, as dark times had fallen and food was scarce. The villagers had managed to scare off some of the smaller dragons, but then a huge beast arrived in their valley, breathing fire, scorching the earth and eating every living thing in sight.’

‘Ewwww ...’ a little girl exclaimed.

‘So, what happened then?’ the dark haired boy asked excitedly.

Chandar fell silent and gazed down at the sword once more. There was so much to tell. So much to pass on to this younger generation, not just in order for his band of knights to survive, but for their entire people to live on and prosper. He was honoured to be the Keeper of the Sword of Erasmus and the trainer of future knights of the order, such as his companion Benito, and perhaps even some of these children who were now hanging on his every word, waiting for him to continue.

Nobody from the village of Darksaber had ever seen a dragon before. Sure, they had heard the tales that had been handed down through the years of winged beast which breathed fire, but not having seen one first-hand they knew little of their ways, or of their habits, or even what they looked like. Some wondered whether dragons existed at all. That was, at least, until first reports of the mysterious deaths of livestock raised by neighbouring villages reached their ears, accompanied by word that the workers tending these flocks were also missing.

There was something strange going on in the lands and forests which surrounded their home and the villagers were concerned.

Two young men, Remi and Eran, volunteered to venture out of their valley to investigate these reports. When they didn't return by the appointed time then two more were dispatched.

Eli and Karn were nervous. Little more than boys themselves, with neither yet to sprout hair on their faces, they did not know what to expect and feared that the simple weapons they carried, spears and bows with arrows, would do little if they were confronted by a monster. They knew by heart all the stories of what lurked in the forests and the mountains -- wolves, bears and possibly even dragons -- and because of these stories they were fearful. Who wouldn't be?

They decided that they needed to stay close to the sheltered areas, rather than travel out in the open where they might be fair game for whatever it was that was out there, so they crept through the forest, all the while keeping in sight the roadway and the river beyond. The going was slow and on more than one occasion they were startled by critters in the undergrowth, but they kept going. As darkness began to fall they looked about them for a place to shelter, eventually finding an overhang, just below the edge of the main track, where they huddled together beneath a heavy blanket, with ferns also covering that, both to hide their presence and to provide some additional warmth. Here they ate their meagre rations and shivered, from not just the cold and damp, but also from fear. There could be no fires tonight, however, or on any other night while they were in the forests, for risk of attracting unwanted attention from whatever may be out there.

Sleep was hard to come by for the young villagers on the first night of their quest. They held each other, much like lovers would, but such things were furthest from their minds. It was warmth that each lad craved, along with the reassurance that they were not alone.

Throughout the night they heard many strange sounds. The heavy footsteps of a massive beast. The growls of others. Shrieks and squarks from birds of the night. A strange buzzing sound which came and went. And through it all they remained still and silent, knowing their very lives may depend on it.

Only when the first hint of a grey dawn lightened the edges of their blanket did Eli dare to lift the covers and peer out into the morning. There was little to see, other than heavy mists and shapes that could not yet be defined at this earliest of hours. He let the cover fall and snuggled against his friend once more, hoping for just a little more sleep before they would need to rise and continue their journey in search of their friends, Remi and Eran.

It was some time later when Eli felt Karn stir and wake, before rolling over to face Eli.

'Good morning, friend.'

'So far it is, but it is early yet,' Eli replied in a whisper. 'The morning outside is one of mists and shadows and the sounds of wild animals. We need to get moving soon.'

With a nod Karn ventured to peer out from beneath the blanket. Fog and mist blanketed the entire area, though he could see that a weak sun was trying to break through. Nothing else moved. The only sound that could be heard was that of water trickling over rocks in the nearby river.

'It's so quiet,' Karn said quietly.

'Yes. Did you hear the sounds through the night?'

'Yes. What was that strange buzzing sound? It was like ...'

'A giant bee?'

'Or a swarm of them!'

'Yes. We will need to tread very carefully. And now we had best get moving.'

Climbing back onto the roadway from their place of shelter the two boys set out once more on the search for their friends. Mist was still swirling around them as their path led them higher and closer to the mountains and they found themselves looking around nervously for any signs of danger. Only their Gods could know what lurked around that next corner, but the boys also knew that the Gods would be unable to warn them, so they needed to be vigilant.

As the morning passed the mists slowly thinned and before long they found themselves walking in brilliant sunshine. They could still hear the river not too far away from them, and with the path was climbing they could now see that there was a steep drop off to the river below, where a wide expanse of water, fed by melting snow from the mountains, was flowing swiftly.

They stopped for a few moments to catch their breath and take in the beauty of the valley. This was as far away from their home as either lad had ever traveled. The path ahead took them closer to the craggy mountains, while beyond the river lay meadows blanketed with green grass and wild flowers, with forests beyond these.

They found a bush covered with early berries, ripe and juicy and red, and after picking some handfulls they sat and looked down upon the scene below. They ate in silence, but then suddenly Eli was struck with a thought.

'Do you hear that?' he asked Karn.

'What? I can't hear anything,' his friend replied.

'Yes, exactly. Where is the birdsong? Why are they not talking to us?'

Karn tried to concentrate but as hard as he tried he couldn't hear anything, other than the sound of a gentle breeze rustling the leaves in nearby trees. He was about to say something to Eli when a great sound came from somewhere along the path above them. It sounded like the cry of a beast in pain, accompanied by an even louder roar.

Jumping to their feet the boys are unsure of what to do. Should they investigate to see what is making the racket? Or should they run and hide? Eventually it was curiosity that got the better of them and they started toward the sounds, staying under the cover of vegetation as best they could. Before long they came to a small clearing but were quickly stopped in their tracks when they spied a familiar object lying on the ground.

Karn darted forward and picked it up. It was a bag, with a handle attached. It matched exactly to the one that was slung across his own shoulders.

'This is ...' he started to say, but couldn't finish the sentence.

'Yes,' said Eli, gravely, as he picked up a sack that was also on the ground nearby and handed it to Karn. 'They were here.'

'But where are they now?' Karn cried.

The sounds from further along the path had now quieted and the boys soon forgot about them, at least for the moment. Eli started looking around the clearing, searching for any further sign, so Karn did the same, even as tears tried their best to escape his eyes and sobs choked his airways.

Just moments later Eli pushed through some bushes on the edge of the clearing, as he was following some marks upon the ground, and he soon found himself out in the open once more. He noticed that the ground appeared to be charred and there looked to be some bones on the ground. Not far away he noticed part of a bow, broken and with burn marks upon it.

Karn joined his friend and noticed what Eli was looking at. He instantly realised what it was that they were seeing. They were not the bones of animals. Scorched and stripped of all remnants of flesh, and being found in the same proximity as the sack and blanket it was plain to see. These bones were all that was left of their friends. Remi and Eran had fallen victim to the beasts from the mountains.

Karn felt like he had been smashed by a hunters club. He dropped to his knees, still clutching the belongings of their friends, a strangled cry soon coming from his mouth as the pain of their loss hit home. Quickly realising that they may now be in danger Eli, who was just as devastated as his friend over their loss, dropped down beside Karn and threw his arms around him, pulling him close and trying to both console and quiet him.

'Sshhh ... sshhh ... quiet now,' he demanded. 'You will put us in danger!'

But Karn's cries continued, despite Eli's efforts.

'They're gone. The beast has taken them!' Karn wailed. His cries were soon joined by another sound, however, which chilled both of them to the bone, finally silencing Karn. A deafening roar could be heard in the distance, but along with that there was a buzzing sound -- the sound that they had heard through the night -- and it was growing louder.

'We need to go! Right now!' Eli yelled, as he tried dragging Karn to his feet. Reluctantly his companion complied and together they stumbled and ran and crashed back through the woods, with the buzzing sound growing yet louder and louder.

Only when they reached the spot where they had earlier stopped did either boy look back, and when they did they were terrified by what they saw. A swarm of dozens of brightly coloured buzzing creatures were descending upon them. Creatures that were now close enough to make out the details of; creatures that were about the size of a field mouse, red and yellow with black markings, long tails with sharp barbs on the end, long necks with snake-like heads ... and they were breathing fire.

These were dragons. Real dragons. But they were unlike anything they had ever been told of.

As he ran Eli reached down and picked up a branch, swinging it around him and swiping at the little beasts. Karn managed to do the same and between them they managed to send a few of the critters flying sideways.

Then once more came that roar they had heard earlier and when they glanced back over their shoulders they were shocked to see a massive beast, the size of a cow at least, wings flapping with ease, legs and tail hanging below it. With eyes the colour of fire, scaled skin that was dark grey in colour, a horned head showing teeth and breathing fire, this was what they had expected a dragon to look like.

'We're done for!' Karn cried.

'Not yet we're not. Head for the cliff and just jump!' yelled Eli.

'What?'

'Just do it ... or be eaten!'

Veering off the path they made for the cliff which overhung the river. They had no idea how high the cliff was or how far out they needed to jump, but with their legs carrying them just as fast as they could they reached the ledge and took a giant leap of faith, sailing out into the air before starting to fall, legs and arms flailing.

With a splash, and by some miracle, they landed in the fast flowing, swollen river. Eli managed to look back up at the point from which they had jumped and could see the great beast had stopped following them and was now flapping its wings as it stayed airborne, its long neck snaking from side to side as it studied their departure. He could also see the swarm of smaller beasts buzzing around it and hoped that by some miracle none of them were now following.

He found himself struggling in the water as he was buffeted this way and that and imagined that Karn would be doing the same. As he bobbed up and down in the water he tried looking around him for Karn, but there was no sign of him at all. He tried calling out, but his voice was drowned out either by his swallowing mouthfulls of water or by the noise of the roaring river.

Over and over again Eli tried looking for Karn or calling out, but the force of the water was exhausting and the noise was deafening.

But somehow above that he heard a scream, 'Eli-i-i-i-i-i-i-'

Eli looked around but could see nothing, only the tops of the rolling mountains of water, which seemed to be growing higher, while the water was getting faster. He could see the walls of the cliffs closing in. The river was getting narrower and the water flowing faster and with more power, throwing him around, buffeting him against . Then he caught a glimpse of something in the water nearby, it was a branch, reaching up out of the water, which he soon found was attached to a log, and clinging to the log was Karn, exhausted and bleeding, but definitely alive.

With a renewed burst of energy Eli gave a kick and tried getting closer to the log. Just as he did so a wave flung it away from him, before the next wave flung it back closer to him. He reached for a branch protruding from the log and missed, then gave another kick. He was closer now, almost close enough to touch it as they continued to bob along in the thrashing water. Another kick and another attempt to grab the branch. Another miss. On the third try, though, he managed to grab hold of a branch and hang on. Still being buffeted by the river he managed to pull himself along the branch until he was able to grasp the trunk of the log, right next to where Karn was hanging on for his life.

'We're going to live,' Eli tried reassuring his friend. Karn blinked and managed a nod, but remained silent.

Moments later the river passed through its narrowest point, where two rocky cliffs almost met. The water bucked and surged, but the boys held on. After that the river widened once more, out into a wide expanse where it slowed dramatically.

Eli looked around him and recognised where they were. The village wasn't very far away now, and they would have news for their family and friends.

As their log slowed in calmer water Eli positioned himself so that they might be able to steer the log closer to the bank, by kicking with their legs. When he tried to do so he thought that he could feel them move in that direction. Karn felt it too, and even though he was exhausted from trying to save himself he managed to join his friend and together they edged closer and closer to the bank, until eventually Eli felt his feet touch the ground.

Hauling themselves from the water they collapsed onto the grassy bank, letting the afternoon sun warm and dry their chilled and tired bodies. They knew they needed to get home to their village, but first they needed to rest, even if only for a few moments.

Eli woke with a start as the shadow was cast over him. He didn't know how long he had been out for, but his first thought was that a dragon had found them. Thankfully that was not to be, however.

As it dawned on him that he hadn't yet been eaten and his eyes focused on the shadow above him he knew that he was safe; for there stood a knight, with a sword hanging by his side.

Chapter Two

Fantasy

About the author

Mark 'Ponyboy' Peters

Aussie, Queer & Country

LGBT themed fiction with an Aussie flavour, reviews, observations and real life LGBT histories.

W: https://ponyboysplace.wordpress.com/vocal-media-index/

E: [email protected]

https://www.facebook.com/mark.p.peters/

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