The Power of the Dark Lord

                                                                                 By Bert McKenzie 

                                                                                  Copyright 2010

 

 


Chapter XI

The first awareness he had was a strong sense of smell.  The foul scent
brought a measure of consciousness to him as surely as if someone had used
smelling salts.  Rood opened his eyes, and then blinked them.  He slowly
realized that he was blind.  He had never in his entire life experienced
such an eternal blackness.  He tried to remember how he had arrived at this
state.  Slowly, the memories came flooding back to him.  He remembered the
battle engulfing him and pulling him down.  That was all he could remember
until he came to awareness.

He felt strangely light headed as he hung in the darkness.  Hung?  Why did
he choose that way to think about his position?  He tried to move and found
himself restrained by some form of ropes.  But his movement magnified
itself into soft undulations.  His inner sense of balance and direction
confirmed his fears.  He was indeed hanging, suspended by ropes in the
darkness, and suspended upside down by his feet.  Why would the trolls
treat him this way?  Then a terrible realization hit him.  He was, no
doubt, hanging in their larder, awaiting the proper moment to be killed and
consumed.  Rood had always been the strong, silent type.  He had always
pushed his fear into the background and never gave in.  But now, in the
darkness, separated from those he loved, he began to silently weep.  The
fear washed over him and pulled the tears from his sightless eyes.

As he hung in the darkness a sound came to his ears.  At first he didn't
notice it, so softly it came, but it gradually insinuated itself on his
attention.  The sound was from far away.  It was incredibly high pitched,
just barely within his audible range.  A high, squealing whine rose and
fell rhythmically and also repeated itself as if it were echoed and
answered again and again.  Rood could actually feel the sound vibrating in
his ear more than he could hear it.  As it grew in intensity he detected an
accompanying sound, a soft, sliding scrape.  At last both sounds struck him
loudly as their source entered the room that held him.

Rood did not know what to do, and hung limply, wondering if death was about
to strike.  The high pitched squeal had stopped but the sliding scrape
began again.  It was the sound of some creature moving across the chamber
and approaching him.  In a burst of insight, Rood suddenly identified the
noises.  The high pitched call was similar to the squealing cry of the
trolls.  It must have come from one of them as the creature made its way to
this room.  And the scraping noise was the sound of the troll crossing the
room to stand close to him.

A cold, bony hand touched his chest.  Rood then realized that his tunic had
been removed.  He jerked in response causing his body to swing gently back
and forth, bumping into the furry beast.  A low grunting came from it.  He
then felt its clammy hands on him again.  It was rubbing and massaging his
chest, pinching the skin over his nipples and growling softly.  Rood was
powerless to do anything.  The hands squeezed his biceps and then felt
their way down his shoulders to his neck.  The bony fingers touched the
thin skin covering the artery in his throat and gently felt the tidal pulse
of his heartbeat.  The fingers then circled his neck as if the throttle the
life from Rood, and slowly began to apply pressure.

"Stop!"  Instantly the hands were removed.  Rood could again catch his
breath.  But he marveled at what had occurred.  The one word command had
been issued in high Tuathan, an arcane form of their modern tongue.  But
who had said it?  Someone else must be in the room besides Rood and the
creature that had tried to kill him.  Rood held his breath as he tried to
listen for any telltale sounds that would betray the other inhabitant, but
nothing came.  He could hear the raspy breathing of the troll and the
occasional scrape as it shifted its weight.

Again the cold fingers touched his body.  Again the strange voice spoke.
"Command I stop!"  The hands instantly withdrew.  "Be gone!" it said.  The
room was again shrouded in silence, but only for a moment.  "Command I be
gone, or die shall thee!" the voice again spoke.  Suddenly a wheezing grunt
came from the creature standing nearby, then the high pitched squeal
sounded and Rood heard the scraping exit of his visitor.  The squeals
gradually faded into the darkness.

Rood hung in the darkness, wondering what other strange person occupied his
cell.  And how did it manage to have such power over the troll?  As Rood
hung suspended in the black, he suddenly could see two green lights.  At
first he thought that it was a hallucination brought on by his fear and
blindness, but as they slowly moved he realized he was actually seeing
something.  He wasn't blind after all.  He glanced up at his body, and
could barely make out his chest reflected in the dim glow.  He looked back
again at the green lights.  They were close together, and as he looked,
they appeared to him like two eyes staring out of the darkness, only eyes
without pupils, and without a face.

"Name," the word came to him from a voice in the darkness.  The voice came
from the direction of the twin orbs.  Rood listened to the silence.  Again
it was broken.  "Speak name."

It wanted his name.  Rood balked.  A name is a personal thing and can be a
world of power.  To name a person is to have some manner of control over
him.  Rood waited and hoped he had heard incorrectly.

"Speak thy name!" the voice commanded.  He was powerless to resist.  The
voice used the power of command.  It was a special magic that Rood thought
only kings and rulers possessed.  But somehow this green eyed monster of
dark also knew the secret.

"Rood," came the soft reply.

"Rood.  I bind thee," the voice said.  "I have need of thee.  When finished
I, food are thou to they who wait."  The green lights disappeared leaving
Rood in the utter darkness and silence.  He tried to meditate, but his mind
kept returning to the words spoken.  What need did the voice have of him?
And when it was over, he would be troll food.

* * *

"We must return to Esbereth," Alee said.  His dark skinned companion was
trying his best to learn the native language.  Stan had managed French and
Spanish in high school, and even learned a little Japanese and Arabic while
working as a field agent, but this language was different.  It was similar
to oriental languages in that pitch and inflection seemed to play a big
part in the syntax of the sentence, but the cadence and rhythm of the
spoken word carried meaning as well.  Stan could understand about half of
what Alee said to him, but he had a much harder time making himself
understandable to the fairy.

"Why?" he asked.

"Esbereth may be under attack by the trolls.  It is my duty as a member of
the palace guard."  Alee also wanted to return home to find out if his
friend Faylar was alive or dead.  And he wanted to turn this stranger over
to the king.  But these thoughts he did not voice.

"Slow down, dude," Stan said in English.  "I got something about the
krohgonks, but that was about it."  Alee patiently repeated himself, not
really sure if Stan was catching his meaning or not.

"How?" Stan asked.  Alee said something unintelligible and pointed north.
Stan got up and offered his hand to the strange man sitting in the grass.
Alee accepted his grasp and stood.  Together they began walking toward the
mountains on the horizon.  Around noon Stan's stomach began to growl.  It
was protesting his enforced fast.  Alee looked over at him in surprise.
"You have sickness of the stomach?" he asked.

"I'm just hungry," Stan replied in English.  "You know, food?"  He
pantomimed eating.

"Estark," Alee said and began looking around.  He suddenly pointed out at a
spot on the plain that looked the same as any other spot.  He indicated
that Stan should follow him and he marched out into the taller grass.  They
were soon in a natural depression surrounded by tall, blue-green fronds
that reached several feet above their heads.  "This is not good food, but
it will sustain life," Alee said as he used the dagger they now shared to
hack off several of the taller plants near their roots.  He handed a couple
of the long stalks to Stan and took a couple for himself.  "Eat," he said
and watched.  Stan sniffed the blue-green stalk he held in his hand and
then experimentally bit into it.  "No," Alee said as he laughed.  "Like
this."  He broke off the end of the stalk hear the base where he had cut it
and sucked on it, draining the liquid it contained.  He then turned it over
and bit into the frilly, blue-white blossoms that capped the frond.

Stan carefully watched his companion then mirrored his actions.  He was
pleasantly surprised.  The sap of the stalk tasted like the juice from
sugar cane.  The flowers, on the other hand, tasted like flowers.  He
didn't care for them at all and quickly went back to the juice of the
stalks.  "No," Alee said.  "Eat this."  He indicated the blossoms.  "They
are what fill your stomach so you feel not the hunger."  Stan reluctantly
complied.

After their brief meal they continued their journey.  By mid afternoon the
two were coming into the foothills that surrounded the Crystal Mountains.
Stan could see flashes of bright, colored light coming from a spot low on
one of the mountains.  "What is that?" he asked his companion in halting
Tuathan.

"That is Esbereth," Alee replied.  "Our destination."

"Can we reach it by dark?" Stan asked.

"No, but we can reach the eastern supply caves."  Stan had no idea what
Alee said other than his negative reply, but the fairy set off in a
northeasterly direction at a rapid pace.  Stan had to hurry to keep up with
him.

The sun was dipping down to touch the western horizon as the two travelers
reached the rocky area of little cliffs and canyons.  "Watch closely for
signs of trolls," Alee said as they slowly walked into the shadows of the
stone walls.

"What signs?" Stan asked.  Just as he said this his nose was assailed by a
strong, foul smell.  Its acrid fumes brought tears to his eyes.  He looked
down to see that he had stepped on a small, round rock about the size of a
baseball.  It had broken open under his weight, revealing a green, gooey
interior that looked like guacamole and emitted the terrible stench.

"Troll droppings," Alee said, his voice tense with concern.  "They have
been here recently.  Hurry.  We must find shelter before it is completely
dark.  They may return anytime."

He led Stan to a dark cave opening on one wall.  "This is one of our supply
caves," Alee said.  The two quickly ventured into its dark interior.

"If these things like the dark, why are we going into a black cave at
night?" Stan asked in English, more to himself than to his guide.

* * *

Robin was sitting in quiet meditation on the high terrace that opened from
his chambers.  The stillness of the night and the serenity of the view, a
spectacular vista of countless stars stretched over the dark landscape,
contrasted with the turbulence of his inner turmoil.  His lover and human
friends were gone, his best friend and cousin were away from the castle and
for all he knew may have encountered the trolls on the road, his friend and
captain of the guard had been captured and no doubt killed by the evil
creatures, the second in command of the palace guard was missing in the
human world, and the palace was cut off from needed supplies.  This was by
far the worst crisis he had ever encountered in his short reign, and he had
no idea what actions to take.  His commands to clear the blocked passage
from the castle were what had led to the capture and death of one of his
closest friends and best military advisors.

"My lord," a voice called softly from behind.  "We await your commands."
Robin rose and turned to see Rowana standing in the doorway.

"My lady, I..."  His voice broke as tears came to his eyes.

Rowana rushed to his side.  "My lord, fear not.  You are a good leader.
You will see us through this time of trouble."

"I wish I had your confidence," he said with a deep sigh of weariness.
"Bring the others here and we shall meet on the terrace.  Perhaps the stars
that look down on us all can give us silent counsel concerning our absent
friends."  The girl bowed and went inside to summon the others.

Robin sat on the terrace rail and for a brief moment thought about how easy
it would be to lean back and relax into the arms of death awaiting him from
the long fall.  But he was stronger than that.  Melcot, Caseldra and Elnar
returned with Rowana.  They bowed formally.  "Please, take seats, my
friends," he said and indicated the nearby chairs.  The guard, the sorcerer
and his daughter took the chairs while Rowana sat on the flagstones at her
mate's feet.  Robin suddenly noticed Caseldra for the first time.  "My
lady, I was told you journeyed to another land in the company of our human
friends."

"I did, my lord," she said, looking down at the floor in guilt.

"And where are my consort and the others?" the king asked.

"They remained behind," Caseldra said quietly.

"They will be attended to in good time, my lord," Rowana broke in.  "I have
already discussed this with the lady Caseldra.  She and I shall handle
things."

"I appreciate your concern, my lady," Robin said a bit sternly.  "But I am
the king and I will be apprised of my subjects."  He turned back to the
wizard's daughter.  "My lady, please tell me why my consort and the others
decided to remain behind."

"The dwelling was being watched.  They had reason to believe that your
guard, Akuta had been taken prisoner by the same humans who had captured
and tried to kill you some time ago.  When we attempted to leave the
dwelling they were captured.  I managed to escape by use of a homing
crystal."

"Then we may assume that Akuta, Scott, Jennifer and Alex are all prisoners
in the compound to the south of their village?" Robin questioned.

"Yes, lord."

"Thank you for the briefing.  When we have dealt with the problems of this
land, then we may mount a mission to rescue them."

"But lord," Caseldra protested.  "Their time proceeds much faster.  By then
they may be harmed or killed.  We cannot waste this time to..."

A quick glance from her father silenced the girl.  Robin replied to her in
a soft voice.  "I am the ruler of this land.  Therefore my primary duty is
to this land.  I assure you that I intend no wastage of time.  When we have
solved our current dilemma then and only then may we turn to matters of the
other world.  I pray no harm comes to our absent friends.  But I have no
other choice."

"Can we not send a small group to the other world to...?"

"No," he interrupted her.  "We cannot.  Every warrior we have may be needed
here to combat the plague that walls us in."  He paused a moment to change
his thoughts.  "We must needs discuss our plan to fight the trolls.  I
would publicly thank the Keeper of Magic for his assistance in our most
recent battle.  Without his light a great many more would have perished."

"My lord," Melcot spoke up.  "Can we mount a rescue mission for Captain
Rood at first light?"

"Excuse me, my lord," Caseldra interrupted.  "I, too feel his loss deeply,
but we must face and acknowledge his passage to the western islands.  The
trolls will have long since killed him."

"Forgive her, lord," Elnar apologized.  "But my daughter has studied of
these creatures."

"What can you tell us of them?" Robin asked.

"They dwell in hard rock, living in black caves and tunnels that they
fashion within the hills and mountains.  They are flesh eating beasts and
hunt their prey in packs like the forest dogs.  The stories tell that they
drain their victims of blood first, discarding it, then devour the flesh.
They prize man best of all foods, but will kill and eat any animal.  They
also lack cunning and can only win battles by overwhelming strength of
numbers or surprise.  They breed and reproduce with astonishing rapidity
and are blind in any but dim twilight or starlight."

"What of their social structure?" Robin questioned.  "Follow they a king or
take they direction from a leader?"

Caseldra shook her head.  "No, lord."

"But these did," he corrected her.  "I saw some form of creature appear,
different form the trolls.  It was like a living shadow of a man with green
fire for eyes.  It moved among them and they gave it berth.  This creature
stared across the ravine and I sensed its desire to possess Esbereth."

"I know not what to say," the girl replied to his strange story.

"If these witless creatures can be controlled and made to follow a leader,
then all is lost," Elnar whined in fear.

"Then we must capture or slay this leader," Melcot said.

"But how?" Robin asked.

"On the morrow can we not go into their tunnels with flashweed and destroy
them?" Melcot suggested.

"A noble thought, but not practical," Elnar said.  "Flashweed burns out in
minutes.  We have not enough to fill the tunnels that must hold such a
horde of beasts."

"Then we shall go to harvest more.  There is a bed that grows not far on
the Plains of Morinar," Melcot argued.

"And how plan you to travel there if the canyon is blocked?" the wizard
countered.

"We had all but cleared it this day."

"And if they reblock it this night?"

"Enough," Robin stopped them.  "Melcot with first light shall take a party
to check the canyon and if clear, shall go to harvest flashweed.  Rowana
and Caseldra shall see to the armament and battle readiness of all within
the palace.  Elnar shall search for a weapon or solution in this battle,
something that will drive the beasts away."

"But lord," Caseldra said.  "Surely you think not that the beasts shall
cross the ravine.  The legends tell of their fear of the Crystal
Mountains."

"And the legends tell of no social order or leadership," the king answered.
"I would the legends were correct, but this close to us have come the
trolls.  They show no apparent fear.  And I have mentioned a leader.  We
know not what or who it is.  We must take no chances."

"And what of our loved ones in the other world?" Caseldra asked again.  The
tears were beginning to build.  She worried so much for Jennifer and it
galled her to be unable to do anything for her.

"I miss them too," Robin added softly.  "I would give anything to know they
were alive right now."

"Anything?  Like what?" a familiar voice asked.  Everyone jumped in
surprise and turned.  Alex and Scott stood in the doorway.  "Please, don't
stop," the red head replied with a smile.

"My love!" Robin said and jumped up just as Scott ran to him.  Jennifer
entered the terrace and headed straight for Caseldra.

"We have guests," Scott said when they had embraced and kissed and embraced
again.  "Akuta," he called.  The fairy emerged onto the terrace leading
Sharon Gates and Emile Sorenson.

"Welcome to Tuatha," Robin said courteously.  "Although I wish you had come
at a better time."  The two scientists stood silently, not knowing what to
make of the group of strangers standing on the dark terrace, lit only by
the distant stars.

 

 

 

 

 

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