A Warrior’s Spirit

Posted: May 10, 2013 in Fiction

The Great Hall sat silent. Sunlight spilled in through the shredded drapes of the West side of the clerestory. The once vibrant colors of the drapery and the tapestries that decorated the hall showed only drab shades of brown and grey. The multitude of pillars that ran either side of the mammoth chamber were still adorned with the banners of the Houses who once pledged fealty to the High King. These banners were tattered, moth-eaten. The Houses and their lords had long since gone. As the Houses had faded away, so too had the ranks of the defenders of the realm. All that remained was discarded weapons and armor, littering the floor of the hall, made invisible by the detritus of rotting furniture and dust.

The immense double doors that served as an entry to the Great Hall creaked. The spirit of the Keep had done its best to preserve them, but even that spirit was fading now. The westmost door opened outward into a courtyard, pulled by the first visitor in a decade. The visitor clanked as he walked, covered head to toe in full plate armor. He released the massive ring that served as a handle, and clattered into the darkness of the structure.

“It reeks of death in here,” the man said. Even muffled, his deep voice boomed and echoed off the stone walls. He turned, calling back to his companions. “Come! If our prey be here, I would fain share in the glory and the spoils of this place!” They came, each and severally, three more in heavy armor; a pair stepping lightly, bows drawn and arrows nocked; a tall and slender man, clad only in robes; and a friar, wrapped in a brown cloak and rustling like a fistful of chains.

“It reeks of death in here,” said one of the archers.

“I already made that remark,” grumbled the lead warrior.

“Two may share an opinion,” chided the friar.

“Enough. Ampelio, some light?”

The tall and slender man raised his left hand. “Light,” he whispered. From his hand leapt a sphere of purest white. The trickle of light from the windows was washed away in the brilliant incandescence of the mage’s light. The other archer spoke.

“Is it so wise to betray our position?” she asked. The foremost warrior shot her a scowl, but it was the friar who answered.

“Our armsmen have no skill for the hunt. Better that they see any foe and so take up arms.” The warriors rattled an assent.

“The time for silence passed when Gavril opened the doors,” the mage whispered.

“Enough,” Gavril rumbled. He clanked forward, unslinging his shield from his back. He fixed his gauntlet in place behind it, then drew the sword that hung from his left hip. Thus armed, he stalked forward. Ampelio’s light kept pace with him, and the other armsmen strode to keep up. The archers spared a glance for each other as the light left them behind. Mirror images in the dark, Bolivar and Maricruz crept from pillar to pillar, not making a sound. Ampelio and the friar remained in the center, just behind the quartet of armsmen.

Gavril rapidly covered the length of the Great Hall, coming upon the steps that lead to the throne of the High King. As the magelight drew up behind him, he could see the thrones of the High King and consort, as well as the seats for the minor nobility. The High King’s seat was occupied. Gavril stopped. The armsmen all stopped behind him, fumbling to draw weapons and ready shields. “Peace,” Gavril said, trying to soothe jagged nerves. Nevertheless, he kept his own sword at the ready. He slowly ascended the stairs, his armor clicking steadily.

“It is customary to bow and ask permission to approach me.” A soft voice issued from the throne. Gavril stopped, frozen in place. Ampelio and the friar drew up behind the armsmen. “Tell me, what drives you to seek audience here?” Gavril took a deep breath and spoke.

“This place is no longer a seat of power. The Houses are long gone. We come -.”

“You come to pick over the corpses of the fallen,” the voice cut in.

“The resources here lie unused!” Ampelio said, somehow conveying urgency in his customary whisper. “Knowledge once lost that can be found again!”

“Perhaps.” The voice said. “You, mage, may seek knowledge. You ally yourselves with thrill-seekers. Treasure hunters.” The voice paused. “Grave robbers.”

“I am no grave robber, m’lord!” the friar nearly shouted. “Kalav is protector of the departed soul, and I am Her servant!” The round man’s face grew red as he spoke. His robes rustled with their concealed chainmail, and his right hand involuntarily clutched the hammer slung at his side.

“Kalav… She has no power here.” The voice grew stronger. The hall seemed to lighten. “This is my home. The Spirit of the Keep protects all who dwell here, and I protect her.” Sconces, previously dark and unnoticed flared. The Great Hall glowed with torchlight. Maricruz ducked behind a pillar, out of the line of sight of the throne. Bolivar followed suit. The voice spoke again. “I offer one chance: leave now, or your precious Kalav will have more ghosts to herd.” All could see the speaker now. A man with skin as red as embers. A long face with snowy, wild hair. Eyes narrow and so black that they might be pools of oil. Mouth pressed into a thin scowling line. Broad shoulders, draped in a once-resplendent silver cloak.

The white luminescence of Ampelio’s magelight flickered out. His mouth hung open. “Gods!” he whispered.

“Stand your ground,” Gavril instructed. He looked back through the hall, taking in the sight of the ravages of time. To the man on the throne, he said, “We have come too far to be chased off by a play king and his palace of dirt.”

“Your arrogance will earn you a swift death.” The man stood. His sliver cloak smoked, tarnish and dust burning away, phantom images swimming about in the newly iridescent fabric. He raised a hand. Heatshimmer blurred the sight of him.

The humming of bowstrings. The whistle of feathered vanes. Six arrows streaked toward the man. They veered off course, curving toward his upturned palm. Each arrow crumpled in on itself as it reached the swirl of energy. The torchlight dimmed. The figure spoke, his voice seeming to whisper from every corner of the room. “The flesh may fail, but a warrior’s spirit never will. Your home is under attack!”

Debris shifted. An empty gauntlet writhed, turned, and pushed its palm to the floor. A pauldron lifted into the air, taking its place on an invisible shoulder. A blue glow filled the gap between, connecting the pieces. A cuirass hoisted itself into place. Another gauntlet picked up a helm and placed it above the cuirass. The empty armor cast about and retrieved a rusty sword and a splintered shield. The scene repeated all throughout the Great Hall. The defenders of the realm, preparing for battle.

The three armsmen fell into a defensive formation around Ampelio and the friar. Gavril charged up the stairs, sword above his head. He chopped downward, seeking the collarbone of the red man. He was too late. A shield held by a phantom limb intercepted it, catching the blade in the rotting wood. “I will defend my king and my home,” it whispered, and the armored phantoms swarmed toward the intruders.

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