The catastrophe of the e.., p.13
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       The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, p.13

           LR Manley
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   The boys were all watching him intently in the firelight.

   “Takoba Mordalayn is an honourable and noble warrior. Our only threat in my time in the army was from the velvet forests and forces from over the Sea of Glass. Mordalayn is indeed an awe inspiring and terrifying sight. Only King James himself is said to rival him as a swordsman. Mordalayn is someone whose blades you want to protect your back, but never facing you.”

   “Why did he leave?” the same boy asked.

   “Something awful happened to him. I do not know the details but it was apparently terrible. In the aftermath he volunteered to be the new queen’s bodyguard when she was crowned. The ruler of Alegria is always a child and always chooses their own Sword. Many wanted the role but Queen Sophie selected Mordalayn.”

   The boys were silent, intently hanging on to Leppard’s every word.

   “She has ruled for just over twelve years, but this past year no one has seen her. We pray to our gods that she will return but we do not know what the future holds for the Emerald Queen or Alegria.” 

  Beevor suddenly burst from the trees about ten metres back from the camp fire and screamed “HELP!” and ran past Leppard and the others to the other side of the fire. They all whirled round to where he was standing, knees shaking and pointing terrified at the trees he’d just come from.

   “What’s wrong?” Challandra said concerned, jumping to her feet.

   “L..l..look!” the boy stammered and at that moment the undergrowth scraped noisily and the branches of the nearest trees bent outwards. A huge fat creature emerged from the darkness. It was a pale grey colour and hugely flabby and obese. It had legs like lobster claws, at least four on each side and it chittered in a noisy clicking pitch. The boys all jumped up, yelling. The creature waddled forward, its body sagging against the ground and antennae on its head waved.

   Leppard grabbed his pack and bow, Bue the same and they were trying to crank them while moving back to the other side of the fire.

   “Get behind me!” Leppard shouted to the frightened boys, who were scattering like leaves on the wind. The creature chittered again; the sound high and threatening. It moved forward, the screams of the boys ringing in the air as they made their way either into the overgrowth or behind Leppard and Bue.

   Bue succeeded in cranking his bow and was fumbling for a bolt when a voice shouted:


   Challandra turned and shouted over the noise. “It’s cold, it’s attracted to the fire, it means no harm.”

   As the monstrous creature shuffled towards the campfire Challandra turned and grabbed a large burning branch and turned to face the intruder, waving it in front of her.

   She stepped forward and the creature chittered in fear and with a noisy rustling of foliage managed to back off into the woods behind it. Challandra pursued it slowly as the frightened beast backed away. Then it turned and with lots of crashing and crunching of vegetation manoeuvred itself off into the dark depths of the forest, chittering loudly.

   When she was sure it was gone Challandra lowered the flaming branch and walked back to the others. Frightened eyes peered at her along with the shocked and surprised eyes of Bue, Leppard and Jared. She placed the branch carefully back in the fire and looked at Bue. “You can lower your bow, the animal is gone.”

   Hesitantly he did so and said, “what, what was THAT?.”

   “Slythid” she replied. “They live in the forests. They are harmless herbivores.” She looked up. “It won’t come back now, you can relax.” 

  Challandra sighed in relief and slowly the boys returned to the fire and sat back down, most looking over their shoulders into the darkness beyond the trees.

   After a few minutes one of the boys said, “so tell us more about Takoba Mordalayn please,” and the others relaxed, looking eagerly to Leppard.

   Leppard looked up and surprise registered on his face. Then he smiled and said, “I think you can ask him yourself.”

   There was a crunch of leaves and twigs and the boys turned to see Mordalayn emerge from the shadows between two large trees. He was dressed as he was when he left Jared and his huge sword was sheathed. He looked around the group and then moved forward. “My apologies for the unannounced return,” he said to Leppard. He looked across at Jared who smiled nervously, unnerved by the warrior’s silent return.

   Leppard extended his hand which, after a moment’s hesitation Mordalayn shook. “It seems we need to sharpen our ears somewhat Takoba, you came just after the right time I think,” and gestured for the Caracalic to sit down next to him. “Please join us, we have food and water.”

   Mordalayn did not return the smile but said, “I have my own rations, yours you should keep for yourself.”

   Leppard looked around at the ashen, shocked faces of the boys. “Very well, but I believe Master Blautin was going to play us a delightful tune on his flute was he not? Nothing like some good music to aid the digestion.” He glanced at the boy who beamed proudly and reached for his backpack. Inside was a silk cloth which he withdrew with tender care and unwrapped slowly to reveal a polished silver flute.

   “Yeah, go on Blau,” another boy said. “Play us a tune.”

   Blautin blushed and after carefully inspecting his prize instrument with eyes and fingers he raised it to his lips and began to play.

   Jared was impressed with the tune and the boy’s ability. The music was sweet and uplifting. Despite their tiredness and fear of the last day or so, they felt their worries fade slightly. As if the music was massaging their spirits. He played well and after a few minutes stopped to applause from the others, Challandra was smiling happily.

   The little lad smiled back, raised the flute to his lips and began to play once more. 


  Chapter 14


  As they began to bed down for the night Stone spied that Blautin hadn’t put his flute in his backpack. He made a snatch for it and Blautin span round. 

  “Give it back,” the younger boy snapped angrily as the older child grinned and held on to the flute, dangling it out of reach of the frantic swipes of its owner. 

  “Come and get it,” Stone said, jumping up and dancing around. The others barely took notice but then Blautin stood still and started to cry.  

  Stone didn’t stop and instead started to laugh. “Hey, what are you? A little…” 


  Everyone jumped and looked at Mordalayn who was sitting opposite the two boys across the fire. There was a horrible silence and Stone stared at the warrior, embarrassed and scared. Blautin stopped crying and wiped his wet cheeks with the back of his sleeve. 

  “Give it to him,” Mordalayn growled.

   “I was just messing…” Stone began but was interrupted.

   “You are a bully and bullies are despicable,” Mordalayn said with limitless menace. Everyone was looking at him. Challandra was scared, knowing the Caracalic’s reputation. Leppard glanced from Mordalayn to the boys and then back. Stone handed the flute back to Blautin and then sat down, his cheeks burning with shame. He hugged his knees and looked away. 

  After a long pause Mordalayn spoke again. This time more softly.

   “Bullying is vile. Would you have liked it if he’d taken something you loved?” 

  Stone shook his head mutely. Blautin sat down, putting his prized flute in its silk cloth and wrapping it carefully before putting it in his pack. He sniffed the last of his tears away and looked at Mordalayn, at the same time frightened and reassured. 

  The Caracalic had everyone’s attention and he spoke calmly and quietly, the only other sound in the forest the crackling of the fire.

   “To make someone weaker than you a victim only for your own pleasure is beyond vileness.” He glanced around slowly at everyone as he said this. No one could meet his eyes, even Bue and Leppard lowered their gazes. 

  “Recently I saw this.” 

  Mordalayn had been
shadowing Jared for four days in Warwick. The spell he’d placed on Queen Sophie would prevent their enemies from finding her now. However, she was still vulnerable and as long as Jared was trackable they could, if they could get to him before she came out of her death sleep, use him to find her. Mordalayn had followed him and his parents this night to a house where a woman holding a baby had answered the door. The house was in an area that Mordalayn had not explored before. He looked around. The sun was going down and he glanced at his wrist band. The crystal was still a murky shade of green. He needed to eat. He’d smelled food about quarter of a mile east from here and decided to break off to find rations. Drawing his hood over his face and pulling his robes tight around him, he leapt from the roof he was on to the adjoining one and then shimmied down the drain pipe to a path between two houses. Behind them was some coarse ground and he vaulted the fence and ran along the edge of the copse of trees, keeping to the shadows. Shortly he came to a junction and turned right keeping his back to the walls. Leaping up again he climbed silently and fluidly to the roof of a detached house and ran soundlessly across the tiles to the peak. He knew the stores here would certainly have bins out the back for disposing of unwanted food that he could forage for. He was about to move along the roof when he looked down and something caught his eye.

  “Oooh sissy dolly,” Aiden snapped at Maria nastily.

   Maria was scared. She’d gone to the shops to buy some milk for her mother and Aiden was there. She didn’t like Aiden. He was older, bigger and bullied her and the other small kids at every chance he got. The shops were only round the corner, she could see the front garden of her house from here. She hoped someone would help her but there was no one around.

   Aiden grinned at her, his smile not even remotely reassuring and held out his hand. 

  “Give it to me and let me look at it.”

   Maria gripped the doll even tighter and shook her head. She knew that if she gave it to him, even for a second, she’d never see it again or he’d break it. 

  Aiden moved forward, backing her up against the wall and looked both ways in case any adults were around or that nosey Community Support Officer who occasionally wandered round the estate.

   “Let me hold it for a second and I’ll let you have it back,” he said. 

  Maria was on the verge of tears and didn’t want Aiden to see her crying. “Let me go Aiden,” she pleaded. “My mummy will be wondering where I am.”

   “Best give me the doll then you stupid cow,” he said trying to snatch it from her. 

  Maria bolted and ran and Aiden followed her laughing. “Go on run little cow!” he whooped, easily catching her up in about three steps. 

  Maria screeched as Aiden tripped her up, pushing her down on the paved slabs outside the shops. She skidded and fell, the milk carton going flying and bursting open.

   Aiden reached down and grabbed her doll in his grubby hands. She screamed as he tore it free from her grip and shook it in front of her triumphantly. 

  “See what happens when you don’t do what you’re told?!!” he shouted at her.

   Maria had skimmed her knees as she fell and she started to cry. Aiden grinned and grabbed the head of her doll and pulled hard.

   “No!” Maria screamed at him as the head came free with a pop. Aiden laughed and dropped it on the floor and put his filthy trainer on it, stamping up and down on the plastic body and twisting his foot. 

  Maria bawled loudly, looking on helplessly as Aiden ruined her toy. The doll was a present from her nana, who had died last year, and it was her favourite. Giving the doll one last twist with his foot Aiden turned around and walked off laughing.

   Staggering to her feet Maria looked around and ran wailing into her home, shouting for her mother.

   Aiden walked down the alley between Maria’s house and the precinct of shops. Whistling a happy tune with his hands in his tracksuit bottoms he failed to notice the cold, furious eyes that watched him silently from a rooftop across the square.

  When Aiden got home his mother was in front of the huge plasma screen TV in their lounge. She turned as he came in, her half smoked cigarette clutched in her fingers. “Get yourself some dinner, there’s microwave corned beef hash in the freezer.”

   “Whatever!” Aiden said disinterestedly and slunk off upstairs, leaving his mother in a cloud of smoke watching television.

   He went up to his room and opened the door with the sign, “Aiden’s Den. Keep Out or be Dead,” on it with a black skull and crossbones. 

  He switched on the TV in his room and turned on his games console. He fell back onto his bed and picked up the control pad while a war game started to load. As the game began he became engrossed in the action, not noticing the squeak on the stairs that meant someone was coming up. 

  As his door opened he hit “pause” on the pad and cursed loudly. “Mum! I told you to knock when you….” then looked up and his voice trailed off abruptly.  

  Mordalayn stood glaring at him in the doorway. His rage at what he’d seen the boy do to the little girl was barely controlled as he silently closed the door. 

  Aiden stammered. “What, wh..who are YOU?” 

  Mordalayn moved forward and stood towering over him silent and terrifying, his hood thrown back to reveal his face. Aiden gulped, the game controller forgotten in his hands, his eyes flicking over the huge sword on the stranger’s back and the figure’s cat face, whiskers bristling angrily. Glancing around the room Mordalayn saw the chaos of a young boy’s bedroom with old sweet wrappers and magazines on the floor amongst old clothes. He looked around slowly and his eyes finally rested on Aiden.

   “The necklace you’re wearing. Give it to me,” he said flatly.

   Aiden’s hand went up to the chunky, gold necklace he wore. It was a present from his father for his tenth birthday. “What? No way. Get lost!” 

  He scrambled to his feet and made for the door but Mordalayn grabbed him by the collar and hauled him back, clamping his gloved hand over Aiden’s mouth to stifle the boy’s yell of fear. He tugged hard at the necklace which snapped free with a jerk, two of the links clattering to the floor and Aiden yelped. 

  Casually placing the chain into a pocket of his robe Mordalayn tossed Aiden back against a pile of dirty clothes in the corner of the room. As he reached for the door handle Aiden found his voice.

   “Don’t take that. Please! My dad gave me that.” He started to cry. 

  Mordalayn paused for a second then turned. He glared at Aiden and his green eyes narrowed. “You laughed at that little girl’s tears today,” he said slowly. “Remember how this feels.” Then he opened the door and closed it behind him. He lithely crept down the stairs and walked past the lounge doorway, Aiden’s mother was still engrossed in her TV show and never noticed as Mordalayn made for the open kitchen door and vanished into the back garden.

  Maria’s mother Sylvia kissed her forehead as she slept, heartbroken about what had happened. She’d disinfected Maria’s grazed knees and cuddled her while she cried herself to sleep. “That boy Aiden is utterly vile” she thought, but the police either couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about his behaviour. Each time they either failed to return her calls or simply sent that useless community support officer round to deal with it. The officer had tried to visit Aiden’s home to discuss the matter with his mother but she had simply screamed at her to go away. The only advice the police were willing to give now was “tell Maria to keep away from him.” 

  She stroked Maria’s hair and pulled a stray lock away from her face, tucking it behind her ear. Sighing, she stood and pulled the door half closed, the landing light casting a subdued beam into the room. Taking one last look at her sleeping daughter she went downstairs into the kitchen. 

  Making for the rubbish bin Sylvia pulled the white bin liner free and checking there were no holes in the bag she tied the yellow string tightly at the top and opened the kitchen door. She walked the ten or so yards to the large wheelie
bins on her driveway and opening the nearest one she tossed the bag inside. Before she could close it a thick voice spoke quietly. “Don’t be frightened but please don’t turn around.”

   Sylvia jumped with fear. “What do you want?” she stammered. “I haven’t got any money on me.” 

  “I’m not here to hurt you,” the voice replied. “I just want to give you something.” Sylvia twitched her head but there was only a shadow behind her, the low light on the driveway was not enough to see by. She closed the dustbin lid and rested her hands on it. After a pause the voice continued. 

  “The boy who hurt your daughter today will never do that again. He is sorry and he wants you to have this to make up for his actions.”  

  Sylvia glanced to her right as a paper bag was placed on the lid of the wheelie bin next to her. The gloved hand withdrew and after a long silence she slowly turned round. The driveway was empty. Breathing out heavily she placed one hand on the wall to steady herself. Then she delicately picked up the bag and walked into the kitchen to see what was inside.

  Next morning Maria came downstairs for breakfast bleary eyed and grumpy. She was still upset and was surprised to see her mother making pancakes at the cooker, singing softly to herself. As Maria came in she smiled broadly.

  “Hello my little angel” Sylvia said, wiping her hands on a tea towel, hugging Maria then kissing her cheek.  

  “What’s the special occasion mummy?” Maria asked, looking confused and taking her seat at the breakfast table. They only usually had pancakes on special days like Shrove Tuesday or sometimes on a Sunday.  

  “Well my sweet, today is a special day because your grandmother has bought you a new doll.” 

  Maria thought about this and even though she was only 7 she wasn’t stupid. “Mummy, how can nana buy me a doll?”

   Sylvia smiled again, barely able to contain herself. “Look in the bag darling,” she said, nodding to the white paper packet on the table. 

  Creasing her face in confusion Maria leaned over the table and took hold of the packet. She placed it in her lap and opened it. Reaching inside she pulled out the contents and gasped.

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