The catastrophe of the e.., p.24
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       The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, p.24

           LR Manley
 
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   The other soldiers began to shout in panic and the front ranks moved forward to assist their king. King James screamed. “Help me! Get them off me!” The first statue got a grip on his other arm and they began pulling him up the steps, roughly. As men spilled forward to tackle them the statues lashed out with arms and feet and marble swords. A total of six had stepped down from their positions on the walls and their vacant pedestals stood bare in the high noon sun. Two held James’s arms and pulled him back while the other four stood in front forming a shield around the king. They completely blocked the stairwell, preventing anyone from getting past. Mordalayn grabbed Jared and picked him up once more, like he had at Heathrow airport. He ran in swift bounds to the top of the staircase. As they got to the top Jared turned to see the genius of what Mordalayn had done. Even though there were a thousand men in the vast courtyard none could make it past the statues that completely blocked their way. It was so simple yet brilliant. None of King James’s archers dared fire as they could not see their king due to the gigantic marble guards that stood in his way. More of his elite soldiers ran up to try and rescue their leader. Swords clashed on stone and the statues were relentless, simply shoving and swatting the men back as they methodically stepped backwards, their huge feet thudding on the stairs as they made their way to the top. A crush was forming as the once disciplined army tried to force its way through. After having been promised an easy victory they were not about to see it thrown away by a tactic such as this. 

  Mordalayn pulled Jared behind the right hand wall at the top of the stairs, looked at him once more and then drew his sword and dropped to one knee. He held the tri-blade out in front of him, both hands on the hilt with the green jewel facing the heavens and the blades pointing down. He closed his eyes and spoke slowly but loudly. “Our Lady, in this time of our darkest hour, of our greatest need, I invoke the most terrible of your protections to save Alegria.” 

  With that he lunged down hard and with a clang the three blades penetrated the stone by about six inches. Sparks flew as the razor sharp metal ground into the smooth rock and Mordalayn shifted his grip on the hilt to touch the green jewel at the pommel tip.  

  King James was struggling violently against his two captors. One of them stood on his cloak and the king nearly fell, the fabric ripping as the marble foot tore a jagged shred from the silk.

   More soldiers were running from the front ranks, their orange and black cloaks making them look like a swarm of ladybirds as they hurled themselves to protect their monarch. It was to no avail as the marble creatures contemptuously swatted each newcomer aside, their strength immense and with a clash of metal and stone the various soldiers who bravely tried to defend their king were thrown back.

   Mordalayn placed his left hand on the top of the huge green jewel and said “watawashinda kebakaran” repeating the phrase again and again, his voice getting louder.  

  The statues had now managed to get King James half way up the stairs and he struggled and shouted for help. The front most ranks of his men were still trying valiantly to save him but despite their numbers they could gain no advantage on the narrow steps. One man tried a reckless move, darting directly at the king through a small gap between two of the stone figures and grabbing his hauberk, trying to pull him back. The left side statue grabbed him by the top of the head with one huge hand and threw him effortlessly against the vast stone wall. He hit it and fell hard, landing in the many multi-coloured flowers in the elaborate garden, his heavily armoured body crushing the delicate petals and stalks.

   Mordalayn still chanted and Jared saw the green jewel glow brighter and brighter, like the one on his bracelet in the airport. He gazed, mesmerised, as swirls of green light appeared from the jewel and spun around it and upwards, lazily at first but then faster and faster. “Watawashinda kebakaran, WATAWASHINDA KEBAKARAN.” The light wove in the air and a wind appeared, whipping Mordalayn’s long hair and fur and Jared staggered in its billowing gasp. The Alegrian soldiers on the landing staggered back to the doorway and wall, squatting down and trying to shield themselves from the furious gale. A high keening noise rose and got higher and higher, like a scream of anger being slowly increased in volume.

   Mordalayn stood now, his fingers still resting on the top of the sword hilt and he chanted louder and louder. He grasped the sword hilt with his other hand and tugged hard. The sword came free but the two outer blades remained locked in the marble floor, the lights weaving around them. He stepped back and one more time shouted as loud as he could, his voice carrying even over the din of the wind. “WATAWASHINDA KEBAKARAN…FOR ALEGRIA” and the whirling lights dove simultaneously into the embedded sword blades and made them glow an emerald green. Simultaneously the blades wrenched themselves free of the stone with a grinding noise and a shower of sparks and shot upwards. They hovered about five metres above and started to spin, clanging together faster and faster until they were a blur. Mordalayn grabbed Jared and pulled him back to the castle doorway, turning his face to the wooden door and pulling Jared’s head into his chest as the sword blades merged and erupted into light. 

  The explosion shot forward, a streamlined blur of white and green brilliance. A wall of fire that swept past the statues, King James and those of his soldiers who were on the staircase. It halted for a moment at the base of the stairs and formed into a vast monolith of pulsing, dilating power and with a final scream of anger it erupted again into the vast courtyard.  

  The shock wave bowled all men before it over, their bodies ripped to dust by its immense and inescapable power. Only those on the steps survived its furious wrath. The wave rippled and moved back then forward again, purging all before it. The hundreds of men that had proudly and silently stood in the plaza were now rendered into ashes. A few screamed as they saw the devastation being wrought on the front ranks and a few at the rear tried to run. The whole thing lasted less than a minute. The pulsing, ebbing power of the spell Mordalayn had wrought left nothing in its wake but ashes and dust. 

  Suddenly and without warning the shock wave disappeared, the green and white light slowly calmed and faded, the motion slowing and then there was nothing. Only the blackened earth of the once beautiful plaza stood. After a pause a wind came and whipped up the dust and ashes, swirling them round and then blowing them out the main entrance and far out to the green lands and forests beyond. 

  Mordalayn released Jared and he staggered forward. He looked over the lip of the right hand balcony and saw the ruins of the once proud plaza. The scorched earth and blackened walls cast a depressing balance to the ruined gardens that had been destroyed and torn apart in the shock wave. He gazed open mouthed and then his gaze shifted to the struggling King James, now at the top of the stairs, his stone captors standing still. They held his arms firmly and looked silently through white marble eyes at Mordalayn. The other four escorting him also stood still, their heads turned to look at the Caracalic. The pursuing Anghofian soldiers who had survived were now uncertain of what to do. They stood a few steps down from their captured leader and looked around, confused, angry and frightened. They had been promised an easy victory without even a token show of resistance and now they had witnessed their legion decimated. 

  Mordalayn stepped forward and sheathed his sword, the remaining blade locking into place, the jewel now dimmed back to a milky shade of green. 

  He ignored the still wriggling King James and addressed his men.

   “Survivors. You are loyal men. Willing to give your lives to defend your king. For that I offer you your lives. Lay down your swords and you will be spared.” 

  The thirty or so men hesitated, unsure of what to do.  

  “Don’t listen, SET ME FREE!!!” King James screamed at them. 

  Mordalayn glanced at the statues who pulled King James’ss arms until he squealed and then went quiet. 

  “You have nothing to bargain with. You are our prisoners. Throw down your swords.” 

  The men still hesitated and then
one, a helmetless man raised his sword. “You dogs think you can tell the King’s Daggers what to do?” he snarled and hurled himself up the stairs. There was a twang and a crossbow bolt buried itself in him. With a gurgle he was hurled back, his body rolling down the steps with a crashing of armour until he finally lay still at the bottom. 

  “Ye-es!!” Bue exclaimed from his hidden spot in the main tower.

   The other soldiers looked at Mordalayn and then slowly, one by one lay their swords gently on the steps and raised their hands in surrender.

   

  Chapter 40

   

  The Alegrian soldiers came forward with their swords brandished and rounded up the prisoners and took them to the main landing, against the palace wall. 

  Mordalayn turned to King James and motioned to the statues to release him. They did and then, bowing in respect to the Caracalic, moved off down the steps, making their way to their resting points on the walls. Their positions scarred black from the shock wave. Without hesitation they climbed back up and stood in their original positions. Still and motionless, no sign could be seen that they had ever moved. 

  King James was still wearing his sword and a soldier moved forward with his own weapon drawn and took it. 

  “Kill me you witch’s lapdog,” James snarled as Mordalayn stared at him, his gaze as cold as winter rain. 

  “I would love to,” Mordalayn replied quietly. “But I serve the Emerald Queen and she set down rules that even I cannot break.”

   James snarled at him again and laughed, throwing his head back. “So put me in one of your jails oh mighty nanny to the queen. If you cannot kill me then you should know that no prison can hold me.” 

  Mordalayn looked intently at him. “I cannot kill you without reason. You are too dangerous to be set free” 

  James then smiled and said slowly and loudly. “I invoke right of single combat.” 

  There was a gasp from the people around, including the captured Daggers. 

  Mordalayn stared at James and replied. “That will not change your status as a prisoner, merely commute your execution to life in jail.”

   James sneered. “If I have to spend my life in one of your stinking cells I will smile every day knowing I put you in your grave.”

   Mordalayn looked at him solemnly. “This is an ancient law of our world. I will not break it. I accept your challenge.” 

  James laughed again and cast his cloak to one side. “Very well, at least I will have the satisfaction of seeing you die.”

   Mordalayn drew his sword and glanced over to the soldiers. They understood and ten men created a circle around the two combatants. One threw a sword at James’ss feet. As Mordalayn walked up and stood facing him the final soldier took up position. Five others faced the captured men with their swords drawn and their eyes full of anger.

  Mordalayn glanced over his shoulder to where he knew Bue was hidden. The boy saw the look on the Caracalic’s face and lowered his bow. 

  James faced the Caracalic with wary eyes, his contempt never leaving his face. He began to edge around the inside of the circle of men, his blade held expertly before him. 

  “You know I am the best swordsman in Anghofio?” he taunted Mordalayn who stood stock still and simply turned his head to watch James as he tried to flank him. 

  “You talk too much,” Mordalayn replied and with blinding speed he brought his sword in an arc over his head to where King James stood. The man parried the blow, the clash of steel loud in the otherwise silent theatre of combat. He jerked with the impact, adjusted his footing and then countered with a blinding side sweep. Mordalayn leapt back and snarled, avoiding the blow with ease and then lunged forward. James brought his own sword down and bent in the middle to avoid the lunge that would have disembowelled him. He then struck again and again, trying to drive Mordalayn back. The Caracalic simply stood there and countered the ferocious blows and then stepped to one side and brought his own sword round in an arc to James’s head. He changed the angle at the last moment and James just managed to leap clear as the hilt caught him in the face, the hard metal gashing his forehead.

   He stood back, panting and glared at Mordalayn, touching the small wound. Jared stared on awestruck and no one made a sound. The circle of Alegrian soldiers remained implacable, watching the fight emotionlessly. 

  James drew back his fingers and frowned. “It seems you have first blood,” he said thinly. He then ran at the Caracalic and again tried to hammer his sword down in blinding, unpredictable arcs of blurring motion. Mordalayn simply dodged and weaved, both feet firmly on the ground and then parried the final swing, bringing his foot up and kicking James square in the stomach. With a whoosh of air he staggered back and folded slightly, then threw up his sword to parry Mordalayn’s renewed attack.

   The men broke apart again and circled each other. The wall of guards were now looking less than impassive. One or two were looking concerned.  

  Mordalayn launched himself at James again who span around as he came towards him, then ducked down and aimed his sword at Mordalayn’s legs. The Caracalic saw the movement in time and jumped clear. James had anticipated his ruse being seen and simply brought his sword back in an abrupt reversal as Mordalayn leapt over the flashing blade. The Caracalic’s reflexes were still so good that he managed to dodge that blow too, at least the full force of it. The blade nicked his chest, the droplets of blood spattering into the air.

   The men broke again, James was panting slightly. One of the guards made to move forward but Mordalayn held up his hand again. “Hold! He’s mine!” 

  The man stepped back, looking worried and stepped back into the protecting circle. James glared at Mordalayn who ignored the blood seeping down his shirt.  

  “You are good Caracalic, I give you that. Maybe your forsaken queen wanted you for more than your abilities as a wet nurse.”

   Mordalayn snarled and launched himself at James again who parried and the swords clashed. Both men struggled against each other, the blades locked. “You should have joined us,” James hissed through gritted teeth into the Caracalic’s face as they stared at each other over their blades. “What use is a dream warrior without a dreamer?” 

  “Loyalty is something you know nothing of,” Mordalayn spat at him shoving James back hard. He fell into one of the guards who pushed him back into the centre. 

  “Clear the circle,” Mordalayn shouted and the guards, after a moment’s hesitation stepped clear. James smiled and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. 

  “Well, well” he said, spinning his sword over his hand and moving back into the larger space now given to him. He ran at Mordalayn again and their blades clashed, broke free and then rang out again. Steel upon steel the blades fell and rose again, a lethal blur of metal. The panting of James was now being joined by Mordalayn’s. Jared was worried, he’d never seen the Caracalic look even remotely tired before now. 

  James jumped back and lunged again at Mordalayn who stepped clear and drove his elbow into James’s face. There was a crunch and James screeched and broke clear. 

  Mordalayn paused and stared with expressionless eyes at the traitor. James recovered and spat out the blood that had run into his mouth.

   “Did anyone ever tell you why you have no childhood?” he said and lunged at Mordalayn who parried the blow again. He didn’t answer but continued to edge around where James stood, looking for an opening. 

  “Didn’t you ever wonder?” James hissed at him gasping, his hair messy with sweat, sticking to his face. 

  Mordalayn again hurled up his sword, the blade catching James’s blade. He still didn’t answer but the flicker of anger and curiosity on his face was all James needed.

   “Ever wondered why your life began when you were 14 summers old?” James said, lunging again and Mordalayn this time simply stepped away. The crowd watching were now spellbound, even the prisoners were unable to look away. 

  Mordalayn stopped circling an
d held his sword in front of him, the blade pointing at the sky. 

  James grinned and seeing that he had the Caracalic’s attention he said with finality. “If you kill me you’ll never know.” 

  There was a long pause while everyone watched and then with a blood curdling snarl Mordalayn swung viciously at James, his blade curving again and again. James tried to parry but the fury of the blows was too much for him. He was beaten back and with a thud his back hit the chest-high wall overlooking the forests of Alegria.

   He raised his arm to parry Mordalayn’s blow, aimed for his head. With a cry of pain the sword was wrenched from James’s hand. The blade span as it arced out and down to the trees far below.

   James stared at Mordalayn not with a look of defeat but with triumph etched on his face. He rested his arms on the wall and stared at the victorious Caracalic through bloody, exhausted eyes.

   Mordalayn stood in front of James. His rage was obvious to all watching as he slowly raised his sword and placed the tip at James’s throat.  

  “Go ahead,” James whispered. “Break your precious Queen’s most sacred law.” 

  Mordalayn continued to glare at the man, the sword tips not wavering in the slightest. 

  Jared stepped forward. “Mordalayn, don’t. If you kill him like this he’s won. Don’t you see? That’s what he wants!” 

  The cat face twitched as the emotions churned inside him.

   “Don’t let him make you worse than he is,” Jared pleaded.

   James grinned at Mordalayn as he drew back the sword. “Do it,” he said. 

  Mordalayn’s eyes flashed and, as if there were some titanic battle going on his soul, he quivered slightly and then slowly lowered his weapon.  

  James’s face transformed once more from triumphant smirking to enraged frustration.  

  Mordalayn sheathed his sword and looked at two of the guards standing silently watching.  

  “Clap him in irons and take him to the dungeons,” he snapped with finality and turned his back on James who looked frantically from left to right as the guards moved in towards him.

   As the two men reached out to grab his arms he snarled in frustration and reached with incredible speed for the nearest man’s sword, still in its sheath. He tugged the weapon free and lunged towards Mordalayn’s unprotected back, a scream of rage bellowing from his mouth, his teeth bared.

 
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