The catastrophe of the e.., p.4
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       The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, p.4

           LR Manley
 
 “I promise you this will not hurt or do you damage but you MUST do as I say ok?” Mordalayn’s feline face looked deadly serious and Jared squirmed under his gaze. Fellicone stepped forward and smiled reassuringly at Jared.

   “It’s ok my boy. This is quick but we need to do it immediately. Please be assured we mean you no harm.”

   Jared looked from Fellicone to Mordalayn and back. “What do you want me to do?” he asked, his voice cracking.

   “Just sit still. This will be over quickly,” Mordalayn said and looked to Fellicone who moved forward.

   “Please don’t be scared, but be aware you may be shocked by what you see.”

   Mordalayn moved to the windows and drew the heavy curtains, blocking the final rays of sunlight. He lit a fat green candle in the middle of the table and another on a cabinet near the front door. Locking it he pocketed the key and turned to Jared.

   “Stay in the chair and do not speak or move, no matter what happens. Do you understand?”

   The flickering candles cast an orange glow across the room and the shadows were long and deep. He braced himself in the chair as Fellicone stood in front of him and smiled once more. Gently he took Jared’s hands in his large, pudgy ones. He closed his eyes and began to say very softly:

   “Eye of evil, we see you. We know you. None trust you and none want you. You are bereft and alone. Begone from this boy.”

   Jared looked around but nothing was happening. Mordalayn stood next to Fellicone, his face emotionless.

   Fellicone repeated the phrase and this time he raised both arms with the palms facing down and moved to stand over Jared. After a pause he began a third time and Jared felt something prickling the skin on his chest, like pins and needles. He squirmed slightly but Mordalayn whispered urgently. “Keep still.”

   Fellicone loudly shouted. “Eyes of treachery, beacon of betrayal leave this boy and go. You are not welcome.”

   Jared could feel his skin getting hotter and it felt like something was moving in his chest. He fought to remain still but then he felt a bump against his ribs but from the inside and he yelled out and squirmed. Suddenly Mordalayn was behind him, pinning his arms to his sides and whispering. “Be still, you must be still.”

   Fellicone again chanted and then Jared saw a ghostly, shadowy shape appear through his t-shirt. He gasped as it pushed through and saw that it was the head of some sort of large bird. The beak was open as if it was trying to cry out. He couldn’t feel the bird moving, only the prickling sensation but he struggled against Mordalayn’s grip as the bird continued to emerge.

   It was like a huge black crow, faded slightly as if in an old photograph. It looked like a projection from a movie camera. It’s eyes were red and angry. Fellicone chanted, raising his arms higher. The bird thrashed its head from side to side and then pulled clear of Jared’s chest, its huge wings beating slowly as if they had been trapped. The bird shook itself and raised its head in anger at Fellicone and silently screeched, its long curved beak open in fury. Then as it finally wrenched itself free of Jared it hovered in the air and finally made a sound. A horrible, piercing screech that made the very air echo, as Mordalayn held Jared fast against the chair. The monstrous bird raised its wings and lunged forward as if to attack but then suddenly faded, the screech dying out as it vanished.

   Fellicone opened his eyes and slowly breathed out in relief. Jared blinked and looked around. The candle nearest the door had gone out and the room was dull in the sputtering flame from the other. Mordalayn released his grip and moved to stand in front of him.

   “The corvo is gone,” he said. “You will be fine.”

   Jared nodded slowly, sweat on his forehead and Mordalayn moved away from him. Fellicone moved to light oil lamps on the walls and another on the table.

   Jared gulped, then found his voice. “What was that thing?”

   Fellicone smiled kindly and said. “A tracker. Rancidrain placed it in you as a spell when you happened upon him in the presence of Our Lady. Have no fear, it is gone now.” He paused but then added, “had he known what he was doing we could not have removed it so easily or without harm to you. Fortunately our enemies used someone they would never miss so luck was on our side.”

   Jared looked at Mordalayn who was checking out the windows of the house, moving the curtains aside to look at the view across the fields to the dense woods further back. Far in the distance was a high hill and at the top was an elegant white building. In the dying sunlight the last rays cast a beam across the huge cat figure. Mordalayn turned to Fellicone and asked. “You are shielded here?”

   “Yes,” the fat man replied. “The woods themselves offer protection as you know. You are as safe here as you can be.”

   Mordalayn turned to Jared. “You must be hungry” he said.

   Jared realised his clothes were dirty. Fellicone saw him look down and chuckled. “Don’t worry; I can take care of that. There are clean clothes in the bedroom that will fit you. They were my son’s but he’s outgrown them now.”

   Jared stood and moved towards the room. Fellicone called after him. “There is fresh water in a pail for you to wash with before you change too. The meal will be ready when you are.”

   Jared stepped into the bedroom and closed the door behind him. His jacket was spattered with dirt and his trainers were caked in it, along with his jeans. He pulled off the jacket and dropped it on the floor next to the empty metal bathing tub. He was glad there was very little grime on his jumper and none on his t-shirt as he had to pull them over his face. He washed quickly and turned to the pile of clothes laid out on the foot of the bed. There were brown trousers of a heavy fabric and a light, green shirt that had no buttons but went over the head. There were no shoes so he realised he’d just have to wear his muddy trainers. He used the remainder of the water to clean the worst of the filth off and then left them to dry. There was a small belt bag, like a bum bag, made of brown leather and he put in the few items out of his pockets. About five pounds in change, his mobile phone, MP3 player and a keyring with a pocket torch on it. He tied it around his waist. Emerging from the room he saw Mordalayn was already seated then jumped at the sight of a tiny creature standing on tip toe and dealing with the dirt on the chair he’d sat on. It was small in size and looked like a little man until you saw its head which was the shape of an elephant’s, the tiny trunk slung over one shoulder. It muttered to itself as it worked, the dirt drying as it waved its hand over it and then brushed the flakes into a gold coloured dust pan.

   As Jared moved forward it finished and Fellicone said. “Thank you Ribbledonk.”

   The creature grumbled, glanced up at Jared and tutted and then waddled off into the kitchen.

   Mordalayn was eating from a large bowl, the stew in front of him was meaty and the smell was inviting. There was a plate of bread in the centre of the table and he broke a piece in half with his huge hands and dipped it in the liquid.

   “Come young master” Fellicone said pulling the clean chair back for him. “You must be hungry.”

   Jared sat down and Fellicone put a generous helping of the stew into a clay bowl and handed him a spoon. Jared was about to dig in when he paused. He didn’t know where he was and he had just been abducted by a cat faced giant while an elephant-headed creature cleaned furniture. He paused and Fellicone chuckled. “I think our young friend fears poison,” he said not unkindly.

   Mordalayn glanced over at Jared and without saying anything leaned over and dipped his spoon in Jared’s bowl, taking a big helping with a chunk of meat and then putting it in his mouth. He looked directly at Jared as he chewed slowly and then swallowed. Jared didn’t hesitate any more but wolfed down the stew as fast as he could.

  Chapter 4

   

  Mordalayn rode slowly on the large, black stallion with Jared behind him. After dinner the night before they had told him to try and get some sleep. That had been impossible and he’d lain awake wondering just what on Earth was happ
ening. Mordalayn had stayed up all night, prowling around the small house and the outside grounds. As the sun came up the cat man had come to fetch him. After a brief breakfast of bread and what Jared thought might have been milk they had saddled the horse and ridden off.

   The horse trotted at a leisurely pace through a dusty path that wound its way through lazily waving stalks of red grass. As they approached the line of trees Jared glanced behind and saw Fellicone in the distance, waving slowly. He raised his hand in reply and then they were inside the wood, the sudden change in light startling him.

   “Where did the doorway take me?” Jared wondered. “Somewhere unusual,” he thought but he had no idea where. In the distance he could see the sun, huge over the horizon, over twice as big as the sun he was used to seeing. It was light green and orange, the clouds around it a glorious display of reds, purples and oranges that changed every minute as it rose higher in the sky.

   Mordalayn sensed the fear in Jared. "It's all right boy. Don't be frightened. See the lake in the distance through the trees? That's where we're going.”

   As they rode along a whispering voice suddenly said. “Master why are you here on this path?”

   Jared jumped. The voice was like the wind whistling in the grass. It was as if it wasn’t actually spoken but more inside his own head. He looked around frantically as Mordalayn gently reigned the horse to a stop.

   “Good friend we are on our way to Alegria. Two travellers, surely you can allow such innocents as us to pass?.”

   “Master Mordalayn?” the whispering voice said again with curiosity. Jared glanced around and to their left he saw that the leaves of a large tree were twisting in the breeze. As he stared at it the leaves rippled and formed, breaking into patterns to suggest there was a face in there. The large lips and eyes formed and then dissapeared, to reemerge in the next tree and then into a third. Finally the voice spoke while the leafy face looked at them both.

   “Oh, master Mordalayn you are with a young friend. Pray, who is this young boy?”

   “This is master Jared, a very important friend of the Emerald Queen” Mordalayn replied in a friendly yet totally formal tone. “We are on our way to the palace so he can help her in her time of trouble.”

   The face in the leaves rippled, broke and reformed and the green lips appeared to smile. “Gooooood” the voice whispered. “Master, you are always welcome in this wood. Please tread carefully. Take only what you need from it.”

   “You are very kind my friend, Our Lady will hear of your kindness to one who serves her. Have a good day.”

   The face seemed to smile once more and with a final flurry of the leaves and a whistle of wind the trees became still.

   Mordalayn tugged the reins gently and they continued on the path. “What was that?” Jared asked bewilidered.

   “Forest guardians of the border lands” Mordalayn said quietly. “They guard their own. They are friendly enough if they like you.”

   “And if they don’t?” Jared asked.

   “Then, well you’ve got a big problem.” Mordalayn replied.

   Jared glanced to the left and saw the lake Mordalayn had referred to in the distance. They rode in silence and then dismounted near a long wooden fence. Mordalayn took their packs from the horse and then slapped its rump. The horse bolted, headed back to the farm. Jared’s feet got stuck in damp patch of mud but Mordalayn caught his arm. "Careful lad, this ground is treacherous" he said sternly.

   Near them was the same orange ooze that he’d seen at the farm. Steam twisted from it. “What is that stuff?” he asked.

   “Old magic.” Mordalayn said and then added “since Our Lady is hurt it is building like sewage. Don’t step in it.”

   Jared nodded, fearfully.

   They moved towards the lake on a path cutting from the field down to an area with an enclosed paved section with a large wooden table and seats. The path veered right to a fence that appeared to be made of some sort of livid, wet looking brown plant.

   They walked down further and before them was a large lake and a bridge of maybe fifty metres in length extended out to a square dock port. Moored there was a small yet elegantly carved boat with oars lashed to it. The bridge was rickety and old looking with nothing to keep someone from falling in, although wide enough for two people to walk comfortably side by side. The water was a vivid, rich blue and impossible to tell how deep.

   "Look, I know you did something weird back there but this is crazy" Jared said, stopping and turning round to face his escort. Mordalayn stared at him impassively, towering over Jared. He remained silent for a moment then said:

   "There are many things I need to tell you but we're not safe here. Unless we keep moving we can be found. I promise you I'll tell you everything you need to know once we are somewhere beyond danger."

   Just then heard there was the sound of hooves in the distance. Mordalayn whirled, pulling Jared behind him. From behind the large copse of trees there appeared five riders on large horses. They were all hugely powerful beasts. The riders were all men, all dressed in long, red cloaks and carrying sheathed swords at their sides with what appeared to be a bundle of short spears behind the saddles of their mounts. The horses were shining with the exertion of the gallop.

   Mordalayn whispered. "Don't move and don't say anything.”

   The horses slowed at a signal from the foremost rider and stopped a short distance away forming a line. Then the riders dismounted and stood looking towards them, hands on their swords.

   The leader strode toward Mordalayn, smiling broadly, one of his front teeth glinting. He was white haired and clean shaven with broad shoulders and reminded Jared of a rugby player his dad knew. The mud on the shore caked his dark leather boots. Flipping his cloak over his shoulder he bowed theatrically, making a flourishing gesture with his gloved right hand as he dipped low.

   "Well, well, my friend. Seems you have collected a stray.”

   Mordalayn said nothing. Jared peered out anxiously from behind him.

   "Come come Takoba, this is no time to be belligerent or unfriendly.” He gestured behind him to his men who glanced quickly at one another and their grips tightened on their sword hilts.

   The man moved forward slightly, his smile broad. "My thanks, it is indeed an honour.”

   Mordalayn’s icy stare never changed. “You have no honour Siavy” he hissed angrily. “You are a mercenary and a thief.”

   The man's smile never faded but he took one step closer. "Mordalayn you are a loyal servant to Alegria, however the boy comes with us.” He signalled to two of his men to move forward and they did so, striding forward purposefully.

   Mordalayn snarled and stepped clear of Jared, unsheathing the huge sword. The metal hissed free of the scabbard and two men stuttered to a halt on the muddy shore.

   Siavy shook his head slowly. "I will offer you one final chance. Give us the boy and you can go. The alternative is that we kill you and take the boy anyway.”

   Mordalayn said nothing.

   Siavy sighed. "Very well" he said with a resigned air. His smile faded and he turned to his men. "Take him" he said curtly.

   Mordalayn whirled, turning quickly to Jared and shoving him hard. "Run to the boat" he shouted.

   The soldiers charged at Mordalayn with their swords drawn.

   "Yield!" one shouted. Mordalayn didn't pause but raised his sword above his head and as the man raised his own to parry the expected down swing, Mordalayn kicked out with his left leg, his wide foot landing square in the man's guts. With a whoosh of air the man flew back four feet and dropped his sword, grasping his winded stomach and heaving in pain.

   Mordalayn then turned to the other and brought the sword down in a vicious arc towards the man's head. The man countered in terror as the three blades rammed down with furious force upon his own steel. Before the soldier could react Mordalayn brought the hilt of his sword into the man's head, knocking him out cold.

&nbs
p;  Jared stood mesmerised on the bridge watching this unfold. Mordalayn had put the first two soldiers down in the space of a few seconds. He turned and ran. “I don’t want to fall in,” he thought but noting through his fear that the boards seemed dry despite how close they were to the water.

   Mordalayn ducked a blade aimed for his head and, holding his sword in his right hand, grabbed the man's sword arm and kicked his legs out from underneath him. He put his right foot on the man's neck, the soldier gasping as his throat was constricted. The final of the four hesitated, unsure of whether to proceed or not. Siavy looked bored and as the soldier glanced at him he jerked his head angrily. "Take him down! Unless you want to face me later!"

   The soldier lunged at Mordalayn who brought the flat sides of his huge tri-blade down across the man's head, simultaneously dodging the blow aimed at his own neck. The man fell to his knees and then pitched forward in the mud face down. Mordalayn contemptuously flipped him over onto his back with his foot.

   "Hmmm....impressive. I was thinking maybe you'd got rusty after so long babysitting" Siavy said, adjusting his cloak.

   "Count yourself lucky I didn't kill them" Mordalayn growled.

   "Whatever" Siavy said waving his hand dismissively and looking with disdain at the prone and groaning figures scattered like fallen dolls. Mordalayn turned on his heel and marched quickly to the boat, not sparing a backwards look to where he had wrought so much chaos. Jared stood transfixed, still unable to comprehend exactly what he was seeing. The cat man strode towards him, then took him firmly but gently by his shirt and turned him towards the boat. “Come” he said. “We need to go, mind your step as you get in.”

   The boat was green and red, the paint chipped and flaking in many places. It was big enough for about four people to sit comfortably, with two benches with purple cushions across the middle of the boat, one behind the other. The cushions were also faded. Mordalayn gestured for Jared to sit down and then stepped into the boat himself, the small capsule rocking slightly as his weight momentarily upset the balance. He turned and began unlashing the oars, the knots undoing easily under his strong fingers. He released them with a grunt and dropped them into the boat, turning his attention to the mooring rope. Jared glanced around. The had cleared the horizon. Jared saw it was a gorgeous red colour. As he stared colours and ripples danced across the surface, reflected in the blue water.

 
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