A piece of original High Fantasy.
“The Pattern has begun
It will change every one
“The boy is born
On the sixth month
Of two years time.
“The Pattern has begun
It will change every one
“The boy will reach the Age of Right
The queen will die in a score year’s night.
The Dragons will all rise again
After she has fallen.
The Pattern has begun
It will change every one
Queen Alia Aggrailia made her way through the finely decorated halls covered in gilded gold and ornate jewelry. She clutched a lantern in her right hand and a dagger in the other. The flame’s light danced along the walls. Alia’s cloak billowed behind her.
Her footfalls were light and delicate, despite her rounded chest revealing her burdened with unborn child. Even in times of great stress she had been taught to be proper. Her brow furrowed and she stopped at the door to her throne room. She took in a deep breath and brought herself to her full posture with an effort. She felt the baby kick which nearly broke her composure. Deliberately she forced her arms to hang coolly at her sides. Her fiery red hair was settled against her back.
When she entered, she spotted a Skullharrower. The figure was cloaked in a black robe and his flesh bore the look of swollen purple bruises. A sword rested against his hip.
“Mattias,” Alia gasped, and Mattias turned his head, “The Pattern has begun,” she rasped.
Queen Alia walked through her garden with the Skullharrower at her side. Mattias shied away from the flowers, averse to them. When the two reached Alia’s pond she stooped, albeit with great difficulty, and plucked a lilypad from her pond. She twirled it in front of her face so that it tickled her nose. “These past few weeks have been tiresome, Mattias,” she said, “But finally, today is the day.”
“The Usurper will be born,” Mattias mused, scowling inwardly, “and by this time tomorrow every child born today will be dead in the streets.”
“Excellent,” Alia said, “You know the plan, my dear, whatever the cost. Every male child born today must die. Nobody will take my life or my throne.” The two walked in silence for some time, save for the occasional chirp of a bird. “My queen . . .” Mattias said with a half- bowing gesture, “Have you given consideration to the fact that you are with child?”
The baby kicked once again, as if he had heard and protested Mattias’s argument. The boy grew strong. He would be here any day now. “I know what you are saying, Mattias,” Alia rasped, “and I will not kill my son--no, no matter how dire the consequences.”
“My lady,” Mattias plucked his words carefully, “If you do not, he may one day end your reign.”
“The gods would not deign such a thing to happen,” Alia rebuked, “No one is deserving of a death at the hands of their own child.”
Mattias sighed through his teeth and through a clenched jaw he said “Nevertheless, it would be wise to take precautions.”
Alia cast the lilypad aside and scowled at Mattias, “Then it would be best to count me among the unwise,” she spat, and she strode ahead of Mattias back towards her castle.
Queen Alia watched, her back against her balcony as five year old Caliga Aggrailia scaled the castle walls. Caliga loved to climb. He loved the feeling of wedging his fingers and toes into open crevices. He loved the feeling of grasping stones slick with grime jutting out from the walls. He loved the feeling in his arms and legs as he hauled himself upwards.
“You’re quite the little climber, aren’t you, my boy?” Alia shouted.
Caliga smiled, “What can I say, mother? I’m part squirrel.” He let out an involuntary grunt as he pulled himself higher toward the castle roof. “I think I can see all of Vanthia from here.”
“All of Vanthia, eh?” Alia called out, her eyes squinting to see him, “I should hope not.”
Caliga reached the rooftop and pulled himself over. “Why is that?”
“Vanthia is a dark and terrible place,” Alia said, “Forgive me, my boy, but outside these walls you’d encounter dangers beyond imagination. People kill each other out there for the pleasure of the kill. Besides,” a small chuckle escaped her lips, “I don’t think you’d find anyone your age in all of Vanthia.” Images of her slaughter flashed across her mind’s eye.
“Why is the world like that, mother?” Caliga’s head peeked over the ledge. He turned his gaze upward, straining to see beyond the trees but only caught a glimpse of a few rooftops.
Alia did not answer. Her thoughts were elsewhere. “The world is full of bad people,” she said.
“You’re not a bad person, are you, mother?”
“Not at all, dear,” An image of a sobbing sister reaching out while her newborn brother was slaughtered crept into her mind. An image of Mattias holding the baby upside down with a red- stained dagger in his hand.
“Not at all . . .
The Skullharrower pressed forward, wooden sword in hand. Mattias’s sword thrust down upon Caliga, who raised his own sword to block it. He stumbled back, his shoulders and chest heaving from exhaustion. Sweat glistened in his bare chest and back.
Mattias stood a head taller than the thirteen year old boy, taking a ready stance as if he were immune to fatigue. “Again,” he said.
“Give . . . me a moment . . .” Caliga put his hands on his knees and struggled to steady his respiration.
He did not remember being struck, but he found himself on the ground, blood matting his left temple. Mattias pressed his foot against the boy’s chest and steadied his sword against Caliga’s neck. “Your enemy will not allow you a moment of reprieve,” he said.
“Get off me, Matt,” Caliga said as he climbed to his feet, “Honestly--” Caliga swiped his shirt off the ground and dabbed it against his temple, “I’m only a kid.”
“Your enemies care not how old you are.”
“What enemies?” Caliga growled, “I’ve been here thirteen years and I’ve never seen anything past the front gate. I don’t have any enemies to make.”
Mattias smiled, exposing yellow teeth, “You’ve got me,” he said.
Caliga ran through his mother’s garden. Aside from climbing, running was his favorite activity. His silk shirt draped from his shoulders and billowed as he ran. After fifteen years he had built up a lean yet muscular frame from his climbing and running.
The wind sifted through his hair as he tried to jump over his mothers pond only to find himself falling into the water on the halfway mark. He felt the fish swirl away as he ran through the pond. His shirt clung to his chest.
He heard a screech from above and he squinted at something flying off. It had four legs and an impressive wingspan. It bore black scales with a white streak down it’s back with red dots either side. Its forked tail lashed through the air as it descended. Its wings folded to its torso as it fell closer and closer, then perched on his shoulder.
Caliga laughed and held out two fingers to the creature, who nibbled on them. “And what might you be, little guy?”
The thing let out a yawn, tiny flames escaping its mouth. Caliga retracted his fingers just in time. “A Dragon,” he marveled, “A baby Dragon.”
The baby Dragon let out a couple grunts and Caliga felt something warm on his back. He pulled off his shirt and scowled. “A baby Dragon that’s not toilet trained, it would seem . . .”
The tiny Dragon made a yipping sound and flew off. “Hey! Wait!” Caliga was not aware he was running for a long while, and once he was he was not sure how far he had travelled. All that mattered was the Dragon in the sky, just beyond his reach. He did not know how long he had been running before he saw the Dragon swoop into a cave. He stopped for a moment to look around. He had not even realized he had run past the castle walls. His attention turned back to the cave; Fearless, he ran after it into the blinding darkness.
“Hello?” His voice echoed. “Hello?”
A woman’s voice boomed from the darkness. “Alia Aggrailia, is that you?” Sparks escaped the creature’s lips. Lighting up the darkness only enough to see indistinct shapes. He heard the creature slithering around the cave. He could not see it, but he knew it was big.
“No . . .” the creature said, “You’re not Alia, but you bear the scent of an Aggrailia. You--you’re her son, aren’t you?”
Caliga managed a quiet “Yes.” He swallowed the bile in his throat.
He could feel the creature smiling. “I’ve been waiting for you . . .”
“A little birdie told me the child has been seeing a Dragon,” Mattias called up to Alia on top of her throne. Thirteen steps separated the two. “Two Dragons,” he went on, “and he’s been seeing them for two years. We had to torture our . . . little birdie to get him to tell us what he saw. Yet he could not give us a location.”
Alia smiled, concealing her anger, “And what are you implying?”
“My queen,” Mattias said, “The boy is reaching the Age of Right. I implore you--”
“Enough!” Queen Alia snapped, her eyes cold and penetrating, “I will not kill my son!” She slapped the arm of her throne. “He is my child, and I will not see him harmed!”
To her surprise, Alia found her hand rested on a dagger strapped to her thigh. With an effort, she calmed herself outwardly.
“Your love blinds you to the truth! Can you not see he is on his way to fulfilling the prophecy? ‘The Dragons will all rise again--’”
“‘After she has fallen,’ I know!” Alia jumped to her feet, gathered her skirts and descended the steps. “Just because he’s spent some time with Dragons he’s going to kill me? The Oracle keeps prophecies vague for a reason.” She touched a hand to her temple. She wasn’t going mad. Her son wasn’t going to kill her.
“Your Highness,” Mattias hissed, “Something must be done about him. Do not make me--”
“Don’t make you what?”
Mattias stiffened, “Nothing,” he said.
The flames licked the wood in Caliga’s hand while Seraph’s eyes beheld it. Caliga had grown fond of the mother Dragon over the few years and had learned Dragons had a fascination with fire. “Is that all I need to know, Seraph?”
Seraph nodded, smoke rising from her nostrils, “All you need to know, I have told you. Your mother has killed all magical beings and keeps her land in turmoil. Keep this in your thoughts, young one.”
Caliga bowed, “Thank you,” he said, “I will return again soon.”
Sneaking back onto the grounds was easy enough. He had left under the pretense of going for a run, so all he had to do was come back running.
When he hit the foot of the castle he decided to go for a climb. He kicked off his shoes and picked a solid stone. His years of climbing had taught him all of the best places to do so. It was easy to scale a wall. Now all he had to do was time himself.
It took him eight minutes to reach the top, and he did not like what awaited him. He saw Mattias dressed in black mail with an ebony colored longsword in his hands. “Where’s the Dragon, boy?” The Skullharrower tightened his grip on his sword.
Caliga made an effort to keep his face blank. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Villagers have seen you leaving the castle grounds,” Mattias circled the boy, who fought to stay calm. “They’ve spotted you chasing a baby Dragon. It’s a shame they can’t identify where you run off to. So my question is--if you’re chasing a baby Dragon, then where’s the mother?”
Caliga turned to scale back down the wall, but Mattias caught his arm. “Let go,” Caliga cautioned.
“I’ll hurt you.”
Mattias laughed. “I’ve taught you everything you know. What makes you think you can hurt m--?”
Caliga’s fist made contact with Mattias’s nose. A mud like substance Caliga assumed was blood trailed from the Skullharrower’s nostrils. Mattias steadied his blade. “Wrong move, boy.”
Mattias came at him in a series of thrusts and lacerations. His form was swift, but Caliga’s years of climbing had given him quicker reflexes. He ducked underneath a swipe and caught Mattias’s sword hand. “Enough!”
Mattias smiled and threw his knee into Caliga’s gut. Caliga reeled away from a thrust down, coming away with a lacerated cheek. Mattias let out a growl and went for another attack. The rest happened in slow motion.
Mattias thrust forward with all his weight. Caliga had sidestepped the thrust, his foot entangled with Mattias’s. Caliga caught his balance just in time.
Mattias did not.
Caliga did not hear a scream, only the sickening crunch of Mattias hitting the ground. His gaze remained locked on the corpse below him. His shoulders heaved as he struggled for breath.
“Caliga--?” He heard his mother’s voice from behind him. He turned to face her.
“Mattias,” he said, “He tripped.”
It had been nearly year since Mattias’s death, Caliga would reach the Age of Right soon, and still his mother was wary. She never parted with her dagger. When she wasn’t passing out orders or ruling the kingdom she was sharpening it. Caliga had had enough. He needed to get out. He needed to see Seraph.
Caliga chased the baby Dragon, which had nearly tripled in size since he first met it. But this time something was wrong. It did not screech or do happy loops through the air. He just flew like it was his duty.
Caliga reached the cave and felt along in the dark for a stick. His hand clasped around it and the baby Dragon lit it for him. His eyes widened at the sight.
Seraph’s blood stained the ground, arrows were lodged into her breast and sides. Lacerations covered her body. She let out a groan that unsheathed fire.
“Seraph . . .?”
Seraph looked in his direction. Despite herself, she managed a stunted laugh. “Don’t worry, Caliga,” she said, weakly. “They’ve been searching for me for quite a while. They were going to find me eventually.
“Not like this,” Caliga said, “Not like this . . .”
Seraph struggled to breathe, letting out moans as she tried to move. “Heh . . . it would seem your mother doesn’t . . . heh . . . like Dragons,”
Caliga fell to his knees in front of Seraph. “Please,” he whispered, “Don’t go.”
“We all . . . heh . . . go sooner or . . . heh . . . later. I’ve waited too long. I’ve had my time. I just want to . . . heh . . . pass on this one last . . . thing.”
The Dragon touched her claw to Caliga’s head. “I’ve seen many things during my flights. Please . . . see some of them with me.”
Images flashed across his mind’s eye. His mother in charge of a massive slaughter throughout Vanthia. By the gods . . . newborn babies--children. The condition in which she had put Vanthia. People were strangling each other over a puddle of water while she dined lavishly every night.
The images faded in wisps and Caliga saw Seraph blow one last trail of smoke from her nostrils.
She did not move again.
He had reached the Age of Right. Caliga was a man grown and his mother had decided to throw a feast in his honor. Just the two of them.
He couldn’t ask for more.
When they finished their meal, Alia touched a gentle hand to her son’s cheek. “My darling boy,” she said, “You know I love you very, very much.”
Deliberately, Caliga said “I know.” He raised a goblet, “Let’s drink to it, shall we?”
“No, to you.”
The two took quick swigs of their wine. Alia smiled.
Caliga leaned forward on his elbow, “So about that prophecy,” he said, “The one you neglected to tell me about all these years--it was wrong.”
Her smile vanished. “What do you mean?”
“It didn’t take a score of years to kill you,” Caliga took a sip of his wine, “Only eighteen.”
Alia unsheathed her dagger and went to strike. Caliga caught her by the wrist in mid swing. “An eye for an eye ‘dearest mother.’ You killed my Dragon. I kill you.”
Alia tried to force the dagger down. “Are you trying to be ironic?” She set her jaw, “What are you planning to do, kill me with my own dagger?” Her arm shook with strain.
“No, no, no, you don’t understand,” Caliga said, “I’ve already done it.”
Alia managed stunted breaths, her eyes widened and her grip slackened.
“Dragon’s blood is quite a potent venom,” Caliga said.
Alia slumped to the floor, vision blurred as Caliga stood over her.
“I know of the evils you do to this land,” Caliga said, “And I assure you, the Dragons will all rise again. People won’t be strangling each other for a decent meal, either. I plan on changing things for the better, mother. I plan on making your legacy nothing!” He knelt down, slipped her crown off her head and put it on his own.
“Long live the king.”