(One of the optional prompts for my next Writers Group was to produce a piece of writing in the fantasy genre. We have one member who has written hundreds of thousands of words on fantasy and I think this choice was to honour him and make the rest of us try out something we may not ever think of attempting. Oddly enough I did write a long fantasy story – about 12,000 words – back in around 2010 so I decided to try rewriting the opening chapter from that. It was originally told in the third person from the main female character’s point of view, but this time I decided to write it in the third person from another character’s viewpoint.)
The Prince of Shadows felt himself being drawn inexorably towards his destiny. Towards the blazing citadel in the distance.
Just a month earlier it had been so different…
The Prince slapped Stralgaldirth’s side and felt the horse leap forward at the familiar command. Behind him a body of men followed, increasing their pace to a thunderous rumble. The Prince swung his curved sword, two black shapes which had appeared in front of the plunging steed dissipated into the air. All around, his warriors’ red banners waved among a flood of darkness. More and more apparitions were cut apart by swirling blades. But no sounds uttered forth – the opponents had no mouths. A silent battlefield; apart from the noise of horses and the dying screams of men.
‘Come, Stralgaldirth, onward, boy, onward.’
The horse responded and crushed waspish opponents beneath his hooves even as deadly fingers reached up towards his helmed rider. A path was made which allowed the Prince to swing around behind the shifting mass of shadows. His bravest soldiers kept close to his charging stallion. Together they began to slaughter the enemy now trapped on two sides.
‘Kave, take the right. Swit, the left. Finish this rabble.’
Horses peeled off in opposite directions, their blue-clad riders striking down the backs of the enemy with long strokes of swords. Men poured through the gap created by the Prince. Dark shapes withered and faded away as the attack from the rear carved through their ranks.
The Prince reeled in his snorting horse. He surveyed the final melee. Dark figures rose here and there, falling upon men, plunging their taloned fingers deep into the solders’ souls. The cries should have shaken the Prince but he sat unmoved, concentrating instead on the enemy being trodden under hooves or rent into pieces by sword and spear.
‘Small losses, a great victory, sire.’
A horse pulled up alongside bearing a grinning warrior, black powder coated a lance where it had struck down the foe.
‘Every man down is a great loss, Kave. Learn that. We are not plentiful, they are.’
‘But the men will return soon, like they, and we, always do, and we will drink together before we die together. Again.’
The Prince shook his head, a cloud of dust falling from his helmet’s rim.
‘That is true, but every death is still a death when it occurs. I don’t just feel the pain of my own demise, I feel every one. Now, let us return, count the cost. If another swarm appears too soon we will be in trouble.’
The Prince saw Kave glance over his shoulder at the hills from where the dark shapes had swept down. His companion shivered then kicked his mount so as not to be left alone on the barren plain.
The Prince turned his horse away, trotted in the direction of his citadel, soldiers falling in behind him.
‘Sire, we have word of a new building, a new citadel!’
The Prince looked up from the table. Maps covered the stained and gouged surface. Alongside him stood Kave and Swit, their fingers placed at strategic points.
‘A citadel? Impossible. Explain yourself.’
The messenger bowed low.
‘Sire, to the west, just within eyesight of our tower. Captain of the night guard ordered a patrol be sent out after a sentry spotted the light yesterday evening.’
‘Yes, sire. With a flame. A very bright flame.’
The Prince strode from the room, followed by his entourage, ran up flights of stairs, opened the tower’s topmost door and gazed westwards.
A flame burned. Even in daylight it flickered.
‘But there are no other lords, only my brothers and me.’
‘The captain reports a figure gazing from the top of the fortress. A woman.’
The Prince turned. He glared at the messenger.
‘A woman? You jest?’
And that is how it began. The Prince sent out spies, then delegations, then gifts. Tales came back of a beautiful young woman, clad in white leather, with hair as white as the winter snows. And a flame. Not only above her citadel but above her head when she left to ride around the land. Just like the flames which burned above the Prince’s and his brothers’ heads.
After another verbal report sang high praise of this newcomer, the Prince snapped his fingers at a cowering servant.
‘Bring me parchment. I shall write to this woman. And know more of her history.’
Hushed whispers fluttered around the room like moths startled from dark repose. Courtiers could not remember the last time the Prince took up the quill rather than the sword. Kave stepped forward.
‘Should we not ride out with soldiers, take the citadel, raze it to the ground.’
The Prince looked up from his silent study of the reports about the woman.
‘And what would that achieve?’
‘The Dark Ones. They might be attracted to her flame, overpower her fortress, cut off our access to your brother The Knight.’
‘Let us wait. We have spies watching the land around this woman’s citadel. If any of the enemy is sighted we shall saddle up.’
‘This is foolishness! You are a warrior, you do not write letters.’
Kave folded his arms, teeth biting his upper lip in controlled frustration. The Prince raised an arm towards a messenger.
‘There is something strange here, my friend. This woman, this…what does she call herself?’
‘Lucida, sire. She calls herself Lucida.’
‘Yes, this Lucida. I want to discover more about her. We shall act if necessary.’
Kave sighed, rubbed his jaw with a mailed fist and scuffed his leather-booted foot. He whispered just loud enough for the Prince to hear.
‘Let us hope we act before it is too late.’
Letter followed letter followed letter. The Prince became enraptured by the woman’s replies. The missives grew longer and longer, the Prince declined to ride out on Stralgaldirth, the horse stomped with boredom in the stables, the Prince ate less and less, his armour lay unused, his sword no longer gleamed from daily polishing, his men grew restless.
And then an invitation. From Lucida. To visit her citadel. Kave threw the parchment on the floor.
‘You’d be a fool to go! We should mount up, ride out, no men guard her tower, only two other women, rumoured to be her sisters, escort her.’
‘I must go. There is something odd here. Her words, even on parchment, lure me to her. She does not threaten in any way.’
‘It is a trick. A deception from the Dark Ones. Beware, sire!’
‘No, she does not come from them, I am sure of that. I must go, while I still have strength left. Prepare Stralgaldirth.’
Across the barren land walked the Prince’s horse, its coat now unkempt, its muscles weakened from inaction. On its back sat a man in rusting armour, barely able to lift his sword. Yet something enticed the Prince on.
Ahead he saw a woman on a white horse coming towards him. This must be the one they call Lucida, he thought.
She stopped a few yards away, raised her hands to her mouth and blew a kiss towards the Prince. It enveloped his steed then dissolved into the creature’s very being. The Prince sensed he was sinking. He glanced down to see his once noble warhorse disintegrating beneath his legs. Atom by atom. The Prince sank to the ground until he rested upon his knees. He looked up at the white-clad woman, a vision of angelic whiteness now close upon him. A sword hovered by her side, unattached to any belt.
She stared at him, seemed to look right through his body.
The Prince felt as if he too were fading away.
The woman moved closer and knelt. Her sword shifted, to hang above his decaying figure, as if ready for a final thrust.
‘Yes, it’s there, still beating strong. Your white heart beats within your decaying red one. I will whisper your real name, Prince of Shadows, and then I will ask you one question.’
She bent down. Her mouth almost touched his ear. Her nearness sent a shiver throughout his dying frame.
‘I speak your name. Asb’el. Now join with me or enter the realms of Darkness, never to return.’
The Prince’s weak eyes blazed once more, with recognition. Not since the Day of Outcast had he heard his true name. No one knew that name, apart from the Maker. How did this woman in her citadel know of such things? He looked into her eyes. He felt his fears melt away.
‘I join you.’
The Princess blew a kiss into her right hand and placed the palm over the Prince’s white heart. Warmth and light and strength spread throughout his body.
‘Enter my citadel.’
Lucida stood, the sword at her side, and turned her gaze to the distance. Darkness had crept towards the Prince’s tower.
Far away in the darkest corner of the world something shifted. The black flame of a candle was quenched. Talons clenched and released. A black tongue licked grey lips. Pointed teeth, ebony and sharp, were bared.
‘Ahthydreylh! A Fallen One is restored.’
Something moved in the darkness. Limbs stretched. An immense shadow heaved upwards. Glistening dark red lips parted. A tail flicked.
‘Fayll thiriflh! The Time of Times begins. The End is set in motion. Release the Fleydrll. Strike down the brightness.’
And one thousand creatures rose as one, silent wings gliding through the darkness. Blind eyes honed in on the bright-lit citadel in the distance.