A soldier rushed up to kneel beside Sebastian, momentarily drawing her host’s attention. “Sire,” the man began, “it’s the tarns…”
She could see the man was clearly nervous; bullets of sweat dotted his forehead and face, rolled down his crooked nose, and dripped onto his chest. His armor, much like the others’ around her, appeared well-worn and creased, like he’d lived in it most of his life. His face, chiseled and weathered like naked stone, belied his age; he looked somewhere between twenty and fifty. It was his eyes, however, that revealed his true age… eons. He’d obviously seen too much of the bad side of the world to ever be young again.
“What is it, Winston?” Sebastian asked, eyes locked on the soldier’s drawn features and wringing hands.
“It’s the tarns, sir; the enemy keeps driving them against the gates.”
“I can see that,” replied Sebastian matter-of-factly. “And…”
“And… it’s only a matter time before they gain entrance.” As he was talking, he kept drawing his eyes away from Kaelynn’s face, as if what he had to say to Sebastian made him ashamed. “What would you have us do, Milord?”
Before Sebastian could reply, a tremendous shout went up from below. This noise was followed by a sense of impending doom so strong she actually felt physically ill. Something terrible was about to happen; she just knew it.
She couldn’t help but peek over the edge.
At first she couldn’t seem to get her mind wrapped around what she was seeing. Everything looked normal at first, as normal as it could be, she guessed.
The distant forest, a vast sweltering swath of green only moments before, was now completely white, and hovered from here to the horizon; broken every so often by knobbed hills of crumbled stone and earth. Some of the more distant hills seemed ringed by windswept trees.
Directly below her, beginning at the base of the main wall, there was no forest, only a sea of tree stumps and broken knobs, poking their way up from the earth like an accusation to the winter-laden sky. The land between here and there, forest and wall, had been clear cut for quite some time from the looks of the blackened and rotten stumps. A winding road of churned earth currently wound its way out of the forest to the base of the wall. It was mobbed by an army of footmen and some cavalry, a menagerie of armor and fur, patched mail and leather. Some of the men, she could see, were wearing nothing at all, but had smeared their bodies in paint mixed with mud, twigs and leaves.
How they managed the bitter cold, she had no clue.
Then there was the other group.
Directly beneath her were the tarns’ retainers, men dressed in billeted mail and dark leathers with caps of steel covering their heads. They were also wearing shields on their arms. They were still poking their torches at the tarns and evoking their considerable wrath. Beyond this group, amid all the chaos and churning of the men, two very distinct and impressive groups had also gathered. Impressive for very different reasons, however.
In the first were men on shaggy black horses heralding streaming banners showing a silver griffin against a blood red sky. This group seemed to be the ones in charge. In fact, the one in the front, obviously the leader, was standing high in his stirrups. Except for his piercing eyes, he was wrapped entirely in what appeared to be bands of dull, heavy metal. A glittering point of steel, a weapon of sorts, was in his mailed fist as he stabbed defiantly toward the sky. If she didn’t know any better, she’d say he was the one controlling the weather, as the wintery storm clouds seemed to be swirling from a point directly above him. But how could this be?
Currently, the leaders’ eyes were intent upon the place where she and Sebastian were spying.
There were other two men beside the leader, if you could call them men. They seemed more like wisps of smoke or rags and tatters of dark storm-driven cloth than men. Even from this distance, the power they projected was formidable indeed; palpable waves of energy seemed to be radiating from them like waves in an ocean, crashing against the wall beneath her, then sweeping over her and the men gathered around her like an ozone-laden charge of lightning. The fact they seemed more menacing, like pure brute force wrapped up in human form, was enough to give her the shivers.
For just a moment the leader’s eyes locked on hers from across the field. Then it was like a camera close-up in a movie, as his battle-scarred face became amazingly clear. His eyes, currently shadowed by the visor of his helmet, seemed to reach out and grab her, see through all her defenses, revealing all her weaknesses, desires, and dreams. The corners of his mouth turned up in a mock smile, a smirk.
Then, she was back, Sebastian grabbing hold of her and pulling her down, out of sight beside him. She felt violently ill.
“I know him,” she gasped, “but I don’t, either.” Leaning forward, she barely cleared the wall before vomiting over the side, her guts wrenching, acid burning her nose. To keep her from plummeting over the edge, Sebastian reached out and steadied her.
He waited silently, until she was finished.
Dragging the back of her hand across her lips, she wiped the last strings of bile away. She felt both hot and clammy at the same time. “What is going on around here?” she asked. Not a new question, to be sure, and not the last time she would ask or think it.
Sebastian brushed back a lock of matted hair from her face. “Deep breaths,” he said, doing his best to reassure her. “Remember that event I was telling you about?” She immediately knew he was referring to the end of the world vision he had shown her as the old man, the one with the earth-shaking, ash-falling finality. “That’s one of them,” he said.
“That’s… the Fallow King?” she gawked.