|The Knights of Hollowhood
Author: Sekkan PM
His Mistress has called, across the centuries. A summons he could not hear and appease. Until now, while her prison lies shattered, her jailors long dead and even myth of her scattered. To the lonely town of Goldbend her cry lead him. So she can be free and the mountains hers once again. Written to the guidelines of a contest. A two part short storyRated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Fantasy - Chapters: 2 - Words: 6,770 - Updated: 12-09-12 - Published: 12-02-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3079408
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Despite the alchemist's habit on nagging over details, she never suggested I was lying or interrupted when I came into her shop and began to rave about what had occurred. She didn't even ask that I quite down, though I realized halfway through that I shouted everything up to this point.
She was distant for a few moments as she sat behind her counter, tapping one set of fingers upon a skull as the other lit a corkscrewing candle beside her.
"A black cloaked rider you say. Much too many of those about in this kingdom alone to identify it from that. More dark lords of something or nothing than cobblestones in town. If it was cyan or green...did you seeing anything or hear anything else, before the avalanche."
"Yes he spoke to me a few times before Captain Nigen heard anything. Lots of threats and nonsense mostly."
"Nonsense can help right now." she pressed.
"Alright, something like, the mountains do not belong to us and they they were his kingdom and he would not suffer intruders, something about of mistress and how the wind eats souls or something." I paused as a memory flashed. "I told you we watching an Affright when we heard the voice, well when it saw the clouds forming above us it fled."
"Well, I hoped for better, but perhaps its time to inform the mayor. Tiren get out here! I see you hiding behind that table." A boy, younger than me emerged, head down. The front edges of his brown hair was stained with some sort of glowing blue substance.
"Since you were eavesdropping I don't need to repeat it. See about locating this black cloak of the mountains. Start with Lost Lore of the Northern Peaks and then move to the Niska Tribe's deities and legends. I pray its not one of their early gods, their such a pain to deal with. Dressing in black isn't their thing, but they might mention something of it." She said packing a bag with various and strange items from her cupboards.
"You don't seem very concerned considering this thing brought a mountain down on Burns." I said feeling a mix of emotion though sounded angry, this dissipated as a chill came upon me and all too familiar voice said.
"Mountains bow to the Mistress just as all others will. The storm will outlast you" I sucked in a breath trying to warm my lungs. She spoke heading for the door.
"That is dreadful, but you don't know how many times things like this happen. Every time some adventurer gets his hands on some old but powerful relic, they prance about like they're the new king of Cartomi. There's quite a chance that's all he is and has been waiting weeks to finally shatter a mountain and has exhausted his power at the same time." I sputtered trying decide what to say.
"I'll talk to the mayor and we'll sort this out." She closed the door and left us in grim silence. I turned to Tiren and said.
"Look for someone called the Mistress of the Mountains." He blinked then nodded and slipped into the backroom. Turning to leave myself, I could see through the frosted windows the snowfall had only continued to increase, it was becoming a blizzard. That was a week ago and things were shown not to be so simple as the alchemist had suggested. I never saw her again.
I huddled in the corner inside the meeting hall, most the town was huddled there with me. The more privileged had managed cots, but the rest had just wrapped themselves in a blanket or two on the floor. Despite it being tight as a bucket of apples, we, what was left of us, fit well.
Captain Nigen pushed open the door with a grimace on his face and closed it behind him, hiding the waist deep snow outside from sight. Eager to be doing something and I was still a guardsmen after all, I approached and slowly crossed the floor laden with beds and bodies. He was talking to his second, his newly promoted second. But there was also some hope in his eyes for the first time since he'd crawled in the snow searching for Burns that week ago. Just to then just to send five of his experienced men to the mine with Jessica and as said, they hadn't come back. Worst of all, with winter just behind the town was back to depending on stored food and supplies they were alreadly low on.
"-there's about ten of them outside, king's men. Horses armored as much as themselves. They want to head up to the mine soon as possible. I'll lead them up and we'll clean-"
"Sir is that a wise idea?"
"I don't plan on letting them do this alone wise or not. I should have been with the alchemist and I won't make that shameful decision again." he lowered his voice. "If I don't come back just keep as we have for a day or two, if it doesn't clear up lead them out of the pass. I put what men we have left on the storehouse so there shouldn't be another incident...unless." he glanced back towards the door and I knew what he was thinking. I had seen that look across many faces this week. Every time someone was given a larger or higher quality blanket then someone else, when someones rations were a bit fresher or of a better taste.
The storehouse should be safe, unless its one of the guards that broke into it last time. I thought.
"When trust hasss no worth, then only onesss self doesss." the all too familiar voice whispered.
"But you'll handle that if it comes to it. Take care and-" he whispered once more, enough that I could barely here it and I wondered if this was the idea, that he was hiding even this from me.
"The merchant, the one that came into town just as this shadow fell upon us. He's dead and his wagon burned, after it was robbed certainly or perhaps it was just superstition that did it." The officer only shook his head.
"Hail, the Queen of the Peaks returns to her throne." As a shiver ran through me I couldn't decide which statement had set it off. As Caps stepped outside I scrambled to the door and forced it open against the wind.
He was mounting his own horse which looked proud despite his or its lack of height, armor or quality of gear. I called to him and saluted him as he turned. He grinned and saluted back. I wanted to go, I wished for nothing else, but I hadn't need ask to know that he wouldn't have it. I hadn't a horse anyway and the town would need the few they had left.
"Do what you can for them." he said as if hearing these thoughts. A moment later he was leading the foreign troops through town and was then gone like the others. Gone to meet the Mistress. And I knew then that I would, I would do anything that I could.
I wasn't an hour later when Jessica's ward, Tiren, came through the door, a large tome under his arm. His eyes were red, apparently finally excepting that his master wasn't coming back. He had kept calm till now and had rarely left her shop, perhaps simply in hopes that is where she'd return first. He spotted me and stepped wearily towards me. He never said a word as he squeezed in beside me and sat against the wall, only drooped his head and held the book to his chest as if it was holy. Perhaps it was, to some long dead people or creatures. Minutes passed and he finally whispered.
"I found her." I stared in confusion and asked.
"Your master or this witch of the mountains?"
"Both. We have a foot path up to the mines you see, to fetch minerals when we need them. I slipped up there just after dawn this morning. The witch as you call her wasn't there, her minion was about elsewhere."
"She wouldn't have, he just told me that she had just taken her throne. I don't really know what that means."
"So she's free, I'd hoped that perhaps she hadn't yet. If not the soldiers may have won." the hopeless in his voice was crushing. "Her throne." he grinned then rubbed his eyes. "So I quietly went up and found her. The knight, that's what the book calls him, the Knights of Hollowhood, had not just killed her, but had used her frozen corpse as an armrest for his mistress's throne. Binding her with ice to the other guardsmen to make the most horrid thing I can say I've ever seen. Even there terrified expressions still seemed to be screaming. I've read of worse, but books just aren't the same. I knelled there crying, I couldn't help it though I tried, then I heard his voice. I hadn't heard it till now, perhaps I'm the only one. I spun and there he stood right behind me." he swallowed before continuing.
"I tried to run, but couldn't, it wasn't the fear though I was terrified. My muscles were freezing from cold and becoming stiff. As I stared into that black hood, my mind and body just froze, couldn't think of anything besides fear. I still don't believe what happened next, an Affright, the same one you saw I think, saved me. It summoned the worst fog I've ever seen and the Hollow's magic failed. It lead me down the mountainside till I was halfway to town. We separated as we heard the sound of hoofs tromping on snow. It was when I returned that I took what I'd seen and realized, and soon found the right tome.
"I looked for what you said, the Mistress of the Mountains but then I realized that was wrong. She wouldn't be labeled as such, she was just his mistress. A throne of frozen bodies made it a bit easier." he attempted to laugh at this but only succeeded in sniffling. He pushed the book into my lap and opened it to a flagged page.
"Terriani Frostcaller. Deni of the Peaks, Whisperer of Lies." he said. "Deni is an old term that means witch and queen in the same word. Its almost as old as herself. She was a master sorceress and empress that could even freeze time or at least her own aging. But she could be imprisoned in these mountains, by the Earthwarders of the Arino Caverns." I understood.
"Yes, the miners must have fractured her prison and the released power caused the cave-in. The break must have called her servant or servants here to finish freeing her." he rose, leaving the book in my hands. "I should tell the mayor. He'll have realized that the king's guard aren't coming back either and will want to know his only option is leaving. If she allows it that is." he left, but I continued to read what I could though my education was small. I gave up quickly and turned to the illustration of the hooded rider and a thought, no a plan came to mind. A terrible and frightening plan, but it was something and Caps had said, do anything.
I found the path Tiren spoke of easily enough and spotting the rope used for a safety guide, found the snow buried stairs craved into the hillside as well. From there it was through the lumber camp and back into the woods. I hadn't seen many of these places before, being new to the town there was few places I had. But more than guess work, I moved into the growing cold.
I knew I was drawing close when I found the Affright. It had been staked and hung from a shorter pine like a linen sheet. Icicles prickling from its small form, piercing the limbs, wings body and eyes. I refrained from turning away until I had spoken the only prayer I knew for it and then continued on my journey. The snow was approaching my waist as I climbed, snow shoes hadn't been considered for the townsfolk would need them for their departure. Besides there was a likely chance that I'd end up dead anyway, so why waste them.
"You had been warned, the consequencesss are yoursss." the voice hissed and for the first time through my ears. I spun and just as Tiren had said, the Knight sat upon his horse who trotted lightly upon the snow leaving nothing more than a hoof print upon it, while I was left to practically swim through it. I couldn't help but notice the frost etched scythe resting on his shoulder. I avoided looking at it and held a hand up, worried that I might lose it for the action and said.
"I come with an offer for your queen. I carry no weapons so you have no right to dispatch me till she demands it." I had no idea if this was true but worth a shot. Unable to resist, glanced into the concealing hood where a face might reside. I felt as I was watching an avalanche thunder towards me, but it was not just of ice and stone. The crumbling mountain wanted me to smother and die beneath it and fear swallowed me.
He urged his black horse forward and I tensed expecting the scythe to come down upon me. But he only rode forward and grasped me by the hood of my coat and began to drag me up the slope. As I was forced to keep pace beside him, I decided it was a shame I was indeed weaponless, not that I was sure it would do anything, but it was an excellent oppurtunity. Frostcaller was a powerful sorceress but a different case. The text had suggested that ageless or not, she was not immortal and if one avoided her magic, she may be killed. I intended to find out.
I was half dragged, half lead up the slope till we came to level ground, where this continued but I hardly noticed. What would have likely been a barren road when clear of snow and ice was now a graveyard, no more like a memorial garden for the most honored heroes of stories. Where statues are erected of the revered person in some heroic postures, but these weren't statues of course. Well armored soldiers mounted on just as fitted horses were scattered across the landscape and they gleamed with the ice that clung to their flesh and armor and one figure that stood out near the front brought courage to my lips.
"I told them." I said bitterly as I shook my head then looked up at the Hollowhood as Tiren called it. "I told them that they didn't have any hope of defeating the mistress. But they didn't listen. Just as they didn't when I told them to leave well enough alone. What are swords against real power. The way you brought down that mountain was incredible, but they thought it was some sort of trick." It stared down at me and I took that as a threat to shut my mouth, so I did.. I had made my point already anyway.
"Did they now?" said a smooth voice. I glanced upwards, but was discarded into the deep snow before I could see the speaker. The Knight climbed down from his horse to stand by its queen.
The air grew ever colder around me. Coat or no coat. However my eyes turned to creature that even he feared despite her formless beauty. As my sight came upon the Mistress of the Mountains, my skin grew hard and brittle. I could feel my lips then my face begin to chip and crack as I threw myself into the snow once more, bowing, no groveling before her, then wiping the frost from my face so I could speak.
"Mistress of the Mountains. Please spare me." the chill ceased so I continued, making certain to keep all thoughts of suspicion from my mind. It was the one discovery I made with Tiren's book. The Hollowhood only had influence over one's mind if they suspected someone of treachery. If I contained such thoughts, I was free from his influence.
"Mistress, spare me from the misery of a freezing death and I will serve you as best I can. My family abandoned me here and the others were fools to threaten you, but I can do better. I will never ask anything beyond this if my service would please you. Let me serve you and only free me from the chains of fear. I want nothing to do with those treacherous, backstabbing swine, your servant has shown this truth to me and so I will serve as your wisdom sees fit."
I laid there, knowing that any movement could bring her displeasure. That if anything but whimpers and pleas escaped my mouth, she'd likely make a footstool for out of me for all of time. My only hope was something Caps once said, on a day that seemed like months ago.
The gods gave you one heck of a poker face. Though it did me no good with cards but perhaps here it might.
"Very touching but poetry aside, what is it you want?" I looked up at the sorceress, at the woman that had played with magic for so long that she had become her own storm, a blizzard in the disguise of a person. I didn't have to fake the expression that painted my face for the same desire burned within me, it was all that kept from from falling to the cold as the bodies she sat upon had.
"Power, mistress. The power to destroy my enemies and to serve you with. That is what I truly want."