Book Review

Book Review for The Forgotten Knight: A Chinese Warrior in King Arthur’s Court

The Forgotten Knight: A Chinese Warrior in King Arthur's CourtThe Forgotten Knight: A Chinese Warrior in King Arthur’s Court by Christopher Vale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Blurb: 

Following a fierce battle by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table to defend the home of Princess Gwynevere, Merlin the Magician is deeply shaken by a terrifying premonition of the fall of Camelot. Guided by magic, Merlin travels to the distant Empire of China where he meets a boy who Merlin believes will one day rescue the Queen and save Camelot from destruction.

The Review:

Right from the opening, the book begins with a battle. What better way to get the reader right into the story as well as acquainted with the main players and the roots of one of the main conflicts that will affect the rest of the story? Right away, I had a good sense of the characters, which were well described and each had a distinct personality. Merlin was particularly enjoyable (like a less grumpy Gandalf), and Arthur and Lancelot were pleasant to read. It was a treat to meet characters I’ve read in romanticized fairy tales presented as ‘real people’ in a novel. Refreshing. Sheng was also a passionate, intelligent young man, and I enjoyed following his adventures.

The writing is quite good. As stated, the characters are well rendered, as are the descriptions of places and events. The fight sequences were quite detailed, and anyone interested in envisioning exactly what is happening would get a kick out of that. I also particularly liked the immersion in Chinese culture, which was presented with enough detail to feel authentic.

My biggest concerns were the following: (POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT: skip to the next paragraph if you are sensitive to spoilers). It made no sense to me that Merlin, after receiving the vision of coming disaster, would disappear like that without giving his *king* notice, especially considering the length of time he was gone. He was the king’s most trusted adviser and friend! And it also amazed me that, after what could have been considered desertion, Arthur had such a weak response to his return. The other issue I struggled with was with how easily Sheng’s father agreed to Merlin’s outrageous request: let his only son leave to save a Queen in a kingdom basically half-way across the world–why should he care? Considering the importance of lineage and honour to many cultures in that time, it seemed unrealistic that after only a long talk (of which no details are shared) that Sheng’s father would agree. I kept waiting for a good explanation for that. Finally, as a reader who is used to third-person limited point of view storytelling, it took time to adapt to the third person omniscient point of view used in this story.

Those points aside, the story is engrossing. Sheng’s personality is fun and he’s always up for adventure, of which there are many good ones in the novel, including his trials to become a night and his quest to save the Queen. Also, I appreciated that Vale chose to write about a main character who is an Other, especially one that is integrated into a traditionally European tale. The Forgotten Knight: A Chinese Warrior in King Arthur’s Court is a very good read and I am happy to recommend it.

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Essays, Misc, Stories

Writing for Fun: The Messed-Up Result

So, a few weeks ago I wrote about the wacky writing experience I’d had with Sharon from my writing group. We’d met up at a local restaurant to chat, eat, and write. What I think started out as a serious attempt to write something good quickly degenerated into fun and nonsense, but the experience was freeing. (Click on the link above to read more about it). Anyway, I’d mentioned that if ever Sharon agreed to it, I’d post the story we came up with. She’s a great sport and agreed. So, I’ve posted it here. Now, please note that this is an exercise. The goal was to reignite the creative juices while feeding off the energy of another person. No editing, no rewrites. Pure expression of thought. Doing this, and seeing the results (which are humbling), just served to remind me that writing for the sake of writing should be fun: I forgot about performance anxiety, the desire to be perfect, and of doing things right. We laughed a lot. Bonus! And, though the story itself isn’t totally comprehensive, I enjoyed trying to emulate as much as I could someone else’s style (maybe we rubbed off on each other)–a means of stretching my own style and voice. And, if I look hard enough at the result, I can pick out many ideas, styles, and themes worth exploring. So, all in all, I thought the exercise was a success. For those who don’t know how it worked, all we did was agree to write 350 words before handing off. That’s it. As there’s no title, I just threw one in. Oh, and there’s a strong language warning: we stayed in character for this one. So, without further ado, please enjoy…

 

When You Call 9-1-1, Make Damn Sure You Do it Right the First Time

bridge

The light from the street light falls across the trees, a burst of light grey quickly falling away into shadow, like dusk. In the alley, I hear the cats mewing, then spitting, yelling and screaming as they begin to fight .They are mean bastards, cats.  All teeth and claws. And those eyes that watch you, captivate you with omniscient heavy-lidded knowingness.

I walk faster, away from the alley, across the bridge and away from town . My footsteps echo, and I wonder if they reverberate enough to wake the sleeping troll. When I step off the cobblestones and touch the soles of my feet to the street, only the quiet running of the stream is heard. The troll sleeps. The cats war. Yet I have escaped will walk on.

“You really think you’ll make it out alive, do you?”

“Shut it,” I say, pulling my collar up to my ears.

“Now, now, I’ve held my peace all this time, though it nearly ended me. You have to hear me now.”

“I told you to shut it!”

“But Simon—“

I stuff my fingers in my ears—childish, but it always seemed to work. He wouldn’t let me be, otherwise. Talk, talk, talk, jabber, jabber, jabber. But that is how my father had wanted it. A conscience, a needle that always pointed north for his wayward son who needed one.

That’s what he thought, anyway.

“That little mess you left behind, Simon, what do you plan to do about it?”

I shrug. “Dunno. They can rot for all I care.”

I sensed him bristle, pictured rather than saw him grimace. I never really saw him, come to think of it. But I knew him, and he knew me, intimately.

“Listen, just go away. I’m almost at the limits, now. Once I cross over…”

“Stay,” he said. “We can fix this.”

“I don’t want to. Tell the old man he can go to hell, too.”  Then I thought about it, laughed to myself and blocked him out again. “Well, I guess he’s already on his—“ 

“LAST LEGS????? Is that what you want, Simon? You want me to spell it out????? L-A – ”

“SHUT UP! I said!” As if the “I said,” adds the emphatic to the first. Pathetic is the ‘ic’, the ‘tic’, that’s what it is. That’s all.

The little mess I left behind. I know what he’s talking about. I turn into a darker-lit stretch of this cobblestone … as if darker even works here. It’s so dark, I’m having illusions, or is that delusions? I see an oasis of light. A pinprick. Yet if I glance above, the orange glow of the street lamps lend enough to this landscape of endless row houses that I could even see the detail of the door, if I wanted to. If I wanted to, I could make out more than the door. I could land myself straight on the window frame and go right through the windows, all two of their double-strength, triple-insulated glass.

I won’t though. Wouldn’t want to ruin it for the kiddies, still awake I see, as I walk by. What time is it? 10, 11, 2 a.m.? Who lets their kids stay up so late? I’m in front of one place now, and through the curtains. They haven’t rolled the whole thing over; there’s a place where the cloth is folded still, too thick, or wrinkled, or something like that, and I can see in.

“SIMON! I’m talking to you! Why do you always pretend, go somewhere else when I’m TALKING???!!!!”

I shake with the intensity of his anger. My collar has fallen, and my ears, exposed. I pull the shirt’s neck up over my ears. Again. Repetition is part of it, I realize. If I repeat, repeat, repeat, maybe I can magic him away. It’s worked before.

“That little mess you left behind. What are you going to do?”

Inside the brownstone there’s a flicker, a flame. From here, I can’t really make out what the source is, but it’s like an insistent candle calling the family into their current gathering. I concentrate on that flame.

There’s a raging beside, behind, probably in front, but I stand on these two feet and give him everything I have. Swaying. Concentrating on that flame.

“If you’d give me a second’s peace then I wouldn’t have to play these mind games,” I finally say, calmer now but still focused. The flame still burned in my head, it’s after image flickering and fluttering, thin like the birth of an idea.  

“What are you going to do?” he asks. His voiced is tense. He knows what’s coming. He’s known it since the alley cats, since my footsteps echoed across the lifeless bridge. And because he knows, I smile.

I head towards the house.  There’s a stick on the ground. I pick it up, flip it once in my hand, and keep walking. The approaching lawn is well-kept, dark green. Not one weed. Well, not for long.

“This isn’t a game, Simon.”

“Of course it is.” I hurry now, skipping across the grass, dodging the garbage and recycling bins already carefully set out, early. Such good and careful citizens.  The lid’s snapped tight. Not even the raccoons can get in.

A dog barks. I duck behind one of the bins and count to twenty, waiting out the following silence, just to be sure.

“I can bind you, you know. It’s painful.”

“I know. Dammit I know!” Other than his voice inside my head, the neighbourhood is quiet. Peaceful. So quiet and peaceful I want to scream just to break it. What I want are the thugs, the angry teens out for kicks, thirsty for trouble like me. The stick feels heavy but right against my palm. It’s perfect for what comes next.

His voice is louder in my head. “Do you think she would want this?”

I grip the stick. I pictured bashing his head in with it, only he had no head, no body. Just this damn annoying voice running like poison water though my head. “She left me, idiot. That’s why I’m doing this.”

Damnit! Ouch! Someone’s left something out here, on this kept lawn.  In the light beyond the pulled drapes, I can make out something, like a face. A DAMNED DOLL! What the fuck? One hand on the stick. Safe there. The other I use to pick up this wretched thing, the face peering out, small lips set in a grimace.

There’s a moaning, a grueling kind of murmur, a shudder through my hands. “There you are, Simon. There you are.”

Shit!  The doll lands on the toe of my left shoe. Shit!

“What are you doing?”

“Simon, I told you. I told you this is it. The big one. This is what you’re made for. Now, take that stick. No, not like that. Hold it high. This is what you’ve come here for. So what are you waiting for?”

He’s right. I’m struck by how accurate he is. Many years, too numerous to stand here and count, like I’m some rabid mathematical fucking genius in the middle of this lawn with this pursed-lipped doll behind my heels. If I don’t hurry, there will be more than the doll at my heels.

Here I am. At the door. Through the spiral of window on the left, the right, just above my brain, I make out a staircase. That’s right. There are two floors here. No, three. The basement. A finished basement, with a ping-pong table that’s often folded, so that one lonesome can play by himself, back and forth, against the folded green board … teasing him into believing he’s actually playing some goddamned game. Solitaire stuff. And the air hockey table. With the problematic fan that sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t; and when it’s not working, you have to kick the thing, or maybe you’re not a kicker. So maybe you wait, turn it off, on. A million times, every time thinking, “This is going to be it! I can play again.” Thank God, ‘cause what else are you going to do down there?

Down in the finished basement, with the stupid ping-pong paddle in your hand, and the board turned up, so you’re playing yourself, your own goddamned self. Or on, off, flicking the switch on the air hockey set, knowing that the second you try this again, the air will start flowing again and you can throw it at him! More than get it into his goal! You can beat him, beat him with the red mallet, red like cherry pie and things shouldn’t be that red.

Shit. Just stepped on that pursed-lipped doll’s head. It cracked; a round egg with no yolk, pieces bunched on the grass. Good riddance.

“Back to the cobblestone, Simon. Let’s cross back into the centre of town, where it’s safe. You can’t hurt anyone there.”

“Nowhere is safe, Simon. Haven’t you figured even that out yet?”

I kick the door. It flies open. Cheap locks mean easy deaths. I raise the stick and dash into the house.

Or I thought I did. Stupid slick-tongued voice in my head, stupid mind-controlling piece of shit Father-given impulse controlling freak. Living in my head. Deciding what I can and cannot do.

“Fuck you,” I say.

“I warned you. If you fight it, it’ll start to hurt.”

“I’ve always hated you.”

“And I never hated you.”

“Because you’re not fucking real!”

By then, the Father slid into the hallway.

“What the—Gina, call the police! Some asshole has walked into the house—with a stick!”

I hear the woman whimpering in the kitchen, fiddling and dropping the phone.

“For fuck sake, woman! By the time you call we’ll all be dead!”

I’m fighting him. I picture the stick crushing the man’s head, like a real china doll, brains and blood and bone spattering across the white tile. Pain flares up my legs and down my arms, but I use it, fight it, incite it. The wife is in the kitchen, squealing to 911 but the stick bashes her in too, crushing her stupid body against the wall and then, down the hall—

“Gah! Stop it, asshole! It frigging hurts!”

“You’d gone too far. I had to so something.”

___________________________________________

Falling onto the kitchen tiles. “I could crack my head!”

“That’s what you want, isn’t it? To crack?”

“What are you doing?”

But it’s not him. There’s a voice outside the one inside. I can barely turn my head, hand’s underneath my shoulder. I’m coiled on the floor. Can’t look. Seems like red is everywhere now. A fucking meat pie or cherry or rhubarb or strawberry or… blood?

“I SAID, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?”

The voice, familiar. Like a faraway time. Maybe it’s mine. I swing up on one elbow. There he is, standing in the door frame of the kitchen, the living room light shining against the outline of his face, neck, heavy shoulders. His torso. What is he doing here?

“I told you it would hurt if you continued. I told you.” He’s shaking his head like some grand know-it-all, patronizing the hell out of me.

I see he has the stick in his hand, only there’s only a half of it; it’s splintered, like some Godzilla came around and broke off the top. I think of the air hockey table, without air, the cats fighting out there, I swear I can still hear them. You’d think someone would have put them, the doll, the whole world out of its misery.

And with one eye still turned to the red tiles, I think of the cobblestone street I’d just left. I sense him in the doorway, arms crossed, half of the stick hanging out of one hand. He’s waiting for an answer. To what?

“Honey, the police are on the way.”

It’s the woman. She’s hiding behind the wall, talking to her husband from the safety of the kitchen, where the knives, and vinegar and all the sharp tools are. She’s probably eying them all, trying each one out for size.

I look up, and the man is backing away from me, crab-like, scuttling across the floor, dumbstruck and just looking, dumb.

“What the—who are you people? Where the hell did he come from?”

My head is spinning. My arms and legs are still burning, hot like hell itself had opened up under me; it lava had become my blood. I wipe the blood from my face but more keeps running down from the cut. “He’s my nemesis. The devil. He’s evil incarnate and he’s just saved your miserable, frigging, Ikea-perfect lives.”

He moves from the door, not the crab-man but him, devil-man, uncrosses his arms and grabs me by the scruff of the neck. “Poor boy has no manners,” he says to the stupefied father. “His mother just left him and all. You know, youth, no direction. Lost souls and all that. It’s a terrible epidemic.”

“Piece of shit, no good meddling father!” I swat at his hand, but it grips like an iron collar.

“Sorry for your trouble, sir. We’ll be going now.”

“Honey?” calls the wife. “The police…?”

“I-I…”

“Have a good night, you two. I’m sorry for the disturbance.” He drags me along the tiles behind him, we cross the threshold and I’m back on golf green.

“You’re nothing but a party-pooper.”

“That’s my job, Simon. Father’s orders.”

I get to my feet, follow him along the road until we get to the cobblestone bridge.

Here the entrance spreads out to darkness, all the way across there’s the lone street lamp beating down on the other entrance, as if someone’s about to make his grand entrance … or would that be exit, as if the one person on this bridge, under that street lamp is some kind of star of the evening. Some goddamned movie star. But here, there’s nothing.

He’s silent now, my father. Everything is silent now. I touch the stones that make up the hand railing of the bridge. It’s ancient, this thing. Came across a storm a few years back, and almost thought it would suffer from it. But no, still standing.

What are you going to say about a troll bridge after all?

That must be why he’s silent. This is where I leave him, or him, me.

“You got to promise me. You have to promise me.”

“What? What do you want now?”

“That you’ll shut it down.”

“Shut it – ”

“Shut down your mean streak. You have to, before you destroy all of us. Your mother too.”

“What the hell does she have to do with this?”

“You know what she has to do with this!” My father crouches by the entrance, or exit, or whatever you want to call it, of the bridge. Cobblestones. Cobbled together. He crunches up, like a … well, yah, like a troll, and quietly moves along the shredded grass here, to the current below.

“Your mom is feeling it, Simon. She’s feeling it now, and you have to stop this. We’re not getting any younger.”

There he crouches. Troll Father. Waiting for the next traveler to cross.

I’m yelling. “Oh, yeah?! And what riddle are you going to ask now? They’re almost used up, aren’t they? All the answers! We KNOW all the answers! Father!”

Stories

‘Frenzy’: New Story Experiment

So here’s a story I wrote a about six weeks ago. It’s sort of a mix of prose with elements of poetry, as I wanted to see if I could weave the two together into a cohesive piece. It was inspired from a visual prompt of an eerie scene of a body of water, rocks and a tree. About 1000 words. Hope y’all enjoy it. 🙂

Frenzy

Hooks. Harpoons. Bullets.

Scorching pain tore through her body. Rivulets of mystical blood mingled in the cold, wet murk.

The red-clouded water stuck in her gills. Metallic-tasting, it washed over her tongue. If she could smell it, it’d reek like rust. 

Beside her, his beautiful, silver-hued body, now hopelessly marred, floated facedown. Dull blue eyes stared into the void below, while brown locks waved at her amidst the bubbles kicked up by a shower of bullets and grasping hooks. The strands spread around the restful face, silken threads all around.

He was gone.
Rage dulled the pain eating its way through her flesh…

That night marked the beginning of her thirst.
Her desire to feed, inflamed.

Vengeance.

She dreamed of it every night.

***

‘Can you stop throwing rocks?’ Ham avoided Pete’s gaze, focusing instead on popping open a can of beer.

Pete snorted. He glanced at his friend, picked up another stone and threw it into the waves that lapped at their island of clustered rocks. ‘The ocean’s full of them. What do you think we’re sitting on?’

Ham shook his head. ‘These rocks have always been here. They belong. What you’re doing…what if you disturb something?’

Pete threw his head back to laugh, causing his shiny black hair to dance in the full moon’s light. ‘What? Are you afraid of sea monsters now? Is a Boogey man from the Salty Deep going to attack me cuz of this?’ He tossed another rock into the waves before leaning back on his elbows. ‘Man, you have to stop reading those fantasy books. They’re messing with your brain.’

‘How can you deny the strange singing we heard? How do you explain us ending up here?’

‘You’re saying we were drawn here? By singing?’

Ham stared down at the boulder, absently swirling around the dregs of beer. ‘Remember last month? What we did?’

‘Shut up!’ Suddenly sober, Pete sat bolt upright. ‘Don’t talk about that!’

‘But, Pete! We did something terr–‘

Pete grabbed Ham by the shirt. ‘I said shut up! No one can ever know. You got that? Besides, there were no witnesses. If we keep quiet, it’ll blow over. When the body washes up, they’ll think it’s just another hobo.’

Letting his friend go, Pete sat in moody silence beside him and stared at the restless water below. He hurled his beer can into the waves. It hit with a slap.

***

My prince, my love. Butchered by animals. With a fine, bone comb, she dressed her silver hair while listening to the muted sounds of the ocean. She sat, passively tending her gnarled features while awaiting the moment designated by Triton himself.

‘You will have your revenge, daughter,’ he’d promised.

She had been patient, but time was passing. The chasm of bitterness inside her was growing. Her vengeance must be sated. It must feed, or she would die.

Unusual sounds trickled towards her through the current. Unusual, yet familiar.

Trembling, she set down the comb. Triton had delivered.

***

‘For the last time! We didn’t kill a mermaid—or merman—or whatever! There’s no such thing!’

Beer had made Ham bold. The two argued while standing on the boulder’s uneven surface. Cold wind pulled at their clothes. ‘It had a face! And a torso and a tail. I’m sure of it!’

‘No, Ham. You were drunk! Like me and the others.’

‘I know what I saw!’

‘You didn’t see anything!’ Pete roared, stabbing the hand holding a beer at his friend.

‘So, what? It’s better we killed a man, then? Is that it?’

‘He should have known better than to go swimming at night!’

‘No. We should have known better than to go shark hunting at night.’

‘Shut up!’ Peter shoved Ham, sending him into the waves. Pete blinked when icy water hit him in the face. He hadn’t realized how hard the waves beat against the rock. If he didn’t hurry, his best friend would be pulverized.

‘Grab my hand! Ham, I’m sorry! I-I don’t know what—‘

‘Pete! Help me! Oh my—!’

Ham was gone. Not because of the waves crushing him against the rocks. Not because the current was too strong.

It was something else.

Pete rubbed his eyes and looked again. The sea was angry. One sacrifice wasn’t enough. He shook his head, hardly believing that Ham’s far-out stories suddenly made sense. What sea creatures were in those books again? Leviathans? Sea serpents? Mermaids?

He almost laughed. Mermaids weren’t dangerous. They sang and swam with schools of fish. Isn’t that how they were portrayed in movies and cartoons?

But Ham needed help. Pete wouldn’t leave him, not after the last time when they had injured that man and left him to die.

Pete scrambled down the side of the boulder, managing to hold onto a crag with one hand while lodging his feet into shallow holds. ‘Ham!’ he shouted over the roar of the waves. The spray hit him in the face again, stinging his eyes and skin like venom. ‘Ham!’

The waters surged and parted. Relief flooded through Pete. ‘Thank God! I thought—‘

Knobbly hands shot out of the waves, latching onto his jacket. A horrid, grey face twisted with rage lunged towards him. A ferocious tug tore his fingers from the rock. Water closed over his head.

There was no time to scream. No time for one last breath.
Bubbles sounded at his ears.

The moon drew further and further away.

***

She dragged her prey into her domain where it was cold and dark. A minute or two more and the man would stop struggling, just as the other had. Soon, vengeance would feed on his dying breath. Soon, she would be complete.

The bubbles stopped only her pain did not.

Two sacrifices were not enough.

Triton’s daughter smiled. Her father was with her. He understood her pain.
Eager and hungry, she let the dead man go.

Triton’s spirit buoyed her as she broke the water’s surface.
And all the ocean rejoiced with her as its Daughter returned to the land of men to feed.

Copyright@ 2013 by Dyane Forde

Stories

‘The Eagle’s Gift’ is my heart and soul. One day I’ll see it in print. Here is a section of chapter 1

The Eagle’s Gift: A Fairy Tale
Chapter 1 (part 1)
 
From the realm of the clouds, the Eagle King looked past his great, curved beak to the face of the earth. He observed the familiar patches of blue, green and brown below with the greatest of interest. From where he was, circling high above and cradled by warm currents of pristine air, the world should appear peaceful, calm. But this was not so. Terryl blinked, pained at what he did see. The land was ragged, haggard, abused. In places, the earth had been torn up, exposing its bowels of rock, tree roots and dirt for all to see. In other places, entire lakes had been turned green or brown from filth, their surfaces lined with stinking scum. No fish or other aquatic creatures lived there any longer and all the surrounding grasses had withered away or turned to swamp. Laying over it all was a thin layer of shadow, making the world appear dusky, like twilight.
More like the skulking form of a spectre.
Men had done this. Fuelled by hatred and fear of their neighbours, they had scorched the earth with pollution and war machines, heaping insult and injury on the land as well as on their enemies. As he flew above, Terryl could sense the spirit of the earth writhing, and he was struck by an unshakable impression that time was running out. After all, how much more could it endure before humans strangled its essence from existence?
Having reached the end of his tour of the outlying lands, Terryl turned and began to fly back to Eagle’s Perch. The wind turned cold now that he was heading north, and it grazed against him, as cold as tempered metal. Above him, the sun shone, but even its golden rays could not fully penetrate the strange darkness that seemed to pervade the land. Worse, the shadow seemed to be darkening.
At last, the green, fertile lands of his domain, one of the few to remain untouched by the growing chaos, came into view. With a twinge of guilt, Terryl sighed with contentment. He circled around the Perch a few times, allowing the watchmen to take note of his arrival, and once satisfied that all appeared in order in the kingdom, he turned towards his aerie, also known as the Throne Aerie. It was a large but simple affair, made up of twisted, interlocking tree branches with leaves and mud tucked into the spaces, and it was perched in the crook of Eagle Land’s highest mountain, near its peak. Below, dotting the rest of the rocky ranges that jutted out from the earth, were found the many aeries which comprised the city of Eagle’s Perch. Cool spring air buffeted them relentlessly as it tore through the mountainous peaks, while dark thunder clouds threatened to unleash their cold, wet burden. Terryl looked up in surprise. He hadn’t noticed the clouds gathering for a storm.
When he landed in the Throne Aerie, he had only enough time to dip his head to tuck in a few stray feathers on his breast with his beak before Lorin, his chief adviser, suddenly dropped into the nest.
 “My lord, a few words, if you will?” He was breathing hard from exertion. A group of lesser advisors and a few scouts soon also arrived at the aerie after Lorin, and they also waited at its edges until they were bidden to approach.
“I have only just returned, Lorin. Can it not wait until I have refreshed myself? In fact, you also appear to be in need of some refreshing. What has caused you to behave with such hastiness?” Terryl gestured beside him at a hollowed out section of a tree stump where water from that morning’s dew had gathered. “Please, take some.”
“Forgive me, my lord,” Lorin said, shaking his head in refusal while backing up a pace. He ducked his beak towards his chest and averted his eyes. “I hope you do not think me impetuous, only I have only been anticipating your return for some time now.”
Terryl sighed. For Lorin to have behaved in such an uncharacteristic fashion, he knew that whatever troubled him must be important. He also felt compassion for him, understanding that Lorin’s pride of discretion and temperance must have made this an embarrassing scene for him. Terryl gestured with his wing, indicating that Lorin should enter the presence of his king. The advisor obeyed, and was followed by the small group of lesser advisors and scouts. They bowed before Terryl and then took their places at a respectful distance behind Lorin. King Terryl greeted the new arrivals with a nod.
“Master Lorin, you do not need to fear speaking your mind with me. I am your king, but I am also your friend of many, many years. Have we not earned these old, fraying feathers together?“
Lorin looked up, his eyes wide with horror. “Do not say such a thing, my lord! It is unthinkable that my king should suffer old and frayed feathers! Your groomsman should be ashamed to allow it!”
Terryl laughed. “Ah, Lorin. You never did have much of a sense of humour. You always see things clearly, as they truly are whether for the good or for the bad. I suppose that is what makes you an excellent advisor. I am ready now, old friend. Speak your mind.”
Lorin took a moment to settle himself after his outburst. “The world of humankind is dying, my lord,” he stated at last in a grave voice.  “If the humans expire–”
“I know,” Terryl said, interrupting. “It is true my weekly tour of our lands and of those neighbouring ours took longer than expected. However, the ravages to the earth grow increasingly extensive, requiring that I fly farther out each time. Today, I saw that the damage has almost reached the land of Nardin. I have always expected this to happen, only not this soon. It is quite troubling. Not only that, but something even more unsettling is transpiring, something I have never before seen. Have you noticed the haze?”
“Do you mean the layer of darkness that is spreading across the lands? Yes, this is what I was hastening to tell you. There are reports it is coming from Lozera.“ Those who had not known the news broke out in a flurry of exclamations.
“Lozera did you say?” Terryl’s voiced voice rose over the chattering.
“Yes, my lord. It was confirmed by the scouts.”
“This is not good news, Lorin.”
Everyone was silenced by Terryl’s statement. One by one, Terryl called on the scouts to share their reports concerning the troubles affecting the lands. Each report brought new depths of concern to the listeners. Eagle heads bobbed up and down with excitement, and squeaks and squawks could be heard punctuating the sound of the wind as it blew around the peaks of the Perch. Through it all, Terryl could sense their eyes on him, each of them eager to know how their king would respond. Would he finally act to save mankind in their time of need? But Terryl was not easily swayed by the expectations of others, and he dismissed the questions he knew they were asking from his mind. With an air of detachment he did not truly feel, he held his peace while carefully considering all the reports presented by the advisors and scouts. When he was satisfied, he indicated that Lorin should speak.
The adviser obliged. “As you know, Lystra is slowly wasting away from drought, and Orleans is nearly destroyed by civil war. Aside from Nardin, these are the only two realms populated by humans, and they are closest to us. There is little doubt that their troubles will soon breach our borders. Not to mention that the haze as you call it, sire, has been gathering for some time. I am afraid that if it is not stopped soon, it will consume us all.”
“I have only just seen it for the first time.”
“That is because it seems to have originated in Lozera.”
Lorin’s gaze met Terryl’s. “I see,” said the king. He did not add that he hadn’t known about the haze’s origins for the simple reason that he never went near that city, a fact they were both aware of. But the unspoken fact hung in the air between them.
Terryl returned his attention to the subject at hand. Both Lystra and Orleans were heavily populated, and at one time, wealthy Western kingdoms. The former had been rich in farming, while the latter had been a commercial centre, providing the neighbouring kingdoms with grain, textiles and lumber. He knew the world of men would be devastated by the losses of these important cities.
Terryl turned aside, away from the watching eyes of those gathered to allow him the privacy to think. Evil was spreading from nation to nation like a plague, weakening even the strongest kingdoms. Only a very few noble cities still stood against its onslaught, but for how much longer?
Evil. Humans could not know of its true origin, but he did. In fact, he knew the enemy’s face very well, for they had vied against each other many times in the past until his foe had finally prevailed. It was because Terryl had faltered that evil now ran rampant across the earth. It was his fault, yet he was bound against doing anything to cure it. He could only endure the consequences of his failure. He was an impotent king.
No, not entirely impotent. A bold, new idea had been germinating for some time, and in response to the fingers of despair which had begun to creep into his thoughts, it broke through to the forefront of his mind. Inspired, Terryl turned to face the eagles. “Friends, what the world needs now is hope. We have observed these unlucky events unfold long enough. The time for watching and waiting past; it is time to act. If someone could be found who can restore hope to humankind, perhaps then, the world could endure.”
Lorin looked off into the distance while he considered the statement. Eagle’s Land was still relatively unmarred by the darkness. From the Throne Aerie, the whole of it was displayed, from the roiling green sea in the east, to the red, sandy beach abutting it, to the wild, green plains that seemed to stretch on forever to the north. He seemed to find particular pleasure in observing the rolling beauty of the valleys in the west, stained green with lush vegetation, and the aged forests which on sunny days rang with the songs of birds. He sighed softly, but to Terryl who knew his friend well, the expelled breath seemed a manifestation of his growing fatigue. When the adviser spoke, the hollowness of his voice confirmed the impression. “But who could this person be? Why has he not already shown himself?”
Concerned, Terryl observed Lorin, finally deciding that the two must meet privately. He trusted and relied on his chief adviser implicitly, and it was unthinkable that he should fall into despair. More than that, the possibility that the fingers of hopelessness should finally reach his own people was unnerving.
“It is likely he is not even aware of his potential. He must be found and he must be convinced.”
The adviser nodded slowly, obviously still evaluating the proposed plan. “I perceive you have some idea as to where this person might be found.” His tone made the statement sound like a question.
“Nardin,” Terryl answered without hesitation. Lorin looked at him, surprise evident in his eyes. Terryl explained, “It was once one of the world’s most beautiful realms, and though it is on the brink of destruction, the world still looks to it as a beacon of hope. As long as it stands, hope remains.”
“To Nardin then.” Lorin nodded again, slowly, as though trying to convince himself that this was the most logical plan of action. He glanced at his king, whose massive figure was strong, immovable, and suddenly the adviser’s eyes regained their usual lustre. He turned briskly to the scouts and said, “Go and learn what you can of how the kingdom fares. Be wary and be wise. The fate of the world may depend on what news you bring back to your king.”
The team of five bowed, then took to the air and was gone. Terryl took Lorin aside to a quiet corner of the aerie where they talked together for a long time.
D. Forde (2011, revised 2013)