Rhidauna, The Shadow of the Revenaunt, #1

By Paul E. Horsman

Action & adventure, Fantasy, New adult fiction, Young adult

Paperback, eBook

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472
5 mins

CHAPTER 1 (excerpt)

When the gray dawn broke, they had reached a field full of dead trees. Barkless trunks grew like withered limbs out of the haze that breathed from the rocky surface. The three boys looked at each other.

‘Eerie,’ Olle said in a whisper.

Seeing the worried look on his foster brother’s face, Ghyll felt his own courage waver. Beyond the sulphurized tree trunks, he spied the contours of an ancient temple. The sight made him gasp, and his heart grew cold with horror. Stone arms in a circle rose against the night sky. Each was more than five manlengths tall, with hands clawing at the heavens, as if they wanted to tear the universe asunder. Those hands! Tilia! Why do you bring us here?

Arms crossed, Olle stared at the ruins, with the rain running down his face into the collar of his jerkin. ‘A Dead Ages temple?’

Ghyll nodded. ‘Of all the damned luck...’ He studied the surroundings. ‘No way getting around it.’ He squared his shoulders. ‘We’ll walk right through them. They’re just dead ruins.’

Reluctantly, they went on. With every step, Ghyll’s feeling grew of something watching them, following their every movement.

At the circle of hands he paused. In the center squatted a large four-armed statue on a pedestal at a stained altar. Wind and weather had worn away the idol’s features, but its crude female form radiated so much evil that Ghyll felt sick in his stomach.

His foot hit a stone and the resulting rattle woke something between the reaching arms. A mass of black creatures fled overhead, winging towards the sky.

Damion yelled, jumping back.

‘They’re just bats, man,’ Olle said, breathing hard.

‘Damn!’ Damion wrung his hands. ‘Where are we?’

‘Where we shouldn’t be.’ Ghyll’s voice sounded calmer than he felt. ‘This is the Annan-ad-Aghraim.’ He avoided Olle’s eyes. ‘I’ve never been here; never wanted to. The stories the soldiers told us were nasty enough. About murder and grisly rituals done by those cursed priests of the Revenaunt Emperor.’

He shuddered, as if he still could feel the power coming from the faceless idol.

The boy is useless, a voice whispered in his ear. He stiffened, sup-pressing a cry. Offer him to me. Wildly, Ghyll looked over his shoulder, but there was nobody. The voice laughed, mocking his fear, and the tension between the grasping columns became almost palpable.

‘Hey!’ Damion’s voice coming from the dark sounded excited. ‘Look at all those animal pictures.’

Ghyll wheeled around. ‘Don’t touch anything!’

Damion snatched his hand away from the relief in the pillar. ‘Why not?’

Ghyll opened his mouth, but Olle was faster. His foster brother grabbed Damion by the shoulders and shook him, his dark face flushed with anger. ‘We’re in a temple of the Revenaunt, idiot! Touching anything here gives bad luck. Didn’t they ever teach you that?’

Damion hung his head. ‘Yes, I’m sorry; it just happened.’

‘Mainal aid me.’ Olle pushed the boy away. ‘Fool!’

Ghyll stared at the image Damion had touched, an ancient carving in the crude but unmistakable shape of a boar. Of all the bad luck! Let’s get away from here.’

Without another word, they fled through the rain up the mountain slope.

Hurry, the taunting thought of the idol called after Ghyll. Your prey is waiting for you!

Once past the dead wood, they were free of the sulfuric fumes as well. Here, the slope was grassy, with slender birches and more than man-high, blooming rhododendrons.

Ghyll sighed with relief. ‘We escaped,’ said he, gripping Damion’s shoulder. ‘You...’ He broke off as a shriek of madness ripped the night air.

Showering blossoms, a wild boar crashed through the bushes and blocked their path.

‘Stand still!’ Sour fear clutched Ghyll’s throat, and for a moment he couldn’t breathe as he stared at the monster confronting them. He had thought to find them a young male, inexperienced as they were, not this massive champion of swine, with its raised bristles and spittle-stained tusks.

The beast paused for a moment and peered about with myopic eyes. It was so near that Ghyll saw the hot breath steaming from its nostrils.

In a reflex, Damion took a step backward. The boar yelled his fury and threw himself like a two hundred pound battering ram at the boy. With that first, fatal back-step, a root caught Damion’s heel and he landed flat on his back in the mud. The boar’s left tusk missed his stomach by an inch and opened his left leg to the bone instead. Damion screamed.

In a flash, Olle threw Ghyll one of the two spears he carried. Then, with a wild ‘Ayoo!’ he buried the other one between the boar’s ribs. The swine spun around to this new enemy, bleeding and howling its defiance. Olle managed to evade its attack, while Ghyll sprang for-ward and rammed his spear with his full weight behind it into the beast’s flank. Again the boar turned, roaring its rage through the forest, and tore the shaft from Ghyll’s hands.

Cursing, Ghyll drew his hunting knife. With all his remaining strength, he thrust the weapon deep into the boar’s larynx and stumbled backward. Blood and foam splashed around. Once more, the creature reared up, shaking its head as if in denial, and fell down on top of Damion, dead.

Ghyll heard the heartbreaking sound of Damion’s snapping bones and sprang forward to help Olle pull the heavy carcass off their companion. The boy lay motionless; his half open eyes staring in a blood-streaked mask of a face.

‘Gods, oh Gods.’ Ghyll laid his aching fingers on Damion’s carotid. For a long moment, he felt nothing, and his own breathing seemed to stop. Then he caught a far away, faint beating. ‘He lives!’

The two knew what to do. Endlessly, the fighting instructor had repeated it – take care of the victim’s safety, sew up open wounds, and carry the victim to the nearest healing master.
Since that time, Olle, who was the more cool-headed of the two of them, always carried a few needles and a ball of catgut. Now he sat on his knees in the mud, sewing with a steady hand the edges of the leg wound together.

‘Bless the Gods the beast tore no artery. The leg’s not bleeding much.’

‘No, but his ribs...’ Ghyll pursed his lips, while a blizzard of fear shook his body. He got his knife out and began to cut his cloak into long strips, which he bound tightly around Damion’s chest.

After he had tied the last knot, they wrapped the unconscious boy in his own cloak.

‘That’s the best we can do.’ Olle flexed his muscles and lifted Damion almost without effort from the ground. Then they began the long descent to the horses in the overlook field. As they hurried through the temple, Ghyll half expected a mocking laugh, but all was dark and silent.

It was a long way down, and after a while, Olle’s brown face purpled with exertion.

Halfway to the horses, Ghyll raised his head. ‘Shall I carry him for a bit?’

Olle shook his head. ‘I’m all right.’

‘It’s my fault.’ Ghyll was near to weeping. ‘Me and my big mouth. You were right; we shouldn’t have come without drivers and dogs.’

His foster brother silently looked at him, while the rain ran down his head and shoulders.

Once back in the paddock, Olle deposited Damion on the soaked grass and dropped beside him. ‘Hold on... have to catch my breath.’

‘He’s still alive,’ Ghyll said as he checked Damion’s heartbeat again.

Olle lay sprawled on the grass and didn’t answer.

Unable to stand still, Ghyll wandered around, his mind lost in a chaos of re¬morse, fear, and a bitter anger at his folly. At the brink of the overhang, he halted. In desperation, he slammed his fist into the birch tree beside him and swore. Then he froze. Pieces of the rocky edge at his feet broke off and rained into the depths. He didn’t notice it. All thoughts drained from him as he stared at the Yanthe River below. He rubbed his face with his cold hands, but the images refused to go away. Below him, three phantoms sailed past through the rain. Gray sea dragons, harbingers of misdoings. Ghyll watched them slack-mouthed until they disappeared behind the river’s bend. Drakenboats? Had he seen them or was it his imagination? The last time there’d been pirates on the river was eighty years ago.
‘What’s wrong?’ Olle said, watching him from where he lay.

Ghyll pulled at his blond locks. ‘There hasn’t been a Drakenlander raid for ages, but I just saw three of their boats sailing past, toward Tinnurad.’ He felt panic rising within his chest and clenched his fists. ‘Let’s go!’

Olle came to his feet. ‘I’m ready.’

They strapped the unconscious Damion down on Ulanth’s broad back. Then, leading their horses, they went home.

On foot, the way back took hours. The pale circle of the sun behind the clouds betrayed that it was already past noon when they returned at the Yanthe Wachter, the old tower from which they could see Tinnurad.


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