CHAPTER - 1
A man stood alongside his grey horse on a ridge that sloped downwards on the north side. Standing high upon the ridge, he saw the great fortress city of Al'Tamar, which was as he fathomed to be two leagues from where he stood.
The city boasted of a thick outer wall that shaped itself like a semicircle, with each of its ends delved into the mountainside. The wall had no signs of a visible gate. Upon the wall was a huge battlement. Upon the battlement, there was a ceaseless patrol of silver clad soldiers, having an observant eye for all things happening amiss.
The fortress city was delved inside the mountain, consisting of nine levels. Each level was accessed by a stair path that wound itself zig zag the moment it left the outer wall. The stair path always ascended itself. If the entry to one level was from the eastern side of the mountain, then the exit to the upper level was on the western side. Each level had small round windows delved on the south face of the cliff, archers were posted at each window. These windows could not be seen from outside but the archers could see the outer world more clearly. If ever an army would attack the city, it would seem that the arrows were just fired off the mountain sides. The houses and other structures were delved on the northern side. These houses were not meant clearly for residential purposes but were meant as a resort to stay if ever the enemy managed to savage the outer lands. Although, there were a few hundred families that inhabited this city, they lived on the lower levels. The lower levels had a secret gate that led to the open bare ground between the offshoot cliff and the other mountains of the North Ranges. The North Ranges were very huge gigantic mountains, covered with snow at all seasons of the year. It was impossible for an enemy to mount an attack from this side as they would not dare the sheer steep precipices of the cliffs, although there were always ready a patrol of sheriff officers. There was only one approach to this piece of land which was inhabited and that was through the secret gate.
The uppermost and the ninth level was the house of the king, the citadel of the land. It had a huge courtroom, the armories and the stables. A stair path led again to a huge tower that arose and revealed itself to the outside world just fifty feet below the mountain peak. The tower had a huge beacon at the top, which was lit during times of peril.
The man who stood on the ridge was delighted to see that he had reached his destination at the correct time, the time that he had intended to before he set forth. He was in time, so that he could take young Eothan to the hunt as soon as noon made way to dusk.
The north wind blew clearly on his face. His dark curly hair swirled around clouding his eyesight. He was tall and fair for all his dark hair.
"Cold it is, even in this hot summer." whispered the man.
He mounted the horse and tapped his mane.
"Run, Radarin, run. The city is near, and we are on time."
The horse neighed and rushed northwards to the city.
As he reached near the outer wall, a man with a thick accent challenged him.
"Who rides to the city and on what business?"
"I am Genthor, guards of the Citadel, and a friend of the King. Thereby, I implore you to open the gates so that I could pass to the citadel."
The man waved muttered something to a man behind the wall. The outer wall had no visible gates. The rock just opened, with a split at the center. The wall opened outwards, and as the wall opened, a green sward could be seen with a well paved marble street at the center.
The man rode in and as soon as he had crossed the walls, the walls closed moving inwards and became one again. The man stirred his horse along the stair path and after a brief matter of time that waits not, he reached the citadel. The horse allowed himself to be led into the stables by one of the guards, while the man dismounted and rushed towards the king's chambers.
The doors opened by themselves, as if by some spell, for no guards were to be seen behind them. The chambers were huge, with golden ceilings and silver lanterns, golden curtains overlooking huge round windows that allowed fresh air to come by. Huge tables with chairs, intrinsically carved by renowned sculptors of old, were laid at the center of the chamber. The king sat on a golden chair and with him at the table sat a young boy and a woman.
The young boy wore a weary face, as if he had struggled to wake up from an innate dream or he had seen a bad dream, his face looked shaken, his body was quivering though it was not visible to the naked eye. But the man sensed his discomfort. The boy's hair was curly and golden, unlike him, his face was fair, and his girth was as athletic as one who played many games.
The woman wore a silver crown on her head, she was comely to look at, in her late twenties, her face wore a joyful look, her brown hair was left free to dangle, she wore a white gown, who he knew was the Eothan's matron.
The king rose as he entered.
"Welcome, Genthor. It is long since you paid visit last. But, now you have come, and at the right time. Celebrations are under way and the day is fair beneath the rising sun. You could not have arrived at a better time." said the king.
"How could I forget Eothan's birthday, Lord of Al'Tamar? Have I not come every year? He is my favorite, and you should know that."
"I verily know that, Genthor. Now that you have made your presence felt, I think you should grace our tables on this very important occasion."
"Thank you, friend. I am famished and have not eaten since yestereve."
"Then, the table shall be emptied, I deem."
"Well, if you want it emptied, so shall it be. You have not forgotten the days when you were young. I bet you in the porridge eating competition."
"You did not have to remind me that, Genthor. Verily, from that event, I gathered you were an avid eater. You could beat anyone in eating, even if all the men in the country were bid to compete against you. But yet, Genthor, you have thinned. I find you a lot skinnier than before. From that, I assume that you have not eaten the way you used to these dew days?"
"I have been much preoccupied since the beginning of this fair year. Something has been disturbing my mind of late, but these matters we may speak of in private, I presume. The matter would cause unnecessary panic, if allowed to spread."
"As you deem fit, friend. Now, begin your breakfast. After you have done with it, come to my room where we shall speak in private."
"Your order is my wish, lord."
"You know that you do not have to follow formalities, Genthor."
"It is good, once in a while, that I address you as lord. I stay in a country of which you are the king. So it is right that you as a king partake some of my respect."
The king laughed.
"Did I crack a joke now?" asked Genthor as he began to eat his breakfast which consisted of scrambled eggs, a bacon slice, slices of brown bread with butter and cheese, a small bowl of coriander soup and a glass of hot cardamom tea.
The king left the room and Genthor turned towards Eothan.
"Though I speak to you after your father, you must know that you are and will always be the first on my mind. So today is a great day for you, a day where you come of age, as we say. Your birthday shall be a memorable event. So on this occasion, I wish you from the bottom of my heart, a happy birthday. May the holy stars bless your path in life and may happiness drive away grief from your heart."
"I offer you my sincere thanks, Uncle Genthor." said Eothan.
"Accepted. So, are you ready for the adventure, Eothan? IF you answer in the affirmative, then I shall take you to the forests that lie on our eastern borders."
"Yes, Uncle Genthor, I really am looking forward to the adventure. When do we leave?"
"After the luncheon, after the celebrations end. Your father would have continued till the night, but we could not let anything intervene our little business, do we?"
"No, Uncle Genthor."
"Good. I see that you are somewhat very weary, young boy. Your face betrays your emotions. Looks like the night disturbed you a lot."
"I would not say it did not."
"I thought so. Maybe, the dreams were not so good. But you would do well to forget them. It is your day after all and it is not your part to play sad when others are making merry. So sweeten up, lad, and run along to your friends. I guess they have a right over you this day."
"I take your leave, Uncle Genthor."
"Good day to you, lad."
Genthor, having finished eating his breakfast, rose from the table. The woman picked up the plates and beckoned to a servant who stood in the corner.
"I wish to speak to you, Genthor. Something very important cropped up this night."
Genthor turned towards the woman with an enquiring look.
"The lad, Eothan, he dreamed of dragons and huge battles that were waged around him. I deem that they are not just dreams, they are visions of some sort."
"Those might just be dreams. You are unnecessarily worrying yourself."
"Do not you know of the prophecy?"
"Shhh…I do not think you should speak it loud in the open air. Yes, I know of it and I do not think yet that this boy is somehow involved with it. It maybe that you are right and this boy shall be trained in the old schools of thought. It has become necessary now that every young lad undergo this training before he comes of age. And, quicker they learn, the better."
"So, I guess, the time has come. Has evil returned?"
"I do not know yet. I have my doubts but they cannot be confirmed."
"Then, all the more careful we should be."
"Yes, there is a need. This kingdom has bore many grave dangers and the dangers that shall come in the future may be stronger than before. We must prepare ourselves."
"Are you going to take him to….?"
Before she could complete, Genthor replied, "Maybe, lady. It is quite possible. But you must train all the other young boys in this country once Eothan is gone. For when he leaves, he will no longer be under your charge."
"It is better everyone understands the need. You must convince the people to train themselves without the mention of the prophecy. That, I leave it to you."
"The men shall fight for the country and with the king to whatever end."
"To whatever end!"
"Now, I take your leave, Genthor. I have much work to do and I would not like to wrest away from you the time which is short enough."
"So be it, lady. I need to speak to the king."
"The king will be in the room next to the boy's room which I guess you are aware of."
"Yes, I am aware of it."
"Then, I take your leave."
The lady walked out of the courtroom towards the armories.
Genthor felt his feet lead him towards the king's room. He knocked on the door, but the door was left unlocked.
He found the king pacing about near the round windows.
"What causes you such discomfort, sire, if I may have the permission to ask?"
"Nothing, friend Genthor. It is only that the years of training that is ordained for my son has neared. It is a part of our schooling that the children have to leave their parents and stay away from them who they love. I fear Eothan also would have to leave me."
"That time has come, my lord. Eothan needs to be trained in the old school of thought and so do the others."
The king looked deep in the eyes of Genthor.
"The old school? Is it time?"
"Yes, my lord. The time draws near and we shall have to prepare ourselves, maybe for the worst. I do not know how much time we have got left, but it is nearing. We should have schooled many in the old school but your fathers did not permit. Now, you can undo what they did. We have to train them in both lore and sword."
"Yes, even magic."
"You know, I cannot."
"Yes, it has been on the royal decree since a hundred years. But, you have to change the decree now, if you want your people to survive. A sad foreboding is on me, that if your army is not versed with magic, then it might perish."
"I need time and you know such things must first be debated in the council."
"Then summon them, lord. The Council needs to be called."
"But there is no strong basis for the change."
"I shall be there, lord. And I shall try to convince them."
"Well, but I thought you were taking Eothan for the hunt."
"Yes, lord, I am."
"Then I shall summon the council five days from now. Shall I presume that you will return by then?"
"Then, I shall send a notice."