Of Hidden Shadows
“You do not know what you are saying.”
The old man looked down at his firstborn. Pulling his shriveled body out of the throne, he rose and ambled towards his child.
“It’s time for me to do this, Father, and you know it,” the boy spoke. He was young. His sandy hair glowed in the torchlight bouncing off the walls of the main hall.
“You’re still too young,” the old man whispered as he motioned for his son to follow him away from the dais. “Walk with me awhile.”
“You do not understand what you are asking. It has been more than forty years since anyone has crossed those mountains, and I would not send my heir to die in the wilderness. If your heart yearns for knowledge, there are other options.”
“More teachers? More doddering scholars? More books?”
“There is safety in books. You have responsibilities.”
“I have rules, I have chains, I have a prison.”
“I am nearly seventy. I waited too long to marry, and this kingdom was too long without an heir. For that, I am sorry. But you cannot leave. If I were to die now, this land your ancestors have nurtured, the dream your grandfathers had, would die too, if you were to be lost.”
“What about Culain?”
“Your brother is not the heir. The Circle would not accept him, and there would be civil war. You are old enough to realize this. And even if there were a way for you to resign your birthright to him, he is only fourteen. He could not rule. Not in these times.”
“You speak again of these nameless threats.”
“There are omens, Aiden. The threat is real.”
“From who, Father? We have not been invaded in nearly half a century, we have not gone to war in three decades. Where is the threat? To the north is an ocean, beyond which no land has ever been discovered. They will come from the west, then, from the Dalelands? Wheat farmers and goatherds who haven’t turned their plowshares to swords since the Long War. The south hides behind the Fingers, and you already admitted no one has crossed those mountains in forty years. As far as I know, the Wall still stands, and Aralar is not restless. There is no threat to the east.”
“There are greater evils in the world than men,” the old man sighed. “The signs do not lie.”
“The loreweavers do, and you trust too easily their garbled words and visions.”
“I rely on my own Sight.”
The young man laughed, but the old man beckoned his son towards the study. The two stepped inside, sliding through the ancient oak doors weighed down with heavy iron and the ballast of years. On the massive stone desk in the center of the room burned a golden brazier, illuminating a dozen scattered vellum scrolls.
“Here, this is it,” the king pulls a wrinkled manuscript from beneath a crumpled map. A spider-thin and almost-vanished script cobwebs the page.
“What does it say?”
“I don’t know.”
The young man laughed again, “What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I cannot tell you what it says, because no one alive can read those words, but you demonstrate why I cannot yet let you leave.”
“The very existence of this letter is all the proof I need that something is about to happen.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“Sit down,” the king said, gesturing at a gnarled wooden chair.
The young man took a seat, shifting about uncomfortably before settling in. The king raked a few coals into the smoldering fire that sputtered in the fireplace. A second later and the flames snaked red across his face, his eyes blazing with a memory powerful enough to stir his deepest fears to furtive action in his countenance.
“You have not read, as yet, enough to have come across the references to this letter. Nor, probably, to the rumors of what this letter contains. But you have, growing up in the heart of our kingdom, heard the stories of the kind that all children hear. Stories of demons, devils, and most importantly, the stories of magic. Fantasies, myths, and legends of wizards and magic-using warriors from a time long ago. They live now as bedtime stories, those stories that used to be history. Even the words I speak now are familiar to you, because such beginnings are common to any old fable. For a thousand years, magic, if it exists, has lain dormant, hidden in sheltered groves and deep beneath the tallest spires. Even our oldest books, the oldest oral histories, contain only briefest mentions of the power that magic once held, its hold on our imaginations the only thing we now remember it by.
“Still, I tell you now, that history has a terrible tendency to become legend, when it is forgotten, and the terrors of the past have a deadly history of haunting our present. Somewhere, there is someone, or something, that will awaken the awesome power hinted at in these scrolls, and that creature is stirring. You have not read the reports that I have, of patrols gone missing deep inside the Fingers, near the mist-shrouded dells that lie beyond. You have never been privy to the information that passes through the rookeries discussing the lands you’ve never heard of. And yet you, who knows so little of that world, will hear of nothing but that you must go there.
“I will not tolerate your insubordination when it comes to this issue. And you will not leave this Kingdom until my decaying corpse rots in our ancestral tomb. And if you are lucky, it will be rotting still when you return.”
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