It was well after midnight when King Velthur was finally able to retire to his bedchamber. His years as a fighting man had trained him to make due with little sleep, and this skill had served him well in the past four months since ascending to the throne of Velathra.
There had been a period of chaos when the people had learned of the disappearance and probable death of their queen. Due to the strange circumstances surrounding her disappearance, as well as Velthur’s denunciations of her in the council chamber, many were convinced that he was somehow responsible for her doom. Most were placated by assurances issued by Pumpu and Orto, both highly respected men, and Velthur's own eloquent and heartfelt praise of the late queen. However, a small minority harboured ill-will toward Velthur, and an assassination was attempted. Caught alone by a band of conspirators, Velthur’s battle-prowess was sorely tested, but he prevailed, and The Battle of Rampha Bridge became a popular and oft repeated tale.
Parallel to these events, Cutu, high priest of Ishtar, reminded any who would listen of how the queen had angered the goddess, and pointed to the quieting of Mount Peclu after the queen was “sacrificed” to the volcano as indicating Ishtar's placation. He used this to launch a campaign against the worship of Mitra in the kingdom. This resulted in a brief but violent clash in which Velthur had to restore order with harsh action.
This day Velthur oversaw both the departure of Orto and the remaining Kothians, as well as the arrival of the child Alfia, whom Velthur had ordained succeed him as soon as she came of age. The departure of Orto had troubled him greatly. He had grown fond of the Kothian as they had closely worked together in building a corps of guardsmen to replace the Kothic spearmen. He had harangued Orto extensively to stay, but the Kothians had grown homesick after years of living abroad, and found Velathra had become a dismal place to them in the absence of the their beloved Sigyn.
Getting Alfia and her entourage settled had been trying as well. Velthur was insistent on not only accommodating her in the palace, but having in place a legion of carefully selected tutors, advisors, and mentors to ensure she would be prepared to assume the throne. He would not countenance another Aranthur on the throne, nor would he allow another Tarquin to wield influence in Velathra.
Bidding good night to the guards posted outside, Velthur stepped into his chamber and closed the heavy bronze door behind him. He turned his attention first to the covered dish and bottle resting upon the small table where he took his meals. He had not taken time to eat and was famished. Pulling up a chair he sat down and removed the cover.
“Mitra!” he hissed, leaping up from the table and drawing his sword.
The roast chicken on the platter had been devoured, and the the bottle of red wine had been drained to dregs. Velthur crouched, coiled to spring like a striking cobra. In the shadows beyond the orb of light cast by his lamp, he saw a shape that at first might have blended with the curtains hanging before his chamber window.
“Skulking dog!” he growled, teeth bared like a cornered wolf. “Come out in the open and cross blades!”
The shadow detached itself from the gloom and took the form of a hooded figure that strode confidently toward the king.
“How did you get past the guard?” snarled the king.
The figure spoke in a calm soft voice.
“These were my chambers for three winters Velthur, I know many ways to come and go from here at will. Calm yourself, I am no foe.”
Velthur recoiled as the figure pulled back it’s hood, revealing the face of Velathra’s former queen.
“Sigyn! Do you live or are you a spectre sent to haunt me?”
“I live Velthur.”
While Velthur easily recognized her, the Aesir had much changed since he last saw her. Her thawny hair was much shorter, standing out a hand’s breadth form her head in wild disarray. Under her cloak she was clad in a scant tunic fashioned from the pelt of some yellow and black striped animal. And the sword at her waist was of an exotic, foreign make. Further, she had grown leaner and more wolfish, and her skin was bronzed by the sun. Velthurs’ shock at Sigyn’s survival turned to anger.
“Why did you allow us all to believe you dead these four months. Orto was beside himself with grief!”
Sigyn turned from Velthur’s gave and looked toward the fire burning upon the hearth, nervously running her hand through her shaggy mane.
“I regret the pain I have caused. It was selfish of me to be sure.”
Velthur slammed his sword back in it’s scabbard. He took a deep breath. His months as king had taught him to master his temper more effectively. When he spoke again his tone was more even.
“What happened after the winged beast carried you away?”
“I held onto the beast and stabbed at it, hoping to reach its vitals ere it cleared the roof of the tower. But it flew so swiftly. It carried me so high, I was nearly driven mad with fear. It bucked like a wild horse and sought to rend me with claws and teeth, yet somehow I kept my grip on it and hacked and stabbed at it. At last by blade sunk deep into it’s breast, and it voiced it’s death cry. We fell. By Ymir, I saw the fire and boiling lava rushing up to claim me. But luckily we did not fall into the center of the crater, but it’s edge. We struck an outcropping of rock. The winged thing careened off of it and fell deeper into the crater, but I managed to hold on to the rock. Still, I felt I was doomed. It was so very hot. I began climbing out. The rocks burned. Over and over I would nearly lose my grip looking for a handholds that were cool enough to grip. Great gouts of lava would fly through the air. I was nearly struck by them many times.The gods smiled upon me, and I was only mildly blistered. My hair suffered the worst, It was singed so badly I had to cut it short and start over, It’s growing back in quickly though.”
She mussed her wild locks for emphasis.
“Eventually I gained the rim of the crater. I could see You and Orto on the roof of the tower. I hailed you, but the distance was too great and the volcano rumbled too loudly. I started to hail you again, when a thought occurred to me. I had left orders that you were to be crowned king if I did not return. I had but to walk away and resume my old life of wandering. This is what i did. Is there more wine?”
Velthur walked to a cabinet and brought forth another jug of wine and filled two flagons. Proffering one to the Aesir. She drained her flagon, smacking her lips with relish.
“Where did you go then?”
“I meandered south. I have to admit, those first few nights roughing it were hard after three years of pampered, courtly life. But I soon got back into fighting shape, by Ymir!”
Sigyn picked at the remains of Velthur’s dinner.
“You should send for another chicken.”
“One should be enough for you, besides, the cooks will be abed at this hour. Finish your tale.”
“Not really much of a tale. Very little of interest occurred. Well, I did find a hidden kingdom of pygmies in jungles near Zembabwei. Oh, and I had to fight off a colossal ape. By Ymir he was a big fellow, standing near as tall as Tarquin’s tower! I lured him to a waterfall and…”
Velthur interrupted. “Why did you come back here?”
Sigyn shuffled awkwardly, and poured herself more wine.
“Curiosity? Guilt? I know not, it seemed like the right thing to do. I entered the kingdom two days ago and wandered about, hidden under my cloak. You’ve done well Velthur! Velathra is in fine shape. I like the statue of me you had erected near the temple of Mitra, even though it makes me look fat.”
“I may have it pulled down. The people of Velathra wept for you and grieved deeply, thinking you died to save them. When really you were prancing about the Black Kingdoms. And what happened to the crown? You were wearing it when the monster flew off with you.”
Sigyn grinned sheepishly.
“Well, I needed coin to sustain myself on my travels, so… Damnation! I’m sorry Velthur, but I never wanted to be queen, and you wanted to restore the rightful heir! My running away was wrong and hurtful, but did we both not get what we wanted?”
Velthur waved his arms in exasperation.
“If it gets out that you’re alive and in Velathra it will cause no end of chaos.”
“I know. I didn’t think it through. I…. Ymir!”
She set down her empty flagon and stepped closer to Velthur until she was mere inches away, there she stopped and reached out as if to touch the king, Then abruptly threw her arms about his neck and kissed him with great vigor. Velthur stood stiffly for a moment, shocked by the turn of events. He grasped her by the shoulders and pushed her gently from him.
“Is it really so terrible that I returned?” she asked.
Vethur regarded her, staring into the Aesir’s fiery green eyes. An urge he’d supressed since first setting eyes on her suddenly overwhelmed him.
“Mitra.” he muttered, then crushed her to his chest, showering her lips and neck with fierce, hot kisses. He tore the voluminous cloak away from her and ran his hands over her body, relishing the feel of the iron thews hidden behind her feminine curves. She returned his ardor with equal passion, tearing open his silken tunic and gripping the hair on his chest as she had when he languished in Tarquin's torture chamber. The power he felt in her strong limbs as she caressed him aroused him far more than the weak embraces of some mincing courtesan ever could. Their weapons clattered on the floor as they disarmed one another. At last, he gripped her by the hair and pulled her head back.
“Stay.” he murmured breathily in her ear. “Stay and be queen of Velathra once more. Stay and be my queen!”
“No. I will not. Do not ask that of me Velthur, please…”
Velthur scooped Sigyn up in his arms, and carried her to the bed. He knew well the risks in handling such a woman in this manner, but he was ever a devotee of bold action. But she did not offer resistance, rather, she squealed with delight, and giggled playfully.
He lay her upon the bed and set to work removing her tunic.
“Stay.” he repeated, “Stay with me.”
Sigyn sighed and stretched, catlike.
“I promise nothing, but I will let you do your best to convince me.”
Last Edit: Nov 24, 2018 0:55:08 GMT -5 by Char-Vell
roughly, here's what was originally going to be the last chapter:
...Sigyn clung to the leg of the bat-winged abomination, gripping it with her legs and one arm while hacking at it’s trunk with her saber. All her senses were assailed by the unearthly reek of the thing, it’s disturbingly human screams, and the touch of it’s coarse hide. Oily black blood oozed from the wounds she inflicted, making her grip even more precarious.
Subconsciously she avoided looking down , but when she would inevitably glance below she would see the earth speeding by at an impossible distance. She had seen vistas from mountain peaks or towers many times, but this was an altogether different experience. Many would have been paralyzed with fear, but not so Sigyn. Even driven to near madness with fear, she redoubled her efforts to slay the monster. Shrieking half forgotten war cries and invoking the grim gods of the north.
The thing brought it’s hatchet shaped head around and tried to seize the Aesir she-wolf in it’s toothy beak. Sigyn briefly locked eyes with the creature and saw in them a horrid familiarity. She had contended with that same hypnotic, masterful glare before, the glare of the astrologer Tarquin.
The beast thrashed wildly to dislodge her, nearly sending her careening to the ground. Below she could now see the dull red glow from Mount Peclu’s crater, and feel it’s hot breath on the exposed flesh of her legs. With desperate fury, she climbed further up the creature’s scaly leg, getting closer to it’s dep chest. Howling, she drove her saber between its ribs to the hilt. The beast uttered a sickening baleful cry, shuddered, and died. It’s wings, no longer powered by infernal thews or guided by a diabolical brain, collapsed, and the monster along with it’s passenger plummeted into the mouth of the volcano. The hellish inferno of boiling lava rushed up like a gaping red maw of some fire giant, hungrily gulping at a tasty sweetmeat. Sigyn stared straight into it. She would not flinch from death.
It was then that an outcropping of stone from the crater wall imposed itself in the path of the plummeting bat-thing. It struck the outcropping and careened off at an angle, spinning like a top. Sigyn at last lost her grip and was hurled against the side of the crater, and perhaps mercifully, was struck senseless.
She snapped back to awareness. Struggling for air in the stifling atmosphere of the volcano. She was near overcome by choking ash, noxious fumes and the smell of her own hair smoldering where embers spewed up from the roiling lava below had landed among the tawny locks. Mechanically she began climbing, dragging herself torturously out of the maw of Mount Peclu. The heat was punishing her hands and knees where repeatedly burned by contact with the heated rocks, and her clothing and sandals became scorched. She loathfully discarded her mailshirt, as it’s silvered links became so hot as to burn her flesh. Yet, even as she struggled to escape the volcanic furnace, Sigyn took note the the rumblings were less fierce, the churning of the magma below les violent, as though Mount Peclu was somehow satiated by consuming the leathern-winged abomination.
At last, she clambered out of the crater and made a short descent down the face of the mountain. It was slightly cooler here, the air was less foul. She felt she was able to rest a moment. She could see he plain below, and Tarquin’s tower. It seemed very close, and she could easily pick out and identify the forms of Velthur, Orto and the Kothians milling about atop the ebon spire. Rising to her feet Sigyn cupped her hands about her mouth and hailed them. When they made no response, she shouted again waving her arms and jumping about as much as she could while in such a precarious position. Still her allies on the tower took no note. Sighing she resumed her descent. As she picked her way down the steep slope she considered her position. A thought occurred to her and she paused, looking again toward the black basalt edifice of Tarquin’s tower.
No doubt Velthur, Orto and the others would assume she fell into the volcano with Tarquin (for now she was convinced that the bat-winged horor was in troth the astrologer, twisted by some deviltry) per her orders Velthur would become king. Velathra would be in good hands under his leadership, and he could insure his kinswoman Alfia would rule wisely when she came of age. True there would be sadness and consternation among her friends and allies, as well as the Velathrans, but…
She would be free.
Sigyn considered this for a few heartbeats. Gazing at the the tiny pale shape flitting about atop the tower that was Velthur. He was indeed a handsome man.
Sigyn smiled. She pulled the crown of Velathra from the scorched chaos of her hair. It was of gold and silver crusted with fine, valuable gemstones. She thrust it into her girdle. She waved once more to the tower and shouted, perhaps not too loudly this time.
“Farewell Velthur! May your reign be prosperous!”
With that Sigyn began skirting about the face Mount Peclu, with luck she could be down it’s southern face and in Shem before dark.
Last Edit: Nov 27, 2018 21:22:24 GMT -5 by Char-Vell