It is a period of great upheaval, and from time immemorial the destiny of two boys has shone like a beacon to those who seek salvation. Death desires to rule as high king of the gods, and is poised to ignite a war in the heavens that would consume all life on the distant world of Er’ath. Brothers Coinin and Marrok are thrust into a world of magic the day their parents are slain. Spirited away to their uncle’s home, they enjoy a peaceful existence, until the day they are summoned to a secret temple, hidden from the world. An ancient mage brotherhood tells of a great destiny that has surrounded them since before they were born. Now the fate of this world hangs in the balance, and it is left to Coinin and Marrok to seek and reunite the Swords of Cerathil that would save the planet from destruction. They engage in battle against giants and goblins. However, this event shrouds a terrible secret that echoes in history. Treachery and deceit haunt them, and their very relationship is put to the test, as the ultimate battle for survival begins…
The author has rated this book PG-13 (questionable content for children under 13).
DESTINY’S ASSAULT To the east of the city of Rostha lies the lush green valley of Arromithia that houses the village of Arrom, a small farming community supplemented by a seasonal fishing populace. The village comprises ninety or so rough wooden dwellings arranged in a defensive circle, and has at its heart a well that is overlooked by a meeting hall, a high stone structure used as a safe haven for the villagers in times of trouble. It sports a solitary bell that rings in times of danger and thick wooden doors to keep an enemy at bay. Elders oversee the village Council and meet within to discuss trade, defence, and other matters of state. The interior is draped in fine fur and adorned in polished woodcarvings of the Gods Rindor, Maresh, and Taminoth. Through the centre of the village a rutted mud road affords access to the fishing community. Along this road run wooden panels, and upon these fishing nets dry in the midday sun. The road leads to a dirt track that ends at a jetty, and moored to this are a dozen small fishing vessels that bob away on a crisp blue lake. Meanwhile, fishwives sit at the water’s edge and clean clothing and fish, or complain about their husbands. Villagers bustle around the market square, focused on trading, and the market itself is colourful with multi-coloured bunting made from dyed sacking that crisscross overhead. Wooden barrows encircle the central well and display numerous and varied items, from fruit to candles. The air excites the nose with an array of smells, from fires and fine herbs to fish oils. The noise of two dozen merchants fills the air as each competes to sell their wares and challenge the villagers to buy. At the lakeside, brothers Coinin and Marrok had chased fish in the fishing grounds, as they did every summer, and enjoyed a morning of fishing in their small coracle. They had then spent a lazy afternoon in relaxation by the water’s edge, and listened to the waves lap the shore gently. Coinin, seven years old with blonde hair and bright hazel eyes, was considered skinny and short for his age, and the opposite of his brother Marrok, who was ten years old, taller than average, with brown hair and blue eyes. He was strong for a boy his age, and deft in the art of wielding a sword, thanks to his father’s tutelage, though quiet and moody compared to his younger sibling, considered boisterous and would more often than not land both of them in trouble. Now, though, was not such a time. “Coinin, Marrok?” a soft female voice called across the lake, her speech magnified by the surrounding hills. A brown juvenile rabbit that grazed nearby looked up in alarm and scurried to its burrow. Across the lake, that divided the valley, Coinin looked up and smiled, and then waved at the woman. He picked up his fishing rod and catch before he lightly kicked his older brother in the ribs to wake him. His brother, who had fallen asleep in the warm summer sun, awoke with a yell. “I’ll get you for that you little snake.” “You’ll have to catch me first,” the small boy laughed as he ran towards a rickety wooden bridge. It crossed a small river that supplied the lake. “Wait for me you idiot,” cried Marrok, and jumped up to follow his younger brother. Both children ran towards their mother’s voice with yells and screams. They reached the other side and a kindly faced woman greeted both boys. She had long blonde hair with blue eyes and thrust a sheepskin around each of the boys. The brothers immediately objected and tried to shirk off their coverings, but met a glare that said, ‘Try it, boys, and you’ll not sit down for a week.’ She took pride in her children and their accomplishments. Coinin, bright and intelligent and Marrok, strong and dependable. She knew Coinin would be safe with the elder brother, however, they were apt to become undisciplined when left together and often only their father had the ability to control them. “So how many fish did you catch for me?” she asked. “I got two, and Marrok only got one,” Coinin jumped in proudly and stuck his tongue out at his brother. “Really well done, both of you, let’s show your father your catch. Come on,” said their mother. The boys raced ahead up the hill, with their mother in tow, towards a small farm situated on the outskirts of the village. Their mother was decidedly red faced; she did not enjoy the incline in the slightest. The farm was set apart from the rest of the village, a modest low ceiling two-room affair in need of some maintenance. Ivy had grown to cover two-thirds of the front of the building, and a small enclosure circled the farm and contained a bull, several chickens and a pig. The sheep were often left to graze freely in the fields of the valley. Smoke billowed from the chimney and a smell of baking bread wafted enticingly down the hill. As they neared the farm, Marrok spotted his father attending to the old bull in the fenced enclosure that surrounded the compound. His father was shirtless, and Marrok again noticed strange scars across his back that seemed to glow a soft gold with the sunlight. He had seen his father’s scars before now and had always been told to mind his own business, but curiousness got the better of him and he needed to know their origin. He was ahead of Coinin and his mother and had ample time to sneak up to his father and take a closer look at the markings. To the casual glance, they appeared to be old scars from a battle or an arduous torture, but if you looked closer you could see that they were in reality claw marks that ended in soft indented paw prints of a type of animal Marrok had never seen. Marrok approached his father, a tall man of great strength with brown shoulder length hair and piercing blue eyes. “Da. What are those?” he asked and pointed to his father’s back. “My scars? That is a tale for another time,” his father replied and donned his shirt. He then scooped the boy into a hug and carried him to meet his wife and younger son who were now half way to the farm. “Do they hurt?” Marrok asked, not thwarted by his father’s actions. “No son they don’t, now enough about my scars, tell me are we eating fish tomorrow?” “Yes, Da,” replied Marrok. “Coinin caught two by his self.” “Did he indeed? Perhaps he’ll make a fine fisherman one day. I hope you’ve prepared and cleaned them well, you know how your mother hates doing that.” “Da, look what I caught.” Coinin shouted and hoisted aloft the catch for his father to see. “Great job boy. Now be off with you and help your mother prepare the fish. Marrok here has to help me with the bull,” he ruffled Coinin’s blonde hair as he darted past. Ædelmær lightly kissed his wife on the cheek as she passed and then pinched her bottom playfully. Marrok saw this and pulled a face of disgust and skipped off to the farmhouse. Inside the small farmhouse Godwen hummed a merry tune and instructed Coinin how to prepare fish for the meal. Try as he might he could not fillet the fish successfully and unavoidably ended up with mush. Marrok had been tasked to fetch water for his father who had prepared to clean a wound on the bulls flank. “Thank you Marrok. Just set it down there please,” said Ædelmær and pointed to a stool beside him. Marrok set the pail down and turned to his father. “Da? Are you excited about tonight? I am, very.” “Of course, I almost forgot that it’s your first feast.” “Yes, will I be allowed to drink some wine?” “I shall have to think about that, if your mother knew, I’d be in big trouble,” he winked. “That should do it boy. Clean the wound and I’ll wrap it.” Marrok sloshed water from the pail over the bull’s leg and wiped it down with a rag. Once finished his father wrapped the leg and then washed his hands in the remainder of the water in the pail. “Well done son,” said Ædelmær and looked into the sun filled sky in order to determine the time. “I think it’s about time we collected Coinin and went and had some fun in the forest.” Marrok cheered at this and ran to the kitchen door of the house, flung it open, and then dashed inside. “Coinin!” he yelled. “Marrok, how many times do I have to remind you not to shout? Close the door, my bread will ruin,” Godwen admonished. “Sorry mother,” Marrok giggled, too excited to care. “Coinin, come on, we’re going into the forest,” he beckoned. Coinin dropped his fish on the wooden table and kissed his mother on the cheek, and then ran from the kitchen after his brother. “Shut the door!” Godwen called in annoyance. Coinin turned back and then stuck his head back through the open door and laughed. “Sorry,” he said and slammed the door. Godwen smiled and rolled her eyes. She then wiped her brow with a flour-covered hand that left a dusty streak across her forehead. Coinin caught up with Marrok and linked hands with him. Ædelmær chuckled to himself at the sight of his two boys as they swung their arms in unison and skipped ahead of him. He laughed out loud when Coinin attempted to mount his brother’s shoulders and promptly fell forward, only to roll down the hill and land bottom first in the shallow water at the lakes shoreline. When he and Marrok reached Coinin, they found him to be rolling about in laughter. “That wath fun!” he exclaimed joyfully. “I think you are missing something son,” said Ædelmær with a smirk. Coinin looked about him and patted his clothing for any signs of a lost item. “I give up whath’s mithing?” he said, and then realisation dawned as his tongue protruded through a gap in his teeth. He had lost an upper front tooth and a small trickle of blood ran down his lip that he wiped away to then spit a glob on the ground. “That’s not fair, you’ll have the tooth fairy visit you tonight,” said Marrok with a hint of jealously. “That’s right, but the tooth fairy will only leave a gift if you have the tooth,” said Ædelmær. “But I don’t have it,” Coinin half cried, his tongue checked his mouth, and he half expected to find the tooth hidden there. “Don’t worry,” said Ædelmær, and put an arm around the small boy. “I’ll have a word with the fairy, and see if I can get you a gift. I doubt we’ll find your tooth now.” “A fish probably ate it,” Marrok commented. “Yuck!” Coinin grimaced, and then did a double take to his father, his eyes wide. “You know the tooth fairy?” “We’re old friends, now come on you two, we have things to do,” said Ædelmær, and gently pushed the boys ahead of him. It was some time later when Ædelmær and the boys arrived in a small clearing in the forest. Here, he and his sons would practice the art of sword play and if they had practiced well he would reward them with tales of glorious battle between witches and wizards, of dragons, and most importantly of the gods, the former to be kept strictly between them of course, Godwen would not approve. “Right boys, get ready. Marrok is the king and Coinin you will function as the enemy. Coinin, you need to try to sneak up on your brother without his knowledge. Marrok, stand by that cart over there,” Ædelmær pointed to the middle of the clearing where an abandoned farm cart stood with a broken wheel. “Coinin, you need enter the tree line over there and circle the cart.” “But Marrok is so much better at it than me, can’t I be the king?” Coinin complained. “Have I not explained this to you so many times before?” said Ædelmær exasperated. “I wish both of you to have the same skills and knowledge that will set you in good stead for your life ahead.” “How many kings do you expect I shall sneak up on in my life?” Marrok asked sarcastically. “It is hoped that the tally will be none,” Ædelmær growled. “The skills I teach you are more than sneaking up on someone. They help you to learn how to work together.” “We are brothers; we work together all the time,” said Coinin confused. “That in itself is true. However, I aim to teach you to work together on pure instinct,” said Ædelmær with a flustered tone. “The ultimate aim is to know what each other’s next moves will be without thinking.” Coinin made a face that suggested he did not quite understand his father. “You are still so young, perhaps now is not the best time for this. Let’s play a new game.” “Do we get to use our swords?” Marrok asked hopefully. “No Marrok, we do not.” Marrok looked bitterly disappointed by this and crossed his arms furious at being denied his favourite game of sword practice. “Do you recall, I told you that our ancestors date back to when time began, to when the gods created man and all the other races and creatures, aside from the Trolls, Goblins and Orcs that is?” Ædelmær began. “You will remember that I told you that the gods favoured our family among several others, and blessed them with certain magical gifts to be called upon by the gods for use as they saw fit.” “Oh you mean like when Coinin can find me with just his mind?” Marrok asked. “Yes, that’s exactly right,” Ædelmær beamed. “I want to prepare you for a time when the gods may call and request your help. As we do not yet know what your gift is Marrok, I have a game in mind. We know Coinin can find you with his thoughts Marrok, but can you find Coinin with just your mind?” “I don’t know. I’ve never tried,” Marrok replied. “Well, there’s no time like the present,” Ædelmær prompted. “Coinin, go and hide somewhere and make sure that you cannot be seen. Think hard about where you are. Marrok, I want you to focus your mind only on Coinin. Really think about him, and only him.” Ædelmær looked up and saw Coinin still stood there and picking his nose. “Why are you still here boy? Get off with you and hide,” he gestured. “Oh, and how many times have I told you not to pick your nose?” Coinin stuck his tongue out and ran into the trees. “Okay Marrok, close your eyes, make your mind go blank just as I have taught Coinin. Now, really focus on your brother, imagine in your minds eye that he has left you a trail to follow, and that you need to flush him out,” Ædelmær prompted. Marrok closed his eyes and tried to make his mind go blank. After a minute he slapped his arms to his sides in frustration and opened his eyes, “It’s not working.” “It won’t work if you keep talking,” Ædelmær whispered into his ear. Marrok jumped in shock at the proximity of his father and shut his eyes tight. He was determined to make it work so his father might allow him to play with the swords. He thought hard on his brother and tried to picture him, what he looked like and that silly expression he wore. Almost immediately the depiction of a stone footpath appeared in front of him, strangely lit and yet inviting. The image rushed at him and nearly overwhelmed him, but he fought back the urge to open his eyes. He decided to follow the footpath and set off. As he walked with his eyes still closed, the path led him true. “That’s it; you’re doing well, concentrate,” said Ædelmær proudly. “I can’t concentrate if you keep telling me to concentrate,” said Marrok through gritted teeth. One eye peeked sideways at his father and his lips pouted. “Sorry, it’s just so exciting to see your gift on display,” Ædelmær apologised. Marrok again closed his eyes and permitted the sensation of rushing water to envelop him. Moments later, the image of the footpath rushed up to meet him once again. The path, however, had changed from one of stone to a sparkling white marble. He was again compelled to walk along the pathway. Outside of the vision, Ædelmær merely followed his son along the forest floor, unaware they were headed along a set path. Marrok never set a foot wrong; his eyes were closed yet he avoided many obstacles and the odd fallen tree trunk with ease. The vision provided not only a path to Coinin but also one that skirted the flora and fauna within the forest. A new impression flashed before him. It was almost like he was looking through the eyes of his brother. However, the image was blurred and he had the sense he was underwater and began to gasp for air in panic. His brother was in the lake alone. He woke from his vision with a start and his arms flailed as if drowning. “Da, he’s at the lake alone. I think he’s in the water,” said Marrok worriedly. Ædelmær took a sharp intake of breath and checked his bearings. “Marrok, this way, quickly.” Both he and Marrok tore through the undergrowth and took the shortest path possible back to the lake. After a minute they broke through trees directly opposite the lake. They both scanned the water for signs of the small boy but he was nowhere to be found. “Marrok, you go left, I’ll go right. Find him!” said Ædelmær, his voice high and anxious. Marrok sprinted along the lakeshore, eager to spot signs of his brother, though not even a ripple from a light breeze seemed to disturb the surface. Ædelmær began to tear off his boots to jump into the lake, when a small voice behind him stopped him dead. “You shouldn’t believe everything you see,” said the small voice. Ædelmær whirled around and scooped Coinin into his arms, and with a hug, crushed the air from the small boys lungs. After several moments he gently lowered him to the floor and knelt before him. “Never ever do that to me again. I thought you had drowned,” Ædelmær scolded. Coinin appeared to be close to tears. “I was joking.” “It is no joke to make your brother believe you are in danger,” Ædelmær fumed. “I’m sorry,” said Coinin in a quiet voice, his head hung low and tears flowed. Ædelmær could not stay angry with the boy for too long and his heart melted at the sight of him in tears. “I should think so. I have half a mind to not allow you to visit the feast tonight,” he said more softly. “No, please, I must go, all my friends will be there,” Coinin pleaded. Ædelmær’s hardened heart softened at his sons anguish. “Fine, you may go, but you have not heard the last of this.” Coinin breathed a sigh of relief, his tears instantly dried up, and he smirked at Marrok who had returned, and received a glare back. “You always get away with it, you toad,” Marrok whispered to Coinin. “I know,” Coinin whispered back. “Come on you two, its time to head back to the house. The feast is only a few hours away,” said Ædelmær. He securely held each boy by the hand and led the way back up the hill to the farmhouse. He was determined not to let them out of his sight for the rest of the day. • Arrom Village Square blared music, laughter, and singing. Torches lit the square and a fire crackled at its centre and cast shadows that mimicked festivalgoers. Entertainers twirled, hopped, and skipped to little flutes, while others paraded exotic animals to the delight of onlookers. Colour adorned everything and everyone, greens, blues, and reds blurred into a myriad. All the while, the smell of delicious food wafted in the air and excited the senses. The village hall was a hive of activity and heaved with villagers eager to hear the speeches and taste the delights laid before them. A high table sits at the far end of the hall and is joined by three highly decorative chairs that rest behind it, reserved for the elders. A large stone fireplace smokes at the centre of the hall, and three large boars roasted on a spit, each turned by a small boy. At each side of the hall, fifty high-backed wooden chairs carved with family crests sit in long rows, and are used by the head of each of the village’s families. Perpendicular to these run several long benches that lay in front of oak tables now occupied by the wives and children of the menfolk. Elder Rangsan, a tall, thin man dressed in fine furs, rose from his central chair high on the podium and raised a hand for silence. A hush fell inside the hall, and the only sound came from those who enjoyed the carnival outside. “Friends and invited guests, I welcome you to Arrom and our celebrations. We have had a difficult couple of years, and this year has seen our deliverance. I urge you all to enjoy tonight’s feast and thank the gods for providing us a fine bounty. Enjoy, eat, and be merry,” said Elder Rangsan, and raised a cup of wine to a rousing cheer. During the feast Elder Rangsan regaled them with tales of the village’s plight and how he and his fellow elders had saved the valley from starvation. Fishing was good that year, the catch abundant since the village elders had discovered that a family of beaver had built a dam further up the river that supplies the lake. The dam had reduced fish stocks arriving to spawn and was summarily torn down, and a guard placed near its former location deep in the great forest. This would ensure that the like would not occur again, and it could be said, that a short time later the guard was seen with a new winter hat and the fish stocks remained plentiful. It had been a disappointing fishing season the year before and the village had barely survived the winter. Lushan, home to the Dwarves, was itself in a state of famine, and Astanoth, land of Elves, had suffered in battle with the Giants of the Northern Wastes, and so were unable to offer aid. Westeroe, peopled by self-serving humans, outright refused to help. Their leader claimed that they sought independence from Rosthagaar and any assistance would have shown weakness. The capital Rostha stated on parchment that, as sorry as they were, they would not help. Dear subjects of Arrom, Due to an oversight on your part, and due to your failure to return a tax record, the Treasury is not currently taxing you. We thank you for your interest in Rostha; however, we cannot offer assistance at this time. Yours fervently, Milanus Horinch. Rosthagaar High Treasurer. P.S. Please find enclosed your tax bill for the past twenty years. M.H. That left Madorine, home to Orcs and Trolls, as the only means of support. The elders were forced to negotiate trade with the much-feared Madorine warrior chiefs. Certainly, the warriors of Madorine had a right to be feared. They were bred to kill from childhood, and theirs was a civilisation bent on its own destruction. Civil wars between the clans was rife in this land that lay on the far side of the great forest. Arrom Forest grew at the entrance of the valley and afforded shelter to the residents of the village within. Through the forest lay a high mountainous pass, accessible only in good weather, unless you were a fool or desperate enough to venture that way in mid-winter. Beyond lay a waterway that surrounded the island of Rosthagaar and this led to Madorine. The elders had been desperate enough to send a delegation of emissaries across this pass in search of food. Fortunately, the last such emissary sent, returned with enough supplies to last the winter, and unfortunately the heads of his companions. These deadly negotiations with the clan chiefs eventually secured food supplies against future fish stocks. However, the elders of the village had failed to fulfil their end of the bargain and had not supplied the Madorine with their share of the catch at the end of this year’s fishing season. As a celebration of the village’s good fortune, the festival the village now enjoyed had been organised and neighbouring villages had been invited to attend. • Coinin and Marrok had fallen asleep early during the feast and slumbered on sheepskins laid behind their father’s chair at the side of the hall. As the feast slowly wound down, Godwen and Ædelmær picked up the small boys in their arms and walked the moonlit way home. The familiar discs of Er’ath’s sister planets, almost as bright as the moon, reflected their own light on to the scene. The family had just reached the farm enclosure when the village bell peeled a warning. “To arms!” it cried. “To arms!” Marrok awoke and looked at his father with sleepy eyes. Ædelmær put his son down and immediately checked for danger. “Fetch my sword boy,” he demanded. It took a moment for the request to sink through Marrok’s tiredness and then he turned on his heels and sprinted to the farmhouse. There he slammed the door aside and retrieved his father’s sword from its setting above the fireplace. He returned quickly to his father and saw that a runner from the village had joined him. “Ædelmær, it’s a raiding party from Madorine; I don’t know if we can hold them off,” the runner panted. “They killed the guards, it’s not safe. You should get your family to the village hall.” “There’s no time, they’ll be safe here,” replied Ædelmær. Marrok handed the sword to his father’s outstretched hand. “All of you, indoors now, I’ll be back soon,” he called over his shoulder as he and the runner rushed to defend the village. Coinin and his mother immediately retreated to the farmhouse, while Marrok watched his father run out of sight, and then ran indoors himself to hear Coinin scream at his mother. “Where is he? Where is Jip? I can’t find him anywhere.” “I don’t know, now be quiet, we have to be very quiet,” his mother replied, a worried look on her face. “Ma, what do we do?” Marrok asked. “We need a place to hide,” she replied. Coinin stood transfixed as he looked out of the farmhouse’s kitchen window. “Ma, it’s burning,” said Coinin, shocked by what he saw. “What’s burning?” “The village, the whole village is burning,” he pointed. Godwen pushed her sons aside and gazed out the window, only to cover her mouth in horror. The village hall belched fire and smoke; figures flailed and flames burnt flesh as they exited the building. “We have to hide,” she urged. Marrok moved quickly, he dragged sacks of grain across the floor with his mother, to expose a hidden cellar covered by a trapdoor that was concealed in one corner of the farmhouse. Ædelmær ran as fast as his legs would carry him, and left the runner behind. He headed straight for the nearest house and crashed through the doorway. Terrified screams had brought him there. By instinct he plunged his sword deep into the spine of his opponent who had raised an axe to strike a child that cowered in a corner of the room. The steel exited the chest with a crunch and a splatter of blood upon the opposite wall. He withdrew his sword and thrust the body aside. He did not bat an eyelid in the knowledge that he had just killed a female, she was Madorine, and that was all that mattered. Defend the village at all costs, that was the duty of every man. He briefly checked the child was okay and wiped blood from her face. “Run and hide,” he told the small girl. He scanned the room for more intruders and left the house. He looked to the square and his heart skipped a beat, the village hall was on fire and screams rent the air, but there was nothing he could do to save the poor souls now. If only the village guards had been spared death then perhaps they would have had a fighting chance. Here and there, people fortunate not to have made it into the hall ran screaming and looked for a place to hide. Several-mounted Madorine, however, cut them down like rag dolls. A Madorine warrior kicked heels into his horse and charged Ædelmær. With a swift motion he swung a long spear horizontally and gripped it in the crook of his arm. He roared and aimed at Ædelmær’s heart as he bore down. Ædelmær sidestepped at just the right moment and then twisted his body and sliced. The arm of his assailant flew through the air and landed several feet away. The Madorine howled in pain yet was quickly able to steel himself. He turned his mount and gripped its sides with his knees. This freed up his one remaining arm to reach for his sword and he again charged. Ædelmær was crouched low, his legs ready to spring at the right moment. The horse was almost upon him when he jumped; his sheer strength catapulted him into the air and as he descended he brought his sword down onto the astonished Orc who fell lifeless from the horse. Ædelmær raced after the terrified animal and reined it in, to then hoist his large frame upon it. He galloped to the village square only to pull up short as a horde of Madorine warriors gave a roar and charged him. He barely had time to turn the horse and make his escape back to the farmhouse. He was soon at the village exit, and then felt a heavy blow to his side. He fell heavily from the ride and rolled down the incline into the river. • Godwen had almost lowered Coinin into the cellar, when a crash from behind made them freeze. She hoisted Coinin back up and whirled to see a silhouette of a man in the doorway. The man stumbled and groaned and as he fell the sword he carried skidded across the floor to land at Marrok’s feet. Sounds from the village entered the room, yells of agony interspersed with screams and shouts of distress. Marrok ran forward to catch his father but found he was not strong enough to hold the huge frame, and so his father sank to the floor unaided. He heaved at the man’s arm to turn him over, and after much effort succeeded in doing so, only to find a large wound across his father’s torso, blood flowed heavily and left a dark stain on the wooden floor. “Da, talk to me. What happened?” Marrok pleaded. The only response was a groan and little sign of acknowledgement flashed across his father’s face, his eyes screwed up in pain. Marrok heard movement and looked up and out of the doorway, as he did so a blinding pain seared his left shoulder and he fell back. His mother screamed in terror, and darted to her child’s aid. A solitary arrow had pierced the tissue and sinew of the small boy. Coinin screamed and stood transfixed, his eyes wide with fear. Loud shouts and whoops of joy erupted in the yard outside. Instinctively, Godwen jumped up and shut the door to the yard, and then fastened the heavy wooden bolt. Moments later, the whole room shook as something heavy crashed into the door. Dust fell from the ceiling joists as the door cracked and creaked. Again, a heavy object hit the door and the hinges began to give way. A pot that had been sat in an alcove to the left of the door crashed to the floor and splintered into a thousand pieces. In the full knowledge that she was the only adult left to protect her children, Godwen reached out for a weapon she could wield. A large decorative statue of the Goddess Taminoth, from the family shrine, was the first thing she grasped. Seconds later, splinters of wood shrouded the small group in the farmhouse as the door gave way to brute force. A silent scream masked Godwen’s face as three Madorine warriors blocked the doorway. As tall as the tallest of men, dark brown, and green, with rippling muscle, their hideous features snarled at the occupants of the farmhouse. “Ha-ha you got him good, and the boy too. Nicely done Meroth.” “Yeah, and my reward is the female,” said Meroth, his tone nasally. “Who says it’s your turn? You had those twins last time.” “I say so, that’s why. So be quiet, there’s a good boy or I’ll cut your tongue out.” The leader of the group pushed aside his comrades and moved further into the room. He wore tight fitting well-worn leather armour, and across his breast and stomach sat six crude iron plates. Strapped to his waist a curved sword hung with its blade cruel and jagged. He had a scar across his left cheek and a hunger in his eyes, and the room already began to reek with the stench of his foul breath. He looked terrifying; with eyes that were almost black, and long, thin fingers that ended in talon-like nails. His sharp canines accentuated a wide lustful smile. “Get out, leave us alone,” cried Godwen. Laughter resounded as the intruders delighted in the woman’s pleas. “What do you think boys, should we get out and leave them alone?” the leader mocked, and his black tongue licked his lips. “And miss out on all the fun. I don’t think so,” a sallow faced warrior cackled as he chewed on what appeared to be a leg of lamb from the feast table. Scar face lunged toward Godwen. She screamed and threw the statue she held. It bounced harmlessly off scar faces’ armour with a clang before it crashed to the ground. This made him laugh harder and he grasped her tightly around the wrist and then pulled her to him. He grabbed a fistful of her hair and took a big sniff and moaned with pleasure as he drew her face close to his. He flicked his dark, leathery tongue up and down her soft features and she writhed and turned away in disgust. Scar face laughed louder, his head thrown back in glee. However, his laughter did not last long as a puzzled expression spread across his face. A trickle of blood emerged from his mouth and ran down his jaw. He mouthed the words, “You bitch!” and fell to his knees before his eyes glazed over. Green blood pumped from a slit of skin in the nape of his neck, and he fell to his face dead. A pool of blood formed around him as the only sign of his swift demise. Godwen stood there and shook, with a small knife in her hand that dripped blood. She had snatched the weapon from the belt of scar face and had struck him in a heartbeat. Sallow face took a few moments to work out what had happened, and then wasted no time in drawing his sword and struck Godwen with a roar of anger. She stood there a moment, her mouth gaped and her eyes widened. The light left her eyes and she too fell to the floor dead. Marrok’s scream was bloodcurdling, and he stretched to pick up his father’s sword. With no thought for his own safety he thrust it into the midriff of his mother’s assailant who had turned at the sound of the boys cry. He fell without a word. A growl, not human, more animal broke the silence, and then a howl, which could be heard clear into Madorine ripped through the valley. Ædelmær, ferocious and full of death, and eyes like that of a wolf, leapt at the third intruder and bowled him over backwards into the compound. Terrified screams rent the air and then it was silent. Coinin walked over to Godwen’s corpse and gently prodded her. “Mummy, wake up mummy,” he said tearfully. “Why won’t you wake up?” Marrok painfully lifted himself to his feet and wrapped an arm around Coinin. “She’s dead, Coinin. She’s with the gods now,” he said as tears rolled down his cheeks. Coinin burst into fresh wails of tears, the sobs shook his body. Marrok picked up his smaller brother and carried him out of the farmhouse and into the night, wincing at the pain in his shoulder. He knew of death, he had seen it before, and his only desire was that his brother be spared the pain. Marrok dragged his father’s bloodied sword behind him and gently dropped his brother onto the grass outside. He clutched at his painful shoulder, thankfully the tip of the arrow had penetrated and that meant it had a good change of healing well. The air was filled with smoke from the burning village and their father was on all fours and panted with his head bowed low. A mutilated body of a Madorine warrior lay dead several feet away and a large black wolfhound sat with Ædelmær and licked blood from his face. “Jip!” Coinin called and rushed to the huge animal. He wrapped his arms around him and the wolfhound responded with a whimper of delight. “I thought I’d lost you too,” he wailed, and buried his head deep into its fur. Marrok on the other hand knelt by his father’s side and took a blood soaked hand in his. “Da, they killed her,” cried Marrok. “I know. I know. Be certain, you will see her again someday,” Ædelmær tried to comfort, yet in doing so he too welled up. “You promise?” “I promise,” Ædelmær nodded. “Marrok, I have something very important for you to do. I need you to take care of your brother. You are now the head of the family and I must send you away.” “No, you can’t, I won’t let you. You can’t leave me too.” “I am mortally wounded Marrok, and you know what that means. I send you away, if only for your safety. You will go to your Uncle Draken and he will show you many wonders and teach you many things. Promise me you will do all that he asks without question,” Ædelmær suppressed a coughing fit but failed to hide the blood that spluttered from his mouth. He spat his lifeblood upon the ground and looked at the boy forlornly and wished he could do more for him. The tearstained boy returned the look and wiped away the blood from his father’s lips. “I promise,” he said, and gripped the hilt of Ædelmær’s sword. Ædelmær nodded and forced a smile. “May the gods protect you my son. I will love you always,” he kissed Marrok on the forehead and a single tear cut a path through his blood stained cheek. The eyes of their father took on an odd blue hue that ran through the veins of the eye. The light grew brighter and brighter. Ædelmær then balled his fists and closed his eyes in deep concentration. A strange sound enveloped them, hard to place, almost like singing, an odd piercing ethereal sound. Marrok and Coinin heard a howl behind them, and they turned to see the same strange blue light emanate from Jip the wolfhound, before a blinding blue flash, and the brothers were gone.
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