THORDE: THE KEEPER OF THE TRYSK
Be careful what you wish for
They were coming at dawn. The elders had consulted with the truth-seekers and they had foretold of a mighty battle. The enemy would come on their mormoths and their fearless warriors would ride upon the scaranx. I had heard tell of these creatures many times around the fire. Tales of their size, ferocious teeth and claws bigger even than wyverns, which could snap a man in two or cause the blood to leave your body quicker than a river when it bursts its banks. It was said that they had a ring of fiery fur around their necks and the devastation that their long tails could bring with its spiky ball at the end was legendary. I had heard of many men that had died that way. As if that was not enough to chill my blood, the truth-seekers also prophesised that the sky would flood with the beating wings of the pterodyls carrying men who could swoop down upon all with swift and terrifying accuracy. I was eternally grateful that I had not been born a truth-seeker (to have to live with visions and futures that you could not alter was a heavy burden) but not being one held no comfort either.
I know what you are thinking? How do I know so many things that only Kings and trusted servants would know? Am I born of noble blood or work high up in the castle echelons? Hardly! Or do I hang around like a thief in the night, watching and waiting to hear things I should not be privy to? Well no, that’s not it either; I am just Thorde, the keeper of the animals. Now I’ll bet you are thinking ‘that’s nothing’, but I assure you I use my position to its full advantage. The Knights all use my services and I even have full access to the King’s noble steed, the highest honour someone like me could have. That’s how I find out all the things that I do and sometimes, like now, I really wish that I didn’t.
They have told the people, obviously they have, because they have to be ready for battle, but they have not told them who and what are coming, only that they are. The King has told them that they come and that all must fight and when I say all, I do mean all. They thrust a helmet upon my head and gave me a sword and a shield. Me, who has never held a weapon in my life and the worst thing is, I know what’s coming and I know we don’t stand a chance. Mormoths are bad enough, I’ve seen them, they stand three times taller than our strongest stallions, but pterodyls and scaranx, well, the best weapons a man can have in his armoury other than a wyvern. I can only hope that their truth-seekers have not mastered the language of the beasts, only the truly gifted can do that. But what if they have? What if they have a firetalker? We can use the boiling oil, the flaming arrows, all our best defences from behind the castle walls, but to have the power of fire in flight, that is a weapon indeed.
For now the dark covers our world like a comforting blanket, but it will not be long before the tendrils of light reach out across the sky. I glance down at my shield and sword for what seems like the hundredth time and I feel the helmet slide forward on my head. It doesn’t really fit properly, but then it wasn’t made for me. I don’t want to think about who it was made for or why I could now be the new owner because that had lots of possibilities and none of them could be good. It did not do to dwell on these things. What I need is a distraction for I now know for sure that I am not going to get any rest this night. Nothing calms me like the company of horses. Most animals hold an attraction for me, but horses were the most calming and I knew, the most understanding. For they, unlike me, had seen many battles. I know it isn’t a distraction exactly, but surely it was better to be forearmed and forewarned in this battle, because hiding or fleeing is not an option. There are eyes everywhere and the castle is locked down like the fortress we now needed it to be.
I make my way carefully to the stables. I pass many sleeping comrades and I envy them their rest. But I was by no means the only one awake at this ungodly hour. Many were sat staring into space, the fear etched plainly on their faces. From what I could see in this section of the castle, we were a very rag-tag bunch indeed, hardly a match for the Arberians.
I could hear the snorts and gentle neighs of the horses before I could see them and I knew that they felt my need and were welcoming my presence. I held my breath as I entered the stables, ready to leave at a moment’s notice if it turned out that I was not the only person here. I did not want anyone witnessing what I was about to do. I had long ago learned the language of the horses. It was a fascinating and complex method, but once you broke down the basics, you could indeed converse with them. What seems like random neck, head, ears or even mouth movements to the average person, is in fact a form of communication that could yield more than just a friendship with one of God’s most beautiful creatures. We understand each other completely and some of them I count as my closest friends. You don’t come into contact with many people in my job, well, people that would want to talk to someone like me anyway, but in my experience horses can be a lot nicer than the majority of people, so I didn’t really feel like I was missing out. In many ways I was far luckier than most. I had a job, which meant I had enough money to eat well most days and I had a roof over my head, but this meant that I wasn’t as invisible as most, so I was instantly seen as a potential fighter when news of the battle necessitated new recruits. That, and the fact that I had no parents to stand up for me, had sealed my fate, as it had many others.
Peros was the first to greet me. He was the tallest and strongest of the horses and as such, you won’t be surprised to learn that he is the King’s steed. He is as black as the darkest night and his mane is as long and luxurious as any fine maiden’s hair. His proud neck touches mine and I close my hands at my sides as I acknowledge his greeting. At this, my nerves begin to abate and I feel calmer than I have since I learned the terrible news.
Silently we converse and I learn more of the mormoths, the scaranx, the pterodyls and even the Arberians, well, Peros’ opinion of them anyway. Unsurprisingly, it was not good. When he exhales with his ears pressed right back into his head and I look deep into his eyes, I swear I can almost see the battle where he lost his brother even though I know he was never there. Arros had been a brave stallion. He had stood a couple of hands smaller than Peros, but had matched his brother in many ways. He had told Peros of the scaranx, for he too had never met one in battle. Arros had learned through trial and error the techniques needed to escape with your life when faced with such a foe. Unfortunately, there had been nothing Arros could do against the power of the wyvern and he had not stood a chance. I knew the fear of Peros matched my own. Although the truth-seekers had not spoken of the wyverns, this weapon could not be ruled out. There were those among many tribes that harnessed this gift.
Over what seemed like an age, Peros and his friends taught me all they knew. I had received lessons from them before, but never had it been so vital. I thanked them for their kindness and Peros advised me to seek out a human who might be kind enough to show me the basics in the way of battle. They could not help with swords and shields and although I thought I knew what to do with the shield (you hold it in front of you and use it to stop someone from killing you right?) I had absolutely no idea how to wield a sword. I had seen the Knights jousting, which I knew looked terrifying (and that was not even a real fight) but I had never actually held one until now. I knew I did not have much time. The truth-seekers had spoken of dawn and it may take time to find someone suitable.
I had already spent much of the night conversing with my friends and their council would be invaluable, but I knew this was just as important. In my haste to leave the stables without being seen, I tripped over my own sword and ended up sat in a pile of something foul-smelling.
“Well, that’s one way to try and get the enemy to not want to come anywhere near you,” I heard from the shadows before a skinny boy showed himself in the meagre light from the small torch he was holding.
Rising in as dignified a manner as I could manage, considering the circumstances, I faced him with a pithy reply hovering on my lips, when I saw him swing his sword in a perfect arc and aim it directly at my chest. I took a step back in alarm.
“No, I think you’ll find it’s not working,” he said before bursting into laughter, even though he was trying to hide it behind his free hand.
To my immense relief, he retracted his sword, placed it against the stable wall and held out his hand. Hesitantly I took it.
“Sorry about that, I just couldn’t resist. Anybody would think you had never held a sword before.” The twinkle in his eye broke my composure; after all, I am sure I did look pretty stupid.
“That’s because I haven’t. Nor a shield, or wear a helmet,” I laughed and shook his hand warmly. Let’s face it, I could probably do with his help; he, at least, looked like he knew what he was doing.
“Ah, that explains it then. Well, let’s see what we can do about that.”
He came closer and pushed my helmet back and tilted it slightly. I could see much better now and although it still didn’t fit, it no longer felt like it was going to fall off my head at any moment.
He handed me my shield and sword and then wielded his own in a very convincing manner. I copied him as best I could and then I yelped as his sword connected with mine and I felt the power of it reverberate up my arm.
“Ow,” I yelled thinking that that would make him stop, but he only came at me harder. I danced around like a jester trying to field the blows with both my shield and sword and every time his weapons collided with mine, I felt it down to my very bones. My arms were getting more and more tired and I swear the sword and shield seemed to get heavier. I was out of breath and sore and more frightened than before because it seemed I was definitely not cut out for this.
“Saran,” he shouted over the sound of our swords colliding.
“What?” I yelled back dodging a particularly low blow. If I didn’t know any better I would think he was trying to distract me.
“Saran’s the name,” he qualified as he easily dodged my feeble attempt at getting a blow in whilst he was answering the question.
“Oh, Thorde,” I answered, “nice to meet you I think.”
To my relief, all of a sudden my new friend stepped back and lowered his weapons. He had a large smile across his face and I had to mentally convince myself that he wasn’t laughing at me.
“Not bad,” he murmured and I felt myself blush at his kindness; I knew I was rubbish, but it was kind of him to say that.
“Tried my best but it’s obvious I am not going to last very long in this battle,” I admitted and I put my shield and sword down so that I could rub my arms where they were aching like they were on fire.
“You’ll do alright,” he said, “you fielded all my blows well to say you’ve never done this before. You need to build up your stamina because you are out of breath already and I can see that your muscles need working more-“
“Well that’s not going to happen is it? They’ll be here at dawn.”
“We better keep at it then,” he smiled as he pointed his sword at mine, “pick them up.”
I reluctantly did as I was bid and we began again. He was good and I was awful and the concentration on his face seemed to intensify the more blows that I fielded. I was beginning to worry that he actually wanted to land one. My arms were stretched with the weight of the shield and sword and my lungs felt like they were bursting out of my chest and for a moment I thought that I might be better off if a wyvern came and got me before the warriors arrived; at least that way it would be quick and therefore more painless. As I thought this, my opponent swung his sword and it connected with my helmet before I had chance to stop it. My head felt weird and I could hear a strange swooshing sound in my ears. To my amazement, my new friend stepped back and swung away from me his shield and sword raised in protection. That was when I saw it, even through my hazy vision, it was unmistakable. A wyvern, flying towards us with its mouth wide; the swooshing sound was its wings and he seriously looked like he was going to let loose with the flames. I know they say be careful what you wish for, but this was ridiculous.