Prophecy of Swords
M. H. Bonham
Published by Margaret H. Bonham/Sky Warrior Books at Smashwords
? 2005 by Margaret H. Bonham
Print book published by Yard Dog Press, 710 W. Redbud Lane, Alma, AR 72921-7247
Other Books By M. H. Bonham:
Runestone of Teiwas (Yard Dog Press)
Serpent Singer and Other Stories (Yard Dog Press)
Lachlei (Dragon Moon Press www.dragonmoonpress.com)
Howling Dead (Dragon Moon Press)
The King’s Champion (WolfSinger Publications www.wolfsingerpubs.com)
WolfSongs I (WolfSinger Publications)
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or givenaway to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchasean additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this books and didnotpurchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.comand purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
To Larry, who’s been through it all more than once. To my parents, Al and Betty, who reallywanted to see my first novel. And in memory of Snopeak Kiana of Sky Warrior, best friend and myown personal Ni’yah.
My thanks goes out to:
Larry Bonham, husband, sounding board, and editor.
Al Holowinski, who encouraged me to write the story again.
Dusty Rainbolt, who encouraged me to send it in.
Selina Rosen, Publisher, and Lynn Stranathan, editor, who gave it a chance.
Allarun awoke with a start. The cold air from the keep's sole window prickled his sweat-drenched skin. He sat upright for a while, watching the moon's light play among the clouds. Thenightmares had come again. It could not be a coincidence.
He drew himself out of bed and slid into the silken clothing. Cold finery, he reflectedthoughtfully. How different it was now from those days on the battlefield. He had never beenhaunted by nightmares then – the world had been remarkably real. Life and death. Living anddead. Friendship and betrayal…
He almost flinched, but caught himself. It was a long time ago, he told himself. Lachlan wasgone – his ashes scattered and long buried beneath the Darkling Plain. The Eleionwere but a
scattered race among the Ansgar. There would be no more war.
Then, why do you dream?
Why indeed? Allarun strode to the window and gazed out into the night. He leaned against thestone; strong, slender fingers gripped the railing. He was tall, even by standards.Eleion
Slender to the point of bony – the years had not been kind. At one time, he might have beenconsidered handsome, but now he was wan and withdrawn. The dark mane, once full and flowing,was now lackluster and brittle. His face was angular and pale, but his eyes were still dark andheld a hungry fire within. That fire now searched for something.
In the distance, the storm clouds had gathered. Lightning flashed, lighting up the cloudbanks.The thunder rumbled muted, as though the silence weighed heavily upon it. But Allarun knew thewind. The storm would head this way. It always did.
"This is the third time this week," a soft, female voice said.
Allarun turned. His gaze fell upon a small woman in crimson robes. Cascades of golden curlsflowed from beneath the hood as she gazed into his eyes with her own steady green ones. "I didnot summon you," he remarked, not bothering to hide the irritation that crept into his voice.
"No, you did not," she said as she closed the door and strode into the room. A delicatelypainted fingernail traced the crystal ball that sat on the stand near the bed. "My Lord, I amindeed surprised. I would have thought the Sight would not have left you."
Allarun frowned. "It has not, Lila, though I sometime wish it were so." He stared back out atthe moon.
"What did you dream?" she asked.
"How did you get past the guards?"
Lila laughed. "You ask a sorceress?"
Allarun's gaze narrowed. "I have grown too complacent," he grumbled. "A few hundred years agoyou wouldn't have made it to the Keep."
"Perhaps," she smiled. "Are you going to answer my question?"
"Why should I?"
"Because I may have an answer for you."
"And in return?"
"That remains to be seen."
Allarun frowned. He knew Lila too well. She would bargain when she had the advantage – thatwas her kind's treachery. The link between him and Areyn Sehduk had grown dim over thecenturies. Perhaps she might be able to resolve that which he had lost. Still, the sorceress'shelp did not come without a price.
"Very well," he said. "I dreamt of the Darkling Plain and of Lachlan again."
"Did he die?" she asked, as her hands traced the reddened wood on the table.
"Yes, yes!" he snapped.
"Then what causes your concern?"
"The curse – it becomes stronger each time in my dreams."
She ran her hands lightly along the crystal ball. "My Lord, you know the death curse is themost powerful of magic. As the son of Rhyn'athel, his powers were not weak…"
"I know! I know!" he said. "But why now? Why after all these centuries?"
"Perhaps because the line of Elsonre still runs true."
Silence engulfed them both. Allarun stared at the moon as it emerged from the dark clouds."Romarin of the Silver Hand…"
"The Red Wolf."
"He is at Citadel Heights."
"Find him and you find Lachlan. Destroy the Lachlan’s incarnation before he awakens, and thecurse is no more."
Shadowhelm stared at the gallows as it swung before him in the wind. The wind was strong thatday, blowing the cold air from the alpine tundra miles above the city of Citadel Heights. Buteven the alpine air could not clean the stench of death and decay that filled his nostrils. Thegallows had been used many times before – even if Shadowhelm hadn't seen it, he would haveknown by the feel. He could feel the gasps as the rope dropped, hundreds, maybe thousands oftimes before.
Although mid-morning, the cold sun had not crested the cliffs on the east. He would die in aforeign city, far from his homeland even before the sun rose. Shadowhelm stared dismally ahead.The gallows towered on a platform twenty feet on the North end of Merchant's Quarter. Belowhim, the shopkeepers were busy displaying their wares and people were going about theirbusiness, either buying or selling. Not far from the gallows was a bakery; the aroma of freshbaked bread was incongruous with the morbid scene. There was always a crowd in the Merchant'sQuarter – many were wandering idly around, waiting for the day's executions.
A sharp prod propelled him forward, followed by a harsh laugh. "Can't worm yourself out of thisone this time, thief?" the guard said.
Shadowhelm wheeled around, deftly averting the poll-axe as it swung towards him. Although ropesbound his wrists tightly behind his back, he still had use of his feet. "I stole nothing!" hehissed. He was shorter than an Eleionand dressed in rags, but he held his head high. Beneath
the dirt and bruises was a mixture of Ansgarand Eleion features and a gaze that commanded
power. The guard stepped back for a moment, forgetting the man's wrists were bound.
The guard laughed and spat. "Shara'kai." Half-blood.
Shadowhelm did not flinch. Under the grime and the rags, he still bore the mark of kings –half-blood or not. The red-gold mane marked him from the Royal House of Lochvaur. "Filth!"
Shadowhelm snarled. "I stole nothing."
"Then may Areyn judge your soul," the executioner snapped. The big man grasped Shadowhelm'sshoulders and spun him around towards the gallows.
Shadowhelm thought.Hanged like a common thief,
He stared at the noose and redoubled his efforts to slide his hands from the ropes. His wristswere slick with sweat and blood, but the ropes were tight. If he could somehow move his fingersto untie the knots…
The pole-arm prodded him forward. He took two steps and the executioner shoved him into place.Shadowhelm almost recoiled as the man fit the noose on his neck.
All at once, the memories of dying men flooded Shadowhelm’s mind. Their last thoughts, hopes,and feelings echoed within his thoughts as though this was some ghoulish final torture. Hisgaze fell on the trap door. At least it'll be quick and he wouldn't have to hear the dyingmen's final thoughts.
"Halt!" a female voice rang from somewhere beyond the crowd.
The crowd parted and Shadowhelm watched as a soldier astride a dapple gray rode forward. Thestallion's hooves chattered on the cobblestones as the warrior reined the steed.
She was a tall woman wearing chainmail and an open-faced helm with a noseguard. The surcoat shewore over the armor was red and gold with a dragon emblazoned across her chest and back.Shadowhelm recognized the colors and armor immediately. A Chi'lan warrior.
“What are you doing?”
Shadowhelm's gaze met hers. he thought as he recognized the icy steel color ofShe's Eleion,
her eyes. He wondered if perhaps she might be from the Royal House of , herself. HeLochvaur
couldn't tell, because her hair had been cut warrior-style and was concealed by her helmet. Hiswrists, drenched with sweat, had become slippery and he found that he could wriggle his handsenough to work the bonds. He slipped his fingers around the knot, praying for more time.
The executioner squinted. "Just hanging a thief, Commander."
"We're at war, Executioner. Or haven't you heard?"
"Didn’t you receive the King's orders? There will be no executions until further orders."
A murmur ran through the crowd. She stared into the Executioner's eyes. He flinched. "Allarunis on the move. We need anyone who can wield a sword. We need shock troops for CitadelHeights."
The executioner grinned at Shadowhelm. "Eltarfodder. I hear they are soul-eaters."
"How would you know? You haven't one," Shadowhelm shot back. At that moment, the knot slippedand his hands pulled free.
The executioner snarled, seeing his charge freed. He tripped the trap door.
"No!" shouted the commander.
But, Shadowhelm had leapt up and grasped the rope before he could fall and snap his neck. Hepulled himself upward, clinging to the rope, knowing well that one slip would kill him. Allaround, the crowd began cheering and yelling. The commander rode forward, trying to reach theplatform. "Stand back, all of you!" she warned. The guards held back, not daring to disobey a Chi'lan’s orders.
The executioner was not deterred. He bellowed, drew his sword, and charged at the Shara’kai.
Shadowhelm swung and kicked, knocking the executioner in the chest. The man reeled backwardsand fell through the trap door. Shadowhelm's hands began slipping. He looked up, trying to gainmore purchase on the rope when he saw a flash of a silver si'lardagger. The throwing weapon
sliced through the rope cleanly and he plunged downward.
Shadowhelm caught the edge of the trap door, dropped, and then caught a scaffold. He droppedagain and grasped another, before dropping to the ground. The crowd backed away as theexecutioner rushed forward, swinging his sword. Shadowhelm stepped aside as the heavy hand-and-a-half slid past him and used the big man's momentum to fling him to the ground.
Shadowhelm turned and halted. The Chi'lanwarrior’s sword was pointed at his throat. "You don't
fight like a common thief," she remarked, eyeing him appraisingly. "Come with me, Shara'kai, we
can use fighters such as you."
"Allarun's army has just passed the Rolling Hills," Falar said. "Scouts estimate twentythousand total."
Romarin of the Silver Hand, High King of the Eleionshook his head. He rose from the throne and
strode to the small window, looking over the lands beyond Citadel Heights. A handsome man, evenby Eleionstandards, his silver eyes searched the lands beyond as though he could see somethingbeyond the fields and forests. His red mane was long, a testament to the years that had passedsince he had seen battle. He had not worn a helm in over ten years – he would have cut itclose in a warrior's cut like the knights wore theirs. It was streaked with silver, betrayinghis years.
Yet Romarin was far from being old or infirm. The royal finery could not conceal the ripplingmuscles on the king's six-and-a-half-foot frame. Unlike most Eleion, Romarin was not fine-
boned. In the light, he had the look of a snarling wolf that had given him the nickname, "TheRed Wolf." He curled the fingers of the silver gauntlet that had replaced his right hand yearsbefore. He turned and considered his nobles. Eleion, Ansgar, and even Shara'kai lords and
knights stood in two rows in the dimly lit room, smoky from the sconces. At one time, CitadelHeights had been the domain of Eleiononly. But that was even before Romarin's time and ever
since he could remember, the Eleionnumbers had dwindled. The Eleionwere no threat to Allarun's
"Why now? Why would Allarun move against us after all these years?" Romarin mused aloud.
"Allarun is a fool if he thinks he can storm Citadel Heights," Falar said. He was young Eleion
– one of the few purebloods left. The golden mane, cut back short to fit a helm, and pale goldeyes marked him from the House of Redel.He wore the colors of the Chi’lanwarriors and the
king: red and gold with a dragon emblazoned across the surcoat.
"He would only do it if he felt he could win or if there were something at stake," Romarinreplied. "Allarun is lord over all the continents, save perhaps the little feudal kingdoms afew of us dare rule."
"Perhaps the freemen have been too large of a thorn in his side," remarked Lord Isen, a Shara'kaiknight whose father had fought for Romarin in earlier wars.
"Perhaps he seeks Lachlan once more."
Both Romarin and the nobles turned in surprise. A figure, shrouded in a black cloak, trimmed inred, entered the chamber.
Falar drew his sword. "Who are you? How did you get here?"
"I'm not a thief," Shadowhelm said. "I'm a free-lancer."
Shadowhelm rode beside the Chi'lanwarrior on a red roan. His wrists were bound in front,
allowing some movement, but they were tied to the pommel of the saddle. The knight held hishorse's reins. She arched an eyebrow in amusement. "A mercenary?"
Shadowhelm nodded and glanced down at his clothes. "I admit, I look a lot less impressive inrags."
"Why were you arrested?"
"The last sentinel gold run – someone filched the chest right from under the sentinel'swatch."
He shook his head. "But someone was kind enough to slip a few gold coins in my trunk before theguards searched the boarding house." He met her skeptical gaze. "I didn't take it," he saidevenly. "I pride myself on honesty."
She stifled a chuckle. "A mercenary with a reputation? My, my…"
His gaze narrowed. "You don't believe me."
"What's your name, Shara'kai?"
"An odd name," she mused. "That's not Eleion."
"No, it's Northmen," he replied. " I was born in the Northlands not far from the TundraSteppes."
"Is that where are you from?"
He shrugged. "It has been years since I have seen those frozen lands. I left there shortlyafter I came of age. My last work was in the Southern Shoals defending Prince Armir's merchantships from pirates."
"I heard about that. The mercenaries decided to set up a fake merchant ship and when they wereboarded, they took the pirates by surprise. Clever."
"Thank you." Shadowhelm paused. "I usually don't disclose this much information about myself,even to a beautiful woman, without first knowing her name."
She laughed at his boldness. "Commander Kalena of the Long Sword."
His eyes widened slightly. "Your reputation precedes you."
She smirked. "Hardly."
"The right hand Chi'lanto the High King?" he said. He considered her. "One of the few remaining
Kalena reined her horse. His own horse backed up a few steps. She met his gaze steadily. "Andso are you, Shara'kai. What line do you hail from?"
Shadowhelm stared for a moment and then realized the truth: She saved me because I'm of the
Lochvaur. She recognizes me as kindred. It was not his prowess in fighting or even theHouse of
High King's law. "I don't know. I never knew my parents. My mother was Shara'kaiand died
shortly after I was born. My sire's identity died with my mother." He shrugged. "It is notuncommon among the Northmen."
Kalena dismounted and slid off. "We're here."
Shadowhelm recognized the Citadel guardhouse. An imposing structure hewn from the same sandybrown stone as the walls and cliffs, it towered three stories above the cobblestones below."What are we doing here?"
Kalena drew a knife and cut his bonds. "You say you're a mercenary – I'm giving you a job. Goinside and clean up, Shadowhelm of the Northmen. When you're in uniform, come see me."
"Who are you? How did you get in here?" Falar demanded. He held the creature at sword point.
The black shrouded creature lowered the hood. Not Eleion; not Ansgar, but certainly man-like –
the creature had dark skin and narrow-slitted eyes, like that of a cat. His irises were deepred as they studied the High King's face. "It has been a long time, Romarin," the creature saidin a raspy voice. He pushed aside Falar's sword as though it were something inconsequential.
Falar stared at Romarin. The High King's eyes held a glint of recognition. "My Lord, you knowthis creature?"
Romarin nodded once. "Aye, I do. Haegl, why have you come to Caer Sithar?"
"I sleep now most of the time," Haegl replied. "Only thrice have I awaken since Lachlan'sbetrayal and death. Once is now and once when you sought my aid."
"And the third time?"
"When I sensed Lachlan's presence."
Silence ensued. Romarin stared into those inhuman eyes as though he might be able to discernwhat the creature was thinking. He turned to his warriors. "Leave us."
"But my King…" Falar objected.
Romarin glared at the noble.
"Yes, my King." He and the other warriors left.
When they were finally alone, Romarin turned to Haegl. "It has been many years since you and I
met. I was younger then, and far more foolish."
"We learn from our foolishness," Haegl replied. "Such is the way of experience."
Romarin smiled slightly. "Certainly, you did not come here to discuss philosophy?'
"No, I came to discuss Lachlan. Allarun is on the move because the Lachlan incarnation ishere."
"Here? Now? In Caer Sithar?"
Haegl nodded gravely. "Indeed."
"Who is it?" Romarin asked. "Do you know?"
The creature shook his head. "I am not powerful enough to know this. None of us are. Not you.Not Allarun. We can only guess. Not even Lachlan knows until he wields the Sword of Destiny, Uruz."
Romarin's face became unreadable. "He will be a first-blood of the House of Lochvaur."
"So the Prophecy says," Haegl agreed. "As heir to Elsonre, Lachlan's brother, you are the lastof that line, are you not?" Romarin nodded. "So, Allarun will not rest until you are dead."
"Until the Lachlanis dead," Romarin corrected. "We do not know, even now, if that is what Iam."
"Allarun is certain. So certain that he has summoned his powers again. Leave here tonight,while you still can, and seek Uruz, Lachlan's great sword."
"No. I will not leave my people."
"They are already dead, Romarin," Haegl said. "You cannot hope to fight what will come in thedawn."
"This is my choice. I, too, am a son of Rhyn'athel. I do not fear Allarun."
The creature's eyes narrowed to dark slits. "You should."
With that, the creature turned to the window and began to change form. The room became warm asthe creature grew wings and scales. It slipped out the window and then flew into the sky.
Shadowhelm ran his fingers lightly along the edge of the gleaming broadsword and a thin line ofblood seeped from the cut. He smiled as he wiped the blood from his hands and the blade andsheathed the sword. He looked much different now. He was clean for the first time in many weeksand the red-gold mane shone free from mats. The rags were gone, replaced by chainmail and thered and gold colors of the House of Lochvaur. The High King Romarin's colors. Kalena's colors.
"You look fit to rule a kingdom now," Kalena spoke from the doorway. "I would’ve almostmistaken you for pureblood, if I hadn't seen you earlier."
Shadowhelm turned around and grinned. "I told you I looked more impressive."
"You were right," she considered him a moment. "You'll have to cut the mane, if you're going towear a helm."
"I probably should," he admitted. "But it does make me look more Eleion."
"It interferes too much with the helm, though. You'll be taking your sword to it once you seebattle. Even Romarin has to cut his own soon – you wouldn't believe the fuss he made," shesmirked. "Said he'd look like a bald rat."
Shadowhelm chuckled and then stared at her in amazement. "Romarin? You mean the High King?" Hehad never heard a king referred to in such familiarity.
Kalena smiled. "Yes, he's my cousin, once removed."
Shadowhelm paused. "You know, I’ve never given much thought to my lineage, until now. That'swhy you saved me, isn't it? It's because I'm part Lochvaur."
"You and I are kin in some way – albeit distantly. Technically, you’re a kinsman to Romarin,himself. I couldn't let you hang like a thief."
Shadowhelm was about to reply when a soldier entered the room.
"Commander, the High King wishes to see you at once," he said, glancing at Shadowhelm.
Kalena nodded and then turned to Shadowhelm. "Listen, you have enough here to keep youoccupied. See Lieutenant Yi'lar for your orders."
"Aye, Commander," Shadowhelm replied with a slight bow.
Kalena nodded, turned, and followed the soldier out of the room.
Shadowhelm watched them leave and then sheathed his sword. He stood up and strode to the windowto watch Kalena and the soldier ride towards the main keep. Instead of heading towards theLieutenant's office, Shadowhelm walked down the stairs and outside.
It was early afternoon and the storm clouds were already gathering over the mountains to thewest. No one noticed the Shara'kai slip into the Quarter and disappear.
Kalena entered the ironbound, rune-carved doors that led to the High King's throne room. Theair was smoky from oil lamps and candles. Tapestries hung along side the walls, depictingfamous battles. They were very old and their colors had faded over the centuries. Romarin hadtold her once that the tapestries were originally from Elsonre's castle at Caer Lachlanel inthe north. Her eyes brushed past the scene of Elsonre fighting the Yeth Hounds after the Battleof Darkling Plain to the tapestry with Lachlan holding Uruz, the great Sword of Destiny, above
his head. Each time she saw the image, it had given her hope in these dark times. Now, shewondered if perhaps the Prophecy of the Lachlan was a little more than a fairy tale meant tobolster the courage of a dying race.
Kalena's eyes shifted from the hall to the High King, himself. Many had said that Romarin ofthe Silver Hand, the Red Wolf, was the Lachlan incarnate. Romarin had never denied such claims,but he had never validated them either. There had been rumors that he had sought the Sword ofDestiny in his younger days, but had reported that he could not find it. He had lost his handin that adventure – no one knew how he had lost it or where he had found the magic silvergauntlet that had replaced his hand. Some believed a great sorcerer or wizard had given it tohim. Others said that the dragons from the northern mountains still possessed powers to healeven the most grievous wounds. Whatever had happened, Romarin never said.
Kalena strode to the dais and bowed low. "My Lord," she said. "You summoned me?"
Romarin nodded. "Commander, I’ve received troubling news. Allarun's troops have reached theRolling Hills. They’ll be here by dawn. They are twenty thousand strong."
"I know, my Lord," she said. "I have all available troops prepared for the siege."
"Would it be better if we met his army before he reached the city?" Romarin asked, recallingHaegl's words.
"No," said Kalena. "We’ve only ten thousand trained soldiers – including the Chi’lan. We’re
defensible on the heights – on the flats, it’d be a slaughter, especially if Allarun usedmagic." She stared at the King in puzzlement. "Why do you ask? Certainly, you knew this?"
Romarin nodded. "Let's drop formalities, Kalena. I've never been comfortable with them. I'm awarrior, not a king."
"Very well, Romarin," she said, shifting uncomfortably. "What’s troubling you?"
"Have you spoken to Falar yet?"
She shook her head.
"Then, you would not know," he mused. Romarin stood up and paced along the dais. Kalena's gazefollowed him as he became more agitated. "A long time ago, I sought Uruz," he began. "I thought
that I was the Lachlan." He laughed bitterly. His silver hand clenched and unclenched. "I failed."
"What happened?" she wondered aloud.
Romarin met her gaze. "What happened then did not matter. However, on this quest I met onecreature who is inexplicably tied to Lachlan, himself. A creature who calls himself Haegl."
"Haegl?" she repeated the name. "What is this creature?"
Romarin shook his head. "I do not know precisely. Some say dragon, but I have seen him in Eleionform. If one were to believe the legends, he helped Lachlan forge the three Swords ofDestiny."
"Then he is an ally?"
"Perhaps, but he is also a shapeshifter."
"A shapeshifter?" The words prickled the hair on the back of her neck. "Shapeshifters aretreacherous creatures – why would one be tied to Lachlan?"
"I don't know, but he appeared an hour ago. To warn me."
"Here? In Caer Sithar?" Kalena stared. "Why?"
"He says he senses the Lachlan and that Allarun senses him too. That's why Allarun isattacking."
"Haegl believes you're the Lachlan?"
"I don't know what Haegl believes. He says that I should leave now, while I still can."
Kalena stared at the floor for a while, studying the inlayed patterns in the stone. "It couldbe a trap."
"It's most likely a trap," Romarin agreed.
"Then, don't listen to him," Kalena said. "One failure to find Uruzdoesn’t mean anything.
Allarun and Haegl's attentions have turned to you, the last heir of Elsonre. Who else could be