Wednesday, 10 April 2019

The battle of the gods full story

King MacGil stumbled into his chamber, having had way too much to drink, the room spinning and his head pounding from the night’s festivities. A woman whose name he did not know clung to his side, one arm draped around his waist, her shirt half-removed, leading him with a giggle towards his bed. Two attendants closed the door behind them and disappeared discreetly.
MacGil did not know where his queen was, and on this night he did not care. They rarely shared a bed anymore, she often retiring to her own chamber, especially on nights of feasts, when the meals went on too long. She knew of her husband’s indulgences, and she did not seem to care. After all, he was king, and MacGil kings had always ruled with entitlement.
But as MacGil aimed for bed the room spun too fiercely, and he suddenly threw this woman off. He was no longer in the mood for this.
“Leave me!” he commanded, and shoved her away.
The woman stood there, stunned and hurt, and the door opened and the attendants returned, each grabbing one arm and leading her out. She protested, but her cries were muffled as they closed the door behind her.
MacGil sat on the edge of his bed and rested his head in his hands, trying to get his headache to stop. It was unusual for him to have a headache this early, before the drink had time to wear off, but tonight was different. It had all changed so quickly. The feast had been going so well; he had been settling in with a fine choice of meat, a strong cask of wine, when that boy, Thor, had to surface and ruin everything. First it was his intrusion, with his silly dream; then his knocking his goblet out of his hands.
Then that dog had to appear and lap it up, and drop dead in front of everyone. MacGil had been shaken ever since. The realization had stuck him like a hammer: someone had tried to poison him. To assassinate him. He could hardly process it. Someone had snuck past his guards, past his wine and food tasters. He had been a breath away from being dead, and it still shook him.
He recalled Thor’s being taken away, to the dungeon, and he wondered again if it had been the right command. On the one hand, of course, there was no way the boy could have known that goblet was poisoned unless he himself had poisoned it, or was somehow complicit in the crime. On the other hand, he knew Thor had deep, mysterious powers, too mysterious, and perhaps he had been telling the truth: maybe he had indeed envisioned it in a dream. Maybe he had, in fact, saved his life, and maybe MacGil had sent to the dungeon the one person truly loyal.
MacGil’s head pounded at the thought, as he sat there rubbing his too-lined forehead, trying to work it all out. But he had drank too much on this night, his mind was too foggy, his thoughts swirled, and he could not get to the bottom of it all. It was too hot in here, a sultry summer night, his body overheated with hours of food and drink, and he felt himself sweating.
He reached over and threw off his mantle, then his outer shirt, dressed in nothing but his undershirt, and reached up and wiped the sweat off his brow, then his beard. He leaned back and pulled off his huge, heavy boots, one at a time, and curled his toes as they hit the air. He sat there and breathed hard, trying to regain his equilibrium. His belly had grown today, and it was burdensome. He kicked his legs up and lay back, resting his head on the pillow. He sighed and looked up, past the four posters, to the ceiling, and tried to get the room to stop spinning.
Who would want to kill him? he wondered, yet again. He had loved that boy, Thor, like a son, and a part of him sensed that it could not be him. He wondered who else it could be, what motive he might have – and most importantly, if he would try again. Was he safe? Had Argon’s pronouncements been right?
MacGil felt his eyes grow heavy, as he sensed the answer just outside of his mind’s grasp. If his mind was just a little clearer, maybe he could work it all out. But his mind was not there. He would have to wait for the light of morning to summon his advisers, to launch an investigation. The question in his mind was not who wanted him dead – but who did not want him dead. His court, he knew, was filled with people who craved his throne. Ambitious generals; maneuvering councilmembers; power-hungry nobles and lords; spies; old rivals; assassins from the McClouds – and maybe even from the Wilds. Perhaps, even closer than that.
MacGil’s eyes fluttered as he began to fall into sleep; but something caught his attention which kept them open. He detected movement, and looked over to see that his attendants were not there. He blinked, confused. His attendants never left him alone. In fact, he could not remember the last time he had been alone in this room, by himself. He did not remember ordering them to leave. Even stranger: his door was wide open.
At the same moment MacGil heard a noise from the far side of the room, and turned and looked. There, creeping along the wall, coming out of the shadows, into the torchlight, was a tall, thin man, wearing a black cloak and hood, pulled over his face. MacGil blinked several times, wondering if he were seeing things. At first he was sure it was just shadows, flickering torchlight playing tricks on his eyes.
But a moment later the figure was several paces closer and approaching his bed quickly. MacGil tried to focus in the dim light, to see who it was; he began instinctively to sit up, and being the old warrior he was, he reached for his waist, for a sword, or at least a dagger. But he had undressed long ago, and there were no weapons to be had. He sat, unarmed, on his bed.
The figure moved quickly now, like a snake in the night, getting ever closer, and as MacGil sat up, he got a look at his face. The room still spun, and his drinking prevented him from seeing clearly, but for a moment, he could have sworn it was the face of his son.
Gareth.
MacGil’s heart flooded with sudden panic, as he wondered what he could possibly be doing here, unannounced, so late into the night.
“My son?” he called out.
MacGil saw the deadly intent in his eyes, and it was all he needed to see – he started to jump out of bed.
But the figure moved too quickly. He leapt into action, and before MacGil could raise his hand in defense, there was the gleaming of metal in the torchlight, and fast, too fast, there was a blade puncturing the air – and plunging into his heart.
MacGil shrieked, a deep dark cry of anguish, and was surprised by the sound of his own scream. It was a battle scream, one he had heard too many times. It was the scream of a warrior mortally wounded.
MacGil felt the cold metal breaking through his ribs, pushing through muscle, mixing with his blood, then pushing deeper, ever deeper, the pain more intense than he had ever imagined, as it seemed to never stop plunging. With a great gasp, he felt hot, salty blood fill his mouth, felt his breathing grow hard. He forced himself to look up, at the face behind the hood. He was surprised: he had been wrong. It was not the face of his son. It was someone else. Someone he recognized. He could not remember who, but he knew it was someone close to him. Someone who looked like his son.
His brain wracked with confusion, as he tried to put a name to the face.
As the figure stood over him, holding the knife, MacGil somehow managed to raise a hand and push it into the man’s shoulder, trying to get him to stop. He felt a burst of the old warrior’s strength rise up within him, felt the strength of his ancestors, felt some deep part of him that made him king, that would not give up. With one giant shove, he managed to push back the assassin with all his might.
The man was thinner, more frail, than MacGil thought, and he went stumbling back with a cry, tripping across the room. MacGil managed to stand, and with a supreme effort, he reached down and yanked the knife from his chest. He threw it across the room and it hit the stone floor with a clang, skidding across it, and slammed into the far wall.
The man, whose hood had fallen back around his shoulders, scrambled to his feet and stared back, wide-eyed with terror, as MacGil began to bear down on him. The man turned and ran across the room, stopping only long enough to grab the dagger before he fled.
MacGil tried to chase him, but the man was too fast, and suddenly the pain rose up, piercing his chest. He felt himself grow weak.
MacGil stood there, alone in the room, and looked down at the blood pouring from his chest, into his open palms. He sank to his knees.
He felt his body grow cold, and leaned back and tried to call out.
“Guards,” came his faint cry.
He took a deep breath, and with supreme agony, managed to muster his deep voice. The voice of a once-king.
“GUARDS!” he shrieked.
He heard footsteps come running, from some distant hallway, slowly getting closer. He heard a distant door open, sensed bodies getting closer to him. But the room spun again, and this time it was not from drink.
The last thing he saw was the cold stone floor, rising up to meet his face.
Thor took several steps into the chamber, hearing the crackle of the torchlight on the walls as he made his way towards the body, lying in a heap on the floor. He already sensed that it was the king, that he had been murdered, that he, Thor, had been too late. Thor could not help but wonder where all the guards were, why no one was here to rescue him.
Thor’s knees grew weak as he took the final steps to the body; he knelt on the stone, grabbed his shoulder, already cold, and pulled.
There was MacGil, his former king, lying there, eyes wide open, a knife plunged into his chest. It sat there, rigid, like a sword t----t into a stone.
Thor looked up and suddenly saw the king’s attendant standing over him. He held a large, bejeweled goblet, the one that Thor recognized from the feast, made of solid gold and covered in rows of rubies and sapphires, and he reached out, while staring at Thor, and poured it slowly onto the king’s chest. The wine splashed all over Thor’s face.
Thor heard a screeching, and turned to see his falcon, Ephistopheles, perched on the king’s shoulder; she licked the wine off his cheek.
Thor heard a noise and turned to see Argon, standing over him, looking down sternly. In one hand he held the crown, shining. In another, his staff.
Argon walked over and placed the crown firmly on Thor’s head. Thor could feel it, its weight digging in, fitting snugly, its metal hugging his temples. He looked up at Argon in wonder.
“You are King now,” Argon pronounced.
Thor blinked, and when he opened his eyes, before him stood all the members of the Legion, of the Silver, hundreds of men and boys crammed together into the chamber, all facing him. As one, they all knelt, then bowed down to him, their faces low to the ground.
“Our King,” came a chorus of voices.
Thor woke with a start. He sat upright, breathing hard, looking all about him. It was dark in here, and humid, and he realized he was sitting on a stone floor, his back to the wall. He squinted in the darkness, saw iron bars in the distance, and beyond them, a flickering torch. Then he remembered: the dungeon. He had been dragged down here, after the feast.
He remembered that guard, punching him in the face, and realized he must have been out, he didn’t know how long. He sat up, breathing harder, trying to wash away the horrific dream. It had seemed so real. He prayed that it wasn’t true, that the king wasn’t dead. The image of that dagger in his chest stuck in his mind. Had Thor really saw something? Or was it all just his imagination?
Thor felt someone kick him on the sole of his foot, and looked up to see a figure standing over him.
“It’s about time you woke up,” came the voice. “I’m waiting hours.”
In the dim light Thor made out the face of a teenage boy, about his age. He was thin, short, with hollow cheeks and pockmarked skin – yet there seemed to be something kind and intelligent behind his green eyes.
“I’m Merek,” he said. “Your cellmate. What you in for?”
Thor sat upright, trying to get his wits about him. He leaned back against the wall, ran his hands through his hair, and tried to remember, to piece it all together.
“They say you tried to kill the king,” Merek continued.
“He did try to kill him, and we’re going to tear him to pieces if he ever gets out from behind those bars,” snarled a voice.
A chorus of clanking erupted, tin cups banging against metal bars, and Thor looked to see the entire corridor filled with cells, grotesque-looking prisoners sticking their heads to the bars and, in the flickering torchlight, sneering out at him. Most were unshaven, with missing teeth, and some looked as if they’d been down here for years. It was a horrifying sight, and Thor forced himself to look away. Was he really down here? Would he be stuck down here, with these people, forever?
“Don’t worry about them,” Merek said. “It’s just you and me in this cell. They can’t get in. And I could care less if you poisoned the king. I’d like to poison him myself.”
“I didn’t poison the King,” Thor said, indignant. “I didn’t poison anyone. I was trying to save him. All I did was knock over his goblet.”
“And how did you know the goblet was poisoned?” screamed a voice from down the aisle, eavesdropping. “Magic, I suppose?”
Their came a chorus of cynical laughter from up and down the cell corridor.
“He’s psychic!” one of them yelled out, mocking.
The others laughed.
“No, it was just a lucky guess!” another bellowed, to the delight of the others.
Thor glowered, resenting the accusations, wanting to set them all straight. But he knew it would be a waste of time. Besides, he didn’t have to defend himself to these criminals.
Merek studied him, with a look that was not as skeptical as the others. He looked as if he were debating.
“I believe you,” he said, quietly.
“You do?” Thor asked.
Merek shrugged.
“After all, if you’re going to poison the King, would you really be so stupid to let him know?”
Merek turned and walked away, a few paces over to his side of the cell, and leaned back against the wall and sat down, facing Thor.
Now Thor was curious.
“What are you in for?” he asked.
“I’m a thief,” Merek answered, somewhat proudly.
Thor was taken aback; he’d never been in the presence of a thief before, a real thief. He himself had never thought of stealing, and he had always been amazed to realize that some people did.
“Why do you do it?” Thor asked.
Merek shrugged.
“My family has no food. They have to eat. I don’t have any schooling, or any skills of any kind. Stealing is what I know. Nothing major. Just food mostly. Whatever gets them through. I got away with it for years. Then I got caught. This is my third time caught, actually. Third time’s the worst.”
“Why?” Thor asked.
Merek was quiet, then slowly shook his head. Thor could see his eyes well up with tears.
“The king’s law is strict. No exceptions. Third offense, they take your hand.”
Thor was horrified. He glanced down at Merek’s hands; they were both there.
“They haven’t come for me yet,” Merek said. “But they will.”
Thor felt terrible. Merek looked away, as if ashamed, and Thor did, too, not wanting to think about it.
Thor put his head in his hands, his head killing him, trying to piece together his thoughts. The last few days felt like a whirlwind; he could hardly believe how much had happened, so quickly. On the one hand, he felt a sense of success, of vindication: he’d seen the future, had seen MacGil’s poisoning, and had saved him from it. Perhaps fate, after all, could be changed, perhaps destiny could be bent. Thor felt a sense of pride: he had saved his king.
On the other hand, here he was, in the dungeon, unable to clear his name. All his hopes and dreams were shattered, any chance of joining the Legion gone. Now he would be lucky if he didn’t spend the rest of his days down here. It pained him to think that MacGil, who had taken Thor in like a father, the only real father he had ever had, thought Thor actually tried to kill him. It pained him to think that Reese, his best friend, might believe that he’d tried to kill his father. Or even worse, Gwendolyn. He thought of their last encounter, of her thinking he frequented the brothels, and felt as if everything good in his life had been pulled out from under him. He wondered why this was all happening to him. After all, he had only wanted to do good.
Thor didn’t know what would become of him; he didn’t care. All he wanted now was to clear his name, for people to know that he hadn’t tried to hurt the king; that he had genuine powers, that he really saw the future. He didn’t know what would become of him, but he knew one thing: he had to get out of here. Somehow.
Before Thor could finish the thought, he heard footsteps, heavy boots clomping their way down the stone corridors; there came a rattling of keys, and moments later, there came into view a burly jail keeper, the man who had dragged Thor here and punched him in the face. At the sight of him Thor felt the pain well up on his cheek, felt aware of it for the first time, and felt a physical revulsion.
“Well, if it isn’t the little pip who tried to kill the King,” the warder scowled, as he turned the iron key in the lock. After several reverberating clicks, he reached over and slid back the cell door. He carried shackles in one hand, and a small axe hung from his waist.
“You’ll get yours,” he sneered at Thor, then turned to Merek, “but now it’s your turn, you little thief. Third time,” he said with a malicious smile, “no exceptions.”
He suddenly dove for Merek, grabbed him roughly, yanked one arm behind his back, clamped down the shackle, then clamped the other end into a hook on the wall. Merek screamed out, tugging wildly against the shackle, trying to break free; but it was useless. The warder got behind him and grabbed him, held him in a bear hug, took his free arm, and placing it down on a stone ledge.
“This will teach you not to steal,” he snarled.
He reached back, removed the axe, and raised it high above his head, his mouth open wide, his ugly teeth sticking out as he snarled.
“NO!” Merek screamed.
Thor sat there, horrified, transfixed as their warder brought down his weapon, aiming for Merek’s wrist. Thor realized that in moments, this poor boy’s hand would be chopped off, forever, for no other reason than his petty thievery for food, to help feed his family. The injustice of it burned inside him, and he knew that he could not allow it. It just wasn’t fair.
Thor felt his entire body growing hot, and then felt a burning inside, rising up from his feet and coursing through his palms. He didn’t know what was happening to him, but he felt time slow down, felt himself moving faster than the man, felt every instant of every second, as the man’s axe hung there in mid-air. Thor felt a burning energy ball in his palm, and reached back and hurled it at his warder.
He watched in amazement as a yellow ball went flying from his palm, through the air, lighting up the dark cell as it left a trail – and went right for the warder’s face. It hit him in his head, and as it did, he dropped his axe and went flying across the cell, smashing into a wall and collapsing. Thor saved Merek a split second before the blade reached his wrist.
Merek looked over at Thor, wide-eyed.
The warder shook his head and began to rise, to head for Thor. But Thor felt the power burning through him, and as the warder reached his feet and faced him, Thor ran forward, jumped into the air, and kicked him in the chest. He felt a power he had never known rush through his body, and heard a cracking noise, as his kick sent the large man flying back through the air, smashing against the wall, and down into a heap on the floor, truly unconscious this time.
Merek stood there, shocked, and Thor knew exactly what he had to do. He grabbed the axe, hurried over, held his shackle up against the stone, and chopped it. A great spark flew through the air, as the chain-link was severed. Merek flinched, then raised his head and looked at the chain dangling down to his feet, and realized he was free.
He stared back at Thor, open-mouthed.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” Merek said. “I don’t know how you did that, whatever it is, or who you are – or what you are – but you saved my life. I owe you one. And that is something I do not take lightly.”
“You owe me nothing,” Thor said.
Wrong,” Merek said, reaching out and clasping Thor’s forearm. “You’re my brother now. And I will repay you. Somehow. Someday.”
With that, Merek turned, hurried out the open cell door, and ran down the corridor, to the shouts of the other prisoners.
Thor looked over, saw the unconscious guard, the open cell door, and knew he had to act, too. The shouts of prisoners were growing louder.
Thor stepped out, looked both ways, and decided to run the opposite way of Merek. After all, they couldn’t catch them both at once.
“Wrong,” Merek said, reaching out and clasping Thor’s forearm. “You’re my brother now. And I will repay you. Somehow. Someday.”
With that, Merek turned, hurried out the open cell door, and ran down the corridor, to the shouts of the other prisoners.
Thor looked over, saw the unconscious guard, the open cell door, and knew he had to act, too. The shouts of prisoners were growing louder.
Thor stepped out, looked both ways, and decided to run the opposite way of Merek. After all, they couldn’t catch them both at once.

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