The Tale of Ander Collins, Chapter Twenty-Seven

Fiction By LoriAnn // 1/21/2010


It was a chilly morning in Anamere Valley.
The fog that blanketed the ground curled about in clammy tendrils, snaking around the massive trunks of Denwold oaks and smearing its gray way through the underbrush. Overhead, the sky was thick with clouds—though they were the type that would probably burn off by late afternoon. The air was thick and muggy, with an unexpected autumn bite that shouldn’t have appeared for at least another two or three weeks.
The Denwold was eerily silent. Celzara’s fog of fear cloaked the place, stifling even the songs of the birds and the normal rustling of small animals.
According to reports, which trickled in bit by bit as scouts returned from reconnaissance and new recruits furtively joined Dorlan’s band, Celzara had only become more vicious and power-mad during the month and a half they had been gone. Ander could only shudder at the tales he heard, muttered by shaken dwarves, fawns, ogres and others, who sat at the company’s campfire and cursed the evil queen with hot voices.
How had they never heard of all this in Kelner, he wondered?
“Celzara cut off all communication with the outside world when she took the throne,” was Thraluic’s answer. “For nearly fifteen years, the rest of Alkemen heard nothing from Denwold—we were completely silenced. She posted guards—archers—at the edges of the wood, with orders to shoot on sight anyone who attempted to leave or enter. My guess is that she thought there was some small chance of Kelner coming to Ravin’s aid. And she couldn’t have that.”
Ander shook his head. “It seems like such a short time,” he said thoughtfully, staring into the coals of the campfire as it died away. “For as long as I can remember, all we’ve ever heard about the Denwold was stories of ghouls and will-o-the-wisps who would drain your life. That, and myths about the wondrous city of the Feielves, where a lovely queen ruled over a happy people.” He snorted. “How could things get so muddled in such a short time?”
“Well, you humans have short memories, for one thing.” Shyllen sat down next to Ander with a bowl of stew in her hand. “In a small village like Mor, a man can sneeze one afternoon, and three days later have the gossips saying that he died in the night. It wouldn’t take much to tangle up people’s memories of the Denwold until it was only a place of myth and nightmare.”
Thraluic nodded, and Ander felt a pang of wistfulness for the absence of rustling scales. “Besides that, you’re forgetting that Celzara has access to some very destructive powers. There’s no telling what sort of glamour she might have cast to muddy the waters even more. Fifteen years is plenty of time to completely wipe away the memory of her deceit in the minds of all outsiders.”
That had been four nights ago. Now, Ander crouched in the damp weeds on the outskirts of the Feielve city, wishing Shyllen hadn’t drilled the poisonous plants into his brain quite so well. He knew he’d be itching like crazy come nightfall—the patch of three-leaved ivy he lay in told him that.
The battle wasn’t scheduled to start until full daylight fell upon the city. As it was, Ander could hardly tell that there was a city anywhere in the vicinity—the only signs of habitation were the narrow footpaths that carved through the manicured grass mere feet away, and the faint smell of wood-smoke in the air. However, if one knew to look upward, into the spreading branches of the massively tall trees…well, that was a somewhat different story.
Gracefully hung catwalks stretched from branch to branch, woven of rope and wooden slats, and dyed a mottled green to blend in with the foliage. In the first large branching of each tree—and the main ones were each easily seventy to a hundred stretches off the ground—was a cluster of small buildings, built into the very tree itself. The walls were supported by crossbeams made from skyward-reaching branches, and the floors were woven from the limbs that jutted straight out from the trunk. Every tree held five or six of these dwellings—but they were not crammed together, not in the least. All of the cottages looked bright and airy, spacious enough for a medium sized family and perhaps a pet or two.
Ander kept half an eye on these marvelous lodges, watching for any sudden movement or light that might betray the waiting troops. Some of Dorlan’s men, he knew, were actually stationed up in the trees themselves, perched on the branches above the Feielve houses. A few candles burned in small windows, but no one seemed to be stirring in the fog-draped, tree city. It struck Ander as odd, actually, that there were no early-morning merchants on their way to work, or industrious housewives already about their business.
A low whisper brought Ander’s attention back to ground level. He slowly turned his head to see one of the newer recruits—a young dwarf named Kason—wriggling silently through the wet grass on his belly.
“What’th up?” breathed Ander, purposefully lisping on the s sound. He knew that the sibilant s, even in a whisper, was the one noise that would carry—and that was the last thing they needed.
“The thun ith rithing,” answered the dwarf, also lisping carefully. Ander had to strain to hear his voice, he spoke so low. “The queen will thound her morning curfew horn thoon. That’th our thignal. When you hear it, charge.”
Ander nodded his understanding, and Kason moved silently away to alert the next soldier. That answered one question, anyway—apparently, Celzara had some kind of curfew in place. Ander shuddered to think what the punishment might be for breaking the queen’s curfew. After all, one Feielve recruit had reported that she punished the “crime” of speaking about the world outside the Denwold with forty lashes and a jail term of three months.
The queen was a mad tyrant: and it was time to deal with her.
A sudden noise split the still morning air like an axe through a glass bowl. Ander fairly leaped out of his skin—already starting to itch—and only barely kept back the yelp that pressed at his lips. It was the sound of a horn: a bright, brassy horn that blatted more harshly than a scullery maid.
The queen’s morning curfew horn, the dwarf had said. That was the signal.
With a shout, Ander leaped to his feet, his sword leaping into his fingers. For half of a horrible heartbeat, he thought that he was the only one attacking. Then the sound of other battle cries rent the air, and he rushed forward boldly to join the fray.
The queen’s army came pouring out of the trees, whisking down on rope ladders and countering the attack almost instantly. Many of the men looked bleary and half-dressed, as though they had been in the process of waking up when the commotion began. Others, however, were sharp-eyed and alert—and they had appeared far too quickly for Ander’s taste. There must have been a spy in Dorlan’s midst, one that had carried news of the plot to Celzara’s ears. Not that it really mattered—she must have known for weeks that they were on their way. As Dorlan had said, they hadn’t hoped to come in secret.
Still, it was a bit unnerving.
As soon as he entered the cleared space, Ander met a tall man with a heavy sword, which he swung clumsily. Ander realized that either he wasn’t awake yet, or he wasn’t well trained—it would be a simple matter to defeat him, especially after Shyllen’s training.
However, Ander suddenly panicked as his sword—a standard-issue blade from the armory—met that of the Feielve.
He couldn’t kill this man! It was one thing to fight, and perhaps kill a pirate in a desperate street-fight. Or to fight a sea serpent from dragon-back. But to kill someone that the whole attack was aiming to save? One of his own people?
Ander parried a clumsy blow, but his consternation slowed him and the other man’s sword hit harder than he had anticipated, jarring his elbow.
An impulsive plan burst into his mind. “You should surrender!” he shouted at the man over the general din of battle. None of the epic ballads ever told just how loud war was.
The man blinked in surprise, drawing back for another strike. “You’re mad!” he shouted back. “Why should I surrender to you—“ he swung “—and just who are you, anyway?”
Ander blocked the thrust and returned a carefully-aimed blow himself.
“I’m Ander Collins,” he grunted, stepping backward and forcing the man to follow him. “Son of Percival Collins and Robyn Torr, and great-grandson of Queen Alathia Torr.” It felt absolutely fabulous to say it at last. The Feielve man’s face went blank in astonishment.
“Who is your leader?” he demanded. He locked blades with Ander, but didn’t pull back for another attack. “Who do you follow?”
“My cousin, Dorlan Torr,” Ander grunted.
The man pulled back with a glad shout. He fumbled at his belt and pulled out a small war horn, carved of black wood. Ander tensed and brought his sword up to guard as the man placed the horn to his lips and blew.
A clear, ringing blast burst over the chaos. For the barest second, the noise dropped as men on each side of the fight hesitated at the sound.
“It’s the king!” the man Ander had been fighting roared. “King Torr has returned! To arms, Feielves!”
And with that, the battle turned. After a brief second of confusion, more than two thirds of the Feielves realized that it was true. To the delight of Dorlan’s army, and the outrage of Celzara’s commanders, these soldiers turned from the men they had been battling and began to fight alongside them!
No amount of shouting from the commanders could sway them, and the army—now twice again as large as it was before—swept through the Feielve city, aiming for the royal palace.
It was a battle to sing about, people later said. And, though it took place practically in the middle of a city, there were remarkably few civilian casualties. Dorlan’s spies had managed to pass the word through most of the common houses that there was to be a surprise attack, and few of the Feielves even left their houses. Once, Ander spotted a family of four—father, mother, son and infant—all watching the battle from their front window. The father had a look of grim satisfaction on his face, while the mother looked both frightened and eager. The little boy was bouncing up and down in excitement, and Ander saw him cheering for the rebel army.
Though most of the Feielves had come under Dorlan’s flag, they still met some resistance along the way. Ander tried not to think about what he was doing as he thrust and parried and blocked sword-stoke after sword-stroke. He fought until his opponent fell, but he never stopped to look or give a killing blow; he just moved on. At his side, the Feielve man who had sounded the horn fought as well. He had abandoned the sword—or more likely, lost it at some point—and now used twin daggers to fight at close range. His blades were nearly as long as Ander’s forearms, and as clumsy as the man had been with the sword, he was a fair dervish with the knives. However, he too attempted to shed as little blood as possible.
They came ever nearer to the palace. Before, Ander had merely been following the growing crowd as it swept up the valley floor: now, he caught sight of the palace for himself for the first time.
Unlike most of the buildings in Anamere, the royal dwelling was built on solid ground, since not even the largest of the trees could have supported its massive weight. However, the architects who had designed the structure had done their best to make it blend smoothly with its surroundings.
The outer wall looked like a cluster of enormous stone trees, even broader than the ones it stood amongst, and towering several dozen stretches above the heads of the approaching army. The walls were formidably high and unyielding, and a single colossal drawbridge—shut and locked, of course—provided the only entrance point.
Beyond the walls, Ander could see the turrets of a castle rising keenly toward the sky, turreted and spired far more elegantly than the square-block castle of Kelner. But other than a few pointed tower-tops, not much of the castle itself could be seen.
The roaring army rushed toward the royal palace, growing as it went, as more and more of the Feielves heard the battle cry and joined Dorlan’s army.
“The Denwold! The Torr!” people were shouting all around Ander. “King Torr!” No one seemed to know—or care—that it was Dorlan, and not the long-lost Ravin, who lead the horde. All they knew was that there was finally a chance to wriggle out from under Celzara’s thumb, and they all wanted a part of it. “The Denwold!”
On Ander’s left, as they moved down the long clearing toward the palace—and there were more ground-level houses than tree-dwellings now—was the Feielve who had first sounded the cry to Dorlan’s banner. On his right ran a trio of Feielve tradesmen: a baker, a farmer, and a cloth merchant waving a length of blue silk, the color of the Torr family.
Hearing his name shouted above the bedlam, Ander turned his head to see Shyllen jogging just behind him.
“How are we going to get in?” he asked her, raising his voice over the shouts of those around them.
The dragoness grinned. “Why do you think I’m up here? Grab my hand!”
Not quite understanding, Ander obeyed, his fingers slipping slightly on Shyllen’s damp palm as he sheathed his sword with his other hand.
The girl didn’t even pause in her steps, but leaped into the air—far higher than a human could possible jump—shifting as she rose. Ander felt the smooth skin of her hand change into rough scales, and shouted a wordless warning as her tail only barely missed the heads of a dozen soldiers. The men faltered for a moment, but cheered when they saw the violet dragoness mounting above their heads. Ander swung up his feet just in time to avoid kicking a soldier in the face, and then they were up high enough to evade collisions.
“Help me up!” he shouted at Shyllen, dangling by one arm from her claw. Swinging with all his strength, he flung himself into the air, and the violet dragoness swooped under and caught him as he fell. Settling with a little grunt onto her back, Ander rubbed his shoulder.
“Warn me next time, will you?” he yelled.
She laughed. “Where’s the fun in that?”
“What are we doing?”
“Just hang on—and be ready to jump!” she replied. Ander looked down at the bobbing heads of the rebel army and gulped. He and Shyllen were headed dead straight for the castle battlements, where eight score, grim-faced and heavily-armed guards stood waiting.
Waiting for them.


Have not read this yet, will

Have not read this yet, will tomorrow as it's 1 am...but I just wanted to let you know that if you kill Thraluic I'll kill Jevran. :0P So there!


Heather | Sun, 01/24/2010

And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

Uh-oh, it's drawing to a

Uh-oh, it's drawing to a close....maybe?

Yay Denwold! Yay Ander!

I don't want this story to stop.

Heather | Sun, 01/24/2010

And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

Battle is on!

None of the epic ballads ever told just how loud war was.

Oh, that's great...all the things the epic ballads never sing of...It's a really good description, especially in the beginning. I can't wait to see what the "queen" has up her sleeves.

Julie | Sun, 01/24/2010

Formerly Kestrel

Awesome! love it and the

Awesome! love it and the whole thing with the other Feielves joining in was delightfully surprising. But i agree with Heather and you know this full well. If you kill Thraluic I will personaly...GET you. Okay so that's not a very scary threat but i will!

Kay J Fields | Tue, 01/26/2010

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