By Michael Drakich
Dyoran could feel the harsh edges of the pebbles and stones strewn across the road through the worn soles of his sandals, each step pounding down hard on those lowly objects as he ran. The dampness he felt between his toes was not one of perspiration, but a painful result of determination.
I will not be caught again!
The breaths were coming ragged now, his lungs laboring against his young chest. With his small bundle of stolen foods under his left arm, the other continued to work through the motions of thrusting forward with the matching cadence of his left leg in an effort to maximize his speed.
How long have I been running? It seems like forever, but only now does the sun dip below the horizon. It was well past mid-afternoon when I hit the slave master with my shovel. It cannot be more than three or four leagues. They will be after me with horses by now. I must find somewhere to hide and catch my breath.
The ancient stone marker by the roadside loomed ahead. Rising some ten or more hands above him, the olden carved-in runes were barely visible in the twilight. He reached for the monolith using the last of his strength, as if finishing a race, and collapsed against the weather worn granite in submission to the toll upon his body.
Night descended as he lay crumpled against the stone. Finding no strength left to stand, he crawled around to the backside of the marker in an attempt to hide from view of the road. With night would come the colder weather. Dyoran huddled close to the stone in an effort to avoid the chill wind scouring the countryside. Many avoided the roadside monoliths as they were believed to be cursed. Some thought they were alive with evil spirits. Unlike normal rock, these were warm to the touch, but the chilling thing, when in contact; a dark sound filled the mind, like some demon chanting to steal one’s soul.
At the moment, Dyoran couldn’t care less. It was warm, it sheltered him from the road and from the wind, and his legs could carry him no further. Come morning, he would begin his trek anew in hopes of one day reaching Sandahl, honest work, and a new life.
He pulled off his sandals to free them of any loose gravel, the blood between his toes drying and sticking the digits together. The water flask less than half full, he dared not waste any in an attempt to clean his feet. He would look for a stream in the morning, but now, all he wanted to do was rest. He looked up to the stars and found the outline of the god, Hermus, god of good fortune. “Protect me tonight, Hermus that I might sleep unmolested and wake hearty and hale, and I will make my first homage to your service.”
As he stared into the sky, the shrill scream of a bird drew his attention to two silhouettes outlined by the celestial bodies comprising the face of Hermus. Two birds in battle, a raven and an owl, with the owl striking the raven first. The raven plummeted directly down toward Dyoran.
Is this a sign? Should I run?
With a thud, the bird caromed off the top of the monolith to land squarely in his lap. The owl came hurtling down after the raven, claws extended, and Dyoran threw up his arm protectively. In frustration, the owl raked his forearm, drawing blood in two long gashes. In this moment of confusion, the raven squawked deeply, and to Dyoran’s disbelief, the owl dropped from the sky, dead. Kicking aside the dead owl, he lifted the raven. He could see the blood oozing black amongst the feathers. The animal was now unconscious.
Dyoran looked once more toward the night sky. “What sign have you sent me, Hermus? Am I to tend this bird? Is it a favorite of yours? Or am I to expect being struck by surprise in the night, as the owl attempted to do.”
He stared down at the raven. “And what about you, little fellow? What makes for you to fly in the evening when you should be nesting? Are you, like me, in flight?” He looked again at the dead owl. “I think the former. Hermus has entrusted you to me, or I to you, I know not which. Whatever it may be…our paths our now joined.”
After cleaning the bird’s wounds, he pulled the raven close and retreated once more to huddle against the warmth of the monolith, closed his eyes and fell asleep to the rhythm of the stone’s demon chant.
Dyoran was running. He looked about and could see nothing except the road. All about him was black. Behind him he could hear the sound of approaching horses.
Ahead of him loomed the monolith, eerily lit with a ghostly glow. “Why am I running here again?”
“I must reach the monolith!” A scream from above made his head turn upwards. Streaking down at him was the owl.
He threw his arm up to protect himself. The owls’ claws tore into his arm. “No!”
He sat up with a start. Around him, the cold mist of the morning dew lay everywhere, the early tendrils of sunrise in the distance. He drew a hand across his face. “It was all a dream!”
From the road, the sound of approaching horses could be heard.
Dread filled Dyoran as he peeked around the stone. Three riders neared, amongst them, Vreedoo, the slave master. He thought to flee when he saw the raven staring back at him, head cocked in such a way that both black eyes met his. He paused, and the voices of the riders carried to where he lay hidden.
“We should have come this way first yesterday. We wasted all night scouring the nearby countryside.”
“I never would have thought the boy fool enough to take the road.”
“Well, we canvassed every homestead along the way. There can be no other possibility.”
In a hurry to gather up his bundle, Dyoran mishandled the injured bird, resulting in the creature letting out a squawk of indignation. He stepped back against the stone to hide from the view of his pursuers.
“What was that?”
“It came from the marker. Go check it out.”
The sound of a man dismounting and drawing a sword as he neared brought a deep panic to Dyoran. As the man stepped toward the monolith, Dyoran prepared to run, but inside his head a voice told him not to. Instinctively, he followed the mental command and touched the stone, then repeated the incantation suddenly etched in his mind. “Charra ectu monolai attend!”
As if walking through a wall like a ghost, a monstrous demon appeared from the marker. When the man rounded the corner of the stone, only his scream would be heard by the others as the beast slew the man with a single swipe of his clawed hand. The other two men kicked their charges forward and raced up the small hillock to circle the obelisk. The demon reached out and grabbed the horse of the first man, biting viciously into the throat and tearing the head free as its rider leaped to safety.
Dyoran watched in amazement as the creature began to consume both the man and the horse. The slave master, still astride his horse, pulled the second man up behind him to ride off, but not before Dyoran could see the recognition in his eyes.
“I don’t know how you summoned this beast, Dyoran. But I will return for you!”
Vreedoo turned his horse and rode away. Dyoran remained petrified where he stood as he watched the demon consume most of the man and half of the horse. Rising, with the gore of its victims dripping from his jaw, the creature turned and stepped back into the stone, just as it came.
Moments passed before a noise from the bird woke Dyoran out of his reverie. Stumbling away from the monolith, he encountered the remaining horse and grabbed the reins.
“Hermus guides me still to provide the demon protector and this horse for my escape.”
Climbing on, he began the journey onward toward Sandahl and his destiny.
Each evening, along the way, he would reach another of the granite obelisks and spend the night after a short prayer to Hermus.
No other troubles came his way, though the nights were still plagued by dreams. Unlike the dream of the first night, now these dreams featured his passenger, the raven. Each night the bird would grow to an immense size and pick him up into the fold of its wing. It would then focus both black eyes on him and he would hear its thoughts as if a lesson being learned. Many of the words seemed meaningless, but every morning, when he awoke, they all remained with him, clear as can be.
During the day, as the horse cantered along, he would break off small pieces of bread, meat and cheese to give to the raven in his satchel. The rations were not plentiful, and the last day, Dyoran went without, but held on to enough crumbs that the bird might still eat.
On the fourth day, the town of Sandahl came into view. Getting directions from some farmers, Dyoran made his way to Sleinad’s Wheel to sell the horse.
The proprietor, Sleinad, although seemingly pleasant enough, drove a hard bargain for the horse and saddle. “Probably stolen, I bet. You won’t get many takers for a stolen horse.”
“Stolen? No, this animal came to me through the good fortune of the god, Hermus.”
“Well, by looking at your clothes, Hermus hasn’t provided you much fortune to date.”
“Nevertheless, it is true. I will take the pittance you offer, good sir, provided you advise me where I might find affordable lodgings and fare while I look for work.”
Sleinad stroked his chin. “Well, you might try Traci’s for a quick bite, but if you’re really hungry, I’d suggest the Golden Talon, the beef lunch is always a best bet, though a bit of a rough place for a lad like you. No, come to think of it, the best bet is the S & S Inn. There’s some might friendly fellahs there running the joint, Skymond and Skewmon be their names. Talk to Skymond about finding work. He’s a bit of a prophet that one. If anybody can send ya’ on the right path, he be the one.”
“Then I thank you for the advice and accept your offer.” He pocketed the few coins he received and headed off to find the accommodations and a good meal.
Dyoran strolled down the street, following the directions given him by Sleinad. After a couple of wrong turns, corrected by some passer-by’s, he found the door of the S & S. The latticework exterior overlaid a hall of hand hewn timbers, deep in the scent of pine and ashes from the huge fireplace.
He was welcomed in by one of the owners, who showed him a room, and then provided a meal of soup, bread and cheese. As he sat, he retrieved the raven from his satchel and placed the bird on the table, breaking off some crumbs of bread and cheese and placing them for the bird to eat.
The owner, Skymond, came over to the table. “Tell me, young traveler; is it the custom in your home to have pet birds? And a raven, no less. I have heard of hawks as hunting birds, and song birds for the garden, but never have I witnessed a raven so tame.”
Looking up from his soup, Dyoran glanced at the raven then back to his host. “My apologies, am I breaking some rule? The bird and I are matched by no less than the god Hermus himself. If you like, I will return him to the satchel. His wing was sorely injured and I am nursing him back to health.”
Skymond sat down. “No, no rules. Matched by Hermus, you say. Would you mind if I were to touch the bird? I would like to feel his karma as to whether I can sense the presence of the god.”
Dyoran stopped eating and looked again at the raven, now standing still and staring at Skymond. “It is not whether I would permit it, but as whether he would.”
“Ah, a mind of his own, has he? Then the choice will be his.” Skymond opened his hand and placed it palm up on the table.
After a moment’s hesitation, the bird hopped over and landed within the open hand. Skymond reached down to stroke the plumage of the animal. As the two engaged, Skymond’s eyes widened and his head bobbed back quickly. “Surprising!”
“What! What is it?”
“No mere bird indeed, I thought you lost Brumain! I see I now stand corrected.”
“Brumain? The raven?”
Skymond carefully placed the bird back to where Dyoran placed the tidbits. “It is Brumain, no doubt in my mind. Supposedly killed some months ago by another wizard named Pruutoc! Oft times I would find him here in my common room looking to hobnob with what royalty would visit my halls. I would recognize his aura anywhere. He was known as a wizard of moderate abilities.”
The raven pecked hard at Skymond’s hand, drawing blood.
“Ow! My apologies, apparently not so moderate skills, else he would not have been able to transfer himself into this sharp beaked bird!”
Dyoran pulled the raven back from pecking any further at Skymond. “My thanks, good sir. Perhaps it is best that I finish my meal and we leave your hall. I would not wish…Brumain, to attract any more interest.”
Skymond rose from his seat. “I leave you to it then. If word comes to me of an employment opportunity for you, I will let you know.”
Dyoran stopped to look once more at the black bird. “So, Brumain, is it? And a wizard, no less. Well, I, for one, am thankful on having made your acquaintance. Hermus has indeed blessed me to have so fine a partner of one such as you.”
Dyoran fished out a nice piece of meat from his soup and placed it before the bird. “Let us finish this repast and retire to our quarters. On the morrow, I must find employment, the few coins for the horse and saddle will not last long.”
A new and exciting author in speculative fiction, Michael brings a repertoire of science fiction, fantasy and thrillers to readers everywhere. Michael lives in the quaint neighbourhood of Olde Walkerville in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
I’ve been writing for some eight years now and have just released my fifth novel, Demon Stones. My previous releases include The Infinite Within, Lest The Dew Rust Them, Grave Is The Day and The Brotherhood Of Piaxia.
Visit Mike at his website – http://michaeldrakich.wordpress.com/