[Vfw-times] MK Winter Assault part 91

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Thu Jan 24 02:27:27 CST 2002


    Daria gripped the blue tunic tightly in her hands, staring blankly up at 
the ceiling. Two of the duke's own bodyguards had personally delivered the 
tattered piece of cloth to her sometime that afternoon, accompanied by her 
mother Caitlyn. Daria had asked to be alone, and they complied with her 
wishes. The tears flowed for a time, loudly and fiercely, but now the tears 
were dried and she remained sitting in silence. She wasn't sure how long she 
had stayed like that, but it surely must have been hours.

    Footsteps at the doorway. Daria didn't turn to acknowledge them. She 
heard the quiet rustle of linen robes as the woman sat down beside her.

    "I remember when my father died," Raven said quietly. "For weeks I would 
go to bed and cry myself to sleep. I'd wake up in the middle of the night 
and, just for a moment ... I would imagine that I could hear him out in the 
hall, talking to my mother." There was a pause, as the wolf-woman shifted 
position in her chair. "The first few times it happened, I would jump out of 
bed, summon a light and run into the temple ... and, of course, it would be 

    Daria turned over, carefully, to face the priestess. Her voice was 
haunted as she spoke. "Somehow, part of me always thought that he had 
survived ... that he had been the lucky one. And then, this..." She held up 
the tunic half-heartedly.

    Raven nodded slowly in understanding. "When my family died -- mother and 
father, Aramis, Talia -- I kept holding on to the thought that I could 
somehow bring them back. Sometimes, in the darkest hours of the night, I 
still believe it."

    The young warrior shook her head in disbelief. "Your whole family ... 
gods..." Reaching up, she wiped a newborn tear from her eye. "How did you go 

    The Lightbringer sighed. "For a long time, I didn't," she admitted. "But 
eventually, I began to find strength in the people I still had in my life. 
Wand'rer, most especially. Celine and the other acolytes. Merai. Kyia -- aye, 
I have a rather unusual friendship with her," she said, chuckling at Daria's 
dubious expression. "Love does not make the wounds go away, Daria, but it 
does help you to stop tearing open the scars. Eventually, you come to terms 
with your loss and learn to move on -- and you learn how to cherish the 
friends and family that are left to you."

    Raven smiled a little. "You still have much, Daria. Your mother, your 
aunts and uncles, Merai -- all of them are there for you." She put her hand 
gently atop the younger woman's. "As you grieve, try to remember that."

    Daria nodded thoughtfully. The priestess rose gracefully to her feet, 
giving her a careful look that seemed to go well past the blankets that 
covered her. "There will be a memorial service tomorrow noon, to honor those 
who have fallen," she said. "Duke Thomas has requested your presence, if you 
are able. I believe we can safely move you to the balcony where we will be 
sitting, if you feel up to it."

    Daria looked down at her clenched fist, opening it to reveal the emblem 
of Metamor Keep emblazoned on her father's tunic.   "I'll be there," she 


January 1, Year 707, Cristos Reckoning.

    A chill wind rushed through the streets of the town of Metamor, kicking 
up ash from the blackened remains of the shops and houses as it passed. Merai 
drew her cloak more tightly around her and tried to keep her teeth from 
chattering. Still, she had to admit that it was far warmer than they had any 
right to expect, given the season. Overhead the sun shone brightly in the 
clear blue sky, as if it were trying to repay the Keepers in some small 
measure for the weather that they had suffered through in the previous week.

    The young priestess stood in the terrace that faced the front gate of the 
Keep, together with her parents and most everyone else who was still able to 
walk after Nasoj's assault. Duke Thomas sat on a balcony overlooking the 
square, together with Prime Minister Malisa and the Keep's two spiritual 
leaders, Raven and Father Hough. Daria sat off to one side, wrapped in 
several thick blankets and looking solemn and attentive. Actually, Merai 
thought, that pretty much described the attitude of everyone present.

    The bell in the south watchtower rang slowly, and the crowd stiffened 
noticeably to attention. On the balcony, Malisa rose from her chair and 
approached the edge of the platform.

    "We have come here today to pay respect to those who have fallen in 
defense of our homeland," she said, her voice strong and clear. "These men 
and women, sons and daughters of Metamor, have made the ultimate sacrifice to 
preserve our safety. Today we honor them, and their memory."

    The slender, dark-haired woman turned her head to the side for a moment, 
glancing back at Raven and Hough. "I would now ask Lothanasa hin'Elric and 
Father Hough to come and dedicate this time to divine Providence."

    The wolf-woman and the boy stepped forward to the front of the balcony, 
side by side, as the Prime Minister returned to her seat. Raven looked at 
Hough, but the Patildor priest gestured to her deferentially and stepped off 
slightly to the side. Nodding once, the Lothanasa turned to address the crowd 

    "Among those of my Order, the first ten days of the new year are a time 
of healing and renewal," she said, gripping the edge of the balcony in her 
hands. "This is a time when we endeavor to make peace with those around us, 
to seek restoration and wholeness so that we may face the new year with 

    "Today, as we begin the seven hundred and seventh year of the Cristos 
Reckoning, we find that we are in need of more restoration and healing than 
usual," she continued. Merai could hear the emotion in her voice, but Raven 
maintained her composure. "The past year has seen moments of great hope ... 
but we have seen great tragedy, as well. We have been beaten and battered and 
scarred, in our bodies and in our souls -- and though we have survived, we 
have paid a terrible price."

    The Lightbringer let her words hang for a moment, as she scanned slowly 
over the crowd of Keepers. "It is clear to me that we shall not survive the 
coming year with our lives and freedom intact unless we face its hardships 
and challenges together," she said. "For too long, suspicion and mistrust 
have separated us from each other. Religious disagreements and personal 
rivalries have sown discord among us -- and though it has never grown into 
the sort of violence that we see among our neighbors to the south, it has 
kept us apart in spirit. But we are all children of Metamor, and we must all 
look to each other for strength and encouragement as we confront the 
struggles ahead of us."

    Raven turned to look at Father Hough, giving him a warm glance. "There 
are many things about which we may never come to agreement," she said, "but 
unity does not have to mean unanimity. We may have our disagreements, our 
differing beliefs, without allowing that to divide us as a people. Lothanasi, 
Patildor, or otherwise, we are all Keepers. If we embrace that unity, we 
shall honor the memories of those who have fallen for our sake -- men and 
women who did not lay down their lives for a religion, or a philosophy, but 
to preserve our kingdom and our way of life. And in that unity, we shall find 
a strength that can scarcely be imagined."

    Turning to fully face the audience again, Raven lifted her head and 
stretched out her arms to heaven. When she spoke again, her voice was louder 
and surer. "Lord Kammoloth, I beseech you and all the gods of heaven to show 
your favor on us today. Of Akkala, we ask healing and renewal for our bodies 
and our souls. Of Velena, we ask love for all our brothers and sisters. Of 
Samekkh, we ask wisdom, that we may face the coming year with sound judgment. 
And of Artela, we ask mercy, that this may be a year of peace and safety for 
us. All this we ask, king of heaven. Hear us, I pray."

    There were murmurs of agreement from the crowd, and Raven turned and 
gestured to Father Hough. Giving her a brief smile, he nodded and took her 
place at the front and center of the balcony.

Hough surveyed the crowd, and dismal faces, though with a flicker of  hope in 
them, stared back at him, expectant.  The short blonde curls on his head were 
touched by the white of fallen snow, giving that young face an ancient cast 
it had long ago shed.  Yet he remained firm, bundled in the black cassock of 
a priest.

Holding his hands out, palms up, he let his voice sound forth, as deep  as he 
could muster with his child's body, not speaking, but chanting his words with 
a reverence rarely experienced even in the Ecclesia Rituals. "Requiem 
aeternam dona eis Domine:" The Keepers were suddenly spell bound at those 
strange words, familiar to some, but to many, as unearthly as any foreign 
tongue.  Raven's ears tilted slightly at the sound of words she knew.  Yet 
her face betrayed nothing.

"Et lux perpetua luceat eis," Hough continued, his chant focussing on a  
single tone, one that strove to drive deeper. "Te decet hymnus, Deus in Sion: 
et tibi reddetur votum in Yesulam." At the name of that Southern city, the 
center of the Ecclesia faith, some in the crowd were forced to blink, 
wondering just what the young priest was doing.  Though they were caught up 
in the chanting, some of them mouthing that tone along with the priest, if 
not the words themselves, they could not help but wonder what power those 
words carried.

     "Exaudi orationem meam, ad te omnis caro veniet." Hough let his gaze 
fall from the sky and descend once more back upon the Keepers gathered 
beneath him.  His face was stone cold, as if holding back a terrible sadness, 
as if he had to appear confidant for them.  Yet the next words he cried out 
alone, holding onto the last syllable of each, as if terrified
 that it would slip from him.

     "Kyrie eleison."

     "Christe eleison."

     "Kyrie eleison."

     Hough stood for several moments in silence even as the single note faded 
across the fields.  He breathed deeply, his chest rising and falling visibly 
beneath the thick folds of the cassock.  And it was in that silence, as the 
last of the echoes ebbed, that he closed his eyes and let
 his hands fall, as if bringing down that silence upon them.  The Keepers 
stood still unsure of what to do or to expect from this priest, unsure if the 
boy were all right, or if this was intentional.  Even Duke Thomas looked 
concerned, leaning forward slightly as if to reach out to the boy.

     Yet the moment passed nearly as quickly as it had come, for Hough 
returned his gaze to the people before him, his lips pursed tightly, chapped 
with the cold air.  He brushed his hand through his hair, dislodging some of 
the snow from the blonde curls, returning that youthful vigor to his 
expression.  Father Hough then let his voice sound once more, but the musical 
chant was gone. "I have not been a Keeper long, barely eight months now have 
I lived within these walls, a child forevermore.  For a child, there is so 
much magic in this world, so much to wonder at, so much to question.  I 
sometimes have found that boisterous spirit overwhelming, and I'll soon catch 
myself out chasing frogs by the lake in Summertime, or collecting leaves in 

     He shook his head, eyes falling once more to the crowd. "I do not feel 
like a child right now.  I am a man, no matter how I appear.  You know I am a 
man.  Many of you have come to the Penitential Rite, and saw a man, and had 
no qualms telling that man of your shortcomings.  That man had no difficulty 
in treating you as men also, with dignity and respect.  Many times this last 
year we have felt the surge of hope that others in this world would see us as 
men, and many times we have seen that hope dashed.

     "And then, on the most Holiest of Days, we were asked to demonstrate to 
the ungrateful world that not only are we men, but we can die like men as 
well.  I know that each and every one of us has lost another dear to our very 
souls.  We have watched our brothers, our sisters, our parents, our children, 
be slain cruelly and without mercy.  Our struggle was not one
 that the other kingdoms of men may note, or consider worthy of note.  It is 
a terrible burden to feed a dog who snaps at your hand, but that is our 
burden here, at Metamor."

     He gestured slightly to Raven with one hand. "We know what we must do 
now.  But we must also never forget, never let their memory fall from our 
hearts or our minds.  Those that fell here on this battlefield have not 
disappeared from this world, but have gone to another place.  They remember 
what happened here, whose lives they saved by giving their own.  Their battle 
is finished, their sufferings done.  Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine.  Rest 
eternal grant unto them, O Lord."

     Hough's face twisted in a fury that was not familiar to the priest's 
visage. "I watched several I knew and loved slip into death.  There were so 
many, that I could not be at all their sides, doing what a priest should do 
in those last hours of a man's life.  Their own right to peace was stripped 
from them by that enemy of Yahshua and all that is good.  He may think that 
he dealt us a blow so serious that we shall never recover.  If so, he is 
mistaken.  Our commitment to being men, and to have the rest and peace we 
deserve, as befitting our station, shall be claimed.  Hard labor lies ahead, 
yes, but to grant the eternal rest to our brothers, sisters, fathers, 
mothers, sons and daughters, we must rely on our Creator, and strive harder 
than ever before.

     "And there is one other thing we must do: we must never forget those 
that died on this field.  Those whose blood was shed for us so that we might 
live.  For the Followers of the Way, Yahshua, the only Son of Eli, came down 
from Heaven, and was born of the Virgin.    He shed his blood for us, so that 
all men might know true life.  Our own brothers and sisters here have done 
the same.  We must remember their sacrifice, and strive for the peace they 
have obtained."

     He closed his eyes once more and lifted his hands over the banister. The 
chant filled his voice, that tone rising loftily into the sky. "Lux aeterna 
luceat eis, Domine: cum sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es. Requiem 
aeternam dona eis Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis." He opened his eyes, 
the powerful words, words few understood, then resounded forth again, as 
clear as a tosin bell ringing in their minds. "Eternal light shine upon them, 
O Lord: with all thy saints for evermore, for thy mercy's sake.  Rest eternal 
grant unto them, O Lord: and may light perpetual shine upon them." His voice 
fell into sudden silence, as his body still held out towards the sky.  And 
then, Hough stepped back, his head bowed low, his body once more that of a 
   "Amen." Merai found herself saying the foreign word together with the 
Patildor around her. She was momentarily surprised at herself, but then 
shrugged and turned her attention back to the balcony. For some reason, it 
had just seemed right...

    Raven and Hough had withdrawn to their seats, and now Duke Thomas himself 
stepped forward to face his subjects. The Horse King was dressed in a heavy 
coat, one that was no more ornamented than might be seen on any number of his 
fellow Keepers. That seemed right to Merai: this wasn't a time for regal pomp 
and circumstance. Right now, the Duke looked like just one more Keeper who 
had come to pay respect to the dead ... and that was probably exactly how he 
wanted it.

    "Seven and a half years ago, our world was changed forever," the stallion 
began, his deep voice echoing around the square. "The forces of darkness and 
tyranny descended on the lands of the West, threatening to destroy all we 
held dear. In the face of such a powerful enemy, it would have been 
understandable for us to give up. To surrender." Thomas clenched his fist 
tightly. "But we chose to stand up and fight. To fight for our homeland, for 
our families, and for our way of life.

    "Many would have said that it was impossible. Many would have said that 
we stood no chance against such a foe. But we won. Against overwhelming odds, 
we rallied and drove the forces of evil back into the Northlands they came 
from. In doing so, we saved not only ourselves, but the lives of everyone in 
the Midlands, Sathmore, and all the other lands of the West.
    "But our Enemy did not accept defeat so easily. After we thwarted him in 
the heat of summer, he turned to treachery and attacked us during the holiest 
time of the year, tainting a season of good will and kindness with innocent 
blood. So we were called upon again to stand against the darkness -- and now, 
a week later, we once again stand in victory."

    The duke rested his hoof-like hands on the railing, as Raven had done 
some minutes before. "But this victory did not come without a price," he 
said. "Our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters -- 
men and women of courage and valor -- have shed their blood so that this 
kingdom may continue to stand. And so we have come here today to dedicate a 
portion of this land, this battlefield, as a memorial for those who here gave 
their lives that a nation might live."

    Merai looked down at the circle of empty ground that had been cleared in 
the terrace, roughly ten yards in front of the main gate of the castle. 
Several of the Lightbringer acolytes stood between the crowd and that patch 
of ground, dressed in heavy brown cloaks, watching the duke attentively.

    "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this," Thomas 
continued. "But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we cannot 
consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground. The brave men and women, both 
living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above and 
beyond our feeble power to add or detract. The world will not long remember 
what we say here, but it shall never forget what they did here. Instead, 
those of us who remain among the living must dedicate ourselves fully to the 
unfinished work that those who fought here have so nobly begun. Darkness 
still threatens the world, and we must commit ourselves to the great task 
remaining before us. From these honored dead, we must take increased devotion 
to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. We must 
resolve, here, today, that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that the 
evil that took their lives shall be utterly vanquished -- and that this great 
kingdom, with the ideals of justice and personal freedom on which it was 
established, shall not perish from the earth."

    Turning to look over his shoulder, Thomas nodded to Raven. Lifting her 
head, she prayed something under her breath--

    And then, out of the stones of Metamor itself, a slender young woman 
stepped forth.

    Her hair was silver and cropped short, her eyes as grey as the stones 
from which she had emerged. Diaphanous robes fluttered around her as she 
strode forward to that bare circle of ground, seeming to glide along the 
terrace stones like a breath of wind. Some in the crowd gasped, but most 
watched in awestruck silence as the ghostly woman approached them. Some of 
the guards drew their swords, but the duke held up a warning hand and shot 
them a stern look, its meaning unmistakable.

    For Merai the woman's identity was unmistakable, as well. She had never 
seen Kyia like this before, but she would have known that aura anywhere.

    The spirit of the Keep came to a halt at the edge of the circle of 
ground. She stretched out her hand into the middle of the circle, and there 
was a ripple of light around her body. Then, suddenly, a stone column, the 
same shade of grey as the walls of Metamor, rose out of the earth, shaping 
itself into a four-sided tapering spire twelve feet high and three feet 
square at its base. The crowd around Merai murmured in awe.
    "Oh, gods..."



    The whispers ran through the crowd, and some pressed forward to get a 
better look at the benefactress who had saved them from certain death in 
Nasoj's attack. The acolytes closed ranks and formed a barricade, warning 
people to keep a respectful distance.

    Kyia rose a few feet off the ground, insubstantial as a morning mist, and 
took a long look at the men, women and children who lived within her walls. A 
hush fell over the crowd, as everyone waited to see what she might say.

    Then, after a long moment, the nymph smiled broadly, an expression that 
radiated joy and pleasure -- the sort of joy that a person might have upon 
seeing her family again after a long journey. Then she turned, and with nary 
a sound, vanished once again into the stones of Metamor Keep.

    Thomas let the silence hang for a few moments before speaking. "Let this 
monument be inscribed with the names of every man, woman and child who has 
given his or her life for this victory," he said. "Whenever we pass before 
it, let their names remind us of the task that still remains before us, so 
that we may gain strength from the memory of their sacrifice."

    The duke beckoned to Raven and Hough, who came forward again and each 
gave a brief benediction for their respective followers. Then the watchtower 
bell rang again, three times, and the crowd began to disperse, many of them 
stopping to touch the smooth granite spire as they made their way back to the 
Keep. It would take weeks to compile a list of the names of the fallen, and 
weeks more to carve the names on the spire; but for everyone who had lost a 
loved one in the battle, it seemed as though the name of that parent, child, 
sibling or friend was already etched in the proud stone monument.

    Merai turned in a slow circle, taking in the view of the town around her. 
Even the stone houses would not be habitable again for months, and it would 
take years for everything to be rebuilt. Just dealing with the thousands of 
bodies, invader and Keeper, would take weeks to complete.

    But in spite of all that weighed on them that day -- the pain, the loss, 
the hardship to come -- Merai saw hope in the eyes and auras of those around 
her. Though they were all grieving for the loved ones they had lost, there 
was a greater optimism that shone behind that grief. Deep down, they knew 
that they had struck a decisive blow against Nasoj this time -- a victory 
that Lord Thomas seemed committed to follow through on. Together, they would 
stand against the wizard and show him that a people dedicated to goodness and 
justice could prevail over the forces of evil and tyranny. Together, they 
would fight on.

    And someday, once and for all, they would win.

The end
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