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Darigan's Truce: Part Two


by darkwater_nereid

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He stood brooding at the high window of his tower chamber, arms folded sternly as he regarded the green fields of Meridell miles below. His enormous Korbat ears, drawn back in contemplation, could hear the faint purring of machinery deep within the dark bowels of the Citadel. It was a sound familiar to him, and seemed now to offer welcoming after his long absence. His pet Drackonack played at his feet, but for the moment he ignored it, for other things were weighing heavy on his mind. Absently he swished his tail in graceful arcs across the stone floor as the Drackonack bounded after it playfully.

     He shut his eyes and listened to the machinery's monotonous, calming thrum, and reflected. So. Everything was once again in order...

     "Lord Darigan." The voice roused him from his thoughts. He turned from the window to face General Galgarrath, clad in the traditional black and gold armor of formal occasions. Galgarrath bowed before his lord and crossed his arms over his chest in fealty.

     "My lord, the ceremonies are about to begin." Darigan approached the bowing general, his noble black robes gliding about him.

     "Rise, Galgarrath," he said, and placed a thin hand on the Grarrl's bulky shoulder to acknowledge his gesture of loyalty. "One who has been so faithful to me in the past need not bow before me now."

     Galgarrath rose to his feet, limping slightly on his right leg, and smiled gratefully. "Thank you, my lord. It is good to have our true leader back again," he said.

     "Yes, Galgarrath. The Citadel's leader is in his rightful place again. And you as well- I understand that you had also suffered a- certain fall while Kass was in my place."

     "Yes my lord." The Grarrl looked down ruefully at his injured leg. "What he said was true, it is a long way down to Meridell..."

     "Indeed." Darigan said nothing more of Kass for the moment. I do not wish to remember him that way... He sighed and resumed his staring out the window. "I must confess to you, Galgarrath, that I was never one for ceremony. I almost wish these formalities were not necessary..."

     Galgarrath joined him at the window, his hands clasped behind his back. "It must be, my lord. The people have waited for this day a long while. We cannot simply announce a truce without a celebration."

     "I know," Darigan replied, and the general fancied he saw a faint smile play about Darigan's lips. "I too, have looked for cause for celebration, for a long, long time. My world has been dark for so long, I have nearly forgotten what it means to be glad."

     "Don't be troubled, my lord. The most important thing is that your people are strongly behind you. Their loyalty and trust should ease your mind."

     "It should." Darigan glanced out the window. "Yet I am still troubled. I suppose I'm tired, that's all. I'm not usually awake at this hour. What is the time?"

     "The hour grows late, my lord," Galgarrath said. "It is nearing noontime." Darigan met his gaze and smiled sleepily, and in this light Galgarrath could see his half-closed eyelids were shaded over with the dark pall of the sleep-deprived.

     "You forget, General, that I am a Korbat after all." His eyes squeezed shut as his last words were nearly swallowed in a wide yawn. "I should be asleep now. But no matter. We have been so preoccupied these past few days that it's a wonder either of us can sleep at all."

     Galgarrath nodded. A long pause followed as both general and lord gazed sternly at the bright gleaming castle of Meridell in the distance, joyful banners unfurled from the ramparts in anticipation of the festivities. A crowd was gathering at the castle gates and along the sides of the procession route below, waiting to catch a glimpse of the meeting of the two leaders. From the courtyard, Darigan heard a sort of rag-tag celebratory chant beginning from a large assembled group, singing loudly in hopes that their praise might reach the ears of their leader. Darigan smiled; he heard.

     Who was it that returned from war

     Much greater than he was before?

     Lord Darigan!

     Lord Darigan!

     Who was it that defeated Kass

     And broke the spell like it was glass?

     Lord Darigan!

     Lord Darigan!

     The Citadel is yours again

     We stand together now as friends

     On this truce-day!

     On this truce-day!

     Peace with Meridell shall last

     As sure as war has indeed passed

     Hail Darigan!

     Hail Darigan!

     "You see, my lord?" Galgarrath said as the singing dissolved into laughter and blended with the rest of the general shouting. "Our people have faith in you. They are glad at your return."

     "Your words comfort me, Galgarrath," Lord Darigan replied. "But I can only hope that all goes well." He continued to stare to the south where Meridell Castle stood. How often I have looked at Meridell from here, Darigan thought, yet never before with the intent of peace. He broke from his reverie and turned to Galgarrath.

     "Well, General," he said. "The time has come at last. You may leave for the Great Hall. I will join you presently."

     "As you wish, my lord. Shall I bring your staff for you?"

     "Ah, thank you, Galgarrath, but I will take it." The Staff of Darigan, a long wooden stave with a circle of upward-pointing claws at its head, was the symbolic emblem of leadership, wielded by all previous lords of the realm since it was founded. General Galgarrath bowed once more and approached the iron-bound doors of the chamber.

     "And Galgarrath?" The general stopped and faced his lord again.

     "Yes, lord?"

     "Take care of Dornig while I'm gone, would you?" He picked up the Drackonack still playing at his feet and patted it gently. "He gets so lonely without me." Galgarrath smiled as he watched Darigan's favorite pet gnaw on his master's fingers.

     "I will, my lord. Good fortune." He left to join the head of the procession that would see his master off.

     Darigan put Dornig on the floor, wiped the pet's drool from his fingers and took one last look at Meridell before gliding across the room to his table spread with the treaties of peace and papers of amnesty. Also lain out upon this table were his ceremonial robes and sword, only used for formal occasions. He gathered in his hands the long pure white robes, the very ones he had worn in his realm's golden days before the Blight, and reverently he fingered the rich fabric and traced the patterned lines of bright green spreading upon the collar's field of gold. Yet as he prepared to doff his black robes and put on this stunning garment, his hand was suddenly arrested by the thought of his own people giving their lives so that they might have peace again, so that their land might be unspoiled as it once was. In sight of these things, the act of putting on the regal robes seemed vanity, as though thousands died for that purpose alone, and in that instant a wave of shame swept over his heart. Glancing away from the robes he happened to catch his own reflection in the polished sword-blade on the table. The face that looked back at him was proud, angular and thin, yet no longer the fiendish skull. His yellow eyes had lost the mad glint of power and were steady and unwavering in their gaze, in a way stronger and nobler than ever before. Yet even as he looked at himself, he looked within and knew that he was deeply flawed.

     "No," he whispered, placing the robes on the table again. "My mistakes cost my people peace to begin with. I do not deserve these. I can never wear these robes again." Sadly he turned from the white raiment and reached for the hilt of the sword, a sharp thin brand of silver gilded with Darigan's insignia upon the unspoiled blade. The hilt-guard was fashioned in the shape of two dark spreading wings, meant to represent his own, and the grip was colored in the deepest shades of purple and black. This light sword was not intended for battle, yet like all the weapons forged in his realm, it gave forth a strange and beautiful dark aura intended to strike fear into the heart of an enemy. But this sword would never again be used to intimidate. He took hold of this graceful sword and lifted it, watching the sunlight play and sparkle off its edges.

     "I shall lead my people once again to peace," he said in a low voice, addressing his reflection. "Never again shall they know war or fear." He sheathed the blade in the decorative scabbard at his side, took hold of his carven staff and strode silently towards the chamber doors. Dornig barked and began to follow.

     "No, Dornig," Darigan said firmly, and he knelt to scratch the spines along the petpet's back. "I'm afraid I can't bring you with me this time." The Drackonack whined mournfully.

     "Don't worry, Galgarrath's taking care of you while I'm gone. I'll come back soon, you'll see." He gave the Drackonack a final pat and swept through the vaulted doors of his chamber, and listened in pity as poor Dornig whined and scratched at the door as it shut behind him.

     The two Eyrie guards that stood outside the doors accompanied their lord as he made his descent down the stairs of the tower to the Great Hall. As they drew closer to the center of the Citadel, the faint thrum of machinery grew slightly louder, but to Darigan's ears alone. A blast on a trumpet could be heard from within the Hall, and a herald announced his lord as he entered: "All hail Darigan, master of the realm!" Robed in staid purple and black, the officials, guards and generals of the realm that were to accompany their lord to Meridell stood stiffly at attention before him. Darigan caught the eye of a scowling Master Vex standing in his place beside the city's sheriff. At his gaze Vex raised an eyebrow and bowed his head respectfully.

     Now the standard-bearers had begun to file in along both sides of the hall, their spears adorned with the realm's colors: at the tip of the spear fluttered the newer purple flag adopted during the first war, but below it was the ancient flag of green and gold, reminders of their golden age. On they marched to the cadence of drums and the celebratory blare of trumpets. It was a dignified yet rapturous march, no longer weighted down by sorrow, and all were filled with gladness at the sound. Darigan watched the procession make its way to the great entrance of the Citadel itself, his heart stirred by the ancient music signaling happiness for his people. The heavy doors were at last opened and the clear light of day streamed into the lofty Hall. Darigan raised his hand and the march momentarily ceased.

     "Let us go forth," he said, his deep, resonant voice echoing in the Hall, "and begin anew. Let this be a day long remembered by our people. This shall be a day of joy." He placed his right fist over his heart in the traditional salute and bowed his head.

     "Hail Darigan!" The generals and guards returned the salute and parted their ranks to allow Darigan to lead them. This he did, striding to the head of the procession and signaling for the music to begin again. Flanked by Galgarrath on his right and Master Vex on his left, Lord Darigan led his procession out of the Citadel, marching to the rousing cadence of the music.

     A grand sight greeted the eyes of Darigan's people as the procession passed out of the Citadel, and they cheered to see the waving standards and to hear the stirring music. All had gathered at the castle gate to see the departure of their beloved leader, returned to them after so many years of hardship and want. As the procession passed down the steps and through the gates the crowd pressed forward to greet their lord, uttering joyous cries of adoration. Darigan greeted them all and waved as he passed through the main thoroughfare. Though his bearing was somber as his position demanded, some would later recount that tears stood in his eyes as he saluted his people that day.

     When the procession reached the gates of the floating city, Galgarrath stepped aside to let the captain of the Eyrie guard take his place at Darigan's right side, for he would not be joining the delegation- in the lord's absence, the eldest general ruled in his stead. The other Eyrie guard that followed behind Lord Darigan, one Sergeant Falke, now prepared to bear Master Vex to Meridell. He stepped forward and knelt for him to mount upon his shoulders. Vex did not appear at all pleased on having to ride on the back of an Eyrie, but then again he was rarely pleased to venture anywhere outside his dungeon.

     "Er- are ye flying down yerself, m'lord?" questioned the Eyrie captain.

     "Of course, Captain Rhyf," Darigan replied. "When I someday require assistance to fly, I will request it. But I am still strong." He stretched out the bones of his leathery wings and flapped them a few times in preparation for the flight.

     "Couldn't we lower the Citadel instead? It might be easier for some of us," gulped Vex as he peered down at the verdant fields of Meridell from Falke's back.

     "Too late, Vex, ye should've thought of that," Rhyf said, grinning. "'Course ye could just jump down..."

     "No! No no." Vex shook his head emphatically and clung tighter to the Eyrie's mane. "This is fine, Captain Rhyf, just fine..."

     The city gates were opened and Darigan stepped to the very edge of his domain, where the paving-stones met the green fields that ringed the Citadel. A gentle breeze flowed around him and fluttered the edges of his robes. Looking down from the great height of his city, his heart leapt in his chest and he took a deep, calming breath. In your memory, my friend, I now go forth.

     "Farewell, Galgarrath," he said, addressing his faithful general. "I know I'm leaving the Citadel in good hands." Galgarrath saluted as Lord Darigan sprang into the air; his outspread wings caught the breeze and lifted him above the ground.

     "To Meridell!" he cried, holding his staff aloft. Rhyf, Falke and four Skeith standard-bearers followed him as the noise of the cheering crowd swelled to its peak, wishing their leader good fortune for the journey. With a powerful beat of their wings the delegation veered left and swooped down to Meridell as one, following Darigan's lead.

To be continued...

 
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