Darigan's Truce: Part Six
The scream echoed in Darigan's ears even as he jolted awake,
drenched in sweat. Breathing hard he sat upright in bed and waited until he felt
the fearful pounding of his heart return to normal. He passed a hand over his
eyes and sighed deeply; his body trembled as the images of his dream played before
his closed eyelids. Unable to sleep, he sat in sad meditation of his past for
half and hour, unmoving and silent as a stone.
A warm draft wafted through the open window of
the chamber and fluttered the curtains, bringing with it the moist scents of
nighttime. Drawn to the soft, encompassing darkness he knew and loved Darigan
stirred from bed and leaned out of the tower window. The warm air breezed against
his face and bare chest as he inhaled the smell of damp earth and the heavy
perfume of nocturnal flowers. The peaceful silence was broken by the repetitive
chirping of insects in the exquisite gardens below. He watched as the imposing
skyline of the distant Citadel appeared, a black silhouette drifting slowly
across the face of the full yellow moon. Skarl had allowed Darigan, and, at
Darigan's urging, Sally's family, to stay at Meridell Castle until the morning
and the signing of the treaty. The treaty…
Feeling wide-awake now, Darigan wished to leave
his chambers and take a walk through the castle's corridors, for he was restless
and wished to lay to rest the memories that troubled him. He did this often,
and it was not unusual for the Citadel's night-watchman to see his lord glide
past phantom-like to stand motionless upon the summit of his tower, his spreading
ears and lithe batlike form giving him a powerfully dignified air as he surveyed
his realm. Pulling his robe about him he opened the chamber door to observe
a Draik guard leaning on his spear, snoring quietly. Darigan smiled to himself
and passed by as soundlessly as a shadow, seeing as clearly in the dark as any
other creature could in the day. He moved smoothly on silent feet, his robe
whispering softly about his legs with each stride.
After a time he came to a long eastward-facing
corridor with a series of high windows on his left. The moonlight filtered through
the glass and fell upon the carpeted floor in long rectangles of pale blue light,
illuminating a set of oil portraits on the opposite wall. This must be the
famous Hall of Portraits, he thought. Darigan occupied himself for several
minutes looking at these portraits, which turned out to be likenesses of the
Meridellian royal family and ancestors of Skarl from generations long past.
He followed the progression of time down the length of the corridor, from the
earliest rulers to a large gilt-framed portrait of King Skarl himself. He stood
looking at the smirking portrait of his former enemy for several minutes before
facing the long, translucent blue windows that opened to the eastern turret.
In the center of this corridor an arched doorway opened to a walled-in stone
terrace above one of the royal chambers. He wondered if his host would mind
very much if he were to wander the castle's ramparts as he did back home whenever
he could not sleep, but decided against it and simply walked onto the terrace
and stood still, turning his gaze instead to the twinkling stars and Kreludor
the yellow moon. For a long time he stood motionless, still pondering his nightmare
and the disquieting memories that had remained buried inside him for years.
His unquiet thoughts wandered into the deepest of inescapable realms, like the
hero of their ancient lore who traveled for years in the Forest of Night in
search of his beloved, never to return. His eyes suddenly filled with bitter
tears, tears that had since remained unshed now ran down his thin cheeks in
glistening streams as he remembered everything...
A slow chuckling from behind him in the corridor
instantly brought him from his grief and he whirled about, staring into the
shadows. He saw nothing, but the chuckling grew louder, slow and grating as
from the depths of an ancient beast's throat.
"Who goes there?" Darigan breathed, his eyes
narrowed. He came away from the balcony and stared down both ends of the corridor
suspiciously. The chuckling had ceased.
"Show yourself!" he demanded of the silence.
In answer, a dark, squat shape loomed from the shadows directly before him and
hobbled into the moonlight. Two yellowed tusks shone palely as the creature
grinned and said in a measured, contemptuous drawl:
"All hail Darigan, master of the realm." Darigan
recoiled; he knew that voice all too well.
"Morguss!" he hissed. The throaty chuckling began
"Correct, Draconis," said the voice, and Darigan
frowned at the use of his given name. "It is Morguss. Come closer so that we
may greet each other after all these years."
"How did you get here?" Darigan demanded, not
moving from where he stood. The ancient Moehog, stooped with age, stepped closer
into the circle of light and removed the hood that covered her face. She peered
up at her former master with clouded yellow eyes, long obscured by cataracts,
and a mocking smile deformed her hideous features.
"I have my ways," she
chuckled. "But why does my lord weep? It could not be that he knew I was coming
to see him, no, for there are many things he knows not. Is he mourning his old
friend? Perhaps that is it. Wherefore these tears, Draconis Darigan?"
"Call me not by my old name, Morguss," Darigan
said in thinly-veiled contempt. "I am not Draconis any longer." Morguss laughed
"But my lord, I knew you before you ever took
the name of Darigan, founder and first ruler of our realm," the sorceress replied.
"And like all the other lords that followed him and took his name out of respect,
you had a given name, and Draconis you shall remain to me."
"Why have you come here?" The ugly smile faded
from Morguss' face at these words and she narrowed her eyes keenly, as though
trying to clear away the film that covered them.
"I have something you want, my lord," she whispered.
"Something that you have desired for some time..."
"I want no part of your deals, Morguss," Darigan
interrupted, drawing himself higher. "You may have advised me in my rule once,
but that was long ago and I was young. Now I know you cannot be trusted." His
words had their effect; Morguss scowled angrily and reached into the folds of
her dirty brown robe. Reflexively Darigan reached for his belt only to remember
he had left his sword in the bed-chamber. The gesture did not go unnoticed;
Morguss eyed him calculatingly and slowly drew something from her robe, but
it was not her wand.
"So I cannot be trusted?" she said. "Believe
me when I say that now both of us are unarmed. I did not risk my life coming
here to threaten my lord, however inexperienced he may be." Darigan ignored
the comment; Morguss had always considered him to be unfit to rule while she
had been his adviser.
"Then why did you come to Meridell Castle, on
the truce-day no less?" he said. "Why couldn't you have waited until I returned
to the Citadel? You might have held conference with me there." Morguss smirked.
"You were always so naive, Draconis," she sneered.
"You think I would have come here for that reason alone? I came also to free
"Your daughter-" Darigan stiffened. "The one
they call the Court Dancer? She is here?"
"Her name is Tafindra!" Morguss snorted. "She
shall not be referred to by that vulgar name-"
"Know your place, Morguss, if you know to whom
you speak." Morguss glowered poisonously but only continued in a calmer tone,
glancing into the shadows once or twice.
"Tafindra has been a prisoner ever since she
was revealed to Skarl's court. The swine showed her no mercy." She shook her
head scornfully. "She had been tied hand and foot in the dungeons to keep her
from dancing, as though they feared she would attempt it again, pah! She would
have soon been executed if not for me." Morguss sneered and made as if to spit
on the floor, but then glanced into the shadows again. This time Darigan heard
a slight rustling, perhaps the sound of breathing. His nostrils flared.
"Who is there?" The old sorceress sighed heavily
and motioned with her hoof into the dark.
"Tafindra my child. Come forward and greet your
Out of the darkness came a short intake of breath
and the sound of reluctant feet on the carpet. Hesitantly, a shape appeared
from behind Morguss and resolved itself into the cloaked figure of Tafindra.
The young Aisha gazed in fear at the imposing silhouette of Lord Darigan before
coming forward to bow tremblingly at his feet.
"I- I am in your service, my lord," she whispered,
her forehead nearly touching the floor in her reverence.
To be continued...