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The Battle At Land’s End Pt 2: Down The Bilfrost Road

At noon on the third day of the last week of October in the twelfth year of the reign of Prosus Antallis, sixth sovereign on the Crystal Throne, the earth shook and split asunder. From the Hellespont in a line south and west through the valleys north of the Kriti highlands to the hot springs at Far Step, the western half of the continent rose as high as five and half feet. The Nilos river basin rose sixteen inches on average causing the river to crest at over thirty feet above the flood line.

A nine foot gap opened in the riverbed where water mixed with magma rising to the surface. The resulting explosions of steam pushed a river of lava beneath the colder water to where it hardened several miles up stream. The unrelenting current of rock beat against this hot basalt wall as it formed a dam across the Nilos river gorge.

All over the sky rain fell with white ash. Mount Scylla’s smoking crater disgorged a bellyful of gas every few minutes. Quakes large and small rocked the land for days.

Lord Taros saw the damage from the peak. Daedalus was with him.

Antallis was an island and their pastures a sea. The bay stretched to the horizon and Nilos was a river over three miles wide. The land of the Gimric was spared.

“The sky is made orange by fires that burn in Asgard, my lord,” explained Daedalus.

“The ash is what’s left of their castle walls, I presume,” added Taros.

“Presuming they are made of molten rock disgorged by a violent spasm of the earth,” agreed Daedalus.

“What of the poison water?” asked Taros, “Does it come our way?”

“Only an expedition to Walpus Erimos will tell us,” replied Daedalus.

“That’s not going to happen,” said Taros.

“But…but…but…” stammered Daedalus.

“But what?” asked Taros, annoyed and getting irritated.

“Nothing,” said Daedalus, his eyes dejectedly hitting the dirt.

Below them was chaos. Refugees from the low lying lands scrambled up the peak and the lucky ones were able to save some possessions. Carts were pulled by hand, the animals having run off, and the palace was under six feet of water. The crystal throne was chipped and scarred but it had not come loose from the floor.

It was a few hours later that Minos resigned his regency.

After consulting with Lord Taros he decided to welcome the Antallean refugees to the Lasithi Valley. Minos left at once, leaving Antallis in the care of his nephew and the Sword Master. An equally important reason for his sudden departure was fear for his family.

He took with him Ambicatus, six soldiers of the Royal Guard, and the mind reader Cleobis who was the son of the Queen of the West. He had expected that he would be taking Lapraxus, but the lanky man begged off, explaining that he had urgent business to attend and would meet them in Lasithi Valley.

As soon as he left Aenoius and Epimedes rode into view. They did not round a corner nor ride out from under the cover of trees. They simply appeared on the highway, becoming a little more substantial with each fall of their horses hooves.

“Meet the Cabeiri,” said Cleobis, “Good fellows but hard to read, even for me. Be thankful they’re on our side.”

“Lord Cleobis!” hailed Epimedes, “Have you news from Antallis? Have you seen our captain, Lord Taros? I fear we may become statues in the glen from the waiting for him.”

Aeonius didn’t wait for the reply.

“Taros will not be coming, you say. He has agreed to escort the Antallean refugees to Lasithi! And we are to meet him at Land’s End…”

“No one expects the Cabeiri to meet Lord Taros at Land’s End,” said Cleobis.

Taros and Cheiron came to an agreement about an hour before dawn the next morning. It was against his instincts, but Taros conceded they had a better chance of survival by taking a circuitous route around both desert and flood. It meant going cross country to the highlands, a route which would take them through the burial grounds of the Gimric’s greatest warriors.

The Gimric had been spared the upheaval that flooded Antallis to the Peak. The lava dam had turned Antallis Bay into a landlocked sea whose only outlet was the underground fork of the Nilos river. The overground fork was dry and River Bend stood on a hillock.

Bear and Mountain, and to some extent Fearbringer, though as war chief he couldn’t officially have an opinion, tried to convince their obstinate kin that letting Antalleans stomp all over their graves was no big deal considering the flood. Some didn’t see it that way. The point of contention was the stomping all over their graves part, which even Mountain had to agree could easily become an insult.

It was no secret that a chunk of Antallean society blamed the Gimric for the upheavals. Mountain was loathe to fan the flames of discontent. Warriors like Fearbringer, though not Fearbringer himself, called the proposed desecration a blasphemy. It was their opinion that the Antalleans should be attacked if they left the road.

The high chief tried, but he could not soften their stance. One of the most vocal was his own son Sky Crier, a feisty lad with a chip on his shoulder and ambitions to match.

The days wore on and it became clear that the Antalleans must go by hallowed ground if only to beat the snow to the mountain pass. There was no tradition in Gimric law that spoke to a crisis like the current flood, though Fearbringer had already decided he would not fight Lord Taros.

There was a time when Fearbringer considered it his duty to kill Taros and in his mind he almost did, but Cybele, or Father Time, or someone else perhaps, intervened. It was a few months before and the consequences led to Lord Taros being invited into the Cabeiri.

Taros and Fearbringer and his band of hunters had been in the caves below the Bilfrost Quarry looking for the monster Gilgraith. Mountain swore it was dead but Fearbringer saw an opportunity to get Taros into the caves and finish him.

That was the first time the earth moved.

They were descending into Hades, Taros had no doubt. Fearbringer was behind him, his sword drawn, alert to danger from anywhere, and he was first to hear the moaning in the mountain. Taros knew the moaning was the wind, though he kept the knowledge to himself. It would not do for Fearbringer to know they were a hundred yards from daylight.

“What is that?” worried the war chief.

“Gilgraith’s big brother,” said Taros as he bravely advanced upon the wind.

It was no mystery to Taros and it shouldn’t have been to Fearbringer but the war chief wasn’t thinking clearly. If he had been he would have noticed they’d dropped half the height of the ridge and traversed it as well. They’d gone around the lake and to the south. Taros, unlike the Gimric, knew exactly where he was.

He advanced cautiously, putting on a show. His great sword was held high over his head and he looked a heroic figure in the torchlight.

The moaning stopped and the earth moved. The shaking started small and grew until chunks of the ceiling fell at their feet. He dove as hunters covered their heads. Seeing light, he crawled on, and with the roof collapsing he found the mouth of the caves. He ran across the quaking mound to a fifteen foot fall.

He jumped as the shaking ended.

Taros looked up. Fearbringer was there, shouting and shaking a lance, and behind him the mountain had slid to make a pile of rubble blocking the mouth.

Taros debated the ethics of staying silent. He had no doubt Fearbringer would have killed him, but if he failed to help their private feud might become a blood feud.

“Over here,” he shouted, raising his sword so it flashed in the sunlight.

Fearbringer saw it and was gone from view. Taros scrambled back up the mountain.

He heard moans as he got close and a scream now and then. Fearbringer was digging them out. Taros was quick to lend a hand.

By evening it was done. The first to be rescued had minor cuts and bruises, but those farther in suffered greatly. Two were dead, crushed by the roof, and two more were found wandering. A fifth was sleeping soundly.

“My brother,” said Fearbringer when it was done, “I might have killed you. Now I will defend you!”

The shaking spared the village. Nilos might have spilled over her banks. Instead, she fell dramatically, exposing the mountainside. The bridge at the quarry did not come down.

Yet it was already months in the past.

Fearbringer awoke. The peak was rumbling and the sky was black. He could see no stars through the smoke. A red river of rock flowed out of the mountain and the roar of it meeting the sea could be heard where he stood ten miles to the west.

Taros reviewed his options. He could march straight for the highlands going north over the land. There was no road, but there were lions. If he chose that option the Sword Master Cheiron estimated that one in ten would die.

He could go east to Aegis Bar but it might be flooded already. Even if it wasn’t there was no drinkable water between there and Walpus Erimos. It was three times as long as the direct route and twice as deadly. Cheiron estimated one in five would die.

Or he could go west down the Bilfrost road and cross the graves of the dead. If they took offense and war was declared, the Sword Master estimated that everyone would die and horribly as well.

“If war is not declared?” asked Taros.

“Why would that be so?” wondered Cheiron.

“Mountain believes I am his son,” answered Taros.

“Has Fearbringer truly changed his opinion of you,” wondered Cheiron.

“Bear will stop him if he has not,” reasoned Taros.

“Do you trust our lives to Bear?”

“Better he than lions,” replied Taros, “I will not kill one in ten because I fear the sword of another man.”

Hot, red rock nearly covered the peak and there was no time left to decide.

It was high noon when Taros gave the order to move out. The line of refugees snaked down Antallis Peak, heading for the broad but shallow strait that had formed to the north of the city. All were going to get their feet wet, and the children were going to swim.

The going was slow; so slow that Cheiron was considering his next moves should they be struggling to reach the road by dark. The real trouble wouldn’t begin until morning when they pushed west.

Taros had made no secret of the fact that he intended to cross the savanna. The war chief had given his permission but with one condition: they were not to disturb the graves of the dead! It was an impossible promise to keep but Taros made it anyway.

Lapraxus stood at the door to Mountain’s lodge at River Bend.

His message was urgent; they were not to harm the refugees no matter what sacrileges they were seen to commit. His message was so urgent he was actually quaking.

After awhile Mountain emerged. He did not like Lapraxus though he hadn’t met one. He had heard they were tricksters and befuddlers, incapable of dealing with you man to man. He thought they came from the underworld.

“What joy!” declared Mountain, “An elf at my door. Hahahahahaha!”

“You are Algorentrix,” stated Lapraxus softly.

“How did you know that, mind reader?”

Lapraxus thought on his comment and was puzzled.

“Sit,” offered the high chief, but there was only the floor.

“Hmmm,” complained Lapraxus, his yellow garments showing the dust of River Bend. Even his hat was a mess, “I suppose it will have to do.”

“Hahahahahahahahahahahaha!” guffawed Mountain, “When is a riddle not a riddle?”

“When it is an oracle,” answered Lapraxus.

“You took it from my head.”

“But you are correct,” he replied.

“Now that that’s settled, why are you here?”

Never before had Lapraxus been bested. His plea was not even uttered and already he was at a disadvantage, forced to concede that his host was correct in matters of religion. The rest would now be slow going.

“You would be wise…no, that’s not a good way to say it,” began Lapraxus.

“Agreed. Go on. No, wait!” said Mountain, thinking better of playing the cat, “You have come to persuade me not to harm Taros. It is not I you have to persuade.”

Lapraxus saw into his eyes. Mountain was not as transparent as he first supposed.

“Taros is like a son to me,” the high chief continued, “and Fearbringer respects him as an ally, but Bear is not alone in his disgust. To the Druid our heroes are not gone; they live in the air and their form, as old and weak as it is, has the rights of any man, and they say to me, ‘who are these beggars who trample on the greatest of us?’ Do not come here and tell me the value of life. Go to Antallis and tell Taros the value of death. Then he will understand why the gods have made it so.”

Lapraxus, speechless, could only turn and leave.

Unseen to anyone, an intruder crouched in the weeds growing by the river road. She knew of the proud Athenian’s mono and bi articulated foci, and she knew she would be seen if anyone who had such things was looking for her. She would also be apparent to the Druid. Bear had the raw talents of a psychic. He would know someone was there, but not where. It was the intruder’s hope that Bear’s eyes were more useful to him than his visions.

Her name was Penthiselia and she was a sister of the Amazon Queen.

Hippolyta, the eldest of four sisters and Queen of the Amazons, had vowed to return and crush the insolent Antalleans, but their king was already crushed, Antallis was a river of fluid rock, and the only Antallean save one for which she had any respect at all was leading them on a fool’s mission through a Gimric graveyard.

Daedalus peered through his articulated mono-focus.

“There are a great many Gimric up ahead,” he said to Taros.

Taros reached out his hand and said, “Give it to me.”

“I’ve already given you my bi-focus,” complained the Athenian.

A line of refugees, once several minutes behind them, had nearly caught up.

“I will not have you running ahead and provoking the Gimric,” he said, “Give me the mono-focus.”

Daedalus did as he was told.

“Now go back to the train. If I see you up here again I will personally hand you over to Fearbringer. Where is your scribe?”

“Not here! He’s not here. He wouldn’t come,” replied Daedalus, his voice trembling.

“The learned man’s scribe is smarter than his master,” said Taros, “Go!”

“How far away are they?” asked Mountain.

“Two miles,” answered Fearbringer.

He let his bi-focus fall around his neck. It was a curious thing, the Athenian’s gift. It brought the far away near, and if he used it the other way it made the near far away, but he had no need for that magic in war.

Bear and his acolytes had not a weapon among them, yet they made a barrier across the road that was ten persons deep. When the refugees came to within a hundred feet they were to stop and let the acolytes lead them through the savanna. Armed men on both sides were to make sure the procession would be respectful of the dead.

Mountain was pleased. Everything was going according to plan. The refugees were not only respectful; they were even humble. Fearbringer’s relief was evident to all, and Bear was living his finest hour.

A few less than a hundred acolytes led the living through the graves of the dead. Every so often they broke out in a chant meant to placate the disturbed soul of some hero. Then Bear would sprinkle a bit of volcanic dust, still warm from the bowels of the earth, onto the grave. After a pause he would lead them on again.

Armed warriors on both sides kept a tense watch. Fearbringer’s spear throwers were every bit as deadly as the Antallean archers, but the two finest of them, Atalanta and Persea, were not on the field.

The Amazon Queen saw it happening from her blind behind the lava dam.

“What is left for me to take?” she cried in anger.

She had seen the molten rock pouring from the side of Antallis Peak. She knew that Prosus was a broken man and the royal house of Antallis was in a shambles; their wealth was gone, their land unlivable and their spirit broken, or so it must be she said to herself. Where was the sport in defeating the defeated?

She turned to her spy for a solution.

“There is no problem,” said a cowled figure who did not show her face, “We must but study the vultures to find our advantage.”

“There is no honor in becoming a vulture,” said the Amazon Queen.

“If it is honor you seek you must keep looking,” spoke the dark speaker, “All you will find here are the riches of the damned.”

“What do you propose?” asked Hippolyta.

“At dusk the lions will emerge from their lairs,” she said, “All you must do is be gone from this place by taking the lower road. Your lingering scent will lead them to the refugees. After the lions have eaten their fill you may take what riches are left behind. I promise you they will be many.”

The thought disgusted Hippolyta, but she could not banish it from her mind.

“Take these gifts I give you,” advised the one who did not show her face.

Before dusk the lions came out of the caves. They caught the scent of humans who had gone before. Unseen in the tall grass they stalked the refugees. As dusk fell they pounced with a fury on the stragglers.

The first inklings of trouble were terrified screams and a panic coming up the line and pressing on those making homage. Moments later chaos ensued as the refugees fled by the tombs and barrows from the hungry jaws of death.

Before a lance was thrown the Antallean guard broke ranks and ran on ahead. It was the pre-arranged response to an unforeseen event and it was the order of Lord Taros.

In spite of his honor Cheiron was told to run like a coward. It would put the Gimric off guard and allow him to make a stand at the ancient hillfort at Land’s End.

The fort encircled a massive oak grove. The ditch was serviceable on three sides and the fourth was backed up against a two hundred mile long salt flat. From there they could be expected to make a frantic climb up the sheer rock wall to be picked off, person by person, by expert Gimric lancers. Taros vowed not to let it happen.

Bear and his acolytes made a hasty retreat when the lions were heard. There was little they could do to protect the graves of their ancestors but the warriors were appalled, so they killed the lions and some refugees too, but not after they dispersed onto the savanna.

The Antalleans were more like a crazed mob than an army, so Fearbringer did not pursue them in the dark.

“Yes,” agreed Sky Crier, “Give them a promise of forgiveness and it will make their horror that much more terrible.”

Mountain said nothing, but his son’s words scared him half to death, because it was his own father talking, and his own father was a man who buried people alive.

Fearbringer was in a rage. He did not accept the judgment of the Druid. It was not the fault of Antalleans that lions attacked and they weren’t the only ones to run helter skelter through the barrows. Bear’s acolytes were just as guilty.

Bear, too, was in a rage. His acolytes had a right to be there. The Antalleans did not and that was why lions attacked. If the Antalleans had not trampled all over the barrows it would not have happened. To most people present it was as simple as that.

“The Druid says it is a spiritual matter,” spoke Mountain, “and the War Chief says it is a political one. I say it is both and that both are right in what they say.”

“It is my right to decide when such decisions are made,” he finished, “I will await a sign from the gods.”

Mountain rose, ending the council

As he did the ground began to shake. The shaking became convulsions until men fled the timbered hall.

They saw a plume of smoke rising in the east and then a massive explosion which tore the top off Antallis Peak, throwing men to the ground and flattening River Bend.

When the worst was over Bear saw the sign.

In the middle of what had been the timbered hall, the man called Mountain lay dead with a stake through his heart.