Four

Four

A Chapter by Eddie Davis
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Gevin reaches the edge of the great forest in which the Nihility Gate is said to be located.

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4.

 

‘Life if well lived, is long enough’

                        -- Seneca

 

 

A misty dawn was just breaking in the east as Gevin rode across the dewy grass after leaving the road (which would veer southward toward towns on the western edge of Greidour).  It was a half mile to where a dark green line of large, very old trees stood like somber sentinels against anyone who sought entry into the Great Forest.   Very few people ventured into the dark canopy of the massive forest, and those that did would not travel more than a mile or perhaps two before the overwhelming feeling that they were entering something very alive and hostile toward them, would cause them to turn around and hurriedly leave.

The ancient path through the Great Forest was said to have been made by the elder Elves who lived there for thousands of years.   All parts of it radiated a fae aura that kept even the boldest of the curious away.

He’d been just inside its borders a few times when part of a royal patrol, but that was with twenty or thirty men and for only a few minutes, all within a bow shot of the entrance.

It was the same eerie place he soon was standing in front of, having dismounted and rubbed down faithful Thallow before preparing to send him back home without a rider.   Whether it was the nearness of the strange forest or a sense of what he was about to do, a deep feeling of finality came over him.   He patted his loyal warhorse and for a few moments wondered if his whole plan was stupid.   Perhaps he should just go back to the palace and resume his life with all its misery and loneliness.

“No, there has to be change,” he said aloud to the Warhorse, “I hope you understand, old friend.    If I don’t do this, I think I will simply go crazy.  Forgive me for this selfish act; I don’t know if it is proper or not, but I have to try.   Thallow, I want you to go back home, back to your stable.    The Pondertort boys will be waiting for you.   I shall miss you; you’ve been brave and true to me.    Now go!   Go on, now!   Go!”  He patted the horse on the rump and with a whinny, he took off in the direction of Whiteberry without looking back.    Gevin watched him go for a few moments, the realization that there was no turning back dawning on him.   But with that came a somber peace.    He shouldered the pack he’d prepared the night before, tightened the straps, and with one last look at the open world and a deep gulp of the pure air, he turned with a sigh and made for the Great Forest and the little, seldom used footpath leading into it.

 

***

 

Five minutes later, a few miles to the east of the entrance of the Great Forest, Thallow slowed to a stop, his ears twitching as he glanced toward another horse and its rider racing down the road toward him.   His tail swished as the horse neared and the rider reined in, for he knew both of them, so he waited for their approach.

 

 

***

 

After the first two miles, the thickness of the forest brought a deep darkness around the path giving the sensation of walking deep underground in some sort of cavern or deep passage through the depths.

He kept walking, noticing how there were less and less sounds the further into the forest he trekked.   Then, about an hour into his hike, the path opened up slightly to what could have been some sort of camping or rest area, for he saw some dressed stones at the far side of the clearing through the gloom of the thick forest.   He decided to go investigate.

It seemed to be some sort of shrine and it did not seem very abandoned.   In a niche in the dressed stone was the stump of a candle.   He felt a sudden dropping of temperature behind him and he spun around expecting something terrible to be standing there, but there was nothing.

Yet when he turned again to the shrine, he was alarmed to find the stump of the candle lit and giving off a feeble orange light in the dimness.    But kneeling beneath it, concealed in a long hooded grey robe was a monk-like figure, his face concealed behind the folds of the cloak, praying or paying homage before the lit candle.

Gevin backed away, his hand on his sword hilt, “Who are you and how did you appear in front of me so quickly?”

His voice seemed hollow and weak.   The cloaked figure did not reply at first, but after a few moments more of prayer, turned his head toward him, yet his face was completely hidden in deep shadows.    Still Gevin shrank back and as he did, a very old, deep voice slowly spoke with words so loud that he felt his skull was vibrating, though he did not know if he’d heard them audibly or just in his mind.

 “Woe the lost who seek to die,

The end of life ahead is nigh.”

 

“Who are you?”  Gevin tried to sound fearless but his voice wavered in his unease, “What does that mean?   Tell me who you are!”

The hooded figure turned back to face the lit votive candle but spoke again.

“What you seek you shall not find,

For what you lack consumes your mind.”

“Riddles!   You speak in riddles!   Who or what are you and why are you here in this strange place?   I demand an answer from you!”  Mustering up his courage, he strode forward to grab at the mysterious figure’s arm, but in the blink of an eye, as he reached for him, the figure was gone and the candle was once again cold and unlit.

Gevin jumped in surprise, twirled around but found no-one and then noticed a small tablet of clay with writing scribbled upon it, propped up against the shrine, just under the niche.    It seemed very old, but the words written in the hardened clay were the same two rhymes that the ghostly figure had spoken to him.  

He stared at the tablet and wondered if the words were for anyone who came here, or specifically for him.   Somehow he knew they were his to ponder alone.

What did they mean?   Had he received some sort of vision, or had his imagination played a trick on him, fuelled by many hours lost in memories?

“I come in peace; I seek only the dark gate,” he called out, wondering if anything intelligent would hear him and understand.    Would it make any difference even then?

 

Though he waited, glancing back and forth from the dressed stone shrine to the path leaving the clearing ahead, nothing happened.

“I haven’t come this far just to falter in fear,” he said aloud.   Again he read the clay tablet’s words and then slipped it into his pack.   He would press on.

 

***

 

A pair of eyes watched from the shadows at the edge of the clearing as Gevin shouldered his pack again and headed for the continuation of the path on the opposite side of the clearing.   As soon as his form disappeared from sight, a figure came out of the dim light and ran across the clearing, not stopping to glance at the shrine and moving so quietly that little sound could be heard.

 

Ahead the path grew rockier and began angling up hill, though still thickly shrouded with foliage and gloom.   He heard no birds, no insects; nothing but the crunch of his boots on the soil and his own breathing.   A thick unnaturalness hung in the air like a will-o’-the-wisp.    Gevin could sense a presence somewhere nearby, though he did not see or hear anything.   Unsheathing his sword, he found himself regretting wearing only a mail tunic instead of his plate armor, but he would not have been able to remove it by himself and he didn’t want to spend days and perhaps weeks in something growing filthier each passing day.

It would have helped his jitters though and he found his sword gave him a bit more reassurance as he pushed forward.

Time seemed to lose all reference points in the mysterious atmosphere of the forest, but he knew that a long time must have passed, for he walked until his legs ached.

Just as he was thinking about stopping to rest, he heard the sounds of motion ahead like someone hacking through underbrush or perhaps cutting down a tree.   Occasionally the sound of something contacting metal resounded down the assending path.    Then the path exited into a clearing about the size of the first one with the shrine.   It seemed to be night again, for a bit of sky directly above the clearing shown the milky glow of a full moon.     In the middle of the clearing, silhouetted in a ghostly silver light of the moon was a knight in full plate armor wildly slashing at a huge black tree with many long branches that seemed to be moving of its own accord and attacking from multiple sides at the same time.   One branch hit the knight from behind, sending him sprawling in front of the tree, stunning him.   The tree branches zeroed in on his torso and began to violently slam into him with great force.

Instinctively, Gevin raced forward, forgetting his weariness to come to the aid of a fellow knight.   

“Leave him be!”  Gevin challenged as he approached and the tree monster immediately turned its attention to him and attacked.    At once there were branches whizzing by his head or impacting against his chest or arms.   The blows nearly knocked the breath from him, but he slashed at the branches all around him.

His sword cut into the wood but could not chop through the thick branches.  A branch swung and grazed his head, knocking him to the ground with his head spinning.   He leaped to his feet, ducking under another swing from one of the tree monster’s limbs.

He saw the knight also getting to his feet, though from the difficulty he was having, he was about exhausted from the fight.

Gevin focused on the trunk of the tree, for surely enough damage done to it would cause it to lose whatever enchantment had animated it.

Dodging swipes from several large branches, he rushed toward it, hoping to find some sort of clue on how to destroy it.   But as he neared, he was surprised to see that in the center of the trunk at about chest high level, the hilt of a sword thrust deep into the wood up to the crosspiece.   Yet it wasn’t the knight’s sword, for he still held it.

The tree monster lashed out in a low arc that swept Gevin’s feet out from under him, sending him tumbling toward the base of the trunk.    The creature seemed planted into the ground, so at least it could not chase them if they got out of range.

Several skinny vine-like branches coiled around his left arm and leg and began drawing him toward the trunk.   He chopped furiously at the branches, freeing his leg and then his arm, only to be clubbed in his right shoulder; the twigs at the end of the branch cutting his cheek and lips as they raked his face.

The pain intensified his effort and he swung his sword with all his strength again and again, sending chunks of the trunk flying.   But then, to his horror, his sword snapped in half from the fury with which he attacked the animated tree.   The knight was also hacking at the tree with his sword, but a swinging branch knocked the weapon from his hand and the damaged blade broke when it hit the ground.

Then a thin branch wrapped around Gevin’s neck, pressing tightly with great force.   He gagged, his eyes bulging, unable to breathe as another branch wound around his legs like a large constrictor snake.   The world was fading out when blindly, his hands flayed out and found the hilt of a sword.   It was the sword embedded in the demonic tree.   As life ebbed quickly from him, he gave a last desperate yank, hoping to free the blade long enough to take a last swipe at the animated tree.

He was surprised to feel the sword blade pull easily backwards and as soon as the tip of the sword blade left contact with the trunk of the tree, the animated thing suddenly went still, all the branches straightening out to normal.    Gevin felt the vine-like branch around his neck release him, along with the other branches entwining him and he fell limp to the ground, weakly gulping in air.

When he was finally able to move, he found the knight standing near the formerly animated tree, his head bowed .

Gevin quickly got to his feet, though his body was battered and sore, still clutching the sword taken from the trunk of the tree.   It was a long sword, expertly crafted, perfect in form and condition but it seemed too light for its size and there appeared to be a slight white glow coming from it as if it was producing light.

An enchanted blade, he thought as he experimented with swallowing again and found his throat allowed it, but with great pain.

“Who are you, sir?” Gevin addressed the knight, the words hurting his throat as he formed them.    The knight did not reply or even move.   Holding the enchanted blade, he lightly poked the knight on the arm.   At the touch, suddenly it all fell apart, revealing no-one inside the armor.    Pieces of the plate armor and the padding beneath it were in a pile at his feet.

“More magic,” Gevin croaked, weariness pulling him down to his knees next to the armor, “Yesh, what a horrid place this forest is.”

He began examining the armor as he sniffed back blood from his nose from where the tree had smacked him.   Like the sword, the armor seemed perfectly made and looked as if it had come off the armor’s table minutes before.   It too gleamed slightly from some otherworldly source.    As he looked at it, he felt a strange compulsion to try it on.   The more he fought it, the more it pulled at him, beckoning like a fire to a moth, perhaps with the same outcome.

He was so bewitched by the compulsion that he did not hear the figure creeping up behind him or see the shadow cast over him.   The first thing he knew was a hand on his shoulder.

Gevin leaped to his feet with a shout, spinning around with the sword posed to strike, finally seeing the intruder.




© 2020 Eddie Davis


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Added on November 13, 2020
Last Updated on November 13, 2020
Tags: Synomenia, Nihility_Gate, fantasy, elf, sword_and_sorcery, magic, knights, Halflings, Drow


Author

Eddie Davis
Eddie Davis

Springfield, MO



About
I'm a fantasy and science-fiction writer that enjoys sharing my tales with everyone. Three trilogies are offered here, all taking place in the same fantasy world of Synomenia. Other books and stor.. more..

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