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"Andhun! Andhun!" shouted the crowd as he passed.
Andhun smiled and waved his arms in a sign of blessing as he rode in an open top carriage drawn by six white horses. The crowd pressed enthusiastically against two rows of soldiers who formed the walls of his route.
Andhun stood in the carriage with his staff in one hand. He seemed to dazzle the crowd. The sunlight reflected off of his white robe and pointed hat. His aide, Lagopus, sat at his feet basking in the adulation directed at his master. Few noticed his presence for the top of his head barely reached above the sides of the carriage. Those who did notice him thought he was a midget as his pointed ears were hidden beneath his curly black hair.
"Master, the whole world honors you as the greatest prophet of all time!" exclaimed Lagopus.
Andhun gave Lagopus a brief, condescending smile that turned to a frown as he replied, "Quite true for most but not yet for all. However, that shall soon change."
Lagopus nodded and said, "I have heard that King Thymallis refuses to convert despite the fact that most of his subjects including his son have done so."
Andhun replied, "The King is a stubborn old man who is set in his ways. We will soon confront him."
"What if he refuses to convert?"
"Don't worry. I have foreseen this day," replied Andhun with a smug smile.
Andhun rode at the head of a splendid parade of knights in armor, nobles and others of power and influence. They were an assembly of the most popular, wealthy and wise from throughout the kingdom. Like Andhun, they wore a medallion on their chest signifying their membership in the brotherhood of Andhun.
The procession moved slowly through the narrow streets of Eisendrath until they arrived at the Hall of the Kings. Lagopus opened the carriage door and stepped out before Andhun. He held a large copy of The Once & Forever Ruler above his head. As they ascended the steps to the Hall, the surrounding people dropped to one knee as a sign of respect.
One hundred trumpets announced their entrance into the great Hall which was filled with prominent people. Andhun noticed that less than half of them bore the medallion of their brotherhood. At the opposite end of the Hall, there were three thrones. Although he was too far away to see their faces, he judged that the King was seated in the center with his son and daughter on either side.
Behind them was a circular table with twelve thrones. The Kings of the earth had assembled here annually for the past one thousand years. With their next meeting approaching, Andhun decided to arrive before them and make this a decisive turning point in the history of mankind. As they proceeded across the hall with pomp and ceremony, some knelt while others stood in silence.
"Hail King Thymallis oldest and wisest among the Kings of earth!" exclaimed Andhun as he approached the first step below the thrones. The King sat sullenly and studied Andhun as he approached. He scowled as he stared at the book held by Lagopus. To his right sat his son Prince Olric, who bore the brotherhood medallion on his chest. He smiled fondly at Andhun as one admiring a legendary hero. His daughter, Princess Oriana, looked worried and tightly gripped the ends of her arm rests.
The King extended his hand whereupon Andhun advanced and kissed his signet ring.
"So this is the legendary Andhun!" said the King in an unimpressive tone. "I must confess that I expected someone younger and more vigorous. No doubt you probably think the same of me."
The King continued, "What is the purpose of your visit? It must be important to be conducted with such pomp and ceremony."
Andhun replied, "O great King, you have no doubt heard how the wisdom of this book before you has enlightened mankind. A new age of brotherhood and unity is sweeping across the kingdoms of this world."
The King interrupted, "Peace and prosperity we have had among the kingdoms for the past one thousand years. This has been achieved by a commitment to respect the differences among us. Peace has been maintained through compromise and finding common ground for the good of all."
Andhun tensed and his face became flushed as the King spoke but then he seemed to catch himself and smiled as he said, "Well spoken! What you have said has worked well in the past but no more. The ways of which you speak were suited for a season in the history of mankind. We must learn to change and adapt to each new season."
The King responded, "Your words are eloquent and you have the appearance of wisdom. It is true that the number of converts to the ways you promote has greatly increased in recent time. Even my own son has converted. However, the brotherhood of which you speak appears to be only for those who join your beliefs. There is a spirit of pride among you and intolerance for those who do not share your beliefs."
Andhun's face darkened and he again became tense as the King spoke. "Do you oppose me?" he asked the King.
"With every fiber in my being!" replied the King. "You and your ideas have brought nothing but unrest and bloodshed among us. I will never renounce the ancient ways of my forefathers as described in The Past & Future King!"
At the mention of this book, Andhun became angry and sarcastically replied, "You are nothing more than a backward and ignorant old man! I have foreseen your lack of vision!"
Andhun stared defiantly at the King and said, "We shall pray for you."
He began to chant some words in an unknown tongue. His followers quickly joined him and soon the hall resonated with a thousand voices.
The King became angry and shouted, "Abomination!"
He rose from his throne and tried to speak but no words came out. A look of surprise and then fear appeared on his face as he gasped for air. The Prince and Princess leapt from their thrones and helped the King to sit down.
"Stop! You're killing him!" shouted Princess Oriana as she opened his collar.
Andhun and his followers continued to chant. The King turned blue and a gurgling sound came from his throat. After a few moments of struggling for air, he slumped onto the floor and died.
The apparent cause of his death was a heart attack. However, Andhun saw the wispy image of two bony hands appear around the throat of the King.
The Princess cradled her father's head in her lap and wept uncontrollably. So intense was her grief that those around her also wept. Even Andhun groaned inside and he experienced a brief moment of regret. He thought, "It is a shame that there was not some other way so that the death of this great King could have been avoided."
Andhun chastened himself for such thoughts, "Surely his death was necessary to accomplish the betterment of mankind."
He resumed his confident air and ascended the steps until he stood beside Prince Olric. He removed the crown from King Thymallis and held it over the head of the Prince saying, "The King is dead! Long live the King Olric!"
"Long live King Olric!" shouted a thousand enthusiastic voices.
The new King beamed gratefully at Andhun. Although he loved his father, he had waited many years to become King due to his father's long life. Except for his abrupt death, Olric could not have imagined a more honorable and glorious coronation.
"This is the greatest moment of my life!" he thought. "Andhun and the greatest of the brotherhood were gathered to proclaim me King! This is more than I expected in my wildest dreams!"
King Olric embraced Andhun. He took Andhun's hand and raised it above their heads saying, "My first proclamation as King is to declare that The Once & Forever Ruler shall henceforth be the official belief system throughout my kingdom!"
He turned towards Andhun and knelt on one knee as he said, "All that I am and all that I have I place in the service of the Brotherhood of Andhun!"
"Take my hands!" Tom shouted to Willet and Cearl as their spirits flew over the Forbidden Mountains on a calm winter evening.
The clear sky sparkled with innumerable stars and Tom thought that this night was reminiscent of their first flight together at Taliesin. Tom's abilities had improved considerably during the past ten years. He had grown from a lad to a youth and was anxious to show off his improving skills.
Willet sighed and said, "Very well but I fear I will regret this."
He held out his hand and Cearl did the same so that Tom was between them.
Tom said, "Remember the first time we traveled like this in search of Lord Swefred's seeing stone? I believe you said that you carried me like a sack of buntatas. However, now I would like to show you something."
The trio accelerated to a speed that neither Willet nor Cearl had ever experienced before. They were moving so fast that the mountains below them passed in a blur. They looked at each other and laughed as their faces were distorted by the velocity of their flight. In a few moments, they crossed from Hadrian's Keep to the opposite end of the Forbidden Mountains near the Forest of Mordula.
Tom slowed them to a stop just inside the border. He looked at Cearl and said, "Well? What do you think?"
Cearl replied, "You have surpassed me. I felt like a sack of buntatas being towed."
"I believe your skills in astral projection rival those of the greatest of the elf lords and demonians," said Willet proudly. "It has been a wonder and a great pleasure to see how rapidly you have grown in many ways. Soon your training will be complete and ..."
Willet suddenly stopped talking and closed his eyes. The furrows on his face grew deeper as he concentrated. Tom looked at Cearl and was about to ask him what was happening but he too closed his eyes. After a few moments, Tom heard a very faint but familiar sound that gradually grew louder.
"Look!" said Willet as he opened his eyes and pointed to the sky over the Forest of Mordula.
Tom saw a fiery red dot that rapidly increased in size until it split into six flaming demons who stopped abruptly about a mile away. A small yellow dot of light emerged from their midst and shot straight towards them.
"Cearl yelled excitedly, "Etain! It's Etain!"
Etain bowed and frantically reported, "I have been searching for you for many months. My lady, Princess Linette guessed that you may have sought refuge in these mountains but she refrained these many years from sending anyone to search for you. There are many spies among the elves and our loyalties have been divided since Lord Ceowulf's departure to Bane-ghial. However, Andhun's return to the world of men has forced her to risk sending me."
"Whoa! Slow down Etain! You say too much in too few words! I should like to hear a proper telling of these events in a more complete fashion," replied Willet as he stared intently into Etain's eyes. "However, I sense there is something else of a more immediate nature troubling you."
The small fairy looked down at her feet as if embarrassed.
Willet took her gently into his hands and said, "Come now little one, you are among friends. What troubles you?"
Etain replied, "I have risked much to find you. I fear I may have been too reckless in my determination not to miss the opportunity of this meeting."
She pointed to the demons in the distance and said, "There are many Pyrigians guarding the borders of these mountains. My lady commanded me to find you but not to be seen. She stressed the importance of not allowing the enemy to know what I know."
Tom interrupted, "You are safe with us! As you can see, there is some barrier that prevents the demons form entering these mountains."
Willet said, "I wish that it was that simple." He looked at Etain with concern and asked, "Where is your resting place?"
Etain whispered, "When I heard you conversing, I sensed that there might not be another opportunity as good as this one. I decided to risk crossing the border in spirit as it was the fastest way to reach you."
"Where is your resting place?" repeated Willet with growing concern.
Etain replied nervously, about five miles from here in the Forest of Mordula. I did not have much time to find the best resting place."
Cearl became alarmed and said, "The night is half gone and we must return to our bodies and retrieve Etain's before dawn!"
"Or before the enemy finds her," said Willet. "Look! The Pyrigians are dispersing! They go to find werewolves and others to search for Etain's body. If they can find it and possess her, they will discover much that needs to remain hidden."
Cearl said, "I fear they have a shorter distance to accomplish this than we do."
Willet smiled and replied, "That may be true but we have two advantages. One is that Etain knows the place."
"What is the other advantage?" asked Tom.
"You!" Willet replied as he held out his hand. "Show us how fast you can take us to Hadrian's Keep!"
The Resting Place
Tom's mind was spinning as he rode Skreel towards the Forest of Mordula. He was filled with conflicting emotions resulting from the sudden rush of events that had changed his world. Part of him was excited by the prospect of new adventures outside of the confines of the Forbidden Mountains. At the same time, he was sad to be so quickly leaving the friendship of the dwarves and the Forbidden Mountains in which he had grown up. Willet said that Andhun's return to the world of men required that they too would soon have to go there.
Tom sensed that there must be grave danger before them as Willet had told them to put on the elvish armor from Dinwald's Deep. To wear this armor or even to touch it had been forbidden by Willet for the past ten years. He had instructed them that it was only to be used in times of great need. Despite his extensive training in military skills and tactics, Tom felt humbled and inadequate to be wearing such honorable apparel. Although he was nervous at the prospect of danger, there was an intangible presence that seemed to reassure him.
"Bear to the left!" Etain shouted to Willet as they rode the lead eagle. "Look! There is a disturbance in the forest ahead! That is where my resting place is! I fear that we may be too late!"
They soon arrived at the source of the commotion. In a clearing below, was a group of about thirty werewolves and several vampires. They had surrounded a single tree in a small clearing in the forest. Tom rubbed his eyes and blinked because he thought that the evening shadows must be playing tricks on him.
"The tree is fighting them?" Tom asked Skreel.
Skreel replied, "It must be some magic at work! Hold on! We are going in!"
As if by some unseen signal, all of the eagles dived in unison into the midst of the werewolves.
In the chaos that ensued, Tom found himself hovering near the base of the strange tree. As Tom and Skreel fought the surrounding werewolves, Tom's senses and fighting skills seemed to be enhanced as though he were being helped by some unseen presence. A sudden burst of light from Tom's stone temporarily blinded some of the nearby werewolves. In the glow of the seeing stone, Tom discovered a large demon near the tree. He was reaching towards Etain's lifeless form as if to take possession of her body. Tom felt a strange surge of energy and he sensed that he had to keep the demon from touching her so he said, "Do not touch her foul fiend!"
The demon turned towards him and laughed cruelly as he said, "You are no match for me young fool! I shall possess my prize and then torment you!"
A voice within Tom replied, "I am no mere youth! Behold! I am Sir Egric of the Aigneis!"
The spirit of a mighty elf lord emerged from within Tom and attacked the demon.
Skreel shouted to Tom, "Hold on! I'm going to get Etain!"
Skreel swooped to the base of the tree and grabbed Etain's body. Tom placed her body inside his chest armor. They began to escape when Tom noticed a vampire flying after them.
"Vampire in pursuit!" Tom told Skreel who gave a loud screech and began to accelerate.
Despite the speed of their flight and several evasive maneuvers, the vampire closed the distance between them. Tom could see that this vampire had body armor and appeared to be of noble rank. He remembered that Willet had told him vampires could only be killed by piercing their heart or by cutting off their head.
He signaled Skreel, "Barrel roll when he gets close!"
Skreel gave a scream of acknowledgement.
When the vampire was about to overtake them, Tom shouted, "Now!"
Skreel looped back over the on-rushing vampire and rolled as the vampire passed beneath them.
Tom released his grip on Skreel and drew his sword. He landed on the shoulders of the vampire and plunged the blade through the neck and into his heart. Tom and the deceased vampire dropped like two stones until Skreel dove and caught Tom.
Excerpted from "Kingdoms in Turmoil"
Copyright © 2017 Warren Mueller.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Andhun Returns, 1,
Disturbing News, 7,
The Resting Place, 11,
An Unexpected Parting, 15,
The Black Horse Inn, 20,
The Hall Of The Kings, 23,
An Awkward Meeting, 29,
Throm's Vision, 34,
The Scroll, 41,
Strange Apparition, 44,
The Plains of Redwald, 52,
Miran's Return, 56,
Cyric Of Camlin, 67,
Council Of Thieves, 84,
Trial By Torchlight, 88,
The Road To Strathyre, 93,
Strange Sight, 100,
White Owl Inn, 105,
Unexpected Encounter, 118,
Desperate Flight, 126,
An Awkward Awakening, 133,
The Storm Gathers, 142,
Fighting Fire With Fire, 145,
A Warm Reception, 155,
When Foes Meet, 161,
Escape To Glainne, 168,
Test Of Faith, 175,
Book Review Request, 183,
About the Author, 191,