The cold air of the still breaking dawn
washed over Commander Zander FoeHammer like an unbound tide. Despite
his size and strength Zander could barely keep up with his princess
sister, Kai. She was fast and sure when she was on the trail of
varmints. The Black Death and The Shining Light of the Realm
thundered across the land like an unforgiving storm as the pale light
of the sun's rays shattered the deep woods.
Zander caught himself before he bayed
his joy for this glorious hunt. But they were of the order of Silent
Hunters and he would not break tradition....even if the thrill of
closing in on these scoundrels nearly made him lose his composure.
They had been on the trail of the
renegade rats for two days. The battle was about to be joined. He
could smell their fear. Zander's blood was hot and he was eager to
unleash his liege’s vengeance on these hated foes.
He glimpsed a flash of Kai just ahead
of him, heard the momentary pause in her footfalls indicating she had
thrown herself toward her prey in one astounding leap...and then a
scuffle. Shrill screams cut short.
Not half a breath later and the young
captain was in the fray, lunging, and gnashing, one final shake of
his great head and it was over. Breathing hard the Princess Kai and
Zander looked at each other and laughed as they surveyed the scene.
Their enemy was slain. There was no one left to kill.
Kai gave a wolfish smile, threw her
head back, and gave a full throated howl of victory. Zander did the
same and their voice mingled and melded and shook the dawn away as
the silvery light flooded the great woods. Its coming light shone
down on the horrific scene of death and destruction and many bodies that lay about
them. Somewhere a mourning dove sang it's sad song but not for these
vile villains now utterly dead at our heroes feet.
This story started two days before...
OFG burst thru the outer door of the
Great Hall. Her personal guard formed up behind her and struggled to
keep up as she quickly marched thru the passage ways. She shrugged
off her cloak – the hides of many coyotes – and threw her leather
gauntlets at her personal valet while she was yet hurrying along. Her
captains were talking over themselves to give her an assessment of
the situation. OFG was nodding and curtly issuing orders.
Runners had found her camp along the
border the night before. There was news. She and the fastest of her
party had rode hard thru the night to get back to the Great Hall. Col
Ti was yet coming and was gathering the rangers along the way. She
had only sketchy details and did not know what awaited her return.
At last the guards threw open the Great
Doors to the Inner Chamber and OFG strode into the room. She was
stopped dead in her tracks at the pitiful sight before her. Even the
courtiers, usually so catty and unkind, were subdued. Some wept and
all stood back from a lone figure cast down upon the steps of OFG's
dias. A young duck hen was crying so hard her whole body shook. She
wailed and sobbed uncontrollably.
The troubadour, Little Mo, stood near
the young duck hen looking worried and a little surprised. He caught
the eye of his liege and subtly motioned to her that she was still
wearing her battle helmet. Snapped out of her shock, OFG carefully
removed the great war helm. It had recently been commissioned and was
unparalleled in the lands.
The helmet was fearsome to behold. It
was made from a slain giant hog's head – Commander Zander's most
recent victory. The giant skull, tusks and all, was enameled with a
deep black and the eyes, so lifelike, were crafted from diamonds and
emeralds. The striking black horsetail plume, a gift from Bourbon of
the Red, hung nearly to the ground. OFG handed the great helm to a
waiting page who's knees nearly buckled under its weight.
OFG gingerly approached the still
sobbing young duck hen and, and taking her by the shoulders, raised
the young duck up. “Speak, Child.” She encouraged.
The story spilled out between short,
ragged breaths. When the young duck had finished with her dread tale
OFG folded the little one in her arms. Her anger was ice cold but OFG
would not unleash her rage in front of this newly undone mother.
“Rats.” OFG hissed to Princess Kai
and Commander Zander who had just come into the Inner Chamber. Kai
set her jaw and Zander raised his hackles and great black mane.
Rats had taken the just hatched babes
right out from under the young duck mother. Caught between guarding
the yet unhatched clutch and the live ducklings the duck hen was in
an impossible situation. Who could she choose to save? She could not fight off the rats. There were
too many and she was overcome. It was the second time she had been
attacked. The first attack, before any of the dear ones hatched, was
several days before. The young mother was able to fight off the rats
the that first time... but now her babes were lost and her nest in
OFG gently rocked the poor soul and
murmured soft sounds of comfort. But her eyes were hard and an icy
rage ran in her blood. With a flash of her eyes she gave an unspoken
signal to Princess Kai and Commander Zander to go and bring vengeance
down on the accursed rats. Silently Kai and Zander bowed their leave
and slipped away, their men at arms each following close behind.
When the Great Doors were closed and
they were well out of hearing, both Princess Kai and Commander Zander
started barking orders to their men.
“Battle Tiara!” Kai snapped. A page
went running, his feet pounding the stone floor towards the armory.
Kai never wore a battle helmet - she
always fought with her bare head unguarded. But her battle tiara was
enough to cut at the courage of any foe. A grotesque combination of
horror and beauty it dazzled and awed. A black burnished masterpiece
of spikes and stars, when it caught the light it appeared to be
Together with her war paint, the sight
of Princess Kai arrayed for battle caused the most study adversary to
question his dedication to the coming fight. She had taken to
painting the number of her war kills on her white coat, down her leg
– in blood. Seeing her unadorned, save her tiara and decorated in
blood, some foes just fell to their knees and begged for mercy. There
would be none. Kai was fearsome and wonderful and she would not be
defeated. Mercy was for holy men, not for a warrior Princess who was
My Fighting Uruk-Hai.
Little Mo, along with the page from the
Inner Chamber, hurried toward the Princess and the young captain.
“Zander! Sir! Your liege bades you wear this helm. She wants to you
carry it as her token as you ride out and defeat the scurrilous
“My mother's war helmet? No...she
couldn't mean...” Zander was genuinely shocked.
“Take it, Brother! You know how she
is... and besides, I think she had it made for you.” Kai's eyes twinkled and
Zander knew he couldn't resist them both. But this honor was almost
to much for him.
Zander took the great helm from the
much relieved page and carefully pulled it on his great head. It fit
perfectly. Kai's eyes went wide when he turned and faced her.
“Now you look like The Black Death.”
She said, her heart beating faster. He seemed transformed. A sudden
chill ran up Kai's spine. This magnificent warrior before her was no
longer her younger brother...this is who Zander was to become. For the first time she believed the telling. The
sages were correct. His path had been foretold and now he walked it.
From now on he would live his name, Commander Zander FoeHammer
Hannibal Bonecrusher. She was so proud.
Zander drew himself up to his full
height, his broad shoulders carried the huge war helm perfectly. The
eyes of the great skull danced in the light of the torches and it
seemed to come alive. The horsetail plume covered his shoulders and
his back like a cape. He snorted a great breath and growled low. “To war.”
The hunt. The battle. The death. It all
seemed to happen quickly but it was four days later when the heralds
announced their coming home.
Together Kai and Zander entered the
Great Door and victoriously crossed the Inner Chamber, side by side.
OFG was seated with her council, Lucky and Col Ti at their places on
her left and right. She rose and proudly smiled as they approached.
Zander threw down the ruined body of his enemy at his liege’s feet.
Then the young captain carefully removed the great war helm, and
reverently bowed low before OFG.
“Your vengeance has been utterly
fulfilled. Long live this Good Land and may grace and peace abide.”
Suddenly the solemn moment was broken
when Princess Kai pushed passed Zander and flung herself at her
mother. “I got the rats first, Momma!” She said laughing.
“I bet you did, Sweetheart, how many
did you get?” Said OFG her eyes shining and rearranging herself in
her chair to accommodate a wiggling princess.
“I don't know – there were too many
to count!” Kai had started shaking her bonbon and had broken out in
her hip swinging dance. She was chattering and telling OFG all of the
details of their hunt.
To the side of the dias and out of the
way of the bouncing Princess, Col Ti stood grinning at Zander. He
clasp Zander on the shoulder. “Well done, Young Captain. That was
very well done.”
Zander smiled quietly and nodded his
thanks. He looked around the Inner Chamber which had just come alive
with activity. Lucky had ordered feast foods to be brought in and had
signaled the musicians to strike up a victory song. The courtiers
were already gossiping behind their hands at the unruly Princess and
her handsome brother. Some of them batted at the limp body of the
dead rat while other twitched their tails in disgust.
It was good to be home, he thought.
This was who he was and what he was to become. He was The Black
Death, The FoeHammer. He carried the spirit of ancient generals and
he was The Bonecrusher. He did not know how long this peace would
last nor when the next battle would begin. But for now he tried to relax and enjoy it....yet something vexed him and he
could not shake it. No matter, he thought and took a joint of freshly
roasted meat from a nearby platter and smiled at his sister retelling
the story of their hunt.
Meanwhile afar off in the Dark Woods a
fresh evil was biding its time. It lingered in the shadows. Restless.