[Fanfiction] Storm on Shaikur (3rd book) - Chapters 11 & 12

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[Fanfiction] Storm on Shaikur (3rd book) - Chapters 11 & 12

Post by Ommariuolo »

Chapter 11 – Time to make a decision
A shrill screech made Goren startle. He ran onto the balcony without paying attention to Ruorim’s guards there. The Shaikan knew by now that he was in the fortress and had asked for his release. But Ruorim had refused with the reason that Goren had to be protected, for this purpose he had to stand up everywhere and ensure that nobody got to him secretly.
Goren himself didn’t want to see anyone, anyway. When Weylin came to him again, he threw her out harshly. There was nothing left to talk to, nobody. For many hours a day and often at night the young Shaikan roamed the Derata’s chamber and pondered what he had to do. After all, the friends had been so sensible not to attempt to free themselves. Surely, they were already planning something – if only Goren had known what!
He couldn’t wait long, then he had to do something, some act of desperation, just to get something going. His gaze kept slipping to the Invincible, which was mostly motionless down there, staring at Shaikur with red-hot eyes. It never got tired or restless. It stood and waited. And Ur was silent...
Goren had often tried to contact the dragon, who was no less a prisoner than he was. Why had Ur allowed all this and not intervened earlier? Why did he bend so simply for Ruorim’s sake after all the centuries?
The ancestors whispered in the walls, but Goren couldn’t understand them. They also didn’t carry his messages to Ur. And the wind was silent too. There had to be a magical influence behind Ruorim, no other explanation was found by Goren.
“What was that?” Goren asked without directly addressing the guards, who probably already hadn't given an answer – as before – anyway, and was peering intently across the country. “What was screaming?”
He received the answer immediately. A shadow briefly darkened Tiara’s fire, and then a dragon brood roared, a creature no more than a quarter the size of Ur, with dull shimmering pale yellow scales. And yet enormous. It wore a bridle, similar to a horse, and flew with heavy, sluggish beats, without any grace. His split eyes were devoid of any intelligence when it prepared for the landing in the army with a second cry. Goren immediately recognized the man in the saddle in the flowing garment and the artfully looped headgear.
“Hokan Ashir...” he whispered.
So, the moment Ruorim had been waiting for had come. What was going to happen now?
The door to his room opened as if by keyword, and Ruorim came in, for the first time since the capture. “You still carry your armour, I see,” he noticed and pointed to the battered old thing made of tarnished metal.
“I can’t take it off,” Goren replied. “Your people must have already noticed it when they put me in chains after the capture. This strange armour has a life of its own that I can’t influence.”
A glow appeared in Ruorim’s undamaged wolf-like eye. “So, this is really a paladins’ armour. I thought so. I searched for it in Norimar...”
“There’re none, not for a long time.”
“Maybe that’ll change again.”
Goren blinked in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“A lot of news has arrived today, almost simultaneously with Hokan Ashir.” Ruorim pointed north. “The rest of his army will arrive in two days. He traveled ahead to inspect the Irons and give the undead new powers. He appears to be rather irritable because he failed to kill Raith.”
“So unfortunate.”
“At least once we agree. After all, he slayed Raith’s army to the last undead, he’s no more left. The norcaine might be off for a while, which we can be satisfied with.”
Goren nodded. He stepped aside as his father stepped onto the balcony next to him. Ruorim gestured the guard post to step back. “And what’s next?”
Ruorim leaned against the parapet. “It wasn’t very pleasant for Hokan Ashir that a RULER arrived in two days, and indeed from Iron Storm – by the way with this freak, Wolfur Grimbold, and my special enemy Craig, I hear. Your friends are doing well. I look forward to seeing Craig again. Maybe this time we can finally end our little duel that we have had for years.”
“If you want to die,” Goren growled.
His father laughed. “Too bad that you don’t trust me so much. Or Craig too much, just because you consider him a friend.”
“And what else is there?” Goren distracted.
“Hokan Ashir will be even less pleased that reinforcement also comes from the Highmark. King Conte, startled by the announcement that the Fial Darg was awakened, immediately reactivated the order of the paladins. Some are already on their way to Aonir’s Blade to resume their watch, others to Norimar. My two new friends opened the Crypt of the Revenant and woke up there in the deep, which had been dormant for a long time. The city called for help. For me, replenishment of beautiful armours – soon within reach.” Ruorim leaned over the parapet and gave the guards on the lower battlements a few brief orders, which they sprinted to take.
Goren looked at his father almost compassionately. “Why do you think this will only cause Hokan Ashir problems?”
“Quite simple.” Ruorim grinned almost cheerfully. “I’m in here, but he’s out there.”
Goren was speechless and felt nervous ascending. He had realized that he still didn’t know his father well enough to be able to guess what he was going to do.

Hokan Ashir ended the army review and the conversation with the Iron. Then he let dragon brood approach closer to the fortress and turned to Shaikur. It was clearly recognizable from Goren’s balcony; he was very irritated, obviously because Ruorim hadn’t rushed to his feet.
“Watch out, my son,” Ruorim said cheerfully. “You’ll learn a lot right away, which will be useful for you as future lord of Shaikur.”
“Where’s Ruorim?” Hokan Ashir cried, echoing widely. “I was told that he was behind these walls!”
“I’m here,” Ruorim replied in his deepest voice and raised his hand briefly. He wore the full armour, the Shaikur coat of arms and the long, black-red cape. He had put on the dragon helmet with the visor open. Goren had to admit that his father delivered an imposing figure with an enormous charisma.
The necromancer was startled. “A small balcony for a tall man?”
Ruorim smiled. “As long as it’s my balcony...”
“Come down! I have to talk to you.”
“We can get on well from here, Hokan Ashir. I stay where I’m.”
“Well, then open the gate so I come to you!”
“No, Hokan Ashir. You also stay where you’re.”
The Necromancer’s face twisted into a fiery rage. “How do you speak to me? Is such a fitting form of address? You’re my servant!”
Goren had trouble to don’t let this voice captivate him. Everything in him wanted to leave Shaikur immediately and throw himself in the dust in front of the Necromancer, asking for forgiveness. He had to use all his strength to build a protective wall against the magical challenges.
Ruorim, however, remained completely unmoved. “I was and am no one’s servant, old man,” he said insultingly. “Shaikan are their own masters.”
“What,” Hokan Ashir began, and his voice slowly increased to a shrill screech that hurt in the ears, “does that mean? Do you stick to agreements like this?”
“And you?” Ruorim retorted. “Which interpretation of our agreement did you choose? What are you trying to show me, necromancer? You know exactly how unpredictable Shaikan are, and you have never tolerated anyone with own free will! So far, you’ve only made an exception for me because I was useful to you, and now you’re on the other side. You brought me where I wanted to go: here, to Shaikur, my kingdom! And you stay outside. You don’t set foot over my threshold!”
Goren stared at his father. “Are you serious?” he whispered.
“From the beginning”, Ruorim replied quietly, “I wanted Shaikur, nothing else. Your grandfather would never have given me if I had come as a supplicant. I might have continued to negotiate with Hokan if he hadn’t been up to something I couldn’t afford to do under any circumstances.”
“Your kingdom?” Hokan Ashir asked after a long silence. He tamed himself with difficulty.
Ruorim nodded. “Yes, because by birthright I’m the rightful lord of Shaikur, direct descendant of Janus Malacay. And here next to me is my son Goren Wind-Whisperer, my heir, carrier of Malacay’s soul – and carrier of the primal power.”
“And your prisoner, you forgot to add, dear father,” Goren growled repressed.
“Just because you want it,” Ruorim returned in a lowered voice. He continued loudly: “Ur, the old father, the oldest and most powerful of all dragons, is the keeper of Shaikur. If we combine three of our powers, we can withstand more than one Circle Mage. Gorens alone is enough to face all thirteen, and even more a cheap fairground mage like you! You can’t get into this fortress and it’ll not become your new base.”
Hokan Ashir was furious, Goren almost expected that he got foam at his mouth. “How dare you!” he barked. “Standing against a Circle Mage, breaking all agreements, I’ll –”
“Oh, I forgot.” Ruorim interrupted, “to introduce you to my new allies. Show yourselves to him!”
Goren jumped, and an icy shiver came over him as the sentry that had been positioned on his balcony and a second on the large balcony of the ruler’s room suddenly changed shape. They grew gigantic, and a terrible aura spread that gripped and pressed Goren’s heart. He let out an aching noise and swayed. Ruorim hastily put his arm around his shoulders and held him. “Show no weakness!” he hissed.
“I can’t,” Goren whimpered. “This does... like... my...”
“Pure, divine creation, yes, I understand, my little young. Just be calm, I hold you. They can’t harm you, and they don’t focus on you either.”
The demonic Fial Darg rose like huge statues, visible from afar, and Hokan Ashir’s face color changed from red to white. “How could you...”
He couldn’t get any further. The dragon brood under his saddle suddenly scream miserably. Then it collapsed dead and the Necromancer flew from the saddle in a high arc. But he caught the fall, and a lightning struck from his hands, as he aimed it at Shaikur. With a wave of the hand, the two Fial Darg created a black, wafer-thin wall, against which the lightning ricochetted off, was thrown back and hit the ground around Hokan Ashir. Deep, black charred holes remained, from which yellowish smoke oozed. The Necromancer had shrunk back in fear and made no second attempt.
“Thank you,” Ruorim said loudly. “More isn’t necessary, I think.”
The dark Princes disappeared without any sound, and Goren could breathe freely again.
“You’ll regret that!” Hokan Ashir yelled. “I have the Invincible!”
“Not for long,” Ruorim murmured. “The Invincible is mine, and this bastard knows it very well.” He raised his hand. “Do you think I’m such a fool that I didn’t know what you were up to?” Now he spoke in a thunderous voice so everyone could hear him. “You don’t just want to build a new base in Shaikur and use the Shaikan as new guards. You’re far more dangerous! The truth is: you want to kill them all, everyone, whether child, woman or man, and banish their souls in stones and make them Irons, the most powerful Irons that has ever existed! Insurmountable successors of the Invincible, an army of Shaikan Irons, each of which outweighs at least ten warriors! You then had really eager servants who were at your mercy and who were never in need of food or sleep, as long as their souls burn in eternal torment and you keep them alive! Am I right, Hokan Ashir, that this is your plan? The murder and enslavement of the entire Shaikan people?”
Goren felt his stomach tighten. “Is that true?” he asked trembling.
“You’ll hear that soon,” Ruorim replied.
“And so it’ll happen!” Hokan Ashir shrieked and raised his clenched fist. “There’s no escape, no matter who you bring to your side, and you, Ruorim the Butcher, will burn for a thousand years for the outrage you have committed!”
It’s true, I’m called the Butcher!” Ruorim cried. “I have killed the innocent without bat an eyelid, and I’ll continue to do so if it serves my purposes. But I don’t create a whole people of will-less slaves that I train to slaughter worse than I’m – and that brought misery a thousand times greater than me alone! And yes, I’ll also accept my punishment when it’s time to face death. But the Shaikan people don’t deserve this!”
“Think it over well,” Hokan Ashir replied menacingly and suddenly ice cold and calm. “For the last time: will you now open and submit to me? Then I’ll show mercy again.”
“I’ll let someone else answer you!” Ruorim said calmly and raised his arms. “On the battlements, Shaikan!”
Goren’s heart skipped a beat when all weapon-capable Shaikan appeared at the same time on the walkways, towers, balconies and battlements – in full armours glittering in sunshine, with raised swords, spears, bows, crossbows and axes.

The evening before Hokan Ashir’s arrival, when Ruorim already knew of his nearness, he had guardsman Joreb come to the throne room.
“Joreb, I’d like you call all Shaikan together,” Ruorim ordered. “All who have officer status or are otherwise of special importance. They should ensure that my speech, which I’ll hold before you, is passed on verbatim to every single Shaikan inside these walls, be it man, woman or child, living or spirit, free or imprisoned. Even those who have been hiding since I took over power should know! What I have to say is of great importance for the whole people.
Joreb obeyed, amazed and curious, and an hour later men and women crowded into the throne room. They all looked at their ruler on the throne. Then Joreb reported: “They’re all there, sir.” The dark Shaikan rose and stopped on the top step so he was clearly visible from all sides.
Without a long introduction he started his speech. “Hokan Ashir will arrive tomorrow and request that I hand Shaikur over to him as a new bastion. Anyone who may have doubted me up to now should be assured: I’ll not do it. I’m pure blood Shaikan and committed to my people, I’ll never sell it to an insane Circle Mage! Moreover, since he wants to extinguish every single Shaikan and resurrect it as undead or Iron. He wants to sacrifice the entire people to implement his own plan!”
Horrified murmurs started at this opening, but Ruorim raised his hands. “There’s no point in talking about it, because we can’t dissuade the Necromancer from his plans. But I can very well prevent the execution, and I will. My dragon guard is the reinforcement that the fortress needs to be held. I’ll also lock and secure the gate and never allow Hokan Ashir to set foot on this sacred threshold. We, the godless, will never surrender to a man who wants to become a god! Our ancestor was once punished for the same blasphemy, and we still pay for it today. But thereby we’re also free and our own masters, obliges no one but ourselves. So, what will we do? I tell you. In this fight we’ll lead to the decision between Light and Darkness, of all people we, the despised dragon blood! We’ll face Hokan Ashir and sweep him off the Iron Fields. It’s time for us to choose the Light! Let’s bring peace to Fiara!”
There was a stunned silence, everyone stared at Ruorim in unbelief. Then the first called: “Great!” and then the second, and finally everyone in the choir screamed and promised to stand for Ruorim in this battle.

And so, they were all now clearly visible on the ramparts of the walls and hurled "Never!" at Hokan Ashir as if a single voice.
Goren turned to his father, who was watching the spectacle with a satisfied expression and was enjoying Hokan Ashir’s retreat.
“You’re the lord of Shaikur,” Goren burst out. “It was a great achievement and I’m really impressed.”
The dark Shaikan turned his sparkling eyes on him. “Does that finally change something between us?” Ruorim asked.
Goren hesitated. “No,” he replied softly.
“I regret that,” his father said slowly.
“You’re still my mother’s murderer,” Goren retorted. “You may have sides of you that are admirable. But you have at least as many that are contemptible and as long as it’s uncertain which of your sides will prevail from then on, you’ll not be able to hope for me, and I’ll remain your prisoner.”

Chapter 12 – Eavesdropper’s hour
“Who had thought of this bastard that he had such outstanding qualities as a ruler?” Marela the Gentle murmured after Joreb passed her Ruorim’s speech in verbatim. The guardsman was free to move anywhere, and Ruorim didn’t seem to mind at the moment that some Shaikan had disappeared since he moved in. He was confident, and maybe that wasn’t even the worst tactic. If he had forced the Shaikan to be loyal or submissive, he had hardly had the opportunity to take a seat on the throne. But so, he took them on a loose leash, appealed to the unity and pride of the tribe... and hit the right nerve with it.
“It touched me,” Joreb admitted. “But tell me, Marela, does he really mean that? Won’t he sell us anyhow?”
“Everyone else but no Shaikan. He has been preparing for it by a lifetime, and the code of honor for the dragon blood means a lot to him. Under no circumstances will he leave you with Hokan Ashir, you can be sure of that.”
“But after that? Provided we’ll win and Shaikur is free – everything is as before, quiet and peaceful – what will be then?”
“Well recognized,” Marela nodded. “He’ll be a good ruler for a few days – and then he’ll go back to old habits. Full of arbitrariness, tolerating no contradiction, strict and relentless. He’ll remember the insubordinate ones who haven’t followed him and have them executed. Or do something to them with his magical powers. And his people will start to kick over the traces. The Shaikan will split in two.”
Joreb’s face was startled. “So fast? Without mercy?”
Marela confirmed bluntly: “Ruorim is a good warlord, but not suitable for peace. One day he’ll must kill Goren because he’s very different from his father and will never stand by his side. At the moment he surrenders to romantic dreams and likes to see Goren as his heir. He falls into his role as a generous father and ruler. But all this’ll change, the longer peace’ll prevail and Goren’ll resist. Ultimately Ruorim’ll even kill Ur. If he sits firmly and securely on the throne, he’ll strive next to get the power of Malacay. Shaikur’ll soon become too tight and too small for him, and he’ll ask for more land and influence.”
“You can’t be serious,” Joreb burst out, pale as a corpse. “That man is even more dangerous and unpredictable than I can imagine...”
“Worse than a Fial Darg,” Marela agreed. “They’re powerful, but only aimed at one goal. Ruorim, however, actually did good and even believes in his noble goals, which makes him more relentless and uncompromising – and all the more misery grows, that he’ll bring on us.”
“Then... then I have to do something. As quickly as possible!” Joreb seemed on the verge of storming and attacking Ruorim himself with something as banal as a knife.
Marela slowed down his zeal by putting her hand on his arm. “We’ll do it, Joreb. Be prepared with your loyal ones, we’ll soon free all prisoners.”
“But then we’ve to fight on different fronts... and the Fial Darg are here somewhere, nobody knows whose skin they are hidden in...”
Marela smiled. “Trust me, good boy, you’ll receive the signal. Until then, keep calm and wait.”

Over the next few days, the events overturned and the attention of Ruorim and his people was fully demanded. The rest of Hokan Ashir’s army arrived, but so did the Iron Storm with Wolfur Grimbold, Craig Un’Shallach and some trolls. And not only that: the reinforcement from the Highmark was also close. The Necromancer was soon put in trouble because he missed Shaikur as a rear cover.
Now the Iron Fields were almost fully occupied, and riders were constantly on the move to stake out the site. An overall view was hardly possible. But the fight hadn’t yet started, the opponents were measuring themselves and waiting to see how things would develop. As long as the force distribution wasn’t exactly determined, no one would dare attack, not even Hokan Ashir. The Necromancer had already suffered enough defeats to chew over, which made him more cautious. Maybe his plans weren’t quite so high anymore. He might even have preferred the withdrawal, but his pride didn’t allow it. He had to protect his face, his reputation before the world.

Marela had been waiting for a few days for a sign she had seen in a blurred vision. She and her son Eavesdropper were still hiding in the Whisper Gallery, in a secret chamber behind the library. An earlier ruler had added it later, in order to find peace for at least a few hours from his wife. A well-kept secret – until one day Eavesdropper found the lock and proudly showed it to his mother. Marela never told anyone about it; because one day, as she already guessed at the time, the secret chamber could once again be of great benefit to her.
Some Shaikan put something to eat and drink on the library in the evening, which the two fetched deep at night. After that, they also dared to breathe in a little fresh air.
Afterwards they retreated and listened to the whispering conversation of the ancestors, who mostly just stated confused nonsense. The magical flows in Shaikur were in disarray, there were too many: Ur, Ruorim, also Goren without being aware of it, and of course the Fial Darg.
So, everything went on as usual until one day Ur’s whispers finally sounded like a gentle breath.
Eavesdropper, who didn’t bear his name for nothing, hastily woke his mother and motioned her to listen quietly.
The dragon repeated: “Marela.”
“I’m here,” the dragon priest whispered. She looked for a draught in the chamber and stood in it. “Can you hear me?”
“The time has come, Marela. Craig and Wolfur take a diversion maneuver with a group of orcs. Send your son down to the gate through which Derata once fled on storm night. He should open it for friends.”
“All right, great. Then are we all preparing? You too?”
“Yes. Me, as well. But I can’t do anything until you’ve neutralised Ruorim, you know that.”
“Of course, old father. Don’t worry.”
Marela looked up at her big, clumsy son, who still had the mind of a child. “You know what to do?”
The mute nodded. His wet eyes glittered and he ran his hand under his nose.
“I know,” Marela said gently. “I know you remember it every storm night and you’re afraid your memories will overwhelm you when you go to the secret gate for the first time since then. But you do it for Derata and her son, Eavesdropper. It’s like she’s coming back. Ruorim doesn’t know this gate, only a few Shaikan know it. That’s a good omen.”
Eavesdropper uttered sibilant noises. He tried to speak again and again throughout his life, but his tongue was unable to form words.
“Go,” Marela said. “It’s time.”
In Shaikur it was already quiet, the corridors were empty. The moonless night held the steppe captive. Surprised cries and metallic jingles sounded from afar; probably the diversion maneuver. The observation of the guards of Shaikur applied mainly to Hokan Ashir, because it was always to be expected that the Necromancer would suddenly cast an evil spell. In this case, however, the Fial Darg should intervene immediately, because trading with Ruorim wasn’t yet complete. The new ruler had stored the magic weapons and the grimoire with him. Except for the armour, which still couldn’t remove from Goren.
Eavesdropper was able to move freely through Shaikur, no one paid any attention to him, had ever observed him. He knew how to behave inconspicuously, he was considered the harmless idiot of the fortress, the city fool who did all sorts of donkey works, but was otherwise of no use. No one had noticed that Eavesdropper had been missing for some time because the fortress was large and he was mostly to be found in the stables, the storage vault or the kitchen; at least not on larger corridors or even near the throne room. Accordingly, the giant knew everywhere and realized which passages were used by the servants, and which were outside the normal hustle and bustle.
Finally, Eavesdropper passed the stables, where he paused briefly. Despite the required haste, he couldn’t do different. Goldenbolt neighed at him softly and gently as soon as he heard Eavesdropper’s step, and consumed an apple or another little sweetmeat with pleasure. Sometimes when Eavesdropper stroked his shiny fur, tears dripped into the silky mane.
But today he had no time for it. He stroked the stallion briefly, gave him a mouthful of precious hay, and then he hurried on through the narrow, damp and winding passage to the gate. He stood at the door for a long time and listened outside. Finally, his face brightened and he grunted contentedly. Slowly he let down the little drawbridge, which he has been regularly oiling since Derata’s escape to avoid making a noise, and then opened the gate. As a sign that he was waiting, he took a torch and waved it briefly.
Nothing came at first, then a soft whisper and murmur and scurry. Eavesdropper backed away, startled, when the first face appeared in the torchlight, but then he recognized it, it was captain Durass.
“Eavesdropper!” the captain said, showing his gorgeous teeth. “Seeing your ugly face is a great pleasure!” He patted the silent man on the shoulder. “Well done, old boy. A place of honor on the banquet table is guaranteed, it’s a promise!”
Eavesdropper beamed with happiness and joy; it was rare for someone to be so kind with him. He grunted and snorted and pointed inside. Durass nodded, took the torch, brandish it towards behind and waved.
Soon shadow after shadow darted into the fortress. And everyone smiled at Eavesdropper and thanked him.
For the first time in all years, Eavesdropper cried from happiness.

Like most of the nights before, Goren couldn’t sleep. It was no wonder, he was sitting idly all the time, trapped in the four walls of the room. An attempt to escape was futile, he now knew it, the Shaikan stood behind Ruorim. His father had even withdrawn the guards. Since the confrontation with Hokan Ashir he hadn’t shown up with him.
What’s he up to now? Goren pondered hour after hour. He knew, Ruorim would soon be asking him something. But was it really just about Hokan Ashir? And how was Ruorim ever going to deal with the help from Iron Storm and from the Highmark to liberate Shaikur? Not only from Hokan Ashir, but also – from him? Could he make it clear that he was now the ruler, moreover legally? How would the others stand?
Goren wasn’t sure if he could still understand all of this. He didn’t even know exactly what the parties were all about. What purposes drove the Highmark to interfere? Did the Shaikan end up being grinded between all fronts?
When he heard noises at the door, he sat up in astonishment. Now, at this time, did someone come to him?
Then the door was open and his eyes widened, completely speechless for a moment.
They hurried in, whispering, grinning, and quickly closed the door again.
“Buldr,” Goren whispered stunned. “Menor, Hag...”
“Sure, who else?” the dwarf giggled, and the other two shook his hands. Menor spoke breathlessly: “Yes, glad to see you so well, we were worried, although we naturally knew that Ruorim wouldn’t harm you as long as he needs you, but one can never...”
Hag rolled his eyes. “It’s good, man, now we finally have Goren again.”
And then Starshine came before him, and before he could do or say anything, she gave him a quick hug. If you let yourself be kidnapped again, blockhead, I’ll kill you.”
“G-good,” he stammered happily. “But tell me, how are you all –”
“Let’s not stay too long.” Someone else came in.
“Durass, you? Where have you been?” Goren asked in surprise. “Hag and Menor had reported that Craig sent you to Shaikur...”
“We rode here, but Ruorim was already there,” the captain replied. “When we saw how bad it was, we went back to Norimar to ask for reinforcement. However, Norimar has already asked for help from King Conte, because the revenants made the city unsafe, which had awakened by the two Fial Darg. So, we turned back and we met Juldir on the way with no less than a hundred men because he had received a message from Craig that Shaikur needs help – well, now we’re all here, including reinforcements. We had to wait for a favorable moment to come in unseen.”
“And we still have a glad message for you,” Buldr said. “Glamrig sent two hundred dwarves from Windholme that may arrive at any moment. Now Hokan Ashir has everyone against him.”
“Yes, in the truest sense of the word,” Hag interjected. “Guess what, my father from Nortander is also traveling here with his platoon. He originally looked for me, of course, but after he got to know about the siege here – and that we are friends and so on –, he has swung around and will be there tomorrow.”
Goren could hardly follow all of this. “Really...”
“And that’s still not all,” Menor explained. “Weylin’s parents have also arrived.”
“Her... parents? But she did tell...”
“That was a lie, Goren, and everything down to the last thing she told us. I’m sorry. It looks like Weylin ran away from home. Her parents recently found out that she was kidnapped in the Valley of Tears and then came here with you after the liberation. They were just on the way to bring her home when the next message arrived, namely that Shaikur was under siege and help was coming from Iron Storm, the Highmark, Nortander and Windholme. They didn’t want to stand back and brought a troop of archers with them.”
“What?” Goren whispered. Suddenly his eyes filled with tears. “All... people came to support us?”
“It looks like they want to help you, boy,” Buldr grinned. “You’re, so to speak, the leader in the war against the Circle Mage. The model for everyone, because you first fought against the soul of insane Malacay and then dared to react to Raith all by yourself and then went straight to Hokan Ashir and Ruorim without delay. And that as Shaikan. That mobilized them all as soon as word got around.”
Goren slowly shook his head. “I think it’s getting too much for me...”
“Nonsense, now must act, not wail,” captain Durass interrupted him. “Wolfur and Craig organized chaos outside so that we could slip in, Juldir is ready if we need more support and the others are in position. The big battle isn’t far away and you have to show yourself there, Goren. It means, first of all we need Shaikur in our hand. We started with the stables below. The people of Ruorim were all drunk and easily overwhelmed. Some immediately surrendered voluntarily, those he had pressed into service. And now we’re going and getting Darmos and the others.”
“All right, then.” Goren got up. “What are we waiting for?”
Eavesdropper patiently waited outside in the corridor. Goren stopped in surprise when the silent giant hugged him and cried again while chuckling and noising like a pet.
“Eavesdropper is our guide through the passages,” Starshine explained. “Nobody knows his way around better than he does. It’s a valuable aid.”
Eavesdropper slapped his chest and beamed. Then he motioned for them to follow him.

It happened very quickly and secretly. The Shaikan who kept watch diligently looked away when they saw some of the intruders. Shaikan against Shaikan, father against son, that was too much for them. They kept themselves out of what was the most reasonable. Ruorim’s army wasn’t a big problem, as Durass had reported. Anyone who was still hanging around in the corridors was quickly knocked out.
Soon Goren could hug his grandfather. Darmos Ironhand was clearly emaciated, but his eyes instantly shone when he saw who released him. He took over the leadership to inform the Shaikan that there was another overthrow, and Goren and his friends made their way towards Ruorim.
They had to take the last hurdle under the protection of Starshine in order to be able to get to Ruorim.
This time, Goren minded to make a remark about their strength, for which he was probably grateful to everyone in the group. Neither had he asked to let him go alone. He knew they wouldn’t allow him to do that. And basically he was grateful for it, because he still feared the confrontation with his father.
They moved close together, and then Starshine focused on her magical gift. Menor and Hag, who experienced this for the first time, were completely taken aback by the shifted perception. None of the guards who Ruorim had posted around the ruler’s cell noticed her.
Except for two.
Starshine and Goren stopped abruptly, and the others ran into them, but immediately understood why.
In the midst of this misty intermediate world, in which there were no colors and no real material, two shapes shone like particularly hot flames, and they slowly turned to them.
“T-t-t-the Fial Darg...” Menor whispered and seemed about to fall.
Shortly afterwards, everyone heard the voices of the dark Princes in their heads.
Can you see us?
I have no difficulty with it
, Starshine replied.
It’s impossible. Nobody can see us if we don’t want to.
She sees you, and not alone.

The Fial Darg came closer, and with them the demonic-deadly aura crept close.
You see us too?
, Goren answered for everyone. She transfers it to us.
Though everything in him cried out for flight, he paused as the two demonic ones stopped close to him. You’re the carrier. His son.
And this belongs to you?

A flaming arm rose and pointed to Starshine.
Goren swallowed. Yes.
For a while everything remained still. Goren hoped that it wouldn’t be too much for Starshine; but he noticed how she was standing quietly next to him. It was as if he could feel her strength.
Tell your father that the deal is over. We go.
Goren was confused, but tried not to show it. Who understood the thoughts of a Fial Darg? Perhaps it meant that they saw the thing as lost and wanted to turn to other things. I’ll tell him.
And you, Shadow Walker, you’re unique, never forget that. You’re safe from us. Because you’re like a sister.
Goren feared that Starshine’s temperament would come to light and she would hurl against at the Fial Darg – and that she would never be their sister. Or something like that.
But it was the opposite.
It’s something special to see you. It shows me ultimately that we are all united, Guardians and Renegades, Light and Dark. We all live under Aonir’s light and are his children.
And Aonir’s light be with you, mortal wonder on whom the shine of Nor lies
, one said. And the other spoke to Goren: It’s already in you. You’re untouchable for us.
Then they were gone.
“One worry less,” Buldr stated in his common wise manner. Menor gasped and snorted as if he had been under water for too long. Hag nudged him on the side. “Posture, man, we’ll face Ruorim right away, and I didn’t want to be as miserable as last time.”
Goren felt for Starshine’s hand as they climbed the stairs and held it. She didn’t withdraw it from him.
Under the magical protection of the dark half elf, they went up to the balcony, where Ruorim unsuspectingly stood with Weylin Mooneye and drank wine. He obviously hadn’t been particularly interested in the little skirmish down there and had preferred to do more pleasant things. The light clothing showed what the two of them had been doing right before, and Ruorim’s attitude clearly showed that he wanted to continue the sensual games straight away.
The elf gave a horrified expression when her former friends suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
Ruorim turned slowly, and if he was amazed he didn’t show it. His right hand twitched, but he seemed to remember in time that he wasn’t carrying a weapon and didn’t want to show his nakedness.
“I’m arresting you, father,” Goren said slowly. “Shaikur is in our hands. Will you resist?”
Ruorim pointed to the night dark country. “You need me against Hokan Ashir.”
“You lost,” Goren replied. “The orcs, the people, the dwarves – even the elves are there, or will be there in the next few days. Troll and norcaine are also represented. They’ll destroy Hokan Ashir’s army. And they’ll certainly not spare you, since you have too many matters to settle with them. Your rule was short, but you should end it now, as long as it’s good, and the Shaikan will keep you in a respectful memory for a long time.”
“You couldn’t catch me,” Ruorim said. “No one has ever succeeded. Ask your pathetic friends.”
Buldr stepped forward and raised the axe. “After all, we are armed,” he said grinning. “You must be really annoyed.”
“Menor,” Weylin said mockingly. “My dearest, don’t you wanna come and kiss me? I was become aware of you on this special night.”
“Weylin,” Menor said tonslessly. “How beautiful you’re...”
The thin clothes hid almost nothing from her graceful body. She laughed brightly and spread her arms. “You’ll never harm me, will you? And also don’t let anyone else touch me. I’ll reward you luxuriosly for this with enjoyments that you hardly dare to dream...”
“Stop,” he croaked hoarsely. Desperate longing was on his face, and it almost seemed as if he was going to move.
“Shaikan against Shaikan,” Goren said softly to his father. “Do you really want that? We should have killed you long ago, but I’m fed up of this senseless bloodshed.”
Ruorim looked around.
“They’re no longer here,” Starshine explained. “They said that the deal is over. Their interest in you and this fight has died down, and now the dark Princes are on the way somewhere else to wreak havoc there.”
Now the dark Shaikan looked a little shaken in his confidence. “You can’t take my claim, Goren, what I had to wait for so long. I won’t allow it even from my own son.”
“Forget your magic!” Starshine exclaimed. “I’ll throw it back at you!”
But Ruorim didn’t give up so quickly, despite its unlikely position. He threw the mug of wine closest to him and was on the run to escape; but then everything went messy and very fast, happening at the same time.
Out of the darkness suddenly appeared Enart Twohanded with drawn swords. But Hag the Falcon had been on guard. He had kept a close eye on the back and seen the flashing of the blades in the torchlight before the man showed up. The sword was already in Hag’s hand. He parried the first and dodged the second. Enart had an advantage with two swords, but Hag was younger – and much faster. He didn’t even get involved with tricks, but opted for a short manoeuvre. He jumped up and turned while the opponent was coordinating the swords again. He had made the mistake of letting Hag get too close to him, and the blades weren’t suitable for a short distance. There was also not enough space on the balcony itself to be able to use the swords skillfully.
Hag already kicked Enart’s kneecap, ducked at the same time and dived under the next blow. He parried and moved to the side again, while the man lost his balance and slumped slightly with a cry of pain. With one massive blow, Hag cut off Enart’s left hand. Blood splattered and Ruorim’s deputy collapsed screaming. Buldr, whose axe was ready, quickly ended him.
At that moment, however, Weylin Mooneye twitched a knife and moved towards Goren, who avoided the flying wine cup. Bloodlust flashed in her eyes, and she had gotten Goren before he jumped to the side and before Ruorim could stop her, who at the same moment attacked her with a cry. “Madwoman! Don’t!”
But then Menor threw himself against her. With a loud “No!” he rushed in just as she was about to attack. So, as Hag had previously noticed the Enart’s attack, Menor, who hadn’t let her out of his sight for a moment, had foreseen Weylin in time. He threw himself at her, grabbed her and pushed her back. “Not Goren!” he shouted. “Not you!”
She tried to press herself against him. Panic strayed in her eyes when she saw that the parapet was very close and he pushed her inexorably. “Menor, what are you doing?” she screeched.
But Menor didn’t slow down, but even pushed again – and then he threw himself over the parapet with her.
Ruorim, meanwhile, lost his balance when he ran into empty space, and then Starshine plunged into his path, almost threw herself under him, tearing his legs away and causing him to fall prone. Goren was over his father before he could sit up and turned his arms on his back, stretching them to the limit of pain.
Ruorim was strong, but Goren’s not inconsiderable weight was on him, and he could no longer free the twisted arms. Buldr was already on the spot and threw shackles to Goren. Then he waited with his axe raised tightly over Ruorim’s neck until Goren had put the shackles on, carefully closed and locked them.
“How can that be...” Ruorim gasped, stunned.
“Old fool,” Goren retorted. “You’re here in Shaikur and I’m of your blood. Your magic has no influence on me in this place!”
He looked up when captain Durass, Darmos Ironhand, and other Shaikan came to the balcony, and suddenly he had tears in his eyes. “Look for Menor!” he screamed. “Quick! He fell off the balcony with Weylin and must be somewhere down there. Hurry up!”
Durass gave a signal to two men and the three of them ran back again.
Goren and Buldr dragged Ruorim to his feet.
“The tide has turned, it seems to me,” said Darmos Ironhand, but without triumph in the voice. He looked like a tired old man.
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” Ruorim growled. The chains held him. He had no choice, without weapons and magic. In silence he let himself be led away, certainly to wait for a better moment to escape. No fewer than eight men surrounded him and as many sharp weapons were aimed at him.
Marela came hurriedly to her cane, leaning on. “Just so you don’t get stupid thoughts, my boy, to want to use a bad curse, that wasn’t going to get you well, not at all.” She said with a friendly expression, but a sharp, subliminally threatening tone.
Now Ruorim showed a wolfish grin. “Don’t be happy too early,” he growled. “You caught me in an unfavorable moment, but as soon as I get my strength back, you’ll bitterly regret it, every one of you. The prison that can hold me isn’t yet built.”

After everything had calmed down, the friends stood there silently and as if paralyzed until Durass returned with Eavesdropper. “The elf is dead,” the captain reported. “There’s still a weak spark of life in Menor. We have already brought him to Marela who’ll take care of him. But she said there is little hope.”
“The... elf... Weylin... must be anointed, embalmed and wrapped in linen,” Goren said haltingly. “We have to... hand her over to her parents.”
“I’ll arrange it,” Durass promised. “In Shaikur everything is quiet, there were only a few brief disputes. The Shaikan now want to know how it will go on and who will now be on the throne.”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” Darmos Ironhand declared. “We’ll gratefully accept the help of the people and when everything is over we’ll think about what will happen to Ruorim – and who’ll sit on the throne in the future. Throw his people out of the fortress, alive or dead, I don’t care.” He turned to friends the who still hadn’t moved. “You, young people, will now go to the throne room and have something to eat. Then go to sleep. The battle is about to start and we need all our strength. There will be time for mourning later, provided that there should be a reason for it. So far it’s not the case, so don’t bury yourself in grief.”
Goren seemed to wake up from a bad dream. “Yes, eating something... drinking... we need that now.” He looked at the friends with a request. “Come. Please. Just a few moments before we go to sleep.”
Buldr nodded, put his arm around Starshine’s narrow shoulders and pulled the petite girl with him. Hag and Goren followed in silence.
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