The Fallen Times
FIC - Epitaph Four
Almost sixty years had passed, but Theoren Pfenning was riding home. Rain showered from the starless sky and fell in sheets on the Long Plains; lightning cracked like a whip across the lithe skin of velvet night, leaving a fading afterimage of crisscrossed scars in Theoren’s eyes. Thunder rolled across the expanse of mud and grass around him, joining his heartbeat and spurring his horse forward.
Theoren laid one trembling hand on the stallion’s neck and there felt its blood coursing like a war drum. “Almost there, boy,” Theoren murmured into the horse’s ear. Above the pounding rain and his own hammering hooves, it was hard to say if the stallion heard him. Theoren sympathized. Within him, Billy’s words obscured the world like an impenetrable storm. Five years, Billy had said softly, but in those two breaths Theoren felt the pain and loss that his death must have left in Billy’s life. Lightning cracked its nine tails across the sky, and the horse reared.
Theoren kept his knees gripping tight around the stallion’s flanks, and twisted his hands into its mane as the horse boxed the air with its forelegs. He felt himself slipping from its wet back, and turned his heels inward to try to spur it down and forward again. A boom of thunder punched the sky again, and the horse let out a whinnying scream, lost, confused and blind. Pain flared in all of Theoren’s worn down limbs and he strained to hold on.
You were the light, Theo, Billy’s voice had echoed in the dark dungeon, and it is too bright no for you to cast a shadow like me. The charred smell of Da’at’s body gave the truth to that. As the horse came crashing down into the mud, forks of white fire flashed and flowed from horizon to horizon, flooding the fields of forever with a spider’s web of light as well as rain. For one impossibly long moment Theoren could see miles in every direction, unobscured by rain…
There behind him, lay the ruined remnants of Crosston, and the titanic half-sphere Billy called the Catacombs.
In front of him he saw Pfenford Manor… no, Castle Pfenford.
Between him and the Eyre there stood a man in a soaked and sheer white robe, whose face and hair was hidden by a Badik headwrap. A heavy crossbow was aimed right at Theoren, and the wound up bowstring was already thrumming.
Theoren saw all of this, but he was too old, too tired, too wet to react. The crossbow bolt hit him in the shoulder like a hammer, loosening his seat on the stallion. Then the web of light dissolved, and Theoren felt the horse’s legs hit the ground with a snap! before he felt the quarrel in his shoulder yank him with uncanny force from the falling horse and send him splashing into muddy water. He slid across slick grass, green blades tickling his face when he finally came to a stop.
He was so close… Through exile, war, humiliation and even death… Only to be stopped here. Lightning didn’t flash, but he heard thunder. Maybe his eyes were closed.
Homlan and the world is in its darkest hour, Billy whispered. Theoren leaned heavily on his shoulders as the man in the demon’s mask carried him onto the first of a hundred stone steps. You are the torch that the Eyre must carry to light its way. Theoren felt himself being pulled up the wide stairway, step by staggering step. He opened his eyes.
Stretching in front of him was a long winding stair path, carved deep into the hill of the Eyre and closed in on both sides by walls of impossibly smooth stone, set somehow into the heavy earth of the Eyre itself. From the wall above the stairpath, he saw silhouettes standing guard with bows and crossbows against the growing light. They all wore white robes, and were all looking down at him and the man carrying him.
Above him, Pfenford Manor stood tall and proud. Flags a hundred colours flew in dawn-coloured light from a dozen new towers and turrets, but from the bell-steeple the Pfenning banner rode the wind in silken strokes, defying gravity and rain. The stallion and his mane, in profile.
Theoren looked at the man carrying him. It was not Billy – there was no demon’s mask. Beneath the red headwrap this Badik man’s skin was nut brown with a beard black like crow. His eyes were small and shrewd, and he was breathing hard from Theoren’s weight. A heavy crossbow was slung from his back. He saw Theoren’s eyes on him, and straightened. Light rain ran down both their faces, the sun filled both their eyes.
“You shot me,” Theoren said dumbly.
“Yes,” the man said. “Can you walk?”
Theoren pushed himself off the dark haired man, and stood straight. He looked up at the Pfenning banner again. The pain in his shoulder flared, and he winced. Better than a crushed leg, Theoren thought. “Thank you,” he said, upon realizing. He turned back to the Badik.
He was also staring up at the Pfenning banner, but met Theoren’s eyes. He shook his head, and held out his hand. “One clan,” he said. Theoren took his hand. Voices echoed from around them. “One clan!”
Along the walls of the stair path, all the way to the grand doors of Pfenford Manor, the white robes stood straight against the sunrise. Wings of sunbeams made them look like a choir of angels, opening the road to some eternal reward. They were saluting.
Theoren did not turn from the sight when the man spoke again. “My name is Mohammed bin Sultha,” he said. “We are the Sons of the Arrow.” He pressed his hand into Theoren’s back and began to move up the stair path again. “You must come. They are waiting long years to see you.”
All the trials and tribulations of your long life have lead to this moment, Theoren remembered.
“Welcome home, Lord Pfenning.”