Fantasy/Mystery, ~37,000 words, Published October 24, 2018
Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07JMM42TR
It all came down to this.
The city of Telstar has been freed and the enemy defeated. In the streets, the townspeople are celebrating, singing and drinking to the promise of better days to come.
Yet, at the top of an abandoned tower, a secret meeting is about to take place. Although victory was attained, questions remain unanswered. Some of Telstar’s deepest secrets got out and the impregnable city almost fell. It is unclear who betrayed the city and some will not sleep until the culprit answers for the betrayal.
Onthar, a high warrior dedicated to Tyr, deity of courage, takes it upon himself to call on emperor and queen, wizard and warriors, elf and orc, all heroes of the battle, to meet in secrecy and find out who among them betrayed his city.
But these are serious charges and these are powerful individuals. The meeting could easily turn into a confrontation, and if it does, it could achieve what the enemy could not: destroy the very city they all want to protect.
The room was located on the third floor of the inn of Ali Azra, snuggled in the northeastern district of Telstar. It was a large room, overly spacious, stretching for almost the full width of the small establishment and tastefully decorated with paintings, pieces of armoury, statues, and works of art from realms close and far. It was a tribute to the world, to its inhabitants, to its diversity, from one end to the other.
A total of four windows offered views north, west, and south, toward the heart of Telstar. Here and there, two beds, a tall wardrobe, a wide wooden desk, three cushioned chairs, and a high bookcase standing along the western wall. Two fireplaces were present; one small, adequate for boiling and cooking, and one large, more elaborate, carved by none other than the dwarven hands of Kurtor, used to warm the space during the cold months of winter.
The room had once been used by the inn owner, Ali Azra, as his own living quarters. Now it was reserved for an elite group; heroes, the innkeeper would call them, defenders of the realm and the city. More often than not, it was empty, unused, until such a time when it was needed.
Like this day.
The lone man was seated by the southern window. He had only been in the city for fifteen days, and yet everything had changed since his arrival.
The man could easily remember a past when Telstar had been beautiful, rich, glorious. Those memories now seemed to belong to another time, another life. The city stretching in front of him was dark, shrouded in thick clouds of smoke that lingered above the buildings, some in cinders, some crumbled, others in ruins. Marks of the lengthy battle were everywhere, on every street, open or isolated. No corner, it seemed, had been forgotten or excluded. Even the air smelled of pain and suffering, of death.
Yet as he sat there, pondering, wistful, the lone man could hear a faraway chant coming from the streets below. It seemed to emanate from the city itself, from its walls, its buildings and its cobblestones. The anthem had been going on for eight days now. At night, it would stop, to reawaken with the morning sun, reaching its crescendo during mealtime. The melody had risen for the first time moments after the Lord of the orcs had been defeated, on the high Bridge of Stars that linked the island of Telstar with the mainland.
The Lord had not set foot on the grounds of the island himself. He had fallen first, and then been dragged onto the island to be displayed above the castle’s high gate.
With the defeat of their Lord, the orcs’ ranks had broken. Without the Lord, the lesser leaders had not been able to unite. Instead, most orcs had retreated, never looking back.
A soft knock echoed from the door. The man had been expecting it.
“Enter,” he said, looking over his shoulder.
The door opened slowly and a large man appeared. In his younger days, it was said that the innkeeper had been a traveller and adventurer. Now he was large, slow, and comfortable. Most of the signs of his glorious days were gone.
“It is time, my lord,” he said.
The lone man nodded.
“They chant for you,” said Ali Azra, pointing out the window with a movement of his chin.
“And others,” said the man.
“Why don’t you go to them?” asked the innkeeper. “You, Onthar, the others, together. They would love to see and get to know those who pushed back the invasion and liberated their city. Some, well, they say the populace deserves a chance to meet their saviours.”
The man stood, the motion slower than it would have been a few weeks ago, before the battle. He could feel the injuries, so many of them, along his thighs, his sides, and on his chest. A lingering soreness, all over, just wouldn’t go away.
He gazed through the window toward the city.
“They will have their heroes,” he answered.
“But not the real ones,” noted Ali Azra.
“It won’t matter to them.”
“To most, I agree,” said the innkeeper. “They just need someone, anyone, to idolize. But there are some who are sincere in their care.”
The man turned around, left the window, and came to stand by the innkeeper.
“You are a good man, Ali,” he said, putting his hand on the shoulder of the large innkeeper.
“It wasn’t always so,” said Ali, incapable of hiding his smile at the compliment.
“I thank you for the room, as always.”
“You are most welcome, my lord. You are leaving, then?”
“It saddens me to see you go, as it will others, I am certain. Your visits are too few and far between. As well as too short.”
At this, it was the lone man’s turn to smile.
“So I have been told, several times already.”
“Am I to understand you will be returning soon then?”
The man only shrugged. The innkeeper’s smile broadened.
“Know that when you next return, the room will once again be ready and waiting for you.”
The lone man accepted the invitation with a slight nod.
He was about to leave when he noticed the innkeeper’s eyes on him.
“Nothing escapes you,” he observed.
“I’m sorry, but this reunion, to which you are invited, does it mean…”
The man didn’t say anything.
“It is not over, then?” asked Ali Azra. “Danger still roams in the shadows.”
“I do not know,” said the man, “but my blades are ready.”
“It does reassure me to know you are watching over us.”
“There are others,” said the man.
“None like you,” said Ali Azra.
To this, the man bowed his head, and left.
About the author
S.C. ESTON grew up in the province of New Brunswick in Canada. He is the author of “The Burden of the Protector” (“More than an adventure story, an existential philosophy…”, Roger Moore, Poet) and “The Conclave” (“… I consider Eston a great teller of tales, indeed”, GlamAdelaide.com.au). He is a manager in technology services and lives in Fredericton with his wife Leigh, and their children.
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