Here’s a fragment from a fantasy novel I started a few years back. The plot is something vague about a legendary princess and men on a desperate quest, but it never really gelled. Occasionally I come back and doodle on it. Perhaps someday I’ll figure it out….
This piece is a little cheesy, but I think it’s fun.
Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
“This is it,” Ethar said. His face shone with excitement. “It has to be!”
Soren had to agree. They had all labored up the slope from the camp– Soren, Ethar, with his bag of scrolls, Gis, with his old man’s panting, Yar stumping upward, his face set, Duro following him– and now, before the Great Doors, sunk into the cliff-face, Soren was sure that their journey was over. Or half-over…. “Can you get it open?” he asked Ethar.
Ethar pulled a scroll from his pouch. “Give me a moment.”
“Gods give me strength,” Duro muttered.
Ethar didn’t seem to hear him. He consulted a scroll with red tabs, then stepped up to the Doors. They loomed over him, thirty or more feet high. Into their face were carved dozens of runes and images– Elha at war, on the hunt, bowing before their Queen. Soren studied the graven face of Tirana, but the features were stylized, stilted; they told him nothing.
Yar stepped close to Soren. “Captain, remember our bargain. You’re here to speak to the Queen of the Elha, if you can find her. But I want the Spear of Souls for my sovereign.”
“I remember,” Soren said. “But we’re still a ways from either goal.”
“True enough– but I didn’t think we would get this far,” Yar said.
Ethar studied the carvings. “It’s not a riddle; it’s a sequence….” he muttered.
Reaching up, he touched the foot of one hunter, dragged his fingers along the form of a dying warrior. Then he pushed at the hub of a chariot wheel.
A harsh, thunderous boom shook the ground beneath their feet. Soren staggered, then stepped back as the Doors shuddered, boomed, and then slowly began to open. They pulled apart, revealing a dark space beyond.
“Oh, my,” breathed Gis.
They went in, cautiously, weapons ready. The sunlight shining through the newly opened doors was watery, and the chamber within was filled with suddenly disturbed dust. Soren coughed, and Ethar sneezed four times in a row. But after a few moments they began to make out their surroundings.
The chamber was vaulted, and seventy feet high. On either side stood huge statues on pedestals– frowning kings and unequally unsmiling queens. “Hasu,” Gis muttered, gazing up at them. “Kannu, Sianna, Leato– all Tirana’s ancestors.”
“Fun looking bunch,” Duro whispered.
“They don’t like intruders,” Yar said. He stroked his beard, as if to ward off evil. He looked as patchy as Soren felt.
In the middle of the chamber stood a plinth, on which sat a huge stone casket. Around the base of the plinth runes were inscribed into the stone, of an old mode that Soren could not read. Gis and Ethar, however, both bent down at once and began to examine them. On the floor about the plinth, covered with thick dust, were sections of columns and blocks of stone. They did not look as if they had fallen; they looked as if they had been new-cut pieces, intended for further construction, but left in place and never touched again, as if their builders had just never returned to their tasks.
As the two scholars exchanged learned whispers Yar cautiously explored the chamber beyond the plinth, as if to make sure there were no enemies lurking in the far corners. As he did, Duro came over to Soren. “If there is a weapon in that casket, you must remember your charge from the Queen…no matter what you’ve told the dwarf….”
“I haven’t forgotten it,” Soren said. “But my charge was to find the Queen of the Elha and enlist her help. Any alleged weapon is secondary to that.
“Come on, Soren,” Duro said. “Look at this place– this is a tomb. We’re only going to find bones and dust in that casket. The legend is just that.”
Soren scowled. “As may be– but I will hold off judgment until we know, Duro son of Eig.”
The two of them glared at each other; then Gis said, “We have it!”
“Have what?” Soren said, glad to have something to distract him. Yar came hurrying back to the others.
Gis stood. “The inscription says that Tirana, Queen of the Elha, in her grief over her brother, chose to sleep the Sleep of Forgetfulness. She took the venom of a shistaska, and became like one dead, and was lain here, until the time should be fulfilled for her revival.”
“‘Became like one dead’, or died?” Doru said. “Are you sure of your translation?”
“Fairly sure,” Ethar said, still bent over the runes. “Although the declension is ambiguous in some contexts….”
“Sorry I asked,” Duro said, rolling his eyes.
“How do we open the casket?” Soren said, determined to stay focused. He sheathed his sword.
“Ah,” Gis said, with a raised finger, as if Soren had raised an interesting point in a lecture. “If the honored Ethar is correct, he understands the sequence for opening the casket. It is another secret pattern, but one he has deciphered from the ancient Elha chronicles….”
“Spare us the description,” Duro growled, “and just do it.”
Gis scowled at Duro, then looked at Soren. “Please do,” Soren said. “Before we start chewing each other’s ears off.”
Gis nodded. “Very well. Ethar…?”
“One moment,” Ethar said. He stood. Appearing to ignore Duro’s huffing and muttering, he walked slowly around the plinth. Every other step he touched one or two of the runes; Soren, watching, believed he understood the pattern. Each of the runes corresponded to numbers in the Elha mathematical system; together they seemed to be numerical sequences that had mystical importance. But he was not sure; his command of ancient Elha mysticism was not a patch on Gis’ or Ethar’s.
Ethar finished his circuit of the plinth. He touched the last rune. Instantly there came a sharp snap. Everyone took a step back. The top face of the casket split length-ways down the middle; as they watched, the halves folded back and slid down out of sight. The casket, now an open box, silently rose a foot or more. It stopped, and the sides folded down.
Inside, lying on its back, was a body. It was a woman; she was clothed in a shining blue sark that reached from her shoulders to her white feet. She was Elha; her ears and the tilt of her eyes marked her. Her hair, nearly white, lay over her in two long braids, reached to her midriff. Her hands, small and fine, rested on her belly.
The men approached slowly. “By the high gods,” Gis said, in little more than a whisper. “It’s her. Tirana.”
Soren was willing to take his word for it. To him, the woman looked as if she had just lain down for a summer’s nap. He stepped up and examined the body closely. The form beneath the sark seemed more than pleasing, but there was no movement, no sign of breath. Without being obvious about it, Soren took a deep breath. No scent of decay came to him.
“She sleeps!” Ethar exclaimed. “Just as the old chronicles said!”
“That’s daft, even for you,” Duro said. “She’s dead. It’s obvious. The old Elha were masters of embalming, that’s all.”
“I don’t know….” Gis said, uncertain.
“Come on,” Duro said, “it’s been a thousand years!”
“Yes, it has,” Soren said.
Yar stepped up beside him. “Is this it? One dead Elha wench? Is there nothing else in the casket?”
“There doesn’t appear to be,” Soren said.
Yar looked as if he wanted to hit something– or someone. “My king will be displeased. No, actually, my king is going to gut me slowly and feed my manhood to starving wolves while it’s still attached. He wanted that Elha weapon.”
“Well, my mission’s a failure, too,” Soren said. “I have no capacity for speaking to the dead.”
“She’s not dead!” Ethar said. “I tell you, it’s in the chronicles! She merely sleeps!”
“A thousand year sleep,” Duro said sarcastically. “Of course. So, if she sleeps, you scroll-addled fool, how do you wake her up?”
“Um….” Ethar said.
Tentatively, Soren stepped closer to the plinth. He reached a hand and touched Tirana’s cheek. He blinked in surprise. The flesh was supple, smooth, and seemed no different from that of a living person.
“She’s not mummified at all,” he said.
“As I said,” Ethar said, his excitement returning.
Soren hesitated again. Then he leaned down over Tirana’s still face. Still no scent of decay. Very gently he pressed his lips to hers.
“Soren?!” Gis exclaimed.
Soren lifted his head, hiding his surprise. He had expected his kiss to meet hard coldness, and, most likely, to taste putrescence. Instead, Tirana’s lips were warm, and she tasted, not of rot or death, but of woman.
But she still did not move.
“Now, what did that accomplish?” Gis complained.
Soren looked up. The others gathered around the plinth started with expressions of surprise, disgust or confusion. Soren smiled, shrugged. “Well, it always works in the tales.”
Gis rolled his eyes and groaned; Yar laughed. “And I thought I was strange,” he said.
“Well, it also means I’m out of ideas,” Soren said, sighing.
“I suggest we give the problem a rest,” Gis said. “Perhaps we can think of something after we’ve eaten.”
There was a general murmur of agreement. “Well,” Duro said, sighing, “all right. I’ll get supper started. We’ve got that venison and the turnips. I’ve got a little garlic left. That should give the stew some flavor.”
Tirana sat up on the plinth. “Oh! I hate garlic!” she shrieked.
Yar yelled in surprise, lifting his axe and stumbling back. Gis fell backwards over one of the fallen pillars, his robes flying up and his spindly legs waving in the air. Ethar shouted, “Yah!” and dropped his scrolls, which rolled every which way across the floor. Duro turned and fled for the open chamber doors, wild-eyed with fright.
Soren instinctively retreated, and reached for Splitter. His hand was on its hilt when Tirana collapsed back on to the plinth.
“What in the name of the unholy demons of Lis was that?” Yar exclaimed, still in a battle-stance, as if preparing to receive a cavalry charge.
“I don’t know,” Soren said. He stepped cautiously back to the edge of the plinth. He kept a hand on Splitter. Tirana again lay on the plinth, but now her chest moved with breathing, her lips parted, and as Soren watched she stirred and moved her arms. She lifted one hand up to her mouth, then let it fall back.
“I think,” he said, wondering, “she’s waking up.”