God of Shadow – Chapter 14

Adahmri ran his fingers through his hair as he looked down at the documents. He had read stories about dragons and their command of the skies. It was even said that dragons ruled before the gods, but that the gods had ended their reign of terror. History books claimed that dragons had been eradicated, but he was looking at accounts of sightings. The bells had clanged because the southern guards had seen one flying into the mountains—a huge beast that was little more than a speck of red in the distance. At first, Adahmri had wondered why they took such a fleeting glimpse so seriously when it could have been a fanciful mistake, but this had not been the first time, apparently.

“Tell me about the attack at Elend,” Adahmri said.

Captain Helte, the officer who had questioned him previously, launched into a detailed description of events that had left an entire city on the eastern coast destroyed. No citizens or guardsmen had survived, and silent ruins were all that had been left behind. Ships docked in the bay had sunk; the city walls had been torn down. Nothing remained of Elend, except for a great stone statue of a knight that had been defaced with four deep claw marks across its chest.

For reasons Adahmri could not fathom, Captain Helte had believed him when he had introduced himself as the son of the gods Ariana and Soragen, and now he filled Adahmri in on the threat they now faced: dragons. He reasoned that it could just be that they were desperate. If he had suddenly come upon dragons one day, he might have looked for unexpected blessings, too. Even if he and Sielahiel did look like a couple of vagrants after traveling for so long.

Adahmri listened to Captain Helte’s explanation, noting that there had been three witnesses to this attack, all of whom had been merchants traveling away from the city of Elend. They had crested a hill and looked back toward the city in time to see three shapes take to the air next to it. They had watched in horror as the large shapes destroyed Elend. Brilliant lights had flashed in numerous colors, cast down beneath the dragons. Their magic, they said, had been terrifying. More so than the fire the elves hurled in the war. Fireballs were destructive, but the dragons’ white fire had demolished entire buildings all at once.

“Word about this reached us three weeks ago,” said Captain Helte. “The King has directed us not to let the people find out about it, so you need to keep it to yourselves.” He looked at Adahmri and Sielahiel sternly, but neither seemed inclined to breathe a word about the matter. Sielahiel still clutched Adahmri’s arm in fright. She hadn’t read about dragons, like Adahmri had, but her parents had told stories about them. But to them, dragons were mythical beasts, legends born of the creativity of man. They were not supposed to be real.

“What…” Adahmri paused, willing his racing heart to calm. Dragons! He had difficulty wrapping his mind around it. “What is the current plan to defend your city from these dragons?”

Captain Helte placed a firm hand on the table. “Stransin’s placement here in the basin of these hills has always proven to be a safety measure. There’s one road that leads west—goes all the way to Neric on the coast. We have a big gate there, portcullis and towers full up with archers.” He jabbed an index finger at a map. “Further west of the city, we have our horse pastures. They’re the pride of Stransin. Best horses you’ll ever see. We can’t lose them. We send them all over Camriiole; even the King uses them for his knights.”

“You’d think they’d be the first to go,” Adahmri mused. When Helte glared at him, he lifted his hands placatingly. “I’m not saying they should, but better them than the people, right?”

The way the Captain looked at him, Adahmri wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the man’s answer.

“How are you gonna protect them, then?” Sielahiel said suddenly. Her voice was quiet and afraid, but her love for horses won. “We gotta keep them safe. Don’t you have interior stables or something, for the colder months?”

Captain Helte drew a map of the city over the other documents, his finger tapping a section near the western wall. “We have enough stables here to house them, although it’s not ideal. We can bring them in temporarily. Maybe a couple weeks. After that we’ll probably have to start putting some down. It’s past peak breeding season and the studs get all kinds of restless when the mares start foaling. Not enough room for all of them to be pushed together like that when some of the mares are still receptive.”

Adahmri scratched the back of his neck and glanced at Sielahiel. She seemed to follow the man’s concerns well enough, but talk of putting restless horses down made her blanch. She looked at the map, determined to prevent any horse-slaughtering.

“What are these buildings down here?” Her voice wavered as she pointed at a few large squares on the eastern end of town. Adahmri slipped his arm around her waist. She must have been thinking of Cayil.

“Those are warehouses. That’s where we keep our mining materials. What we don’t get with our horse trade, we get with the mines.”

“What are you mining?” Adahmri asked.

The man clearly didn’t want to answer and just scowled at the question. Sielahiel pointed at the warehouses. “If you don’t want to lose the herd, separate them. Bring your mares and little ones in first to the stables, and while you’re doing that you can get a warehouse outfitted for the stallions. You’ll have one less warehouse for your mining stuff, but you also won’t have to put any of your animals down.”

The Captain looked Sielahiel up and down, which made a blush spill over her cheeks.

“Do you know your way around horses?” he said. When she nodded, he gestured to two soldiers next to him. “Go with Vick and Harril. They’ll take you to meet the ranchers and you can help them. Might as well do something useful if you’re going to be here.” He looked at another soldier to his left. “Geralds, take their things to the west-end safehouse, then meet us inside here.”

Geralds stepped over to take their things, muttering an apology when he dropped one of the bags. Adahmri started to leave with Sielahiel, but the Captain stopped him.

“Need you here, god-child,” he said. His eyes were dark with worry, so Adahmri nodded once and turned to Sielahiel.

“It’s all right,” she said with a wavering smile. She took his hand as he offered it to her, but they said nothing else. No further words were necessary. Adahmri watched her leave with the soldiers Vick and Harril, and then turned to join Captain Helte inside the nearby building. The remainder of the soldiers joined them after gathering the maps and documents from the table.

 

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Jes A. Condrey
Artwork by Jes.

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