Skenda jerked awake, a faint sense of unease pervading his entire being, his hands cold and clammy with sweat. Swinging out of bed, he hurriedly pulled on a shirt and brushing the tent flap aside, he stepped out. The bracing night air greeted him, the moon full and heavy hung just over the western horizon. An ominous portent the court astrologer had said, for the moon had a reddish tinge, its lower half a darker shade akin to a sickly blackish red the colour of dried blood. It gave an observer the impression that the bloodied moon was bleeding copious amounts of blood into an inky sky devoid of stars. Just as worrisome was the fact that the moon had not waned for the past two weeks and had remained immobile, fixed over the horizon like a malevolent eye. The Blood Moon, the phenomenon was called, had not occurred for 2500 years and the last time it had appeared, existing historical sources recorded great disasters and 'gnashing of teeth'.
Suppressing a shudder, Skenda tore his eyes away from the bleeding moon and strolled across the clearing, acknowledging the sentry's salute with a curt nod. Below him some distance to the west lay the great city of Amarivel, first of the seven ancient Cities built by the long dead High Kings of Grunma and one of the last human bastions against the advancing wave of Undead which had risen up so suddenly.
As Prince-Regent of Ortezel, heir to the throne, Skenda had been sent by his ailing father to cement the alliance between the two Cities as well as to discuss the strategy of combining the cities' two great Relics of the Light which lore had it, had once banished the demons back to the Abyss and ended the Age of Chaos. Lately however, communications between the two cities had become strained and the rise of the new Lord Chancellor in Amarivel had cooled relations even further. It was with the hope of reviving the spirit of co-operation and kinship that the ailing ruler of Ortezel sought to send a high ranking delegation under his son to bring it about. This news was received, to Skenda's surprise, with great joy and warmth with the Ortezellans informed that such an esteemed visit would be most welcome and that the Amarivellans hoped much would come from it.
This unexpected response was received with great cheer by Edrion, Skenda's father, and despite Skenda's initial misgivings, was soon making preparations for the delegation's departure. Lord Chamberlain Llaric, his father's aged and trusted advisor, counselled that it was the best option and after a short counsel, Skenda too was forced to admit that it needed to be done. Looking out at Amarivel, the numerous lights of the city twinkling in the darkness, its graceful spires and multi tiered walls brightly illuminated, Skenda thought it looked rather like an exquisite glass crown nestled on a hill.
Yet somehow, he was unable to shake off that gnawing sense of dread, the unease which had wrapped itself tenaciously about him ever since the Blood Moon had appeared. Llaric dismissed it as mere superstition and Edrion was set upon the swift departure of the delegation to restore relations as soon as possible. Skenda had been unable to refuse, there was no rational reason for him to do so and he constantly reminded himself that it was in the best interests of Ortezel to proceed as soon as possible. Llaric noticing his unease had counselled the prince in a tone which sounded almost conspiratory, "For all you know Your Highness, the portent may bode ill for our enemies, the ancient histories never mentioned that the sign was an affliction to all."
Skenda's thoughts inevitably turned to Llaric, his father's most trusted advisor, and who was accompanying Skenda on the delegation. Tall, thin and wiry, Llaric possessed an austere handsomeness which was accentuated by his sharp nose and thin piercing eyes. Eyes which revealed great intelligence and were able to pick apart the many enemies and traps Edrion had encountered. Though stern, he had always been approachable and had been a second father to Skenda. But there had been a subtle change which as far as Skenda could tell, occurred five years ago after Llaric had returned from his pilgrimage to the Shrine of Aariel. What exactly had changed, Skenda could not quite place his finger on. While still approachable, he seemed to possess a certain ability of quietly forcing the people around him into meek submission simply through his presence.
Even his strong willed and independent father, Edrion, seemed somewhat subdued around him. Skenda certainly felt it, at times it was so palpable it was almost like Llaric had an aura emanating from him. 'Cold, isn't it?' An unmistakable voice observed drily. Skenda started. That was another damn thing about Llaric, he was so quiet, few knew when he came or departed. "I'm sorry I affrighted your Highness but tomorrow's matters weighed heavily on my mind." "Oh, not at all." Skenda replied, feeling the familiar tightening of his throat, the chill slowly creeping up his spine.
"Yes tomorrow will be an important day for us all..Llaric. And a fruitful one I pray." Skenda sighed, drawing his shirt about him to block out the sudden chill even though the night remained still, devoid of even a passing breeze. "Best you not think too much your Highness, we have done all we can, the rest... Fate will decide." Llaric paused, rolling the word 'Fate' as if pondering it in bemusement. Bemusement? Skenda's tired mind protested. But Llaric had laid a firm hand on his shoulder and was bidding him to go rest. To Skenda, Llaric's hand felt like a frozen vice and he shuddered involuntarily before retiring to his tent.
Watching the departing Prince's back, Llaric arched an eyebrow before turning round to survey the city of Amarivel once more. "Ah, Amarivel." he sighed, the corners of his lips upturning in the faintest of smiles. Turning, Laric strode back to his tent.
End of Chapter One.
NB: Church is a wonderful place for spinning yarns. After all, when the pastor starts exhorting the congregation to 'Dress in a Manner that is Worthy to God.' (No midriff baring blouses! No leg high boots! Less Skin! Cover up! Right.. everyone come all swathed up head to toe next week please.); any erstwhile entertainment value goes flying out of the window.
Chapter two to come soon. Hopefully, before next week's sermon.