The Earth trembled as if burdened by a sudden mass too large to be held upon its shoulders. A great trumpeting sounded forth from the forest midst as balls of fire were slung away from the tree line to collide against the city walls, setting them ablaze and blinding the archers who defended them. A mighty flood of clanking armor and ferocious cries was loosed from the underbrush and advanced towards the city gates as if directed by an invisible yet inexorable force. The soldiers poured over the measly front lines and squashed the secondary forces that were guarding the still-open drawbridge.
The first of their adversaries vanquished, the soldiers continued through the city’s entrance, shutting the barred gate behind them. The seemingly invincible battalion stormed forward into the parade grounds and stopped, as there were no forces to oppose them. A soldier looked up and screamed, not out of horror but out of the sudden realization of the inevitability of his fate. His chest instantly became a pincushion of arrows as the city’s archers began to fire down onto the soldiers.
Upon his mount in the forest, Lord Julius Antony heard the tortured screams coming from Momes. He raised then forcefully dropped his right arm, signaling the advance of the larger mass of his army. His mighty siege engines once again began to hurl crock upon crock of ‘Greek Fire’ at the city as engineers hurried from their hiding places to assemble ballistas and trebuchets along the siege lines.
Inside the city, Antony’s remaining soldiers had fought their way into the castle and had thoroughly entrenched themselves within and around its keep. Nearly half had fallen from the archers’ accurate shots, and half of the survivors had fallen to another evil, but an expected and welcomed fate; two days prior to the assault, the battalion had been separated from the remainder of the army and infected with plague out of hopes that it would shorten the coming siege.
King Marcus Packard looked out a slit in the wall of his tower apartment and saw the thickening circle of Antony’s forces. He sighed out of ignorance of Antony’s plan, in expectance of the insetting of a long siege. He went back to his chest of drawers and sighed once more. He was aware of the fact that Antony’s forces were greater than his own and knew that he would be tortured and executed as soon as his army had fallen. He removed his dagger from its sheath on his belt and placed it within the folds of cloth upon his chest.
Antony retired to his tent with a smile on his face, not from the meal he had just enjoyed at the expense of Packard’s tenant farmers on the hill or even from the enjoyment he had experienced in the presence of the dancers, also provided by the farmers; instead, the man smiled because of the foreknowledge of his success and subsequent succession of the Third Empire of Laterbok. He knew that, by morning, any of his soldiers who had survived the assault would be dead. He also knew that everyone within the walls of Momes would join them in the underworld by the next sunrise.
“Isaiah,” the lord called out of his tent.
“Yes.” His bodyguard and servant entered the tent with a goblet of wine in his left hand and his right hand on the hilt of his sword, ready for defense.
“I am feeling slightly depressed. Could you please request that one of our guests from the farm join me tonight. The dancers, not the farmers.”
“Sir,” Isaiah replied, implying obedience with a slight bow and the nod of his head. He set the partially filled goblet on the end table, turned, and left the lord’s presence.
When Isaiah had returned with the dancer, he took his spot to the left of the entryway; his elder commander stood to his right, also guarding the entry. The two soldiers had been together for nearly a year, and as Isaiah was still young and new to soldiering, Kane was assigned to teach him how to serve as a proper guardsman. Over their time together, they had become friends, although in a father-son manner rather than a companionate manner due to their ages and the rank difference between them.
Kane reached into his cloak and removed a pipe and a small canteen of alcohol. He smiled at Isaiah and extended the bottle. Isaiah, being too young to have been corrupted by the meaningless hours a guard spends doing nothing, was too firmly bound to his morals to accept the offer while he was on duty. Both men were aware that drinking while on guard was a warrant for execution, but Kane didn’t care and Isaiah cared too much for the man to report him.
Isaiah shook his head without hesitation and then turned abruptly in response to a crash from the lord’s quarters. Both men heard their commander curse the dancer and strike her again. Isaiah looked at Kane, who shook his head and then grabbed his younger friend when he saw what was living in his eyes. Isaiah threw the older and stronger man to the ground and ran into Antony’s quarters with his sword raised. He separated Antony from his quarry and was in turn thrown to the ground by Kane.
Five more soldiers entered the room to see Isaiah restrained on the ground, the dancer bruised and beaten under a table, and Lord Antony with a sword slash across his chest. Antony was first on his feet and first to speak.
“This soldier was beating that woman. I came to stop him, and he attacked me with his sword. Thank God that Kane was here to rescue me.”
The soldiers took their leader’s word over the muttered cries coming from Isaiah’s mouth. They helped Kane to bind him and remove his weapons and armor. A soldier took the dancer and escorted her back to her family’s farmhouse.
“Take this man into the country, beat him as punishment for this crime, and kill him to prevent the possibility of its reoccurrence.”
Kane slowly nodded. “I will do it,” he said shakily.
“Make it quick. I do not like assassins in my court.”
Kane led Isaiah on horseback from the city of Momes. They traveled all night at a slow speed and picked it up to a brisk trot until they were at the border of the Third Empire. Standing atop the mountain pass that marked the beginning of the Wilderness of Shan, Kane cut Isaiah’s bonds and handed him the horse’s reins.
“I could never harm you, my friend,” Kane said to Isaiah, though he could not see. The glaring sunlight and the tears he was shedding for his friend, though he would have denied tears to anyone else, clouded his eyes. “For your sake and for mine, do not come back to this place.”
Kane mounted his horse and kicked it abruptly in the ribs, starting off at a full gallop back towards Memos. Isaiah looked back at his friend’s shrinking figure and wept. He turned his horse’s head and went off into the broad desert that begins the Wilderness of Shan.
Panting from the heat and the exertion it had been putting out Isaiah’s horse collapsed, throwing him to the ground. Isaiah lay there a while, though he had no conception of how long nor a desire to count the seconds he laid there baking in the heat of the hot sun protected only by the miniscule amount of shade cast by his fallen horse. He was nearing death from dehydration, and could think of nothing else but water and the sea that he was reminded of by the rippling of heat on the horizon.
A mirage of a beautiful woman appeared before him. He would have ignored her presence, for the sun had long since burned off his physical desires, but he was attracted to the pot of water she held upon her head. He stumbled to his knees and crawled towards her. As with any mirage, her heavenly image floated just out of his reach until he came to an outcropping of rocks, which she seemed to trip upon and disappear. Isaiah cried out in agony, he had crawled for so long that he had lost his horse, and thus lost his shade.
“Isaiah,” a voice spoke from the rocks, “Isaiah, why are you weeping so?”
“God has forsaken me and left me to die,” he replied, cursing aloud.
“Why do you think that your God has left you? Would you not have died a terrible death had he done so? Oh rock of the desert, give my servant some food and water so that he may not believe that I, his Lord, has left him.”
With this, the rocks before Isaiah broke and released a great river of cool clear water. The rocks nearest to Isaiah were even turned into loaves of bread. Isaiah, weeping, took the first of the bread and blessed it in the name of his Lord. Then he put half of it aside as an offering to his desert Savior.
After drinking his fill of water and consuming his share of the bread, Isaiah looked up to the heavens and asked, “What have I done to deserve this blessing, my Lord? Why have you saved me? What must I do to repay you?”
“There is nothing you must do past what you have already done to repay me for this meal. However, I do have a task which I would like you to fulfill for me.”
“Your servant is willing.”
“Go back to the lands from which you have been cast out. Speak to the people, and show them the errors of their ways. They have become a Godless society and worship their kings more than their creators. I want you to remove the four kings from their thrones and return my people to me. They were born free, yet they have placed chains upon themselves.”
“But Lord, who am I to question the rulers of the land? I am but a soldier.”
“The land which they claim t as their own is not theirs to rule. It was I alone who created this land, and it will be I who dictates rule. I give you the gift of a golden tongue with which to speak to the people. Do not be troubled, for it will be my words in your mouth. I will make the kings weaker in rule so that they will be easily defeated, but the people will not be so easily led. Do not fear, for I will be with you.”
With this, the Lord’s presence left Isaiah and the rocks returned to their former states. Isaiah turned back towards the green regions of his homeland and saw a wild horse caught among some dead brush. When he approached the horse and spoke to it, the beast became calm and tame and licked Isaiah’s hand. He mounted, and rode to his fallen steed where he gathered his saddle and what was left of his belongings and began his return trip home.
A strange force guided Isaiah across the desert and over the mountain ranges that separated the Third Empire from Shan. He rode day and night, sleeping in five-minute catnaps until he came to a small port city on the coastline belonging to the Second Empire. There he dismounted and walked up to a young woman who was carrying a basket of fish up from the dock.
“You need quarters for the night,” she said to him and gestured for him to follow.
They both walked along the shoreline until they came to a small shack with a lantern glowing in the window. She opened the door, kicked a small animal to the side and set the basket of food on the table.
“I have been waiting for you for some time now. Sit, eat.”
Isaiah began to protest, but instead, words of thanks and blessing came out of his mouth. To silence what he found embarrassing to say, he filled his mouth with the hot food that she offered and became full. After conversing with the woman for some time, he asked for permission to retire. She led him to a room in the back of the shack where a cot had been prepared with fresh sheets. There was also a neat pile of clean clothes laid out for him among the muck of the shack. Isaiah reached into his pocket where he still held two gold coins so he could pay the woman for her kindness; instead, his hand left his pocket holding a small flower, which he gave to the woman with a smile while she shut his door to give him rest.
The shack was empty the next morning when Isaiah woke. He found a scrawled note on the table next to a plate of biscuits and a bag prepared as if for a long journey.
I prepared your meal and you boat as it was requested from me. I wish you a safe and prosperous journey. May God keep you safe in your travels.
Isaiah did not know the purpose of the boat, yet he felt driven to board it and cast off its anchor. He looked upwards into the sky, gave thanks to God, who had saved him from the heat of the desert and had housed him so he could rest from his journey and had provided him a boat to take a trip to the island of Icthus, the only place he could imagine he was to go. With a desire not to deviate from God’s planned course, Isaiah through his oars overboard and laid back in the small boat to let the hand of God take him where it desired.
When he arrived on the shore of Icthus, he came upon a stone box. This heavy box was more out-of-place on the forbidden island than the foreigner who stood upon the island. Isaiah approached the box and forced open its lid. Inside were ancient scrolls of law, the scrolls that had been missing since the time of the warrior Collish nearly five thousand years ago!