Pity the Children of Legends
Written By Matthew Tolbert
Published in Swords & Sorcery webzine, August 2014
…it is written in the Scrolls of Wisdom, “Revenge only ends when someone runs out of relatives.”
I have made the aliens’ revenge even easier today by gathering all the children of his enemies in one dirty pub. You would think a great magician would know better, especially one that has already stopped their invasion years ago. I am Kilse the Wise, yes, the same one in the sonnets and songs, the true master of elemental magic and the last of the great legendary champions. Today, I feel more like Kilse, the fool.
How futile to think the children of the greatest of champions could be as powerful as their parents. Though they are adults and of a perfect age for melee, none of their myriad experiences involve fighting. Listen, my dreams told me I have no choice in this whole thing. Pity me. All of them, Brodir, Shade, Lahro, Shenandoah, and Aj, must be saved and taught to protect themselves. Pity them. If these untried pups die, the fate of all will be doomed, once again. I hate this. With the fading of beliefs in magic, all the other wizards have retired to Miasma Castle and are just laying about in the sun, lying about stories of their past battles and lapping up way too much mead. Why am I not there? Where did I go wrong?
It was those cursed, haunting dreams, becoming more vivid as days went by. They were warnings that the Vrollians shall return and this time for revenge against the children of my friends. Why do they seek the innocent and not the parents, the five that had defeated them? Maybe it has to do with their codes and laws that they accused us of lacking. The only good sign is maybe after today, the dreams will stop and I’ll get a good night’s sleep.
In a dark corner of the Dragon Flame pub, I sit with the brood of my deceased friends. I have known them since birth and some even call me “Uncle Kilse.”
“Your lives are in danger and I must hide you from your parents’ enemies,” I like to get their attention immediately.
These foes, the Vrollians, are glowing energy beings. Years ago they had come to us in peace. They had come with promises of riches, knowledge, medical cures, peace among kingdoms, the ability for all to understand each other’s languages and weapons of great power. Who could pass that up?
Their leader, Kur, had met with our dominate emperor, Rex, who had conquered most of the known land. Being Rex’s head magician, I had witnessed all the conferences that were going well. Kur had showed off some kind of magic by having paintings float in front of us. I probably could learn to do that. The images had shown how Kur had come to our land. One showed how his “mother ship” could travel among the stars. Another painting showed his “time crystal” that allowed him to go back to the past, our time.
Rex even had held back his infamous temper when Kur called us “savages” and “unintelligent.” The alien promised to teach us morals and philosophy, which Rex liked since he believed that was how he ruled. His subjects knew differently. Kur went too far when he explained all of this was only possible if the Vrollians control the process and control us. Hearing the aliens’ desire to rule his people, Rex’s anger (and ego) erupted. He jumped up and drew his sword. Kur tried to explain that it would be for a limited time and that all governing power would eventually return to those in charge. It was too late. Rex swung his sword through the energy being and nothing happened. Nothing except that Kur showed he too had a temper. He yelled something about violation and aggression. And then Kur disappeared in a blinding flash.
Rex brought together a small group of his mightiest challengers to stop the forces of Vroll. Each of us was the greatest of the five largest kingdoms. There was the peaceful warrior known as Wolf, who recited poetry while calmly killing people; Arika, the angry barbarian-woman, who surprisingly ended up being a princess; Rawl, the banished priest of both the dark and white light; Ulric, the archer of accuracy, who released as many jokes as arrows; and last but not least, me, Kilse, the last elemental mage and wise bearer of truths. While the Vrolls attacked our lands, we five were to destroy his mother ship and crystal.
The Vrollians invaded with a small army since they had never lost a war and after all, we were just primitives. They wore tall, circular, gleaming armor that contained and protected their electric forms. The top of their suits were a clear dome revealing the creature inside. Oh how we laughed when we first saw these flying golden eggs. But when their destructive lights shot out of the front of their metal suits killing many, we quit laughing.
The aliens came prepared for everything, except they had never encountered magic and they never expected us to attack them. My magic and my four friends’ ceaseless aggression made a big difference in us destroying their mother ship. It was the size of a kingdom. Not anymore. Personally, I’d hate to see a father ship.
After that, the five of us led an assault that captured and killed the remaining aliens as they tried to flee to who knows where. It was glorious. Victory was ours.
That was then and this is now.
“Why do they want to kill us?” Brodir manages to talk between his constant drinking of mead. His father, Ulric, would be so disappointed. I am sorry, my dear dead archer, but I don’t understand either why a man, who is a successful blacksmith and has a loving wife and children, falls asleep in a pool of mead every night. I wonder if his unfulfilled imaginings are greater than his real life. I think his dreams are of being a legend like his father. Tell me, Ulric, do you know if this is true? Are all answers revealed to you in eternal life?
“I, Lahro, son of the greatest, shall meet them in battle,” he pulls out his sword, stands and trips over the leg of the chair. Sorry, my old legendary friends. I pray that the afterlife has shaded windows to our world and you, his parents, cannot see all your training going to waste on a son that can’t walk across the room without tripping over his own feet. I tried to tell you, Wolf and Arika, that you can’t teach a horse to climb a tree. You pushed Lahro to be the fighter you two were, and he never would displease you. If you had opened your eyes to his passion and gift, you would see music. As usual, you never listen to me. Like the time…maybe later.
I wonder if Lahro’s twin is smiling behind his covered face over his clumsiness. I have heard tales that Shade cares only for himself. The same tales that tell how he saw his parents die in that horrible fire in their castle as they tried saving their servants. Wolf and Arika, you were heroes to the end. That fire also left Shade scarred for life and the reason he only wears black clothes that hide his whole body and face. But, a robe, cloak and hood cannot hide his pain. True, Shade remains quiet in words, (maybe because he can’t talk or that he doesn’t want to), but not quiet in his deep, pain-filled breaths. You know, they never found out how that fire started. Good thing for Lahro.
“And why did you have me leave the strong safety of my castle? We’re all going to die. However, I’m getting great material for my next act if I do live,” Shenandoah smiles. He has become such a successful court jester. His king and queen love his jokes and music so much that they shower him with treasures. Few know that the younger son of Ulric is very rich, very smart and very much in love with his queen. People may laugh at him but Shenandoah gets the last laugh.
Aj, the daughter of Rawl, pulls out of her bag five swords, numerous coins and another bottle of mead. “I found these in case we need them. The bartender has a bow we could borrow.” Such a talent Aj wastes on marketplaces and crowded courtyards. Now I understand how she has five husbands with none knowing of the others, how she once governed a small village disguised as a man until she was bored, and how she is a master thief but not wanted by the law. Aj is so likeable that people thank her for stealing from them. She is caring of everyone except her father. If I can, Rawl, I will mend your daughter’s hatred toward you and bring peace to this thief’s heart.
Just then, the armies of the galaxy Vroll arrive too early. It makes sense that they would since we are unprepared. Being time travelers, they know where we would meet and when. However, they also know the future changes every second. I too have learned that time is always a friend and always a foe. In fact, the older I get, the more I personally know how true this is.
It starts with an explosion of splinters, injuring everyone in the pub. (Ever notice how things always begin with some dramatic effect? Oops, sorry. I digress). Vrollian soldiers advance, floating in with a steady determination and a countless flow. They move patiently even though they finally arrive at their premeditated destination. To their disappointment, the aliens face a room full of wounded humans, clothed only in cloth and metal weapons. They obviously planned for stronger opponents. These poor tavern folk, who came tonight for soft mead and a hard escape, never thought they would be fighting “steel demons.” A name the barmaid calls them before she dies. No one challenges the invading Vrolls. Imagine the disappointment these five feel as they see they have no comrades tonight. Imagine even more, the disappointment of Sandor. He owns the pub.
As more aliens enter the room, I remember back when I first faced them, thirty some years ago, that as they shoot this ray out, the color of their bodies dim slightly. So my theory is if they would fire enough times, it would eventually kill them. A theory I once tested, unfortunately. It took five years for Ulric the archer to forgive me.
More blasts fire continuously from the deluge of aliens that keep pouring through the door, and now, crashing through the walls. I am surprised how many Vrollians keep coming. Oh joy. I manage a smile realizing that their leader must have over-compensated to make sure they don’t make the same mistake twice. This time, their pride overcomes their egos. So many warriors just to kill five naïve disappointments and me. My first mission this day is to save the children. Then later we will dance once again on the fallen pieces of their floating ship. And I want my name in more sonnets.
The vast number of Vrollians attacking makes it difficult to find the five. Losing track of things is just one of the many “gifts” of cursed old age. That plus it’s harder to concentrate and focus. Ever notice how things become greyer the older you get or how better life would be if we aged backwards, uh, anyway. Most of the bar’s clients lie still about the room. They won’t need an excuse for their wives tonight or ever. Few groggily try to stand. Some call this “foolishness.” Others call it “bravery.” There is a thin line between the two.
Now here’s another example of my current senility. As I slowly stand in the middle of the room, I see how vulnerable I am. So, of course, this brave fool gets shot. The beam strikes my right arm, causing it to go numb. With that jolt, I conjure up a shield of fire that separates me from the frequently incoming aliens. This shield gives me time to search among the debris. Knowing the five off-springs as well as I do, I know to first look at those lying motionless on the floor.
Wait, there’s movement in one of the few remaining corners of the barely-remaining pub. Brodir is alive! I thank the nature gods until I notice the tall man slowly stand up and quickly fall down. Not because Brodir is injured but because once again, Brodir is drunk. The best I can hope for is the aliens will think Brodir is dead and will leave him be.
“Never, I say! Never shall you have your revenge, Vrollians! So speaks Lahro, son of Wolf and Arika, successor to the throne of Thirr,” shouts Lahro as he launches toward a group of aliens, his father’s broadsword drawn. What joy! The handsome and strong Lahro charges with his bravery and trips over a body with his clumsiness. He slams to the floor, chin first and loses his sword and his consciousness. What sorrow!
An alien soars toward the fallen Lahro. I’m not sure but it sounds like he is laughing. I immediately project a bolt of lightning that sends the attacking alien into others, forcing them all through the wall and into death. I always enjoy watching as their domes go from brilliant sparkles to dark emptiness. More energy blasts fill the room and it becomes even more difficult for me to find the others. As I stand over Lahro’s body with my fire shield blazing, Shenandoah races toward me. He is bleeding and is terrified. Probably the first time he has seen his own blood.
“So, this is why you brought us here, great magician?” he yells, waving his broken lute in front of my face. “Did you bring us here to die? To put us out of our misery? Where are the great warriors of ole now? I can tell you since I wrote many of their songs. THEY ARE DEAD! Just like their children are about to die! Who is the fool now?” Ouch, that hurt. Remind me to hit him with a small hurricane later. If there is a later.
“Shenandoah, don’t worry. You are the son of the mighty archer, Ulric. You have his blood in your veins.”
“Kilse, I have my blood on my new shirt, my silk pants and I have lost my golden-laced lute that was given to me by Queen Sharreen. What do you want me to do, defeat these foes with a joke or a song?” Shenandoah throws the broken guitar at me, dramatic as usual and quickly ducks down, hiding under a broken table. Turn your spirit eyes away, Ulric; I know you were ashamed of him when he became the king’s fool and not a warrior. You truly don’t want to see your son right now with his butt being the only thing facing the battle. There’s nothing funny when your son is the joke.
Now, where are the others? I have an idea (yes, this still happens at my age) and grab the broken lute and smile at the royal fool’s suggestion. My magical spell changes the instrument into a guitar of contained wind. With the slightest touch upon the lute, a blast of destructive air shoots from the neck. I strike it hard against my side and the storm shatters the domes of a group of aliens nearest me. I laugh out loud, on purpose, as the now vulnerable energy forms float away from their suits. Ha! Whoever said I’m not musical? I motion it toward Shenandoah but the coward’s head is buried under the table. I sigh deep enough that he might hear it and hold onto the lute. The strain of all this magic is getting to me. I’m running out of energy and options. My energy will recharge, slowly, but my choices diminish quickly. I curse the nature gods that come to mind and make some up for giving me this role. Why did the legendary champions make a vow to look after each other and their children? If I had known I would be the last to live, I would never have made the vow. The others are all probably laughing at me right now from the heavens, especially Ulric.
I see Aj work her own type of magic and open a spacesuit. She truly is a master of thievery and disguise. I had never thought about controlling a spacesuit before. She reaches in the armor. I see some flashes from inside and suddenly the egg fires at the aliens. A number of them turn their attention toward her. I quickly try to expand my fire-shield but instead, the shield dissipates. That’s it for me. My magical energy is depleted. I need time for it to return. I wipe the sweat from my brow just in time to see Aj suddenly die by an eruption of energy from all points of the room. My whole world freezes. Everything seems to move in slow motion for a moment. I curse gods from another religion and ask for forgiveness from her dead father. She’s in your hands now, Rawl.
All right, I still have four of the heirs left to save. I call out their names as I gently kick Lahro’s side. I use the power of the lute again, pushing back a number of Vrollians and giving me time. As the son of Wolf finally awakens, Shenandoah peeks his head out from the broken wood when he hears his name called.
“Take your lute,” I yell as more blasts surround me, “now your music will conquer your foes. Try it!”
I place the guitar next to him so that I can help Lahro up with my only useable hand. Unfortunately, this numbness in my one arm will probably take lots of mead for it to feel better. That’s my theory and I’m staying with it. Shenandoah studies his new instrument and is confused. “I don’t see how this…”
He is suddenly surrounded by four Vrollians. They converse with each other, confirming this is one of the children of the chosen.
“Just play it!” I scream, unable to use my magic to help him.
“But how…” were the last words Shenandoah spoke before he is killed by the four bursts of energy from the attackers. Sorry, Ulric. I really tried to save your son.
Lahro sees the death of his newfound ally, looks at me and quickly faints. Now I really start to worry more than ever, a trait of mine that many verses told about, in many a song.
“Shade, I need you! Where are you?” I call out as I dive for cover. “Grab your brother and get out of here! I will try and save Brodir.”
Ever notice how important timing is? At the exact moment that I crawl toward an unconscious Brodir while dragging an unconscious Lahro, is the exact moment that Shade comes from the shadows, finally, swinging his ebony sword, fighting aliens to get to his brother. However, it’s that exact moment that Wyr decides to make his grand appearance in his fancy golden armor, the only one that has wings; in case you need to know who is in charge. Show-off.
“I am Wyr, son of Kur and the now leader of the new order of the galactic empire Vroll. I have traveled many years and light-years for the glory of honor and revenge. Children of Earth’s champions, face me! For it shall be descendant versus descendant. And to the victor goes your planet. Face your fate and face your death!”
Unlike his father, Wyr makes his proud entrance once most of us are dead or unconscious. He flies through the front of the building, (there is no doorway remaining which would disturb the bar’s owner Sandor except for the fact that Sandor is dead).
I lift Lahro up as his eyes start opening and that’s when I hear, “Aren’t you Kilse?” Wyr gets my attention. He is floating over Lahro. “And isn’t this the spawn of two of my father’s enemies?”
I try to stall, “This does not make sense. If you want revenge, why not go back to the past and kill their parents who killed your father?”
“Savages would not understand codes and rules that prevent the use of time travel to correct mistakes. This is about progeny to progeny. Sins of the father against sins of the father. I will finish what once was started.”
Wyr immediately sees and recognizes the dark-cloaked fighter suddenly appearing. Who wouldn’t notice him? It was a glorious sight, Wolf and Arika, you would have been proud to see Shade cutting through alien after alien with his sword cracking their eggshells. I wonder if his sword is magical. Shade charges toward their leader, never taking his eyes off him. Wyr fires the biggest blast I have ever seen, (looks like the leaders get the good stuff) and it propels Shade straight through the ceiling with incredible speed. Strange, but the only thought I have is, “Did Shade cry out when he died?”
I still have two to save. Unfortunately, they are both unconscious; one from fear, the other from mead. I strain with the little restored energy I have and manage to conjure up an ice shield between us and the army. Wyr is too close and is on our side of the ice. This magic causes me to become light-headed from the exertion. But I must stay awake. I get to Brodir as a myriad of blasts attack my shield.
“Please, Brodir, please wake up. I’ll create you a lake of mead if you just WAKE UP!” I scream over the blasts and loud cracking of the ice. Don’t tell Brodir but my magic can’t really create that lake…puddle yes, lake no.
The ice shield cracks.
“This is not even a fair fight. Your father…” I try stalling but Wyr ignores me and fires his killing energy at Brodir, making his sleep eternal. Forgive me, Ulric. Forgive your son too. I really don’t like Wyr. He is much more ruthless than his father, who at least would be civil in war. You could always start a conversation with Kur.
I call out for strength and guidance from all the gods I’ve ever heard of, from my dead and disappointed friends, from anyone that can hear me. My ice shield is about to shatter from the constant blasts of the attacking alien army. The last child of the legendary champions is out cold at my feet. And I am exhausted and close to fainting.
I have failed once again. Please, dear gods of mercy, ignore my previous curses and let this be the last time. I reach into my pocket and pull out the time crystal again. Wyr is stunned seeing it in my grasp, once again. Only Wolf knew I had taken it before he killed Kur. I told the rest I had destroyed it. Now I wish I could use it better. I can only adjust it to take me back mere minutes prior to their attack. I adjust the crystal as Wyr fires at me.
I awaken in my body, sitting at the pub’s table with the five children. I shake my head knowing what is about to happen. This time, I will try something new, again. Maybe I’ll create shields and help us escape through the back wall versus having them wage war outside the bar to give us time. It’s now become obvious that fighting back isn’t working. There may not be valor in retreating but there’s life. You know what’s worse than reliving their deaths every time? Knowing Ulric is laughing at every single effort and every single defeat.
Like I said earlier, time is always a friend and always a foe. Over time, I know we will get out of this trap, eventually. After all, it is written, “the key to the long path of success is to keep walking.” Or at least it will be written in the Scrolls of Wisdom as soon as I get back to my study.
Wyr is right. I do not understand codes and rules about time traveling but after all, I am just a “savage.” If this new strategy doesn’t work, I will turn the edges of the crystal once again and start over. And over. And over…