Authors: K.J. Hargan
The Lord of Lightning
By K. J. Hargan
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The Lord of Lightning
2012 by K. J. Hargan
All right reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
illustration by Damian Hawes.
copyright 2012 Kurt J. Hargan
used with permission.
The author would like to thank Annette, Roy, Koral, and Jasmin Jordan for editing and support.
And, a massive 'Thank you' to fans and readers around the world who have made The Wealdland Stories a great hit.
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The Lord of Lightning
The Red Mountains
Arnwylf stood paralyzed, his wide shoulders hunched over in fascinated expectation, his long, matted blonde hair spilling over his face. The line of beasts bearing down on him was hard to process in his mind. The exact similarity of thousands of black faces with wide horns, bleating and snorting like aurochs was mesmerizing. The cloud of dust that the beasts produced from the stampede of thousands of hooves rose up above the approaching line of animals, and began to dim the blazing spring sun. His sword hung sheathed at his side. His single blade would hardly be enough protection from tens of thousands of rampaging beasts.
Arnwylf was growing every moonth. At only seventeen, he was already a head taller than most men. But, he had not an ounce of fat on his long, lean frame. Facing the oncoming wall of charging animals, head thrust forward, fists tensed, he looked like a scarecrow in his loose, tattered clothes.
There was no running to the left or right. The mind-boggling mass of charging animals filled the whole horizon.
Arnwylf backed up to the tree just behind him. He froze, realizing he would never have time to get high enough up the tree to keep from being caught by the overwhelming horde of beasts descending on him.
But he had to try, so Arnwylf turned to scramble at the tree's trunk.
A wiry, ebony arm reached down from the branches of the tree and hauled Arnwylf up to its safety. Zik tipped his head back and laughed that crazy laugh of his. The tree shook from the hundreds of beasts that slammed into its trunk as the animals charged along with the unyielding tide of the migrating herd.
"What are those!?" Arnwylf asked above the deafening din of the beast's stampede.
"Nyumbu!" Zik yelled to be heard. "They move south with the spring rains, to birth their young."
Arnwylf looked down and spotted many pregnant animals with swollen bellies, almost ready to drop their calves, jostling among the seeming unending flow of black, cattle-like beasts. Their backs gleamed with sweat from the mid day sun. The dust was choking and blinding. There were a few other animals in the crush of the stampede. Arnwylf saw from the safety of his perch, black and white horses, and huge, black bulls with wide, curling horns.
Then, the deafening thunder of the hooves began to diminish. The clouds of airborne earth thickened, as the current of living flesh no longer swept the dust along with the swarm of animals. Arnwylf began to cough uncontrollably.
"Get ready!" Zik called to Arnwylf.
Arnwylf looked out to the dusty horizon. He could see the rear of the mass of nyumbu.
Zik jumped down from his perch and pressed his body against the tree trunk as the last of the nyumbu passed on either side.
"Come down!" Zik called to Arnwylf.
Arnwylf began carefully picking his way down. The tree was covered with small spikes to discourage grazing animals from eating the bark. Zik reached up and roughly pulled the boy down to the safe side of the tree.
"There will be some stragglers," Zik shouted to Arnwylf. "So be very careful."
Arnwylf looked at his friend. Zik wore a leather, sleeveless vest, adorned with gold buttons. The smooth light brown, tanned vest contrasted with the dark hue of Zik's skin. Arnwylf had thought Zik was a garond when he first saw him. He had never before seen one of the 'True Humans', as Zik called his race.
Zik had trousers of a stout fiber material that was very useful as every plant in Zik's land either had thorns or was somehow poisonous. Arnwylf also wore a pair of the sturdy, gray trousers. But, Arnwylf would not, under threat or coercion, change the tunic he had been given by his father.
Neither Arnwylf nor Zik wore shoes or sandals. "Why keep your feet from feeling the mother earth?" Zik would say. Arnwylf's feet had built a thick layer of callous in the few moonths that he had been Zik's guest in the land far to the south of Wealdland.
The crush of nyumbu seemed to instantly disappear with the rear of the stampede. Zik bent down and hit a piece of flint against his drawn sword. The sparks easily caught the dry tree on fire.
"Come away, Weald boy," Zik laughed as the tree began to engulf with flame.
The burning tree was mesmerizing. Off on the far horizon, Arnwylf could see other trees going up in flames on the flat savannah. Zik's people were guiding the nyumbu, channeling their path away from their cities, and allowing them to take hundreds of the beasts for food.
"What will you do for trees next year?" Arnwylf asked. Zik tipped his head back and laughed, his brilliant white teeth standing out against his cheerful dark face.
"Next year this tree will be twice as tall," Zik said. "The fire helps them grow."
Zik suddenly shouted in pain as one of the black bulls, mixed in with the nyumbu, charged him from out of the swirling dust, and grazed him with a toss of its horns that would have killed Zik if it had hit him head on. Zik was knocked to his knees as the huge animal wheeled to gore him to death with its curling, black horns.
Arnwylf whipped out his sword, a fine steel blade made especially for him in Attubyamba, Zik's home city. Arnwylf slashed at the beast, which arched its back and bellowed with agony. Arnwylf instantly realized his mistake. He should have impaled the bull and tried to kill it. Now it was wounded and angry without concern for its own life and safety.
The huge bull danced at Arnwylf on its front hooves with snorting fury, its massive, black, sweaty head throwing its deadly horns back and forth.
Arnwylf had only one chance. If he turned to run or even moved to the side to give him room, the beast would use its weight to crush him. He had to stand perfectly still and allow the bull to come to him.
Arnwylf could smell the fetid breath of the colossal bull. Saliva splattered from the mad beasts working, bellowing maw. It looked very similar to the auroch back home in Wealdland, but it was jet black from head to toe. Its horns spread out from the top of its head, unlike the auroch, whose horns went straight up, this bull's horns spread out to the side and then curled forward. This was not a nyumbu, but one of the bulls that mixed in with the stampeding herd.
Arnwylf could see the sizeable knots of muscles in the bull's legs, as big as his whole torso. Time seemed to slow down for Arnwylf.
He saw the bull draw its head back to swing its horns full force at him. Just before the moment of impact, Arnwylf stepped forward and with his sword held high, and pointed straight ahead, neatly slid his sword into the bull's neck, down its throat, and right into its heart. The bull's head hit Arnwylf hard. The momentum of the beast's attack threw him back. And, Arnwylf intelligently let go of his sword and clutched the bull's horns as it crashed to the ground with an earth-shaking thud, dead.
Zik was instantly on his feet, and at Arnwylf's side as he rose.
"This is no good!" Zik exclaimed. "I saved your life twice. And then you saved my life twice. Now you have saved my life a third time. This is no good. Now I owe you a saved life."
"I know you will pay your debt," Arnwylf said with a tired smile. Zik pulled Arnwylf's sword from the beast.
"This bull is yours," Zik said with envy. Several of Zik's countrymen ran up to the two friends.
"This is a nyumbu?" Arnwylf asked, his ribs burned with pain from the hit of the animal.
"No," Zik said, "This is nyati, water bull, very dangerous."
"A nyati! A beautiful kill, Captain," Zik's First Mate, Myama crowed as he examined the fallen bull.
"This was the white boy's kill," Zik said with an annoyed smile, shaking his crop of short, braided hair.
Myama turned his round, shaved head to look at Arnwylf with new eyes, his muscular shoulders shook with mirth. Myama was short, but twice as strong as any man. "You surprise me anew every day, Weald Boy," Myama said with affectionate laughter. "Hmm, this may be a record beast," Myama said, suddenly serious, pacing off the size of the carcass.
"I would expect nothing less from my favorite fish," Zik said with a growing laugh as he slapped Arnwylf on the back. "Bring the horns directly to my house. Do not show them off to anyone."
Zik imperiously strode to the line of burning trees in the distance, leaving the skinning and dressing of Arnwylf's kill to his men. Arnwylf strode beside Zik.
The dust of the stampede was clearing, and Arnwylf could see thousands of nyumbu and other beasts laying slaughtered on the savannah. Zik's people worked quickly to cut the animals down to hides and cuts of meat. It was important to get the meat properly processed before the incessant flies ruined it. The black bodies of Zik's people were beautiful as they worked together in perfect unison, like a dance of dressing a kill.
Arnwylf could hear a song beginning to rise among all the people at work on the savannah, a song of happiness and gratefulness. The song was intricately rhythmic, allowing the workers to move in a coordinated way that would have been impossible without the timed strains of the chorus.
Arnwylf loved Zik's people. They treated him with respect and honor. And their culture was immersed in finding ways to make the whole of the people happy and more prosperous. Arnwylf frowned to himself as he thought of his countrymen in Wealdland. It seemed his people wanted nothing more than to cut the nearest neighbor's throat for the measliest of advantages. He felt he could stay in Zik's land for the rest of his life.
Then she came into his mind. Her softly curling red hair. Her blue eyes, bluer than a gentle summer sky. The pink, exquisite line of her lip. The cool feel of her hand in his. The smooth feel of the skin of her fingers. The gentle, simple way she spoke. Frea. How could he live without her?
Arnwylf was emotionally overcome and coughed to keep from bursting into tears.
Suddenly Zik stopped walking.
"What is it?" Arnwylf asked, nearly stumbling into his friend.
"This way," was all Zik said, and then he turned to his right and walked north, toward the line of mountains that ringed the flat plain.
"This isn't the way home," Arnwylf stuttered.
"I have something to show you," Zik said without turning to look at Arnwylf.
The two walked on through the dust and crisp spring grass of the savannah, in silence. Zik seemed lost in thought, and Arnwylf had enough troubles of his own to succumb to idle chatter.
Arnwylf thought of his mother, Wynnfrith, who had gone to the Far Grasslands with his grandfather Yulenth, Frea and another woman. Wynnfrith had a vision, and felt compelled to go to the center of the garond lands. Arnwylf never knew about the visions until recently. Wynnfrith had kept her glimpses into the future secret. His grandmother had warned his mother that knowledge of her ability to see the future with her farsight would make her dangerous to her enemies, most importantly, the Dark One.
Then Arnwylf thought about his father, Kellabald. His father had commanded the combined human armies at the Battle of the Eastern Meadowland, almost two years ago.
Arnwylf thought about the stampede he had just seen and was reminded of the stampede they had used to defeat the garond army at the Battle of the Eastern Meadowland. Arnwylf almost smiled to himself.
His father was a good, humble man who had been treacherously killed by an Atheling of Man, Apghilis. Arnwylf had killed Apghilis at the Battle of Byland only three moonths ago. The thought of slaying his father's murderer gave him no comfort, but he felt glad to have rid the earth of a betraying vermin like Apghilis.
Arnwylf's ribs hurt as they walked towards the Red Mountains in the distance, but he was not going to cry or complain. Arnwylf thought about how he and his family had marched to Rion Ta after the Archer and the elf had freed him and his family at Bittel. He had to control himself from bursting into tears then. Arnwylf allowed himself a moment of pride. He had grown, and could now withstand much pain and hardship.
Arnwylf missed his father. Kellabald was a good man, and the way he had lived his life was the lesson that had saved Arnwylf from making the fatal mistake of joining with Deifol Hroth, the Lord of All Evil Magic, the Scourge of Wealdland, the Lord of Lightning.
The day grew later as Zik and Arnwylf walked ever closer to the Red Mountains. Zik quickened his pace. Arnwylf could see that there were mountains behind the Red Mountains, and mountains even taller behind those. They were perpetually capped with snow, a line of stone trailing off to the northeast like the Shoulders of the World.
It wouldn't be long before Kellth, the father sun would set, and then mother moon, Nunee would follow him. And, she would be accompanied by the second moon, the mysterious and fearful Wanderer.
Deifol Hroth had moved the Wanderer out of its orbit two years ago. The whispered fear was that he was going to bring the second moon down to earth to kill every living thing in the world. And it had seemed he had tried, only three moonths ago, at the Battle of Byland, when the fool, Lord Stavolebe, at his Evil Master's behest, put the Sun Sword together with the Moon Sword and then placed the Lhalii, the strange elvish crystal, on the Sun Sword's hilt. The resulting pulse of energy was unmistakable. It was the same burst of primal energy that had moved the Wanderer two years earlier.