Authors: Richard S. Tuttle
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Young Adult
akuta: the Dark Mage
Book 4 of Forgotten Legacy
Richard S. Tuttle
Copyright © 2003 by Richard S. Tuttle.
All rights reserved.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
Khador halted his horse atop the small rise and dismounted. He gazed westward towards the mouth of the mighty river and the ocean beyond. As his eyes surveyed the fertile valley, he began to nod appreciatively.
“What are we searching for?” asked one of his generals as the vanguard of Khador’s army halted behind him.
“We are no longer searching,” Khador replied with a smile upon his lips. “Look at the mouth of this river. What do you see?”
“A wide delta,” shrugged the general. “The river is wide enough to provide a defensive border for one side of our troops should we be attacked, but that is not likely. The Chula are running from our army, not seeking to confront it. They will be exterminated completely before long.”
“Must you always be a soldier, General?” Khador shook his head. “We have not come to this land just to exterminate the Chula. We have come to found a civilization. Look at the fertile valley below us. It is the finest land that we have seen since coming to this accursed place.”
“You plan to make camp here for some time then?” asked the general.
“Not a camp,” corrected Khador, “a country. This valley will become Khadoratung, the capital city of our country of Khadora. Every piece of land between the Fortung Mountains and the Kalatung Mountains will be ruled from this valley. This is where Khadora will be governed from.”
“From here?” questioned the general. “Why such a remote area? I can see the valley is fertile, but we will be far removed from your brothers.”
“Brother you mean,” scowled Khador. “Only Omung lives now, and his people will settle the land south of the Kalatung Mountains. North of the Kalatung Mountains is my land.”
“And Fakar’s army?” asked another general.
“Fakar’s army must stay east of the Fortung Mountains,” declared Khador. “Nobody lives in Khadora that is not subjected to my rule.”
“Are we to stop them from coming to Khadora then?” asked the first general.
“Certainly,” nodded Khador. “Traders may cross the mountains to sell their wares, but this land is mine. There will be no migration allowed. How Omung handles his people and his land is up to him, but I plan to make sure the Khadora is the most secure nation of them all.”
“That could lead to fighting with the men from Fakara or Omunga,” frowned the general. “Are you sure this is wise?”
“It is necessary,” stated Khador as his brow creased in frustration. “I cannot remember what has caused us to flee our homeland, but the terror will seek us out. That is why this valley is perfect for our capital. It is as far away from everyone as it can be. Here we will build our city and set the course for our future. The highest-ranking generals will be gifted land around the new city. Others will also be gifted land, but as their rank decreases, the distance from their land to the capital will increase. The lowest ranking will receive their land near the Fortung Mountains or the Kalatung Mountains. They will be our border defenses.”
“So the more loyal the troops, the closer they are to protect you,” the general nodded appreciatively.
“Exactly,” affirmed Khador. “Also the size of the grants will dwindle as the distance from Khadoratung increases. Those who have proven their loyalty to me will be amply rewarded.”
“And those less loyal will be spread out over great distances and unable to pose much of a threat to your rule,” nodded the general. “I can see that you have thought on this subject for some time. What is to stop those clans on our borders from conspiring with others across the mountains?”
“They will not be able to conspire without us knowing of it,” Khador said. “The first law of Khadora will make lying a grievous offense. Any person who is caught in a lie will forfeit his life. This will be the law of Khadora. I have chosen six among the most loyal of the generals. Those six will form a council of lords to enforce the law and settle disputes. I, as the emperor, will have the final say on all matters. Together, our armies will ensure that the laws of Khadora are obeyed.”
“There will be grumbling when only six are chosen to be above the rest,” sighed the general.
“Each clan shall be headed by a lord,” smiled Khador. “Each lord shall have a seat in a national assembly. Its powers will be minimal, but it will give them a sense of participation. In the future the assembly of lords shall choose who sits on the Lords’ Council. The lesser clans will believe that they actually have a say in how the country is governed. That will keep the rabble quiet.”
“In reality,” grinned the general, “it will always be the strongest of us to rule the land. Our armies will ensure that. The rest of the lords will squabble amongst themselves.”
“Precisely,” declared Khador, “and in the future, the six shall choose the emperor. Together our seven clans will rule Khadora forever. See to your men, General. In the morning we begin to create a new country.”
Netura's eyes scanned the sides of the road in a continuous motion. He was aware of the Three Sisters Mountains rising sharply off to the right, but he did not allow the scenery to distract him from his duty, even though he had never been this far north before. The young Torak soldier was excited to have been chosen to guard the caravan on its way to Chantise, as he had never been to a large city before, but he also realized that the previous two caravans had failed to show up in Khadora’s second largest city. He vowed to guard the valuable shipment and enjoy the scenery on the trip back home.
Netura saw the squad leader signal for him to come forward. He passed three wagons loaded with golden ripe watula and a squad of black-clad soldiers escorting them until he was riding alongside Hira. The two soldiers rode in silence for several long minutes before the squad leader spoke.
“Netura,” Hira said, “it is getting late in the day. I want you to ride ahead and find a suitable spot to make camp for the night. Remember what I taught you. Choose a location that is easily defendable and where our sentries can be concealed. Also choose a location where wires can be strung during the night to alert us to any intruders.”
“Are you expecting trouble during the night?” asked Netura.
“I always expect trouble,” sighed Hira. “You must learn to do the same. All day I have had a nagging feeling that today is the day we will be attacked. I cannot logically explain the feeling, but it is making me nervous.”
Netura’s eyebrow rose as he gazed at the squad leader. Hira was known by everyone to be confident even under the greatest stress, so his admission unnerved Netura.
“I have detected nothing so far,” Netura offered sheepishly.
“I have not detected anything either,” admitted Hira. “Still, the other two squads had far more experience escorting caravans than we do, and they have not been heard from. I will rest easier when we arrive at Chantise.”
Netura nodded and started moving ahead of the caravan, his eyes constantly shifting from side to side. He heard a slight whistle and turned to see Hira motioning him back to the caravan. He immediately obeyed.
“Was I making too much noise?” Netura asked nervously when he was once again riding alongside the squad leader.
“No,” Hira smiled weakly. “You were doing fine. You have learned your lessons well, Netura.”
“Then why did you recall me?” questioned Netura.
“The feeling,” the squad leader stated flatly. “Look, Netura, if we are attacked, I want you to avoid the battle.”
“Avoid the battle?” scowled Netura. “I could not walk away while my fellow soldiers are fighting. How can you ask this of me? It would be a violation of my Vows of Service.”
“It would not be a violation,” assured the squad leader. “You are under my command, and you shall do as I order. Caravans do not just disappear, Netura. The real danger in this mission is that we do not know what to expect. Part of me wants the attack to happen so that we can get word back to the estate about who our enemy is. I want you to be that messenger.”
“I am an able fighter,” protested Netura. “I am sure that we can repel any attackers.”
“We will do our best to defeat our enemies,” nodded Hira, “but I still want you to get word back to Lord Marak if anything goes wrong. It is important. Vow that you will carry that word if we are attacked.”
Netura rode silently for several minutes before finally nodding. “I vow to carry word of any attack to Lord Marak’s ears,” declared Netura.
“You’re a good lad, Netura,” smiled Hira. “Go and find us that secure location to camp for the night. Daylight is fast escaping us.”
Hira frowned as he watched Netura ride off. He knew that his orders had been like a slap across Netura’s face. No Torak soldier willingly walked away from a fight while his friends were in danger, but Hira knew that Netura had the best chance of evading an enemy if the need arose. The lad had a natural stealth to his movements, and the squad leader had promised the Lord Marshal that this caravan would not disappear without a clue as to why.
Squad Leader Hira pushed the thoughts from his mind as he watched Netura disappear around a bend in the road. He turned and let his eyes roam over the small caravan and the escorting soldiers. He smiled inwardly as he made eye contact with each member of his squad. They were all good lads, he thought to himself as he turned his attention to the road ahead. He tried to smile as he scanned the road ahead, but the feeling of doom clung to him, as it never had before.
Twenty minutes later, Hira knew that the feeling was genuine. The caravan had just rounded a bend in the road when he detected movement off to one side. The squad leader’s fingers instantly moved in what appeared to be a random fashion. The entire squad of Torak soldier became instantly alert as the squad members recognized their leader’s signal. Hands went automatically to hilts, and the soldiers nonchalantly maneuvered their horses alongside the wagons on the opposite side of the disturbance.
Suddenly, flaming arrows soared towards the caravan from both sides of the road. The Torak soldiers dismounted and drew their swords as the wagon drivers whipped the horses to speed them away from the attack. It was a move designed to take the prize away from the bandits while allowing the soldiers to counterattack. In normal circumstances, it would have worked well, but Hira instantly understood that he had been defeated. He jumped out of the way of the speeding wagons as they tried to escape.
“Take cover,” Hira shouted. “They do not want the cargo. They want to destroy it.”
Hira dove into a small gully that ran alongside the road. Some of the other squad members also dove for the gully, but most had already committed themselves to the fight by charging into the forest.
“Bows and throwing knives,” shouted Hira. “They have no intention of coming to us. They plan to finish us off from the safety of the trees.”
Hira turned and saw the three wagons of ripe grain engulfed in flames. The drivers’ bodies littered the road. The horses ran frantically to escape the fires that were steadily devouring the wagons behind them. He turned his attention to the far side of the road where several of his squad had disappeared. He nocked an arrow to his bow and sought a target.
“I can’t see a thing,” snarled one of the Torak soldiers in the gully. “They are just gray shapes moving from tree to tree. No clan colors that I can see.”
“Must be gray bandits,” called another Torak warrior just before an arrow pierced his neck.
“These are not gray bandits,” snarled Hira. “Bandits want to be paid for their work. They don’t intentionally destroy a caravan. Besides, these men have worked together for a long time. You can tell by the lack of orders for the attack. Not a word has been heard since before the attack started. No, lads, we are facing a clan that doesn’t want to show its colors.”