Authors: Jonathan Moeller
FROSTBORN: THE UNDYING WIZARD
RIDMARK ARBAN is the Gray Knight, and he quests for the ruined citadel of Urd Morlemoch, seeking a way to stop the return of the dreaded Frostborn.
For if he does not find a way to stop them, the Frostborn shall entomb the world in ice forever.
MORIGNA is the cunninng Witch of the Hills, feared and mistrusted by the townsmen of Moraime. Yet darker things stir in the hills.
A trap that might devour both her and the Gray Knight...
Frostborn: The Undying Wizard
Copyright 2014 by Jonathan Moeller.
Published by Azure Flame Media, LLC.
Cover design by Clarissa Yeo.
Ebook edition published February 2014.
All Rights Reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author or publisher, except where permitted by law.
An excerpt from the chronicles of the High Kings of Andomhaim:
In the Year of Our Lord 1256, the last Keeper of Avalon and the Dragon Knight destroyed the dread Frostborn after fifty years of war, and the realm of Andomhaim had peace from battle at last, and the armies of the High King laid down their arms.
Yet peace provided a more subtle enemy than war.
For long ago the archmage Ardrhythain had founded the Two Orders, the Swordbearers and the Magistri, giving them magic to wield against the foes of mankind. And with their magic, the realm of Andomhaim stood fast against the wrath of the urdmordar and the storm of the Frostborn. Yet now both foes had been overthrown, and the hearts of the Magistri grew proud. For some among them had grown to love their power more than all other things, and desired ever more.
“Why should man be weak and mortal?” said these Magistri. “Why should he die? Do not the dark elves live for millennia? Are not the urdmordar immortal, save those slain in battle? Why should we obey the strictures of the High King and the church? Our magic makes us strong, and can make us stronger yet. Let us therefore use our spells to become immortal and rule over mankind as gods.”
These Magistri called themselves the Eternalists, for they desired to become immortal. And in their madness they turned to the vilest dark magic and the foulest blood sorcery, and wrought great misery and terrible destruction. At last the truth of their crimes came to light, and the Swordbearers and the true Magistri united to burn the cancer from their midst. In the Year of Our Lord 1307, the Eternalists were defeated, and those who desired to live forever met death at last.
Yet rumor held that not all the Eternalists had been slain, that some had escaped to lurk in dark places and plot revenge…
Chapter 1 - Fire and Stone
Thirty-two days after it began, thirty-two days after that afternoon in the Year of Our Lord 1478 when blue fire filled the sky from horizon to horizon, Ridmark stopped and looked across the marshes.
Something did not smell right.
“What is it?” said the orcish man at his right. The orc was tall and strong, his black hair bound in a warrior’s topknot. He wore armor of overlapping blue steel plates, the hilt of a greatsword rising over his right shoulder.
“Kharlacht,” said Ridmark. “Wait a moment.”
“Something is amiss?” said a woman’s voice.
Ridmark looked at his other three companions.
The first was a human woman named Calliande, her long blond hair pulled back in a ragged tail, her blue eyes narrowed with sudden alarm. She looked young and lovely, and while the beauty was real, the youth was not. She was two centuries old.
Likely older, but no one knew for certain.
The second was a dwarven man in the brown robes of a mendicant friar, his gray skin the color of granite, his receding black hair and beard streaked with gray. Brother Caius looked as if he had been hewn from living stone. His strange eyes were like disks of blue marble, and a mace of bronze-colored dwarven steel hung at his belt.
The third was a human boy of fifteen, with curly brown hair and brown eyes. He wore a chain mail hauberk, the shield of a man-at-arms slung over his back and an orcish sword at his belt. Dark circles ringed his brown eyes. That did not surprise Ridmark. Gavin had gone through a great deal since his home village of Aranaeus had been destroyed by the cultists of an urdmordar.
Little wonder he had not been sleeping well.
“Do you smell that?” Ridmark said.
Calliande smiled. “I fear I can smell nothing but myself. Traveling through the Wilderland does not offer many opportunities for bathing.”
“Nor do I,” said Caius in his deep, rolling voice. “Alas, the dwarven kindred are not known for their keen noses.”
“Perhaps that is just as well, Brother Caius,” said Gavin. “These marshes certainly have many…different smells.”
“That is merely a polite way of saying they smell bad,” said Calliande.
“True,” said Gavin. “Though I do smell something rotten.”
Kharlacht frowned. “As do I, Gray Knight.”
“And a metallic scent?” said Ridmark.
“Yes,” said Kharlacht, his perpetual frown deepening. “Now that you mention it.”
Ridmark nodded. “Be on your guard.”
He tightened his grip on his staff and kept walking.
The road, such as it was, consisted of a causeway winding its way through the stagnant water of the marshes. Massive trees rose from the water, thick ropes of pale moss hanging from their branches, their rough trunks spotted with lichen. Grass and weeds covered the causeway, and here and there small, tough trees rose from the dirt. It made for slow going, but it was easier than wading through the water. The marshes themselves stretched north and south as the causeway rolled west. After another day’s journey they would come to the town of Moraime, and the town and its monastery marked the end of the marshes and the beginning of the forests and hills of central Vhaluusk.
And from there it was another few weeks’ journey to the wild, spell-damaged lands of the Torn Hills, and then to Urd Morlemoch itself.
Where the Warden waited with the answers Ridmark had sought for the last five years.
Assuming, of course, that something in the marshes did not kill him first.
Ridmark pushed aside his thoughts of Urd Morlemoch and focused upon the present. In these marshes, inattention was fatal. A cut could fester and lead to an agonizing death. The pagan orcish tribes of southern Vhaluusk lurked among the marshes, building houses upon wooden posts and attacking travelers with poisoned arrows.
And more dangerous creatures hunted among the waters and the trees.
Ridmark stopped again, the others halting behind him, and watched a pool of water bubble a dozen yards away.
Of course, more natural hazards might kill them before the orcs did.
“Gavin,” said Ridmark. “Do you still have any of the torches from Urd Dagaash?”
“Three,” said the boy. “But it’s mid-morning. Surely we do not need the light.”
“We don’t,” said Ridmark. “Light one anyway, give it to me, and then step back. All of you.”
Calliande gave him a suspicious look. “What are you doing?”
“Testing an idea,” said Ridmark as Gavin fumbled with his pack. “It’s perfectly safe.” He thought for a moment. “Mostly.”
He expected another lecture from her, another sermon about forgiving himself and not risking his life without cause, but she only sighed. Perhaps she had learned the futility by now. Or more likely she would save it until the others were out of earshot.
It would have been annoying if she were not so obviously concerned about him.
Ridmark had no qualms about risking his life, given that he deserved death for what he had done, but he did not want to risk the lives of the others. If he could have undertaken his journey to Urd Morlemoch alone, he would have done so. But the others had insisted on following him.
He did not want to get them killed.
Too many people had died on his account already.
He remembered Aelia screaming, remembered the blood upon the black and white tiles of Castra Marcaine…
Then Gavin approached with a lit torch, and Ridmark shook aside his dark musings.
“Stand back,” he warned the others, gesturing with the torch. “This might get loud.”
“Loud?” said Calliande.
“Like this,” said Ridmark, and he threw the torch. It spun end over and end and struck the bubbling pool of water. The torch went out with a faint hiss and sank.
“Well,” said Caius, “that was…”
A blue fireball erupted from the water with a plume of steam and an angry hiss. Kharlacht and Caius yelled and drew their weapons, while Calliande raised her hands, white light flaring around her fingers. But the fireball vanished as quickly as it had appeared, leaving only burning grass and moss in its wake.
“What did you do?” said Gavin. “You…you aren’t really a wizard, are you?”
“Marsh gas,” said Ridmark. “Dead plants and animals get buried in the marsh, and when they decay, they give off a flammable gas. Since they are buried, there is no place for the gas to go. Eventually it leaks to the surface, and a single spark will set it alight.”
“I’ve heard the fur traders who visit…who used to visit Aranaeus speak of ghosts in the swamp,” said Gavin. “Blue lights at night.”
“There may be restless spirits in the swamp,” said Ridmark, “but those blue flames are marsh gases, catching flame and burning away.”
“I’d never heard of such a thing,” said Kharlacht.
“I thought were you were from Vhaluusk,” said Caius.
“The northern hills, near the mountains,” said Kharlacht. “Not the swamps. Even Qazarl thought the orcs of the swamps were mad.”
“This has been an enlightening demonstration,” said Calliande, “but why risk it? The light and noise will have drawn attention, if anyone is nearby.”
“Because,” said Ridmark, “I wanted to see if any swamp drakes were near.”
Her eyes widened. “Swamp drakes?”
“The metallic scent,” said Ridmark. “Swamp drake scales. They nest near patches of marsh gas, use their breath to set it afire and kill prey. They can’t fly the way fire drakes can, but they still breathe flame upon their prey.”
“Then why draw their attention?” said Calliande.
“They’re hard to see,” said Ridmark. “Brown and gray scales. Blends perfectly with the marsh. If one’s hunting you, you might not see it until it rips out your throat or sets your head on fire. But since the explosion hasn’t drawn any attention,” he shrugged, “we ought to be safe enough.”
“A sound stratagem,” said Caius.
“It was,” said Calliande, “but I wish you would explain these things. You have a deep and subtle mind, Ridmark, but my heart almost stopped when the water caught fire.”
Ridmark opened his mouth to answer, but then closed it.
She had a point.
“Forgive me,” he said. “I have spent years traveling in my own company, and I…have grown unused to explaining myself at times.”
Caius smiled. “At times, Gray Knight?”
“He merely objects, Brother,” said Kharlacht, “because of your insistence upon greeting the dawn every morning by singing the twenty-third Psalm in a voice that could wake the dead.”
“It is the duty of every baptized son of the church to offer praise to our Creator,” said Caius. “And only the Dominus Christus can raise the dead.”
“I said wake, not raise,” said Kharlacht.
Gavin burst out laughing and then fell silent, eyes wide with embarrassment.
“Be gentle,” said Calliande. “Brother Caius has a fine voice.”
“And loud,” said Kharlacht.
Caius snorted. “I was singing the twenty-third Psalm before you were born.”
“Enough,” said Ridmark, though he felt himself smile. “Brother Caius’s singing shall not have the chance to wake the dead if your bickering does it first. Come. If we make good time, we may yet get out of these marshes today.”
“A hopeful thought,” said Calliande. “And if God is merciful, perhaps there shall be a clean stream or pond where we can wash off the stench.”
“And,” said Caius, “a clearing that might provide excellent acoustics for morning praise.”
Ridmark shook his head. As much as he would have preferred to travel alone, traveling with companions did have compensations. It was pleasant to think about something other than the Frostborn, something other than his dark memories of that terrible day in Castra Marcaine.
For sooner or later his thoughts always returned there.
The causeway continued to a patch of massive, heavy trees veiled in thick curtains of hanging moss. Their roots had sunk deep into the causeway, and Ridmark and the others picked their way carefully over the uneven earth. The air now smelled of smoke, thanks to Ridmark’s impromptu fire, but the metallic smell had only grown stronger.