A Tale from de Rode
Click on image to enlarge.
by Abigail Roux
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: The King of de Rode had tried everything to save his threatened kingdom, everything but his last resort: instructions from an ancient poem. And so the King sends his son, Oliver de Rode, and Oliver's companion, Noah Moore, on a mysterious mission to the west following the ancient words... right to a forest full of mythical creatures and a wise-cracking genie named Max. In the hope of saving the kingdom from a costly war, the unfortunate travelers will endure a crash course in everything they have never believed, facing bands of thieves, wandering dragons, magic gone awry, and even Death himself.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: October 2010
8 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [135 KB]
Reading time: 87-123 min.
When darkeness falls upon the realm,
The youngest son shall take the helm.
The westernmost marke he must go,
Through the lande of knott und shadowe.
To the lande he must submitte,
Virtue, courage, und timely wit.
From the lande he will receive,
Riches, bliss, und eternal reprieve.
* * * *
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away--"
"Please do not regale me with any more childish tales," Oliver interrupted before Moore was able to finish. "This trip has been quite painful enough without your extraneous verbal contributions."
"We have nothing else to do," Moore reminded him. His horse whinnied and tossed his head in agreement.
Oliver rolled his eyes and shook his head, choosing not to grace Moore with another word. The stifling silence would do more to annoy Moore than another verbal thrust and parry anyway.
The prince of de Rode and his companion rode together along the narrow dirt lane, the click-clack of their horses' hooves and the dripping rain through the treetops the only sounds when Moore decided to hold his tongue. There was a thick cloud of drizzle around them, managing to permeate their heavy cloaks to their very bones. Oliver's fine linen shirt stuck to him like wet parchment, and he shivered almost imperceptibly. Their horses plodded on, oblivious to the mud and muck of the ancient wagon ruts.
In another league they would reach the western edge of the forest, where they were to find the marker that signified the end of the King of de Rode's realm, and then their journey would truly begin. Beyond that marker were the No Name Mountains, their snow-capped peaks hidden behind swirling gray clouds. Oliver and Moore had been able to see the peaks for the past two days of travel, when the cover of the forest opened up and allowed it. No man had ever climbed to the summit of the No Name peaks and lived to tell the tale. Survivors of the attempts said their breath gave out before they reached the top, chests crushed by the unseen hands of giants.
The tales of these dark, rugged lands ranged far and wide throughout the inner kingdom. Black forests full of primeval trees and malevolent witches. Old stone ruins built by an ancient race of djinn, abandoned and falling apart. Giant complexes of caves that were home to trolls and ogres and dragons. Oliver hoped to see some of these wonders, if only to dispel his fears about them. There were no such things as giants, dragons, witches, or genies. He'd often wondered if some clue to the real builders of those ruins could be found by someone who didn't believe in the old tales.
He had never been this far west, nor had Moore or anyone else they'd ever met. Soldiers of the Third Wars were all feeble old men now, their stories ruined by years of embellishment and ale. Pilgrims who traveled through the lands of the west did so with all speed, fearing the ghosts of the Dark Forest. Even the patrols meant to guard the safety of the western realm didn't set foot in the forests after dark. There were vast tracts of land on de Rode's western border left for the taking, if any invading army were brave enough to try it.
In the past four centuries many had tried, but only three attempts had been even remotely successful.
Oliver and Moore had discussed all these things when they camped the previous night. Neither man had been too ashamed to admit to some trepidation when they entered the woods a week ago. Now, they could only stare in wonder at the hulking mountains rising out of the gloom.
"You suppose what they say about these mountains is true?" Moore asked out of the side of his mouth, as if he didn't want the mountains to hear him.
Oliver shook his head, glancing at his companion and rolling his eyes. "You believe dragons fly in those clouds and magical creatures hide amidst the rocks?"
Moore shrugged and pursed his lips, looking at the mountains in the distance with clear apprehension. "I suppose not. But I could be persuaded if we get much closer."
Oliver laughed softly and clucked his tongue at his mount, urging the horse onward. "Take heart in that we must only travel to the base of the mountains and not into them."
"I would still feel more confident if your father had sent a patrol with us," Moore muttered as he put his horse into a canter to come abreast of Oliver's once more.
"I'm certain Father knows what he's doing." Oliver nodded to accentuate how certain he was. He couldn't help but silently wish the same, however. Their mysterious task would not seem so daunting with ten additional armed, competent men behind them.
"Of course, your Highness," Moore agreed with a wry twist to the words. They had been companions since before they could walk, Moore's mother acting as Oliver's wet nurse when he was born. They were brothers in every way save the blood flowing through them. When Moore called Oliver by any of his titles, there was always an ironic tilt to the words.
"You are a rake, Moore. I hope you are aware."
"Mercifully, you don't care, or I would have been thrown in your father's dungeon years ago," Moore replied with a smug smile as they rode on through the misty rain.
"Keep that in mind before you try to tell me another fanciful story," Oliver threatened lightly.
The trees began to thin out, the land becoming more of a meadow than forest. They had reached the western edge of the Black Forest. They continued on, more alert, seeking some sign of what they might be searching for as the land opened up around them.
And then suddenly they were upon it.
Oliver was surprised to find it was an actual, physical marker. He dismounted as Moore held his horse for him.
"It is a signpost," Moore said incredulously.
It was indeed. A massive stone pillar stood as tall as Oliver, and embedded in the stone was a simple piece of wood. The wooden plank had been worn by wind and rain, and the words that had once been carved into it were no longer legible. Oliver ran his palm over the smooth wood.
"Does it read 'Aldric was here'?" Moore asked wryly.
Oliver bit back his smile and turned to look at his companion disapprovingly. His father, King Aldric IV, was known for sweeping gestures of grandeur. If he had ever physically been here, the sign would have been slightly more impressive. There would have been a glistening white castle, or a cathedral lined with flying buttresses of gold, or a stairway to the afterlife with beautiful maidens guarding the silvery gates. Not a mere wooden signpost worn with age.
"Why would anyone carve a wooden sign when stone was sure to last longer?" Oliver murmured aloud.
He looked out across several leagues of open, barren field and up at the rise of the distant mountains. The peaks disappeared into the clouds before the mountains even seemed to narrow. He couldn't imagine being the first person to stumble across these behemoths, much less trying to lead an army through their passes.
The wind swept down the slopes toward them, bringing with it the cold and the smell of ice from the peaks. Oliver would have sworn he heard the distant, mournful clamor of an approaching army, doomed to lose every last man in a vain attempt at invading the most powerful kingdom in the land.
The mountains were the true western border of de Rode. The rest of the kingdom was surrounded by a dark and dangerous sea.
He looked back at the signpost in consternation.
"What shall we do now, Red Prince?" Moore queried in interest.
Oliver pursed his lips and reached up to run his palm across the growth of reddish blond hair at his chin. His strawberry blond hair had grown long and unruly on their trek, and his once cleanly shaven face was now graced by a beard with hints of red and auburn amidst the blond hairs. Moore, who was his exact opposite with his dark hair and wiry frame, had been calling him the Red Prince for days. Oliver was going to knock him off his horse the next time he did it. That was the sort of moniker that would stick once they got home.
"I suppose... we wait," Oliver finally answered helplessly.
"Wait? For what?"
Oliver shrugged in frustration. "This is the westernmost marker. This was where my father ordered us to go."
"Yes, but... but there is nothing here!"
"Do you suppose I have gone blind from staring at your ugly face all these weeks? I can see there is nothing here!"
"Well, how long do we plan to wait? And for what, exactly, are we waiting?"
"Until we find whatever it is father sent us here to get. Or we freeze. Run out of food. Encounter draught. Are attacked by invading--"
"Enough, thank you," Moore snapped. He groaned and slowly dismounted. "You do not suppose your father merely sent us here to get you out of the way for a fortnight or two, do you? Until the Council of War is over?"
"More likely it is an attempt to spare your life from an angry betrothed after finding you in the quarters of that chambermaid."
"Bah," Moore muttered as he waved Oliver off and led the horses from the trail. Oliver smirked as he watched him go, and then his eyes turned back to the dark trail behind them. Why had his father sent them here? The old poem said little of what the traveler was supposed to do once here.
* * * *
Their small fire crackled merrily as they sat huddled against the cold wind coming off the mountain peaks and across the plains. Oliver stared into the darkness, exhausted and listless. When his father, the king, had instructed him to take up this quest, he had not questioned him. The poem was known across the land and had been since before the First Wars. Four hundred years before, upon the eve of battle, the king's youngest son had been sent on this very quest in hopes that the old prophecy would save the realm from war. It had not. The young prince had never returned home. The war with their seafaring neighbors to the east had gone on for fifteen long years, ravaging the land, destroying half their fleet, and costing thousands of lives.
De Rode had emerged victorious, and her armies had swept across the neighboring land in retribution. But the war had taken its hefty toll, as wars were wont to do.
At the dawn of the Second Wars, the same hope had been stirred in the people, that the king's youngest son could save them on a western quest. He had not. He had come home, though, weary, sick, and empty-handed. The Second Wars were not aptly named, for they had lasted only one year. The attacking fleet never found its way past the sunken barrier of broken ships that created an unnatural reef around the veritable island that was de Rode. The last vestiges of the First Wars had staved off the Second.
And eighty years ago, when the wild men from west of the mountains had attempted to cross the No Name Mountains through hidden passes, a similar mission had been undertaken by Oliver's own grandfather. But he had not been on a quest to find some unnamed hope; he had been leading an army to meet the invaders.
Now, on the eve of a coming war, his ancient and ailing grandfather had advised the king to send Oliver here. What had he seen out here that made him believe Oliver would be successful when his forefathers had failed?
"The land of knot and shadow," Moore muttered suddenly, shaking Oliver from his reverie. "What does that mean? What is a land of knots?"
Oliver shrugged in answer, his eyes still on the darkness. He had pondered the words of the old poem a thousand times, and he had yet to decide what he thought it meant.
"And on that note, why are they called the No Name Mountains?" Moore continued as he stoked the fire, poking at it with the end of a long stick.
"Perhaps because they have never been given a name," Oliver suggested with a wry twist to his lips.
"But if they are called the No Name Mountains, then they have been given a name, and therefore they cannot be No Names. They must be given a true name."
"By that logic they already have a name. They do not need another."
"But their name means they have no name!"
"They are a paradox, then," Oliver said dismissively. He was not bothered by the name of the mountains, just by their presence.
"We should name them the Paradox Peaks," Moore said with a bright smile.
"Then they would have a name that is not No Name and therefore would no longer be a paradox. Thus not aptly named," Oliver drawled with a smile as he slouched further into the warmth of his cloak.
Moore stared at him, eyes narrowing as he mentally sorted it out. "If you were not a royal prince, I would smack you."
"It has never stopped you before," Oliver pointed out with a laugh.
Moore snorted at him and settled beside him, both of them resting their backs against the same large log. Moore shifted his shoulders and nudged Oliver as he tried to get comfortable, finally turning to investigate whatever it was that wouldn't allow him to settle.
He poked at a knot in the log and harrumphed. "I am sleeping on the ground with you when I could be in a nice warm bedchamber with the love of my life," he grumped.
"I thought I was the love of your life," Oliver teased, unable to help himself. When Moore became cantankerous, he was far too entertaining. And the love of his life he referred to was merely the love of the week. He couldn't remember her name and therefore had to be creative when speaking of her.
"You are more like the ugly old maid I was forced to marry for money," Moore claimed. He snugged his hood down over his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest, settling in for the night.
"No, no, I insist. I shall take first watch," Oliver offered sardonically.
Moore merely grunted at him.
Oliver glanced at him, too accustomed to his longtime companion's ways to even be annoyed. He smiled and returned his gaze to the dark forest, but the smile quickly faded as he tried to pierce the shadows with his eyes. The hair on the back of his neck prickled, just as it had every night of their journey. Tonight, though, he was not sure if he should have his back to the woods or to the mountains in the distance.
Either way, it would be a long night.
* * * *
Oliver awoke with a start and a gasp as he was shaken violently. He grabbed at Moore's cloak and pulled himself to a sitting position, eyes wide as he tried to see in the darkness. The fire had been doused.
Moore crouched over him, a finger to his lips as he shushed Oliver.
"What has happened?" Oliver asked breathlessly. His heart was pounding in his ears. They had gone too long in these woods, jumping at shadows. Every little scare now seemed to make him want to fight for his life.
"A torch, across the plains there," Moore whispered as he helped Oliver up and pointed out across the vast flatlands.
Oliver could see a lone flame, swaying rhythmically as it seemed to draw slowly near. Oliver and Moore crouched behind the same log they'd been using to rest against and stared as the flame bobbed and weaved.
"No traveler would risk that journey at night," Moore whispered harshly.
Oliver shook his head. He knew of no communities in this region. The once fertile soil had been salted by marauders ages ago, made useless for anything but burying the dead. The few people who did make their homes out here did so because they were in exile, cast out from their communities for some crime or misdeed not serious enough to warrant death, but too unforgivable to allow them to remain.
Oliver watched the flame with a growing sense of curiosity. What sort of person would be able to live out here? He would have to be the hardiest of men. Perhaps slightly insane as well.
"What do you wish to do?" Moore asked him as they remained crouched behind the log, waiting.
"I shall meet him," Oliver answered after a moment of consideration. No highwayman would announce his presence with a bobbing lantern. "You remain here with your bow. If he means me harm, you can fell him with an arrow before he could possibly do me damage."
Moore nodded, crawled to retrieve his bow and quiver of arrows, and promptly disappeared into the dark woods. Moore was quite deadly with the six-foot-long flatbow.
Oliver stirred the embers of the fire, nursing it back to a small flame. He fed the flame until he was certain it wouldn't extinguish itself within the next few minutes, and then he lit the end of one of their pitch-covered torches and raised it high, peering out across the plain once more.
The bobbing flame had moved much closer.
Oliver wet his lips and started toward it.