Authors: T.O. Munro
rath of the Medusa
T. O. Munro
Being dead was proving a far more painful and
trying experience than Gregor had expected; dying had been a minor discomfort by comparison. His latest wounds had all but healed, the scalded flesh and torn sinews knitting together in perfect pink health. However, the swift healing that this man-made hell bestowed was a small mercy against the vivid memory of pain which haunted his mind.
he wind tugged at his hair without stirring the leaves of the bush beside him. Gregor grimaced and pulled his cloak closer about him. Such localised gusts had become a familiar herald of trouble. The fragments of swirling air grasped like fingers probing for him through the familiar alien landscape.
He hurried on, without knowing where he was going. The forest trail and the wo
ods to either side were like countless others he had walked or ridden through in his life as Prince and Ruler of the Salved Kingdom. But this was not the Salved Kingdom it was a pocket in the planes imagined, created and sustained by his royal forbears, and this was not his life. It was his death.
Another gust, a stronger one,
whipped up the hem of his cloak. The thick brocade cape had been his first effort at imagining the substance of this place into a physical form. It was a clumsy attempt, the embroidery indistinct, the material stiff and heavy. No more than a childish scrawl of creation alongside the detailed masterpieces of forest, meadow, mountain and sky through which others before him had sought to re-create the homeland they had lived in.
“It’s crap,” he had said when he first held the unyielding fabric in his hand.
“It is a fine start, your Majesty,” Santos had assured him. “You will get much better with time and practice.”
But there was no time for practice
, only time to run. Santos, the Steward of this domain, lay leagues behind him, doubtless sheltering in the tiny hiding place which he had shared for a time with Gregor.
“He cannot find us here, Majesty,” Santos had assured him as they lay belly to belly inhaling each other’s breath. “He cannot hear us either.”
“How long do you hide here?” Gregor had asked.
“Usually only days, Majesty. His Other Majesty gets bored with waiting after a while and seeks out amusements elsewhere in the Domain of the Helm.”
Amusements!” Gregor had spluttered. “I’ve felt that bastard’s idea of amusement. He is insane.”
“Majesty, it is wise not to use that w
ord when speaking of his Other Majesty. He likes it not.”
d I like him not. Chirard the Mad, the Kinslayer, the curse of the Helm.”
Santos had nodded at that, his forehead touching Gregor’s in a moment of involuntary contact which left the steward mortified wit
h embarrassment. “It is true, Majesty, the Domain of the Helm was a different place, before His Other Majesty, King Chirard the third, joined us.”
“Surely not a happy hell?”
Santos had thought a moment before giving a short shake of his head. “No Majesty, but it was different, safer anyway.”
“And where have my other forbears gone
? Do they skulk in tiny holes like this, evading the Kinslayer’s spite and fury with some claustrophobic self-imprisonment?”
“Forgive me Majesty,
that my refuge is so meagre and unfit for a monarch.” The Steward’s apology had been sincere, quite devoid of the reproach which Gregor knew had been deserved. “I have but small power over the fabric of this place. I was never King nor ruler of the Salved. The other majesties have fashioned their own lodges, far from the Palace of the Helm. Where they have settled, their power has grown stronger and they can keep His Majesty King Chirard at bay while living their lives in comfort.”
eir deaths in comfort you mean, lucky beggars,” Gregor had corrected.
“In time Majesty your
skills and strengths will grow. I am certain you will be able to find your own escape from Chirard,” Santos had said without certainty.
nd now a dozen leagues from Santos’ meagre haven, another cloying draft swept by Gregor’s feet, snagging on the tops of his boots stalling him mid-stride so that he stumbled and nearly fell. He shook himself free of the invisible grasp and began to run. A breath of wind whispered past his ear murmuring “Thren-spawn!”
Gregor was no cow
ard. He had fought battles against orcs and zombies, ogres and men. He had led his household troop in a glorious charge to certain death seasoned with only the faintest hope of vengeance. But now he had met death and found it was only the shadow cast by a far worse fate. He flung himself off the path, crashing noisily through the undergrowth. The wind rose, rustling the branches above his head so that the trees themselves moaned “Thren-spawn” at him.
He had hoped to have
a few days at least. A time to find his own sanctuary in this hellish domain, to try to fashion a hidden place where he could recover and think. He so needed to think. So much had happened since he had died. She had worn the Helm, the gateway to this pocket in the planes. Through it she had entered the demi-planar domain. He had seen her, acknowledged her as his daughter. Had she accepted him as her father? Was she safe? He longed to see her again, but dreaded what seeing her might mean. Niarmit, the very name was a message her mother had chosen, a way to tell him as clearly as if she had said the words aloud “Gregor, she is yours.”
The wind was roaring
now. The branches rattled as the gusts converged on him from all directions, wisps of air collecting to hunt him down. The breathy chorus of rebuke was deafening, “Thren-spawn!” He ran, shielding his face with an arm against the buffeting gale, knowing that a threat of more physical substance would not be far behind as the master of this pack of zephyrs answered its howling summons.
He could not tell which way
he ran, but he must have sampled every direction possible in the intensifying storm before, at last, a tree root and a sharp gust conspired to send him tumbling ground-wards. His head struck a glancing blow against the tree’s trunk on the way down; the ringing in his ears quite muffled the sound of the raging whirlwind as he stretched his length along the leaf strewn forest floor.
he pushed himself up onto all fours when a foot came into view and then another, a pair of boots standing between his outstretched hands. Instinctively his fingers curled into the earth, gathering handfuls of dirt, his only meagre weapon against the newcomer.
The boots were fine riding boots, supple black leather, stitched in gold thread
, stopping just short of the knee. It was not his tormentor’s usual garb, but who else could this be but him? Slowly his senses cleared and Gregor heard only the thunderous beating of his own dead heart. Some other power than concussion had calmed the swelling storm. Who else could bid the stalking tempest still?
Gregor was in no hurry to look his capto
r in the eye. Let Chirard the Mad make the first move. But still his arms betrayed him quaking at the thought of what that first move might be. The ague that gripped him was as severe as when his father had made him hold a prone drill position for a full ten minutes with elbows bent resting only on his toes and knuckles. But then the shiver had been a product of exhausted muscles, not bowel loosening fear. Even at his harshest, old King Bulveld could not have induced one scintilla of the paralysing horror which the prospect of Chirard precipitated.
For a long moment
they remained thus. The quarry crouched, the hunter stood. Just when Gregor felt his nerve would snap, when he had resolved to call out, “go ahead! do what you will!” he was pre-empted by a low voice musing, “Well, what have we here?”
It was not Chirard.
Rather than the strident nasal tone with which the mad king had announced each torture, there was a broad vowelled twang to this voice of an accent more often heard in the Eastern Lands. Gregor looked up at last. The man stood over him in hunting gear. Thin, with a square clean shaven jaw and an aquiline nose over pale lips. He waited, patiently curious as Gregor pushed himself onto his haunches and then stood up. The newcomer was a few inches shorter than Gregor, of average height. The kind of man one would pass in the street and be unable to recall a single detail of him. He was unremarkable in every way except one, that he was here in the Domain of the Helm.
“You have the advantage of me, sir,” Gregor muttered a clumsy courtesy.
“I am a newcomer to this place.”
The other man sniff
ed. “We don’t get many of them.”
Again that foreign acce
nt, unlike any spoken in the provinces of the Salved. It drove Gregor to the question. “You are one of my forbears, aren’t you?”
The palpable doubt drew a laugh from the hunter. “Indeed I am. Forgive the coarse edge to my voice, but I spent my formative years abroad evading the assassins who had taken my parents and my brothers. One can shake off many things in adulthood but a manner o
f speech becomes ingrained and, to be honest, I never cared enough to try to change it. However, I am indeed an ancestor of yours, just as you are one of my descendants. Tell me how far has my line reached now?”
“I am Gregor, the fifth of that name.”
The man pursed his lips. “I see we have skipped a few rulers since Gregor the third. Wearing his cursed helm is not as popular a choice as the Vanquisher had expected.”
“This place is a hell, haunted by
a vile beast, maybe more than one. Of all the Helm’s many evils, the greatest is that Eadran enchanted each wearer against speaking truly of its nature. I was ill-counselled when I wore the blasted thing.”
“You and me both
, my friend, my kin. Still I was glad to warn my son against the temptation. He at least now rests in the care of the Goddess.”
Gregor’s fingers traced a crescent across his chest at the mention of the Salved
People’s patron deity. The gesture brought a frown to the other man’s face. “She cannot reach you here, Gregor. She can neither hear nor act on our prayers. You and I are entirely beyond her mercy.”
Gregor felt a lock of his hair lift in the lightest of airs; the tiny gust passed between them to flick the felt collar of the hunter’s jacket.
He was about to utter a warning at the return of the stalking breeze, but the other man’s eyes had already widened in shocked recognition. “He is coming!”
“You know him?” Gregor asked.
“We all know Chirard!”
Standing had suddenly become difficult as they were both
assailed by a fast building tornado. Gregor was astounded at how swiftly the storm had gathered and how much he had to shout to make himself heard. “He is hunting me,” Gregor said.
“And now he has found
, and I think he will care little about you anymore. Come, this way.”
Gregor followed after the smaller man as he jogged quickly through the woods, jinking left and right in a way that seemed to misdirect the pursuing tempest. Around them, the hissing refrain of the wind resumed. “Thren-spawn. Thren. Thren-spawn.”
Gregor knew what grudge Chirard bore against him. When the mad sorcerer had usurped control of his daughter’s body
, inhabiting her corporeal form to once again walk in the physical world, it had been Gregor who had broken his spell. He who had seized the Helm from Chirard’s head to cast the kin-slayer scalded and stunned back into the Domain of the Helm. He who had let Niarmit go free, hopefully never to return. He knew how that act had aroused the mad sorcerer’s undying anger.
, the frenzy with which the gale now flung leaves, branches and even saplings at the running pair was beyond all previous experience of the insane wizard’s pursuit.
“Who are you?” Gregor yelled. “Why does he hunt you with such fury?”
“Save your breath and run,” the other man called. It was timely advice for Gregor was struggling to keep up with the smaller man’s easy loping stride.
“Chirard hates me. He killed my parents, my cousins, my uncles and aunts. He tried to kill me.”
“Thren-spawn, Thren,” the wind howled.
“I spent my childhood running, and hiding, but as soon as I was old enough I came back. I came back and I killed him.”
“You,” Gregor gasped. “You’
“Thren the seventh,
at your service. Now run my brave descendant, run faster than the wind!”