Chapter Nine: Killara's Throne



by

Josie Beaudoin







They moved south, leaving Uaylan after only a day for Czeryn. They followed the road, stopping nightly at premade campsites along the way. Soon the great northern forest gave way to wide open grasslands. Galen pulled his horse up next to his master’s.

“I think I hear… voices,” he said softly, making sure no one else heard.

“You do,” Morgan whispered back, and Galen could feel the wistful nostalgia of the other man in his bones, “but not human voices. We are on the edge of the Great Plains, and you’re hearing the whisper grass. There were many times I thought I would never hear it again, but the grace of Vatha has brought me back home at long last.”

The plains were open and unchanging. Apart from the whispering grasses and the occasional stream, there was nothing – no trees, no houses, no hills or mountains. There was also no sound save for the whispers that never stopped. Galen found it unnerving, as did several other members of the group, but Paige and Morgan were soothed and comforted by the sound, as was Brand, though he refused to admit it. There was the illusion that they were, in fact, not moving at all, despite traveling all day, as the landscape was nearly barren of landmarks Slowly, however, a range of mountains began to take shape in the distance, fuzzy and blue, but growing closer every day. The mountains’ tops were covered in snow, allowing them to blend with the distant skyline, reminding the travelers that it was still spring.

It was around mid-morning one day like all the others that Morgan beckoned Galen to his side. The mountains loomed large in the near distance, always getting closer, but never quite arriving.

“I forgot about this,” Morgan said to his apprentice. Galen looked about, but saw nothing. Morgan pointed, to the horizon, and Galen was just able to make out a black dot on the plains ahead of them.

“What is it, Sir?” he asked.

“History,” Morgan replied, “and we’ll be passing it soon.”

Then he began to sing softly to himself,

“Proud stands a stone,
In field alone
How many winters
Have you known?
Countless, endless, and more

“Where armies meet
With tramping feet
How many bones
Lie ‘neath the peat?
Countless, endless, and more

“How many wars?
How many numbers
Lie now in
Aeternal slumber?
Countless, endless, and more

“Proud stone that stands
O’er all the land
How many dead
By Laric’s hand?
Countless, endless, and more

“O! Standing stone,
Killara’s Throne
How many years
Will you stand alone?
Countless, endless, and more…”

“I remember that song,” Paige said, coming up behind them. Morgan winced at having been clumsy enough to sing aloud, but his sister seemed unperturbed. She began humming it to herself as they rode. “You always remember all the words,” she said at length, “while I can never seem to remember more than one or two verses. But it is a beautiful melody.”

“We’ll be passing the stone soon, and I must warn you all not to lay so much as a hand on it when we do. Laric would know in a heartbeat it was us. That goes for all of us,” Morgan said, raising his voice. He turned his horse so it was facing his companions. “There’s a stone, in the distance. We’re going to be passing it, and no one is to touch it. Trust me, it’s not worth dying over. Just keep your hands to yourself.”

“Is it really that dangerous?” Paige asked him when they had all resumed travel.

“Not really, but I don’t want Brand getting any ideas. Laric would know we had touched it, any of us in this group except maybe the children. He would probably come, see if he could intercept us. We’ve come a long way from Erlaya, and I have no intention of returning. I’m still not convinced Brand is not just ‘behaving himself’ and acting like he remembers.”

“Are you serious? Brand is fine. He hasn’t said a thing in forever.”

“That may be, Shadow, but he hasn’t said anything positive, either.”

“Why don’t you just ask Galen?”

“I have, but Galen doesn’t know Brand the way we do. Believe it or not, you and I are still a better touchstone for our cousin than Galen is.”

The small black dot grew larger as they traveled, and by midafternoon, everyone could clearly see it was a huge rectangular stone set vertically in the ground. With no context, however, they were unable to tell just how large it was. Morgan drew the group to a halt.

“We’ll make camp early tonight, so we can all be fully awake and in broad daylight when we pass the stone,” he said. The snow-capped mountains stood nearly above their heads, but the stone was all that occupied Morgan’s mind. He kept a close watch on his cousin all evening, but Brand showed no sign of recognizing or being anxious to visit the stone.

The next day dawned bright and clear, with a cold tinge to the air, and the group set off south once again. Paige hummed and sang songs of Lyridon, urged into the memories by Morgan’s recitation of the day before.

They had safely skirted the monolith and Morgan breathed a tentative sigh of relief when Galen’s horse shied, knocking into his own. A snake had been disturbed in front of them, and stood sentinel in their path. Frelan reared and bolted away, heedless of Morgan’s attempts to soothe him. The usually placid horse panicked and ran directly away from the reptile, but at the same time towards the stone.

Morgan pulled at the reins, desperate to regain control of his mount, but Frelan would have none of it. The stallion’s mad dash took him ever closer to the standing stone, where he found himself confronted by a nest of the snakes sunning together. Frelan reared up again, throwing Morgan from his saddle directly against the stone. The panicked horse, wishing to never see another serpent all his days, then took off at a dead run back the way they had come, north.

Morgan landed in an unceremonious heap at the foot of the standing stone. He rolled away from it before climbing shakily to his feet, but the damage was already done. He put his hand to the spot where the back of his head had come in contact with the stone, and felt wetness there. His scalp was cut and bleeding profusely.

The stone, however, was far from damaged. It glowed an unhealthy greenish cast where Morgan had come in contact with it, and a low ringing sound could be heard that grew louder before it faded gently into the whispers of the grass. Morgan backed away, horrified. He looked around, and as the others came up to him, he distinctly heard Laric’s laughter ringing in his ears.

“Galen, you’ve got to get my horse,” Morgan ordered as he brushed aside the magician’s attempts to examine his head wound. “We’ve got to get away from here as quickly as possible.














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