Categories > Original > Fantasy > Ashar1 Reviews
Ashar is taken before Lord Varador as his captive but has no idea why.
By Kira Morningstar
Chapter 1: Varador’s Need
Ashar tried not to tremble as Varador Castle came into view. He peered through the bars of the carriage and wanted to look away, but his eyes were fixed as though by some spell on the tall, sinister towers of the infamous estate. It seemed impossible, like a dream. He really was Lord Varador’s captive!
Almost as if in answer to his thought, the chains between his manacled wrists jangled as the carriage rocked and swayed over bumpy ground. The terrain had changed and now seemed decidedly unstable—somehow entirely fitting, Ashar thought, as they came into the personal realm of the dark lord.
The events of the previous two days swirled in his mind, jumbled up with his own anxiety about what was in store for him. The man who had taken him had seemed to know exactly who Ashar was. As soon as he had verified his identity, he had seized him and cuffed him, saying only, “Lord Varador claims you, Ashar of Whitehall.”
He had not even been given leave to say goodbye to his family or friends. They had wept and called out after him as he was carted off, and all he could do was try to put on a brave face.
“Don’t weep for me. We can’t fight what is meant to be.”
The team of horses that were drawing the carriage were uneasy, snorting and rearing up as though anxious to be rid of their burden. The man cursed and tried to calm them, leaving Ashar alone for a moment as he struggled to bring them under control.
Another boy might have tried to run away, but Ashar already accepted his enslavement, though he now fought valiantly to keep his tears from falling. He could hear his mother and sisters crying, and he did not want them to see him crying, too. He kept his head bowed to hide his face with his hair.
In the next instant the man had lifted him up from the ground effortlessly as though he were a doll rather than a fully-grown young man, setting him inside the carriage.
He seemed to hesitate for a moment, regarding Ashar with a strange look. It was almost as if only then had Ashar’s earlier comment registered with him. “Exactly so,” he remarked. “You can’t fight what is meant to be.”
Ashar stared back at him, a bit awed by the man’s sheer size and obvious strength. He wore a heavily embossed type of leather armor that left his arms bare, his muscular physique leaving no question as to the great physical strength he boasted. He was tall and broad-shouldered, and even the muscles of his neck were bulging with raw power.
“Where are you taking me?” he whispered.
“I told you. Lord Varador claims you.”
“But where am I going?” Ashar repeated, hoping against all hope that the man would not say the words he least wanted to hear.
But he was to be disappointed.
“Varador Castle, obviously,” the man answered, slamming the carriage door shut and securing it with an immense iron lock.
Ashar had fallen to his knees again, hands on the cool wood of the carriage floor as he struggled to comprehend what was in store for him.
Varador Castle! He was being taken to the very epicenter of the cruel lord’s empire—where Lord Varador himself resided! But why? What did the great lord want with him?
Ashar’s heart then began drumming even faster than it already was, knocking a cadence against his chest that betrayed his fear of what was coming. His whole body became his heart—pounding, pounding, ka-thump ka-thump ka-thump!
His entire life, Ashar—like everyone else he knew—had been under Lord Varador’s rule. They paid tribute, obeyed his laws, and tried not to attract the attention of the ferocious lord’s henchmen, the guards that roamed the villages, monitoring everything that went on to report back to Varador.
It was no secret that Lord Varador was a fearsomely powerful sorcerer who used his dark gift to impose his will as far as he could reach. His domain extended further than any other lord in Merevonia—from the Emerald Mountains in the east to Blood Lake in the west, as far north as the Midnight Forest and south all the way to the Black Sea. No one dared oppose his might, not even the other lords who had been forced to abandon part of their own territories when Varador began to extend his empire.
Whatever Varador wanted, he got. He was both feared and revered by his people, many of whom had even set up temples to honor him, in hopes of winning his favor and thus being spared his notoriously malicious wrath.
But Ashar and his family had never visited the temple to Varador in their village. Ashar’s father had always said that to worship any mere human—even a man as great as Lord Varador—was a sacrilege against Omah, the One True God. Was that why he had been taken? But then, why only him? Why not his entire family?
He had puzzled over his predicament for two days as they journeyed to Varador Castle, which was located in the very center of the lord’s empire, at Faragynn Hill. Although his initial anxiety had been, for the most part, smoothed out into a general sense of unease by the monotony of traveling, now that they were finally approaching the castle, Ashar felt his anxiety returning full-force. His stomach was a knot of worry and he was shaking—his entire body quivered with fear.
As he gazed at the castle, he tried to calm himself by reflecting on how beautiful the lord’s estate really was. The castle was built of pale yellow stone, trimmed with black, with several tall spiraling towers of different heights rising above the main body of the castle. They were approaching from the west just as evening was falling. The sun shone blood-red by the east tower, just above the majestic spikes of the Emerald Mountains that loomed in the distance. The moon Doth was setting, too, just as his larger sister moon Kara rose full and golden in the west.
Lamps and torches had been lit in every window, and the entire castle glimmered with flickering golden light, reflecting also on the moat that surrounded the immense structure. The effect was stunning. Ashar swallowed hard, feeling some of his anxiety fade away. Surely something so beautiful could not hold anything too evil, he told himself. Perhaps all the rumors he had heard about Lord Varador weren’t true. Perhaps he was actually a kind, gentle sort of man, misunderstood by his people.
Though Ashar knew very well this wasn’t the case, he was too frightened to think about facing the infamous lord, so he comforted himself with imaginary speculations about the man.
The drawbridge was lowered and the carriage rolled smoothly over it. They were inside the castle! As the carriage came to a stop there was a sudden flurry of activity and the sound of several men approaching. Ashar peeked through the bars of the carriage, straining to hear the conversation.
“You have him?” One man said, nodding toward the carriage.
“You’re sure it’s him?”
“Positive. Ashar of Whitehall. He attested to it himself.”
“Good. Lord Varador wants to see him right away.”
“Shall I clean him up first?”
“He hasn’t bathed.”
“He was quite clear. He wants the boy now.”
“He’s not a boy. He’s a good sixteen years, I’ll wager.”
The man seemed to disregard this with a shake of his head. “Bring him to the great hall.”
Ashar held his breath as he heard the sounds of a key in the carriage lock; next the door swung open.
“Get out,” the man commanded, holding out his hand to him.
Ashar took his hand and stepped out of the carriage, hardly daring to look around him.
“Sir,” he whispered. “Might I know your name?”
The man paused for a moment and then answered, “Benthem.”
“Why does Lord Varador want me, Benthem?” Ashar asked breathlessly, as Benthem placed a hand on his shoulder and began leading him out of the courtyard into the main castle.
“I will leave that for Lord Varador to say.”
“Is this him?” The man who had been talking with Benthem earlier now blocked their path, regarding Ashar with obvious contempt.
“I told you, Miqah. He hasn’t bathed—nor have I. We’ve been traveling since Hallow’s Day.”
Miqah sighed, falling in beside him as they continued on inside the castle and made their way down one of the corridors. “It can’t be helped. But after Varador sees him, see that he’s presentable. I’ll send the tailor to draw up his wardrobe.”
“Where is he to stay?”
“In the east tower.”
Ashar eyed Miqah with curiosity. The man obviously enjoyed some rank at the castle, yet he had a surprising infirmity—one arm, beneath the elbow, was missing. The stump was capped with some sort of silver object, heavily ornamented, almost as if celebrating the missing limb.
The man walked quickly, his cape flowing behind him as they passed down first one torch-lined corridor and then another.
“Did you have any trouble?” Miqah asked, after a moment’s silence.
“No. He came without resistance.”
Miqah regarded Ashar with a slight nod. “And his people?”
“They did not try to stop me.”
“Then, no one was killed?”
“No,” Benthem answered.
A slight smiled quivered at Miqah’s lips; he seemed extraordinarily pleased about something. “Good,” he said softly, as though to himself.
“Any news from the north front?” Benthem asked.
“Only that nothing has changed. Vican says none of the men can control their mounts. They’re vulnerable, if Lord Drake decides to take advantage.”
“Surely he wouldn’t be so foolish.”
“You know as well as I do how much he’s resented giving up his lands.”
Benthem made no reply, and Ashar wondered about their words. What did Miqah mean, that none of the men could control their mounts? Was he talking about their horses? If so, what was wrong with them? Was that why he had been summoned by Lord Varador, because of his way with animals?
“Excuse me, Sir,” Ashar said softly, now addressing his remarks to Miqah. “Why does Lord Varador want me?”
The man regarded him for a moment, his gaze then flicking to Benthem. “You told him nothing?”
“No. I was given no instruction—”
“Is it true what is said about you, that you can tame any animal, Ashar of Whitehall?” Miqah asked.
“I don’t know about any animal,” Ashar replied.
Miqah frowned, a look of worry flitting into his eyes. “No?”
“But it’s true I have been able to tame some animals—I mean horses, dogs, foxes, birds, and the like.”
Miqah visibly relaxed, exchanging a relieved look with Benthem.
“The team calmed once he was in the carriage,” Benthem remarked. “The journey back was far easier.”
“I noticed they seemed more manageable," Miqah noted.
“Is that why I’ve been brought here? To tame...an animal?” Ashar asked.
“I’ll leave it to Lord Varador to say,” Miqah replied brusquely.
Ashar nearly had to run to keep pace with the two men, and they made so many twists and turns down the corridors of the castle that he already felt hopeless lost. The castle was like a labyrinth. How in the world did the men know where they were going? Every corridor looked exactly the same—long, dark, and lined with countless closed doors, the walls mounted with torches that flickered and hissed, casting dancing shadows on the stone walls.
Then, suddenly, they were in the great hall. Ashar looked up at the immense chandelier that hung down from the ceiling, marveling at all the candles in it. He guessed that there were hundreds. They were all lit. He could hardly fathom the amount of wealth Lord Varador must have, to be able to light such a chandelier each night.
The hall, unlike the rest of the castle, was well-lit. The light from the chandelier was supplemented by torches that lined the walls between brightly decorated shields and axes that had been mounted in pairs, one crossing over another. The hall pillars were intricately engraved and painted with bold colors—blues, greens, and reds. Everywhere he looked he saw some object of luxury: statues, cushioned-covered bedrolls, large vases of flowers, miniature potted trees ripe and drooping with fruit, a wall fountain, even a small indoor pond situated beneath an immense arching open window, red and tangerine koi and mirama fish glimmering in its clear waters.
Ashar was so dumbfounded by the splendor of the hall that at first he didn’t even see Lord Varador.
When he finally saw him he drew his breath in sharply. The great lord was seated at the head of the hall in a high seat made of heavily-engraved silver. He was dressed head to toe in the finest clothes Ashar had ever seen, a rich blue velvet embroidered along the sleeves and hem in exquisite detail, with silver buttons all the way down the front of the tunic. He had long dark hair and fine features, but he carried himself with a sort of arrogance that Ashar immediately disliked. The man regarded him with intense, dark blue eyes—eyes that gleamed with intelligence but also with unmistakable cruelty, even malice.
“We’ve brought the boy, as you asked, Sir,” Miqah announced, stopping some distance before the lord.
“I can see that,” Varador snapped. “Bring him closer.”
Ashar once again felt his heart beating so hard in his chest that he thought he might faint. He felt a sense of growing dread as he approached the lord, and he desperately wanted to look away, but he could not tear his gaze from the man’s face. Lord Varador’s eyes were locked with his own, and he began to panic as he realized Varador was holding him hostage with his magical arts.
Varador seemed to look into his very soul. Ashar could feel the man searching inside him, his presence becoming so powerful and unbearable that he felt unable to breathe.
Omah, he prayed, protect me.
Immediately Ashar felt released from Varador’s grip. He looked away, relieved.
Lord Varador, for his part, was stunned. Never before had anyone broken his search. And now a mere boy had repelled his arts, not a few minutes in his presence. He stood up and approached Ashar, walking silently around him for a moment.
The boy was gifted in magic, that much was clear enough. It was fortunate that he had heard of his skill with animals, otherwise he might never have learned of his power. The boy was dangerous. And he was still young. Had he remained beyond Varador’s influence, he might have grown into a serious rival.
But now, fortunately, he was Varador’s captive. He could pose no real threat, at least not at the moment. Varador could use Ashar’s power over animals to his advantage. Then, when he was finished with him, he would…dispense with him.
“Look at me,” he commanded, when Ashar kept his head bowed.
Ashar met his gaze again, the fear in his eyes unmistakable.
Varador smiled. The boy was terrified. “I’ve heard you are skilled with animals,” he said softly, almost in a friendly manner.
Ashar, a little surprised at the man’s softened tone, only nodded.
“Good. We have been having a…slight issue…with our horses. You will rectify the situation. Is that clear?”
Varador studied him for a moment. “Your obedience pleases me. I assure you, you will come to no harm here as long as you do my bidding.”
Ashar was quiet for a moment and then replied softly, “I will do whatever you ask of me, as long as it does not conflict with my beliefs.”
Miqah and Benthem exchanged a worried look.
Lord Varador did not try to hide his annoyance. “You will do whatever I ask of you,” he stated.
“Yes, as long as what you ask does not conflict with my beliefs,” Ashar repeated nervously.
“If you do not obey my every command, I won’t hesitate to have you killed,” Varador said, his voice a low hiss.
“If it comes to that, I am ready to die,” Ashar replied, swallowing hard. His words were far braver than his heart, and he hardly believed that he had dared to challenge the great lord. But there were certain things he knew he would not do. Although he was Lord Varador’s captive, he would not worship him. He would not even step foot in the Varador’s temple, if one existed on the premises, which he felt certain was the case. Varador was not God. There was only one God, and Ashar would bow before no other.
Varador was once again surprised by the young man who stood before him. No one had ever denied him his demands and lived to boast about it. He considered striking him down that very moment. Only his pressing need stayed his hand.
For Lord Varador did, indeed, need Ashar. The problem with the animals in his empire had reached a crisis. First he had been forced to put down his own dogs when they had turned on him. Now his cavalry was in chaos, because the horses had grown wild. Even the castle bats—usually reclusive creatures—had taken to attacking anyone who came near. No one understood why the animals were out of control or what was happening.
No amount of sorcery could calm them. In fact, it seemed the more energy Varador poured into his magic, the worse the situation became. He had begun to suspect that the animals were reacting to his sorcery, and that the more he used his dark arts to obtain his objectives, the more uneasy and unruly the animals became, in response.
But everything he’d worked for was in jeopardy. Without horses, his warriors were vulnerable. It would not be long before his enemies saw his weaknesses and conspired to come against him.
Yes, he needed Ashar...desperately. If the boy’s magic was as potent as he now suspected, perhaps all could be saved.
“If it comes to that,” he answered smoothly, “I am ready to kill you. So; let us hope that you are able to obey my every command.”
Ashar had no answer to his threat but waited silently for the lord to continue.
Now Varador seemed to take note of Ashar’s disheveled appearance. The boy’s hair, though blond, had obviously not been washed in several days and hung around his face limply. And he stunk. Varador curled his nose in disgust.
“Take him to the bath hall and clean him up. And take a turn yourself under the water,” he said to Benthem, as though chastising him.
“Yes, Sir. I’m sorry, Sir.”
“Then take him down to the stables. See if he can calm my mount.”
“Of course, my liege,” Benthem answered.
Lord Varador turned abruptly on his heel and returned to his high seat, dismissing them with a wave of his hand.
Ashar looked after him for a moment, feeling an incredible sense of relief. So, he had been called to tame the lord’s horses. That was something Ashar at least thought he could do—something, in fact, that he enjoyed doing. He loved animals. Every creature of Omah was precious in his eyes.
He puzzled over what he had learned about the lord’s horses, remembering also the conversation between Miqah and Benthem. What was wrong with the horses? Were they ill?
The lord’s situation touched on something he had noticed lately, with regard to animals in general. They had seemed, to him, increasingly uneasy in recent weeks. He had assumed they were responding to some unseen threat that they could sense but which humans could not; he suspected that perhaps an earthquake or some other natural disaster was nearly at hand.
But Miqah had said that none of the men could control their mounts. That meant the situation was far worse than anything Ashar had witnessed.
Why? What was happening to the animals? What was the connection with Lord Varador? And would Ashar be able to do anything about it?