Categories > Original > Fantasy > Ashar0 Reviews
Ashar arrives at the north front and finds the mens's horses out of control.
By Kira Morningstar
Chapter 4: The North Front
Ashar rose before dawn, awakened by the myriad bird songs that filled the dew-kissed air. He decided to spend some time with the horses before they set out, suspecting that the animals might be agitated again. And he wanted some time alone, to pray, as he did each morning. But as he was about to slip out of the lord’s tent, Varador called after him.
“What are you doing?” the man demanded. “Where are you going?”
“I’m just going to check on the horses, Sir.”
“You wouldn’t try to run off, would you?”
Varador was still lying on his bedroll, one arm behind his head. He studied Ashar suspiciously for a moment. “If you did, I would hunt you down and kill you on the spot. I’d torture you first, of course.”
Ashar stared back at him with wide eyes, wondering if Varador could tell he was trembling. He found the lord’s threat, delivered so casually as the man still lay reclining in his bed, decidedly unnerving. “I’m not going to run away. Omah has sent me to you for a reason. I would be running away from Omah as much as from you.”
Lord Varador felt reassured by this answer. He believed that the boy had faith in his god. Ashar wouldn’t disobey this “Omah,” surely. Curious, he sat up, reaching for a cup of wine. Even on such a short trip, the lord had brought a few luxury items, including his favorite goblet, a golden cup adorned with jewels.
He saw nothing wrong with beginning the day with a bit of wine. He was accustomed to drinking whenever it suited him; by the end of the day, he would be thoroughly intoxicated.
“You believe your god has sent you to me? For what purpose?”
“I’m not sure,” Ashar replied honestly. “At least to help you with your animals.”
“Why would your god want to help me?”
Ashar smiled, his light green eyes shining with kindness and compassion. “Omah cares for you, the same as He cares for me. He has given you great gifts, so He must have grand plans for you. You would not be ruler of such a vast empire if it were not His will. Perhaps He has sent me to help you find Him.”
Lord Varador was silent for a moment. He had never worshipped any god. He had always relied on his own power—power that was considerable, for after years of refining his craft he had become a great sorcerer. He knew that when it came to his abilities, he had no equal in all of Merevonia. He had used his dark arts to extend his territory far beyond his original domain. Now Ashar seemed to be saying his god wanted him to succeed, wanted to help him.
He dismissed Ashar’s remark that the god caredfor him. That seemed absurd. Though Varador wasn’t even sure he believed in gods, he felt fairly certain that they didn’t have relationships with men. Gods were to be worshipped and appeased, perhaps appealed to.
“Do you think Omah would give me even greater power, if I worshipped him?” he asked, putting his drink aside and leaning back on one elbow.
Ashar frowned. “That is not the way you should be thinking about it. You should worship Omah because He is the One True God and trust Him to give you whatever gifts and powers He thinks are best for you. He might make your domain bigger, or He might decide you would benefit more if He took everything away from you. Only He knows what is best. You must trust Him.”
Lord Varador laughed. “You’re saying if I worshipped him, he might take everything away from me? Why would anyone worship a god like that?”
“Blessings come in different forms,” Ashar answered. “If you do what is right, you will be rewarded, though perhaps not in the way you think—and perhaps not during this life.”
“What do you mean, ‘not during this life’? What other life is there?”
“Our life here is only temporary. Omah is watching us to see what we do with what He has given us. If we do good in this life, we will be rewarded in the life to come—our eternal life with Him, after we pass from this realm.”
Lord Varador smiled at the boy’s look of sincerity, finding him charmingly naive. “We only have one life, Ashar. We make our own destiny. You have to seize the opportunities life gives you.”
“I agree that we must take what life has given us and do the best with it we can. But what happens on this planet, under our sun and moons, is only the beginning of our journey. When we die, we go to Omah to be judged for how we lived.” As Ashar spoke, a breeze coaxed the tent flap at the entrance aside and the newly risen sun shone on him, making his blond hair glisten like gold. The light surrounded him like a bright aura. Ashar was a beautiful boy, without comparison. He looked radiant, and for a moment the lord was speechless.
“You are very sure of your beliefs,” Varador remarked, trying to dispel a sudden sense of uneasiness that swept over him. For a brief moment, he almost bought into the boy’s faith. Could it be true? Was life a test of some kind? What if this god, Omah, were to truly judge him after death for his actions?
How would he be judged?
A shiver passed through him. “How is it you’re so sure Omah even exists?” he asked softly.
“I know because He lives inside me, just as He lives inside you. You just haven’t turned to Him yet.”
Lord Varador pretended he was tired of the conversation, yawning and running a hand through his hair. It was all nonsense anyway. The boy had a wonderful imagination, but Varador had lived long enough to know that, surely, none of what Ashar believed was true. It was doubtful there were even gods, at all. Certainly not a god like Omah. A man made his destiny by his own sweat, blood, and power. There was only one life, and it ended at the moment of death. Then the body decayed and went back into the ground. There was no afterlife, no reward or punishment, no judgment.
“Go see to the horses, then,” he said dismissively.
Ashar stood for a moment as though hurt, studying the lord’s body language. Varador had shut him out. But only a moment before, he felt certain that the lord had been almost receptive to what he had been saying.
Then it occurred to him: perhaps that was why he had been sent to Lord Varador—to help him find Omah.
“Yes, Sir,” he murmured, bowing his head slightly before he backed out of the tent.
The moon Doth was rising, just after the sun, though he seemed pale in comparison to the bright morning star. His larger sister Kara was setting in the east, an immense pink orb that dominated the morning sky.
They had set up camp by a winding stone-filled brook that gurgled pleasantly as water danced over and around its rocks. A flat, slightly hollowed stone at the water’s edge had become a bird bath, where beautiful yellow and blue karowyns were gathered. The birds lined up by the stone, each waiting for a turn in the sun-warmed water.
The surrounding meadow was filled with wildflowers, bright pink and lavender petals of yanowmea and wayward bits of white, fluffy cottongrass drifting on the breeze. Iridescent blue and green butterflies fluttered from one flower to the next.
The horses were grazing by the grove of trees where they had been tied, and they raised their heads and nickered a greeting as Ashar approached.
“You’re all calmer today,” he remarked, smiling. He visited with them all, scratching and examining them to be sure they were well. The animals crowded around him, eager for attention.
“You’re up early.” Benthem walked toward him, his brow furrowed.
“I wanted to check on the horses.”
The man nodded and then stopped, shifting his weight and then looking down before he spoke next. “Ashar, you need to be careful.”
The boy was stroking Nash, who seemed to revel in his touch. “What do you mean?”
“I think you know what I mean. You need to obey Lord Varador. What you did yesterday—when you failed to draw your sword—I have to tell you, I’ve seen Varador strike men down for far less than that.”
“I wasn’t going to hurt those wolves. Anyway, even if I’d tried, they would have overcome us, if they’d attacked. There were too many of them.”
Benthem frowned. He knew this was probably true, but it didn’t change the fact that Ashar ought to have obeyed Lord Varador.
“I’m only saying this to help you. Lord Varador will punish or even kill you, if you do something like that again.”
“Aren’t you afraid to die, Ashar?”
“Of course,” the boy answered honestly. “But I’m ready to die.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I’m ready to face Omah. When my time comes—and it will eventually—I will be ready. I won’t compromise my beliefs just to prolong my life. It is all up to Omah, anyway, when it’s time for me to leave this world.”
Benthem sighed. “You are going to live a very short life, I fear.”
Ashar nodded. “Maybe.”
“I still feel I have to warn you. Lord Varador’s punishments—I mean when he chooses to discipline rather than kill—can be quite severe. You might want to rethink your position and be more accommodating.”
As he was speaking, Miqah approached them quietly, listening to their conversation. When Ashar didn’t answer Benthem, he nodded. “You should listen to Benthem, Ashar.”
Ashar turned to look at Miqah, opening his mouth to protest. But when he saw his expression, he closed his mouth again, his attention on the solemn-looking man.
Miqah had an intense look on his face, as though he were seeing something disturbing, far away. Ashar noticed that his brown hair was held back neatly at the nape of his neck with a thong, and he couldn’t help but wonder how the man had managed to fasten it with only one hand. His gaze instinctively moved to Miqah’s short limb, and once again he marveled over the handsomely engraved silver cap that covered his stump and sleeve.
Miqah moved his arm under his cape, and Ashar looked up, blinking, embarrassed that he had been caught staring at his infirmity. He expected the man to be angry, but instead Miqah only regarded him with frank curiosity.
Few people stared so openly at his arm. The fact that this boy did so was perhaps not surprising—he was young, and he knew nothing about his story. What was surprising was that he seemed to look on him with admiration, rather than disgust. Miqah could detect nothing negative in his appraisal. No; he was certain that he saw a look of genuine awe in his eyes.
For a moment he even considered telling Ashar what had happened to his arm. It would be appropriate, after all, given the conversation. But he had never really spoken of the incident before—nor had he needed to, for everyone knew the story.
Everyone but Ashar.
But Miqah found that he could not bring himself to say anything about it. Suddenly a rush of emotion flooded through him—unexpected, powerful, and raw. He was taken by surprise. It had been years since he had dwelt on what had happened...that day. Not since he was...perhaps Ashar’s age.
“We should leave soon,” he said gruffly, turning abruptly and striding away.
Ashar stared after him, wondering, and then looked questioningly at Benthem. But the man only turned away, a strange look on his face.
They arrived at the north front mid-morning. The encampment was just outside the Midnight Forest, the massive trees at the edge of the deep woods creaking and rocking in the blustery wind. Ashar could hear the horses long before he could see them, for the animals were extremely agitated, rearing up and neighing as they fought against the ropes that kept them tied to the trees.
As they approached the encampment, Ashar could hardly believe his eyes. He’d never seen animals so frightened and upset before—except once, during a fire in his village. It was as though the horses had gone mad.
He felt his mount, Leramar, tense beneath him and heard Nash snort. “It’s all right,” he said soothingly, patting Leramar on the neck.
The men rushed toward them, saluting Lord Varador and gazing at Ashar with unconcealed curiosity and astonishment. Who was this boy, dressed up as a consul, riding with Lord Varador?
General Vican came out of his tent to greet them, a similar series of expressions flitting across his face when he saw Ashar. His eyes rested on the medallion Ashar wore around his neck.
His mouth froze into a hard line.
Vican knew the consul’s medallion. And he knew all the consuls. There was only one consulate in Lord Varador’s territory that was unclaimed—and that was Aragathia. So he knew, even before Lord Varador confirmed it, that this boy was consul of Aragathia.
Though he couldn’t quite believe it.
“Lord Varador,” he murmured, bowing, his gaze turning again to Ashar. “Consul?”
Ashar nodded. He wasn’t sure who the man was, though he guessed, by his rank and bearing, that he was someone of importance. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man with black, brooding eyes, and he had a look about him that reminded Ashar of Varador—that same intense, calculating expression. Only this man seemed a little older, his dark hair streaked with silver. And there was something else about him that made Ashar uneasy. The man seemed menacing somehow, even more so than Lord Varador, as if he were surrounded by darkness despite the bright mid-morning sun that shone down on them.
“Ashar is my new consul of Aragathia,” Lord Varador announced. “Ashar, this is General Vican.”
“General,” Ashar nodded, careful to sit up straight on his horse and look the man in the eyes, as Benthem had instructed earlier that day when they were riding to the north front.
A wave of excitement rippled through the encampment. This was the consul of Aragathia? A boy?
All eyes turned to General Vican, who was doing his best to appear unaffected by this news. His attempts at remaining impassive, however, were somewhat less than perfect. His neck was red—a rarely seen indication that the man was upset.
Lord Varador was watching him intently, looking as though the slightest misstep might cost Vican dearly.
The general had not risen to such high standing because he was an idiot. He immediately saw the situation for what it, at least in part, was—a test of his loyalty. For whatever reason, Varador had chosen to give the consulate to someone else. The only acceptable action now, on his part, was to embrace the news calmly and show that he was still obedient to Lord Varador’s commands.
“Consul,” he nodded in reply, his gaze moving back to Lord Varador. “The situation has reached a crisis, Sir, as you can see. We can’t even approach the horses.”
Varador relaxed, pleased that Vican had submitted to his decision without even batting an eye. Perfect obedience. He might have expected as much from Vican. Although the man was ambitious, he was—above all—loyal. The lord felt foolish for doubting him. And he would reward him soon enough with the consulate...after he was finished with Ashar.
But now, of course, he needed his new young consul.
“Ashar will take care of it,” Lord Varador answered.
Vican almost laughed. The boy would take care of it? What would he possibly do, that the rest of them hadn’t tried? The horses were ill. By some strange sickness, they had gone mad. Vican feared they would all have to be put down.
It was only as Ashar dismounted that Vican realized that the boy’s horse—and Nash—were calm. Hadn’t Miqah said Nash was out of control before? So then, what had happened?
He eyed Ashar again, puzzled by the boy’s air of confidence.
The men stepped aside as Ashar walked toward the horses, watching the unfolding scene with curiosity. There must be something extraordinary about the boy, if Lord Varador had made him consul. But could he really do anything about the horses?
Ashar was walking toward General Vican’s stallion, Ios, who seemed the most violent of all the animals. The horse reared up and then let loose a loud, shrieking neigh.
The boy opened the pouch at his belt, taking out his lythia. Then, he began to play. It was a beautiful, haunting tune, rising up on the wind like the song of some mysterious bird-creature, or the music of dreams.
Ios quieted, lifting up one hoof and then the other in an almost playful fashion. Ashar stopped playing and approached him, one hand held out in front of him, and the animal—miraculously—allowed him to come close.
The other animals had settled down, too, many of them watching Ashar as though under some sort of spell.
The men looked on in amazement, hardly believing their eyes. How in the world had the boy done it? How could he tame the animals by merely walking up to them? Was he enchanting them with the music?
He was a sorcerer, certainly. And of course, that explained why Lord Varador had made him consul of Aragathia. Despite his young age, the boy had enormous power.
Even Vican was stunned. He had been prepared to enjoy Ashar’s discomfiture when the boy found himself unable to do anything about the animals. Instead, he watched with complete astonishment as Ashar began stroking Ios—the same horse Vican had been unable to approach for nearly two weeks.
A cheer rose up from the encampment. The men were elated. Most of them were fond of their mounts and had been dreading what they had assumed was inevitable—that they would be forced to put the animals down. Though they had no idea how Ashar had managed it, they couldn’t doubt what they had seen with their own eyes. The horses seemed to be cured of their strange illness. Now they could finally proceed with their campaign, before Lord Drake came against them.
As Ashar visited each of the animals, the men gathered around, smiling and nodding at him. He had earned their respect in a matter of minutes. Boy or no, perhaps Ashar was deserving of the consulate. Anyone who could do what he had done was someone with a bright future in store for him.
Lord Varador watched the scene with a mixture of satisfaction and jealousy. While he was relieved to see the animals under control, he couldn’t help but notice how the men looked at Ashar. Once again he privately resolved to get rid of the boy, once he no longer needed him. He posed too much of a threat. If he was this powerful now, what would he be like as a grown man?