|Kingdoms in Chaos|
"Gwaum has beaten us," he said to his First Minister, Niram Trum.
Trum's voice trembled with the fear his eyes showed as he asked,"What shall we do, Sire?"
The King’s simple reply, "Flee," sent the minister scurrying away.
They descended the stone steps to the king's court. Queen Betsa stood near the window overlooking the courtyard, their young son Ruther by her side. She turned as the King entered the chamber.
"Gwaum has defeated the army," she said, in a terror shrouded voice.
"We must get out of the castle," the King asserted.
With a glance at Niram, he said, "Gather the court aides and their families and go to the dungeons."
The castle walls rumbled. A column gave way and the stones it supported fell, filling the chamber with dust and debris. Prince Ruther's sobs mingled with the crash of falling stones.
Niram's eyes glazed as terror almost overcame him. He cried in alarm, "The buildings will bury us, Sire."
"Just do as I order." The king said, his voice harsh with urgency, impelling the terror-stricken Niram to act. He disappeared into a corridor.
The King walked to a tapestry emblazoned with the royal coat of arms that covered the wall behind the throne. Pulling the tapestry aside, he pressed a dark-colored stone. A trap door in the floor fell away, revealing a dark passage with stone steps. Cool, dank smelling air swept up from its inky depths. His eyes swept to the Queen. "Go, my darling. Take the Prince. You know the way."
The Queen's dark eyes lingered on her husband. "What will you do?"
The king withdrew his scabbard from its place on the wall and belted it on. He pulled on a chain that hung from his neck. A crystal hung from the chain, a crystal that glowed with a silver radiance. He handed it to the Queen. The radiance dimmed.
“I now pass the rule of the kingdom to you, Betsa. You must find a way to save our son, Ruther and sustain the kingdom. I will not give up the kingdom to Gwaum without defending it."
"You will die, Nyle. Do not do this rash thing, my husband. Escape with us. We need you."
"I will not hide like a rat while this creature ravages my kingdom, killing my subjects. My duty is to my people. Take the boy. The House of Lithian will survive. Here is the Star of Torne. Put it on.”
She put the necklace around her neck. As the crystal touched her skin, the radiance returned. She was now the ruler of Torne.
Another bellow from the monster boomed across the city. Portions of the floor fell away and the wall of the king's chamber collapsed. Red dust drifted into the room. A putrid stink filled the air.
"Go," he commanded.
The Queen, tears brimming in her eyes, paused. She threw her arms around her king, husband and lover. Their hands clasped and they bathed themselves in the glow of one last kiss. One last time he felt her smooth skin. Then he let go.
"Go, Betsa. Take our son and flee."
The queen took Ruther's hand and she led them to the passage.
"Papa, Papa, come with us," the boy said, a sob punctuating his plea.
"Go, my son. Someday you will return as King."
More stones fell and the Queen pulled the Prince behind her as her feet clattered down the stone steps towards the dungeon. The king watched them. A moment later a stone fell, crashing into the floor, covering the passage. He could feel the palace shudder. He darted into the hall. Stones lay scattered around the passage, blocking his route. He turned and ran the other way. Threading his way through the destruction, he found another stair. Down he went. Upon reaching the bottom, he kicked at the door that led outside. A moment after he emerged into the courtyard. His feet pumped against the cobblestone street as he ran from the castle. The acrid smell of smoke choked him as he ran. A loud crash announced its fall. He turned to see his once fine palace now a heap of rubble, dust arising from its remains. A moment later, he turned and ran towards the hill, sword drawn. All around he could hear the sound of screams and moans of people caught in their fallen buildings. Fires erupted from many of the rubble piles as cooking fires spread to the wooden support beams. Smoke billowed across the rubble-filled streets, choking him and burning his eyes. People milled about, confused and terrified.
"Run for the hills," the king said, his voice ringing out above the din. "Save yourselves."
The creature, his task of destroying the city complete, strode into the streets. His eye roamed about, seeking more morsels for his insatiable belly. The king stopped.
Gwaum's eyes fixed on the King's royal garb.
"So, I have found the king," he said, an evil smile crossing his lips. "I love the taste of royal flesh."
His hand descended towards the king. The King drew his sword and stabbed at the palm. Gwaum bellowed in pain and his red, hot blood coated the King's upturned face.
Gwaum's eye burned in anger. "You will die now."
"You will not get me without more of your vile blood staining my land."
Gwaum hesitated. He did not wish to fight this man. He had no desire to shed more of his own blood. Gwaum did not like pain. He pointed at a buring pile of rubble near the king with his red finger. The fire flashed, followed by a sharp crack. Flamed leaped from a nearby fire and engulfed the king. His body fell to the ground, charred and smoking.
"I prefer my meat raw," said Gwaum as he picked the king's body from the stone street. "But you I will eat cooked."
He dangled the body over his mouth for a second, and then dropped it into his maw.
The Kingdom of Torne thus ended.
High above the hills above the city a group of people hurried along a narrow path. Queen Betsa stopped for an instant to survey their surroundings. Below them, they could see the fires of the city of Cleery as it burned. Gwaum stalked the city. On occasion, he stooped to pick up some morsel to feed on. Screams, muted by distance, rose in a terrible shroud of sound from the destruction.
Ignoring the terror that slithered down her spine, she turned to search the rocky bluff that towered over the trail. A familiar landmark teased her eye. Pressing against a rock a rumbling sound announced the opening of a dark crevice in the bluff. She pushed the young prince into the dark opening. "Go, Ruther. I will come soon."
"Enter the crevice," she said to the line of people behind her. "Go now, before Gwaum turns to see us."
One by one, the refugees scurried into the crevice. As the last one entered, she stepped inside.
Servants had lit the torches and they lent their smoky odor to the already acrid air. She pressed a stone besides the opening and the crevice closed. She looked at the Prince as he stood facing her. A torch flickered behind him, shrouding his face in darkness.
She closed her eyes for one moment. By now, the king had surely met his fate. This morning she had awakened full of hope that the wizards would prevail and that they would defeat the monster. The horror of their fall and then the crushing defeat of the last of the king's army changed her life forever.
Queen Betsa opened her eyes. She was now the leader of her people and this dark cavern was her realm.