This scene picks up a plotline started with Excerpt #4: The King of Boraya and also introduces a favorite character among readers….
There had been rain, and there had been mist. In either case, the once-great city of Umarys, tottering on the rocky edge of the northwestern sea, awoke to a dampened morning.
Sygmon, aged by the years and the unfulfilled hope of an end to the strife, brooded in his throne, his head bowed and pressed against his fist. He did not care that his weariness showed….
…Sygmon stirred and, glancing in front of him, he saw a younger man in his thirties standing there, red-haired and bearded, grinning with an eccentricity pouring out of his restive eyes. Sygmon looked him over; the man was a hardened traveler—his mail was well used, his pauldrons were beaten and dented. A fine sword hung at his left side, and the man rested his hand upon it. He was no stranger. Sygmon knew who he was, “Welcome back to Umarys, Harn son of Hanma.”
Harn’s smile widened, and he bowed low, throwing his arms out at his sides.
Sygmon exchanged glances with Hanma who rolled his eyes at the excessive behavior of his son. He then returned to his former position, his brow upon his fist, but his eyes focused on the young man, “You are a long way from Far Harbor, lad. What petition do you bring? Yours? Or do you come on behalf of the Acchyron Coast? Or Lord Molay for that matter; I have not heard from him in some time.”
Harn took a step forward, “The Acchyron Coast, my liege, has become a graveyard.”
The king briefly raised his head, “What do you mean?”
“A graveyard to be sure, for graves outnumber houses and house the graven, that is to say those who have been engraved into the dirt. A grave matter to be sure, so speaks said dirt, fine granule companions as they are.”
Again Sygmon glanced at his friend Hanma, then, facing Harn, sighed, “What is the matter?”
“More dead live, if dead can live, than the living amongst the lifeless, that is the dead—.”
“Son on Hanma! If you have something to say, then spit it out. Why are there dead men in the Coast?”
“That is the puzzle to be sure, my king. Obviously the dead cannot make themselves, so it seems it must definitely be someone else who has made them. But with the evidence at hand, I may as well suspect the dirt to be the culprit.”
Hanma turned to the king, but, since the king said nothing, spoke, “Who has done this?”
Harn shrugged, “If I knew for certain, I would not blame the dirt. But I can tell you what I have heard.”
“Speak plainly then,” Sygmon finally said.
Harn stood up straight and replied, “My king, my lords, I come now to report a threat—what some have even said to be an invasion.”
Sygmon tapped his fingers on the arm of the stone throne, “An invasion?”
“An invasion, insomuch as a plague can vanquish the countryside or a thief pinches a gem. We have seen the fires, and we have buried whatever was left. But whoever comes before, I daresay, they are ghosts. But…but we have heard an account or two, as wild as wild tales may come especially those that tell of the wilds things I am told of.”
Sygmon stroked his beard, annoyed but steadily intrigued, if not also afraid, “You have said nothing of the Acchari. Have they not been in open rebellion for the last decade? I had even sent Lord Molay to deal with the matter.”
“So he did, and they fled into the mountains at his presence. We initially considered the Acchari of course. But…I doubt it.”
“Is there reason we should not be suspicious?” Hanma asked.
“Hear the tales,” Harn rebutted. “The first account I heard was from the coast further west than my station. A messenger came riding hard to Far Harbor, and he explained that ships were seen coming across the Acchyron Sea. The messenger requested reinforcements in case hostility erupted. I, myself, with a good number traveled there. But, by the time we arrived, the fort was obliterated—we found no survivors.” He paused to take a mourning breath, “No survivors, unless we consider that corpses survive the severing of souls. Well, in that case, the fires would have stolen away the corpses too had we not gotten their first to see them.”
“Is a fight with fire the extent of your capacity to defend the Acchyron Coast?” Sygmon inquired rolling his head back….
…But before Harn could say what he wished, his father asked instead, “Did you see the ships?”
“No, my lord father. And I asked the messenger about it. He assures me that they saw ships in the morning fog. I have no reason to disbelieve him. The attackers came; the attackers left.”
“Is that all?” Sygmon wondered. “Ghost ships? And a…drastic Acchari assault?”
Harn shook his head, “Not long after, I received word again of another attack, but this time there were witnesses—abandoned children and some women. We found them in what remained of a fortified village. Again, the soldiers were slaughtered, the men in the village too. Most of the women had been slain—all of them raped—and those that lived were as bewildered as the children.”
Hanma narrowed his eyes, “What did they say about the attackers?”
“They called them monsters: pointy ears, fangs, tails.”
Sygmon sat up.
“If I didn’t know better, I would say that they were describing…Satyrs, like from the old songs and horror stories.”
The room was hushed—a silence sang like before the creation of the world. Was is folly? Was it fear? Was it a dread respect—a hollow homage paid to a nightmare?
Sygmon bowed his head against his fist like before.
“Bedtime stories,” said Hanma, “stories parents tell their children to keep them behaved—don’t want Satyrs stealing them away in the night. Children imagine things, my son. And women can rarely be trusted with their hysterical fantasies….”
“…Or, my dear father…something ancient and long forgotten has crept up from darkest reaches of the world’s wild places.”