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The children of the Nymphs
New Edition 2017
Ebook version isbn 9788899972813
Lello Lucignano Editore
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Via A. Diaz n°17 80023 Caivano - Napoli – Italy Tel. e Fax 08119244562
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Cover image of Pasquale Qualano
Translated by Valentina Colombi
The sun had risen for some time over the vast county of Green Mantle, surrounded by the shores of the Emerald Sea to the South and by the Dusky Mountains to the North. To the East, several canyon ranges separated the county from the Scorched Lands, whilst to the West, the Ancient Forest delineated the border with the Ancestral Moors.
In Merlarion, capital of the county’s realm, the Market square was swarming with colours, amongst fruit baskets, cooking pots of bright copper, bold fabrics of Nemerin and pottery from the old village.
The loud voices of the merchants were mingled with the joyous boisterousness of the children, the rythmic hammering of the blacksmiths, the stomping hoofs of the animals, and the march of the city guards, which were out on patrol.
From the southern gate of the city, all the way to the walls of the Ancestors Castle, life flowed in the streets, during that quiet spring morning.
Not far outside the walls, on the hill in the north, deep in the wheat fields, stood the tenement, surrounded by high gates of wrought iron, almost completely swallowed by thick hedges of the county’s red ivy. The majestic entrance gate, decorated with a large portrait of an axe and a hammer in the shape of a cross on a round oak shield, led the way to a dirt track, flanked by two rows of elm trees, which then led to a large open space opposite the dwelling, where in the center was placed an imposing stone fountain.
In the middle of the fountain’s basin, a mythical creature resembling a wyvern sculpted out of white stone, six feet in height, was hunched atop a ten feet tall alabaster column, from which crenels clear water flowed, originated by a natural spring under the hill. At the back of the fountain, on a wide tidy lawn, overlooked the extensive wooden patio, which ran all long the ochre facade of the old two storey building, a rectangular construction on which corners stood four red brick towers.
At the center of the building, there was a large garden, house to an old oak tree which soared a few feet above the manor’s roof.
Proteus was in a good mood that morning. He settled his linen jacket over his shirt, put on his boots and left the bedroom, walking towards the main staircase which led to the lower floor. As he was going down the stairs, he could hear the chatter of the maids, occupied with house work.Good morning Sir! – voiced Amelia, the oldest.Good morning to you! – he answered back.Is Sir going to the city?I am, I must deliver an order to the Cloak Maester, I shall be back for lunch. Do you have any directions for the cook?I wouldn’t mind some mutton roast.I will bring word immediately.Perfect, see you soon.
He entered the hallway, briefly stopping in front of the large wall mirror, its wooden frame inlaid with hunting scenes, placed by the coat hanger, crafted out of walnut wood, he was smoothing his thick fawn coloured beard and fixing his shirt collar.
He took the big leather case beside the mirror, and wore it across his shoulder, opened the door and went down the patio stairs, walking towards the dirt track.
As he walked past the fountain, he heard a noise coming from the elm trees, he had just enough time to turn around and drop the leather case, when two huge clawed paws landed on his shoulders. Large red eyes, without pupils, were staring at him, whilst a lean snout, with two long ivory fangs was just inches from his face. Standing on his hind legs, the beast was dominating him, it was still, with the only exception of the long and thick tail, which was twirling without breaks.
Proteus smiled.Good puppy! – he said, whilst stroking the animal’s head.I must go to the city, I have no time to play now. You guard the place, like a good boy, I’ll be back shortly.
The animal lowered his front legs down to the ground and nodded.
Even in that position the wolf was imponent, almost four feet tall at the withers. He sat down and escorted his master with his gaze, until he was out of sight and over the gate.
It took him just over half an hour to cover the distance that separated the manor to the city. He walked through the southern gate, and began to follow the route that led to the market.
He walked past the neghbourhood of the craftsmen, at times waving to the customers at the doors of the inn’s. He then walked past a throng of kids crowded around a little stage, engrossed in following the adventures of the puppets on strings, and carried on to the square. He did not cross the market, but took a side road instead, which brought to the palace of the city guards. In a few minutes he reached the palace, an elegant fort made of white stone, of which the entry gate bore the incision of the royal crest, a two-headed snake, coiled around a flaming sword.
He reached the gate, manned by two guards. The uniforms were made of golden steel busts, decorated with the royal crests, a white blouse to cover, trousers of the same style and metallic greaves, which bore the motif of the bust. On the left shoulder, a pauldron made of thick brown leather was the counterpart to the beautiful ivory coloured cloak, laced to the right shoulder, which fell almost to reach their ankles. Two long swords hung on the leather belts, attached to the uniform, one on each side.Good day Lord Proteus. – said one of the guards, drawing closer.Good day to you all. – He answered smiling. - I must meet the Captain.The Captain is waiting for you in the private hall. – Answered the guard opening the gate.
He walked past the hall, going down the courtyard where a dozen of recruits were overtaking the training activities. He strodealong the slate paved corridor, decorated with armours and chandeliers, on the walls, pictures portraying the Cloak Maesters that came and went during the centuries, and which stood out for the execution of their tasks.
He had reached a double door at the end of the corridor, he knocked and waited for an answer.Come in. – Was audible from inside.Good morning Brenn! – he said as he entered.My friend, come in, come in! – answered the Maester getting up the armchair behind a big mahogany desk.
Brenn was a sturdy man in spite of his age, given away by the silver in his hair. A short but thick white beard, neatly kept, framed his hard face. The blue eyes and the pristine uniform clashed with the dark complexion, giving an almost supernatural look to the man’s austere appearance.
The Maester went towards Proteus smiling to greet him, holding out his hand. He held it, smiling back.Here is the present for His Majesty. – he said offering him the case.
Brenn took it, slowly unfastening the knot at the end, he slipped a hand inside and grabbed the hilt, pulling then the case away with the other hand. He just admired it for a moment, turning it around in his hands. Two snake heads, with eyes made of ruby, outlined the top of the hilt, the body wrapped in golden coils formed the handle up to the guard, traced by two tails. The long blade of white steel, serrated on both edges, shone almost blindigly, under the beams of light entering through the big window in the room. Ancient runes were engraved on the fuller of the sword, conferring to this an almost magical aura. A beautiful weapon, elegant, very light and deadly at the same time.I am speechless. – said then Brenn.I assume you like it! – joked Proteus.No human bladesmith could give a soul to the metal the way you can. This is not just a sword, it’s an artwork. Only the best Master of the dwarves could accomplish as much! King Robert it’s going to be enthusiastic about this gift!This gift will be a symbol and at the same time a wish, of at least fifty more years of peace and prosperity under his kingdom. – voiced Proteus.Peace maintained by His Majesty, but conquered by knights like you, my friend. – answered Brenn.We all played our part. But it’s old history, let’s enjoy the harvest of peace and the serenity of our times.
Brenn layed the sword on the table, walked towards a cupboard beside the big window and opened its doors, picking up two copper goblets and a cristal bottle. He poured the cider for himself and for his friend, and then offered him a full goblet.To peace! – toasted Brenn lifting his goblet.To peace! – echoed Proteus lifting his own one in return.Will you come to the ceremony? I imagine you’d want to see the King’s reaction in seeing your sword.I will be there, but I will remain on the side lines, you know I don’t particularly appreciate social events.You should instead consider them more, you are still a Lord after all!A title i’m grateful for, but you know it doesn’t suit me. I never had Lord ways about myself.You will get used to it, even if it’s going to take you fifty more years...Never say never! – he smiled. – I must go now, i shall see you soon my friend. – He began walking towards the door.Proteus! Aren’t you forgetting something? – asked Brenn, showing him a small velvet bag in his hand.It’s a gift for the King, you owe me nothing.And this is a gift for you, let’s put it that way.
He smiled and threw the bag at him. Proteus grabbed it, smiled back and went out the door.
This time he walked right through the market, eager to feel the contact with people, to breathe the city’s air, to see new faces, before going back home. He caught sight of the merchants of the southern lands, with their stall of sweet smelling spices, which occupied the corner beside the old Hawk’s Tavern. Women and servants were neatly queuing at the table, waiting to buy spices for themselves or the cooks at the inn’s. Further towards the castle, were the jewellry and the fabrics merchants, displaying goods destined to the rich women of the city, whilst on the South side of the square, the trinkets merchants were showcasing their belongings on mats, layed on the cobblestones.
He had decided to stop at a fruit stall, to buy something to eat for his return journey. He was running through the choices of plums, figs and pomegranates, undecided on what to buy, when he perceived an outlandish feeling, just like a shudder. He remembered to have experienced the same feeling a few weeks before, it couldn’t have been just a suggestion.
Looking around, he noticed nothing strange. He was about to convince himself that it had only been an impression after all, when he caught glimpse of a shadow at about fifty feet away from him, leaning on the wall of a blacksmith’s shop, which seemed to stare at him. He couldn’t define its features, but it looked like a man with a hood lowered over his face.What can I give you Sir? – A voice broke his flow of thoughts.Eh...what?We have some really sweet pears today, or if you prefer hazelnuts of the South just fresh in, very fresh bananas or apples of the valley.I’ll have some apples, please. – was his distracted answer. – just one bag.
He looked around again, but the presence had vanished. His eyes searched for it, through the crowd, in the exposed corners of the roads, but he found nothing.Here you are Sir, it’s two coins and a half.Thank you. – he answered, absentmindedly offering the money.
He went through the road slowly, until he reached the southern gate, he then took the path leading him to the manor on the hill, surrounded by dark thoughts.
He returned home, ate his lunch fast, without finishing the mutton that the cook had prepared for him. He sat there for a while sipping a cup of cider, his mind going back to that feeling, and to the shadow he had only caught a glimpse of.Amelia! – he called eventually, getting up.
The maid entered the dining room.Did you call Sir?Yes, this afternoon i’m going to be very busy in the laboratory, please do not let anyone disturb me for any reason.Of course Sir.Thank you. Oh... and tell the cook not to prepare anything for dinner, i will surely work until late.Shall I have something brought to you?No no, nobody can disturb me, I have a delicate job to finish, I need to concentrate.As you wish.
He went to the main garden, passing the majestic oak, going towards a bronzed door on the southern wall. He took out a key from his pocket, inserted it into the keyhole and turned it, pushing the knocker which moved slyly, with sinister noises.
He locked the door behind him and went down a long stone staircase, bordered by damp and black walls, that seemed to go on into the core of the earth.
He went on step after step, for endless moments, until he reached, suddenly, an ample circular hall, with walls almost fifteen feet tall, lit up by dozens of torches on the walls. Along the perimeter of the room there were work tables, tools, metal blocks, boards and chunks of wood. On a wide table on the right-hand side of the entrance, there were several papers, depicting sketches of weapons and armours, whilst on the opposite side of the hall, a large portion of the wall was occupied by a library as high as the ceiling, overflowing with dusty old tomes. In the middle of the room, a furnace had been set up, flanked by a bellow and by several anvils of different sizes, upon which were neatly stored numerous hammers and pincers of different varieties. At the back of the furnace, across from the entrance, a hefty part of the wall gave way to majestic and knobby roots, which ran all along the wall from the ceiling, splitting and framing a large stone disc, covered by fine inlays, and then finally reunite, to spill out onto the floor for several feet.
Proteus moved slowly towards the center of the hall, lingering by the bellows. Leaning on its big handle, shiny under the red flames of the torches, was resting a large double-headed axe, with finely serrated blades, the edges so white and thin to seem made of diamond. On the cheeks of the weapon was depicted, in bas-relief, a crossed axe and a hammer. The handle of wood and bone was wrapped into a leather strip, trimmed with thick black fur, adorned by annular studs of red metal. The end knob was made up by a sizable amber rock, harnessed into the grip of four silver claws.
He picked up the axe, studied it briefly and walked towards the work table. He grabbed a big canvas bagpack resting on a stool, checked its content, attentively closed it again, securing the straps and picking it up, ensuring the weapon on a loop sewed into the back of the bag. He looked around, as if making sure he had left nothing behind, and walked towards the stone disc. The middle of the disc was decorated with two black clawed wings, whilst on the rim, the engravings of ancient dwarvish runes were chasing one another, in an endless circle.
He lifted his right hand and, with a solemn movement, leaned his palm against the cold stone. Closed his eyes, and his lips began moving slowly, uttering ancient words, severe and ethereal.
The edges of the clawed wings seemed to shudder, the runes engraved on the stone seemed to come to life, lightened up by a weak yellow light. As the words flowed from his mouth, the light became stronger, the yellow became gold, and then amaranth. The flaming runes became alive, projecting themselves on the other side of the stone, towards he that had invoked for them. The disc released a sudden heat, which ran into him like an intangible breath. The runes danced slowly, forming a circle around the dwarf, for moments that seemed endless they grew in size and brightness, like small stars in the slight space of a room. A blinding light shone into the laboratory, just to disappear a moment after, taking Proteus.
The meager light of the torches was left to lit up a room full of innatural emptiness, whilst tiny light sparks fell dancing amongst the roots, just where a few instants before, the dwarf had invoked the ancient powers of a time now lost.
In the meanwhile, by the elm trees where he had been lying until then, the wolf got up suddenly, growling and exposing his teeth, staring towards the gate, where a shadow was slowly forming, moving closer.
The silence in the candid corridor of shiny stone, decorated with statues depicting the gods, had been interrupted by the rythmic sound of marching steps. The long black cloak, almost touched the floor, as if dancing, and the ruby red eyes of the shoulder straps, two large mouflon heads, were reflecting a scarlet quality of the torches light. The black wings were resting placid on his back, and a bony hand gripped the sacred rod, the golden rose on one end, was the counterpart of the silver sickle on the opposite end.
The golden doors of the room of the Hiloskjaf, the high wise, opened at his arrival, and Azrael, carried on past the doorstep, reaching the presence of the Father.I am here, did you call for me? – asked the keeper of souls.The circle of life is wavering. How many souls have been stolen from you? – he asked from the height of his seat.Many souls are still in the world of the silvane.Aren’t you the keeper? You must return them to the eternal flowing.Your son interfered, freeing the Demon upon those lands.None the less, you cannot renege your duty.So, recall the Demon, and I shall restore order.The Gods won’t interfere any longer in the matters of that world. Go and do what you must.And yet you have let your son get in the way. He already violated the rules in the past, he deserves to be sentenced!You dare tell me what must be done? Remember who sits upon this throne! Do as you have been ordered, or you shall pay for the consequences!I remind you, Father of the Gods, that my existence is irrespective of your will, and my duty is to maintain the balance. I will do what’s necessary, even without your help. Your threats do not harm me, since I exist before you sat upon the Hiloskjaf, and I shall continue to exist when the Gods will be forgotten.
He bowed, bidding farewell, and left the room. There was no need, he thought, that a whimsical God reminded him of his duty. The balance had to be restored, one way or another.
The vast palace stood on a high cliff overlooking the Emerald Sea, dominating the harbor and the White City. The streamlined towers seemed to reach the sky, and the thin bridges linking them, looked just like embroidered lace amongst the clouds. The Ivory Tower, in the center of the walls, housed Garret Thymion, Lord and Governor of the Nemerin County.
Once the First Knight of His Majesty, he had obtained the governorship as a reward for the victories gained during the bloodiest battles of the War of the Worlds, fought alongside the king, fifty years before. Under his guidance, Nemerin had recovered and prospered, and the city had become the crucial junction for commerce in the kingdom.
Garret was sitting at his desk, in the hearing hall, engrossed in listening while the chancelor read a list of all the meetings he was going to have that day.My lord, I beg pardon for this interruption. - Bursted the guard’s captain entering the hall.
The chancelor halted, and Garret turned to face the new comer.Sir Damian, I am listening.