THE LOST PRINCE: PART V – THE PROTECTOR OF ASHENMORE (PT. 2)
Before any of us could venture any further, I heard a cry of alarm burst out from one of the buildings and, moments later, we found ourselves surrounded by dozens of armed men and women, pouring out of the crumbling houses like a swarm of flies. I recoiled in horror at the sight of them. Their eyes glowered out at us from the sunken caves of their skulls, their cheeks were thin, their clothes were ragged and their beards unkempt. Most of them were armed with common tools: knives, hammers, nets, but at least a dozen of them were brandishing long rifle, tipped with a bayonet.
“Peace, brothers! Peace, sisters!” I cried. “My name is Demetrius. I’m the former Royal Tutor of Ashenmore, I have come from the land of Kazore. I mean you no harm!”
“Don’t listen to him!” bellowed one man. “He’s a nobleman! Midon must’ve sent him!”
“Don’t be a fool,” replied one woman. “Look at those two, those women don’t look like nobles to me!”
“Look,” screamed a third voice. “It’s a Vomoran!”
The crowd grew more and more enraged as their eyes fell upon Lazrilus. One old man, practically staggering under the weight of his rifle, stumbled forwards, raising its bayonet until it was pointing at the Vomoran’s face.
“Vomoran dog,” snarled the old fellow. “I’ll gut you if you don’t get back on that boat of yours and leave-”
“ENOUGH,” howled another voice and then, all at once, the crowd fell silent. The old man dropped his rifle and, wordlessly, sank to his knees, facing the direction of the unknown speaker. Little by little, the crowd drifted apart, making room for one figure, dressed in flowing red robes, as he marched towards us. I found myself staring at a short, thickset man, with thin, highly arched eyebrows and thin, black slits for eyes. The man was carrying a silver pistol, crushing it in his thick, pale-brown fist. I recognised the pistol at once – it was Midon’s pistol! As the little man approached us, I took several, tentative steps forward, bowing me head in a sign of respect.
“Brother Zorin?” I asked. The little man paused, eyeing me with suspicion.
“That’s right,” said the Cleric. “Who might you be?”
“My name is Demetrius,” I said. “I’m the former Royal Tutor. I have returned from Kazore in order to put an end to Midon’s Council. These men and women are my friends, and friends to Ashenmore. Brother Zorin. I know how much you have suffered under the Council. You might not believe me – my story is a strange one – but I know of a way that, together, we might be able to save our land from Midon-”
“Midon?” barked Zorin. The Cleric threw back his head and broke into a harsh laugh, which descended into a fierce coughing fit. The Cleric wiped the spittle from his lips with the back of his hand. He stared at me. The suspicion had drifted from his eyes, only to be replaced by a thick veil of sadness. “You’ve been away for quite a while, haven’t you, my dear fellow?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Why?”
Brother Zorin beckoned me forward, smiling sadly.
“Follow me,” said the Cleric. “If you’ve really come to save our land from Midon, then I might as well take you to him.”
Brother Zorin, along with several of his followers, escorted us over to a three-story building that, I realised upon stepping through the door, had once been an Inn, only it had now been converted into some sort of military encampment. The tables and chairs had been squashed to the side of the room, and the floor was littered with dozens of men, swathed in bandages and blankets. Clerics scurried back and forth, pausing only to offer Zorin a quick bow of respect. Zorin pointed at one man who had tucked himself at the very back of the tavern, leaning against the wall for support.
“There he is,” muttered Zorin. “Baron Midon, the mightiest general in all of Ashenmore!”
I crept forwards, taking care to avoid trampling on the wounded men and women, as I drew closer to the man Zorin claimed to be Midon. It took me several moments to recognise the esteemed Baron. Midon seemed by at least a decade older since my hasty departure from Ashuron. His face was haggard and had been ravaged by countless wrinkles, as well as two rather prominent scars than snaked across the bridge of his nose and the top of his cheeks. His beard clung to his thin chin like a clump of weeds and, as the Baron turned to face me, I saw with some alarm that one of his now ended in a thick stump, the tip of which had been tightly wrapped in bloodied grey bandages. Midon’s eyes widened in recognition.
“Demetrius…” croaked the Baron. He crumpled onto his one remaining arm and, for a moment, held himself upright, squirming. Then, Midon began to drag himself to his feet until he stood face to face with me, swaying. Lazrilus stepped forward, eyeing the man’s stump with apprehension.
“What happened to you?” asked Lazrilus. Slowly, the Baron’s eyes slithered from my face to the Vomoran’s. His top lip curled as he surveyed Lazrilus, and the Baron’s sway grow more noticeable.
“I always wondered what happened to you,” growled the Baron. “So, you’re still alive then, eh? Destroy any other kingdoms, since I last saw you? Hmm?”
“That’s enough, Midon,” muttered Zorin. “This man, Demetrius, says he intends to overthrow you. Apparently, he believes that there’s a weapon, somewhere in this town, that he can use to bring down your whole Council. Why don’t you inform our friend here on everything that’s happened, since he sailed off for Kazore?”
Midon’s chin started to quiver. He scratched at the remnants of his beard and leaned back against the tavern’s wall. He rubbed the tip of his stump, as the tremor started to spread out from his chin, until his whole face was trembling. Several emotions flitted across the Baron’s eyes: anger, despair, grief. Midon turned to face me once more and, once the sudden tremors had begun to subside, muttered the following:
“Lysander betrayed me. That’s what happened.”
“Lysander!?” I cried. “I don’t understand… he was one of your biggest supporters. Do you mean he’s taken control of the Council?”
Midon laughed once more.