THE LOST PRINCE: PART V – THE PROTECTOR OF ASHENMORE (PT. 2)
“There is no Council,” growled the Baron. “Not anymore. Most of them are hanging by their necks, strung up across the walls of Ashuron…the rest are probably locked up somewhere, or they’ve decided to give Lysander their support-”
“Did you say… strung up!?” I wheezed, my head spinning. “You mean Lysander killed them?”
“He did,” said Midon. “And that’s not even the worse part.”
Midon took a shuddering breath. Zorin stepped forwards.
“It all started when Midon arrived at Aradion, months ago, with around two hundred soldiers, demanding supplies for his accursed Council,” hissed Zorin. “I went out to meet him in order to avoid any bloodshed. This town has suffered enough… I told him, we barely had enough to feed and clothe ourselves, let alone the capital. You didn’t listen though, did you!” the Cleric roared at Midon, spittle flying from his thick lips like the sparks of a bonfire. “You gave me one day to change my mind, or face imprisonment for sedition.”
Brother Zorin gave me a rueful grin.
“Of course, we didn’t stand any real chance. Not against two hundred of Ashenmore’s finest soldiers, but we didn’t surrender without a struggle, did we? Took this swine nigh on two days to crush our rebellion. By the end of it, the good Baron picked me and several other leaders of the town to face trial for sedition and started to escort us back to Ashuron. When we go there, however, we faced a rather nasty surprise…”
“As we approached the gates,” said Midon. “The men atop the wall started to open fire on us. I called out to them, but they paid me no heed. We were forced to retreat. It didn’t take me long to work out what had happened. Obviously, Lysander had decided to seize control of the Council for himself. Once my men and I were a safe distance from the gates, I sent two emissaries to the nearest city, in order to gather reinforcements. Then, we sat and waited, watching Ashuron from a distance. The following morning, I was awoken from my bed by one of my men, who kept telling me to look at the coast. Three Vomoran ships had arrived in the harbour, overnight!”
“Vomorans!” I cried. “What were they doing there?”
“Maybe you should ask your Necromancer friend,” muttered Midon. “At first, I thought it was the first wave of an invasion, from Valos, but the more I observed the city walls, the more I realised that the truth was far, far worse. The Vomorans weren’t invading. They’d been invited into the city!”
“By Lysander?” I asked. Midon nodded.
My reinforcements arrived, that afternoon, bolstering my troops by a further hundred. That night, I snuck forwards with two other men, hoping to catch a glimpse of any vulnerabilities in Ashuron’s wall. What I saw that night…” Midon shuddered and, I noticed, the quiver had returned to his lips. “At first I couldn’t tell what was going on. It looked like there was some sort of scuffle, going on atop the wall. Then, I saw the first body fall.”
“Whose body?” I breathed.
“Morthin’s,” whimpered Midon, his chin trembling, his eyes wide and bloodshot. “They’d tied a rope around his neck and slung his body over the wall, like some hideous decoration. I nearly screamed when I first saw his body, dangling there. Then, before I could even begin to overcome the horror of seeing Morthin, strung up like that, a second body flew over the edge of the wall. Then a third. Then a fourth. I continued watching, dumbfounded, as more and more members of the Council appeared over the edge of the wall. By the time the moon was starting to fade, I must have counted over a score of bodies, dangling by their necks. I returned to my camp and at once, made preparations to take back Ashuron! I vowed that I would see Lysander and whoever had assisted in his murder of my fellow nobles buried in the deepest, darkest pit that I could find!”
“I knew nothing about this,” said Zorin. “Not until we returned to Aradion. All I knew, from my position as a prisoner in Midon’s camp was that one morning, the Baron gathered up as many soldiers as he could spare and, bellowing like a savage beast, charged at the gates of Ashuron.”
“Three times we charged at those gates,” whispered Midon. “Twice, the guards managed to repel us. On the third attack, it looked as though we might stand some chance. Until the Necromancers arrived. Three of them, all at once, appeared on top of the wall and started to chant. Sensing danger, I ordered my men to fire at those sorcerers, but they were too well protected. I remember once of Lysander’s men even hurled himself in front of a bullet, to save them. As they continued to chant, I saw a thick wave of what looked like black smoke, pouring over the edge of the wall, crawling all over the dead members of the Council. This seemed to go on for hours. The smoke grew so thick that the top half of the wall almost vanished, behind an impregnable barrier of smog. Then, suddenly, I saw bodies falling from the bottom of the cloud. It was the dead nobles! The guards were cutting them free from the wall. Moments later, these discarded bodies rose from the ground, and lunged towards my men, jaws snapping, black poison bubbling from their lips, eyes burning with demonic light! No matter how many times we shot these creatures down, they pulled their ravaged bodies back upright, and resumed their attack. One of them dived right at me and snapped its loathsome jaws over my arm. I screamed in terror and fired, right into its skull. The creature perished and I called a retreat.”
“They had to chop off his arm,” muttered Zorin. “We’ve seen what happens to those bitten by the undead.”
“So,” said Midon. “As you can see, there’s no need for you to overthrow me. Lysander was too swift for you. He’s decimated my forces, wiped out the Council and opened our city to foreign invaders.” The Baron nodded to Brother Zorin. “You’re very welcome to seek out this weapon of yours. I don’t have the power to stop you – my men answer to Zorin, now. If you really want to battle against Lysander and his minions, Ahasathoth protect you!”