Rupert, Marquis of Ordefima, stood atop the Wall that had for so many centuries marked the line between paradise and wretchedness, and reflected on the frightful changes. His beloved dominion had seemed eternally beautiful, a place where birds soared and fine maidens sang sweet songs that spoke of peace and plenty. It was where, in his childhood days, he ran in green meadows, barely noticed by nonchalant sheep with thick, woolly coats. And with his sister, Socha, games of hide and seek were played out until they could not bear to be apart any more.
Looking at it as it was now, he knew the idyll was gone. The once abundant expanse of the Fields was a muddy bog. The vines had been drowned, the grasslands and pastures could no longer support livestock. The people endured, repairing their houses where the rain was getting in, walking in the Town Square, maybe even making plans for the future. But it was an odd sense of normality. The smiles, the effervescent hope, the deep sense of trust, were no more. Daily activities lay in ruin, replaced by a crisis only chaos can bring. And it was hardly surprising, given what lay on the other side. The protective ring of the Tutelors had been broken.
The Waolings, under the abiding blanket of black clouds, had become what resembled an inland sea. All that was visible above the turgid water was the top of the odd sickening bush. And a thousand Gharids. They swarmed across the surface, their scaly backs arching and long, wide tails splashing. Occasionally, a hideous head would emerge, revealing rows of blade-like teeth and eyes tinged with purple. On the rubble that had been the Keeper’s Lodge stood Gaticus, nearly twice the size of his surrounding minions, in a rich coat of red, his triumphant crest erect. In one claw he held the Goblet of Fecundity that had been so precious to Ordefima. In the other, was a sword taken from a sentinel after he had defeated the invading force at the Luroghs.
What he desired now was Socha. Her blood mixed with his would make all in his army as strong as him and each could create another thousand like them. Rupert met his intense glare with defiance. He felt the beast trying to steal into his thoughts, measure the level of his fear and work himself into any gaps he found.
“The Germinid is mine. It is only a matter of time before the Lady of the Goblet succumbs and all of Ordefima follows.”
Gaticus said this into the minds of his own kind. Rupert heard it too, as did Socha sitting on the floor of her room high up in the Balaltura. It was an impressive show of strength. Yet Rupert knew this was the best Gaticus could muster. To co-ordinate a force as large as his and maintain the constant downpour he needed took most of his power, sparing them his devastating infiltration of the mind.
“Brag as much as you like, you old sack of scales,” Rupert replied. “You still have to get past this Wall, and our weapons.”
“Do you think we can hold out?” the captain of the guard, standing beside him, asked, his face thin and worried.
Rupert looked along the massive line of defence. “I have faith in the Wall,” he said. “But we are much depleted in number. We can bring out all the weapons we want. You still need someone to wield them.”
“Indeed. We paid a heavy price at the Luroghs.”
“I remain hopeful. Every man, woman and child will resist. There is much courage in my people.”