Staff of Winter, Part Three - The Mists of Annywn - Tector
Tector was engulfed in white mist. He could barely see his hand six inches in front of his face, and could not see or hear anything of his friends. He knew he was still in the forest, because he was bumping into trees as he slowly felt his way forward. After a time this stopped, and he felt nothing, not even the ground beneath his feet. He felt that he was floating in the mist, or perhaps flying in the clouds.
Suddenly, something massive loomed out of the mist, above him and to the side. It was a large ship, but bizarrely Tector found himself beneath it, though not beneath the water. The mists cleared to some extent, and Tector saw that the ship was flying! He circled around it, and saw that the deck of the vessel was packed with knights. He noticed a flag flying the three lions passant guardant, the emblem of King Henry, and saw at the rear castle of the ship an old king in conversation with his senior knights.
Looking down, the Dragonknight realised that this ship was flying hundreds of feet above the sea. Then the mists closed around him once again, and he lost sight of the vessel.
Tector felt something beneath him again, and realised that he was on his knees. As the mists cleared once more, he became aware of a marble floor and found himself in an opulent cathedral, flanked by several other kneeling Knights Templar, facing an old priest clad in splendid robes.
Another priest, wearing less opulent robes, addressed the older priest as Il Papa, and Tector realised that he must be present at an audience with the Pope! The old pontiff addressed the Templars before him, praising their bravery, service and faith. He stepped forward, granting his blessing to each of them by placing his hand on each of their heads in turn and uttering a latin prayer. Tector felt the blessing of God lifting his soul.
The mists swirled again, and Tector found himself in conversation with a young man, bearded and strong with a noble bearing, wearing a crown.
“Tector, my friend, you have been a faithful servant to the Crown of England and to the Church. Will you now fulfil your destiny and vow, as I have, to join the Third Crusade to the Holy Land and rid Jerusalem of the infidel?”
“Yes, my Lord,” replied the Dragonknight.
The King smiled, grasping his hand firmly. “I knew you would not let me down, Tector.”
The mists swirled once more, and Tector became aware of incredible heat. He found himself riding a huge warhorse in a burning desert, in the midst of a swirling battle with a horde of muslim horsemen! As he realised where he was, a scimitar flashed out towards his face and smashed into the side of his helm.
Tector lashed out with his greataxe, cutting deeply into the shoulder and back of his assailant. He screamed in agony, blood spurting, and in seconds was swept away from Tector by the swirling melee, before toppling off his horse.
More horsemen assaulted Tector, hammering blows into his armour from both sides. Suddenly, the head of one of his attackers flew into the air, separated from the body, blood gouting upwards as a magnificent, gleaming blade cleaved the air. As the horse galloped away, the headless corpse falling and being dragged behind it, Tector saw the man who had aided him – a black-bearded king in the prime of life, wearing a crown over his helm and a white surcoat with the red crusader cross, his red shield bearing three golden lions passant guardant.
As he galloped past, he lashed out with his superb blade, chopping off the arm of another Saracen, and then into a third horseman, cutting though his leg and deeply into the horse beneath. Tector looked on in awe as the King charged through the enemy, laying about with his blade, taking limbs and heads like reaping wheat.
Tector defended himself against another blow, but the mists were swirling around him again, and the last thing he saw as they closed around him was another scimitar slicing toward him.
The mists faded again, and Tector found himself outside a city. He saw a massive battering ram smashing into huge gates. Defenders on the walls fired down arrows and dropped stones and burning oil on the attackers. Looking around, Tector found himself on horseback among a group of knights. He heard one of them say “Jerusalem will be ours! Soon we will stain its streets with the blood of the Infidel!”
The battering ram smashed the gates inward and the Crusader army, including Tector, surged into the city. The defenders were overpowered and retreated rapidly. Eventually Tector was forced from his horse, and fought on foot, aiding his fellow Crusaders. He was shocked to see, nearby, some Crusaders attacking women and children.
“Stop!” bellowed the Dragonknight, stepping in. The women and children dashed behind Tector as one of the Crusaders confronted him.
“Get out of the way,” barked the Crusader in Tector’s face. “We’re taking the sword to the Saracen, just as they deserve!”
“These are women and children,” said Tector calmly. “We may be taking this city back, but we don’t have to kill them.”
“You better stand aside or we will have to deal with you as well,” threatened the Crusader.
Tector stood, defiant, and the Crusader tried to push past him. The Dragonknight pushed back, and as he did so, something unexpected happened. A divine radiance exploded out from his hands, slamming into all the Crusaders who were gathered to murder the Saracen women and children, knocking them all to the floor. They looked around, terrified, stared at Tector for a moment, scrambled to their feet, and ran away.
One of the women fell to her knees, giving thanks to Tector in a language he did not understand, and the mists swirled around him once again. When they cleared, he felt enormous heat. He found himself deep in the desert, battling a demon of pure flame.
The demon lashed out in the split second Tector registered what was happening, a blazing hand slamming into the big warrior and burning him badly. He retaliated with holy radiance on his greataxe, tearing a deep cut in the demon’s arm. Fire blasted out of the wound, scorching Tector even as the demon bellowed in pain and tried to grab the Dragonknight with both flaming hands. He managed to avoid being grabbed, but the flame demon lashed out with a fist, burning Tector again and leaving the big warrior close to collapse from pain and shock. In desperation he called upon the blessing of the lord, healing himself. The radiant energy caressed the flame demon, seeming to freeze patches of its skin and causing it to shrink away for a moment before surging back to attach Tector once again.
As it closed for the killing blow, something swooped down from the desert sky behind Tector and he was suddenly engulfed in a cloud of bitter freezing cold. The flames of the demon facing him were all but extinguished, and it let out a high pitched screech, flying away at incredible speed.
Something massive landed on the sand behind Tector and he turned to see the huge form of Ice. Somehow the dragon’s freezing breath had not injured the big warrior. Instead, it seemed to have healed all his wounds.
Ice’s huge head snaked forward on its long neck, coming face to face with the Dragonknight. “Well met, Tector,” said the frost drake in his deep, booming voice.
“Well met, Ice,” replied the big warrior.
“You are in the mists of Annwyn, one of the Otherlands,” stated Ice. “I too can travel in the mists of consciousness, and I sensed that you needed my aid.”
“Thank you,” said Tector gratefully.
“We should not tarry here, for we do not know what other powers we may yet have to face,” said the dragon.
Then he paused, sniffing the air. “That axe upon your back. There is a malevolent presence within it.”
“Yes,” replied Tector. “I was going to ask Myrddin what to do with it.”
“What is it?” demanded Ice.
“It is called the Bloodaxe,” replied Tector.
“What is the presence within?”
“The spirit of a berserker named Erik Bloodaxe.”
Ice looked thoughtful. “It is a dangerous presence, one that would seek to control you Tector. Do you wish to take this risk?”
“Not really,” replied the Dragonknight.
“Then I may be able to aid you. In return, I require your oath that you will come to my aid if I call.”
“Yes, Hakan told us that you might have need of our aid.”
The dragon bowed his great white-scaled head. “Hakan’s death was a terrible loss. But we will be avenged.” He paused. “Now, swear the oath.”
Prompted by the drake, Tector repeated the words of the oath. “I swear upon my life that I will heed your call, Ice, last and greatest of the Northern Whites.”
“Good,” rumbled Ice. Now, take the axe in hand.”
“I should not,” replied Tector. “It makes me go berserk.”
“Do as I say!” answered Ice.
Tector obeyed, and felt the berserk rage begin to take hold, the voice of Erik Bloodaxe screaming in his mind for blood and death. But then the voice of Ice cut through the maelstrom, louder and more forceful than the yells of the axe.
“Erik Bloodaxe! Viking King! This is Ice, last and greatest of the Frost Drakes of the north. I banish you from this axe!”
Tector flinched as a scream of defiance from Erik Bloodaxe sliced through his mind, but Ice pressed on. The big warrior felt incredible power being directed at the axe.
“Begone, I say!” bellowed Ice. “I am the last of my race, and the greatest! You, puny human king, cannot stand before my wrath! This is my servant, not yours. Begone I say!!”
Tector felt a wall of fury and power emitting from Ice, and heard a terrible agonised scream from the Bloodaxe, cutting through his mind at a deafening volume, before fading to nothing. The big warrior collapsed to his knees in exhaustion and relief, gripping the axe tightly, sensing that Erik Bloodaxe was gone, forever.
Ice looked at the axe in Tector’s grasp. “A worthy weapon, but one which is now diminished. It will no longer leech blood from its enemies. But in my service, it should freeze blood!”
The dragon took a deep breath, and blew a thin jet of bitterly cold air through his front teeth onto the blade of the Bloodaxe, which was instantly covered in a sheen of glittering frost. Ice continued to exhale this freezing jet for over a minute, until the axe was so cold that Tector’s gauntlets froze to its wooden haft, and his armour sparkled with frost.
When his breath was finally spent, Ice raised his head. “You can now call frost onto the blade of your axe, in tribute to me, once each day.”
“Thank you,” said Tector.
“You are welcome,” replied Ice. “But Tector, I say this to you: search your soul.” The dragon gestured with a claw to the big man’s surcoat, and to his Templar cross. “I must challenge your choice of garments, and your faith, Tector. You do not pray to your God often, do you?”
“No,” admitted Tector.
“No,” repeated Ice. “You are not devout. Your god – do you feel his presence, like mine, or is he remote, distant from you?”
“He is definitely not as close as you,” replied the big warrior.
“Then, Tector, I would suggest this. One who chooses to call himself the Dragonknight should follow a tangible power in the real world, and stay true to his title. Forsake your God, and become one of my disciples! What say you?”
“How would I do that?” asked Tector.
“Forsake your vows to the Templars,” replied Ice. “Forsake your faith in the human God, and instead become one of my disciples, swearing an oath to be my faithful servant.”
Tector fell silent, thinking for a long while. “I am unsure what I should do. I need some time to think about it.”
“Very well. I urge you to consider what I have offered you.”
“I will discuss with Storm and Sophia.”
“Very well. Until we meet again, Dragonknight. Whatever your choice, do not forget the oath you have already sworn to me. Fare well.” With that, Ice exhaled, and the freezing mist of his breath engulfed Tector.
When the mist cleared, Ice was gone, and Tector found himself once more in the forest of Annwyn. He could not see Storm or Sophia, but as he wandered through the trees he caught sight of a dilapidated shack build against the side of a huge tree. He approached, finding no one there, but saw through a window that the hut appeared inhabited, with fresh mushrooms and berries in small bowls and a rabbit roasted on a spit over a very recent fire.
Not wishing to steal or trespass, Tector sat outside the simple wooden hut as night began to fall, hoping that its inhabitant would return and be able to help him find his way back to his friends.