The Glamouring of Brond Col

The Glamouring of Brond Col

A short story.

Originally posted in The Elvenscroll.me

He stared. If truth were to be told, then Brond Col had not seen anything as beautiful as the view he saw now. The soft rocking of the ship did little to hide the rhythmic rise and fall of the young woman’s bosom as she slept. She was the epitome of beauty, with porcelain-like skin and a face of innocence framed by the golden hair, so common in the Rabic Isles. The young woman, she was younger than his seventeen summers, slept on. And he carried on staring, afraid that if he turned away, she would disappear or at the very least, when he placed eyes on her again, her beauty may have degraded.

“Don’t even think of it, lad.” The voice cut into his reverie. He finally tore his gaze from beauty and turned them to the beast. Krodar was a brute of a man. Both ugly and immense. He stood on the other side of her bed, his back to the hull like Brond’s, guarding and facing the door to the cabin.

“She’s the Bride of Rhaygan. And the Bride is meant to be a virgin on her wedding night. If she isn’t,” the old mercenary shrugged, “if she isn’t, then we are all up to our necks in shit.” He took his eyes of the door for a second to stare at his younger companion.

“The last swords for hire that interfered with Rhaygan’s girl are still wallowing at the bottom of the king’s dungeon. Every now and again, he wheels them out for a bit of torture. That was before ye were born, lad. And they are still alive, if ye call it that. They brought ruin and bad luck down on the islands for a few years”

Brond blanched slightly. Krodar’s voice had dampened his ardour somewhat and he was relieved to be thinking of something else.

“Does she know what’s going to happen to her?” The young mercenary asked. He had been the last to add his name to the list next to the job offer at the docks in Amat. That had been a month ago, and since then, the small company had travelled by sea, through the Gold Archipelago and then to the Rabic Isles. They were several hundred leagues past the Archipelago and consisted of two inhabited islands and a smaller, third island.

“Of course, she does. She’s known it since she was born.”

“Everything?” Brond’s voice crept an octave higher.

“Aye, lad. Everything.” Krodar looked at the younger man. They were as chalk and cheese. Brond was youthful and toned, his young face could be described by some as handsome. Krodar was taller than Brond’s height of six foot, broader over the shoulders but most of his muscle laid beneath a layer of excess. There wasn’t many that would call Krodar handsome, maybe only his mother. His nose had been broken not once or twice, but numerous times. What teeth he had left were crooked and the scars on his face seemed to etch out paths through his stubble.

“Is she really going to be his bride?” The youth spoke up and instantly regretted his question.

“Ye can’t really be that dumb, lad. Rhaygan is a fucking dragon. There is only one thing that he wants with sweet, tender meat like that; and that ain’t the same thing that ye want.”

“But look at her, she isn’t scared at all.”

“Her people see it as an honour. Well, that’s the story anyway.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Krodar was about to give his response when a knock at the door indicated that the shift was changing. As their replacement took their positions, Krodar turned to Brond, clasping him on the shoulder.

“Let’s get an ale up on the deck, my lad. Young and enthusiastic you may be, but the world ain’t all black and white.”

The sea was calm, just a gentle lapping of small waves against the copper plated hull. The moon light reflected from the crests of the ripples. The crew of the small ship busied themselves with their work, adjusting sails where needed. Off to each side of the bow, Brond could make out the silhouettes of the guardships that accompanied them. Four pike men stood on guard at the wheel to the ship, their uniform of quilted gambesons in the royal burgundy of the King of Rabic gave them some protection against the dropping temperature. They were among a number of regular soldiers on board, no doubt to keep the mercenaries in check.

“What did you mean back there?”

Krodar looked out to sea before answering. The ale he supped was weak and tasteless, but it was the only drink on board except for water and, of course, the fine wines reserved for the officials of the Throne.

“In the past, Rhaygan claimed these islands as his own, then he did what all dragons do. Slept for centuries, no doubt on a horde of gold and treasure. When it was time for him to wake, he found man now living on his islands. He tried to drive them out like ye would rats from your house. Then he made a deal with them. He would let them live on two of the islands, that’s North and South Rabic. The third island is his. No-one from Rabic is allowed to set foot on it, not that they would want to. Except for his Bride.”

“That’s her, below.”

“Yes, every five years the Rabics deliver up a young girl, pure of heart and body, to be his bride. Along with a shit load of coin as well. In return, he doesn’t burn them to buggery.” He raised the drinking horn to his mouth and took another swig of his ale before continuing.

“The Rabics work it on a cycle. In their calendar, this is their Bridal Moon. Every girl born in this month is delivered without fail to their temple on South Rabic. There they live in isolation, being schooled and instructed what lays ahead of them. About how they are keeping their islands and loved ones safe. The beauty of their sacrifice. As they reach fifteen summers, they decide on the worthiest, the most beautiful. Then she gets put on a ship with the likes of us and we go and put her on a plate for her ‘husband’.”

“Now, nature as it is, some of the girls get scared. Between you and me, I’m not afraid to tell ye, I would soil my breeches if I got up close and personal to a dragon. Ye would as well, I know. Now some of the girls end up being sold abroad, they are the ones that aren’t going to make muster, if you know what I mean. Not like that one down below decks. They are a bit rough, not the natural beauty. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind if they wanted to keep me warm at night, but Rhaygan is a bit fussy.”

“They ones that do get to those final years, if they try to cause any trouble, then their families are dragged in for a bit of persuasion. Funny how a mind can turn when a loved one is threatened. As well as the stick, there is also the carrot. The girl chosen, now their family gets a big chest of gold. Enough to settle their debts, buy some nice land somewhere on the island, whatever. Not sure it’s enough to replace a daughter though.”

He downed his ale and wiped the froth of his stubble.

“So ye see, me lad. She knows. She has known that this would be her last night alive since she was born. You and me, we don’t know what tomorrow brings. She does and she is facing it braver than most men I know.”

Brond sipped at his ale, now finding even less taste in its bitterness.

“Why do we have to be here. There are enough guards here to take her to the temple on the island. Why us and not them?”

“Weren’t ye listening, lad. No one from Rabic is allowed to set foot on his island, apart from his Bride. I don’t know why, but that’s the word they spat upon.”

He belched loudly.

“I’m going to get some sleep. Tomorrow’s the day we earn our coin.”

He left the younger mercenary alone on the deck, hands resting on the railings looking out to the calmness of the world.

The next morning was not as calm, the two small rowing boats rising and falling in rhythm with Brond’s stomach. The small company of mercenaries were split evenly between the two boats, Brond finding himself in Krodar’s group. The girl sat facing the island as they approached it. The swell was too much for one of the mercenaries who, green-faced, vomited overboard. The mercenaries were lending their arm to the sailors in each boat on the oars.

Brond was relieved to jump overboard and wade the last few metres, dragging the boat in as far as the draught would allow. The sand felt good under his feet even though it gave way under his weight as he heaved. The skirt of his brigandine jack bounced against his leather clad thighs as he ran up the beach. From the centre of the island rose a rocky mountain that was topped by a smoking crater. The wisp of grey smoke rose vertically, the absence of wind or breeze taunting the party as they sweated in the morning heat. About three-quarters of the way up the mountain, they could make out a small plateau that jutted out from the mountainside. Upon it were what appeared to be the ruins of an ancient temple, columns pointing to the sky like arms calling out to the gods.

The golden sands of the beach swung round in an arc and were edged by ferns and palms. The foliage neither swayed or emitted any sounds of creatures or birds. Close to where they had landed, a small pavilion had been set up, with gaudy red and yellow silks draped over it. It covered a small table upon which sat a small chest.

The King’s Official that had sat in the other rowing boat rose and gingerly stepped into the lapping surf. He pulled the edge of his robes up to keep them dry, his sandaled feet making slight depressions as he displaced the water from the sodden sand. He strode to the pavilion and opened the chest, nodding as he checked the contents and then shut it, locking it with a key that he produced from his purse. He picked it up and carried it reverently to the rowing boat.

“Unload the dowry!” He called to the sailors in the boat. They laboured as they picked up the chest within and handed it over to the four waiting mercenaries, who in turn raised it to their shoulders and carried it to the pavilion. They placed it down on the sand and returned to the boat to pick their equipment and swords up. The official addressed Krodar.

“Rhaygan will appear for his bride just before dusk. You will need to escort her to the altar there,” he pointed up to the ruins, “and secure her to it. Place the chest on the smaller altar. Then I would suggest that you return here. We will be anchored out to sea to await you return. Your payment is in the rowing boat.”

Krodar nodded, his thumbs hooked into his belt as he listened.

“What happens if he wakes early?” one of the mercenaries called out.

“Although Rhaygan waits in trepidation to meet his new Bride, he knows the word of the contract. He will only approach at dusk. I would suggest though, that you aren’t on the island at that time.”

“Okay, old man. But what’s to stop anyone of us taking everything now, even that dowry.” Brond looked at Krodar as the old warrior spoke. He knew he wasn’t that stupid, and the question was for the benefit of the other mercenaries.

“How fast can you row?” he asked, looking around at the soldiers, barely flinching in his reply. “Is it faster than a dragon can fly?” He turned and carefully climbed into his boat. The sailors pushed it back out before climbing over the side, leaving the beach to the eight men and the young girl.

“Let’s make a move then.” Krodar beckoned them to order. At the pavilion were two stout poles that were designed to fit through the iron loops on the chest, making it easier to carry. Four of the men carried the chest, slung between the two poles.  Krodar walked next to the girl, whilst Brond took the lead as he had been raised in the mountains.

“I’m going to miss the rain most of all,” the girl spoke to Krodar, although her soft, lilting voice seemed to carry to all of them. “Apparently it doesn’t rain here.” The path leading through the jungle was obvious to follow and soon started to incline. The foliage on each side started to thin out to small clumps of grasses and ferns and the path started to turn into a treacherous mix of dry sand and loose shale. The four carrying the chest swore and cursed as each missed their footing several times. The path started to wind up the side of the mountain, leaving a drop on one side that fell vertically in places and gently sloping in others.

“What do think Rhaygan will think of me? Do you think he will be pleased?” The girl continued, her face starting to show more than a hint of nervousness.

“Shut up, girl!” Krodar exploded, grabbing her wrist and spinning her round. “Keep that little mouth of yours shut! Don’t make this any harder than it is for us.”

Brond skipped back along the path, placing his arm between the two, careful not to touch the old soldier. The others had stopped, unsure what to do as the girl looked terrified.

“Come now, Krodar. Maybe it’s my turn to walk here. It’s a bit quieter at point.” He could see that Krodar was troubled and not just angry. He nodded and released his grip on her, turned and wiped his eye as he moved forward.

“Are you okay?” he asked the girl. She nodded and they walked on, with the others following. She stayed quiet for a while and then addressed Brond.

“I hope I please him. How does a girl please her husband? It will be my first time.”

“I am sure he will be understanding. Everyone is nervous on their first time, even me!” he smiled at her for the first time since he had seen her, she smiled back.

“Take care on this path,” he changed the subject. “It looks very dangerous.”

Suddenly his foot stumbled against something that wasn’t there a minute ago and he staggered forward. He very nearly regained his balance when he felt a push on his side, though not a push exactly, more of a gust of wind. It caught him and he sprawled headfirst down the slope. It wasn’t a steep fall, but neither a gentle rolling slope. He crashed and clattered down the shale, bouncing off rocks on his way down. He finally came to a halt laying on his front, staring over the edge of a steep drop and his feet pointing back up the slope.

“Shoem’s balls!” he exclaimed, invoking the patron god of the mountain land that he had been raised in. His whole body ached like he had been caught in a stampede. He could hear the others calling, way back up the slope and he started to get up.

“Keep still!” a shrill voice whispered below his face.

“What?” his eyes struggled to focus on who or what had spoken to him.

“I said, keep still!” He blinked again and went to stand up when something hit him hard over the head, sending everything black.

He awoke a few minutes later to find himself staring at a small girl who sat upon the ledge beneath the drop. Except it wasn’t a girl but an adult woman who was no higher than the length of his forearm. Two pairs of small, gossamer wings sprouted from her back, similar to a dragonfly’s. She had bright red hair and was perfectly proportioned, wearing a skin-tight tunic of leather that accentuated her figure. If anything, he thought, she was as beautiful as the Bride of Rhaygan was. Except for her size.

He blinked again but she was still there. Was he actually dead or just mad? Maybe his head had hit something really hard on the way down.

“Are you going to stay still?” The voice was soft but high pitched.

He nodded, slowly.

“Now listen, you aren’t mad, or dead. I am really here, and I caused you to stumble and fall. I can easily cause you to fall forward again, and that wouldn’t be a good idea would it?” She pointed over the edge of her ledge. Here the slope changed to a vertical drop some thirty metres high. His armour wouldn’t offer any protection for that and he ached all over, so he just shook his head to acknowledge it.

“Your friends aren’t waiting. They think you are dead.”

“Am I?”

“Are you stupid, or deaf. I already told you that you aren’t mad or dead.”

“Who, or what are you?”

“I am Andellin. I suppose I am what you men would call a fae or faerie.”

“Faerie? I am mad.” He felt his head, but she ignored his comment and peered over the edge of the cliff back up the slope to see where Krodar and his men were.

“They have gone, we need to move. Then I need to show you something and then we need to talk.” She fluttered her wings and hovered above the crown of the cliff, starting to flutter in a series of swoops up to where Brond had fallen from. He clambered up and followed her. Once they had returned to the path, she retraced his steps back along the path towards the jungle. The mountainside on the other side of the path was more of a gentle slope upwards here and she indicated that Brond should climb up the incline. He clambered on all fours, desperately trying to catch up.

His chest pounded as they ascended further. It felt good for him to be back on a mountain. It was almost as if he was a child again, chasing his sheep and goats. A feeling of sadness washed over him though as he remembered the reasons he left.

“Hurry, we are almost there.” Andellin called, and he redoubled his efforts to finally catch her. He crept forward to where she crouched beneath a scrubby tree on a ledge. He gasped. Where they had climbed to was above the plateau where the altars were. He could see them clearly, two great rectangular stones in the centre of the circular clearing. One was much larger than the other. He could see that the area had once been a great temple, the ground was paved with stone blocks that once fitted neatly together, but now were haphazard, pushed up by the roots of bushes and trees nearby. Five great columns had once held a roof up, but only two stood fully, parts of the others laid strewn about like a toddler discarding building blocks.

He could see Krodar and the others with the girl on the path leading to it. The Bride was in more distress now. Either Krodar had lost patience with her again or she had been upset seeing him fall. Not that he pretended that she had any feelings for him, just he remembered how he felt when he had seen someone die for the first time.

“So, what is this all about? What did you want to show me?”

“First, look out to sea.”

He looked, not knowing what she was referring to at first, and then it clicked. The ships were on the distant horizon. They had been tricked and deserted.

“Those filthy bastards! I have to warn Krodar!”

“No! It is far too late for that. Wait now and watch!”

He gave a sigh and laid down next to her. He looked down as the mercenaries entered the temple. The four carrying the chest settled it on the smaller of the altars and withdrew the poles, casting them aside. Krodar circled the temple with his sword drawn. The other mercenaries dragged the girl to the larger altar. She was now screaming and trying in vain to kick herself free. One held her arms, stretching them out over her head, whilst the other two held a leg each. Attached to the altar were chains that they strapped her down with, placing the links over spikes driven into the stone.

The earth shook and Brond could see small stones slip and slide down the mountainside. There came a sound of strong wings flapping and a shape flew overhead leaving a shadow flittering over the temple below. The mercenaries started shouting, with some of them fanning out to shelter by the columns. The Bride screamed as her husband to be hovered overhead, his big, leathery wings flapping in the midday sun. His black scales shone with an iridescent green and the grey of his underbelly and chest swelled as he gulped in air. Long white horns stuck backwards from his head and a wisp of smoke was expelled from his nostrils with every exhale.

The dragon came to a rest on one of the half columns, his claws gouging out great streaks in the marble. The ground shook as Rhaygan roared, moving his head from side to side and letting out a huge blast of flame. Brond could feel the heat from where he was and could see the haze created.

“He came early! The official lied!”

“Of course, he did, he had to. Your friends aren’t meant to get out of this.”

He turned to Andellin.

“What do you mean?”

“The contract isn’t just for the Bride, its for eight mercenaries as well.” Andellin rummaged through her belt pouch and drew out a small piece of fabric. She held it out to Brond who took it. As he held it, it trebled in size.

“What is it?”

“A Faerie veil. If you hold it to your eyes, it will uncover any glamour.”

“Glamour?”

“A powerful enchantment, that affects the senses of those who watch. It makes things appear different to those that are subject to it. You might call it an illusion but its far more than that.”

Brond raised it to his eyes, the soft pink material didn’t completely obscure the view but what he saw through the material made him gasp. The dragon wasn’t there, instead half a dozen faeries flittered about. These were bigger that Andellin, perhaps twice or three times bigger. They were also male and wore chainmail. As they danced about, they waved short wands dispatching bursts of energy towards the soldiers. One by one the mercenaries started to fall. He slipped the veil away and Rhaygan re-appeared. One of his old companions was aflame, whilst four more lay dead. He was pleased to see Krodar standing in front of the altar the Bride was chained to, holding his sword ready and challenging the great beast to attack him.

He carried on watching, alternating between the veil and without. The mercenaries soon all lay dead and the Bride writhed in terror on the altar. The dragon alighted on the floor with a heavy thump. As Brond watched transfixed it leant in with its snout towards the girl and it sniffed her. Rhaygan glowed, the scales turning to bright blue and then the dragon disappeared, a human figure taking its place. He was dressed in an ornate, black gown and his long black hair was tied back in a ponytail. Even from the distance away that Brond was, he could see the figure was extremely well groomed. He strode forward, releasing his Bride from the chains and taking her up in his arms.

Brond flipped the veil over his eyes and saw one of the faerie men holding the girl under her armpits as he flew up into the air. The others picked the stricken swords for hire up and followed the first one. Brond rolled onto his back, handing the veil back to Andellin.

“What in Shoem’s name was all that?”

“Rhaygan the dragon does not exist, as you can see. The true Rhaygan is the King of the Faeries and it was he that made the contract with the old King of the Islanders all those years ago. The legend of Rhaygan the dragon was born to make sure that no one trespassed here. This subterfuge was arranged to make sure the Fae folk had access to what they wanted.”

“Which is what? I’m not sure what, if any of that was real or, what did you call it? A Glamour?”

“What you saw through the veil was real. Those Fae men were real. They are the warriors of our race.” Andellin spoke, but there was something about her tone that made Brond question her.

“They are much bigger than you. Why is that?”

The faerie girl sat down and sobbed, holding her head in her hands.

“It is because they are hybrids. A warrior born of human mother and faerie man. It helps to give them strength and ferocity in war.”

“A human mother,” Brond repeated her words and then the realisation dawned on him. “So, the Bride is really a bride for Rhaygan? She isn’t eaten?”

“Eww, of course not!” Andellin answered indignantly. “She will breed with Rhaygan and be a mother to many warriors. They will help to defend the island from the Fomors, the demons from the sea.”

“Why does the contract call for the mercenaries. Why kill them and what do they have to offer you?” Brond asked.

“Oh, they are not dead, just stunned. They are needed in a different way. They are milked for their blood and their essence. Their very vitality is taken as an important ingredient in our magics. It imbues our weapons, and our runes that we defend our land with. We also manufacture it into a vitality draught that we give back to the King of the Islanders as part of the contract. I have to say, it is not a very pleasant process. You were lucky that I saved you from it.” She added in a matter of fact way.

“Thank you, I think. That was another glamour at the end, the man in black?” the faerie nodded. “Will that glamour carry on? I mean, will she feel loved and adored for the rest of her life?”

“Yes,” Andellin replied. “You humans are a very complex race. You only knew her for a while, yet you are concerned about how she will live. I was right to choose you.”

“Choose me?”

“I noted how you went back to reason with your companion who was frustrated with the Bride. I realised that you had compassion as well as strength. That is why I made you stumble, just a very simple cantrip.”

The little faerie woman stood and dusted herself off, storing away the Faerie veil in her pouch.

“Now, I have to ask a favour from you.”

Brond blushed.

“We don’t have to… er.. you know, do we?”

“Eww, definitely not! No, I want your help and silence as repayment for my help and continued silence. I saved your life, but I could call for help any second. You’ll then face the same fate as your one-time companions. No, I want you to help me escape from these islands. I want to see the world. I want to feel alive rather than be imprisoned here unfulfilled. There, I have said it. We are in each other’s debt now. To leave this island is a sin, punishable by death. There is now no going back for me.”

The enormity of what Andellin had said sunk in to Brond. This was now a matter of life and death for both of them. If they were caught before leaving, then they would face the same penalty. To Andellin though, a weight seemed to have lifted from her tiny shoulders.

 “I have heard a little of the outside and want to see the beauty of it. I can show you where a boat is. I have it stocked with water and food already.”

“To me, it seems like this is the perfect end to this day.” He said bluntly, rising slowly to his feet.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because all day long, things have happened to me that I had no choice in. What’s one more? I can’t stay here, can I?”

“Good, you can thank me some more for saving your life.” Andellin giggled and rose into the air.

He chuckled to himself as he started to make his way back down the mountainside.

“What do you find amusing?”

“Because it’s not only Faeries that can cast a Glamour. Whichever God made the world managed to cast a pretty good one as well. I’ll show you it, but I think you might be disappointed.  I just hope you are half as satisfied with it as you think you will be.”

As dusk fell, they made their way to the coast.

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