So anyway, yes, there is a new story, and no, I'm not ready to start it this week. I learned from Centurion Six that I need a little more cushion. Thus, I'm running another piece out of my archives, but it's one that I think is pretty good. It's also about Modor--the guy from The Stone Priest's Wife--so at least you've got that going for you. And it's a one-and-done.
The Legend of Tolandias
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there was a warrior named Tolandias. Tolandias was a good man, a noble knight of great virtue and greater ability. And thus he did the things that such men do: he fought dragons and trolls and bandits and other such general menaces, and in all ways he served always to protect the people of the
the land of his birth. By the time he
had reached full maturity, Tolandias was well-known throughout Hoogram as a
force for good and as a protector of the innocent. He was well-loved, and this perhaps explains
his fall. For Tolandias, like many a
good-looking, noble hero, had an eye for the ladies. And the ladies, in turn, had an eye for
Tolandias. Kingdom of Hollgram
And yet, all might have been well were it not for the fact that Tolandias lived in the
. Hollgram was ruled by the wicked King
Koltrane, a petty, jealous man who envied Tolandias's prowess in battle and,
more to the point, his popularity with the kingdom's people. Koltrane was the king, and so he knew that he
could have any woman in the kingdom if such was his desire. He was rich, and he was powerful. But he was also short and cruel and petty,
and in those days it was said that never once had a woman gone to his bed truly
desiring him. And so, more than
anything, Koltrane wanted to be loved by his people. Thus, his resentment of Tolandias grew and
grew until in time it became a terrible thing indeed. Kingdom
“The people love that fool Tolandias more than they love me, their rightful king,” Koltrane said to himself one day, “And that is something I cannot abide. The people must have none in their hearts ahead of me. I must send Tolandias away or else destroy him.” Koltrane sat for a moment and pondered, and at last a wicked thought came to him. “Perhaps I can do both,” he said at last. And then he laughed an evil laugh for he knew that soon he would be rid of Tolandias once and for all.
A week passed before the King summoned Tolandias to his court. The great warrior stood before his monarch and prostrated himself. Koltrane smiled. “As you know, our kingdom is not on the best of terms with the Duchy of Colvaire.” Tolandias nodded his head gravely for he was well aware of the military situation in the Kingdom. Koltrane continued, “Not many know this, but things have lately gotten worse. Now Duke Colvaire is threatening to invade!”
“My God,” Tolandias said in horror.
“Yes. And that is why we must strike first, before Colvaire's forces are ready.”
Tolandias bowed. “I understand your majesty. Tell me what I must do.”
And so it was that two weeks later Tolandias crossed the border into the Duchy of Colvaire on a secret mission. His was a mission of duplicity: gain the trust and confidence of the Duke of Colvaire and then, when the time came, open the gates of the Duke's castle for the waiting armies of Koltrane. Just thinking of it made the wicked king smile in his empty throne room. He was rid of Tolandias, and soon he would be master of Colvaire into the bargain. And if Tolandias were killed while on his mission? Koltrane would erect to a statute to the fallen hero and hold a parade. Why he would weep right alongside his heartbroken people!
And he would once again be first in their hearts.
Elsewhere, Tolandias's mission weighed heavily upon his heart. But though he did not care to think deeply about the rightness of his cause, he wanted to obey his king. But it was not easy. On the outside, the Duke of Colvaire seemed a good man. His court knew of Tolandias's reputation as a man and as a warrior. Thus, from the start the men of the court accepted Tolandias as one of their company. And the women of Colvaire loved Tolandias at least as much as had the women of Hollgram. One in particular, Eriella the daughter of the king, caught Tolandias's eye. And though she was a woman of virtue, they spent many afternoons together strolling through the Duke's gardens deep in conversation. In time, Tolandias came to know Eriella in a way in which he had never before known a woman. At last the great warrior knew true love. And true happiness.
A year and a day passed before King Koltrane brought his forces to the castle of the Duke of Colvaire. In secret, the King met with his agent, but where the King expected Tolandias's cooperation, instead his one-time servant defied him.
“You lied to me, my king!” Tolandias cried. “The men of Colvaire plan no attack upon your kingdom. They are no threat to our people at all! You've sent me here on a mission of conquest for your own purposes, but I will have no part of it. I defy you! I will not open the gates for you. Instead, I renounce you and your service and will fight you myself if I must to defend the good people of this Duchy against your evil rule.”
King Koltrane was not pleased. But he was not entirely surprised either. He looked upon Tolandias, and hatred shone in his eyes. “You'll not stand against me, Tolandias. For too long have the people loved you best, but no longer. Today you die a traitor! And tomorrow your beloved Duchy of Colvaire will die with you!”
With that, the king's assassins fell upon Tolandias in a great heap. Tolandias fought and fought, but he could overcome neither their poisoned blades nor their weight of numbers. Tolandias fell unmourned on a field far from his home and far from his beloved Eriella.
In death he descended to the Court of Atul-Anarkis, the God of Fire.
“And what have we here?” asked the Fire God when he noticed the arrival of Tolandias’s spirit. “We don’t often get men of virtue in the House of Fire. What have you done, little man, that has brought your soul here for torment?”
Honorable even in death, Tolandias bowed. “I am a betrayer,” he admitted. “I sought to betray a good man but instead betrayed my king. And I have likely caused the deaths of thousands as well, including that of my one true love.” Tolandias looked into the Fire God’s eyes and accepted his fate. “Cast me into the Fire, my Lord. I deserve it.”
Atul-Anarkis wanted nothing more than to do just that, but he could see at once that Tolandias’s spirit would not burn. The knight was too noble. Tolandias would have to be corrupted before he could be consumed.
The Fire God thought for a moment, and then he got up from his throne and put his arm around Tolandias’s shoulders. In a soothing voice he said, “I think that I like you, Tolandias. It has been long since I met a man of your character. I can see that you’d not be here but for the machinations of lesser men.” All of this was true, and so the Fire God continued, “I must punish you somehow, but I’ll not cast you into the Fire yet. Instead, I shall make you as an aspect of myself.”
With that, Atul-Anarkis turned and drew his sword. Tolandias fell to one knee. The Fire God touched his sword to each of the warrior’s shoulders, saying, “I hereby rename thee Tolandias the Deceiver, Harbinger of the Court of Fire. Henceforth, it shall be your job to welcome the newly damned to my House. You will be the Liar, ensuring that the damned go unsuspecting into the Fires of Judgment.”
Tolandias blanched at this fearsome decree, but he accepted it stoically and without comment. And he set about his duties that very hour. His noble spirit at first recoiled from the lies he told the newly damned, but as an aspect of Atul-Anarkis, Tolandias could see the evil in their souls. He knew that the damned deserved their fate. In time, the once noble knight came to take a perverse pleasure in the terror of the tormented.
Atul-Anarkis saw this and was pleased.
In this way passed another year and a day, until at last King Koltrane himself came in death to the Court of Fire.
Tolandias saw Koltrane’s terror and smiled inwardly while outwardly making his face a mask of sympathy and understanding. He bowed. “My king,” he said, “I see that you are afraid, but please, have no fear here. Atul-Anarkis is a just God. He is misunderstood in the World Above, but here you will find only the gentle embrace of one who understands how you suffered in life.”
“B-b-but,” began Koltrane, “I have heard--”
“You have heard lies, Your Highness, and nothing more,” said Tolandias. He looked earnestly at his former ruler. “You have nothing to fear here, I assure you.”
Koltrane heard these words and knew the reputation of the man saying them, and he was at last reassured. He embraced Tolandias as a brother. “Thank you, my friend. And thank you for meeting me today.”
“I would not have missed it,” Tolandias replied. “Now please, if you’ll come this way…”
Tolandias escorted his former king along a long corridor and up to the heavy door to which he had delivered so many others over the course of the past year. The fires burned especially hot, he thought, as he opened the final door at last for his very own killer. Kotrane’s eyes grew wide when he realized the truth. The former king screamed, but it was too late. With a shove Tolandias threw Koltrane into the Fire. And for the first time ever, Tolandias knew no guilt over the betrayal.
Atul-Anarkis watched this with great satisfaction. “He is almost ready,” he thought to himself, “I have only to push him a little farther, and then he will burn!” Thus, later that day, the Fire God called Tolandias to his throne room for a private meeting. He again placed his arm around the warrior’s shoulders and said, “You have done well for me, my Harbinger, and I am proud of you.” Then the two of them looked down into the Fire. They saw at once the place where Koltrane suffered for his sins. “I think you’ve learned at last that being my Harbinger is not without its perks.”
“It is true, my Lord,” Tolandias replied. “I cannot help but take pleasure in that one’s suffering.”
“Yes, I’d noticed,” Atul-Anarkis said, “And it is for that reason that I’ve called you here today. I have decided to grant you a boon.”
“Ask me anything, Tolandias, and if it is in my power, I shall grant it.”
Tolandias thought for only a moment. “Eriella, my Lord. I would like to see my beloved again, if it’s possible. Even if it is only for a single day.”
Atul-Anarkis smiled. “Very well. I grant you a day of life in which to go and find your one true love. But what will you say to her? Have you thought about it?”
“I have thought of little else, my Lord,” Tolandias replied. “Am I not now the Deceiver? Surely I will think of something.”
Atul-Anarkis heard this, and his smile grew. “Excellent,” he said.
Sunset that evening found Tolandias standing again as a living man in the
. He did not have to wait long before Eriella
appeared. When he saw her, he thought he
felt his heart stop. For Eriella, the
shock was at least as great. Without a
word, she rushed into his arms. He
started to speak, but she put a finger to his lips. They stood for a moment and remembered. garden
of Duke Colvaire
Then reality intruded upon their happiness.
“Oh Tolandias, where have you been? I thought I would go mad without you. I thought--”
“You thought I was dead.”
She nodded. He started to speak, but she beat him to it. “If I’d but known…” she began, but then she trailed off. At length she continued, “I’m to be married in the morning. But I can call it off! Or we can run away together!”
Tolandias broke the embrace. He realized at last that, much as he might have liked to, he could not lie to the one woman he had ever truly loved. He bowed his head. “No,” he said, “I should go. And you should marry. For, you see, you were right. I am dead.
“I was condemned to the Fire, but Atul-Anarkis has granted me a boon for my service. And so I am come to see you today. But as much as I might wish to say otherwise, I shall be gone on the morrow. The Court of Fire will not long allow my absence. Still, though I am a damned thing, I am yet enough of the good man that I was to know that I cannot now take you under false pretenses. There is no future for us, Eriella. I shall not make false promises to the contrary.”
A tear ran down Eriella’s face, but even as it did, she made a decision. She looked into Tolandias’s eyes and said, “You are a good man, my love, and you have always been one. And though you’ve come twice to deceive me, you’ve yet to break my trust. For that and for everything else, I love you. And though tomorrow you shall belong again to the God of Fire and I shall belong to the house of another man, tonight we belong to each other. So come. I would know the touch of my one true love before I know the touch of him who will be my husband.”
Tolandias returned the Court of Fire the next morning deeply troubled. He found Atul-Anarkis deep in thought as well. For many long moments, the Fire God took no notice of his Harbinger, but after some time had passed, Atul-Anarkis spoke. “My dear Tolandias,” he said, “You’ll never fit in here, will you?”
Tolandias bowed his head. “No, my Lord. I fear that I will not.”
“And yet now we are stuck with each other for eternity, no?” Atul-Anarkis sighed a heavy sigh. “Very well then,” he said after another moment, and he again drew his sword. “I can see that you will never truly be the Deceiver that I had hoped you would become. I therefore re-christen you with a new name and as a new aspect of my divine self. Henceforth, you shall be The Modor, my Heart of Righteous Fury. You shall be the aspect of my rightful vengeance upon evildoers in the World Above. And if you serve me well, then I shall grant you your boon once every half-year. You may visit your wife and your son for one day and one night at the coming of every solstice.
“What say you?”
“But, my Lord, I have no wife--”
“But you do. Observe.” And with that, Atul-Anarkis waived his hand in front of his crystalline mirror. The image of a woman heavy with child came into view. It was Eriella. The Fire God looked at Tolandias. “This is how she will look a half-year from now. And she will know that the child is yours.”
“Her child has infernal blood. The signs will be unmistakable. She will renounce her false marriage and flee her father’s kingdom. She will have need of you. And she will name her son for his father.
“So now… Do you agree to my terms, or shall I torment you after all?”