The Story Of Axilles and Astrogarde - Part 12 – A demon dies and a prince becomes a king.
Twice, Axilles had cheated the demon Ixshisthix: once in the valley of the Silfawn when he had brought the defeat of the tyrant Drumera and once by the bed of his love, Astrogarde when he had put away his sword and refused to slay the one he loved. Axilles’s soul was now free within the arms of the eternal mother,god and Astrogarde now owned the magic locket which the demon desired. It was Astrogarde that the demon now fixed its predator’s eyes upon, it was Astrogarde who now became the target of the demons vengeance and wrath. “If I cannot win by subtlety and stealth then I will win by force and fury”, thought the Demon.
Into Klanbeck prison the demon went,searching for the cell of a murderer known as Vervomel, a man who had murdered twenty people in ways too vile for good people to imagine and who was now sentenced to hang then, into the cell of Vervomel, the demon crept, like a foul smell, and whispered evil into the murderers ear.
“Be my vessel, Vervomel and I will help you escape and I will give you the strength of ten and put my power in your hands, go to and enter the palace and kill for me and every drop of blood will be paid for with a purse of gold”.
“Is this some foolish dream? Enter the palace,
how? Will the guards wilt like flowers and the walls melt like butter?”, laughed Vervomel.
“They say that a mans dreams make the world”, the foul demon smaned, “And so your dark dreams may make a world of perpetual night but you must agree to do my bidding, bow to me Vervomel and I shall make you a giant. ”
Like all men who long for power, Vervomel was easily enslaved by demon promises and from the marriage between demon and man came a new terrible monster, the living incarnation of Vervomels evil desires: an Agromoth, a gigantic serpent made of bright human blood with eyes of solid shadow and teeth and tongue of golden fire.
The creature merely hissed and the cell door that was made of oak, shattered into a million splinters then, oozing through the prison corridors and out into the peaceful streets of Klanbeck, it moved like a bright vermillion river of death,staining everything that its slimy body touched with blood and devouring or incinerating any living thing that was unlucky enough to meet with its obsidian gaze.
By the bed of his aged father, Astrogarde sat.
The death of Axilles was still a dark bird of sadness that circled his mind but he also feared for the life of the old king and so, as would any dutiful son, Astrogarde spent most of his time by his fathers bed, listening to a million memories,anecdotes and sad and happy theories about life, and each time he heard both new things and things he had already heard eleventeen
times before but he did not yawn or grow irritable but just listened. “Let him talk until
autumn”, thought Astrogarde, “because his ceaseless silence will be a thousand times more terrible to my ears when it comes”.
“I haven’t yet told you what became of the hell-blade”, said his father, “But it is vital that you know, my son. After the blood stained angel disappeared, a thing of even greater strangeness and wonder occurred. The hell-blade that had been carved of deepest darkness was changed into a sword of bright, white light and when the priests were told about the transformation they said that it had been redeemed or converted just as a person is converted, turned from a hell-blade into a blade of heavenly light and so the sword has been kept hidden within the north wall of the palace chapel so that it may be used in time of genuine need. The blade of heavenly light is now your sword, Astrogarde. I am too frail to fight and so I bequeath it to the ascendant king. Use the power of the blade wisely and use it well”.
“I vow father, and if the vow is not indestructible then may I be broken and scattered”, said Astrogarde.
The roar of the Agromoth was heard throughout the palace, part beast and part human the creatures cry alone sent a wave of sweat and shivering throughout every courtier,guard and servant. It could have reared up and rammed down the palace gates with its head but it was so certain of its own power that it preferred to taunt those inside the palace.
“The palace smells sweet; stuffed with succulent souls, fat and dripping with sweat and fear, soaked in the salt of misery and the spices of despair. Come out, courageous souls and wrestle with my tongue, test your strongest steel against my cutlery, I will make meat of you while your heart is still beating”, goaded the Agromoth.
Astrogarde begged his father not to rise from bed, “Please father”, he said, “This
Palace is defended by over a hundred guards who are all younger men than you
and among the male courtiers and the servants combined perhaps another hundred”.
“And all of them have long and worthy lives to live”, said the king, “No, Astrogarde.
It is no great sacrifice for me to face the Agromoth. I have tried my hardest to be a
good person and a good king and that is all I need to shield my soul but my body is
in the shedding season and I fear more for my family, my friends, my good and loyal servants and their families than for myself. Princes are more precious than kings, my beautiful child, the gold of youth and the jewels of strength and virility are more precious than the ornaments and attire of kings. If you, so full of life and promise,die then who is left to rule except a man who is already seven eighths dead”, he said and seizing the golden staff which was an emblem of his kingship observed, “Look how I now have to lean upon the royal rod as if it were a walking stick. Let me face the Agromoth and save yourself, if I face it with the blade of heavenly light in my right hand then I may have a good chance of destroying it since the heaven-blade cuts through both matter and that alien matter of the spiritual dimension, if I destroy this monster then it would be my last act of greatness, something more worthy of memory than all my faliures as head of government. No, the chancellor of times treasury is telling me that I am down to no more than a purse full of years and I would rather spend it all now on one golden act of sacrifice than on the miserable pile of withering and sighs which my life has become” .
Astrogarde listened to his father with patience and sympathy but then asked, “Father. When do I become king? Is it merely when you die or is it only when I start to act like a king? If you die and by gods mercy and grace are able to kill todays Agromoth then today the prince will live but what is to stop another Agromoth from coming tommorow and tommorrow tearing out my
cowardly,unworthy heart, because you will not be there to shield me then. No, father, If I cannot face that monster now then I will never be worthy to wear your crown, no matter what rules and conventions say. You may see this as your glorious end but I see this as my glorious beginning and begin I must, I must enter the mouth of danger if I am ever to re-emmerge as a king”.
“Then”, answered the King, proudly admiring his sons courage and devotion, “Let us face the monster together and, with God, make a trio like a trident that will drive that monster back into the hell-pit of its own stomach!”.
Now that this alliance of father and son was formed, a strategy was prepared; it was decided that the attention of the beast must be divided and thus that, out of all the men in the palace, two small companies must be formed, one led by the prince, which would attack the beast head on and one, led by the king, which would attack the tail end of the monster. The Prince would wield his fathers blade of heavenly light because he and his men faced the more fatal end of the creature and the king and his men would jab their swords and flaming brands into its rear while the king wore his sons magical locket.
“This is not just a fight to defend your palace and your king”, said the Prince, speaking swiftly to his assembled men, “This is the primal eternal fight, the fight to defend your family, your home, the things and people that you love and love itself from the evil that preys upon us all,we are not the first to face this eternal enemy, with every generation it returns in some new and more hideous form to blight the land of men and we inherit from our ancestors, the heroes who were the generals and the footsoldiers of our legends, our sacred duty to fight it and send it back into oblivion. This is the test of our time and, following the example of our fathers, we must face it and I have no doubt in my heart that we will defeat it because I see in all of you more courage and power than any thing built from evil can withstand, you are what frightens monsters and makes devils weep, you are good, honest and brave men and your hearts are our advantage because the thing outside the gates has no heart, loves nothing, cares for nothing, is mother to nothing other than death; it has no purpose to its life beyond its insatiable appetite for devouring mens souls and because it has no love it has no courage, because love of more than ourselves is what makes men truly courageous, though it feeds upon our fears it is filled with cowardice, take away the pier glass of its illusion and you will see nothing more than a worm knocking at our gate, so let us now show it what giants truly are, what men truly are!”.
The serpentine monster grinned as the gates were opened but it grinned only briefly before gawping in surprise at the sight of the heavenly blade in Astrogardes right hand and what a right hand it was, for the sovereign of swords is nothing when it is wielded by a fool, but Astrogarde used it wisely and well and the blade glowed as brightly as the radiance within Astrogardes own heart and like the rays of the morning sun the blade stretched out until it was long enough to slice off the monsters head and, while the monster struggled to defend its kneck, its tail was tormented by swords and fire from the king and his men and so the Agromoth grew great spikes from its tail and would have impaled the old king if he had not been wearing his sons locket which now glowed with the light of the kings own courageous spirit. Then into Astrogardes ear he heard two voices whisper, one was the voice of the demon urging him to surrender and filling his mind with visions of his own death, the other was the voice of Axilles urging him on and Astrogarde, believing that the spirit of his beloved was with him, pushed the demons thoughts from his mind and suddenly a new and cunning strategy flashed into Astrogardes head and it was now he and not the serpent who smiled, “we must retreat but slowly”, he told his men, “back through the gates and have the gate keepers ready to lower the portcullis upon my signal!”.
And so all did as they were ordered by the prince and, while fighting, they withdrawed backwards through the gates, very slowly and with every inch they withdrew the Agromoth slithered forward and the moment that they were inside the gates, Astrogarde gave his signal and the iron spiked portcullis was dropped upon the neck of the beast so that its head was trapped.
Though its giant body writhed outside the palace gates it could not move its head and seizing his opportunity, Astrogarde swung the sharp edge of his magical blade down upon the monsters kneck until its head was taken off completely. The death-screams of the demon beast were almost deafening and all of the princes men had to cover their ears with their gauntlets to block them out but when the demons vile life was ended the sound of cheering replaced its screams, the cheering of the princes men, the kings men and all the women and children within the palace.
Weeks and months and years fell through the sieve of time and Onya’s children were born, a boy and a girl named Chrysamis and Axilla who were twins and the father of Astrogarde finally lay down among the stars and angels and Astrogarde sat, finally, upon the throne as king of Lovingod and was known during his reign both as Astrogarde the father of the new and Astrogarde the demolisher because he changed many of the laws and customs of his land which pleased and displeased people in equal measure, he made new laws that abolished arranged marriages and made love a
prerequisite of all marriages and he gave greater rights and freedoms to the wife, he made laws that any couple who were in love may marry including couples of the same gender and he also made laws protecting the rights of ordinary agricultural workers like those who had farmed the land of Axilles and when he was very old and his son was a full grown man, Astrogarde, like his father before him, lay down upon his bed and opened his old eyes inward and saw himself as a soul within the great soul of god and,because it was what he had always wanted more than anything,he and Axilles were reunited and became one, their souls entwined eternally.