The Path of Kings

Who watches the watchman?

There was darkness. An infinite darkness that stretched on for an eternity and then some more.

Although he couldn’t see, he felt he was spinning around, moving at a great speed.

Emrys tried to reconstruct his memories, tried to grasp how he’d gotten here. He knew that the why and where would reveal themselves eventually, that was of no importance for now.

He remembered wandering through the abandoned temple of Desna, built in a structure older than the worship of that god herself. He remembered how Baroness Stonemark got embraced by the Star Stone and how the sign of Desna had become imprinted upon her hand. When they’d tried to leave the ruin, they…he…he couldn’t remember anything…just pain…and then the darkness…

Presently, a faint smell tickled his nostrils, not unlike the scent of smouldering pine cones, and he felt the cold darkness receding, reluctantly letting go before the oncoming heat. The scent became stronger as the heat increased in intensity. He felt flames lick at his face. He felt the cold disappear from his toes, just as if he’d gone out hunting on a snowy winter’s day and had come home to warm his feet by the hearth.

Emrys allowed a smile to come to his lips as relief washed over his heart. He was in the warm embrace of his Lord Erastil now and he took great comfort in it.

Then the darkness turned to grey and shapes became visible, densely clustered, long and with spidery limbs reaching for the sky.
No, not spiders, trees!
He was in a forest, a dark wood with bare trees with scorched boughs.
Why have you brought me here?
Emrys called out to the appearing trees, but no answer came.
And then the view fully materialised.

The decaying forest made way for a clearing and in the centre of it, not 50 feet from where he was, he recognised the jagged rock that served as an altar to Nyri…to Her. He knew that altar too well.

He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and froze, becoming one with his surroundings.

A young man stepped into the clearing, dark hair moist with sweat clung to his face and he wore a robe that had been black once, but was now mottled with use and drained of colour. Over his shoulders he bore a live deer, bound up by its legs and carried it towards the altar.

Emrys gasped as he realised when he was. This, this was the day, the day he ran from this terrible place and from this horrible servitude! But why? Why had Erastil brought him here?

The youth deposited the deer on the altar and the beast started yammering mournfully, a guttural sound that cut through bone. Emrys watched as the young man drew a dagger from his belt, an ugly thing, made of hammered star iron, and started dancing around the altar, reciting the incantation of sacrifice to the Lady.

He looked around the clearing, looked for the sign. It would happen any minute now..

A nagging doubt started to grow in the old druid as nothing did happen and the young was nearing the end of his ritual. The deer bleated woefully and Emrys swore the creature looked him straight in the eyes.
Then he knew.
He started moving forward as the change came over him. His limbs grew longer and hair started sprouting from his body as his clothes melted into his new form. With a holy light radiating from its antlers the huge silver stag then stepped into the clearing and let out a mighty bellow, silencing the doe and stopping the young man in his chant.

You! She told me you would come to stop me! You have only come here to die!”, the young man raised his dagger and as he made to charge the great stag, let out a yelp and dropped the burning dagger from his hand.

“Silence!”, Emrys exclaimed in the form favoured by his Lord, “You are not some witless worm to be dangled about by this harlot! You are Emrys, son of Aelle of Silverhall! You are freed now from her sorcery, just as you will free that innocent creature!”

The stag stepped forward, its majestic form towering over his younger self that was helplessly clutching his burnt hand.
“Free that sacrifice and free yourself.”, he spoke in a more soothing voice, but no less commanding . The human cringed and started crawling backward towards the altar. Compunction forcing him to his feet, his hands moving to untie the creature without his conscious effort.

Tears flowed freely from the young druid’s eyes as the deer bleated one last time and bolted off through the trees.

What have you done? What did you make me do?

What needed to be done. Now the time has come for you to run too. Do not stop running, not until your feet can’t carry you any further. Look then into your heart, and know that you have run into a new life in service and love of the Lord Erastil and that he will guide you and watch over you for the remainder of your days.

The stag watched on as the young man turned on his heels and started running away. He knew he’d run for a long time and he knew that maybe he was running still.

The forest faded again and a different smell made itself know, horses and the open plains. As the sound of hoof beats grew louder, Emrys felt the spinning sensation return and he awoke with a loud yell.

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