Harsh light from a torch awoke me from my slumber. The gatekeeper had probably risen early this morning searching for a bite to eat from the larder as per usual. I yawned creaking my wax limbs and shaking the soot from wick atop my head. He would usually visit thirty minutes before the break of dawn but there was an odd look on his hardened face this morning. He was worried about something.
I sniffed the air as he passed me. Sulfur and gunpowder. I felt chills through my brass base. He smelt of a siege. A few replacements ago, some sixty years back, I had smelt the very same scent.
I was the light-keeper of preference for Grand Knight Artorian, Herald of the King. On that day, he entered his study in the same manner as the gatekeeper with grave look adorned on his face. The only difference being the shouts of fear and death accompanied his entry. The Tower of Humohn shook. I immediately began to sweat as he lit the wick atop my head.
‘Where are we going, Master?’ I asked, as he lifted me up over a series of maps. He couldn’t hear me, naturally, but often times I think they can imagine what I say and answer accordingly.
‘The Caves of Ruidor,’ he whispered pointing at a mineshaft just north of the tower.
The study door swung open and a woman and her child were ushered through by another knight. It wasn’t just any woman though, I realized, as the knight set his hand over his breastplate and bowed. It was the queen and her son. She was wearing a simple brown shirt and pants and a cream hood over her head. Her son wore the same getup but his face was etched into a look of terror.
‘Once they break through the gates it’s only a matter of time before they breach the royal courtyard,’ said Artorian. ‘We cannot travel as a group your highness. If they find us all in one place we are doomed.’
‘I won’t leave him,’ said the queen, holding her son close to her. ‘I won’t leave my Hector.’
‘You don’t have a choice,’ he said nodding to the bodyguard. The queen sobbed as her son was taken away from her. ‘You know where to take the queen. We hide in the Caves of Ruidor. There is plenty of food, water, and oil to last a few days. With any luck, the king’s brother will arrive with his army soon. Until then, we run.’
The bodyguard nodded and pulled the queen away out of the chambers. The knight knelt beside the boy.
‘I’m scared, Sir Artorian,’ peeped the boy failing to keep tears from falling over his cheeks.
‘Be strong, Prince Hector. Your line is not dead yet.’
He picked me up by the brass base and we entered a stone staircase descending into darkness. The wind nearly blew me out and I panicked, pulling the flame back to me with all my might. If I go out, the knight and his prince die.
I grit myself and pledged to shine bright and strong. I would do anything to protect them.
The winding stone staircase was colder than ice and I smelt sulfur, the devil’s perfume. Suddenly, I heard a low guttural moan. One of the creatures was inside with us ascending the steps. The knight hesitated and drew his sword with a soft sheen. The edge of the blade glinted light from me. Artorian pushed Hector behind him and set me on a windowsill, standing his ground.
The daemon reared its fearsome red head and growled, its fangs gleaming. Its countless eyes glowed with hate.
The evil creature charged with a roar shaking the stones of the stairwell. The knight, in a piercing strike, plunged his sword at the thing but it was too fast. The daemon opened its jaws and three red barbed tendrils shot at him. One pierced the knight’s left pauldron and the other two latched on his arm. He grunted and sliced the barbed tendrils off.
The daemon howled but the knight howled louder. He stuck the thing in between its countless eyes and kicked its carcass down the stairwell.
‘Come boy, stay close,’ panted the knight, but he lost his balance and fell down the staircase head first. The boy stared in horror as blood and brain matter spilled onto the steps as he fell. The boy trembled and sat down, frozen in his fear.
‘Get up, kid. You can’t stay,’ I said, wishing he could understand me.
Suddenly, the boy stood up, shivers running up and down his spine. He took my brass handle and held me high as he stepped over the body of his knight and the dead creature. He continued down the stone staircase. Shouts and screams of unholy battle roared outside the tower but I wished the boy to be focused.
‘I don’t even know where I’m going,’ whispered Hector.
‘I’ve seen the map, just trust me.’
Suddenly, the boy turned and gasped. ‘Did you…did you just speak?’
I was so shocked I could barely find the words to say. No one had ever heard my words. Could this boy understand me?
The boy nearly dropped me to the steps.
‘Careful! If I fall I will lose the flame. Keep me high.’
He held me up and stared at me.
‘We don’t have time to talk. Move! We go to the Caves of Ruidor, hurry!’
Hector obediently resumed his path down the steps, with shakes still in his step but confidence in the knowledge that he was not alone. I just hoped we wouldn’t come across another daemon.
We reached the base of the tower and came to a wooden door.
‘The battle is raging on the other side of the door. It’s best if you keep your gaze down. If you look up, you might be frozen in your fear,’ I said.
The boy nodded and pulled the iron ring on the door, leaving just enough room for him to slip through. Then, we were in the courtyard. I made the mistake of looking and nearly shattered at the daemonic display.
Thousands of evil creatures roamed the courtyard and only a remnant of knights and men-at-arms were left in the defense of the city. Ruidor would surely fall and there was very little they could do, but I was dead set on not doing very little.
The boy followed the tower wall and with just a little luck we snuck past unnoticed. The castle walls had been demolished some time ago in the initial stages of the siege so it was only the issue of sneaking by unseen. A thick fog had fallen in the wake of battle and the boy’s stature was still small. The only thing that might give him away would be the light from my wick.
‘Put your hand in front of my flame. It would not do to be seen when we are so close to escape.’
The boy did so. ‘Am I going to die?’
‘Not if I have anything to say about it,’ I replied. ‘Just do what I tell you and you’ll be fine.’
I hoped that was true.
It was so strange to have a conversation with someone after so much time without being heard but I pushed the details from my mind. Only one thing mattered and now that I had the boy prince’s ear it was best to choose my words carefully.
‘At the end of the row there is an iron gate. From there, it’s pretty much a straight shot to the caves. There are plenty of provisions to last enough time for your uncle to arrive with his armies. All we have to do is get there and wait.’
‘Okay,’ stuttered the boy.
The shuffling of steel armor turned our attention behind us. Artorian crashed through the wooden door breaking it to splinters.
‘Sir Artorian is alive!’
Alive would not fit the description appropriately. His skin was red and pulsating like he had a cursed fire within him. His eyes were bloodshot and his mouth had been replaced with rows of jagged teeth. He spotted us and howled running at us in a stumbling fashion with sword raised.
‘He’s most certainly not. Run and don’t look back!’
The boy ran keeping his hand over my flame.
‘Whatever you do, don’t trip!’
The boy fled the castle grounds and entered the thick forest. Morning was on the rise in a few hours and the sky was preparing to cast its orange hue. I could hear armored footsteps thumping behind us. The knight was closing the gap.
I had to think of something quick.
‘Make a turn at that tree.’
The boy obeyed.
‘Go under that fallen stump.’
The boy did so.
‘Now go to that brush and hide.’
The boy rounded a large brush and crouched, holding me at his breast.
‘Don’t make a sound,’ I whispered.
The undead knight stumbled forward but it was clear he had lost his quarry. He snarled; his breaths like the snorts of a rabid dog.
‘What is that?’ shivered the boy.
‘Please, your highness. Don’t speak.’
The daemon sniffed the air and growled, but before long, his footsteps could no longer be heard.
‘I think he’s gone,’ whispered the boy.
A gauntleted hand grabbed the boy’s shoulder and he screamed slamming my head into the fingers. At first, the light went out, but I wasn’t about to lose my flame that easily. I crept onto the undead’s hand and began to eat at his cursed flesh. Before long I had covered his entire body and despite his screams I ate and ate, consuming the very armor he wore, melting it to the ground.
The knight stood burned to a crisp, his feet melted to the ground, and his limbs crumbling to ash. The boy stood and walked to the burnt undead body.
‘Hurry, I’m almost out of fuel,’ I said. He held the brass base out and I leapt onto the wick. I had used much of my strength to save the boy.
‘Are you magic?’ asked the boy, staring at me in awe.
The question shook me. I couldn’t remember. I suppose I must be but how?
‘We can think about this later. We have to get to the caves.’
A concert of howls erupted to the heavens.
‘The daemons! They heard the knight’s screams! Run!’
The boy stood up as the forest writhed with accursed infection. Then, I saw the caves.
‘There it is.’
‘There’s no door. They can just follow me in,’ said the boy.
Hector was right. There was nothing to stop them at all from killing him.
‘Please, don’t let them kill me. They will turn me into an evil creature just like Sir Artorian.’
I wished there had been another way.
We entered the caves and I spotted a cask of oil.
‘Bring that to the entrance.’
The boy rolled the cask to the cave entry and held me up.
‘Drop me into it when I tell you.’
Thousands of glowing eyes moved closer and closer with disgusting howls and cruel cackling, bursting into a deafening roar. I didn’t want to consume him but it was better than watching him die to these unholy creatures and return to life as undead.
He held me above his head, gritting his teeth. He knew what he was about to do.
I would eat him as fast as I could so he wouldn’t feel too much pain.
The treetops exploded above the daemon army halting their advances. Large fire barrels burst shooting metal shards into the creatures. They screamed as their flesh was torn apart with each explosion. Shouts, this time belonging to the armies of the north, responded to the daemons washing relief over me. Dozens of men on horseback rushed through the trees with swords raised and pole-arms leveled into the enemy. They clashed into the daemons cleaving through them with incredible ease.
The boy in his excitement almost dropped me into the oil cask.
‘Careful! Step away.’
The boy did so just as the last of the daemons was killed. A woman in black and grey robes with strange markings on her face rode on horseback to the cave entrance.
‘Prince Hector,’ she said stepping down from her mount. ‘You’re alive!’
A man taller than she with thick pauldrons and chest-plate rode behind her lifting his visor up.
‘Nephew, it is good to see you. If only our ride had been hastened, we could have saved the city.’
‘Uncle, I was saved by this light. It protected me from the daemons.’
‘My lord, the men are preparing to ride into the city and cleanse it of infection,’ said a knight to his uncle.
‘Stay with the boy, Muira. Very well, I will lead the charge. We’re not out of this yet,’ he said, slamming his visor down and kicking his horse into action. As he rode away the woman turned to the boy.
‘The light protected you?’ she asked.
‘Hmmm, I think you are just tired, young prince,’ said Muira, touching his cheek. Instantly, the boy fell into a deep slumber and tumbled into her arms. She took me from his hands as he began to snore softly. ‘You are safe now.’
‘Can you hear me too?’
The woman hid me in her black robes and before I knew it, I was stowed away into a cellar.
I’ve been in this cellar for many decades. The gatekeeper rummaged through the larder but wasn’t looking for food. He was looking for something else. His eyes lit up as looked in my direction. Was he looking for me?
The gatekeeper grabbed me by the brass base and raced out the larder into the royal hall. He opened the door to the royal bedchambers and there was Muira standing beside a man with white beard and hair. She hadn’t aged a day since I saw her in that forest but there was something familiar about the old man.
‘I’ll take that,’ she said, taking me from the gatekeeper. ‘This changes everything, my king.’
The gatekeeper bowed and left and the old man turned slowly. I shook as I recognized him.
‘Do you think I will still hear him?’ asked Hector
‘I sure hope so,’ I said.
King Hector smiled with tears in his eyes.