Posts Tagged ‘palace’

Excerpt from Prologue

August 16, 2009

This part might have more of a “traditional fantasy” feel to it than the rest of the book. I hope it won´t scare too many of you away.

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Rumpo turned another corner and skidded to a halt. The corridor before him was empty. He took a few hesitant steps, listening for the sound of Alikos´s running feet. His cousin couldn´t be that far ahead of him, but the corridor was long and there were no doors in either of the walls.

Rumpo ran to the end of the corridor and looked both right and left. Still no sign of the other hippo boy. It looked like the rest of the afternoon would be spent playing hide-and-seek after all. Rumpo turned left and then right through the first opening in the stone wall. Then he stopped short.

He had passed through one of the back doors leading into the great throne room. Even if he was the king´s grandson the huge hall always made Rumpo feel a bit scared. Thick stone pillars ten or fifteen times Rumpo´s own height stretched up towards the vaulted ceiling far above him, and a long red carpet covered the floor from the main entrance almost all the way to the dais at the other end of the hall. On the dais stood his grandfather´s wooden throne.

There were only two other hippos in the throne room. King Mardius sat on his throne dressed in a red mantle, wearing Filpini´s golden crown upon his head. His younger brother Nauru, the commander of the king´s guardsmen, stood to the left of the throne, wearing chainmail and holding his iron helmet beneath one muscular arm. Across his back hung a formidable two-handed sword, its elaborately carved hilt sticking up above his left shoulder. Neither of them had spotted Rumpo yet.

“So you mean to go through with it?” asked Mardius, the worry evident in his voice, as unmistakeable as footprints on a dusty floor.

Nauru nodded. “It´s about time we showed the Noori that we still pose a threat to them. If we don´t put some fear into their hearts they´ll seek to expand their own borders, and sooner or later we will have them assaulting our own people. It has to begin somewhere, and I´m ready to strike the first blow.”

As quietly as he could Rumpo slipped behind a stone column. This sounded like a serious conversation, and if any of the other hippos were to discover him eavesdropping they would chase him from the throne room without further delay. If he was unlucky they would command one of the nurses to lock him up in his chamber for the rest of the day. With his heart pounding like a drum he peered around the pillar.

“But wouldn´t it be wiser to assemble a greater force?” the king asked. “Five hundred soldiers would be able to rebuild the hippozones and defend them against the Noori without difficulty. What do you seek to accomplish with only a handful of men?”

“Such a large company would be slow and make a lot of noise.” Nauru replied. “We would attract the Noori´s attention before we were halfway through our journey. A smaller troop of brave warriors will be able to avoid detection and strike swift and hard blows at the Noori´s patrols. We can cause much damage without them even knowing what´s going on.”

“Perhaps.” Mardius said, still with a lot of doubt in his voice. “But sooner or later they´ll draw the conclusion that a hostile force is moving about their territories. They will gather a great host and hunt you down.”

Nauru smiled. “If they do I will stand a better chance evading them with a small number than I would with hundreds of soldiers with supply carts and all. We can slip into our hidden fortresses in the woods, where they won´t be able to find us. We´ll be able to move much faster than the Noori army.”

“I´m still not sure.” the king said. “The Noori know this country. They have watchzones on every hilltop and they patrol each and every path and trail from Noori Lake to the western hills.”

“Do you really think so?” asked Nauru, still with a slight smile on his lips. “They haven´t seen a force of hippos for more than a hundred years. Soldiers grow lazy without battles, their vigilance slacken. The new recruits probably don´t even believe we exist.”

Behind the stone column Rumpo listened, eyes wide with excitement. Fighting the Noori was something all young hippos in Filpini dreamed of. There were not many who had not listened to the old legends about king Barloman and how he conquered Noori Vale more than one hundred and fifty years ago. Back then the hippos had been much more powerful than they were now, but many a young hippo boy dreamed of leading a new Filpini army to war against their ancient enemy. Rumpo´s attention turned back to the two men in the throne room as his grandfather spoke again.

“What do you mean to accomplish then?” Mardius enquired. “You can´t expect to hold even one hippozone with so few men.”

“Whether we hold a hippozone or not is of little importance.” Nauru answered. “What really matters is that we might be able to threaten the Noori on their own ground. If they feel that they can´t defend their own territory the risk is small that they will consider invading ours. A well-armed hippozone is something they can see, consider its strength and how best to assail it. But what about the enemy they can´t see? A silent threat wairing in the woods, always ready to strike them unawares. That will inspire more fear than stone walls with soldiers in armour on top.”

The king sighed. “All right. You´ve always understood these matters much better than I, dear brother. Pick the men you want to accompany you and all the supplies you need. I also want you to have this.”

He leaned slightly forward and removed the chain with the hippos´ sacred medallion that hung around his neck. Rumpo couldn´t stop himself from gasping silently. Legend told that the kings of Filpini had born this talisman ever since Flidsi the great founded the kingdom more than a thousand years ago. Was his grandfather really going to give it away, even if it was to his own brother? Rumpo was certain that such a thing had never happened before. The medallion was said to have magical powers.

“I can´t accept this gift, my king.” Nauru said softly. “The fate of the hippos is bound to it, or so it´s said. You must keep it here to protect your people.”

“The fate of the hippos may very well lie in your hands, brother.” the king replied resolutely. “If you´re right and the Noori may seek to invade our kingdom this quest of yours will be more important than anything I might face here in Hogbar. You will need it more than I will.”

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