It had been years, in fact twenty years, since Thrine had been to his valley, of course, he was the only one that called it that name. But the valley had not been on any map that he had seen, so in essence it was, Thrine’s Valley.
He sat on his large black horse with the Blacktree Forest towering behind him and the crest of the valley just a few paces in front of him. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his mouth to fill his lungs to capacity with the warm fresh air and slowly let it out through his nose. He repeated this twice then opened his eyes to gaze down upon the grassy valley floor.
The tall grass sparkled with the drops of the early morning dew and moved with the gentle flow of the breeze giving it the appearance of waves on a great green ocean. He wondered why no one had claimed the valley for their kingdom. Not even Thrine had been tempted. Maybe something this peaceful and beautiful, he thought, should not be claimed by mere mortals but should be left alone as the gods had intended.
“Just as beautiful as it was the last time we were here my old friend,” Thrine said as he patted Nightwish’s massive neck. “No, I think time and the times have made more beautiful in my eyes.”
Thrine dismounted his old and trusted friend and walked to the rocky edge of the valley to gaze down at the grandeur of miles of tall green grass, how tall he could not tell. His steel blue eyes followed the floor of the valley north to the edge directly opposite of where he stood. A wall of black rock rose out of the ground in an almost mirror image of where he stood. The plateau where the rock stopped seemed to be covered in the same giant Blacktree forest that rose behind him. From his vantage he could actually see the tops of the trees on the other side, something he could not do while in or as near as he was the Blacktree Forest. Beyond the trees were mountains, mountains so tall the clouds passed underneath their peaks. To the west was green valley floor and the Blacktree forest as far as the eye could see, or at least as far as Thrine’s eyes could see without his lenses. To the east of where he stood a river, which seemed to Thrine, must come from the mountains, formed the boundary of the valley.
Thrine let his thoughts go back in time, back to a time when he was in his, as his father, King Drackmore III, would say, “Rebellious Youth Stage.” He would storm out of the castle with teeth and fists clenched after being harshly scolded by his father for missing meetings of the Heads of Properties, a council of the richest land owners and merchants of Marneth. The meetings of the council were scheduled for two days out of the month, but always lasted longer. As far as young Thrine was concerned, they lasted an eternity. All they do is complain about the weather, he would say to himself. And bicker over everything that has no meaning. Who cares if a cow walked in to a field of corn and ate his fill? These men seemed to like to eat their fill.
“They are such a bore, father,” he would say. “And why do I have to be there? You’re the King and always will be. I want to see what is beyond our walls, our fences and borders. I want to see the world.”
Impetuous youth. Thrine thought as he kicked a black rock into the valley.
It was after one of his famous tirades he found Thine’s Valley. He stormed out of castle Moorewin, jumped on his young black stallion and rode as fast as Nightwish would take him. The tears of his anger would leave the corner of his eyes and streak towards his ears. He would drop the reins from his hands and stand up straight in the stirrups. Lifting his arms up towards the sky he let Nightwish take the lead at what pace he felt. Without the constraints of the reins the young stallion would gallop as fast as he could, in any direction he chose until he could go no further. His lungs burning the stallion slowed as the two young freedom seekers approached a thick forest of Blacktrees.
“We haven’t been here since father died,” Thrine said to Nightwish. “Has it really been twenty years?”
Thrine lead Nightwish down a slow sloping path, that was, as far as Thrine could ascertain, a natural formation of the rock, to the valley floor. They walked through the thigh high grass towards the slow moving river. It wasn’t long before Thrine’s tan leather pants to turn a dark brown with the moisture as he reached the riverbank.
“I wonder if it’s still here.” Thrine said as he let the reins drop from his hand and walked down the bank. His eyes darted back and forth in search of his stump. He claimed the stump by carving his name into it with the new dagger his father had given him on his sixteenth birthday.
“A man should not be without a weapon in these trying times.” His father said as Thrine opened the wooden box that held a brand new dagger.
Thrine reached down to his belt and patted the gift King Drackmore III would give him.
“It’s beautiful father,” Thrine said. “Thank you.”
“It was crafted by Noliz’s new apprentice Merek.”
“I shall thank him too.”
The highly polished six inch blade reflected Thrine’s eyes perfectly as he gazed at the dagger. The handle was made of a highly polished but not slick black stone, Thrine had not seen before, with the royal crest inlaid in silver with a gold outline on one side and on the other an inlaid silhouette of a golden horse running.
Stumbling over an exposed root, Thrine came back to reality just in time to catch himself before he fell.
“Look Nightwish! It’s still here!” Thrine said with a youthful joy in his voice. He walked to the stump and kneeled. He took the black riding glove off of his right hand and stuffed it into the waist of his pants. He placed his right hand on the stump and moved his fingertips over the weathered surface like a blind man reads a stranger’s face. Back and forth he moved his hand until his fingertips felt the indentation of the carved letters of his name. He couldn’t stop the tear that fell to the surface of the stump.
“Hello old friend,” Thrine said as he composed himself. He brushed the dirt and moss from the surface to expose his name he had carved with his new dagger two days after receiving it and three days before his father became ill. He sat himself on the stump, kicked out his feet until his heels were nearly in the water, put his hands on the back of his head and allowed himself to think of nothing. He took a couple of deep breaths, shut his eyes, and let the sounds of the valley sweep him away. He listened to the melody of the rustling grass has it swayed with the warm and gentle breeze. He opened his eyes to a slit and watched the sunlight seemingly dance off the slow moving river in step with rustling grass.
Nightwish let out a loud grumble. Then he let out an even louder grumble. Thrine snapped back to reality on the third, even louder warning let out by his trusted friend.
He jumped to his feet and reached down with his right hand to his left hip and wrapped his fingers around the handle of his dagger.
Thrine pulled the dagger out of its sheath. He jumped onto the stump. His eyes darted left and right. His heart started beating faster. Nightwish started stamping his hooves. Thrine looked in the direction Nightwish was looking and saw nothing.
“What is it? What do you see boy?”
Thrine snap turned his head towards the sound and that’s when he saw it. Thrine could not tell if it was a large man or beast, but he knew for sure he had not seen anything like this monster. Thrine was in full combat position. A bead of sweat formed on his forehead and started trickling down the bridge of his nose. Nightwish let out I high pitched whinny as he rose on his hind legs. The creature was no more than a stone’s throw away and still closing!
Is that a knife he is carrying, was Thrine’s last thought.