Even Gods Must Fall - Christian Warren Freed


Dawn. The sun broke the horizon, crisp and bright against the eastern sky for the first time in days. A late winter storm had blown through, covering the lands, yet again, in a perpetual blanket of austere white. While residents huddled in front of sputtering hearths, a sense of prevailing turmoil settled over the world. Rumors of struggles, whispers of titanic battles to the east, reached the villagers of the almost forgotten town. War was sweeping across the northern kingdoms. Yet it was a war that left them largely unaffected. A few favored sons had answered the muster and marched off to join the ranks. The old grieved while the young dreamed. War did funny things to all.

Eldric and Bjorn, eldest of six sons, slipped into their heavy winter clothing and collected their bows on the way out the door long before their mother awoke. They’d ached to enlist when the Wolfsreik recruiter visited back at the beginning of winter. A great, unstoppable crusade was underway that held the implications of liberating the entire north of Malweir under Delrananian flags. Who wouldn’t want to become part of such grandeur? Glory was not for the boys, however. With their father long in the ground from an unfortunate plowing accident, their mother insisted on keeping all of her boys close. Wars were no place for youth. Not if they expected to mature into decent men.

Abandoning the confines of their home, the boys hurried off down snow-covered trails in search of a stag or brace of rabbits. Winter had been a successive string of miserable storms confining them to the relative security of the house. Eldric grew inspired by the dawn and led the way. All thoughts of war and, given the circumstances, abject misery associated with too many feet of snow, dissipated the deeper into the woods they stalked.

A lone rider had come through the village a few weeks past with devastating news. Eldric and Bjorn learned for the first time of the insurrection against the throne and the destructive civil war raging across Delranan. The sheer incredulousness of it left both boys in doubt. Any aspect of war would surely have trickled down into the minor villages peppering the Delrananian countryside. The rider, claiming to be a messenger from the rebellion, rode off in disgust. Not a single villager answered the call and Eldric and Bjorn watched as their ancestral home quietly returned to the way life had always been.

Still, there was an urgency in the rider’s words that inspired a fire within Eldric’s heart. Questions of legitimacy sprang forth. He suddenly wanted to know more of what the rest of the kingdom was like. What it was undergoing. Bjorn chastised his older brother for being brash. The impudence of youth was often misunderstood. Why should Eldric’s desires be any different? Eventually he calmed down. The rider was long gone, presumably off to other villages in search of able-bodied fighters to join the cause. Eldric forgot his dreams, brief as they were. His life was here, with his family.

“Look,” Eldric announced in a hushed voice.

Bjorn knelt down to gingerly touch the cloven-hoof print. A light splattering of snow had settled in deeply. Bjorn grinned. “Fresh. These can’t be more than an hour old.”

“Come on, looks like we’re in for fresh meat tonight, brother.”

The boys loped off on the hunt. Eldric’s eyes scanned the woods as they followed the deer tracks deeper. Both boys stalked with arrows strung. Their stomachs growled hungrily. A long winter of too many old potatoes and slightly rotted vegetables left them salivating over the prospect of fresh meat. This past winter was among the worst in recent history, leaving many old and young naught but frozen corpses stored behind homes until the ground thawed enough to dig their graves. Worsening matters was the intense stir-crazy feeling gnawing away at every villager. It was time for the sun to shine again.

Trees began to thin. They were drawing to the edge of the forest. If either boy was thinking clearly they might have given pause. Deer preferred the security of camouflage, seldom venturing far into the open air. Eldric reached the tree line first and jerked to a stop. Bjorn, more worried over losing the trail, slammed into his brother’s back.

“Hey, what did you stop fo….”

“Shhh,” Eldric hissed. “Look!”

Bjorn lowered his bow to peek around his brother’s solid frame. What he witnessed stole the warmth from his soul. The plain stretching out before them had turned black under the steady