Excerpted from The Falcon and the Serpent (Downers Grove, IL: Crossway Books, 1990)
Crotalus strode through the small castle in the Amil Mountains seeking a release for the energy inside him. He was not a patient man. He had not become the powerful sorcerer he was through patience. Intelligence, yes ... cunning, certainly ... but not patience. He had waited with pent-up energy for sixteen years, and tomorrow his waiting and longing would come to fruition. Tomorrow would begin the true reign of his power. He had given orders for his army to stand down until tomorrow. He didn‟t know if they would be needed then or not, but he wanted to be prepared in case of treachery on Fel-hoen‟s part. Fel-hoen was a crawling, cowardly slug of a man. Crotalus remembered when he had come to him sixteen years ago wanting to be a king. The priesthood was disgusting to him, he had forsaken the gods, and he wanted to rule. After Crotalus had made that possible, Fel-hoen seemed to renounce all knowledge of Crotalus. But Crotalus had made it very plain over the years what the penalty would be if he reneged on their bargain. Crotalus grabbed a chair and flung it across the room, shattering it like glass against the wall. This was no good. He could not pace in this room until tomorrow. He forced himself to walk slowly, as the great sorcerer he was, and walked out of the room. He would check on his army, perhaps talk with the captain. He found twenty of the men in the dining hall, mugs of ale in front of them, ribald jokes and coarse laughter filling the air. Crotalus gave them a cursory glance before turning toward the door, but their conversation arrested him. “I heard he lives in Paduan. He‟s the king‟s knight.” “I wouldn‟t be surprised. Even when I knew him, and that was twenty years ago, he was a fiery fighter. He was only eighteen then, but I knew he would be fierce.”
An older, grizzled soldier by the name of Alane joined the conversation. “Anyone could see that Falcon would be a great warrior because of his father. I knew Farrel Jaqeth, fought under him in the great wars of freedom for Paduan.” Crotalus had turned, and his eyes narrowed to slits. A few of the men saw his look and went pale at the sight. Alane did not notice and settled back further into his chair, his mug of ale resting comfortably on his belly as though he were preparing to tell a great tale. “I remember when dragons walked the land ... Oh, not the kind of dragons we have now that the circus takes around, but real dragons that could rip you open from chin to crotch with their claws and then cook you well-done before they ate you. Men ran in fear from those dragons, and well they should. Farrel, in the three years I served under him, killed five of those dragons with nothing more than his sword and shield. He had no men helping him because everyone was too afraid. But not Farrel. That is where he earned the name Jaqeth, which means „Dragon Slayer.‟ It‟s because of him that the dragons now are so tame. They remember his deeds and tell their young, much as we ourselves do. So it is no wonder that Falcon -- “ He never finished his sentence, for Crotalus had bounded across the room and grabbed Alane by the throat. He lifted him from his comfortable position as easily as if he were a kitten. Crotalus‟ yellow eyes flamed in terrible rage. The men watched in horror as Alane‟s life was squeezed out by the left hand of Crotalus. None dared speak against him. “Never,” Crotalus said, each word distinct and slow -- and with every word he shook Alane‟s body -- “never mention Falcon Jaqeth in my castle again.” He gave one last twist to Alane‟s neck and tossed the lifeless body onto the table, sending ale flying in all directions. He then stalked from the room. In an instant, Crotalus was back in the tower, pacing with a fury that could have brought down mountains if he so desired. He instead turned the rage inside and heaped it
upon the burning coals of an anger that he would never allow to die. Falcon Jaqeth. He let tendrils of flame leap around the name. He brought to mind the picture of Falcon and let it burn itself into his heart. How he despised the man! Oh, the fantasies of horrible death he had created for Falcon Jaqeth! He withdrew from his robe an image of a girl. She was no more than twenty years, with dark tresses that cascaded to her slender waist. The eyes, warm and brown, flashed with life; the mouth smiled with mirth, the gently rounded chin lifted in stubbornness. The lovely arms should have held him tenderly; the graceful legs should have carried her to him where she would have remained at his side for all time. He would have made her immortal. Rafaela. *** The old man went about his prayers in a faithful fashion, even though he sensed an evil presence hovering near him. He unconcernedly turned even this over to the Redeemer God and went on with his worship. The candles on the tables of his library burned low, barely illuminating the hundreds of books that filled every shelf, every table, every horizontal plane in the room. At last the old man opened his eyes, his prayers finished for another hour, and he turned solemnly and yet eagerly to the pile of books resting on the table nearest his right hand. What had he been reading that sparked the call to worship? Ah yes, he had been reading one of the old books, older perhaps than even he knew. It had been written by a human (not all of them were), but oh, the insights this mortal had had! The old man opened the book to where he had left off and began reading about this man‟s knowledge of the Redeemer God. Duncan had known, of course, that the men of long ago did worship the Redeemer God, but it was still a wonder and amazement to find new things about Him. The names of God alone seemed infinite. His musings on the men of old brought to his mind the sword that was held in another part of the Forgotten City.
He stood decisively and found his way through the beautiful ruins of the city to the Home of Weaponry. This building was much larger than his own library and bedroom. He could hear his footsteps upon the stone floor echo through empty rooms. He passed through maces and lances, chain-mail armor and common swords. He gazed on short daggers, shields, and crests. These caught his attention for only a moment, but he went on, intent upon the one sword. As he stood before it, his heart beat a little faster. The hilt was of gold, gleaming and strong; the blade was of an even more rare and more valuable, but unknown, metal. But it was not the value of it that made his heart race. He had found a picture of this very sword in one of his books about the people who had worshiped the Redeemer God long ago. This sword was not only older than anything he had known except for the Forgotten City itself, but it was the exact sword that had been used to send so many of the Redeemer‟s people to Him. Duncan felt again the evil pressing around him, ominous and frightening. He stared at the sword that glistened even in the dark room. “Is it coming then, Menon?” he asked, using the old, familiar name of the Redeemer. “Do great destinies hang upon the use of this sword? Only You know. Blessed be the Redeemer God.” *** So Falcon Jaqeth still resided in Paduan. Crotalus knew Falcon could not have fled far from his wrath, but he had never dreamed that Falcon would not have left at all. Crotalus had not seen Falcon in thirteen years. Yet the knight was never far from the thoughts of Crotalus or his insatiable desire for revenge that drove him on through the days and nights of his existence. Crotalus bounded to the door of his room, flung it open, and yelled for the captain of his army. In minutes, Captain Hirsch stood before him, and Crotalus could see the fear in his eyes. He had heard of the death of Alane, had seen the body with its horribly
mottled face. He knew that the master he served was as volatile as some of the potions he mixed. It is good, Crotalus thought. He should fear me. They should all fear me. “I want all the information you can give me about Paduan.” “Paduan, sir? I don‟t understand.” “I want maps drawn, not only of Paduan, but detailed maps of each city in Paduan. I want to know the principals of each city, the knights, the size of each army, especially the king‟s. I don‟t care if you have to send a scout, but do it immediately! I want the information in my hand by sundown tomorrow or my wrath shall be visited upon you, captain. Is that understood?” Hirsch nodded briefly. “It is understood.”