A few weeks ago I posted an article about Brandan’s tests. This week I wanted to talk about Joachim’s tests. Joachim’s tests are a little different from Brandan’s. Sidramah’s goal is to either turn Joachim to evil or destroy him.
The walls, carved of black onyx, created a dark, forbidding aura. Cold wet slime covered the floors; Joachim’s blood seemed to freeze as he walked on it. An eerie yellow light emanated from the corner, and though he tried to fight it, something inexorabably drew him closer. Trembling, he approached and stepped into the sulfurous light. His knees buckled, and he fell to the rock floor of the cave but continued to crawl forward. A dark, daunting presence appeared in a cloud of smoke and fog and floated in front of Joachim. The being’s black robe brushed the floor; straight raven-colored hair rested on its shoulders. The figure’s red glowing gaze seemed to penetrate Joachim.
The man held a silver goblet. Writhing snakes encircled the vessel, slithering up the man’s arms and wrapping around his neck. The prince stood and took a step back but could go no further. Something held him in place and then shoved him toward the figure. When Joa stood within arm’s reach, the being pushed the goblet into his hands. “Drink.” The prince tried to drop the cup, but the snakes wrapped themselves around his hands and began the journey up his arms. The mug was hot and felt as if it was fusing to his hands, yet the cup remained intact. His arms took on a will of their own and raised the vessel to his lips. When the cup touched his mouth, the vile potation slid over his lips and down his throat. The snakes released him, and he dropped the goblet. Waves of pain assaulted his abdomen while his mouth burned. He fell. * * * * “What was that?” Fuzzy memories of a peyote tea lesson and its effects filled his mind as blackness and dark visions took shape. The figure picked him up. “You don’t belong here. You aren’t worthy to be Sidramah’s servant. The volcanic fires of Mount Dablaya will temper your rebellion and be final proof of your unworthiness.” * * * *
The first is an attempt to convert him by convincing him that his family doesn’t care about him:
The man turned as the wall of the cave erupted into a sheet of flame. Joachim was catapulted into the fiery vision. Flames licked his body. Pain exploded in his brain, and fireworks erupted around him. He tried to find an escape from the intense heat. His stomach roiled as he inhaled smoke, and he threw up before he could move on. Bile lingered in his mouth, igniting the impulse to vomit again. Dreams of cool water streaming over his body and satisfying his thirst teased at the edges of his mind like chickens just out of reach of a chained dog. After catching
his breath, inhaling smoke and sparks, he resumed crawling and searching for an escape route. He cried out, “Father help me. Asha come to my aid!” The response was Waldrom’s laughter echoing off the walls. “They aren’t here. They don’t care. They won’t help you.” After what seemed like hours of crawling through the flames, he exited into a field. A thunderstorm roared around him. The rain pelted his burned, aching body. There was momentary respite before the cooling raindrops turned to ash. Rivers of lava flowed down the mountain on their journey to the canyon standing before him. On the opposite rim was a sun-dappled meadow with the Go Ruden River flowing lazily into the forest beyond. On the banks, his father and mother watched Brandan and Myrria dance. Disregarding the canyon, Joachim ran toward them. At the edge of a precipice, he halted. “Father, Myrria, it’s me. Help!” His father turned. Waldrom stood behind the king. “Your father no longer loves you. He abandoned his search and is making your brother king in your stead. Come to me. I’ll take care of you. You’ll become my heir, and together, we’ll avenge you by destroying your father and brother.” “No, you’re not my father. King Theodric’s my father. I won’t bow to you.” “You will, or you’ll die like your father and brother.” The dragon flapped her wings as if to fly to him but froze as Waldrom stared at her. Then the wizard focused his gaze on prince and king. They fell twisting and writhing as mist descended on them. Screams erupted but were soon silenced as the mist lifted. Their faces were grey-blue with eyes rolled back. Lava covered their bodies as colored glass rained on the smoldering field. “No!” Joachim stepped forward and fell into the canyon. * * * *
Joachim opened his eyes, and the man stood before him. “They don’t want you. They will not rescue you. Turn to Sidramah, turn to Waldrom. They will meet your needs.” “No, they can’t. Asha and Father will come for me.”
When Joachim doesn’t succumb then the Evil One steps up his game:
The man disappeared. Joachim sat on the floor, his head dropped into his hands, and tears fell down his face. “Will they come for me? Should I trust Waldrom? Asha please tell me what to do.” He looked at the wall, and the stone seemed to dissolve as black mist rose, revealing the great room at the Palace of Three Crosses. Waldrom sat on the throne with Lilia standing by his side. “Ahh, Joachim, I see you have arrived and just in time. You’re about to witness a great moment in the history of Mahorg and Crato. Lilia has agreed to be my bride.” Diving at the throne, Joachim yelled, “No, this isn’t happening. Mother would never agree to be yours. She is with Father.” “That is where you’re mistaken my boy.” Waldrom pushed him with his foot. “Your mother is mine!” “No, she’ll never be yours.” The vision faded as he turned to run from Waldrom and saw Lilia entering. He glanced back, and the previous scene was gone. Overjoyed, he ran to her. She was dressed in a black gown with a black hood covering her brown hair. The queen stopped his embrace with a stern look. “You must give in. Your father is no good for you. You’ll never be king. He will bestow that honor on Brandan. Waldrom is the only one who can make you king. Return to him, and you will get nothing.” “Mother, how can you say that?” “I don’t love your father. He blinded me, led me to believe he loved me. But he didn’t, and it broke my heart. Waldrom has always loved me. I now realize I should have been with him. Theodric is evil and treacherous. Accept Waldrom while you still have a chance.” “No, you’re lying. He has cast some kind of spell on you. Father loves you. He loves all of us. We’ll be together soon. We can forget all about Waldrom and his evil ways.” “I’m surprised you still believe that drivel, boy.” Waldrom laughed. “Your father doesn’t care. Brandan doesn’t care. There is nothing left for you but to come to me. I am the only one who cares.” “Do as he suggests,” Lilia put her hand on Joachim’s shoulder. “It is the only way.” This wasn’t right. Father would never abandon him. Brandan did care, and Mother would never go to King Waldrom. That wasn’t the way things were supposed to be. “It is the only way.” Lilia hugged him. He opened his eyes. “I can’t do this. But what if I don’t? Who will I have left to turn to?” The man in black reappeared. “You know what you must do. Sidramah is the only way. Give into him. Let him give you what you need.” Turning away from the man, Joachim fell asleep. Troubling dreams haunted him throughout the night. They were filled with harpies and banshees that caressed him while trying to lure him into their lairs. Giant wolves and Nemean lions stalked him and occasionally leapt at him, attempting to kill him. Joachim pushed the harpies away as he tried to run from the lions. Arms of skeletons kept reaching out, and Joachim batted them away. The creatures continued to come at him as he ran down a stale, dark passageway smelling of rot and decay. He moved toward a light at the end of the tunnel, but the closer he got, the farther away the light seemed. He tripped over a pile of bones, twisting his ankle.
His father appeared before him. Joachim reached out. “Father, I’m here. Help me… Take me home.” “No, Joachim, I’m not here to take you away. You must stay with Waldrom and learn from him. He’s your only salvation. I no longer need you. Brandan will take your place and be a fine king when the time comes. There is no need for you to come back.” His father’s image disolved into Waldrom who looked into Joa’s eyes. “I told you he no longer wanted you. Now, will you come to me and be my son and heir.” He saw the kingdom of Crato with himself as king and Waldrom, a great wizard. The last thing he saw was Waldrom and Lilia joined…and Waldrom became his father.
In one more attempt to sway Joachim, Sidramah plants seeds of death and doubt in Joachim’s mind:
He awoke on the hard ground. Sweat peppered his brow and chest as questions tormented him. He spoke, hoping to hear the answers and yet knowing he wouldn’t. “Who should I believe? Waldrom gave me no reasons to trust him, but Father hasn’t shown up to rescue me yet. Maybe he gave up on me in favor of Brandan. And what of the dark magic?” Joachim could do so much more if he embraced it, but it went against everything he learned and believed. A Nemean lion roared from the depths of the cave making Joachim jump. He ran toward the entrance, but a gray dragon blocked his path. Beyond the dragon he could see Mother, Father, and Brandan playing in the surf of the Takan Ocean. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them, Waldrom and Mother stood before him, beckoning to join them. A celebration surrounded them. Both were dressed in radiant white clothes. Rosas covered the ground beneath them. Mantion and humans danced and sang around them. Brandan stood beside a glass enclosed coffin. Father lay in the box, dressed in black. Brandan ran his hand over the casket and looked Joachim in the eye. “You’ve already killed. Come join us and share the power of Sidramah. It is the only way.” The battlefield lay before him. Father, frozen on the ground. Joachim stood over him blood covered sword in hand. The dragon roared, spewing fire, engulfing Joachim. The prince ran to the dragon screaming. He had to get out of this place of evil. He couldn’t succumb to the evil. There must be a way out of this and away from Waldrom. He would let them think he had given up till he could find another way. The prince collapsed in a heap at the feet of the dragon, his charred body crying out for relief from the pain. His mother appeared. She caressed his wounds and chanted a healing spell. The burns faded. “Joa, come with me. All will be well. Just give into the power of Sidramah.” “No, I can’t. I will never….” She stopped stroking his burns. The wounds remanifested. He screamed again. The queen touched him again, healing him. “To be healed you must. Please?” Once more, Brandan and Waldrom stood before him. “I will do whatever you ask, Mother.” Joachim bowed his head in defeat. The dragon and visions faded. Joachim limped from the cave, his burns healed and all signs of his travails gone as if dreams. He stumbled on an exposed glingkol root and toppled to the moss-covered ground of the meadow. He couldn’t give into the evil. He couldn’t do as Mother, as Brandan asked. He must not succumb to the evil.
Will Joachim give into the evil or will the evil destroy him? The answers lie in Palace of the Twelve Pillars: Book One. There you can see the struggles of both Brandan and Joachim. How will the twin princes respond to their very different tests and what is the destiny of the world they live in?
To see more of Joachim and the role he plays in the fate of Ramajadin check out Palace of the Twelve Pillars: Book One: