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The Ancients

Chapter Eleven

By NCS NapierPublished 3 months ago 39 min read


Erramore anxiously played with the purple snood wrapped around her wrist as she whipped her head around, searching for her daughter. Every member of the palace was lined up on the stairs in front of the Mountain Throne Spire, facing the Royal Square emptied of the commoners. Every member except for Ana and Tarok. Erramore peered down each of the four roads that sloped away from the square towards the Capital bridges, relieved to see them empty. She knew Ana would be playing with her swords and cursed herself for not visiting her chambers that morning to guarantee this very thing didn’t happen.

“Move. Move!” Erramore heard behind her as the palace staff were pushed aside. Tarok approached Brinden, swerved to the opposite side from Erramore, and began whispering in his ear. Tarok’s short black hair had been slicked back, though, with gel or sweat from the heat, Erramore was not sure. Whatever the cause, it had made the dye in his hair run around his ear and down his neck. He stroked at his beard running from the top of his mouth and down to his chin, his cheeks newly bare from a morning shave. She could feel him mockingly gaze at her every few beats but purposefully ignored him and continued staring down the roads. Brinden’s face fell to its traditional unimpressed neutral as he rounded on Erramore, his good mood sullied before proceedings had begun.

“Your daughter is here in less than appropriate clothing.”

“Then bring her out,” Erramore said, leaning around Brinden to address Tarok directly. “And be quick about it. They’ll be here soon.”

Tarok sneered, then shoved his way back up the stairs. He clicked at the soldiers guarding the giant double doors that stretched thirty paces into the air and waited for them to open a body's width. He pulled a dishevelled Anastassia into view, her once pristine armour covered in mud, blood, sweat, and tears, with the occasional scratch from a blade that had come much too close. Her hair was tousled and hung from her head like loose wire as if she hadn’t washed or brushed it in days. “I gave her ample time to change, she chose not to use it.” He said as he dropped Ana in the vacant spot behind Erramore and took his position by the Korol.

“You’re late,” Erramore said without turning. “And hardly in appropriate attire.”

“I had training.” Ana shrugged before leaning through her parents’ shoulders and peering down the four intersecting roads. “I can’t be late if no one else is here yet.”

“You should have changed.”

“But I didn’t,” Ana whispered in Erramore’s ear. “Just to annoy you, Mother.”

Erramore refused to rise to her daughter’s bait; she had learned better than that, which made it even more irritating when her promised turned to scold her. “If you’re not on your best behaviour I’ll have you locked up.”

“A normal day then.” Ana chuckled, nudging Erramore in the shoulder, who couldn’t help but curl the corner of her mouth.

She regretted it instantly as Brinden’s stare fell upon her face. “Are you really going to allow your daughter to -”

Erramore sighed. “Are you really going to allow your daughter to aggravate you this easily? Doesn’t bode well for the council, which -” Erramore peered down the western road as a cacophony erupted. “Is about to start. You -” Erramore turned to Ana. “Stop being a nuisance. And you -” She turned to Brinden. “Should know better. Now. Happy faces everybody.” Erramore looped her arm through Brinden’s. “The west is here.”

A lavish carriage that looked large enough to seat eighteen entered the Royal Square with an escort. It had gold trim around the windows and doors, with colourful patches of fine silks that hung from the roof depicting the Aletheo shield of a blue jay delicately embroidered in many shapes, sizes, and positions. It swept past the steps at speed and made an entire loop of the space before settling down on the square's western side. The escort dismounted and superfluously secured the perimeter as if Yavi hadn’t surrounded the square with soldiers without a commoner in sight. They fluffed about the carriage placing stoppers under the wheels, cleaning it of bugs and mud, and then preparing the stairs for the Talutajas to descend.

“Ortaniph and Nhalimbar Aletheo.” Erramore said over her shoulder to Ana. “It’s important you stay clear of him. She’s harmless.”

“Easy on the eyes,” Tarok added with a wink. There was a laugh from behind, and Erramore knew immediately it would be Sepatö and his trade associates. She waggled her little finger at Ana, who giggled.

The men elbowed one another as the carriage door swung open, revealing Nhalimbar waiting patiently. Erramore had never seen what all the fuss was about. She had a small round face with skinny eyes, olive skin, a button nose, and a petite frame – She’d give her that, but the way she tied her black hair above her head gave her the look of a young boy more than an elegant woman. She had a small bust that was accentuated by an extravagant aqua fishtail gown that hugged her legs closely, making it a difficult chore to descend the stairs. Clearly, she hadn’t paid attention in those ridiculous classes where they taught you how to walk, speak, act, and think.

The carriage alarmingly lurched from side to side as Ortaniph lumbered to the edge, his aqua robes doing a pitiable job of hiding his belly that poked out of the doorframe before any of his other features. He wore brown boots with heels that looked taller than a woman’s, fooling nobody into believing his presentation was his actual height. His unkempt beard, ballading head with no more than a few combed-over hairs, and wrinkled face contrasted jarringly with his promised, his belly at least six times wider than Nhalimbar’s waist.

“Seat!” He commanded through strained breath from the few steps he had taken. The woman standing next to Nhalimbar, Erramore was told her name was Sania, rushed to his aid with a small fold-down chair. He snatched it from her grasp before shooing her back to Nhalimbar as he threw it on the ground. The two women stood obediently behind Ortaniph as his chair sagged uncertainly in the middle. “Where are the others?” His harsh voice bellowed across the square, his jowls shaking with every word.

“The souths arriving now,” Erramore said in a way reminiscent of how she once spoke to her elderly grandmother. “The East right behind.”

“Hurry them up.”

Erramore felt Brinden’s arm tense and tried to calm him. “Don’t do anything imprudent. We need them.”

“What are you whispering about?” Ana asked, leaning her head in between her parents. She had gained rather a lot of cheek since she had turned sixteen.

“Rifalm and Sashen Astraee,” Erramore said, nodding towards the Southern carriage entering the square. “Promised to each other last year after some -” Erramore took a moment to choose her words wisely. “Unsavoury and complicated business.”

“Which was?”

“None of your concern,” Erramore assured her with what must have been a patronising smile. There was no swift lap of the square for this rather ordinary carriage, no search of the perimeter, no giant escort. That was how it was when your city had never fallen; Yoghoy had the same family name as Talutaja for as long as history could remember. One would be forgiven for assuming that being overly cautious was the way to achieve such a feat, but Erramore knew that a level head and utter devotion from those below was the true path to success. Whenever anyone threatened the Astraee name, they felt the full force of the loyal south.

A pair of stairs was folded down from underneath the stationary carriage, and the door opened to reveal a vast red dress that drew everyone’s eyes. Sashen was occupying the whole doorframe with a slathering of different materials, her body and vibrant red hair so consumed by her dress that it made it difficult to ascertain where it ended, and she began. Sashen was not as adored as Nhalimbar. She had a peculiarly small mouth, and one eye set higher than the other. Red blemishes pocked her face, making her lack of powder noticeable even from a distance. It was impossible to comment on her figure; who knew what she looked like under all that fabric? Even Rifalm probably didn’t know. Not yet at least.

She reached the ground and turned to hold out her hand for the young boy no older than twelve who was jumping from stair to stair. Ana gasped at the tiny figure, his hands covered in rings and his sizeable red coat engulfing his scrawny body that couldn’t even fill the edges of the padded shoulders. It was obvious he was an Astraee by the way his nose hooked, and his hair sat flat atop his head. “Tell me that’s her son?” Ana gasped, growing rather upset at the silence that followed her question. “I thought arranged promises were illegal?”

“Welcome to politics.” Brinden chuckled.

“I told you it was complicated,” Erramore said. “Sashen’s family, Tralinsky, has been close with the Astraee family for… He couldn’t be left to rule as… Sashen’s father stepped up in a time when -” Erramore took a deep breath. “All that matters is Sashen is a lovely woman. It would be best if you didn’t think about it too hard.”

Ana squirmed as Sashen held onto Rifalm’s hand, who was bounding about, pointing at the spires that climbed into the sky. “You must treat him with respect,” Erramore warned Ana, whose face portrayed too much aversion. “He is just as much a Talutaja as anyone else. More so.”

A new carriage stole their attention as it entered the square, the procession led by Arafalt and Relassi Kolyuchke. “The east, yes?” Ana asked, full of anticipation, craning her neck to get the best view. “The one who was elected?”

“Ha!” Brinden crowed, attracting attention from the other factions. “Not much of an election when you’re the only one running.” He turned to Ana, “The people don’t know what they want. Give them a choice -” He glanced to Erramore with purpose, then back to the Eastern carriage, “And they’ll be convinced to vote against their best interests.”

“As opposed to you, who has their interests at heart?”

“As opposed to those who only have their own interests at heart,” Brinden said as he gnashed his teeth together.

“Ana,” Erramore said tersely, stopping her from making a foolish blunder. Ana opened her mouth to protest but used her better sense and returned to silence.

Arafalt wore his handsome military uniform with the forest green jacket decorated with medals and honours that glinted in the sun. He had aged beyond his prime, his body holding more weight than Erramore had ever seen, but his perfect jaw still shone from the other side of the square. He dismounted and stood to attention as the ideal soldier always did, waiting for his promised’s big reveal. He had always been a gentleman.

Relassi leapt from his horse, knocked on the carriage door three times, waited three beats, and then opened it to unveil Lortina with her arm up, leaning against the frame.

Lortina was the beauty of Maailemätuld, designed by Taara herself, or so Erramore was told. She never seemed to age. She was wearing an exceptionally low-cut sheath gown, one that even Erramore would not consider wearing. It was forest green to match Arafalt’s uniform but was for show rather than practicality. Her damn bosoms would surely bounce out should she take the stairs any quicker than a crawl. Erramore knew it would only take her a whole part to cover back up, feigning embarrassment and turning around to ensure all got a good look. Lortina delicately held her hand out to Relassi, who grabbed her hips and gently lowered her to the ground. No steps then. Sepatö and the trade associates would be disappointed.

The factions awkwardly stood as a pregnant pause took hold of the Capital square, no one eager to break the silence. More likely, no one knowing what to say. Arafalt peered down the northern path before breaking the silence with his friendliest yell. “Did we not say 450? Sun dip? He’s late again.”

“He does it on purpose,” Ortaniph said to no one in particular.

“Of course he does,” Lortina’s dainty voice called across the square. Every single male eye was drawn to the siren’s song. “It makes him feel powerful. People love power.” She said as her finger traced along a diamond necklace that dipped into her chest.

The silence returned as the Talutajas and their surrounding troops fidgeted, unwilling to engage more than was necessary. It dragged on uncomfortably, Brinden’s clasp getting firmer on Erramore’s arm, his teeth still grinding with irritation. Erramore cut the tension before he had a heart stop. “I take it you all had a pleasant journey?”

Sashen beamed cheerfully as she stepped forward, presumably curtsying, but who knew what was going on under all that fabric? “The countryside was wonderful, thank you Koroleva. It’s always a blessing to see the Mothers’ beautiful world.”

“It was tiring.” Rifalm whinged before standing to attention as Sashen laid her hand on his shoulder. “Koroleva.”

“The child needs a nap,” Tarok muttered under his breath, the parrots behind laughing on cue. Erramore shot Tarok a look of disapproval. She would not allow it to be someone in her own party who would mistakenly disrespect the Talutaja of the South. It was imperative to have their support.

“I’m not waiting any longer for Valgusta’s arrogance,” Ortaniph grumbled as he struggled to retake his feet. He clicked at two soldiers who grabbed onto his arms and hoisted him up. “I’m going inside.”

As soon as he had taken his feet a procession of drums began to play, filling Esimüla with a rhythmic beat. The northern carriage, which Erramore could have sworn was not on the road moments earlier, raced into the square and circled the Talutajas twice. Varlmorg threw open the door and waved as if to his adoring fans.

The first thing Erramore noticed was that he had grown more silver since they had last seen one another, and his grin less… deceiving. He was hardly dressed for the occasion; his giant, black fur cloak hung to his feet and was clumped together at multiple points with brown and red… something. On top of that, it had been patched together as if he could not afford to replace it one thousand times over. He jumped from the carriage before it came to a halt, removed his enormous coat in a flurry, swinging it around his head before throwing it back into the carriage and slamming the door. His tunic and pants were oddly loose with patches on the knees and elbows made from hardly the finest silks. It was almost as if he had robbed a commoner on the road. “It’s so marvellous to see you all,” Varlmorg smirked, opening his arms to his counterparts as if reuniting with his old friends. “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting.”

“You damn well know you have.” Ortaniph thundered.

“Oops.” Varlmorg gasped, placing his hands over his mouth. “Ridiculous me.” He chuckled as his hands flopped around. “Now that the most important person is here, shall we begin?” He said, gesturing to the Korol.

Brinden nodded to Narcïs Bennet, the Master of Ceremonies, who stepped into the palace circle. “We thank Taara and the Mothers for your safe travels. We welcome you to the Capital, Esimüla, Maailemätuld’s centre, and invite you to break bread and share your thoughts with your allies as you would your own.”

“Get on with it,” Ortaniph shouted.

Narcïs’ face dropped for the briefest of moments before he started up again. “The Korol, Brinden Samarinda, third of his name.”

Brinden shuffled forward and rigidly moved his eye line from one faction to the next. “We gather here today to discuss -” He paused to think about what he was going to say. “and to ehh… celebrate the peace that… Umm… we have brokered and continue to -” Brinden searched for the word.

“Maintain.” Erramore chimed in as she moved beside Brinden and retook his arm. She gestured towards the palace doors and gave her most inviting smile. “We humbly welcome you to the Capital, are excited to catch up on all the news, and look forward to commencing our duties in caring for Maailemätuld as one united alliance.”

“Mostly to finishing those duties,” Brinden grumbled loudly enough for some half-hearted laughs to ring out from around the square.

“Keep it together,” Erramore whispered as they turned and filtered into the Mountain Throne Spire. “I’ll organise some wine.”

They made their way up the grand marble stairs and through the giant doors that lifted into the sky. The sound of a choir hit them like a wave as they entered, high-pitched warbling harmonised with male voices, often clashing to create an eerie tone that bounced off the walls and filled the space with an uncomfortable ringing. Four raked seating banks were evenly spread in a circle, allowing for the Mountain Throne at the head, and one humble chair, which had been placed to the side. On their left, as they entered, there was a stairway up to the mezzanine, which was held up by grand marble columns scattered about the room but blocked off to safeguard any from venturing where they weren’t permitted to go. Red curtains sat across the spire’s void, blocking any view of above and helping with the unbearable echo. The Talutajas sat in lavish chairs closest to the middle of the circle to facilitate conversation while dignitaries and soldiers sat on the raked seating behind.

The Mountain Throne sat high above the rest of the Talutajas, allowing Brinden to easily control proceedings. The north was on Erramore’s right, where Varlmorg sat with his back turned and legs draped over the spare chair beside him as he gossiped with Bogdarsha and one of his… special friends. Draskal, the most special, Erramore was told. Next came the east, the south, and the west, all seated on their chairs and waiting to begin. A server handed Erramore two goblets of wine which were snatched by Brinden, one downed in an instant, the other he nursed as he slouched on his throne.

Erramore nodded to Narcïs, who stepped into the middle of the circle. “The Korol and Koroleva extend their warmest welcome to their friends and allies. They trust that you all make yourself comfortable and would like you to know that if you need anything, our wonderful Keeper of the Palace, Baraccius Minkstev, will be happy to oblige.” Baraccius stood from his seat and gave a half wave.

“More wine.” Ortaniph bellowed.

Baraccius took it in his stride and gestured to a server who rushed forward and filled his goblet. Narcïs continued, eager to get proceedings underway. “The Korol would like to begin with a group conversation to discuss the issues that threaten to plague our homeland, then move on to some light entertainment, drinks, and finally, supp in the great dining hall. I hope you’re all ready for -”

“I was ready fifteen parts ago,” Ortaniph said as he clapped at Sania, deep in conversation with Nhalimbar, and waved her away to fetch yet more wine. Sania was well prepared and pulled a goblet from beneath her seat that Ortaniph snatched and held high towards Brinden. “You’ve got the right idea Samarinda. Let’s get this started.”

Brinden tepidly lifted his goblet, unsure of what to make of the transaction, took a sip and gestured for Narcïs to sit. “Our alliance is imperative to continue the safety of Maailemätuld, something we all consider to be of the utmost importance. The people look to us for their protection, for guidance, for -” There was a pause as Brinden scratched his chin. “For hope and love.” He said before taking a long swig of wine. It wasn’t what Erramore had written for him, but it would do. “The threat to the east, beyond the seas, has been subdued for some time now. Their cities lay in ruin, their people squabbling amongst themselves. But it would be a great folly if we forgot their existence. Long ago, we made that mistake and paid the price.” He looked to Erramore, unsure of himself, who nodded encouragingly. “To the west, the Ferals. These… The people… Savages who refuse to live peacefully, attacking our supplies and raiding our villages by the open forest. A sorry excuse for warriors compared to our brave soldiers, but banded together, create a most troubling foe capable of surviving in the harshest conditions.” A bead of sweat ran from his forehead. He dabbed at it with his palm and took another gulp. “These enemies… Uhh.” He cleared his throat and wiped his mouth. “Along with… Our allies that – The weather has -” A look of panic washed over his face. “These enemies that… Who banded together - With the weather.” Brinden turned wide-eyed to Erramore.

“Hot. Dry. Rain. Flood.” Erramore stood to draw level with her promised. She placed a reassuring hand on his trembling wrist. “Failed harvests. Food shortages. Unrest. We have grown vulnerable within our separate factions. But together, united, there is no issue that we cannot face. In the early days, the Mothers banished the Ancients to the abyss and punished us with the darkness for thousands of years, only afterwards allowing the sun to shine and the crops to grow. War tore through the fertile land. Famine struck us down time and time again. Harsh winters and floods followed by boiling summers and fire. Only when the factions banded together could they feed their flock. Every time we have fought amongst ourselves, every time we could not work out our differences, every time an individual fought for power, we have been torn apart. Not by the fighting, which takes our bravest heroes to their early graves, but by the famine that indiscriminately rips away those we love. Something is coming. Something bigger than us all. If we descend into chaos, we invite it into our lives. We weaken ourselves and become vulnerable to the east, the west, the Mothers. The sky.” Erramore paused as she scanned the room. “We are far from perfect, we do admit.” There was a groan and a shuffle from behind. “But together, we have the opportunity to make a better world. Free from fear and free from tyranny. With the Mothers’ love in our hearts, we can live in harmony. With the Mothers’ love, we can end the pain. With the Mothers’ love - We will not fail. Päike, Maaemä, Tulle-Emä, Veteemä, Tarra.” Erramore said as she performed the blessing of the Mothers.

Everybody joined Erramore for the blessing before whispered conversations filled the room. People were nodding yes, others no, some wanting to clap, and some pulling appalled faces. All whispering. All except Varlmorg, who still had his legs draped over two chairs, lounging as if in his personal chambers. Erramore lightly clapped on Brinden’s wrist and smiled. Brinden nodded with appreciation, then sipped his wine for courage. “The floor is now open for conversation.”

“Who’s that beautiful young lady behind you?” Varlmorg called out as he picked at his teeth. “The one in the dashing armour.”

Surrounding eyes shifted from Varlmorg to Ana. The room waited for Brinden to reply, who gawked at Varlmorg unsure of what to say. Ana shifted in her chair, uncomfortable with the eyes that watched her from every corner of the room. “Anastassia,” Erramore answered. Her lips thinned as she watched Varlmorg out of the corner of her eyes. “My daughter. The Printsesa.”

“Ahh. The famed Printsesa we’ve all heard nothing about. Tell me, why is it she’s been let free?” Varlmorg asked, distracted by something he was trying to flick off his finger.

“She’s turned sixteen winters,” Erramore said through a jaw so clenched her teeth may have fused.

Varlmorg grinned. “Can the Korol not answer for himself?”

“She’s sixteen,” Brinden grumbled. “Is there anything else anyone would like to -”

“She could be sitting next to me in this vacant -”

“You will not speak over me!” Brinden roared, rising from his throne and knocking over his wine. His cheeks flushed red with anger. “I am the Korol! I will not be interrupted.” His trembling hand reached for the goblet.

“Apologies, my Korol. I only mean to say -” Varlmorg dipped his head. “We could bring our two families closer together.”

“Arranged promises are illegal.” Erramore cut in. “Besides, you’ve already turned down that opportunity.”

“I was talking to the Korol.”

“And I am talking to you.”

Varlmorg ran his tongue along his gums. “It’s a very long leash you have.”

“Nice to know no one’s holding it.”

“Oh, shut up, will you!” Ortaniph moaned, rolling his head around as if he had been forced to listen to the same conversation. “We haven’t come to listen to you two bicker.”

“Agreed,” Lortina said, leaning forward and biting on her fingernail, squeezing her breasts together.

Ortaniph lecherously eyed her body. “Why do we bother with all this,” He said without removing his stare from her cleavage.

“Such a waste of time.” She added. One of her servers swept across the front of her to hand Arafalt wine. Lortina’s whorish demeanour vanished as fire exploded in her eyes. The poor server almost had a heart stop as she hurried out of sight. Lortina followed her with her demonic stare, then used her hand to sweep her hair behind her ear and traced it across her collarbone. “We get together. Talk about… nothing interesting. Then leave.”

Erramore flared her eyes to Brinden before nodding towards the situation. “It’s important.” He stammered, searching for his follow-up statement. “We need to know where everyone stands.”

Lortina laughed her sweet little twisted laugh. “You think this keeps the peace?”

“We gather to ensure we are all working towards one goal.” Erramore smiled pleasantly. “It ensures nothing out of the ordinary takes us by surprise.”

“Stops anything extraordinary occurring,” Varlmorg said as he picked at a loose thread on his chair.

“Extraordinary is dangerous,” Erramore said, working overtime to stop her voice from expressing frustration.

“Only because the strongest rise to the top.” He grinned as he gestured towards Brinden’s throne.

“That’s the old way of thinking,” Arafalt chimed in. “The people deserve a say.”

Ortaniph spat his wine in disgust, the red liquid showering over Taara’s mosaiced face. “Don’t start with your ridiculous nonsense.”

“That is why we are here. To discuss these ideas. No?” Arafalt asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Your ideas are all bloody nonsense!” Ortaniph cried, “I won’t listen to your lecturing. Your teachings. Your…” He paused, trying to think of another word.

“Moralising? Preaching? Exhorting?” Varlmorg said, clapping his hands as if in a game.

“All of those bloody words,” Ortaniph shouted. “If the east were thriving -”

“If you had any sort of education, you would know the Ancient texts tell us that the people will be happier to work under a system -”

“Those texts were banned because they brought darkness into our world -” Ortaniph shouted.

“A system in which they have control -” Arafalt stopped to listen to Nhalimbar, who had begun to speak softly.

“Do you really think there is merit in the -” Nhalimbar silenced herself as Ortaniph placed his hand on her knee and spoke over the top of her.

“I will not be dragged into discussing those fucking books.”

“If you read them, you’d understand that -”

“It’s illegal! I don’t need to read them to know anything.” Ortaniph bellowed, his jowls shaking with such ferocity that Erramore wondered if they might shake straight off his neck. “I already know the first thing the peasants will do is behead us.”

“He probably can’t read,” Varlmorg said, pretending to talk to Bogdarsha behind him but speaking loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Shut up Valgusta.”

“Your opinions are no more important than ours, Ortaniph.” Arafalt continued after a small pause. Erramore couldn’t help but sigh; she thought maybe the conversation was finished. “You hold no more power than I in this hall.”

“They won’t really behead us, will they?” Rifalm asked.

“Of course they will,” Ortaniph said as he rounded on the little boy who shied away in his chair. “If you give them a choice between you or me, they pick themselves!”

“The people have always been loyal.” Rifalm’s little voice carried through the space. He looked to Sashen, who nodded encouragingly, then back to Ortaniph. “They’ve never wished my family ill will. If I gave them a choice, they would -”

“If you think you’re so right -” Ortaniph said as he dabbed at his forehead and breathed heavily. “Why would I try to stop you from getting beheaded? I welcome it!” He shouted as he struggled to his feet

The eastern and southern factions erupted, screaming, standing, pointing, and making obscene gestures at one another. Everyone except for Nhalimbar who remained still and silent. Sashen placed herself in front of Ortaniph, who had spit raining from his mouth as the eastern dignitaries yelled support from behind him.

Brinden did nothing but slouch further into his chair as he accepted a new goblet of wine. Varlmorg was grinning from ear to ear as he watched the charade. “What are you laughing at?” Erramore asked, taking her attention from the childish squabbles.

“It’s funny, isn’t it? How it always starts like this.” He chuckled and nodded to Ortaniph, turning purple from his clenched screaming.

Erramore was a great deal less amused. “You’re the one that ensures it starts like this.”

“Me?” Varlmorg said, gasping and clutching at his chest. His shocked face didn’t take long to evaporate, leaving a smug smile below. “I can’t help myself.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” Erramore said, returning her gaze to Ortaniph, who was threateningly pointing over Sashen.

Rifalm cowered in his chair and hid behind his arms while screeching at the top of his lungs. “I don’t want to be beheaded!”

Ortaniph bellowed with laughter.

“No one’s getting beheaded,” Sashen assured him sweetly. She left Ortaniph laughing uproariously and knelt before Rifalm, smiling as she comforted him. “No need to panic, my little lord.”

“All right, I’ve had my fun,” Varlmorg said, waving the back of his hand to Erramore. “I won’t rile them up anymore. Do your thing.”

“We’ve become rather distracted.” Erramore started, thankful the noise was dying down and she didn’t need to shout. “We should talk about the unrest that has stretched to all corners of Maailemätuld. We must work together to alleviate this issue.”

Lortina scoffed. “What would you know of the affairs in the East.”

“Calm down, my love,” Arafalt said.

“It is my responsibility to know.” Erramore smiled as delightfully as she could, her head leaning on an angle.

“If you spent more time looking after your own dealings -” She quarrelled, looking Erramore up and down, her mouth twisting into a sneer. “Maybe we wouldn’t be in such crisis.”

“Finally!” Ortaniph said. “Something we agree on!”

Erramore dropped her smile as her mouth bunched into a tight ball. “Might I remind you the factions are in place to serve the Korol’s wishes, not their own.”

“Might I remind you the factions have a long history of rebellion.”

“Lortina!” Arafalt said, spinning around and holding out his hand. “Apologies, my Korol, the heat of discussion can cloud one’s ability to censor their speech. We are nothing but loyal to yourself.”

Lortina took his hand and clutched it to her chest as she turned out her lip. “You’re right my love.” She kissed his knuckles. “The heat of conversation can -” She turned to Erramore. “Make us say the most witless of things.”

“This is nothing like what I expected,” Rifalm said, bouncing up and down on his chair having recovered from his tantrum. “I see what everyone’s doing. Politics can be fun.”

“Those of a younger age do tend to find politics trivial,” Ortaniph said as he loomed over Rifalm, enjoying the boy’s squirm.

A voice from behind Erramore called across the room. “Then your promised must be having a wonderful time.” Erramore forgot to breathe as Ana’s words hung in the thick air. Ortaniph stood stunned, his belly heaving as it prepared its tirade against the foolish girl who had made fun of a Talutaja. The foolish girl who was about to feel the full wrath of Ortaniph. As he opened his mouth to unleash, Varlmorg snorted loudly, slicing the tension before bursting into laughter. His faction joined in, followed by the others.

He struggled for breath. “I see you take after your mother.”

Draskal sat forward and pointed to Varlmorg. “Then you’d better be careful of this one.”

The malice returned to the air in an instant. Varlmorg’s face sat stony. Ana giggled to herself but swallowed it when no one else made a sound. Varlmorg took a long breath. He cracked his neck. He sipped his wine. He slumped into his chair. “Shame.” He said barely above a whisper. Two soldiers stood and clasped onto Draskal’s shoulders, hauling him down the seats and pushing him to his knees. Varlmorg stood and turned to Bogdarsha, who handed him his sword. Draskal shouted and screamed, begging and apologising, but it was too late. The soldiers held him down and pulled at his shirt. Varlmorg ripped the sword from its sheath and rested the cold blade on the back of his neck. “Any last words?”

“Lord Valgusta please. You know me. I didn’t mean to… it’s not like I -” Draskal blubbered as he strained for breath.

“Not very elegant,” Varlmorg said as he raised the sword above his head. He tensed his muscles and swung the sword through the air.

“Stop!” Erramore shouted, jumping from the throne. The sword halted just above Draskal’s neck. Varlmorg raised his head, a smirk covering his face. He stood upright and used the point of the blade to carve a V on Draskal’s chest. He returned the sword to Bogdarsha, inspecting his work as the two soldiers lifted Draskal and dragged him from the Spire, screaming. Varlmorg flopped into his chair, then turned and addressed only Ana, his body remaining unnaturally still as his quiet words carried easily across the hall. “I don’t like those who speak out of turn.”


“Where did you get your sword, Varlmorg?” A calming voice called. It was Sashen staring at the sword in Bogdarsha’s hand. It had Varlmorg’s shield animal, a white fox, intricately carved and leaping as the pommel. It was a medium-length blade, darker than any other that Erramore had seen. That was when she noticed the hilt, an M engraved on one side, and a W on the other

“A gift,” Varlmorg said tersely.

“It looks unmistakeably like a Morphiei weapon,” Sashen said. “You can’t possibly have crafted it yourself, being that it’s made of an ancient metal from a technique known only to them.” She gestured towards the empty chair to the side of the room. “You have no business with it.”

“No business,” Varlmorg repeated in a mocking tone. “Of yours, that is to say.”

“Those weapons are not for us to handle.” Arafalt chimed in. “The blades are exceptionally rare. Only ever found by their dead.”

“Are you insinuating something?” Varlmorg asked. He swivelled around to face Arafalt, daring him to continue his thought. “Well?”

“You know exactly what I’m insinuating.”

“That I am to blame for all that has happened?” Varlmorg said, taking pleasure in chewing on his words. He stood and leisurely moved towards Arafalt. “That I killed them. That I slaughtered their women and children. That I defeated them in open battle, desecrated their corpses, and stole their precious artifacts. That when I was done with them, there was nothing left but rubble and a pitiful excuse for a once great people who overextended into our world, our land. That I took issue with a people who boasted about their strength one too many times, waved their fancy swords in our faces, told us what was right from wrong, then inserted themselves into every major conflict of the past fifteen hundred years, taking the lives of any they deemed unworthy of breath. That I am the reason there are no more Morphiei.” Varlmorg pointed to the empty chair and leaned over Arafalt. “Isn’t it a shame you don’t have a shred of proof?”

“Shame.” Arafalt agreed with dangerous calm. “You run from your promised ceremony, your army marches, and they are never seen again. I have no proof. It is a shame.”

Varlmorg shrugged and sauntered away from Arafalt. “A shame for the both of us. I guess we’ll never know who eradicated the Veidrik.”

The room descended into chaos with people screaming and shouting at the top of their lungs.

“How dare you use that word -”

“Good riddance to the lot of them -”

“Doing us all a favour -”

“Destroyed the protectors -”

“Their strength makes them dangerous -”

“Saviours of Maailemätuld -”

All Erramore could do was glare at Varlmorg as the onlookers yelled their support or opposition. Ortaniph seemed particularly pleased with the use of that word. There was a flurry of movement in the corner of Erramore’s eye as Lortina jumped to her feet but was halted by Arafalt, who clasped her wrist and gently nodded back towards her chair. Erramore couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it was clear Lortina was less than impressed. The tumult died down slowly, leaving only Lortina’s bitter voice and her chin jutted out with discontent. “- us look weak. We agreed that if -”

“I know what I said -”

“You promised -”

“Please. Sit.” Arafalt said, halfway between instructing and begging.

“You’re going to embarrass me.”

“You have already embarrassed yourself.”

Lortina’s cheeks flushed as she released everyone was looking at her. She hovered above her chair, puffed out her chest, and held her chin so high she would’ve been looking down at even the Korol. She flashed her unconcerned eyes across the audience, as if this was precisely what she wanted, swished her gown out from underneath her and took her seat.

Arafalt cautiously rose from his chair, deep in thought, and paying no mind to Lortina, who glared at Relassi. He took his time before he started. “To conclude that unpleasantness, I would like to condemn both Talutaja Valgusta’s actions and the use of that artefact which holds significant value to the Morphiei people.” Lortina rolled her eyes as Arafalt took centre circle. “As lord Valgusta has so keenly pointed out, I lack any proof and, therefore, will move on to more pressing issues. As we have already touched upon today, texts, most notably those of the Ancients, were outlawed years ago by the Korol, Olli Tillerson, son of Danial the Beloved, a peasant born who rose to power. Despite helping his father’s ascent, Olli decided that those texts were dangerous propaganda that led to the revolt in twelve sixty, lasting until Danial’s reign in thirteen forty. It is to be noted that the luxury in which Olli lived out his life contrasted greatly to that of Danial’s.” Erramore sat forward as Arafalt paced, his ideas churning through his head. “I respect your decision to continue to enforce that law, my Korol. However -” Arafalt paused. “We must question the motives of those who have gone before, in the hopes that we do not repeat our bloody history.” There was a murmur from the audience. Swivelling heads and silent whispers filled the room. Rarely were such controversial topics raised at the council, rarer still for the Korol to allow them to be discussed. Ortaniph looked most displeased, Lortina still red with fury, Varlmorg had sat up from his slumped position, and even the Korol looked less bored than usual, possibly entertained. Erramore caught the eye of Martis and quickly averted her own to Aluka. His broken body was still the same, but his face had warped into a deep scowl as Kalal furiously whispered into his ear, his mouth working overtime. Arafalt continued. “This is why I bring to you a book that we have uncovered. A book that we believe to have significant implications on every faction in Maailemätuld.”

“Who cares about what some destroyed savages have to say.” Ortaniph slurred as he flailed his arms, his wine sloshing over the floor.

To Erramore’s surprise, Brinden raised his hand, calling for silence. He stroked his beard as he spoke. “There is a good reason those books are outlawed. They cause deaths. Deaths of those who sit on this throne. Damned be to the Mothers if I make the same mistake. It will be destroyed immediately.”

Arafalt nodded sheepishly as he turned and gestured to the littler server girl who scampered forward and handed him the book. On the front was black leather and four golden circles that shone, each with an X, like the symbol of the factions and the Mothers - but not the exact same. “You mention the Mothers, my Korol, this is why I have bought you the text,” Arafalt said as he bowed and held it up for Brinden. Lortina scoffed and rolled her eyes at Arafalt, who continued despite her boorish behaviour. “It has given us insight into the religions the Ancient ones followed.”

The murmur around the room became a buzz. Erramore glanced nervously at Varlmorg, sitting bolt upright, more attentive than she had ever seen him. “Silence!” Narcïs’ voice thundered over the top of everyone, filling the room with such conviction that silence followed. “The Korol is speaking.”

“The Ancient ones had religions?” Brinden asked.

“Many. Many similar to ours.” Arafalt said, sending around another wave of murmurs and muttering.

“What do you make of this?” Brinden asked, turning to address the High Priest.

The High Priest rose to his feet slower than a criminal headed for the gallows. When he had finally reached his feet, his shoulders were so hunched it seemed he had barely moved; the only indication of his expenditure was his legs trembling beneath his weight. Erramore shuddered to think how long it had taken him to climb all those stairs. He snorted and gasped as he sucked air between his cracked, dry lips. “They followed the laws of Taara and the Mothers?” He croaked so painfully slowly that Erramore wondered if she touched his neck whether there would be a pulse.

“Not exactly…” Arafalt said, pausing to consider his next words. “But there are similarities.”

“Blasphemous, my Korol.” The High Priest stammered, turning his back and returning to his seat, offended by the thought that any other religion would be discussed in his presence.

“Yes, we all know what you think, old man. This text -” Varlmorg said, turning to Arafalt. “How many religions does it speak of?”

“If what we’ve uncovered is true -” Arafalt scanned the room, unsure if he should continue. When there were no objections, he inhaled before gently saying. “Possibly hundreds.”

“Hundreds?” Ortaniph roared, his surrounding faction vocally sharing his outrage.

“I thought they were savages?” Rifalm questioned, looking to Sashen as if she had the answers. “That’s what Father told me.”

“Rifalm is right.” Sashen nodded in agreement. “Savages could not have had so many religions.”

“This is why the book has not yet been destroyed,” Arafalt said. “It is missing many pages, but if what I read is true, then -”

“I will not fall into the same trap as those who have gone before,” Brinden said.

Arafalt sighed. “I do admit that seems the right thing to do. But it could be -”

“It could be anything. Instead, it is nothing.” Brinden said, silently deliberating what he would say next. He glanced to Erramore, eager for her guidance, but she had nothing to give. She averted her gaze and scanned the room.

Ortaniph had wine dripping from his beard, Nhalimbar unmoved since the council started. Lortina was gesturing to Relassi, Varlmorg still sitting upright and attentive, staring at the book in the middle of the room. Erramore could have sworn she saw Aluka’s lips moving as Martis stooped to listen, but Kalal leaned forward to address him, as always, giving the orders.

The chair at the side of the room was no longer alone. Standing behind it was a figure in a huge white cloak that stretched from head to toe. Hafen. Her face was obscured from view, but Erramore could feel her eyes burning into her. The white cloak began moving behind the rows of seating before it skirted around the railing that led to the mezzanine and disappeared.

Brinden finally stood and pointed to the book in the centre of the room. “This is the Mother’s land, and it shall stay that way. I will not allow those who betrayed Taara to return. For this reason, I have decided that -”

“Does it mention any names?” Erramore asked, screwing up her eyes as she realised, she had just cut off her promised. Would he berate her as he did Varlmorg? His hands clenched as his face slowly turned to hers, his eyes bulging. She dipped her head, unable to stop herself from playing with the snood on her wrist as she prayed to the Mothers that he would understand.

“Answer her.” He said, his eyes held firmly on Erramore.

“Many names.” Arafalt shuffled.

“Any reoccurring names?” Erramore asked, trying to ignore her promised’s leer. “Across religions?”

“One,” Arafalt answered as his eyes averted to the ground.

“Which is?” Brinden bellowed, making Erramore jump in her seat.

Arafalt hesitated, unsure what to say or do. He took a deep breath and lifted his petrified gaze to Erramore. “Daccahm.”

The room fell silent and still. No one dared to move. No one dared to talk.

“These are stupid stories to scare little children,” Ortaniph mumbled to no one in particular.

“Yet I feel a whole room of terrified adults,” Erramore said. She stood and clasped her promised’s hand. “The book will be destroyed.”

“That is my decision to make,” Brinden snarled.

“Of course, my Korol, that is your decision to make,” Erramore said, bowing low.

“The book will be destroyed.” He declared as if it hadn’t already been stated three times. There were mixed reactions from the onlookers; some shouted approval, some gasped, and others could not forget that name reverberating loud through their minds. Daccahm.

AdventureSci FiFantasy

About the Creator

NCS Napier

New chapters every week :)

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