Thursday, December 18, 2014

The General Zalaz

General Zalaz was a wiry man with stick straight black hair. Where others had their shorn close to the skull, Zalaz wore his long. Few dared to declare this to be a womanish affectation, to do so would be to incur his anger and fewer still had survived that. Zalaz was in the midst of having that waist long hair braided when the servant came into the room with the message that Marcos was waiting for him in the courtyard. While Marcos was king of the city and considered to be the highest man of the empire, Zalaz felt no qualms about making him wait.

"I will come when I am ready," Zalaz said, waving a dismissive hand. The servant bowed and left the room. The woman braiding his hair paused for a moment. "Yaeli, what troubles you?" Zalaz said, knowing his concubine would not have ceased in her efforts for an idle moment or for the minor distraction that her servant provided. The woman with olive skin and auburn hair said nothing as she continued her braiding of her lover's hair. "It is Marcos, yes?" he said. Of all four of his concubines, it was Yaeli who had shared his confidences and come closest to being like a wife. Zalaz often considered making Yaeli his wife but knew the scandal that came from such a marriage would have been problematic.

He had enough chatter from the other council members over the fact that he had given Yaeli her own house in the city, complete with servants to attend her needs. While it was his in name, Yaeli was the one who lived there and attended his business. The other three concubines came to her when Zalaz returned from his diplomatic visit to Selath five years ago. They had been a gift from the governor of Selath and supposedly a sign of his good will towards Dacia. Zalaz tolerated the three women but was fairly certain the lavish 'gift' was intended to keep his attention focused on something other then Selath's reluctance to sign the accord.

"He comes bearing news of trouble," Yaeli said after a long moment of silence as she finished Zalaz's braid. "The king and emperor of Dacia does not go to the council," she said, setting a cautious hand on Zalaz's shoulder, "The council goes to him. Something is wrong." Zalaz sighed. He wanted to tell Yaeli that her worries were nothing but his gut told him that she was correct. Of all the council, Zalaz thought he was the last whom Marcos would come to in a time of trouble. Unless that trouble was one that required an army, which Zalaz suspected might be why Marcos had come to him.

"The sons of Omurath have been a thorn in Marcos's side for almost three years now," Yaeli continued, "It may be that they have raised an army..." Zalaz raised his right hand and Yaeli fell quiet. He looked over his shoulder at her. In the light of the fading evening sun, Zalaz wondered where the lines had come from on Yaeli's face. He questioned how it was that age had come upon her and then briefly considered if the stiffness creeping into his bones was perhaps signs of his own age before pushing such melancholy thoughts aside.

As he stood, Zalaz said, “Do not trouble yourself over the sons of Omurath. They are fools who think they can win the Empress by force. Julara's will is against them as it was against their father. When this business with Marcos is finished, we shall walk the gardens before attending your sisters.” Yaeli did not smile as Zalaz had hoped she would at the prospect of visiting the gardens kept by the wealthy of Dacia city and the village beyond the walls, Asser. Zalaz shook his head ruefully. “Better we are not wedded,” he said with a smile, “Or I think my bed would be cold tonight.”Yaeli rolled her eyes at the general's old jest. Zalaz considered putting on his sword belt and then decided against it, for he did not deem Marcos to be either a threat or a match of strength.

Dressed in his white tunic and full pants, Zalaz was a study of contrasts as he walked into the courtyard. His apparent air of carelessness was denied by the unconscious lethal grace with which he moved. His black braid stood out starkly on his shoulder as he approached Marcos. Zalaz offered Marcos a smile that would have been charming if it was not for the suspicion in his eyes. In the shade of the courtyard walls, Marcos seemed smaller and more timid to Zalaz. The general would have been amused if it weren't for the fact that the priest-king had only speak a word and Zalaz's life would be forfeit.

You honor my house,” Zalaz started when Marcos looked at him. A mixture of dread and concern shone in the priest-king's eyes and Zalaz's pleasantries died on his lips. “You did not come to speak of happy things,” Zalaz said and Marcos looked away. “Do you seek me as general or councilman?” Zalaz asked.

Both,” Marcos said quietly, motioning to the chair beside the table he sat at. Zalaz sat and noticed that Marcos' refreshments were untouched. Zalaz frowned. “Althar has gone to the sons of Omurath and, if the report is accurate, is raising an army,” Marcos said. He did not want to mention the second reason for his coming to the general, as much as Sorenan insisted it was vital he did so. Marcos rubbed the stubble on his jaw with the back of his left hand and hoped that Zalaz would seize upon the news of the raider's activities and forget the matters of his role as councilman.

The raider's army merits a general's attention. That is not all you are here to discuss,” Zalaz said, turning to take the cup of spiced almond milk from the servant who came forward as he was sitting. “Nor is that what you are troubled by,” Zalaz continued as he set the cup on the table at his right hand, “We have discussed the raider and the sons of Omurath. There are plans in place if this is coming to bear. What drives the king of Dacia to seek out his servant?”

Rumors,” Marcos answered so quietly that the general had thought he misheard him at first. Zalaz leaned forward slightly. “They speak of Mina in the marketplace,” he said. Zalaz started to open his mouth to state something derisive about gossips when Marcos said something that stunned him. “Some of those rumors are true,” Marcos said, “She has taken another in her arms.”

Zalaz stared at Marcos for a moment, not fully comprehending what his lord had just said. For as long as the Dacian empire has stood, the high priestess of Julara was wedded to the priest who had been chosen by lots from all who served the stern god Ashur. It was tradition that was steeped in antiquity. Tales of false priestesses who betrayed Ashur's priests were whispered in the dark, most often ending with the tragic woman torn apart by Julara's priestesses. The stories of the false priests who betrayed Julara's daughter were more grisly.

Zalaz looked at Marcos. “You would have me bring this before the council? They would see her hanged,” Zalaz said, watching Marcos' face closely. At the mention of Mina's possible death, panic shot through Marcos. “This lover,” Zalaz continued, “he is the warrior from the north, if the rumors are true. And, if the rumors are true, you have welcomed him in your bed.” Marcos said nothing but looked at the cut pieces of melon on the plate at his left hand. Zalaz gave a small sigh and leaned back in his seat.

What would you have me do, Marcos?” Zalaz said, “The priestesses would kill you both. The council is powerless against them. If this were some small garrison town, there may have been hope.”

The priestesses know,” Marcos answered, lifting his gaze to Zalaz's face, “They have known for the last three years.” Zalaz's eyebrows went up with amazement. “It is Julara's will that we have come together,” Marcos said.

And Ashur?” Zalaz said. Marcos looked down at the plate again. “The gods have willed this,” Zalaz said slowly, “You are sure of it?” Marcos didn't answer and Zalaz leaned forward. He gripped Marcos' left wrist hard and the priest-king looked up. Terror and desperation warred in the priest-king's eyes. Zalaz frowned. “Tell me,” he said, “What were the signs of it?”

The stars,” Marcos replied, “It was the stars.” Zalaz let go of Marcos' wrist. “When Mina became high priestess, the three stars aligned,” Marcos said, a curious sense of lightness stealing into him as he spoke, “The book of Ashur spoke of a lion coming to the couch of Julara and Ashur a year later. That was when Sorenan took my place in Mina's bed on the journey to Malath. It was a ruse to deceive Omurath's assassin. Somehow, on that journey, he became more then a shield between Mina and Omurath. He...” Marcos' words failed him and he dropped his head into his hands and wept.

Zalaz regarded him solemnly. He knew that the other council members would be furious. As much as he disliked Marcos and his timidness, Zalaz couldn't help the sense of compassion that rose in his breast for the situation Marcos was in. If he was honest with himself, Zalaz would admit that he felt a measure of envy for Marcos, Mina, and Sorenan. They were at least living true to their hearts' urgings. Zalaz sighed.

The council will not be pleased,” he said tiredly. Marcos's tears moved Zalaz as much as they made him want to shake the timid man and demand he snap out of it. Zalaz thought of Yaeli. She would not forgive him if he turned away from Marcos in this hour of need, especially under these circumstances. “I will do what I can,” Zalaz said. Marcos lifted his head, gratitude shining in his face. “You, however,” he said, “Owe me a debt of my choosing.”

Marcos opened his mouth to thank Zalaz when the general lifted his hand. “Do not thank me,” he said as he pointed to the woman who stepped into the doorway across the courtyard from them, “Thank her.” Zalaz stood, disregarding proper manners and waiting for Marcos to rise. As the general stepped away from him, he said, “The king is not the only one with a secret. Go, return to your lion and bride. I will send word in three days.”

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Sons of Omurath

Sorenan and Marcos regarded each other over the map that Mina had spread upon her desk. The warrior and the priest again questioned if the capricious gods had put them into the situation for the sole purpose of watching them fight. As though knowing the other's thoughts, both men sighed and turned their attention back to the map. “Althar is in Selath,” Sorenan said, “Abraxas would not have lied to me about this.”

“How are you so sure of this?” Marcos said in a testy tone of voice, “That man talks out both sides of his mouth and his ass. He's possibly the biggest crook of all the merchants from the south. Just last week he...”

Sorenan reached into his pocket and slapped the amulet he had taken off Abraxas onto the table in the middle of the map. Marcos looked down at the gilded brass and blinked. Abraxas always wore the thing and was rumored to sleep with it. While he was reluctant to touch it, the priest could read the glyphs of the desert dweller's gods. “You didn't kill him, did you?” Marcos said, concerned that the curse against one who harmed the wearer was going to roll over them.

Sorenan snorted. “No,” he scoffed, “I just took it. And I didn't let the fat bastard choke to death. I'm a regular humanitarian.” Sorenan looked over at Mina, who was dipping a fingertip into her cool tea. “He gave up the information but only for the opportunity to sell your order veils,” he said apologetically. Mina waved a dismissive hand and resumed tracing an intricate sigil on the surface of her cold cup of tea.

“And the sons of Omurath? Are you sure that they're not just trying to play to Althar's greed and get him to go on a raiding campaign, because they've done that...” Marcos demanded. He fell quiet when Mina placed a hand on his right arm. The priest-king of Dacia looked over at his wife. “We need to be sure before we act,” he said, “I can't commit troops to going after them if we don't have proof. There will be rebellion in the ranks if it happens.”

“Omurath's sons are a threat to us,” Mina said, “They have worked to destabilize Dacia for years. I was foolish to think that they would have forgotten us when they went away to Selath. You both know, as well as I do, that given the chance, they would burn Dacia to the ground just out of spite. My rejection of their father when he came for my hand laid the seeds of this mess. Omurath wanted to control Dacia and the floodplain. Now his sons seek it.”

“Julara would not allow them success,” Marcos said firmly, “She wouldn't.”

Mina looked at Marcos. “Julara's will is carried out by the actions of men, Marcos,” she said, “It will be a matter of weeks until we possibly see an army camped outside the walls. We should take that time to prepare.”

Marcos frowned down at the map. He looked over at Sorenan, who was running a hand through his shaggy blond hair. “And you?” Marcos said, suspecting he knew Sorenan's thoughts on the matter already. The priest-king did not want to ready his garrison for war. He did not want the waves of anxiety to roll through his city or to see the prosperous bazaar close. He preferred the current peace and calm.

Sorenan looked over at Marcos. His green eyes gazed deeply into Marcos's brown ones and he could see the fear buried within. Sorenan felt disappointed, for he had hoped that Marcos would have proven less like Abraxas. The man's disappointment briefly flashed across his face before he looked down at the map. “I believe the only way to secure peace is to prepare for war,” he answered, moving Abraxas' amulet aside. “Althar has a war party of several hundred strong if Abraxas is not exaggerating,” Sorenan continued, “If he succeeds in raising the sons of Omurath to his cause, he will gain several thousand men with them. And what ever allies they have as well. Include the tribesmen of the north and it may be enough men to take Dacia.”

Marcos' shoulders drooped in an expression of defeat. “Lycina is on her way to the cities of Halthor and Morvia,” Mina said, lifting her cup of tea to her lips, “This will bring us three thousand men. I have taken the liberty of sending messengers to the cities of Niad and Malath on the plain. It will take longer for them to arrive but if Althar does not move towards us within the month, it will give them enough time for at least the beginnings of Halthor and Morvia's forces to reach us.”

Marcos stiffened at Mina's words. He turned, his eyes opening wide with anger. As he drew breath to demand why Mina did not consult him, Sorenan spoke. “We have other problems aside from Althar and the sons of Omurath,” he said, “Rumors have spread through the city about us. And they are very close to the truth.” Marcos's outraged argument died on his lips as he paled.

“General Zalaz will …” he started in a quiet voice when Mina interrupted him.

“He will not be a problem. There will be no rebellion,” Mina said, “We are doing the will of Julara. Even in our relationship. If it was not, then it would not have happened. She will provide for our needs. Before we address Althar's problem, we shall call the council together.”

“And then what?” Sorenan said, doing his best to ignore the sinking feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach.
“I will tell them what Julara commands and they will obey it,” Mina said mildly, sipping from her tea. Marcos gave a pained groan and ran his hands through his dark hair. He turned to Mina.

“You can't...” he started when Mina slammed her cup down on the desk hard enough to slosh out nearly half of her tea.

“Do not tell me what I can not do,” she said in a harsh tone, “Your rights may be that you determine what becomes of the city and the empire in the civil way. You may have rule over the empire and city in times of war. But you will not command me like some common chit.”

“Marcos,” Sorenan said as Marcos stared at Mina aghast with shock. Sorenan reached over and pulled the map away from the spreading pool of tea. “Marcos,” he said again, his tone a bit harder. Marcos looked over at Sorenan. It was clear that he was stunned and wounded by Mina's harsh words. “Go to Jorn,” he said, “I'll be along shortly.” Marcos looked back as Mina, who stared out the window. She was rigid with anger and Marcos questioned if it was with him. Silently, Marcos left the room and shut the door behind him."He will stand,” Sorenan said after the door shut, “Even if I have to put a pole up his ass to give him a backbone.” Mina said nothing. “The council will not be pleased,” he said.

“Let them be angered,” Mina said, “They have done nothing but whine about taxes and the price of grain. When they're not doing that, they're busy with their damned games. We have done no wrong. I will not keep silent any longer. If they know, then they know.”

Sorenan moved around the desk and behind Mina. As he set his hands on her shoulders, he could feel the tension running through her. The strain of keeping their relationship silent had worn mightily on her. Sorenan suspected that this was the reason for her anger, not the business of Althar and his companions. “I know that,” he said, “Marcos does as well.”

“Marcos does not,” Mina snapped, “He worries all the damned time what people will say. He...”

“Is afraid for you,” Sorenan interrupted her, “The temple is not bristling with arms and men. He worries that the council will put word out into the city and people will fall upon you. You are breaking tradition and the council...”

“Are a bunch of old men who can't see farther then their collective nose,” Mina said bitterly.

“That may be,” Sorenan replied, “But his fears are reasonable. I can not be with you at all times. If I can just walk in to the sanctuary, so can any other man.” Mina's shoulders sagged with defeat. Sorenan placed a kiss on the top of her head. “The council will not be pleased,” he murmured.

“Let them be angered,” Mina muttered, “I fear no man.”

Sorenan chuckled. “I did not say you did,” he replied.

Part One: Abraxas & Sorenan
Part Two: Sorenan & Mina

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Deer of Evandar

From Wikipedia
Deer feature prominently in the stories of Evandar. In some ways, the deer of Evandar are patterned after the white-tailed deer that I saw regularly on my family's farm as I was growing up. They are approximately the same size as white-tailed deer and have much of the same demeanor. The Evandari deer also share the white-tail of these deer so familiar to me. The stags of Evandari deer are on average 290 to 350 lbs when full grown. The does weigh between 150 to 290 lbs at maturity. Albinoism does happen more frequently in the population of Evandari deer, presenting in triple the abundance of the white-tailed deer of our world.

They are a staple of the Evandari diet. Under the reign of Erian the Hero and previous High Kings of the Seven Kingdoms, deer were considered to be fit for nobles and freed men alike to hunt. With the reign of Askemb the Usurper, deer have become the province of solely noble hunting. Albino deer are taken down but they are generally given as offerings in the temples of the god Sigurt. This is because the albino deer are considered to be descendants of the stag that Sigurt incarnated as at the beginning of the world.

Specialized rituals in the handling of the heart of deer have evolved in Aethelmer and Ackmere. The heart is considered the seat of the deer's soul and thus is offered to Sigurt after being prepared for consumption. Only nobles and priests are permitted to consume the hearts of regular deer. Albino deer hearts are solely consumed by the regional high priests of the gods. The rest of the normal deer is consumed as is typical for medieval period usage of deer. Albino deer meet is used only by the household of priests. The skin and other deer products are crafted into items used by the priests of Evandar.

The deer of Dakon-Bar are of such abundance that the herds were maintained by the regular hunting by men due to a lack of natural predators. Some people have begun the attempt of domesticating deer but with little success. Rumors abound within Dakon-Bar that the fabled Grey Lady of the Wood has a connection with all the wildlife of the vast forest. As such, stories of her riding the deer as one would a horse or having a chariot pulled by them are told.

In Tarsus, deer became progressively more scarce as one moved farther north from Dakon-Bar because the predator population increased with the distance from Dragonwood forest. Deer do not form a primary part of the Tarsian diet. This place is taken over by sheep and goat. They are, however, considered a delicacy and generally the food of the wealthy.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

New material coming soon!

I apologize for this blog being so quiet for so very long. Starting this week, I will be posting new material about the little world and continuing the story of Sorenan and Mina. One may be curious about the location of this story in relation to the places I speak of in my novels. This will be revealed as well as more about the nations surrounding Evandar.

It is my hope that you, my readers, will find this little world a place of richness, beauty, and powerful humanity. While some authors would discourage others from playing in their little worlds, I encourage it. All I ask is for there to be proper attribution and for you to follow canon. The world of Evandar has been my private playground ever since I was a child.

The reason why I am writing this series of books and I have this blog is very simple. I wish to share my little world with the 'real' world. It is my firm belief that the world of Evandar can be a place where we can explore what it means to be human and what our relationship with the world is. Philosophical questions like where did we originate and what is the purpose of life are themes that I want to see explored fully.

They are a task beyond my own measure. Thus, I open my arms and my little world to you, dear readers, so that you might help me with my quest. If you are interested in guest posting on here, please contact me.

The Umbrel Chronicles of Evandar are but the first steps of a very long journey. Come, join me and see what wonders await.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Book Excerpt: Shadow Fall

From the third book of the Umbrel Chronicles of Evandar, a work in progress:
“The letter spoke of her coming death but I refused to believe it. It said that you, the son of Agathe would have seen one of the many faces of evil. I assumed that meant the war and perhaps a glimpse of Askemb. You speak of this 'veiled one' with fear in your voice. Agathe's line is not known for fearing shadows,” Abelard said slowly, “Does this 'veiled one' still walk among the living? What manner of man is he?”
Some of the knot that coiled in Douglas's guts eased as he realized that Abelard believed him. When Abelard posed his question regarding the Veiled One, Douglas's guts knotted up again. He could nearly see the woman's near perfect face and snow white skin. The mercenary shuddered despite himself as he tried to put the memory of her cold, cold eyes out of his mind.
“She is dead, at least in body,” Douglas said quietly, reluctant to speak about her for fear of that cold creature's specter drawing near to him, “When Askemb put the head of Erian into her hands, she burst into flame. I want to say that lightning struck her but it was so sudden that I can not be sure. The woman was some kind of witch. Osric, Morguthu's white priest, came out of the fens of the Darklands with her at his side when he had gone into that cursed place alone except for his guide. The guide did not come back.”
Douglas ran his hands over his forearms, suddenly feeling chilled. “Many a man died for her blood magic,” he said, “Others said they deserted but I know differently. I saw one night when she took a man into her tent. At dawn, he did not emerge. I had men keeping watch on that tent through the night. That man vanished.”
As Douglas spoke, Abelard's expression became less guarded and he began to nod slightly. “You are truly the man that her Ladyship wrote of. You marched with the enemy, but were not truly of his number,” Abelard said after a few minutes of silence. Abelard leaned slightly to the right and made a come hither gesture.
Douglas turned to find Alcuin entering in the room. He had a small wrapped parcel in his hand. “Queen Asriel sent this,” Abelard explained, “She said that you would have need of it. It was a strange thing for her to send. Before Alcuin gives it to you, though, tell me who sent you and what became of the Little Queen? It has been long since I have been at court. The last I saw the girl, she was but a babe in arms.”
“The Forest-father sent us and she is under his care,” Cynehilde answered and Abelard gave her a wry look. Something akin to distaste flickered over the man's features before he sighed. Cynehilde felt her chest tighten and then anger flooded through her veins at the thought that this doddering old man would scorn the former prince of Tarsus and the reason why Dragonwood was beginning to keep some measure of law. “The High King thought him more then suitable,” Cynehilde started and Abelard lifted a hand with another sigh.
“What is done is done. I will trust that the High King and his Queen were wise in this matter as they had been in others. The Usurper will not think to look for the Little Queen in the wood. He will search all of Dakon-bar, but the deep wood keeps her secrets,” Abelard said, sounding exhausted. He gestured that Alcuin give Douglas the wrapped item.
The big man took it in his hands and turned it over. The leather wrapping seemed hastily done. For a moment, Douglas questioned if the object had been opened. Abelard said, “If you would be so kind as to open it here. The Queen's letter was specific and said that only you were to open it.”
Douglas unwrapped the item and then dropped it to the ground with a gasp of surprise. The broad steel arrowhead that he had affixed to his arrows clattered at his feet. He stepped back, his eyes wide with horror. The startled man dropped the bit of leather that had been wrapped about it and as it fell a narrow ribbon of parchment fluttered free. His arrowheads were unique for they all had a maker's mark upon them. It was something that he insisted upon.
Winking up at him from the ground was the arrow with the bindrune that served as the maker's mark for the last blacksmith he saw. There was no way that she could have sent him that or have known who had made his arrowheads unless some form of magic was involved. Abelard and his man looked at Douglas in confusion as Cynehilde stooped and picked up the bit of parchment.
She looked at it and recognized Asriel's hasty handwriting. Cynehilde gave a silent prayer of gratitude that Asriel had insisted upon her learning to read with her entry into her service. In a low voice, Cynehilde read the dead woman's words. “Blood magic wrought my death. Blood magic shall avenge it. Your arrows shall fly ever true, by my blood,” she said.
Abelard and Alcuin looked at each other in askance. Douglas knelt and cautiously picked up the arrowhead. As his fingertips touched the wedge shaped piece of metal, an electric thrill ran up his arm. Douglas carefully turned it over in his hand. He tried to figure out what was different about this arrowhead compared to the others. Then he realized that the maker's mark was filled in with something, not merely blackened with grime. Asriel's words haunted him.
“Heart's blood,” he murmured. Cynehilde looked at him with a look of compassion. He looked over at Cynehilde. “What do I do with it?” he said, confusion and discomfort plain on his face. Cynehilde sighed and shrugged, at a loss for what to do as well.
“Wear it,” Abelard said firmly, “It was not long ago that huntsmen wore talismans. These tattoos are only half of what the huntsmen wore in my day. Each huntsman also wore a talisman of his first kill.” Douglas looked down at the arrowhead resting in the palm of his right hand. He thought about his father and the bear claw that he wore on a thong until his dying day. Douglas assumed that it was like the scars, a token of a hunt that nearly killed the tough old man.
“This was not my first kill,” Douglas said after an uncomfortable silence.
“It is in the service of the Stag,” said Cynehilde and everyone in the room looked at her. She set a hand on Douglas's arm. “You served as Kaileth's hand,” she explained, “It was not the Stag you freed but rather a hind. And in doing so, you allowed the fawn to reach safety.” Douglas thought about arguing with Cynehilde's interpretation of events but the weight of the arrowhead in his palm made him reconsider.
“Wear it?” Douglas mused. Abelard tapped his chin and made a thoughtful noise. Douglas looked over. Abelard made his way up out of his seat and over to Douglas. He looked down at the arrowhead in the man's hand.
“A man I know owes me a favor. He can make you something to hold it. It will take a day or two,” Abelard said, “When he is finished, I will send you into Ranyth myself. As a messenger of mine to the High Priestess of Roen. When you reach her, tell her everything that has happened. She was her Ladyship's foster-mother many years ago. If any can give you proper advice on how to proceed, it will be her.”
Douglas looked down at the arrowhead in his hand. A part of him questioned the wisdom of handing the artifact off. The old man patted the red haired one on the shoulder with his free hand. “Listen to me, lad,” he said, “I will see to it that this comes back to your hands. I swear it by the Stag's blood and breath. When Alcuin comes for you again, it will be ready. No mere pouch will be fitting for this relic.”
Reluctantly, Douglas handed the arrowhead over. Abelard took it with a solemn expression. “Lady Theodonia said that her husband's hand would bring something from the dead but I never expected this,” he said quietly. At the mention of the legendary High Priestess of Kaileth, Douglas looked to Abelard in curiosity. “Lady Theodonia, on the day that Erian was wedded to Asriel spoke a prophecy. It had three parts. The first was that Evandar would fall when the Hero's star set. The second part was that Kaileth would bring to the living the relic of the dead. The third was that the first to die at the hands of the true enemy would be the Lady and Lord of Forest Hold.”
“Forest Hold has no lord,” Cynehilde said firmly, “We are a free people.” Abelard nodded and tottered his way back to his chair. As he sat down, he looked at Cynehilde. He thought about how young she and Douglas seemed. Suddenly, Abelard felt his age and he couldn't help but feel dread that the coming year was to be his last.
Bereft of heirs or kinsmen, Abelard had only his household of servants. He looked at Douglas and realized that if he had taken the prospect of his own mortality more seriously when he was younger, he would have quite likely had a son the same age as the man standing before him. Abelard sighed heavily with regret.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Flora et Fauna: Fireweed

Fireweed's name is derived from the colors its fronds turn when the season turns dry and the warming effect that those powdered fronds have upon the body. Fireweed grows in rocky ground and in wastelands. It can be found at higher altitudes, but generally grows to its full height (approximately six feet) in the warmth of lower altitudes. Fireweed's leaves are lacey fronds that extend off of a central rib in a rosette pattern.

Immature plants have fronds that are approximately three inches long and an inch wide at most. Mature plants that are approximately three years old bear fronds that are six inches long and two inches wide. The central vein of the frond is pithy, like the central stalk of the plant. Mature fireweed has tiny orange blossoms on the ends of the central veins of the fronds during the summer. Late summer/early autumn, the orange blossoms are replaced by orange fruit that are approximately the same size as the blossoms (approximately the size of a small pea).

The fruit of Fireweed is coated with a waxy resin. It is inedible to humans, though birds seem to favor it. Fireweed fruit's juice is toxic and mildly corrosive. Its effect upon the body mimics that of an excessively high fever even as it causes renal failure. A single Fireweed fruit makes an average man extremely ill but recovery is possible. Two to three Fireweed fruit are lethal, difference being in how quickly renal failure progresses.

Fireweed stems and frond veins are useful as tinder when the plant has died, giving this plant its other name 'tinder wort'. The root structure is highly matted and strongly encourages nitrogen fixing. Farmers will allow Fireweed to grow in fallow fields, taking care to cut down the plant before it matures and bears fruit. High altitude Fireweed will tend to be shorter in the mature plant, standing on average approximately three feet high. If the conditions are particularly hostile, mature Fireweed can be found standing at a foot high.

In mid-summer, Fireweed's fronds will turn a range of red colors. At the darkest, it will be a rust color. At the lightest, it will be a brilliant primary red color. Fireweed that is used for medicinal purpose is collected while the red color. The flower bud will remain green on mature plants. Immature Fireweed does not blossom.

To use Fireweed fronds, one cuts them during the driest portion of the day. The fronds are cut off of the central stem, with care being taken to avoid getting the sap (which has the same toxic and corrosive qualities as the juice of the fruit) on oneself. The fronds are dried flat and then stripped along the central vein. They are then powdered and added to alcoholic beverages for consumption. Fireweed fronds are at times added to poultices after being mixed with alcohol, as the alcohol activates the chemicals within the Fireweed. Fireweed used externally will produce an effect similar to the application of capsaicin.

An alcoholic beverage that is produced in the mountains of Tarsus uses a small portion of Fireweed for its distinctive burning sensation. It is known as Fire Witch's Kiss or Witch's Kiss. It is used as a restorative and is much like whiskey, though the burning sensation is more pronounced. Witch's Kiss is rarely seen outside of the mountains of Tarsus. It is rumored that a similar brew can be found in the mountains of Ranyth.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Flora et Fauna: Hydraexia

The hydraexia plant, also known as ice root or hail wort, is a creeping vine. It grows as a parasite on old growth trees much like Virginia creeper. Hydraexia blooms once every seven years with large, showy white blossoms. The blossoms scent is an anesthetic. When dried, the petals can be brewed into a tea which can be used to treat mild abrasions and burns when cooled. Only the tea made from the petals is safe to ingest directly.

The root is a globular cluster of root balls ranging from the size of a pea to the size of a chicken's egg. Generally spherical in shape, the root balls of hydraexia are potent with the anesthetic properties that are in the blooms. An average adult human male consuming one of the pea sized root balls of hydraexia will suffer respiratory distress in fifteen minutes. A sensation of cold will pass through out the body prior to respiratory distress. Death from asphyxiation occurs shortly after the patient enters respiratory distress.

Some magi have created a distillation of hydraexia that is useful as an anesthetic and relatively safe to consume in moderate quantities. It acts to open up the bronchial passage ways and can be used to treat asthma and related conditions if taken in minute doses (a few drops per a pint of ale). Hydraexia poisoning can be remedied by way of fireweed ingestion if the fireweed is taken prior to respiratory distress.

Hydraexia is used by some folk magi as a weather working charm. These white roots cause numbing to the hands when handled. The person handling the roots will feel as though they are holding a piece of ice, hence the plant's common name of ice root or hail wort. To invoke a storm, a root ball is thrown into the air blindly over a field. The size of the storm is supposedly determined by the size of the root ball thrown.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Fauna and Flora: Bear root

Bear root is a plant that has long, slender leaves that are smooth edged in the young plant and jagged edged in the mature. The leaves on an immature plant are approximately one meter in length and on a mature plant three meters in length. It grows in marshy places and puts up a stalk of tiny flowers in the heat of summer. The flowers smell musky. When dried, the musk scent is more potent and it is used in poor man's incense. The stem of the stalk is hollow and is harvested in autumn after the plant has died back following the first hard frost to use for similar purposes as reeds.

The root of the plant is shaped roughly like a bear paw print. The plant propagates by way of seeds and root systems. The 'claw' of the bear paw is where the runner of the roots come from. In early autumn, the seeds are dispersed on the wind. They are very small and light with a tuft of fuzz that catches the breeze like cattail seeds. Mature bear root is approximately 22 cm wide at its widest point.

The root is covered in a brown colored skin with rootlets giving the appearance of fur. The flesh of the root is white when uncooked. Cooking the root, it turns a pale tan color. The skin of the plant is generally inedible to humans, but it and the upper portions of the plant are edible to livestock and wild animals. Songbirds greatly favor the seeds. Beavers are known to be especially fond of the roots and young stems.

The edible parts of the bear root plant are the root and the pollen. The root can be treated like a thick skinned potato. While it is possible to eat bear root raw, it is generally unliked because the taste is very starchy. Bear root pollen is a pale yellow in color and used like flour. It has a taste similar to cornmeal. It is very high in fiber content and while it can be baked like flour it is used in cooked dishes where flour would have been used (puddings, dumplings, steamed biscuits, etc.) because the interaction between the pollen and heated liquid makes the pollen easier to digest.

The leaves of bear root plant are sometimes stripped for the center vein which is used in cord making. The leaves are also sometimes woven as used as a component in building. They are also turned into pulp to make paper in some regions of Evandar (namely in Moesia). Bear root will overtake a place of still water if the local fauna does not control it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Locales: Dakon-Bar

Dakon-Bar, also known as Dragonwood, is one of the petty kingdoms that make up the lands of Evandar. The forest that covers vast tracts of this land's rolling hills gives this kingdom its name. It reaches up into the foothills of the mountains that are the border between Dakon-Bar and Tarsus and to the edges of the plain that is in Aelethmer. The Shadowmere river runs north to south, marking the western boundary between Aelethmer and Dakon-Bar.

To the east, Dakon-Bar reaches to the borders of Ranyth. The city of Farden marks one of the most prosperous routes. A stone road runs from Dragonwood keep, the seat of the king of this petty kingdom to Farden. At Farden, another road runs north, leading to Tarsus and Tor Caldri, the seat of the High Council. Other unpaved roads wind through the heavily forested terrain.

These roads connect the open spaces carved out from the dense wood where the nobles beholden to the king live and the peasantry do their best to get by. Within the wood, there are bands of outlaws and the clanless and rejected. Travel between the villages and towns is at times dangerous and challenging, despite the fact that the largest confederation of bands known as the Foresters has moved from being a criminal element to something of a vigilante force that serves to enforce some measure of order on these more or less lawless places.

In the western and southern regions of Dakon-Bar, the forests thin out and there is a great many farms. This is predominantly where the grain that forms a significant portion of the trade of Dakon-Bar with the Evandari kingdoms of Aelethmer and Moesia is produced. Dakon-Bar trades heavily with Tarsus in lumber and grain, though more emphasis is placed upon lumber. Fur trade is strong in Dakon-Bar but it is firmly regulated by guilds.

Unlike the southern and western Evandari kingdoms, Dakon-Bar does not have much in the way of sumptuary laws. While the variety of colors worn by the people of Dakon-Bar does increase as one moves higher in the social strata, the restrictions are few. The Foresters are known for wearing the colors green, gray, and brown. The people of the northern regions of Dakon-Bar tend to wear plaids reflecting the families they are descendant from. The peasantry of Dakon-Bar wear mostly undyed clothing or own very few pieces of dyed clothing (usually serving as special occasion clothes). The nobles and merchants of Dakon-Bar wear a greater variety of colors and fabrics as markers of their wealth. They will also clothe the people of their households in garments that reflect their membership of a wealthy person's household.

Horses are found in Dakon-Bar mainly in the western and southern regions. The wealthy of the kingdom, however, will own them because they are markers of high status. Cattle are found in the southern and western regions of Dakon-Bar. In the northern and eastern regions, goats, pigs, and mules are found as livestock. There is also an overabundance of deer in the forested regions.

Bears are said to roam the northern portion of Dakon-Bar. Wild boar are also found in this region. The wild deer of Dakon-Bar have antlers upon both sexes. Some have domesticated them and trained them to the saddle. Wolves are problematic in the southern and western portions of Dakon-Bar, known for harrying the sheep and cattle. In the northern and eastern portions of this petty kingdom, wolves are a necessary part of the system because they help control the deer population.

Unfortunately, the large predators of wolves and bears are not as prevalent in this part of Dakon-Bar for reasons unknown. Nobles have placed a ban upon hunting bear, but some of the people in northern Dakon-Bar will do so. Rumors and local folklore speak of a dragon living within the deep wood. This is not something that has been substantiated. Local folklore also speaks of a female figure (considered by some to be an avatar of the goddess Roen) known as the Gray Lady.

The Gray Lady pops up in the mythos of Dakon-Bar as a wise adviser of kings and nobles. She is always spoken of wearing gray and coming in the hour of greatest need. The Gray Lady is always described as coming out of the forest and usually reputed to have some sort of charmed way with the animals. It is said that the fiercest of wolves will behave like a beloved pet dog, responding to commands by the Gray Lady and allowing her to fondle and pet them with impunity.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sigurt, Roen, Kaileth, and Morguthu.

The faith of the Evandari people is polytheistic. Primary deities are Sigurt, Roen, Kaileth, and Morguthu. Sigurt and Roen are the most popular deities, as they are considered to be the originators of humanity by many. Sigurt is known as the Storm Lord and associated with the summer storms that roll through Evandar and bring much needed moisture during the hot and dry months. Sigurt is regarded as the source of divine justice and frequently petitioned upon such matters. Roen is commonly considered his bride. She is associated with the land and viewed as the mother of all life. Prosperity is considered a sign of Roen's blessing.

Roen is also considered by some to be the bride or consort of Morguthu. Depending on whom one speaks to, Roen's role as consort to Morguthu is to give shape to his will or she is the mercy of death in the midst of suffering. Morguthu is the god of sorrow, suffering, and evil. He is considered to be a deity of darkness, where as his brother Sigurt is associated with the sun. Morguthu is very strongly associated with violence and death. His priesthood are known for wearing the clothes of the dead. Morguthu is reckoned as the darkness between the stars and the biting cold of deep winter.

Kaileth is the god of the wind. He is considered the source of all magic, master of fate, and the agent of change. Kaileth is also the god of insanity. He is also a deity associated with death. Death from accident and old age fall under his purview. Kaileth is the brother of Roen. Where Roen is associated with things of the material nature, Kaileth is associated with energetic nature. Kaileth is also a shape changer. Kaileth is frequently considered to be in Sigurt's company and acts as a messenger of him and Roen.

Kaileth is opposed to Morguthu. Sigurt is opposed to Morguthu. Roen is Morguthu's victim and Sigurt's wife. Morguthu is opposed to Sigurt. He is vexed by Kaileth but not opposed to him. He desires to possess Roen. Kaileth and Roen are favorable towards each other, described in some tales as having worked together to create the whole of reality, which was then infused with life by way of Sigurt. The tales all agree that the first death brought into reality came from Kaileth's hand, thereby robbing Morguthu of absolute power over this realm.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Another story.

Below is the four part story of how Byroniac, the sorcerer of the deamons acquired a bride and then lost her to his brother Maigren. Adult themes and content.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Doom of Minghaa

The plains men of the west came to Minghaa's yurt in search of trade and marriage. Minghaa the Generous received them well. He poured them strong wine and gave them the best of the feast. When the men of the west with their yellow haired leader told the Son of Heaven that he sought a bride for his sons, the Magnanimous One smiled. The fame of the bold warriors of the west was well known.

Minghaa the Mighty brought forward his daughters. The sullen sons paid them little eye but for the youngest. Taba, the fairest of the flowers of Nayany and Minghaa took one in hand. As she told the Son of Heaven of her desire to take him in her arms, the spurned one stood and struck a hard blow. He spread apart Taba's white throat with his demon blade even as he struck down his brother. Minghaa called down Heaven's Fury upon the men of the west.

His brother Menai leaped forward with his klah in hand. The moon blade sang and the demon blade shattered. The yellow haired man of the west fled with a cry of terror as Menai called together the war party. A thousand men gathered. A thousand men rode, calling to the Sky Father and Mother to let their klahs be sharp and their shija fly true.

Sky Father looked down upon them with his stern face. The grass sea parted before them, leading onward to where the yellow haired villain passed. The Sky Mother watched over them in the night, her maidens weaving the fall of the men of the west in the stars. Menai took counsel with the sorcerer Denua when they reached the silver thread.

For three days, they remained at the glimmering way. Battle songs they sung. Denua lead them the loudest as Menai sharpened his klah and drank his wine. The third night, the Sky Mother and her maidens hid their faces in the veils of cloud. Denua read the signs of the fire and pronounced to Menai that it was time. Denua warned the brother of the Son of Heaven not to step into the kybashi, for the Sky Mother's hiding of her face warned of evil things.

Menai, drunk upon the wines he had brought with him laughed. He declared that he would burn the kybashi of the men of the west. Denua said nothing, going to strike the battle drum and sing the battle songs until the rise of the Sky Father.

The silver track turned red as blood. Denua warned Menai not to go into the kybashi but Menai only repeated that he would burn them. Denua beat the drum and screamed to the Sky Father. The war party crossed the waters and came to the kybashi. The yellow haired villain stood with five half grown boys. Menai struck him a hard blow with his klah. The yellow haired man fell to the ground and was crushed beneath the hooves of Menai's mount.

He passed into the kybashi and found many were dead. Those who lived were taken as slaves. Menai lit the kybashi a fire and brought his prisoners across the water. Denua met him at his yurt. Denua had not seen the battle but knew upon seeing Menai's prisoners that he had gone within the kybashi of the men of the west. Denua insisted that Menai kill all he had taken but Menai did not listen.

The war party returned to the Son of Heaven. As they traveled back, the slaves proved too weak for service and fell. Old horses gave way to age and Denua lead the songs of parting. A stone kybashi was raised where the horse of Menai fell. There, the spirits of the herd remain. A day later, they arrived at the Son of Heaven's encampment. The horses were sent to the kybashi and the war party went to their women.
Denua was heard to speak late in the night to the Sky Mother. He wept like a woman and struck the earth with his fists. At sunrise, the far sighted Denua, uncle of the Son of Heaven was found laying within ashes and groaning. The Son of Heaven and Menai consulted and tried to guess what the Sky Mother wanted of Denua and why she struck him down.

The Son of Heaven built a pyre and brought out his finest horse. He opened its throat and placed it upon the blaze. Smoke rose high and the Sky Father veiled his face with clouds. The tears of the Sky Mother and the maidens fell for nine days. As the Sky Mother and the maidens wept, Denua moved to join the ancestors. Many others did as well. Menai lay in the Son of Heaven's yurt with the shuddering judgment of the Sky Mother upon him.

The Son of Heaven and Nayany begged the ancestors to aid them. They burned fragrant grasses, poured wine, and fasted. The ancestors took Menai in their arms and the Son of Heaven sacrificed his second best horse to give Menai a proper beast for him to ride the plains. Nayany soon became ill as did the Son of Heaven.

Three days, they shuddered and wasted. The Son of Heaven screamed for the Sky Father and Mother to forgive him. His cries were so loud that they were heard in every part of the encampment. Nayany died with a sigh. The Son of Heaven soon went to her side with the ancestors. As the maidens grew to womanhood, the people of the Sky Father and Mother failed.

Some fled to the east and found the clans of others to take them in. It is from them that we learned of their story. Before they fled, they built a stone kybashi about the encampment. At the fixed stone of sunrise, the skulls of the horses were set to watch. At the fixed stone of sunset, the klahs were stood across the entrance. Thus were the dead guarded by their own arms.

Klah ~ sword
Kybashi ~ enclosure
Shija ~ arrow (plural: singular is shiji)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sorenan & Mina

Walking into the Great Hall of the temple, Sorenan’s footsteps echoed against the black marble. All about him, acolytes dressed in white moved in eerie silence as they attended to their tasks. Faces obscured by veils, a group walked ahead of him with their heads bowed and hands folded into their wide sleeves. The only evidence that the figures were female was the unmistakable swell of the breast and curve of the hip that even the pale long robes of the order couldn’t hide. If it were the marketplace, the veiled women would have been the object of covert glances. It was uncommon outside of the temple proper to see more then a few of the Silent Sisters at a time, even in the city that held the main temple of the order of the Goddess.
Sorenan watched as a youth approached him. His hair had been allowed to grow out into flowing raven’s wing black curls, only the difference in his dress distinguished him from the other prepubescent neonates in the corridor. Startling blue eyes looked up at the warrior in a delicately featured face that bore the stamp of the High Priestess’s proud lineage. “You are late,” the son of the High Priestess said bluntly, “Mother will be displeased. Come.” Together, they made their way to the inner sanctum of the temple complex. The silence deepened as they progressed until it took on an almost physical quality.
Standing before the wide altar with her back to them, the High Priestess raised a silver goblet over her head. She lowered it and poured a libation over the stone altar. The acolyte at her right took the cup as she passed it to them. The High Priestess took a small bowl of grain from the acolyte to her left and raised it up over her head. She lowered it and poured the grain on the altar before handing the bowl back to the acolyte. The trio made a small gesture with their hands before the acolytes turned and began to walk for the entrance that Sorenan had passed thru. The female acolyte’s gaze briefly strayed to the face of the High Priestess’s son before looking away with a subtle blush.
The High Priestess stood with her back to the pair, her chestnut brown hair falling in waves down her back. “Jorn, join the others. Your father comes today with an important lesson,” she said quietly, looking briefly to her right at some point behind her. The lad sketches a quick bow to his mother and darted for the doorway to the right of the raised platform the altar stood on. “Don’t run, Jorn,” she called after him. Slowly, the High Priestess of the Great Goddess Julara turned to face Sorenan. Green eyes looked over his dusty clothes and features as though reading a map of where he had traveled. Though her expression was calm, a flame lit in her eyes made Sorenan uncomfortable. “We keep the old ways here, warrior,” she said gravely when her eyes finally reached his, “It would be wise of you to respect them. Punctuality is not too difficult of a thing to ask, is it?”
Sorenan felt his stomach twist. Something about the way the woman held his gaze and her soft voice echoed in the chamber made him suddenly feel vulnerable. “No, Lady,” he said in a tone that mimicked her own as he gave a low bow, “I most humbly apologize.” A small frown twisted her ruby lips into a slight grimace of distaste.
“Words are cheap, man,” she said, striding past him in the direction that he had come, “It is action I expect of you. Come.” Sorenan recognized the order given for what it was and promptly fell into step a pace behind her. “You were dispatched to deliver a message to the people of the northern reaches,” she said, “Did the elders there receive you?” Sorenan shook his head.
“No, Lady, they refused me ... and your Emissary,” he replied, lengthening his stride to keep pace with her as she made her way down the passages back to her office. “They said that they intend to continue their raids into your holdings, claiming it as divinely given to them,” he continued, watching as she clasped her hands behind her back, “They additionally said that your priesthood’s presence in their territories was … unwelcome.”
The dark haired woman halted and looked over at Sorenan with a gimlet gaze. “What, precisely, did they say?” she demanded. Sorenan swallowed despite himself. He didn’t like the fact that he was about to tell the woman who is recognized as the living daughter of Julara, avatar of her mercy and wrath, that her priestesses and priests were being executed on sight. While his faith was lapsed, there was enough present to make him uneasy with telling her the death threat delivered by the elders of the tribes north of the city. She again looked at him as though reading him and the grim frown returned.
“Death is it?” she said, “I suppose it was naiveté to have expected otherwise. Am I correct to believe that the sons of Omurath have turned away as well?” Sorenan blinked. The sandy haired man hadn’t expected her to be aware of the news he had only become privy to in the last hour prior to his arrival at the temple gates. The flicker of surprise that flashed over his face was answer enough for her and the High Priestess turned away. She began to walk again.
“It will soon be time, warrior,” she said, “That the death bringers will walk with my children. It is not your faith that I need but rather your arm. A great evil is amassing north of us and shall soon move south. The gods have placed us as a general would his troops in an effort to out maneuver that evil and defend against it. I am not a warrior and have need of the eyes of one. Do you understand what I am saying?”
Sorenan frowned. “Why me?” he asked as she lead the way into her office. The High Priestess poured two cups of cool tea. She pulled off two leaves from the sprig of mint sitting beside the teapot and floated one upon the tea in each cup. As the light slid thru the cut glass windows, Sorenan could see the beginnings of gray at her temples and the start of age in her face. A delicate hand picked up one cup and gestured to the other on the tray as she moved to gaze out that window.
“Because my husband and I trust you, Sorenan,” she said quietly, letting the duties and role of High Priestess of Julara slip aside. Mina looked over at Sorenan. “We can speak freely here. Between the wards and the hour, we won’t be disturbed. Jorn will bring his father when the lesson is done,” she said before looking down into her cup of tea. “I prayed for you,” Mina said after a long moment, “Julara had told me you were in danger.” Sorenan sighed.
“Mina …” he started and she raised a finger, pressing it to her lips. Sorenan fell silent. They drank their tea in brooding silence. “You should know that this isn’t going to work,” he said finally in frustration, “No matter what you and Marcos do, some one is going to find out. There’ll be outcry.” Mina looked over at Sorenan.
“Do you really think we’re that naive? That we could simply hide this with silence?” she said with a smile, “Ah, Sorenan. What ever shall I do with you?” Sorenan shook his head. Mina sat down in her chair and gestured to the one at the other side of the desk. As he sat down, she continued, “There is a prophecy that speaks of three stars coming into alignment. We are those three stars. Not that planetary alignment that happened the day I became High Priestess.” Sorenan frowned. It was an old argument that he didn’t want to bring up again, thus he said nothing and sipped his tea. Mina frowned as he looked down into the cup.

“You shall see, love,” Mina said, lightly touching his left hand where it rested on the desk “I know you do not trust the Gods as I do, but it will come to pass as I have seen it.” Sorenan sighed tiredly. He suddenly felt bone weary, as though the last few weeks of effort all came together in a single moment. Mina watched his face closely. “You're tired,” she said gently, “Have you been sleeping?”
Sorenan looked up from the cup. Concern was written on her face as she looked at him in all tenderness. He thought of the bodies he saw hanging from the walls of the razed temple in the north. He looked away, unable to help the sudden rush of grief and horror. Sorenan put down the cup of tea as his imagination painted the gruesome scenario fresh again. In his mind's eye, he saw Mina's face on one of them and he choked back a sudden sob. Mina's eyes widened. “Sorenan,” she said, suddenly unsure what to do as he covered his eyes.
“They slaughtered them,” he said, unable to hide the choking horror he felt suddenly “All of them, even the girls.” Tears began to roll down his cheeks. “It was an abattoir,” he sobbed, “And the tribesmen, they were proud of it. They bragged... They bragged of how many they raped before they killed. They brought in Sisters from smaller temples and ...” His voice broke and Sorenan wept. All he could see was his lover's face on the dead and envisioning her enduring the torture that those women had borne.
Mina was shaken by the force of Sorenan's outpouring of emotion. She had not expected the hardened man to come to her, weeping with grief for what he had seen. She put her tea down and rose. As she walked around the desk, his shoulders shook as harder sobs wracked him. “Oh,” she sighed, “Oh my love. I'm sorry.” He leaned against her as she rubbed his shoulders in a soothing gesture. “I shouldn't have sent you,” she whispered.
Sorenan breathed deeply of the scent of her clothes. He wrapped his arms about her waist, comforting himself with the fact that she was real and safe. This woman that he would willingly die for was, for the moment, free from harm.

Abraxas & Sorenan

"Ah, Sorenan," the fat man sitting at the table said, clapping his hands with a smile, "the bold warrior beloved of Julara's witch." Sorenan frowned at the merchant. He ran his greasy hands over his bloated belly and waved a slave off as they moved to take away the platter of quail bones sitting before him. "You grace my hall with your presence too often of late, my friend," the merchant said, reaching for a cup of spiced wine.

Sorenan rested his hands lightly on the hilts of the daggers at his hips. He loathed Abraxas but the piggish man was the only truly reliable source of information he had on the movements of Althar's men. Abraxas, a blading man who stood roughly shoulder height to the weather hardened, blond haired man, decided to forgo all pretense of civility or the ritualized customs of welcome. He sat at his table and gorged himself on food and drink even as his newly arrived guest had come in from a fierce storm and at the end of an obviously long journey. No, Abraxas scorned Sorenan as much as the mercenary loathed him. Theirs was an arrangement that was strictly business, though it didn't stop Abraxas from making cutting remarks.

Abraxas had heard the rumors that Sorenan had entered the service of the high priestess of Julara. Sorenan's former companions spoke of how he had abandoned their company to spend time at the temple of the order of the Silent Sisters. As men who had little other to do during the relative peace of the season, they speculated as to what he was doing there. One had seen him in the slender, dark haired woman's company once. That was all it took for the rumors of his being her lover to arise.

Abraxas noted the subtle tension that passed through Sorenan's face, as though he gritted his teeth for a moment in irritation at his greeting. Deciding that he would goad him further later, Abraxas set aside his cup after he had taken a long pull off of it. "What do you come for this time? Spices, silks? Stones, perhaps?" Abraxas said in his nasally voice, turning his gaze to the sugared dates. He picked one up and popped it into his mouth, knowing that it would irritate the brooding man that he did not set to discussing Althar immediately.

"Where is he?" Sorenan said, deciding he didn't have time for Abraxas's usual games. Abraxas noted the coldness in the mercenary's voice and arched an eyebrow. "I have a message," he continued. Abraxas coughed suddenly as he began to choke on the date as he gasped in surprise. One of the slaves moved towards him as Sorenan stepped forward.

Sorenan gripped Abraxas's tunic and pulled him forward. He slapped him hard three times between the shoulder blades. With the third blow, the half eaten glob of fruit was ejected and landed in Abraxas's lap. Sorenan pushed Abraxas back into his seat and leaned down, putting his lean face into the big man's own. "Where is your damned brother?" he demanded. Abraxas's eyes widened as the blood drained out of his face.

Suddenly, Abraxas remembered why Sorenan was known as the Lion of the North. It was not for his sandy blond hair that resembled the great cat's pelt. It was not for his strange, amber hued eyes. It was for his cold, ruthless capacity for violence. Abraxas opened his mouth to yell for one of his men and Sorenan gave him a warning look. His left hand closed about the hilt of his left dagger, clearly in view of the merchant. "You'll breathe through a second mouth before they get to the door. The slaves won't lift a finger for your fat ass," Sorenan growled, "By killing you, I set them free and have a chorus of voices that will say that you sought to have me killed by poison."

"They can't," Abraxas gasped, looking over at the silent figures hovering in the shadows of the room.

"Try me, fat man," Sorenan said, sliding the knife partially out of the sheath.

"He's in Selath," Abraxas said in a panicked rush, "He's seeking to raise the sons of Omurath to his cause."

Sorenan slid the knife back into the sheath and straightened as Abraxas put a shaking hand on his chest and attempted to will his heart to a slower pace. "Then they have turned against Dacia," Sorenan said quietly, taking a step back.

"What matter is it to you?" Abraxas demanded, "You get paid good coin at either side."

Sorenan turned his gaze back to Abraxas. He thought about how far Selath was from the city of Asser. Abraxas could send a rider and in close to a fortnight, if the weather held, get word to Althar of his inquiries. Sorenan had known that it was risky to attempt to learn the movements of the warlord from his lesser brother. Now, he questioned if the brother would attempt to buy favor in selling information to him.

"Dacian coffers are full," Sorenan said, "Your brother runs at the edge of the wind and takes the jackal road for his provisions." Abraxas waved a dismissive hand.

"Althar's fame feeds him," Abraxas said, "What good is it to me? His star rises and I still scrape for coin. Look at this place. It is a pauper's hovel compared to what is my due." Sorenan looked about the room and then back to Abraxas. "The question is, my friend, what good does Dacia do for poor men like me." Sorenan frowned.

"A silk merchant could make quite a bit of coin if he were to provide the Silent Sisters with their veils," Sorenan said. Abraxas's eyes brightened and his tongue briefly flashed to touch his upper lip in a nervous gesture. "I have heard that they are looking for supply for the winter feasts," Sorenan said. Abraxas's hands fidgeted with the edges of the hems of his sleeves. "It may even be that the High Priestess herself would be interested in your wares," Sorenan continued.

Greed overtook Abraxas's caution. "I could bring the finest web for her Ladyship," he said. Sorenan nodded slowly.

"I'll take a token of your good faith," Sorenan said. He made a show of looking about the room before his gaze alighted upon the elaborately inscribed amulet resting on Abraxas's chest. He leaned forward and gave the gilded bronze a hard pull. The cord that it was upon snapped and Abraxas's eyes widened in horror. "This comes with me," Sorenan said, "Betray me and it goes into the fires. I'll destroy it as surely as I will kill you."

Abraxas's expression was pained as he watched the tall man put the amulet into the pouch he carried on his right side. It was all that Abraxas had left of his tribe. When he had been cast out, his mother had thrown the amulet to him in a desperate gesture. Abraxas caught it and ran for his life. He was certain that it not only carried what good luck had brought him to becoming a successful merchant but his mother's blessing. For all that his warlike brother had done to bring renown to their tribe's name, Abraxas knew that he was barred from returning.

He tried to live through his brother's fame. But the prospect of losing his last physical link to his mother shattered all thought he had of riding his brother's coat tails to prosperity. Abraxas watched as Sorenan walked out into the windstorm and then dropped his face down into his hands and wept.