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
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
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
“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
“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