Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Julara's Mercy, Ashur's Wrath

Mina and Marcos were surprised when no forces from Temna arrive a month later. Zalaz commented that Temna's laziness was Dacia's advantage when the topic came up for discussion. Sorenan gathered his men and brooded. Sitting with his battle companions, Sorenan watched the inn's common room with no apparent emotion on his face. At his left side hung the second sword of Ashur. He thought about the commotion when it was discovered with the first in the sanctuary of Ashur.

Priests and common men alike regarded Sorenan with a mixture of fear and suspicion. He wasn't terribly surprised by this reception. Since he had come out of the north, the blond haired man was viewed with askance by the dark haired people of the south. It was argued that his skin was too white and that his strange eyes were signs that he was a deamon walking in the form of a man. It disappointed him when he heard these comments from some of the priests in the city. Sorenan had, at one point, hoped that they were as well educated as Marcos.

Now, however, that disappointment was turning to disgust as he grew impatient with the entire situation. As Marcos and Zalaz discussed the situation a few hours earlier, Sorenan withheld comment. A part of him wanted to suggest that they march on Temna now that the majority of their forces were present. Some still voice within, a voice that was new and reminded Sorenan of the whisper of the wind, told him to keep silence. Thus, Sorenan merely glared at the map and tried to will some change in the situation. When they left the General's quarters within the temple complex, Sorenan discovered no change.

When his men looked to him for any sort of news at the inn, Sorenan shook his head. They began playing at dice again in their boredom. He knew that his companions were as impatient for the waiting to end as he was. This was proving as tedious as the journey to the northern reaches of the empire but three months ago. "Someone is looking for you," Sorenan's right hand man said. A great bull of a man, Theon was true to the stereotype of being a quiet man with an unpredictable temper. It was with some surprise that Theon came to be Sorenan's most trusted companion. When the others began commenting on Sorenan's sightings with Mina, Theon said nothing.

When news that Sorenan was to be a sword-bearer of Ashur, Theon simply grunted and continued with his meal. It was when Sorenan was alone with him that Theon spoke. What the big man said left Sorenan uncomfortable. He was hoping for old fashioned combat to distract him from the statement but it rang in his head. "Julara's mercy comes with Ashur's wrath. Julara's wrath follows after. And then there is devastation," Theon said. It was something that made Sorenan uneasy.

Bearing the sword of Ashur's wrath, Sorenan thought that the will of the gods was completed and he'd be left to do his job. Now, he questioned if Julara herself was going to lay a claim upon him. Sorenan wasn't a religious man. Until Ashur appeared at the throne room's antechamber, Sorenan told himself that the gods weren't real. He told himself that Mina and Marcos were simply doing their jobs. Then Ashur appeared. Ashur spoke to him. Now, Sorenan's life seemed to have turned upside down.

Sitting, thinking uncomfortable thought, Sorenan watched as the veiled woman made her way to them. Sorenan looked at the white veils and presumed that Mina had sent one of the Silent Sisters with a message. The mercenaries stood and bowed to the Sister. She made a gesture of benediction over his men as they sat. Sorenan remained standing. The Sister made a beckoning gesture. Sorenan walked after her, curious what Mina wanted in the midst of her own preparations for war.

They walked to a house near the temple complex. The Sister lead him through the first of the two room. She then walked to a door set in the wall of the room. When she opened it, Sorenan's expression turned to one of confusion. A passage he had never seen ran from the door into some dark place. The Sister took up a lamp that was sitting in a niche by the door. Holding it before herself, she walked down the corridor.

Dimly through the illuminated veils, Sorenan saw a face he thought was familiar. He resisted the urge to ask questions, knowing that the Sister's vow of silence was one that prevented her even from speaking to the high priestess of Julara herself. The passage twisted and turned, ever moving downward. The air gradually turned cool and damp as they passed beneath the buildings above. Soon they came to another door. On the other side of it, Sorenan heard agonized screaming. His stomach clenched as a fear for Mina and Marcos's safety hit him.

He set his hand upon the hilt of the sword as the Sister turned to face him. She turned away before Sorenan could clearly see who she was, though the light made it tantalizingly close to visible. As the door swung open, Sorenan found himself entering into a dungeon chamber. A man, who clearly was not Marcos, lay stretched upon a rack, screaming in pain. Sorenan looked at the man and attempted to figure out where he had seen the face before.

"Zafar is a traitor," Mina's voice came from beneath the veils. "He has given over Midthar to Temna." Sorenan looked at the councilman. As he peered closely at the tortured man, Sorenan recognized the face despite its egregious wounds. "His punishment is not complete. We still have yet to learn what he has told Temna of our defenses, if anything at all," she said in a tone that was unfamiliar to Sorenan and served to heighten his discomfort with Theon's earlier statement,

"Torture is not a reliable method of getting information," Sorenan said. Mina looked over at him from beneath her white veils. "Give him clothes, food, and rest. Treat him as a man," he continued, "Give him the promise of clemency and he will answer your questions. This is unnecessary." He felt Mina's displeasure like a subtle chill in the air.

"This is clemency," Mina answered in that alien tone, "He would have been fed to Ashur's eagles alive. It is the punishment for treason." Sorenan thought about the enormous birds and the way they tore apart goats in the fields to the north. He shuddered. "I thought perhaps you would bring him to see reason," Mina said, turning her gaze back to the man in agony before her.

"At least take him off the rack," Sorenan said, unable to put aside the unease he felt. He was alright with killing men. He was even good at it. But the sight of a man, woman, or beast tortured made Sorenan feel sick down deep inside. It struck him as profoundly cruel. The idea that torture was mercy made his blood run cold. The fact that Mina, one who is known for her kindness to the unfortunate, said it in that queer tone made him feel the beginnings of fear.

Mina looked over at him. "Ashur's first sword-bearer passed judgment upon this man," she said, "Yet his second would ease his justly earned misery. Your compassion will lead to the ending of many lives if it stays your hand when it is time to strike." Sorenan stared at Mina in mute shock. Where she had previously praised his compassion and told him it was admirable in a man of his line of work, this reply was entirely outside of her usual behaviors.

"Your Ladyship, why do you decry my compassion when you have praised it so much of late?" Sorenan asked, moving into a tone of formality as he struggled to make sense of the situation.

"My daughter's heart is soft beneath the iron. She would have peace reign through the land," Mina replied eerily, "You have been her shield. It is time to be Ashur's sword."

"Lady...?" he started as she walked and set the lamp upon a table where the torturer's implements sat idle. Mina lifter her veil. Sorenan gasped at the sight that met his eyes. Where Mina's were supposed to be green, they were changed to a dark, dark brown. Mina's pale skin had deepened in shade until it was the olive of the laborers in the fields.

"Speak to the prisoner," Julara said, "A servant shall be sent in an hour. His bindings remain, for he does not have my favor." She turned and walked out the second door of the chamber. As she vanished down the corridor, Sorenan shuddered. He had no choice now. The gods were wholly real and have spoken to him. As Sorenan turned to Zafar, he tried to will the terror flooding his veins away.

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