Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Blood of Kings and Paupers

Mina watched as the messenger recounted his report from the north. As the man spoke, her gaze strayed to Sorenan. The sandy haired man seemed to lounge in his chair like some cat with one of his long legs thrown over the left arm. His hair was unbound and fell in a tousled mane that was more than a little reminiscent of the great cats of the menagerie. A knife twirled in his left hand. He tossed it up into the air, caught it, flipped it over the back of his hand, and generally toyed with it with impressive dexterity. The messenger seemed uncomfortable with the mercenary's restless action and paused often to glance at the man who stared at the floor with a bored look.

Marcos sat at Mina's left. As the messenger was detailing the latest demands from the governors for troops to strengthen their defenses, the Emperor of Dacia was doing his best to try to gauge how severe the need was. The messenger hemmed and hawed, trying to down play what he had been told. There was some fear that he was to meet an evil end after word had spread of what happened to Temna's envoy. Marcos pinched the bridge of his nose and leaned back, closing his eyes with a harsh sigh of frustration. "Have they taken any of the cities?" he said, deciding that perhaps his best route was brutally blunt questions.

The messenger fell silent. He dropped his gaze from Marcos's face to the floor. Taking the man's silence as an affirmative answer, the priest-king of Dacia city let his hand drop to his side. "How many have fallen?" Marcos demanded in a flat tone. The messenger slowly raised his eyes. His face was pale with terror and grief. "Answer me, man," Marcos barked loudly, half rising from his seat on the dais. The messenger flinched and stumbled back a pace.

"Does the city of Sarben still stand?" Sorenan asked, sounding almost as bored as he looked. The messenger looked over at the man seated on the impressive carved chair beside the dais at Mina's right. The messenger shook his head. The man wrung his hands and then began to twist the lower hem of his travel stained tunic between them. "Are the passes at Mivan and Carlian still in our hands?" Sorenan continued. The messenger again signaled a negative answer. Sorenan raised his head and looked at the man standing before them.

In the grandness of the throne room, the messenger from the north seemed pathetically small. Sorenan couldn't tell if it was because of how the man seemed to stink with fear and cringe when one even looked at him or if it was because he clearly looked under nourished and ill. Sorenan's gaze focused on the messenger's boots. They were cracked and worn. The dull grey dust of the road was not merely coating them but caked upon them as though the man with his cloak pinned at his left shoulder with a greening brass fibula had trudged through mud but recently.

"Where did you come from? "Sorenan asked, "What city?" The messenger looked over at the blond man, surprised by his question being phrased in an unexpectedly kind tone. The messenger swallowed past a lump in his throat. His expression moved deeper into grief. "What it Sarben?" he continued as he moved to sit more properly on his chair before slipping his knife into the sheath at his left boot.

"A village an hour north of Sarben," the messenger said. Marcos's impatient noise prompted Mina to place a hand on his wrist. "I went south to Sarben because Lady Elia needed the aid of Governor Laelius's men," the messenger spoke haltingly, "Men came from the high places and troubled us over the last two passages of the High Lady and Her Children. As I left Xaxio, my village, they came again."

"What became of Xaxio?" Marcos asked. The man before them dropped his gaze and raised a shaky hand to pass it over his eyes.

"The smoke turned the sky black," he answered in a voice that was little more than a whisper, "I was almost to Sarben when they came upon me. They forced me to march ahead of them with others. We stood at the gate of Sarben. The raiders were behind us but the guard could not seem them for the fog. When the gates opened, the raiders came forward. Otho was trampled as he pushed me away from the riders. I... I laid on the ground and prayed for it to stop."

The messenger's voice gave out and he softly began to weep. "So much blood," he said in a watery tone, turning his eyes on Marcos. "They slaughtered them," the man said with a catch in his voice, "They split children on their spears, laughing as they caught them. Governor Laelius was marched to the gates. They hewed him like a tree."

"You ran," Marcos said quietly. The traumatized man dissolved into tears, unable to nod or speak. Marcos looked over at Sorenan. "Laelius was my cousin," the Emperor of Dacia continued in a hollow tone, "He was the reason why I entered the priesthood.Our mothers deemed it proper work for us." Marcos looked at the man weeping before him, seemingly through him.

Sorenan looked to Mina. Where Marcos looked to be somewhere in between anger and seeking black vengence, Mina's expression was calculating and cool. She broke her silence through out this audience, snapping all eyes that were focused on the messenger to her, as she said, "Governer Bastizia was wise to send you as his messenger. Did his Lady have additional words to send?" The messenger's eyes widened and he suddenly began to frantically dig through the pouch at his left hip.

He extracted a tightly wound roll of parchment from a narrow oilskin sleeve. The man walked forward three paces and knelt before the dias, holding the scroll up upon his raised hands while he lowered his head to press it to the edge of the dias. Mina leaned forward. She lifted the scroll from his hands. As she sat back on her throne, the Empress of Dacia said, "Lacryan, bring this man to where he might rest from his journey. See to it that he is well cared for. When he is refreshed, bring him to Sister Lydian. She will attend to the injuries of his soul."

The messenger lifted his head when Lacryan, the majordomo who served the Emperor set a hand on his shoulder. Lacryan's sober, yet compassionate, expression made the man from the north look as though he was about to resume weeping. Grey haired Lacryan lead his charge from the throne room. As they exited, General Zalaz was entering. He looked over at the messenger briefly as he departed and then turned his attention to Mina, who sat reading the scroll with a look of stern disapproval.
"Lady Zia has been murdered. Governor Bastizia has written that refugees of the domain beyond the wall built by his ancestors have come in greater numbers. This man's forced march with the tribesmen appears to have revealed that they are ... organizing," Mina said as she handed the scroll over to her husband. Zalaz opened his mouth to say something and Mina raised a hand slightly, stilling him.

She turned her attention to Sorenan. "Though you know the north and the ways of these tribes, we need you here. It is not yet time for you to go," she said as she then looked to Marcos. "I shall send an emissary to the priestesses to assist them in this. You should send one of the priests militant with her to learn what the threat is. It will be better to have one of Ashur's sons there than a low ranking officer who might be swayed by promises of riches."

Zalaz frowned with displeasure at Mina's statement. Again, he prepared to say something when Mina forestalled him. "General, word has come from the south that Temna's forces again are moving towards us. I would have confirmation of this. It would not do to have a war fought on two fronts," she said. Zalaz sighed, even more displeased with the situation in learning the news he had come to report was somehow reported to Mina and Marcos before he reached them.

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