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Old 01-30-2005, 04:59 PM   #161
Kransha
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Moving away from the two, Morgôs neared the statue of Rhais, which rose before him. It was not, however, an ominous visage to him, but a very gentle one, tendered with the look of a solemn matriarch. Unaccustomed to the situation, Morgôs sat, and then shifted onto his knees and back again, trying to find a comfortable and appropriate position. He ended up sitting on his legs, awkwardly shifting about still, and looked up with little real reverence at the statue. He felt odd, sit-kneeling there on the floor, wondering if Siamak and Zamara might be watching from where they stood. The Elf looked down at the floor, glancing occasionally at the feet of the statue, trying to think of something to think or something to say, but nothing came. This technique was definitely not working, nor was it effective in the least. He decided to try and speak, but did not do so out loud. Instead, he formed words in his mind and spoke them within, rather than thinking their purpose. He focused on the statue.

‘Rhais, or whoever you are. I have not before called upon you or yours, nor have you called upon me and mine. I am not your follower, nor am I your detractor. I do not expect signs or revelations, but doing this will at least clear my conscious, and I will know that I have tried everything. If, by some bizarre chance, you do exist, and you do hear this wherever you dwell, I apologize for not meaning what I say. If you really are what I have been led to believe, you know that this prayer is illegitimate, but the thought behind it is virtuous.’

He felt ridiculous; extremely ridiculous. He heard nothing (not that he expected the statue to speak), and it made him feel worse about the predicament. He glanced up at the apex of the statuary, but saw no light of truth, and let his head fall again, taking a moment to rub his lithe fingers against a sore brow, pained by an ache in his head. With a groaning sigh, he slumped, and tried again. ‘I realize,’ he thought, ‘that you are not present, here, now, with me, nor do you have reason to care about me. If I believed in you, you might, but my text indicate that you are no more than a myth of my people, an explanatory legend. I do not believe in you, Goddess, if that is what you are, but I am searching for something to believe in that can distract me from what I believe in now. Though your following may not be the correct one, or the true one, or the right one, I need a solution and, right now, you are it. Count yourself lucky that I am not at the gate of Rae, seeking his wisdom. You are my choice.’ Morgôs felt strange as he thought this. He had used these words before, before swearing fealty to Siamak, and the memory sensation that filled him was disconcerting, but he continued. ‘If you are capable of hearing me, then hear me out. If you are there, beyond the girdle of this realm, looking down on me; I offer you this prayer.’

And then he heard it.

“Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo, Elerrinon.”

It was a beautiful voice, whose melodious chords rang in his ears like wondrous thunder. Yet, it sounded like no more than the whispering wind, all words contained in the blink of an eye, the wisp of a cloud in passing. The preternatural serenity of it relaxed him, lulling him for a split-second into a state of confused but thankful catatonia, freezing his blood in his veins, but it fell from him less than an instant later. The whole experience was so strange that he did not comprehend it and, after it was over, its beauty diminished so much that he barely realized it had happened. The words, in a tongue he did not know, seemed like no words at all. Each held an emotion, neither happy nor sad, but simply neutral, as if they each floated individually in some nether of nonexistence. It was ecstasy, all bottled up into one second that flew by and left no record of itself. As soon as the voice concluded, Morgôs barely knew it had happened, and was left in confused silence.

Since it passed so quickly, Morgôs could not help but dismiss it as a sudden mental spasm. A little shaky and uneasy, he remained seated; satisfied that he had done what he could. Recollection of the voice faded fast, but a bare imprint was left, puzzling the Elf, but not truly daunting him. Quietly he knelt, wondering what to do next. He was done with his attempt at prayer, and was ready to engage a lesson with Siamak, but the Prince was not done speaking to the High Priestess.

In fact, the words being exchanged were fully audible to Morgôs. Though they were no speaking to quietly for mortal ears, Morgôs’ attuned senses heard them perfectly. He was not an eavesdropper, but he could not help but hear them, and he was comfortably seated and did not feel like rising. So, with an underhanded feeling gnawing guiltily at his mind, he waited, pretending to be in deep thought, and listened to Siamak and Zamara speak.
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Old 01-31-2005, 03:40 PM   #162
alaklondewen
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An unexpected visitor...

The villa of the general of the Pashtian army was silent but for the soft melody that floated from the formal living area. A young servant busily dusted the heavy furniture. Her light mood was reflected in the tune she hummed. Kashana had not served the Avari family until very recently and was still very much intimidated, and awed, by the ageless Elves, but her father thought it was an honorable opportunity to work for a family of this status in Kanak. The young girl added a little bounce to her step as she continued to sing. She had seen the General leave a little while ago, so she felt more comfortable in the house. He was so serious and stuffy that she tried to distance herself from him. Although lately, that had not been a problem as he spent days at a time locked up in his library. Kashana cared not what the General did…she was just glad she did not have to directly talk to him very often. His wife was kind, to a point, but she was so beautiful that the young girl always felt like she was staring…and then she would become nervous and a little clumsy. She felt the most comfortable around Evrathol. He had been kind to her when she started, and he was terribly handsome. Kashana giggled when the thought crossed her mind, and then she quickly covered her mouth to stifle the sound.

Just as she put her heavy cloth back down on the dark wood a knock reverberated down the hallway of the main entrance. Kashana dropped her rag on the table and started toward the door. She then thought that if whoever was at the door came into the living area…he or she would see the rag, so she quickly turned on her heels and grabbed the fallen cloth before scrambling for the door. Her hurriedness caused her to lose her breath by the time she reached the entrance, and another resounding knock occurred just as she swung the heavy door open.

Kashana suppressed a surprised squeal when she saw who it was that graced the doorstep…the Emissary. The young girl had only seen the man once, when he and his guard arrived a month ago. It had been so exciting, and now he stood before her. She stared, wide-eyed, at his smooth face and light eyes. She was so in shock, in fact, that she forgot to greet the man, and only after he cleared his throat, did she remember her duty. “Oh! I am so sorry, sir…Emissary, sir.” She stumbled. “I am afraid the General is not at home today. Would you like me to tell him that…” The Emissary motioned with his hand for her to stop talking, and she obeyed. “I have come to speak with the Lady Arlomë.” Kashana’s eyes widened again. “Oh, I apologize, sir. I will tell her you are here.” The servant, then, stepped away from the door and started to close it, before realizing the Emissary was still on the step. Quickly, she swung the door open again, and while profusely apologizing, she invited the Emissary into the villa.

Cursing herself as she went for being so childish, the young servant hurried through the hallways of the estate until she reached the General’s library. Earlier she had seen Lady Arlomë enter the room, and Kashana hoped she would still be there. Knocking softly on the door, Kashana slowly opened it and called the Lady’s name.

“Yes, Kashana?” Arlomë answered distractedly. She sat at her husband’s desk carefully studying the sketches that filled the book that was sprawled open on the desktop.

“I am sorry to interrupt, my lady, but you have a visitor.” Kashana stepped through the door of the library, but only barely, and she kept her head lowered, not looking at the Elven lady.

“A visitor?” Arlomë questioned softly, almost to herself. “Who is it, Kashana?”

Kashana looked up and answered with an expression of wonderment. “The Emissary, my lady. He asks for you.”

Arlomë was quite surprised and her shock momentarily flashed across her face before she caught herself. “Thank you, Kashana. Ensure his comfort and I will arrive shortly.” The young servant nodded and slipped out of the library. Why the Emissary would call for her, Arlomë knew not, and she felt her spirit troubled by the situation. After closing the Morgôs’ book, the Elf straightened her silk robe and strode to the large sitting room that set near the home’s entrance.

The Emissary rose when she entered the room. “Lady Arlomë, it is a pleasure to see you again.” The man wore a charming smile, but Arlomë could see hesitancy in his eyes as he stepped forward and took her hand in greeting. “And you, Emissary.” She nodded her head to him.

“I apologize for not sending a messenger before my arrival.”

Shaking her head, Arlomë answered, “There is no need for apologies. What can I do for you this morning?”

“I have been told that many of the plants, here in Pashtia, are used for medicinal purposes, and when I inquired about their properties, I was told that you, my lady, have more knowledge on the subject than anyone in Kanak.”

Arlomë looked curiously at the Emissary, studying his face as he spoke. He was very charming, but something told her he was not keen on the idea of dealing with her. “I have studied the plants of Pashtia for many years. If you are interested, please join me in my personal gardens, and I will tell you what you wish to know.”
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Old 02-02-2005, 05:13 PM   #163
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Faroz bid the Lady Arshalous sit upon the cushions that had been left for her at the base of his divan. In this, his private audience chamber, the scale was not so grand or intimidating as in the main hall, but the room was still arranged with due sense to the primacy of the King. He sat somewhat above the Lady then, as she settled down. He offered her tea and the Lady accepted, apparently happy for the diversion. Tea was brought and Faroz poured it out for them, and while Arshalous was as familiar with the ritual as she was with the contents of her own closet, to see the King pouring out her drink still thrilled her somewhat.

When they had both taken the first sips of their tea they sat in silence for a time. The private chamber was high up in the Palace, built in the inner wall to overlook the garden. The clouds that had been threatening rain all day roiled above their heads but still the birds of the garden continued their calls. A chill wind blew through the arches and swirled about them both, lifting the corners of the tapestries that hung about. The King took another sip of his tea before fixing the Lady with his gaze. “You are not, I believe, a friend to your cousin Korak?”

The suddenness of the question startled the Lady, and before she could prevent herself the truth escaped her lips. “I am not, majesty.”

The King nodded at his, accepting it for the dangerous thing that it was. “May I ask why you and he are at odds?”

The Lady looked confused for a moment, flushing deeply, whether with discomfort or shame he could not tell. When she did reply, however, it was in an even tone. Her composure impressed the King. “It is difficult to know, Khamul. He and I were once close, when we were children, but times and people change. I cannot say at what moment we parted, but…such a moment has come.” She paused, gathering strength for her next question, and the King gave her the time she needed. “May I ask, majesty, why you inquire about this?”

The King fell into a silence and looked away from her. “To answer that my Lady Arshalous, I must tell you a story…

“It is a story of love and betrayal, as so many stories are, but I am afraid that is it not yet finished so it may be an unsatisfactory tale for all that it is composed of the things that we want from our stories. There was a King once who was powerful and beloved by his people, but who in private was stern and heartless, perhaps even cruel – yes, let us say that he was cruel – to his wife. The King and his wife had little love for each other, as their marriage had been forged in the furnace of war and he had taken her to assert his claim over the lands of a mighty rival. One day the Queen met another man. He was gentle, perhaps, and kind. Or perhaps he was handsome and winning in his ways. I do not know. Whatever charm it was that he possessed however, he was able to capture the Queen’s heart. They would meet in private, fearful, no doubt – even terrified – of disclosure for they both well knew the terrible wrath of the King. After a time the Queen realised that she was with child, and knowing that it could not be the King’s, for he had been away at war during the spring, she panicked. Or, perhaps, she did not panic, but merely came to her senses. Maybe even it was her lover who decided that the risk was too great and forsook her…I do not know… I can tell by the look in your eye, my Lady, that my story-telling is far from masterly. I apologise, but as I said, it is a tale still in the writing and I do not yet know its full shape. It is why I have called you here today.

“However it ended, it was over, and the Queen was with child. The baby was born hard upon the beginning of the cold season. A chilling wind was howling that day, and it is said that in the temple of Rhais a fire began of its own accord in the goddess’s brazier: a sign, no doubt, that the child would be the heir that the King had so long desired. The Queen lied to the King and said that the child had not been expected for at least another month and the King, deluded, perhaps, by his own lust for a male child, was fooled. He accepted the boy as his own. The Queen never told the King or her child the truth.

“The boy thrived and grew into manhood and in the fullness of time his father passed and he assumed the throne. He took a wife to himself, and like his father the match was a political one, undertaken for the safety of his people. He might have gone on in this manner the rest of his days but for an ambitious noble. Somehow, this noble had acquired a letter – a love letter. It was from the Queen and addressed to her lover, whom she did not call by name but referred to only as the Lord of her Heart: a pun, no doubt, on her husband’s title as the Lord of her Hand. In this letter she wrote of their child, assuring her lover that the King did not know the babe was not his own, and assuring him that she would take the secret to her grave to ensure the safety of her son. He was her only child, for her husband – having seen to the production of an heir – had taken to visiting mistresses in the city. One of them even bore him a son whom the King made sure to install as a priest in the temple of Rae. The noble who had this letter was a fool, and more dangerous still, a greedy fool. He saw in the letter only a way to further his own ambitions. He said that if the King agreed to unite him in marriage to the princess, then the noble would keep the letter safe. Safe, that is, for as long as the noble was alive. Should anything happen to him, the letter would be published abroad.

“The King pleaded – yes, pleaded – with the noble, trying to get him to look beyond his own petty ambitions and to pay regard to the needs of the people and the good of the kingdom. If it were to become known that the King were not the true heir, then the King’s enemies to the North, who had allied themselves to him in marriage, would be furious at the deception and the peace that had been wrought would fall. The Northern enemies had thought they were marrying their princess to the son of the King and the true heir of the kingdom – to reveal that it had all been a lie would have been to invoke ruin on them all! But the king was unable to convince the noble, and he was forced finally to agree that the noble could marry the princess. The King knew that this was but the first demand, and that eventually the noble would want to be named heir. But what could the King do? To refuse the terms of the deal offered him by the noble would be to risk publication of the letter and the destruction of his world.”

Faroz looked at Arshalous with an intensity that frightened her. His hand had moved beneath his clothes and he clutched at something hidden and terrible. It radiated a menace throughout the hall, filling her with loathing and dread and it seemed as though the clouds above them thickened, plunging the room into darkness. In the distance there came the dry rumble of thunder, and she knew that rain was coming. The King resumed speaking. “But then one day the King found a way to retrieve the letter. It would take time and patience, but eventually he knew that he could get it. When he did, then he would no longer be under the sway of the noble and would be free to act against him. The king dared not do anything against the lord openly, for even with the letter gone the noble could still cause trouble. Perhaps the noble knows more than he says? Perhaps there were other documents, and maybe – even – he knew who the King’s real father was. No, the risks of openly attacking the noble are too great. A more delicate solution is required. And the King is nothing if not…delicate…in such matters. But even a mighty King such as he, even one with the power of life and death over his subjects, requires allies in such matters. So he turned to a powerful lady of the city, one who is cousin to the noble, one who is isolated from the other nobility, one whom he can trust because she has nowhere else to turn, and one whom he knows despises their common enemy. The King summoned her to his presence and asked her if she would aid her King in the preservation of her kingdom. He asked if, when the time came for him to move against Korak, would she be willing to help him in the downfall of her cousin?”
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Old 02-03-2005, 01:59 PM   #164
Novnarwen
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Boots Pelin's message...

Tarkan

“I had hoped, Priest, to learn your feelings on the Emissary. My brother and I have a difficult decision to make, and I seek not just to please our own desires in the matter but to reach a decision that works for everyone.”

He looked at the Princess, not certain how to respond. He had expected this question, but not from her. Seeing her standing in front of him though, he realised that it was only natural that the King’s children turned to religious leaders for guidance in serious matters. He hoped he was correct in assuming this, yet he could not be certain of anything. Had the Princess asked the High Priestess Zamara the same question, or was she testing him? Feeling uncomfortable by Gjeelea’s big, beautiful, penetrating eyes, he tried avoiding her gaze. Instead, his eyes met Pelin’s. The young servant of the new temple stood shuffling his feet, his whole figure being evidence of his uneasiness. Usually not caring about other people’s feelings, or anything that had anything to do with others, the Priest couldn’t help wondering though, why Pelin seemed so worried. Was Pelin listening to his conversation with the Princess, and in some way trying to hinder him from answering the princess? Or maybe, he was trying to get his attention, thus getting Gjeelea’s attention. Slightly disturbed by this thought, he shook his head and tried focusing on what to answer. What Pelin did or didn’t do was none of his concern, as long as it didn’t ruin his own plans of course.

“Pelin, will you take my belongings to the apartments?” Tarkan asked, suddenly caring. He wanted to have Pelin out of the way. He deemed it unnecessary for Pelin to eavesdrop or disturb the two of them in any other way.

Coming over, the young man stared intensely at the priest. “I need a word with you first,” he said calmly in a squeaking voice.

Sighing, the priest said with a fierce voice: ”Did I not tell you to take my belongings to the newly built apartments? . . . Please,” he said, emphasising the word ‘please,’ as he was starting to realise his mistake. Taking a step towards the young man, who was as glued to the wheelbarrow, he whispered: ”Are you intending to stand here forever to make my life miserable?”

Hearing this, the Princess opened her eyes wide. It did not only seem to shock her, these words spoken by the Priest, it seemed to have such a great affect on her that she hardly could stand still. Seeing the priest in this mood, she only said silently: ”If my coming was in any way inconvenient, I will come by tomorrow.”

The Priest ignored the Princess, still staring hard at Pelin, reproaching himself for letting his anger take control of him in front of a woman he intended to make his wife.

“It’s important, Father.”

Taking a step aside, excusing himself, he made Pelin follow. With this last comment, or what had seemed more like a request, Tarkan had had enough. No one was ordering him, or telling him what was important. Was the Princess not important, maybe? What could possibly be more important than her? Tarkan watched the Princess standing still, as if frightened, paces away; the distance between them was just enough for Pelin and Tarkan to talk quietly to each other without being heard,

“Pelin, Pelin, Pelin… You have disrespected me. Not just in public, but in the presence of the princess, and probably my Queen to come!” He listened to himself and heard how stupid it sounded. He had been inches from saying ‘wife’, but had luckily managed to utter the word ‘Queen.’ Swallowing, he knew that Pelin was not ready for another bit of his story; he was the rightful king to the throne, and Pelin probably knew that much. But if the young man also got to know his secret intentions about making Gjeelea his wife, it would most likely be too much for him, and what he had worked for would be put to ruin. Gazing into Pelin’s grey questioning eyes, he continued: ”I will have no of this, no more! Do you hear me! You will go and take my belongings to the apartments now, and you will do so without hesitating. Is that understood?!?”

Pelin nodded. “But… which apartment?”

“Which?!? Which?!? Are you mocking me? Tell me, Pelin.. Who am I?” Tarkan said sternly, his mouth twitching with anger. His face was so turned and so twisted that one could hardly recognise the Priest, whose figure seemed to grow in size where he stood. It seemed that the Priest’s anger had taken control of not only him, but Pelin as well. Trembling, the young man could do nothing but stand still like a helpless child who was facing an angry drunkard of a father. “I am Tarkan, Priest of the Temple of Rhais, but no more. Who am I now, from this day on?” Smiling cruelly, he continued:” You didn’t honestly believe you were going to be High Priest of the Temple, did you? I will tell you this as plainly and simply as I can: You will not be High priest; not in this Temple, not anywhere. I will and thus, I will have the apartment which is rightfully mine by title, and you know just as well as I, which apartment that is! Now, get moving. And if you so much as dear to approach the Princess again by getting my attention, I will make you wish you’d never met me.”

“The King wishes to see you instantly.” With these words, expressed in a most petty voice, Pelin turned on his heals and left the wheelbarrow standing in front of the Priest, who stood somewhat regretfully behind.

Biting his lips, he paced over to the Princess again, pretending that everything was fine. "The King, your father, wishes to see me," he started. His voice was clear. He watched the Princess furrowing her brow, most likely expecting him to say something more, as there had been a reason ofher visit. "When it comes to your question," he said, smiling faintly, seeing that her eyes brightened up, "I cannot give you a proper answer. I have not had the chance to get to know this Emissary well enough to make an opinion of him. I do believe however, that you, my Princess, will be able to make a decision that will please both your father and the people of Pasthia." He breathed heavily and muttered under his breath: "May the Mighty Rae . . . . and of course Rhais. . . be to your help making this burdensome choice. Now, I must leave you and do some errands before I see your father."

Last edited by Novnarwen; 02-21-2005 at 10:46 AM.
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Old 02-03-2005, 03:49 PM   #165
Amanaduial the archer
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Silmaril Zamara - a warning and a request...

While the dark clouds of the forming of new alliances moved through the palace, all remained still and peaceful in the ancient Temple of Rhais. Despite Morgôs' pretty blatant rudeness to her, she remained her usual unruffled self, and she put aside her natural curiosity as to why exactly the elf was actually in the temple: even mortals, despite the hustle bustle which they seemed to rely on in a city to survive, needed peace to pray once every so often. Maybe the elves did as well: just because Morgôs had fought so effectively and for so long in battles for Pashtia's good, this did not mean he did not have to fight his own demons, she supposed, just like everyone else...

The elf fights a battle... The words jolted Zamara. They reminded her suddenly of something that she had not conciously thought of for some time, yet which had been in her mind for the past month, on and off. She glanced anxiously across at Morgôs where he had taken up a position in front of Rhais, then looked away hurriedly, back at Siamak. The prince was also watching the elf, but with a deep, thoughtful look in his young eyes.

"Everyone needs time to pray, in peace and on their own," she said softly to him, bringing his attention back to her.

Siamak nodded slowly. "And everyone may have their own concerns about those prayers," he replied enigmatically. The Priestess looked at him hard for a second, wondering what, if any, the alterior meaning of that comment was. Then she shook her head, blinking a few times. "My apologies, Prince Siamak, I have had many thoughts and several unexpected visitors now today-"

"How so?" Siamak's reply was whiplash quick. Zamara grinned inwardly at the speed with which he had picked up on the comment as being possibly significant. The quiet, shy prince was apparently becoming more politically minded. "Yourself, if you don't mind my saying so; General Morgôs, of course, who I think I may have seen maybe once in the Temple before; and earlier, your sister, Princess Gjeelea, came to see me. She was asking about pretty much the same things as you," she continued smoothly, anticipating Siamak's next question as he tensed. "Tell me, Prince Siamak: with the current situation, is there still..." she stopped, and mentally rephrased her question so that it would appear less blatant or rude. "Have you and the Princess reached an accord on the matter of the Emissary?"

Siamak remained silent, and his brown eyes flickered away from Zamara's after a second, reaching up to see Rhais'. Zamara nodded ruefully. "My...my apologies, your majesty, I did not mean to pry. I simply wondered, as your sister came in here earlier asking me also about the goddess and her devices..."

"What did you tell her?" he asked softly.

Zamara hesitated, remembering Gjeelea's strange words, and decided not to mention to her brother everything that the Princess had said. Her views on Gjeelea were changing, despite the childish facade that she had attempted to fool the priestess with: she was a most exceptional individual indeed. The High Priestess fixed Siamak with her steady gaze so that he, like his sister, was forced to meet her strangely blueish eyes. She saw his brow crease slightly but spoke before he said anything. "Prince Siamak, I have spoken to the goddess on this matter, as I am sure the priests have consulted Rae about it. I...I am not sure, on this topic, what..." she trailed off, apparently distressed, and looked away. She had almost revealed a great fear to the Prince, a fear that could never be voiced. Taking a deep breath, she continued. "You must pray to the goddess and ask for her guidance yourself, Prince Siamak, if you want my advice. You have never, it seems, taken a side between one deity or the other, and as the people seem more and more to turn away from Rhais, I do not think this will be missed. She will watch for you, if you will watch for her, Prince Siamak."

The Prince looked like he was about to say something more, before he pressed his lips together and nodded curtly. "Thank you, High Priestess Zamara." He nodded again politely, and began to turn away. Zamara leant forward quickly and laid a hand on his arm, her dark fingers brushing the rich fabric of his sleeve lightly. Siamak paused and turned back to her, by his expression probably guessing at some blessing. But Zamara's gaze was somewhat more intimate than that. She leant forward so that her loose, wavy hair was almost touching his face as she murmured into his ear, her voice seeming strangely breathy, as if it was not quite her own. "Times are changing, Siamak. The time of Rae is coming, but those faithful to Rhais... the Priestess will pray for you, be sure of it. Peace be with you: watch out for those who would value the power of steel over the peace of the earth."

Zamara leant away, and something about her seemed to relax. Siamak hesitated for a second, confused, then, nodding quickly, he turned away and left the temple. Zamara blinked a few times and rubbed her forehead, trying to regain her train of thought. She hoped she had left Siamak with something to think about, but rather thought that she hadn't been much advice at all...

Hearing a movement behind her, the Priestess saw Morgos standing, also watching Siamak leave, and he began to follow, but Zamara stopped him, moving towards him swiftly, her white robes gently brushing the stone floor and her sandals silent. "General Morgos, please, would I be able to talk to you for a moment?"

Morgos almost seemed to sag, his expression weary as he reluctantly tore his eyes from the retreating prince's back to look at Zamara, even as he took a step of his own towards the exit. "Priestess, I have many things to attend to and-"

"It is about the elves, General."

Zamara did not know what urgency compelled her, or why she felt such a strong need to find out about this, but the thoughts that had been brewing in her mind needed clarification, and Morgos could help her more than any, she was willing to bet. Her heart was thumping in her chest as the elf froze mid-step and turned towards her quickly. "The elves? What about the elves, which? What do you know about them, Priestess, why is it that you bring them up?" Morgos's eyes were strangely bright.

Zamara cocked her head on one side thoughtfully, resisting the urge to back away as the elf took a step towards her so he was dangerously close, and she noticed out of the corner of her gaze that his fists were tightly clenched. She also noted how thin and pale he suddenly seemed to her. Hesitating, she murmured a few words then turned and mounted the steps to the statue of Rhais and spoke softly to Tayfar where she was trimming the lamps around Rhais' feet. The girl nodded respectfully at Zamara's request, and scurried away to do as the High Priestess had requested. Turning back to Morgos, Zamara descended the steps swiftly and slipped her hand through the elf's arm to lead him behind the statue to the courtyard where she had often spoken with his wife before. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she began. "Morgos...may I ask you what you know of the elves' arrival in Pashtia?"
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Old 02-03-2005, 09:56 PM   #166
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Arshalous stared at the king, rigid with shock, seething with horror as she realized what the king might ask her to do, loathing at the unpleasant prospects, and fear of the dark doom that had fallen into the room, of the taste of...sneaking and plottings that filled her mouth. Lightening flickered across the tapestried walls, thunder clashed, and a dark presense pressed heavily upon her. The king looked intensely at her and he clutched at something against his chest.

Rising to her feet, Arshalous stood and faced the wall. "This powerful lady," she said softly, "was shocked when she heard the king's story. Though she held no love for her cousin and wished to see him fall, she feared what the king might ask of her. She knew that dark things were being whispered, plots that might very well end up unhappily, leaving nothing but regret and sorrow in its wake."

Slowly she turned, staring into the king's eyes. "The king was right when he said that the lady had no where to turn. The lady could feel the walls of a prison enclosing her, could feel the shackles clanging shut. She knew it would not be wise to refuse her king, and besides, the thought of bringing her cousin down into the dust was like sweet wine laced with poison. Trapped between desire and fear, she knew that there was but one answer she could make. She told the king that she would help him when the time came. And that, my lord, is all that I know of this story of love and betrayal."
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Old 02-04-2005, 11:58 AM   #167
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Dark-Eye

Someone entered the door. Evrathol heard the voice of their servant Kashana, and another voice he did not recognize. Who could it be visiting them at this hour? Usually, their visitors came for one reason; to meet the General. Now as Morgos wasn't here… Someone close to Arlomë perhaps? Or maybe a someone waiting for him? He doubted the last option. But at the same time, he thought of Perkan. There hadn’t been much time for friendly conversations concerning politics or other matters lately. Evrathol smiled.

He eyes Kashana in the hallway. "Who was at the door, Kashana?" Evrathol requested. "The E-emissary, sir," Kashana replied quickly. Evrathol's eyes blazed. What was he doing here, was the only thought that struck him. His eyebrow raised as if suspicious. "Really...?" He muttered. "And did you tell him that the General is not here?" Evrathol continued. "Yes, yes, I did," the servant said. "And..?" Evrathol then said. Kashana felt a bit uncomfortable as the questions continued. "Well, the Emissary is here for another cause, sir. He wanted to speak with your mother. I invited him in and Arlome should be with him any moment now," Kashana then explained. Evarthol was confused by these words. What would the Emissary want with his mother? What could it possibly be? Evrathol stood there in his own thoughts, while Kashana looked at him not knowing what else to say; "I'm sorry, I'm still not finished cleaning, so if you'll excuse me."

"Oh, I apologise. It wasn't my intention to stall you. Please go back to your work," Evrathol said smiling weakly. The servant nodded and did a humble courtesy before leaving.

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Old 02-04-2005, 01:38 PM   #168
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The Ruin of the Avari

Morgôs was visibly jolted by the High Priestess’ inquiry. This marked the third time this month that someone had asked him a particularly out-of-the-ordinary question; first Siamak about the Old Gods, his wife about his books, and now Zamara. Zamara, though, sounded as if here question would be doggedly asked, even if it was only an offhand query (Morgôs had guessed that that was the sort of person she was) and was asked with hidden intentions in mind. His look of strange obsession turned to mired adulation, Morgôs spoke, asking: “You mean their first coming to Pashtia, yes?” The phrasing had confused him as well. “Yes.” She calmly replied. Walking cautiously through the courtyard, he answered, stammering a bit.

“This is not an easy question to answer.” Zamara looked at him patiently as he stopped walking. “I have the time to hear it.”

Morgôs, sighing in defeat, was about to begin, when his tuft of an eyebrow rose delicately, as if he had had a very minor epiphany. “Did the Prince put you up to this?” Zamara shot him a strange look and shook her head. “No. Whatever do you mean?” Morgôs took a healthy, deep breath, saying, “Nothing, I suppose. Very well, I shall tell you what little I know. It has been a very long story since I have told my version of the story to anyone, especially a mortal.” He stood now, stock still, peering down at the pristine ground, and readied himself for brief oratory. Like the finest of speechmakers, he began.”

“The truth is, I may well have been there when it happened, but after a thousand years, one’s memory becomes hazy. I do remember a great many events that occurred during that time, but exact memories have all been blurred by time. It was the Elves who found mortal men beneath the pale slopes of the Red Mountains. They were most curious at the time, not as civilized as one might think. They had built many villages, and some towns, but were otherwise primitive. The Elves, my kindred, were at that time nomadic, and let themselves be allowed into sedentary mortal society, becoming part of the sovereign nation of Pashtia, just named and founded by a chieftain, who proclaimed himself a lord of men. Many tribes refused the rulership of the chieftain, but my kin accepted it and advised the King for years, becoming part of the society that swelled about them. They were revered by some, but hated by others, and, though the chieftain thought highly of them, or should I say, us, others whom he gave power did not. When the chieftain died, without leaving an heir, a dissolute one took his place and...” he trailed off dolefully, turning his eyes down again, “Well, you know the rest.”

“Yes,” Zamara replied with a cool demeanor, even though she knew how touchy a subject this might be for such an ancient Elf, “the Elves were enslaved.” Morgôs nodded, his features frozen stiff, “That is all in Pashtian history books, as are the annals of Pashtia’s chaotic origins. Why have you asked these questions? I am sure that you, in your wisdom, could have uncovered the answers without my help.” Again, Zamara replied with an air half-aloof, as if she was detached from his words, but still curious.

“Yes, I could have. But, General, could you tell me more?”

Morgôs spoke coldly. “What more do you need?” Zamara’s detachment ended instantly as she persaistently maneuvered. “Just more.” She said, emphasizing the word, “You say you were there, you must no more than just those bland facts. Many things about Pashtia’s history have been lost, but you stand before me, a living witness to events which most men have forgotten. This is information of great value, which has probably not remained intact over the hundreds of years. All I ask is that you shed some light on the matter. Surely-”

The Elven General cut her off suddenly, his face losing a shade of color as he did so.

“Fine, if you must know.” He seemed unable to ready for the speech, and was launched into it before he could stop himself. He felt his mouth moving, a words issuing from it, but he did not have time to consider them before they came out. “We were roaming the land, homeless and without food or shelter. Our kin, wise and strong, had gone from us to their doom, tantalized into leaving by a creature of which we no longer speak, who took them to the west. After that day, terrible storms blew down upon us from the sea, thunder from the heavens and quakes from the earth.” Slowly, he was becoming less himself, and again his eyes darkened vilely as he spoke, and his voice trembled, with either spite or anger. “Our troubles increased a hundred fold and we knew not why. We could no fathom why the world was changing so, and it hurt us deep within, for it was our world that was being rent asunder, perhaps by your precious Rhais indeed!” He snapped this at Zamara, who was unprepared as Morgôs’ presence swelled and became shadowy like the night. “The stars we loved were blotted from the sky and waves crashed against our homeland. We fled the paradise we had nurtured for so long, and all went into darkness. We were lost.”

He paused for barely a moment, becoming energetic in his speech, and Zamara hastened to pacify him. “I am sorry.” She said, but Morgôs was unaffected, instead replying with a spiteful bite. “You should be.” He cried out, “It is your fault!”

This completely disoriented Zamara. “How is it my fault, General?” Morgôs, his regal eyes narrowed like those of a desert predator, replied with icy rage filling him very slowly. “It is the fault of man!” he shot back, “The coming of mortals lost me my homeland and many of my brethren. It cost me my stars and my sky, replacing the beauty I knew with a vessel that, to mortals is called golden and sunny, but to me is no more than a celestial fraud.” He growled the words terribly, his face twisting into a snarling expression, “All because your God saw fit to make your creation a grand affair, and destroy my home as she made you.”

The High Priestess seemed both skeptical and concerned as she interjected. “How can you know this?”

“When we came to Pashtia, a primitive calendar had been created, so the mortals knew how much time had passed since their birth on the world. They were coeval to the disaster that took my home and my brothers, they had come into existence at that moment, or very shortly afterward if not then. Many of us refused to believe that one event had anything to do with the other, but I knew it was no coincidence. Either the thing who created mortals, in our image,” he added, angrily, “thought it would be best to destroy the old peoples before forging the new, or it was simply trying to issue grandiose fanfare about its creation. That is how it is your fault.”

As the last word died on his tongue, he relaxed, but, unlike before, did not stagger or collapse. He swayed slightly, and Zamara saw the change in him, his sudden fatigue and loss of wind, “I did not know, General.” She said, with possible genuine apology in her voice, but, as she moved towards Morgôs to help him (just as Arlomë had) he waved her off. “You could not have known.” He paused as he regained himself and looked towards her, now rueful, still weary, “Nobody knew. I have never told any mortal the truth.” He breathed distortedly, as if he was short of breath, half gasping for air, but Zamara was now too curious to see his discomfort. “Then why did you tell me?”

“I do not know.” Morgôs shook his head, coughing, but managed to settle himself. Zamara grasped his arm as he swayed more, but he instead took hers and leaned in towards her, whispering in a conspiratorial manner. “You see, when we came to Pashtia, we resolved to look our best for these newcomers, and take them under our wing, so we concealed the truth of our survival. They did not know we were lost and helpless, many of our kind slain by the elements. We did no many more things than they, so we could convince them that we were wise and powerful, from a mighty land from which we had left to seek the far horizon. They believed us willingly and we became lords among them. For millennia, the secret was kept, though some have been told. No noble or lord or king has ever learned the fact, for that tale holds darker truths as well, those that I cannot reveal to you, even after you know all this.” He released her arm, and stepped back weakly.

After another moment of breathing deeply, he had fully returned to normal, and stood stiffly up. It seemed as if he had never been anything other than what he was at the moment; serene and serious.

“Now then, I have a question for you. Why have you asked all these questions?”
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Old 02-04-2005, 07:32 PM   #169
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Siamak paused once outside the temple. It had been a disappointing visit. Well, not wholly. The information that Gjeelea, too, was talking to different people was interesting. But this was not what he had hoped to find. He had wanted advice from the High Priestess and found none save that he should remain loyal to Rhais and pray to her directly for counsel. A thought occurred to him. Surely, had the goddess disclosed Zamara with advice, she would have informed him. But why would the goddess not have imparted wisdom concerning an issue that would impact Pashtia so greatly? Surely the goddess would not abandon the people in their hour of need. And, if the High Priestess did not know, how was he to find out? Siamak was now certain that he and Gjeelea would have to decide this issue on their own, without divine intervention.

Siamak sighed impatiently. Morgôs had seen him leave, surely, and had said that they would meet outside. Fat raindrops began to fall from the sky. The General had also said that they would conduct the lesson outside, but Siamak saw little chance of that. He was grateful to the overhang covering the entrance to the temple; it kept him dry. So where was Morgôs? He had been kneeling when Siamak left, but Siamak had never thought the General was much for religion, and this thought was only solidified by some of the subtle hints in the General's manner of speaking. Not that religion was a major topic in their meetings, but deciphering small hints in people's words had been one thing which Siamak had picked up on quickly, and it surprised him that he had not figured it out before. Now that he understood, talking with the nobles was no longer a threatening ordeal.

Siamak moved closer to the doors, half tempted to go find out what was keeping the General. He did not think that he could actually go in, not after coming right out, and anyway, it might seem rude to be so impatient. No sooner had he edged closer to the door than he heard the sound of voices, muffled by the distance. One of them, Siamak recognized it as Morgôs', was quite loud, in fact. Siamak could not make out anything save the tone, and it was clear that the General was worked up about something. There was only one topic that Siamak had ever seen Morgôs get truly passionate about: Elves of long ago. He backed away from the door hastily, feeling slightly guilty for listening in, though he reasoned that it could not really be eavesdropping since he had not actually heard any words. His interest was piqued, however, especially since he supposed it must be the High Priestess he was speaking to since there was no one else in the temple. He would never actually inquire about it, but he was intrigued nonetheless. At any rate, he now knew the mood of the General and how best to act with him.

Siamak sighed again. Not too much longer, he hoped. Well, he didn't have anything that needed doing anyhow and leaned against a broad pillar to wait, watching the steady drip, drop of the rain.
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Old 02-07-2005, 03:53 PM   #170
Aylwen Dreamsong
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[To be added when Tarkan answers the princess…]

-

After she had turned and left Tarkan, Gjeelea smiled smugly as she stalked out of the rooms. It was almost funny to Gjeelea that these ‘valued citizens’ and ‘important Pashtians’ might believe her when she told them their opinion mattered to her. The princess had made her decision about the Emissary as soon as King Faroz had left the burden to her and Siamak. The trips around the city to speak with dignified citizens was meant only to soothe the minds of Pashtia – Gjeelea knew everyone would feel better if they thought the princess actually cared about their opinion of the Emissary.

She had not taken five steps out into the street before seeing Korak walking towards her. Gjeelea stopped and waited for the man, glancing idly at the sky and wondering if and when it would rain.

“What are you doing here?” Korak snapped, and Gjeelea raised a brow. He does not talk to me like that, the princess thought defiantly. No man talks to me like that. “Darling,” he added between clenched teeth.

“I was speaking with the Priest,” Gjeelea informed her betrothed. Korak took steps closer to her, and Gjeelea peered up at him, surprised at how tall he was compared to her. “I could ask the same of you, Lord Korak. What brings you to this part of your business investment?”

“I had hoped to find you.”

“That is strange,” Gjeelea murmured, flashing Korak a coy smile. “Where were you this morning? I had hoped to take the morning walk with you, but you were not at your estate when the messengers sent. Were you out riding? Perhaps you were overseeing the temple?”

Gjeelea wondered when she would run out of things to say to Korak.

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Old 02-07-2005, 04:37 PM   #171
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"Yes, I was indeed overseeing the temple," said Korak, and fell silent. He had been waiting for quite some time for the opportunity to see the Princess, and now he found he had nothing to say to her. He struggled for words. It would be easy to run into a long train of conversation that amounted to nothing, but he suddenly felt cautious. Perhaps he had a suspicion that Lady Arshalous was still near. Perhaps he had a suspicion that the Princess would report whatever he said to her father. Whatever it was, he felt that he must choose his words carefully. He wouldn't want to say anything that would put him in a dangerous position.

"I still am overseeing the temple," he went on, trying to sound smooth, and not strained as he felt, "though I intend to leave before too long, and return to my mother. She grows lonely when she is left all alone." He wondered if she were laughing at this strange sympathy for his mother, and he also wondered if he did not actually harbour some feelings for his mother that did not like him to leave her alone for very long. He coughed, and went on.

"It looks to be a magnificent achievement, do you not think?" A thought occurred to him... what if the Princess was opposed to the building of the temple? He would refrain from showing any triumph over the fact that it was being built. And so he could think of nothing to say. He fell into silence. It was terribly awkward, this business of pretending love. He could think of nothing to say.
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Old 02-07-2005, 07:06 PM   #172
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"Indeed, Lord Korak," Gjeelea agreed with Korak. The building would certainly come out beautifully. "Your money is well spent on a lovely temple." The princess flinched when she saw the pleasure in Korak's gleaming eyes. "Though I fear that the earth was not meant to be a battle ground for the gods. Competition between Rae and Rhais is not done."

Gjeelea smiled up at Korak, who had averted his eyes. For all the wealths Korak had inherited, there were so many things he did not have - things that Gjeelea could not give him. Korak had not an ounce of love in his body; his judgement of people was not moral wealth but purely based on pecuniary matters. The princess wondered if she had earned such a horrible man to wed; was it somehow her fault, her bad acts in the past, that had brought this unfairness upon her? Gjeelea did not know.

"Korak, why do you marry me?" The princess asked. He looked at her, shocked, like the answer should be so obvious. Maybe it is, Gjeelea thought, then she wondered if Korak even knew what he had gotten himself into. "You have so much already, and it is a gamble to marry one who might not be queen. If Siamak becomes king you will have nothing more than you have now. I have many enemies, perhaps more than enemies than even you have amounted in your life."

Korak said naught in reply. Did the comment sting where she hoped it would?

"No matter what happens - whether you are lucky enough to become king or unlucky enough to have just me and your current financial status," Gjeelea continued, "You will live and die with a wife whom you do not love and who does not love you back. You will die a rather lonely man, Lord Korak."

Once more, Korak did not speak. The princess saw something in his eye, but she could not place it. She could not tell if his gaze held anger, or understanding...Gjeelea was not even certain that he had heard her words. Perhaps he dismissed the words of his future wife.

"I should like to see your mother," Gjeelea murmured after a long, awkward silence between them. "It will be good to see her again. Shall we go?"
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Old 02-09-2005, 12:29 PM   #173
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Boots Into the Heart of Darkness

The clouds streamed overhead like merchants off to work at the market, intent on their business and without a meandering glance to the side or elsewhere. Some blew quickly out of the frame of Bekah's vision; others massed more solidly overhead, sending shadows inking down over roof and tower and wall. It would rain soon, Bekah thought, the kind which falls heavily and quickly and which puddles deeply on the streets and gullies, falling so quickly the earth cannot contain it, and then, just as quickly, disappearing. For now, the shadows boxed around the new construction, darting forth and back, as if climbing this paen to the sky god ahead of everyone else. As she watched the tower?s construction, daily, growing taller and taller, Bekah wondered what had prompted this sudden desire to rival Rhais. Zamara had been too busy with these events, talking among those who revered Rhais, to visit her daily and help with her correspondence after her injury but Bekah knew the High Priestess was concerned.

It had been a fall, Bekah ruminated, a fall of remarkable proportions, although not her own, but the King's. She had as yet been unable to suggest as much to the High Priestess, and so her metaphor remained in the eyes of the court the literal truth. In the past month Bekah had often played over in her mind the events of her last audience with Khamul, becoming more firmly convinced in her mind that the King was no longer capable of attending to the best interests of his own nation, so firmly drawn was he to this Emissary. Or was it that ring, which he had been willing to harm her over, to regain possession? "Who or what has possessed Faroz?" Bekah asked, over and over.

Also over the past month, she had considered who she might turn to to express her concerns, with Zamara unable to respond to her request for help with the correspondence. Arlomë had disappeared behind the walls of her own estate, where Morgôs was apparently yet again lost in the kind of ritual seclusion which he more and more was retreating to. "The Avari hold themselves to be a higher kind," Bekah thought to herself, "yet they seem so little involved with their responsibilities to the affairs of this world." She worried that the nation's chief officer of the army was so absent. "No wonder people wished to limit the Avari's time of service," she thought. Yet who could she turn to? Arshalous was a vain and petty woman, more concerned with the rivalries of her house than those of state. Her children had not once returned to speak with her of events or their monumental decision. Tarkan was a brooding question who had never yet shown any discipline or strength and Bekah mistrusted him as one of the architects of this tower to Rae. Korak? Was that her only recourse? Bekah turned away from her thoughts to watch the construction again.

The workers looked like scarabs, scurrying back and forth, overshadowned now by the tower to Rae itself. Bekah became mesmerised watching the movement of worker and cloud, the second overshadowing the first, swirling like tea leaves over a sugar cube until it is lost to sight. The light seemed to slink away and she was overcome with cold and her senses dulled. Something appeared over the tower, forming out of the clouds. An eye? Was that it? Tall battlements very far away came into focus, with strange creatures flying around it. A red flaming eye pierced her thought and gloated over her;she felt herself fermenting with intense hatred and cruelty. She would have swooned had Homay not appeared at her side, to lead her gently towards the cushionss of her meeting room.

The old nurse watched as her old charge slowly came round, the yellow patches of her face dissipating into the caramel colour of her tawny skin.

"You have had the same experience, again." she murmured to the Queen.

Bekah nodded and waited for her breath to return. "This time, more clearly. It is this Melkor, I am certain. He has overtaken our god Rae and wishes to destroy our faith in Rhais."

"The healer is here, Majesty, to attend to your arm. Perhaps you can talk of this with her." Bekah assented and collected herself, willing her body into a more formal deportment and whispering silent prayer to Rhais.

Rather than becoming shorter and fewer, these visits with Dahliyah the healer had become longer and more frequent. With the loss of contacts from the nomadic trading tribes and the cessation of communication from her brother the King of Alanzia, Bekah found another voice which kept her informed of events. Dahliyah was not the only healer in the royal city but she was one of the foremost, welcomed in the poorest hut as well as the palace. She said it improved her art, to learn as broadly of illness as possible, and, indeed, she had been instrumental in warding off a plague some years ago when she recognised its breeding grounds. At that time, she had saved Siamak from the fever and had won Bekah's grateful respect and thanks. The healing arts as well were interesting to Bekah, for she often surmised that more was involved than simply the application of herbs and poltices, balms and unguents.

And so it was that Bekah herself felt drawn to Dahliyah when the Healer was called in to attend to her injury. The soft and warm hands of Dahliyah gently touching the skin of her arm had soothed and calmed her and in return the Healer had found in the Queen a woman of similar age with a mind similarly keen and perceptive. And so it came about that after Dahliyah reset the splint on Bekah's arm, cleansing the skin with scented waters and soothing oils, she would often stay and talk over tea and sweet pastries which Tabari the maid always brought out in fine array.

The first visit had given Dahliyah ample opportunity to surmise the nature of the Queen's injury but she did not become a healer to the royal palace without understanding the nature and need for discretion. Perhaps it was this innate sense of discretion which allowed certain topics to be raised. Whatever it was, Dayliyah and the Queen came to talk often of the Emissary, the gift to the King, and the new context in which Pashtia found itself. Through her Bekah learnt that the people were made uneasy by this unexpected visitor and by the rapid changes in their normally placid routine. Bekah in fact learnt many things that were swept under the carpets and not discussed openly. This visit today brought many disclosures, Bekah describing her strange visions of fiery creatures and seething hatred as she watched the construction of the Tower and Dahliyah herself sharing her concerns, for this day she was greatly uneasy herself.

"You will be careful and not fall again, Majesty," Dahliyah advised as she finished the last tape which bound the Queen's arm, looking up into Bekah's eyes.

"I shall, Healer. Now I know how dangerous is the ground I tread and I will step more carefully," acknowledged the patient.

"The King will be pleased with that. I am sure he regretted your pain."

"He did, in his way. Yet he is much distracted these days. From all reports, he has other affairs to attend to."

A frown passed almost imperceptibly over Dahliyah's face, yet it did not pass unobserved.

"You are ill at ease yourself today, Healer. May a friend inquire what causes your discomfort?"

The woman leaned back in the cushions upon which they reclined and wished in her heart she could rid herself of her wound as easily as she helped relieve those of others. Yet there were others, many others, some much younger than she, who also were as pained to the point of being poisoned as she. Dahliyah decided it must be told, for a code of secrecy would only allow the beastial cruelties to continue.

"There are indeed many things happening in our city, many dark deeds which cry out for justice. Almost every day one hears stories not only of women, but of young girls who disappear or who have endured an unspeakable wound which poisons their life. Children fear to go out at night and parents watch fretfully at the door."

"Children attacked? Children? Many? I have heard nothing of this. What quarter of the city?"

"That is the troubling issue, Majesty, in that mostly the assaults occur in the poorer sections of the city. And some..." Dahliyah hesitated.

"Do not hesitate to speak the truth of what you know, my friend. We are facing so many momentous decisions that we cannot afford to silence any issue."

The Healer nodded. "At first the affronts were limited to the Aquaba quarter and then they spread to the nearby Halava section. Then, a week ago, there were two assaults near the villa of the Emissary, where he and his attendants are staying. The girls were badly harmed and as yet are mute with fear and shame."

"The Emissary's attendants. Fifty men with nothing to do. Yet are they not watched by our soldiers? "

"Majesty, our General has not been seen for some time. Our guards grow inattentive."

"And these men of the West are free to roam to satisfy their bestial urges."

Dayliyah shuddered; it was a movement the Queen could not ignore.

"You know something in particular of this? You are intimately involved? Speak, my friend, that I may offer some solace such as you have given me."

"Of the guards, no. I have merely been asked to attend to some of the families. But Majesty, the guards are not alone in their indignities."

Bekah looked directly in Dahliyah's face, her mouth forming the name that she dared not speak aloud, the name that, like The King, was spoken of with the formal address of the definite article.

Dahliyah closed her eyes, hung her head, her entire body slack with anguish. "I am a mature woman; I know life; yet never have I had my wishes ignored, my being denigrated, my self subjected to physical defilement. Except by this man who claims to be bringing peace and allegiance to our land." She opened her eyes and looked up at the Queen.

"I was returning home late, late one night, almost early morn, from attending a difficult birthing. At first, I saw nothing in the streets, but felt a cold, whispering wind, as if the walls had secrets they wanted to tell. Then behind me suddenly he appeared, a sneer on his face, a glowing sense of power in his eyes. He gloated; he grabbed me, and then he fling me aside, with a knock to the head. I awoke later, as the sun rose over the wall, and found myself bruised and bleeding."

"And now, how are you?"

"I will recover. Others will not. This cannot continue."

"Nor will it," said the Queen.

At that moment, Homay entered bearing Tabari's trays of sweets and tea. Homay's eyes showed her awareness of the conversation but her manner was the manner of all faithful servants who understand when and where to raise questions. With a nod from Bekah, she remained to share the afternoon repast, and the conversation drew on to other matters. Then, Tabari appeared, announcing that the Emissary was seen arriving at the Palace, summoned no doubt by the King.

Dahliyah rose. "I must return to my other patients."

Bekah rose also with her. "I ask you, my friend, to speak to my other friend, the High Priestess, of these matters. We must find a way to curb this influence of this false god, this Melkor."

Dahliyah bowed and withdrew, Tabari showing her out. "Tabari," called the Queen, "please send word to the Emissary that I wish to see him, if he has time." Tabari bowed acknowedgement and went out in search of him.

"Homay, you have heard the story. We must move discretely, but carefully, as the King places great trust in this man."

Homay nodded. "I will deliver what messages you wish."

"First, speak discretely to Korak of this matter, leaving out the name of the Healer but not that of the villian. We must arouse concern for our children. And ensure that the High Priestess hears as well. I would want Arlome to know as well, for perhaps she can persuade the General of the seriousness of this matter where I cannot. And, perhaps, if events prove terrible, my brother must know as well." Homay left the audience room by the Queen's private rooms, taking the private stairway which few knew of. None would know, in later days, how the Queen's concern for these events made its way around the city, for the voices of Dahliyah and Homay were protected, but it did, for always the stories of others will come to be told, however forcefully or cruelly some promote their own story as the only one.

At that moment, Tabari appeared, announcing the presence of the Emissary himself.

"You do me a great courtesy, Emissary, in finding time to speak with me when the King has called for you."

"I have learnt that in your city the influence and power of women is respected, and I come to pay my respects." The Emissary spoke these words smoothly, without a trace of sneer or irony in his voice, for he was apprehensive over the apparent rift between the King and Queen. Neither his Lord Annatar nor he had counted upon the Queen having such influence and he wished his mission to proceed successfully.

"You speak of respect for women. Your words are aptly made, for that is the subject I wished to address with you." As Bekah spoke with the man she watched him idly fingering something in his pocket, a mannerism she had recently seen Faroz take up. Is it possible there are two rings? She wondered. Does this foreign Lord earn homage and fealty through an object? In the background thunder could be heard and the clouds overhead massed to block the rays of sunlight which had flooded into the Queen's audience room. Bekah could feel the earlier ferment of hatred and fear return, creating icy prickles in her hands, arms, feet.

"There are reports of indignities visited upon our women. Troubling reports."

"Are these new reports?" commented the Emissary. "Surely such things are always with any culture."

"That would appear to be your understanding of people. Your god Melkor seems to favour brutality and cruelty. Our goddess does not. Nor our god." Bekah was not sure this was the best approach to take with the Emissary, but it was one she felt compelled to for some reason. And it was not, at least, the approach which in the short term resolved matters between them. For his part, as the interview grew more and more hostile, the Emissary began privately to curse to himself that Faroz was a fool for making an adversary of his wife instead of a helpmate. When she confronted him with his own involvement in events, he could contain his anger no longer.

"You fool. What do you know of events that are approaching? What concern is it of yours?"

"A concern of my people, whom I serve." At this point, Beka felt a blue rage of anger for this man who was destroyed everything she had spent her adult life trying to create.

"A former enemy? Serves her people?" He laughed, and as he did so the storm clouds broke and the tower was engulfed with a dark mist which seeped into the royal palace. Ashnaz felt an arrogant power stream into him as the thought that this woman could not be silenced with words entered his mind. He tightened his grip on the ring hidden under the folds of his tunic and he walked towards her menacingly. Bekah took two steps back towards the table which held the remains of the afternoon tea. When the Emissary lunged at her, she grabbed a knife and thrust it at his face, aiming for his eye. She barely missed, but left instead a deep trail of cut flesh down his face from forehead to jawline. He reached for her wounded arm, but she repeatedly slashed and stabbed with the knife, cutting his shoulder, his arm, his chest, until finally she had rent his tunic so much that the pocket was torn. The ring fell to the marble floor with a hollow ping and rolled away under the cushions.

Ashnaz roared with fury and heartbreak at the loss of his ring, but his howls were lost in the thunder. Eyes red with rage he stormed the smaller women, bringing his hands to her throat, his long fingers digging deeply into her flesh, cutting off her voice. She fell backwards and he overtop of her, energy surging into his hands as they pressed down, breaking bone, cartilage, windpipe. Bekah could at first see into his eyes, see a manical evil light them. Then as her vision dimmed she appealed to her goddess. "Rhais, Rhais, do not allow these male gods to win. They will enslave us. They will kill us. They will destroy you. Rhais."

How long Ashnaz lay there, his hands tight around Bekah's neck, he did not know. A streak of lightning burst through his senses and he climbed to his knees, searching desperately for his ring. Finding it finally, he struggled, his hands shaking, to put it on, his silent sobs subsiding once he felt the oneness with Annatar. Clarity broke through into his mind and he thought swiftly of what he must do. He tidied the scene, arranging the cushions, returning the knife to the table. His blood which had spattered was now, like himself, invisible, but his wounds remained.

He looked around, saw out the balcony window an opportunity, and decided upon it. He lifted Bekah's body, feeling it still warm and soft and supple and smelling the light scents of her perfumes and bathwaters lingering over her. He breathed deeply. She had been a handsome woman. Then he staggered to the railing, calling upon the powers of his Lord Annatar and his god Melkor, and knocked some pieces of stonework over. He threw the body of the Queen after them. She landed arms outstretched, a sandal knocked off her foot, in her garden, at the foot of the statue to Rhais, where he had once watched her worship. He swore, cursed the feeble flesh of woman, and disappeared into the secret reaches of the palace which Khamal had disclosed to him.

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Old 02-10-2005, 10:40 AM   #174
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The rain was pouring from the roofs of the Palace in cataracts as Rae visited his fury upon the hapless form of Rhais. His water carved deep channels through the earth, washing away whole banks of the River, causing it to twist about and shift, like a serpent in its own death throes. The sands of the dessert, just beyond the frail verdant strip of land that clung to the edges of the River, was turned to mud that slipped and sucked at the feet of those travelers unfortunate enough to be caught in the open by the deluge. In the streets and ways of Kanak, people ran for shelter in doorways and beneath such trees as they could find, but the waters rose and the streets became small rivers of muddy water. In the poorer quarters, entire households had their earth-packed floors become slippery muck that ruined their goods. In the richer homes, the torrent flooded the central courtyards and servants were hurriedly dispatched to bail away the waters before they breached the homes and ruined the silks and furniture of the nobility. The fury of the storm was great, and many in the City cast their eyes to the new Temple. Some felt that the God was angered in some way, while others hoped that He might see the new structure and take pity on them.

From out of the west there raced a solitary horseman. The animal had been cruelly driven beyond the endurance of mortal flesh, and its sides streamed with a thick foam of sweat that withstood even the punishment of the rain. His rider bore armour upon his back that had been rent and tattered almost beyond recognition, and his eyes were as red and ragged as his mounts. Those who still remained out of doors paused in wonderment as the rider tore along the road toward the City, the hooves of his tormented horse creating an endless series of geysers as they charged through the water that churned toward the River, seeking there the welcome embrace of Rhais after its torment by Rae.

In the Palace, the wailing of women could be heard even above the roar of the wind and of the water that fell in droves upon the garden. A sodden form, its humanity still lingering but slowly fading by the moment, lay upon the floor of the grand hall. About it there spread a pool of gentle pink as the rain from its garments mixed with the blood, forming a puddle upon the marble floor. The old woman Homay knelt by the form, beating her breast and crying out a grief that none there could understand, for she spoke now in her tongue of old. It was the first time that any had dared speak the language of Alanazia in that hall, but no-one tried to stop her. Beside her knelt the healer Dahliyah, gazing down, her own lamentations mixing with those of the aged Nurse. She had come immediately but there had never been any hope for the wretched wreck of humanity that they had brought before her. One look at her neck had told her the tale of violence that had unfolded. Behind the women stood two more forms: the aged Chamberlain Jarult gazed downward as though he had seen the end of the world, his hand mechanically making the old sign of warding against evil, over and over again. Beside him was the Lady Arshalous, and though she was soundless her eyes were large with terror at what had befallen. Surrounding these few figures, removed by a slight distance as though in respect or fear, were dozens of courtiers, soldiers and servants. Neither rank nor privilege was observed as they ranged about the ragged form: noble stood shoulder to shoulder with serving girl, and soldiers shed tears while aged women looked on dry-eyed with shock.

In a far corner, lost almost in the shadows that clung there, was the lone form of the King. He crouched into himself, his cloak cast about his head. Neither guilt nor terror nor grief had penetrated his mind yet, for at the sight of his wife’s body, ravaged and shattered, his world had become a mighty white blank and all he could feel was the overwhelming numbness of a loss unlooked for, and incomprehensible. He repeated to himself over and over, he did not know why, “I did not love her. I did not love her.” It was a confession. It was a lament. It was an accusation.

After a time a hand touched him upon the shoulder and he turned to look into the eyes of the healer. Her gaze was hard and she was speaking to the King, but he could not hear her for the roar of the rain – or perhaps it was the pounding of his heart. She spoke again, firmly but not unkindly. “Khamul,” she said, “your wife needs you.”

“What?” he stammered stupidly.

“She requires the final purification, majesty. The day is already well advanced and with this rain it will be difficult to build a sufficient pyre by morning. We must begin immediately.”

“Yes,” he said as though he were a statue new come to life. “The pyre. We must build the pyre by tomorrow. She cannot wait longer than that.”

“No,” she said soothingly, taking him by the hand and leading him through the crowd toward the Queen. “We women shall prepare her for the journey, but her husband must begin the purification. Oil has been brought, all you need do is anoint her eyes. Then we shall wash her and wrap her in silk, the pyre shall be built and tomorrow your children will lay her upon it.” She spoke these home truths to calm the King, and to give him something familiar to cling to. She knew how important these rites became to those who had to go through them. At the time of loss, the mind shuts down and refuses to act – only ritual gave it any form or movement. As she led the King forward she felt the familiar listlessness of grief in his arm, but she noted that his other hand clutched at his heart in a fist so tight that his tunic was bunched into a painful knot. She sensed then a terrible coldness radiating from the King, and centered upon whatever it was that lay beneath the folds of his silk. It was a familiar sensation, and painfully so, for she had felt the same when she had been attacked by the Emissary. The shock of recognition was so great that her step faltered and she almost let go the King’s hand but she composed herself in time and led him on.

The crowd parted and Faroz went toward Bekah. She was cold to the touch now and he knelt down to look at her. She was still lovely, and in the moment that he regarded her the lifetime that they had spent together came to him clearly. He had not loved her, but he had depended upon her and respected her. The memory of the last time that they had been so close came to him like a knife in the chest, and his eyes lingered upon the splints that were wrapped about her arm. In that second he felt as though he were responsible for her death and could almost have leapt to his feet and confessed to the crime, but for the weight of the Ring about his neck which bore him down. A small plain bowl with some oil in it had been placed upon the floor near her head, and he reached out to put some on his finger. His gaze went to the hideous marks upon her throat, the shape of her murderer’s hands clearly outlined in black upon her skin. Her eyes were still open and they stared at him, but he felt in them neither reproach nor forgiveness, for they were as lifeless as stone. He closed them, and anointed the lids with the cleansing oil to prepare her for her journey. He spoke the ritual words: “Farewell my wife, and my Lady. May you find peace and honour among the dead as you did in life. Those of us who remain will ever remember you and turn to your shade for guidance. Watch over our children, and await me in the next world when I shall come to you and enclose you in my arms once more.” His eyes closed and the first tears came. “Forgive me, Bekah.”

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Old 02-10-2005, 12:15 PM   #175
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Lord Korak led the Princess into his mother's chamber, where she stood by the fire. She turned when she saw them, and hastened to them. She curtsied to the Princess, and Korak leaned forward to kiss her cheek briefly. She looked the two of them up and down. "You're both quite wet from this rain," she said. "Korak, hasten to your room at once and change into something dry. Highness, perhaps you would not object to wearing some gown of mine... we will hang your own by the fire to dry."

"What foul weather," said Korak, his voice low and grumbling. "This will certainly delay the builders."

"But aside from that, you are light-hearted, son?" Lady Hababa questioned.

"Aside from that, I am light-hearted," he replied, and he departed, wondering if it were really true. What was there to bother him? All things were going the way he wanted them to go. The temple was being built, he was to marry the Princess soon, and he had, for once in his life, spoken to Arshalous in a way which left her room only for feeble answers. Yet he seemed caught in a mire, sinking slowly, yet steadily.

Lady Hababa turned to the Princess with a shudder. "My heart is not light," she said. "I fear that some great evil will fall upon us. I feel that some great evil has already befallen." She sank onto a chair, and sat there shivering for some time, while Gjeelea went into the inner chamber to change. When the Princess returned, clad in one of the old woman's loose gowns, she brightened somewhat and took the wet clothes from the Princess' arms, draping them over the back of a chair by the fire. Then she gestured for the Princess to sit down, while she flitted here and there, straightening things up. "It is always a great comfort to me to work," she said. "It keeps my mind occupied, and banishes, for a time at least, the thought of dark things."

"You fear that dark things are at hand?" said Princess Gjeelea.

"I do, at times," said Lady Hababa. "Yet, Highness, you mustn't listen to the worries of a tottering old woman. My mind is always uneasy in a storm, and when my son is away I worry for him. Perhaps it is the fact that he has spoken to the Lady Arshalous more often lately. Their spiteful words are certainly not music to my ears! Nay, my fears are groundless, I am sure, and merely brought by my recent worries. Now let us talk of cheerier things, for I hear my son's step in hallway."
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Old 02-10-2005, 08:02 PM   #176
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Lady Hababa brought a smile to Gjeelea's face; something about the woman was unbelievably kind and warm. For a moment the princess wondered why Lord Korak grew to be a man of such grim bitterness. Lord Korak entered and sat on the other side of the room, away from Gjeelea. A slightly perplexed look came across Lady Hababa's aging face, but she dismissed it and sat on a cushioned chair between the betrothed couple.

"It is cheery news indeed, Lady Hababa, that we should be married within the month," Gjeelea murmured, looking down at her lap as she spoke. Her voice was indifferent and uncaring. What other current affairs could be considered as 'cheery'? The princess wondered at the lack of actual happiness in her life. "Surely it pleases Korak?"

"Indeed," Korak uttered the simple agreement in a low grumble, an impatient grunt that brought Gjeelea's gaze flickering upward to meet his. Outside, a similarly low, almost inaudible rumble could be heard. Thunder? Gjeelea worried suddenly.

"Oh, this weather is truly dreadful," Lady Hababa complained, glancing over at the chair upon which Gjeelea's wet clothes were hung to dry. Then she looked to Gjeelea. "You really should stay until the storm is over."

"If it does not trouble you," Gjeelea said with a false smile. "I would very much enjoy your company until the storm passes."

"That is well then," Lady Hababa smiled as well. She looked at her son. "When will the wedding take place?"

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Old 02-11-2005, 12:12 AM   #177
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Tolkien

Arshalous shivered in the rain and wiped her dripping hair from her face. At her feet was the body of the queen -- her queen. Stone was scattered about her limp form as if the balcony had crumbled beneath her, letting her fall to the ground below. Thunder clapped and lightening flickered in the darkened sky. Arshalous' heart chilled as she saw the red marks that stained the queen's fine throat. No...she had not met her death that way...she had fallen. Doubt gnawed at her as she stared at the marks...but then she turned away. She must not think of that and she must not find out if her suspicions were true. Such knowledge would be deadly she was sure...

She turned away and rushed to her home. She was weary, she was frightened by the events of the day. She refused to think of her aunt, the mother of Korak...she cringed at the thought of grief that would surely be on Hababa's face when she discovered the plottings that had been whispered in the dark.

But right now she did not want to think about the plots, the deception, the strangeness of the Queen's death. The haunted, cold lump in her stomach was going to be ignored, washed away by a cup of soothing tea. Semra made such excellent tea...

"Semra!" she called, wringing her sodden garments at the door step. Her call echoed in the vast halls of her villa and there was no patter of footsteps or the answering call of her servant.

Arshalous licked her lips. Semra had never ignored her before she had always been a faithful servant. "Semra!" Maybe she had fallen alseep or was buried in a story that Arshalous had given her leave to read...Arshalous hurried to Semra's small bedroom but found it empty. "Semra!" she shouted, trying to stifle the vague feeling of concern.

Arshalous stared at the pouring rain, trying not to think of the rumours that were whispered of monsters of stories now arisen praying upon children and women. Surely one would not dare enter the house of noble. But...and she could not shake this gnawing thought...but what if one of them had been responsible for the queen's death?

With a surge of fear, Arshalous darted outside, running, trying to find Semra. She calmed her pace, laughing at herself. She was being a fool, letting the wild imaginings of children take hold of her.

She heard a moan, and she turned. Semra was there, lying in a puddle. Mud streaked her pallid cheeks, a tear trembled on her eyelash. She was as cold, oh so very cold.

"Semra!" Arshalous whispered, taking the girl in her arms and kissing her forehead. "What happened to you?"

Arshalous carried Semra into the villa, washed her face, made her warm. Soon Semra's eyes flickered open and she whimpered softly. "It was horrible my lady....there was a shadow darker than the blackest night and he came near to me, and I felt a chill wind that seeped into my body, driving all warmth from it. I was filled with fear, and...and the next I knew you were there and I was here. But it was so terrible my lady...it was as if I could feel an echo of the thing's being, and it was...devoid of all good thing..."

Arshalous stared at the wall and paced before the fire. "Oh Rhais," she whispered, "what has become of us?"
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Old 02-11-2005, 12:25 PM   #178
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"The precise date is not yet settled, Mother," said Korak, drawing his gaze from the fire to her face. Something was stirring within him. He felt restless, nervous. Was it merely because he found himself under the scrutiny of both his mother and the Princess? Perhaps the ominous rumbling of the thunder put him ill at ease. "We must speak with her father the King, of course," he went on, keeping his voice even with great effort, "and we must also speak the matter over with you. We want to ascertain that both her family and my own are able to attend on the day we set. But, as my Princess says, it will certainly be within the month." He glanced at her from the corner of his eye.

Lady Hababa saw the glance, and saw also that it contained no tender love in it, not even an emotion concealed deep within. His possessive use of the word 'Princess' rang false, as if he were merely putting on a show. Lady Hababa started. Was he merely putting on a show? She had known for a long time that his first reason to marry the Princess was to put himself in a position to be King, but it had never occurred to her that he cared nothing for her, save that she should put him in power by her lineage. Lady Hababa felt a wave of what was almost anger pass through her. If he married the Princess he would make his life miserable, and her life miserable as well. He could not be happy wed to one he did not love. She resolved to speak to the Princess about the matter as soon as they had a moment alone.

There was a silence. The fire crackled and sparked, the one cheery thing in the room. A gloom seemed to have settled upon all. Gjeelea looked very ill at ease; Korak fidgeted restlessly in his chair and cast nervous glances here and there; Lady Hababa sat tall and straight and pale.

"Confound the weather!" Lord Korak burst out, standing up and beginning to pace back and forth. "How uneasy it makes me! I feel as if a host of dark creatures were pounding at my door and bidding me let them in so they could cast me into pits of despair." He cast himself in the chair again, but only a few moments had passed before he was on his feet and pacing again. Lady Hababa sat motionless and silent, unable to think of one word of cheer. Cheer, and all hopes of it, had vanished, and only a dark, creeping gloom remained.
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Old 02-12-2005, 08:19 AM   #179
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The rider achieved the Palace only to find it in uproar. Servants and courtiers alike were streaming from the building, braving even the fury of Rae, to spill forth their news upon the City. It came to him in snatches, fragmentary words that flew by him in the howling rain like the cries of nightmare. The Queen was dead, murdered in her own chambers by an invisible terror that none could find. The King had ordered that the Palace be searched and that the City itself be sealed. Even as the rider handed the reins of his shattered mount to a trembling servant, the stables were emptying as messengers were dispatched to all corners of Kanak. The Port was to be closed, the great gates shut. The nobles with estates in the countryside raced to get out of the city before all escape was denied them, but the messengers of the Court rode like men possessed, and few would be able to return to their beds this night. The message of the outrage spread through the city like flame, leaping from rooftop to rooftop almost without the benefit of tongues to give it voice, and as the rain intensified in its fury, the City of Kanak gathered itself beneath the funereal pall of the clouds and awaited the hammerstroke of doom.

The rider staggered into the great hall, directed there by the guards who recognised immediately the token that he bore. With a glance he took in the full horror that had come over his world. The Queen was being taken from the room upon a bier by the women who would tend her this night, while the King sat upon his divan looking at no-one and saying nothing. The Chamberlain was stooped before Khamul, as though awaiting orders that might never come. Few others remained, for a mad panic had seemed to grip the Court and having no other direction, the people fled back to their homes like frightened animals. The rider knew his duty, however, and he strode toward the dais, his left hand holding aloft the broken sword that was his token, and in his right hand he clutched a filthy canvas bag in which something of rough shape dangled like a grotesque fruit.

The King’s eyes took in the sight of the shattered weapon that the messenger bore. He looked at the rider’s mud- and blood-spattered raiment and he knew that this day’s feast of horrors had not yet come to an end. The rider fell to his knees at the foot of the dais and laid the sword upon the lowest step. At the same time, he set the bag with its contents upon the floor next to him, and those who saw the motion noted how he seemed to avoid contact with it as much as he could. “Hail Khamul!” the rider croaked through a throat made raw with the dust and toil of many hard miles ridden at great speed. “I am Barak, son of Arghal, third arant of the Viper battalion.”

The King’s own voice was raw and naked as he made the customary reply. “Greetings Barak, son of Arghal. What news from the Vipers?”

“None, my King, for the dead send no news.” The young man, for young he was, his beard was but little more than a long stubble upon his chin, faltered in his message.

“The dead?” the King echoed, but this time with more animation. “He who bears the broken sword should not speak in riddles. What has happened to the Vipers?”

“They are destroyed, Khamul. Only myself and three others remain, and they were too sorely wounded to make the journey with me to speak of our doom. I brought them as far as the town of Carthan and left them there with the women.” The court fell silent. An entire battalion? The thought swept through everyone there and all eyes turned to the King.

Faroz sat up straight, and his eyes fired with rage. “You lie!” he cried in despair.

“No,” the young man’s voice cracked and tears began to mingle with the rainwater that streaked his face. “I do not, Majesty. We were attacked by a horde of…of monsters! They were many, and they fought like…like nothing I’ve ever seen! Animals show more care for their well being. But these creatures came at us again and again with such reckless hate. We slew them in their hundreds but still they came, seeming only to become angered by their losses to greater fury. They killed everyone, majesty, I alone and my companions escaped to warn you of these demons!”

The King rose up and strode down from his seat to strike the rider across the face. The sound of the blow echoed through the chamber like a thunderclap. The young man’s eyes grew wide with terror. “Command yourself!” the King said sternly. “You speak of demons and monsters, but I know the truth. Your battalion was waylaid by nomads of the desert and you fled in terror for your lives.”

“No, my King!” the rider cried. “Behold the truth of my tale!” he snatched up the bag and opened it, but before he could draw forth its contents the material slipped from his grasp and fell to the floor and its terrible cargo spilled forth. A bloody mass rolled a few feet and then stopped against the lowest step of the dais, right by the King’s foot. It was a head, but the face upon that head was certainly not human. Glaring yellow eyes and sharpened fangs leered up at those who looked at it. Even dead and wretched as it was, the cruelty and malice that had driven it in life was evident in its features. The Court recoiled in terror at the sight.

Faroz kneeled to look more closely at the creature. He spoke softly to Barak. “You have not told us all that you saw yet.”

“No,” he replied. “These beasts were not alone, Khamul. There were Men there with them. Men who did not fight, but who drove the monsters on, lashing them and screaming at them to fight, though such efforts hardly seemed necessary…”

“These men,” Faroz said, “you recognised them?”

“Yes, Khamul. They were Alanzian soldiers.”

There was a deep and resonant silence in the great hall as the King and his people took this in. The rain poured on in the courtyard ceaselessly and the clouds rolled overhead. When the King spoke, his words, though quiet, carried to all corners of the room. “Jarult, summon my children, they must be told of their mother’s death. Send also for the High Priest and Priestess for they must prepare my wife’s funeral. The entire city shall observe the Mourning Watch this night: see to it that all homes burn a censor of incense to her memory, and order that all women do lamentation for their departed Mother.” The Chamberlain bowed and began to go, but the King spoke one more command to him. “Call also for my General, and all nobles of the first rank. We shall prepare a Council for War.”

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Old 02-12-2005, 11:27 AM   #180
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“You have an answer to my question, High Priestess?”

Morgôs Elrigon felt as if he had been waiting hours for Zamara to answer, in reality, he had no idea how long it had been since he posed his question, for the passage of time seemed warped. Outside, the ominous day had turned into a monumental storm, rain beating on the marble roof of the temple like ironclad stones beating against supple huts in the wilderness. Thunder clapped furiously, summoning a whirlwind to whistle noisily as each clap stirred up the other members of the cosmic audience to stir into a cacophonous standing ovation. Lightning forks jutted across the sky and, though Morgôs could not see those bolts through the temple ceiling, he sensed their livid movements throughout the heavens. On sky and on earth, something was wrong. Whatever gods existed beyond the sphere of mortal understanding were very, very angry.

Even though it had taken some time for any response to come, the High Priestess still hesitated before her reply came. “Not at this time, no.” She said at last, but was subdued. Morgôs, looking at her with a mixture of interest, annoyance, and sudden concern realized that she knew, just as he did, that something was terribly wrong in the world. She, though, did not wince painfully as he did when each roll of thunder boomed, and the elf’s frame was continually racked with half-convulsions as the storm grew worse. His ears felt a searing heat and he tried to hide the many lances of pain that had suddenly begun to spin in his head and lurch in his stomach, but he could no longer appear intimidating. Still, he felt he owed the High Priestess something for all the shadowy memories she had forced him to relive.

The two of them had now entered a broad hallway that led from the courtyard back into the main room of the temple and antechamber, one lined with elegant statues of Rhais in several poses, or of former religious figures (all smaller than the great statue in the main room). Here, as they stopped before one looming piece of statuary, Morgôs spoke darkly. “You would pursue me with questions of such a personal nature for no reason?” He said, his demeanor falsely calm, but Zamara, still looking away, shook her head weakly, which surprised the General. “No; not for no reason. I have one, but think it best if it remains my own. I will ask no more.” She was very subdued, so much that Morgôs was confused by her change of attitude and altered state. Feeling as if her own nature had infected him, he baited her again.

“What, no more persistence?” He said, a grim laugh coming from him, “You have chased me this far, will you chase no further. I hope I have not finally eluded the huntress of Rhais.” Zamara looked at him then, and he stopped, his mouth still half open. In her eyes, he saw a look of detachment. The storm was drawing her attention, and perhaps some prayer. Quietly, she said, “General, please, no more of this.” And turned away, looking to the other side of the hall. Morgôs’ look soured again.

“Your god is displeased, I see, and is venting her anger on us through rain.” He gestured to the roof, though naught could be seen through it, “Perhaps it is I who is angering her. I will not occupy any more of your precious time.” He said this spitefully, but kept his voice down. The Elf had to admit, he felt strange, almost sick. He ached all over, and his mood was so erratic even he could not predict his next actions. Trying to bottle up the cavalcade of feelings flowing in and out, he also turned and began to head down the hall.

“I am sorry you are so offended.” Zamara’s voice, apologetic but still detached, stopped him. The General wanted to leave, he was desperate to, and he knew that saying another word might doom him, but he could not move. His legs were not his anymore and, though his eyes still saw, they saw not for him, but for another being. The mighty elf of great and terrible power could not push himself down the hall. Though his soul screamed for him to be silent, he spoke again. “Nay,” he said, “I am not offended by you or your audacity.” He drifted off, as if into an eerie dream, “It is something else that gnaws at me.”

“And what is that?”

Morgôs was just about done, he had meant to bait her, but he had forgotten that he might be successful. Now, this new thing that had possessed him kept him here against his will. The conversation had tired him out so much that he felt as if he would go to sleep when he arrived at home and slumber for days. He would certainly postpone his lesson with Siamak, indeed, for the rain outside was of a kind that he had never heard before in temperate Pashtia, and the storm was not auspicious for riding or travel of any kind. The weary General of Pashtia resolved to answer swiftly and head back to his estate to rest; he sorely needed some moments of tranquility after the level of intensity he had poured into his talks with Zamara. If only he could get out of this forsaken temple. His last nerve wavering unsteadily, ready to snap, Morgôs turned back to Zamara with an icy look and opened his mouth to speak.

Before he could say anything he was interrupted by a sound that chilled him to the bone…

He barely had time to look up as the statue standing atop the pedestal beside him emitted a horrific creaking sound and toppled from its hold on the mount, staggering forward like a living being, its shadow engulfing both elf and priestess. Without time to think, Morgôs threw himself forward, ramming into the completely bewildered High Priestess, and thrust himself and her a good distance away, skidding to a stop on the tiles. As Morgôs felt the cold floor shoved up beneath him, it shook, and an explosion of dust burst above and below him. Everything happened in an instant and, before the Elf knew what was happening, the earth had been rattled, and a terrific thunder clap from above sounded.

Without actually considering his actions, Morgôs jumped to his feet, looking around frantically. He waved his arms to clear the dust, coughing and wheezing as it filled his lungs. His keen eyes moved to the site of the fallen statue’s foundation involuntarily, and he saw another dark sight. Behind the crumbled pedestal, a shadowy figure stood, it’s back hunched. In the smog, Morgôs could barely make out the figure’s silhouette, and he batted the waves of dust aside, hurrying towards it. As he neared it, it became clearer, taking real shape – mannish shape. It was a black-clad thing, hunched over at a pivotal position behind the statue’s ruined form. This man must have sawed at the statue’s foundation, for it was far too sturdy to fall over on its own. Blinking the debris from his red-rimmed eyes, Morgôs tried to focus on the figure in the mist, his legs carrying him towards it at a great speed. Without even trying, he leapt over the great slabs of broken marble and alabaster, but slowed suddenly as he saw a pale gleam, a shaft of light burst from the figure and stream through the curtain of settling dust, heading straight for him.

He did not feel the shaft of light pierce him when it did, he only saw it. As his vision finally became clear, and the dust fell to the floor in heaps around him, the shaft took shape – it was a dagger, embedded in the flesh of his upper left arm. The area was numb, as was all of his body, and as the crimson blood flooded from the wound, he felt no loss of life blood in his arm. He felt nothing at all. The General did not see his own hand move to the dagger in his arm and yank it out with cold efficiency. He did not realize his legs were moving, or that he was gripping the dagger’s bloodstained metal hilt firmly in his fist. He did not feel his legs push up and send him into a mad lunge at the figure behind the pedestal. No thought or sight or smell or feeling of any kind ran through him as the Elven General flew through the air and landed, the dagger coated with his own blood turned down, atop the dark figure. As the shadowy silhouette rushed up to meet him, he saw only blackness, and felt no more…

…Morgôs’ eyes opened and became his again several seconds later, and he found himself leaning against the broken pedestal, liquid gules seeping between his open lips. Pain was real again, as was his body and soul. He was again in possession of himself. He felt as if he should be relieved, but, with his form his own, he felt all the pain he had not felt before, and was overwhelmed by a terrific explosion of agony, radiating from his wound to the rest of him. He shuddered, and drifted down the pedestal until he was half-sitting, half-lying on the floor, staring blankly forward.

On the floor, several feet away, lay the dark figure, though he was no longer dark in appearance. His ragged cloak and black attire had been stripped away, torn to ribbons, revealing a mortal man beneath the layers of cloth concealment. The man lay on his back in a pool of his own blood, many great wounds in his chest and a long gash through his neck. His upper half had been rendered totally bare by a struggle and the wounds in him so deep that they reached through his whole form and out the other side of him. Morgôs grimaced at the sight, and looked fearfully at his own hand, that which held the dagger, only to see what he’d expected: The dagger, his hand, and almost all of his arm was soaked with wet crimson, and not his own.

His eyes, vision now very blurred, turned back upon the body. He saw nothing noticeable about the man, no special features, save one. On his bare arm was a symbol, tattooed into the willing flesh there. It was a black sun, rimmed with knife-points that surrounded the sun like its rays. All this was encompassed in a mystical lozenge. Morgos recognized the symbol. It was the device of a coven of assassins whom he had dealt with before, but not for over a century. He had never expected to see their kind again, for they hailed from the one place he thought would dare not send hired assassins to kill the people who were now their allies.

“Alanzia.” He whispered, through another river of blood, and slumped into unconsciousness.
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Old 02-13-2005, 01:24 PM   #181
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As the storm had picked up, flooding the streets and pounding on the roofs of Kanak, Siamak had stepped back inside the temple. To his surprise neither Morgôs nor Zamara were in sight, and he was alone in the large room. Perhaps the two had had more important matters to discuss than he had realized and wanted some privacy. Intriguing, indeed.

At that moment a messenger, soaked through from the rain, pushed through the temple doors. “High Priestess?” he called out, not so loud as to be improper in the temple but certainly loud enough to be heard should the High Priestess be anywhere nearby. There was no response. Then the messenger caught sight of Siamak, saying, “Oh, my Prince, you are needed at the palace, too. Evil things have befallen this day!” Siamak took the man in quickly. He was genuinely distraught, and a feeling of dread fell over Siamak.

“What has happened? Speak quickly!” he ordered.

“The queen... she has been murdered,” cried the man. An icy shock ran over Siamak. His mother - dead? How could this be?

“How did this come about?” demanded Siamak, feeling rather short of breath. A shadow passed over the man’s face.

“I do not know. She was found only a short while ago,” he answered. “But there is more.” The man was cut off sharply by a loud sound resounding through the temple. This wasn’t right. The messenger’s news could wait - Siamak had to find out what was wrong.

“Come with me,” said Siamak, and strode off toward the back of the temple. The man hastened after, nearly jogging to keep the pace. Siamak randomly selected a door at the back of the temple and plunged through it. He was met by a cloud of dust, irritating his eyes and making him cough. He could not tell which direction it was coming from.

“You go that way,” Siamak told the messenger. “Try to find the High Priestess. General Morgôs is with her.” The messenger obeyed and Siamak took the other direction. Rounding a corner, he found the source of the noise. The scene was almost too much to take in. It seemed a fight had taken place. A large marble statue had been overturned and broken, its pieces shattered. Behind it lay a darkly-clad man, his upper arm tattooed. Siamak vaguely recognized the symbol but could not place it. He realized the man was dead, spattered in his own blood. Nearby, lay the General. Siamak dropped down beside him, making sure he lived. Siamak was relieved to find it was so, but even in his lack of medical knowledge, he knew that Morgôs needed help quickly. He was covered in blood, whether his own or that of the dead man, Siamak was unsure. Siamak realized it was Morgôs’ arm that was wounded, and that he was losing blood quickly. He looked around frantically for something to stop the flow. His gaze lit on the dead man and the cloak which had been torn from his body. It was shredded, but Siamak was desperate and he hastened to retrieve any usable cloth from the dead man’s clothing. He wrapped the cloth tightly about the General’s arm, and though the black cloth was quickly bloodied, Siamak hoped that the blood flow would slow. He needed help. Where was that messenger? And where was the High Priestess?

Siamak sat back on his heels, unsure of what to do. Who would attack a temple? His eyes strayed again to the strange man’s tattoo. Black sun... knives... He knew he had heard of it somewhere. But where? Had the messenger come to warn him of attack? Suddenly Siamak feared that there might be more of these men hiding somewhere. Having no weapon of his own with him, Siamak pried the bloody knife from Morgôs’ grip, strong even in unconsciousness. Now armed, Siamak rose from his crouched position. The messenger had still not returned, and he needed to find help. Before leaving, though, he looked around once more, and a figure which had previously eluded his sight caught his eye. It was Zamara, lying on the tile floor. Siamak hurried over.

She was slightly dazed, but seemingly unhurt. Siamak had no time to waste, and he told her, “I’m going for help,” and hurried off. He passed through the hallways, heedless of the various statues lining the walls. Up ahead, he spotted the messenger and called out to him.

“Have you found them?” the man asked. Siamak nodded briskly. “The General is wounded, badly, I think, but the Priestess is seemingly all right. They were attacked.”

“Dear Rhais,” breathed the man. “Has Alanzia come even to your temple?” Siamak looked to the man sharply. He knew that symbol on the man’s arm was familiar! It belonged to Alanzian culture. That war was long over! What was happening to the world?

“Quickly, now, what was the rest of your news?” asked Siamak, fearing the worst.

“Our army was attacked by Alanzia. They are aided by strange monsters as none have ever seen,” answered the man. Fear was in his eyes. “We prepare for war.” Siamak closed his eyes, breathing deeply. Dear Rhais... What was he to do?

“Listen closely,” said Siamak with much more assurance than he felt. “I will go on to the palace to get help. I am needed there, and I will send a healer. The General and the High Priestess are that way.” He pointed. “Help them as best you can. I do not think there are any more Alanzians around, but be wary. Take this knife.” He handed the messenger the knife, and in doing so Siamak realized it was actually Alanzian craft and not the General’s as he had before assumed.

“Yes, my Prince,” said the man and hurried off with a brief bow.

Hoping he had made the right decision, Siamak departed from the temple. He took the messenger’s horse, tied outside the temple. He rode as hard as he dared in the treacherous footing, and then a little faster. The storm howled about him, and he was quickly soaked. He was numb to all emotion. His mother was dead and Pashtia was without a queen and all in the same day Alanzia had attacked them, seemingly without cause. Were the two connected? He would have to think it through later, when there was time to think. Now he had no time for anything but action.

As he came closer to the palace he saw more and more people despite the raging storm, most heading away from the palace. The snatches of rumor that met his ears were outrageous. The queen and king, not to mention himself and Gjeelea, were all dead, the whole army had been destroyed in a surprise attack, trade had been stopped, and monsters were descending upon the city to make it out from their tales. Even the Emissary, who had previously been mostly forgotten by common folk, had made it into some people’s tales. There was no telling where fact and fiction met.

The palace itself was only slightly less chaotic than the streets. He dismounted, handing the reins to a nearby servant, and hurried on into the palace. Guards were everywhere, and none of the servants appeared to be going about their business. He headed straight as he could to the great hall. He needed help for the General, to tell the King of his news, and to find out what was going on. Yes, he thought, the world really has turned up-side down this day.
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Old 02-14-2005, 07:15 PM   #182
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A bright flash illuminated the sitting room where Arlomë paced across the luxurious rug that ran its length. Rolling thunder followed and the elf rubbed the chill from her arms. “I tell you, Evrathol, something is not right.” Arlomë paused momentarily to look over her son who was nestled in the pillows of the long sofa that faced the fire. Evrathol said nothing, and she continued her course. This had been a strange day indeed. First, her confrontation with Morgôs had led to her first glances of the images that haunted her husband’s mind, but she had not had the time to truly consider the implications of these sketches, however, due to the unexpected visit from the Emissary. That man was dark…and cold. He was a brilliant performer…she could not deny that, but underneath, in the recesses that lay behind his bright eyes, a power the likes of which the elf had not seen for many lifetimes of men rolled and intensely filled him like smoke fills a bottle. The elf ran the meeting through her mind and wondered at the keen interest and knowledge the Emissary had dealing with the properties of the flora that were contained within her garden. More specifically, he asked her about several interactions the plants might have when heated or their extracts combined. Arlomë stopped again, this time in front of the large picture window that overlooked the courtyard. Spinning on her heel, she said, “I do not believe, for a moment, that man had a healthy interest in how our plants might lead to new medicines in his country. He is hiding something. The truth was not what he presented, but something dark.”

“I do not disagree with you, mother.” Evrathol sat forward, putting his elbows on his knees. “There is something else, I believe, that is going on. Do you feel it?”

“I do,” she said softly. Her eyes drifted down to her slender hands as she nervously ran her thumbs across the tops of her fingernails. After only half of an hour had passed in the gardens, the Emissary had suddenly behaved very strangely. The sky was darkening and it seemed rain was imminent, when he sharply turned his head toward the darkest clouds and narrowed his eyes as though he was reading or making out words from far away. Almost immediately afterward he jolted from the bench, thanking Arlomë quickly, and rather ungraciously, and then bolted from the estate, saying he had a meeting with the King. As though the whole affair did not make her uneasy enough, shortly after his departure, a feeling of dread had fallen on the Avari estate. At first, Arlomë had shaken it off as resulting from the terrible storm that began to rage outside, and she wondered at how Rae repaid the people of Kanak for building a temple to him. At this moment, however, she felt as though some evil was at work, although she knew not how or what actions had fallen upon the city.

“I can go out and seek word if anything has happened this day.” Evrathol offered.

“No, no, son. I would not wish you to brave this storm.” Arlomë turned toward the window again and watched the water beat her beautiful plants and fill the puddles of her pathways.

“I am not afraid of the storm, mother, and I might be able to discover what is causing this alarm that fills us both.” Arlomë turned from the window and searched Evrathol’s face. He was so handsome and brave as he sat before her. She could see the passion in his eyes.

The elf began to walk slowly toward Evrathol as she spoke. “My son, I know you are brave and are able to handle yourself, but I would hope for you to stay with me here.” Her voice was calm, but showed a small amount of vulnerability. “Your presence is calming to me…please stay.” Arlomë knelt and took her son’s hand, gently squeezing it. “I need you here, Evrathol.” She patted his hand and her eyes wondered to the window as she spoke almost under her breath. “If only Elrigon would return to the safety of his home.”

As the name of her husband fell from her lips, Arlomë’s eyes widened and a look of horror passed over her face. Mist covered her eyes and she collapsed at her son’s feet. “Elrigon!” She cried as she fell. Evrathol’s voice calling her name sounded as though it came from a far distance, but she could not respond to him. The veil that lay before her eyes rose momentarily, and she saw that it was not a mist, but dust that was settling. At her feet, Morgôs’ limp body was sprawled out. Tears ran down Arlomë’s cheeks as she fell to her knees and touch his face. Her eyes ran over him and she saw the blood that covered his arm. “Elrigon, this is not your time.” Her voice was firm through her tears. “You are not leaving me, my love.”

“Mother! Wake up! Mother!”

The vision was gone, and Arlomë opened her eyes and gazed into her son’s anxious face. “Evrathol, your father!” Her words were fragmented between labored breaths. “He is in danger…”
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Old 02-16-2005, 04:59 PM   #183
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His son was the first to arrive and Faroz had to admit to himself his disappointment in this. At this moment, it was the strength and resolute determination of his daughter that he needed, even though it came now at the price of Korak’s loathsome presence. Siamak presented himself to the King with proper decorum, making sure to do his obeisance at the foot of the dais, but then for a moment it appeared as though he was about to come up to his father for some further gesture. The moment, Faroz knew, was filled with emotion for the boy but at no time could he allow one, even his son, to transgress the proper forms and rites of the court. To forestall the action of his child, Faroz came down the few steps and took his son by the shoulders. He spoke quietly, but clear enough that the others who remained about him could hear. “Your mother is murdered, my son, and Pashtia has been attacked by the Alanzians. I will need you to be strong in the days ahead…you and your sister both.” And as he spoke of Gjeelea he shot the Chamberlain Jarult a guarded look that told the aged man of the King’s displeasure that his daughter had not come yet. The old servitor bowed slightly and hurried off once more to fetch her to the Court directly.

Siamak was speaking once more, and though he tried to command his voice it was clear that he was trembling with some terrible anxiety. He was worried, and a bit frightened. “Khamul,” he began, “there is yet more for you to know. The General Morgôs has been attacked and even now lies gravely wounded in the Temple of Rhais.”

A gasp of horror ran through the court, and the senseless panic, which had only just now begun to subside, once again began to threaten to break loose. To quell it, Faroz spoke quickly, demanding to hear the full tale. Siamak told what he had seen and of his actions. Faroz was pleased with his son’s bravery in confronting such an unknown circumstance, and the good sense he had shown in dealing with the aftermath. These feelings were apparent when he spoke next. “You have done well, my son, and done credit to me and…” he faltered in the formulaic phrase, which should have continued with and to your mother. In the silence that followed he said simply, “Your mother always told me that there was a strength in you, as yet untested and thus unseen. It gladdens me to see that she was right in this, as in so many other things.”

Something in the King’s tone made Siamak realise for the first time that his mother was truly gone, and bowing his head he sought to hide his tears. Faroz bade him to hold his head up high, “for such a cause of weeping has not been known in my court for many a year, and I would not have you be ashamed of a grief that is manly. But let us not allow our own feelings to distract us from our duty either. You have done much for the General already, but there is more to do.” Faroz turned to a nearby soldier, one whom he recognised as a chief lieutenant to Morgôs. “Go to the Temple of Rhais and have the General brought here to the Palace. Let him be borne into the Royal House of Healing and tended there. Send also for his wife and son, and let them know what has happened. The Lady Arlomë will no doubt wish to see her husband, but you must remind her that her first duty this night is to her Queen, for my wife must be prepared for her funeral tomorrow morning.” The lieutenant bowed and then rushed from the hall to do his King’s bidding. “In the meantime,” Faroz continued, “in the absence of my daughter my son and I must now take counsel to the matter of the Lord Annatar's offer of allegiance. The Emissary has spoken to me often of a race of beings in his land who are the enemy of Men. He has called these creatures orcs and his descriptions of them well match what we have seen and heard here this day.” And at this, all eyes fell upon the hideous head where it lay upon the dais, once again wrapped in its dirty canvas bundle. “The Emissary and his fellows have great experience of these beings and I believe would be of great use to us if we are to fight them, but to ask their aid in this is impossible unless there is a formal alliance between our realms. My son, the time has come for you and your sister to make a decision in this matter, for it was to you both that I laid the charge of deciding whether or not to accept this alliance. What say you?”

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Old 02-16-2005, 07:18 PM   #184
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Over the pounding of the rain and occassional boom of thunder Gjeelea thought to clear the awkward silence. Before she could open her mouth, the servant of the house, Morashk, entered the room with a rain-soaked young man. Korak stood swiftly, seeming almost relieved at the interruption. Lady Hababa turned to see who had entered, and when she saw the stranger next to the servant her eyes widened.

"My lady, my lord," Morashk began, looking to Lady Hababa and Korak. Turning to Gjeelea he bowed his head. "Princess, this messenger bids you go with him to the palace."

"Why do you interrupt my visit so?" Gjeelea commanded of the messenger, giving him a stone-cold glare that might have chilled him more than the rain that soaked him - or more than the news he carried.

"My Princess," the man bowed deep from the waist. "Several events have unfolded that require you to be present with the King and the Prince Siamak. I humbly request that you come with me at once; it is the King's orders."

"I see," Gjeelea stood and went to Lady Hababa. Moving to kiss the old woman's cheek, the princess whispered in her ear. "If dark things have unfolded this day, I will right them, lady." She then moved to go to Korak, but stopped herself and instead went to the waiting messenger. Gjeelea looked to Korak and gave a nod. "I shall see you soon."

"Wait!" Korak controlled his voice so that it did not come out as a shout. "As an upstanding member of the court, I will come with you."

Gjeelea's heart fell; she had gotten through enough time with him to make her sick to her stomach. The princess did not want to spend more time with Korak than was completely necessary. Sighing, the princess nodded again. "If it pleases you," she paused, searching for the right way to address Korak. His station was beneath her - there was no need to call him 'Lord Korak'. He was not her husband yet, and no justification to name him so. It made her heart hurt to call him her love, for he was most certainly not. "Yes, if it pleases you, Korak."

After preparing as best they could for the terrible rain, the trio left the home of Lady Hababa and Lord Korak, trying their best to keep as dry as possible in the pounding of the rain. Robes, coats, and all other attempts to keep comfortable and dry failed miserably, and Gjeelea was left with the deafening sound of rain and her own dark thoughts. What did it mean that Lady Hababa could feel the evil of the day? Gjeelea still did not know what had transpired that prompted her father to call a messenger out for her. Had the rain and thunder not impeded all communication between the three travelers, the princess might have asked the messenger.

After what felt like days out in the rain, the group finally reached the palace. Dismissing the messenger Gjeelea lead her betrothed through the halls. As they neared the hall of the King's dias, Gjeelea could hear whispers echoing against the walls and through the air. When the two entered the great room, they were greeted by the sight of court people gathered around Siamak and the King.

"What say you?" Gjeelea heard as she stepped further into the room. Nobles moved from her as she walked closer to her father and brother. Korak followed behind her. When they had approached the king both knelt low before him. After this, Gjeelea stood first and looked to where her brother stood, his eyes glistening in a way the princess had not seen since he had been a little boy crying for his mother.

"Father," she addressed the king directly, her eyes meeting his. His eyes held some emotion she had never seen before in her father. Her gaze left Faroz for a moment and she caught the faces of the nobles and others gathered in the room - their faces holding the same anxiety that welled up in her father's eyes. "What has happened this day that causes such panic and chaos?"
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Old 02-17-2005, 08:25 PM   #185
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Siamak swallowed hard. Had the messenger sent to his sister been so inept as not to tell Gjeelea what was going on? Had not his sister asked? In his own grief he felt contemptuous (rightfully so or not) at Gjeelea for not being more knowledgeable of the situation. Something needed to be done; there was not time to be standing around explaining the situation. If he thought about it, though, Siamak would have known that this was not a fair outlook at all; however, his new thirst for action was an escape from thinking. Careful thinker as he was, thoughts of his mother would tear him apart. He had loved her, in his way; he had not spent much time with her in recent times but always she was there, the comforting presence that ran the palace while his father dealt with more important affairs. No, despite his earlier desire for time to think, no longer did he want such time. Nevertheless, he held himself together as his father explained to Gjeelea.

“Daughter, your mother was murdered earlier today in her apartments. We do not know by whom or how.” The king paused a moment for Gjeelea to digest this information. It stung worse every time Siamak heard it. Faroz continued, “Also, word has come that Pashtia is being attacked by Alanzians. They were aided by creatures as we have never seen before; however, they match the description provided by the Emissary of an enemy race from his lands called orcs. The aid of the Lord Annatar’s people would be of great aid to us in dealing with these creatures, but we can not ask for such help unless an alliance has been established between our nations. The time has come for you and Siamak to decide in this matter of alliance. What say you?” the king repeated.

Siamak jumped in before Gjeelea had opportunity to respond. He had been sitting the fence before, but no longer in light of this new information. Forgotten was his uneasiness around the Emissary, forgotten were all doubts. He had finally heard some evidence that accepting or declining the offer would directly affect Pashtia. His choice now was clear. He addressed himself to Gjeelea, though he knew the whole court could hear. “Gjeelea, we have considered this offer long and hard. I think that Father is right; the Emissary’s aid in dealing with such a foe would be helpful indeed. As far as I can tell, there is only one decision we can make.” As he spoke, he slowly gathered his emotions in and his voice steadied. Thinking about the Alanzians and the Emissary was not so hard. “I think we should accept the Lord Annatar’s offer of alliance.”
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Old 02-18-2005, 05:01 AM   #186
Aylwen Dreamsong
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The princess cursed her brother for having a faster response than she for the first time in forever. She sent him a sharp glance, one that he most likely missed in the heat of his own 'moment'. For once, Siamak had spoken the right way at the right time. Would it make up for all the other times when the younger son had to have time to consider his answer thoroughly and patiently? Gjeelea knew that so many waited for her to slip up and her brother to finally earn the throne that might be his. It was most certainly not the time for Siamak to finally grow a backbone, though Gjeelea figured that some people might need a tragedy to pull them together.

A tragedy? The princess was almost shocked at her own thought. Her mother's death was certainly strange enough and horrid enough - yet somehow Gjeelea did not think it merited the name of tragedy. If any knew of Gjeelea's lack of emotion for her mother's murder, surely they would think her heartless and cruel. The princess had certainly liked her mother and enjoyed her company at the few times it was given, but there was little loss for someone who was rarely there in Gjeelea's life to begin with. Surely I will miss her once I notice the subtle ways in which things change.

"You think too much, brother," Gjeelea said, loudly for all the people of the court to hear. "We might have made this decision a long time ago if you had not wasted your time considering our only option. I know we must accept Lord Annatar's offer of alliance, as I have known since hearing of the Emissary's plight." Had she spoken too boldly? As it was no time for Siamak to learn strength, it was also not the time for the princess to doubt herself. Instead, Gjeelea turned to her father and met his gaze and nodded. "Siamak and I are in agreement to accept the offer of alliance, father."

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Old 02-18-2005, 12:06 PM   #187
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Faroz felt no joy in the decision of his children, but only grim satisfaction. For, indeed, what other choice was there? Still, he commended them both for the wisdom that they had shown. “Send to the Emissary,” he ordered. “Tell him that the offer of the Lord Annatar has been accepted and that we will meet with him in the morning to discuss the formal rites of alliance. If the General is able to speak this night, let the Emissary be sent for so that he and General Morgôs can plan how best we can use the fifty men that the Emissary has with him.” A messenger bowed deeply and left the court.

The King sat back upon his divan and his exhaustion was apparent to all. He lowered his head into his hand and sat like that for a time before speaking once more. “See to it, my children, that all preparations are made for your mother’s journey.” Again he paused. “I will retire to my chambers until tomorrow so that I may take counsel with my heart about this day. Let it be known that any who disturb me shall receive the direst punishment.” A slight ripple in the room confirmed that all present understood what he meant. Rising once more the King descended and left the court, and as he passed he looked neither left nor right as his people did him obeisance.

He passed quickly through the darkened corridors of the Palace. In the panic, the routine of the household had been neglected and servants had failed in their duty to light the lamps. At any other time, Faroz would immediately have sent for the housekeeper and reprimanded him, but this night his eyes were glad for the dark. He achieved his apartments and passed within like a shadow melting into night. The rain was finally beginning to abate, but the clouds were still thick and the sun was setting behind them, casting the late afternoon into an unnaturally early night. The air was thick and chill with water and he shivered. Searching out a heavy cloak he cast it about his shoulders and fell to the cushions by the balcony. Faroz watched the storm churn through the sky below the city, now heading downriver to spend its fury upon the sea. The streets of Kanak were beginning to drain, and there were signs below of his people emerging from their shelter. They came forth once more like small animals, casting nervous glances about before scurrying for the comfort of home. He knew how they felt.

His mind was blank, for the horrors of the day had left him spent. He knew that the King’s place at this moment was in his council chamber, discussing matters of war and alliance, but he felt unequal to the task. There was time to wait until morning. Let his nobles speak amongst themselves this night, and let his children prepare their mother for her final journey. Was it not the tradition in Pashtia that a widower pass his first night without his wife, alone, in prayer? Though he had not sought his chambers for such a purpose, his actions this night were in keeping with the demands of custom and tradition, and none would dare condemn him. Let him remain here, then, alone…

His isolation came over him like a thick choking blanket. How many times had he sat upon this balcony and felt his separation from those about him? He had never known, until this very moment, that his only connection to the human life of his people had been made through his wife. Through all the years and trials, she had always and ever been the one to speak to him of his children or the nobility as individuals. She had taken the time to forge bonds, even friendships, allowing him to think only in terms of power and political groupings. She had been, he realised with a sobbing gasp, his only friend – and he had never told her as much in life.

A panic came over him, like a hunted deer suddenly bereft of the pack. The dangers of the world flew toward him like wolves, ravening and red-tongued. Unaware of his own act, Faroz’s hand moved toward the Ring, but something stayed him. There was, at first, a slight glimmer, barely seen from the corner of his eye, more like a lightening in the darkness than a light itself. He turned to look at it, but is slipped and turned to the other side of his face. He turned once more, but still it eluded him, the lightness, appearing only in the very corner of his vision. He fixed his stare on the blank darkness of the night, but kept his attention upon the glimmer. He felt a cool touch upon his cheek, like a gentle wind, and the wind became as a voice, whispering his name to him. He sucked in his breath with shock, for he recognised the voice as that of his wife. “Bekah?” he said aloud.

My husband.

“Where are you?”

Where you are not, and where you cannot be.

“What do you mean?”

What I have ever meant, my husband. Always you have looked and looked but never have you seen. Ever have you gazed ahead, while truth, so clear, but glimmered in the corner of your eye, seen but not regarded.

“You are right. You had much to offer me that I did not take. Many things to say that I did not hear. I was not a good husband.”

You were a good King.

“I feel your reproach. I can sense your despair. Why have you not found peace? You were a noble woman in life: honourable and wise. I shall miss you.”

Too late. Too late.

“Yes. But at least now, at last, I have realised your worth.”

Too late. Too late.

Faroz made to speak again but he felt her slipping away, like a mist before a great wind that blew upon the balcony from the West. His hand slipped to his chest and the Ring was on his finger before he knew what had happened, and before him appeared a figure clothed in light. Tall he was, and beautiful, and in his face and bearing was a nobility that made Faroz feel as he had felt before his father when he had been but the smallest lad. There was love and benevolence in the gaze of the one before him, and pity of a great lord for a man in need of strength. “My Lord Annatar!” Faroz whispered.

“Khamûl. You are grieved. Let me comfort you.”

Faroz felt a despair well up from his heart where his hand lay with the Ring upon it. It burned like hardest ice through his blood and seized his brain. His eyes became stone, and he felt his mouth open wide to release the depth of his suffering. A shriek, terrible and high, like the cry of some lonely thing upon the edge of the world shattered the quiet of the night, stabbing into it like a dagger into cloth. Faroz felt himself diminish and the shriek of his agony became his all. On and on it went, taking with it his despair, his agony and his sadness, as though it were purging these weaknesses from his body. It ended and he lurched to his feet, gasping for air. Annatar was there, his arms out, and he caught up in them the staggering form of the King. Faroz felt himself enfolded in light and he closed his eyes, but within he could still see the beautiful face of the one who held him like a lover. A voice, the Voice, whispered in his mind. “Let me comfort you, Khamûl. Let me relieve you of your agony.”

“How?” Faroz asked. “How can I be so relieved?”

“I shall tell you, Khamûl. I shall tell you. Listen…”
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Old 02-18-2005, 07:46 PM   #188
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Remembrances

A dark figure pranced about, its silhouette against a dark horizon, careless of those who saw or did not see it.

He was there again; in a place he had been but once before, and prayed he would never be again. He felt, with remembered disgust, the blood-caked plains of sandy earth beneath his bare feet, the scorching sun shining onto him from above, a golden ember whose fire filled him with a dark foreboding as its glimmer dwindled with each passing moment and the grave warmth of it became dank cold. The clouds grew great and took upon them many shapes, but all ill shapes. Horned beasts moved across the sky with tainted grace, their glowing shards of eyes gleaming like frozen blood, redder than rubies in the desert or the rays of the sun. Those eyes peered down as the azure sky turned black as death and burned.

Elrigon wanted to flee, but he could not again. He was not reliving the nightmare; he was witnessing it, and could do naught to change it. He wanted to shut his eyes, but he could not. Just as he remembered, his eyes remained stuck open as the clouds focused themselves into a whirlpool of wind, which all centered around a spot on the ground in the distance, overshadowing the horizon. Doom and its sound boomed in the heavens and the shadow beyond moved with the speed of the wind itself towards him, turning the blazing sands to fire that could only be likened to some hellish inferno in another plane of existence. The open desert became a hall of flame and death, from which sprouted tendrils of shadow, great tentacles of sable mist that shot high up and obscured even the darkened sky from view.

The Rider bore down upon him, engulfing the world in his blackness. The Rider’s terrible visage filled Elrigon with dread just as it had the first time he saw it. All life died in an instant, all beauty decayed. The nightmare was relived in an instant – every bit of it. The Shadow, the Rider, the deaths and cries and wailing of his comrades, his kinsmen; stolen from him by this creature from the twisting nether. And, in that same instant, the web of lies and of deceit strung about him became clear and was torn asunder, for now he knew the truth as he saw the Rider of Shadow filling his mind and his heart with agony. He knew the truth! In the form of the Rider, bleak and barren of compassion, he saw many names take shape. Names that fell from the tongue like blood and could not be spoken without a lance of horror following. One name he recognized and one alone.

The horror of the event rang in him, a colossal bell whose toll struck a chord, singing a song of darkness, one unrivaled in heaven and earth in its terrifying beauty, tempting and yet revolting. Elrigon, watching himself and the Rider, knew in that moment all that had transpired, fueled by a greater force that had imbued him with this revelation. As he looked deep into those terrible crimson eyes, he saw a face he knew...two faces he knew.


His eyes opened and he sat bolt upright, gasping for air and covered with icy sweat. He looked around quickly with intent to deduce where he was. He instantly recognized a medical chamber of wing of the palace. The lights of torches and lamps around were dim, barely illuminating the height of the room or its narrow inlets. The marble chamber was empty but for him, the bed he lay upon, and one figure nearby, at the bedside. His head snapped sideways to look upon the figure. Beside his bed stood a very young handmaiden, looking at him in a state of mild shock. Morgôs did not hesitate to shift upon his bed towards her and speak with great urgency, crying out swiftly, “Where is the King?!” He ignored the remnants of pain in his arm, encased in a bandage which stood as the only garment on his upper body. He had to divulge his new epiphany before it escaped him, for he now knew a terrible secret that weighed upon his mind, but was lightening up fast as it decayed. The memory would not last long in him.

Flustered, the handmaiden spoke, “He has retired to his chambers, Gener-” He cut her off without delay. “Fetch the king, now!” He cried, and swung his legs over the side of the bed, kicking some thin sheets off of his sweat-soaked form. The girl looked at him with concern, but a hint of fear induced by his manic behavior. She shook her head apologetically. “It cannot be done, General, not this moment.”

Morgôs was not appeased and continued to cry out, trying to rise from his bed. “You must bring him to me! You must tell him!” His eyes, bloodshot and weary, were also wide and dilating rapidly. The girl took a fearful step back as he tried to rise at first, but then hesitantly moved and began to help him stand. “Tell him what?” She asked, helping him to his feet. Suddenly, his weak arms became strong, and grasped her own arms tightly as he hauled himself bodily upward, his wide eyes shrinking into deep slits. “You must tell him that I know who the Emissary is!” he demanded harshly, “I know what Annatar is!”

“Milord,” the maid gasped, “you are not yourself.”

“No, I am not.” He spat, “I know the truth now.” His fingers, icy cold, coiled like snakes around the maid’s arm and his voice rasped terribly as he cried out. “We must not join with Annatar!” he ordered, “We must not join with him!” The urgent volume in his voice grew out of control, and each syllable caused the handmaiden to wince and pull back, but the maddened Elf would not release her, and his grip became stronger still, his dark eyes staring blankly at her from beneath a shadowy veil. Finally, she answered. “General,” she said, and paused, “…We already have. The Prince and Princess have made their decision.”

Morgôs’ hands softened and released the girl. Quietly, his eyes suddenly returning to their normal size and his eyelids sagging miserably, he staggered back and fell into a sitting position on the bed. “No…” he murmured once, his voice a meager whisper as his head sank and his gaze turned to stare at nothing. Then, he repeated the words as if crushed by them, then again, and a fourth and fifth time, until they faded on his barely moving lips. The truth was within his grasp, but now, as he was refuted by this terrible knowledge, his own knowledge began to fade from him. He was forgetting it as fast as it had come to him. If the decision had been made, the truth was useless to him and to all else. His loyalty bound him to that decision, and his rejection of it was no more than a fool’s dissent. The handmaiden moved hesitantly towards him. “General, what has upset you so?” she asked, but Morgôs responded quickly, rising again. The handmaiden retreated instantly. “I cannot say.” Spoke Morgôs, advancing and issuing a stern order as if he was speaking to a soldier, “Call my lieutenants to me, and my wife, else we all fall into shadow.” He spoke the last words with grim anger, moving towards the maid expectantly, but she merely looked at him, wide-eyed. “You must rest first.” She said, with little hope in her meek voice, but Morgôs would have none of it.

“Rest?” he actually laughed, but not a merry laugh – a grave laugh such as a man might laugh after he has killed a man. “I will not rest. You think such a peck as this can harm me?” he gestured to his bandaged arm, flexing it deftly despite the pain, “Now, call them!” He kept moving forward, and she kept moving backward until she had neared the wall of the noiseless, empty chamber. She did not budge to heed Morgôs’ order and he moved on, angrily, until she was up against the wall of the room, obviously fearful for herself. “You are ill.” She said, trembling slightly where she stood.

“No,” he bellowed at her a moment later, moving drastically forward and grasping the arm of the handmaiden again, “I am cured of my illness, no thanks to you.” Enraged by her disobedience, he wrenched her arm painfully, pushing it upwards against its proper course so that the girl cried out in pain herself. She finally showed sign of resistance, but this merely angered him more. “Call them!” He was so caught up in the urgency of the matter and his rage at being disobeyed that he paid no heed to the girl’s protests. “General, please,” she gasped, “you are hurting me.” But still he did not release her and instead, with his other hand, took her by the throat, closing his fist about the young girl’s neck. “Have you not heard me?” He cried maliciously, “Call them now or I will slay you where you stand! Now!”

All of a sudden, he released her, and watched the girl fall to the ground, sobbing and rubbing her reddened throat, gasping for air and crying all at once. Morgôs’ arm stung again, and mild pain became throbbing and debilitating. With a sort of cough and gasp, the Elf turned and bolted at the door of the room. Without waiting to clothe himself or see to the girl’s injured arm, he rushed down the hall that stemmed from the chamber, into a long colonnade (one of many), running as fast as his graceful Elven legs could carry him. But, before he had gone halfway down the hallway, he stopped in his tracks and those Elven legs withered beneath him. Morgôs fell onto his weak knees, let his head fall into his waiting hands, and wept.

“Traitorous Rhais,” he moaned, “What have you done to me?”

As he spoke, the memory of his dream faded from him. Just so, his mind was wiped of its knowledge and slumbered for an instant. The knowledge of Annatar’s identity was whisked away from him in a flash of dark light, as was his immediate memory of what had occurred. His madness was shed from him like a second skin, and the recollection of it as well. He found himself teary-eyed, for no known reason, on the ice-cold marble, sitting, with very little garb to clothe his wounded form. Confused and dazed, he rose to his feet and began to make his way down the hall, hoping he could find someone who would explain to him what had happened.

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Old 02-19-2005, 09:13 AM   #189
Orofaniel
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Eye A messenger

"He is in danger.."

"What is it that you speak of, mother?" Evrathol asked her curiously while falling to his knees. He felt the slightest scent of weariness as he looked into his mother's eyes. They were not the same. She had seen or sensed something that he could not understand it. "He is in great danger, Evrathol," she repeated as if in a trance. "But, mother, what danger is it that you speak of? What danger?" Evrathol now continued. He felt his palms getting wet. He was sweating. He tried to help Arlomeë up from the floor, but her weight seemed so heavy at this point. "Mother!" Evrathol burst out trying to figure out the reason of such a collapse.

"You must go, my son. You must leave," his mother then said, here eyes filled with tears.

"Save what you still might be able to save, although I do believe the life of your father is... ," Arlomë said while looked deeply into his eyes. Her voice faded and then she was quiet. Evrathol's frustration took him by surprise as he got up. "What is it you speak of?" Evrathol said full of frustration. "I will not leave you mother," he then said softly, as he looked at her again.

"My lady! What has happened?" Kashana shrieked. The servant had entered the room. She had heard strange noises and loud voices and was now curious about what the two of them were doing. She hurried towards Arlomë, and got the lady back on her feet and onto a comfortable chair. "Are you feeling ill my lady?" she asked, seeming worried about Arlomë’s condition. Arlomë did not reply. "I don't want to seem careless, but there is a messenger. He wishes to see you. He says he has ill news, but he would not tell more than that. Apparently it is for your ears only..." Kashana said quickly. Arlome's eyes blazed. "It is not the Emissary, is it?" she asked. All of a sudden she was tense and uncomfortable. It seemed that only the mentioning of the man frightened her.

"No, no...It’s just a messenger. I'll let him in."

"No, wait. Do not let him in. My mother is not feeling well. I will go and see him," Evrathol said, gesturing in his mother's direction as he was stopping her from saying anything. Evrathol told Kashana to stay with his mother while he would go out and speak to this messenger. The servant obeyed.

The long and rather dull hallway, led to a huge wooden door. The messenger had not been let in, so he opened it carefully. "Sir, I must speak with you," the messenger said right away, without even greeting Evrathol. Evrathol however, did not pay any attention to that, as he so was relieved to see that it was not the Emissary who standing at the threshold.

Evrathol invited the man in, but the messenger answered quickly;" There is no time. You must follow me to the Palace at once."

Evrathol didn't know if he'd heard correctly, so he excused himself and asked what serious matters would bring him to the Palace in such terrible weather. "Your father, the General, has been attacked. He is wounded. I'm sorry to bring you this ill news of your father, but I'm afraid there is more. I have news that the lady of the house must hear as well. Let me speak to the lady of the house, please. I beg you sir. She must know what has happened," the messenger said. Evrathol gazed. Who had attacked his father? Then the next thought hit him; it was as Arlomë had foreseen. She had told him that Morgos was in danger. She had told him herself, but it had been too complicated for him to understand. He was out of breath, panicking. Would the General die? Was it serious?

"Please..." the messenger begged again, as Evrathol had shown no sign of movement. "Of course," Evrathol then muttered, as he had come to his senses. "I will bring her," Evrathol continued. He turned, and his feet carried him towards the room where his mother was with the servant. He felt heavy hearted as he went, because this was indeed ill news. It would devastate his mother if he told her that she had been right earlier. But there was no way out. The messenger obviously had something else to share with Arlomë and it demanded great haste.

"Kashana, leave us," Evrathol said at once when he re-entered the room The servant looked confused, but obeyed as she always did.

When they were alone, Evrathol sat beside his mother and told her what the messenger had said about her husband. She did not seem surprised, but Evrathol could still see how grieved she was. It also occurred to him that Arlomë understood what she had foreseen had been true, and not some kind of illusion. "Mother, this is not the time. The messenger has something to tell you. Come with me," Evrathol then said. He seemed cruel not to let his mother digest the ill news, but he had a feeling that something much worse was awaiting them.

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Old 02-19-2005, 12:59 PM   #190
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It took all of Siamak’s willpower to remain standing there firmly after Gjeelea’s cutting remark. Was that what she thought of him? Had she played him for a fool, always knowing that they should be accepting of the alliance? But no, the High Priestess had said that Gjeelea had been seeking advice, same as he, only that morning. So why, then, the swift jab? And in front of the whole court! He yearned to simply slink away unnoticed. Wait! Could that be what she wanted? To humiliate him, to make him flee as she so often had? Why? To what end? He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She was so strong, so confident. Could it be... that she felt threatened by him? Preposterous.

“...See to it, my children, that all preparations are made for your mother’s journey.” His father had been talking. Siamak hoped he had missed nothing important. “I will retire to my chambers until tomorrow so that I may take counsel with my heart about this day. Let it be known that any who disturb me shall receive the direst punishment.” He watched his father descend from the dais and leave the room. Now what? he wondered uneasily. He did not have much to do for his mother’s preparation until the actual funeral; most of what needed to be done was for the women. He wished he had a plausible reason to leave the great hall immediately - though he thought he understood his sister more, it changed his reaction little. More seeds of self-doubt had been sown, and already they were taking root. If that was how his sister saw him, how did the rest of the court view him? Had the choice to accept the alliance been so clear to all of them, too?

Only his sense of duty and his newly-acquired knowledge from the General kept him in the court for as long as was proper. He mingled among the rest of the nobles, accepting their condolences and doing his best to assure them that the conflict with Alanzia would be settled quickly, and that there would be no such war as there had been only a quarter of a century before, even though he could promise no such thing, only hope for it. Finally, Siamak felt he could properly take his leave. Few remained in the hall, and none marked his passage as anything unusual. Once alone, however, he wandered the corridors of the palace like a lost dog, knowing not where to go. He did not want to go to his chambers, for there he would be utterly alone. Yet, he did not want the company of others either. So he kept walking, staying to the lesser-used hallways and passages that he knew so well. It was dark, for the torches had not been lit, but Siamak cared not. He could not reconcile it to himself that his mother - beautiful, regal, and queen in every sense of the word - was dead, cruelly killed by an unknown murderer.

His feet wandered aimlessly, it seemed to him, until he came to the gardens. Not the public ones, either, but the private ones restricted to all but a few. And finally, it seemed he had a stroke of luck: in the chaos of the palace, the guards did not hold their usual positions. He did not heed the still-pouring rain and went out, going quickly and directly to his mother’s gardens. Beneath her window high above there were a few small stone statues, broken, as if they had been pushed from the window. A reddish tint could be seen in the puddles. He had not heard it before, but it seemed to him that his mother had been thrown bodily from her rooms. It made his heart sick.

Only now, in the solitude of his mother’s gardens, did Siamak let his grief go. He fell kneeling before the statue of Rhais, as his mother so often had, his body shaking with silent sobs.

A message came unbidden to his mind. You are strong, Siamak, stronger than you know. The voice was comforting, its tones smooth and strong; familiar, somehow. Use that strength, my son. And be wary...

“Mother?” asked Siamak aloud. But the voice had gone. He was alone.
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Old 02-19-2005, 05:08 PM   #191
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Silmaril Zamara

In rooms darkened by the storm outside, all was still in Zamara's quarters. But all was not peaceful. Sudden bursts of lightning shattered the stillness of the room and sent the veils across the wide windows streaming wildly, and the only other illumination came from a dim lamp beside the bed where a figure lay stretched, her form strewn across the mattress under the thin covers. She lay perfectly still, even her breathing barely visible, and the acolytes had left her: indeed, she lay as still and as alone as the dead...

A shadow stirs...darkness incarnate, it moves with the slow inevitability of evil through the sparsely furnished rooms: it knew the way to the Priestess's quarters. The doors are rarely locked...it knows it's way...

Zamara stirred slightly, her eyelids flickering across as her blind gaze trace the ceiling fitfully.

Past the painting of the trees, the symbol of Rhais. The shadow hesitates, pausing for a moment as it looks towards the one, central tree which stands defiantly tall, stretching across the whole wall. One hand - and it is indeed a hand, for this creature appears humanoid - stretches out towards the wall, faltering slightly as it reaches towards the ruby at the centre of the knot of the tree's roots.

Her breathing was shallower now, and her lips moved slightly, as if mouthing silent words: but no words that would be recognised by any Pashtian - except maybe the elves. These are words brought from a faraway land, brought across the seas by a brave people following the gods they knew to be true against a dark unknown evil; a people who also believed in the significance of one tree...

Otso eleni ar otso ondor
ar minë ninquë alda.

The statue turns it's head towards the room of the High Priestess, cocking it slightly to the side in a bestial motion as if listening for the very movement of her thoughts. In the dark shadow of it's face, it grins, if a silhouette can grin; and in one fierce motion plunged it's hand towards the ruby-red stone at the base of the tree-


"Rhais!"

Zamara's scream formed the one single word as the lightning flashed and she sat up suddenly, her eyes wide in terror, the covers clenched tightly around her chest. In the lightning's illumination they seemed to burn a bright, unnatural blue, the blue of a different world across the desert. She stared straight forward, her terrified, ragged breathing the only human sound to be heard against the constant pounding of the rain, then a sound caught her attention, a sound from her chambers outside. Her eyes flickered across and, despite her fear, the fear of a little girl afraid of the storm, the Priestess whirled out of bed in a sudden motion, grabbing the oil lamp from the side in shaking hands and stumbling out of the door into the main room of the chambers. She waved the lamp high, it's flame flickering, a small defence against the darkness.

"I know you are in here!" she called, her voice ragged and hoarse. "You, the enemy of the elves, the bringer of darkness upon my people - leave! Leave here now! You do not scare me, and you do not scare my goddess! The 'Huntress of Rhais' will drive you out!"

The darkness seemed to grow around Rhais, and she could feel something coming towards her. Stumbling backwards, the light of her little lamp faltering, Zamara held up her free hand, shaking though it was, and stared fiercely into the space ahead of her: she could feel a prescence, no matter what her eyes were telling her. Her shaking hands dropped the lamp and it spluttered on the floor, but she continued to hold the ruby medallion in front of her as the thunder and lightning tore at her sight and sound, and she yelled once more: "You do not scare me!"

"High Priestess!"

Zamara's wild gaze spun around the the entrance to her rooms. But no demon stood there - just the reassuring figure of Tayfar, frozen in shock. The acolyte rushed forward to her mistress's side, leaving the door open as she did so - and unnoticed by both women, something slipped out, spreading it's darkness into the night. Zamara was hunched against the wall, wearing only a thin slip beside the ruby medallion, and she seemed terrified to Tayfar. As the girl tried to coax her upright and away from the wall, she caught a sudden glimpse of Zamara's eyes, and almost let go of the older woman: they shone blue. In an instant the effect was gone, and Tayfar blinked quickly against it. Looking at the woman in wonder, she murmured, "What happened?"

Zamara's breathing was calmer now, and she loosened her grip on the medallion although she kept a tight grip on Tayfar's hands. Meeting the girl's eyes, she replied, "Light the candles and lamps. All of them, throughout the temple." Tayfar nodded and made to go, but Zamara stopped her. "No! Just...just around my rooms for now."

Slowly easing her fingers off Tayfar's hand, the Priestess took several deep breaths to steady herself and flexed her fingers to relieve the stiffness from being so tightly clenched: looking at her palms in wonder, she saw that they were marked with four little crescent markings each - her nails had dug in so tightly that they had almost cut into the skin. Feeling a spin of woozyness, she touched her forehead lightly and, bringing her hand back down, saw blood on her fingers. The events of the evening came back to her: Morgos coming to the temple, his questions, the statue falling, he pushing her out of the way...and nothing.

"Morgos - where is he?"

"The General, the elf?" Tayfar shook her head. "I'm not sure, Priestess. He was taken away by the healers I think - but he's a dangerous being, that elf: he pushed you right to the floor, knocked you out. Dangerous..." Tayfar shook her head, shaking out the match as she lit the last of the candles.

Zamara frowned. Knocked her out? No...Morgos had been angry, but.... She shook her head, trying to clear out the muzzy cotton wool that confused her thoughts. She couldn't clearly remember anything, of her conversation with the elf, of what had happened when the statue was pushed over, or of her dream...yes, her dream. Closing her eyes tightly, the priestess tried to remember, but nothing seemed to stand out - nothing but one face. Bekah's. But what had she to do with any of this...

"Bekah - I mean, the Queen, was she at the temple when Morgos was?"

Tayfar hesitated. Zamara could not see her expression as her back was to her, but she sensed the acolyte's anxiousness. She turned around slowly, walking to Zamara, her face anxious and saddened. Taking her hand, she said quietly, "Queen Bekah has been murdered, Zamara."

Zamara looked at her in incomprehending confusion. Her lips moved silently for a second, her expression changing rapidly, her face falling, as her unblinking eyes searched Tayfar's face. "Murdered?" she whispered. Tayfar nodded silently, tears coming to her own eyes as they came to Zamara's. The priestess's hands twisted into tight fists as they fell to her sides, and she shook her head as she turned away from Tayfar, heading towards the balcony. "No...no, it cannot be..."

"She was found outside her apartments earlier this evening, Zamara. She had been strangled-"

"No!" Zamara's drawn out yell echoed across the city, a mourning cry that sent a shiver through the dark and deserted streets. She stood hunched over the balcony for several moments, her fingers curled white-tight around the rail, not heeding the rain and the wind that howled around her. After a minute she turned around again having finally regained her composure, but Tayfar could not tell if it was tears or rain that streaked her face so. She spoke quietly, calmly, a woman trying to keep control as the reins spun out of her reach.

"Tayfar, get me my robe and cloak, and my staff. We are to go to the palace immediately, but - are there any guards on the Temple doors?"

"No, High Priestess, they were recalled to the palace-"

"We shall have to risk it then." Zamara's voice was grim as she cut over the end of Tayfar's sentence. "Every light in the Temple is to be lit: every candle, every lamp, every torch - everything. And prayers - prayers sent and incense burned, the very finest. I know it is hardly perfect, but Bekah is to be honoured as she deserves - there is to be nothing spared, do you understand?" Tayfar nodded mutely and turned into Zamara's room to fetch her things. Zamara turned her head and stared into the grey, empty streets, before she added one last note. "One more thing, Tayfar: none of you are to do anything alone. Do you understand me? None of you are to do anything alone, and certainly you are not to leave the temple. Spread that message." Her eyes burned fiercely as she straightened up, glaring into the night at an invisible foe. "They will have none of my priestesses or acolytes..."
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Old 02-20-2005, 11:48 AM   #192
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Dark-Eye More than a suspicion...

“My lady,” the messenger began. “I’m afraid to tell you that her Majesty the Queen has passed away.”

Evrathol spotted that Arlomë was near falling to the floor again. He supported her in the back, trying to keep her body up straight. “What is this?” she said out loud, breathing heavily. “What you tell me can’t honestly be true!” she then continued. Evrathol tried to calm her down, but to no use.

“I’m afraid it is, my lady,” the messenger said gravely. It seemed that he also was greatly affected by this evening’s terrible events. “How?” Evrathol then let out. “Yes, what happened?” Arlomë then said. Evrathol saw that his mother was now shedding tears over the deceased Queen. “There is no good way of telling this; but she has been murdered,” the messenger explained.

This was the last drop. Arlomë did not know how to reply to these news. “Her Majesty’s funeral will be tomorrow, and pardon me if this seems heartless, I mean with your husband and all- but the King wants you to help him and the others prepare for the Queen’s funeral tomorrow,” the messenger said. Arlomë nodded. “But,” Evrathol started; he did not finished as he was interrupted by the messenger.

“Come, I’ll take you to the Palace. We must hurry!” The messenger then said, now allowing another word from either of them.

“Hold on a moment, will you,” Evrathol then said after a moment. “Mother, take your coat and follow me,” Evratho said, walking further down the hallway. “But, sir!” the messenger cried. Evrathol ignored him. “We will be at the Palace in fifteen minutes time,” Evrathol said to the messenger letting the door close behind him.

“Son, what is this? What are you doing? We must go immediately. It is our duty,” Arlomë said, holding her son back. It was typical of his mother; putting others in front of herself. “It is,” Evrathol said. “But first, let me tell you about the night’s most peculiar events.”

“Imagine, the Emissary here to night. In our gardens. We have talked about his odd appearances and most suspicious actions, have we not? You said it yourself earlier; something is not right. There is something most mischievous going on in Pashtia. He left rather hurriedly, did he not? He said he had a meeting with the King,” Evrathol explained. Arlomë followed his ever word closely, and nodded; “Yes, son, but I’m not quite following….”

“Don’t you feel it’s rather suspicious that the Emissary pays you, or us, a visit today? And when he first visits us, it’s because of plants and their characteristics…He then leaves without saying properly goodbye and then the next thing we know our most beloved Queen is dead…” Evrathol said. His voice was filled with suspicious and it seemed stern. “And, if that wasn’t enough…Her Majesty was murdered.”

Arlomë let out a short shriek. Her eyes filled with tears again. She was now aware of Evrathol’s suspicion, and for now it seemed as if everything had fallen to place in the pattern Evrathol had brought to her notice. It couldn’t possibly be, could it?

“We must warn the King!”
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Old 02-20-2005, 02:35 PM   #193
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Boots Tarkan

After the Princess had left, Tarkan had smiled broadly to himself. Everything was indeed how it was supposed to be. Slightly curious about why the King wished to see him, he decided nevertheless to put the matters with the King on hold until he had settled his other business. My dear brother can wait with announcing me High Priest for another hour or so. When it comes to my little secret, I know that the King would be willing to have his tongue cut off for ever asking his servant to come get me. Yes, that is how much you will regret your stupidity, my brother Faroz... But don’t worry, your hour shall come soon enough… and I will claim what is rightfully mine…

He called for a man standing nearby, and ordered to take the wheelbarrow with his belongings to his newly built apartments. The man, who discovered that it was the priest who had called him, swallowed hurriedly before running to the wheelbarrow to carry out the priest’s orders. The priest himself followed with stern steps until the two of them parted in the hallway; the stranger went to the right, aiming for the finest apartments, which was particularly appointed to the High priest of the Temple of Rae, and Tarkan went to the left, aiming for Pelin’s apartments.

Arriving there, the door was open. The priest knocked lightly, for the sake of customs, but customs only, and waited. “Pelin?!” he called, with a mild voice. With the smile he bore on his face, one could almost get the impression that the Priest came with good intentions. It was of course not so; in fact, not so at all. The Priest was well aware of what he had done just earlier. He had intentionally acted unfairly with Pelin, getting him upset. Tarkan had said things that Pelin would never forgive, or rather, Pelin would probably forgive, but he would never forget. The priest smirked to himself. Exactly, Pelin would never forget! It seemed already that everything would work out in the best way he could ever imagine; Pelin seemed to be even too upset to open the door and to lock it. If this was indeed so, the priest would without a doubt succeed.

Entering, the Priest froze, thinking of the last conversation with Pelin. Inside of his head, he repeated what had been said.

He restrained himself from laughing at his own words and the pettiness pf Pelin, remembering that he was inside of Pelin’s apartments, and had not come to make Pelin feel worse, but to be ‘forgiven’. “Pelin!?” he called again, before advancing into the small living room. The curtains were drawn, and only the light from an oil lamp shone faintly, giving the nearly empty room a rather ghastly atmosphere. Letting his gaze wander, he discovered Pelin sitting motionless on a bright coloured cushion on the floor. “Pelin,” Tarkan said, running towards him. The young man didn’t move. His eyes were red and weary; he had cried. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Tarkan needed to ‘make up’ with Pelin to succeed in his somewhat vicious plan, he would have laughed out loud and pointed at this man, who seemed so petty and lost. Instead, knowing that this would be the final step of his brilliant plan, and that this by all means had to succeed, he sat down.

“My dear Pelin,” he started. “Look at me,” Tarkan said, breathing heavily. Pelin still didn’t move; he only kept staring into the air, showing no sign whatsoever that he was aware of Tarkan’s presence. The Priest made a grimace; it was only just hidden from Pelin’s sight. This was unbelievable. Pelin was ignoring him. Him!?! The High Priest?!? Sighing, appearing to the man next to him as if being out of words, but in truth being horrified by what he though was absolutely distasteful behaviour, Tarkan knew hat he could only make Pelin satisfied by saying something highly humiliating - like presenting an apology to the young man. Takan swallowed, knowing that for his sake, this so called apology would take yet some time. The Priest had never imagined that Pelin could be so out of place; he was acting as if being in the position of asking a Priest, in fact the coming High priest, to apologise!

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Old 02-28-2005, 09:12 AM   #194
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Her father had left, her brother had fled, and Gjeelea was left to her own devices in the great hall. The gathered citizens watched her, waited for her to speak or to take charge. Another chance for me, Gjeelea thought, looking at Korak and then to the rest of the court. Her mother's death had created enough discord to send the people of Pashtia into complete chaos. Bekah's death made a state of distrust throughout the palace and realm - a situation that needed to be remedied.

"Jarult?" Gjeelea called to the chamberlain, her voice commanding and loud. Her tone reeked of strength and courage that betrayed her actual uncertainty. "Find High Priestess Zamara. See to it also that Lady Arshalous and Lady Arlomë come to the palace as soon as possible, if they do not already know of my mother's death." Jarult complied with a swift nod. Gjeelea turned to address the people gathered in the hall. "All of you, go to your homes and see to it that your families are safe. Light all your lamps for your queen - spare nothing," Gjeelea paused. When none of the people moved, she frowned. "Go! Now!" She ordered, and like stone statues suddenly come to life, the folk moved briskly to the doorway.

Homay and Tabari, personal maids to Bekah, remained in the corner. Behind them stood the healer Dahliyah, who glanced somberly at her own feet. Gjeelea moved from her spot at the steps of the dias to speak with the ladies. The princess knew her duties. When learning about courtly matters and workings Gjeelea joked about ever having to bathe and dress her mother for funeral - was not her mother invincible? The princess, though she knew it to be naive and childish, never imagined that her mother might pass, or furthermore what the effects of her death might bring.

"Homay -" Gjeelea began, her voice suddenly soft and gentle. The princess knew all too well how to change her face or act in what way she saw fit.

"My princess," Homay began, speaking before Gjeelea could continue. "It is vital that I speak with Lord Korak of private matters." The princess was taken aback, though she did not let it show upon her face. "If it pleases you, I will speak with him now, and join the women in the queen's bedchamber for the ceremonies."

"Very well," the princess said in a pleasant manner. Looking behind her shoulder she saw Korak moving to the door with the last of the onlookers. "My Lord Korak," Gjeelea called, causing him to pause midstep. Oh, the power of words, Gjeelea smiled to herself. "Homay wishes to speak with you privately." Korak nodded and Homay nodded her head low to the princess before going to him. Turning to Tabari and Dahliya, Gjeelea put a hand on each of their shoulders. "Come with me now, we will be with Bekah while we wait for the rest of the women."

The three women walked slowly towards the queen's chambers.

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Old 02-28-2005, 01:35 PM   #195
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Tolkien

Arshalous stood before the fire, feeling her skin tighten as it baked in the heat. Her gaze was fixed on Semra who now slept soundly on the couch, wrapped in crimson covers, a silken pillow under her head.

The Queen murdered, my servant assaulted by Shadow, and I caught in the a net of plots for the demise of my cousin. Arshalous's stomach tightened around an numb ball of fear and dread.

Another servant entered the room and said, "Your presence is requested at the palace, my lady."

Arshalous glared at the man, angry at that she had been summoned. Why was she at the beck and call of the royal family? She had problems of her own that must be dealt with...Semra had been hurt...hurt grievously. But she could not deny the summons of the royal family.

"Why do they want me?" she asked.

"They did not say, my lady."

"I suppose to watch over the body of the Queen," she murmured. Tedious custom...

The servant breathed deeply and said, "I think there might be much more to it than that. I was told that Pashtia has been attacked by Alanzia and when news of that reached the royal children, they agreed to alliance themselves with the Emmisarry."

Alanzia breaking the treaty? The news came to Arshalous like a slap to the face. Why would they do that? How could they be so foolish? So treacherous...Queen Bekah was one of their own...did they believe that a Pashtian had assinated her? Conjectures and confusion swirled in her mind and she wished that she could shut it out, hide in her library surrounded by her books of tales..."Thank you....you may go now," she said stiffly.

Arshalous shook Semra by the shoulder and said, "Wake up, we must leave. I have been summoned to the palace and you will go with me. I do not want to leave you here in this condition."

It was difficult to wake up the girl, so in the end Arshalous carried Semra out the door and settled her as comfortably as she could in front of her on the horse.

They arrived soon enough to the palace. Thankfully the jolting gate of the trot had woken Semra up enough so that Arshalous did not feel the need to carry her inside the palace. A servant brought them to the Princess and Arshalous said, "How may I be of service, my lady?"
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Old 02-28-2005, 02:52 PM   #196
Amanaduial the archer
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Silmaril

The temple rested in the darkness of the night, but inside, all shadows were dispelled. Lamps glowed, candles flickered, torches blazed in their brackets and the sweet, haunting scent of incense pervaded the entire temple. Nothing was spared in Zamara's honouring of the Queen - and he explusion of darkness.

Striding down the centre of the temple, Zamara herself could not help pausing for a moment beside Rhais, the edge of her cloak brushing the face of her goddess. Tugging the cloak to one side, she hesitated, looking down at the female face, peaceful and serene, the face alone the size of Zamara: a face that, as her eyesight faded and the tint of blue became ever more prominent, had faded to her eyes. Leaning down slowly, she knelt beside the Goddess, the grimness of her face softening as she reached out her fingers hesitantly and slowly stroked the side of the stone face with her fingertips, tracing the path of where a tear would have fallen on the face. The features were as she had ever remembered them, no matter how they dimmed: the face of a kindly mother but a strong woman nonetheless.

Bekah's face.

Zamara shuddered slightly as sighed deeply, fighting back tears and closing her eyes as if in prayer. Not one but two queens had fallen this dreadful day... Zamara squeezed her eyes tightly shut, like a child making a wish, then stood, making sure that the folds of the thick, black cloak did not fall on the Goddess's face. Nodding briefly to Tayfar beside her, Zamara strode down the central aisle of the Temple, a picture of determination and strength. The thick cloak of midnight velvet billowed slightly behind her, black an unusual colour in Pashtia, in the temple of all places: a sign of sobriety and mourning, both professional and personal. Zamara's white robes were entirely smothered from sight beneath it, and she wore, for once, no golden jewellery, save the medallion; a black bangle of onyx graced each slim wrist and her makeup consisted only of thick, black kohl starkly outlining the smooth curve of her eyes, giving an impression of them being huge, black and sombre. And it covered the redness of her tears. Almost.

A knock on the closed double doors as she approached it made Tayfar jump like a scared rabbit beside the Priestess, but Zamara managed to restrain her own jumpiness, although she did hesitate. Lifting her chin, she nodded to two of the acolytes, who scurried forward and opened the two doors, swinging them open silently on well-oiled hinges. The two soldiers who stood in the storm were immediately arrested by the sight of the woman in front of them: a statue of dark stone, unmoving and magnificent in the middle of the aisle in front of them. Despite the raging storm outside, the two young soldiers did not hurry in, but stepped in more slowly and reverently, confused by this sight - and as one of them suddenly caught sight of the fallen statue behind Zamara, he gasped inadvertently, his hand coming to his mouth. "Rhais," he whispered, horrified. "She has fallen..."

"The Goddess has not fallen," Zamara spoke suddenly, her voice quiet and steady. "She cannot be contained in a statue." The two men looked towards her and her dark eyes remained fixed on them, flickering from one to the other as she greeted them. "Blessings of Rhais upon you in these dark times, gentlemen. You have come from the palace?"

The older of the two nodded, bowing slightly, and Zamara stepped forward to take his hand lightly, nodding in reply. "I shall come immediately. Are you on horseback or walking?"

The soldier looked slightly uncomfortable. "We...we were riding, High Priestess, because of the storm. We were bidden to send for others also to give the message to..." He shifted, looking away from Zamara's dark gaze. She nodded, unperturbed by the news that they would be unescorted through the city. "Lady Arlome, she will be told?"

"And the Lady Arshalous, High Priestess," he replied, nodding in agreement. "The guard who are here will escort you and your following, do not worry-"

Zamara paused, her brow creasing and her grip inadvertently tightening on the soldier's hand. "The guard who are..." She hesitated, then nodded, massaging her temples were one hand as she continued, "Of course, of course. My apologies: it has been a tiring day and I am much grieved from this...sad news." She faltered a little, then cleared her throat, shrugging away the sign of weakness. Looking up at the soldier once more, she patted his hand lightly, almost informally, and nodded briefly. "We shall come immediately, officer. I thank you." The two soldiers turned to go, hurrying out of the door, but Zamara's last parting words stopped them in their tracks. "Travel safely, gentlemen: the night is dangerous for the loyal of Pashtia."

The two young soldiers looked at her strangely, the words of curiosity as to her meaning perched on their lips, but they restrained them, as they had been taught and, with a last fearful glance at the fallen statue and her cloaked keeper, they hurried away into the darkness. A few seconds later, the sound of hooves could be heard. It was only when this sound had become indistinguishable from the falling rain that Zamara moved, turning suddenly to the main hall of the temple, addressing the foremost of the women nearby, who stepped forward when she spoke to her. "Sedaar, close the doors behind us: do not bolt them, but open only one at a time if need be - large numbers of...people cannot be admitted in at once. When news spreads around the city, the people will come to grieve for the loss of their queen: but there are to be no arms inside the Temple. Do you understand me?" Sedaar nodded, looking slightly stunned. Zamara gave her a tired smile, an expression that had been lost from the Priestess's face since she had heard the news of Bekah's murder. "They are but precautions, Sedaar: people can get jumpy at news like this, and in these times..." She pursed her lips. "I will take no chances."

Turning away once more, Zamara lifted her hood over her head so that her face was shaded and only the curves of the lower half of her face were visible beneath the deep hood, and took her staff from Tayfar. Gripping it tightly, she nodded to Tayfar and stepped towards the still-open temple doors, striding forward briskly. Tayfar scurried beside her, but Zamara noted how the girl tried to stand taller and walk in a more steady fashion, as Zamara herself did. She leant in and spoke furtively to the older woman. "Priestess, there are no guards in the temple-"

"I know."

Tayfar looked anxious. "But you said to those two soldiers that-"

"The soldiers were apparently recalled to the Palace, Tayfar; yet those soldiers have come straight from the Queen's side and knew nothing of those orders. That says something very suspicious, Tayfar: that speaks of more than one set of orders being given. But if the Queen is dead, her children grieving and the King unlikely to be contradicting himself in his own orders," she continued, looking across at the girl. "then who is giving the second set of orders?"

Tayfar looked uncertain, then troubled. Looking up at Zamara, she said quietly, "Then who is to guide us through the storm to the palace?"

Zamara paused at the top of the Temple steps, just out of the rain, her face lit strangely from one side from the bright lights from inside the Temple and the other side entirelt shrouded in shadow, and a word suddenly darted into Tayfar's mind: ethereal. Distant and sacred.

"There is more than one way to the Palace," she replied. "There is a more covered and quicker route which we can take, but whether we should..." Zamara trailed off, frowning to herself, her expression unseen by her young charge. But there was no time for uncertainty: setting her jaw grimly, the clutched her staff resolutely and nodded. "Yes. Yes, we shall take that route. Stay close by me, Tayfar, keep a hold on my cloak so I know you are not going anywhere, and stay as quiet as you can." Zamara nodded again, this time almost to herself, as is striking off a checklist into her mind. Stepping into the wild, frantic rain of the storm, she took one last look back into the Temple, her Temple, the Temple of Rhais, and her eyes met the cold stone ones of the fallen statue.

Rhais, keep us safe. Queen Bekah, I come to you...
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Old 03-02-2005, 12:38 PM   #197
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Korak gazed rather absently at the ground, a frown darkening his brow. The death of the Queen had been no tragedy to him, as it had been to her family. To him it meant only that the King might step from the throne sooner, perhaps despairing. Yet, it did pose a problem, it most certainly did. A young woman generally does not care to be married soon after her mother has been murdered. Would the marriage be postponed further? And if it was... if the King did leave his throne to one of his children very soon, and the marriage was delayed, chances were increased that the Prince would take the throne. And that would never do... it went against all the plans.

Perhaps Morashk would think of something that could be done. If the Princess showed reluctance to be married so soon to her mother's murder, Lord Korak could press her, saying that either they wed now or did not. It would be a gamble, but he felt that she was equally eager to take the throne, and he knew her chances were slim if she were not married.

And the simple fact that the Queen had been murdered disturbed him. A murder was not a pleasant thing, no matter who it was, and this was the Queen. What other dangers could be about? Were they all in danger? Dark clouds were gathering in the distance, and they brought ill will.

Homay still had said nothing. Perhaps she realised that Korak was deep in thought, but it annoyed the wealthy lord. He looked up sharply. "Homay, if you have anything to say, I would bid you say it," he said. "I do not have as much time as you seem to think I do, and with such dark things lurking, I feel I must soon return to my mother."

And to Morashk, to discuss the problem of the wedding. But he would not, of course, say that.

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Old 03-02-2005, 05:12 PM   #198
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Two figures crouched in conspiratorial whispers, their words but dimly heard. They cast nervous glances about themselves, winking and devious in the low light of their den. They are plotting…planning, seeking out the time to attack him and his friends. They are enemies.

“Who are they?”

“I show you your enemies, Faroz. They are gathering about you, and you are blind to it.”

One of them turns and he sees her face. It is sharp and pointed, and he wonders that he has never noted its ugliness. The ears, misshaped and hideous, the eyes bright and deadly with years of cunning and secrets kept for their own kind. Her cub is at her side, his own mouth twisted into a smile of wolfish glee at the prospect of moving against the Men he hates.

“I know them! They are the wife and child of my General. They plot against me now. They blame me for the death of my beloved wife and Queen.”

He lies in a broken heap upon the stone, struck down by the power of the One Lord for his blasphemy. He has forgotten know, but the visions hover still about his mind like the stench of offal in the heat of the sun. His fear is that of the weak who hate and envy the strong. He desires only to throw down that which is good and powerful. He is the enemy of Men, the opponent of Annatar, the servant of violence and death. An innocent girl clutches the wounds that he has inflicted upon her.

“He dares to wound the innocent! I had not thought it possible for Morgôs to be so wicked. I must protect my people from him and his kind. I must find some way to prevent their envy of us from destroying the world of Men.”

The Elf is speaking with his son. They are huddled together in a corner, casting envious eyes upon him, and plotting his overthrow. The boy, his eyes wide with youthful innocence, is growing monstrous and twisted, becoming as they are. His features are human but his soul is corrupted with the taint of the immortals. He is being corrupted, has been corrupted, is corrupt. There is not hope for him. It will be a kindness now to see that he shares the fate of his corrupter.

“My son, my son! They have turned you against me! My gentle boy, the one who I had hoped to follow me to the throne…you are overthrown and drawn into the webs of my enemies! Thus do they work and conspire. I have known it always, but never have I seen.”

She strides through the streets and at her throat is a terrible emblem of fire and blood, a stone that stabs his mind and shows the evil that she intends. Her soul is rank with the converse she had enjoyed with demons. She claims to speak with the goddess, but she is in league with the powers of darkness. She preaches against him, telling those who follow her in their ignorance that Pashtia is ill, when it is her own soul that has been infected with doubt. Her hands will stain the flesh of his wife with her impurity. She will defile the good of his beloved.

“If the servant of Rhais is such, then what is the goddess? A demon! We have been misled by the priestesses to worship the shadow when the light shone clear above for us to see. Her time will come, yes, it will come. When the temple of the One Lord is completed I will have the house of the pretender pulled down brick by brick, and all Pashtians shall be brought to the light of the true faith. They shall be saved, and those who follow the false goddess will drown in the blood of her false prophets!”

“I am sorry to have caused you such pain, my friend. But sometimes truth is sadness.”

“No, no, I am glad that you have shown me these things my friend. I see now that I have been blind and weak. My enemies are almost upon me, but now I see them and will be ready for them. It will be difficult, but I can counter them if I move quickly.”

“How can you counter such enmity, such betrayal? Your friends are few.”

“In that I have you to thank, Lord Annatar, for I am not wholly alone. Your servants are here in the City and will aid me for the sake of the love that we share. As to the others, where love fails, there is always self-interest, vanity, greed and ambition. It is with these that I shall bind up my rule and save my people from those who wish to destroy it. My daughter and the Lord Korak crave power and dominion, but only I can offer it to them. They will join with me against my enemies, for if I fall, then they are to fall with me. My brother is greedy and foolish beyond all else, and thus easy clay to my managing. The One Lord will require a Priest, so that my people may be brought to the truth. Tarkan will snap up that dainty as a dog scrambles for a ragged piece of meat dropped from the table of his masters. Yes, yes…yes…they shall do nicely. Yes, they shall help me.”

“But you have forgotten one thing, my friend. Your wife is dead. It is not seemly that you should be alone in your trials. Your people will need to see that you have someone at your side. For the King to rule, there must be a Queen. You cannot hold your throne without a mate”

“Indeed! And she must be a Pashtian so that all can see I am not swayed to the part of our enemies…”

“You are cunning my friend, cunning and sly. You have already thought of a replacement to your wife. You have already settled your mind upon another.”

“I have. But I cannot say summon her yet, not yet. It would not be seemly. But soon, I shall. Very soon.”
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Old 03-02-2005, 08:38 PM   #199
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Boots Homay

It was a considerable crowd which milled about the Great Hall, watching the King's announcement and then departure, murmuring amongst themselves over the manner of the two royal children, watching to see what fate lay in store for their country. Palace attendants mingled with wealthy citizens of influence and power, while noble men and women spoke among themselves. Homay had quietly withdrawn to the sidelines at the news of the attack of the Alanzians, unsure of how she would be regarded in the face of this shocking news. On one side she heard a small gasp from the maid Tabari with the whispered words, "Alanzia, Alanzia." Tabari looked at Homay with frightened eyes and the older woman wondered if she now was being viewed as a possible collaborator with the enemy, for Tabari had known of the correspondence which she had run for the Queen with the foreign king. Yet on her other side Homay felt a gentle passing of the outside of hand over hers and she knew that Dahliyah understood her quandry.

The old woman played over and over in her mind the news of Siamak's and Gjeela's agreement to accept alliance with the Emissary. Oh, if only one of them had come to their mother's quarters, had come to seek her out, what she could have told them. Now, now it was too late. Yet she was bound by honour and trust to respect her mistress's last request. She stood on the spot, unmoving, until she heard the Princess's commands and saw both Tabari and Dahliyah swept away in the entourage towards the Queen's chambers and with trembling she made her request Gjeela.

And now the dark, scowling face of Lord Korak peered into her face, impatiently. Was he in agreement with this alliance she wondered? Did he share Gjeela's political feelings? She did not know, but decided on the spot, looking at his face, that she would tread carefully, very carefully.

"Lord Korak, it is awkward at this time, at the death of my mistress, to speak of everything she wished me to say to you, her presumed future son-in-law." Homay raised her voice, and some of the nobles who remained in the room ceased their murmuring and strained to catch some of the conversation.

"What could you possibly have to say to me?" Lord Korak retorted, impatient with this crone.

"I see you are impatient with the hesitancy of an old attendant unused to the ways of the court. I will not keep you now, my lord, but merely let you know that the Queen wished to show her future son-in-law certain curtesies and to bring him into her confidence as the Princess's mother. Let us speak again later, when matters of the marriage can be more fittingly discussed."

Korak would have scoffed aloud had something in the old woman's manner not appealed to his vanity. What would the Queen have wanted with him? he wondered, his devious mind immediately trying to ascertain what leverage him might acquire, even after the Queen's death. He did not wish to be controlled by that royal vixen Djeela and would not be unwilling to seek out his own alliances. His mother, after all, had been close friends with the Queen.

"I shall return now to console my mother, the Lady Habiba, over this terrible news of the death of her friend. When the time is more appropriate, I will seek your words about this marriage which I have long desired. Good night, old woman."

Homay curtsied and then withdrew, certain that as yet no word of her true intent could have been passed on in gossip. She left the Great Hall and followed the long, wide corridor through which Djeela and the other woman had passed towards the Queen's quarters. On her way, she came upon Jarult returning with his arms full of candles and oil lamps.

"I have stumbled upon just the person who can help me with these for the night's vigil," he intoned to Homay. His eyes told her there were more he wished to convey with her then mere wax. Homay stepped to his side. Their two heads nodded close together and any one watching them would have seen two ordinary servants going about the mundane business of the palace. Yet now it was that Jarult whispered to Homay what he had observed a month ago between Bekah and the King. Without stopping to make any display, Homay took in this information and decided that, Lord Korak notwithstanding, she would divulge her own knowledge to the old chamberlain. Thus it was that slowly and quietly the truth of events would become known, not among the great and powerful upon whom the Emissary spied with his Ring and his other abilities, but among those who neither the Emissary nor his Lord Annatar would ever have given any moment of thought to. And so Faroz was never swayed to mistrust his servants Jarult and Homay as he was turned away from his General, his Priestess, his faith, by the foul machinations of Ashnaz and Annatar.
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Old 03-10-2005, 02:12 PM   #200
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Jarult

Kanak had become a city of frightened whispers.

The cold season had come and gone, but the return of the dry winds from the mountains brought no relief, only the dry and sterile hissing of air between stone. To the naked eye, the land appeared to be in plenty, for the rains had been gentle for most of the season, and the River had swollen gradually, flooding the farmlands and enriching them with their fertile cargo of silt and mud. Grain grew and fattened beneath the sun, the fields came to harvest and the new lambs were weaned. Trees grew and orchards ripened and nature seemed to have been blessed where those who depended upon it for sustenance were cursed.

Jarult’s back bowed beneath the weight of that curse as he limped homeward from a day spent ordering the unloading of goods at the new wharf. He crept along the narrow street in which he lived and felt as he never had when he had been a servant of the King’s what it was to be old and unnecessary. His dismissal from the court had been expected, but unwelcome for that all the same, for as deeply as he now distrusted Khamul – feared him even – he had known no other life than that of service. And even now, with the terms of that service having been so changed, he little knew how to endure the pain of its loss.

A crash and clash of uncouth tongues and ragged metal drove him back to the bitter present, and like the few people still abroad at this hour he hurried from the street to seek the shelter of a narrow doorway. Pressing himself into the shadows, he prayed to the Goddess that he might be invisible to the creatures’ eyes as they passed him by. They appeared from around the bend, squat and bowlegged, their red eyes raging with a hatred like that which fills the heart of no Man, their yellowed fangs glistening in the last light of the setting sun. They called it a “patrol” but what they were patrolling for, and against what they sought to defend the citizens of the city, none could tell. The party came abreast of where Jarult cowered and rushed past him, roaring at those they saw to get indoors, bellowing about the curfew. One of them saw the old man cowering in his robes, and the meanness of the creature’s imagination was seized by the thought of some play. “Hey lads!” it cried, “here’s one who thinks he doesn’t have to obey curfew! Tell us old man, why aren’t you at home and safe in your bed? Don’t you know it’s dangerous to be out at night.”

Jarult stepped down into the street and was soon surrounded by the orcs. He wished for the strength that had been his of old, for the strength that might have let him speak out against these creatures the words he felt in his heart. He longed to accuse them of staining his beautiful city with their foul skins and breath, and of corrupting his beloved King. Instead, he bowed his head before the ferocity of their rage and mumbled an excuse. They mocked him then, but they let him go and he rushed to his home, where he locked himself in for the night.

An hour later he lay in his bed, his meager supper of porridge slowly curdling in his stomach, and his mind drifted back, trying to pinpoint the exact moment when his world had begun to fall apart. For the longest time he had thought it was the sight of the orc army marching toward Kanak with his own King, Khamul the glorious, riding at its head, clad from head to toe in the black plate steel armour that he had ordered forged for him in mimicry of the arms borne by the Emissary from the West. The story of the King’s miraculous victory in the war with Alanzia had reached the city days before – how he had emerged from his tent upon the eve of battle encased in his new armour, and how his own men had fallen away from him in terror of the immense power that he wielded. He had spoken to the army, and whether it was the exaggeration of soldier’s tales or if there were some truth to the magic that they claimed he held, his voice had been heard by the full ten thousand of his troops. He had urged them on to slaughter and war, to blood and ruin, though the enemy which lay encamped upon the opposite side of the River was five times their size, and composed almost entirely of the terrible orcs from the West. The soldiers had taken up his cry, and seized by a power they hardly understood, they had flung themselves upon their enemy. But hardly had the battle been joined when the King flew into the front of the lists, and wielding his sword above his head he called to the orcs to hearken to his voice, and he had exhorted them to lay down their weapons. The King’s own men had faltered in their fear for him, struck dumb by his folly, but the orcs had faltered. It was then, if the stories were to be believed, that the King had taken out the Ring that had been the gift of the Emissary. Speaking to the orcs in a voice of terrible authority he had commanded them to join him against the Alanzians, and to follow him. The creatures had laughed, but those who heard those cries reported that the beasts had been afraid too, of the Ring that Khamul had held aloft and that now glowed with a baleful light.

The orcs wavered and the battle was stilled. All watched as the King put the Ring upon his finger and vanished from the sight of mortal eye. But while he could not be seen, his presence was there before them all, like a terrible shadow vast and deep, and from it there came a voice. “Enemies of Pashtia,” it cried. “Hearken unto me and turn thy swords to my service. Lay yourselves down in fealty to me or face my uttermost wrath!” And then the orcs had been driven into a frenzy. Some slew themselves in fear and awe, but most turned to the service of the King and destroyed their Alanzian allies. The King’s Men, seized with the bloodlust of battle, had joined the orcs in the slaughter. The next day the joint army marched upon the capital of Alanzia and the king of that land had sued for mercy, pledging to become a tributary to Pashtia for all time, if only Khamul would save the people of Alanzia from the fangs of the orcs, his erstwhile allies.

Khamul had agreed to the request, but the king of Alanzia had been forced to bow to him, and to lay aside his crown. No word had been spoken between them of the death of Bekah, and while there were many of the King’s officers who longed to ask of it, none dared it in the hearing of their King.

The return of Khamul at the head of that monstrous army, and that army’s subsequent barracking within the walls of Kanak, had been a terrible day, but Jarult had begun of late to think of other, less dramatic moments, as the well-spring of his woe. The command soon after Khamul’s return that the new temple to Rae be dedicated to the god Morgoth, whom Khamul claimed was responsible for their miraculous victory, was one such moment. The order soon after, that the temple to Rhais be destroyed, and that all reference to the Goddess be wiped from the people’s practice and memory, had been – if it were possible – even more of a blow.

But despite this list of horrors, Jarult was convinced that the worst day was much earlier. It was the day that he and Homay had come to speak of together many times, and to play over in their conversations again and again, for of all those he had known at the palace, she was the only one who still came to visit him in this poor quarter of the city. It was the day that had burned itself into his mind so clearly that even now he could see it, even in the waking light. His King, Khamul, striking the Queen Bekah; seizing her arm and bending her to his will. It has been that moment, he now realized, which had begun the transformation of his world.

Where that transformation was leading he could not imagine. But he feared that when it was through, he would not be able to recognized the land he loved more than his own life.
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