Darklaw – Episode 86


AVESTINE STOOD LOOKING out across the bay from the castle’s highest floor. King Jarreden had been deposed the day before, and his loyalists had retreated to The Breakland. All she had to do was starve them out, but such a win was ignoble. She had sent two divisions into the hills and another from the sea. Better to give them the chance to fight in their defeat. They would respect her victory more.

Gerard stood in the shadows, patiently waiting as always. Rook was in another corner. Wald near him. She leaned forward, her hands supporting her weight on the marble windowsill.

She found a lot to like in Fivefold Woke. The city had been a seneschal kingdom of Arrowreign, as it had been under the Trade Empire. After she defeated the Sovereignty fleet, Avjakar’s legions had retreated iceward, leaving her free to assemble for an expedition to the Dark Quarter. Fivefold Woke offered the best staging waters, but Jarreden had not been cooperative.

“You could spend a week in the country or at the shore,” said Gerard. “Jarreden had a magnificent villa at Trader Bay.”

“What for?” She turned around. “I’m on the verge of retaking all that belongs to me. I don’t want to delay that a day more than necessary. You’ll soon be warmaster to the throne of Darklaw, a position I once held. It’s no mean step for the son of a nomad, Gerard.”

“Indeed not, Your Excellency.”

She looked him over. Since his resurrection under the power of Wald, he had lost a bit of his fire. “If you no longer have the stomach for it, you can name your successor, though you’ll live in Sahrdon. I’ll not have you vanishing to some backwater tribal land.”

“What makes you think I would?” He stepped forward out of the shadows, his crimson robe flapping once behind him as he snapped to attention in a manner more angry than respectful.

Orange marble framed the large room set with few amenities—two chairs, a bear fur rug, and oil lamps on the walls. A painting of the myth of Bala’s capture covered one wall. Avestine had already commissioned a local artisan to paint over it. “At least I can still irritate you.”

“Why would you want to?”

She walked up to him, flaming with anger out-of-proportion to his provocation. “You act as if all that you have isn’t worth what was taken, but what have you lost? A few friends? Did you think you’d rule the world just because you wanted to?”

“I’ll never rule the world, Excellency.”

“As close as a nomad will ever get. No one to answer to but me.”

“And Raret.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Did he tell you that?”

“What should I think? He’s a prophet, some say an Avatar. Don’t you wonder how he helped your brother before he came here?”

“My brother will send every last soldier straight to Bala’s Hell to finish me, so it doesn’t matter what he told him. With or without the Avatars, I would have war just the same.”

A screech startled Avestine, and she turned to see a falcon swoop to land on the windowsill. Rook stepped forward, but Avestine held him back. “Kami!” she exclaimed as she went to her.

Kami slid from the windowsill to her feet as she shed her animal form. Avestine snapped her fingers toward a guard at the door. “Send for a robe and boots.” She turned back ready to embrace Kami, but Kami stepped away, her arms raised.

Avestine looked her over. “What happened? You’ve been gone so long.”

“I’ve been at Adonja’s Temple. I’ve been on the plains with the nomads. I’ve been in the forest with the wolves. I spent a day at sea watching your soldiers load ships. Why are you in Fivefold Woke?”

“We’re at peace. Aren’t you pleased?”

“You mean you’ve slaughtered the last men in the Trade Quarter who resisted you. Peace always reigns where there is silence.”

“Have you forgotten why you left? You went to find my daughter.”

“If the war is over, why the ships?”

“We’re preparing an expedition to Sahrdon.”

“You already have your brother in chains.”

“You must have known it was Raret,” said Avestine grimly. “You remember his deceptions. You made me a deal. What about my daughter? Where is she?”

“She’s well.”

“That wasn’t the deal. Where is she?”

“Where is Raret?”

“I don’t give a damn.”

“Your daughter is at the temple.”

“You were to bring her.”

“She didn’t wish to come.”

“Are you telling me you couldn’t handle a little girl?”

“She’s sworn to kill you. She believes Avestar is the Emissary. She also believes she’s his daughter.”

“You’re angry with me.”

“It seems I’m destined never to have love and truth at the same time.” Kami glanced around at the faces, but paused at Gerard. “Is what she says true? Were you Avestar?”

Avestine and Rook both looked at Gerard and back at Kami. Gerard laughed and his body began to change. He shrunk in height and breadth, taking on the appearance of another man and then another and another before taking on the face of a dark-skinned nomad. Raret.

Avestine tried to blink away what she saw, and then realized she was alone among a circle of gods, a place where sanity could never prevail.

“It didn’t seem like you,” commented Kami as she scrutinized him.

“You’re observant, Sister,” said Raret. To Avestine’s scowling face, he explained, “Gerard’s asleep in his room. He spent a long sunfall with…” he lifted his eyebrows at Wald, “an energetic boy.”

Kami turned to Avestine. “Raret was responsible for a great deal of your success in recent years, but that doesn’t mean you should believe a thing he says.”

Avestine was trying to understand Kami’s belligerence. “I’m not your enemy.”

“I’m afraid the truth is a snare that’s finally caught me.” Kami stepped toward the window. “You’ll have to leave now. All of you. All the lands that know Mon belong to me. You’ll leave and never return to the Demon Quarter. You can go to the lands of Sula or Arujan and finish your petty war there, but if your soldiers are still here when Mon’s face is next full, I’ll kill every last one of them, and then I’ll bind you to a rock on the Coast of Souls for the rest of eternity.” She leapt through the window and flew away.

Avestine stared for a long time at the empty window. She was too shaken to be angry, too certain of Kami’s ability to disregard the threat.

Rook touched her arm. “Sahrot is a temperamental god.”

Raret wore a smile, and seeing his smugness, Avestine seized him by the oversized tunic he wore. “Pretending to be my brother. Pretending to be my warmaster. What’s your game?” She shoved him away, but he continued to smile.

“You’re more clever than your brother,” replied Raret, “who even now is wasting away in a Sahrdon dungeon.” When Avestine cringed slightly, Raret lost his smile. “Do I see pity for a man who raped you, stole your daughter, and tried to kill you?” He raised his hands. “These fingers you see took me years to get back. Kami might one day learn the trick, but that won’t fade the memory of the blinding pain and his delight at hacking them off. I would think you of all people could appreciate justice.”

“Yes, you’ve showed me revenge is profitable, Raret, and Kami has taught me that gratitude is quite expensive, and I wonder, still, which is the better bargain. There are many who would know justice only at my death.” She turned with a sweep of her arm. “Rook, for example. Should I deny him his due?”

“His due? You owe him nothing. You’ve given him a daughter.” Avestine tried to control her reaction, but though it was subtle, Raret noticed her effort. He nodded and added, “And we both know who Avestar’s child is.”

Avestine glanced at Rook who watched her with accusing eyes, but she was less concerned that he find out about Avesha than that Raret might continue speaking on. “My brother is still alive,” she said, “or I would be in possession of Arujan. That’s all that matters. For all I know, Raret, you may, indeed, have him in irons, or he may be gathering his forces for war off my shore right now.”

“First among equals but last to arrive,” said Raret. “You should know I have always favored you.” He bowed low.

“You’re an opportunist.”

“There’s no better servant for you than me. And I am, most humbly, your servant.” He bowed low again.

Avestine told Wald to have her horse readied for a journey. She sent guards to roust Gerard from bed.

She drew Rook aside. “Gerard will take charge of the surrender of King Jarreden.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Rook.

Avestine bristled at his tone. “Why do you believe Raret?”

“Because you do.” His gaze grew distant. “My daughter.” He smiled. “My daughter. Aren’t you relieved? Avesha is ours.”

When Rook said the name, Avestine found it difficult to breathe.

“Avestine,” whispered Rook. He paused before he continued, “Avestine. We have a child. A future.”

“No future. There is no future now.” Avestine was trying to catch her breath. “My brother did have a child.”

Rook frowned as if searching for the memory. “The affair with the Essanti priestess? Your father had the baby exposed. He had the woman beheaded.”

“The affair was with the daughter of Father’s second wife. You know how much Mother hated her. She wasn’t about to let such a sweet revenge as an illegitimate child disappear on some hillside. She intercepted the servants and sent the baby away, expecting one day she would use it to her advantage.”

“Your brother’s child lived?”

“You believe the prophecy of the Elumen, don’t you? My father had the Elumen impaled because he was afraid of them, not because he thought them liars. He wouldn’t let me near a man, and you know what he did to my brother.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore. We know it’s not Avesha. She’s not the Darklord.”

Avestine was shaking her head. “All that means is we must look for the Darklord somewhere else.”

“No need to look. He’ll come to us.”

“I’m going to find Kami, reason with her. She doesn’t understand. She believes my brother’s lies.”

“You must forget her. She isn’t worth your effort. You have more important things to do. And we know where Avesha is. We can get her. We’ll explain the truth to her.”

Avestine spread her arms. “No one has earned the right to my life more than you. If you want it, take it now. Otherwise, I give it to Kami.”

“You have no right to make such an offer. You have a duty. You have a destiny. You’re risking not just your life but the world.”

“If Arujan has chosen me, then there’s no risk. If he’s chosen my brother, then there’s no hope. Far better my body’s lost in some nameless forest than tarred and rotting on the walls of Sahrdon.”

Rook looked offended. “If she takes your life, I will have hers.”


Published in Darklaw |
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