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|Nights like these I quote Invictus. |
I pray for the ones that never knew, and the God that's standing with us.
And for all the hopeless people crying out that stood no chance.
I thank the one that made me cry, and taught me how to dance.
Poverty to him without a dream of greater things and life.
It is that which knows no pain could never teach the good in strife.
What we learn in struggle then we take for future now.
Let the beatings come of chance... Then smile as we can stay unbowed.
Whoa calamitous ruckus heavens! How they rumble, thunderous quake.
Yea, the devil writhes inside us, begging for our soul to take.
Its our choices, silent voices, sleepless noises, which we say
What is ours is ours to lose, so grip it tight, keep hope awake.
Belief is brief, death eternal. Love is strong and everlasting.
What can be our move today, dear king? How will they say in passing...
"He was so." "She was that." "I had seen." "They were thus."
Bring the trumpets, I've returned the me.
The me that always was.
|Log 27: Fifth Kingdom |
I wouldn't be let out of the Queen's contract in the face of so many new dangers. Having a working mammoth machine like the Crimson Livyah was more than a vanity with an impending war on the horizon. It was more important than news of the "disappeared" princess, or an apparent uprising in Ridar. Maintaining peace would be a trivial political afterthought if not for the very real, not-so-trivial impending doom of the world.
Peace is paramount.
After leaving from Evudaria, my ship was interrupted by a black ship that ran our flag. The men and women aboard wore black rags around their faces and over their necks, hiding their eyes and emotions. The captain of the ship, a hardened, short haired woman named Tyhiel A'trune, had been instructed by Amáde to intercept us.
"We are your Shad'eín, King Antik. Amáde saw a need to provide you with a guard and we are that response. The most capable and trained men of each ship were chosen by him and tested again, only to pledge life and loyalty to you. No blade will see you unless you will it, forever more," she added, curling her hand backwards onto her chest plate, the crew mimicking her movement. It was their subtle salute, and I nodded in acknowledgment.
"Much better than the Teeth," Ravyn added, smiling as she came from behind me and claimed my arm as her shelter. Tyhiel tensed her hand around the hilt on her waist and I kissed Ravyn on the cheek, easing her action.
"She has run away and isn't our prisoner. Princess Ravyn Hawke is our honored guest and an extension of me. Where she is, you should be," I said, the Shad'eín facing her with a similar salute.
Aldin rose with Maeri who now took to shredding a few garments to wear as a makeshift top and skirt. The sight of my brother with her was more than uncomfortable, but not for feelings to Maeri. I just hoped she was gentle with him.
Shortly after the ship departed I explained, in quick detail, what should happen next. Returning to work on the Queen's ship was necessary, but keeping Ravyn and Maeri, recently kidnapped and deceased as it were, away from the eyes of the public was equally prudent. Therefore, I made a simple schedule to come back to Islez for two days every seven. This provided for strategy in case of imminent attack from the First and a way to see Ravyn. It only took one week of me leaving for her to make me promise myself, and I was less than argumentative in agreeing.
After nearly a month of working and visits, it came to pass that the Queen came down with an illness. She stopped appearing publicly and Ravyn would ask me constantly to beg her audience. Even through all the abuse she had endured, her heart ached for her mother's well being, possibly even her acceptance. It was beyond far fetched to me, but I knew that family to her was still paramount.
It reminded me then that I hadn't seen my father since I was fifteen. A day before the end of my work week, I set off to the small island, Braglia, to see him.
Braglia was one of six islands east of the capital that Evudarian's also populated. Braglia was the largest of these and the closest to the capital while, in descending order of size, there was: Orthus, Paragathon, Adamis, Celtsia, and the smallest of Cavurn. Each island served a purpose for the other, and a communal peace had been reached several thousand years ago. Before the capital existed the islands were self governing, and some would say they still are, even if the Queen remains the overlord.
I ported Braglia on the eastern side with all of my brothers beside me, accompanied also with Ravyn, Maeri, and Valentia. Seeing them, I noticed that the only person who had not dated was Brekka, and D'astinon would wait till the end of his year before being marked because of Alysia. It weighed heavily on me to see my brothers happy, but I knew it was up to the Spirit to see them satisfied.
The house that my father, Gretik, raised me in was about a quarter day walk from where we set anchor, causing us to make way into the only shop around to that held horses: The Bronze Braglia. This massive shop served as a market, bar, theater, everything. I was never allowed inside by my father because he said it was not good for boys to be around drink, no matter what the law said.
There were, however, adults that could have used the same lesson.
The spaces, however spread out, seemed to run into each other. Without dividing walls, drunken men stumbled into the market, horses would at times rush by the bar, or a play would captivate the entire room. For this occasion, we were greeted by the sound of singing unlike any I'd heard before. Entranced, I moved myself to the front and had to catch my balance on the wall.
"Antik, are you well?" D'astinon asked, rushing to feel my neck as I felt the room spin.
"Livyah is singing," I said, staring at the stage.
"Like the boat?" Brekka added, Ravyn turning to face me with a look so sharp i thought I was bleeding.
"Brekka, yes. Yes like the boat. And we don't need horses anymore either," I added, pointing at the stage, "My father is right there."
Yes, my father was on a stage surrounded by men and women, all improperly dressed, chiming in on a harvest tune sung during the reaping season. This was eclipsed, of course, by the human embodiment of Livyah who, beyond my explanation, had legs and sung louder than all the others. My confusion is the only thing that matched my rage.
"Dad!" I yelled, watching him jump away and nearly stumble as I turned him around, gripping his shoulder. "Where are you going?"
"You scared me there! For a minute I thought you were my son," he laughed, looking me up and down as I punched him in the chest.
"I am your son, Gretik. Or as mom said, 'Gratie'. What are you doing with Livyah?" I asked, letting him touch my face as he verified my words. After a moment of silence, he hugged me hard and cried, Livyah joining in on the moment as I felt agitation brew in me. "Focus Dad! Why is she..."
"I'm here to marry you, Antik," Livyah said, catching a throwing knife that Ravyn sent without hesitation.
"By the Spirit, stop trying to kill people!" I said, yelling at Ravyn. She smiled at my tone, putting away an additional four knives she had readied to throw.
We sat at a table far away from the stage and my father explained his happenings over the past years. The islands had been boarded a few times by Ridarians, claiming they came in peace and to commit to trade. I knew this was probably a ruse, a ploy to amass an army and take the weakest port, Wedlung, under siege and eventually the capital. The stages of dissent were still early, so I figured from there the next place we would go was Ridar. Still, more explaining was necessary.
"Why do you...How do you have legs?" I asked, staring the two of them as she sat there smiling, hands on her hips.
"You have such finite minds of the possible. Is this your lover? She has murderous eyes," Livyah mused, sitting next to Ravyn with her head cocked to the side in study. My heart boiled in my chest with an unspeakable feeling.
"I will be his wife," Ravyn said, smiling wide as she pulled out a dagger, sitting the flat end up to Livyah's neck.
"As will I. And another. But more on that later, Antik? We are late to leave, what are you waiting for?" Livyah asked, standing abruptly.
"How...that's not..." I mumbled, watching Livyah take Ravyn by the hand and walk off giggling, Ravyn in too much shock to struggle. Valentia, wearing the rags of a sailor skirt and a wrap for a top, stood as well, looking to me.
"We are bound for Ridar? I will look forward to introducing my love Caelyn to my family and all twenty of my sisters," she said, kissing his cheek as she ran to join the other two women, Maeri rushing off as well.
The men, along with my father, left the Bronze Braglia and moved to my ship, my father sharing his pride with me in stride. His words were kind and short, slightly in apology for his current state. Drink was all he knew after being marked after mother, and I had little fault in his actions.
Before we departed, he gave me a hug and I heard him whisper in my ear:
"You did not come back a man, but a king. Even if your empire is small, your brothers count for the grace of a thousand men times a thousand and I would see you live no other way. Go and keep the Aruway name in the Spirit."
I write to you now on the deck of Laevithian, staring south to the great waters leading to Ridar. The women are below, and a deep fear for my future sits in their exchanged words. Hopefully I can manage some time alone with Ravyn to calm her mind, but somehow...
I find that hope bleak.
King Antik Aruway, Dagger Brother
19007, Marche, Day 22
|Log 26: Marked Man |
It took a few days to confirm Maeri's death was from the poisoned wound and not other means. I hadn't seen or heard from Ravyn and I knew it was for the best. The princess consoling me would only anger her parents and cause whispers of conspiracy, something far worse than death. If the kingdom split before the impending war, the untold cost would be immeasurable.
A man, Enry' Longswurth, came to my chambers on the third day, a guy with almost as much ink as skin. He was walking art, like a pirate that never saw the waters, with the kindness of a loving father. He was the Marked Man, a man dedicated to remind men of what life would be like without love. His three markings were lost in a mass of other pictures, each more complex than the last. Twisted brown hair sat neatly tied back on pale skin that only showed between the cracks of his works.
He was tremendous.
"Do you know why I'm here, Antik sir?" He asked, sitting next to me on the bed with a small, lap sized case.
"I do, but then again I don't. I think you're here to mark me," I said, pointing at the case he had as he nodded with a smile.
"So why do you look confused?" He asked, opening up the locks on the sides with a turn of his thumbs.
"Not to be rude but...Maeri's dead. I don't understand why I am to be marked. We were going to get married and she happened to die before we could ever be. Am I still to be marked?" I asked, seeing the pain in his eyes as he slid his tools to the side, rubbing the scruff of his beard.
It was then I noticed his eyes. They were a deep blue, darker than most I'd seen, filled now with the hint of tears and pain. His thin frame, however solid, flexed and he looked to the door with a hard grit in his jaw. His words were low, almost secretive.
"When I left Islez two hundred and sixty years back, I had a dream. I'd studied the arts, learned how to entertain, make stages, everything. Provost then was keen on us finding our way, knowing that if we found ourselves that love would find us. And he was right."
"Fresh from the sky I went with a few of my brothers to work with Accounts. Our frugality ultimately brought me into a position to buy a building and turn it into a theatre where plays would be seen, for a nominal fee, along with the service of ale and whisky. It was like fate...nothing impeded progress, and it seemed like my life knew no hold. No struggle. No pain."
"A week before opening, I'd constructed a script for a play called 'Awakening', the story of a man who would traverse far away planets to fight wars and create peace. Readers would cry and clamor to see it, I just knew it would be an epic. While I was working on it, on our new stage, a woman came in through the front door I'd accidentally left unlocked."
He paused for a minute, reaching out to nothing before taking a bated breath, returning to his vision.
"Chamellia P'laste, an Evudarian woman after my own heart, walked into my life and stole the show. She asked if I was looking for actresses, and if she were to be in the play she would increase the financing for its success. Her bribes were superfluous, because her ways and beauty had closed my mind to any other thoughts. I rewrote my entire series so that she would act the main part. Our success was tremendous."
"She knew how I felt, and I'd finally found the courage to present myself to engage her. Her acceptance was immediate and, with my fellow brothers in attendance, we were known... We had five days filled with the Spirit and it's fullness before she was taken from me with the Gray Disease. It took her in four hours, and ruined my life in lesser time."
"On the fourth day after her death, I was brought to be marked when, as I was being escorted by the Queens guards, a woman noticed me there and inquired about my status. She was a Stateswoman named Aurylin Sevear, a lovely older woman with only a daughter to her lineage. Even for her age she was a commanding presence, and a body that would consider your mind to drink."
He shook his head, putting his hand on my shoulder before continuing with what sounded like a coal in his words.
"The Spirit...was unkind to me again. After being marked I was asked to be engaged by Stateswoman Aurylin and I could not refuse. I hadn't loved her at first, but with every day that came closer to our wedding I fell deeper into feelings I didn't know could exist. It was like I hadn't known love until then, and all was a lie before. She stole my heart."
"I was in bed with her, a month away from our marriage and, that morning, I held the coldest body I'd known. Her heart failed in the night, making her passage to the beyond in her sleep. I was devastated, not only for her loss, but for her child that looked to me as I wept in that bed. Her freckled face was without sadness or understanding for my feelings, but she came to me in that gown and held me like a babe. I was broken in her arms, and she held me as if a parent consoling a child. A brave one, that Ashlin."
"After another marking, I raised her until she was old enough to be considered by the Queen eligible to take her mothers place. The Queen...had a sister, Claudiah d'Estrella, probably the most beautiful woman in all the kingdom and she had been looking to marry her to a man. I'd put my theatre on hold to raise Ashlin, so I was near the end of my own coin. I had no right to the Sevear estate or its money, though I was treated with the esteem of a Stateswoman's husband. Now was the chance to marry the Queen's sister, and I took it."
"Did she also die before you two were married?" I asked, feeling guilty for my own now eclipsed sorrow.
"No. We were married for three years and had a son, Paendrag Hawke. I loved my wife so much I took on their last name, for fear that if she took mine she would change in the slightest. Antik, I finally relaxed. I was free of despair, unbound by death and heartache. I knew my life had become whole once again."
His pause was so long, I went to grab him water, watching him swallow it in seconds before gripping it with both hands.
"The Queen found her sister in the corner of the throne room, holding my son. They were both covered in blood, unmoving and silent. The marriage blade that had sat between her breasts...it was hilt deep in my son, the tip cracking the chest of my wife. It wasn't the only wound, but it appeared to be the last. They were murdered, here, in that very hall you celebrated."
"The law is specific about engagements, but when they presented my own marriage knife to me, the Queen let it be known that I was not to be marked. I could have married again, found another woman and started over. I didn't have to be damned to a life of loneliness and guilt, broken by the shadows of my love life. I had a choice, and I took it."
He looked to his arms and smiled, running his fingertips along his bicep, the ink moving slightly in his skin, changing shape as he pulled it into design. I watched, never having seen this before, and he looked to me with pride.
"Ink is love. It fades, but it is never gone, forever holding the memories that we often forget. I marked myself three times, and then three times three. I'd made reminders of the love I'd lost, and with me it remains today. Antik..." He said, patting my back, "...you may not have always been happy, but this ink will remind you of the good and the love you and Maeri shared. It is a marriage to good thought and life and it's progression. You are too young to know the end of love, and this will serve as your map, if you ever are lost in the darkness. This will help you find love again."
I sat there as he worked, without guide or stencil, and took to my arms, wrapping them in designs and that looked as if always a part of me. It was symmetrical to both arms, and met at the center of my chest and back in a circle that seemed to collapse on itself. I was made a work of art.
Wrapping my body in white gauze, Enry' stood and hugged me, giving me hope for my own future. As he left, I sat there and remembered the best of times I had with Maeri and could feel the ink like small worms on my body flexing with my thought. I was a marked man, but somehow in that fact I found peace.
It was five days after the incident I was brought to the Queen, seeing she still wore a black, skin tight dress in honor of Maeri's passing. Her eyes were cautious of me, and I could tell her thoughts were not of my innocence. She ran her fingers through her long brown hair and lifted her jaw before speaking.
"Antik, young... Antik. Sweet, innocent, loving, loyal Antik. What am I to do with you. Death surrounds you, it seems, and I will not have it in my home. I am releasing you on the terms that you finish the Crimson Livyah before the year is done. Without excuse!" She said, her tone climbing as she went on.
"After your service you may go to your people. You and your brothers will not ruin my kingdom, will not! If you try to take Ravyn with you, I will consider you an enemy to the Kingdom and every land and I will skin you, dip you in hot salt and remove your extremities in a way that will keep you alive the longest before death. That, my young Antik, is a promise," she ended, causing me to relax my teeth I'd been grinding the entire time.
As I was escorted to my room, I felt a hand of one of the guards slip something in my pocket before I was back to pack my things. I walked in, and the men told me I had five minutes to leave the building. I'd secretly opened the note and read it silently, burning it with a smile as I packed my things. Before I could walk to the door, as I knew would happen, the Queen and twenty guards had impeded the way, her face full of rage with a small blade in her hand.
"Where is Ravyn?!" She yelled, the men drawing their swords to near me as I shook my head with my hands out.
"She isn't in my room. You think she ran away?" I asked, her face on the edge of explosion as another guard ran up, holding a note.
"Its a note my Queen, from your daughter. She's run off to Ridar," he said, the men relaxing as the Queen smirked, taking the note to read it at length. Satisfied, the men escorted me out with no words and a final push as the gates closed behind me.
With all of the Stateswomen that loved the Queen in Ridar, Ravyn would surely be escorted back within days. But she was much closer than anyone expected.
I hopped onto my ship, feeling glad to see Laevithian again and, as I went to cast off, I heard a soft whisper from behind me.
"We fooled them all, didn't we," Maeri said, adjusting her sabre as Ravyn rose from the lower decks with a smile, obviously happy with the grim shock on my face.
"No, this isn't... I... You...I got a tattoo because of you! I thought you were dead!" I yelled as the boat pulled away, feeling like I was speaking to a ghost.
Maeri giggled and Aldin rose from my quarters as well, rounding on Maeri with a kiss that about made me slap myself. Ravyn took my hand and brought me below, kissing me deeply in a way that took my jumbled thoughts and laid them straight.
"You two planned this?" I asked, shaking my head with amazement.
"I wish I could have framed your face. Poor, poor Antik," she said, a fake pout before smiling again with her arms draped lazily on my neck. She tightened them before stealing another kiss and I went in to sleep with her, exhausted from our travels.
I write this... In amazement. Aldin and Maeri lay on the floor with our main blankets, the smaller sheets doing well for our unnaturally warm bodies. I am confused and I'm sure tomorrow I'll have reasons for everything.
But today, I am alright.
King Antik Aruway, Dagger Brother
19007, Fevruary, Day 19
|Log 25: Invited|
It seems celebrating the day of my birth comes with a cosmic shift in perspective. Near death experiences, revelations of the future and the destiny of my Dagger Brothers... With everything moving so smoothly recently, I'd nearly forgotten that another year of my life was coming to pass.
A month gone, and I have been busy. Amáde brought me the news that he and a group of young men from Islez took control of the sky island and have rid it completely of bandits and slave traders. His visage was different; coarse hair grew from patches on his face, with a scraped and hardened jawline, matching ink that encircled his arms from shoulder to wrist. Ridarians would take note of his stature, yet he still had the Forsii way with words.
We were beside the shipyard in discussion when he stopped to look out at the skeleton of the ship we were building. His words were low.
"Are we the Queen's men? I was told by Brekka and Aldin that she ordered the Brothers to execute those things from beyond the edge of the world. How long will we play this game? We could have killed everyone in the palace twice since you've moved in. We have the advantage! What are we waiting for?!"
I took a moment to let his words touch me, imagining the idea of what the Crimson Livyah would be like with a new coat of paint, a fresh crew of men that weren't all ex-pirates or murderers. Proper toilets.
He was right. We could have taken the castle, killed the Queen, possibly even held Evudaria for a week before a mass rebellion. Three nations would be free and the populace would be at every port within a quarter cycle, if not less. The castle would burn, streets would drip wet with ponds of blood seeping into the waterways and at that moment death would be preferable.
Preferable, assuming the untold army of shade doesn't come until after we are done killing ourselves. Our differences would mean so little as the twisted bodies of the first hacked us to pieces and danced with the extremities.
"We won't cause the end of everything dear friend. I won't sacrifice life for liberty if one day, through our patience and efforts, we are able to have both. The battle we face is with the ego and the promises of free life for everyone. If we rebel now...or at all...there may be no more Evudaria."
Ravyn somehow managed to wrap her arms around me from behind in an embrace and I felt the fear of the Spirit run down my neck, Amáde lifting his brow with a quizzical air. His face matched his steps, but as he tried to leave, Ravyn spoke.
"The Queen has thrown you and your brothers a celebration for your birthday and I can't wait to meet the woman you are promised to."
Instead of a cool and calm exit, Amáde slipped as he ran off, leaving me defenseless with a woman whose calm was as unbelievable as her statement.
"Why would Maeri come here?" I asked, taking a few steps away from Ravyn as she closed the distance.
"Probably to cancel her proposal to the man who embarrassed one of the most prominent families in Evudaria. Wouldn't surprise me at all if she wanted to mark you as her First then and there."
As my memory worked, my fear turned the other gears, and I was still in thought. I'd always thought my First would be my only, but it made me realize that, no matter how hard you try to be good, if she doesn't choose you then nothing you can do will change her mind. Women can be as immovable as mountains, deeper than any water and trap you like the fastest sand.
After preparing the first motor for the Crimson Livyah, I took it upon myself to go back to my room, being escorted by my brothers in a way that made me feel like I was being protected rather than moved as a prisoner. Once into my quarters, I was greeted by a Maeri (in a silversilk dress far beyond her style or purse) who, to my astonishment, was crying with a huge smile on her face. She kissed me all over, clutching my waist and as I gathered a glance between a caught breath and a fluttering eye I saw the Queen and Ravyn standing there, both with splitting smiles.
When I say Ravyn was smiling, I would equate that to the happiness a beast has when it's about to eat food. The anger and mischief around her eyes were so deep I had to look away.
"Maeri, I didn't expect you to come?" I said, trying to break the wavering uncertainty in my words.
"I was so wrong to judge you dear Antik and I just wanted you to know that I don't want to wait to get married. You're a true Evudarian man and as such you deserve a true Evudarian wife," Maeri swooned, holding on to me with doting eyes.
"That's well and all, but..." I started, the Queen interrupting me.
"If you two decide to get married I would consider your promise to stay with me complete and advance her family to Statehood. Your sons and daughters would be noble, Antik," The Queen added, my brothers patting my back while the Queen stood perfectly still with a soft smile to her lips.
I was no fool. I knew the Queen didn't approve of Ravyn and myself. She was using my birthday to get rid of me, even sweetening the deal by promising Statehood so I would have to further consider Maeri's family. I was almost at a loss for words, but my lessons from Provost were firmly adjusted to these situations.
"Am offer of this magnitude and kindness would be callous of me to hesitate in response. But that is what real men do. We give pause to our greatest decisions and examine all points, like a Hamersian pondering a diamonds facets. Maeri's absence here has been felt, and her loyalty to me is questionable at best. I don't doubt her current concern, but I do wish to wait and see her words manifest honestly."
The Queen shook her head in laughter and went to the truth stone that sat on the corner wood table. My eyes grew double as she put it on the neck of Maeri and stared into her seemingly hurt eyes, holding her hands.
"Do you love Antik?" The Queen asked Maeri as I took a few steps back, trying not to wince.
"With all of my heart," Maeri said, wiping her tears to raise her head high. Ravyn's smile dissipated.
"Will you ever doubt him or his love? Will you turn your back on him?" the Queen asked again, lifting her hands to Maeri's cheeks with a warm look.
"Never," she said, turning to look me in the eyes as my own darted from looking at Ravyn to smiling at her. The Queen nodded and took the stone off her, setting it on the dresser as she took Ravyn's hand and returned to her daughters side.
"That answers your fears Antik. She is as honest as you are," she said, walking out of the room while dragging Ravyn with her. The look of defeat in her eyes crushed me, but my gaze was interrupted by Maeri kissing me. I knew Ravyn hadn't left yet, and everything about her lips was anathema to me.
I didn't have to accept Maeri's (or the Queen's) proposal. Even with all the power of the crown if Ravyn decided for us to be married, nothing save the Spirit could stop us. But with the current state of things, it would be months before my freedom, and the tortures I would endure to be with Ravyn would be endless.
I still had a plan, but for it to work I had to go to my birthday dinner.
The Brothers and myself dressed up to the collar in black and Amáde found, at the last moment, matching shoes for all of us. The interest alone on our notes was enough to manage new clothes for a cycle for every man we employed, but our money would wait until the hundred thousand need it.
Still, the shoes were amazing.
The main hall was transformed into a feast with creatures I'd never seen being turned on condensed fires and mounds of exotic fruit bring cut fresh. Among the people in attendance, other than my brothers, were the Evudarian Stateswomen, Maeri and her parents Mr. and Mrs. Aeldric, the naval command (all balding still, ruff and ragged), Valentia who stood clutching Caelyn (also wearing a dress and those same Hamersian boots), and Alysia who, by right, was only there because her mother was a Stateswoman and she was promised to D'astinon. He, after all I went through, won't speak to her even though she parades him around to make small talk.
Through all the awkward stares, people surmising the importance of one another, at the throne sat the Queen with Ravyn, both wearing a deep red, though Ravyn's dress had a slip in both sides so deep that she needed a strap to keep the fabric to her slim body. I couldn't keep my eyes away, and her gaze was like that of dragoon fire. Every glance to Maeri was like a dagger, looks to me much the same with a tinge of sadness. Softness. Somethingness. Caelyn broke my trance.
"Brother, come. Amáde is singing," he said, large smile on his face as he led me to our table.
Amáde told the story of when we were children and I'd come to save their lives on Islez, of Brekka swinging the Kings Hammer, and how we survived the slavers. It was remarkable, and everyone clapped, but I couldn't celebrate. My mind was on what was to be, and the harsh necessity of it.
Minutes after the doors to the main room were locked and the Teeth, without their recently deceased leader, stood by with panting breaths.
"It's an invasion!" One yelled, being thrown from the door as it burst open and dark beings rolled in. My brothers took Valentia to the throne and encircled the Queen as I charged into battle, Uudriqus passing me a sabre so I might defend the ground. There were ten, enough quick bodies to cause a problem but not enough to take on seasoned swords. Terry had no need to wipe a brow as he beheaded one of the beasts and kicked it's body to the ground, moving like a man half his cycles. There were enough bodies in motion that no one paid attention to Maeri and her parents.
The three weren't unprotected with Dom and Blaze swinging fiercely at their side, but fear gripped them just like it should. The darkness was real, every legend come to life and the very reality of it was deafening to their sanity. Maeri screamed, and i could see how she suffered. I was cruel to do this, but I knew it was the only way to get her to marry someone else.
That decision was to be taken from me.
In a panic, Maeri broke away to rush toward me, escaping the grasp of two dark ones. She closed in to ten paces before one of the creatures made a move and lunge to her chest. I went to scream, but two knives sailed straight into the creature at such a speed that it jolted back to the ground.
Ravyn saved Maeri's life.
But in that moment of thanks the creature took it's last moments to slice into her back, sending her screaming to the ground.
"Maeri!" Her father screamed as I rushed to her, decapitating the creature next to her as I carried her to the throne, setting her into Ravyn's arms.
"Get her to the healers!" I yelled, going back to finish the rest of the beings.
After another half hour of rustling, we finally dispatched the last of them. The Stateswomen cowered in fear behind a stonefaced Brekka. All of my brothers held firm, yet Ravyn returned with a look I couldn't shake.
Her words in the silent hall were amplified by their weight, and even I was unprepared for them.
"Maeri is dead."
I write this now, alone in my chambers with the weight of today with me. I don't know what will come of tomorrow, but I do know that this was not the answer I had in mind to the crisis I faced.
Not the answer at all.
King Antik Aruway, Dagger Brother
19007, Fevruary, Day 14
|Log 24: A Forsii Trade |
Provost Caemdarr used to say if you bargain a note for a sword with a Forsii, you'll end up owing another note and inheriting a dagger.
And, somehow, feel you stole it.
That is the way the Forsii deal. There are no even trades, only profit, and if there is no gain, there is no trade. To go in short handed would be an insult since they claim to know the value of everything (and are seldom wrong), and to come with full pockets means to leave light of coin.
I say this to you reader because today, when I arose to the Queen of Evudaria in my chambers with Ravyn, and myself, naked at each others side, I figured having knowledge of negotiation would help.
Yet, as I write this to you I am in similar circumstances as the night before without harm to me or my body. A miracle?
She left the room without a sound and I, afraid to wake Ravyn and feel her fury, slowly slipped from underneath her arm and leg that draped over me, going to put on my clothes when I, to my fright, saw they were gone.
"No..." I whispered, lightly treading around the clean room in panic, seeing only my longcoat on the floor where Ravyn left it. As I went to seize it, the door opened again and the Queen entered with Miss Lifarak of Ridar, her dusty brown hair pulled into an angry ponytail to reveal her angry, dark eyes. If it weren't for her obscenely tight animal skin dress that pushed her bosom out the top, I would think to defend myself.
My hands, however, were still covering my manhood.
"He does...look well kept," Miss Lifarak growled, words seeped in anger but sprinkled in seduction. The Queen waved her hand and, in a flurry, two men in robes and ropes dressed me.
Black pants. Tall workers boots, a white silk long shirt and an ornate black vest, white spidersilk like a web across the breadth of it. It was far too much for any man on a dock, but I lost my tongue to argue with her sense of style.
As I went to exit the room, the Queen stopped me, unbuttoning two more of my top buttons with a smile.
"Better. Now come."
Around the corner, I let the women walk me down the hall and past the main chambers, out to the front where the Teeth, without Sandsil, waited for us, cold air promoting me to hurry into the carriage, the ladies following behind.
Inside, Miss Lifarak produced, from her purse, a small black orb attached to a silver necklace, placing it around my neck.
"This, young Antik, is a truth stone. It measures your heart, sweat, tremble of your voice... When you lie, it activates. If you tell the truth, it does nothing," she said, nodding to the Queen as we began to move, tossing me from my seat a bit.
"Is your name Antik Aruway?" The Queen asked, staring blankly.
"Are you from Evudaria?"
"Have you seen the edge of the world?"
"I...no, I haven't."
"Have you seen the creatures that come from the edge of the world? Remember, be tru..."
"I have," I said, unafraid as the stone sat cool against my chest. The women looked to each other and the Queen broke silence first.
"Do they pose a threat?"
"Not if I finish your ship. But as it stands... I am worried." I said, feeling myself sweat even though the air could have frozen the beads on my temple. Miss Lifarak went to take the stone off when the Queen reached and stopped her hand, needing more information.
"Did you defile my daughter?"
"No! Of course not!"
"Did you want to?"
I felt my ears burn, my skin became wet and instantly I was mortified. I couldn't bend the truth, didn't even think to figure out how to fool it. But I did.
"Not as much as you'd believe I did." I said, relieved the stone was unchanged.
"So you coerced her into your bed?"
"So you didn't enjoy her time there?"
I could feel my nose tingle and burn red. Horrendous.
"She is not as pleasant as you are pretending she is."
The carriage stopped and Miss Lifarak went to take the stone off me when, again, the Queen snapped at her hand, slapping it away as the Ridarian woman recoiled in anger, changing her face to submit to the Queen.
"He will keep it on until we are done here. This is the most important of business," she said, leading Miss Lifarak and me out onto the eastern docks where a familiar sight made my head light.
D'astinon and Brekka stood at the edge of my ship, Aldin and Caelyn behind them with their scarab shields holding two shadows in place as the beasts inside tried to thrash against the energy field. I was reminded of the men that were executed and I suddenly felt my humanity as we neared my Laevithian.
"Have you seen these before?" Miss Lifarak asked, walking up to the fields surrounding the creatures with wild eyes.
"I believe I have," I answered, trying to peek into one of the bubbles to see a face.
"Are they a threat to the kingdom?" the Queen asked, eying the necklace on me as she closed quarters, eyes unblinking.
"We are safe as long as we are vigilant in building your warship," I said, glancing down to make sure the stone stayed cold and normal against me. Normal.
"Then destroy these things. I won't have them touch the Wedshores without meeting the Spirit in return. Men, you, kill it," she ordered, my crew looking to me first before advancing. As I went to take off my necklace, the Queen stepped towards me and I could feel the eyes of the world touching me, pins pricking my skin from all angles as she angled her face up to mine and touched her warm, brown cheek, eyes half closed in a knowing squint.
"There it is. The truth of it. These men, are they just your friends?"
My heart threatened to explode through my mouth, brains turned to mush. All I could think of is the cold truth, the hard painful fact that could destroy everything we worked for. It all came down to this.
"Of course they aren't. They are much more than friends."
"What are they to you, exactly?"
Her words dropped on my chest, as if she spoke to the necklace itself.
"They are my Dagger Brothers, men tougher than metal forged in the Kaevnik Volcano of Ridar, more precious to me than a mountain of spidersilk... These are more than friends, they are my family."
I held my tears hard in my eyes, teeth gritted as I looked over her and back to them, the men all in awe of me as the Queen stood there, half-defeated in her look before turning to look at them. They smiled at me, like I'd delivered them the head of an Efrit without a mark on me. The Queen went to turn away when she noticed the tattoo they all shared, the mark of the Dagger Brothers.
"Am I their Queen?" She asked, turning back around to face me.
"Yes. Blessed, for many cycles."
"And are you...their King?"
This was it. My mind raced around the possibilities of the answer and what devastation it could bring. The men were all unmoved, well trained as only an Evudarian man could be and I smiled, slipping the Queens arm around me as I walked her away, my voice loud and clear for them all to hear.
"I am no King if I have no subjects. All I have are Brothers."
The creatures screamed in agony as we walked away and I slipped off the necklace, handing it to the Queen. She refused it and, instead, dropped it into the pocket of my vest.
"It is yours Antik, for the most noble man I have met," she said, smiling as we re-entered the carriage to return home.
The ride was quiet and, once we came to the castle the Queen opened the door for me, letting me out. Before I stepped out, I thanked them both for their company and asked a final question to the Queen.
"This stone isn't really a truth-detecting stone, is it?" I asked, almost laughing as she took the stone from my pocket and stepped out the door of the carriage and rounded to the front of the caravan, Sandsil approaching the Queen with his sword half drawn.
"Is everything alright my Queen, did Antik try to..." he started, stopping short when the Queen grabbed his ear and pulled him down, slipping the necklace around his neck and pushing it into his shirt.
"Is this a gift?" He asked, huge smile across his gruff face as she took two steps back and spoke softly.
"Of course it is! It's a reward for your many years of service and excellence. And loyalty. You... have always been loyal to me, dear Sandsil?"
"Of course, my..."
Without warning innumerable spikes blasted out from his skin, killing him instantly. As quickly as they appeared, they were gone, and the men of the Teeth looked to the Queen with such fear that I could feel it burn the cold, crisp breeze.
Without a look of difference on her face, the Queen lifted her dress and took back the necklace with a snatch, the blood on her hand being sucked into the smooth black stone and she dropped it back into my shaking hand.
"If you are a man of truth, you need not fear it," she ended, climbing back into the carriage.
I lay here again, Ravyn back to lay with me. I have no clue what she will say when she reads this, or what to make of the Queen's indifference to her... Raw presence around me, but I know if I can look into the eyes of a Queen and think as I did, then I have little to worry on.
Ravyn, read this and know I adore you.
King Antik Aruway, Dagger Brother
19007, Janeweary, Day 5 Chapter Twenty Four