The great chamber for court was filled with cordermers, queriane, servants, and members of the merchant and trade classes. It did not bode well. More were present in the chamber than had been present for the festivities. If the Jilhsaed noticed, he gave no sign. Sal and Tominent seemed to be holding themselves in readiness. I did not see Iolaine. It seemed he was not present in the chambers. I caught Salenia's eye. She gave a grim smile. We were ill prepared, though we were as ready as able.
"What have we to discuss this day?" The Jilhsaed asked.
"We have a matter to discuss of great importance." Johianei stepped to the line. The guards ignored him. The viniare merchant placed his hand on the hilt of the great sword at his side. "Your heir is to marry a slave, a woman intended for his harem. There are those of us who object to this sullying of the royal line."
"My son is a good man and a worthy heir. I have been informed Kierian was as a princess to her people. I see no sullying of the royal line possible as a result of their joining."
"We are to accept barbarians as equals then? Did you not learn from the last barbarian you claimed as your own? She was not acceptable as a mate, and her son was unable to complete his training as one of the queriane. The two behind you are true barbarians. The recent occurrences in this realm may not have occurred had they not journeyed to this land." At last we had knowledge of his plan. He wished use our presence and Soliumant's betrothal to Kierian to gain support from the populace.
"Johianei, you employed Torienne and Salenia and brought them to the palace." Soliumant stood. "They are not barbarians and neither is Kierian."
"On the contrary, Soliumant, they are kirgeurs, the worst barbarians known to this realm. Have you no remembrance of the prophecy concerning two warriors of the phoenix?" Johianei seemed content to speak his thoughts. He made no move we could view as full of threat.
"I know of the prophecy, and I know of their true calling, Johianei. It seems you have disregarded protocol. Is the knowledge of the Jilhsaed now worthy of debate in open court?" The Jilhsaed leaned back in his chair.
"You misunderstand me, Jilhsaed. I question not your judgment. I question Soliumant's. How know we he would be a good leader? He keeps company with barbarians. They have been seen for several nights plotting in the library, learning of various sword dances. Perhaps they are the conspirators wishing to remove you from the seat of power."
"You well know we are not conspiring against this realm, Johianei. Perhaps you are the leader of the coup we have long feared. Perhaps you wish to use their presence as an excuse for your attempt to seize the seat of power." Soliumant faced him.
"I have no wish for the seat of power." Though his words denied the accusation, his eyes did not. He had planned it well. Those in support of him were unable to view his face. They heard only his words. He portrayed a concerned cordermer wishing to save the realm from barbaric influences. Many in the court believed him. "I wish only to salvage the reputation, the esteem placed in the Jilhsaed. Have we as a realm fallen so far to allow barbaric warriors places of honor near to those of the royal line? If you wish to salvage this realm, remove them from their sphere of influence."
His plan was for a choice. Soliumant and the Jilhsaed were required to choose between Salenia and myself or Johianei's bidding. Choosing to allow us our continued life would seem a denial of their duty to the realm. Choosing to bow before Johianei's bidding would seem a denial of their power and good judgment. He had given much thought to his plan. Many could not support either decision. There was not a way to salvage the situation that I could view. However, since Johianei had not threatened the Jilhsaed, there was little I could do.
"It is bold of you to request that which is beyond your position of influence." The Jilhsaed replied. "It is as if you wish to claim the seat of power."
"If it seems you are under the influence of those wishing to undo all this realm has become, it is my place to remove those influences or remove those under the influence." He patted the hilt of his sword.
"Is that a threat, Johianei?" Soliumant placed his hand near to the hilt of his sword.
"It is rather a pledge, rohirm." The word was full of his distaste. "You have all heard the Jilhsaed and his heir refuse the advice I have pledged to give. They know not the dangers near to them." He turned to the crowd. "What shall I do to convince them?"
"I beg pardon for this Johianei, though I doubt it is my place to do so. You have failed to enunciate your desires clearly." Siveruian stepped around a guard and faced the viniare merchant. "Perhaps if you state plainly you wish to assume the seat of power, we would better understand you."
"I did not speak of my desire to assume the seat of power. You are but a little man, Siveruian. It is well your wife and son were stolen. They brought much gold for my cause." It escalated quickly. Several merchants, guards and servants pulled swords from their sheathes. Some faced us as others faced people within the crowd. "I have a wish. It is true. I shall rule this realm. We shall cast off the weak royal line and begin another. Greet the gods for me Siveruian." His sword struck the chamberlain before I could halt the motion.
"You have planned this well, Johianei. I have an idea. Wish you assistance?" I stood before him. It was my plan to move him from the Jilhsaed and Soliumant.
"You wish assist me in claiming the seat of power?" He seemed surprised. I spared a glance to my companions. The queriane had gathered near to the Jilhsaed. Tominent, Salenia and the mute stood near to Soliumant with swords bared.
"Nothen. I will assist only your journey to the gods." I grinned and pulled my mother's sword from the sheath at my side.
"I do not believe you shall." He laughed wildly as several guards rushed to stand between us. They faced me. We had not destroyed all the conspirators.
"Know this, Johianei. If I have to return from the land of the dead, I will end the suffering you are causing by ending your life." I pledged. I had not time to say more. "See to the Jilhsaed." I called out before closing with the guard near to me.
We were blocked into the chamber. All exits were guarded by men and large wooden structures. None beyond the chamber could enter. We could not depart. The queriane placed in the balcony had no clear shots. The chamber was filled with too many people. We knew not who was on what side of the conflict.
The first guard was not a challenge. He fell in haste, though another replaced him before I could gather one clear breath into my lungs. It continued in such a manner. Men fell before me and others rose to take their place. I soon lost track of my companions, of the Jilhsaed, of Soliumant, and of time. I had not time to even count the men who fell beneath my blade. As well as I was able; I fought my way back to the seat of power.
"Is this amusing?" Salenia asked as she appeared by my side.
"I think not. It has little of entertainment, though much of hilarity." I replied. In truth, it had much of the hilarity often found in situations bordering on the hysterical or absurd. "So much for the ease of our quest."
"Perhaps next time we shall allow others to undertake the journey." She took a brief moment to wipe the sweat from her brow. "It begins again. Take care, Torienne."
"Guard yourself, Salenia." We were separated again.
Several swords and daggers marked my flesh. I felt not the wounds. The battle sense consumed me. I returned to the thick of the conflict, letting my training lead my body. I had no sense of any save those before my blade. In truth, I knew not which man fell when. It was as it had been during the rescue for Kierian and Salenia. I remember little of it. I know only there were more conspirators than there were those of us loyal to the Jilhsaed.
As the crowd lessened, I returned near to the Jilhsaed. Many guards, Siveruian and members of the queriane lay around the platform on which the seats of power stood. The Jilhsaed and Soliumant were required to draw their swords and defend themselves. I was relieved to notice Sal and Tominent seemed well. They seemed harmed, though not grievously so.
Johianei made a final push to claim the seat of power. Many lay lifeless around the chamber. The queriane in the balcony had the chance to use their bows. Soon the chamber was filled with arrows as those near to Johianei formed their own assault with steel and arrows. We were hard pressed to dodge both.
"For all your defiance, you have not triumphed." The viniare merchant boasted as he climbed the platform. There were perhaps seven of us unharmed without counting the Jilhsaed or his heir. There were five and ten near to Johianei not counting the archers.
"Not yet. We shall." I promised. The shirt of metal seemed heavy on my shoulders. Sweat poured across my brow, down my arms, and under my tunic. My sword arm felt heavier than my shirt. I had not been so weary. "I propose a dance of death between us. You seem skilled, and I am weary. It shall be an even match."
"I like your outlook, barbarian. It shall be so." He grinned and hefted his sword.
"Torienne, know you what you are doing?" Salenia asked.
"Trust in me, keytheda." I held my sword before me. "Call back your supporters."
"I shall not. We shall fight and your companions shall as well." He grinned in a wicked manner. "Prove your training."
He brought his sword across his body as if he wished to slice me in half. I blocked it with ease. However, he was not weary. I was. Weariness hampered my form. Johianei marked me twice before I was able to disarm him. I stood before him with my sword at his throat. I waited for a sign from the Jilhsaed to proceed.
"Release him or your companions shall meet their death." A servant and a guard stood with steel to Tominent and Salenia's throats. More held the Jilhsaed and Soliumant to their chairs. I spared a glance to the balcony. Two queriane remained. They could not risk harming the Jilhsaed or Soliumant. Those holding them to the chairs kept themselves as small targets. It left a wide margin for error.
I made my choice. I lowered the point of my sword, removing it from Johianei's throat. I released him not. I kept my sword near to him. He did not attempt to regain his feet.
"I asked you to release him." The guard held Salenia to him tighter. The archers readied their bows. They pointed them at all on the platform.
"I shall release him as you release my companions." I hefted Johianei to his feet and placed the edge of my sword to his throat.
"We shall make no deal. You will all die. There is not a way for you to triumph." He placed his dagger near to Sal's tunic. It was aimed to pierce her heart.
"Then we shall all die." I replied as I looked to my shehala. She grinned slightly. The tanornela was beneath her tunic. She nodded as I raised my brow in inquiry. I heard her thoughts as if she had spoken them into my ear. "You shall go first, Johianei. Tender my greetings to the gods." Slowly I slit his throat. He struggled as he passed from this life into the next.
The guard attempted to pierce Salenia's side. The tanornela yielded but little. He seemed surprised as she turned and released his hold on her. The air was full of arrows once more. It was then we were surprised.
"We shall still take this day." A large man, in the uniform of one in service to the Jilhsaed hefted a large spear. More poured through the entrance to the chamber. The wooden barricades were replaced in haste. "If Johianei shall not rule this realm, I shall."
"Who are you to boast such a claim to the seat of power?" I asked. Once again we were at a standstill.
"I am not one of consequence. At the least I was not one of consequence." The man pulled at his tunic. "A mere guard until Johianei illustrated the weakness of the Jilhsaed. And until you humiliated my companions, my brother and those in our conspiracy."
"You are brother to the giant. Such massive build seems a familial trait." In truth, the man was large, if not larger than his brother. "You should make reparation for your brother's sins, not seek vengeance for his death."
"Who are you to pass judgment on me? I was but a guard. I am now the instrument of your death. First, I shall cause the Jilhsaed to pass from this life. Release his soul." He commanded.
"Nothen!" Time seemed to slow as Salenia, Tominent, Soliumant and I rushed to the aid of the Jilhsaed. Fortune was not with us. He fell at my feet. His last words recalled the pledge I had made to him before the statue of Solisiric. I stumbled from the platform and looked for a target for my anger.
"You have sealed your death." Soliumant attempted to push off his captors. He had not the strength. They forced him into his chair.
The man reached back and held the spear before him. It was long and seemed heavy. Again time slowed. The muscles in my legs and arm protested as my lungs struggled to pull in air as I rushed for the man or for the spear, I know not which. I witnessed the guard kneel and ready the spear. Soliumant was the intended target. He could not move from the spear's path. I had no choice as the man reared back and threw the massive weapon. I watched as it spiraled threw the air and heard many arrows join it.
Using the little strength I still possessed, I ran to intercept the spear's
path. I twisted, as I was able, though it was not enough. It felt as if it had
pierced my side beneath the seam of cloth and metal. My motion continued to
propel me into the great chair of power. As I fell and the darkness clouded
my vision, I saw several guards, Iolaine and the remaining queriane break through
the barricade. I knew no more after.
"Torienne. Child, wake." I heard the voice echo through my skull. Slowly I opened weary eyes to see a lone form clad all in black kneeling near to me. "Wake, child."
"Mother?" It seemed impossible.
"Aight, Torienne. I am here." Her touch was cool and gentle.
"I am dead then." I knew not if I was relieved or saddened.
"Nothen, daughter. You are not dead, though you are not yet able to return to life." Her eyes were heavy with sadness. The blue of them seemed to shine through the darkness. She wore the uniform of the kirgeur though she had not when she had perished. She had been attired in clothes fitting a farmer.
"What mean you? Surely if I am not dead then I live still." I attempted to gain my feet, though I could not. I remained on the ground looking up at her. The pain of my body had followed me. I felt of my side though I did not encounter blood. The seam was torn. The spear had not marked me greatly. It was but a scratch.
"You are between worlds. Before you is the realm of Necimius. Behind you is the orb you know. You have been brought here for many reasons. It is rare for a warrior not yet passed from one life to enter this realm."
"What are the reasons? Will I be able to return to my companions? I cannot die with certain pledges binding me. It shall damn my soul." The thought concerned me. I was not ready to meet my fate.
"Rest, daughter. Your soul shall not be damned. There is much you need learn of before you return to your companions. Already they fear for you."
"Then they live?" The consequences of the situation impacted my mind. "The Jilhsaed and Siveruian are dead. Who else has journeyed here before me?" I wanted not the answer. I feared to know it.
"In truth, the Jilhsaed is dead. Salenia lives. Tominent and Soliumant as well." She assured me. "You have given me many reasons to feel pride in you these past moons. You have risked all to rescue your sister and cousins, to save the life of another cousin, and to protect a worthy man."
"Rul and Hild were not in danger of losing their lives, mother. What cousin did I save?" Her words confused me. I knew of no other.
"Tominent's mother was sister to both myself and Kayla. As we were, she was a kirgeur. She journeyed in search of knowledge. Her journey brought her to the realm of the Jilhsaed. Tominent is your true cousin."
"Neither you nor Kayla ever spoke of a sister. Grandfather spoke of none as well."
"We were sisters as you and Triennia are sisters. Her father was not mine." She explained. "In truth, she was seasons older than I. It is why he speaks not of her."
"Has she a name?"
"She has. She was called Korinnia. It is how you were named, to honor her." She stood. I found myself able to stand as well. "I came here to tender my last greetings to you. Know you always carry my love and my pride with you. No mother, no kirgeur, could wish for one so worthy to call daughter." I could not speak as she leaned in and placed a kiss on my brow. The wound on my head closed as she did so. It marked me not.
"Wait here, daughter. There are two more who wish speech with you." The glow around her brightened until it disappeared taking her with it.
"Tor?" Even dead, I would have recognized the voice. Before me stood my brother, clad as he had been the day he died in battle.
"Luiciak?" I smiled through my tears and embraced him. "I am saddened I could not assist you. I lost track of you in the battle. I know not why I was unable to protect you."
"It was my time, sister. I have not long. Blame yourself not for my death. It is the way of our world, as you well know. I can see your heart, sister. I am gladdened you have found one to suit you in Salenia. Her love for you would challenge Necimius." He grinned. "I must return. We shall meet again, you and I. I shall not tarry here long before walking the orb again."
"I shall not know you, shall I?" I was gladdened he had been judged worthy of return.
"Nothen. It is as the gods wish. Take care of yourself, sister." He embraced me again. Once more I felt a small wound close. It was if they were healing me as they could, one small wound at a time. "Wait here. She wishes speech with you."
"Ask no questions, Torienne. You are not a warrior at the moment. Remember me, and recall my affection for you." He too grew bright in intensity before fading into darkness. I stood alone for a long moment, hearing the voices in the great chamber echo through the veil. Had I looked hard enough, I believe I could have witnessed the scene I heard described.
"Torienne, long have I wanted speech with you." The voice seemed softer though more powerful than Lu's or my mother's. I turned to see a warrior in yellow silk, a great sword at her side. The hilt was curved as the moon is in certain seasons.
"Solisiric?" I knelt before her. "It is an honor." I knew not the words to speak.
"Rise, child." She smiled gently. "There is much we need have speech of, though I doubt you shall remember all I have to tell."
"I shall attempt to recall your speech, lady." I pledged.
"It shall be a great feat if you do so. Regardless, I called you here as I could not journey there. The gods of the Jilhsaed are sometimes jealous of their realm."
"I am grateful and honored you hold me in such esteem." My head remained bowed low before her. It was as I had been taught in my youth.
"You have shown the truth of your training and calling on this journey. You were correct you were ill prepared for it, though you have done well. No other kirgeur living or dead could have triumphed in such a manner." She placed a cool hand on my chin. "Look at me, Torienne."
"Aight, lady." I raised my head and gazed into her eyes. The wonders of the orb were present in the blueness of them. In truth, they were deeper than the bluest waters I had seen. They seemed almost purple in color.
"You have instilled pride in your mother, your instructors and myself. I have seen but one other so worthy of the mark you bear, regardless of your defiance of prophecies. Salenia is a worthy warrior, in truth, though she is destined more for a healer. I cannot claim healers, though I regret losing her. In time, the two of you shall see my wishes for your people bear fruit. You are the beginnings of a new age. Together you shall accomplish much in this life. Perhaps in the next you shall take the rest you have earned on this quest. Your children shall change that which you cannot. Your line shall be worthy of my blessings until the end of time. It is as I promised your foremother long ago when your people fled the true homeland."
"My foremother?" Though we were a people who honored tradition, I had no knowledge of my forebears beyond my grandmother's mother. I had no knowledge of a pledge.
"Aight. You are from the first kirgeur. She was the child of my brother though he claimed her not. The sword you bear was gifted her from me. I cared for her as you care for young Sevianth. It is well he shall return with you. There is much he must attend to as well."
"My sword?" It had not a feeling of age around it. I had not time to process the information. My mind traveled to more immediate matters, that of my son. "What of Soliumant and Kierian? Kierian is his true mother."
"Nothen, Torienne. I have protected him as I have been able. His destiny lies along your path not with Soliumant and Kierian. Though they too shall be blessed by the gods of this realm, I have little say in their fate. You and Soliumant have bound your fates by the pledges you have made to one another. It is well you have done so. You both shall have need of the other, though you shall return to your homeland. You have much to attend to there as well."
"Then I have chosen correctly?"
"You have chosen wisely. I have much pride and affection for you, Torienne."
"With your pardon, lady. I was once told it is ill fated to be held in such esteem and with such affection by the gods." I know not why I replied in such manner. I remembered only my grandfather's warning. He had spoken it to Luiciak, though apparently it applied to me as well. To my surprise she was not angered. In truth, she laughed.
"Your life shall not be one of ease, for that I am saddened. I have not found one better suited for the destiny you shall fulfill. Loath though I am to give it to you, there is not another. You are the sum of my efforts among your people. You and Salenia both."
"You caused me to fall as the zealot attacked, did you not?" Suddenly I felt not fear of her, it was more a kinship.
"I did so. I have guided your steps many times as you wondered which course to choose. I shall continue to do so as needed, though the need shall not be as great for many seasons to come. I guard my favorites well, Torienne. Though your life will not always be one of ease, I shall reward you well both in this life and in the next for your deeds."
"I have not the words, lady." In truth, I knew not what to say in reply.
"You need only listen, Torienne. I know of the plan you and Salenia have devised. I wish it pursued. It is but a small part of your destiny. The village you shall create shall influence much in your homeland. When you return to your village, you shall find that life has changed but little, though you have changed greatly. Recall these words. Do not tarry there long. It shall hamper your desire to depart and create a separate existence. Much harm shall be wrought if you tarry more than a moon in your father's house."
"I pledge I shall recall them." It is well I did so.
"I doubt the ability to have speech with you again in such a manner. I can only speak to you in this manner as you lay between worlds. This was by design. I wished speech with you as did your mother and brother. I could not deny a worthy warrior her last wish. However, it is time you return to reassure your companions you have not been lost. I am saddened to send you again to the realm of men, though gladdened you are worthy of it. I shall be near to you in your need and in your rest. Keep all I have said in your thoughts. I ask not for your praise, though I know I shall receive it. It is a part of you I am gladdened to witness. Come." She opened her arms. I stepped into them. "Rest here for but a moment." I felt other small wounds close and heal at her gentle touch. She pressed her lips to mine. Never before had I experienced such a kiss. It was full of age, wonder and joy. When she released me, it seemed a part of me wished to remain. She smiled as she read the truth in my eyes. "Go you and seek your life, Torienne. I shall guard it with care. Salenia awaits."
I opened my eyes again to see concerned faces above me. The mediacio seemed baffled. He attempted to search me for injuries. He was surprised when he discovered I bore none. At that moment, I felt the urge to laugh. I had performed the impossible. I had defied prophecy and still remained breathing to speak of it. I gave in to my urge. They stared at me as I laid back on the platform and gave voice to my mirth.
"Shehala, have you gone mad?" Salenia seemed concerned.
"Nothen, keytheda. I am not mad. I shall explain my mirth when we have completed our duties. There is much still to attend." I accepted her hand and regained my feet. "You have been harmed. Allow the mediacio to tend your wounds as I assist our untimely reinforcements."
"If you pledge to speak of your mirth." She still regarded me as if I were mad.
"I pledge. It is a wild tale, though there is much truth in it. Go you and become well." I gently directed her to the mediacio.
Tominent required healing from a mediacio as well. I stepped from the platform, noting the small tinge of blood on the chair I had encountered with my head. A hand to my forehead assured me that Solisiric did indeed heal the wound. I was gladdened. There was much still to attend. Several of the merchants, two cordermers and a small cadre of archers consisting of guards and merchants remained.
Soliumant put aside his grief as mediacios surrounded his father and Siveruian. We had caught enough of their discussions to learn Siveruian at the least would survive. The Jilhsaed had departed his body. Soliumant was now the leader of his people. As a result, the fate of those remaining of the coup rested in his hands. He strode across the chamber to them. The reinforcements who had broken through the barricade near to the end of the battle surrounded the survivors.
"I give you all a choice. You may perish now, or you may do so in prison when the gods come to take your souls. If you wish to keep your life, you shall answer the questions I shall have put to you. What say you?" His voice was rough from the battle, though it contained a new element. It was one of command.
Only three chose death. I felt no pity for the life I claimed then. I feel no pity for the man now. Iolaine made his first kill that day. He did not seem to regret it. Soliumant claimed the life of the third. He did so with a grim look and a determined blade. It was but another aspect of his duty and an appropriate action to reaffirm his position.
The rest of the conspirators were escorted to the prisons. They were disheartened and caused no trouble as they departed surrounded by well-armed guards. Soliumant pledged to question them at length on the next day. It was well. He had much to plan after he rested.
Salenia, Tominent, Iolaine and I carried the Jilhsaed's body to his chambers.
His servants were sent for to prepare him for his burial. The ceremony would
be the following evening. Those who perished in the realm were buried in haste.
The soul was thought to linger near to the body. Only being placed in a chamber
for the dead would contain the spirit until it was ready to journey to the next
Continue to part 25
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