Disclaimer; Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing. I’m sorry this bit took so long to get to you. Hope you all enjoy it.
City of Lorn. Late Fall. Inn Of the Twelve.
“Is everyone here?” The voice of the heir prince, Maen, was strained and weary as he peered around the room. Aryanda met his eyes and nodded, pushing her hood back, fiddling with her dark curls as she watched her cousin shift on the uncomfortable wooden benches.
“I think, your highness, we are all accounted for.” Lord Xeresel said. Arya glanced at him. Like the prince, his voice was heavy. There were circles under his eyes that spoke of long nights, and desperate measures.
“Fill the cups, Xeresel.” Maen said, leaning his elbows on the table, his hands fists.
“Of course.” Xeresel inclined his head, his lips moving. A whisper of sound, the words of the spell spoken so lightly that Arya barely heard it,coiled through the room, magic following it. Though Xeresel didn’t move, the chalices began to fill of their own accord. A magical mixture of ruby red liquid that, once drunk, would act as a barrier against the powerful mind of the Seeress herself.
Arya glanced across the table at the pale bavanan woman, Lady Vera. Like Xeresel, the skin beneath her eyes was shadowed and dark. Her curls, usually immaculate, looked a bit disheveled. She cast a withering glance in Maen’s direction and took the chalice in front of her.
“Drink up, the shield won’t last long today, I fear I am overtired.” Xeresel said.
Arya obeyed, took the chalice and drank, closing her eyes. The bitter liquid left a strange, warm honey flavor in her mouth. She set the chalice down as soon as she was finished, her stomach churning. She felt the magic swirling through her, spreading out from her gut with a warm pulse. Once it settled down, they would talk.
Someone swore, another person made a gagging sound. Arya took a slow breath as Xeresel had taught her. Now was not the time to be ill.
“Dare I ask why you, his highness and Lady Vera look as though death is sitting at your door?” Lord Reis, a powerful landholder from one of the northern provinces, asked.
“You may ask.” Xeresel grinned. “I don’t know that you’ll receive an answer.”
Lord Reis snorted.
“It will be discussed later.” Maen leaned back. “The events of the past few months are, though shocking, not surprising. Starting with the execution of my brother,” he stopped, jaw clenched. After a moment he took a deep breath and continued. “And leading up to the massacre of the Ghayta family in Shoul just three nights ago. It seems the Seeress is purging the major bloodlines.”
“The rumor was that Tier, and Rale, were both pronounced traitors by the Seeress, though it should be noted no evidence of their traitorous activities given.” Lord Reis said.
“Prince Tier was no traitor.” Someone, Arya couldn’t identify, half shouted.
“What troubles me most is the lack of due process in any of these cases.” Lord Ferev spoke quickly, as if he wanted to get his say in before anyone else spoke. “With Prince Tier it could have, indeed it should have dragged on for months, even years. Yet he returned was tried and found guilty, then executed all in a period of what, three days?”
“Less than that.” Arya spoke up. “I was told it was a mere hours after reporting to the Seeress that he was executed.” An uneasy murmur went through the room. She leaned forward. “I would also bring to your attention that the Emperor and the rest of the family had no idea Tier was even being accused until after it was all done.”
“True.” Maen nodded. “Father and mother are both deep in mourning, and Hannah has locked herself in her quarters and refuses to come out.”
“And Rale also expired?” Lord Ferev shook his head at Arya’s nod. “Pity. He had a good head for business.”
“According to the Emperor, Tier and Rale were told they were looking for elementals. But the Seeress told the Emperor they were in search for General Corrin’s daughter to break the standoff in Fort ______. ” General Dyrnos said from his seat, his booming voice turning heads. “When we talked with Tier on his return he had no idea. He showed us the orders he received, and was openly disturbed at the news.”
“The Emperor immediately shut down anyone who questioned the discrepancy.” Lord Ferev added. General Dyrnos nodded.
“Odd. Considering his protests after the affair with General Yorma and his son, I would think it would be well known that he wouldn’t repeat that sort of mission.” Maen commented, brows drawn tightly together.
“It is difficult to refuse the Seeress any request.” General Dyrnos said dryly. “Especially when she is standing in front of you.”
“Those who do don’t live long.” Lord Ferev shook his head. “Then again those who do as she asks don’t have much of a life expectancy either.”
“Something worth mentioning, Lord Chiron sent a letter of protest to the Emperor about Tier’s behavior when passing through Delebeg.” General Dyrnos leaned against the tabletop, a crooked smile on his lips. “He claimed Tier had shown sympathy to the elementals and inferred he switched sides. He said Tier even threatened him over the woman who was traveling with them.”
Maen choked on his wine, a murmur went through the room.
“A woman?” Someone asked incredulously.
“According to the guards who delivered Rale back to our estate, Prince Tier offended the Seeress, though how, they could not, or would not say.” Arya began.
“If he offended her, it doesn’t matter what truly happened. She would strike quickly, out of revenge not justice. I highly doubt he was a traitor.” Lord Xeresel said quickly.
“He was always loyal to Nekar.” General Dyrnos slammed his fist down on the table with a loud thunk, several chalices tipped over and they all jumped. “The Seeress is not Nekar. We can be loyal to one and not the other.”
Heavy silence again filled the room, made more imposing by the soft burr of the spell.
“This is troubling to hear.” Lady Vera said, her soft voice very loud in the room. “That she would strike out over a minor trifle.”
“This is the Seeress, cousin, she has always done troubling things.” Xeresel drummed his fingers on the tabletop.
“The guards said she tore his things apart, looking for something in his travel bags.” Arya said. “Whatever it was, she never found it. According to my contacts, she even searched his rooms in the palace.”
“Perhaps he did turn traitor. After all he traveled several months with that elemental woman.” Lord Reis said, flinching at the dark glares turned his way.
“Traitor to whom? There are not rules that we are not to have dealings with Elementals,” Lord Xeresel began, but Lord Ferev cut him off.
“They are extinct. We have been taught that, we all know that.” He glared.
“Oh come, come now, there’s the Water Master Corrin whose forces held off Lord Chiron’s for three years? Four? I know of several others living in the far north who are as alive as I am, and you know this Lord Ferev. These are the lies She would want you to believe.” Lord Xeresel moved his hand, waving off the next round of questions. “Hear me out. I would wager the Emperor’s crown that the reason she moved so quickly to brand and execute Tier, was because in all reality, in the eyes of the crown he did nothing wrong.”
“Lord Chiron accused him of threatening to tear off his arms if he made any advance towards the woman. Many would surmise that his sympathies were swayed. Though I find it hard to believe.” General Dyrnos snickered. “It would have been a sight I’d like to see.”
“Chiron’s a sniveling weakling.” Maen grumbled.
“I never would have imagined Tier with a woman.” Lord Ferev commented dryly.
“I don’t think any of us can.” Maen eyed Arya who shook her head. Tier had always been aloof around women.
“Never underestimate the power a woman has over a man.” Lady Vera sniffed.
“Mere supposition, my lords and ladies: his relationship with the woman is irrelevant. He was a model example of what any noble of Nekar should strive to be. Loyal to Nekar, to a fault.” Lord Xeresel said. He leaned back in his chair.
The heavy silence stretched.
“The families who were executed, were killed at the same rapid speed that Tier was.” Prince Maen leaned back in his seat. “There are whispers that the Scáth were present. That they may have been the ones to actually do the deed.”
Someone whispered a curse and Arya felt a cool chill work up her spine. She took a steadying breath. “The Scáth haven’t been seen in almost twenty years. Many people believe they are naught but a myth.” She glanced towards Xeresel. “I’ve heard rumors that Kit is also abroad again.”
“Crazy bitch.” Lord Reis muttered.
“I would watch what you say about that one.” General Dyrnos said, an edge to his voice.
“I agree.” Xeresel said. “The Blood Oath has never been tested against the Voice. I hope, I sincerely hope, it never is.”
“She is not as powerful as Kera.” Lord Ferev made a dismissal motion with his hand. “She isn’t worth worrying about.”
“She made a man’s brains leak out his ears.” Lord Reis leaned on the table. “I’d worry about her being near. I for one, want my brains to stay inside my skull.”
“She also reports directly to the Seeress.” Maen said pointedly. “We must be cautious.”
“I hesitate to make assumptions,” Lady Kasumi spoke up. Her voice was low and Arya realized she couldn’t remember the last time she heard the woman speak at these meetings. “But if the Seeress has begun both purging the royal families and pulled both the Scáth and Kit out of hiding, it could be she is aware of us. It could be she hopes to eliminate us along with the Royal bloodlines.”
“If she is, we must be doubly cautious. I’m certain she suspects me.” Lord Xeresel said. “And it is no secret that there have been those who have resisted her influence in Nekar since her arrival. I’m certain she knows we are here, she knows we are quietly opposing her. Until we can move with greater force we must cling to the shadows.”
“And each passing day we run the risk of being found out. Do we have time to prepare, indeed can we prepare before we are exposed?” Maen asked. “There is only so much we can do without pulling more people in.”
“I hope so, your highness. It would be grim indeed if we go to all this trouble to end up tied to a pole in Koursh.” Lord Xeresel grumbled. “We cannot add more, the spell is stretched as it is. We must work with what resources we have.”
“It seems hopeless.” Lady Vera said, her large eyes downcast.
“Of course it is hopeless. Perhaps there are others who question her, who are moving as silently as we. Hopefully we can find allies, and quickly.” Xeresel frowned. “Of those she executed these past months, Tier was the only one who had no knowledge of us.”
“Some are calling him a martyr, the first.” Lady Kasumi said. “Some whisper he’s not really dead, that he’s somehow managed to escape.”
“We should have brought him in.” someone down table commented. “He could have helped us.”
“No.” Prince Maen shook his head. “Tier would have been our staunchest enemy. He would have turned us in in a heartbeat. What we are doing, could be considered conspiring against the Seeress and the crown. He would have considered it treason.”
“I agree with Maen.” Arya said quickly.
“Absolutely. Tier is, or was an honorable man. We are, to be completely truthful, not acting honorably. We’re hiding in the shadows, creeping into places long forgotten on the sheer hope that no one would think to find persons of our station here, of all gods forsaken places.” Lord Xeresel motioned towards the worn wall coverings, the rough hewn door and the battered table, and leaned back steepling his fingers and tapping them against his lips. “Now is not the time to move out of the shadows though, as smelly and rotten as it is.”
“When will it be, I wonder?” Lord Ferev asked. “If we wait too long, the opportunity will pass.”
Arya locked eyes with Maen who gave a barely perceptible shrug.
“And if we go to soon we become not saviors, but crazy conspirators.” Lady Vera said.
“I suggest we do no more than wait at the moment. Gather information, gather our strength.” Lord Xeresel’s leg was jiggling lightly. Arya resisted the urge to kick him to get him to stop. But one did not kick a man such as Lord Xeresel. She’d regret it later. He was far too imposing a figure who commanded respect and admiration even as he annoyed you.
“It seems as though we get nowhere.” Lord Reis complained. “We discuss it and nothing changes. But more people die by her hand. What is the point?”
“These events, especially Prince Tier’s execution, have begun something the Seeress was trying to avoid, Lord Reis. People are finally talking. Thinking for themselves. They are meeting in places they hope they will not be overheard. They whisper about things long forbidden. Wars, battles, and martyrs of old that the Seeress has tried suppress the memories of. They are questioning everything they have been taught, everything they have believed. Finally after generations they are really taking a long hard look at what they know.”
“And what is it, Lord Xeresel, that we know?” Arya asked, her voice loud to her own ears. She flinched when he looked down at her.
“That they have been brought up on lies and deceit.”
“We should re-convene possibly after the Summer Solstice.” Lady Vera said softly. There were nods. “Unless there is more business to be handled of course.”
“There is one matter, no two, which we should all be aware of.” General Dyrnos said quietly. Eyes turned his way. He glanced towards Maen who inclined his head.
“The first, is the situation in Delebeg. I overheard Prince Tier discussing some troubling actions on Chiron’s part. We could be looking at a possible revolt in the region if Chiron stays in power.”
“How do you mean?” Maen leaned forward.
“Chiron is keeping the general populous on starvation rations, and hoarding the water.” General Dyrnos glanced around the table. “I don’t know if there have been any deaths,”
“It’s a matter of time.” Lord Xeresel said. “I too heard of the situation in Delebeg, and, though I hadn’t meant to bring it up, Lady Veino sent a messenger with a black feather shortly after Tier’s passing through.”
Arya frowned. “What does that mean?”
“The black feather is an old way of saying, the center is cracking.” Maen said quickly. Murmurs rippled through the room.
“The other matter, one which disturbs me greatly, is that starting in the spring, Nekar will be marching on Sandau.” General Dyrnos eyed all of them one by one. “The Emperor’s goal is to take Sandau by next fall.”
“You will be there, I take it?” Maen asked.
General Dyrnos inclined his head. “It has been requested by the Seeress that we return with the Seeress of Sandau in chains.”
“This is a situation we will have to keep our eyes on.” Xeresel said. “Is there anything else?”
Heads shook up and down the table.
“Be cautious, all of you.” Prince Maen said. “We are walking upon a knife’s blade. The wrong move could doom us all, and doom Nekar.”
“We are an absolutely cheerful bunch.” Lord Xeresel muttered. Arya nudged him with her knee and leaned over.
“Can you blame him?” she whispered.
“Appearances are everything, dear lady.” He leaned back with a scowl. “Even when in mourning.”
“Trust me, my lord, he’s not mourning.” Arya said softly. She met Xeresel’s startled gaze. “I think he’s wishing he did it himself.”
Xeresel stared and Arya fought to keep from snickering. It was rare to catch the Bavanan Ambassador speechless. She patted his cheek fondly. “Close your mouth, darling, a bug will fly into it.”
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