Chapter 2: The Green Jewel
by Julian Lawler
Nomen was an ancient city. Sprawled in the middle of grasslands, its buildings rose high above the horizon like bony fingers. Without some of the riches that belonged to cities from the north, nor the beautiful vistas that belonged to southern, coastal cities, Nomen was barely modest.
The passing of time was evident in its broken street ways. Dirt covered most of the ground where the tall grasses of the region had been cleared for development. In some of the newer parts of the city, cobblestone had replaced the hard ground. Most of the city was shaped by dull, gray stone structures. Alleys separated the buildings from the streets, creating a puzzling array of districts. There were many shops made of small wooden shacks. Grocers, merchants, and vendors lined the streets shouting their goods to the public. Inns and taverns allowed for recreation and they dotted the city like tiny ants. Though Nomen was a modest city, it wasn’t without its attractions.
Castle Greypearl stood over the entire city like a mountain of glass and parapets. Large towers rose above its high-scaled walls, and guards traversed its grounds constantly. The castle was the mother to all in Nomen. Their beloved lord lived within its expansive walls, and to all, the heart of Nomen lay there.
But to many, and not just those who lived in Nomen, the Sun Cathedral was the glue to the entire Southern region of the Nations. Not even the mighty city of Stonegate could rival the glory of the Sun Cathedral.
The cathedral was a monolith that lay at the core of Nomen. A single compound made of several, connected buildings the holy palace took up the entire center of the city.
The Green Jewel. The holy palace was given the nickname for the forest green marble stones that were used to construct it. Like a monster, the palace hunched over everything in Nomen. It was as tall as Castle Greypearl, as beautiful, and more magical than any other place, person, or thing in the Nations.
It was said magic did not work within those halls. No person of evil intent could ever set foot in its holy grounds. Housing over five thousand Light Bearers, the Sun Cathedral was the greatest House of Light in the known world.
The Six Pillars of Acrene Tarrynth stood within its great magical walls. The fabled Pillars were monuments constructed to the Shining Ones by the greatest Light Bearers in history. Men and women who had given themselves over to the Light so completely that they had been more than just mortals.
Each Pillar had an image of each individual Shining One, put there by some unknown force upon their deaths. The last Shining One to live had been more than a hundred years before. She had been the last.
People came here from all over the Nations to pay their respects. They came to ask for mercy, for forgiveness, and for miracles. The Six Pillars of Acrene Tarrynth proved to be a comfort to the poor and downtrodden. The Light was the greatest power known to the common man. Magic was the greatest force, but Light Bearers made the Light readily available to all.
Beyond the walls of the Green Jewel, courtyards and gardens surrounded the palace; in those gardens lay some of the greatest treasures found in nature. The crystal rose bloomed here. A flower so rare, it was only found in the most lifeless and frigid of regions. It was so fragile it was said the warmth of a touch would break it. Even the powers of the Light Bearers could only keep one alive throughout the year.
A high, gabled, iron-fence surrounded the entire compound. A large gate allowed the only entrance to the Sun Cathedral. There were more entrances, of course. Small one-man gates, tunnels beneath the ground, and even a way out through the sky, but these were kept a tight secret.
It was through one of these gates that Palance came through.
A small, green robed man came running to them as the gate slammed shut behind the men.
“My prince,” stammered the senior Light Bearer, as stated by his colored robes. “We did not know you had left the grounds.”
“All is well,” replied Palance to the other’s concern. “I went out looking for my friend. That is all.”
Ian smiled. “Clavar, allow me to properly introduce you.”
He turned to Palance. “This is Palance Demondread, son of King Alias, Prince of Acrene Tarrynth.”
Clavar gaped. “I know, my lord. We have been properly introduced.”
“Yes, we have met,” interjected Palance. “You are Father Rayul’s senior Light Bearer. No small feet.”
The man known as Clavar beamed. “Thank you, my prince. It is an honor to serve thee. May you be in the Light, always.”
Soulcryst turned to the gate and faced the street: always vigilant, always aware.
Larson strode around the small Light Bearer and continued to keep his watch.
“What is your full name?” asked the prince.
“Clavar Rakensoft, good sir.” The Light Bearer bowed.
Palance put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Keep up the good work, Clavar. Will you call Father Rayul for me? Ask him to meet me in the Chamber of the Six?”
“Certainly.” With that, the senior Light Bearer gave a curt nod and moved away on his assignment.
Palance watched him go. “Let’s go meet Father Rayul.”
All four men moved to meet one of the most powerful men in the Nations.
* * *
The Chamber of Six was the largest hall inside the Sun Cathedral. As the name suggested, the Six Pillars of Acrene Tarrynth were contained within the round room. Easily the size of a four-story building, the chamber felt more like a spacious cavern than a hall. Shafts of light filtered in from above through a glass dome.
Flooded by memories of childhood, Palance guided his men to the center of the room. They came to stand before the giant marble pillars. On each pillar there was an engraving of a Shining One.
Willam Calavera. Possibly the oldest pillar in the known world, the Shining One had robes flowing about him. The man’s face was covered with wisdom lines and his beard flowed down to the middle of his chest. His hair was long and curly.
The Shining One’s eyes were finely etched and penetrating. They gave the sense they were aware of what was going on in the chamber. The eyes seemed to look right at you from certain angles. It was quite an unnerving experience for young kids. Palance knew that better than anyone else.
There was something to the Shining One’s eyes that Palance never liked. According to the stories, Willam Calavera was the most powerful Shining One to have ever existed. The man had been more than mortal even before his discovery of the light. As a young boy, it was rumored Willam Calavera could manipulate sunlight to the point of making the day grow dark before nighttime came.
No one knew how he did it. No one had ever known.
By the age of sixteen, Willam Calavera could crush buildings and rip men apart by sheer light manipulation. As an adult, Willam Calavera was the most powerful man in the world. Danger was everywhere for the Shining One. It was said that the man was so powerful light surrounded him at all times. For the last ten years of his life, no one had laid eyes on the man behind the shields and wards of light he had built around himself.
“I wonder what it’s like to be so powerful,” said Ian, breaking the silence. The Lord of Nomen took in the rest of the pillars with a glance.
Palance shook his head. Doors opened at the far end of the hall, cutting short Palance’s reply.
Father Rayul strode into the Chamber of Six- more like glided- with his white, satin robes brushing softly against the smooth floor.
Two cathedral guards, clothed in dark gray smocks, closed the doors quietly as they withdrew from the hall.
Head priest of the Sun Cathedral, Master of the Green Jewel, Father Rayul was a supreme master of emotion. His peppered hair did nothing to diminish the steel in the man’s eyes. Eyes that could turn gentle and warm on a drop of a hat.
Mostly around children, Palance thought.
Standing a little below six feet, Father Rayul was an imposing figure. Besides being one of the strongest men in the world, Father Rayul could also disarm a person with a smile, or a lifting of an eyebrow.
The Master of the Green Jewel bowed as he came to stand before his prince.
“My lord,” the Light Bearer bowed.
Palance nodded his head. “Father Rayul.”
Father Rayul bowed again. “Ian.”
Ian stepped forward and clapped the older man on the shoulder. “Stop calling him my lord.’ It’s going to his head.”
All three men shared a laugh.
Palance’s guards, Larson and Soulcryst, took up their positions at the door.
Father Rayul motioned to a bench. “Let us speak. There are things to be discussed.”
All three men sat down.
“It is good to see you, Palance,” commented the priest. “Ian, as always, it’s a pleasure.” The priest settled on his seat. “So what brings you to Nomen under cover of night? I’m curious to know why you felt it appropriate to sneak five hundred men into the city. “Usually, a visit from the prince brings fanfare and parades. Why the secrecy?
“You haven’t been here in close to five years, Palance. Now you come to us and no one knows. I should say no one is supposed to know. The Light knows the rumors are spreading. People think their prince is hiding.”
“From the king, they say,” interrupted Ian. He looked at both men. “It’s true. The Light knows I spend enough time among the people. That’s what’s going around these days.”
Palance heard them patiently. He raised a hand to stop them before they could go further. “I assure both of you everything I’m doing is with the king’s consent. But let’s leave that for another time. Tell me. What news in Nomen?”
Both men looked obviously displeased at having to put aside the matter at hand, but Palance made it plain as day the subject was not to be breached. “Has anything been happening around here that I should know of?” he asked, changing the subject with finality.
Father Rayul and Ian exchanged looks. It was Ian who spoke first. “We believe the Wreathleak is in Nomen.”
The Wreathleak was a legendary myth of a ruling council that existed in the spirit world. The prince could understand how Father Rayul did not believe in the Wreathleak. The Wreathleak’s sole existence, it was said, was to cause more deaths in the land of the living and to multiply. Only by multiplying could the land of the dead over take the world of the living. Even Palance did not fully accept the concept of a council made of spirits ruling all things dead and beyond the grave.
“What makes you believe this?” asked Palance.
Ian started to explain. “I already told you about the rain and the keening. The Garen Bell seems a little more active. This is not news to Father Rayul.”
“Everything Ian is saying is true.” Continued Father Rayul. He was also quick to dismiss any notion of the Wreathleak. “As for the Wreathleak, its all old wives’ tales and nothing but nonsense.”
Palance held up a hand. “Listen, is there anything we can do to stop all this from happening? Is there a way we can protect the people from all this?”
Both men shook their heads. “There is no way to accomplish that. Not unless we turn every citizen of Nomen into a Light Bearer,” explained Father Rayul.
“Or,” he continued, “we make the Sun Cathedral encompass the whole city.”
It wasn’t like Father Rayul to jest in such a way. It quickly occurred to Palance that maybe the old man wasn’t joking.
“We can’t possibly do that,” replied Palance.
Ian looked at Father Rayul and then to Palance. “My lord,” he stated. The fact that he used the words my lord’ was not lost on Palance. “Is it possible,” continued Ian, “that we could seal the city like they did Geamehn a thousand years ago.”
Geamehn was the capital city for the Nation of Acrene Tarrynth. Where Nomen was beautiful for its ancient architecture, Geamehn was legendary for its use of magic. It was one of a few cities in the Nations magically protected from the plague of darkness that was consuming all the lands.
Palance shook his head. “There is no mage alive strong enough to do that any more.”
“But there are strong mages still in the world,” continued the Lord of Nomen, not willing to give up hope.
“The last mage strong enough was the one who sealed Geamehn,” explained Palance. “the power he summoned was so much he died immediately after. I’m sorry, Ian.”
“We’ll do what we can,” finished Father Rayul.
“We’ll see,” said Palance. As prince, it was his duty to protect the people. But in this, there was nothing to be done. He had absolutely no knowledge as to what should be done.
“Tell me, what news from the borders?” he asked.
Ian thought for a moment. “Mor’Sham is having a revolt. There is a plague spreading there, as well. I believe they call it the Black Disease.”
“Sobien Dah has taken the defensive against the people of Mor’Sham. They have taken those who have already succumbed to the disease and lined their borders with the deceased. It is rather a grisly business.”
“But it keeps the people away from their land,” explained Palance. He already knew what was happening to the north. “What of Corrin Ada?”
Ian continued. “Aleshandre Armestaad has taken advantage of the situation and ordered half his army to the northern border. By all reports, he is preparing to invade as soon as the Black Disease runs its course. “He is already winning the support of the people from Mor’Sham by not refusing to aid them. He allows them entry into his borders, sets them up in tent cities, and feeds them. There are some reports that he is trying to cure them. That man is as ruthless as he is evil. He probably cures them by sticking a blade in their backs.” finished Ian.
Father Rayul shook his head. “Aleshandre is too smart to do that. He doesn’t want to make any more enemies with the people of Mor’Sham. He sees an opportunity there. “I believe he knows he can’t stop the flood of refugees from streaming into Corrin Ada. But how can he keep them from staying?”
Palance was trying to follow the priest’s line of thinking.
Father Rayul continued. “He embraces the refugees. He gives them food and water. He goes as far as to embrace them and nourish them. All the while, he is steadily winning the refugees over. We all know the ruling thieves in Mor’Sham have long abandoned the thought of lowering their eyes to the common folk.
“The depletion of the population in Mor’Sham by the Black Disease will leave it ripe for the taking. Once Alishandre decides to move, the refugees he has taken under his wing will readily charge under Corrin Ada’s banner to take back their homes. We all know the thieves ruling Mor’Sham cannot hope to defend nor defeat an army like Corrin Ada’s. When the time has come, Alishandre will invade Mor’Sham.” Father Rayul looked at Palance and the Lord of Nomen with the certainty of his words.
“He will do it, too,” said Palance. “We were preparing for the refugees in Geamehn. We set up troops to stop the borders from swelling with refugees and hardly any came. It was so strange we ordered our troops back a week’s ride from Geamehn. Word must have spread of Alishandre’s kindness.”
Palance rose to his feet. “I must write to my father. I believe he must learn of this. It is no secret Alishandre has long been after Acrene Tarrynth.”
Ian rose, as well. “You are right. You might want to inform your father of all that is happening here, as well.”
Palance nodded his agreement. “Look, the both of you. The reason why I’m here is very important to my future. But I’m not ready to discuss this, yet. On the morrow, I will reveal everything.”
Father Rayul bowed his head. “Whenever you are ready, my lord.”
“Thank you both for understanding,” stated the prince. “I have many things to do. I will see you both tomorrow. Ian. Father.”
Palance strode out of the Chamber of Six confident in his chosen path, Larson and Soulcryst close behind on his heels.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Julian Lawler