Chapter 3: “A Secret Untold,” part 1
by Julian Lawler
The chandelier hung from the ceiling like a spider hanging from a tiny thread of web, its small, rusty hinges crying with the strain of holding it up. Candles, their wax soft and dripping to the floor below after long hours of slow burning, hesitated to wink out for fear of leaving the vast chamber to the mercy of the dark. Elongated shadows danced upon the walls of the ornate chamber with an eerie presence that Palance Demondread almost found stifling.
He sat behind a dark oak desk, fretting over his letter. The moon rose high into the night over his shoulder through a large glass window behind him. His hand scribbled furiously with an urgent message, the ink pen making a soft rasping sound on the dull, beige parchment. Dark blue eyes stared intently at the words written, thinking of what else to say. There was so much that needed saying, yet so little time. He thought for a second and then pulled back in his creaking chair to take a breath. Sighing, he ran his hands through his black hair and peered into the gloom of his room.
A neat stack of documents, papers with complaints, fines, and other city business matters, rose to eye level at the corner of his desk. To his left, stood a waist high vase containing three large, beautiful, fully bloomed red roses. The vase was polished with a black tarnish and the intricate designs etched on it, long tendrils of sea vines and desert flowers, clearly made it an import from the land of Sobien Dah.
On the far end of the room, lay his bed, propped against the wall. Pillows filled with feathers spilled to the floor and his bed sheets lay in ripples. Holding in a yawn, he pushed back his chair and rose to his shoeless feet. The finely knit rug from Avidal felt good beneath his soles as he walked across the room to his oak made dresser. The room lay shrouded in relative silence, except for the barely audible sound of his breathing.
In the distance, choked by walls and endless corridors, came the first struggling plea of the Garen Bell. This night the bell’s rings sounded as ghostly as the wails from the ghosts that were rumored to haunt the place. It came in between long interludes of pauses. Each time it struck, Palance had to hold back from flinching.
It was midnight and the magic of the bell caroused through his body.
Instinctively, Palance reached for his sword and tried to forget the magic that was trying to take a hold over him. He held its black hilt with a white-knuckle grip, its blade glinting slightly as it caught the candle light over head. The blade was one of its finest. The weapon was forged from the finest steel and made by the best weapon makers in the Nations. It had a large black pommel to match the flag of the Iinnin Lodar, his personal guard. The sword had cost him his father.
Taking a moment to steady himself, Palance had to remind himself to breath. Outside, the Garen Bell continued to toll to the loneliness of the night, giving its warning of midnight with a sense of laziness. Palance strained his ears to listen between rings for screams that might come from the tower. He was certain all the Light Bearers of the Sun Cathedral were asleep in their rooms, not awake and sweating over a childhood past filled with nightmares.
Finally, after what seemed like eternity the tolling stopped. The silence that followed was total and complete. Palance couldn’t remember ten rings lasting for so long.
He held back the elation that was bubbling to the surface. No screams were going to come from the Garen Bell this night. The night was far from through, he reminded himself. Such relief, he thought, should be illegal. It was that kind of relief that could get a man killed. It made you less wary, sharp, and mindful of the things that stalked the night when you needed your wits most.
Hope was the killer of the truth, of the reality Palance knew existed outside and beyond the city of Nomen. There were things and creatures under the pale moonlight that would make lovers feel cold and lifeless as if the very hand of death had touched them. There were things out there, that dwelled and thrived on the light of night and moon, that would make families huddle and cower in their homes at the sound of their passing. There were things out there that Prince Palance Demondread never wanted to meet.
Smiling, he took tentative steps back to his desk. All was safe inside the Sun Cathedral. The belief that no one of evil heart or intent could enter the Sun Cathedral kept plenty of people from trying to rob the place. There was no point in fretting over ghosts and a haunting.
Palance laid his sword against his desk; careful it didn’t slip and fall to scratch the polished surface. He rubbed his sweaty hands on his dark breeches and swallowed to get some moisture back into his mouth and throat.
He peered down to the letter he had written. Was it enough? Had he said all that needed to be said? He nodded to himself, biting his lower lip, before pulling out a scroll case. With hot candle wax he sealed the parchment and put it in its container. It would have to do, he told himself. If his father had any objections, it would be too late by then for him to do anything effective about it. Palance shook off a setting chill as he sat down once again.
He needed to tell Father Rayul and Ian Dihn the reason why he was here. It would not be easy relinquishing control of his plans. He had laid them all down carefully, along with the help of his father, to keep his secret from prying ears. A year of planning and hoping would bring all his dreams and hopes crashing if he didn’t stick to them now.
His mouth set into a flat line. He hated keeping secrets. He didn’t like keeping anything from his friends; they were like brothers to him. Father Rayul had partially raised him like a son. As for the Lord of Nomen, Palance could still remember the days before responsibilities had made them both men when they used to run wild through the city of Geamehn.
The Prince of Acrene Tarrynth smiled to himself. Such times when they could spend time and be free together were rare now days. The Lord of Nomen was a man with genuine charisma. Palance did not know of any one throughout the Nations that could rule a city and still go drinking in taverns without risking an assassination. The people of Nomen loved their lord, and Palance did not believe for a second they would not rise up to defend him.
He would have to tell them both... and soon. Already, Palance was eager for the journey. Both his friends would object to his decision and course of action, but what could they do? Palance knew they would try to dissuade him, but in the end, if he were stubborn enough, they would respect his decision and follow his orders. It had to be this way, he knew, in order for his plan to work. It was his will.
His secret was beginning to take its toll on him. Three days past, Palance had come to Nomen with five hundred men from his Iinnin Lodar. They had come under the concealment of the stars, using the night to come into the Sun Cathedral unnoticed. His friends had been pleased and surprised by his sudden appearance. Although the greetings had been warm, Palance had sensed uneasiness about them. He was sure they still felt the same apprehension.
If he didn’t tell them soon, both would begin to envision the reasons for his visit. Father Rayul would never come right up and ask. He would never approach the subject until Palance was ready to speak. But the prince knew the priest worried. There was no telling what kind of thoughts the priest was entertainment.
Palance shook his head wistfully.
King Alias Demondread was not displeased with his head priest. If anything, the Sun Cathedral had never been in better hands. Not since the last Shining One had the city of Nomen prospered from the cathedral so much. If his father could appoint an overseer for the holy palace, he would have appointed Father Rayul a long time ago.
The priest would be surprised when Palance told him his secret. His tension and doubts would wash away from him like a flower in a mudslide. Palance would leave the priest to think what he would for now.
Ian Dihn on the other hand was not showing any outward signs of worry. Ian pretended as if Palance’s visit was nothing out of the ordinary. But Palance could tell the Lord of Nomen was a bit nervous.
Palance sighed to himself. Almost everyone he knew thought his father ruthless when it came to being satisfied with matters of state. The Lord of Nomen, he assured himself, was probably already thinking of ways to apologize for his inaptitude at running the city.
Palance knew his father well. The man was a stern ruler, indeed, but fair. The Lord of Nomen had proven himself a worthy ruler countless of times; enough that Alias would probably never check on him again. Alias Demondread was not a man to lose his temper easily. The man was always joking with those he loved and respected, which was just about everybody. The man ruled because he cared for his people.
Palance felt sure he would come to do the same when he finally acquired the crown; he only hoped he would emulate his father half as well.
The Lord of Nomen would laugh at himself for allowing his thoughts to become so paranoid. He would laugh and hug everyone in the room with him, saying that he knew it all along. He would tell everyone who could bear witness that he had only played it safe.
Palance almost laughed at the thought, except the gravity of his situation only made him sink deeper. He hated keeping secrets. It almost pained him to know he had waited so long to tell his two friends of his plans. He should have trusted them from the beginning. He couldn’t bring himself to admit that realization. His future and happiness depended on his secrecy, and he would not let thoughts of unfelt distrust towards his friends sway him differently.
He took a deep breath and allowed himself to sit back. The candles were almost done burning their midnight oil and the room was growing dark. He watched each flame flicker and waiver. He would be in the dark soon enough.
He pulled his sword closer to him, laying it flat on his desk. He thought of the city of Nomen and how empty its streets got once the sun set. He thought of all those people that had to sleep in fear. Geamehn, where he was from, the capital city of Acrene Tarrynth, was one of the few cities left untouched by the forces at work against them. The Nations had always been a dark place to live in. Every Nation was tied together by some dark secret that had polluted the world. Although not all the Nations chose to get along, Palance knew that not all of the cities left untouched by the taint of the world would survive for long.
Geamehn was the capital city for the Nation of Acrene Tarrynth. It was a city built around a fortress. It took Alias Demondread a lifetime to rid it of the plague that was now only stretching out into the rest of the Nations. King Alias employed the help from the only man that could possibly lift the darkness. After great tests and skill, the capital city had been spared what Palance had seen and felt so far in Nomen. He thought for a moment. Too bad the only man that could have done anything was dead. The might he displayed in Geamehn had cost him his life. His thoughts were interrupted abruptly by a knock at the door. Without waiting for a response, the door opened quietly.
Copyright © 2004 by Julian Lawler