Chapter 5: Secrets Revealed
by Julian Lawler
He awoke with a start. The lingering screams and cries that remained echoed through the caverns of his subconscious, traveling deeper into his psyche like a ripple at the center of a pond. The dreams were getting worse, he noted. As each day passed, his dreams were becoming more real, more detailed, and mainly terrifyingly lifelike.
His dreams used to be filled with visions of the future where he would have a family with Andina one day. His kingdom would prosper and his Nation would be a place people could take pride in. He would hold Andina in those dreams knowing that she would never drift away, leaving him for all eternity.
Now, so many miles away from his home, his dreams were not as he knew them to be. They were nightmares. He could not shake the feeling that the woman in his most recent dream was not a figment of his imagination. The dream had been too vivid. He could still feel the rain hitting the woman’s bruised back, he could feel the scorching fire on her lips, and the burning sensation as each sword fulfilled its grisly business. That was not the first time he had dreamt about the woman.
Then he remembered the nomel dracs. As he lay still in his bed listening to the silence of his room, he was hard pressed to shake off the yells of hurt and pain that came from the crowds that had gathered the night before. The sight of seeing helpless children torn to pieces was too much for the prince to bear.
Clearing the last veils of sleep, he scanned his room.
A shaft of sunlight filtered through his tiny window, illuminating the room with a pure light, leaving the far wall in shadows. As pure as the Sun Cathedral was, the shadows never seemed to be totally expurgated from the place. The room appeared larger now, without the sense of confinement Palance had felt the night earlier. His sword lay in its sheath at the foot of the bed, where he had dropped it before falling asleep.
After the massacre, he had barely been able to keep himself from wrenching. The loss of life had left him shaken badly enough that he had stumbled half way to his room, before Larson and Eliath had come and carried him to his room. Palance had been grateful for the help. He had come to Nomen from Geamehn with a false web of security wrapped around him. The coming of the ghosts had lifted Palance’s false veil of safety, and the vulnerability he had found within himself had crushed him.
Palance Demondread was the prince of Acrene Tarrynth, commander and leader of the Iinnin Lodar. He knew his men were formidable. He was confident that his men could fight against another army and bring it to a standstill, if not win such an encounter. Twice already, he had taken his men to war, and twice already they had proven his word and their worth. The first time had come against the scoundrels of Mor’Sham. The second time had come against Myrgolia. The battle had taken place on the beaches of Corinn Adda.
Both episodes had left long-lasting repercussions to each side of the affair.
The Iinnin Lodar could fight and defeat or defend against any of the other Nations. But how were they to fight wraiths, ghosts, and banshees? Palance considered for a moment. He wasn’t including the worst of the list. The night hid many things.
Since leaving Geamehn, while on the road to Nomen, he had encountered creatures of all kinds. Some had been scary and odd enough to prickle the hairs on the back of his neck. But he had never fought any of them. The creatures had just floated away into the landscape, riding beneath the moon’s silvery light. There had been that one creature that kept coming into his camp, but it never caused any injury to his men.
Now he had the dreams to compound that problem.
After everything he had witnessed and experienced, he wasn’t too sure that they weren’t all doomed, including the rest of the Nations. Maybe they would all evolve to become the burned, scorched souls he dreamed about sometimes. Maybe that was the result of a humanity lost to the light. Or maybe, he thought, that was the result of a humanity claimed by the night.
Shaking himself, he rose to his feet trying to forget the implications of his thoughts. He pulled a long, brown robe from the nearest bedpost and wrapped it around his firm shoulders. Feeling the soft rug with his toes, he padded over to his desk and stared down at the letter he had written.
It lay neatly folded, its creases unmarked, in the center of the desktop, its course, yellow color brightened by the morning light. He keenly watched it. So much depended on that single piece of paper. If anyone were to intercept and read it... Palance did not want to think about the consequences. There were enemies all around, he knew. There were lords and nobles that would kill to be allowed to read what was on that letter.
He would have to send a messenger to Geamehn with the precious document. He would send it today. There could be no delay. By the afternoon, he wanted his letter well on its way.
First thing he needed to do, though, was to seal it. He pulled out a small block and flint, and after a few strikes, lit a small candle. its tiny flame cast no shadow in the brightened room, and Palance noted how dwarfed it seemed. With the skill of a postal master, the prince let a few drops of wax fall right on the folded part of the paper. Afterwards, he blew out the flickering flame and set the candle down. He blew lightly on the hardening wax until he was satisfied, and then picked up his letter. Tenderly, he put it in his pouch.
Hadn’t he already sealed it? Because the events of the night before had caused his mind to reel, he wasn’t sure. The previous night was as surreal as a horrid dream.
Maybe not, those horrid dreams were becoming all too familiar.
He was amazed nothing had happened to his letter. He remembered tucking it into his cloak the night before. A crease of worry came over his brow as he wondered who had taken it out of his cloak. It must have been Larson or Eliath, he told himself. Giving the matter no more thought, he went over to his bed and sat on the edge as he slipped his boots on. He washed up quickly with clean water that had been left for him in a bowl on the nightstand next to his bed and left his room eager for a breath of fresh air.
Besides, there was something he needed to do. He needed to find Father Rayul. It was time he told his friends about his secret plans. The time had come. He hoped they would understand.
As he stepped into the marble hallway, he stopped dead in his tracks. It was awesome to see the difference in the cathedral from night to day. Everything in the marble corridor was lit and bright. The Sun Cathedral did not need any source of light during daylight hours. Master architects had build the holy palace in such a manner that the sun was always cascading through half its windows, giving the inhabitants of the Sun Cathedral natural light to live by. At night, the moon used to provide the same service. But too many things had changed. Through magic, wizards had enchanted the cathedral to keep itself warm in the winter and cool in the summer. This had all been done before the Conquest. It was during this time that the Nations had been born.
Soulcryst stood at attention right outside his door. Out in the hall, a dozen or so Light Bearers walked here and there, to and fro, doing the things that needed to be done. In such an enormous place, Palance wondered if they were ever finished before the day was done even with all the help they could muster. He saw Bearers in brown robes mopping and cleaning; doing things he considered servant work. Others in robes of gray carried large stacks of papers to some unknown destination. He saw a few, mostly men in forest green robes, lounging around in couches, talking with leisure. They would stand quickly and bow to him when they realized he was watching them.
There were over two thousand Light Bearers housed in the Sun Cathedral. Palance nodded at them when they bowed to him as he walked through the halls. There were too many of them to sit and converse with. Palance wondered how many had been in the corridors the night before. He had seen a lot of Light Bearers in the halls when Larson had summoned him, but he couldn’t fathom two thousand men crunched up in the hallways like a bunch of worms.
As he walked, he felt Soulcryst trailing behind him silently like a shadow that sought an owner. Palance didn’t know when the man had arrived to keep watch over him. Sometime during the night, he was sure. The man wore the same as all his personal guards did; black, polished armor with a chain mail shirt underneath to soften the blows of warfare. Where Larson was big, this man was like a hawk. His hand never left the vicinity around the pommel of his sword. Soulcryst’s gaze took in everybody and everything. Palance wondered if it were possible to sneak up on the man. Only if you want your hand cut off, he told himself.
Palance walked through the halls. There were so many intersecting halls and corridors. Anybody not familiar with the cathedral could spend a lifetime trying to get out. He felt like a mouse stuck in a maze. Chambers opened up to each side of him at intervals, their ceilings reaching up to three stories high. Most of these rooms were occupied at the moment with Light Bearers. He had never seen any of these vast chambers empty during the day, and he had visited this place since he was a mere child.
He found Father Rayul outside in the garden with the Lord of Nomen. Ian Dihn was putting a small cup back down upon the flat surface of a table. He wore a gray cloak made of satin with black gloves and black boots that contrasted sharply with the priest’s white robes. They sat around a white table in a small patio enclosed by red roses and white tulips. The concrete was wet and the flowers were still moist with dew. The fresh scent of wet earth filled the prince’s lungs.
It was a cool morning, and he was grateful for his warm cloak, even though the sun’s steady climb foretold a warm afternoon.
The priest reached for a small, crystal goblet as Palance approached and filled another cup with a brownish liquid. He handed it to the prince when he reached the table.
“And how is my lord feeling this morning?” Asked Father Rayul. “I pray that all is well?”
Palance took a sip from his cup and had to keep back a cough as the strong cinnamon scented coffee scraped his throat. There was a strong tinge of brandy beneath the flavor. “Gentlemen,” he stammered, “good morning to you both.” Soulcryst came up behind him with an extra chair, its padded feet scraping against the stone floor. Palance took it and sat down.
“My lord,” came Ian’s smooth voice, “you had us worried last night.”
“It seems you had a rough experience,” consoled the priest. “If I had known that they would have sensed you from so far away, I wouldn’t have allowed you to get trapped by their enchantments.”
“Yes,” said the Lord of Nomen, “it seems they were not yet occupied when they reached out for you.” There came a far off look to his dark eyes, and Palance knew he was contemplating something. “Odd,” he said after a moment’s pause. He leaned his wiry frame back into his chair.
“What’s odd?” asked Palance. “I don’t follow. If these ghosts are so dangerous, why not just protect all of us, Father?”
Father Rayul seemed to be looking for the right words. “My lord, do you know what those things were last night? I think you should know there are many more. Last night there was just a small number of those creatures. They have been seen around the city for quite some time. Their power is very great. I have the light to command at my will. But I cannot protect too many at once.”
“Last night,” said Ian, “by the time you saw them, they had already been out there long enough to have been seen by those people who were unfortunate enough to fall victims to them. Those creatures, once they have a target, never let their attention waver. Father Rayul didn’t think he needed to protect you or any of us last night because, by the time we found them, they should have already been engaged. They had been seen already.
“This is why we are worried. Those creatures were oblivious to our presence until you showed up. We never would have called you out unless we thought it was completely safe. I believe that we failed you last night. Forgive us, if you will. We almost lost you if it had not been for Larson.”
The Lord of Nomen bowed his head, and Palance knew he had to say something. “It’s okay, Ian. There is nothing to forgive,” said the prince. “I should have kept my wits about me a little better than I did. True, I almost died, but the lesson has been taught. If ever I encounter them again, and I am alone, then I will thank you for showing me their power.”
Ian bowed his head again. “Very well. Thank you, my lord.”
“Palance,” said the priest. “We are worried for you. Those creatures last night focused in on you like a beacon in the night. You might as well have shown yourself to them with a lit torch. I’m not saying they are after you. There could be a million reasons for what happened last night, but be careful. Don’t take unnecessary risks. When you leave here, and I hope it’s not soon, make sure you tell your men to keep their eyes open. A hundred of the fiercest men will not do you any good if they are caught in those creatures’ enchantments.”
Just one more reason for them to refuse me my plan, he thought sourly.
Palance nodded. “So what are those things called?” he asked, looking beyond the priest to the rows upon rows of flowers that surrounded them in a ring like fashion. He took in their sweet scent and let it fill his lungs again. He just couldn’t get enough of that wet earth smell. A bee buzzed around his ear and he swatted at it half-heartedly.
The Sun Cathedral was filled with many beautiful sights, the most splendid being the Six Pillars of Acrene Tarrynth. The Six Pillars of Acrene Tarrynth were huge, marble columns with etchings of the legendary Shining Ones. The gardens also brought much needed color to bleak lives. Flowers, from black roses to orange dandelions, were brought here and traded from all over the Nations. They were brought from as far as Cylorhon in Dowen Mar and from as close as Cienda Falls in Corinn Ada. The Light Bearers of the Sun Cathedral used their talents to enhance the sunlight and keep the flowers blossoming all year round. Even the winter crystal rose from Veritia’s high passes, whose pedals were almost transparent, bloomed here.
The many different colored flowers only worked to complement the beauty of the holy palace’s exterior. Large stones painted the color of a deep forest green with black swirls in it to give it a marble effect were used to build the Sun Cathedral. It had taken decades, in the days before the Conquest, to prepare the stones for such a project. But the people had worked diligently and in one lifetime had created the standing monolith.
Copyright © 2004 by Julian Lawler