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Crowsinger

  • 2021-07-09 18:51

Chapter Four

 

The twilight of peace is a most dangerous time. In the unravelling of safety and certainty, we see at last how paper-thin civilization can be.

 

— from the journal of Kaolyen Greyborne, Faerthale, 486 I.H.

 

* * * * *

 

"I was surprised when you intercepted me the other day," said Carathost.

Lamuris turned from lighting another candle. “I have wondered what you discuss with my husband when you suddenly appear. I thought that I should greet you before you suddenly vanished once more."

"Forgive my haste. I have so many things to tend to in Faerthale."

"Yes, I imagine that a human priest of Ossari must have no end of social engagements in elven lands."

"Aaa... hmm." Carathost raised a hand to his lips, then said, "I see that you know who I am. I also see that I should have approached you sooner."

"I designed this house. Every room, and every passage between rooms."

Carathost smiled. "You have enjoyed my conversations with Sharowsul, I trust."

"Trust is not one of my virtues."

"I can see that, yes."

"I have always believed that one cannot move through life in any safety unless one keeps every element within one's sight and grasp."

"I understand, my lady. The world is filled with those who will take advantage of the slightest weakness. One must always be on guard."

"Alas, I allowed my son too much freedom. I have no idea what business he had with those humans in Quelnarrin, but I should have kept him under tighter rein. But it is too late for that. I believe that my husband will ensure that there are consequences. I am more interested in... you."

Now Carathost looked genuinely surprised. "Me?"

"They say that Ossari intends the death of all humanity. Is this not so?"

"Of course not." The priest took a step closer, his face a picture of concern. "If he wiped out the human species, who then would light candles and incense in his temples? No, my lord Ossari intends only that there are, as you say, consequences. That no one escapes the justice that they deserve. That no one who harbors grief and rage, as you do, lie passively and allow it to consume them, when they could reach out their hand," he formed his own into a fist, "and see to the reckoning that awaits those who deserve it."

"That," said Lamuris, "is something I yearn for with all my breath."

Carathost took another step forward and smiled. "My lord Ossari,” he said quietly, "loves none so much as he loves hearts such as yours. That yearning, that longing to strike at the world in rage and finish what was started—not to change the balance of the scales, but to shove the scales onto the ground and smash them until you’ve righted what is wrong—that longing is beloved of him."

She closed her eyes. "And does Ossari only gather humans beneath his wings?"

His voice, when it came, was so soft that she could barely hear it. But he was close, very close. "No, my lady. All who yearn for holy vengeance are his children."

 

* * * * *

 

“I don’t know how it all unravelled,” said Isek. “If nothing else, I believed that we as elves would move as one when the danger came. Instead, some pretend that nothing is wrong, while others go mad with startling suddenness.”

Beside him, Kaolyen sighed. “I too am surprised at how quickly things have fallen into disarray. And Sharowsul… In the death of a child, there is another kind of madness.”

Isek turned away from the window. “He blames me against all reason. If it were just me, I would deal with his rage. But he is sending soldiers against my people.”

“Are you sure of this?”

“I am.” Isek sat down and rested his forehead in one hand. “Two groups have disappeared. I do not know if they are alive or dead. I have urged the rest to go to ground for now."

“He rants about splinterfolk, as if there isn’t already enough tension among elves. Splinterfolk are lost, uncertain, questioning. I do not think poorly of them for it.”

Isek smiled slightly and raised his head. “I know you don’t.”

“When the council meets later, we must deal with this once and for all.”

“I know.”

Kaolyen sat down and leaned back heavily in his chair. “But will our people unite as one before the end?”

Isek shook his head. “I wish I knew.”

 

* * * * *

 

Ghisgarion wondered when the forest would change. At the edge of the plain there were strange trees, tall twisted creatures of bark and scattered leaf. Then they entered a forest, and he assumed—though he could not be certain—that they had passed into Faerthale. At some point he should see the trees of Redgrove.

Just two weeks ago, he had been appointed ambassador to the elves. Not by the King, who it seemed was rather too busy for him, but by one of the nobles. The last ambassador, it seemed, had gotten himself into trouble in the elf capital.

Not wanting to commit a social faux pas of his own, Ghisgarion had tried to discover more about the customs and practices of the elves. Two elves residing in Havensong helped him in this task.

His Elvish wasn’t too bad, they reassured him, and they didn’t feel that he was the sort to abuse the position of ambassador. Still, he worried.

One guard rode ahead of him, and one behind. So far, it had been a peaceful journey. They had stayed close to the road, and his guards had dealt with any dangers that had strayed too close.

A sound made him turn, and he saw a strange, unkempt man in leathers riding the horse behind him. The body of the horse’s usual rider lay crumpled on the ground.

He turned and shouted to the other guard, but the man made no response. He merely sat peacefully in his saddle as if nothing was wrong.

Someone grabbed Ghisgarion and pulled him out of his saddle. He landed hard on the ground, the breath knocked out of him, and the strange man leapt up and darted toward the other guard.

When the stranger reached the horse, he climbed up into the saddle behind the guard, who still didn’t move. Then the stranger pulled a knife across the guard’s throat, and threw him from the saddle.

Ghisgarion tried to pull himself up off the ground. Must get away, he thought. Where are the elves?

Then a feeling of peace settled over him, and he felt as if there was nothing so important that he should move from this spot. It was easier this way, after all. He was in a lot of pain, so sitting on the ground was better. A man stood in the woods to one side, with dark stringy hair emerging from beneath his hood. He held up his staff toward Ghisgarion.

“It’s okay,” said the hooded man. “You are right, it is better to just sit there.”

Ghisgarion felt at peace until the taut string began to choke him. By then, of course, there was nothing he could do.

 

Rhydian lowered the ambassador’s body to the ground, then removed the garrote.

Carathost knelt by the body and looked closely. “Excellent,” he said. “No blood at all. You are everything that I hoped, Rhydian.”

The man wound the garrote into a small loop, then put it away. “This was fun.”

“I trust you have been enjoying your time in Faerthale.”

“I am having a very good time. And you?”

Carathost laughed. “It’s like I am putting on a shadow puppet play, but with people. They dance,” and the priest hopped around with his arms raised as if moved by sticks held in invisible hands behind a screen, “to my every twist and turn of story.”

“They will do everything you want? Even when you arrive in the City?”

“My friend…” Carathost began to strip the robes from the ambassador, “the power of rage clenched within people trained not to show or express it... it is like the power of gods. All you have to do is gently remove their inhibitions, blow upon the sparks of their rage until it bursts forth.”

Rhydian looked up at the trees around him. “And when will our lord blow upon the sparks of this land?”

“We must have patience, my friend.”

“You always say that.”

“It is always true. Believe me, Rhydian, when the time comes we shall feast and drink fine elven wine as we watch the fires burn.”

Rhydian looked over the horses. “I want the bay,” he said.

“Take it. Are you prepared for your performance?”

“Yes yes, pretend to be your guard for a while. When will my debt be requited?”

Carathost laughed. “My good friend, if I were asking payment for your resurrection, you would spend the rest of this life paying, and we both know you would kill me first.” Then the priest looked up. “I prefer the sorrel mare.”

 

* * * * *

 

As the sun sought the west beyond Faerthale, Lithlarie Fatefeather took up the staff of Mediator and stepped into the council chamber. She had seen many winters of peace in Faerthale. Now she wished she could have joined her ancestors before these times had come.

She stepped out into the middle of the chamber and struck the floor three times with the staff. Murmurs faded as she looked around. Each of the other eight council members stood within an alcove with their attendants.

“Winter is upon us,” she said at last. “We have begun preparations for war. Three of the gods who have come to our world with their children have descended within the last twenty years.”

“Three?” Niraifa’len stepped forward. “Ittero and Ossari… and one other?”

“We have received word from the south,” said Naftali, “that Haethus-Kevgrejl of the Archai has now joined with the Ravaging Lord.”

“Three… gods.” Niraifa’len seemed to be trying to breathe.

“Gods,” said Kaolyen, and shook his head. “Only the ones who mean us harm now join us in walking this world. The guides, the helpers, have left us.”

“When Khazas of the dwarves descended centuries ago,” said Naftali, “he became King of the dwarves… a guide and teacher of his people.”

“Many gods, it would seem, are of lesser souls made.”

“We have begun to prepare,” said the Mediator, “but we have much to do. Yet it seems there is trouble even here in the City of the Elves.”

And now she turned to look upon Sharowsul Iskosia.

“It is not I,” said Sharowsul, “who brought trouble to the elves.”

“Is it not?” said Isek.

“Must I remind you all—“

“That your son was cavorting with murderers? With elf-slayers?”

“Enough!” The Mediator brought her staff down upon the floor once more.

 

* * * * *

 

Yonai peered up at the rocky ridge.

"Are they still with us?" asked Arebon.

"Yes."

"How?" said Isonis. "It's been 22 days. Lauta is a full moon again. How are they still following?"

"They are soldiers of Faerthale," said Arebon. "They will not give up."

"Also," said Yonai as she turned back, "they have a very good tracker."

"What do we do, leader?" asked Aovyn.

Arebon stared at the ground. At last he exhaled heavily. "Isonis."

"Yes."

"Take Crowdancer, Yonai, and Sairi. You know what to do."

Isonis nodded. "I do." He looked around at the other three, then turned and disappeared into the trees.

"And now we are four," said Kymeret.

"Six warriors," said Arebon, "five with sword and shield, one with greatsword. Two of the six have crossbows. We shall have to face the warriors eventually.”

"They have no obvious healer," said Aovyn, "but we cannot be sure."

"They will be trained to fight as a team at close range." Arebon knelt down and began to draw upon the ground. "Here's what we'll do."

 

* * * * *

 

Anarkish led his team down a switchback trail through the trees, descending into the valley.

“Hawk,” said Kalaeish.

Anarkish looked up as brown wings disappeared behind the canopy above. “I have known some skilled in forest lore to use animals as their eyes and ears.”

“How do they do that?” asked Hada.

Anarkish looked down at the road and adjusted his shield. “I have no idea. In any case, paranoia won’t help us. Either the hawk is a spy, or just a hawk. Let us move on.”

They continued down the trail into the valley below.

In a clump of undergrowth off the side of the path, a ferret sat very still and watched the humans pass.

 

“The tracker is still in the lead,” said Yonai.

“She’s keeping an eye on my hawk,” said Isonis.

“Keep your hawk away from my ferret, and we’re good.”

Isonis grinned slightly, then frowned. “Crowdancer, stay with Yonai. Sairi, stunning trap in the path. Let’s go.”

As they picked their way quietly down toward the path, Isonis told her what he had in mind.

 

Kalaeish knelt and looked closely at the footprints on the path.

“These…” she traced in the air with her fingers, “I think someone might have left the path again for a quick break, then returned.”

“Nothing unusual, then.”

“So it appears. Although…” She looked farther head. “Tripline ahead.”

Anarkish smiled and nodded. “Of course we expected that. Can you disarm it?”

She stood. “It looks simple enough. Stay back.”

Kalaeish crept forward until she was near the tripline that stretched across the path, nearly hidden against the hues of earth and foliage. She traced the line with her eyes to the right until she saw the trigger—and the trap—against a tree two yards from the path.

Clever, she thought. Rocks and dead wood were piled beyond the tree, a treacherous path that could hide another trap. Looking back she saw a similar situation on the other side.

“I think we’ll have to clear it,” she said, turning back to Anarkish. “No good way around.”

When he nodded, she knelt down and examined the mechanism more closely. It was not the best she’d ever seen, which was to be expected considering the origin and questionable training of these ruffians.

As she worked to untangle the rough work around the trigger, she heard something rustle beneath her.

“Shit,” she said, and leapt away just as the second trap sprung—the trap for which the first trap was the lure.

Then she was stunned by a sharp sound and fell over onto the twine across the road.

Two arrows went straight through her then, one of them a short sniper arrow. She never even heard a sound from them.

“In the woods!” shouted Anarkish up the path, and he swiftly gave orders that she could barely hear.

One warrior moved to cover her with his shield, but he was not quick enough to prevent the next two arrows from piercing her. The poison from the first two arrows quickened in her blood and she felt herself drift into darkness.

The last thing she heard was the sound of drumming.

 

* * * * *

 

“I am wronged,” said Sharowsul. He stood in the middle of the chamber and looked around at the other eight councilors. “It is not enough that I should lose my only son, but now the council has turned against me. Was it not I who brought the strength and skill of elvish stoneworking to help the humans in their time of need? Was it not I who guided the rebuilding of elvish forces into an army in our own time of need?”

“It was,” answered the Mediator. “Yet it is also you who sends elf to hunt elf. We have been over the reports. We know that you have abused your service. And that is why we must remove you from the position of military coordinator on the council.”

Sharowsul seemed to sink into himself. He began to spread his arms, but they fell again to his sides. “I do not know what else to say. I feel lost now, even among my people. Make whatever decisions you wish.”

He turned and walked back into his usual alcove in the chamber.

A messenger entered the chamber, bowed, and approached the Mediator. They exchanged quiet words, and then he bowed and left.

“The human ambassador has arrived,” said the Mediator, “and will pay his respects now.”

The great doors opened in the east side of the chamber, admitting two men. One was dressed in the robes of his office, and carried a staff in one hand. His companion, though he had been relieved of weapons before entering the chamber, wore leather armor of human styling.

“We welcome you to Faerthale, ambassador,” said the Mediator.

The man bowed low, and his companion did the same. “I am happy to be of service in the warm embrace of our two peoples. My name is Ghisgarion.”

In his alcove, Sharowsul stood thunderstruck, his mouth agape. For the ambassador was Carathost, priest of Ossari, though now he looked clean and well-groomed. His hair was combed back and tied at his neck with a silk ribbon, his goatee was neatly trimmed, and he seemed a man of stature and refinement.

“And I want nothing more,” continued the ambassador, “than a world of peace for humans and elves.”

 

* * * * *

 

Arebon looked up as the other group returned.

“Soldiers,” said Isonis, “rumbling through the forest in all that armor, carrying shields…”

“I assume they lost their tracker.”

Isonis nodded. “Sairi has a wicked sense of humor with traps.”

“She practiced them enough on all of us,” said Arebon quietly.

“They might still find their way to us.”

“I hope they do,” said Arebon.

Isonis looked at him. “What do you have in mind?”

“Making sure we aren’t followed.”

“Are we really going to kill our own people?” asked Sairi. “They’re elves.”

Arebon looked around and saw most faces looking at him. “While you were gone,” he said, “I spoke to Isek through the crystal. We might not be able to make contact for a while.”

“What are Isek’s orders?” asked Aovyn.

Survive.”

Yonai just shrugged and said, “I intend to.”

Arebon nodded. “I intend for all of us to survive.”

Slumber nodded. Kymeret looked thoughtful. Yonai was checking her short sniper arrows—she seemed to have seven left—and the hollow wooden tube which allowed her to shoot them from a bow at full draw. Aovyn and Sairi looked troubled.

“Six soldiers,” continue Arebon. “We cannot fight them when they’re together. They’ll form a wall of shields all around and we’ll never get to them.”

“I can get to them,” said Yonai.

“Anyone who cannot shoot the tail feathers off a hummingbird at two hundred yards will have trouble getting to them,” he amended. “So we need to keep them apart.”

“How?” asked Aovyn.

“I can help with that,” said Kymeret.

Isonis shook his head. “So we’re each fighting a trained soldier? Is that your plan?”

“At least two of them had crossbows,” said Arebon.

“And they were adorable,” said Yonai.

“Yonai, how can we pierce that armor?”

“All six were wearing lamellar coats and helmets,” she said. “Typical. You won’t have an easy time getting through the armor.”

“They don’t have armored faces,” said Isonis.

“Face, neck, lower arms, inner thighs. With careful aim, that last will slow them down a lot.”

“I believe face would slow them down more,” said Kymeret.

Arebon shook his head. “Fighting face to face against six trained soldiers will just get us killed. And that’s not how Isek wanted us to fight anyway.”

“Isek wanted us to fight dirty,” said Isonis.

Arebon nodded. “So we shall.”

 

* * * * *

 

“They think they’ve escaped us now,” said Anarkish, “by killing our tracker. I intend to prove them wrong.”

“If we can get them in close quarters,” said one of his companions, “they’re dead.”

“Yes, and they will try to stay away from our shields. We cannot fight together.”

“Our strength is in locking shields as a group.”

“Against an army, yes. Against a group of outlaw forest rangers? They can have archers in the woods, in the trees, hidden from us.”

The others had finished placing Kalaeish’s body in the nook of several branches. In the arms of a mountain tree, she would wait for them to return and carry her back home to Faerthale.

Serious Ilithya, her face covered with fresh ash, said a few words to guard Kalaeish until their return. Then they all stood and looked at Anarkish.

“I want us in pairs,” he said. “Mobile, but we can still link shields and do as much damage as we can. You two, shoot the healer first—he’s the one with the wolf—and then the summoner. We have to remove those two. Of the forest rangers, Yonai of Pareth is the biggest danger. She’ll be off to the side, hidden in the trees.”

“She’s the one that shot Kalaeish,” said gruff Karn. “I know it.”

“Two shot Kaleish,” said Ilithya.

“Enough,” said Anarkish. “Kill the healer, the summoner, and Yonai, and the others will fall quickly.”

“What about the musician?” asked Yllys.

“Is that a serious question?” asked Anarkish, and Yllys shrugged. “You two hang back with crossbows until two of those three named are down, and we’ll have two roaming pairs to guard you. Fight in formation as much as you can, close the gap when you need to.

“We have better training. Let us get this over with and go home.”

 

* * * * *

 

“I hear them,” said Aovyn.

“Steady,” said Arebon.

Aovyn was dressed in ranger armor and holding a bow in one hand. He hoped he at least looked like he knew which part was the string.

The soldiers were not yet through the trees into the clearing when they spotted Arebon and Aovyn standing near the remains of a fire.

 

Through the trees, a clearing. At the other side stood two young men with sword and bow. The vital targets would be hidden elsewhere.

One of the men saw them and said something to his companion.

“They’ll be around the clearing,” said Anarkish quietly. “So will we. One archer with each pair. Watch for traps.”

He looked at Illys and nodded toward the left, and three of his people began to move around the left side of the clearing. Anarkish lead Hada and Karn around to the right. He and Hada kept their shields up while Karn readied his crossbow behind them.

The trees here were large and twisted, with thick branches that could easily hide a ranger. Anarkish cursed softly and kept his eyes moving between the trunks and up into the branches.

A rustling up in a tree ahead.

“I see him,” hissed Karn.

“Down,” said Anarkish, and he and Hada crouched and held their linked shields as a guard for Karn to shoot over.

The bolt flew true, and a cloaked figure fell from a smaller branch down to the ground.

A vine fell with it. Something about the way it fell…

“Decoy,” said Anarkish, and he and Hada stood up straight. “Keep—“

Hada screamed and fell over. Anarkish looked down and saw that a long arrow had bypassed the lamellar over one leg and penetrated his inner thigh. There was already a lot of blood.

Karn said “Shit” as Anarkish got down on one knee and protected Hada. Karn began to drag Hada behind a tree. “Orders?” he said.

Three trees beyond, a shadow moving left.

“There!” said Anarkish. “Let’s move.”

Karn quickly unstrapped his longsword and set it down, then took up Hada’s sword and shield. Then he ran, keeping up with Anarkish through the trees.

Anarkish saw his target and leapt. He landed nearly on top of the one called Isonis and bashed him with his shield. Isonis grunted and dropped an arrow, then kicked off the warrior’s armor. After landing, he fired a shot that hit the forehead of the warrior’s helm, then ran.

“Fight me, brigand!” yelled Anarkish, then ran off in pursuit with Karn behind him.

A trap sprung as they ran, showering them with sharp stones. He grunted as some hit him in the face.

Then a wall of fire exploded just ahead of them—a wall with eyes glaring down upon them. Arms of fire reached for them.

“Around,” said Anarkish, gritting his teeth through the pain. They darted left and ran around the explosion, trying not to lose sight of Isonis. He tried to ignore the sound of another trap going off across the clearing.

Anarkish skidded to a stop, his mouth open. “What sorcery is this?”

“It’s a wall of wood, captain.”

He cursed. “Kymeret. Behind us.”

They turned and ran back toward one of the trees they had passed under just as a spinning arc of light flew through them both—which hurt quite a bit. Then it flew spinning back toward the summoner now sitting on the lowest branch. He caught the arc of light with one hand and smiled.

They had almost reached him when he faded away and was gone.

An arrow hit Anarkish in the back at close range and punched aside one of the small steel plates of his armor, breaking the leather ties. It sunk into the padding underneath, but did not penetrate his skin. He turned and saw two archers on the ground between the trees—Isonis and Sairi.

Then Karn choked next to him and went down with a short arrow through his neck. Anarkish turned and saw the sniper, Yonai, in the clearing nocking another short arrow. Arebon stood next to her also preparing to fire.

Where are my people?

Something punched through a gap beneath his shield arm and he turned, swinging. A young man with a short spear—that would be Slumber—leapt backward and readied his spear again.

Anarkish leaped toward him and swung, hitting the poorly armored ranger at close range. He swung back his arm to strike again, but then something hard grabbed his legs and pulled.

He looked behind him and saw a boulder floating in the air, and arms of stone somehow wrapped around both his legs. It looked at him with eyes that he would swear were laughing at him.

A sound from the other side, and Kymeret was back. He put an arm around the wounded Slumber, and both disappeared in moments as if through a portal.

The rock held on as he was pummeled with arrows from several directions.

When he fell, the boulder drifted over to him and removed his helmet.

His last thoughts were of Sharowsul Iskosia, who said that these were barely trained ruffians.

 

* * * * *

 

When Aovyn finished healing him, Slumber arose and walked over to Kymeret.

Kymeret smiled. “You were protecting me, so I did the same. It is our way, friend Slumber.”

Slumber nodded, then looked at the river.

“It took me some time,” said Kymeret, “after I recovered from the battle. But I think it’s good.”

“What,” said Yonai, “is that?”

“It is a boat,” said Kymeret.

“Where did it come from?”

Kymeret shrugged. “Where do fire and stone come from? I summoned the boat from the world of boats, perhaps.”

“I am glad I didn’t expect a straight answer. Do we know where the river goes?”

“I have no idea. I only know that Arebon’s plan is to follow it where it takes us.”

“Far away from home,” said Yonai, and Slumber nodded.

Over by their new campfire, Arebon looked at the boat that had appeared at the riverside.

“Can we even move that into the water?” said Isonis.

“I have a feeling Kymeret has a way.”

“Probably.”

Arebon looked over to where Sairi and Crowdancer were talking with Aovyn about the battle. All three of them looked distressed.

“We killed seven elves today,” Arebon said quietly.

“I know.” Isonis began sharpening his sword. “Maybe you believe I don’t care.”

“I know you do. You come from a splinter clan, but you were trying to rejoin elf society. And now…”

“Now I might never see Faerthale again.”

“We will. I’m sure of it.”

“How? Because you trust Isek?”

Arebon nodded. “I do. Whatever may come, he will do right by us.”

 

* * * * *

 

Sharowsul wandered the night streets of the City, his mind numb. Lanterns of paper and candle hung suspended from the branches of trees, and streetside lanterns glowed with the magic of stone and crystal.

He saw little of it as he walked. He could barely feel the ground beneath his feet. He had been lost, lost within a whirlwind of rage and horror for which no action seemed too great an answer. He had conspired with an evil priest of another species against his own people. He knew this, even though he could not see another choice he could have made.

But this… this was a step too far. Wasn’t it? This priest, his ally—ally!—was now pretending to be a human ambassador… or was that his true identity? It could not be. The man must have taken the ambassador’s place, through subterfuge or murder.

He must say something. He must reveal the truth. Even if his people had betrayed him, humiliated him in that chamber, stripped from him his position, he must speak. For not to speak would be treason.

Wouldn’t it?

He was wrapped within such thoughts, bending and twisting within himself, when he heard the sound of sword leaping out of scabbard.

Isek Riverdusk stood before him and held the blade of a sword to his neck.

“Isek…”

“I did not know what to do at first,” said Isek. “I knew you blamed me, blamed my people, for what happened to your son. I knew it for madness and grief. But now you have sent soldiers to hunt down my people. Some of them are dead for all I know.”

Sharowsul tried to form words, but found that he could not.

“Something in me has crossed a border,” continued Isek, “and though I do not know the name of this new land in which my heart dwells, I will not allow you to kill anyone else who is mine.”

Sharowsul looked into Isek’s eyes behind his glasses. He had never seen such an expression on this familiar face. But now he felt the anger in him again.

“And what of mine?” he said.

“What will it take for you to stop blaming others?”

Sharowsul swallowed. “My death. Is that what you intend this night? Will elf kill elf in the very streets of our City? Within the gaze of these lanterns?”

He stepped forward along the blade, felt the sharp edge along his skin, and stared into Isek’s eyes. “Will you kill me now?”

Isek swallowed, and Sharowsul knew that he would not.

“What are we now, my old friend?” asked Sharowsul. “Are we mortal enemies? Will this end with one of us killing the other at last?”

Isek took a long breath, then lowered and sheathed his sword. Without a word, he turned and walked away.

 

* * * * *

 

By the time Sharowsul entered his home, he was once again consumed with rage. Rage at his loss, rage at his peoples’ indifference, rage at the celestials above.

"It is outrageous!" he said as he entered the sitting room. "Our own people have swept the death of our son beneath the rug and moved on as if it was nothing! And now I am demoted, threatened.”

"I know," said his wife. "We are surrounded by darkness, and must take steps to ensure that justice is not escaped."

"But what can I..." Sharowsul frowned as his eyes fixed upon something beyond Lamuris. "What is that... ghastly thing?"

"It is a shrine."

"A shrine... to what."

"To my lord Ossari."

His face was frozen a moment, until realization dawned. "Carathost."

"We had an illuminating discussion."

"You would worship a fallen human god?"

"Why not? Our own gods have abandoned us. Our people have abandoned us. Our son is dead, and the world moves on! Well I have not. There is no justice here.”

She turned back to the shrine of Ossari. “But there will be.”