The wind was soft but cold, so high along the rampart of the citadel. It whispered the night’s embrace, pulling gently at the lapels of Gemmen’s coat. The skin on his close-shaven scalp prickled with goosebumps. It was cold, yes, but the winter twilight was far preferable to the stifling heat and conversation in the feast hall.
Torches burned, spaced every hundred feet along the walk. Gemmen could see guards posted, silhouetted against the lights as they leaned against the white stone or squatted for a brief escape from the breeze. He ignored them as he moved by, just as they ignored him.
The first flakes of snow began to flutter down as he walked. The night was not still, but it was silent; the wind stirred and the snow traced lines down to melt on the wall, but even the guards quieted themselves. There was a feeling of abeyance in the air, a muted pressure.
Under bright white flames, burning in small bunches at the corners of the ceiling, Tymun waited. He stood straight, his hands clasped behind his back, and fought to keep his face smooth despite the discontent that burned within him. Meto stood in a similar posture next to him, while Artius cooled his heels somewhat separate from them. His hands were folded over his orange robes, resting on his still-prodigious belly. Neither Tymun nor Meto deigned to glance at him. The only sound in the large room was the low murmur of discussion between Selonius and General Amaren, commander of the Letaalese Home Legion. They sat behind a wide table ten paces in front of the waiting men, their heads together in earnest but low debate.
Tymun fumed. It had already been most of an hour since the time of their appointment, and yet they were still to even be addressed. The quartet of Phoenix Guards behind the table were still as stone, but he found himself unable to mimic their composure. He shifted his feet; he scratched at an itch behind his ear. Idly, he reminded himself that it was again time to shave his head clean.Continue reading
“So I handed the idiot his shirt, but only after he let her throw half a dozen darts at him,” Tymun said, laughing with those gathered around and listening. “She hit the board on four—better than I expected, let me tell you—but she stuck him good with the other two. In the chaos, I don’t think he remembered to make good on her offer of a kiss.”
Meto chuckled affably next to him, well into his sixth beer. Tymun himself had moved on from the expensive whiskey, opting instead for the more manageable house ale. They were hardly the only ones the worse for drink; the two Phoenix Guards, who introduced themselves as Emmis and Ariella, had met them drink for drink.Continue reading
The doors closed behind them, and Tymun grimaced. Meto, next to him, grunted.
“Am I the only one less than satisfied with what that was?”
“That? That was a farce,” Tymun growled. He ignored the small whimper that came from Artius, behind them. “We will never get answers. Or restitution.”
Meto snorted, shrugging his wide shoulders. “We’re soldiers. When do we ever get what we want?”
“When? Right burning now, that’s when,” Tymun responded, moving with long strides down the hall, hoping to leave the building as soon as possible. “I want a drink, and I intend to get one. We didn’t get to celebrate last night, and that needs to be remedied.”
The mountain trail, faint and overgrown as it was, twisted away down and to the west. The setting sun, blazing hues of orange and red over the far plains, shed enough light to reveal the tracks of deer over the bared dirt. The tang of early autumn bit into the air, just a hint, but enough to remind Tymun of past years, training under the myriad golds and yellows of oak leaves.
The ground beneath his feet was uneven, broken at odd intervals by cracks and roots. Dry dust puffed at his every step, settling behind him only to be disturbed again by the long trail of men, winding single file back up the slope.Continue reading
Eritan’s throne room was much larger than any of his audience chambers, even the one used just that morning for his meeting with Selonius and the other priests. This was more of a hall, with towering obsidian columns lining it, reaching to the vaulted ceiling above. Noble men and women clustered along the sides and around the columns, bumping elbows with high-ranking military men and priests in robes of blue and white and black. Their whirlwind of colors made a contrast against the stark black tiles of the floor and the black iron ornamentation along the walls. Even the tapestries were mostly black.
Eritan himself wore voluminous black robes, with wide, stiff shoulders to give him a more intimidating outline against the throne. He was used to the intricate carvings on the marble of his seat, the flames burning stoic and steady and white above his head. He could grant the priests that much, at least. Their decorations for his throne did lend a nice effect and put his features in shadows. While much of the hall was lit by flames hanging high in the air along the columns, the dais upon which sat his throne was mostly kept dark, with the exception of the flames above and behind his head. Eritan liked the setup. Continue reading
Eritan tried to relax. It should have been easy, closed away in his private library as he was, reclining in a pillowed chair with his favorite history in hand. The Sword and the Flame, it read in silvery letters on the front: one of the most thorough accounts of the rise of the Letaalese Empire. Covered was everything from Pirinaan’s rise in the north, to the first battles against the Heartan overlords, to the first Emperor Eritan’s political maneuverings. Eritan liked those last the most, of course. His namesake had been a splendid ruler and a better politician; he himself did everything he could to emulate that first emperor of Letaal.
But things just weren’t cooperating. While Eritan the First had drawn allies to his side and conquered recalcitrant territories with the aid of Pirinaan’s priests, Eritan the Third was finding that process to be much more difficult, even with the expanded resources of an entire empire, rather than the limited power of Jinda. Instead of fighting against pliable peoples like those in Heart and Tuul and Icefall, he was stuck with the intractable Tin and the wild Roeteli. And of course the Nera Nashan to the north, who were now attacking any Letaalese who dared ride north from Barrier.Continue reading