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The Pen is Mightier than the Sword
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Tavarilyn

After five years....

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-dusts self off-

 

Well. Ahem. It's been a long, long time since I visited the Pen and I've been reminiscing of late. Finally got to work on a new story a few months back but a prologue is all I've to show for it. -smiles- Time flies and life gets away from us so easily...

 

I would appreciate opinions, critiques, even a "read-through" or two. Or nothing at all. It's nice to have a place to post.

 

~ Tav

 

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P R O L O G U E

 

In the year 1241...

 

The expansive crowd shifted under the heat of the midday sun, filling the Court Pavilion with more bodies than it had seen in decads. Though the sun's heat was mild, the press of bodies and their stench, mostly unwashed, damped the spirits of all but the heartiest revelers. Ribbons and coins festooned every tree branch of the courtyard, pink and red bows adorned every light pole, and sorcerers' glowing baubles hovered high overhead, filling the sky with rainbows clearly visible even in daytime. At the imminent hour, only standing room was available to all but the wealthiest of nobility and all were taking advantage to paw and press their neighbors, hoping to catch but a glimpse of the newest royal couple to grace the Casteland.

 

Arric wrinkled his nose at the oppressive stench, squirming back and forth in his seat while his nan did her best to settle him, to no avail. His collar was already half undone, the gel ruffled from his hair and his shoes half off though the ties still in place. Though every one of his friends were out in the crowd, he could see their heads bobbing and weaving as they escaped the grip of their many nans, governs and other watch-keepers, he was forced to sit to the left of the dias with his other siblings, all of whom were younger. His sister's marriage was the most important occasion of the decad but she was older by too many years, a "memento" of a long-ago wedding day his mother would always say wistfully.

 

To his left sat imposing Nan Albern, whom he called Albie to her chagrin. To his right was every other sibling of the Auseleim castel. His next brother, Seigrun, was but a year younger and sitting at full attention, eyes perfectly forward and bright, mouth curved with disdain at some unvoiced sentiment. Arric paid him no more than a sidelong glance before leaning foward to peer down the line. Next to Seig was their younger sister, Urila, almost three and a half years Arric's junior. Catching eachothers' glance, the pair shared a quick wink. They were too much alike, according to everyone with an opinion and while most sisters and brothers often had strained relations, Urila was Arric's companion in all things mischief. Though he was twelve and she nine, they'd been fast friends since the day she emerged from the room of their eldest sister, Kailin, with Kailin's favorite doll separated from its head and she singing all the while as the shrieks rang out behind her. No, it was quite clear that neither of them wanted to be there but the punishment was, for once, not worth the risk. Last and finally, the youngest son of Lord Orim Auseleim.

 

When Arric thought of Edevon, he always let loose a sigh. Today it was a slightly smaller sigh since the marriage proceedings were about to begin but it came out regardless. Both Arric and Urila had tried desperately to pull Edevon out of his shell but no one, particularly not themselves, had been able to ellicit so much as a syllable from the youngest Auseleim since he'd learned crying wouldn't get him anything more than a good pounding. Quite a mystery, really, being that Ari and Uri had employed a more diverse methodology than the host of doctors and physics brought in by the good Lord and Lady Auseleim. Though the two often disagreed on the results, Ari was sure his tub dousing had worked far better than Uri's lighting Edevon's shoes afire. But those days were long past and Arric and his sister had long since given up their self-appointed task. So at the end of the line of royal siblings sat Edevon. Quiet Edevon. Silent Edevon. Contemplative Edevon.

 

Arric crossed his arms over his chest and rolled his eyes as Albie tapped his knees sharply to draw his attention. Everyone else was standing as the Ministry began their long approach from the back of the Pavillion. Somewhere, flutes began to play and an organ took up a light accompaniement and as the crowd grew quiet the music seemed to grow louder until at last the Ministers filed onto the dias - one, two, five, ten, eleven of them. As the head minister took his place, the music swelled to a delicate crescendo and cut out completely, leaving a dead hush over the entire crowd as Kailin appeared on the arm of their father, Lord Orim, at the front of the Pavillion. With one kiss to each cheek, Lord Auseleim turned away from his daughter and moved through the wall of ministers to sit on his throne, to the left of his Lady. As he sat, the entire congregation sat as well, leaving Arric a tad disconcerted as his sister's new husband emerged to remove her veil.

 

Lord Peloran vis'Courian was a tall man with slender shoulders and, what some would describe in private, as delicate features. Arric had always thought he looked like a girl but the one time he mentioned such to his sister, the bride to be, he went two days without food on the order of his mother. Now, he kept his thoughts to himself, but it didn't stop the thoughts from coming. The vis'Courian brood had done their best, he thought, to make Lord Peloran look more manly. His marriage attire had been designed entirely of dark blue velvet with silver accents. The incredibly pale platinum of his hair was tied back underneath a velvet cap like those used for sorcerial ceremonies and, instead of the currently-fashionable tights, doublet and boots favored by the nobility of the Castelland, he wore long pants with wide leg openings and slippers with no heel. All in all, Arric found himself surprised by the transformation to the point that he had no adverse thoughts other than that his sister was marrying the youngest vis'Courian who was just at marriage age and, hence, two years her junior.

 

Despite all the thou "shalts" and thou "shall nots" floating through the room, resounding through the crowd via the boom of the head minister's voice, Arric found his attention drawn more to Kailin than anything. She was not a boy and couldn't inherit her father's throne. Not that she wouldn't have made an excellent Lady Regent. Even at his age, Arric knew well that his father would rather have Kailin on the throne than him. Arric's schooling was passable but not stellar, his weapons and tactics training was middling, and his noble pursuits, artistry and dancing and the like, were always found lacking. Quite frankly, common gossip around the court was that unless the Casteland was ever want for mischief, Arric's talents would not be needed. Granted, unless the laws were somehow changed or his father mysteriously fall ill or Arric were to mysteriously perish, the throne would fall to Arric anyway and if both Lord Auseliem and his eldest son were to die, Seigrun would inherit. Which did mean that, while there was grumbling, no one would dare challenge the law with Orim alive and if Arric got himself offed doing something mischievious, well, then the Castelland was well-off anyway.

 

At twelve, he was hardly worried about his future. In fact, though his parents were largely unaware, his sorcerial training was coming along particularly well. Indeed, his tutors often said his ability was second only to Kailin's who was the most masterful pupil they'd had in a great while. Their biggest regret was that she was to be married and, therefore, soon to lose access to her gift. Arric crossed his arms over his chest with a huff. He couldn't understand how somone of Kailin's remarkable talent could possibly give it up for the likes of Lord Peloran vis'Courian and while she was two decads and two years and fully capable of making her own decisions, Arric had often thought, privately, that she should have her senses checked. That, alas, was the single biggest thing on which he and Urila disagreed. Arric, though someday if he survived all the court nonsense would be required to marry, refused to understand how someone with the choice would give up their sorcerial talents. If virginity was the key to sorcery, he'd told Uri, it was an easy price. Urila, who had been eight at the time of Kailin's Marriage Promising had been so furious the conversation had ended there and she'd not spoken to Ari for a week.

 

Looking at Kailin in her sweeping gown, white velvet and white satin rippling in the hot summer breeze against the backdrop of the setting sun, Arric furrowed his brow and shifted in his seat. The velvet of his breeches was sticking to his tights which, in turn, was sticking to his skin. An itch was creeping its way up the back of his leg but it was time to stand up again and his hand was too far away to scratch the itch away. As the sun continued downward, Peloran took Kailin's veil completely off and Kailin took his hat in the symbolic gesture of giving up sorcerial power that came with marriage. Arric saw a brief glimmer on both faces as the two were pronounced formally married and wrinkled his nose in disgust. In that moment, watching the formalities continue, Arric wished, as never before, that he'd been born a year later, that the future of the Casteland wouldn't depend on his rule.

 

Sinking back into his seat with the rest of the congregated, he shot a glance toward Urila to liven his boredom but found her in rapt attention, gaze focused on the dias, mouth slightly agape. Following her line of sight, the absolute, still silence and growing dimness of the lighting registered through the uncomfortable thoughts distracting Arric. The fabled part of the Casteland marriage ceremony had arrived; it was time for the God-Messengers to appear.

 

Arric had once heard that no one was able to open their eyes during the Messengers' arrival but he'd always attributed that to fear. Another rumor said there were no messengers, but that the Ministers put something in the air to cloud vision so no one was able to see the truth of things but he'd always believed those few idiotic enough to claim it wouldn't see truth if it bit them in the ankle. Something in the moment, sitting in the Pavillion, surrounded by tens of decads of bodies caused Arric to believe in both of those "lies" yet know them for lies at the same time.

 

The sun had long since gone yet torches had been lit exactly at sundown by the magisters and still the night was dim, nearly too dark to make out the newliweds, even Kailin and her bright, white gown. Try as he might to see through the dark and strain to hear through the quiet, no amount of willing resolved the scene into anything but chill and shadows. And then, all was clear. Behind the ministers but clearly in front of their Majesties, standing directly before the bride and groom were two, exceptionally tall, alabaster beings clad only in long purple cloths that hung from their shoulders. On the right, in front of Kailin, was the taller of the two, the one whose bearing suggested he was the master of the situation. On the left, in front of Peloran, was the shorter assistant, holding a book in his hands. After a moment of silence, the shorter one spoke the ritual words, "Bring forth the Surrogate!" The words rang strongly over the gathered, rich and deep and reverberating.

 

A great stir in the background saw a young girl walk forth, dressed from head to toe in white with her hands raised over her belly. Two feet from the newly married, she knelt and bowed her head, speaking words though none could hear. This time, the taller of the Messengers moved, placing one hand over the head of the girl and stretching the other hand toward Kailing and Peloran. A moment of silence filled the entire pavillion as though everyone held their breath all at the same moment but as the Messenger raised his hands high, the entire congregation let go a sigh of relief. "The Pact is fulfilled!" said he, his tone filled with gratification, "May the Cresaon continue their benevolent Watch until the next Test." A great flare of light filled the Pavillion and when eyesight returned, both messengers and their summoned surrogate had disappeared from view completely.

 

Sitting back with a sigh, Arric crossed his arms over his chest. At the age of twelve, all he could think to do was nudge his Nan and whisper, "They're coming back, right?"

 

*****

 

In the year 1242...

 

Night's darkest hour descended on Escenti Keep, deep in the Barachan Mountains. In the highest tower window, peering across the snow-swept peaks was Lord Ohad, the younger, Santeap. His golden eyes casually moved in a side-to-side pattern, his gaze devouring the cold country that embodied his domain. Scrub plants, bare trees and hibernating animals were his subjects, the frigid slopes his only audience. Not even the hardiest of individuals would dare the climate of the highest peaks during the frozen seasons and so, besides the small servant staff, Lord Ohad found himself quite alone in the dark of the night.

 

Contrary to the exterior clime, the interior of the keep was furnished as only befitted a prince of the royal empire. As Lord Santeap was such a prince, the plethora of velvets and damasks used widely in the keep belied that fact, even though he hardly wore the golden circlet of his office. Gold adornments and filigree accented every lamp, cupboard and table, every towel, robe and cloth. Every stitch of furniture was handcrafted, built to the highest, most personal specifications of Lord Ohad himself though his visitors were infrequent at best. Often it was said that Escenti Keep might contain the height of fashion in any given year if only it were looked upon by human eye.

 

"Excuse me, m'lord?" came a voice in hushed tones, whispers twined with trepidation. Santeap inwardly startled himself from his reverie, forcing a tight control over his body so as not to twitch even the smallest of muscles. With a graceful turn, head tipped to the side in a perfectly-calculated movement, he waved the pinky finger of his right hand while moving his left hand up in a gesture of greeting.

 

And in that moment, the world held its breath. The flames in the sconces paused mid-wave, a flying insect hovered as if netted, and the wind no longer rustled the bedsheets.

 

Santeap's eyes glowed briefly, flashing hot orange as he contemplated the servant girl in the doorway to his chambers. Her cinnamon brown hair, dyed in the same shade as the rest of the staff, was poised precisely on top of her head, netted in the blood red snood that every one of his servant girls wore, a single curl escaping just in the moment, teasing her eyebrow. With teeth worrying her bottom lip, she was the picture of innocent necessity, one hand hovering over her bosom, the other hand bracing her against the doorjam. The simple peacock-blue smock that covered her from head to toe hinted at the first curves of budding womanhood and it made Santeap smile viciously as he tread toward her on silent, bare feet, knowing that nothing would ever blossom on her barren plain.

 

No one wore any kind of shoes in the Keep at his declaration. Though the floors were chiseled stone, his swollen magics made them warm as heated sand. Indeed, his magics were more than enough to sense the lifeforce of all his servants, where they were, what they were doing... who they were doing it with.

 

A snap of his fingers brought the girl back from her momentary exile as he strode toward her with all traces of his grin erased. "What is it? I gave express orders to be left alone this eve. I need to purify this room and now I must start anew because of your intrusion!" Drawing himself up to his full height, allowing the golden robes that overlaid his peacock gown to glow in the soft candlelight, he swept a cinnabar tress back from his midnight eyes and let his gaze bear down on the servant without remorse. "What have you to say, then, miss?"

 

An audible swallow penetrated the sudden silence of the room as the girl dipped as low a curtsy as possible without falling over herself. "M'lord... I... you said as soon as m'lass Nahura arrived... I... we...." Though her voice was but a whisper, her terror was so clear it caused Santeap to shudder with undefined pleasure.

 

"Why, now..." purred Lord Ohad, "Surely you could have said as such early on and spared yourself such.... such a fright." His ample lips curved into a self-righteous sneer that permeated his tone though he knew the girl would never look directly at him, especially not now that she'd incurred his displeasure. "Get yourself to the kitchen, lass. Tell Master Ushon that you may have a hot tea to soothe your nerves..." he smiled down on her as she sighed in relief, "And then report to Maister Ivon for your punishment on disturbing me needlessly without being brief." A laugh threatened to bubble forth as he watched the tensing of her spine and heard the almost-inaudible cry that escaped her lips but he withheld, elevating his voice into a yell, "Go, now. Should I see you again these next few suns, you will be whipped in front of them." And with a drop of his voice to a bare whisper, he added, "In front of them all."

 

Turning on his heel, Lord Santeap was quite sure the girl disappeared into thin air. With not another thought on her, he turned back to purifying the room which would house his newest and only guest, a young lady by all counts with a severe temper in need of curbing, Nahura Ohad, his sole niece. She would be with him until the end of her training as a magister, then capable of succeeding her father, Lord Rahaed Ohad, as high priestess of the Realm of Djalii.

 

Santeap's smile completely disappeared at thought of his brother. It was on Rahaed's whim that he was exiled here. It was on Rahaed's whim that he practice only magic and have no temptations besides. It was on Rahaed's whim that Santeap, Lord of Escenti Keep alone should teach the princessa all magic as befitting her status. And it was on Rahaed's whim that Santeap would live for as long as that whole process should take.

 

Shaking his head, Santeap let out a long sigh. It had been many years since he had been exiled to the Barren Keep, Escenti, but not a day of that time had been wasted. Though he may have castrated servants and eunuch guards, Santeap had found higher planes of existence to soothe his sore nerves, to channel his sexuality into something productive. Now, after nearly a decade and a half, Rahaed had finally played the only hand Santeap could not control and so Nahura was on her way, a maid of just past a decad and a half and a half and it was finally time for Santeap, Lord Ohad of Escenti Keep, Exile to the Barren Kingdom to ingratiate himself back into his brother's domain and make his mark on the world.

 

*****

Edited by Tavarilyn

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