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The children of duty & justice

By JGJ Fairhurst All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Blurb

Two colossal empires sit side by side. Guided by scripture, Emperor Horim of Olbaid foresees an inevitable war and plots to strike before being struck. Horim hatches a plan to frame neighbouring empire, Miria as instigators to win support for his holy conflict. Despite a predicted death toll in the millions and a war expected to span decades, Horim sees no price too great to shape his legacy and see off the preordained demonic invasion . Osyron Rymore is a fledgling marshal. Due to the brewing war, most seasoned marshal's have been conscripted into the army leaving him and fellow recruits with tasks that outweigh their experience. Opportunity is on the rise for criminals and a child trafficking ring is suspected to be operating in a coastal village in the far reaches of the empire. Osyron is sent alone. Here he meets Daniela Callahan, a fisherman's wife who leads him on a journey further than any charted map and beyond all belief.

Chapter One

“War with the Mirian Empire? This is ludicrous!” Panic-laced disbelief broke out amongst the gathered monarchs in the throne room of Emperor Horim of Olbaid. Alarmed voices bounced around the stone chamber, dispersing into the shadow-laden corners. The twin empires had known peace since their formation over thirty years ago. However, Emperor Horim wanted to change that—he wanted war.

Horim sat, perched atop his throne, expecting the incredulous outcry from the leaders of the empire. A gem-studded crown rested atop thinning grey hair on the emperor’s head. Below the crown, two astute, angular eyes scanned the seated monarchy before him. Two gnarled hands emerged from his burgundy robe and clasped together before he continued.

“I know you consider this an act of unprovoked aggression, but you’re wrong, my friends. Not only is this necessary but it carries the burden of inevitability.” Emperor Horim met the eyes of kings, queens and state leaders as he addressed the room. The annual Calling of Kings was a half-day of political affairs followed by a week of debauchery and excess, the kind only monarchy can conceive, conjure and indulge in. This year’s Calling would be remembered for the former rather than the usual latter.

The King of Darr stood and clapped a fist to his breastplate in salute. “We’ve had a successful spell of peace with the Mirian Empire spanning decades. Forgive my ignorance, Emperor, but you’ll have to explain your arrival at such a conclusion.”

A chorus of “hear, hear” tailed the statement. The support evolved into a boisterous murmur. As the noise trailed off, all eyes rested on the emperor’s blank expression. The unreadable look brought clearing throats that simmered to silence.

“I intend to explain and in great detail; do you intend to listen or are your minds already made?” Boots slid on the stone floor as the feet of kings shuffled uncomfortably. “Let us start with necessity, shall we? For centuries our kingdoms warred with each other until the Olbaid empire was forged and all nations agreed to join under the Olbaidian banner— unity under one cause and worship under one god. Miria’s situation mirrored our own—wars that spanned generations between rival kings and religions, eventually ending with the forging of an empire. Now two colossal empires stand side by side. Will this state of affairs be the case forever? Worshipping differing gods and by doing so disrespecting each other’s?” Horim opened his arms and peered at all gathered. Royal lips shaped to speak but Horim cut off any chance of thoughts becoming voiced words. “Naivety is your master if you think so. My friends, all wars fought from the beginning of time have brought us to this point, to one final conflict, or more accurately a penultimate conflict.”

“If we defeated Miria then all lands would join under one banner, so who’s left to war with?” inquired the Tesslin king.

Emperor Horim’s eyes fixed on the man. “Have you so soon forgotten what is written in Holy Scripture? Or is blasphemy now permissible in your lands?”

The king’s eyes went wide. The emperor held deep religious convictions, holding blasphemy on par with crimes of violence. “No…no, Emperor…not at all,” he stammered.

Horim let the forebodingness marinate before dismissing it. “Then allow me to continue. I, of course, refer to the final judgement of mankind set by our Lord God, Hixel. The demonic horde that inhabits the infernal lands to the south will come; it is a matter of time. This is God’s word, therefore not open to debate.” Horim raised an eyebrow in an unspoken challenge. No one picked up the gauntlet.

“What is in question is will we be ready for such an invasion? I say a divided mankind will not. A divided mankind will fall. With half the known world praying to a false god how can we really expect Hixel’s blessing in such a battle? Humanity—not half but all of mankind—needs God on its side for such a war. As things stand, we will fail. We will die.”

Emperor Horim rose from his throne and paced methodically around the elongated table that sat the gathered leaders, a wolf circling a sheep pen. Intimidation was the reason he donned the crown. It was forged for these moments. Jewels submitted by every kingdom as a token of their surrender and unity with Olbaid encrusted the thick circle of gold. Amongst kings and queens, the crown emanated authority, but it was viewed as gratuitous excess through the eyes of commoners. Horim knew exactly when and when not to utilise it.

Emperor Horim emitted a sigh and continued. “I do not wish this more than any of you. I wish to convince Miria of Hixel being the one true God, to convert them, to ultimately save them. You know as well as I they will not listen to reason, so it leaves one alternative…force. Once they’ve recognized Hixel as the true God, then and only then will mankind be ready to face final judgement.”

Shadows on the wall cast by the roaring fireplace jerked a nervous dance as Horim spoke. Gauging the faces staring at him, Horim had a lot of convincing ahead. He continued to pace around the table with hands clasped at his back. “Now, my friends, is the prospect of mankind’s annihilation reason enough? Maybe you think my words an exaggeration or overreaction. Perhaps the sceptical amongst you think me an outright fabricator. If so, then hear me out on the inevitability of such a war.” Emperor Horim left no time for interjection. He wanted all present to remain oblivious to each other’s thoughts. If the majority were against his proposal then isolating them with their thoughts remained crucial. All it took was one voice for the rest to champion and fall in behind. They would hear everything he had to say before they got a chance to retort with any objection.

“The Mirian Empire finds itself in the exact same situation. From their perspective, they have a blasphemous neighbouring empire riddled with heathens. While our gods differ, their religion does recognise the preordained demonic invasion from the south, so they’ve the same concern as us. They’ve spies in our cities and towns, as do we in theirs. In short, we have peace treaties but no trust. The Mirian Empire may have contemplated the very proposal that I now present to you. So I ask you, leaders of Olbaid, do we sit idle and let them take initiative? In other words, will we be the predator or the prey?”

The statues of prior kings that lined the wall overlooked the proceedings in silent judgement. Emperor Horim walked back to his throne and sat down, opening his arms in invitation to questions. The gathered leaders exchanged uneasy glances, most having a contribution to offer but shying from speaking first.

The state leader from the Glenlands broke the silence,

“Forgive my boldness, Emperor, but there is something that I must point out. Your father thought war with Miria neither inevitable nor necessary. He ruled the Empire while Miria was still a mass of squabbling kingdoms. If he thought then as you do now, then he had the perfect opportunity to strike. History shows he did not attack, nor did he propose such a notion at any Calling of Kings.” Heads around the room nodded their agreement and another murmur broke out before all turned back to hear Horim’s response.

“No forgiveness necessary. I am an admirer of boldness. Why, it is the very quality I seek, so I am glad to see it in attendance,” replied Horim. “This is something I have pondered myself and my initial conclusions were exactly as yours, but I ask you to consider this: Olbaid was but a fledgling empire during my father’s reign. Would all the freshly conquered kingdoms have fought against Miria? The newly formed, tentative bonds would certainly have broken. Why surrender to Olbaid one day only to bleed for them the next? Such an act would have ripped the new allegiances apart and at the same time helped galvanise the Mirian Empire. While it would seem the perfect time at first glance, after some scrutiny, you’ll agree the timing would have been catastrophic.”

The gathered monarchs chewed over the emperor’s words. By the emperor’s estimation the momentum was beginning to swing in his favour. All that mattered now was the quality of the answers he gave to their questions.

“Your Imperial Majesty, a war between empires would last decades; the death toll would be unimaginable,” offered one of the queens.

“What are decades when compared to the eternal peace that a solitary empire would bring? What is a death toll when compared with the extinction of mankind? I am under no illusions that this is a decision to be taken lightly, but a choice has to be made even if the best option is no better than brutal.”

Horim ran mock meetings with his closest advisors in the week leading up to the Calling of Kings. Together they pre-empted the most obvious questions that would be asked and had well-rehearsed answers in wait.

“What if the demonic invasion comes while we war with Miria? This would put us in the worst possible scenario. This would be the most certain way to ensure the end of days, would it not?” was the queen’s doubtful response.

Again Horim expected it. “The church of Hixel has given me their assurances that the judgment day invasion comes only when mankind is united as one. While there are two empires and a divided mankind then it is regarded by the church’s greatest scholars that no invasion will take place.

Hope danced in the queen’s eyes; she sat upright hoping to reel in the prize catch she’d hooked. “Emperor Horim, I have to ask the obvious. Why not use this information to secure a long-term alliance and peace with Miria? The solution to the demonic invasion is staring us in the face and it is a peaceful one with not a single life taken or lost.”

Horim smiled internally at his diligence in preparation and the predictability of the kingdom’s leaders. “This too has crossed my mind and is a fair question. While we have spies in each other’s empire, neither side could take serious an offer of an eternal alliance nor would either empire have any right to make such an offer. If you are now going to ask why both empires don’t withdraw all men from foreign soil to make this a possibility, it would have to be done on the back of the one thing we do not have: trust. Spies in each other’s lands are testament to that.” Emperor Horim paused to see if the queen understood his reasoning before continuing. Judging by the dejected look on her face, it was clear she did. “Even if we could assure each other of our honourable intentions it would birth a far bigger issue. By implementing some perpetual stalemate with Miria we would be risking the wrath of God. I don’t think that the will of Hixel can be so easily eluded or ignored. He has set us a judgement day and warned us of it in scripture. If we were to put into play any means to avoid it I don’t think God would take kindly to our attempts to outfox him by striking a deal with heathens.”

Dejection turned to total deflation as the queen’s body hunched. A fellow representative came to her rescue with an alternate objection for the emperor. “Your Imperial Majesty, we cannot invade Miria; the citizens of the empire would not support it. They celebrate the anniversary of the peace treaties every year. Many of our soldiers may refuse to take up arms or desert altogether if war was declared.”

For the first time, Emperor Horim was given pause. He had thought extensively on what the people who held sceptres and power would say yet had not considered the commoners who clutched broom handles and swords. Pawns meant little individually but collectively they held tremendous, unrealised power.

Horim traced a finger across an eyebrow. “I grant that the reasons I have given you today may be beyond the comprehension of the everyday man.” He leaned forward on his throne, lacing his fingers under his chin. He spoke aloud but to himself. “What we need is a cause that can be understood and championed by ordinary folk, something or someone that will win us the battle for hearts and minds.” All at once, the emperor leaned back, injecting volume into his voice. “If you give me your oath that you will support me in this then I will give one in return. I will win over the people of this land and harness their backing. There will be some resistance of course, there always is, but I will win over the majority. This is my oath to you as Emperor.”

Upon arrival to this year’s assembly, the monarchs’ heads had been filled with all the delights and luxuries the Calling of Kings delivered. Now, mere moments later, they faced an impossible choice. Agreeing to an unprovoked war or defying the emperor in his own throne room. Dozens delicately balanced on that tightrope, collectively yet alone.

A chair screeched, breaking the silence as the king of Darr stood. “Emperor, all of three days ago my wife gave birth to my daughter, my only child. I am closing in on my fiftieth year and I am not so presumptuous to believe more children await me further down the path of time. The point I am making is that I do not wish my one and only child’s life to be blighted by war, a war that will span the entirety of her life.” The king struggled with the sentiment of what he was saying. He cleared his throat before continuing, “I do not think I could look her in the eye knowing it was I that sanctioned such a war.”

“My congratulations to you and your queen. I am assuming she is not in attendance due to this recent birth?”

The king nodded his confirmation.

Horim continued. “I understand your concerns, but I plead that you understand mine. If we are fortunate enough for this inevitability not to have crossed Mirian minds then perhaps your daughter could live in a world that is blessed with peace, yet that peace would be dependent on Miria’s ignorance. When your own daughter has grown and become a queen and the forces of Miria are running rampant through her lands, running through her private chambers…” Horim fixed his gaze on the king, making sure he understood the meaning behind his words, “do you think you could look her in the eye then? Knowing it was your inaction that let to…that?” Emperor Horim paused long enough to let the horror-inducing visual play out in the king’s head.

Horim swept his arm, inviting the room into the repulsive scenario. “What would all our children say if we sat idle because we side-stepped a difficult decision? You can abstain and remove this burden from your neck, but recognize you do not rid yourselves of it. It will fall and clamp around the necks of your children, if…” the emperor paused and raised an eyebrow, “they are lucky enough to still be in the position to make that choice.”

A clamorous murmur broke out amongst the gathered royalty once more. This time it showed no signs of being brief. The emperor revelled in the stir it caused and let it run its full course. As the rabble began to die out the screeching of chairs sliding on the stone floor could be heard as one by one Olbaid’s leaders stood up and voiced their agreement.

War was unanimously confirmed.

Horim stood, clasped his hands together and bowed before the leaders of the empire. “I salute your bravery and wisdom, for I know it was not an easy call to make. Being monarchs and leaders is more than inheriting a title. Situations will arise when it will be asked of you whether you are deserving of those titles. With your actions today you have proven yourselves worthy. It is an honour to be your emperor.” Horim raised his arms and broke out his best smile. “Enjoy the rest of your time here, my esteemed friends. All your feedback from last year has been taken into consideration and we’ve worked scrupulously in meeting all your wants and desires. What we have in store for you will surpass any Calling of Kings on record. You are free; go fulfil your desires. Whatever your appetite, we have it catered for and we will satisfy.”

The leaders bowed and offered customary farewells before departing through the grand double doors. Their chattering voices faded with distance, leaving the emperor alone with his private guard and thoughts. He sunk deeper in his throne and recalled the day he was crowned Emperor of Olbaid. One simple question that day had been the catalyst for the conversation that had passed: “Your father forged an empire. Just how does one follow something of that magnitude?” It was a question asked by an inherited advisor. As the question resonated, the crown on his head had felt heavy, his body felt scrawny and too frail for the empirical garb he donned. The advisor had long since been hanged, framed by the emperor for the rape of a cleaner at the palace, though Horim had since come to regret the action—advisors who were innocently bold enough to blurt out such questions were rare. He needed difficult questions. Without them, he could not provide the answers. However, the hanging had brought him great sway with the common folk. Such justice for a lowly cleaning girl against such high-ranking personnel showed this was an emperor who cared equally for his subjects regardless of social standing—a fortuitous, unforeseen by-product of the advisor’s elimination. In time, Horim came to realise the advisor’s question had been rhetorical, but that never quenched his desire to find an answer. And now he had it: conquer and rule the world.

He meandered through his throne room, following his departed guests through the ornate double doors, a self-congratulatory smile began to spread. Monarchs. He scoffed at the word. Even monarchs question what is said rather than why it’s said. His legacy would not be the first man to inherit an empire but the first man to conquer one. The man who made the world recognize Hixel as the one true God. The man who unified humanity. The man who led humankind to victory over the demonic horde.

That is how one follows something of that magnitude, dear advisor.

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