Chapter 11: Enemies, Old and New
Taren stood at the pinnacle of the Tower of the Sun, the highest point in Ra-Diavere, as he watched the sun set far to the west. He had been working towards this point for almost three hundred years, since before Ranny Marsharin had even been born. That she had taken the Morschcodal Throne in Dishmo Kornara at the young age of one hundred and four had only helped his cause. His agents, spies, assassins, and even merchants had all brought him closer to his goal of one day controlling the vast country, and more important to him and the rest of Drogoda, Caladea’s long coastline. The tiny coast that Drogoda controlled, no more than twenty or so leagues with only one good harbour, had always pained him. He believed, as did many of the powerful voices that spoke against him in his land, that a country of Ringlords who could control the waves should have waves to control. And now they did, and his detractors on the Mordak Council and in the Merchant’s Conclave had already grown far less vocal. From where he stood, almost nine hundred feet in the air, he could not see the ocean, over eighty leagues eastward, but he knew it was there, even as he knew when the sun shone with his eyes closed. Finally, he turned away from both the sun and the sea, and descended from the tower. He would soon have other, more important business. Galzeen had fallen, and Ranny had attempted to return to Caladea through Dothoro. A clever ambush by Dothrin soldiers once led by Atalin Danalath had led Ranny into the waiting trap of the full might of Drogoda’s Brotherhood of the Mordak, which had grown significantly in the five years since the breaking of the Anarian Treaty. Taren had been training many more Mordak Riders than the Treaty allowed him to have for centuries, but, when he was confronted with it, he found a hole in the treaty, with the help from the then Storinean Morschcoda, Kallin’s grandfather, Barish Revdark. The treaty only limited the size of Drogoda’s elite force, The Brotherhood of the Mordak. It did not prevent him from offering the same training to more than that number. And now that the treaty was broken, he had twenty thousand Mordak Riders trained for combat under the banner of the Brotherhood. And now, most of that force was escorting Ranny Marsharin and what had once been the proud and powerful Army of the Sun back to their home of Ra-Diavere.
Taren had had the throne room rearranged after he had taken the country, which had been surprisingly easy. With five thousand of the Brotherhood, he had marched on Ra-Diavere, while the rest of his Riders went to Dothoro. There were few soldiers left in all of the country, since Guinira had emptied it, so he had sent most of those Riders who had come with him back to Dothoro. Makret was still in Dothoro, and had taken personal control of the country while Daliana’s loyalty was still questionable. The Brotherhood was escorting Ranny’s army through Taren’s lands, but they were rapidly drawing close to the city. The changes that Taren had made to the throne room were small, but he knew that they would have a large impact. An exact copy of his throne in Alquendiro, carved out of blue stone in such a way that it appeared to be water flowing downwards, even as a stream would, had been brought and set up where the Sun Throne had been. The Sun Throne had been moved forward and to the side, so that the Flowing Throne of Drogoda, a copy of it anyway, was clearly visible as one entered the throne room. The meaning could not have been clearer. And so Ranny saw it when she was escorted into the room where formerly, she had been unquestioned. She did not bow.
“So, now I am simply a part of the power your empire wields.”
“Only if you are willing to be.”
“What does that mean, Taren Garrenin, he who would be king of the world?”
“It means that I haven’t forgotten the attacks of the Deshika only five years ago. It means that I can’t afford to march against them when, not if, they return while I leave behind countries whose leaders refused to bow, or worse, were forced to.”
“So, this was your plan all along. From the time you took the Morschcodal Throne in Dishmo Kornara, you have been planning to unite Anaria by the sword.”
“You were not born until almost four hundred years after I took Drogoda’s throne. You have no right to comment on what I planned to do back then.” Ranny could not meet his relentless stare. “But you aren’t wrong. Uniting Anaria, peacefully or by the sword, is why Erygan and I needed to break the Anarian Treaty. It stood in the way of our nations being truly united under one banner. I will not see The Kindler re-emerge and take the world a second time.”
Ranny stood stunned, but her instinct made one motion, so old that it was automatic. She drew a circle around her heart. The Kindler had been the one who, at the dawn of time, had raised the Deshika against the Morschen and, ultimately, Lasheed. Of course, this had not been known at the time. The first Morschen had believed The Kindler was Lasheed himself, and in that time, the Armandans were most ready to his cause. Many Morschledu had disappeared, and then the Deshika had come for the first time. There were many who believed that The Kindler had tortured the Morschen he had captured, especially the Eschcotans, because of their size, and turned them into Deshika warriors. It was not as difficult a stretch as some might have believed, but long after was proved to be impossible. The Deshika were far larger than any Morschen, even the giants among the Eschcotans, and they were short lived. The oldest Deshika did not live to be two hundred, but they reproduced like rabbits. It was only after three of the countries, Drogoda, Rista, and Torridesta, had rebelled against The Kindler that the truth was discovered. The three countries of darkness had stood for the light against the light. Other countries, especially Eschcota, turned against The Kindler, and he was finally revealed to be one of the Seven Devils. El Bendro Dakoia was long and bloody, until a final confrontation between The Kindler and the lord of Torridesta. The two fought long and hard, with swords and magic, but The Kindler had the victory, until he saw the battlefield. His Deshika had been routed. Hundreds of thousands were dead upon the field, thousands more running for their lives. Only one lord still stood before him, the lord of Drogoda. The two locked eyes, and then Morschen and fallen god fought. The name of that lord of the Morschen of Drogoda, no tale that she had heard remembered, but it was known that though his magic failed him, and his armour was all but destroyed, he still managed to land what would have been a death blow on any other being. The Kindler was defeated. At least, according to legends that she had ready to mind, or thought she remembered well.
All of this went through Ranny’s mind. Kallin would have been able to remember more, but she did not need it. “You honestly think that The Kindler will return?”
“You just went through everything you have ever heard or think you know about The Kindler and El Bendro Dakoia, and you still ask me that?” Taren looked skeptically at Ranny. “Yes, The Kindler will return, Ranny. He may have already.” Taren stood, walked past her, and out into the city.
Ranny stood where Taren had left her, all but unable to move. What troubled her more than the fact that Taren seemed so certain that The Kindler would return was the fact that he had so easily read her mind. Mind reading was a common ability, there were few of even the Ringless Morschen who could not open their minds to others, but she had thought none were strong enough to read her mind without fighting for every detail. And none had ever been able to mask their presence from her before. She had just turned to follow Taren when two Drog women, both Tai-Aren Coda, she could tell by the way they moved, walked over to her and started steering her away from the doors. “What is going on here?” she asked. They did not answer. They just keep walking, until they found another woman. “Who are you?”
“Spear Captain Edya Reeshnar, my lady. And I am sorry about this, Morschcoda Marsharin, but my lord has left specific instructions. You are to be confined to your rooms until you bow to King Taren of your free will. Until such time as that is, I am to take control of Ra-Diavere and begin bringing the rest of Caladea under the Drogodan banner.”
Two weeks after Taren had taken Ra-Diavere, the Meclaryan army was preparing to enter the city to defend it. In his command tent, Daken heard a sentry gave a cry as a dragon appeared high in the air above the camp. “Rider approaching.” The cry went up from the southern edge of the Meclaryan camp, where Daken, fifteen thousand Meclaryan soldiers, and twelve Dragon Riders were waiting for news from the city. The cry was sounded twice more, both on the north side, where another two Riders descended. All three immediately made their way to the command tent, where Chief Rider Galeth Tendornin was waiting with Daken.
The Rider who had been spying on Ra-Diavere looked to the others to go first. A short, slender woman, the same woman who had gone to Agrista to give Daken Guinira’s orders, stepped forward. “Chief Rider, Prince of Dragons, I can report beyond any doubt that Noldoron, or Galzeen at least, has fallen to Queen Guinira. Also, Dalasin Mectar is dead. Guinira intended to execute him, naming him a traitor, but he freed himself and forced her into single combat. Rumour is that Xari Gundara interfered in the duel, but I can’t confirm that. Also, I did scout to the north, along the Garuthen Trade Route, and roughly ten days from the city was the force of Noldorin soldiers that left King Erygan in Rista.”
“Ten days from when?” asked Galeth. Daken remained silent. These were Galeth’s Riders, not his.
“Ten days from today, Chief Rider. A full week’s march still, after an already long trek through the mountains. That concludes my report.” Galeth nodded, but asked no questions.
“They’ve moved quickly.”
“Yes, Morschcoda. Almost four hundred leagues in twenty days.”
“What news of Dothoro?”
A tall, thin man answered. “Chief Rider, Prince of Dragons, Dothoro is under the Banner of Drogoda. From what I saw and heard while in the country, Daliana is alive, but confined to the palace, and has no say in anything that happens in her country. A regent has been appointed ’until such time as Daliana Marcarry is once more deemed fit to rule.”
“Until she bows to Taren, you mean.”
“Yes, sir. Rumours claim that the regent is a member of the Half-Elvin, but I believe that the regent is Makret Druoth himself. His banner flies over Eshtam-Nis and many lesser holds throughout the forest, beside Morschcoda Garrenin’s and Drogoda’s. I was unable to find out anything more.”
“No news of the Caladrim returning to Ra-Diavere?”
“None, Chief Rider. It seems that Morschcoda Garrenin has sealed that border, though the road through Storinea remains open.”
“That is interesting, though I can see no reason for it.”
“I know Taren better than you do, Galeth,” broke in Daken. “He closed the border to try to force Ranny and the Rayed Sun to return home the long way, through Storinea and Armanda, so that they will not be here when – if – Taren does invade.”
“Then we must waste no time in pressing on to Ra-Diavere.”
The third Rider, who had come from the city, a short man who looked a little like Daken, broke in. “Chief Rider, Prince of Dragons, if I may speak, I would not be so hasty.”
“Oh? What can you tell us of this, Rider?”
“I have been observing the city for the past day, and there is much that I do not understand happening within its walls. What first struck me as odd, the Caladrim pride themselves on rising with the sun, yet there was almost nobody in the streets, not even shopkeepers or merchants. More peculiar, there were an unusual number of guards at each gate of the city, and each door into the palace and the barracks of the Rayed Sun were guarded as well. I would also guess that these soldiers were wearing armour that was dark in colour. It did not look like Drog armour though, but I know that it was not the yellow of the Rayed Sun, or even just the plain steel of the city guard. There is something strange at work in the city.”
Galeth and Daken were silent for a long time. “If Taren had taken Ra-Diavere” began Daken uncertainly, “then we should be able to tell for certain. You should have had a sighting of a Mordak if nothing more.”
Galeth brushed a strand of his long hair out of his eyes. “I agree, Morschcoda, something is strange in the city, but our orders have not changed. Queen Guinira ordered us to defend the city from Taren.”
“That does not mean that if the city is taken already, we must fight for it.” After a few more minutes of silent thought, he spoke again. “Chief Rider, ready your dragon. You, I and these three are going to Ra-Diavere.”
The five dragons circled high above Ra-Diavere, their Riders inspecting the city. Daken could see for himself the unusual number of guards at the doors of the barracks, as well as the unreported patrols through the all but empty streets. But he could see no Mordak, and he knew he should be able to if Taren had taken the city. “Land in the courtyard in front of the palace. I do not want to give anyone time to attack us before we see whoever is in charge” he shouted as his white dragon started to dive. Repeating the maneuver he had used in Airachni, and many other places, he landed on his feet, with the four other Riders surrounding him. Immediately, they could feel the watchfulness of the city.
“Something isn’t right here, Daken. The city is too quiet.”
“We still need to know what is going on.”
As they walked through the deserted courtyard toward the palace, its doors swung open, and out walked a woman to meet them. She wore no armour, but the sword on her hip and her appearance marked her as no Caladean. Daken felt, though, that it was safer for the moment to feign ignorance. Bowing her head slightly to indicate one of little lower rank than a Morschcoda, and with her sword arm crossed over her chest to say that she meant no harm, she greeted them.
“Welcome to Ra-Diavere, Prince of Dragons. And to you, Chief Rider.”
The welcome was lost on Daken, who merely crossed his arms. “Who are you?”
She bowed her head again. “I apologize for assuming you would have been informed of certain details, details which Queen Guinira obviously thought you would not need. I am Edya Reeshnar, Regent of the Sun Throne. I apologize also that no one of higher rank than me is here to greet you, but with Dothoro closed to us, Morschcoda Marsharin was forced to march south through Storinea and Armanda.” Daken knew immediately that it was a trap, so he said nothing. After a short pause, she spoke again. “I think, if I may be so bold, that you were wise, Morschcoda Calmi, to come ahead with few men. The people here are unused to being without so many of the Rayed Sun to protect them, so any force or show of arms tends to frighten them, even from our allies. It was rumoured that several thousand Drogs were marching on Ra-Diavere, which is why we were forced to take these measures. I can see you are confused by them.” Daken snorted. “Yes, it seems excessive, but it was a better option than people running around the city, scared to death and spreading their fear to others who might not believe such rumours.”
Daken looked around. Extra guards, patrols, imposed curfews; it seemed extreme for a mere rumour of an army. He knew his next question would spring the trap. “Where is Ranny now?”
“I believe her and her army to be near the border of Storinea and Armanda, but by this time, she could be well into the Ashnora Desert. More precise information I cannot give.”
“I see.” Obviously his pretend ignorance was believed, but the woman, who he thought seemed familiar, was on guard against any falsehoods. “Now, where is she really?”
“Near the border of …”
“No. She is not. I have seen you before, Edya Reeshnar. You were among the Morschcodal Escort of Taren Garrenin. Now, what is going on here?”
As soon as Daken said “Taren Garrenin,” ten archers appeared, above the doors, on the roofs behind them, and from both sides. All had bows drawn, and all were aimed at the five Dragon Riders in the courtyard.
Nobody moved for three long minutes. Daken noted the skill and discipline of the Drog archers. He could also tell that though they did not want to release their arrows, they would obey the order without question if it came. Edya Reeshnar was clearly a trusted commander if Taren had given her such soldiers. But, Daken still felt sure of his position. Once he was on his dragon, there was no way that Edya could stop him. One of his Riders, the tall man who had spied on Dothoro, had the same thought. His dragon came down and flew low over the city. The man jumped, as high as only a Ringlord of Air could jump, almost thirty feet straight up. Two of the Drogs followed his leap, and he crashed back to earth barely a second later, two arrows through his chest. The man’s dragon roared, in rage and pain. A third Drog released her arrow. It was aimed with as much skill as any of the Eagle Eyed could have mustered, and passed straight through the dragon’s eye. The mighty beast reared in the air, flailing for height, but it was a fatal wound. It crashed to the earth, shaking the whole city, crushing a section of the southern wall as it died. Daken stared in horror, first at his dead Rider, and then at the empty space in the sky that the dragon had fallen out of, and finally at the woman who had shot the arrow. She drew a small knife from inside of her boot and cut off the last finger of her left hand. She let the wound bleed through her clutched fingers instead of binding it or healing it. Daken did not understand, but he was still determined to escape.
“I am sorry that that had to happen, Morschcoda. Drogs have much respect for the dragons. Killing one, for us, is a mark of dishonour. That woman will forever be known as a Dragon Slayer by that finger she just cut off. Had it been a Mordak she had had to kill, it would have been up to Taren to decide her fate.” Edya sighed and drew her sword. Though she kept it pointed at the stone steps on which she stood, they could tell that if she had to use it, more blood would be shed and it would not be hers. “I am sorry, Morschcoda, but you are under arrest, by order of my king, Taren Garrenin.”
“How? I could easily escape this.”
The woman in front of him looked tempted to laugh, but her voice was heavy when she spoke. “You think that you are so different from the man that just died? He had as much faith in his power as you do in yours. His was misplaced. Do you really want to find out the same way that yours was also?” She stopped listened to a soldier who walked out of the palace doors behind her and said something back. He disappeared back inside, and then she continued. “Drogodan War Bows have slain many overconfident Meclaryan Ringlords. Morschcoda have been among that number, Daken Calmi. They believed that they could summon a strong enough wind to blow these arrows off course, but even were the bows or arrows affected by magic, they had almost no time to react. I have seen these bows launch arrows over a mile in a mere ten seconds, and with enough force to completely pass through an armoured man. I don’t want to be the one to explain to my king that you are dead, but I will not let you escape this city alive.” Thirty Mordak Riders appeared in the courtyard behind them. Daken looked around him, wondering where they had hidden and frightened for one of the first times in his long life. Daken and Galeth walked into the palace under Edya’s guard.
Deep within the castle, Taren sat, with Ranny and Daken facing him.
“Why are we here, Taren?”
“The two of you are here because, since she took the throne, you have been Guinira’s strongest supporters.”
“So why are we really here?”
“Words may have their own meanings here, not like in the Council Chambers of Pentalia Morschcoda. Just because I trapped you here doesn’t mean that I particularly want you here. So you can believe me when I say that I wish much of what has happened in the last few years had not, but I can’t undo time.”
“How did you know I would even be here, Taren? I can understand how you captured Ranny, but to know that I was on my way south, you would have … had…” he dared not finish the sentence.
Taren set his elbows on the table and tented his fingers, cracking each knuckle one by one as he did so. “Yes, Daken. I gave the orders that brought you to Ra-Diavere.”
Ranny quietly waited as Daken debated why that could not be so and as Taren answered each point in exacting detail, going as far as describing the woman who had taken the orders to Agrista. She was impressed with Taren’s answers. He seemed to be the only Morschcoda to have gotten spies within the Dragon Riders. The only thing harder was getting spies into Dothoro’s Half-Elvin, as she herself could testify.
“All right Taren. You have convinced me. Name whoever it is that helped you arrange this.”
Taren said nothing. Instead, a man stepped out of the shadow behind him; a man Daken almost did not recognize, and had not realized was no longer sitting next to him.
“It can’t be” he said, finally recognizing Galeth Tendornin.
“Prince of Dragons” returned Galeth, bowing as Edya had when she had first introduced herself.
“Well, I wish I could remain for what I am sure will be an interesting discussion, however, I’m needed in the west. Captain Reeshnar, you and Galeth will explain everything to Daken and Ranny. After that, Galeth, you will take the Meclaryan army, and Daken, back to Airachni. Send Dragon Riders you can trust ahead with Daken, and when you arrive at the city, take command of it. My men there know that this is going to happen and will understand that they are to follow your orders. Captain, you will remain in Ra-Diavere until I recall you to Alquendiro. If you need more men, you have but to ask.”
Galeth bowed. Edya did also, attempting to appear more loyal by adding “Your Majesty.”
“Galeth, what is going on?” Daken had not even looked at Taren or Edya since Galeth had emerged across the table from him.
Taren looked back and forth between Daken and Galeth. “I will leave you to explain.” With that, he left.
Daken looked expectantly at Galeth to start, but Galeth looked at Edya. Edya began by explaining how Ranny and what was left of the Caladean army had been captured in Dothoro and then brought back to Ra-Diavere. And then Galeth took up the tale.
“I don’t want to stop for anything, so if anyone has questions, make sure you remember them. To understand everything that has happened to Meclarya, Caladea, and Anaria these last few days, I need to go back about six hundred and fifty years, when I first became a full Dragon Rider. Your father, Daken, sent me as a messenger to Taren. He wanted to tell Taren that Meclarya would stand by him against his father’s supporters. Taren had just defeated his four siblings in the Drog Civil War and wielded enormous influence in the surrounding countries. His influence was especially potent in Meclarya. You wouldn’t remember, as it was before you were born, but we were almost in a civil war of our own at that point and your father hoped for Taren’s support, and possibly Makret Druoth’s aid as a military advisor should war break out. I was terrified of meeting Taren because of that. He was already one of the most dangerous men in Anaria, mostly because he had just defeated an army that outnumbered his three to one. But, I had no choice. My first impression of Taren was a calm man, confident in his power. I thought that was strange until I remembered what he had just been through. Two of his brothers were dead, as well as his father. But as Taren and I talked, he and I found something we agreed would be beneficial for everyone. Well, his desire awakened the same beast within me. We both desired to truly unite Anaria in a way that it had never been before, under one banner. So, whenever your father wished to send a message to Taren, I volunteered. In return for my help influencing your father, Taren engineered my rise through the ranks of the Dragon Riders, despite my family’s lack of influence. At first, I was just to find Riders who could be trusted to keep our plan a secret. And then your father died, you were named Morschcoda, and I was given the title of Chief Rider. After that, I could send Riders I thought could be trusted to Taren. I apparently showed good judgement. Taren used those Riders to communicate with men and women like me that he had found almost everywhere. Barish Revdark, Atalin Danalath, and Erygan Dalrey all eventually joined with us, to name only a few, though they were his main supporters. We have steadily worked to bring Anaria under the rule of one banner, by the sword if necessary. Erygan and Taren eventually went different ways, both wanting to be that banner, Atalin was executed by Guinira, Barish died, and his son Garneth disappeared. But now we come to recent events. Erygan controls Eschcota and Torridesta, and until recently, he controlled Noldoron. Taren controls Storinea and Drogoda, and effectively has taken control of Dothoro and Caladea, and within the next few days Meclarya will join that growing land. He only waits for those rulers to bow to him of their own free will, and he is willing to wait as long as necessary.”
Daken sat for several minutes as he tried to take in all of what Galeth had just said. “So, the Dragon Rider that gave the orders from Guinira …”
“Actually came from Taren, yes. As he already proved. Shortly after he captured Ranny, he sent those instructions.”
“Where is Taren going now?”
“He is on his way to Noldoron. Gelida is several days from Galzeen, and he hopes that he can convince her, if not to join with his empire, to at least not join with Erygan or Guinira. I believe that he also hopes to stop another war from beginning in Galzeen. But for reasons unknown, to me at least, the two of you are the ones Taren most hopes to win over.”
Throughout Galeth’s explanation and Daken’s questions, Ranny had remained silent, trying to think of a way out of this, but she could not. And then another thought, a different thought, came to her. Why was she trying to get away? Taren wanted nothing more than she had given Guinira, and he was, as she knew well, a much more skilled leader, politically and militarily, than Guinira could ever hope to be. Taren knew the value that the former Morschcoda would have in controlling their countries. He would not have forced Dalasin into the position Guinira had. That was something Ranny had disapproved of, forcing Dalasin’s death, but she had not dared speak against it then. But now, Galeth had made a mistake, a small one, yes, but a mistake nonetheless. He had left one small door open, a hole she could wiggle through.
“Why does Taren want the two of us? More than others, I mean.”
Galeth started to answer, but Edya shook her head at him. Then she started. “Taren, it seems, wants more what the two of you represent than you personally, I think. I think, also, that he does not want to waste the lives of skilled leaders, especially former Morschcoda, who, though if they wished could turn countries against him, could be instrumental in keeping order in those same countries.”
“That says nothing, Edya.”
“What would you have me tell them, Galeth.”
“Taren wanted them to know the truth.”
“That is the truth.”
“Part of it.”
“Well, then, by all means go ahead.” Edya stepped away from the table and walked out of the room, leaving an annoyed Galeth to deal with the two Morschcoda by himself.
After a short pause, Galeth began. “I really should not be that hard on Edya, but I have been with Taren longer than she has. Taren wants the two of you to join with him because it is you; former Morschcoda he has worked with for centuries in some cases, and with whom he shares many memories, whether those memories are pleasant or not. He considers you and the rest of the Morschcoda among his closest friends, which may go a long way towards explaining his personality. But Edya is partially right. He wants you two specifically because you are Guinira’s strongest supporters.”
Daken shrugged, and Ranny laughed. “How are we Guinira’s strongest supporters? Surely Xari is closer to the throne than us.”
“Yes, and no, Morschcoda. Yes, Xari is closer to Guinira than either of you, but no, because Xari has no real choice in the matter. Guinira has taken almost absolute control of Armanda for herself, ordering things the way she wants to without even bothering to pretend that Xari even knows about her plans. According to Taren’s spies, the title of Morschcoda is all that has kept Xari’s head attached in the past few years.” He paused to let that sink in. “Which leaves the two of you. And it is not so difficult a stretch to make that the two of you are the real backers of Guinira’s power. After all, besides Armanda, your two countries are the only ones to move soldiers through to other countries to help maintain her holdings.”
Both Daken and Ranny nodded silently. It was true, and it was no secret. Daken had taken many of the Dragon Hearted north to fight alongside Marrdin in Rista, and he had sent over five hundred of the Eagle Eyed to help Daliana’s Half-Elvin hold the line of the forest. Ranny had taken over half of the strength of the Army of the Sun, a force of over fifty thousand, including most of the Rayed Sun, to Noldoron with Guinira.
Galeth left Ra-Diavere two days later, with Daken and three other Riders. His own men had taken command of Meclarya’s army, and would bring it back to Airachni. Ranny spent several long days in thought without leaving the suite of rooms that Taren had insisted Edya give the Morschcoda.
She spent most of the time trying to convince Edya to release her or manipulate the guards any way she could. It was only when Edya revealed that Ranny was not actually confined to the rooms that Ranny started to consider the choice before her.