Chapter 19: Convergence
Edya Reeshnar glared at the three men and wished that she was half a foot taller so that she could at least come close to looking them in the eye. Erygan Dalrey was struggling to stay awake during the long daylight hours that their debate required. Marrdin Redernin was almost useless. It was all he could do to keep his tears for his city from falling on the maps and other documents that were scattered across the table, though complete control of his emotions was beyond him. Edya shivered, as Marrdin in his grief had seen fit to unleash one blizzard after another upon Drogoda. It had already snowed in Alquendiro for four days, the snow from an already long winter was still piling up, and the people, Edya with them, had had enough of the Ice Lord’s grief. As for Galeth Tendornin, he could barely move. The day of Agrista’s fall, he had been in the air over the city. He had flown for four days at top speed without stopping to bring the news to Alquendiro. He would not have made it in seven if not for the gale force winds that had driven him into southern Meclarya by the third day. She was not doing well herself, and she silently cursed the men around her for not seeing what she thought was obvious. She had loved Taren as a father, and maybe more, but now, Taren was dead. She did everything she could to hold back her tears. She could not appear weak. Not now, when the defence of practically all of Anaria rested on her. She failed miserably.
It was a day later when Erygan recalled the other three to his tent. He was almost glad the Edya had broken down when she did, but he could not help her. The death of a mentor was something Erygan had gone through many times, but he knew that his mentors meant practically nothing when compared with the sense of loss Edya must have been feeling. He looked at her as she entered. Her proud bearing was back, but that did not fool him. Tears still streaked her face, and she looked as though she had been crying for the entire day. Her thin face, scarred above her left eye, looked more tired than Erygan had ever felt. He thought he knew why, but he dared not say anything. Drogs were more like Armandans than any other race of Morschen. Both were practically ruled by their emotions, especially the extremes of anger and love. The more he thought about Drogs, the more he wondered how Taren could possibly have been one. Then he remembered the report Galeth had brought about the fall of Agrista. The city had practically erupted in Taren’s fury, according to the Dragon Rider.
Galeth looked from Marrdin to Edya. He was not sure which one looked more defeated. He could not allow any more distractions though. He had known Taren for many centuries. Taren would want them to forget him, and quickly. He would not have sacrificed himself had he not thought that those that still lived could survive the onslaught that was sure to come. Clearing his throat, he tried to begin. Edya cut him off.
“When will Kallin get here?” Her throat was dry, and her voice cracked when she spoke.
“He should be here today.” Erygan’s response lacked its usual force.
“And the other Morschcoda?”
Galeth looked up. “I think that Daliana and Gelida will arrive together, sometime tomorrow or the next day. Norrin is bringing his army to his eastern border, so I doubt we will see him for a week yet. Xari is having trouble in her own land marshalling the Flame Weavers. They are refusing to march to war at the command of a Drog, even Taren.”
Outside the tent, Guinira still wore the guise of a Dothrin courier. She did not wait to hear anything else, and burst into the tent. “Morschcoda Erygan, I need a portal to An-Aniath, and I need it right now.”
“I don’t take orders from couriers.”
Guinira, who had forgotten that she still maintained Distorting Smoke, dropped her disguise. “If you don’t, then Armanda will be of no use to you.”
“Then … you are why Taren came north.”
“Yes.” She hung her head, almost looking ashamed of herself. “I am the reason for the fall of Agrista. But I can also be the reason for the stand of Anaria.”
Erygan wasted no time. “Go, and may Lasheed’s blessings follow you.”
Guinira was gone before another word was spoken.
“If we had the time, I would have been shocked to see her, I think.”
“She was the reason that Makret went to Agrista.” Edya tried hard to put some emotion, namely shock, into her voice. Instead, the words came out flat, more of a cold statement. “Well, the reason Taren sent him.”
“We have to stay focused. How do we replace Taren? Especially with Makret as a traitor.”
“There was a reason he wanted the book sent as far from Agrista as possible, Marrdin.”
“What would that be, though? If he desired nothing more than the book’s safety, then where it was could not be safer, especially now.”
“I think,” Galeth broke in, “that Taren knew that Agrista would end up as a ruin standing in a lake. Yes, that means only a Drog can retrieve it, but Makret was Taren’s most trusted advisor and friend. Makret would have known where the book was. He obviously thought that the book would be safer somewhere within his empire’s borders. And I think that Taren wanted his part of the book read. No one can lie in that book. The enchantments on it are ancient and powerful.”
“You think that Taren named his heir in the book?”
“Why not? The enchantments that bind the book prevent it from being read except under certain conditions, or so I understand, and nothing written in the book can be a lie. No one will dispute whoever his heir is if he or she is named in the book.”
“Why not simply name an heir and announce him or her? No one would have disputed that, either.”
A new voice broke in. “Because then one of Makret’s first jobs before we know that he is a traitor is to assassinate that person.”
All four jumped at the sound of the new voice and looked toward its source. There, in the same long, baggy robes, ink-stained and dusty, stood Kallin Revdark. “Kallin. It is good to see you again.”
“The circumstances are unfortunate, but, yes, it is good to see you again, Erygan.”
Edya walked along the walls on the northern side of Alquendiro. There was never any reason to guard that side, as it looked out over the inland Sea of Drogoda, in which Alquendiro stood upon an island near the southern shore, so she knew she could be alone. When a Drog died in the city, they were taken to the docks and put in a small grey boat to be sent adrift with the tide. As the only living Reeshnar, she considered the northern wall the one place where she could speak to her ancestors. She was not surprised when Erygan walked up to the wall beside her.
“Daliana and Gelida just rode in. Guinira is attempting to marshal the Flame Weavers, but she has sent Xari ahead by the portals.”
“So, Ranny and Norrin are all that we are waiting for now.”
“And Daken, but I don’t think he’ll come.”
“General, Makret’s treachery nearly destroyed the Dragon Hearted. My borders are well defended, Norrin marches eastward, but Meclarya is weak. If Makret marches from Agrista, he will march on Airachni. They will need every Ringlord of any power that they can find.”
“Galeth will have to stand for Daken, I assume.”
“And you must stand for Taren.”
Edya looked back over the water. “I can’t take Taren’s place, Morschcoda.”
“Edya, you are the only one who can.”
Again he chose to use her first name, and again, it confused her. She was not used to being treated as a Morschcoda’s equal. “I’m not Taren.”
“No one is.” He paused for a few minutes, looking out over the water. “I knew Taren for over six hundred years. He was ninety seven when I met him, and had already been a Morschcoda for thirteen years. Do you know what the older Morschcoda called him?”
“He never told me.”
“He was called ‘the Prince of Chaos’ by practically everyone whose opinions mattered.”
“The Prince of Chaos? You are talking about the man who controlled Anaria?”
“It seems hard to believe now, I know. But Taren didn’t just come home from Armanda and start a war. He was either too smart or too self-centered for that. Probably both. No, he was the Prince of Morieden. He turned it into a kingdom. He closed the borders to the rest of Drogoda, confiscated practically all trade that passed through the province; he kidnapped, threatened, or simply just bought his father’s supporters.”
“Morieden Province makes up half of Drogoda. Half of your Brotherhood of the Mordak comes from the Morieden Tribes. And at least three quarters of Drogoda’s silver mines are in the north. Taren stole a fortune, bought food from Dothoro at three times its price just because he could afford to, and disrupted half of the trade in Anaria for a year. Then his father started the war, which Taren won.” Erygan summed it up in one short sentence. “The Prince of Chaos.”
Edya, though not surprised at what Taren had once been like, shook her head at Erygan. “What are you trying to say, Erygan? I’m tired of wordplay and stories that have half-hidden meanings. Dealing with two Morschcoda is trying enough, and now, because I am one of the only people with any authority in Drogoda, I must deal with eight. So please, speak plainly while words still have meaning.”
“I knew Taren for longer than most alive today. He was never the most predictable person, but I think he would have wanted you to take his place now.” With that, Erygan left the wall.
Daliana and Gelida eventually made their way to the wall where Edya watched. Daliana waited quietly, but Gelida spoke. “I’ve never seen this much water in one place before.”
“You must have seen something like this.”
“This is my first trip into eastern Anaria.”
“There are lakes and rivers in the west, as well.”
“Nothing is this large.”
Daliana broke in. “Edya, something is bothering you. Erygan told me that you’re afraid, that you don’t think yourself either ready or suited to stand in Taren’s place, but I don’t think he’s right. I feel a sense of … loss, coming from you.”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“I might not. But you can’t be certain of that.”
Edya stood straighter, and turned as if to leave, and then sat heavily with her back against the wall. “It’s not something where I can stop and continue later. I mean, I don’t want to stop, so,” she said as Gelida and Daliana sat next to her. She cleared her throat once, and then, with a shaky voice, started the tale. “Taren was one of the closest things to a father that I ever had. The first time I ever saw him, it wasn’t a dark warrior with deadly skill in battle that so many only knew him as. It wasn’t even as the skilled manipulator and politician that the rest of the world saw. It was an ordinary man, sometimes a king, who loved his people, who I thought would rather be one of them than their ruler. He was about four hundred years old, and I was only twelve, but I knew that given a chance, I would die for him, because I knew in my heart that he would die for his people… for me.” She stopped to wipe a tear away from her eye. “I was twelve and my brother was ten. We were playing in the street. We never heard him, even though the whole Spear was with him. He was riding to The Councils, I think. Anyway, neither of us moved, because we didn’t know anyone was using the road. It was just some deserted side road anyway, not the main streets through the city. Not a road you’d expect to see any Morschcoda on, though Mordak Riders were a common enough site. It wasn’t one of the more pleasant areas in Alquendiro, I can tell you that. It was almost ten minutes later that I looked up and saw Taren, sitting on his Mordak, kind of leaning forward, resting on his arms. He was smiling at us. He stopped one hundred Riders so as not to interrupt two children he didn’t know.”
“That sounds like Taren.”
Edya choked back her tears. “I wouldn’t have thought any of the Morschcoda saw that side of him.”
“It was only the one time. He had just seized Dothoro, and was visiting me where Makret had had me kept. He was about to leave, but he relaxed for a moment. Just a few seconds, just when I think he was tired of hiding behind himself. He actually laughed, if you can believe it. Every other time I saw him, though, his face was harder than stone.”
“I only met him once” said Gelida. “In the Garuthen Mountains, after Guinira had killed my father. It wasn’t that long ago, actually. The only thing he did was arrest Guinira. He did send almost half of the Spear to ensure I made it to Galzeen, though. I didn’t think that he was as distant as many people make him out to be. He seemed to be so high above everybody there, but he made sure that everybody was treated fairly and well. I never understood it until now.”
“I know. I was told after, in Ra-Diavere. I was left in command of a detachment of Rider’s when Makret used the Brotherhood to ambush Ranny in Dothoro.”
“Is there more to your story, Edya?”
She nodded. “Almost fifty years later, I was training with ordinary cavalry. I was only sixty, so even if I had been of more than common birth, I wouldn’t have been tested for either a Ring or a Mordak. I think that Taren had kept track of me, or had someone who did, because he summoned me that day. I don’t know why, and I probably never will, but I remember running to the throne room. I think it was because I didn’t dare keep him waiting, not even a reasonable time. I had to wait for my escort to catch up so that no one would think a commoner was trying to break into the throne room. When they did catch up, though, they just opened the door and pushed me through. Taren, Makret, and I were the only ones in the room. It was the strangest thing I think I had ever seen or will see again.” In the middle of her tears, she gave a small laugh. “I think that the day’s audiences had just finished, or maybe a meeting with the Mordak Council, because they both looked exhausted. Makret was sitting on the ground, leaning against the front of Taren’s throne. Taren was sitting sideways. His head was laying on one armrest, and his legs were over the other. I stopped and bowed about halfway down the throne room, but Makret just waved me forwards. Makret stood up, and Taren did too, which was surprising. Taren almost never stood for anybody, and then he had a servant bring me a chair. We talked for hours, I don’t remember what about. Just a meaningless discussion. And then Taren asked me if I had ever been tested for a Ring. I said no, and the next thing I knew, he was leading me himself through the castle to the treasure room. A massive table filled with Rings, more than I will likely ever see again, stood in almost the exact centre of the room. That was so whoever was being tested could be the exact centre, I guess. That was Taren’s explanation, at least. Well, as anyone can see now, this Ring chose me.” She held up her right hand, where a silver Ring set with three small blue Sapphires graced her first finger. She stroked it once with her thumb and continued. “Several months later, the same thing happened, except I was tested to become a Mordak Rider. I passed the test, it wasn’t really difficult, and one of the first things that happened was Taren almost immediately named me a Captain and put me in charge of a group of fifty Riders.” Here, she broke down into tears for several minutes. Gelida put her arm around Edya’s shoulders, and gave her something between a squeeze and a hug. “I’m sorry.” She finally managed to push through her lips. “My father was a member of the Spear of Drogoda. He died protecting Taren from an assassin when I was two years old, only two months after my brother had been born. My mother died the day after my brother turned six, and my brother died five years ago. Taren had him tested as I was, but he never joined the Spear. He was second in command to one of the Masters of the Brotherhood. I have no idea which one. He died at Agrista when the Brotherhood rode against the Deshika there.” She paused again, turning her head so that she could see the Sea of Drogoda glistening through the battlement. “Taren saw my skill with a sword early on. I don’t think many people believed him, but Taren insisted that I learn to be a master. He wanted to teach me himself, but that would never have been allowed. No one ever was really able to explain why. Maybe if he had really been my father, instead of the closest thing I ever had to one, he could have. As it was, he arranged for the best instructors. Two gave up on me. They were used to teaching people who had more than basic military training. In two hundred years, I haven’t heard their names again. I think Taren banished them. The third was more patient. She said that she believed Taren that I had talent, and not just because Taren was Taren. She really thought I had the ability to become Tai-Aren Coda. And I did, two months ago. After I became Aren Coda, I was named by three of the five Masters of the Brotherhood to join the Spear. Taren had something to do with that I think, because I don’t think anyone has ever been admitted to the Spear without being a True-Arms Master.” She stopped, trying to find the right words.
“Did you love him?”
Edya looked as hard as she could at Daliana. They both knew that it was a pointed question, but Edya knew that it was not meant to be. She sighed. “That’s hard to answer. Taren was the closest thing to a father that I can remember having. He looked out for me, I assume because of my father, and he saw that I and my brother were well looked after. He is the reason I am what I am. And I think that I am the reason that Makret betrayed him.”
“Did you not know that Makret was”
“Yes, I knew that. But how can you blame yourself for Makret’s fall?”
“I don’t think that he ever liked me. As the commander of the Spear, and Drogoda’s High General, he had an important say in the vote that made me a member of it, but he couldn’t go against three Masters of the Brotherhood and Taren. He forced Taren to concede that he couldn’t train me himself, and he did speak against my promotions in the Spear. I think that he thought Taren was replacing him. Makret was another sort of like me. Taren had literally pulled Makret’s head out of the noose when they were both young and reckless, as opposed to the old and reckless men they turned into, and then he ensured the same things that eventually happened to me happened for Makret. So I think that Makret thought that Taren had decided that Makret was no longer fit to be his second in command.”
“If you’re the reason Makret betrayed Taren, then it is even more important for you to take Taren’s place.”
“I can’t take Taren’s place.” Edya’s voice came back stronger, without cracking the way it had before. “Only Taren’s heir can rule Drogoda. And I am not his heir.”
“How do you know? If he was practically your father-”
“But I am not his daughter. I’m not his heir, Daliana. I know that.”
Just then, Galeth came running up the stairs. “Kallin is calling all Morschcoda or whoever stands for them. He’s preparing to open the book.”