Chapter 22: A Narrower World
“Edya, muster the Brotherhood and take them to Airachni. Kallin, I need you to go back to Dorok-Baan and gather any information you can on the Ring of Taren Garrenin the First. Galeth, fly to Dishmo Kornara and tell them to search for any information from the library there on anything that you think might be useful. Turn the place upside down if you have to. I want anything about The Kindler, the Seven Devils, the Deshika, or even Makret Druoth. Xari, return to Armanda and tell the Guinira to bring the Flame Weavers north. Ranny, return to Ra-Diavere and muster the Rayed Sun.” Soon Daliana, Gelida and Erygan alone remained in the tent, Norrin having already left to lead his armies to Dishmo Kornara, and Marrdin having gone to find General Eshtarin and gather the Crystal Sword. He was planning to go back to Rista, and meet the Deshika, Makret, and The Kindler head on.
“I wonder. Are we being overly rash?”
“What do you mean, Erygan?”
“Well, we still have too much to consider. The Drog Imperial Navy isn’t a secret. What if he suspects that we will hear of the fleet and send it to intercept or destroy them?”
“It is a risk we must take.”
“I agree, but with four hundred thousand men, is trapping them here such a good idea?”
“No, but we must deny them those ships, for many reasons.”
“And what if they land to the south, in that bay Edya told us becomes a lake?”
“That is far from Dishmo Kornara.”
“The Kindler doesn’t know that. Makret is supposedly refusing to reveal the location, as the city seems to be all that stands between him and the executioner’s axe.”
Daliana did not need to think long. “Erygan, I need you to send a messenger to Ra-Diavere and An-Aniath. Tell Ranny and Xari to take their forces to that bay, whatever its name is. We can’t be taken by surprise.” Erygan created a portal, and started to go himself, only to stop with one leg through, a somewhat precarious position. If his concentration slipped, he would lose his leg.
“The two of you need to be somewhere.”
“The Garuthen Mountains, just north of Galzeen” Gelida answered, remembering where she met El Darnen.
Erygan placed them right where the Garuthen Road entered the mountains. Gelida had two Tai-Aren Coda with her. She had assured them that she needed no protection, but they answered only by saying it was their duty to guard her wherever she went, whether she felt safe there or not. Edya had attempted to give Daliana half of the Spear for her protection, but Daliana had felt much the same as Gelida. At least, she did not believe it would do them any good to seem scared. In the end, she had had to order Edya to send them to Airachni or take them there herself. Three of Daliana’s Morschcodal guard, the Unseen, guarded her as they always had. Gelida, unafraid of El Darnen or his men, used no power to hide herself, but Daliana had never met the Serpent, and was less certain of his hospitable nature. She shielded her features with Veil of Leaves. She had no desire to be known as herself, despite Gelida’s assurances, until they were standing face to face with El Darnen.
“How far do you think we’ll have to go before he knows we’re here?”
“I would be surprised if he didn’t already, my lady.”
Almost as soon as Gelida finished her answer, three men rode out and stopped in front of them. Two of Daliana’s guards placed themselves in front of her, while the third stepped behind and turned to confront the two men who had ridden up behind.
“Who are you, and why do you stop us?”
A short man who was obviously Meclaryan born seemed to be in charge, and answered her. “You cannot fool us, Dothrin. We know why you have entered the mountains. Our master is expecting you. You will come with us.”
“I will do nothing under threat of force.”
“Dothrin, you can stay here until you die of hunger, try to leave the mountains and be killed by the Greshida’s sentinels, or you can come with us. The choice is yours, but forward alone leads to life.” He turned his horse north and began to ride away.
Daliana and Gelida sat in a tent, waiting for El Darnen. The sheer size of the camp had awed Daliana. She had never guessed about or given much thought to the criminal that Taren had held at bay. She doubted that any of the leaders outside of the Garuthen Mountains fully understood the power of El Darnen and his army. Whatever Norrin’s Eschcotan pride had to say on the matter, Daliana could look out of the tent in any direction and see several thousand reasons why the Garuthen Mountains did not belong to the Hammer of Eschcota.
“I could just demand to see him, Gelida. I’m getting tired of just sitting here. We don’t have time to waste.”
“You’ve ordered everything outside of the mountains as well as you can for the moment. Edya won’t travel slowly, but it will still take time for her get from Alquendiro to Grathen Harbour, and then she’s going to Airachni. But even if you declared yourself, I don’t think he would take kindly to being ordered around, my lady. This is his camp, after all.”
Daliana rubbed her face with her hands. “Then what am I here for?”
“You are here for his help.”
Daliana fell silent just as El Darnen entered. He did not seem surprised that Daliana was shielding herself. He had likely been informed of that. Daliana’s first examination of him ended quickly. He was like Taren in appearances, though he had both eyebrows, and his eyes were light blue, not grey.
He put his hands behind his back and bowed his head to both women. “I was told that I was awaited in this tent.”
“Morschcoda Mectar. I was not informed that you had returned to the mountains.”
“I doubt that, El Darnen.”
“Well, to what do I owe the pleasure of this … visit?”
“Visit is hardly the appropriate word. Neither is pleasure, I’m afraid. We come with grave news.”
“You may want to sit down.” El Darnen looked puzzled and intrigued, but he sat as requested. Gelida went on. “Taren Garrenin is dead.”
El Darnen hung his head and closed his eyes. Daliana, still hidden behind Veil of Leaves, read more from this than Gelida did. “You knew.”
He nodded slowly. “I did.”
He did not look up. “The Morschcoda were not the only ones that Galeth Tendornin informed of the ruin of Agrista.”
“But he flew straight to Alquendiro from Agrista. That’s a flight of seven long days that he somehow managed in four. There’s no way he had the time to come here first.”
“But he could have easily stopped in Airachni, or even at the garrison on the Emin-Tal plateau. He sent another Rider here.”
“But he was the one who spoke most in support of the two of us coming here to speak with you in person.”
He looked up at Gelida, and then at Daliana. “The value of an action is more often in the act itself than the result it produces. Yes, I knew that Taren Garrenin is dead. Yes, I was informed of the destruction of Agrista. And yes, Daliana Marcarry, I know that that is you hidden behind your Dothrin magic.”
She let the power fade away. “How can you?”
“You sat beside Taren almost as an equal for so many years, and you still don’t know the true depths of his complex and layered plans. He foresaw his death long ago, and he worked hard to bring it about as he foresaw, I am sure. He came here, almost thirty years ago now, to tell me that soon after he died, Daliana Marcarry and the Morschcoda of Noldoron, he knew that it would not be Miliani, would come here to ask for my help. I don’t know how he knew. I don’t care either.”
Daliana would have answered, but she was caught on his words. ‘Almost as an equal’ stung, but she could not debate the statement. She knew she would lose.
It was Gelida who broke the silence. “Will you help us?”
But El Darnen was not interested in Gelida at the moment. His eyes, before warm and soft, compared to Taren’s at least, were now hard and penetrating, and fixed on Daliana in a persistent stare. “Why are you here, Daliana?”
“I’m here to ask for your help.”
“But why you? Why not Erygan, or Norrin? Why not Xari?”
Though she knew she would have to claim the title more than once, doing so in the mountains seemed dangerous, but she had no choice. “I am Taren’s heir. He named me as his daughter in El Kardi Morschcoda.”
El Darnen did not look shocked or surprised. He stared into her eyes for several seconds. And then he simply nodded slowly, looking back at the ground. “And what will you do now?”
“I have ships sailing to combat a Deshik fleet at the Dragon’s Claws. I have armies marching to southern Caladea in case the fleet ends up there. Norrin marches to Dishmo Kornara so that if The Kindler strikes at the city, it will hold.”
“But what will you do?”
“What do you mean?”
“Will you continue Taren’s search for the legendary Ring of the First Garrenin? Will you lead your forces in one final battle in hopes of destroying The Kindler and his armies? Will you sacrifice yourself as Taren did, to ensure that the Morschen survive? All are interesting questions, and ones that I hope to see answered. As it is, I have a vested interest in keeping you alive. So, what will you do, Daliana Marcarry?”
“Taren’s instruction to me was to search for the First Garrenin’s Ring, but I don’t know where to begin. So, leading my armies into battle to buy Anaria time to prepare seems to be the best option.”
“Then come with me.” El Darnen stood, and walked out of the tent. Daliana looked at Gelida, but Gelida was already following El Darnen.
El Darnen lead the two women to a cave. “This cave leads to an area of the mountains that I do not go to willingly. All but a few of my men are actually forbidden to pass through this cave, or even to go near it.”
“Where does it lead?”
He turned to face the black entrance, and walked ahead. Gelida followed quickly after him, with Daliana hardly behind her. It was a long tunnel, winding through the mountain, but finally, after what seemed like hours, they emerged quite suddenly into bright sunshine. Another camp, one much smaller than El Darnen’s, spread across the plain before them. The Drogodan Warship was flying proudly at many points. Gelida looked awestruck.
“What is this place?”
“Taren has been sending soldiers here for almost four hundred years. Never many, but they always came. This was his final retreat, a hidden refuge that no one could find. This is why my camp is where it is … one of several reasons, anyway. No one who finds it would think to find this just through one of a thousand identical caves in this mountain.” They started walking to the camp, but he stopped them before they were within earshot. “These soldiers aren’t ordinary. Some are unbalanced, most are Tai-Aren Coda, and all are dangerous. I think that almost half are Morschledu.”
“Their armour is strange.”
“Every one of these soldiers was a Mordak Rider. That is why they are here. Their Mordak were killed in battle, or died, and these ones survived that severing. These are the most elite, highly disciplined warriors you will ever find, and their armour is a match for any Dwarven Steel.” Daliana now looked slightly scared. Gelida looked interested.
“How is the armour made? And what from?”
“I don’t know how it is made, only that each man and woman here made it themselves. As for what it is made from, that would be the scales of the Rider’s dead Mordak.”
Gelida walked ahead with El Darnen. That was why she had come, to convince him. Daliana could see that there was something more, a curiosity, hidden behind Gelida’s questions. Instead of following along behind them, though, Daliana wandered aimlessly through the camp. Every man and woman she passed had the same look in their eyes. They were haunted by a terrible loss, but what loss, she didn’t know. The only tie between them that she knew of was that they were all Mordak Riders whose mounts had been killed. She knew that there was some form of magical bond between Mordak and Rider, much the same as the one between a Meclaryan Dragon and its Rider, but she knew nothing about the bond, nor why a Mordak’s death would have these Riders sent to a mountain hideaway. She was beginning to think about finding Gelida and El Darnen when an older man spoke to her from where he sat in front of his tent.
“You’re no Mordak Rider. How did you find this camp?”
“I came here with El Darnen and another. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going, and got separated from them.”
“Ah, El Darnen.” The man shook his head. “Still not sure whether I trust him or not. He’s not as bad as the tales from outside the mountains make him though. Good leader. He cares about the people who came here for help. Cares about other people too, when it suits him. Not like some. Garrick …” He trailed off.
“What about Garrick?”
“Garrick was slime. I can say that freely now. Even if it gets back to Taren, he hated Garrick even more than I did. But he didn’t know him as well as I did. Not at all.”
“What do you mean? Garrick was Taren’s father.”
“Yes, but have you ever heard Taren rant about Garrick. He hated the man. Wouldn’t be in the same room with him unless they were drunk out of their minds and they were both tied down. And then he went to Armanda, and Garrick started to use the Brotherhood to take complete control of the country himself. He ignored the Mordak Council, and the Masters of the Brotherhood, except when it was convenient for him. Had people jailed without a trial for trivial offenses, saying that they were disturbing his new order. When Taren came back, the Spear of Drogoda, of which I had the misfortune of being a member, was the only part of the Brotherhood that didn’t side with him immediately. Then he started the whole ‘Prince of Chaos’ business. We stopped being sure that he was better than Garrick. Turned Morieden Province into his own kingdom. Still, he knew we would fight for him, but we couldn’t break tradition either. Not even in any of the Garrenin Wars did the Riders of the Spear break with their duty to guard the Morschcoda, whether they were a tyrant or a usurper. Taren commended us for that when he had won.”
“You hated Garrick, and you still sided with him, just for tradition?”
“Tradition means something in a country like Drogoda. Even though most people, even his own guards, hated Garrick, if he had so much as left the palace without a guard of the Spear, the Mordak Council would have been the last in a long line of nobles, merchants, bureaucrats, and commoners after his head, though most were already. Thank the gods Taren came back from his exile when he did. Otherwise, we might still be stuck doing the Garrick’s dirty work.”
Daliana knew that everything the Rider had said would take time to sink in. Taren had never discussed Garrick, and none of the other Morschcoda had sat on the Council with Taren’s father. Marrdin alone of the current Morschcoda had known Garrick, but not well enough to offer insight into Taren’s hatred of his father. The man was still looking at her, judging her response to what he said, but she did not have one. Nothing she could think of was capable of effectively ending a conversation of the sort she and the man had just had. She searched for a new topic quickly.
“Why do you make armour from Mordak scales?”
“Every man and woman in this camp was a Rider, but our mounts were killed. Losing that bond, something that has been a part of you for your entire life, it breaks something within you. That is why so few Riders survive the Severing. And for those of us that do, not one of us can truly say goodbye to our partner. So, we make a painful reminder that many of us wear for the rest of our lives. We carry the memory of our Mordak with us by wearing their scales as our own armour.”
“And all of you are … broken? You seem to be normal to me.”
“You haven’t known anyone who has lost a Mordak, have you?” He shook his head. “It’s why we stay here. To see other Riders with their partners, doing what we can’t do, that would kill us more surely than losing their Mordak would kill them. That is why we stay here, in this narrow world between the mountain peaks. There are no reminders of what we have lost, except those we brought ourselves. We can deal with our loss in our own way. I’ve been here longer than most. Some new people come in, some leave. More come in than go out. We like it here.”
“If someone were to ask you to fight again, even if it meant fighting alongside Mordak Riders, would you do it?”
“It depends on who the war is against. I know some of us wouldn’t leave for their weight in gold. Some wouldn’t leave if they were being named King of Anaria.”
“There is war with the Deshika brewing.”
“And then there’s a war with an enemy no one has heard of in hundreds of millennia.”
“So you’ll come?”
“Some might. Me? No. Not for all of the pipeweed in Dothoro.”
Daliana walked back to the cave and waited for Gelida and El Darnen to finish. If all went well, the only thing she would have to do was offer El Darnen and the Greshida amnesty. For allies, it was the least she was willing to do. She looked at Gelida as the two came into sight at the near edge of the camp, and knew things were not going as well as the younger woman had hoped.
“No” said El Darnen, as soon as he had gotten back to Daliana.
“How can you say no? We need your help.”
“It’s actually quite easy, Morschcoda Marcarry. It’s only two letters.”
“But you know what we face in Makret Druoth. How can you stand there and tell us that you won’t help?”
“Among the Drogs, I was merely a nuisance. To the rest of Anaria, mine was possibly the most feared banner many of you thought to see in this lifetime. I know well what I did, on Taren’s orders as often as not. I’m all too aware that he is dead. As for Makret Druoth, I met the man only once, before you, Gelida, were even born. I heard of him, but Taren never brought him here. For good reason it seems.”
Gelida tried another tactic. “You owe my father.”
“Your father is dead. Buried, Gelida Mectar, because of me and my men, and that debt is buried with him.”
“So you won’t leave the mountains.”
“Some Drogs have the gift of foresight. I’m one, occasionally. The threads of the future that I can read are currently woven in such a way that shows Anaria falling. The mountains alone still stand against him, because of my vigilance. He fears the mountains. He won’t send more of his army into them, because he has lost so many already.”
“That could be one thousand years from now. We need allies in this life.”
“Then you need to look elsewhere.”
“What of those who answer to you? Will you decide for them as well?”
“You may speak to the Greshida if you wish, but remember that it’s largely because of the Morschcoda that many of my men and women are with me.”
Daliana and Gelida left the mountains with two hundred former Mordak Riders. Despite the old man’s assurances, Daliana had managed to convince almost half of them to fight. Gelida decided to return to the Greshida alone and see if she could convince El Darnen. Daliana was skeptical, but wished her luck.