Rising Vengeance

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Chapter 5: Three Flags

Taren walked with Erygan through the ruined streets of Toredo. The damage done to the city by fire and catapult and all manner of remorseless weapons of war far exceeded anything he had dared imagine from the reports of his spies. What few remained of Torridesta’s regular infantry were searching through the vast numbers of dead for any that might beyond anyone’s deepest hope still live. More than a few, wounded in the last charge of the Storm Cloud of Torridesta, had already been found and taken into buildings as close to where they lay as could be found. That same banner, the Storm Cloud that was to lead Torridesta’s final charge, now flew defiantly in the pale dawn sun and cold north wind as Taren looked up at it. The Storm Cloud was an ancient and proud symbol of an ancient and proud country, a symbol of the wrath and fury and destruction that Torridesta’s Ringlords of Shadow and Darkness were fully capable of unleashing upon the world. But as Taren walked with Erygan at his side, he thought about the symbol. ‘That banner may have been true once, and may it survive to be true once again, but if the Deshika return …’ he let the thought that he dared not finish fade away. Instead, he pulled out a small hip flask and handed it to Erygan. Erygan took the whiskey silently as Taren spoke out loud. “I wish I had come sooner.”

“This was our fight, Taren,” Erygan answered bitterly, working hard to restrain his sorrow in the presence of his friend. “We are grateful for the part you played, but we didn’t ask you to do it.”

“I know, Erygan. But could you have sat by while an army that size attacked Alquendiro if the city was ready to fall?”

“Rare is the soldier, Morschen or otherwise, who would willingly march against El Ledu Mordaken. Alquendiro would not have fallen to an army that size, Taren. You know that better than anyone.”

Taren knew that Erygan would not answer, no matter what he said in response, and so let the matter drop. Leaving Erygan behind to grieve, he left the city and found Makret. “Chose ten of the Spear and bring them with us. The rest of the men will stay here, just in case the Deshika come back.”

“Where are we going?”

Taren looked around at the destruction one more time before answering. “To Airachni.”

Two thousand members of the Brotherhood were still chasing the four or five thousand Deshika that had survived the attack when Daken climbed the hundred steps that led to the top of the battered walls of his ruined city. Over thirteen thousand Dragon Hearted had fallen, and of the two thousand of the Eagle Eyed, only three hundred were left. Not one was unwounded. The casualties for Meclarya’s regular infantry were horrific. Daken forced himself to stop thinking of the dead. They were gone now, passed into the land of Arbendia, where they would be honored for their sacrifice by the gods that he did not believe in.

He looked up to the banner that now flew high above the city, on the utmost pinnacle of the palace; a white dragon on a blue field above three clouds flew in the wind. It was a symbol of freedom, but also of the power and terror that could be found at the roof of the world. His thoughts were interrupted by a horn call that he knew only too well. It was Taren’s horn, which could only mean that the old Drog was within sight of the city. Sure enough, as Daken looked west, away from the rising sun, he could see the giant blue Mordak that Taren rode, and the Warship that was the banner of Drogoda.

As Taren rode towards Airachni, he searched for the damage done to the city. He could not see much. Scattered and partially destroyed siege engines, hundreds of bodies, a dozen dead dragons, stones sticking out at odd angles from the walls, stretches of the battlement missing. It was hardly a great deal of damage. But as he passed through the ruined gate, he changed his mind. The piles of dead that ran along the streets were taller than his head, even astride a Mordak, and riddled with arrows that obviously had not killed many of them. The damage farther into the city was even worse. Several buildings that Taren remembered from previous visits were gone completely. Others had been razed; their smouldering ruins dark against the white stone the city was built with. Giant towers that had stretched seven hundred feet and more into the air had fallen in ruin, and the damage done by fire was far greater than what he had seen at Toredo. Several hundred of the Dragon Hearted could be seen, moving slowly throughout the battlefield that was their home. One or two hundred of the Eagle Eyed were searching the battlefield for the arrows that they had fired. All of this Taren took in as he rode slowly through the bloody streets towards the castle. Daken landed beside him on a white dragon, and together, the two rode towards the palace, where Taren spoke for the first time. “How many of them were there?”

“They attacked Airachni with at least fifty thousand, probably closer to sixty. We held the walls for a long time, and then they sounded what seemed to be a retreat. I thought, and I assume I’m not alone, that they believed the cost of taking Airachni was too high. They had lost over fifteen thousand men by that point, and about ten thousand more had retreated north. That was about three days into their attack, I guess. Most of that happened before I had returned. And then buildings … exploded. That is the only word for it. They exploded, and the Deshika managed to gain the top of the wall while we were distracted. They didn’t need ladders, either. They just pulled themselves up the walls. We lasted five days, but we couldn’t hold anywhere for very long after that.” Daken ended his description by pointing with his head towards one of his dead soldiers, a wooden beam from a house sticking through where his chest should have been.

Taren bowed his head in respect to the fallen man, placing his hand above his heart. “So, what few of the Black Guard that survived did see clearly. I didn’t think that it was possible to scale the walls of Toredo without ladders, but the Deshika managed it, somehow.”

“What if they come back, Taren? We don’t have the strength to hold the city if they attack again.”

“I will leave what Mordak Riders that came here behind when I return to Alquendiro, but I don’t think that the Deshika will return to the north, if they even return to Anaria at all. I couldn’t sit by, but I have made a grave mistake in coming north. They know now that the cities they attacked would have fallen but for me, so they know now that the southern nations, Drogoda especially, have the strength to repel them. They will attack them first, with their whole strength, and then return to the north. If they come at all, that is.” He tried to sound more hopeful than he felt, trying to keep the small man who had already lost so much from despair. Inside, he doubted every word he said.

Daken rode away with several aides who were all pointing out various things that had to be set in order, leaving Taren to marvel at the destruction the Deshika had done to the city, the number of dead on both sides, and the strength and courage of the Dragon Hearted, and of the Meclaryan people. Many civilians who had fled into the mountains had already returned to the city. Those who had weapons of their own, or were strong enough to lift ones that they could find everywhere, were already training under several Meclaryan Tai-Aren Coda, hoping to become arms masters or even true-arms masters themselves to replace those who had fallen during the battle. Many young men and women, some not even of age, were being rounded up by the remaining members of the Dragon Hearted to become members of the elite force. Taren hoped that the same thing was happening in Torridesta. Otherwise that country would be absurdly easy to take. Turning to Makret and his other guards, he said “Daken said that the buildings exploded. What do you think?”

“Nothing I know of causes this kind of damage. Not even Eschcotan Line Breakers do this when somebody steps on one. They are loud and messy, but they don’t bring down towers.”

“They weren’t Line Breakers. I feel something … tainted. Black magic was used for this.”

“Deshik Shamans?”

Taren shook his head. “No. I felt the remnants of their warped spells at Toredo. They were different. And if it was them, they would have done the same thing at Toredo.”

“Maybe they did.”

“The city looked bad, but it was nothing compared to this. Either way, we can’t know until we go to Agrista. If the damage is the same there as here, then it was caused by Shamans. But something bothers me about this. This taint, it feels familiar.”

“I don’t recognize it.”

“Only somebody who enjoys inflicting pointless damage would be able to do this.”

“It was hardly pointless. If the explosions had not occurred, Airachni might have held without us.”

Taren was silent for a minute. “To Agrista now, Makret. That’s where this started. Let us see how it finished.”

“What of the Brotherhood here, Morschcoda?”

“Leave them here, as I said, until Meclarya’s military can stand on its own again. Do the same in Toredo, and all too likely, Agrista. The Spear will return to Alquendiro with us.”

The Brotherhood of the Mordak had turned the tide of the battle of Agrista. Marrdin fully accepted that without them, the city would have been lost and his people with it. He was glad, too, that Drogoda had come, and not any of the others of the southern nations. The Drogs were more like his own people than the others of the south. Also, he had much to discuss with Taren, and he did not want to wait until the Council reconvened to discuss Eliish Del Anaria. Not now that he had the chance to act sooner, at least. As he stared up at the limp banner depicting a single iceberg, he thought about what it meant to Rista’s people. Like the iceberg, Rista often appeared weaker than it really was, with more than half of its true strength hidden, waiting for a challenge to reveal itself. He was still staring upwards when Taren arrived. He did not flinch when his portal opened right beside him. He was used to it. Surprise visits from Erygan, or from other Morschcoda who had a Torridestan Morschledu in their entourage had prepared him for that. He was not used, however, to Mordak Riders suddenly entering his city through those portals, though he knew he should have expected it from Taren, he thought as that Morschcoda rode out into the city. “Well, Taren. This is reasonably pleasant, though not entirely unexpected surprise.”

“You mean unexpected that I dispatched the Brotherhood, and you say pleasant because I left the other southern nations and their Morschcoda behind.”

A small smile lifted the tall man’s heavy lips for a half of a second. Then they sagged once more into a weary frown. “I thought that the ability to search a mind had been lost among the southern nations.”

“The southern empires are so full of scheming and plots that the ability is a necessity for those in power. Either way, your face spoke so plainly about your happiness that Xari and Ranny, or others, weren’t here that searching your mind was not needed.”

“You were always a skilled face reader.”

“I only look at the eyes. They are the windows to a person’s inmost thought.”

“Maybe I will try that in council someday. For now, though, I must order this city’s defenses and army’s rebuilding.” With that, he left Taren in the middle of the city. He was barely gone before another portal opened right beside Taren, but he was so consumed with the destruction done to the city that he hardly noticed. He was brought back to reality by Kallin’s voice.

“This city is weak enough without you adding to the damage.”

“You seem to think you know something about me, Kallin. I would advise you to forget it or assume it is wrong.”

“The signs are there for anyone to read, Taren. It does not take one of the Demosira to put them together.”

“And yet you,” he said, turning towards Kallin fully, “one of the Demosira, seem to be the only one who is reading these supposed signs.” He shook his head. “Not that it matters, what are you doing here?”

“Looking for you. I went to Alquendiro first, but your brother told me that you had marched north.” Taren nodded. “I discovered a few pages in my notes. They contain a few hastily scrabbled footnotes about Eliish Del Anaria, which reveal something interesting that I don’t think anyone else has pieced together.”

“If it is anything like your assumption of my intentions for this city, then I am severely disinterested.”

“I can assure you that there is more to this than guesswork.”

“Let me hear it, then.”

“We should go somewhere more … private.”

“And that is what I have discovered.”

Taren sat, staring up at the round face and pointed beard of Kallin, which made him realize just how low Ristan chairs were. He savoured a mug of Gafve, a hot drink distilled from fruits growing in the Ashnora Desert, while he considered his response. He also struggled with his strong desire to mix the Gafve with the contents of the flask that he kept in his boot for emergencies. He decided on the honest and direct course, while he still could take such, as he forced his hand away from his left boot. “I don’t understand anything you just said. The only thing you came close to making with your vague allusions and dark hints was that it had something to do with Eliish Del Lasheed.”

Kallin grunted in frustration, and then took a large gulp from his own steaming mug. “We have long assumed that Eliish Del Lasheed is from beyond legend. My people believe it is a constellation that marks the gateway to the land of Arbendia, where the gods dwell, and represents that we must pass through Lasheed’s judgement before we can enter. The Eschcotans believe that it is a massive stone formation in the Garuthen Mountains that faces eastwards, where Lasheed sits from dawn until dusk and watches this land that he created. And others believe …”

Taren raised his hand to stop Kallin, who was rapidly becoming excited. “I know the theories, Stargazer. I don’t have time to listen to them be explained.”

Calming himself, Kallin started to explain what he was talking about. “The last Queen of all of Anaria, the last person to sit upon Eliish Del Anaria, was Garisha the Arrogant.”

“I know this.”

“Her full name was Garisha Garrenin.”

Taren looked at Kallin almost like he was an idiot. “Once again, youngling, I know this.” Few people could refer to any Demosira as ‘youngling’ without something of a more violent nature happening. It was a mark of gravest disrespect, but Kallin took in Taren’s point of view before reacting. After all, Taren was five centuries older than Kallin.

“So you know what it means. You are the heir to the Throne of Anaria.”

“What’s your point?” Taren asked, setting down his empty cup and crossing his arms. “And more importantly, how do you think this relates to the Throne of Lasheed?”

“Anaria rebelled against Garisha because she changed the name of Eliish Del Lasheed to Eliish Del Anaria. She claimed that Lasheed had never helped her or her people, and he deserved to rebelled against and forgotten by the Morschen. Because of her arrogance in assuming that she could simply make her people forget their gods, she lost her throne. Her line was said to have ended, for though the people were still loyal to the House Garrenin, they could find no heir.”

“No answer or too long of one, it is the only thing you can get from a scholar.” Taren’s frustration with Kallin’s roundabout way of talking made the words sharper than he meant them. “Believe me or don’t, but I have long known everything you just said, Kallin. It’s my family’s history, after all. Garisha’s two eldest sons were both killed in the civil war that ended her reign. Her youngest son, with a few servants and his wife, fled the north and came back to Drogoda, where the second line of House Garrenin had died out thousands of years before. Six thousand years after our return, those of my House dared to take our true name back, believing our history forgotten, and therefore, behind us for good. And now, you are telling me everything I already know because you wish for me to reclaim the position my ancestors once held. You want me to take Eliish Del Anaria for myself, and then change its name back to Eliish Del Lasheed.”

“I think you have to, Taren. As long as there is one surviving heir, the throne will serve no other. You know well how many times the Council has tried to fill it, with sacred fire or sudden age or anything else claiming those who they placed there. But as for changing the name back, I do not think that that really matters. Ellish Del Lasheed has become something obscure, something that no one knows really exists.”

“I will not take the throne. It belongs to one of the Morschen who is willing to sit upon it, one who has the power to tame it, and I do not want that power. I have never wanted it.” Before Kallin could respond, Taren added “and those sudden deaths that have supposedly happened, sacred fire or sudden old age, not one of those records is real. Had you read El Kardi Morschcoda, as I have, you would know the truth behind those acts.”

They paused as Marrdin walked in, and then Kallin spoke again. “The one month wait we imposed for discussion of Eliish Del Anaria is almost over. We will soon have to return to Dishmo Kornara for the council to meet.”

Taren picked up his empty mug, staring at it and wishing for more of the hot drink that was the only reason he enjoyed trips to Armanda, where it came from, or Rista, who bought more than half of the supply that left the desert. “Dishmo Kornara is the proper place, but I would rather not go back there so soon.”

“Why, Taren?”

Taren fought hard to keep his hand away from his boot. “Well, Marrdin, if we go back now, every single person in all of Anaria is going to have their expectations, and because of those expectations, we won’t be able to get anything done.”

“What would have us do, Taren? You said yourself that Dishmo Kornara is the proper place.”

“I know what I said, Kallin.” After a few moments silence, Taren spoke again. “No, the two of you are right. We can’t do this anyplace but Dishmo Kornara.” As Marrdin left, he turned to Kallin and spoke in a low voice. “If you bring up anything of what you just said, Stargazer, while the Council is in session, you might soon be joining your ancestors in their dance throughout the heavens.”

Norrin and Dalasin had both gone north when they heard of the attack on Toredo, and now they, with Erygan, had travelled south to Dishmo Kornara for the Council to meet once more to decide whether or not to fill Eliish Del Anaria. Xari and Ranny were already in Dishmo Kornara when they arrived, and Daken came just two days after. Daliana arrived soon after him.

“And where are Taren, Kallin, and Marrdin?”

“Kallin should be here by now, Daken.”

“Taren is likely in Agrista with Marrdin. He left Toredo for Airachni, and then went to Agrista from there. I assume that he is trying to persuade Marrdin to join him in some mad quest for power.”

“Really, Erygan, there is no call to make that kind of accusation about me” said Taren, pretending to sound hurt by the accusation as he stepped through a portal that suddenly opened from Agrista to Dishmo Kornara. He waited as Marrdin and Kallin followed him through before he spoke again. “Now that we are all here once more, shall we get to the matter at hand?” he said as he turned towards the doors to the Council Chamber.

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