Chapter 7: A Throne Divided
The Council Chamber was tense with anticipation the next morning. Taren’s talk with Kallin had left him with a clear understanding of what he had to do. His duel with Xari had changed the boundaries between them also. Before, she would have been arrogant, or resistant at least. She would have opposed him to her last breath and died happy for it, but Taren did not feel the normal animosity coming from her. He looked along to his left at the Armandan Morschcoda, but Xari would not even meet Taren’s gaze. With his mind caught between Xari and Eliish Del Anaria, he let out a long sigh, for though Taren knew what he had to do, and though he could not deny that he had wanted it for a long time, he was still unsure. He had debated long with Kallin before the younger Morschcoda had been won over, but even then his support was questionable, as it ever was between Morschcoda, and then there was still Erygan to consider. For the long time Lord of Shadows had always thought along much the same lines as Taren, about many things, though they had ever seemed to oppose one another in the Council Chamber. Still there was no telling what he would do. Old prejudices could not be relied upon during such a meeting of the Morschcoda, just when everyone would like them to work as they always had. They all understood that Anaria had to unite under one banner, but what that banner was to be was causing more disunion than any other ten points that had ever been debated at The Councils before. Finally, Marrdin opened the discussion. “We adjourned two days ago to determine which leader of the Ten Nations’ Great Houses most of us would be willing to call our King or our Queen. The time has now come for us to name those, and choose which is to stand above us.”
“I name Aleishi Mandrath” said Ranny quickly. She believed that if she spoke first, she would be more likely to win, since the person she had chosen would be first to cross her fellow Morschcoda’s minds. Behind her, a short but graceful woman wearing yellow armour looked with renewed interest into the circle. Taren did not recognize this Aleishi Mandrath, being far away from the battlefields where they had met more than once. She was elegant, almost decorated, nearly matching her Morschcoda’s attire, though with clear effort to stay more subdued. She likely had guessed correctly that Ranny would never stand for her if she had outdone her Morschcoda’s dress before even taking the throne.
Kallin spoke almost as quickly. “I name Galeth Tendornin.” At this, there was audible shock. Galeth was, as Taren had said, hardly powerful, but since Kallin had spoken for him, the other Morschcoda would have to consider the man carefully. If any of the Demosira spoke highly of someone, few people would dare to speak against them. A taller man leaned forward in his chair. Long hair that hung down both sides of his face swung forwards as he did so, but he kept his face blank, with his fingers tented in front of his eyes. Taren spared a glance towards the Chief Rider of Meclarya’s Dragon Riders. He looked terrible. He was not normally part of Daken’s entourage. The Prince of Dragons must have sent for him when the Council had first adjourned. Taren wondered how the man could move at all after flying as fast as he must have to be in Dishmo Kornara in time. Taren raised an eyebrow. Galeth noticed, and grimaced in response. None of the others noticed the exchange between the two men.
Xari, unsurprisingly, spoke next. “I name Guinira Estaleth.” Nobody spoke for almost ten minutes after Xari, but one of the Flame Weavers behind her began to glow, attracting several people’s attention, though the Morschcoda kept their practiced neutral faces. She was not a tall woman, maybe the same height as Xari, the shortest member of the Council, but she was clearly a woman used to power and authority, and one who knew that she would be nominated. While the other two had drawn attention to themselves in a subtle way, barely distinguishing themselves from those on either side of them, Guinira forced everyone in the room to acknowledge her presence. Taren silently applauded the move, though outwardly showed no sign of allowing her to notice that he cared at all.
Finally, Taren broke the silence that had extended after Xari’s proclamation. “I name Atalin Danalath.” Once again, everyone tensed. Taren knew what he had done. His speaking for Atalin was almost certain to turn the rest of the Morschcoda’s minds to the Dothrin lord, though it would not necessarily mean that he would have their favour. Taren’s plan, so far, was working. Perhaps it would even win a few votes for his real choice. Erygan raised his eyes from Taren, across the room, and looked at the wall behind and to the left his chief opponent, where the tall, handsome, almost cruel looking Dothrin General sat at the extreme edge of Daliana’s entourage, leaning sideways to speak quietly with Makret Druoth. The two had great respect for each other as generals, and commanded wide respect on battlefields across Anaria. Atalin however, did nothing to make anyone else notice him, not that he needed to. As Dothoro’s High General, his Acorn banner was as widely known and almost as widely feared as Makret’s Armoured Fist, though the former was seen far less often.
“Well,” said Marrdin, after a long pause. “Since all those who seem to want to say anything have said it, shall we get on with the vote?” Everyone agreed, though now no one seemed anxious to begin.
Finally, Daliana began the vote, which would go around the circle to her left. Taren would end it. “On behalf of Dothoro, I vote for Guinira Estaleth to be our new Queen.” There was quiet outrage behind her, some muttering at the apparent betrayal, but others across the room noticed the relief that spread across Atalin’s face when she spoke.
“On behalf of Caladea, I vote for” Ranny paused then continued quickly “Guinira Estaleth to be our new Queen.” Again, there was the quiet outrage. Aleishi did not seem as pleased to be passed over as Atalin had.
“On behalf of Meclarya, I vote for Guinira Estaleth as our new Queen.” Daken received several curious glances. He shrugged them off and clutched at his satchel. Across from him, and with each of the three votes already in her favour, Guinira began to glow more brightly. Galeth did not seem surprise that Daken had voted for Guinira. He tried to smile, but was too sore from his flight.
“On behalf of Eschcota I vote for Atalin Danalath as our new King.” At Norrin’s gruff voice, Guinira’s glow diminished. Others also noticed that Atalin was no longer so happy with the way things were turning out.
“On behalf of Torridesta, I vote for Atalin Danalath to be our new King.” Erygan did not particularly want Atalin to take the throne, but he wanted an Armandan on it less. Atalin was the only one who could stop Guinira now. Atalin was frowning, and Guinira’s glow had all but disappeared.
“On behalf of Noldoron, I vote for Guinira Estaleth to be our new Queen.” Dalasin spoke quickly, as though uncertain of his choice, so that once he said it, he could not take it back.
“On behalf of Armanda, I vote for Guinira Estaleth to be our new Queen.”
“On behalf of Storinea, I vote for” here, Kallin paused. If he did not say Galeth, he would be seen as impulsive. If he did, he would stand alone. There was no point to his squandering the vote, however. “I vote for Atalin Danalath to be our new King.” There was a sharp hiss of in-taken breath, especially from Ranny, but nobody challenged him, as nobody had challenged Ranny, Daken, or Daliana before. Taren looked pleased.
Marrdin hesitated before casting his vote. He knew that if he cast as he wished to, he would make powerful enemies. “On behalf of Rista, I vote for Atalin Danalath to be our new King.”
Taren smiled. He now wielded immense power, as usual. He could make Guinira Queen with his vote, or he could tear Anaria apart. ‘Into a thousand bloody shreds only remembered on old maps’, as Kallin had said, or something like that, thought Taren. “Much as it goes against my heart to say this, on behalf of Drogoda, I name Guinira Estaleth the new Queen of Anaria.”
That night, after much drinking of potent ales and wines, and all other manner of celebration, especially among the Armandan people in the city, Taren and Erygan met in the Torridestan district at a small out of the way tavern near the dark, all but deserted palace. “Well, everything is going as planned.”
“I had my doubts about how tonight would go, Erygan. I’ve lost few of those I had about tomorrow.”
“They can’t stop us, old friend. And they would be fools to try.”
“What we plan to do is technically treason. Do you think any will stand with us?”
“Norrin stands by me, as he has throughout the long years. Dalasin will stand with me as well, when the time comes.”
“Norrin’s loyalty I do not doubt. Dalasin though? I doubted that he would stand for Guinira. I’m not sure what he will do now.”
“I made him do that. I knew which of the Morschcoda would name her already, and there had to be one more. The plan would not have worked if Atalin became King. He would have been too strong, too well liked, by both the Council and the common people. We needed someone like Guinira to take Ellish Del Anaria.”
“Hm. It would have been nice to have a strong leader. Especially now, with the Deshika apparently not extinct.” Taren pulled the flask out of his boot. In a back room of the tavern as they were, it was not as improper as it might have been. “But you couldn’t tell me about Dalasin?”
“I know how you must feel, Taren, but I did what I had to. You change your mind often and you change it quickly. I didn’t have time to react properly, so when I saw the vote begin to stand for Atalin too much, I knew that if we did nothing, the Anarian Treaty would be broken irreparably.”
“It still may be. Armanda is hardly neutral, and there was almost a rebellion behind me when Daliana cast the first vote and it wasn’t for Atalin. She belongs to a proud people. I wonder what the rest of the Dothrim will do when they hear that one of their own almost held Eliish Del Anaria.” He paused to take a drink.
“Atalin was a little too happy about not having to be king. He will not force his people to do anything. And knowing even what little I do of Guinira, what the Dothrim think will be of little consequence. As for Atalin, the first time he speaks against Guinira, I would not bet against a broken arrow that he lives out the month.” Erygan paused as he pulled out his ever present pipe. “We have worked together for six hundred years to bring the other Morschcoda to this point, Taren. Six hundred years. We can’t go back on what we plan to do.” He clamped his pipe, freshly filled with Ristan leaf, between his teeth and lit the course weed. Taren wondered, not for the first time, how he could stand the harsh Ristan weed when with his wealth, he could fill storehouses with the highly acclaimed pipe weed from Dothoro’s southern plains, or even Taren’s preferred supply, from Cantora Island in El Redro Delshoi, a group of coastal islands that had divided loyalties between Caladea and Drogoda.
“Over half of a lifetime spent on this one dream. You can’t go back on it, maybe. But while I am strong, I stand alone. I don’t have allies in what we plan to do next. And I’m a little too close to Armanda to be entirely comfortable.”
“Not even Kallin?”
“I don’t know his intentions. His father abdicated to chase some rumour beyond the mountains, and Storinea refused to send representatives to council meetings since Garneth left. And, Kallin has made his own position dangerous. If you remember, he spoke for Galeth Tendornin. During the voting, he chose to stand for Atalin. Though other Morschcoda’s loyalties shifted, it is more dangerous for Kallin. He is new to the Council, and as a Demosira, changing his mind so quickly will have many people doubting whether he is really worthy of the title. It could cost him his throne.”
“I did wonder at it, though he would have been more a fool to stay with the Meclaryan.”
“And, it may be more dangerous for Kallin if he stands with me. You said that Atalin might live until his first quarrel with Guinira. I feel that Guinira will get over the fact that I named him as her contender for the throne. Kallin though, is a neighbour. An important neighbour. And if Guinira is mad enough, well …” He did not finish the ominous statement of fact. He chose to also pull out his pipe, a curiously shaped thing, curved so that when clamped in his mouth, it would rest against his chin. “Anaria would” he started to say, but Erygan cut him off.
“Quiet, someone is coming.”
Erygan’s ears did not fail him. No sooner had he heard approaching footsteps and warned Taren then the two men were well into another topic, seemingly picked at random. It was well that they were, for within seconds, Xari, Ranny, and Guinira Estaleth walked into the room. The two men were not particularly surprised that the women had found them. Though it was small, it was in the Torridestan district of the city, and the bar was a favourite of Erygan’s. He was often seen there. As it was close to Pentailia Morschcoda, Taren made his way down occasionally to gamble and meet with his spies, though he was careful about that, for though the tavern was small, it was famous for the quality of its dark ale, and Taren’s reputation had lead him there many times to reconfirm the ale’s superiority. But now, neither Erygan nor Taren even pretended to be polite. Though Guinira was officially Queen, her coronation was not until the following day. Even as he turned to face her, Taren was studying Guinira. How would she react to two Morschcoda who refused to bow? How did she carry herself, with arrogance or confidence? Both questions were easy to answer. As she walked in and saw both Taren Garrenin and Erygan Dalrey, arguably the two most powerful men in all of Anaria, she seemed to be fighting to control her temper. As for her obvious arrogance, that did not diminish. She had just been named Queen of Anaria. She was entitled to it.
Guinira was studying the two men before her as well. She had heard reports, little more than rumours really, that made Erygan Dalrey a great man. But still, Torridesta and its nocturnal inhabitants were far away, and rumours would have to be greatly exaggerated. And yet, here he was, sitting before her, in every way as arrogant as she was herself. But she felt something from him. A dark power that was only too ready to burst forth and cover the world in its shadow. One that knew it was strong, perhaps even strong enough to do what it clearly desired, held in check only by its master’s own sense of honour and morality. ‘He is indeed a great man’ Guinira thought to herself. And then she turned her eyes to the Drog sitting beside him. She had heard more of Taren Garrenin the Second than she had about Erygan, but she believed fewer of the reports about him. She had only half believed Xari when the Morschcoda had told her that Taren was the creator of the Dance of One Thousand Blades. And yet, something in the way he sat betrayed that he was far more than a mere Tai-Aren Coda. He was seated just so, with his hand oh so close to the hilt of Mishdonkar, a sword that she was not entirely convinced had earned its name. The tales of Taren from battlefields throughout Anaria made him beyond legendary, crafted of something other than mortal flesh and blood, and yet the arrogance in his posture, in his face, even in his sword’s name, displayed his weakness to the world. And then she looked into his eyes. In all the reports, rumours, fanatical murmurings, and deranged babble she had ever heard about Taren Garrenin the Second, his eyes were ever present. His eyes seemed to suggest, no, to tell her, that his arrogance was well founded, confidence more than anything else. But that was not all they did. Even as she searched them, they searched her. She felt their mental probe as it simply brushed her mind’s walls aside, and then began to pry at all of her darkest secrets, until one by one most were laid bare, though she kept her darkest secrets still unknown. She tried to do the same thing, but his eyes were so deep, and yet they were hard, harder than ice, harder even than Dwarven Steel. She could not even reach his the walls of his mind, let alone push herself through them. ‘Surely,’ she thought ‘these must be the eyes of a god.’ Taren seemed to smile at that conclusion. Then he spoke out loud.
“Few can hold my gaze for long, Guinira Estaleth. And none pass through it unchanged. Do you believe your spies now? Are you convinced of whatever answer you wanted to find?”
“I am convinced, Warship. But there are other ways to get information about one’s neighbours than by spying on them.” She tried to sound as sure and confident of herself as she knew Taren was. But her confidence in both herself and her army was shaken by the two men she had just studied. Erygan was convinced he was strong enough to conquer what he wanted in Anaria and hold it. Taren was more than certain that he could take all of Anaria if and when he wanted to. Unlike Erygan, he held that power in check more because he did not want to exercise it than because of any moral or honourable constraints.
For the first time in several months, Taren’s waking nightmares did not trouble him. He was still plagued by the dream itself, but the ending seemed more hopeful. The battle raged as fiercely as ever outside of the walls of Alquendiro, yet Taren knew how to counter every assault, all of the movements that the Deshika made in an attempt to break the walls and gate of the city. He took it as a sign that the path he had chosen was the right one, one that it led to hope, for the Drogs at least. He woke early, feeling better than he had for almost a century, and dressed. Today would see the coronation of Anaria’s first Queen in over twenty thousand years. ‘And much more.’ Taren laughed to himself at the thought. There were days in his life he remembered in exacting detail: the day he was named Ambassador to Armanda, the last day of the Drog Civil War, and the day he was named Morschcoda, among many others. This would be one of those days, and unfortunately for many of the same reasons.
In his dark halls, Erygan was thinking along much the same lines as Taren. He never liked the annual councils. They disrupted his nocturnal habits, forcing him to do by day what he would normally do by night. Today would be worse than usual, however. He would actually have to be outside of Pentailia Morschcoda during the day. Fighting to defend his country was one thing. Being forced to witness the crowning of the Armandan Queen of Anaria was a different matter. He groaned aloud at the thought, even as he pressed his signet ring, a half-moon side-by-side with a cat’s eye, into the hot wax that was the thirteenth blot in a row running down a long sheet of paper.
The morning dawned bright and clear. ‘Strange for midwinter’ thought Taren to himself ‘but not if you consider what Ranny will do to gain any sort of favour or influence.’ Erygan stood beside him, eyeing the sky and the sunshine distrustfully. Not far off, Daken looked wistfully into the sky, no doubt wishing that he could be flying high above the city. Marrdin stormed up to his place beside Taren. He looked more than ready to unleash a blizzard on Dishmo Kornara. Norrin’s left hand rested on the head of his large hammer as he took his place beside Erygan. He looked ready to use it. Still, the Morschcoda had to be present, to show their support of Guinira, or Queen Guinira, as she now was. High above, five silver bells rang once to announce the beginning of the day, and a single golden bell sounded its high, clear ring once to announce the beginning of a new era.
As the gold bell sounded, Guinira started her journey at the east gate of the city, the Gate of the Rising Sun. All journeys began at that gate. She walked along the city’s outer edge, almost to its southern gate, until she came to the Gate of Fire. Each of the Ten Nations had a gate in the wall. She then paced along the Road of Fire towards Pentailia Morschcoda, which would be her palace. Eliish Del Anaria had been taken from its normal place in the Council Chamber and set up in front of the Door of Fire, which was connected to the gate by the road which Guinira was walking. Guinira ascended the steps and knelt before Xari, who stood in front of Eliish Del Anaria. Xari asked Guinira ten questions, all of which she responded to with “I so swear, in the name of Lasheed.” Satisfied, Xari stepped aside and bowed, leaving Guinira Estaleth free to sit upon the throne. After much bowing, feasting, gift giving, and swearing of oaths only half meant, Taren was finally able to slip away unnoticed. Giving quick orders, he returned before he could be missed. He just saw, with the tail of his eye, Erygan slipping away to do the same. Turning around quickly, he barely stopped himself to avoid knocking Kallin to the ground. “There is to be a special session of The Councils tomorrow, Taren. I think Guinira knows some of the Morschcoda may try to challenge her while she is newly come to the throne.”
“If you listen to an Armandan prophesy, you’ll never want for mead.”
“You said much the same about me, when I challenged you in Rista.”
“And I once again advise you to forget what you pretend to know. What can never be, for more reasons than you could find in all the dusty tomes in the Great Library, will do its best to be forgotten.”
“So there …”
“Thank you for telling me about the council Guinira has called tomorrow. If there is nothing else ‘her majesty’ requires of me tonight, I will retire. I now have much more to do than I originally thought.”
“You mean about-”
“Yes. For one of the Demosira, you seem to have an extraordinary lack of wisdom for when it’s advisable to shut your mouth.” Taren pulled Kallin aside into the shadow of a pillar and lowered his voice. “Tell me if you stand with me, now, and I will ensure you are protected. If you don’t, then get out of my way.”
With that, Taren forced himself past Kallin and into Pentailia Morschcoda, not unnoticed by Guinira.
Taren sat uncomfortably in his chair in the Council Chamber. He had more soldiers in his following than usual, but not an overly large number, not enough to attract suspicion. Erygan had more anyway. What the two of them had planned for the past six hundred years had no precedent in all of Anaria’s millennia of recorded history.
“…And in light of these recent attacks by the Deshika, Anaria must remain united under the banner of the Morschcoda Council. We cannot afford to crumble from within even as we seek to win a war.”
“Well spoken, your majesty.”
‘Shut up, Ranny’ thought Taren. ‘I feel almost vindicated doing this, if it means I will no longer have to deal with you.’ But he knew that Guinira’s words had been pointed towards him. He knew she had felt his power and was afraid of it. She had not, fortunately, realized what he planned to do. A messenger came forward silently, tapped him on the shoulder, and handed him a paper, with several seals and signatures across the bottom. His own seal, a snake wrapped around an upright sword with its open mouth resting on the pommel, and signature were all that was now required, and they were quickly added. Whispering, he said “Take this to Kallin, for him to sign or not, as he will, then bring it back to me and I will deal with it.” He knew that Erygan had had a similar messenger that morning, clearly trying to hide his steps until the last moment. Taren had no such fear of discovery.
“Does no one have anything to say?”
“I am just waiting for a message, your majesty. That will determine what I intend to say or leave unsaid” said Taren, just as the man bearing Kallin’s response came up behind him. Kallin’s seal, a pointed star in an open book, and signature were on the paper.
“Queen Estaleth,” said Taren standing, “this is an official Writ of Secession. It is signed and sealed by ten Lawmakers, and it formally withdraws the lands of Drogoda and Storinea from the Anarian Treaty. It also names me as the legally appointed King of the both countries.”
Guinira took the long sheet of paper from Taren and read it carefully. She lowered it to look over the top at him. “This is treason, Garrenin.”
“No, it isn’t.” When she started to argue, he broke in on her. “I cannot commit a crime against a Queen I do not have.”
“You swore fealty to me.”
“For as long as remained my Queen, and you are my Queen no longer. Drogoda and Storinea answer to me, now, and to me alone.”
Guinira was seething. Everyone else was speechless, but Taren was not yet finished. He did not ask for permission to draw near, but walked back up to her, climbed the short steps of the dais, and bent over, whispering into her ear. “If it makes you feel better, Guinira,” he made a point of not acknowledging her title as Queen, “know that I was the heir to the throne you now sit upon. Garisha the Arrogant was my ancestor, in a direct line.” Turning to leave, he descended from short steps, looked at Erygan and said “Well? What are you waiting for, Erygan?”
Erygan slowly got up, turned around and took a piece of paper similar to Taren’s from a servant standing behind him.
“As with Taren, this is an official Writ of Secession, signed and sealed by ten Lawmakers, withdrawing the lands of Torridesta, Eschcota, and Noldoron from the Anarian Treaty, and naming me their King.”
Guinira did not even acknowledge that Erygan had said anything. She just put out her hand and took the paper he offered her, but she did not read it. As soon as the five Morschcoda who had left Anaria and their entourages had left the room, she shook her head in a clear dismissal of those who were left. No one wasted any time in obeying her.