Chapter 13: Fall from Grace
Egrin looked up at the figure standing on the Hummingbird. Just one of the many Oathbreakers which he was charged with hunting and bringing to the Queen’s justice.
“You have said your piece, Morschledu, now hear mine. You are surrounded, Oathbreaker. Surrender to the Queen’s mercy. Pledge yourself again to her and you may yet survive this pitiful rebellion.” Egrin folded his hands behind him and waited for the Oathbreaker’s answer.
The hooded figure on the statue spoke. “Guinira is not my Queen, and I am no rebel.”
“You are Armandan. Your powers speak that plainly. Guinira was made Queen by the Morschcoda who now wage war against her. Does that not seem to you to be a rebellion?” “What do you know of this war, Egrin? Have you stood on any of its battlefields before today?”
“Show me your face, traitor?”
The hooded figure stood taller, though it seemed to him that she was short. Egrin got the impression that she, as he now knew, was indignant, offended. “Traitor? To whom? Have I ever attempted to usurp a throne not mine? Have I turned against my own people and abandoned them to the mercy of The Kindler and his brethren? Have I ever allowed people in my charge to be tortured and enslaved?” Xari lowered her hood. “Tell me how I am the traitor, Egrin!” “Xari! You named Guinira! You made her Queen! And now you wage war against her!”
“My war is against The Kindler and the Deshika! How can you stand beside them, lead them in battle, and denounce me as the traitor, Egrin? Tell me that!” The words hit Egrin hard. Never in history had Morschen not despised the Deshika. Now, he commanded them. “This is what my Queen demands of me. My daughter now sits on the throne that you have abandoned. You betrayed your oaths to our people, and your own to Guinira, Xari. This is not about our past.” Xari dropped to the Hummingbird’s beak and walked out to the end. “You tried to usurp my throne once, and now your daughter sits on it. You were my brother Egrin. Our family was supposed to be better than the Garrenins. Instead, you tried to kill me and give Armanda to Taren.” Xari drew her sword and pointed the red blade at her brother. “Allihn died because of your greed.” “And you gave it to Taren anyway. While one of our own people sat on the Throne of Anaria. If Allihn died because of MY greed, how many Armandans have died because of yours?” Around the fountain, the Death Stalkers were growing impatient. They knew Xari’s name. They knew what she was. And they had her surrounded. The time to speak was over, and it was time to act on their advantage.
Xari looked around her. She had been trapped by her own stupidity, and there was little she could do to get out of it. Instead of fighting, she took off her cloak, balled it up, and threw it out towards her brother, just beyond the fountain. Then, she threw Galdren after it. The sword buried itself in the ground point first, through her discarded cloak. The Deshika began to move towards the fountain to accept her surrender.
Xari’s sword began to glow.
The cloak caught fire.
Xari’s skin began to glow red.
Her robes began to kindle.
Xari’s hair began to burn.
She leapt down into the fountain. The water evaporated around her.
The fire from the cloak spread, eating at the grass of the park.
Xari stepped out of the fountain and pulled Galdren out of the ground.
The fire exploded from the cloak, as though the seal had been removed. Tendrils of flame chased down the Death Stalkers, who began to flee.
Xari stopped a few feet from Egrin. “Were my war with you, you would die tonight.” She stepped aside to go around him. He moved in front of her. “If you try to stop me, I will kill you, brother.” Xari walked on. “Do not follow me.” Egrin kept staring at the fountain as the grass and trees burned around him. Every so often, he heard the clash of swords as Deshika tried to stop Xari. Or he heard gut-wrenching screams as she lit her attackers on fire.
Her words stuck with him. Our family was supposed to be better than the Garrenins.
Egrin turned away from the fountain. Dead Death Stalkers littered the burned park. He walked north, ignoring Xari’s instruction to not follow, passing burned, dead, and dying Deshika without seeing them. Buildings that had caught fire in Xari’s wake crumbled around him without his noticing or caring. The body of a Deshik War Chief was in the middle of the street. A handprint had been burned through his chest, straight to his heart.
The Master of War found Egrin on the arch of Sirin’s northern gate.
“This did not go as you planned.”
“I didn’t expect it to be her.”
“You had her trapped. All you had to do was give the order.” The Master of War forced Egrin to turn towards him. “You’re weak, Morschen. Pathetic, like my War Chiefs.” “Her mission is finished. She will not return to the Plains of Parda.”
“To drive her from the Plains was not your mission, Morschledu Hunter.” He cracked all sixteen of his knuckles. “Your mission was to kill her.” “I tried. And I failed. Trying again will result only in the same.”
The Master of War grabbed Egrin’s throat and lifted him. He swung him out over the edge of the wall and held him there. “This may not be a long drop, but it will still hurt you. It might kill you. It might only break some bones. Should I release you to find out?” He relaxed his fingers slightly. Egrin didn’t say or do anything.
The Master of War let go.
Egrin landed flat on his back. He could tell that he had several broken bones, just from how much he hurt. He pushed his arms down and raised his shoulders, then tried to move his legs.
Then he tried to move his legs again.
He fell back to the ground, afraid of the truth that he already knew. He would never walk again.
The Master of War came down and stood over him. A War Chief and a few of the Death Stalkers that had survived were with him.
“Tie him to a horse and send him to the forest. Let his own people kill him. He isn’t worth dirtying our swords.”
Daken and half a dozen Rangers met Xari when she re-entered the forest.
“Sirin burns, my lord.”
Daken nodded as he unconsciously accepted the Ranger’s statement, but ignored everyone but Xari. Instead, he hugged the woman. “You’re an idiot, going onto the Plains alone.” “No more an idiot than you, wanting to go back to Airachni.”
“And I still intend to go, but—”
Daken and Xari both drew their swords and turned towards the crashing sound coming through the underbrush to the south. The six Dothrin Rangers drew their bows and took aim. A lone Morschen man on a horse surprised them all.
Egrin Gundara rode, or was more accurately carried, into the small clearing. The horse he rode dropped its head and ate wearily.
“Egrin?” Xari didn’t lower her sword. “I told you not to follow me.” Egrin nodded. “So what are you doing here? Don’t you have Morschledu to hunt for Guinira?” “War Master threw me off the wall. Can’t move my legs.” Egrin coughed. Blood splattered on the ground to his left. “He knows you’ll kill me, so he sent me to die. Didn’t want to waste his own time killing me.” Egrin untied the strap that held him in place and fell off the horse. The horse wandered away to find more grass. Xari walked over to her brother and stood over him. “Just do it, Xari. You’ve wanted to for a century. Don’t make me live like this.” “You have no idea how much I want to Egrin. You killed Allihn.” Xari fought with herself for a moment, and Daken tensed. “Run ahead and prepare a healer. We’ll bring him.” “Xari—”
“Be quiet Egrin.”
“Xari, did you hear me? Just kill me or let me die. Don’t prolong this.”
She turned back to him and placed her sword on his neck. “I tried to forgive you, many times. And every time, all I could see was the body of my husband, being carried from the battlefield, escorted by you and fifteen Mordak Riders.” She sheathed her sword. “You have no idea how gladly I would kill you Egrin, if things were only slightly different. If you had legs, or you had tried to stop me last night, or you were capable of defending yourself, or were a prisoner trying to escape, or had been sentenced as a traitor …” With every different scenario she spouted, she spoke faster. “There are so many different circumstances where I would end your life without a second thought. But do not dare to ask me again that I do. You are my enemy, but you are still my brother Egrin.” …
Daken walked with Xari. “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. He deserves death, a few times over, as I’ve said. He attempted to usurp my throne, and my husband died as a result. I didn’t dare kill him then, because the rumour was—” “That he was backed by Taren. I remember.”
Xari nodded. “His fate is in Daliana’s hands. He is a traitor to Anaria, not just to me.”
“Then get whatever information out of him you can before you decide.”
“Why should I bother?”
“If he was thrown off a wall by Dothoro’s Master of War himself, he isn’t just another nameless traitor. He knows things, Xari. Promise him whatever it takes, but get that information.” “He’ll only ask me to kill him.”
“Promise him revenge. Give him the War Master’s head as a paperweight to look forward to.”
“It won’t change anything.”
“Then let him die. He’s already decided that that’s what he wants, so nothing is going to change his mind. But we’ve been losing this war since it started. Knowledge is power, and power is something we are desperately lacking. Now, I am going to Meclarya, Xari. Egrin is yours to deal with, and yours alone.”