Chapter 15: The Lords of the Vault
Erygan and Eildar were sitting in the Morschcoda’s tent, discussing whether it was worth continuing to chase Vorteez’s Deshika when General Mredick entered and bowed.
“The last scouts have reported in, my Lords. The Whip Crackers were still in full retreat at the Eschcotan border, but they made camp as soon as they reached the Baan-Taar River. They may be regrouping, or they may be waiting, but despite their losses to the Living Shadows, I doubt that they will keep running.” “Were you able to find out anything about their Morschen General, or Generals?”
“There is only one, Morschcoda. A young Armandan man, as you suspected. His name is Hialed Volkure. He is…” Eildar cut the scout off.
“Volkure? You’re certain?”
“Yes, Prince Eildar.”
Eildar turned back to Erygan. “This is bad, father.”
Eildar took a drink of water, then looked his father in the eye. “Hialed Volkure is beyond devoted to Guinira. He’s a zealot, and a Morschledu Hunter, one of her best. He led the Armandan traitors who started the Mordak Hunts. He’s credited with the deaths of seventeen Drog Tai-Aren Coda, including three of the last living Spears.” “So he’s a rare talent with a sword. It’s not unheard of, even in Armanda. But whatever else he might be, he is no leader.”
“There is one more thing of note, father, about Volkure. He’s ninety-two.”
“Young, rash, unknown, unpredictable, and looking to make a name for himself in Seven-controlled Anaria.” Erygan stood and poured himself a glass of wine. “You’re not wrong, Eildar, but I don’t think it’s as bad as you say it is. Volkure is on the run in lands that I doubt either he or his War Chiefs know. He can’t cross the Baan-Taar north of Lake Miliish. The only bridge is on the Eschcota-Meclarya border, and he’s a long way from that. Drogs couldn’t cross that river north of the lake.” Erygan poured his son a glass of the sandy Meclaryan Red that one of his soldiers had dug out of a cellar in one of the last towns they had passed through.
Eildar took the proffered wine. “You’ve heard that Edya Reeshnar stopped the Cardor, father. The Baan-Taar doesn’t flow as quickly.”
“It’s deeper, and wider. He won’t cross it easily.”
“Um, Morschcoda, my Prince, there are five bridges that cross the Baan-Taar between its separation from the Dak River and where it joins the Sea of Drogoda. We’re almost directly east of the northernmost. Volkure and his Deshika are about a day’s march north of the second.” Without much effort, Erygan crushed the glass in his hand. “Nyjeta, he’s right.”
“And if Volkure crosses that bridge …”
“He can march straight to Braldish ...”
“With forty thousand Deshika.”
“Eildar, gather up whatever men you still have left. Get across that bridge before Volkure does. Destroy it if you have to. Those Deshika do not cross the Baan-Taar.” “Yes, father.”
Several hours later, Erygan was still staring at his maps. What worried him more than Volkure and his Deshika was that he had forgotten how many bridges crossed the Baan-Taar. That both he and Eildar had forgotten. If General Mredick had not been reporting, Volkure would have gone on watched, but unchallenged until it was too late.
“Morschcoda, you have a visitor.”
“Unless it’s a Morschcoda, I don’t really care who it is right now. Tell them I’m busy.”
“My Lord, it is the Master of Keys of the Vault himself.”
“By all the Hells. What does he want?”
“To speak with you, sir.”
“Fine. I’ll see him.”
A different voice, with a somewhat mocking tone, answered Erygan. “You had better, because I am already here.”
Erygan rolled his eyes as he turned around to face the Vault’s Master of Keys, Grilick Parda. “What do you want, Parda?”
“Some civility would not be unappreciated. It has been a long trip.”
“The Lords of the Vault don’t take more than fifty steps at a time. Believe me, I’ve counted. And I’ve seen you demand a Portaller send you from one end of my throne room to the other because you didn’t want to walk that far, so if you rode here on an actual horse—” “Yes, Morschcoda, your point is made. I will make mine now, before you say something you might not live to regret.”
“Keep talking like you are and you won’t live to see whether I live to regret it or not.”
“As one of the five Lords of the Vault, I do not feel that I need to take any threat you make seriously. I own most of the farmland surrounding Toredo, the most productive farmland in the entirety of your holdings. It would be a shame if those farms were to suddenly stop producing wheat and corn. It would drive prices very high. So many people would go hungry, and—” Erygan started laughing. “Don’t worry about that Grilick. I’ll have a document drawn up that,” he paused and rubbed his chin “that relieves you of that burden on your conscience. After all, you want to count your silver in peace, don’t you? You don’t want the screams and wails of those starving, dying people to interrupt you. I can easily see that land into eminently suitable hands.” This time, Grilick paled. Erygan did not need to kill him if he could take away the deeds to Anaria’s most profitable farmland outside of Dothoro. Grilick would lose his position as one of the Lords of the Vault.
“As I said, Erygan, there is no need to be making such threats.”
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the only time I can make those threats is when one of the Five Lords lowers themselves so much as to leave the Vault. I can’t threaten you inside of it, and together you’re too caught up in your games to listen to threats when they’re being made.” Erygan sat down and put his feet up on his desk. With deliberate slowness, he took out his pipe and began to clean it. “You’ve made a mistake coming out here, Grilick. But you wouldn’t have dared leave the Vault, let alone Toredo, unless you were more scared of what’s happening in the city.” Erygan inspected the pipe and filled it.
Grilick’s face fell and he collapsed into a chair. “Do you have a drink?”
“Only wine, and it’s no match for Storinean by any stretch, but it’ll do.” Erygan poured a glass, but drank it himself.
Grilick gave a half-hearted smile. “You’ve gotten better Erygan; smarter, stronger. The battlefield agrees with you. It makes you more confident, like when you told us that you were in charge when the Deshika first attacked Anaria.” “And …”
Grilick let out a heavy sigh. “The Lords of the Vault have called for a vote of no confidence in you. I was the only one of the Five who opposed the motion. Of course, that means that our representative told the Night Council that our decision was unanimous. And since the Five Lords were presented as unanimous …” “When is the vote?”
“In one hour.”
“But the Night Council can’t be summoned unless the Morschcoda calls them. They can’t legally hold that vote without me present.”
“Why do you think I’m here, Erygan? I was sent, as punishment for not agreeing and to make sure I didn’t tell anybody that I didn’t agree, to bring you back to Toredo so that you can freely choose to pass on the title of Morschcoda. Or so that you can be forced to pass it on. We both know you won’t win the vote.” “General Mredick. You’re in command here until I return. Do not pursue the Deshika unless Prince Eildar calls for aid. Dismissed.” The man bowed out of the tent.
“Do you have a Portaller, Erygan?”
“I make my own portals.”
“I’m sorry, my fellow councillors, but this motion is to remove Erygan Dalrey as Morschcoda of Torridesta? Am I hearing all of you correctly?”
“Perhaps, Governor Nirich, we should consider allowing you to retire also. Your hearing seems to be going.”
“And yet, Representative Keithla, I am clearly more sane than you and all the Five Lords together.” The aging Governor of Western Torridesta held up a finger to silence the much younger woman dressed in the formal Silver-and-Gold robes of The Merchants Conclave. “Even if removing Morschcoda Dalrey was a good idea, which it is not, who do you have who could possibly do better?” Another young woman, sitting two spaces to the Governor’s left, next to Erygan Dalrey’s vacant throne, jumped on the opportunity that Representative Keithla’s silence offered. “Governor Nirich does make a point, fellow councillors. The Lords of the Vault may be unanimous in their opinion, but they have offered no alternative leader. And, I must say that I agree also with Governor Nirich in that the Lords of the Vault also have not made any case whatsoever for the removal of Morschcoda Dalrey. They have merely insisted that it be done.” A young-looking woman with long red hair sat up a little straighter as she addressed Erygan’s regent. “Is the Night Council to understand, Princess Leshia, that you do not even consider yourself to be a reasonable successor?” Lady Mietha Ejin had been a close friend of Erygan and Rashti for centuries, and as a member of a Great House often seen in the company of the Morschcoda, she had spent a fortune to keep herself looking much younger than her nearly six centuries. Rumours made the amount in the tens of thousands of gold paroes in Caladea, and another ten thousand at least in silver paroes in Drogoda’s Grathen Province.
Princess Leshia Dalrey nodded her head and offered a genuine smile to the woman sitting across the circle from her; the woman who she had grown up calling ‘Aunt Mietha.’ “Though that is in no way an answer to either of my points, Lady Mietha, I sit on this council as the representative of House Dalrey and Regent of my father only because my brother, Prince Eildar, is busy fighting this war for you.” She raised her voice and addressed the Night Council. “I see supposed great lords here. I see swords on your belts. And yet, I also see supposed great lords here. Were you men, I might expect you to be on the battlefields of this country with your Morschcoda and your prince.” She paused only for a moment, and more than one of the councillors present wanted to jump up and shout back, but Leshia’s gaze, a mixture of Erygan’s cold wrath and Rashti Dalrey’s burning anger, withered them in their seats. “I will not take the throne if any of you are even dreaming of pretending that you have the right, the power, the money, or enough of my respect to offer me my father’s place, or my brother’s.” A blond man with bright green eyes, sitting on the opposite side from Leshia of Erygan’s empty throne, leaned to his right to speak to Leshia. “The Lords of the Vault will get what they want, Princess Leshia.” She half-turned her head to answer him, but kept staring into the room in front of her. “The Lords of the Vault have not even made it clear to us what they want, Lord Tyrid.” She turned away from the lord at her right and faced Representative Keithla, directly across from her. Leshia’s eyes and voice burned with anger and accusation. “And I don’t expect them to.” Representative Keithla was about to answer, but another voice broke into the debate. “My lords and ladies, it is custom that the Night Council only meet when called by the Morschcoda.” Erygan entered his Council Chamber between Keithla and Lord Ecthal Corara, walking through the circle of chairs to stand beside his daughter, the only one who had not stood up when Erygan spoke. “Please, be seated. Ceremony and protocol have been ignored this long. Don’t let my presence interrupt anything.” “Morschcoda, the Lords of the Vault—”
“Yes, Lord Tyrid, I know all about the Lords of the Vault. Those boots look exceptionally comfortable, Lord Ecthal. Are they new?”
“A gift. From my nephew.”
“Ah.” A wistful smile graced Erygan’s face as a memory of Ecthal’s nephew came to him. “And how is young Valin?”
“He is very well, Morschcoda.”
“Is he? That’s not what my son tells me.”
“With respect, Morschcoda, my nephew is a good man with a sword, but I hardly think that Valin would ever catch Prince Eildar’s attention.”
Erygan gave a little smile and half a chuckle as he pushed his hair behind his right ear. “Maybe not. Then again, when the nephew of a member of the Night Council volunteers to turn himself into a Living Shadow to fight against the Deshika and one of Guinira’s finest Morschledu Hunters, one does tend to start taking notice of him.” Erygan spoke faster with every word, not pausing for breath. The final words came out as a deathly whisper, but were still clearly heard.
“Valin is dead?”
“And the last thing he ever bought his favorite uncle was a pair of boots. How awful.”
“Morschcoda, is there really a need for this drama?”
“You tell me, Lady Mietha. The Night Council is responsible for me being here at the moment. And, as the boy’s commanding officer, it was my responsibility to inform the family of Valin Corara of his fate.” “With respect Morschcoda—”
“With no respect whatsoever, Representative Keithla. The Lords of the Vault do not have the authority to call for a vote of no confidence in the Morschcoda. More importantly, I have it from the Vault’s Master of Keys himself that the Lords of the Vault were not unanimous in their vote anyway, even if their vote mattered, which for some reason, it does.” “The Lords of the Vault lied to us?”
“How long have you been in politics, Councillor Harneth? Of course they lied to you! They told you what they wanted, which is now not so secretly what some of you want. You wish for me to no longer be Morschcoda.” Erygan paused as he looked around the room. He knew each of the faces well. He thought he’d known the men and women behind them. “I could sentence almost all of you to die right now. Instead, I’m tempted to let you get away with it.” He savoured their confused looks for a half a second, pleased that no one looked happy about keeping their head. “You want me to no longer be your Morschcoda. Very well.” “Father!”
“No, Leshia.” Erygan held up his hand to silence his daughter, then stepped in front of his throne and faced the room. “I, Erygan Dalrey, before the full Night Council, formally step down as Morschcoda of the land of Torridesta of the Ten Nations of Anaria.” “Father!”
“I name my son and heir, Prince Eildar Dalrey, to be my successor as Morschcoda. In his absence, I name Princess Leshia Dalrey, my daughter, to be Regent to the Throne of Shadows.” Nirich stood, stunned. “But … Morschcoda …”
“No, Nirich, not anymore; weren’t you listening? Eildar is Morschcoda now. So, Leshia, technically, you’re in charge here.” Erygan began to laugh. Another man in the room, Lord Grein Mor-Ren, a Torridestan-Ristan half-blood of a High-Born family, started laughing as well, after staying silent the entire meeting. Some councillors turned to face him as Erygan’s laugh stopped.
Lord Grein, whom Erygan had named Governor of the North, shifted quickly from laughing with the man who had been his Morschcoda to explaining what he thought was so amusing. “Well, no, my Lord Erygan. Anyone with half a brain should realize the mistake they’ve made.” He looked around, but no one registered his or her understanding. “You see everyone, we left out one little detail in this whole farce of a council meeting.” Everyone looked around. Tyrid and Mietha leaned together, trying to figure out what it was they had forgotten. “You were so anxious to get rid of Erygan as our Morschcoda that you forgot that he is also our King.”