Chapter 20: The Gambles of Greater Men
The orders issued to him by Makret Druoth did not matter, but Regath was still wary. He knew that Makret would be watching his every move. Anyone he talked to would be followed as well. He knew that Makret’s threats would be carried out with ruthless efficiency all along the coast, if he left Ra-Diavere without permission. So, he did everything he could to appear annoyed, but nothing more. This was just a delay, and it did him no harm. The Drogs had no idea that he had betrayed them to one of the Seven. His people would welcome him back as a hero, and then return to their lives. For though Drogoda claimed the islands, there was a long abiding, almost hereditary resentment of the mainlanders. He would break Drogoda’s grip on his home, and then he and his people would be left in peace while Anaria’s powers fought whatever remained of their wars.
Gorshcki Coptulo decided that his group of Hunters would make a bold statement instead of sneaking around. He had great respect as a warrior for Makret Druoth, and as a Hunter who considered himself to be one of the more honourable beings in his profession, he wanted Makret to have fair warning. So, Gorshcki, Grrwa, and Car simply walked in to the city through the Southwestern Gate. The guards might have given some thought to stopping Car if he had been alone, and if there had been enough of them to do so, but they knew who it was he was with. Grrwa was not unknown in Anaria, and Gorshcki’s reputation as a Hunter often brought more recognition than he wanted. The guards could pretend to do their job if they wanted as far as any of the three were concerned, but they would have known that nothing they could do could prevent Hunters from entering the city. Even under Ranny Marsharin, during whose reign no Hunter was legally allowed into the city, Gorshcki and Grrwa, if not Car, would not have been denied entry. Even if the Hunters were challenged, all they would have had to do would have been show the contract bearing Guinira’s seal and they would be permitted anywhere in the city.
Regath saw the three Hunters come in through the gate. He knew Gorshcki by sight, but the other two were unknown to him. Grrwa had a far-reaching reputation, but it did not cross the ocean. Car had only been hunting a short time, so his fame was not as broad as the other two. Regath could tell that Car came from one of the Mid-Ocean Islands, anyone who grew up around pirates could have seen that. But he had no idea what Grrwa was. So, he decided to find out. He stopped walking and let the three Hunters come to him.
Gorshcki saw Regath, and he knew what the black and red meant. He stopped short of where Regath would be able to hear him and spoke to the others.
“That is a representative of one of the Seven. He may be able to help us.”
Grrwa looked over Gorshcki’s shoulder. “It looks more like he wants our help.”
“Maybe he knows why we were sent here.”
Car snorted. “That seems too convenient, even for Guinira. She could not have known that we would follow Makret to Ra-Diavere.”
“And she could not have known when we would get here, Gorshcki. There is something else going on here.”
“We have no choice now.” Car tried to stare the boy down and force him to go away, but Regath had decided to approach the group. “Here he comes.”
Regath approached them warily enough, and his stance as he stopped walking was defensive, ready to draw his sword. “Gorshcki Coptulo.”
The Lizard flicked his tongue as he turned around. It was something his people never did, but he allowed the Morschen their stereotypes. It kept him employed. “I’m busssy boy. What issss it?” “I know that you don’t talk like that, Hunter. I have seen you before.”
This time, it was Grrwa who responded. She growled at him and bared her teeth.
“Very intimidating.” Car put a hand on Grrwa’s shoulder to keep her from gutting Regath then and there. “But I have need of your services.”
“We have other business; a priority bounty, if you must know, set by Queen Guinira herself.”
“My business is on behalf of my Lord, Vorteez.”
“Did the words “priority bounty” not get past your ears? The Guild has rules.”
“I am aware of Guild Rule, cat.”
A knife that no one knew she carried flashed in Grrwa’s paw and stopped just short of detaching Regath’s head. “Then you know that I am not prevented from killing you if you insult me, even if you are trying to hire me.” Regath paled, but held Grrwa’s stare. She lowered the knife. “My apologies. But, what I need only requires one of you, and I can pay far better than Guinira.” Car looked interested. Grrwa rolled her eyes. “I am being held in this city. I have orders from the Lord Vorteez that I am to build a fleet to combat the Drog Imperial Navy. High General Druoth is preventing me from doing so and has forbidden me to leave the city to inform my Lord of the delay.” “So you want one of us to go instead.”
“If I leave, Druoth will make the fulfillment of my mission impossible, and will likely have me killed in the process.”
“Well, this might be your lucky day, boy. Our contract is for Druoth. Car, run to Grathen and give the boy’s message to his master. And you boy, take us to whoever is in charge of the city that isn’t Makret Druoth.” The throne room doors boomed as the two Hunters shouldered them open, but they were drowned out by the rage in the voice of Ra-Diavere’s corpulent puppet governor. “You lied to me, High General Druoth.” Makret was relaxing on what had once been the Sun Throne. “Governor Dieith, General Trag, Regath Encarthian. I was expecting the three of you. I was not expecting the two Hunters you brought with you; not yet, at least. Gorshcki Coptulo. This is a rare honour.” “We’ve met before, Druoth. You were Carish Mordo then.”
“A name I still use. And Grrwa. It has been too long.” Grrwa bared her teeth and growled. “You asked me if you should stay. I didn’t tell you to. You could have gone home.” She closed her lips. “But this is no time for a reunion of the Hunter’s Guild. Guinira sent you two, didn’t she?” “You knew we would be coming.”
“I knew before you did that you would be coming.”
“Enough of this. You lied to the Governor of Ra-Diavere and hid your true allegiances. You will die, traitor.”
Makret crossed his right leg over his left and leaned back into the throne. “I assume, Trag, that in your usual incompetence, you did not inform any guards of my betrayal.”
“I’ve known for months that too many of them can’t be trusted.”
Makret smiled. “And you didn’t tell the Deshika either.”
“They practically worship you.”
“Well then Trag, it seems that I’m not the one who will be dying.” Makret stood and drew his sword in one smooth motion. He let the point hang almost to the floor and began to walk forward. “I had hoped to turn you, Trag. You might have even been useful. But now, you have outlived your uselessness.” Trag tried to back away, but Makret suddenly charged and his sword flashed silver as it carved a red path from Trag’s left hip to his right shoulder. Gorshcki dove at Makret, but the Drog twisted his left shoulder backwards and avoided the lunge, kicking out with his right leg at Gorshcki as the lizard attacked. Makret’s boot connected with Gorshcki’s knee, shattering it. Gorshcki went down, Trag was dead, and neither Grrwa nor Regath had moved. Governor Dieith paled, and fell in a quivering heap to the floor.
“So, you aren’t going to try anything again, are you boy.” It was not a question.
“Another Hunter is already on his way to inform my lord of your betrayal. My armies will be here within the week to take your head.”
Makret shook his head. “To think; you are the product of Drogodan Royal Blood.”
“Your mother. She was once officially recognized as the Princess of Grathen. Doma Grathen, the woman who tried to hide you when you first landed in Drogoda. That is your mother. You had your sister killed to save your own worthless life. Go back to your master and tell him that I don’t care if he sends his whole strength. I will fight. But whether I win or not, I will take it upon myself to kill you. I claim that right. Go. Now!” Regath practically ran. “Grrwa. I know you don’t like me, but I need your help. Regath sent a Hunter to Vorteez. I need someone to go to Dothoro. Will you do it?” “Why should I help you, Makret? I owe you nothing.”
Makret bowed his head. She was right. She owed him no service, and he could not order her to do anything. He walked over to a small table beside the throne. His helmet was sitting on it. Reverently, Makret lifted the polished steel helmet with its blue, gilded Mordak’s head and presented the piece to Grrwa. “I don’t have money, or anything of value to offer to you for what I’m asking. This is all I have left. Take it, and deliver my message. Please.” Grrwa just stood there, her eyes wide and mouth hanging a little. Makret’s earnestness took her aback. This was a man that Morschcoda had knelt before, that the powers of Hell had come to for help. That he felt he needed to beg her for this left her speechless. She slowly extended her paws to take the helmet, carefully and reverently, just as Makret had presented it. She had known Makret for a long time. She knew what that helmet meant to him. “How can one message be worth this, Makret?” Makret almost looked like he had shrunk just giving up the helmet. His gaze lingered on it, and he licked his lips several times before he answered. “That message could save thousands of lives, if not end the war. And … I serve the Remnant. If nothing else, they need to be warned that Vorteez is looking away from the Morieden Plains and that Ra-Diavere is about to fall. Tell them that I intend to take Vorteez with me if I can.” “If I run from this fight, I could never face my pride again.” Grrwa couldn’t take her eyes off the Mordak on the helmet.
“If you stay, then Vorteez will find out about the Cartarin that much sooner. Look at what he’s done to the Dragons and the Mordak. Do you think that your people will fare any better if he marches over the mountains? You need to go.” She turned to leave, but as she did, she saw the various bodies sprawled around her. “What about Gorshcki?” She turned back to Makret, making him look her in eyes.
“He can make his own choice.”
“How many options does he have that don’t end with you killing him?”
“We both know Gorshcki, Grrwa. You know that answer.”
Makret sat down on the Sun Throne. He had too many things to do to care about any one in particular, but he knew that any one of them could cost him his life. If he waited though, they could cost Ra-Diavere much more. The one decision he knew he could not postpone, though, was the one that would decide the fate of the city.
“Summon the War Chiefs. I want to see them, now.”
Carrod ran out the door, only to return barely a minute later. “General, they heard that there was some sort of attack on the palace and were already coming to see you.” He stepped aside as the War Chiefs filed in through the doors.
“High General.” The War Chiefs all bowed.
Makret bowed his head to them as well, with his hands folded over his stomach. With only two arms, it was the closest he could get to replicating their greeting. “Master of War. I’m actually somewhat pleased to see you.” “How may we serve, High General?”
Makret coughed. He was used to being alone with no fewer than seven War Chiefs, but he had no idea how they would react to him. That they still respected him, and possibly even trusted him, was at least one good thing. Deshik loyalty was hard to win. He hoped it was just as hard to lose. “Master of War, I want to know who you fight for. Guinira had a puppet governor here, but he was useless, even by Guinira’s remarkably low standards. General Trag is dead, by my hand. So, will you follow me?” “Of course we will, High General. Where,” but Makret stopped him.
“Before you finish that answer, Master of War, it’s not so simple a question. I’m not the Makret Druoth that you believe me to be. I don’t actually serve Guinira or The Kindler. I’ve been using them. They had me win their battles for them, and I used them to smuggle supplies and powerful Morschledu to the Remnant.” The Deshika started looking back and forth at each other. “Now, Vorteez is marching in strength on Ra-Diavere, and I plan to meet him in battle. If you choose to join the Master of Pain, I understand. Vorteez won’t spare you if you stay.” The Deshika continued to look back and forth for several long minutes. Finally, the Master of War spoke again. “Deshika respect two things above all: strength and truth. We know of the power of others of the Seven, but we have not seen it ourselves. And we have seen nothing proving that The Kindler’s Morschen Queen is worth serving. Your strength we have seen, High General. Your strength we know, and in that strength, we trust. And you spoke honestly with us when you did not know if we would kill you for it. This we also respect.” Another War Chief spoke. “All of us in this city are, as you call us, the Veterans. We fought at the ruined city. In our lands across the water, we were all Deshika pledged to one of the Seven, the Lady Venda.” “The Pale Enchantress.”
“The Pale Enchantress. Lady Venda was a good mistress to us. We wish to go back to serving her, and leave the others of the Seven behind. I think that by fighting with you, we may finally have that chance.” Makret was almost afraid to believe what he was hearing from the Master of War. “So, you will stand with me? With the Morschen?”
The Master of War answered. “Where is the battle?”