Chapter 28: The Descending Storm
Lord Tyrid and Lord Ecthal walked leisurely through the streets of Toredo. They spoke freely, as the street was practically deserted. At a crossroad, they paused to let a patrol of the city guard pass. The guards stopped and turned towards the two lords. The two turned and started to go back the other way, but three more guards had come up behind them. The eight guards surrounded the two lords, and an officer produced shackles for the two men.
“What is the meaning of this? We are members of the Night Council.” Lord Tyrid was incensed.
“Lord Tyrid Shoorn, Lord Ecthal Corara, you are under arrest by order of King Erygan Dalrey. You are charged with High Treason, and the Night Council is formally dissolved by order of the King. Please come quietly, my Lords.” Lord Ecthal tried to run, but one of the guards swung his spear around, clipping the fleeing lord on the back of his knee. Lord Tyrid knew better. He tried to use magic to free himself and escape, but another guard struck him with the pommel of his sword. Tyrid collapsed in a heap, his face dangerously close to a pile of horse droppings.
Lady Mietha produced her invitation to a party one of her close friends was throwing. The evening, like all of the Lady Essa Metella’s parties, promised excellent wine, excellent food, and an excellent assortment of unattached men. The footman waived away her invitation and smiled, recognizing Lady Mietha. “Welcome, my Lady. It is always a pleasure to have you as a guest of the House Metella.” She smiled in return, and began to enter, but three city guards moved in front of her and blocked the door. Her own guards ran up to protect their lady, but more of the city guard cut them off.
“What is the meaning of this?” She used her council voice, one that demanded respect.
The footman in charge of receiving the guests was surprised as well. “You have no business here. If the Lady Essa sees you bothering either this lady or any of her other guests ...”
The guards ignored the footman other than to threaten him with the point of a spear dangerously close to taking out his throat. The guard in charge spoke. “Lady Mietha Ejin, you are charged with High Treason against King Erygan. Please come with us.” Lady Mietha was too shocked to argue.
Keithla Siing, Representative of the Five Lords on the Night Council, stepped out from the main doors of the Vault started toward the palace. Before she had gone five steps, she was surrounded by city guards.
“Is there something I can do for you gentlemen?”
“Representative Keithla Siing, you are under arrest by order of King Erygan.”
Keithla was shaken, but held her ground. “On what charge?”
Keithla was both angry and scared. “I demand to see Erygan at once. I am a member of the Night Council and I—”
“King Erygan has dissolved the Night Council until judgement is passed on members that have conspired against the crown to usurp the throne.” The guard in charge of the arrest walked past her and up to the doors of the Vault. The Vault’s own guards tensed at his approach, but did not prevent him from coming closer. He stopped about two feet from them. “This is a summons to the Five Lords of the Vault. They will attend King Erygan before tomorrow’s sun sets. If they have not, he will revoke the protections from certain laws that the Vault enjoys under its current status as an Anarian Protected Site in the land of Torridesta. If the Toredo City Guard is forced to enter the Vault to arrest the Five Lords, any person acting in their defence will be accounted as harbouring a traitor to the Throne, and will be punished accordingly.” The Vault Guard took the summons from the City Captain. “The Five Lords have thirty-five hours. See to it they get the message.” …
Five versions of the Throne of Shadows existed within the Morschcoda’s Palace at Toredo. One was in the chambers of the Night’s Council, for when Erygan presided over meetings. It was traditional, carved out of black stone with silver embellishments, but not too extravagant. The second was in his private audience chamber. It was more subdued, and slightly smaller, than the first, more of a friendly reminder that his guests were addressing the King of Torridesta. The third was the throne. It sat in the Great Hall, where the public would come to make requests of their King. It was richly and intricately carved, inlaid with silver that was set with onyx stones and black diamonds. The fourth version of Erygan’s throne decorated his and Rashti’s bedchamber. It was softer, made of wood, not stone, and with cushions instead of diamonds.
And the fifth? The fifth version of the Throne of Shadows was the one where Erygan now sat. It was sharply carved, severe in its angles and in its simplicity. The stark black granite had never suited Erygan more. His jaw was set, his teeth were clenched, and the softness of his clothes was a harsh contrast to the cruel hardness of him and his throne.
Erygan nodded to the guards at the far end of the room. They pushed open the doors and herded in the entire group of conspirators at once. There were ten in front of him. Nine wore blinders so that no one could see anyone else. They could only look directly at Erygan.
Rashti floated into the room and to her husband’s side. Those who did not know the woman well thought she looked small and fragile, delicate even, and dared hope that Erygan would be merciful for the sake of his obviously gentle wife. Those who did know Rashti were nervous. The woman was of High Meclaryan Blood, and had a temper that burned far hotter than any Torridestans’ could. And those who were close enough to Erygan and Rashti as a couple and knew about the bedroom throne breathed a sigh of relief. She had a distracting effect on him, and it was easy to understand. Unlike her brother Daken, Rashti was tall and shapely, with long, silky black hair and dark blue eyes. Those same accused who had breathed in relief felt cheated when Rashti stepped back from her husband’s side to simply observe.
Erygan ground his teeth together. In the quiet room, the sound echoed disturbingly. “Governor Nirich,” he spoke, addressing the only unbound man among those his guards had brought in. “You spoke vigorously against the treasonous conspiracy of your fellow councillors. For this, I thank you, and ask you to remain as an advisor to the Throne and to retain your position as Governor of Western Torridesta despite the dissolution of the Night Council.” Nirich bowed, and a guard led him to a seat along the wall. “Tyrid. You openly attempted to turn my own daughter against me and turn her over to the Five Lords as a puppet ruler to dance to their whims. This is treason of an order for which I have no name.” Tyrid didn’t raise his head, but moved his mouth to speak. A guard kicked him in the leg to keep him quiet. “Keithla. You lied to the full body of the Night Council. You did so to fulfill the wishes of your masters, not your own, but that you willingly went along with such a crime is as high a form of treason as to be all but unprecedented.” Keithla also began to speak. “You will get a chance to speak in you defence, if even you believe you deserve one.” Keithla went silent. “Mietha. You have been a friend of me and my House for centuries. You have had my favour, my affection, and my ear for much of my rule. That you should be involved in something like this breaks what little is left of my heart.” Mietha only hung her head. “Ecthal. You played no active part in arranging or supporting this conspiracy of treason, but you knew of it and did nothing to prevent or dissuade your fellow councillors from their path. Because of the gravity of the crimes your fellows have committed, I cannot ignore this breach of confidence.” Erygan rubbed his eyes as he addressed each of the others in turn. When each had been chastised, Erygan addressed them as a group. “Whoever wishes to speak to their own defence may now do so. I urge you to not deny these charges. If you do, justice will be all the more severe, though confess and I may yet be merciful.” Tyrid fidgeted for a moment, but said nothing. Keithla spoke. “I only followed orders, my Lord, as you said. One of the Five Lords gave me instructions as to what I needed to say, and I presented it to the Council. I ask, therefore, for mercy, my King. I acted only as a servant obeying her master, and therefore acted in good faith.” Erygan’s eyes narrowed. “Which one?”
“Which of the Five Lords gave the order?”
“The Master of Keys.”
Erygan’s eyes narrowed. “Guards, escort these ones back to their cells. And bring me the Master of Keys. Now!”
“Erygan,” Grillick Parda sauntered up to Judge’s Throne, pompous and feeling above everyone, as usual. “I risked my own life and station to warn you about this threat. I’ve given you the Vault. I’ve practically handed you the Merchant’s Conclave. What more can I honestly do?” Erygan didn’t hear a word of the round man’s speech. “Keithla shared something interesting when she spoke in her defence. Would you care to guess what it was, Grillick?”
Grillick shrugged. “That woman would have said anything to keep her head on her shoulders. You know that Erygan.” The Master of Keys had too confident a voice for the sweat dripping profusely from his forehead.
Erygan leaned forward, and Grillick unintentionally shrank back. “She told me that she was instructed to lie to the Night Council. She told me that it was a plot to weaken every holder of power in Torridesta: me, the Night Council, and even the Merchant’s Conclave. She told me that only one of the Five Lords knew of this alleged vote.” Erygan leaned back in his chair. “Would you like to know which of the Five Lords she named, Grillick, or do you want to guess first?” The Master of Keys had grown steadily whiter with every indirect accusation that dropped from Erygan’s pale lips.
“I’m sure that any and all of the other four Lords who betrayed you will be dealt with most severely, my King.”
“But not you, Grillick? Of course, you couldn’t be the one. After all, you warned me, didn’t you? But how could that be if only one of the Five Lords knew?” Erygan bared his teeth. “It was you she named. You, Grillick Parda, the Master of Keys of the Five Lords of the Vault. You betrayed me, and Torridesta, and then lied to my face in an attempt to cover your tracks.” Erygan stood. “Did you really think that would work?” He began to walk down the steps. “Did you think I wouldn’t find out?” He began to walk towards Grillick. “Did you think that I just wouldn’t follow the law, and that I would execute the conspirators before I found out who led them?” He stopped in front of the shaking man. “Your existence is an insult to me.” “What can I do, my King? There must be something to earn your mercy?”
“Because of you, I have to execute good men and women. Because of you, Grillick, I have to send people I’ve known and trusted for centuries to the chopping block to pay for the treason you led them to commit. So, they will die, but you will die last of them. You will see all of them die before you, and that guilt will hopefully drive into you what you have done, and that is what you will know before you go to your grave.” Erygan turned his back on the quivering mess of a man. “Cut off his Ring finger and bring it to me. Then get this piece of garbage masquerading as a man out of my sight and drop him into some hole to rot until I can kill him.” …
Rashti pushed her way through Erygan’s various attached servants until she had passed her husband and could turn to face him. “Erygan, a word,” she said in a voice that made even Kings like her husband tremble. “Now.” The crowd surrounding Erygan and Rashti evaporated with the last syllable that dropped from their Queen’s lips. They had been tiptoeing around their already angry King. An angry Rashti was more intimidating. The temper of the Calmi Bloodline was a thing that few persons of any wisdom dared to tempt.
“Yes?” Erygan crossed his arms and tapped his foot on the smooth stone floor.
Rashti raised an eyebrow. Erygan looked down at his foot and stopped tapping, though he kept his arms crossed and his frustrated expression turned to more of a scowl. “Don’t you think that this has gone too far Erygan?” “Treason ends in death, Rashti. That law doesn’t change, regardless of who it is sitting on which throne. I could change that law, but I won’t.”
“And treason that has been coerced, tricked, manipulated, and goaded into existence through a game you’ve been playing against the Merchant’s Conclave for centuries? Or is it a coincidence that everyone you just sentenced to death is known to be on their payroll?” Erygan’s response wasn’t what Rashti expected. “Taren Garrenin was your cousin, mine by marriage. Do you know how many times I was compared to him? How many people expected me to be just as great a leader and Morschcoda as he was, just because I was, like him, one of the youngest Morschcoda ever named to the Council? Taren was a good friend to me, I don’t deny it. But he was a horrible person, by any unbiased standard. Do you have any idea how many people he killed to keep his throne?” “So, in wanting to remove yourself from the stain of my cousin, you choose to emulate him? Taren’s actions do not justify your own, Erygan.” She put her hand to his cheek and forced him to look her in the eyes. He saw no anger, no judgement, just genuine concern for a man that she loved. “Many of our kind uphold Taren because they do not know the truth of what he was. He was a coward, who killed his enemies from behind the shadows of assassins and then sent greater men to win his battles for him. But the history of Anaria is ours to make as well. What will that history say about you?” “It will say that I made decisions of which I was not proud, but that I felt were right and in the best interest of my country, my people, and my family.”
“No Erygan. If you kill these people, you are not the man I married.”
“Erygan, can you honestly tell me you still intend to send these people to their deaths because of a plan you created to end the power of the Merchant’s Conclave in Torridesta?”
“What choice do I have?”
“The choice to give them a chance.”
“What kind of chance?”
“Erygan, how safe will Leshia be when, not if, the truth of her engagement to Gelida Mectar becomes known?”
Erygan nodded, understanding his wife’s concern for their daughter. “In Torridesta? Not very safe, at the very least.”
Rashti put her hands in her husband’s hands. “How much safer would she be if several powerful people, still seen as upstanding citizens, the advisors of the King, including the Five Lords of the Vault, are all publicly in favour of our daughter marrying another woman?” Erygan kissed his wife passionately. “I still break the power of the Five Lords, the Night Council is restored, and I am finally the undisputed King of Torridesta.” He kissed her again. “I’m not sitting on a throne again tonight. One day in a cell won’t hurt any of them.” “As the one who came up with this new plan, I think that that day should begin with me sitting on a throne instead.”
When evening fell, and the country of Torridesta as a whole began to wake up, Erygan was once more sitting on the severely cut throne of black granite. Rashti was again standing behind him. And the ten convicted of treason, five members of the Night Council and the Five Lords of the Vault, were again standing before their King, this time to have their final day appointed.
“You were brought here last night to answer for your treasonous actions. Not one of you denied those actions, for which I am grateful. And I am also a man of my word. I stated that I may yet choose to be merciful, and so I am determined to give you a choice. There is a task that you, individually or as a group, can perform for me. Choose to do so, and succeed, and you obtain for yourself my mercy, and keep your life. Choose to not, and your execution will at the least be painless, and soon.” Mietha spoke for all of them. “What is the task, my King?”
Erygan was glad that Mietha had spoken. Of all of those sentenced, he wished that she had not been one. She had been a close friend for centuries, and his entire family shared many fond memories with her. “The task I have in mind is actually quite a simple one, but hear it and then make your choice.” Erygan paused and stood. “Host a betrothal feast for my daughter.” All of the condemned before him looked confused, and Erygan savoured those unsettled looks.
Mietha was the most confused. She knew Erygan too well. His anger the night before had not been an act. “Is that all?” She sensed a trap, and was not prepared to take the bait, even with her head in the balance.
“Yes. Host the feast, approve of her betrothed, and ensure that word spreads through Torridesta that all of the most powerful member of King Erygan’s court approve of the match.”
Mietha was the only one cautious in her answer. The rest said yes without question. “Erygan. There has to be more to it than this. What’s the catch?”
“Who cares Mietha?” Tyrid’s whisper was louder than he meant it to be. “If it means that I don’t lose my head, I’ll do this and worry about the catch later, when my head isn’t detached from my shoulders.” He bowed very deeply towards Erygan, intending to thank the King for his mercy.
Erygan laughed at Tyrid’s quick dismissal of Mietha’s caution. “Maybe Mietha is right to be cautious, but she alone remains to decide. But remember Tyrid, if you fail, I may still claim your head as the price for your crime.” Tyrid paled only slightly. His parties were famous throughout Anaria. A betrothal feast was nothing that he hadn’t done numerous times before. “The catch, Mietha, is who the bride is.” “Don’t you mean the groom? We know who the bride is, Erygan.” Mietha caught on as she spoke. “Leshia is marrying a woman.” The intake of breath from those who had been quick to take the offered mercy was sharp, and there was a defeated sense from some of them.
“You’ve always had a sharp mind, Mietha. Will it be one that I get to make use of in the future?”
“Who is she marrying?”
“Leshia is marrying Gelida Mectar, the Morschcoda of Noldoron.”
Every eye turned to Mietha. She would be the only one actually getting to make the choice while knowing what it was. “You said it yourself Erygan. I have been a close friend of yours and your family for centuries. I love Leshia as a niece, and have long hoped, as I know that you have, that she marries for herself and not for someone else. I accept.”