Chapter 6: Breaking the Mirror
Guinira, though she still believed that she had almost three Morschen weeks to find Makret’s replacement, had not been idle. Almost as soon as Makret had left the country, Guinira had begun to marshal her loyal Flame Weavers. She had hoped that her new General might come from among Armandan ranks, but many of the most experienced commanders and greatest warriors who might have stood with her had perished at Emin-Tal, and the few Ringlords of real strength from her home country were unpredictable. The rest were either far too young or simply incapable of commanding an army. So she looked elsewhere. Though such a replacement would be by far the best, Drog Generals were in short supply, both in Armanda and Anaria at large. Regath Encarthian, whom she had met several times, had been crushed by The Kindler at Emin-Tal, but even if he were still alive, Guinira knew that he would not serve her. Edya Reeshnar was now the Morschcoda-in-exile of Drogoda and the leader of the Morschledu Remnant. Barthen Grosht, a Master of the Brotherhood of the Mordak from the days of her twice-great-grandmother, was now in command of Drogoda’s Imperial Navy. Aside from Erygan Dalrey’s rampage through the north, Drogoda’s navy was the most direct challenge to her power. Any other living Drog that might suffice was guarding the island of Alquendiro with unceasing vigilance, so that she and her Deshik armies could not take the ancient city. She knew that soon, she would have to turn her attention to the Drogodan capital, no matter that she knew the price in lives for Alquendiro would be higher than she could afford. And Makret Druoth, the warrior from beyond legend, the commanding General of so many victories, he was the man that she was trying to replace. “So no,” she said out loud, not caring if anyone heard her. “Not a Drog. So where can I find a General? Which of the Ten Anarian Nations understands warfare half so well as Armanda or Drogoda?” The easiest answer was Dothoro. But Guinira had executed the only leader of note, soldier or otherwise, to be found under the leaves. Atalin Danalath could not march against her now. Daliana Marcarry was no real threat to Armanda. The Dothrin people would not march in force outside of their forest. Her thoughts turned northward, to Torridesta. She understood why in a heartbeat. ‘If I place a Torridestan at the head of all of my armies, then the loyalties of that country would be made more secure. A Torridestan would know how to fight Erygan and win, eliminating that threat.’ The thought of a Torridestan civil war was a pleasant one. Eildar Dalrey, Erygan’s son, was rumoured to have been seen several times in Storinea and Western Armanda, but the boy didn’t belong to her, and she didn’t have time to both capture and turn him. But there were a few Torridestans in her service, and she sent one of her servants to bring one whose name she knew.
“You summoned me, your majesty?” said the man as he entered and knelt.
“You are Doman Cardrick?” He nodded slowly. “I did.”
“How may I serve you, my lady?”
“I need a new General. It has to be someone who is capable of leading an army on the battlefield, but more importantly, it has to be someone … flexible. Willing to take orders.” Guinira leaned forward. “Do you understand?” “Yes, your majesty.”
Guinira nodded, believing she had chosen well. “I am giving you a chance to prove yourself worthy of the command of my armies.”
“What of General Druoth? Surely he is more capable than any of leading your armies.”
“Yes, and of leading them to victory, which is more troubling.” Doman remained silent. “I do not trust Makret Druoth. He is arrogant and solitary, with a far-too-impressive military career. If he decides to betray us, then many of my people will follow him, if only because they don’t want to choose the losing side. Numbers mean nothing in a battle against him.” “What is it you require of me?”
“Do you feel capable of leading an army? The foes you face are hardly a threat, and without Druoth or a Garrenin to rally behind, they will be little challenge.” “I’m willing to try, my lady. All I ask is that you remember that I am untried when it comes to leading men into battle, so if I fail, I would ask you to be just in your judgement.” “One does not make such requests lightly to one’s Queen.”
“I apologize, your majesty.”
“I think that you will do nicely. I name you High General of the Armandan Empire.”
Doman Cardrick rose to his feet and placed his left hand on the pommel of his sword. “Thank you, your majesty.” He had meant to say more, but one of Guinira’s guards entered the room and handed Guinira a note.
“It seems that your appointment was none too soon. Makret Druoth has just returned to the city. I was not expecting him for over four weeks yet.” Turning to the woman who had given her the note, she gave orders. “As soon as General Druoth enters the palace, bring him to me. Also, after he is inside this room, call out my guard, but do it quietly. I want Druoth to suspect nothing.” The woman bowed and left. “And now we wait.” They did not have to wait long. Makret entered the throne room, stormed down the long red carpet, stopped and lowered his chin. When he looked up, his eyes narrowed at seeing Doman Cardrick standing next to Guinira. “I have returned from Dothoro, your majesty.” “I was informed. How went your mission?”
“Two of your Ringlords attempted to kill a third in the middle of the camp. Deshika, or other Ringlords maybe, believing that they were the pair’s next target, cut them down in the final battle. Of course, the Remnant sees any Ringlord who serves the crown as a traitor, and they deal with those in only one way.” “So, not one of the Ringlords who marched with you returned.”
“None returned alive. At least three were killed by those that you chose, and another was eaten by a Lurnax. The rest had begged permission to march in the front lines, and until the final day, I had seen no reason to deny them.” “What happened on the final day?”
“Edya Reeshnar used her magic to stop the Cardor so that her troops could swim across to aid the Dothorins we were slaughtering on the other bank. The display of power demoralized the Deshika. I had no choice but to fall back, and I was not inclined to remain close to the forest.” “So, you did not burn it down, as I instructed.”
“With Drog Morschledu in the forest, and after witnessing Reeshnar halt the Cardor by herself, I did not think that a fire would do enough damage to be worth starting, even if any of your Armandans had survived long enough to start one.” “You leave me no choice, Makret.” Once more, the way she said his name sent a shiver down his spine. “Guards!” Flame Weavers entered the room and converged on Makret from all sides. He tried to draw his sword, but someone pressed a dagger into his back, and archers had their bows trained on him. He allowed them to remove his sword belt, and to chain his hands together.
“What is the meaning of this, Guinira?”
“You have defied my orders, General. Therefore I strip you of all powers of command and discharge you from my army. You will await your trial in the dungeon. Take him away!” “I was appointed by The Kindler himself. If either of us is a traitor, it is not me Guinira.”
“I have already found a replacement for you, though it would have been better if you did not return. This is my new High General, Doman Cardrick, and…” the words died in her throat when Makret began to laugh.
“You are replacing me with him?” he asked, still laughing. “You are no judge of character. I can say that freely now.”
“I judged you properly.”
“Maybe you did. But, you were so desperate to get rid of me that you chose a replacement more likely to betray you.” Guinira turned her head towards Doman, drawing a knife from a sheath in her sleeve in case he tried anything. “The man who you have replaced me with was Erygan’s commanding General at Emin-Tal. That is not Doman Cardrick. His name, so close that I cannot understand how you didn’t see it, is Domrar Cadrick.” When he finished, Makret was still laughing.
“Arrest them both!” Guinira screamed at the top of her lungs. The Flame Weavers moved to take Domrar also, and bound him as they had Makret.
“You should have come with me Domrar. I told you this would happen.”
“You did Makret. I should have listened.”
The two were marched through the castle to the dungeons and roughly thrown into a small cell. Their chains were removed, but the lock, the bars, and the stone floor and walls were solid.
“If you are going to get out, Makret, it must be now.”
“No, Guinira won’t dare to have me executed, especially when her first choice to replace me was a spy.”
“The Remnant needs you, now more than ever.”
“And my answer to them remains the same. I won’t go back yet. The Remnant doesn’t need me half as badly as Guinira needs them to need me. But you should go. Edya does need experienced soldiers, anyone that she can rely on. Since Regath fell, she has been overworked. She must not fall, but she has no one else to lead armies. No one has the experience. She needs you.” “Why not you?”
“I don’t feel that the forest is the direction my future leads. Now, go.”
Domrar started to say something, but decided against it. Instead, he opened a small portal in front of him and stepped through it.
It was some time before the guards discovered Domrar’s escape. Guinira herself stormed down to the dungeons upon hearing what had happened.
“Druoth, where is he?”
“I don’t have to answer you anymore, Guinira.”
The walls of his cell changed from cold stone to walls of fire. They did not burn, though. Not yet. “I am tired of your excuses. Tell me where he went.” Makret looked unconcernedly around him at the flaming walls, and then at the three Flame Weavers who would be only too happy to kill him. “He went through a portal. How should I know where he went?” “You expect me to believe that he did not tell you where he was going, or offer to take you?”
“You believe that I need help to escape?”
“Only one Torridestan has ever escaped from this prison, Makret Druoth, and that happened very recently. You, on the other hand, do not have the powers of a Portaller.” “No, I don’t.” He knelt and placed his fist on the ground, slowly pushing his water-magic into the floor, extinguishing Guinira’s fires with no real effort. “But you have not the powers of a Drogodan Morschledu. I serve you no more, Guinira. Execute me whenever you choose to, but you will get no information from me.” His words had the effect he wanted. The three Flame Weavers drew their swords. Guinira herself stepped backwards. “So you are a traitor.” Her words were quick, almost unheard, exhaled in a single breath through clenched teeth. “How did I not see it sooner?” Makret stood, looking down his nose at her as his words rained down. “You were blinded by the power that having me in command of your armies allowed you to wield. We used each other. You used me to assert your authority, and I used you so that I could smuggle supplies and Faithful Morschledu out of An-Aniath. I’ve almost lost track of how many of the Remnant I have gotten into Caladea or Drogoda or Storinea in the last two years.” “So Caladea is now against me?”
“No. Only Aleishi Mandrath, and she is now far beyond your reach.”
“You will hang for this, traitor.”
“How am I the traitor here, Guinira? I did not desert my Morschcoda in the middle of a war. I did not turn against the Ten Nations. I have not even drawn my blade in a battle since the Agrista.” “You have done all of those things.”
“Yes, but the why is important. You betrayed the Ten Nations because you wanted a throne. I betrayed the Ten Nations because another gave me orders to do so, so that the Morschen would survive the Seven.” “Who’s orders?”
“You would love to know that, wouldn’t you?”
“I do know it though. It’s obvious that it was Garrenin. You’ve only ever bowed to him.”
“Maybe it was Garrenin. Maybe it was Lasheed himself. You know that Taren claimed to have spoken to him once.”
“Lasheed did not give you orders to betray your own kind. Did he?” Silence greeted her. “Tell me, Druoth.”
“Or I could leave you in suspense, and then you can’t kill me. I know you too well, Guinira. The knowledge I would die with would torment you, because you don’t know who it is I’ve really been serving these past two years.” “I could strike you dead right now. I care not for your secrets. Let them die with you.” The walls once more burst into flame.
“If you were going to kill me, Guinira,” he said coldly, as he once more extinguished the burning walls, only this time with one quick blast that sent one of the Flame Weavers reeling backwards, “you would have done it long ago. I take orders only from members of House Garrenin.” “Then there is no one on either side in this war that has any more use for you” she said, as she raised her hand and pointed at Makret, preparing to utter a fatal spell, but she hesitated when Makret did not shrink back.
Makret smiled when he noticed the hint of doubt and fear in Guinira’s eyes. “You think that the line ended with Taren the Second?” Makret laughed loudly. “You should learn your own history, Guinira Gundara.” After he said that, no matter what threats she made, or how many times the walls were set on fire, Makret said no more. Guinira eventually left him.
Makret sat with his head in his hands. He knew that, despite what he had told Domrar, he was a dead man. Neither he nor Guinira had seen or even heard from The Kindler in over a year. Even if he could break out, he had no doubt that Guinira would catch him before he could get very far. He had lost all hope of surviving when the Black Power gathered around him in the cell. Just beyond the bars, Nasheem’s war hardened form and scarred face materialized, looking at Makret with a hint of a cruel smile.
“You should have remained in the forest, Druoth.”
“I did what I had to do. I had to come back. Edya knows that she must rely on herself for now.”
Nasheem’s cruel smile got wider. “And this letter that you left for her?” he asked, holding the folded envelope up in his left hand.
“How did you get that?”
“The spell of leading that you placed upon it. It was quite simple really. And the blue stone,” he held that up on the palm of his outstretched right hand. “That was impossible to miss.” “But that spell was shrouded. Only a Drog could read that magic and …” he faded out, not knowing which was more impossible: his thoughts being correct, or voicing them to one of the Seven Devils.
Nasheem let out a tired sigh. “It has been many long millennia since a mortal guessed the truth. Yes, Druoth. The Drogs did exist well before El Bendro Dakoia. And I was once one of them.” …
Later that night, Guinira visited him once more. She used his first name, but not in the way he was used to, not the way that sent the shivers down his spine. She used it seriously, like she really wanted the answers he had to give. She stood, staring through the grate-iron cell door, while he lay on the cot.
“Makret, why do you stand with the dead? What can the Garrenins do for you or Anaria now?”
“I stand with Taren still for the same reason that I willingly bowed to The Kindler on Taren’s orders. He was a good king, and a good man. A good friend.” “I thought it would be Taren. But, was he really a good enough friend that you alienated yourself from your entire race just because he asked you to? I don’t understand.” “Because you think only in terms of power, as too many of our kind do. We have greater strength and magic that is denied to many of our kind, so we believe ourselves above even others of our race. Taren was never like that. He didn’t want the power that he was born to.” “Taren committed heinous acts in his quest for power. Not even you can deny that.”
“What did he do? He imprisoned three Morschcoda, and they were treated very well, as you yourself can attest. He stopped a war in Dothoro, which you started, and in his conquest of Caladea and Meclarya, one man and his dragon died. Most of the casualties of Taren’s conquest were Drogs, which you ordered Daliana to attack. Everyone who bowed did so willingly.” “Because they had no choice?”
“There is always a choice. Even Dalasin made a choice, and he had less of one than any other person in history that I could name.”
“Dalasin was dead anyway.”
“But he still chose to end his own life and deny you.”
Guinira was silent for some time after that, but she eventually spoke again. “Is it really choosing if you know that you would never make a different decision?” Makret thought carefully about his answer. “Dalasin had no control over the fact that he was going to die, but he still made the choice to end his own life in his duel with you. Whether or not he would or could have chosen to submit to the axe is for the historians to debate. If any survive this war, that is.” Guinira groaned. “I have had enough of your pointed opinions about how I rule. I don’t want to do half of the things that The Kindler has me do, but I can’t deny him. I don’t have that power.” Makret snorted in disgust. “You’re his regent. You’re the only one who has that power.”
“What power do I have? I say no, I die. I lose the wrong battle, I die. There aren’t many foreseeable scenarios where The Kindler doesn’t get his way that I don’t die.” Makret sat up. “Maybe you can’t say no, but you don’t have to say yes.”
“I don’t understand …” but her voice trailed off as Makret’s meaning came to her.
“There are other ways to deny someone than by telling them no.”
“You want me to aid the Remnant.”
“That may do some good, but it would be very dangerous. Unfortunately, the best thing you can do for Anaria now is …”
“Is what?” She walked closer to the door of his cell, staring more intently than before. “What is the best thing I can do?”
He looked her in the eye, took a deep breath, and he shrugged. “You could die.”