The Devil's Dominion

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Chapter 9: The Pursuit of Understanding

“I don’t understand this, El Darnen.”

“I know Daliana, but what can we do but wait.”

“How much rest does she need?”

“She stopped a river. If you want to understand how magically drained she is, try growing a sapling into one of the trees you see around you.”

“The youngest tree within a mile is three hundred years old. And that one there? I planted it. My favorite tree to sit in and watch the river had died, so I planted a new one. That was five hundred years ago, and it is one of the youngest trees in this area of the forest.” “That was the point, Daliana.”

She hung her head and buried her face in her hands. “There is just too much we don’t understand. Why did Taren have to leave us? He would have known what to do … who to trust.” El Darnen shifted uncomfortably as she mentioned her father, but Daliana did not notice. “Is that what’s worrying you, Daliana?”

“I am a Queen in exile, the Oak Tree of the Garrenin Prophecy. People look to me to lead them, and I want to be able to do it, but all I ever have is questions. And when I finally receive even one answer, I am delayed in the pursuit because of circumstances beyond me.” El Darnen sighed in frustration, but not at Daliana. He too felt what was gnawing at her. “I don’t pretend to know everything, nor do I know what it is that you should do, but if you ask me, I will answer as well as I can.” “And yet that is the first thing that troubles me. Two of my chief advisors are a traitor and a criminal. If a serpent speaks highly of something, should I not choose something else?” “You don’t trust me.”

“…Not just you.”

“Daliana, the past is behind us. Leave it there. Am I not one of the leaders bound by the Garrenin Oath?” She silently nodded. “I stand with you Daliana. As does Edya, and all of the other Morschcoda, even Erygan.” “Aside from Edya, I’m not concerned about the other Morschcoda. I don’t think that you can begin to understand what it is that is bearing down on me right now.”

El Darnen nodded in understanding. “You are concerned that the daughter of a Morschcoda could fall low enough to become the Queen of Candles, The Kindler’s regent. You worry about how the one of the greatest Morschen to ever live fell to the same level, even though he seems to be fighting his way back. You wonder how one of the only people you can call friend stopped a river, and you can’t understand how anyone, least of all a woman that small, could survive that long with that serious of an injury.” Daliana looked at him in shock. “I know, because I have been wondering many of the same things.” “I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be. Every single person, greater or lesser, believes that they are alone at some point. You could be the most powerful king or queen on earth, but it takes more than that to remember that there are others who have probably gone through the same things. It takes humility, a concept that Morschen as a whole do not understand very well.” “Should we ask Gelinia about how she has lived with that wound?”

El Darnen’s response sent a cold shiver of silent terror all through Daliana. “I wouldn’t ask her that unless all of the Seven Devils were standing before me.”

Later that evening, the two were again talking. “El Darnen, I know before I said that I don’t trust you. I’d like to apologize.”

“Don’t worry. I don’t trust myself. You’re wise to hold me away from you.”

Daliana was silent for some time. “I have to know before we leave the forest. What is it that you guard? And why keep it so secret?”

El Darnen did not reply right away. Instead, he sat deep in thought. And then he began with the words of a very old poem.

“From battle and death, the Band of Heroes rode. They laughed at and sang of their troubles untold. For never a victory to them so bold, did the Fates in their pillared halls withhold … The Band-leader’s eye, enemies espied. The swords of their foe, their great captain defied. The arts for his healing, everyone tried. But his body was broken, his spirit had died … Through the mountains with terror great. Across the peaks lead their fate. Never once did their fear abate …”

Daliana finished the last verse of the Croba Harnesh Qrua. “Until at last they stood at The Haunted Gate.”

It was two days later, the eve of the Silver Moon and the Morschen New Year, when Edya first left her tent, watched closely by El Darnen and various healers. The first thing that she did was demand to see Daliana.

Daliana was reading a copy of the Croba Harnesh Qrua that she’d requested sent to her. She looked up over the pages as she heard the Drog woman’s unsteady movements. “Edya! You’re finally awake.” She patted the ground beside her, waiting for Edya to sit.

“Yes, and according to the healers, I’m still not allowed to do almost anything.”

“And what do you say?”

“Where is my sword?”

Daliana cocked her head as though that would help her hear Edya better. “Why?”

“Because, whether or not you bear the name publically, you are a Garrenin. If Taren returns, as Makret seems to believe that he will, it will be on my head if I have not made you into an arms master by then.” “Edya, I don’t have the time. With you recovered, El Darnen and I are leaving for the Garuthen Mountains.”

“When?” The question was more of a growl than anything else.

“Not for two days. I want to be in Dothoro for the Silver Moon, and after the Silver Moon …”

“Is the Red Dawn and then the Black Night.” Edya leaned back against the log she was sitting in front of. “Two days will give me time to prepare.”

“Prepare for what?”

“You think that I’m going to sit here and let you run off with El Darnen? I’ve had enough of this forest to last me two lifetimes. I need to see the blue sky again, from somewhere far beyond this leafy land of yours. I would prefer the shore, or a ship, but the mountains are as good as anything. Two days isn’t a long time, but it should be enough to make these bloody healers believe I’m not pushing myself to recover too fast. Especially since I’ve been in bed for what? Two weeks?” Daliana tried to hold a storm of emotions in check. On one hand, she wanted Edya to come with her, if only to provide some relief from El Darnen’s grumpy and silent nature. On the other, Edya was the only skilled commander that she had, with Ranny in the Garuthen Mountains and Erygan far to the north. She needed Edya to be where there was an army to command in case the Deshika came back. “I need you to stay here, Edya. You are in charge. If the Deshika return … I need you to be here.” “The same way that I was left in charge when you needed your trees so desperately? No. You owe me this, Daliana.”

“If the Deshika …”

“If the Deshika were coming back, they wouldn’t have left in the first place. Something tells me that Makret will not be leading any other attacks on the forest. I am going with you, Daliana. Let others hold this country.” It did not help Daliana when Gelinia asked for her either. Daliana was surprised that the healer allowed Gelinia to come out to the fire though, but as the healer put it, “She survived this long without proper rest. She’ll probably last one more night.” The first thing Gelinia said made it sound like it was not the first conversation that she had had that day. “Let Edya go with you, Daliana.”

“I can’t afford to leave Dothoro without a skilled commander.”

“If you haven’t noticed, Daken, Aleishi, and I are all still here. And Xari is somewhere.”

“You’re injured, and Daken is not what I would consider a competent commander.”

“He is a Morschcoda. He can lead and he can fight. What more do you need? And besides, you said nothing against Aleishi.”

“I don’t know if I can trust her.”

“You have to trust somebody Daliana. You can’t fight this war on your own.”

Daliana nodded in agreement, though she did not mean that she would trust Aleishi. “The only other tried commander that I have is Ranny, and she is far away. Actually, it surprised me when I found out that she was so skilled at command.” “Really? It doesn’t surprise me.”

Daliana looked hard at the injured woman that she thought El Darnen might have implied was one of the Seven Devils. She could not see it in her though. ‘No,’ thought Daliana ‘there is no darkness in her. She is one of us.’ Reassured, Daliana asked her why it was not so surprising.

“That requires a rather long answer.” Daliana tried to get more comfortable on her log. “After El Bendro Dakoia, Drogoda was the only country whose army was still … alive. So, they decided to start wiggling around, slowly expanding, pushing into the uninhabited lands around them. Eschcota and Meclarya made a show of force at their borders, nothing that would invite an attack, but not too small either. Armanda took it as a personal insult, and forced the Drogs into a battle that neither really wanted. So, when Flame Weavers began showing up in force every time the Drogs tried to expand southward, Drogoda looked the other way. For a time. It may not be pleasant to know, but that is why a large part of your forest is in Edya’s lands.” Daliana laughed at that. “We gave them that land. They needed timbre for ships, and those trees, at the edge of the forest, they were young and far beyond the centre of our influence.” Gelinia rolled her eyes. “We are under those trees now, Daliana, legally on Drogodan land. But, if it helps your ego to think that, by all means, do so.”

“You can’t expect me to believe that Dothoro wouldn’t put up a fight otherwise.”

“I can expect you to, but I don’t. Dothoro was once very different. Even if they’d had the army to fight back, after El Bendro Dakoia, your people were pacifists. They refused to march to war, even to defend their own land. They changed their minds quickly though. And there was Garrenin blood in the Danalath line. That was all millennia later though. Not relevant at the moment.” Gelinia gave a little half laugh. “You weren’t the only ones who just rolled over. Half of what is now Western Drogoda used to be part of Storinea. Drogoda marched west, trying to get around Armanda’s fortifications on the border. It ended badly, especially for the Storineans. Drogoda kept pushing. Armanda kept pushing right back. Finally, Drogoda decided to try and outguess Armanda, and the Garrenins started pushing east, through Caladea.” Gelinia stopped and shifted her position, so that she was no longer looking right at Daliana. Staring into the dwindling fire, she continued. “It worked for a bit too. But then it was just more of the same. Both borders expanding eastward, taking a massive bite out of Caladea with the little yellow sun caught in the middle. Only, the Caladeans got mad. The decided that they were not going to stand by and let what was happening continue. They started pushing right back at both of them. It caught Armanda and Drogoda by surprise. And it brought them both to their senses. Armanda surrendered some of the land that they took, maybe about half of it. Drogoda decided that it had earned what it claimed. Maybe the Garrenins did, but either way, they were in no condition to fight for it, even if they had been challenged. The first of the Garrenin Wars had broken out. Carva saw her chance with most of Miashny’s armies still close to all of the expanding borders. After Miashny won the war, no one was willing to challenge Drogoda for a long time, and then only if Drogoda was the invader. Either way, Caladea was the only country that ever really stood up to Drogoda and Armanda together. Since then, the Caladean Morschcoda has always been given training in military strategy and command.” Daliana absorbed the rather long answer silently. Gelinia pushed the ends of some of the longer sticks back into the fire.

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