Illiom, Daughter of Prophecy (2nd Ed)

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Chapter XXIII

Sudra and the Walkers of the Dream

And it came to pass that Sudra sought Iod in the Sacred Grove known as Geweldion. She found Him beneath the lush canopy, amongst the ancient tangle of earth-red roots.

He stood with His face lifted, eyes closed, a faint smile playing upon His lips.

Everything around Him was bathed in His radiant light and it seemed to Sudra that the trees leaned towards Him, bathing in the richness of the God’s presence.

As it so often happened when they met, eternity came and left in an instant. When no time was left, he whispered her name.

‘Sudra...’

And they merged as one.

Later they walked through the Grove, basking in each other’s radiance, delighting in the exquisite sweetness of it.

‘Beloved of Mine,’ said Sudra as they reached the blue shores of Mahanta’s Lake. ‘What of the Walkers who dwell within Ataram’s Dream, ignorant of their true nature?’

Iod waited for Her to continue, for He knew there was more to come.

‘My precious One, desperate implorations reach me from countless souls who dwell upon the world known as Âtras. I have grown deeply concerned about what their prayers reveal. It seems that they believe the lies of Irrsche the Render, seduced by the belief that they are small and that the Lord of Death rules them utterly. How can they not know the truth that blossoms even in this instant within them?’

Iod, mindful of Sudra’s compassionate nature, listened raptly to such matters that normally would never cross his ecstatic awareness.

‘I have a need,’ continued Sudra, ‘to descend into this world of mortals and witness directly the nature of their existence. To this end, I shall journey to Âtras to experience what the Walkers of the Dream endure.’

Iod walked until his golden feet met the gently lapping waters of Mahanta’s Lake. He squatted and brushed his fingers over the still mirror of water, stirring movement and light across the lake’s vastness, creating a hundred thousand perfect rainbows.

His eyes were bright with wonder.

‘Sudra, my Beloved, You will do as You must. Your divine gifts illumine the dark corners where my light reaches not, for what You see, I am blind to.’

These words did Iod speak and, being both soft and sweet, they carried across the surface of the waters like a melody. It echoed within the depths where even Mahanta, in her cave, stirred, smiling in her sleep.

Sudra held Her Beloved for a time.

Then, releasing Him, the Exquisite One said, ‘Lord of Light, I shall depart from Thee now. And when I return I will speak of that which I have seen.’

Iod smiled and, without answering, dove into the crystal waters of the lake where a myriad tiny creatures became spellbound by His radiance.

This is the 6th Fragment of Sudra’s Lore




THE PRIESTESS AND THE NOVICE

It was almost noon when Illiom and Tarmel made their way down to the Great Hall where they found Elan and Mist in the midst of their meal. A servant intercepted them before they could sit down.

“There is not much left in the way of breakfast, my Lady. Almost everyone has already eaten and is now at the fair. But I will check in the kitchens and see what the cook can rummage up for you.”

When he left, Illiom and Tarmel joined Elan and Mist.

Illiom turned to Elan with a smile. The Daughter’s eyes were rimmed with tiredness.

“Did you not sleep well?”

She smiled weakly, shook her head, then looked down at her plate and for a moment Illiom thought that was all the response she was going to get.

The priestess looked up again.

“I have been worrying about my brother, Jalon. He is a Bow in Tarsamal’s Ward and is stationed in the Mendrond area.”

When Illiom’s expression remained blank, Elan added, “The place where they are having those unexplained fires.”

“Oh,” Illiom said, remembering.

“I took Elan up to the aviary tower this morning,” Mist explained. “They despatched a swallow to the area for her, asking for news of her brother.”

Illiom’s eyes widened.

“What a good idea!”

Elan shook her head in frustration.

“He is still just a boy, his head full of heroics and nonsense. Far too young to be in the Ward, but nothing I could do or say would sway him, of course.”

She shrugged in helplessness and Illiom smiled sympathetically.

“Is he your only brother?”

“No, I have two others: one older and the other younger, as well as one sister. I am the second born.”

“Are the others here, in Kuon?”

Elan nodded.

“At my family home in the East End.”

“Elan’s father is a prominent stone merchant in the city,” Mist volunteered. “He is responsible for many of the more recent structures.”

The priestess shrugged dismissively.

“These days he mainly supplies masons who do repairs or extensions, but yes, he is known well enough.”

This prodded Illiom’s interest.

“So you became a Daughter despite the fact you did not have to? Is it not customary for the fourth born to step onto the path of the Gods?”

Elan nodded.

“Yes, that is traditional: the first born inherits the family trade, the second becomes a manager in the employ of the first or becomes an apprentice in a related guild. The third is trained in the art of war and the fourth becomes a Daughter or a Brother. My brother Jalon is the youngest; it would have fallen on him to become a monk had I not insisted on pursuing this path.”

She smiled, reminiscing.

“I know for a fact that he is grateful I made this choice before he came of age.”

Still curious, Illiom pressed on.

“What decided you to take the vows?”

Elan answered without hesitation.

“I never had any interest or, to be honest, any aptitude to manage family affairs. When the time came for me to apprentice, I explained to my father that I would become a liability rather than an asset. Surprisingly, and to my great relief, he agreed. It was an entirely different matter when it came to my older brother, Sergal. He really fought long and hard trying to change my mind.”

Illiom peered into the green pools of the priestess’ eyes.

“And that was the only reason?” she pressed.

“No,” Elan admitted, displaying the first true smile Illiom had seen push past her habitual reserve. “For as long as I can remember I had a longing that no other path that I know of came even close to fulfilling. That is the true reason that propelled me onto Sudra’s path.”
Illiom felt a shiver of excitement at Elan’s answer.

“A longing,” she repeated thoughtfully. “And has this longing been fulfilled in the Order?”

Illiom immediately regretted her words when she saw Elan’s expression tighten. After a few moments, however, the priestess looked wistful.

“Well, to a degree...”

The servant interrupted to spread an assortment of food before Illiom, then withdrew.

The priestess changed the subject with a question of her own.

“And what of you? You seem quite versed in the ways of the Goddess. When we met the other day I marked your greeting; it was like that of a Daughter. Have you had much to do with my Order?”

Illiom smiled slightly, amused by the other’s deft sidestep.

“I went so far as to become a novice, but when the time came to take the vows...” she shrugged, “...I quailed. Suddenly I was no longer sure that I was doing the right thing. In the end I chose to leave and opted for a more solitary path.”

Elan’s surprise was undisguised.

“A novice,” she mused. “And you completed the prescribed five years?”

Illiom nodded.

“That is a long time to travel down any road ... what caused you to abandon Sudra’s path?”

“Oh, I never abandoned the path. As I said, I just chose a more solitary one. I continue to honour Sudra to this day.”

Elan smiled again and tilted her head slightly, her eyebrows arched in question.

Illiom smiled back.

“...but I am not answering your question, am I?”

For a few moments Illiom contemplated the direction her story was taking, mindful of the secrets that lay buried.

She was so tired of hiding, drained by the things that festered below the surface.

“Let me put it this way,” she resumed finally, forcing a light tone. “I did not approach the temple simply out of longing to become a Daughter; I came to it at a very difficult time. It was desperation and fear that caused me to seek asylum there.”

Elan’s smile faded. Illiom broke off a chunk of dark bread and began to smear it with butter.

“At first ... I was convinced that I had found what I needed. Then, as time passed and the crisis that had led me to the temple receded, I realised the truth.”

Elan cocked her head to one side.

“Five years?”

Illiom smiled, a little embarrassed.

“I can be slow at times.”

She bit an end off a sausage and followed it with a piece of bread.

“So ... what was the crisis that led you to the temple doors to take up the life of a Daughter? What happened?”

Here it is, thought Illiom.

Grateful that her mouth was full, she chewed slowly, giving herself time.

What could she say? That she had nearly killed a man without quite knowing how? That she had run away in fear for her life, in fear of people’s abhorrence of what she had done? Could she trust Elan to react any differently from the others?

You will have to start trusting your own someday, Illiom.

She gasped.

Who?

She swallowed but the food caught in her throat. She began to cough and sipped some cider to clear her throat.

She searched the ether for her owl, but nothing came back to her from the silent void.

“You do not have to tell me,” the priestess commented softly, mistaking Illiom’s silence for reticence.

Her words had the reverse effect on Illiom.

“No, I really want to. It is just that...”

She also wondered how she could tell Elan about Who. She was no longer sure if the owl had really spoken to her. Silence was all that now filled her mind.

“…I have not spoken of what happened to anyone, not once, not ever.”

Her eyes were downcast, unable to meet the priestess’ gaze.

“It is not an easy thing to do, even now...”

Why not tell her – after all, Illiom was not the only one to have been summoned by a glowing stone, by an object of power. Seven of them had, so if anyone could withstand hearing about her mysterious gift, about her shameful past, maybe this Daughter could.

Elan reached across the table and laid her hand on top of Illiom’s.

“Then I am honoured with the trust that you bestow upon me,” she said simply.

That was enough, it tipped the scales in Illiom’s mind. She began to speak, first of the distant past and the tale of her finding, and then of her upbringing in the monastery of Iod.

Elan listened attentively, her eyes never straying from Illiom’s face.

“It is unheard of for monks to raise children – I was the only child in the monastery and perhaps, had someone else found me, they might have brought me to the orphanage, here in Kuon. However, Grael Munn saw something in me and repeatedly told me so. He kept me there despite the misgivings of some of the Brothers and he made it everyone’s task to raise me. And so it was that I was raised by scores of fathers; never did a single woman feature significantly in my life until I left the monastery.”

Elan looked deep into her eyes as she talked, fascinated by the unfolding tale.

Illiom pressed on.

“All went well until my eleventh year, the year Grael Munn fell ill. He passed away three days before the anniversary of my finding, when a birthday of sorts was traditionally celebrated. Then, for the first time in my memory, I felt completely alone. This was when my woes began – until that moment my existence had seemed entirely charmed.”

“It soon became clear to me that some of the monks had tolerated my presence only out of deference to the old man. With him gone there was no one left to champion me. Oh, I was loved by many; but none who wielded the respect and authority that Grael Munn had.”

Illiom sipped cider from her glass as a smile crept upon her lips.

“More to the point was the fact that I was changing. I was becoming more challenging for the dear monks who asked for nothing more than to be left to worship in peace and quiet. But quiet is not something that comes naturally to a girl on the brink of womanhood. It was with the intake of the new brothers in my thirteenth year that it became clear that things could not remain as they had. The child in me was leaving; I did not need a mirror glass to tell me that. I soon discovered that I could distract some of the younger monks very easily indeed. It was a great mystery to me, of course, and a source of much excitement.”

She still remembered how their eyes would glaze in response to a smile, a look, or even a simple gesture; these had suddenly become things of power. Illiom had discovered that she held some real sway over the young brothers.

“Even though I had no clear understanding of what I was doing, I began to use this new-found charm to my advantage, sometimes to gain small privileges or to avoid the chores I most disliked. Mainly however, I toyed with them just for my own amusement, for there was something breathlessly exhilarating in this kind of play.”

“Then one day a new brother arrived at the monastery. He caught my interest in a very unsettling way. I started to seek out his company whenever I could and I knew that he looked upon me similarly. Yet even though I was sure that I was concealing my interest, it did not go unnoticed. The long and the short of it was that within two moons of his arrival I found myself on the back of a cart, on the road to Gallid.”

“The two monks who took me with them were purportedly making the journey to buy supplies in preparation for winter and I had been asked to help them in this task. They were kind to me all the way down, but once we neared Gallid they informed me of the true purpose for this journey, what no one else in the monastery had had the courage to tell me: it had been decided that my continued stay there was no longer possible. They did not elaborate other than to say that the decision had been made ‘for my own good’.”

“I was furious at first. I felt betrayed, but my anger soon faded when the full reality of what was happening began to sink in. Until that moment the monastery had been my entire world and the prospect of leaving it left me feeling abandoned, alone and terrified. All those I knew and loved, all the family I had ever known, now lay behind me. Ahead I saw only cold, lonely emptiness, separated by cruel miles of wilderness.”

She had even tried to remember the road they had taken so that she could make her way back to the monastery later, alone and on foot.

“I tried to reason, to plead. I even tried to use my charm on them, but that only fuelled their anger. One of them said that that was precisely why I was being sent away. They reassured me that arrangements had been made and I was to go and stay with a good family. I would stay there until the God chose a different path for me to follow.”

Illiom leaned back in her seat and sat frowning up at the hall’s lofty vaults.

“I hated Gallid with a passion; the place was filthy and smelly. My host family did turn out to be kindly enough. The monks had told me that they were deeply devoted to Iod, and so they were; but they were just strangers to me. They owned and worked several small plots outside of town. They were not wealthy folk, but they lacked for nothing. They worked hard and I, of course, worked with them to earn my keep. Seven people lived under the same roof, in one large room: Marrinet and her husband – I no longer remember his name – their three children, Marrinet’s mother who was old, deaf and for the most part bedridden, and Marrinet’s brother-in-law, Crom.”

“I took an immediate dislike to Crom, a big, fat man who worked at the mill. He always stank of garlic and had the unsavoury habit of speaking right into my face, making the stench of his breath inescapable. I also came to loggerheads with the two older children who soon made it their mission to get me into trouble whenever they could. I became deeply unhappy.”

“Within a few moons of my arrival I had my first bleed and when Marrinet found out she hurried me over to the nearby temple, to be properly initiated into the mysteries of the Goddess. I still remember that as the day when an entirely new world blossomed for me. I had never seen so many women gathered in one place and was captivated by their beauty and by the air of mystery that surrounded them. I took to visiting the temple whenever I could. In many ways it reminded me of the monastery, only it was full of women, and my charm did not work at all.”

A peal of delighted laughter from Elan brought a smile to Illiom’s lips – a beautiful sound that erased all remnants of old sadness while it lasted.

Illiom’s smile disappeared as she resumed her story.

“Then one day the unthinkable happened. Marrinet’s husband sent me back to the house to fetch a sickle he had left behind. When I arrived I found Crom seated at the table. I was immediately cautious but had to get past him to get the blade. He allowed me to walk past unhindered, but on the way back he blocked my path. I tried to manoeuvre around him, but he caught my arm and began to tell me how much I meant to him and his brother and how affectionate he felt towards me, how beautiful I was ... all the while he was prising the sickle out of my hand, leaning ever closer. His breath stank of worse than garlic that day. He tossed the sickle to the far end of the room and suddenly his hands were all over me...”

Illiom stopped short.

In that moment she could still smell Crom’s hot breath, the noxious mingling of ale and garlic. She felt again the terror and helplessness of being caught in the man’s grip as he pawed her where no one had touched her before.

Simultaneously she realised that Tarmel and Mist had become silent and, like Elan, were leaning towards her, gripped by the unfolding tale. The words stuck in her throat then, refusing to be released, and her story stumbled to a halt.

The priestess followed Illiom’s gaze. With a glance she wordlessly pleaded with the Riders to move away. Tarmel nodded and stood up promptly. Mist followed suit and they walked a discreet distance away, leaving the two women alone.

Illiom swallowed hard as she struggled to resume her story.

“It was horrible. He was too strong and I did not really understand what was happening; nothing had ever prepared me for this. My whole body revolted against his touch. I managed to seize a jug and smashed it against his head but this only served to further incite him. He shoved me to the floor and punched me, splitting my lip, making my nose bleed. He tore at my clothes ... and then ... then he was lifting my skirts...”

The rush of grief felt suddenly alive and intense, as if the violation had only just happened. It washed through Illiom, flooded from her eyes and poured down her face. She felt cold and hugged her arms to still the shivering that had claimed her. Elan gripped her hand tightly. The priestess’ eyes were pools of compassion.

“I do not remember much after that...” Illiom said, remembering all too well the clammy weight of Crom’s body and his flushed face. She remembered the sudden stabbing pain and the horror of having something nameless, yet precious, wrenched carelessly away.

She could not speak of that.

“It did not last very long, because...”

Again, she hesitated. This, she knew, was the crossroad; ahead there were only two paths. One was omission; she had already travelled that way before: it had assured her of complete understanding and loving support. The other was the path of disclosure, its promise of liberation overshadowed by the fact that it led towards the unknown, towards possible danger.

Frozen with fear, she searched the green depths of the priestess’ eyes, trying to gauge how best to proceed.

The priestess looked back, her gaze firm and compassionate, allowing her to continue in her own time. After a few heartbeats, Illiom leapt past that final obstacle.

“It did not last long because something happened,” she said, pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes and then wiping at the tear trails that lined her cheeks.

She snatched up the goblet and drained its contents.

“Something flared up inside me: a mixture of fear, loathing and pure hatred; and in that very moment Crom just stopped in the middle of ... what he was doing to me. He stared at nothing for a moment, blinked a few times and then began to scream.”

She would never forget his expression, it was one riven with utter panic. He had flailed his arms about, as if groping around for support, and found purchase on the table nearby. He had rolled off her and struggled to his feet, toppling a chair in the process.

“He started to wail, ’Aye can’t see! Aye can’t see!’, and yet his eyes were open wide.”

He had struck such a pathetic and frightened pose that she had almost felt sorry for him ... almost.

“I managed to crawl away, but I must have made a sound for suddenly he turned on me. He screamed, accusing me of blinding him. He called me a whore and then ... a witch. He started yelling that word at the top of his lungs, calling for help, as if he, not I, was the victim.”

With that, fresh tears emerged, and Elan cradled her in her arms and stroked her hair. Her chin resting against Elan’s shoulder, leaning against the warm comfort of the priestess’ neck, Illiom sobbed quietly.

The wave subsided and she continued her story.

“He was groping around blindly, trying to find me. I knew that he would kill me with his bare hands if he caught me. Luckily, he tripped on something and fell, so I seized the moment and ran from the house. Holding my torn and bloodied clothes in place as best I could, I fled through Gallid, crying all the way, making for the only place where I hoped to find help.”

“The temple,” the priestess filled in.

Illiom nodded.

She straightened and pulled away from Elan.

“The Daughters took me in and tended to me. They clothed me with their own garments. They would have sent someone to collect my things, but I would not tell them where I lived for fear that they would discover what I had done to Crom and that they, too, would turn against me.”

She looked at Elan then, to see how the priestess was receiving all this.

Elan looked pensive; a small frown furrowed the centre of her forehead. At the same time she did not release Illiom’s hand, but continued to cradle it in her own, like a small injured bird.

Encouraged by this, Illiom drew a breath.

“I honestly do not know what I did to Crom that day or how it happened, but when he branded me a witch I became terrified. Even then I knew what they did to witches. The Temple priestess saw my state. She knew that I needed time to heal and that the Temple in Gallid was not a suitable place for me to stay, so she arranged for me to travel to Sudra’s refuge in the mountains north of Atund. Within that same moon I was travelling again, back into the mountains. And that is how I became a novice in the Order of Sudra.”

The priestess squeezed her hand.

“What a terrible thing to happen to you,” she said, shaking her head sadly, “and at such a tender age.”

Illiom took in a shaky breath.

“You are the first I have ever told the full story to. I never had the courage before...”

She stopped when Elan, looking past Illiom’s shoulder, nodded in that direction.

“We have company,” the priestess announced softly.

Illiom turned to see Argolan and Azulya striding determinedly towards them.

She quickly wiped her eyes dry.

“It was never your fault, Illiom.”

Elan smiled gently at Illiom and with a final squeeze of her hand she promised, “We will talk again soon...”

As Argolan approached, she took in the two Riders sitting apart from their Chosen, and then marked Illiom’s tear-reddened eyes.

She made no comment, however.

“Undina is distraught,” she announced instead. “Angar, Wind, and Scald have taken her outside the city; they are down by Uma’s Lake.”

Elan rose to her feet, her face a mirror of concern.

“What is the matter?”

Azulya shook her head.

“Nothing too serious, nevertheless something I should have foreseen. Undina is a tribal; her home is by the ocean. The ways of the palace are as far removed from her life as is conceivable. This morning she found that she could not breathe properly. She was burning with fever and kept saying that she needed water - not to drink, but to swim in. That is why they are down by the lake now.”

Illiom stood also.

“Can we do anything to help?” she asked.

“There is nothing more any of us can do, really. We are going down there ourselves now to see how she is – you can come with us if you like. Perhaps we can all meet by the lake and talk about last night’s events.”

It seemed like a good idea so Illiom and Elan discarded their unfinished meals and followed the Kroeni and the Shieldarm down to the stables.

The ride was the fastest in Illiom’s short experience, which was perhaps just as well for it effectively shifted her focus, distracting her from fretting about her disclosure.

Azulya and Argolan soon disappeared from view, their mounts breaking into a full gallop as soon as the path allowed.

Calm tried to keep up but Illiom found the speed unnerving. She reined him in and was rewarded with an uncharacteristic snort of displeasure.

Elan chose to travel with her and their Riders followed close behind.

Illiom was keenly aware of Tarmel’s glance; it was one of tight-lipped concern. She felt his protective presence and was grateful for the reassurance that it brought her. Simultaneously she also felt annoyance.

Could he be any more inconsistent? Just when she had decided that she must have imagined the bond their time together had created, and was preparing to distance herself from him, he behaved like this?

She focused on the ride.

The lake, when it came into view, was a pristine indigo expanse, rimmed by the malachite reflections of the gigantic Altran trees.

They left the road and headed towards the others, gathered on a narrow beach. Tethering the horses, they walked the remainder of the way to the water’s edge.

Scald, cowl securely in place over his shaved head, turned to greet them with a nod.

Illiom nodded back.

“Where is she?”

He bobbed his head in the direction of the water.

“Who knows? It has been a wonder trying to guess where she will surface next. I think she’s making for the middle of the lake, if not for the other shore.”

They scanned the still surface of the water silently for a time.

“There she is,” announced Grifor.

In the distance a small disturbance on the water marked Undina’s position. She was visible for a few moments and then was gone again, the water rapidly smoothing over the spot.

Wind, Scald’s beautiful Rider, turned towards them.

“She has been doing this ever since we got here. Now she will be gone until we are quite certain she has drowned, and then she will surface briefly, somewhere entirely unexpected.”

They watched for a long time but there was no sign of the Pelonui girl.

Illiom searched the lake’s surface in disbelief. Wind had not exaggerated.

“How can she stay underwater for that long?”

Azulya answered without shifting her gaze from the lake.

“You do not know? She is using her gills. Actually, she can remain underwater almost indefinitely.”

“Gills?” Illiom asked, stupefied.

Azulya turned and smiled.

“They are not noticeable. If you do not know where to look you would never spot them. All Pelonui are endowed with gills, just like the Roonhian’ka have claws and fangs. Unlike us, the tribals are well adapted to their environments.”

“Us?”

Scald looked at her blue face then down at his own tanned hands.

“Yes, us,” Azulya replied testily, “us, non-tribal people.”

Scald pulled a doubtful face then turned back towards the water without further comment.

“There!”

Grifor pointed again.

Illiom squinted against the dazzle of Iod’s light until she saw that Undina had reached the middle of Uma’s Lake.

They watched as she disappeared again.

“How long is she going to be doing this?” Scald asked, sitting down on the pebble-strewn beach.

“The rest of the day, maybe?” Sereth suggested with a grin. He sat a little distance away and sighed.

“I cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing. My mind seems to be clearing, the longer we stay out here.”

Azulya nodded.

“We could talk about last night’s Triune,” she offered.

Malco glanced at her.

“What is there to discuss?”

It was Scald who answered him.

“How about this new power that the Queen decided to thrust upon us ... this irresistible Power of Summons?”

Illiom smiled.

“Irrefutable,” she corrected.

“Whatever,” Scald said, brusquely. “What are we to do with it? Do we just summon whomever we want until we stumble upon something useful or antagonise everyone in Albradan? I must say that I do not understand why she took that step.”

“Well, the Triune was about to turn against us,” said Sereth, smiling thoughtfully. “I think the Queen was waiting in the shadows for some time before she decided to intervene. Her intervention brought her brother’s vote to have us dismissed to a very sudden and inglorious end...”

Scald nodded and interrupted before Sereth could finish.

“Yes, but I think it was a mistake. Who is going to respect us now? We have not yet proven ourselves in any way and all we have is the Queen’s blind faith that we might become useful. I do not like her brother much, but I do think he was right about one thing: Eranel is desperate and desperate people make bad decisions.”

When no one spoke he continued. “I am also concerned that the Queen’s move has created several enemies for us, and powerful enemies at that, not trumped-up puppets like ourselves.”

Azulya’s glance at Scald was sharper than usual but she made no comment.

“Does anyone know anything more about this Power of Summons?” she asked instead.

Argolan, standing at the water’s edge, turned at Azulya’s question.

“It is one of the sovereign powers of the regent. To my knowledge it has never been granted before, not in this way, not with such vast, all-encompassing reach. In a diluted form it is granted to judges and magistrates, but its reach is curbed by matters of jurisdiction, restricted to certain towns or to particular regions. Also, it usually holds no sway over the higher nobility, let alone over the royal family.”

She mused quietly for a moment.

“With the granting of this power, the Queen has taken the unprecedented step of officially endorsing you, the Chosen, as her representatives at a time when necessity forces her to be absent. You wield a power that, until now, only the rulers of Albradan have held.”

Silence followed Argolan’s explanation.

“So, my question stands, what on earth are we to do with it?” Scald asked.

“Use it sparingly, if at all.”

Startled, the group turned towards the voice.

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