Caranne sighed and pushed opened the door to his quarters. The man sitting at the table was the last person he wanted to meet. He unbuckled his sword and shiva.
The man turned around and beamed with a smile. “Nephew. I was wondering where you’d gone traipsing off.”
Caranne dumped his satchel and sword on the bed. “Just because you’re the General of Awad, doesn’t mean you can enter my room whenever you please. And I’ve been gone for months. Do you come in every day?”
“Yes, I come to check everyday because I’m your young father. And I care.”
Caranne ignored the remark. He headed to the basin and splashed cold water to his face.
“I know you want to validate your father’s and brother’s work. And I understand it. But proving magic exists is not going to make the Viallan name famous.” The man with greying beard stood up.
“You’re different from them. You won the Sword of the Herons at the Knight Games. The best swordsman in all the land and you’re wasting your life away on this?”
Caranne turned around. “What have you ever achieved for the Viallans, young father? You sit here serving the very family who spat on our heritage. The Droullins do not deserve Awad. We owned these lands. We still rightfully own them. And yet you command armies on his whim. Why should I listen to you?”
“Because you’re wasting your life away chasing after ghosts. You think finding out past civilisations will help you unlock secrets to bring down the Droullins? I am no servant to the Droullins. I have risen to command the armies. I have taken the Viallans out from the depths of ignominy and raised them to the second most important name in Awad. What happened centuries ago does not determine the pride of our name. What we do with it now does. You can be an excellent soldier and yet you decide to waste your days roaming the lands looking for ruins.”
“And that is my choice as I have told you hundreds of times. So, please leave and let me be the failure you deem me to be. And just so you know, I met Aldric. He’s doing much more for the Viallan name than you ever will.”
The man shook his head. “I’m not here to criticize you and your brother. I’m glad he’s holding up well in that horrid desert which consumed your father’s life.” He raised a hand to pat Caranne’s shoulder but pulled away. “Let me know when you need more flowers. I know you haven’t taken any gold in months.”
Caranne heard the door shut behind him. He always manages to irk me. But deep down he knew some part of him was scared that his uncle was right. And it pained him to no end that he still strained the Viallan coffers.
He pushed the thought out of his mind. He could never trust the General enough to tell him about Dah-Kun. Maybe once he’d found the source of magic and the bandit lord aided him in overthrowing the Droullins.
He reached under his bed and scratched the underside and like every other time, a note fell into his hand. I entered the city less than an hour ago. Dah-Kun’s powers seemed to have no bounds.
The note left him surprised but his face broke out into a wide smile. He wouldn’t have to travel to meet the bandit lord this time. After months of travel, the last thing he wanted was to set off again.
He changed into a clean pair of trousers and a linen shirt but buckled in his shiva. It would not serve any purpose against Dah-Kun but the blade gave him comfort.
The city of Awad bustled in the afternoon. Caranne picked up two ripe apples from one of the hawkers lining the streets. Twenty petals! The price outraged him but he knew Lushrow was a nerve centre for trade between the north and the south. Prices were bound to be high.
Caranne headed past the market and headed to the Eagle’s View inn. The note asked him to meet at the Sea of Fountains, a special room reserved for only those who knew of it. Caranne knew because of the General. But how does a bandit lord know? Is it magic or just plain connections?
He entered the well-lit inn. Not too many people lounged about in the front tables but those who did, displayed affluence. Caranne walked up to the man poring over a thick leatherbound ledger and ordered the Sail of the Blood Isles.
The man nodded and tilted his head towards the back. Caranne headed past the double doors and out to the back. A shed led him through a tunnel which snaked its way up to a room at the top of the inn. He found the precaution useless and the location of the room evenmore so but evidently it’d still not faced the wrath of an assassin.
Caranne collected his thoughts. He needed to be sharp. Always around men of power. The bandit lord not staying in the bandit lands was a masterstroke. The Throddens kept sending spies to the bandit lands to track him but never in Awad. But Dah-Kun never came into the capital of the state. Why now?
He entered the room; a lavish spread of silks and the finest cotton from the land draped around the room. Even the floor rug squished under his sandals softly like feather downs. Luxury lined the room, all except the table with two chairs, on one of which sat the bandit-lord.
Caranne knew this wasn’t the man’s true face. He had originally considered it a bluff, a tactical ploy to allay his identity and to incite awe. But every time he had met the man he’d met a different person. Only the memory of the man remained the same.
“What news do you bring, Master Viallan?” The man motioned for him to sit.
Caranne had been mulling the words in his head. Confident not cocky. “My brother’s research has led us to a fantastic deduction.” He paused but the man’s expression did not change in the least. “Magic starts and ends from a particular place. We do not have to scour the entire lands anymore. We find the place where it emanates from and we will find the most number of magic-men there.”
The bandit lord’s lips barely moved. “The term is magus.”
“As you say, my lord.”
“So the north, is it? I suspected that it would be so. I had expected it to return to the deserts of Az’watha. Still, it leaves us with a lot of work to do. The northern states present a different challenge. Scouring those lands can be tedious.”
Caranne almost smiled. He had been waiting for this conversation ever since the imposter had uttered the theory. I can finally impress him. “Maybe not.” He pulled out the blood caked letter. “This letter points us to a significant number of magical events happening in Maray, strong enough that the mayor called for aid from the Thaddius.”
Dah-Kun betrayed no emotion as he read the letter. His lower lip curved upwards which unsettled Caranne. This face was not meant to have a smile on it.
“I hope this is a good lead, Master Viallan. But you must go and confirm your theory. If you are correct, inform me at once.”
Caranne had not expected a clap on the back but the lack of acknowledgment made him bristle. “When do you want me to leave?”
Caranne began to object but stopped himself. Rest could wait. A small price to restore the Viallan legacy. He nodded and turned to leave.
Darius stood on the deck of the fastest ship of their fleet- Morning Tide. Sailors milled about around him, loading supplies. The sun crept above the horizon, its amber rays illuminating the blue royal flag. The silver swords arranged like the spokes of a wheel glittered standing as a symbol of unity for the entire kingdom.
And it would be perfect if I was’nt going to Halaa. Anger simmered in him. But better me than Fabius.
Fabius stood along the rails towards the helm with Tarvus. Fabius had sailed a fair bit with the captain of Morning Tide, who’d snagged the honour as the youngest captain ever. Both shared a passion for the sea and Darius had heard of many of their misadventures. Still, brought up in an era of peace, the captain had demonstrated far greater skill than any other, even those who’d survived the last war, both in maneuvering the ships and military aptitude in naval warfare.
Although the ship appeared a trading galley from the outside, it had been modified to best the most brutal warships, using the litheness of a caravel with the structure of a high boarded cog. The journey to Halaa would have taken any other ship a shade above four months but according to Tarvus, the Morning Star would land at the port of Bleaka within three.
“Brother,” Fabius called out, walking towards him with Tarvus. “I’ve told dear Tarvus to take extra care of you given your bowel movements on the sea.”
Darius raised a mock punch. “I’ve only ever been sea-sick once, Fabius. And it was only because I had bad fish right before boarding.”
Fabius gave Tarvus a somber look. “Well, now you know what the prince cannot eat.” He burst out laughing and added. “Serve him eel if you must.”
The captain smiled awkwardly, his eyes shifting between the brothers.
Darius clapped the lean man on the shoulder. “Captain, feel free to treat me as you do Fabius. I intend to be your friend, not your prince.”
Tarvus nodded and returned a warm smile.
Fabius rolled his eyes. “Which means feel free to douse him in fish oil in the middle of the night and hide all the soap.”
Darius joined in the laughter. “So Fabius, when do you set out?”
“In a week. Fathers have asked me to pull together my retinue. I hope they don’t put in old Nordo with me. That geyser will make me talk to every lord and noble who wants to meet. And not let me go to a single tavern.” Fabius shuddered.
“I hope so too, brother. But do remember, we must get the votes from the north. In that much, fathers are right. We should’ve taken care of that.”
Fabius whirred with his lips. “Yes, I know Darius. And I promise I’ll get the votes.”
Darius gave him a glare.
“You know I mean it this time. But first, I first have to find the lost salt for Lord Droullin. I mean seriously, which lord complains to the king for lost caravans of salt. Not jewels, not gold but salt!”
Darius smiled. “That’s one reason I decided Halaa’s the better choice.”
“So, the sea is lifting your humour, I see.” Fabius broke out in a grin. “But be careful, Darius. Only traders have ever been to Halaa after the treaty was signed in Skada by fathers. This is the first time a prince will land on their shores. Make sure the tribals are all in check. As well as you,” he added softly.
Darius looked at his brother in surprise. I’m not the one who’s a savage. Did Fabius really share their fathers’ concerns?
Tarvus called out from the helm, over the waves crashing against the ship. “The tide is perfect, Prince Darius. We should set sail soon.”
Fabius pulled him into a tight embrace. “I wish we could’ve spent more time than this. I’ll see you in about a year. But hopefully, you’ll be back much before me and ready to cook me something other than fish.”
Darius held his brother by the shoulders. “I promise. And who knows, if I return early, I may even join you in collecting those votes.”
“I wish, although I doubt fathers would allow it. I can’t wait for you to become king. I’ll be rid of these stupid princely duties.”
Darius waved his brother off the ship and onto the rowboat. Maybe collecting the votes will mature him. At least he would come to no harm.