CHAPTER 8 - HEART OF STONE
On Pøntam Islands lived a family of ill repute. The Pradins had lived on the island for six generations and never explored nor took any interest in the world outside their little home. They were not wealthy and had a hard life. Being in the north, the cold was a constant companion, and it hardened the hearts of many who dwelled there.
Alwin Pradin left his wife and two children when they were still very young. He’d gone to the mainland to seek his fortune, and since it was the first time he’d set foot on the mainland (and too proud to ask for assistance), landed up getting lost in the Pass Nøtt Førest. It was later rumoured he ended up with a band of outlaws said to have been led by a man with no conscience, nicknamed Kris Cross.
As the years went by, so too did the memory of Alwin Pradin fade. No one could give an exact account of his whereabouts. Not since the strange report from a woodcutter who had sworn by all the gods that he saw a tree bleed, did the danger in the forest come to a sudden end.
Sarita Pradin, the daughter of Alwin and Dena, was vain and became a bitter person with her lot in life as she grew older. It didn’t help that Dena spent more time with her son Bradyn, though Sarita refused to see that it was due to her attitude towards her mother and others in general that forced Dena from being close to her daughter, and so resorted to being there for Bradyn, whom Sarita nicknamed, “the Golden Boy.”
Because of the constant strife Sarita caused (including her promiscuous behaviour), she was forced from her home to find her way in life away from the island. She was taken on as an apprentice by a trade merchant in the city of Dastan Shades but was soon banished for sleeping with her tutor’s son.
She thought of moving to the village of Døwn Røute, or even the bustling town of Tøwer Hall, all the while carefully planning her routes to remain south of the Sullen River in case she landed upon the road leading north towards the village of Pass Nøtt, though secretly it was to avoid the possible chance of coming across her father, in whatever state she may find him.
She eventually landed up in the kingdom of Rake Turf, finding employment as an assistant to a shopkeeper. Working there for over two years and earning a meagre salary was not what she had hoped for. She yearned to be rich and powerful, with no one to tell her what to do. She decided on a new goal: save money and move across the Straights Øf Dale Førd and find a man of means in the city of Støne Fønt.
Even those who lived as far away as the Pøntam Islands had heard of the infamous Academy where many students had accomplished the impossible through hard work and determination.
Sarita had no interest in studying anything, only in finding someone and make sure that person would fall desperately in love with her, all the while she’d be pulling the strings without the poor man knowing. With this new goal set in her mind, she smiled to herself and closed her eyes, nuzzling closer to the shopkeeper’s son, Valin, who was snoring obliviously next to her.
* * * * *
Sælev was doing his best in trying to hide his amusement. It was an absolute privilege to watch his mother at work. Standing next to his uncle, facing her throne, Olěnd could do nothing but stare. He was wearing his usual attire: black leggings, knee-high boots studded with gems, long sleeves where the ends of the sleeves amalgamated into his wrists. His fingers had an array of rings on them, sporting different kinds of gemstones. He had a high neck collar with a V-neck lining and was wearing a golden pendant with his symbol of power on it. He wore a golden sash around his waist. Over his black clothing, he wore an off-white robe that fell in layers at the back down to his ankles. The lining along the entire robe was the colour of lapis lazuli and studded with all kinds of gems. Unlike the other gods, his clothing didn’t consist of a long train. His curly black hair fell loosely just past his shoulders and on his head, he wore a white-gold headband studded with rubies. He had a neatly trimmed beard, but his grey eyes didn’t hide his irritation with Vězra.
“Let me get this straight, Vězra. You want this man to go to Terra Nimble?”
Vězra straightened. “No Olěnd. I said I want Valin to have a re-trial and then send him to Terra Nimble, where he belongs.”
“But he had a trial!” Olěnd yelled. “The judges found him guilty and I sent him to Innøcence Løst. The man was a rapist.”
Vězra looked sharply at him. “We both know that was not the case.”
“It’s true uncle,” Sælev put in. His pupils, which were the sun, shone with mirth. “Sarita seduced him to the point of becoming desperate for her love and then abandoned him. He followed her to the point where she went to the local magistrate and stated he raped her. Before they could arrest him, they found him hanging from a tree.”
“That woman is vile,” continued Vězra. “Give him a fair trial.”
“He got one!” Olěnd shouted, his face turning red. “And never before had I ever given any human a second trial, not in this age, nor during the First Age. My word is final!”
Sælev took a subtle step away from his uncle when Vězra’s aura glowed dangerously as she fixed her violet eyes on her brother-in-law.
“Who is the king of Evertheen?” she asked quietly, almost in a whisper.
Olěnd swallowed. “My brother, Zethër.”
“And I, his wife? That would make me…?” She waited for Olěnd to finish her sentence. He had no choice but to, he knew where this was going.
“Evertheen’s queen, meaning my queen as well.” There was an unsettling pause and he sighed. At length, he straightened and said in a matter-of-fact tone, “Valin will receive a re-trial and will be escorted to Terra Nimble.” He gritted his teeth when he said the word re-trial.
“Good!” Vězra got up and walked down the steps towards her brother-in-law and kissed him on the cheek.
“Now, was that so hard?” He flashed her a look, gave a curt nod then stormed out of the throne room. Vězra’s eyes didn’t leave him until he left the throne room. Once he was gone, she climbed the stairs and seated herself on her throne, looking rather weary.
Sælev let out a deep sigh. He didn’t realise he’d been holding his breath during those last few moments. He had been mentally preparing for lightning bolts and fireballs flying across the throne room, even visualising Evertheen as an immortal version of Dørn Fields and Weeping Dusk that Vězra will always be famous for.
No one ever questioned Olěnd on how he judged those who died. There were four judges, but his word was final. Even if all the judges found a person guilty. Olěnd had always been firm, but uncommonly fair. Never had anyone doubted his judgement and even the mortals believed that if a loved one died, they never questioned where that person would be spending their afterlife. Terra Nimble was part of an extension on Evertheen, while Innøcence Løst was located in the underworld, where eternal punishment took place to those who were judged and sent there.
Sælev was known as “The Golden God,” not just because he was master of the sun, but also due to his attire, which shone a metallic gold. He wore no leggings, only golden knee-length greaves and sandals. His torso sported a muscle cuirass, showing off his well-built, bare arms and had golden gauntlets with his symbol of power burning brightly like the sun. His golden-coloured pleated leather kilt was studded with rubies, which complemented his metallic gold and red cape that hung just below his waist and was attached by a long golden strap across his neck. He was clean-shaven, with short, platinum white hair and had a golden circlet around his head with his symbol blazing with fire.
“What?!” Vězra snapped at her son, shaking him out of his reverie. “Speak your mind or fly off back to your palace!” She said in a harsh tone. Sælev swallowed nervously.
“It’s nothing major mother, it’s only that you never take any interest in the affairs of mankind.” Vězra closed her eyes and leaned her head against her throne’s backrest, letting out a sigh.
“It may surprise you that I do care about them than I care to let on.”
When she opened her eyes and looked at her son, her features were soft and less intimidating. She rose from her throne and walked down towards him.
“I don’t condone suicide, nor do I condemn it. I know their hearts and understand they’re not in their right frame of mind when they think that it’s the only option to end their problems. Sarita played him and I cannot forget it. And now, that poor, lonely old man has a little shop in Rake Turf that was meant to go to his only child and she robbed him of that, however meek his legacy may be.”
Sælev tilted his head, looking curiously at his mother. “You really hate that girl, don’t you?”
“Hate, is a strong word, my son. But I cannot deny my contempt for that family.” Gliding past him, with her hands clasped in front of her, she stopped in front of the Silent Whisper and thought for a moment.
“Curious though,” she continued, turning her head slightly but not looking at him, “why on all of Barathorn would you be Pøntam Island’s patron god?”
“I didn’t choose that!” He said more loudly than he meant. “It’s only that it’s so cold and they wish for it to be warmer!”
Vězra gave a harsh laugh. “Then they’re not at all as ‘bright’ as you. They are in the northern hemisphere which means it will always be colder than the south. I don’t have to be Ismińa to know that. After all, I am the one who changes the seasons.”
“Then they should’ve made you their patron goddess!” Sælev said in a mischievous voice.
Vězra looked back at the Silent Whisper and shrugged. “I am the queen. All of Barathorn knows me. I don’t need a city, village, town, or island to honour me.”
He began walking towards her. “If you don’t like that island so much, why not strike it down with an earthquake as you did with Dørn Fields and Weeping Dusk?” She wheeled on him, making him stumble in his tracks.
“Do you think so little of me to do such a thing?!” She thought for a while then looked at the throne of Tengër. “Anyway, even if I did strike it down, I’d have him to deal with,” nodding towards Tengër’s throne. “He’s already been preoccupied with your brother.”
She turned and stared into the Silent Whisper, idly gazing into the serene still-like waters. After a while, she asked, “Why are you really here?” There was such a long pause that Vězra thought Sælev had left the palace, but when she looked around, she saw Sælev staring out the Chart View.
“I’m worried about her,” His tone was soft but full of concern. Vězra’s attention was now on full alert and spoke with a touch of fear in her voice.
“Who?” She went to her son and took him by his arm and turned him to face her. “Answer me!” Sælev was taken aback by his mother’s outburst.
He quickly replied, “I meant Sërafinn.”
Vězra kept her gaze on her son’s face. She was trying to read what the concern was about that would make him come to the grand palace and voice his concern to her.
“Why would you say that?” she eventually asked. Sælev searched his mother’s violet eyes and saw genuine anxiety there, something the queen of Evertheen hardly showed.
“She broods in her palace, day and night. Even Tengër goes to see her at almost every phase of the moon. Sërafinn forgets to phase it, causing the oceans to completely fall in disarray, including some of the species in the animal kingdom.”
Vězra was still holding onto Sælev’s arm, her mind lost in thought.
“I have noticed odd things happening to the ocean and Kafshëva complaining over the behaviour of certain animals, but I’ve hardly paid much attention to it. She would never neglect her duties. So why now?”
“I don’t know mother,” Sælev said, gently taking her hands in his. “She rarely leaves her palace and Ismińa had found her throne on the moon unoccupied on several occasions. When it was the solar eclipse, I had to go searching for her. Luckily for the Chart View, I was able to locate her. We almost missed it and I didn’t want a speech from Ismińa that astronomers were going to come up with more fanciful theories. It’s enough that the sceptics already have false theories they have at present, concerning us Evertheenians and the roles we play.”
“Where is she now?” asked Vězra.
“Not, on Evertheen, but by the Mark River.” Vězra looked up at the aurora lights, which were dancing serenely on the gold-domed ceiling above them, all the while thinking about the incident.
“Of all the tragedies, she would relive that one. Did it affect her that badly?”
“I’m not entirely sure. She’s been very distant lately. Perhaps you should go talk to her?”
Vězra slowly glided towards the Chart View and looked through it and sure enough, saw Sërafinn sitting on a rock next to the Mark River.
“Oh, I will,” she said, almost to herself.