The Silent Witness (Published)

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“Human sacrifices!” Ismińa shouted at Verontó across the throne room in the grand palace. All the gods sat on their thrones, too stunned to comprehend what’s been going on, or rather failed to respond when fire tasted human flesh for the first time in over five hundred thousand years. Ismińa, standing on her platform, was furious.

Her attire showed the kind of goddess she was, not only in wisdom but in power too. Her tight-fitted dress was white with metallic gold edgings along the lining with an open neck. The thin strips of silk that strapped her dress ran from the front to the back and ran along her neck that tied her long cape that hung loose, almost reaching the floor. With every movement she made, the white parts of her dress glittered gold. She wore golden sandals and her diadem was beautifully crafted, complimenting her long, golden hair that ran along her back. Unlike her cousins, she had pin-straight hair and like the rest of the Evertheenians, the centre of her diadem shone her symbol of power with a metallic gold that circled slowly around on its axis. Her intelligent, grey eyes were scanning the others in the throne room.

“What are we going to do about this?”

Verontó stood up and walked towards his platform. “Let things be! Everyone knew this day would come. Were you all so naïve that peace would reign for thousands of years?”

“It’s not about war, cousin! It’s about a child who was used in an unnecessary ritual to gain your favour!”

Verontó shrugged. “The child was homeless. Alkan did him a favour.”

Vězra exploded. “No matter if the child had parents or none, it wasn’t called for!” Verontó went back to his throne and sat down heavily. He never gave his cousin or his mother eye contact. Vězra and Ismińa were still standing on their platforms, looking at each other.

“Is no one going to say or do anything about this?” Ismińa repeated in earnest, looking around for someone to agree with her. She then looked at her aunt. “You are the goddess of Motherhood, Queen Vězra. Does none of this have any effect on you at all?”

Before she could answer, Zethër got up and walked to his platform, eyeing his son.

“This is indeed an unfortunate situation, but, we gave the mortals free will. Hopefully, these will come to an end soon when Alkan feels he has fulfilled his destiny.” Turning his attention to Sælev he asked, “I believe Alkan will be making a pilgrimage to Yearn Answer to seek out the Thenin and hear her prophecy, yes?”

Sælev nodded in agreement.

The Thenin was a prophetess who lived on the island of Yearn Call. Once a year, she would travel from her island to the city of Yearn Answer and take up residence in the grand temple of Sælev, the city’s patron god, as he was also the god of prophecy. People from all over Barathorn would undertake this pilgrimage once a year in the hopes to hear about their future and receive advice from the all-knowing Thenin. This event lasted two weeks and after that, the priestess would return to her island, only to be seen again the following year on the mainland.

Sælev chose a priestess every forty years. He introduced the concept of prophecy to the people of Barathorn over three thousand years ago. It was to give the people guidance and inspiration, but also for them to never forget who created mankind and that they, the Evertheenians, were the real power behind Barathorn’s existence.

“I hope your Thenin will give him a good scare!” Ismińa said to Sælev.

He got up and spoke, “Everyone knows the Thenin receives her prophecies on the very day the seeker is in her presence. Once the question is asked, she will receive a divine answer and relay it to the pilgrim. I will not forfeit the law just because you’re upset that Alkan sacrificed a child!”

“He sacrificed twelve children already!” Ismińa shouted. Before anyone could say anything, she turned and pointed at her father, “and don’t you dare say they are all happy in Terra Nimble! This goes beyond what we stand for!”

Olěnd was struck by his daughter’s temper. Zethër cleared his throat. Everyone realised he was still standing on his platform and they all took their seats and sat in respected silence.

“If we created mortals only to do our bidding then what was the purpose of us ever creating them in the first place? They are not our slaves, nor are they pawns to play with. They have a life and we have ours. Let them do whatever they want. Remember Ismińa, they were given a choice, but you gifted them with a conscience. This will blow over. Humans eventually get tired of despots.”

She remained unconvinced. She believed Alkan wouldn’t stop at Støne Fønt.

“And once he has dominion over the entire eastern part of Barathorn?” She asked. “Do you think it would sit well with Hatmin? He won’t sit idle if Alkan crosses the sea to western Barathorn. Hatmin will find his presence on his side as a challenge.”

Verontó looked up and had a gleam in his eye, which caught Ismińa’s attention. She eyed him out.

“What did you promise Hatmin?” Ismińa asked.

Verontó looked at his cousin with amusement. “The usual prayers. Nothing special.”

“He promised Hatmin the entire western part of Barathorn,” Sërafinn said while standing and walking to her platform. “I’ve heard his prayers at night.”

Verontó’s eyes flashed. “You dare listen to prayers that don’t concern you!?” He shouted.

“You forget brother. I see and hear everything at night. I’m the one who presides over the dominion after the sun sets.” was her casual reply.

Verontó threw his hands in the air. “Go and sulk at the landmark and stay out of things that don’t concern you!”

“Enough!” Zethër shouted. “Everyone here will treat all matters that are discussed in this throne room with respect, including each other. If we fight, we are no better than human beings.”

He turned to his son. “Hatmin will not have western Barathorn, Verontó, just as Alkan will not have the east. I forbid it.” Motiňa was glad to hear this, but Verontó kept quiet. Ismińa found it very unusual for him to remain calm. She could only comprehend that he had something in the works, but that remains yet to be seen.

“Færró,” Zethër looked at his nephew. “What news of the other kings?”

Færró got up and walked towards his platform. Unlike the other gods, his features were unique. He had light grey coloured wings that were transparent. With every flap, subtle white and blue dust would fall gently towards the ground and fade. His great wings were attached to both his shoulder blades and his girdle from behind. He wore long, tight black leather pants as well as knee-length black boots studded with gemstones. His girdle had his symbol of power that shone brightly in the front. He was bare from the waist up and rather well-built with slightly tanned coloured skin. He wore black gauntlets that were studded with moonstones. When he was not in flight, his wings would fold in front of him and amalgamate into his body, showing no trace that he had wings. When his wings were folded, his bare upper waist sported a black sleeveless cuirass with the usual gauntlets he wore. His long, black hair flowed as if the wind was softly blowing and his eyes were deep blue.

“Hepharis seeks an alliance with Gunner. The two are wary of constant strife and seek only peace and stability. They will unite their kingdoms through marriage between their only children.” He said.

Ismińa was pleased with the news. “Both men are advanced in years. They don’t seek glory and admiration as the young strive to do.”

“The marriage will take place next month,” Færró announced.

Samrósa sighed heavily. “Everyone knows that! Tailors are flocking from every corner of Barathorn to make the couples’ wedding attire. Their prayers to me are exhausting!”

Motiňa smiled. “Remember Samrósa. If you wish to speak, you are to have your say while standing on your platform.”

Samrósa eyed her aunt. She got up and walked gracefully to her platform. “May I have everyone’s attention,” she announced sarcastically. “I know there is going to be a royal wedding because all the tailors on Barathorn are praying to me in the hopes that I will grant them favour in making the ’happy’ couple’s wedding attire!”

Samrósa looked at her aunt with a defiant look, then returned to her throne. Kafshëva and Tengër looked at Vězra, who was trying (and failing) to hide her smile. Motiňa stared at her niece. No doubt she would end up being a victim of Samrósa for a new hairstyle or outfit for the queen of Marpøøn Gantal, just as she was used as a trial run for the new hairstyle Samrósa was proposing during the time she saved the little boy who got lost in the Pass Nøtt Førest. She shivered at the thought.

“If there is nothing left to discuss then this meeting is adjourned. We will have another meeting soon.” Zethër announced. The Great Six got up and began walking towards the doors.

The aurora lights above began to emanate an angry crimson colour. The last two gods who remained seated were Verontó and Ismińa, eyeing each other with defiant silence.

* * * * *

“Do you surrender this city unconditionally?” King Alkan casually asked, holding a dagger close to Aralin’s jugular while being held by two of Alkan’s personal guards. King Alkan marched to Støne Fønt in the spring as everyone suspected when news spread of an army being mustered at Caper Løck and although Aralin wanted peace, he went against the Council of Seven and sought a private audience with the king.

Støne Fønt was a city that housed scholars, lecturers, and philosophers. Throughout its history, it never had an army. In fact, it didn’t even have a militia or a single barracks. Aralin reasoned that if he sought peace with Alkan, the city will be no threat to the king whose only ambition was conquest, but what he failed to realise were the deepest desires and true intentions of the king’s mind and heart.

When Alkan’s army camped outside the walls of Støne Fønt, an envoy was sent to the city to open the gates so that peace terms could be discussed. The Council of Seven refused, saying that if this king wanted peace, why did he bring an army?

However, Aralin; who was elevated to sit on the council, thought it best to at least reason with this new king. He secretly sent a messenger in the middle of the night to deliver his request for a private audience with King Alkan, who was busy in the command tent planning a frontal assault and where to position the trebuchets should his terms not be met.

When the messenger was escorted inside, one of his generals quickly closed the map, in case the messenger turned out to be a spy. He delivered his message and Alkan cheerfully thanked him and answered that he would meet Aralin at midnight the following day.

“Make sure to tell your master,” continued Alkan, “I’ll meet him with only two of my personal guards. We will talk in private and leave on good terms.” The messenger bowed and dashed out of the tent, eager to get away from a man whose sacrifice was still burning on the pyre. He didn’t dare look in its direction, but the smell of burnt flesh was thick in the night air. He felt uneasy about Alkan’s all-to-quick answer. He saw something in the king’s eyes. Malice? Ambition? A hidden agenda?

Whatever it was, he ran to the secret door that could only be opened from inside. Aralin was relieved at Alkan’s answer. The messenger, however, withheld his thoughts.

Now, Aralin was being held firmly between two guards, while the messenger who had delivered his secret message only hours before was lying in a pool of blood. His eyes still open, showing the shock when Alkan delivered the killing blow.

“You never wanted us to give you the city unharmed! You came for bloodshed!” Aralin cried.

Alkan laughed. “You want me to walk through the gates with an army and fight against men holding scrolls? What kind of conqueror do you think I am?”

“I am one of the Seven,” Aralin said in earnest. “I tried to persuade the Council to change their minds and meet you to discuss terms of peace.”

“And yet you betrayed them, thinking I would favour you for your brash decision?” Alkan sneered. “It seems to me that this council of yours isn’t as clever as they claim. I believe cities cannot be ruled by many. They should only answer to one person. One who will reign with absolute power!”

Aralin hung his head in shame. He thought he was doing the right thing. He thought he would save everyone from unnecessary slaughter. He thought he could reason with Alkan. The realisation came too late. How can anyone reason with someone who does not find reason as the alternate solution to war?

“No city should be governed by a council who are too set in their ways to see that the world is changing,” Alkan turned to Aralin. “Order your men to open the gates!”

To this, Aralin struggled, but firm hands were holding him down, rendering all forms of movement near impossible.

“Never! You snake! You pretended to meet on peaceful terms. The gods will damn you!”

Alkan laughed. “The gods favour the strong. I have a message for your council.” He tilted Aralin’s head to face him. “Your council will never have eyes and ears to rule this city!” He proceeded to gouge out Aralin’s eyes, to which he let out a horrific scream, then slashed his throat. He ordered one of his men to cut off Aralin’s ears and place them in a bag, along with Aralin’s eyes and have them sent to the Council.

While the one guard went to drop the bloody sack at the doors of the meeting hall and bring out the council members, Alkan and his other guard went to the men at the gates, who had no alternative but to obey. The gates were opened and Alkan welcomed his army into the city.

With the shouting and destruction the army had brought, everyone in the city came out to see what all the noise was about. Alkan climbed the steps to the highest point of the temple of Ismińa, while his army set many buildings ablaze and creating as much havoc as possible.

When the citizens saw Alkan he addressed them, “I am King Alkan of Caper Løck! No more will you be ruled over seven incompetent rulers, but one! Bow now and acknowledge me as your rightful king and live! If you don’t, you shall suffer the same fate!”

He then pointed in the direction where his soldiers were dragging the remaining six members of the Council. The people were in utter shock and could only stare at this atrocity.

“No more will these men ’watch’ over you, nor ’hear’ your disputes!” At this, the guard brought forth the sack and dumped its contents on the floor, making everyone who saw it shriek in disbelief.

“The eyes and ears that once belonged to your Council shall now be my responsibility!” Alkan had a manic smile on his face. How was it possible to enjoy torturing a human being? Those who shouted in protest were quickly dispatched by archers and swordsmen.

The remaining six were brought forth and a scaffold was quickly erected from the wood that was stored within the Academy’s storehouses. While the men were shouting and pleading, people began to cry out for mercy.

“These men deserve no mercy!” Alkan shouted. Nooses were tied and wrapped around the necks of each member. Before their executions, one member shouted in defiance.

“The gods are watching Alkan! Before you claim all of Barathorn, your end will not be a merciful one!” Alkan shook with anger and personally went to drop them to their deaths.

The cries of the people were unanimous, but they had no power over a king that had an entire army at his command, who now flooded the entire city. After the last member struggled and clung to the last bit of life left in him, Alkan turned his gaze on the grand statue of Ismińa.

He called one of his generals to him. “Have a sculptor create a new statue of Verontó and have it placed where hers is standing,” he nodded at the statue of Ismińa.

The general was a bit sceptical and asked nervously, “She is the patron goddess of this city, Your Majesty. Should we rather not leave it be?” Alkan gave him a murderous look and the general felt his heart racing.

“Fine! We will build her another statue if it makes the citizens of this city happy. But I want it smaller than that of Verontó. I want the god who favours me to be seen at the city’s entrance. Break hers down and have a smaller one built, out of plain sight.” The general bowed and quickly ran to give his orders.

In front of the scaffold where the six council members were hanging, now motionless with protruding eyes, a hooded lady walked towards them, placing her hand on the scaffold, and looked up at each one of their faces. In the background, she could hear the men busy tearing her statue down.

“You will be avenged,” Ismińa promised.

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