The Silent Witness (Published)

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CHAPTER 18 - ALKAN ARRIVES IN MARPØØN GANTAL

It was the day everyone dreaded. King Alkan Lothbert was allowed to cross the bridge with his entourage and was escorted by the king’s cavalry towards the entrance of Marpøøn Gantal. The soldiers on the bridge didn’t hide their contempt for him and when the entourage was lead through the bustling main street, the people didn’t cheer for him the way they cheered for King Hatmin and Prince Daris.

The crowd was silent.

Babies could be heard crying in the distance. Horses neighed, goats and sheep bleating and the sound of hooves on the road were the only echoes that could be heard. Alkan kept his head high while Elarosh scanned the crowds for any signs of an assassin that may be lurking about. But he knew, even with a man as vile as Alkan, the king and queen had invited them under Guest Rights and they at least would keep their word.

While they were nearing the main entrance of the palace courtyard, the crowd further up showed what they thought of this king; they all turned and had their backs facing him. This was a gesture of pure insolence towards the monarch riding in their streets. Alkan clenched his jaw so tightly he thought his teeth would shatter, but he didn’t dare show his annoyance. He spurred his horse to a canter towards the palace courtyard.

Servants of the palace came down the stairs to meet them and guided their horses away to be fed, watered, and lathered down from their long journey. Alkan, along with Elarosh, ascended the stairs and were met by Kings Gunner, Hepharis and Hatmin, Queen Isarin, and Princes Daris and Joshen, along with other officials of their own.

After greeting each one, he turned to and asked Gunner, “Where is your most virtuous queen?” Gunner couldn’t tell if it was mockery, but he brushed it aside.

“Her Majesty the queen begs your pardon. She’s busy helping my daughter prepare for the wedding.” Alkan nodded. He had hoped to arrive a day later to annoy his host, believing the wedding would be placed on hold until he arrived, but the cold reception he received from the Senate and the insolence of the Grand Ambassador forced him to leave Sajanell Døørs, darkening his mood more than he cared to admit. After the formal greetings were over, they were led into the palace for refreshments. Alkan walked over to Prince Joshen and offered him his best wishes.

“News of your future wife’s beauty has reached far and wide, Your Highness,” Prince Joshen nodded his thanks and left for the temple. Alkan frowned.

Turning to Hepharis he asked, “Where will the wedding take place?”

“The ceremony will be conducted in the great temple of the Thirteen,” came Hepharis’s reply.

Elarosh gave Alkan a side glance. The king’s smile tightened.

“Of course! Who better to declare your matrimony than in the eyes of the gods!” Both Hepharis and Gunner nodded their agreement and the latter excused himself to check on his wife, while Hepharis went to pour himself a cup of wine and spoke with his son. Alkan looked at Elarosh and rolled his eyes.

“The gods!” He muttered. “Do you think they care about a wedding when all they do is throw tantrums in the form of maelstroms and tsunamis?” He chuckled.

The night he left Sajanell Døørs and camped in the open fields, one of his spies arrived, giving a full account of the maelstrom that took place in plain view of the inhabitants of the Malcøme Islands, along with the tsunamis that followed. There was also the growing concern of the moon that had suddenly disappeared and no one, even famed astronomers could explain why.

Alkan pondered on the phenomena taking place and thought of a way he could use them to his advantage.

Long before that, he also heard rumours that Prince Daris had met Kafshëva and Olěnd a few years back, but he didn’t believe it. How could one man see two of the Great Six? What bothered him more was that they both appeared to him in their true form. He brushed the thought aside and looked at Elarosh.

“I don’t believe it for one second. It’s only a force of nature that is currently taking place at sea! Once I arrive at the Malcøme Islands, all will be well again! My presence will be enough to stir their hearts and when they see me, they’ll know who the true god is!”

Elarosh thought differently, though he didn’t voice his opinion. He strongly believed in the gods just as much as Phereson and Gren did. He would publicly agree with Alkan on his thoughts concerning the gods but in his heart, he whole-heartedly believed in them.

The servants had taken their belongings up to their private chambers, which Alkan was rather impressed with. They were truly fit for a king. He asked the servant to draw him a bath but was told that the wedding was to take place within the hour.

He wanted to rest and settle in, but now that he was in the kingdom, he had no choice. Turning to the servant, he asked in a dark tone, “Do your king and queen know that I travelled far to be here?”

The servant bowed her head and said, “Forgive me, my lord, but the queen wishes to have the ceremony at the appointed hour. You have until then to prepare. Do you require any assistance?”

Alkan clenched his teeth. “My lord? I am a king! You will address me as Your Majesty!

The servant, being unperturbed, bowed once more. “Forgive me, my lord, but I serve only the ruling family of Marpøøn Gantal, no other monarch is mine except for King Gunner and Queen Shafis.”

Elarosh felt the tension rise in the room.

“Do you address Hatmin and Hepharis as lord too?” Alkan’s voice was full of scorn. The servant’s silence was answer enough. He dismissed her angrily and began to change. Once they were ready, they were led by escorts towards the great temple of the Thirteen.

* * * * *

Gunner was glad to be out of Alkan’s presence, for however brief it may be. On his way to see Shafis, his thoughts turned to the events that took place earlier that day.

While in the temple of Zethër, lost in prayer and anxious for his wife’s health, a messenger from the palace came running towards him and exclaimed that the queen was awake and that the physicians who examined her announced they couldn’t find anything wrong with her.

He gave thanks to the god of healing before running towards the palace. He burst through the doors and saw Shafis sitting up in bed while the physicians were busy packing away their herbs and other healing potions. When he saw his wife’s face, she was smiling and her blue-grey eyes shone brilliantly. The physicians were baffled by her sudden recovery. The colour had returned to her face and he wept with joy and relief that she was well once again. They embraced each other for a long time until she finally broke away and looked into his grey eyes with nothing but affection.

“How do you feel, my love?” Gunner asked, combing his fingers through her hair.

“I feel wonderful!” She replied. “The gods deemed it fit to heal me and it couldn’t have come at a better time!” Gunner nodded in agreement.

“We shall make an offering to all the Evertheenians in thanks for answering our prayers!” He replied, with a great sigh of relief.

“The gods know I need all my strength and wits for what lies ahead today and for the days to come,” Shafis continued. Gunner said nothing. He knew to whom Shafis was referring. The spies had reported that King Alkan was a mere three hours away and had already given instructions to the palace servants to prepare Alkan’s private chambers.

Coming back to the present, when he walked through the doors into their private chambers, Shafis was standing in front of a mirror, dressed in a beautiful light blue gown with a flowing train and a golden sash that was tied around her waist. Her necklace shone with beautiful gemstones and her wrist and armbands were sprinkled with diamonds. Her raven hair was braided, with loose strands flowing around her face, and was adorned with golden gossamers. Her crown was resting on a purple, silken cushion next to her mirror.

Gunner took in his wife’s beauty and found himself smiling.

“What?” Shafis asked, seeing her husband’s reflection in the mirror, and turned around to face him, giving him a curious smile. Gunner walked in and closed the doors.

“Our daughter is supposed to be the talk of the kingdom, not you!” She laughed. It was good to hear his wife laugh again. He felt his heart ache with love seeing her well again. Gunner was wearing a golden tunic with a glittering red sash around his waist. Sporting over his frame, he wore a metallic white and gold surcoat and wore black, leather leggings and knee-high boots studded with gemstones. On his head, he wore the great crown that belonged to the royal family since the monarchy began with his ancestor, Jamar Price, the first king of Marpøøn Gantal.

“I see Alkan has arrived,” Shafis said.

Gunner nodded. “Yes, he’s here. He wanted to refresh and have a bath first, but the attending servant explained to him that the ceremony was to take place soon. You were right, my dear. He seemed to have wanted us to linger and wait until he was ready.”

Shafis snorted. “Did the servant inform him it was me that stipulated the wedding was to take place at the appointed time?”

Gunner smiled. “Oh yes, he was told alright!”

Shafis laughed. “He could’ve had his bath, it mattered not. I would still have carried on with the wedding, with or without him. And if he did arrive late, he would’ve been stopped by the temple guards to not interrupt the ceremony.” She paused for a moment, then exclaimed, “Oh, I wish he did! I had it all planned out should he not be able to make it!”

Gunner laughed. “I guess even he knew better than to go up against you!

While a servant was placing the crown on her head, Gunner asked, “How is Ysha feeling?”

“She’s feeling rather nervous. She was shaking so badly I had one of the physicians give her a tonic to calm her nerves,” Shafis said, with a hint of concern in her voice. “I don’t recall ever being so nervous when I married you nearly thirty years ago.” Gunner smiled at his wife. They had a loving relationship and it always showed whether in public or otherwise.

Shafis had born him three children, but two of them didn’t survive infancy. Both of them had been boys. Gunner remembered how shattered Shafis was at the deaths of their sons and felt tremendous guilt that she was unable to provide him with a son and heir. But it never mattered to Gunner. His wife was everything to him and when Ysha was born, he rejoiced. They both wanted many children, but when Shafis went into labour with Ysha, it was long and difficult. The physicians feared for the queen’s life and when Ysha was finally brought forth from her mother, Shafis had slipped into unconsciousness.

For days the fever wracked her body and Gunner never left her side. When she finally came round and was examined by the physicians, they declared that due to the difficult labour she had suffered, the birth caused permanent damage and the days of bearing children were over. Though they were greatly grieved by the news, they were thankful they had Ysha.

When she was fit to walk again, Shafis went to the temple of Vězra and thanked the goddess of Motherhood for the daughter she had been blessed with. Many had initially thought the queen would tear down the goddess’ temple in retribution, but instead - to everyone’s astonishment - the queen lit candles and incense and thanked all the Evertheenians for the blessing she was given. Shafis showed no anger or resentment towards the queen of the gods.

As was the wedding custom in Barathorn, the princess went for her ritual bath before the sun rose. It was symbolic; the bride was to wash her past life away and emerge from the waters as ’renewed’, ready to begin her new life with her husband. The groom was bathed and perfumed by the servants in a similar manner.

Shafis and Gunner went to see their daughter and when they opened the doors, they were struck by her beauty. She wore a soft, sleeveless lilac gown that shimmered gold with every movement she made. Her dress had a V-neck shape, her slender neck and arms adorned with assorted jewellery and a beautiful tiara was placed on her head. Her raven hair was left loose and had small braids which were tied with silvery gossamers.

Shafis wiped away her tears. “You’re beautiful, my child!” Ysha blushed and thanked her mother. Gunner walked towards her and kissed his daughter on her brow.

“Come, my dear,” holding his arm out for her. “We don’t want to keep our guests waiting!”

* * * * *

The royal carriage was waiting for them and the servants were bustling about with Shafis and Ysha’s gowns. They rode in great splendour across the streets for all to see. The people cheered and roared in appreciation at the sight of their beloved royal family.

Little children threw flowers on the streets as the carriage passed by and everyone chanted the king and queen’s names, which could be heard throughout the kingdom. After they pulled up by the great temple of the Thirteen, the crowds continued to cheer, but once the royal family stepped through the doors of the temple, they fell into a respected silence.

Queen Shafis walked down the aisle alone, for the pure reason to show the nobles that she was well and to quench all rumours that she wasn’t going to be Olěnd’s new occupant in Terra Nimble.

All who saw her bowed respectfully and she nodded her thanks in return. As she reached the front, Shafis and Alkan locked eyes. This was the first time they had ever seen each other and Shafis gave him a curt nod and he returned the gesture with a graceful bow.

Forget the rumours of Ysha’s beauty,” he thought. “Her mother is everything the tales say.

King Hepharis was dressed similarly to King Gunner, except he wore a purple tunic with a nightshade sash around his waist. He wore a metallic gold surcoat over his frame and wore black, leather leggings with knee-high boots studded with rubies. He wore the golden crown of Rake Turf, forged for the first king of Rake Turf, his ancestor, Bellack Mason.

Queen Isarin wore a sleeveless, cream-coloured chiffon dress that fell in folds and had a short train behind her. Exquisite jewels adorned her upper arms, wrists, and fingers. Her white-gold crown adorned her dark brown hair that was partly braided, while loose strands fell gracefully down her back. Her blue eyes were stinging as she tried to blink back tears of joy.

After a few moments, the trumpets rang out, echoing across the marble temple to announce the coming of the bride. The High Priest took his place, along with Prince Joshen, who looked down the long aisle to see his future wife, with her father by her side. Joshen was wearing a silver, long-sleeved robe and his tunic underneath was the colour of nightshade and had a red sash around his waist. His leather leggings were black and had knee-high boots studded with diamonds. On his head, he wore a silver headband with rubies all around.

His face was clean-shaven and his hair glistened black, complementing his handsome yet stern features. His blue eyes looking nervously down the aisle. When everyone looked across and saw the bride, they fell silent, taking in the beauty of the princess. As she and her father came nearer to the altar, Ysha looked across and smiled at her mother, who was trying to keep back her tears.

She then looked across at her future mother and father-in-law and smiled at them. They in turn bowed.

When she saw Alkan, she stopped in her tracks. nearly causing her father to stumble. He looked at her, thinking her dress got caught in her shoes. He heard her gasp and leaned in close to ask if she was alright.

She shook her head and whispered to her father that she was momentarily overcome with joy at the sight of her husband-to-be. He gave her a reassuring smile and continued towards the altar, but now and then, she would steal a glance at Alkan, who now gave her a smile that made her heart sing.

As the ceremony was drawing to a close, the High Priest dabbed sacred oil on Joshen and Ysha’s forehead and prayed aloud that their union be blessed by the Evertheenians.

To Vězra; he prayed the goddess of Motherhood would bless the couple with many children; to Samrósa, he prayed their love for each other would be eternal; to Ismińa, he prayed they would have the wisdom to make the right decisions and to Zethër, the All Father, to watch over and guide them through troubled times.

The High Priest then presented them with their golden marriage wristbands with the symbols of Zethër and Vězra etched into them. Once they placed the wedding wristband on each other, the High Priest declared them as husband and wife in the sight of both gods and men and the hall erupted with ovations and cheers, along with the sounds of trumpets to let the kingdom know that the couple was now one.

The cheers from the people outside could be heard from within and when the couple turned to walk towards the open doors, Ysha allowed herself to steal another glance at Alkan. He smiled at her and gave her a wink, causing her heart to flutter. Her face began to flush and she quickly looked ahead as she and her husband were walking towards the cheering crowd outside.

Alkan was still smiling, but when he looked across the hall, his smile dropped.

Queen Shafis was looking at him with apprehension.

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