The Silent Witness (Published)

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CHAPTER 4 - RISE OF KINGS

Three thousand years after the tragic incident with the widower’s daughter and the wolf, whose brethren and descendants had since become companions to humans and now known as dogs, (as there were still many wolves Kafshëva did not call as a friend to man, keeping her promise of the balance of nature’s creatures), Sërafinn had watched man rise.

She was fond of them. Too fond. She would watch from her silver throne on Evertheen as men and women would come home, sit by the hearth, laugh, play, and tell stories to their children. She listened to man’s prayers and would occasionally show them the answer, usually in dreams, as she presided over the power of sleep and dreams. Children were especially a delight. The screaming of a newborn would bring a smile to her face and would watch them grow into fine men and women.

For a long time, things were perfect. She observed how nations grew, kings would rise and bring peace and order through justice systems introduced by her cousin Ismińa, who was widely worshipped. People would often visit her temples night and day to seek out the goddess’s wisdom.

Her sister, Samrósa, was just as loved, as she gave mankind the gift of love and compassion. The people made sure to never stop worshipping all the Evertheenian gods. Justice systems were first implemented in Fate Ørn, where Ismińa became its patron goddess. But over the centuries, Sërafinn had also seen the actions and hearts of monarchs and powerful men turn greedy.

Her mother, Vězra, put an end to a thousand-year-long conflict between two villages, Dørn Fields and Weeping Dusk. She stood in front of the Silent Whisper with a black-coloured fire ball in her hand. Tossing it through the waters, it hurtled towards Barathorn and caused a colossal earthquake and chasm between Dørn Fields and Weeping Dusk.

HartarFørest was near Dørn Fields, the most sought-after wood. Whoever controlled it would be rich beyond words. Due to both villages being far away from other cities, villages, towns, and the sea, trading was scarce and the villagers began raiding each other’s trading carts that eventually became a haven for highwaymen. The location of the villages was a poor one, led by indecisive men that eventually led to their downfall.

The last conflict between the two villages was a skirmish that took place on The Damned Plains with both sides ending in a stalemate. After the troops returned to their villages, Vězra summoned another earthquake, wiping out both villages. Ismińa had warned them before, but they chose to ignore her counsel and so she left them to their fate. Sërafinn felt her cousin could have done more to save the villagers and it pained her to see a reminder of a once-bustling, albeit troubled land.

Although Ismińa advised Zethër at the beginning for man to be wise and ambitious in a way that would benefit all, a certain king, Hatmin Kane, seemed to Sërafinn a bit too ambitious for her liking. She had watched the Second Age grow from obscurity to prominence in the rising kingdom of Kain Nightly for thousands of years.

Remesló encouraged many settlements to go to ‘the next level’. Technologies and architecture were astounding. Her cousin was indeed a genius. The temples were exquisite. Within each temple were statues of the thirteen gods, arranged by gender, with the city’s patron god at the far end of the hall, standing far taller in comparison to the other statues.

* * * * *

A young prince by the name of Daris Kane knew in his heart that his brother, King Hatmin, showed compassion only on the outside, but was arrogant and proud on the inside. Months ago, Olěnd had appeared to Daris in a dream, showing him where to find a quarry rich in stone to build and upgrade the kingdom of Kain Nightly. It wasn’t the first time that the god of death came to him. Of course, he was not there for his soul, but it was a stigma Olěnd carried.

Many forgot that he was also the god who enriched Barathorn with gold, silver, copper, iron, stone, gemstones, and other precious metals that lay beneath the ground. He was also the god that no one wanted to meet in a hurry.

Hatmin believed the gods favoured his brother and therefore put him in charge of overseeing everything. Just when Daris thought things were settled, the demands became absurd. The men toiled night and day to produce the amount Hatmin desired. Families were neglected and therefore caused resentment and contempt towards their superiors. Time and time again, Daris pleaded with Hatmin to reconsider the hours men spent at the quarry, even succeeding in having Hatmin visit the excavation sites at both the Walden Møuntains and Jackall Hills to show him what his arrogance had orchestrated. Hatmin reluctantly agreed to change his mind, but he had only done this so that his brother would stop pestering him.

Sometime later, Kafshëva appeared before Daris over a fortnight ago and he decided after that encounter, he rather preferred to interact with Olěnd.

While calculating the amount of stone needed for the building projects, an egg-shaped burgundy-coloured cloud appeared above the ground, then burst with such force that he was thrown off balance and hit the ground hard. Towering tall in front of him, her burgundy velvet gown with hints of gold in it, which changed hue with her every movement, sporting a golden sash around her slender waist, stood Kafshëva in front of him in all her splendour. The fitted bodice fell into deep folds to the ground. Her dark hair was braided with gold gossamers, wearing a golden diadem, displaying her symbol of power on her forehead. Her beauty and stately appearance would have sufficed, but the look on her face terrified him. Her burgundy eyes were piercing. His faithful companion, Trajan, turned and bolted.

“So,” she said sardonically. “I see my beloved creation appear to suffer more and more each day. Is it not enough that my brother-in-law had shown you the abundant riches under the ground?”

With a shaky voice Daris replied, “I swear to you, great goddess, I made sure Hatmin saw the error of his ways and the working hours and conditions have improved.”

“I’m not talking about your kind!” snapped Kafshëva. “I’m talking about the horses you use to carter such heavy loads and the long distances they have to travel!”

“I don’t understand, great goddess,” Daris swallowed hard. For a while, Kafshëva said nothing. Daris didn’t dare to stand up for fear his legs would give way, especially when the silence lingered to the point where he thought the goddess would smite him there and then. All knew very well that Kafshëva protected her creation as fiercely as a mother would over her children. He supposed the next time he met Olěnd, it would be under a completely different scenario.

“Horses are indeed animals fit for labour,” she said at last, “but the weight each wagon contains cannot be pulled by one horse.”

Daris drew in a breath, “But there are funds allocated to specific areas within these diggings. Food and wages for the workers, fodder for the animals, and the constant demands from the workers wanting increases aren’t helping with the budget!” Even then he knew he was losing the battle, for the gods are not like men, they don’t tolerate excuses.

Kafshëva leaned forward and said in a cold voice, “I don’t want to hear your whinges, mortal. Continue doing this and I will release my animals and yoke you personally to a wagon! And if he persists that purchasing horses isn’t essential for your ’budget’, then Hatmin too will be tied to the same wagon as you, since brothers are supposed to have such a close bond!” She gave a humourless smile. “I will tie you both in such a way that the gods themselves cannot unchain you!” She snapped her fingers. In the distance on Daris’s left, were a dozen oxen.

“Go! Gather the oxen. They have the strength to pull heavy loads, albeit they are much slower than horses.” Straightening and taking a few steps back, Kafshëva spoke each word with every step she took.

“Heed my words and remember this: gods don’t threaten!” The ground rumbled and the goddess dissolved again into a burgundy cloud and vanished.

Laying back on the grass, Daris stared up at the clear blue sky and let out a great sigh. Trajan came back, licking him in the face.

“Thanks for being man’s best friend!” he muttered. Trajan barked happily and ran off to mark another tree as part of his territory.

* * * * *

Hatmin Kane sat on his padded throne, studying a sketch of Barathorn. He always gazed at the map secretly when he was alone and in a brooding mood. “Imagine ruling all”, he thought! He was careful when talking about other potential lands in front of Daris, for he knew his brother wasn’t as coveting as him. He was content staying in the land of his forefathers and not being a king or lord over other cities, even though he was a prince and heir to the throne of Kain Nightly, should Hatmin not marry and have children.

If he had been lord over other parts of western Barathorn, Daris would unwittingly become Hatmin’s puppet. Although he knew the gods didn’t favour a mortal over another, the awareness of Daris being visited by two of the Great Six sat ill with him. What if they did favour Daris? When he mentioned this to his brother, Daris brushed the thought aside. He had hoped the kingdom he was extending and upgrading would please the gods.

Kain Nightly began as a humble village four thousand years ago. His family rose to prominence when the god Remesló chose his ancestor, also named Hatmin, to rise and become a great nation. Remesló saw potential in him, and his ancestor was later dubbed as Hatmin the Engineer.

It also came as no surprise when his family was chosen as rulers by the people. Remesló was a god known as The Encourager as his wish for mankind was to reach for the stars. He had guided their ancestors to settle at Kain Nightly and so became their patron god. The location was excellent for trade, situated within the vicinity of the Sea Øf Søuthern Urn.

To honour him, Hatmin the Engineer had a temple built for the Evertheenian gods with Remesló at the head of the temple. The statue was six metres tall and sculptured from marble and inlaid with gold and silver. Statues of Remesló stood alongside the great gates at the entrance of the kingdom with his symbol of power engraved into the great doors.

The gates were practically impenetrable and the surrounding lands flourished with wheat, barley, corn, and much other sought-after sustenance, all thanks to the great river called the Grace River, situated near the town of Grace Fall. Because of the vast richness of the lands, other cities would come and purchase grain while Kain Knightly would buy meat from those who would hunt in both the Pact Førest and Bast Førest.

East Barathorn provided great commerce and in return, the people showed immense gratitude when Hatmin created for them a safe route to trade with the islands west of Barathorn, giving Hatmin even more power.

To be safe, he publicly gave all the credit to Færró, the god of trade, commerce, and travel. The Yearn Call Islands were rich in precious gems, while they in turn were always in need of the much-coveted Hartar Wood from the Hartar Førest north of east Barathorn. Hartar Wood was the best timber in all of Barathorn and was perfect for constructing buildings and making reliable and immensely safe ships.

The Yearn Call Islands were linked with the city of Yearn Answer and so they both relied on each other: one from the sea, the other from land. Hatmin made sure a secure and paved road led from Kain Nightly to the city of Yearn Answer, with beautifully designed bridges to safely cross over the Sleek River. The bridges had to be strong, as each year a pilgrimage would take place and people from all over Barathorn would travel to see the Thenin, a prophetess who spoke to the people through the words of Sælev, the city’s patron god. One of his building projects was the rising city of Safe Pact, where pilgrims would stop and spend the night before continuing their journey to see the Thenin.

Hatmin’s harbour in the Bay Call was supreme and had his merchant ships and war galleys made from Hartar Wood. The Little Turn Islands depended on his war galleys for security and in return, their taxes fed his ever-growing ambition. His kingdom was almost absolute.

Almost.

Far north was Rake Turf, the first kingdom to rise in Barathorn, who was ruled by the elderly grim king, Hepharis Mason, a man known for being paranoid over the slightest thing, and with each year as he grew older, so too did his paranoia. There were times when he had entertained the thought of conquering Hepharis’s kingdom, but to march north, his soldiers would have to endure hazardous paths, passing the city Hill Øf Keeps, famed for being Horse Lords, but were also a people who had no time for quibble.

Hatmin would then have to march close to the coastline so as not to travel along treacherous paths through the Walden Møuntains. They would then need to travel alongside the Birth River, enduring the perilous Ukis Møuntains, and eventually march across the Twisted River into the kingdom of Rake Turf. By then, his army would be exhausted and drained by the time they reached their intended destination.

If he travelled by sea, the citizens of Fate Ørn would no doubt warn King Hepharis before they even landed. No one dared to aggravate the great city of Fate Ørn, as it was first and foremost the capital city of western Barathorn and they held sway over the Straights Øf Dale Førd (which irked Hatmin), the most important link to the east as well as holding the great Løng Birth Bridge.

He once thought of daring to cross the lands of Fate Ørn, but even if he had to and was somehow allowed to pass through, the journey would consist of crossing the Birth River, scout for a path through Fate Ørn’s surrounding mountains and the thick forest south of Rake Turf. By then, a fresh, well-fed army would be waiting for him and his men.

No, the first to fall had to be the capital city of Fate Ørn. He secretly prayed to Verontó, the god of war to show him the way. Only one deity listened.

Sërafinn.

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