Chapter 19: The Gods are Quiet
Mariselle paced the antechamber of the Hall of the Lion. She looked at the empty throne and the banners hanging high over it. They would need changing. The throne was barely adorned and looked to be little more than a peasant’s stool – her seat of power would be more regal. It would inspire awe in her devout followers and terror in those who might question her authority. In time. Braeden, the old fool, was nearly dead and this new correspondence they had intercepted could be the finishing blow. In time.
She looked down to the far end of the hall at her coven of witches and priests. Gods, how long will these simpletons take? She strode to their gathering. Samuel’s seal on the intercepted letter was unmistakable. The waxen “s”in concentric circles was the same she’d seen on hundreds of pieces of correspondence in the past, but this was different. The letter appeared blank, and yet she knew the old man was more cunning than most of her spies. She had handed the document to her appointed seers and enchanters to be studied. Perhaps some incantation could make the ink appear. Dagon will throw me to the wolves if his siege goes awry.
Outside, the echo of the mob’s angry chanting could be heard. Mariselle paused and turned to open a nearby window. She glanced out to see at least a hundred people forming, screaming and shaking their fists in the castle courtyard. Her chief advisors dodged hurled rocks and ran towards the portcullis doors that led to the safety of the castle’s interior, their attempts at settling the masses failed.
She turned her attention back to a man and two women dressed in white robes standing over a cauldron of bubbling mire. As they chanted, the letter floated on top of the mixture but remained unstained. Mariselle broke their circle and snatched the document.
“Where are you with it? How can I still see nothing?”
One of the women lifted an ankh from around her neck, waved it over the paper, and recited a charm. Nothing appeared.
“The goddess Athena requires patience for divination. The stars must align in Saturnia,” she said and bowed.
“Eridwen must tie the energies of the forest into a configuration,” the other woman offered.
“Ereshkigal remains silent on this, my queen. Perhaps the kingdom should prostrate themselves before his greatness, for a sign to come?” her sorcerer offered and bowed.
“Athena? Eridwen, Ereshkigal? We must prostrate ourselves, you say?” Mariselle smiled and nodded. She grabbed the wizard by the back of his neck and pushed his head down into the boiling cauldron. The man frantically tried to pull up, but Mariselle kept his head submerged.
“They bow down to me! They serve my master Dagon and the dark lord before him, you stupid cows!” She finally released the wizard and he pulled his face back. It was seared red and covered in blisters. He ran screaming from the room.
“Worthless! All of you!” Mariselle screamed and kicked over the cauldron. “Get out of my sight!”
The witches ran from the room, nearly colliding with one of her advisors, Ananias, who was just entering.
Mariselle saw the worm she had appointed some months back, as weak, perverse, and easily controlled. The little fat man’s only redeeming trait was his penchant for reading a room. He knew a lie when it was spoken and even the subtlest gestures did not escape his expert analysis.
“Yes, Ananias? What now?”
“My queen, your beauty remains unfettered, even in the . . . .”
“Out with it!” she commanded. “Why does this mob broach my door?”
Ananias straightened himself and bowed again. “The recent commotion in the market has provoked them. Also, they feel the levies placed on them in the last year are unjust. They demand to see the king.”
“Impossible. The king is indisposed, sick beyond aid,” Mariselle said.
“As I have pointed out to them, yes M’lady. But still, they insist. Perhaps if you came out on the dais and spoke to their concerns. You are their queen, and your promises carry weight.”
Mariselle mused over this. If Dagon was to give the kingdom to her, she would often need to address her slaves. Perhaps kindling love in them now would ease their complaints later.
“Fine. I shall do what you and the rest of my court cannot.” She tossed Samuel’s note onto the smoldering coals exposed by the cauldron’s absence and headed for the door. I’ve been given power above any mortal’s schemes. In time, I may be lifted past Dagon’s station as well. Let that old bastard Samuel scribble his notes. She left the room, followed by Ananias.
Flames licked the edges of the paper but did not progress to the center, as if some unseen cover was preventing it.
A strong breeze blew in from the open window, snuffing out the coals and lifting the paper in a whirl before pulling it out into the night.