The Red Sun

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The Bird and the Beast: I

He was left in the dark. His legs could barely hold him anymore and his voice grew hoarse and weak by yelling, “I yield”, over and over again. The coldness surrounded him as the desperate cries and sobs of the nobles filled the dungeons.

Sebastian collapsed to the floor as he struggled for air. He had been foolish to challenge the demons, thinking that their threats were nothing but a ruse to get him to comply, or that they had any decency or compassion in them. Even Kasethen seemed horrified at the events—at least some of them cared.

When he closed his eyes, he saw his father’s head on the ground after the grey giant had cut it off in one, quick swing. It was as if there were no bones, no tendons, stopping the blade. It had been so fast. One second, Sebastian had had his father alive, and the next…

When the heavens opened up, he thought it was the Builder weeping. The great Lord Richmond Arlington, Duke of Noxborough and the Lonely Islands, Keeper of the Winter Sea, father of two, was dead. It was irreversible, undeniable, inescapable. As soon as the rain stopped, it would be Sebastian who would be without a head.

He cried, sobbed like a little child, as he thought of all the things he would miss in life—but it wasn’t his father that came to mind. In truth, he wasn’t a man anyone would miss personally. A loss of a Duke was always a national tragedy, but he had seldom shown much love to his children or his people. Sebastian had at least experienced some of it, being his only son, but there had been little room for love in a man like Richmond Arlington.

No, what came to Sebastian’s mind was his dearest sister.

When their mother died, he had only been a little boy. He barely remembered the woman, let alone anything about her. Juniper’s was the only face he pictured when he thought of Mother. She had done so much for him ever since he was a child, and he had been nothing but unkind to her. He wished he could see her, speak with her. If anyone could save him, it was his sister. He would die without the chance of telling her how sorry he was for all the things he had done.

Driven to pride by his father, his counsellors, and his station, he now realised how little any of it really mattered. He was still going to die. In the face of the Grey Ones, his name meant nothing. His blood meant nothing. His life meant nothing. It would end, and they would go on as if he was never even there.

Time seemed to crawl by like years in the damp cell. The rain that poured down the mountain seeped into the cells through cracks and underground streams, and Sebastian shivered in his wet rags.

The wooden door down to the dungeons suddenly opened and closed as steps echoed between the walls, and the cries and sobs that had silenced some began again. They begged for mercy, said that they would submit, but the steps hurried through, coming nearer to Sebastian.

He sat up, feeling his heart nearly still from the fright, and he waited. Pressing himself to the farthest wall, he prayed to the Builder that they weren’t coming for him, but as the light of a torch grew nearer in the dark, faintness came upon him.

“Please,” he breathed as the soldier stopped by his cell door. “Please, I yield. I submit.”

“Milord.” The man spoke lowly, and the accent was clear. This was a Noxborougher.

Sebastian narrowed his eyes and slowly and carefully crawled closer. It was a man—human—and he gasped as he saw the face. “Captain Wiltbourne!”

The guard shushed him. “Milord, be quiet!” Then he looked around and cleared his throat before he boomed, “You’ll die soon enough, Lord Arlington. The general thinks you need a few hours in the Pit to think about your sins.” Heavy keys rattled and the door swung open.

Sebastian gawked up at the man. “What? No. I—no!”

“Don’t make me drag you out,” spat the guard loudly, and Sebastian broke out in sobs as he stood.

Wiltbourne grabbed his arm and led him out of the cell and further down into the dungeons. The echoes of the cries faded by each turn of the dark tunnels, and soon, everything seemed quiet. The deeper they ventured, the colder it got. Soon, Sebastian was shivering uncontrollably. The deepest cell appeared in the faint torchlight, the door wide open.

“Please,” Sebastian sobbed. “Please, don’t put me in there!”

“Milord, calm yourself,” said Wiltbourne and shone the light in Sebastian’s face. “If you enter that small entrance right over there—” He swept the light to a narrow crack behind a large rock. “—you’ll find a pathway that leads to the water. There, you will find a boat. It may be old, but it should get you out of the mountain.”

Sebastian gazed at the man. “What are you going on about?”

“Here,” said the guard. “Let me help you.” He hurried to the rock and gave it a sturdy push. It slid heavily to the side, revealing a larger opening. “I’ve never been down there, myself, so I hope the path is still clear.”

Wiltbourne grabbed another torch from the wall by the cell, lit it, and handed it to Sebastian. He then removed his heavy cloak and hung it over Sebastian’s shoulders. It smelled of sweat and smoke, but it was warm and comforting.

Sebastian swallowed and looked at the captain. “They will kill you for this.”

Wiltbourne smirked. “Oh, no. No grey beast is slicing my head off, I can tell you! I have friends in high places, milord. This is going to earn me a lordship!”

“But who sent you?” Even if Wiltbourne was far too opportunistic for his own good, he would never do such a perilous thing without proper insurance.

“Mr Garret, sir,” said the captain. “And that Grey One, the small one.”


“Aye, that’s the one. Funny little fellow, he is.” Then he set his jaw tight and squared his shoulders. “Now, milord, you’d better be on your way. The current will take you downstream into the bay. When you get there, you keep to your left. Go east, around the mountains, and then straight south to Eastshore. From there, you take a ship to Illyria. Don’t drink the seawater, no matter how thirsty you get. It’ll dry you up faster than the sun. Here.” He shoved a small pouch into Sebastian’s hands. “There’s some bread and an apple. Take my doeskin and fill it with water from the river. Be sparse, the journey can take a few days.”

“Days?” Sebastian spat. “Are you shipping me off onto the sea without proper food or water for a few days?”

“Would you rather lose your head?”

Closing his mouth shut and swallowing, Sebastian shook his head.

“Now go,” said the captain. “I have to leave before the other guards come back. The Grey One, the little one, distracted them long enough for me to sneak past them, but I will have to get around another way. Good thing I know the dungeons, eh?”

As the guard chuckled darkly, Sebastian shuddered. Indeed, that man knew his way around the dungeons. It was no secret that Wiltbourne was one of the few guards that had no problem torturing criminals in the dungeons as long as he was handsomely paid for it.

“Thank you,” said the boy. “I shan’t forget it. When I return and reclaim the city, you shall have your lordship and your land.”

Wiltbourne nodded. “Well, Builder’s blessing to you, milord.”

“Builder’s blessing,” Sebastian nodded and watched as the guard left him alone in the Pit.

Turning around, he aimed the torch towards the small opening. It was big enough for him to squeeze through, but it was small enough to be dismissed as a simple crack in the stone. He tied the pouch and the doeskin around his belt and proceeded through to the tunnel. It was rather narrow and steep, and the further down it led, the narrower it became.

Sebastian had to tread carefully—rocks were slippery and sharp, and some were loose and treacherous. The air puffed as he breathed, he was shivering to his core, and he wondered if he would ever be able to climb back up if the tunnel proved to be collapsed.

Soon, however, he heard the trickle of water, and he hurried. The tunnel opened up into a cavern. Steps appeared and revealed a carved stairway down to an underground dock in what appeared to be a small cave lake. There, bobbing on the surface, was a small rowboat. Sebastian wasted no time as he untied it and boarded it.

The oars were still attached and untouched and the wood itself seemed to be in good condition. Using one of the oars, he pushed himself out onto the lake and felt how a gentle current grabbed hold of the vessel. The lake extended into a small river that led through the mountain, and after a few turns, he could finally see the light of day over his shoulder as it spilt in through a thin crack behind him.

He sighed deeply in relief as he felt the current take a secure grip of the rowboat. He kept from steering into the cave walls with the oars and the closer he came to the opening, the louder the rolling thunder became and the clearer he could see the curtain of rain that awaited him.

Wrapping the cloak tighter around himself and pulling the hood up, he entered into the downpour as it roared louder and louder around him. The river was overflowing, creating a strong and violent rapid downstream. Sebastian secured his hold around the oars and prepared himself for the ride.

The delta was rather smooth—no large stones to watch out for, no waterfalls—but the rowboat still thrashed in the raging waters. Carefully reaching for the doeskin, he tried to remain balanced in the rocking boat. The water was like ice as he dipped his hand in to fill the skin. It was difficult as the rowboat kept rocking up and down in the torrent.

The rain whipped his face, the wind howled in his ears, and the closer he came to the bay, the louder the waves thundered against the rocks that surrounded the delta.

His heart stilled. The rocks. He hadn’t even thought about the rocks! The waves were large enough to crush him against them—he would be nothing but shreds of skin and bone once he had tumbled onto the shore! It would be impossible to keep to the shoreline all the way around the mountains. Wiltbourne was an idiot.

Fastening the half-filled doeskin back on his belt, he gripped the oars tightly. His knuckles even whitened as he prepared to meet the wave head-on as soon as he had left the mouth of the river. The rocks around the delta created a small and somewhat calm bay, but the waters were still uneasy and the rowboat bobbed violently from side to side.

He kept rowing, kept peering down his shoulder to see better as he steered the boat. He knew he had to face the waves from the front—the boat was too small, it would turn over in a second if he met them the wrong way.

The first one was only a small one, yet it made his heart rise to his throat. The second one made him nearly fly off his seat. At the third wave, he hit the water with one of the oars, and it was knocked out of his hand at once and flung into the sea. He cried out in surprise and fear and held on to the rail as the boat turned on its own.

When it straightened and stilled, he was out in the bay; the Lonely Islands appeared in the distance ahead of him, and to his left was—Sebastian gasped. His heart took a giant leap as he saw the hundreds of ships that were anchored in the bay.

Painted black and red, it was the Grey Ones’ fleet. He cried out in shock; how many were there? He did not want to remain to find out. Desperately, he dipped the remaining oar into the water to steer him in the right direction.

The current was strong, driving him further and further away from the rocks, but he let it. Rather he took a longer route around the Lonely Islands and away from the shore than being smashed against the cliffs by the massive waves.

Lightning flashed above him and the thunder followed just moments later. Everything around him roared so loudly that he didn’t hear the massive swell that came at him from behind. He fell forwards, stumbled to the front, slammed his head into the wood, and everything blackened around him.

When he finally came about, everything was still. A soft breeze caressed him, the soft rocking of the ocean comforted him, and the warm sun had long dried his clothes. There was a thudding pain in his head and he carefully moved his hand to his forehead. A great big lump was growing there and he hissed as he touched it.

Opening his stinging eyes, he was blinded by the sun. With great effort, he hauled himself to his knees and gazed out over the rail. His heart stopped. All around him—everywhere he looked, in every direction—he was surrounded by blue, brilliant water. The sun stood quite low, and he guessed it was setting. So, the sun stood in the west, meaning that the purple line by the horizon must be east.

Sighing deeply, he reached for the doeskin at his belt. It was only half-filled, so he would have to drink slowly even if it felt as though he would die of thirst. After having a shy drink, he gazed around for the remaining oar, but it was gone. He cursed loudly, banging his fist at the side of the boat and slid down again.

“Please, Builder,” he whispered. “I beg you, keep me alive. I know I haven’t lived a pious life, but I swear to you, that if you let me live through this, I’ll be a virtuous man. I’ll be good and kind and righteous. Just don’t let me die out here. Please.”

Tears moistened his dry eyes and he blinked. Sighing deeply, he shifted to his side but hit his knee in the thwart.

“Builder’s balls!” Sitting up rapidly, causing the pain in his head to thud even more, he glared at the piece of wood that stretched from one side to the other. With a gasp, he reached for it. If he could pry it off, he could use it as an oar.

At least, he knew which way he should go, but he had to move quickly. As soon as the sun had set, he wouldn’t know which way to go. Astronomy had never been a favourite subject of his—he never learnt which one was the Winter Star that always pointed north.

Desperately, he tried to remove the wood from the boat. He tore at it, kicked it, pulled it. Finally, after one last kick, it came off. It was a bit cracked and broken, but at least it was a flat piece of wood he could use to get the boat moving again.

Reaching down towards the water, he dipped the plank into it and gave a forceful swing. The thwart wasn’t very long, nor was it particularly wide, and thus gave very little result. But he kept rowing, desperate to get somewhere—anywhere.

He rowed and rowed and rowed, but the boat seemed to hardly move at all. He kept alternating sides in the hopes of keeping a straight line, but the sun was slowly setting and Sebastian remained out of the open sea as the darkness fell all around him.

Exhausted, he decided to lie back down and try to get some sleep. His belly rumbled so he had a bit of bread and a few bites of the apple, another sip of his water, and then he pulled the cloak over him and lay down to sleep.

Restless dreams disturbed him. He kept being led to the chopping block, kept being forced down to his knees, and every time the grey beast brought down his sword upon Sebastian’s neck, he would wake.

He dreamt the same thing, over and over again, for the whole night and when the sun began rising in the east, he noticed that he had drifted much too far north. All his draining work from the day before had been undone. He cried out in the chilly morning, but he wasn’t ready to give in just yet.

The more he worked throughout the day, the more sustenance his body craved. When the sun stood high on the cloudless sky, he had finished his apple and only a meagre piece of bread remained. He had finished almost all his freshwater, and he barely knew where to begin to search for land. By nightfall, he started crying. It felt hopeless.

He was thirsty, hungry, and disheartened. He shivered violently throughout the night. He drank the last of his water, ate the last piece of bread, and felt the life slip out of his hands.

Not until the morning sun had risen once again, when it warmed the air ever so slightly, could he find a few moments of sleep. When he awoke, the sun had risen enough to shine straight down upon him.

His throat was dry, his tummy growled, but when he sat up and saw that he had once again drifted into the wrong direction, he grabbed the thwart in ire and tossed it overboard. He cried as he watched it sink below the calm surface, and when he realised what he had just done, he broke down bawling. He would die out on the Winter Sea.

Another night filled with nightmares, and another day in the gruelling sun as he slowly drifted further and further away onto the open ocean. He spoke to himself, told the story of how he lived by being saved by a sea creature he tamed with his own two hands and his unyielding courage.

By afternoon, clouds gathered above him and rain began to fall. Ecstatic, he filled his doeskin with the water from the bottom of the boat, but the rain was short and he could barely fill half his skin. He had drunk it all by midnight.

The day after, his stomach hurt with hunger and his throat was so dry, he could barely swallow his own spit. He lay in the boat, unable to sit. There was a heaviness upon his chest, a realisation that he was going to die from starvation.

He, the son of Duke Arlington, the heir of Noxborough, descendants of ancient Kings, was going to die of starvation and thirst in an old rowboat out on the Winter Sea. No one even knew he was there.

Then, a strange sound reached his ears. He had heard nothing but the wind and the gentle ripples of the ocean for the past few days; this was a new sound. Something was breaking the waves, moving over the surface. With great effort, he pulled himself up and squinted out over the blue.

His vision was somewhat blurry, but the more he focused, the clearer it became. There on the horizon, was a ship—a wonderful, beautiful ship.

Invigorated, Sebastian forced himself to stand. Making sure he was steady enough, he raised his arms and waved all he could. With his last strength, he bellowed into the open air. “I’m here! Please, I’m here!”

He waved even after he no longer had any strength left in him, and when the ship disappeared behind the horizon, he screamed in agony, louder and stronger than he had ever screamed before—a desperate plea from a dying man.

But then, as if the Builder finally heard him, the wind changed. His scream carried far, and only minutes later, he saw the sail appear again as the ship turned. They had heard him.

* * *

The sailors were merchants from Tallis. They said he had drifted far out onto the vast Edred’s Deep, and the dark ocean was an unkind place.

He was lucky, they said, that he had shouted loud enough just as the winds changed. If not, they wouldn’t have heard him from so far away. He would have died within a day or two if there hadn’t been another rainfall.

They were on their way to Eastshore. Sebastian was healed, fed, and clothed and once they docked by the sea town, he was happy to finally feel solid ground beneath his feet again.

At first, he felt joyous to have made it to Eastshore in one piece, but he then remembered his father’s crime and the aftermath. He was a wanted man—a crime like regicide was hereditary. It didn’t matter that his father was dead. As long as an Arlington could answer for his crimes, they would. He pulled the hood over his eyes as he made his way from the docks.

Eastshore was a modest fishing town. Hardworking people from all over the world had settled on these shores and House Mortimer was the only ancient family in Nornest with eastern heritage. Diluted blood, his father used to say.

They were all Nornish once, but the promise of a beautiful foreign Princess was too tempting to decline so many hundreds of years ago. Now, their international marriage arrangements were common practice, and new blood seemed to foster new friendships.

Sebastian’s father didn’t like Duke Mortimer at all, mainly because Eastshore was a small Dukedom with hardly any riches. They had their fish, their ore from the mountains, and their port. They rarely socialised with the other royal houses, and since the city lay on the other side of the White Mountains, the other royal families seldom socialised with them.

In truth, there was nothing wrong with House Mortimer. They had a stable trade with the eastern kingdoms and didn’t need Nornest or Illyria. Perhaps that was the real reason they were so disliked by the other Dukes.

As he walked through the city, he was amazed by how little attention anyone paid him. They were all so used to strangers and foreigners, he was just one amongst many. The houses were surprisingly large and the streets were rather wide. The city, though not nearly as crowded as Noxborough, spanned almost a mile along the shoreline.

There were some lonesome merchants selling silk and fresh fruit by the docks, some clerks with leather aprons stood outside their shops, and Sebastian was bewildered. In Noxborough, shops were only found in the upper districts. Here, they seemed to be everywhere, for every little trinket, and he was intrigued.

But now was not the time for exploration. He needed an alehouse and a night’s sleep in a real bed before he boarded a ship to Valaris. Luckily, there were plenty of alehouses in a city of fishermen and eastern merchants. He had no money to pay for the drinks, no jewellery left upon his person, but he swore that he would pay back with interest once he had reached the Golden Emperor.

The barman only scoffed at him. “You can wash the dishes for some supper and some ale.”

Sebastian felt scorned, but nodded. He was in no position to argue. He washed the dirty plates and cups for an hour, grimacing and complaining, and then he was served a fish stew with some warm ale. It was far from the best meal he had ever had, but at that moment, it tasted like paradise. The sailors’ food wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t very appetising, either. This was at least edible.

Once he had finished the stew and leaned back in his chair to enjoy his ale, two large men strode up to him in the tavern. One was older than the other, but they were very much alike. Perhaps, Sebastian thought, they were brothers. They wore long cloaks, swords at their hips, and breastplates with the Mortimer sigil, the Rising Sun.

Sebastian took a deep breath and carefully gazed up at them. “Can I help you?”

“Sebastian Arlington,” boomed one of them. His accent was not Nornish. “You must come with us.”

He felt cold and weak as he placed down his cup of ale. Breathlessly, he nodded. He was allowed to rise by himself, but the minute he was on his feet, the guards grabbed his arms and led him out of the tavern.

They walked north to the outskirts of the city, along a paved road up a gentle slope, to a great big mansion by a small lake, and he realised that this must be the Mortimer Manor. He was taken inside and the guards led him into a throne room just beyond the entrance hall.

On an ornate wooden throne sat a thin man with stern, jet black eyes. He was dressed in an orange silk robe with a jewelled golden necklace hanging over his shoulders and chest, and on his head rested a simple golden circlet.

One of the guards, the bigger one, pulled Sebastian along and forced him on his knees in front of Duke Mortimer.

“Thank you, Revane.” The man took a deep, quite audible breath and said, “Lord Arlington. The only Lord Arlington left, I hear. Please, accept my condolences.”

Sebastian gulped and nodded. “Thank you, Your Grace.”

Duke Mortimer tilted his head and eyed the newcomer thoroughly. “How did you escape the Kas?”

“I—I escaped in a boat, sir,” said Sebastian.

“Yes,” snickered the Duke. “I heard you were found barely alive in a rowboat in the middle of the sea.”

“How—how did you know, Your Grace?”

The Duke chuckled. “Nothing in this town happens without me knowing it. Lucky for you, those Tallisian men didn’t know your face. You’re a wanted man all over Nornest, my friend.”

Sebastian looked around nervously. He felt the sweat form on his brow as he swallowed. “Please, Your Grace. My father, he—”

“Your father was a terrible man,” muttered the Duke. “I mean you no offence, Lord Arlington, but he was, well, a piece of work. Killing Duke Cornwall was foolish of him, but isn’t your crime.” He sighed. “I know the King’s Accords and the Regent’s Act say differently, but I will not blame you for your father’s wrongdoings. You are safe here.”

Sebastian exhaled deeply as tears flooded his eyes. “Thank you, Your Grace!”

“Now,” Duke Mortimer said, dismissing Sebastian’s gratefulness, “what can you tell me of the Kas? Should I be worried?”

Sebastian dried his cheeks. “I don’t know. I saw hundreds of ships as I escaped, but I don’t know how many. I’ve been imprisoned since they took the city, and before that—” He shuddered. “The first time I spoke with the Grey Warlord, I was leading an attack against them. We had a thousand men, they were about two hundred. Still, I felt sick to my stomach seeing them lined up in their black armour and with their tall black shields. We agreed upon a duel to spare the bloodshed, one of my men against one of his. I chose my most experienced soldier, Sir Bolton—”

“I remember him,” said the Duke. “He’s been amongst the best in the Norn for the last decade!”

Sebastian nodded. “Yes. So naturally, I chose him. Well, he volunteered. The general chose a regular soldier of his. Sir Bolton was killed within minutes.”

The Duke put his hand to his throat and clenched his jaw. “I see. And the Night of the Demons?”

Sebastian shook his head. He didn’t want to remember such an awful event. “It was unlike anything I’d ever even heard of. It was a massacre.”

“I heard they stormed the camp with hundreds of men,” said Duke Mortimer and scowled. “But you tell me they were only two hundred?”

Shaking his head, Sebastian muttered, “They were only fifty men attacking during the Night of the Demons.”

The Duke huffed. “Fifty? Fighting the Westbridge Army? You’re pulling my leg.”

“They were there and gone before anyone noticed them,” said Sebastian. “A hundred men died, and not a soul woke to hear it. The morning after, some soldier spoke about dark magic, but I don’t know. Some of the men claimed to have awakened, but was unable to move. I think they used some kind of poison.”

“So fifty Grey Ones defeats an entire army in one single night without a single moment of battle?” The Duke grunted in disbelief but shook his head. “I’ve heard of the Kas’ savagery in Tallis, but they’ve always fought it head-on. No trickery, no stealth—what is different?”

Sebastian shrugged. “I don’t know, but they don’t seem to have any plans on leaving any time soon.”

The Duke nodded, deep in thought. “I will have to consult with my council about this. I wouldn’t leave the city if I were you. Bounty hunters are out looking everywhere for you. The Vault has promised a reward for your capture.” He stood from his chair and straightened his robe. “You may stay with us here in the manor for the time being.”

Sebastian rose with a bow. “Thank you, Your Grace.” Just when he turned to leave, he hesitated and turned back. “There is another matter.”


“My sister, Lady Juniper,” said Sebastian and bit his lip. “She’s still in the city. She’s—in the Warlord’s clutches.”

The Duke set his brows low and hummed. “I don’t even want to imagine what atrocities he puts her through. I’ll see what I can do. I don’t have the men to march on Noxborough, but there might be some souls brave enough to sneak inside. I’ll discuss it with my council.”

“Thank you, Your Grace.” Sebastian bowed again and left the throne room.

* * *

Autumn was getting colder, the nights were getting longer, but Eastshore was always greeted first by the rising run.

Sebastian was feeling quite welcomed by Duke Mortimer and his small family. His daughter and only child, Lady Adelaide, did not think much of Sebastian, but he learnt a great deal from her. A stark beauty and a clever mind, she ruled the council with an iron fist.

The rules of the Regent’s Act were clear—a woman could not inherit a Dukedom. But neither Duke Mortimer nor Lady Adelaide seemed to care; she was being readied for the day when she would succeed her father as the Duchess of Eastshore.

As such, she was taught all the things an heir should be taught; horseback riding, hunting, swordsmanship, warfare, politics, economics, philosophy, theology—Sebastian felt rather unaccomplished next to the Nornish lady with eastern blood.

She wore a man’s attire, worked with her hands, and spoke five languages. All in all, she was terrifying. But she did support him in the matter of Juniper. As a woman, she said that she could not leave a sister with such demons. Somehow, she vowed, Lady Juniper would be saved from the beasts.

As time went by, the world found out that Sebastian had escaped the Grey Ones, and the beasts were very unhappy about it. They even sent out a reward for him—five thousand sovereigns and immunity. Not long after, even Illyria sent out a handsome reward, doubling the Kas’ offer and adding some land in the Southern Reach. A very handsome reward, indeed.

Being the heir to Noxborough was suddenly very difficult—zealots of the Vault wanted him tried for the murder of Duke Cornwall, bandits from the White Mountains wanted to present themselves with honour to the mighty Grey Ones, and everyone else wanted the riches promised by the Golden Emperor.

Yet, Duke Mortimer kept him protected and safe. But it was getting harder and more dangerous each day. When the secret was out that the Duke was harbouring him, bandits started to attack the city frequently. Pirates roaming Edred’s Deep docked in an attempt to make themselves an easy fortune, and even the Duke’s servants conspired to have Sebastian abducted.

Finally, just as the White Wakening hung in the air, the Duke had arranged for safe passage to Valaris.

“I will send you with trusted men,” said Duke Mortimer. “The crew will share the reward and you will be escorted all the way to the Emperor’s court. They want you alive because of your personal experience with the Kas—they won’t hurt you there, and they can protect you in ways I never could.”

He was smuggled onto the ship by night, stowed away in the hold whenever they met another ship. After a fortnight or so of storms, restless nights, and nightmares, they finally entered between the enormous golden dragons that held Valar’s Bay. Finally, he had arrived at the Golden City of Valaris.

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