Chapter 47: Throne room
Gilmir stepped into what undoubtedly was the throne room. The contrast to the city, in general, was stunning. The servants’ entrance he came through was behind heavy red curtains hanging from the marble ceiling high above. Around him, green plants rose from huge vases, and a massive pillar of black stone stood to his left. A few steps in front of him and to the right, majestic stairs led up to a dais.
The spacious room seemed to be empty, if no one was hiding or standing on the part of the podium he could not yet see. Stalking forward he came in full view of the dominating feature of the room. On each side of the stairs, there were gilded statues of some strange humanoid shapes riding creatures best described as winged toads. Their eyes and other features were outlined with green stones. Possibly emeralds or something resembling.
Up the stairs, the dais came in view. On each side of the platform, curving stairs led to a second dais supporting a tremendous canopied throne. However, the throne was not what caught your eye when standing in front of the stairs. The most stunning feature of the room was the giant windows behind the high seat. Spanning the entire length of two corner walls, the windows revealed a breathtaking view of the city of Shacktown. This was the throne room of a king.
Drawn to the windows, Gilmir started up the stairs. On the first dais, he saw display cases circling the foot of the throne. He felt the shards before he saw them. Resonating with the one he carried in a pouch around his neck, the power virtually crackled. Gingerly he stepped closer. Three thumb-sized shards were displayed in three separate compartments. The urge to pick up the stones tugged at his soul. Knowing it would be a fatal mistake, he turned his attention to the case to the right of the ones occupied with stones. This one displayed two swords. One long blade lying beside its scabbard and the shorter blade in its sheath.
These were his swords. Megil an and Megil ai. The single-edged, slightly curved swords did not look like anything out of the ordinary. With worn grips and narrow blades, they seemed almost out of sort next to the shards and other artefacts on display. However, made of jewel steel, in a process taking three master swordsmiths and dozens of assistants several months, these elven blades were the most precious artefacts Gilmir had ever owned. The fact was that he would trade his magic shard for the blades in an instant. Opening the display case, he gently picked up his blades.
Sliding the shorter blade from the scabbard, he lifted the swords in front of him. It was like reuniting with an old friend, a brother, a part of himself. The elf smiled, cutting the air and swirling around, making strikes and thrusts. Feeling like a child emulating the great warriors on the swordsman terrace, he fell into an old and trusted routine. The pattern of strikes, parries and thrusts he had been doing daily for most of his life. The world came to order, the stars aligned, his soul centred. He had found himself, he was back, he was home. Whole.
‘By all means make yourself at home,’ a voice said behind him. Consumed by his sword dance, Gilmir had not noticed anyone approaching. However, he knew that voice. This was the man who had tortured him for hours, days, weeks. This man had drowned him, burned him, pulled fingernails off him. This man had nearly broken him. It had been so close that Gilmir remembered deciding he would tell the man everything he wanted to know. That he would do anything to make him stop. Except, before he managed to let the man know this, he had been back in his cell never to revisit the torture chamber.
Had Gilmir not been holding his blades, had he not felt the worn, comforting leather of the hilts against his palms, had he not just at that moment been deep into the meditating sword dance, he would have broken right there. On the dais in front of the throne. Before ever facing the man. However, he was centred, calm and collected. He took a deep breath and turned.
In front of the stairs stood Voan. Tall and broad-shouldered, with dark hair falling down to his shoulders. A bandana of some sort covered his mouth and nose. A black silk shirt and white linen trousers were visible under a dark red cloak reaching the floor. He covered his right hand inside the opening of his shirt, making it look like it was hurt. At his hip, he bore a long sword. Voan pulled down the bandana revealing a casual smile. Looking at that smile, Gilmir knew he had been betrayed. Four guards carrying halberds flanked the man, while another two stood in front of the massive double doors. Between the guards in the back and the ones surrounding Voan, stood a robed figure, a priest of some sort. He carried a pot with burning incense hanging from fine chains.
‘I do believe these are mine,’ Gilmir said, lifting his swords.
‘Are you certain?’ Voan said. ‘Those blades belonged to an assassin and spy I caught and sentenced to life in prison a few years ago. If you are the owner of those blades, you give me no choice but to have my guards arrest you again.’
‘Whatever happens here, serpent, I can assure you that I will not be going back to that hole you call a prison,’ Gilmir said, studying the man’s face for any reaction to his choice of words.
Revealing nothing, Voan replied calmly. ‘That is a shame, I was hoping we could continue our little game on the stone table you know so well. I think a taste of freedom was exactly what you needed to reignite that spirit of yours. Making torturing you all the more fun. Not to speak of the fact that it would make it easier to break you. It was actually recommended in a fascinating old book on torture from the Elfwar. Letting prisoners escape or think they would escape, giving them false hope, and then recapturing them. My advisors said it would be risky. I knew you would come back. By your own volition.’
Gilmir opened his mouth, but no words came out.
‘Surprised, are we? Did you think the halfling came sauntering by your cell that day by coincidence?’
‘I will kill you,’ Gilmir said through gritted teeth, ‘Even if it is the last thing I do, I will end your life and make this world a better place in the process.’ With that, he lifted his blades and crouched.
‘Big words from a puny soul. You are not worth my time, elf,’ Voan replied, before he beckoned his guards forward, ‘Take him out, boys!’
Waiting at the top of the stairs, Gilmir prepared for the fight of his life. The two first guards came side by side up the stairs, their halberds pointing forward. They were in no rush, and soon the two other guards flanked them. Gilmir backed up and to the side, finding one of the narrower stairs. He continued retreating, knowing that they would have to come one and one to reach him there. As soon as the guards reached the plateau, two of them ran towards the other stairs. In a few beats, they would reach him from the other side. Gilmir was out of time.
‘Oh, come on, boys! He is one feeble elf. Get him, already!’
One of the guards heeded the command and came forward, thrusting his halberd. It was a simple and straightforward attack. Gilmir batted the weapon away with his short blade and followed up with a swing with the other sword towards the man’s head. The guard had to back off and nearly tangled with his companion coming behind. Anticipating this, Gilmir took two quick steps forward and plunged his short sword into the man’s stomach. The second guard stabbed his halberd. Gilmir whipped his long blade across, cutting clean through the halberd shaft. The guard’s eyes widened, and he stumbled backwards. Coming down the curving stairs Gilmir slid on his knees over the stone tiled floor towards the man. Both blades whipping across in front of him and hitting the outside of the man’s leading foot above his knee. The larger blade went straight through, toppling the guard helpless on the floor. Gilmir came to his feet and looked around.
The two guards on the top dais stopped by the throne, obviously unsure how to proceed. Voan still stood in front of the stairs. His calm smile had vanished, replaced by a scowl. The two guards by the door had taken a few steps into the room. Two more guards came into view from behind the curtains on either side of the stairs.
‘Take him!’ Voan roared.