Elenarka wanted to laugh as she strode toward the empty throne. The hawk tapestries had been torn from their places upon the walls. They would be replaced soon enough. She could not believe how easily they had taken the castle Andrese. The gates had been open for her. The men on guard had been killed. She had walked in on an overthrow and had swept the castle with her force of terrifying warriors, all dressed in their shining Threel armour. And she had not lost a single one. To top it all off, the house of the Dreamer had been burned before she and her forces had even arrived. It was as though Eno had come before them to prepare for their arrival. She would have to build a shrine to the desert god. She owed him that much at least.
Once she had remembered what Eno had told her it had been easy enough to turn her food storehouses into giant bug traps. The creatures had been packed in crates with plenty of greenery and taken by her people to Lady Psil. The woman was not overly excited at first. A woman does not come to hold the power of the largest holding this side of Kor’s Blunder by being nice. She was suspicious and ill-tempered. But she also held a grudge against the Dreamer-worshipping folk of Andrese and when she heard Elenarka’s thoughts on the matter it was not long before she happily agreed to exchange lumber for the insects. Of course, the Lady Psil expected much more for her lumber than just bugs, but she was a patient woman and could wait for the gold.
The ships of the Thrainish were flat bottomed, as no sea going vessel had yet been. They travelled over the reefs in the bay as a bird floats above the clouds. And now here she was, standing before the empty throne of Andrese.
What was that sound? Was the throne calling her name?
Elenarka Vannes, Manticore Queen of Andrese.
She rather liked the sound of that. The only thing missing was a crown to place upon her head. The word amongst her frightened prisoners was that the old Queen was seen with it last. Elenarka had men dredging the bay now, searching for a body her archers claimed was there, but she suspected the crown was not. The prince’s had not been captured yet, they must have it with them. They were seen scampering up the side of the cliff with some old guardsman. She had a man organizing a search party for them now. She could not let the heirs of Ur escape her justice. She would have them. Soon enough.
“My Lady Queen,” came a voice. It was one of her warriors. She could not remember his name. She could never remember her warriors names and so she called them all after her god.
“What is it, Eno?” she asked. But as she turned she could see just what it was. The warrior held a sceptre in his hand, the missing hawks-head sceptre, the power of Ur. She could not help but laugh now, clapping her hands in glee.
“Oh Eno!” she cried, taking the sceptre in one hand and forcing the warriors cheek to her lips with the other. She kissed him and he blushed, though she barely noticed. She could see nothing but the sceptre, could feel its power in her hand. It was magnificent, a beautiful piece of sorcery, with the golden hawk head at its peak, ruby eyes blazing... in anger?
She lifted it up above her head, called to the power within. It did not reply. She could feel it seething there, just under the golden surface, just past the crimson eyes. She called to it again, this time with more force. It was like a cat that looks up from a nap before curling up again and going back to sleep. Elenarka sputtered. The voices whispered, but they were too quiet. She could catch only fragments of their instructions. She growled. She cursed. She called upon the power again. The power of the hawk would be hers. She summoned it with all her desperation. Nothing. The sceptre could not be used by a manticore. Its power remained tucked within; resistant as a virgin before her wedding.
She snarled out a few words, the words of power that she knew from her endless nightmares of battle between Eno and the White Lady. The eyes of the hawk seemed to blaze a moment, but the power remained steadfast within.
“No matter,” she cried, still clinging to the rod. “I have it, and that is all that matters.”
“Your Magnificence?” the warrior said.
“Eno, what is it?” she snapped.
“I found the sceptre in a passage beneath the castle, and this man besides.”
Elenarka saw the man for the first time. His skin was pale where it was not dark with blood and bruises. He held a wound in his side and the hair on his head was sticky with blood. He turned dark eyes up and dared to look her in the eye. He bore the nose of the hawk.
“You, man,” she growled. “Who are you? You are blood of the hawk.”
“Yes,” the man replied. “I am Cantan Iridian. The man who cleared the path for you, my queen.”
“The would-be usurper?” she asked.
He only nodded and smiled.
“Why would you say as much to me?” she asked. “Do you like the position of your head where it rests upon your neck?”
“Very much so, your grace,” he replied. “But I think you will not kill me.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I know the secret power of the sceptre. I know that it will only respond to the blood of Ur.”
“As you say?” she said. “And how do you know this?”
“If it were not for the power of the sceptre I would have died down there.”
“You are saying you used it to prevent your death?”
“Yes, your grace.”
“Interesting. And I suppose you would like me to let you use it again?”
“I only ask for my life, your grace. And to serve you.”
“I will think on it. Take him away.”
She could not hear his pleading over the shouting in her head.
“They all have the blood of Ur within them!” she shouted back. She must remain calm. She took a breath. She would find someone who could use the sceptre to her benefit. Someone who would bend to her will and hers alone. The noble lords of the realm would have the blood of Ur within them, of that there was no doubt. And she still had the love of Eno, his power was enough to overthrow Ur, it would be enough for anything.
“Noli, send word to Lady Psil,” Elenarka said. “She is requested in the capital by her new queen.”
Elenarka turned and settled herself onto the throne.
Yes. This was where she belonged. At last.
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