A Time Before
Ten cycles ago.
The Second Equinox
Seliah and I shared a desk whilst we studied. Overshadowed by the towering bookshelves, stores of aged knowledge and timeless wisdom. Seliah sat opposite me with mountainous heaps of stacked books interspaced between us. I could barely see her.
If we were not training in archery, we were refining our sword skill, and if we were not doing that, we studied. We learned everything about anything in Urium. We learnt the topography of the nine provinces, the languages, the magic systems and most importantly the history.
Father loved history.
A dense history tome laid sprawled in front of me. The inked inscriptions faded, the brownish parchment timeworn, the edges curdled like the rotten flesh of a vegetable. I was revising over the Treaties of Pavelia, forged after the wars and battles that split the provinces and established new kingdoms. Amity accords between kings and foreign rulers alike to set boundaries on territories and on the open sea.
“This is so tedious, I feel as I may pull my own eyes out,” Seliah muttered.
I smiled to myself and looked up. I craned my neck to peer over the stacks of books to glimpse her hunched over frame in her habitual dolour whenever we were forced to resume our studies.
“I think I have reread the same sentence for the last hour,” She added.
Amused, I shook my head and returned my attention to the Treaties of Pavelia. There was an interval of pensive reticence that ensued, but it was not long after that Seliah splintered the silence with her bored groans.
I pounded a fist on the mahogany. “Will you shut it? I do not have the energy to spend on both this and trying to mute the irksome sounds you are making.”
“My apologies, Hera,” she uttered with a tone fashioned from mock. “I did not mean for my agonizing suffering to disturb your peaceful reading.”
“It is your sheer existence that disturbs my peace,” I corrected, “but I have mastered familiarity.”
“One day I will dull that sharp tongue and—”
“My daughters, so hard at work,” father announced from afar.
Seliah’s spine snapped straight.
I adjusted my posture and fixed my eyes on the page, continuing where I was reading from, from right to left. Father’s footsteps were light, like everywhere he walked, he glid. He breached my field of view, robed in a royal blue tunic-styled garment, appearing behind Seliah. His folded arms perched behind his back encased in the voluminous sleeves.
“Your focus like an eagle mid-flight.”
I exhaled a long breath. “Father, with great respect. But is all if this really necessary?” I asked, I waved a hand over the piles of books in gesture. “Almost every day we cram our minds with all of this…information as if…we’re going to be tested on it.”
I glanced at his wizened face; his expression serene. His eyes were a dreary grey, but something was alite in them that made them a glinting silver.
“Information is knowledge and knowledge is power,” he said. Every word he enunciates he made it sound so all-knowing, like a master of all the arts and skills.
“I know, father but—”
“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens,” he said, a fierce shift in his tone.
My lips fastened.
“True wisdom is not a product of teaching, but a lifelong attempt to acquire it. Wisdom is constant, ever evolving, a humility to be willing to obtain more and emptying oneself from your own hinderances.”
Father breezed to my right to stand at the head of the table. “In war, the first battle is fought in the mind.”
Seliah pivoted her torso to face him with an apprehensive look. “And where there is peace?”
“Peace is an illusion,” he said, raising his chin to stare down at us both. “Peace is like the cover of night in which others garner might to war for their aspirations. As long as beings exist, so does their tainted, venal and greed-stricken nature exist with them. For many, what they have is never enough.”
Father’s traveling gaze steered my eyes down to the historic inscriptions before me.
I looked up, and my gaze clasped his. “Our history validates my truth. All those Treaties, acts of appeasement. Tell me, what do you know of the Scourge Wars?” he asked quizzically.
“A series of battles waged by the old empires to expand power and territory,” I said automatically. “Which boiled over and triggered Pavelia, also known as the Great Realm War.”
Father acknowledged me with a deep nod.
“And let us not forget the Ulris’s involvement in the obliteration of peace,” I added with soured tenor. “How they nearly uprooted our family tree because we hold a threat more perilous to them than an Alrosia imbued sword it seems.”
Something unidentifiable dimmed father’s eyes to an ominous grey, like storm clouds gathering.
“Now tell me of the era of division?”
“This was after the wars,” Seliah answered eagerly. She flicked me a haughty look. “Where the plunder was taken, the spoils of wars shared amongst victors. Those who won were crowned conquerors, and those who lost were the conquered. It took a long time to partition the lands and segregate the people that dwelled in them.”
Father nodded contently.
Seliah’s mouth opened, but my voice was heard.
“This era birthed the first High King,” I said, to thread onto the narrative. “Where the Pantheon was the strongest dominion over all of Urium with the Emikrol Empire as their ally. Independent domains managed their sovereignty until this day, but some were made slaves and others were raised as royals.”
Father quirked an enigmatic smile. “And what does all of that convey to you?”
Seliah and I exchanged perplexed looks.
“History has a way of repeating itself?” Seliah tried.
“People are diseased by their ambitions and greed, the welfare of all is eclipsed by their self-interests,” I attempted.
“Balance is a law that cannot be transgressed,” father said simply. “Where there is light, there is darkness. Where is good, there is the Ulris. Make no mistake, all is quiet now, but it is only because they amass strength to unbridle ancient spite over us all.”
I shifted my folded arms, edging closer to him. “And how do you think we can prevent such a calamity, to prepare ourselves?”
“The only way to destroy your enemy is to know your enemy.”