Mar 12 2019

Daughters of Fate (Chapter 9)

Posted by Mathias in Daughter of Fate, Fantasy, Novels

Restless soul. Tired soul. Baren soul. Troubled soul .

-Earoni’s Prayer verse 2 

Chapter 9 (36th of Elgatan 6198)

Cassandra had awoken in the middle of the night and decided to make her rebel prisoner suffer some more.  She never fell back to sleep after returning to her chambers from The Vault.  She rarely ever did.  Just being there and dealing with the scum she kept locked away within caused her mind to race.  

Frustrated that he was holding out, her mind was already thinking of what torture to inflict upon him next. 

So, she was already wide awake when the shadow entered her room early the next morning.   

“It is not wise to keep Lord Hedric waiting like this on a regular basis,” it warned.   

Cassandra paid the disembodied creature little mind.  The Weekly Council had been delayed a few days in the aftermath of the attempt on her life.  But this morning it was time to proceed. 

She took her sword belt from its peg on the wall. Strapping on the pair of identical sabers, she adjusted them until they felt perfect to her on her waist.  She also donned on her light armor. It was a mixture of leather and chain with a few pieces of plate protecting her strong sword arm – her right arm.   

It was a hodgepodge that had served her well.  The sub-general had never liked the bulkiness of the heavier full plate armor Lord Hedric’s other generals wore.  Her advantage was quickness and agility.  She wanted to keep it that way.   

Flipping the saber at her left into her right hand, Cassandra slashed at an imaginary foe.  Quickly the other moved into her left hand.  Both hovered in the air before her.  She balanced both on the tips of a single finger of each hand then she fluently resheathed them both. It had become a practiced routine for her and told her that everything was just right.   

The specter watched.  “I urge you again not to keep His Lordship waiting for this week’s council.”   

“Tell him that I am on my way.” As the specter faded from sight, Cassandra reached for her boots.  After pulling them on, she rocked in them feeling their worn comfort.  

Opening the door to leave, she stepped into the hallway.  Her senses alerted her to a presence behind her.  Again brought her sword into her right hand as she turned about.  

Staring down the length of the blade was a servant girl, frozen in place.  The pewter platter and pitcher she once held dropped to the floor.  Pure terror was in her eyes.  

Cassandra smirked, resheathed her weapon, and left the servant to clean up her mess.   

Walking through the halls of the palace, Cassandra took mental note of the increased guard presence in every hallway.  After the events of a few nights ago, all the watches had been doubled.  Cassandra had seen to it after the apparent ease the three assassins had getting inside.   

She cursed herself for having difficulty with the intruders.  Her thoughts were busy retracing every moment of the encounter while analyzing and calculating even the slightest mistake.  She remained lost in thought for several minutes.  Out of all the attempts on her life, this one had come far too close to succeeding.   

Approaching the pair of doors to the main audience chamber, Cassandra looked up.  As their commanding officer drew closer, the guards opened them and allowed her to pass.  She gave them barely a glance.   

Beyond the doors was the enormous hall of gray stone. It had been newly carpeted in a deep midnight blue rug that had been hand woven from the finest wool from the north. 

All around the audience hall Lord Hedric had hung and displayed the more impressive spoils from seven hundred years of conquests.  Everything from priceless paintings, to tapestries, to painstakingly decorated vases adorned the chamber.  But Cassandra’s eyes were always drawn towards the black marble statues that lined the walls.   

They were of creatures of all races and forms and seemed so life-like that it actually frightened the sub-general.  One, that of a cat-like woman, particularly brought out these feelings in Cassandra.  Its eyes seemed to follow her every move as she walked into the hall.  The lines of her marble form were so perfectly chiseled that she looked ready to pounce.  Cassandra had to force herself not to look at the statue of what she assumed to be a depiction of a minor demi-goddess long forgotten.  

Cassandra focused her eyes on the two thrones atop the dais at the far end.  Both Lord Hedric, in a long cape, and Lady Noranda, her face concealed inside the hood of her red robes, occupied their respective places.  There was a discussion ongoing that quickly ended as she approached.   

Lord Hedric cast her a look from his pale face.  His blue eyes tinted red didn’t bother her as much as they once had.  Several of his already gathered generals standing at the base of the thrones also turned to look at her.   

Cassandra ignored all of them. Except for one.  

That one was General Kayzar.  He turned his dark helm adorned with the horns of a ram towards her.  His armor was massive.  It was fancily forged dark metal, made of many overlapping layers. Each one came to some form of a point or spike. 

The helm and armor had been the symbol of Hedric’s Chief General for over seven hundred years. Worn by many, it was a feared symbol within The Empire.  

Kayzar’s breath echoed from behind the helm as he watched the much smaller sub-general take up her customary position next to him. She calmly tugged on her belt.  

He never stopped watching her as ten of his finest soldiers shifted behind him.  Each dressed in equally black, but less ornate armor, these were his personal guard.   

“As usual,” his voice roared from the depths of his helm, “your timing is impeccable, sub-general Nightwing.” 

Cassandra ignored his comments and knelt respectfully.  She addressed Lord Hedric, not the brute.  “Begging my Lordship’s pardon, I had matters to attend to that prohibited my earlier arrival.”  She smoothly returned to her feet and eyed Kayzar suspiciously as she did.   

Lord Hedric turned towards Noranda who nodded.  He responded to Cassandra, “I understand that last night again interrogating one of our unexpected guests.  For this, I will overlook your tardiness.  The palace guard has been doubled?” 

Cassandra nodded. “It has.”  

Kayzar muttered something directed at her that was unintelligible.  She turned to look into the deep, dark eye slot of Kayzar’s helm.  “I’m sorry? I didn’t quite catch that.”   

Almost immediately, the other generals assembled began to inch away.  They had seen this confrontation many times before.   

Noranda half rose to stop what might be about to happen. But Lord Hedric put his hand on her arm as a sign for her not to interfere.  “I want to see how this turns out,” Hedric spoke softly to her. 

Noranda returned, reluctantly, to her seat. She looked first at him, then to General Kayzar, and finally the more diminutive sub-general Nightwing. 

General Kayzar repeated himself, this time louder so that all could hear.  “I said, maybe next time you won’t be lucky enough to survive the assassin’s knife.  Maybe next time the assassin’s knife will be my sword.”  As he gripped the cord wound hilt of the seemingly oversized sword hanging at his side, Kayzar’s guard began to close in around the two. 

Cassandra flashed her gaze about from one of Kayzar’s soldiers to another as they all drew their weapons.  She tensed.  “Ten to one?  Only a coward has others do his dirty work.  Maybe you’ll be the next to be found lying in your own blood?”   

“Sub-general Gath was a fool.  If you think that you can take my position as easily as his, you might find yourself very disappointed.”  Kayzar laughed.  “Look about you sub-general Nightwing.  Remember that you are not among friends here.” 

Cassandra eyed her much taller foe.  “This is really a fascinating display of cowardice.” 

She took a look out of the corner of her eye and saw her Lord wordlessly holding Noranda back.  She knew he wanted to see this conflict.  So, she resolved to give him the show he so desperately wanted.  

With a flick of her wrist, she brought a sword into her right hand and quickly disarmed one of Kayzar’s guards closest to her.  He fell back.  

Whirling, she plunged the blade into the foot of another and split his armor like the shell of a nut.  He crumpled to the floor in pain. The stain that would remain on the brand-new carpet would leave a lasting message. 

The others closed in. But Cassandra brought her second sword to her left hand.  Skillfully and speedily she slid it into the slightest crack between the bottom of Kayzar’s helm and breastplate. General Kayzar did not even try to stop her. 

The tip rested fractions of an inch from his throat and a slight push could send it home.  Cassandra waved her other weapon to hold back the remaining guards. 

She thought Kayzar laughed as he spoke.  “You still favor your right hand.”   

“Brave words for a man staring death in the face. I expected more from you,” she taunted.  His guards inched forward cautiously.  “Call off your men.  Or we die together.” 

“Stand down,” Kayzar ordered with a wave of his hand.   His guards did, and he removed his other from the hilt of his weapon.  If he was frightened or intimidated by Cassandra, he showed no signs.  

Cassandra removed her weapon slowly from its deadly position. She knew that even though she had the opportunity, this was neither the time nor the place.  She wiped the blood from the other on a towel at her side. 

“Do not expect I am defeated so easily,” General Kayzar warned.  

“ENOUGH!” Lord Hedric boomed.  “Soldiers, remove that man,” he motioned to the one Cassandra had struck in the foot. He was whimpering like a child. 

Kayzar’s guards stepped forward and helped him up and out of the hall.   

Cassandra knew the injured guard was as good as dead. Kayzar didn’t tolerate the weak.  

Noranda added, “You would think by now that the two of you could control yourselves.”  She shifted restlessly as she scolded the two like children unable to behave.  

The other generals present returned cautiously to where they previously stood.  But each kept a watchful eye on both Cassandra and Kayzar.  

“I should just allow the two of you to kill yourselves,” Lord Hedric hissed.  “However, we have other, more pressing matters to be pursued.”  He stood from his throne and looked at General Kayzar in particular.  “I waited to bring this up until sub-general Nightwing joined us.  The supply convoys to the south have been continually intercepted by, I believe, Hitithe Rebels.  Despite increasing the guards, your men, General Kayzar, have failed to get anything through for the past several weeks.”  

Kayzar snorted, “We should just let them starve.  It would keep them more in line.”  

“I do not want starving, resentful subjects!” Hedric exploded.  “Damn it, that’s exactly how rebellions get started and are maintained!  I want these next convoys to get through.”  He turned to Noranda and he saw that she smiled to herself.  “I’m placing sub-general Nightwing’s forces in charge of guarding them.”    

“But my Lord-”   

“You had your chance, General Kayzar.  You are brilliant on the battlefield. But this is not a military operation.  Cassandra has shown that she is capable of cleaning up after your mistakes.  And she is particularly efficient at bringing these rebels to justice.  The subject is not open for discussion.” 

Cassandra could almost hear Kayzar gritting his teeth in anger.  “Poor, poor General Kayzar,” she taunted barely above a whisper.  “I’ll just take your command piece by piece.”   

“You’ll not live long enough,” he echoed with deep resentment.  “Lady Noranda won’t be able to protect you.”   

A look from Hedric silenced words between the two.  He spoke, “If you want the chance to redeem yourself, I can accommodate you.  I need a sizable force assembled to begin preparing an overland assault on the Elven Kingdoms.  It’s time we begin choking them off and I want them surrendered by next winter.”  Another soldier stepped forward and knelt.  Hedric recognized the General’s right to speak and wished that some of his others were as formal.  “Yes, Sub-general Norga?”   

“My Lord, I would like to increase the blockade my ships currently maintain about the elven ports.  The size of the fleet being used is not inhibiting all the ships from Fimmirra and others lands sympathetic to the elves.” 

Hedric nodded.  He did not like to hear that news, but respected General Norga’s formality.  “Excellent.  You may draw on ships from any inactive smuggling regions in the Northern Straight to aid your blockade.  I think we’ve pretty much ended that as a threat.  I want nothing getting through.”  He paused.  “If there is nothing else, then you are all dismissed.” 

At the words, all the generals except for Cassandra began to disperse from the audience hall.  

Hedric too disappeared behind the dais and through a passage concealed by flowing red drapes suspended from the ceiling.  Lady Noranda remained seated in her throne until all sounds of others once present had ceased.  She wanted to be certain that they were alone.   

“General Kayzar is a dangerous adversary,” she warned the young sub-general.   

“I’m not concerned about him.”   

Noranda rose slowly and pulled back the hood of her red robes.  “But there are other things that you do continue to worry about.  Aren’t there?”   

Cassandra paused for a moment to gather a reply.  “You know that I have my own personal demons.  And they are demons that I alone must face.  However, I do appreciate that you were able to convince Lord Hedric to place me in command of the security for the convoys.”   

“Believe it or not, he thinks very highly of your skills.  He is just a little awkward about having a woman in too much control.  I guess he’s just a little chauvinistic.  He wishes to maintain the grand illusion of force and power in his generals.”   

“He doesn’t trust me.”   

“He doesn’t trust anyone completely,” Noranda scoffed.  “Not you.  Not General Kayzar.  Not even me.  And that is not always a bad thing.”  

Cassandra took a step forward, resting one foot on the first step leading up to the thrones.  “I think you hold more sway over his actions than even he may admit.  You did convince him that I had my uses when he was ready to have me executed after his troops first found me.”  

“Perhaps.  But a young girl able to kill one of the greatest and most elusive thorns in his side? That did well to help the decision.  But beware, my influence does have its limits.”   

“He gains far too much power by the Blood Bond we share.  And I know how much that power means to him.” 

“The bond between a Blood Lord and those that choose to follow him is indeed strong.  But do not believe that it makes you untouchable.  If the day comes when you no longer serve a purpose, not even I will be able to protect you.  And your sword will never be as fast as a Blood Lord’s strike.”   

There was an awkward silence that fell as Noranda turned and followed in the footsteps Lord Hedric had taken a few moments before.  Cassandra stood for a little while longer before deciding to leave, allowing the words of Lady Noranda to settle into her mind.  

Noranda emerged into the dimly lit study hidden behind where the thrones sat in the audience hall.  Slivers of light entered through covered windows above the second series of shelves that followed a narrow catwalk some fifteen feet above those on the ground level.    

Hedric sat at a lone desk confined to the shadows and avoiding the light.   

He looked up from a book he was studying intently as he heard Noranda approach.  She leaned over the back of his chair to see what he was reading but could not tell its topic from such a quick glance.   

“I had no idea,” Hedric spoke slowly, “that elven magic could hide something as large as a mountain for so long.”  His eyes scanned the words written in an ancient language.  “If someone had told me seven hundred years ago that I would to this day not have found the Tear of Earoni and hold it in my hands, I would not have believed them.”  He closed the book.   

“The Mount of Carnak cannot remain hidden forever.”  Noranda placed herself into a chair at his side.   

“It is not forever that I fear, Noranda.  It is the time between then and now that bothers me most.”   

“My sages assure me that no magic is irreversible.  I know that to be true as well.” 

“Every spring for seven centuries I have sent companies of soldiers and wizards into those accursed mountains.  I have had maps made of the entire region ten times over.  And still nothing.  The Legends say that the first-born daughter of the House of Tynara, an elven child, knows the way.  If I have to destroy their precious kingdom to get her to step forward, I will.”   

“Just like Hitithe.”   

“Just like Hitithe,” Hedric confirmed.  “I need to know how to find and possess the Tear of Earoni before another year passes into history.” 

Noranda stood.  “I await the day that it is ours.” 

Hedric seized her wrist in his hand.  “Noranda,” he spoke with a cautious voice, “during my long and unnatural life, I have never forgotten what I am.”  He allowed a sliver of light to caress his pale skin and forced Noranda to watch as he visibly weakened.  It certainly would not kill him, but still, he retreated into the shadows after only a moment.  “I hope that you have not forgotten what you are either.”  

“After all these years?  You still don’t trust me?”   

“Your fondness for that child concerns me, my dear.  Cassandra is but a tool.  As are the others.  And tools are meant to be used.  I remember that once you had a vengeful fire in your heart.  I pray that you have not lost it.”   

Noranda felt the serpent medallion about her neck ebb with heat.  It reminded her that she served a different master than she once had.  

“It is still there,” she guaranteed.  “Of that, you can be certain.  I want nothing more than to bring the Greater Goddess to her knees for what she has done to me.” 

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