Chapter One .
Standing alone on the high balcony of the King’s Palace, Oirion could hear the bells of the great cathedral calling out to midday mass. He felt a small twinge of regret that he couldn’t be there. His soul could use a little peace right about now. Somehow he doubted he would ever be at peace again. He felt a stab of resentment towards Shannon for his fate but almost as quickly it turned to grief for the loss of the bond with Jamie. In the back of his mind he knew that ultimately it had all been his own choices that had put him where he was now. Well, not on the balcony exactly, he thought to himself.
He sighed and shifted his cloak about his shoulders against the sharp wind that tugged and pulled at its length, continually putting it out of place. He tried to get his mind off his dark mood he turned his focus out to the city.
Where he stood he could see not only the great spires and steeples of the holy building, but also the famous Walden’s Way – the bridge that spanned the river in the middle of the city of Brosten. Just off to the right and only slightly lower on the hill was the great King’s Theater. Oirion had been to all those places before, but he had been a different man then.
So much had happened since he had come to Brosten with Jamie. It seemed so very long ago. The strange and twisted path his life had taken since was hard for him to explain even to himself, let alone to others. It had only been fourteen months ago. He counted the months in his head again to be certain. His soul felt tired, as if he had been running on sheer momentum for too long.
He wasn’t even Oirion Hennen anymore; he didn’t have the same face or body, or even the same voice. He had traded being a down-cast bishop under constant harassment from a corrupt church to being Regent of all of Purt. More difficult to deal with was that his very soul had been torn apart and remade. In a whirlwind of war and rescues, he had ended up a very different man indeed. How much of his emotional upheaval was lack of Jamie, he wondered. Where once the golden light of a healer had been was now the knot of shields and ice-cold power that was Shannon.
Dwelling on it did not help he reminded himself. What was done was done and could not be undone. Armond himself had reworked their bonds. As much as Oirion wanted to rebel against it, he was forced to accept and to trust Armond, not only as the angel he appeared as, but also as the boy he had been born as.
Travis would never set him up to be destroyed and so there had to be a way to make the bond between a priest and a demon work. He didn’t understand it, but he was trying to be at peace with it.
“The vote of confidence is touching, but I really am very tired,” he muttered to Armond as he rubbed his eyes. He lifted his cup of dark coffee. It had long grown cold, but he didn’t mind it that way. Most of the people of the southern kingdoms adored coffee like the northern kingdoms adored wine. They drank it a number of ways, the most popular being boiled with cream and sweetened. They had little shops that served coffee like a tavern might serve ale or beer. Even the nobility went to those shops. It seemed all the latest craze.
He wondered briefly where the beans for the coffee came from. He had no idea what race even grew them. The weather of late though, was sure to cut into the trade and the kingdoms were going to suffer wicked withdrawals. He chuckled at the thought of riots over the loss of their favorite beverage. The newspapers might read: Lack of Coffee Sets Off Civil War.
A sudden gust of wind blew his long hair up over his shoulder into his face as well as into his drink. The weather was chill. He sighed and set the cup down, tossing his hair back over his shoulder.
The weather. It was a serious issue. His thoughts went back to real matters that needed to be addressed. It was cold. It felt merely cool to him, but he had lived much of his life along the Norwood border where snow came while this city was still basking in summer and his Purtan blood did not feel the cold as once it had. Even so, for this time of year this far south, it was shockingly cold.
Never in record had it been this cold; the river had ice along its banks; plants that were native to the area were frost- bitten and struggled to stay alive, if they weren’t already dead. People had taken to building massive fires in the courtyards, burning anything they could. They all crowded close to try to stay warm. Oirion had allowed it as it was helping to clean up the trash in the city, but before long it would be more than broken crates and battered wagons. It would slowly progress until either the weather warmed or the city was burned to the last stick of wood.
Most homes here had no way to heat them: it had never been needed before. The warm waters of the ocean currents and the southern location made Brosten a warm city, the coldest weather just enough to make the breath steam and only in the coldest of winter nights… until now.
At 30,000 years as capital of Fairwah, this city was young. It was not built like the ancient fortresses of the age past. The old places were built when magic storms warped the land and hurricanes, tornadoes, and tsunami’s slammed into cities with the force of an enemy siege. In those days, Brosten had been a small fishing village tucked near the river, over-looking the harbor.
Unlike most other great older cities of Purt, even if a new king was found, the light and heat offered to the masses would be very limited. The ancient lines just had not been woven through the city with the same extensiveness as in the ancient places, but at least the main buildings would offer some shelter. Anything would be better than nothing.
The recent storms that hammered against them had been fairly regular and all laced with energy and power that if not soon dealt with would begin to warp things, starting with little spells, insects and simple plants, but the warp would grow to include trees, animals and even people. The populace was scared and they should be, but it was not elves that sent the storms as most thought, but the Barrier Shield itself. The planet was heaving under its great weight; the truth of that was far more troublesome than any feared invasion.
Storms like no one alive had ever seen had been set off and what they felt today was just the reflected remnants of the power from a year ago.
No one had been ready for this. All over Purt the strain was being felt. The last news Oirion had heard was of riots, looting, and several civil wars on the brink of spilling over borders into other kingdoms. Most of the kings of the empire were desperate to hold onto their thrones under Shannon and yet had no idea how to deal with the weather, blaming the change in leadership of the Empire for it, or other races, or any other thing they could cling to. None of them seemed to understand the truth behind it all.
Oirion had argued in the council in Brosten the truth of the weather and tried to point out the causes, but the human lords were young and blind. They resented him and were still angry that he had denied them crowning their prince to the kingship when the old king had died. Oirion was here to prevent that foolish boy from having any taste of power and to find a true king. He understood why he had to be the one to do it, but he hated the whole thing.
He almost snarled at Shannon for making him deal with this task. How the devil was he supposed to find a true king? To find a person with the right bloodlines to activate the power of the Wells of Purt was hard enough, but to try to find one who would be able and willing to be a king, let alone a good king, was a task that seemed impossible.
He had been here for six months already, spending every free moment he could searching, and had found nothing; not a single heir to the line of angels neither old nor young, no one. The bloodlines were so forgotten and with the rash of murders that had targeted those very lines for the last few years, anyone left was hidden well enough demons couldn’t sniff them out. How was he supposed to do what they had failed at?
“Your Grace, the constable is here to see you,” the page at the door of the balcony said. It grated on Oirion’s nerves to be waited on by pages and guards. Being always watched made him uneasy and irritable, but to deny such would be to diminish the rank he held in the eyes of the court here. His threats and presence alone held them from making Prince Ammeron king.
“Show him in,” Oirion said. The constable, of all the men here, Oirion considered a decent man. It was the constable who had gotten him and Jamie here a year before and set everything into motion. It was a shame he could not let the man know who he truly was inside the body he wore now.
He turned from the balcony wall as the constable was let in. The constable was a Purtan man whose age was impossible to guess at, but he was likely older than any human in the court or of any comparable rank. He had been the constable of the city for at least sixty years and that Oirion knew for a fact, but little beyond that.
It was rare for a Purtan to hold rank, let alone one that was built on promotion. The prejudice against Purtans wasn’t as bad here as in other places, but Oirion was the only pure Purtan in the high court of Brosten; all others were human. A few lords had some Purtan blood in their far past, but for the majority they were as human as the King of Ramdell.
The constable came to him and dropped to a knee at once. “Your Grace,” he said.
Oirion hated that as well, but the game of rank and power had rules and this one he couldn’t cast off. Again he had to enforce his rank to keep order and control of the court and its lords.
“Constable,” Oirion offered his hand. The man caught Oirion’s hand and lifted it to his forehead to show that the constable deemed himself unworthy to kiss the hand of the Regent. Oirion almost grumbled at that; if any man in Brosten was worthy, it was this one.
“What can I do for you?” Oirion asked, withdrawing his hand and motioning the man to stand. “Would you care to step out of the wind?”
“Honestly, Your Grace, I would rather we stay outside for what I have to say,” the constable said.
Oirion nodded. “Bring us something hot to drink,” he told the page. The page bowed and was gone. “What’s on your mind, Tyven?” Oirion asked.
“I did not get to the position I am in or keep this rank without… insight,” Tyven said with a nervous glance to the door. “I have a skill for knowing things,” he said and turned his focus on Oirion.
Oirion turned his back on the city and leaned against the low but thick stone wall that was the balcony rail. He folded his arms over his chest in a most un-princely manner, but in a less intimidating stance. The constable was tense and it showed.
“You imply that you do not know those things the way most men do,” Oirion said, trying to help the man get to the point.
“I… hmm, I see things,” Tyven said, “like in a dream and yet not, more like…”
“You’re a seer?” Oirion asked, a little impressed and curious.
“Not exactly; it is like that in a way, but even more rare.”
“I don’t suppose you have any blood of angels in you to get such a gift?”
“No,” Tyven smiled faintly. “My great grandmother was a Gypsen with a history of such in her line. I am not a Vel, by any means.” He half smiled as if flattered at the thought of being a Vel, with a whisper of angelic blood, or a Von with the pure traceable lines. “My point is that I know things. I see them and while I cannot always understand or explain what I see, I have leaned to use that insight well. That is how I was able to find the… sites I found, to know to trust Gallus; that it was imperative that Oirion and Jamie came to Brosten… I knew these things.” He glanced over and fell silent moments before the page returned with two mugs of coffee. They each took one and the young man fell back. “And how I know your page is… for sale,” he muttered behind his mug as he took a sip.
“I trust, then, that you came here for a reason and that you were motivated by what you see,” Oirion said softly as he took his own sip of the hot bitter drink.
“That is indeed the case,” the constable said. He held his cup near his chest, his fingers wrapped around it to stay warm.
“Step inside, boy,” Oirion told his page, a young man about nineteen years of age whose name Oirion wasn’t sure he knew. “You look ready to pass out with the chill. This is mild for Norwood, but your body is not used to it; step in and warm up, child.” He spoke as if he simply had not noticed before. The page bowed and happily ducked in, far more interested in heat than the conversation he might hear over the wind. Oirion looked back to the constable.
“I fear I am not used to it, either,” Tyven said a bit ruefully. “Thank God, I am Purtan; the poor humans are even worse off.”
“A few days and you will adjust and find it cool, but not unpleasant as such. We were born of days far colder than the world knows now. That is a conversation we can have inside near a fire, though, so what is on your mind.”
“The duchess,” Tyven said.
“The one who has of yet to speak up at any council meeting, can’t be so much as 20? That one?”
“Yes. That one. She is,” he paused to think of the word, “she is special. She will somehow be linked to the king. I know you will find him,” he stressed the word to make his point, “but not without her. I know he’s not young, that he is… not acceptable in the eyes of the nobility, but as rough as he might seem, he is a worthy king. Even as some might say David Sailor is a pirate and should be in chains, not sitting as King of Crouse, many will not like him and yet I know he is a worthy and good king, and Purt is lucky to have him.”
“The girl duchess is the key to me finding a king for Fairwah?” Oirion asked skeptically. It seemed most unlikely.
Tyven took another sip of coffee and looked out to the harbor. He squinted away.
“Soon Brosten will suffer like no city in Purt has suffered since the War of Angels. We sit upon soft earth that could easily slip under the waves, sheering off the stones. I do not seek to put out political fires or physical fires, but to send people to the country to distant family, to go inland with what they still own.” He sighed sadly and heavily. He looked back to Oirion. “You must believe me, Your Grace.”
“I want to,” Oirion admitted. “I know you’re a good man, Tyven. I know Gallus trusts you, but you’re asking me to put a lot of faith in a girl who seems as if she is about to wither under the weight of her own silk gowns. You are going to have to give me more than that if you want me to turn from the focus I am using now.”
Tyven shifted on his feet and looked again to the harbor. “There is a rumor that you are the descendant of Oirion Silverwood, the adept of Krent, but I know the truth,” Tyven said, not looking to Oirion, but watching the harbor beyond the cloud of smoke from the great fires built throughout the city.
“And what is that?” Oirion asked carefully.
“That we have met before,” Tyven said, looking over.
Oirion took a slow drink of his coffee. “I have met a lot of people in my life,” he said.
Tyven set his mug on the wall top and looked out over the city as if searching for what to say. He nodded and seemed to change the subject.
“I had a pitcher of ale with Oirion Hennen once. Very stressful time in my life, though. There was a great deal of darkness in my city. I knew beyond all doubt that he was needed to save Gallus and to stop whatever was happening with the blood rings, but it was hard for me to look at him… an odd thing… it startled me every time I saw him as I never got used to his face.
“In my mind he was… something else, and to see him looking like such a normal human man at the end of his prime was very unsettling. The moment I looked away I knew why Armond needed his help, why he might be able to protect Gallus, why he mattered so very much, but to look at him was to see an illusion that hid his very soul.” He looked over at Oirion. “Like I said, I know who you are.”
Oirion set his mug aside and rested his hands on either side of him, holding the edge of the cold stone wall. The idea was very unsettling, and worse that perhaps on some level Tyven was speaking of things deeper than that he had been Oirion Hennen until eight months ago.
“Nothing is that simple, Tyven.”
Tyven searched for the words, meeting his eyes. “You are who you always were. I don’t know how else to say what I see, but while you no longer wear a mask, you are still not just the face you wear.”
Oirion made sure the boy was still inside. He could see him though the window standing by the fire with his back to the heat, hands held behind him to soak it in. Tyven was walking a very dangerous line that made Oirion very uneasy, but he had to know just what the constable knew… there was something about himself not even Oirion himself dared to look at too closely. It was just too perilous.
“Alright,” he said carefully. “Say I believe you, and I only would because of Gallus. Take a moment and tell me something that you know I need to hear.”
Tyven watched the skies as dark clouds began to roll in from the south, getting close enough to see the lightning low and near the water, not normal at all. It seemed to snake out over the surface of the ocean as if trying to avoid the sky. As they began to hear the rumble of the incoming storm, he looked to Oirion.
“I know that you will not be king of any one kingdom, but more than one of your sons will wear a crown.”
“More than one of my sons?” Oirion asked and almost laughed. “I’d have to have more than one son for that to happen.”
“You don’t already?” Tyven asked truly surprised.
Oirion gestured vaguely. “I won’t believe I have any until I see it. Travis hinted at such, but never spoke of crowns.”
“You would doubt Armond?” Tyven asked shocked.
“No,” Oirion almost laughed at the man’s reaction. “I would doubt my own fertility. The chances are very slim for one and less for more than that.”
“Well, I see it. I know that if the Barrier comes down and Purt lasts another generation, more than one of your sons will wear crowns. Maybe they aren’t all born yet; that I don’t know.”
“I don’t know, Tyven,” Oirion half chuckled as he turned to look out at the harbor, standing with his back to the building. “I still think you’re asking an awful lot and could easily be playing the game of Deals and demons. You’d understand why I would be cautious even of those I might want to trust.” He picked up his cups. “Come inside and warm up.” He turned to lead the way to the door.
“He is afraid he’ll hurt you,” Tyven said quickly. Oirion stopped. “It’s why he sent you so far away. He has been so alone so long and in such pain that he is afraid he won’t be able to help himself and will get too close and hurt you. The idea terrifies him.” Tyven took a step towards Oirion, desperate to get him to believe. “It’s why he makes a joke of the whispers of your being his consort. It’s the only way he can distance himself from it and yet not deny it.”
“I am not his consort,” Oirion said, knowing at once who Tyven spoke of. “It is a soul bond, not a physical one.”
“That, I do not know. That, I do not care about. What is a body compared to a soul? You don’t understand. I know who you are!” There were almost tears in his eyes. “I know; I see it right now! I see it always.”
“This is who I am,” Oirion said. “I am not wearing a mask.”
“Yes, you are,” Tyven whispered. “Even from yourself and I know that. Somewhere in your heart the idea that I see past the mask is terrifying to you. Tell me honestly you don’t feel a deep panic threatening to come up at the mere idea I can see your soul for what it is and I know who you are.”
Oirion felt a chill creep up his back. He dared not even think about it and slammed up shields against his own thoughts. On the steps of Ulam Bac he had given his everything to open that damned gate and to save Shannon, and it had cost him his life. In that moment he had known a truth so great and so fantastic that Powers of ages past had risen up to make certain all who saw it forgot it, to make it mean nothing to their minds if they did recall, or if that failed they would be driven insane so no thoughts would be noticed and their words discarded.
“I know who you are,” Tyven said again. “Please, talk to her; just talk to her at least. That’s all I ask.”
“Come inside, Tyven,” Oirion said softly, swallowing his fear and his tension. “You’re freezing.”
Oirion handed the mugs to the page who went at once to get them refilled. They both moved to the fire to take the boy’s place and warm up a little. Oirion’s chill was not from the weather, though, and no fire was going to make it vanish so easily.
“What am I supposed to talk to her about?” Oirion asked, standing beside Tyven.
“I don’t know. I just know she is the key to finding the king,” Tyven said softly in the way those who have just had a serious fight and are trying to make peace do. It was a very uneasy feeling for them both.
“You know I can’t very well leave the city; the lords are barely under control as it is. If they crown Ammeron and I find another king, there will be civil war.”
“If you must leave to find him, my men and I can keep order until you get back, and if we can’t stop a coronation, we can make the people turn against him in force and his crown will mean nothing.”
“You can do that?”
“I know I can,” Tyven said, looking over and smiling timidly. “Like I said, I did not get where I am without knowing things.”
“Sometimes knowing things is dangerous,” Oirion responded, very worried for the constable. Some truths are better hidden and he knew it.
“I know that as well,” Tyven nodded. “I also know I’m not the one you need to worry about. We must find… you must find that man. If you fail, then a dark storm will crush Brosten and bury Fairwah in such darkness I fear I will be dead and know nothing for this world.”
Oirion left the fire to take his fresh mug of coffee from the page and moved to a small side table with a set of chairs under the grand windows. Tyven joined him, still a bit uneasy.
“How is Gallus?” Tyven asked. “Ulam Bac seems very far away just now and if I did not know him as a friend, I would have such doubts… but I do know him and worry for him. Is he well? Is he truly bonded to Jamie?”
Oirion didn’t care to talk about it, really, but Tyven was Gallus’s friend and the two men had risked a lot to reach out to him and Jamie a year ago.
“The magic he has stepped into is something that must seem very strange and difficult to deal with. The power of the bond changes a man and while most are bonded as teenagers and woven together slowly over time, Gallus stepped into a bond that was adult and well-mastered. He will have a difficult time adjusting to it, but he and Jamie were friends before and it is a bond created and blessed by the hand of Armond himself, so they will both be alright.”
“And Father James? He has to have a hard time adjusting to life without Oirion Hennen and his power.”
“Jamie is a strong man and will be able to adjust and find balance faster than any other man could hope to.”
“They say that you are Oirion’s older cousin. I wasn’t aware Lord Hennen had any other children than his daughter.”
“He had a son,” Oirion said taking a sip, “a rebel who was killed in Amdor before I was born.”
Tyven sipped his hot drink.
“How did the classes work? Has it helped the young guards?” Oirion asked of the classes Jamie had taught the year before.
“Some have embraced it, but others struggle to. We have long been taught the evils of magic and fear runs deep.”
“Time will heal that,” Oirion said. “Magic is our heritage, all of our heritage.”
Tyven set his mug down.
“I should go, Your Grace, to dress for the dinner tonight, so with your leave…” he rose and Oirion gestured the man he could go. The page hurried to open the door for Tyven and closed it behind him.
Oirion watched the young man, well aware the page had been put where he was as a spy of sorts. If Oirion was Shannon, he would just dismiss the boy and find someone loyal to him, but he wasn’t Shannon. Anyone he found here would be for sale. That was the nature of a court that was under the influence of greedy powers for too long.
“What do you think of the constable?” Oirion asked the young man.
“He does a noble service to the kingdom. Brosten is a safer city because of him,” he said. “He has served the kingdom a long time.” The boy had a head for political words and that would likely make him a man of power one day; the idea was rather sad to Oirion.