Hey everyone! Your comments on the last section were varied and interesting. Thanks for the useful input! Here's the next section, where we follow Marasia while on her mission in Gamalarn. Hope you enjoy:
Orange, Marasia thought as she looked up. Orange was the only colour in the sky above Sethides, capital of the Gamalarn Nation. A perpetual dusk, when it wasn’t covered by thick clouds. Hot, pale, and bloody.
Ever since her arrival a couple of days back, Marasia could not help but drown in her homesickness. With no water in sight, Sethides was very different from Asaia-Laégel and even more from Atlasis. Five volcanoes surrounded the city, all inactive since time immemorial and home to Niflän, Essential Spirit of Fire. Even breathing is hard here, she noticed as she walked down the busy markets searching for a sign that read ‘The Blazing Sword’. Crammed, tight, and maddening with coarse yelling. No wonder fighting is a central part in their lives.
Her time at Queen Edleán’s court was no different. Plentiful banquets abounding in red meats, dark wines, and Gamalarn’s traditional liquor; of which only a sip had been enough to dry her lips and burn her throat. The Queen would sit beside her husband and her three surviving children.
A duel was hosted after each meal. Men and women alike fought to their deaths to earn honour and respect. Marasia could swear one or two participated for the mere fun of it. Metal would clash mercilessly and the fighters danced to the cheers and laughter of a wild crowd. The Queen had lost her two eldest children in this slaughter. They were very different from her countrymen. Different and hard to decipher.
Last night, Marasia had tried once more to approach the Queen after the blood bath, when everyone would retire for the night and they would be left alone.
“I still do not understand your purpose here, girl,” the Queen said sitting on her throne beside her husband, her braid falling as heavy as her speech. The King looked paled and weary; almost insignificant beside the Queen. A languid shadow of a man at best. “My country’s affairs concern but me and my people.”
“With all due respect, Your Majesty, your affairs became our concern as well when your decisions placed the Empire at risk,” Marasia countered, never breaking eye contact.
“We have done no such thing,” she replied without a moment’s hesitation; her voice surprisingly controlled. “The Holy Laégelian Empire is of no interest to Gamalarn.”
“And the other nations?”
“Gamalarn only wants to reclaim what was always ours: the desert handed over to Sylenvia. A land suited only for true warriors. That is our only objective.”
Marasia saw no lie in the Queen’s face. Violent as they were, Gamar were known to scorn verbal cowardice almost as much as physical gutlessness. However, there was something undeniable as well. “His Imperial Majesty has reason to doubt it after the assassination attempt on Prince Sefiren and himself.”
“Unfounded accusations at best,” she heard a voice creep from behind her, followed by loaded footsteps. Through the corner of her eyes, Marasia was able to spot the Crimson Knight making his way across the room. The King could only make a fist and grit his teeth as the Knight stood beside Queen Edleán. “Choose your words carefully, Seraf-Magister. Gamalarn is a dangerous land and one where you hold no power at all.”
“Your Majesty, may we discuss this matter in a more private place?”
The Queen shook her head as the Crimson Knight placed a hand on her shoulders. “If you want to say something, girl, say it now. But I warn you, we will not tolerate Emperor Regelial trying to command us from his golden throne.”
“I’m sure that is not the Emperor’s intent, we only mean...”
“Gamalarn’s role as the Emperor’s lap dog will never return,” the Knight interrupted. “You fulfil that role much better, Seraf-Magister.”
Queen Edleán cackled.
For an instant, Marasia’s emotions flared and her muscles tightened. The Queen is as stubborn as she is deaf to reason. Her gaze fell on the King, whose presence she had nearly forgotten. Not even a shadow was left of him. What is wrong with him?
With nothing left to say, she retired for the night. On her way to her chambers, while rushing across one of the halls thundering with the noises of drunk cheering, someone pulled at her arm.
“Shhh,” the man whispered in her ear, “take this,” he said, placing a piece of paper in her hand.
He vanished as fast as he had appeared; swallowed by the wild crowd. She unfolded the torn paper.
Tomorrow. The Blazing Sword forge. We can help.
It had taken her half the night and several readings to make her mind. Until now, this seemed her best and only choice. In spite of the possible danger, she was determined not to fail her uncle. I can take care of myself, she told herself, trying to shake the Crimson Knight’s words from her mind.
After much searching, the finally found it: a small building, almost the size of a tiny house. An old wooden sign hung at the front displaying a carved sword surrounded by fire. The Blazing Sword.
She pushed the door; her arrival announced by the creaking it made. The windows were closed and the floor covered in dust and filth. The place had been clearly abandoned for some time.
Three cloaked figures walked towards her from the other end of the room. Marasia placed one hand on her sword’s hilt.
“Your Excellency, thank you for coming.”
“That voice... is that you Ducrat?” The tallest of the three removed his hood. Ducrat’s familiar face complimented his voice. Marasia’s nerves relaxed. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry, Your Excellency, we don’t have much time,” he hastily replied. The other two figures took their hoods off as well. “This one here is Paleór Falcar, one of Gamalarn’s Seven Dragons, and this one...”
“Is one of Queen Edleán’s sons,” Marasia cut-in. She remembered seeing him at court every time, always sitting near the Queen. Up-close, she could tell he had the same fiery eyes and thick hair of his mother, albeit slimmer than most of the Gamar men she had seen. A boy, she thought. However, she knew very well how deceitful looks could be.
“Correct,” the young man said. “I am Third Prince Nardan, heir to the Gamar Crown.”
“And why would the heir want to help me stop the Queen’s plans?” Marasia asked.
“Because they are not my mother’s,” Nardan explained. “We have all been tricked by the man pulling her strings; the one who is bent on this war.”
“No doubt you have already met him, Your Excellency,” Ducrat said. “The one who calls himself the Crimson Knight.”
Paleór growled at the name.
“You said you could help me, how?”
“There might still be a way to prevent this war,” Prince Nardan stated. “We kill the Crimson Knight and if necessary, the Queen.”