Sacred Fate

Chronicles of Ylandre

Eresse

 

Prologue

Genesis

Ylandre, in the 1009th year of the Common Age

She left with a sigh so faint the physician almost did not hear it. Her chest barely heaved with that final breath; her wrinkle-framed lips scarcely moved. The healer gently pressed his fingers to the loose flesh at the sides of her throat then lifted her thin wrist. He shook his head and looked up.

Veiron Essendri curtly nodded. He watched the family gather around her in mourning.

It was no coincidence that the Ardan of mighty Ylandre had attended an old female on her deathbed. She was just a commoner but she was also the last of her kind in the land. And so he had come as soon as word reached him of her imminent passing. Veiron looked at the kinsfolk she had left behind—brothers, cousins, nephews, great-nephews. Not a one sprung from her for no one had taken her to mate. How could they when her form had no longer found favor with the folk of her township or even her own blood relations? She, whose ancestors were the firstborn of Aisen, had lived her life and departed it a virtual stranger in the world of her birth.

Veiron signed to his counsellor to give her family a bag of coins to help defray the cost of the funeral. They received it in timid silence, the eldest thanking the king in hushed tones. Veiron acknowledged their gratitude then stepped out of the chamber.

When he returned to the capital he retreated to his study and took out his journal. He needed to record the demise of the last female not only in his realm but also in the entire continent. He was not the only sovereign to do so. Female-kind vanished in the continents of Lydan and South Vihandra during his sire’s reign. Arvalde had only a scant handful left and Khitaira maybe twice that number at most. But they were all in their twilight years, these spouseless, childless, kindredless daughters of Aisen. They would leave the world before Veiron’s eldest came to the throne.

It was a death knell for their race. Their passing would herald the extinction of Aisen’s first offspring. And the irreversible ascendancy of her adopted heirs.

Unsure how to begin his account, Veiron glanced at the nearby shelf that housed the journals of his predecessors for inspiration. He recalled an entry he had read when he was just a lad. He rose and retrieved his grandsire’s journal. Sitting at his writing desk once more, he quickly flipped through the crisp pages. He soon found what he was seeking and began to read.

* * * *

They came in that time before written history in this world. A wondrous race of great daring and spirit. It seemed their fate to suffer extinction. They defied fate instead and won their battle to prevail against impossible odds.

The ancient scribes wrote that their world began to die. The climate slowly changed. An unending winter set in, killing plants and beasts alike. They realized that sickness and starvation would destroy them if the cold did not. And so the sharpest, most farseeing minds amongst them gathered together and strove to discover a way for their people to escape oblivion.

They were masters of the mind arts. They harnessed mental energy to heal or wound, to save or slay. They could communicate without speaking though they never forsook speech. Language was important to them for they were a highly cultured people who revered their teachers as much as their soldiers.

Yet they were first and foremost a warrior race. Their history was marked by conflict, the extension of borders routinely realized through the use of force and the attainment of power and property more oft than not achieved by conquest. Fortunately, by the time of the Great Frost, they had learned to eschew war for the most part and live in harmonious coexistence.

It was this general peace, this conscious will to cooperate, that won them salvation. They were learned enough to surmise that they were not alone in existence. At the behest of their scholars and leaders, they joined their consciousness in a shared endeavor to discover if there was another place to which they could relocate their race.

They saw it in that collective mind’s eye. A world similar to theirs that appeared untouched by sentient life. It held the hope of survival and promised a future for their kind. And so they came together on the last continent that could still sustain them. And for the second time, and likely the last, they joined minds, each and every survivor of that deadly winter. They harnessed the energy generated by that joining and channeled it into the creation of a corridor by which they could pass through the void to their new home. That was how they came to the world they named Aisen.

It was only upon their advent that they discovered the presence of a nascent homegrown race alike to theirs in appearance and intelligence. They called themselves the gelra.

The colonists had to make a choice. They were numerous, long-lived and strong. And they were possessed of a power with which they could easily overcome and supplant the gelra. But these ancient ones were wise. They comprehended that the indigenous population possessed what was needed to thrive in this strange new world. They chose assimilation over extermination, breeding with the native inhabitants over many generations until the distinctions between them blurred and finally disappeared.

We are the progeny of that wondrous era. The children of the Inception. A people hewn from the threat of extinction, the harshness of survival, the hardships of wholesale migration, the relentless toil of civilization started anew and the inevitable adversities of evolution. A mercurial race, as capable of bringing down empires as raising them, undertaking both with equal fervor. We are the result of the journey upon which those long ago gallant hearts embarked in a desperate bid to preserve their kind.

They were the Naere and we, the Deira of Aisen, are forever indebted to they who were our forebears, sprung from a world that no longer exists except in blessed memory.

Joram Essendri

Rikara, Ylandre

Year 825 C.A.

Chapter One

Happenstance

Tal Ereq, in the 2996th year of the Common Age

The air was redolent with the lush aromas of an Ylandrin summer. Cranapples, sugar pears and honeyberries sprouted in profusion. But they failed to distract Mithre Idana as he strode down the orchard lane, peering up at overhanging branches along the way.

A flash of pale blue amidst the green, rose and brown of a cranapple tree’s canopy caught his eye. He stared into the thick foliage and espied his quarry seated on a stout limb, a half eaten fruit in hand.

Lassen!

A sheepish chuckle greeted his call. Mithre waited patiently until his son shifted on his perch and gazed down at him, so sweet a smile curving his lips that Mithre was hard-pressed to remain stern.

“Come down now,” he said, his lilting speech marked by the elongated vowels of the south. “The delegation will be here very soon.”

“Yes, Adda.”

Lassen lightly dropped to the ground. Straightening, he tucked a stray strand of sun-bright hair behind an ear and attempted to smooth down his rumpled shirt. Mithre shook his head reprovingly.

“That won’t do at all. Go bathe and dress properly. Or do you wish to shame your sire?”

“Nay, I don’t want that. But is there still time?”

“There is. You’d better hurry though if you wish to see them come out of translocation.” Mithre grinned when Lassen’s eyes widened. “And that’s a very rare sight in these parts.”

Lassen raced home, barely waiting for his father to finish speaking. Mithre fondly watched him go. Ah, to be that young again and unburdened by worries, he smilingly mused as he walked back.

Meanwhile, Lassen set about making himself presentable, settling for a quick soap and rinse over a leisurely soak in the tub. Thank Veres it’s summertime, he thought, as cool water sluiced down his slender frame. He tossed the dipper back into the shallow basin and briskly toweled himself dry. Pulling on a robe, he exited the bathing room and hastened up the stairs to the residential quarters and the bedroom he shared with his brother.

A glance out the window showed scores of townsfolk scurrying down the street toward the main gate. Lassen threw on a pair of thin drawers, a white full-sleeved shirt and long pale grey breeches. He eschewed the usual tunic however and donned the sleeveless aquamarine jerkin he wore during his begetting day celebration the previous spring instead. It was a sunny day and he would be just one youth among many. Who would notice, much less care what he wore?

The volume of chatter from outside increased. Lassen plaited his hair as fast as he could, twisting the flaxen locks framing either side of his face into two thin braids, which he pulled back and bound with a narrow riband. The style kept his face clear of untidy strands and allowed his hair to hang neatly down his back, as was the fashion among his people.

After slipping on soft leather boots, he gave himself a cursory once-over in the mirror. He did not care much for the stunning visage reflected nor did he appreciate how the jerkin matched his eyes and pointed up the ivory hue of his skin. Some townsfolk attributed Lassen’s disinterest to his youth but that was hardly accurate for few of Lassen’s peers were as unaware of their charms as he was.

The lad took the stairs two steps at a time. Coming out of the Idanas’ modest house, he spotted his brothers Yuilan and Fileg climbing to the ramparts whence they would have a better view of the wide plain fronting Tal Ereq. As with most prosperous communities that lay outside the bounds of Ylandre’s fiefdoms, the town proper was enclosed by earthen fortifications.

Lassen hurried after his siblings. It would be his first glimpse of politically powerful bluebloods and these ones from the faraway capital of Rikara at that.

Tal Ereq was located near the eastern bounds of the Autonomous Province of Velarus. Essentially buffer zones between Ylandre and the neighboring nations, the Provinces’ populaces neither owed fealty to the realm’s Herune or fief-lords nor were under direct monarchial control. Only rarely did the government interfere in their affairs. But such leniency had a price.

Royal aid was limited and often delayed. Trade with the fiefs and Crown lands was minimal at best. Consequently, the Provinces were not as affluent as the vassal states. Outlawry was also more prevalent. Ruinous when left unchecked, such brigandage had spread too widely of late for the comfort of Tal Ereq’s citizens. Hence the petition the townsfolk sent to the capital posthaste.

Word had arrived the previous week that the Ardan would send a delegation to negotiate terms with them. Visits by high-ranking dignitaries being extremely rare, the news had thrown the town into a state of excitement. For while the most prominent families of the town were of the gentry, none could claim more than fleeting social contact with the enyra, the elite True Bloods who formed the ruling class of every realm in Aisen.

Tal Ereq’s folk were sedyra or Half Bloods, that is to say, Deira whose ancestors had bred indiscriminately with the aboriginal Aiseni. The result had been the wholesale diminishment of the mental prowess passed down by their Naeren forebears. Few sedyra possessed the talent today, let alone wielded it. Not so the enyra who, through judicious breeding with the ancient natives, preserved both their bloodlines and the mind gifts in large part. They also aged more slowly than the Half Bloods and often surpassed the average Deiran lifespan of one hundred and fifty summers by another twenty years or so.

Just as Lassen reached his brothers, an excited murmur spread among the townsfolk. The Idana sons turned their gazes on the wide plain before them. Lassen caught his breath when he descried the ripples in the atmosphere that heralded the blossoming of a translocation portal. Not even True Bloods all possessed the skill to create these transient gateways. In eastern Velarus, it was a phenomenon so rarely witnessed as to be almost mythical.

Within moments of the portal’s blossoming, figures materialized in the corridor within, which swirled and blurred like shifting sand across a barren dessert. As if coming from the other side of a mirror, Lassen thought.

Several cloaked riders appeared mounted on zentyra, the fleet and powerful Ylandrin war steeds whose silken manes, whimsically dappled flanks and elegant gaits belied their inherent ferocity and the lethal nature of their sharp cloven hooves and the single short horn that protruded from their brows. They were not found anywhere else in Aisen and it was forbidden to use them for leisure or labor or to bring them out of the country without royal permission.

When the last rider emerged, the portal shimmered then faded away. The delegation regrouped and began to traverse the plain toward the town.

“Let’s go down!” Yuilan urged. “I want to see Aba welcome them. Hurry, brothers, hurry!”

The three descended and raced to the town hall. Lassen glanced back as the first of the visitors passed under the wide arch of the main gate. His heart beating wildly, he followed his brothers who made their way to Mithre. As mate to Dael Idana, Tal Ereq’s First Elder, Mithre stood at the forefront of the Elders’ families gathered on one side of the hall courtyard. Other prominent townsfolk filled the remaining space. The rest made do with lining the street outside.

Taking his place beside Fileg, Lassen watched the Rikaran party enter the courtyard. There were eleven riders, six of whom formed an armed escort. Once they were all within, they reined in their steeds and dismounted.

Mithre had visited the capital several times and seen many of its ranking citizens in the course of business. He identified the delegates as they let down their hoods.

“That is Keosqe Deilen, Minister of Internal Affairs,” Mithre murmured upon sight of cool amethyst eyes and pale gold hair. He added that the enyran lord was cousin to the king.

“Ah, the Chief Counsellor, Yovan Seydon,” he said, nodding in the direction of an aristocratic Deir of middle years. “His son will some day inherit a great fortune. The counsellor wed into one of the wealthiest families in the land.”

“Isn’t he also kin to the Ardan?” Lassen ascertained.

“You’ve been paying attention to your teachers,” Mithre said approvingly. “Yes, he is. Indeed, nearly all his inner circle are related to him by blood or law. They intermarry a lot, these high-born True Bloods.”

“You don’t approve?” Yuilan asked.

“‘Tis not our custom to bind with over close kin,” Mithre admitted with a shrug. “But the nobles hew closely to the traditions of our ancestors who wed their own brethren to keep their bloodlines pure.” He turned his attention once more to the delegates. “There, that is Gilmael Calanthe, another of the Ardan’s cousins. ‘Tis said that he heads the most efficient intelligence network in the North Continent. And he is a twin. He and his brother are so alike, ‘tis nigh impossible to tell them apart.”

His sons studied the dark-haired, blue-eyed noble, trying to picture two of him standing side by side. Gilmael spoke briefly with one of the party, a somewhat elderly Deir whose handsome features were marred by what appeared to be a perpetual scowl.

“Who is that sour-faced fellow?” Fileg questioned, wrinkling his nose in distaste.

“Hush,” Mithre muttered. “He’s the Ardan’s uncle of Qimaras, Imcael Essendri. I wouldn’t cross him for he’s said to nurse his grudges. He’s haughty as well and puts much stock in bloodlines and titles. Not a pleasant person by any standard. But here now, who is that?” He eyed the one visitor who had yet to uncover his face. “Look how he regards what goes about him. Not much escapes that one, I wager.”

As Mithre finished speaking, the unknown Deir dropped his hood. The Elders gaped then hastily genuflected, heads bowed low in obeisance. All the adults present did likewise, compelling the young ones to follow their example.

Adda?” Lassen asked, looking sideways at Mithre in confusion.

“Veres almighty!” Mithre whispered. “Why is he here?” He glanced at his anxious sons. “Don’t be afraid, I was only so surprised,” he assured them as he straightened up. “We didn’t think the Ardan himself would deign to visit our humble town.”

“That is the Ardan?” Fileg blurted excitedly.

Lassen stared at Rohyr Essendri. Saints, but he’s handsome! Nay, beautiful was closer to the mark. His patrician features and rich sable hair bespoke his pure Essendri descent. But what distinctly marked him as the ranking member of Ylandre’s ruling family were his eyes. Lassen had never seen such eyes before—slate grey irises rimmed with smoky blue. As he continued to stare at Rohyr, his heart began to race and his cheeks flushed. In that moment, Lassen knew the befuddling throes of first infatuation.

He watched Rohyr graciously respond to the effusive welcomes and requisite introductions to each Elder and his mate. The Ardan did not raise his voice but what Lassen heard of it affected him nonetheless. Low, deep and spoken in the slightly clipped manner of the northerners, it rang with compelling authority yet was surprisingly melodious. A frisson of excitement singed Lassen’s suddenly unsteady limbs.

Dael invited Rohyr and his party to enter the town hall, gesturing deferentially to Rohyr to precede him. Before he passed through the doorway into the building, the king turned his gaze to where the Elders’ families were gathered. His eyes swiftly skimmed over them. Still awe-struck, Lassen continued to stare at him.

He nearly stopped breathing when Rohyr looked straight at him. Their gazes met and locked. The earlier frisson of emotion turned into a veritable quake of sensation as those grey eyes studied his features then swept over him in appraisal. Spellbound, Lassen could not move or speak or even think clearly. His head felt light, his chest seemed constricted and his knees threatened to give way. If Rohyr did not release him soon from his regard, he would swoon.

Just when Lassen thought he would disgrace himself before everyone, Rohyr turned away and entered the hall. Lassen breathed in deeply to ease his starved lungs. He glanced about him. No one was looking at him, not even his brothers. Had nobody noticed? How long had it lasted anyway?

The crowd began to disperse and Yuilan and Fileg hurried to join their friends. Everyone was talking about the king’s unexpected visit and Lassen’s brothers were no exception. He stared after them feeling a wee bit disoriented.

Mithre studied him with concern. “Are you well?” he murmured.

Lassen swallowed then softly replied in the affirmative. Mithre’s expression turned a shade more worried.

“The way he looked at you… Did the Ardan—did he impart anything to you?”

Lassen frowned. “How could he when he didn’t speak—” he started to say, then stopped and shook his head. “I heard nothing in my mind, Adda.” He shivered when he remembered the oppressive weight of that silvery gaze. “But I felt…”

“Felt…?”

“’Twas as if I were a book and he was turning my pages and reading a little of what I contained.”

Mithre sucked in his breath. He would speak with Dael after the meeting was over, he decided. Absurd as it seemed, he could not shake the feeling that there had been more to Rohyr’s perusal of Lassen than mere curiosity.

“Was it wrong of him to do that?” Lassen asked.

Mithre hesitated. It could be perilous to speak ill of the Ardan. Not that Rohyr had done anything that was not within his rights as monarch of the land. And in any case, it was said that he never employed his considerable mind-talents on a mere whim. Mithre hoped the whole incident was no more than a mare’s nest and that he was just seeing phantoms in his protectiveness of his children.

“‘Twas not wrong,” he said at length. “He had his reasons and ‘tis not for us to question them.” Mithre forced the frown from his face and smiled at his son. “I’ve been tasked with preparing our guests’ evening meal. Would you like to help?”

Lassen eagerly nodded. “Will you serve them your roehart stew? I think for a bite of that alone, the Ardan would readily grant our petition!”

The elder Idana laughed, his forebodings stilled for the moment. Fondly patting his son’s shoulder, he made his way out of the courtyard. Lassen fell in step with him.

Neither sensed the gaze that followed them as they wended their way through the thinning crowd.

 

 

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