Prophecy Story Index
"I was 19 when I was married to Seth. I remember my father calling me into the throne room that day. He and Mother were there, as was another older gentleman with black hair and ice blue eyes that I didn't recognize. My father told me that I was to be married, that he had found me a suitable husband. I was the only daughter in a family of 5 children, the youngest and last to get married. I think it was somewhat of an amazement to most of the nobles that I stayed so ladylike with 4 older rambunctious brothers.
"So when my father told me about the marriage, I assumed that the man with them was the father of the man I was to marry. I had always expected to be married to someone I didn't know. It was how things worked. Mother had told me she didn't meet Father until the day of the wedding. It was the same thing for each of my 4 brothers; each meeting their bride on the day of the wedding. It never seemed to me to make much sense, but it was expected and normal and no one wanted to change it.
"I curtsied to the man and told him I was looking forward to meeting his son. He sort of smiled and laughed once. The smile did not meet his eyes and the laugh, well, it was a very odd laugh, chilling in a way. My father then said that this was the man I was to marry, that he was Norseth, the king of Bornath.
"Though I grew up sheltered, I knew who Norseth was. I knew that he was not someone you wanted to get involved with, that he was powerful, and that he held a great many dangerous secrets. My girlfriends and I had heard only a few weeks before that his wife Zarena had died under strange circumstances, something about the lost magic arts and dark mage ability. It was rumored that King Sonall's health was failing as well. And then we heard from a page that Bornath and Pakara were negotiating a non-aggression treaty between the two countries. And then King Sonall died and Seth stepped up to the throne.
"I had never guessed that I would be the final agreement clause between Pakara and Bornath, between my father and Norseth."
"Seth brought me here to Darcabé that very day. I never got the chance to say goodbye to any of my court friends or any of my brothers. My mother only had time to give me one last hug and to whisper 'I'm sorry' in my ear before I was herded toward the waiting carriage and taken away from everything and everyone I'd ever known. I didn't even get to keep the personal maid I'd had since childhood. I had only a few clothes and a few keepsakes. Seth said he would provide me with anything else I would ever need.
"For awhile, the first few years at least, it seemed all would be okay. I knew Seth didn't have any children and that the Council was very anxious for him to have an heir and that was why I was so important to Bornath and to the nobility. From a servant I learned that Seth actually had a half-brother named Dani who served on the Lower Council, but that the marriage between his peasant mother and the former King Sonall had been annulled years ago and that Dani no longer had a claim to the throne.
"I met Dani a few times before he left Bornath for good. He was very nice and very sweet to me. He appeared worried about something each time I talked with him. The last time I saw him he said he had to leave and that we would probably never meet again. He wouldn't tell me where he had to go, only that it was time for him to leave. No one, except myself and maybe a few servants, noticed that he had gone until 3 months later, not even Seth. I found that sad ... and a little disturbing."
"Two years later, Seth declared war on Rillanda. Half a year after that, our first child was born, a son that he named Balaeric, which he said meant 'vengeance' in Old Bornathian. I preferred to call him Aeric, which was similar to an Old Pakaran word that meant 'soul's light.'
"It was then that things really began to change. Slowly at first and then all at once. Seth began to gather his immense and powerful and terrible army to strike at Rillanda. He would not tell me why and I could see no reason for it. An older servant finally told me in confidence one day that 40 years ago, Seth lost the woman he wanted to marry to a Rillandan. The woman, his stepsister I was told, never loved him and had fallen deeply in love with the Rillandan. They left one night and Seth followed. Seth came back with this woman's brother's body, claiming that the Rillandan had kidnapped the woman and killed her brother, then attacked Seth, knocking him unconscious. When Seth awoke, both were gone.
"The servant told me that he never believed Seth's story. He had known the Rillandan and the woman and trusted both. He also said that he saw Dani ride back from the forest that night as well. The next evening he caught Dani glaring at Seth from afar during the brief, perfunctory funeral ceremony for the brother. Somehow then the servant knew that all was not what it seemed, but he never found out the entire story. Dani kept his silence on whatever he saw and never breathed a word, not even when his all-too-brief romance with a girl named Eliana was cut short tragically. He had always worked for the people of Bornath, never letting old wounds or personal gain stand in the way."
"As the war progressed I heard stories of how Seth cut through my home country of Pakara ruthlessly, ignoring the treaty he had signed with my father. I didn't want to believe it, but the few survivors of his army's brutality that made it into Bornath told stories and tales that had to be truth and could not be denied.
"I heard that Seth quickly overpowered Rillanda and invaded the capital Brightstar, killing many good people who were only defending their homes and children. I heard that he killed most of the royal family and that the others died trying to escape into the woods during the cold of winter. Then I heard how he burned down the music academy on a whim, scattering teachers and students everywhere.
"It was the year after the Academy burned down that I visited Brightstar, or rather Seth brought me in to show me how powerful he was. I rode through Pakara and saw the burnt remains of villages, fields, and forests. I was alone in the carriage and no one could see the tears that I cried as I bit down hard on my knuckles to keep my grief silent. It was horrible. The people ... the land ... there was nothing left ... nothing.
"And then we entered Rillanda. It was the same nearly everywhere ... destruction everywhere. Villages and towns and fields -- all destroyed to appease some inner demon of my husband's ... of Seth's. I saw a small child, no older than Aeric, who was two and a half by then, huddling on the side of the road with his mother, both wrapped in only rags, sharing between them a crusty loaf of bread. I had to pull back, had to hide my face in shame at what this 'vengeance' of Seth's had done to this once-beautiful country.
"Brightstar was the least damaged of everything I'd seen so far. But I could still see the burnmarks on the buildings and the surrounding fields. The people on the streets looked frightened, hollow-eyed, defeated. Others looked defiant, but too scared to do anything about it. I was glad I'd left my son at home in Darcabé. He was too young to see this, too young to understand, too young to know he must not speak badly of his father's decisions.
"Something had to be done."
"After a short visit, I returned to Darcabé, making plans as I went. I knew that I must work slowly to counteract and undermine Seth's rule. Anything sudden or overt would only see me imprisoned or killed. I had my son's life to consider as well. And it was a few weeks later that I discovered I was pregnant again. I now had another life to think about.
"I began slowly. I started to attend the Council sessions more faithfully, not all of them at first. I didn't want to raise suspicions, but slowly the Council members adjusted to my presence at all of them, even waiting for me to appear. And then I began to say things, just little things, here and there, benign comments that had little affect on their discussions, but comments nonetheless.
"As I listened to them talk, I paid attention to who spoke and what about, how they acted in response to each other and what was said. In this way, I began to draw up a tally in my head of who I could talk to safely. I needed allies that I could trust to help me. The Lower Council members were more inclined to be in opposition to Seth's takeover of Rillanda, but also less inclined to say anything. The Higher Council members seemed to be pretty much in agreement. They were a smug bunch of mostly old men that looked down on peasants and on other countries in general.
"Except for one man -- Varian. He was neither the youngest nor the oldest of the Higher Council. But he had one of the higher ranks, even though he did not use it very often. Most of the time he would simply sit back and listen to what everyone else would say. The comments he did inject were usually tart and would stop the discussion for a few moments before he would chuckle to himself and add something more ... supportive or productive to the conversation to get it going again. Seth had never known what to do with him. Varian never acted as if he would ever oppose Seth, but he was never loudly in favor of Seth either. But Seth had to put up with him because of his noble rank and Varian knew it."
"When our second child, another son, was born, Seth came back to Darcabé. He named this child Ptorin, another Old Bornathian word, this one meaning 'sword's edge.' Another harsh name. While Aeric looked like his father -- black hair and pale blue eyes, Tor looked more like a combination of the two of us -- dark auburn hair and my green eyes. I called him simply Tor, which was a common word for a home or a steading, hopefully a place of peace.
"When Seth discovered that I was attending Council, I was concerned he would insist that I not attend anymore. But to my surprise, and relief, he approved of my going. None of the councilors could claim I had said anything ... inflammatory, so he didn't see my presence at the Council meetings as a problem. I secretly believed that most of the Council members were hoping that Seth would tell me not to attend. I wish I could have seen the disappointed looks on their faces when Seth said I would be allowed to remain in attendance.
"Seth decided to remain in Darcabé for awhile, leaving the running of Brightstar to his most trusted generals. His staying set back my plans, but there was little I could do about that. I still attended Council with Seth often, but never said anything other than agreeing with whatever Seth said. I wasn't ready to tip my hand or my plans yet, not when Seth was still there. I simply sat back and listened and watched and learned."
"Quite suddenly, after two years, Seth left to go back to Brightstar. Something had happened back in Rillanda, but he never said what. All I knew was that whatever it was upset him and excited him at the same time. He left in the middle of the night by horseback, with only a few token honor guards. I heard something about magecraft, but I decided I didn't really want to know about that.
"After Seth was gone, I started working again on the Council, getting their trust. I needed to find out who I could talk to, who would talk to me, who was safe to approach. It took another year to regain the status I had with them before Seth returned. I had only just decided to talk to Varian and try to discover just what he felt about the invasion of Rillanda when Seth returned again.
"He said he had taken care of the 'problem' back in Rillanda. He stayed another two years and I had our third child, a daughter, that he named Vivana, meaning 'fiery.' Finally I name I could use without cringing at the sound of it. Fiery she certainly appeared to be. Bright red hair like mine and vivid green eyes, also like mine.
"By this time, I was 29 years old, Aeric was 7, Tor was 4, and Seth was 61. Seth had always been standoffish with me, well, mostly so. He had never been outrightly cruel to me or the children. But after his return from Rillanda and Vivana's birth, he seemed to retreat even further into himself and into his studies of dark magic. Oh, by then I'd figured out what he was doing. It terrified me. I asked once, only once, about what exactly he was doing, as if I didn't know. He just looked at me, with those icey eyes of his and told me to never, ever ask again. I didn't. I had never had those eyes turned on me like that before. I never said a word to him about it after that, just pretended the ominous thundering and clanging coming from his workrooms on the other side of the palace didn't exist, that I didn't see the occasional scorch and burnmarks on his clothing and sometimes on his hands, that I didn't know that Zarena, his former wife, had died in a lightning strike as she was calling down power from the heavens one dark night."
"Seth had gone back and forth between Darcabé and Brightstar for several years, but never staying away long enough for me to do anything. When Vivana was four, he decided he wanted to move back to Brightstar for good. He wanted me to stay in Darcabé as his representative, but first he wanted to take me and our two sons through Rillanda and into Brightstar, to show us what he was doing for the land. Vivana, too young for such a long trip by carriage, remained in Darcabé with her nursemaid.
"We rode again through Pakara. It was not as bad as it was when I rode through ten years before, but you could still see where Seth's troops had marched through in their path of destruction. The same could be said of Rillanda, only it looked worse. Seth informed us that some villages and towns had to be 'punished' as a result of rebellion against the new rule. I was horrified at what I saw -- children in rags without homes, older people stumbling along the dirt paths of the destroyed towns. I looked at Aeric, 11 now. His eyes met mine and I could the horror I felt reflected in his. Seth was too busy looking out the carriage portals at his successes to notice.
"Just outside of Brightstar, we stopped for a few moments in an area that Seth said a village named Rosewood used to stand. There was nothing left ... nothing. All gone. He had burnt it down personally, one building at a time, 6 years ago, after he learned that she used to live here with him. He said it was only right that those that had hidden her from him should be punished for their transgressions. He was Norseth, king of Bornath. He always got what he wanted.
"I said nothing, could only stare sightlessly at what used to be homes and stores where people lived and worked in happiness and peace. All gone in a few moment's rage. The weeds and grasses from the surrounding fields had taken over. A few flowers grew here and there, trying to bring beauty back to the town, but there was only death there, death and sorrow and pain.
"As we continued on our journey, I looked at Tor, only 9. His eyes were fixed on the sights outside. When he and Seth settled back into the seats again, what I saw in Tor's beautiful green eyes nearly made me scream -- he approved of what he saw, approved and wanted to do the same."
"When my sons and I returned back to Darcabé, I again had to start over with the Council. This time it went quicker. They were used to my presence by now. I had to move, I had to do something. Seth's ways were beginning to affect Tor, the most intelligent and curious of my three children. I had to put a stop, somehow, to what Seth was doing. I did not want to lose one of my children to whatever darkness inhabited Seth.
"After only three months, I decided to take a chance and talk to Varian. He still seemed the most receptive to what I had to say. I called him into my solar on the pretense of asking for clarification of something that was said in Council that morning. Varian politely answered my questions, then asked what the real reason was that I wanted to see him. He was always too quick and too attentive for anything to pass by him.
"I stated my ... concerns about Seth's ... obsession with the total surrender and ... humiliation of Rillanda, saying that I didn't understand it. Varian was silent for a very long time, just looking at me, and I began to wonder if I'd chosen wrong. Then he nodded, telling me that Seth had stepped over the line a very long time ago, but that he did so with the full support, or mostly full support, of the Council. We talked carefully and quietly about the situation for a long time, learning where each other stood on all of Seth's recent decisions. Turned out that we were in total agreement on every thing.
"And so we began to plan together about what we could do to stop Seth's reign of terror in Rillanda.
"After that, Varian did the approaching of the Council members, mostly the Lower ones. The Higher Council members were so sure and proud of themselves that we knew that they wouldn't know anything was going on until it was too late for them to do anything about it."
"As the next three years passed, Varian and I worked slowly, making friends and contacts across Bornath, among nobles and peasants. There were many more out there than I had expected who didn't like what Seth had done. Among those people, I got to know many of them personally. Many are still my friends today. One woman I got to know was named Catriona. She told me in confidence a few months after I met her than she was actually Dani and Eliana's daughter, that they had been married for a day before Seth had their marriage annulled and arranged for Eliana to be married to Roumal. Roumal never knew about Dani or that Catriona was not his true daughter.
"She told me that she had met her father once a year before he had left to go to Rillanda. It was a chance meeting. She had been travelling with her brother Elirand through some of the lower provinces. Dani had been travelling as well, meeting and talking with people in the towns and villages, as he often did. In the townsquare of one of these villages, they passed each other and paused to exchange greetings. Catriona said that her mother's personal servant had told her the truth of her parentage only a month earlier, on her 18th birthday. When they introduced one another, they knew in an instant who the other was and knew that the other knew as well.
"Elirand had ridden on ahead to talk to a local ironworker about his horse's loose shoe, leaving Catriona and Dani alone for a few moments. She said that those few moments were the most important and wonderful and heartbreaking in her life. She didn't tell me what was said between the two of them, but there were tears in her eyes as she remembered that day.
"She told me that she hoped to meet her father again and spend more time with him. I had to be the one to tell her that her father was killed by Seth the day he invaded Brightstar. She cried for an hour on my shoulder, mourning the loss of the man she had barely known and only met once, a man who had lost so much and deserved so much more."
"Word had reached us about the Rillandan resistance gathering to attack and retake Brightstar. We had spies placed in many places throughout Rillanda, but none in Brightstar itself -- Seth would be able to sense deception with those mage abilities of his and we didn't want to take the chance. We had gotten in too deeply now to pull out and began to move very carefully. We heard of Kellessan, the great swordswoman who had rallied the Rillandans to fight. Even in Bornath, a few brave minstrels sang of her exploits against mercenaries that tried to ransack the border towns of Rillanda. With her leading the remaining Rillandan soldiers and the Rillandans themselves, Varian and I knew that Rillanda had a very strong chance of overpowering and defeating Seth's troops.
"The one thing that concerned us was Seth himself. There were other no powerful mages that we knew of -- Seth had disposed of any who could possibly overpower him years ago. And if Seth was not defeated, then all would be for naught.
"The night Seth died, I knew exactly when it happened. Tor, then 12, woke up screaming in terror. Seth had told me once that Tor had mage potential as well, that he could someday be a powerful mage, as powerful as he himself was if he tried. I could only guess that because of this, Tor somehow felt when his father died. I settled him back into bed, then resettled Aeric and Vivana as well who had woke up during Tor's cries. I went back to my room and began to draw up preliminary orders for the eventuality that I would be named Regent when word reached us of Seth's demise.
"Two days later, official word came from Rillanda that Seth was dead and his army defeated. Varian and I immediately took over the Council. Our supporters outnumbered those who supported another war with Rillanda. By a stunning majority, I was named Regent for Aeric until he was old enough to take the throne, which would be in another 5 years. Those who disagreed or could not take the oath of fealty were asked to retire privately to their county estates and remain there the rest of their lives. Seeing our support among the remaining army that had pledged their loyalty to me, they agreed.
"My first act was to send an ambassador to Brightstar under flag of truce to begin talks of peace. I sent Varian. He above all I trusted to find the right words to set things right with Stefan and Raven. And he did not fail me, but brought back a Rillandan ambassador to talk to me, to assure me that what Seth had done rested on his shoulders alone and never mine or my children's or the country's.
"And that is where we are now."
Opella sat back in the chair in her solar, watching the younger man as he wrote furiously on a worn piece of parchment, stopping only to dip his stylus a time or two in the inkwell next to his arm. Finally he looked up and smiled at her, "Thank you very much, Your Majesty. This will help tremendously in our desire to understand what happened in Bornath during the past several years."
She inclined her head, smiling herself, infected the man's excitement. "You are very much welcome. I had no idea that your king would send a bard as an ambassador. You are not quite what I expected, Dorien."
Dorien blushed and chuckled briefly. "Well, as you can imagine, we haven't quite got everything together yet. I was the easiest one to send. And no one was liable to bother me with Kell at my back."
Opella nodded. She had met the imposing young woman only for a few moments before she went back out to take a look around the palace. She laughed lightly. "I imagine not. Kellessan is not a woman any mercenary would bother."
Dorien flexed his cramped hand a few times, stretching out the muscles as he had been writing nonstop since Opella began her story. Opella glanced out the window and saw that the moon had risen high in the sky. She turned back to Dorien. "Well, I'm sure you will be wanting to get some rest. You have quite a trip ahead of you tomorrow."
Dorien made a face. "I know. I'm beginning to think I live on horseback."
They stood and Opella saw Dorien out, having the honor guard at her door guide him to the guest rooms she had set aside for Dorien and Kellessan. Then she went back to look out her window down into the courtyard below. All was right again, she could feel the balance in nature reset itself.
And Opella smiled.
- The End -
Prophecy Story Index