Chapter 5: Secrets Revealed
by Julian Lawler
The gardens had taken about as much time to build. Pathways interlocked all across the gardens, perfectly placed stones to guide worshipers to and from the large oak doors that were the entrance to the chapel to the huge black, iron bound gates that led out of the grounds. These gates were part of a larger, iron-worked wall that surrounded the holy palace.
At every corner, a sconce hung holding a torch to provide light for anyone daring enough to be out and about once the sun set.
“My lord,” came the priest’s voice and Palance let his gaze settle on Father Rayul. “We don’t know what these creatures call themselves. But we know what the people of Nomen call them. They call them nomel dracs.”
“Reality shifters,” came Ian’s voice, softly.
Palance nodded. “I know,” he said. He had heard enough rumors out in the streets, but he hadn’t known what they were talking about. Now he knew. “In the old tongue ‘nomel’ means reality.”
“And drac means ‘shifter’,” finished the priest.
“What concerns us is what if the people are right?” asked Ian. He held his gray cloak about him as if to ward off a chill, even though it was almost midmorning and a little warmer than when Palance had first come out.
“Shifters.” Palance let the word sink for a moment. Nomel drac were elven words. There were shifters in the world again? What next, he thought. Dremions? “I thought shifters were all gone?”
“We thought so, too,” replied Ian. “I guess we were wrong.”
“It seems so.” Palance didn’t know what else to say.
The three men sat in silence staring at each other gravely. Soulcryst watched over them with hawk like vigilance. The sounds of the bustling city beyond the gates reached their ears faintly, cutting through their stillness.
“Can anybody hear me?” asked Palance. “I wish to speak freely and I’m wondering if it’s safe to do so out here.”
Father Rayul nodded. “The cathedral is protected. I will ward the area to the gates.” He pointed to the large, black gates that led out into the streets of Nomen.
So it’s safe, Palance thought to himself. Good.
“I’m getting married,” he said. He gave no preparation and his abrupt change of subject stunned the other men.
Then the Lord of Nomen rose from his chair swiftly and came over to him. He gave the prince a hard, warm hug. “Congratulations, Palance! I was beginning to wonder if you were going to grow old by yourself. So who is the lucky lady? Don’t tell me its Ria Cervannes. She is beautiful.”
“That would explain why you have come to Nomen,” interrupted the priest calmly. “It would only be proper to announce it to the city of her birth, before spreading the news. Ria Cervannes is from Nomen, am I not correct?” Father Rayul looked elated.
Father Rayul knew more of the people in Nomen than did the Lord of Nomen and Palance both. Father Rayul had contact with commoners, nobles, and people of royal bearing alike, and a name with Cervannes attached to it had great importance to the city.
Marlon Cervannes was the patron of the Cervannes house. With four daughters and two sons, he had, by far, the largest noble House in Nomen. Marlon Cervannes knew his daughter Ria was a coveted prize. Not only was she beautiful, she was a woman in control of every aspect of her nature. Marlon Cervannes would use her to gain advancement into the royal structure of Nomen. Palance had no interest in the man’s daughter.
This was going to be more frustrating than he thought.
The prince held up a hand. “Wait,” he said, “you assume too much.”
The Lord of Nomen took in the prince with a frown. “My lord, for a man who is about to get married, you don’t seem too happy.”
“Ian, please sit down.” It was not a command, but Palance waited until the Lord of Nomen sat, nevertheless. “Now, my friends. It gives me much joy to finally be able to share this news with you. It has burdened me for sometime. I have not been able to speak of this until now because I still didn’t have all of my preparations completed.”
The two men watched him with puzzled expressions.
“What preparations?” asked Ian, “I pray you speak of wedding preparations?”
Palance shook his head. “No, not wedding preparations. Let me explain.”
Father Rayul leaned forward. “Please explain. I’m a little confused.”
“I didn’t mean for you to worry, Father. If anything, let me assure you both that my father is very pleased with the work that is and has been done here in Nomen. And all the credit to both of you.” Ian relaxed visibly.
“But that doesn’t calm our worry for you,” explained the priest. Ian nodded his agreement.
“Yes, of course,” and Palance did understand. “Let me start off by saying that I am not marrying Ria Cervannes. I have no interest in marrying the noble. Besides, such a union would be to their benefit. I don’t seek to give anybody advancement.”
“Oh dear,” came Ian’s voice. “Marlon Cervannes will be upset. For the last nine months everyone in Acrene Tarrynth had thought you and Ria were headed somewhere.”
“Do you think I care what Marlon Cervannes thinks?” Palance asked quite frankly. “I’m thinking about my own happiness, not his. I haven’t even seen his daughter since before this past winter. If I was going to marry her, she would have known by now.”
“Yes, my friend,” continued Ian in his smooth voice, “I understand, but they won’t. A noble, given the slightest chance to become royalty, will hang on to the tiniest strand of hope. Every single man with power, and even those without, want to get their hands on Ria. You are the prince. You were single. It only seemed natural that you would pick her.”
“Nevertheless,” said the priest. “Now we know he is not. So who is she? We must meet this lovely lady.”
“And lovely she is,” agreed the prince. He felt his heart beat faster. He thought of her soft brown hair and deep, greenish, brown eyes. He couldn’t wait to see her again. Soon, he told himself. Just tell them the news.
“But let me explain why my marriage to her gives me such urgency,” he told them. “Her name is Andina Lerouse.” He saw puzzled looks come across both his friend’s faces. “Know that I will do whatever it takes to be with her. The reason why I have made plans and kept this a secret is because she is not a noble.”
“I don’t recognize her name,” said the Ian. “Are you marrying somebody from another Nation? It would be a great accomplishment if you are.”
The priest remained silent. He just peered at Palance curiously.
“She is not from another Nation,” answered Palance. “She is a commoner.”
Father Rayul leaned back in his chair. “Palance, we all want you to be happy. But you do understand that such a union is illegal, right? It has never been done.”
“Father, breaking such a law is of no consequence to me.” Palance needed to explain the rest carefully. His father had made it clear that many people would not agree with what he would next reveal. “You see, when I marry Andina it will be more than legal. Tradition will not apply to us.”
“Why?” Asked the priest.
“Father; Ian,” he nodded to both men. “The reason why I will be allowed to marry Andina is because she is a Seer.”
Ian exploded with a barrage of comments, rising to his feet and pushing his chair back as he did so. Palance could hear curses and broken oaths heard only in the meanest taverns being said in a heated rush. The Lord of Nomen paced around the patio, obviously thinking of all the possible repercussions from such a union.
Father Rayul stood up and walked to the edge of the patio where he plucked a red rose from a green bush. He stared off intently, thoughts evidently running through his mind. He remained standing for several long moments. It took Ian a moment to settle himself down.
“See,” said Palance. “This is great news, but also very apprehensive news. I do not expect you to understand the risks I’m taking for this woman, but as friends I do expect your support.”
Ian came over to stand before him. He placed a hand on Palance’s shoulder. His face was flushed and there was a hint of anger in his eyes. He was visibly holding his tongue in check. “My lord, we do support you. True, I will admit, I cannot understand why you would risk putting us into so much danger. But I will trust your judgment.”
“Thank you, old friend,” said the prince. With that said, the Lord of Nomen walked over to his chair and sat back down.
“Palance,” came the priest’s voice over his shoulder. “Does your father know about this?”
“Yes, he does. He is the one that helped me decide what to do.”
“I see,” the priest paused for a second. “Palance, excuse me for being frank with you, but it will never work. Three times already, a leader of a Nation has tried to marry a Seer. All three times, they were decimated in a senseless war. True, Seers have a great status in our society, but there is a reason why they are hermits. There is a reason why they are ostracized. Seers see into the future. They possess a great power.
“Many will see your course of action as a ploy. They will think this is a plot on Acrene Tarrynth’s part to gain an upper hand over the rest of the Nations. Nazarah Fey, who rules Ramendae, doesn’t even have a Seer at his disposal. And Stonegate is in his lands! How do you think he will take the news when he finds out? I will not believe for a second that everybody will sit by and watch you idly as you gain power from this marriage. People are too greedy and insecure.”
“I have already thought of all of this,” reassured Palance. “Andina is on her way here from Stonegate. She will be here in three days. Once she is inside Acrene Tarrynth, I will protect her and marry her. Once the marriage is complete, no one will attack us. They wouldn’t dare! She is a Seer. Remember? Everyone will be too afraid to come against us for fear of her visions. They will all be afraid that she will give them away. They will think we will anticipate any move or threat against us. Sure, they might watch us closely, for the rest of our lives. But I don’t mind if they do. I’m not an ambitious man. I just want to live in peace. If their fear of us gives us that peace, so be it.”
“What about the people?” countered the Lord of Nomen. “They might not like the fact that your actions might take them to war.”
Palance waved the argument away. “The people will love Andina. She is one of them. This will be the first time that the citizens of Acrene Tarrynth will have a queen that comes from their class. If danger comes, the people will rise to defend her as much as the people of Nomen would rise to defend you, Ian.”
The Lord of Nomen looked doubtful but acquiesced.
Father Rayul turned to face him, twirling his rose between fingers. “Palance, if I may?”
The priest came over and sat in his chair. “When do you leave?”
“Tomorrow,” he stated. He could feel his mouth going dry.
“I take it you are to meet her at our border?” Father Rayul examined the pedals of his wet rose closely.
“Yes, of course. I will take my Iinnin Lodar to the border between Acrene Tarrynth and Ramendae.” Palance looked around. Soulcryst had his back to them, making sure nobody came around to listen to their conversation.
He stared back at the priest and Ian. Since his outburst, the Lord of Nomen had remained fairly quiet. “Father, I must meet her there when she arrives. I cannot risk being late. I cannot protect her in Ramendae, but I can make sure nobody follows her in if she is being pursued. I have tried to keep this a secret as much as I can, but I cannot guarantee that nobody else knows.”
Father Rayul, his eyes etched with wisdom lines, nodded agreement. “I understand your urgency. Although she can never be as safe as she will be here in Acrene Tarrynth, she should be well taken cared of. Every Seer, upon completing their training, is given chevaliers, a body of horsemen, to protect him or her. These men usually serve her for life. I’m sure they will be enough to keep anyone from attacking her while she is out there beyond your protective arm. The wizard she is linked to, I’m sure, will see to her safety.”
Finally, Ian spoke. “Palance, when you leave tomorrow, you ride and you hurry. You must get back to Nomen as quickly as possible.”
Ian continued. “I have known you since I was a child. We grew up together. I would lay my life down for you without a second thought. But I want the opportunity to protect you. Out there,” he pointed beyond the gates of the Sun Cathedral, “you will be in danger. You came to Nomen with joyful news. I will be happy to meet this Andina Lerouse. But realize that you are about to embark on a journey more treacherous than any adventure. Three times already, men have tried to do what you are about to attempt, and the Nations went to war.”
Suddenly the sun wasn’t bright enough, or the flowers colorful enough, or the Sun Cathedral pure enough to keep the Lord of Nomen’s words from giving Palance dark thoughts. He would do anything to be with Andina. He would fight the Nations with his bare hands if he had to. But now he wondered about his decisions. Had he taken the best course of action? What was the best course of action? He thought of his letter. He felt for it underneath his light cloak.
“And Palance,” interrupted the priest. “Don’t forget the nomel dracs. They knew you. I don’t know how, but they did. Last night was not just a massacre of innocent people it was also a warning to you. Heed the premonition. You came from Geamehn and you traveled unhindered and unthreatened.
“As of last night, this might have changed for you. Nomel dracs do not forget prey that has escaped them. They have your essence now. Ian is right. You are safe here, but out there, you are at the mercy of not only scheming lords, but to the creatures of the night, as well.”
“Okay,” Palance conceded. How was he to fight shifters? “Father, I still need a lot of supplies for my men. We have some other preparations to make before nightfall.”
Father Rayul bowed. “Of course, we are here to provide for whatever you might need.”
“Is there anything I can do while you and Father Rayul prepare for the journey?” Asked the Lord of Nomen, sensing the small meeting was at an end.
“Actually, yes,” he replied, reaching for his letter. He looked up. The sun hadn’t reached its zenith yet. There was still time, if they hurried, for his letter to be on its way to Geamehn before noon.
He pulled his letter out and laid it on the table. Ian watched it curiously. “I want you to find me one of your finest guards. I will ask Father Rayul to spare me one of his Light Bearers to be the carrier. And I will ask one of my own men to go, as well. Three men are better than two in my opinion, and still small enough to charge across the land quickly.”
“Where will they be going?” asked Father Rayul.
Both men stared at him stunned. The way would be dangerous, they knew. A trip to Geamehn from Nomen would take close to eight days. Eight days meant eight days under the light of the moon. To most men, such an undertaking would prove suicidal.
Father Rayul took a deep breath. “I can see you will need my finest man.”
“Yes,” Palance wanted the best men for this journey. “Understand that my letter goes straight to my father. Let both men know that they might not come back. They are not fools and I will not entertain them with false hopes.”
“Good,” he said rising to his feet. Soulcryst came to stand beside him, his eyes flickering back and forth. “Meet me at the stables before noon.”
With that, the other two men dispersed and left him to stand alone with his silent watcher of a guard. He thought of everything his friends had revealed to him. That sense of threat he had felt earlier in the morning had yet to fade away. First nightmares, then creatures, and now he faced the real possibility of war with countries he had been at peace with for decades. Suddenly the wet earthy smell of the garden did nothing to dispel his sense of doom.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Julian Lawler