High Lord Patrak, the Shining King, Defender of the Gate, Protector of the Walls and High Seat of House Olaryn paced around his audience room, unaware of the heat as sweat drenched his face and his finely cut coat. The audience chamber was empty now, but it was not the source of his distress. Rumours that an army was coming to Illaryon showed themselves all too true, and it was not any army that was camped on his doorstep, but the very Armies of Dusk themselves, as if springing forth from a nightmare, led by the terrible Black Knight. Patrak had faith in the strength of the Shining Walls – after all, they had never fallen, for hundreds of years -, but the Black Knight’s presence unnerved him. The man was trouble, sowing death and destruction wherever he went, and there was no one who could quite match the Black Knight’s talent for Earth Weaving. If there was anyone who could use it to breach the Walls, it was the Black Knight. The door to the audience chamber slammed open, and Crown Prince Larak entered in a fury.
“Father! Why do you stand idle while an army sets shop at our very gates? We have to act, now, and protect our city! We must attack them at once!” The Crown Prince was always impetuous, but he sometimes did not see what was right in front of him. “Do not be foolish, my son. The army that gathers at our gates is one that this city has never seen before. Do you really think our meagre forces could match such numbers, and such strength? I ‘stand idle’ now because I know the truth, that if I did anything, I would only be sending my men to their deaths, and precious resources to waste.” The prince bristled with barely restrained fury, though, refusing to believe the truth of what his father said, “But there must be something we can do! If they lay siege on the city, we will soon starve… have you not seen the number of their ships?”
“Relax, my son. I do not think they will manage a blockade on our city; our sea-ward countermeasures are better than that. No, that is not the danger… the danger is the Black Knight. That man is an uncontrollable and unpredictable beast… and the only reason we have to truly fear this army.” High Lord Patrak looked through the windows of his audience chamber, towards the immense wall at the border of the city, looked as if his vision could pierce the sturdy masonry into the fields beyond, into the waiting army led by the man whose coming might mean catastrophe, no matter what his generals said about the impervious defences of the city. “You were too young to remember, my boy, but that man sows trouble wherever he goes.” He said absent-mindedly, remembering half-forgotten events of almost forty years past, when he was still about his son’s age.
“Dorian Belzess… his name is still uttered in awe by the people of Laridsan, and as a curse by the Council of Thirteen. You have learned about what happened in Laridsan more than thirty years past, haven’t you?” He asked as he turned towards his son, who tossed his head angrily, his features still speaking of barely withheld fury, “Of course, Father. A rebellion rose against the Council of Thirteen and their oppressive rule, destroyed the Council’s stronghold in the city and used a powerful Karma Machine to split the island in two, thus separating Laridsan from the grasp of the Council.” He furrowed his brow, then, “I assume, by what you are saying, that this Dorian led this rebellion, though we never learned any names.”
Patrak laughed, startling his son and seemingly making him forget his anger. “Rebellion, my son? Either the Council’s influence is greater than we all think, or these scholars and historians really like to twist the facts to fit their own schemes and machinations… No, that was not the way of it. I was there at the time, though I hadn’t been crowed yet. Instead, I was sent as an ambassador, and what honour it was for the Council, to receive the Crown Prince of Illaryon, one of the major powers of the world, in their island. I witnessed the whole thing, actually.” He moved away from the window, motioning for his son to take a place at the small table set beside the dais where his throne rested. “Belzess wasn’t called the Black Knight yet, at the time, but he soon would. Apparently, he claimed that there was a powerful Earth artefact buried somewhere in the lands around Laridsan, and was seeking the Council’s blessing in his pursuit of it.” He stopped as he picked up a handful of grapes from the table, toying with them in his mouth as he thought back to these distant events and poured himself a bit of punch.
“Perhaps they were in the wrong, but the Council refused to allow Belzess to search their lands, claiming that any artefacts or treasures buried in the Council’s jurisdiction was by rights their own property.” He took a swallow of punch, shaking his head. The Council’s decision might have been a bit overboard, but it did not merit the Black Knight’s reaction, either. “The man was in a fury. He shouted that the solution was to remove Laridsan from the Council’s jurisdiction, then, and stormed off from the Council Hall. Next thing we know, we received reports of a man single-handedly destroying the Council’s fortress in Laridsen, and proceeding to expel, by force, every Council soldier or representative from the city.” He drained the punch off the goblet. “Belzess then used his Weaving to rip the island in half, unaided, and separate it from the rest of the Council’s lands, thus doing exactly as he had promised and tearing Laridsen off of the Council’s grasp.”
“In the end, it was all for naught, as it turned out that there was no lost artefact hidden in the lands of Laridsen.” He finished, smiling at the expression on his son’s face; Larak’s eyes were bulging and his mouth was hanging open, or near enough. “See, son? A man who has such power at his disposal, and worse, the impetus to use that power without thought for the consequences, is a very dangerous man. Especially when his power is so closely related to the very thing that has our armies so sure of their protection.” He rose then, and sighed. What would come next had been one of his hardest decisions to that day.
“I’ve issued a special command to a select few of our city. I would have done the same for all, if I could, but unfortunately that is not possible. You will join a select few of the city’s younger generation, the sons and daughters of nobles, scholars and masters of their trade, and leave the city in a special convoy.” Larak opened his mouth to argue, but Patrak forestalled him, “Do not argue, son. It is your duty as the Crown Prince to lead where I cannot, and my place is here, with the city, should it stand or fall. You, on the other hand, will have a far more important duty to perform.”
He reached into his coat and took out a very special Device, the Symbol of Illaryon, a miniature shield carved in the colours of the city and with the symbol of House Olaryn at its middle, and handed it to his son, who gaped at the Device, knowing its symbolical and practical importance. “Larak of House Olaryn, I thereby give you the authority of the High Lord of Illaryon for as long as you hold this Symbol.” He very lightly touched the Symbol with a fine Weave of Spirit, Fire and Earth, the Elements of Illaryon, and smiled as he felt the shift through the Symbol, as if a part of him had left through his hand, into the Symbol, and into his son’s hand.
“I give to you the duty of summoning the High Council, Larak of House Olaryn, and explaining the situation to them. Warn them of the coming of the Armies of Dusk, that they are not merely rumours incited by madmen. I urge you to call for a Vote of Leadership, and to guide the Council into preparing for war. Make them see, my son. Make them see that, without unity and preparation, the whole world will burn in the Black Knight’s footsteps. Go, now. I have prepared a ship for you and the rest of the refugees. Go, and do not fail.”
After an embrace and hasty words, High Lord Patrak watched from a high window as his son scurried in the plaza below, walking with determination towards the ship that would, if the Gods permitted it, lead him to safety. Now that he was alone, Patrak allowed the tears to roll through his face, for he had the feeling, deep in his bones, that he would not live to see his son again. As soon as Larak boarded the ship, though, the High Lord turned from the window and walked beyond his throne, to his dressing room. The impeding doom hang like a headsman’s axe above his head, but he still had a few duties to perform before the end. There was always the possibility of things going better than expected, and even if they didn’t, he had preparations to make, preparations that would hopefully spare as many as possible of his subjects from suffering.