The Chronicles of Valana Volume 2: Elaria's Bane
Expansionist Oghellen Greed
"Why did we have to stop at that awful place? I was so bored." Lovikor complained yet again as they approached Elaria.
As far as Aer'andil could see with his Elven sight, Elaria was flat with barely any hills or elevated ground. The ground was parched and dry with palm forests and olive trees growing. To the east Aer'andil could only make out sand, yellow unforgiving sand. To the west he could see fields of brown and green. There was only one mountain range that Aer'andil could see, not that he could see the whole continent of course.
"What is that?" He asked Imer, pointing at the mountain range to the east and southI. It seemed different than most mountains he had seen so far.
"That's The Serpent's Bastion. It is a thousand-kilometer-long wall fortification system with towers, fortresses and citadels. Our first defense against the Orkhavocs. Oghelle, Riadbar and Hordivar have been slowly building it for almost two thousand years now. The last of the wall was built after the last great war forty years ago. In its' tallest places it is over one hundred meters tall and it is built solely upon solid granite throughout its length. The mountain range that pre-existed it, was called The Serpentine thus the Wall's name." Imer replied to Aer'andil completely ignoring Lovikor.
"I have studied maps of Elaria, why build it there on the mountain range and not before where the land narrows? Near the Kingdom of Limenodor?" Aer'andil continued with his questions ignoring Lovikor who continued to breathe out heavily in an effort to attract attention to the fact that he was bored and irritated about stopping at Udala almost two weeks ago. He had in fact done nothing else but declare his displeasure about a lot of things non-stop for almost two weeks now.
"The land is narrower there indeed but between that narrow stretch of land and the mountains are some of the most fertile lands in Elaria. If we left them to the Orkhavocs we would have problems feeding our people, much less be able to trade with each other or the Kingdoms of Valana. Also a great deal of the fortifications in the Bastion are natural, dug out from the solid granite. The mountains offer a much better location for fortifications than the open fields." Imer threw a look of pure viciousness to Lovikor who pretended not to see it but not a second later stopped his antics.
"How come the Orkhavocs don't attack you by sea?"
"They have on and off but they've always run into two major problems for an all-out naval attack. Our fleets have always been…impressive, having had to deal with the dragons and each other for some tens of thousands of years, and the Orkhavocs have never had enough wood in their lands to create large ships or fleets. Their lands are sands. Sands are not favourable to trees."
Aer'andil continued to bombard Imer with questions as they passed through Broakva pass.
One day ago.
"Yes, I am Micraal the one who betrayed your father all those years ago. Now if you will hear me I have much to tell you of my story and of what is to happen with you, son of Lucas King of the speakers of Dara." Micraal's voice sounded behind Orphon.
"What could you possibly be able to tell me that will stop me from killing you, traitor?"
"Well for one thing you cannot hurt me. For a second thing I just saved your life so I should think it affords me a small benefit of the doubt. Yes, I did betray your father forty years ago and I did almost cost us the war. Now will you listen to my story before you judge me solely on what your father has told you?" Micraal sat down on the table looking very calm. Vashka knew that he had at least ten hidden blades and weapons under his clothes, tunic, over-robes and hooded cape if not more, and he knew how to use them.
Orphon looked at him for a second or two seemingly trying to make up his mind before sitting down looking edgy.
"Thank you, now where should I start…at the beginning I would think." Micraal poured himself some water, drank some of it then began his narration.
"I was born to a couple of store owners. My father made horseshoes and accessories, my mother made jewelry. A strange combination I grant you but it worked nonetheless. I don't remember when, but as far back as I could remember I would have this voice comforting me, advising me…then one night it started forecasting the future. At first I thought that the voice was full of shit then its forecasts begun ringing true and I decided in my childish mind to take advantage of it rather than become skeptical about it and tell my parents. Come to think of it, I'm not sure my parents could have done anything about it. About a year later the disembodied voice warned me that if I did not submit to…his or its' will my parents would die." Micraal drank some more water.
"I decided for the first time in my life not to listen to the voice in my dreams, that's when the pain started. I would wake up in the middle of the night drenched in a cold sweat aching as if I had been tortured all night long, still I would not submit to the voice's will. Then one day someone tried to rob my parents' store…my father tried to resist and it did not go well. I woke up to being an orphan and having to live in the streets since my parents had no living relatives. I would not go to the orphanage. I had heard what was going on there so for the next few years, until I met your father and Aer'andil, I lived in the streets, pickpocketing, stealing and mugging in order to live. I stole that fleece making its' wearer invisible from a rich merchant's caravan while the driver and guards were not paying attention. So when the voice started speaking to me again, for all my effort I could not resist its siren song, for it promised me what I coveted most in the world…" He took a deep breath letting it out before he continued. Not even his own son knew most of this.
"He promised me eternal life like an elf with Aer'andil by my side loving me as I did…how naïve stupid and obsessed I was. Yes, I betrayed your father and everyone else and almost cost us the war and I won't make any excuses for it. So I suppose you want to know why Aer'andil spared my life after the end of the battle in Zah Dah?"
It took a moment for Orphon to react. He nodded.
"When the battle of Zah Dah ended, to say I was a mess would be a gargantuan understatement. My world had collapsed once more, I had been caught a fool and corrupted by an evil being and manipulated not only against my friends but against the one person who had just confessed…feelings to me and used it against him. My soul felt empty, void and foul. I could hear Merol asking for my head and Aer'andil saying that he'd do it.
"I felt Feldon drag me away. He took me to an underground passage system with Aer'andil and was ready to take my head off when Aer'andil stopped him.
He searched my pockets and found a phial his father had given me. He pried open my mouth, not that I resisted any, and dropped a single drop of the liquid inside. I had expected to feel pain but instead I felt…elation, purified, as if someone had taken a brush and cleaned my soul from the inside out. I still felt sadder than ever before, except perhaps after my parents' death, and empty having realised what I'd done and for what selfish reasons, but at least the Darkness was no longer there. Next Aer'andil told me to use the underground tunnels to reach the port and board a ship bound for the port of Raeri, and from there to Elaria and to never set foot on Valana again or he'd be unable to protect me. So I did and so I am here."
There was silence for a moment or two.
"This is not the whole story is it?" Vashka spoke first.
"It is up to that point." Micraal finished his water.
"Why did you save me from the mercenaries?" Orphon asked him looking deep into his eyes.
"The Grand Master of the order I belong to asked me to, well more like ordered me to, but I needed no order to take on this mission."
"Aer'andil?" Orphon enquired more.
"Yes." Micraal nodded his head.
"So you're a hunter of Darkness then? I've heard of them even if my father thinks no one else reads those reports of his." It wasn't a question.
"Yes, I am one of them." Micraal did not even try to deny it.
"How?" Vashka asked wanting to know more about his father's past.
"That is a story for another time, for now we all need sleep." Micraal pointed towards the boy's room with his index finger. Vashka pouted but complained not.
"I still haven't decided if I should kill you or not." Orphon said. His tone of voice was not a threatening one.
Micraal chuckled standing up from the chair. "Well until you decide I suggest you grab some sleep." He told the boy and left for his room.
"Turn us about and release the hoisters and ease us in "Kovatele's Gates." Imer told his helmsman and his crew.
"Kovatele's…oh wow!" Aer'andil was ready to ask what Phara's Gates was when they turned around the cape to see three small islands right in the entrance of an inner sea gulf. In the right most island there was a huge statue of a warrior clad in chain armour with Rider on horseback holding a lance pointing it at the center island. In the left most island there was a huge statue of a sailor, his torso naked holding an oar pointing it at the center island. Behind each statue there were walls with parapets higher than the statues' heads. Each wall connected with an arch to the walls of an island fortress in the center island. Large steel chains connected the three islands at the base of the walls. They were submerged with only a little showing above the surface.
"Kovatele's Gates or what remains of them after thousands of years of neglect. The chains you can partly see at the base of the walls connect to a much larger system of chains and obstacles throughout the inner sea of Oghelle all the way south to the Serpent's Bastion and all the way to the southern marches. In the event of an attack from the North, West or East the chains are lifted and along with Oghelle's walls and fortifications protect the city against an invasion from the sea or land." Imer explained them.
"And the statues?" Norion asked.
"The sailors are respected and feared even by the richest of merchants. They are the life's blood of the city. Without them the ships don't move and trade comes to a halt. The Soldiers and the army protect the city against invaders and attack our foes. They are both honoured by these statues and they point to the fortress of Salardon, to the fortifications and walls of the city that help guard Oghelle." Imer continued explaining.
"I see…interesting." Aer'andil mumbled. Norion knew he was thinking of how this was a very good defensive strategy and how he could best apply it to further improve the defenses of the Elven isles.
"In the old days of Oghellen glory, there were three such gates surrounding Oghelle harbour and another ten around the various smaller ports, coves and gulfs. Now only this one remains as well as the chain system and the Serpent's Bastion. In half an hour we will arrive in the port." Imer told them before issuing more orders to his men.
Aer'andil stayed in the upper deck next to Imer watching the landscape go by as they passed under the huge statues and arches of Kovatele's Gates.
Norion talked with Bava and Uer and everyone ignored Lovikor. Half an hour later they docked in one of the royal docks with a battalion of men waiting for them.
"The streets of Oghelle are not safe for children, even for the Crown Prince, especially around the port." Imer explained. "These men will take you to the Royal Palace safely." The men wore heavy red and blue studded leather undercoats with black chainmail armour on top and helmets with red and blue feathers. They held halberds and had swords in sheaths in their waists.
"Uer and Bava, go with them, I have some business to attend to here in the port." Imer told his children and headed in the ship's cabin.
"Men, surround the Crown Prince and his guests." The Battalion Commander ordered his men, and the moment Bava, Uer, Norion, Aer'andil and Lovikor stepped off the ship they surrounded them closing ranks.
Aer'andil's tutors and guardians did not look pleased about not being allowed to be the ones to guard their charge, but with a nod from Minaroth they walked behind Oghelle's Battalion.
"It's…so busy…" Norion commented to no one in particular.
"This now is the merchants' quarter." Bava responded, "The port quarter is full of inns, pubs and brothels as well as warehouses and dockyards. The merchant quarter is slightly better off with some more respectable inns, stores, merchant's offices, lawyer and notary offices as well as the town's guard headquarters." There was a change of looks as they walked out of the port's shabby, worn buildings and into buildings with better materials and better up keep by their owners.
The aristocratic quarter was a stark contrast to everything else with lavished mansions and lush gardens. In fact, the more Norion thought about it the more he could not remember seeing any other gardens before the ones in the aristocratic quarter except for the odd palm tree or bush by the roadside.
"Gardens are not a usual feature here are they?" He asked Bava.
"No, the water is scarce and barely enough for the total one million of Oghelle's population. Water for the gardens for the mansions and irrigations for the farms outside the city come from the marshes to the south. It's not drinkable water but makes for good nutrients for the plants and crops."
The Royal Palace reminded Aer'andil of pictures he had seen back in Earth of a mixture between palaces in the Indian subcontinent, Arab peninsula and Eastern European countries. It was as if someone had mixed several different architectural orders into one with as much luxury as could be mustered.
"Oghelle architecture…it's not one single thing is it?" Aer'andil inquired.
Bava smiled and replied. "No, it's the result of several thousand years of conquests, history and beliefs. Oghelle has always been in the center of Elaria, in politics, art, architecture, warfare and trade. Everyone has wanted to conquer her and she has always wanted to conquer everyone. Influenced by all and influencing all. The results are…interesting."
"I'd say…" Aer'andil mumbled.
They entered the Royal Palace and guided by the Battalion they entered the throne room. Aer'andil had never seen such an obscene display of luxury before in his life. He had seen some amazing display of luxury in the Human Kingdoms of Valana with gold and other precious stones and statues but this throne room here took luxury to a whole new level. The whole room was completely covered in marble, pure white blue veined marble and every single inch of it was carved, etched, embossed and engraved with gold, precious stones, silver and platinum. To the right and left of the throne were two statues. One was the King and the other was his new wife. From reports of the Elven Ambassador to Oghelle Aer'andil knew that both statues were made of solid gold. Five huge chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Instead of the usual crystals these chandeliers had diamonds. The drapes, curtains and tapestries were all made of the finest Elarian silk and cotton, with gold plated embroideries. The throne itself was carved from solid oak and platinum plated with carvings. Oak was perhaps more expensive than gold or diamonds in Oghelle and Elaria. Elaria had very few varieties of trees and those mostly from the Kingdoms to the west rather than palm trees, so oak and other wood varieties were imported when the trade between Elaria and Valana begun. Eri'Adar was their sole supplier of oak meaning that the merchants of Eri'Adar formed the prices on it as they so pleased. Also, it was quite a heavy product to transfer across the ocean which made it even more scarce and expensive. The throne itself, Aer'andil thought, probably cost more than the whole room combined and had been ordered by this King, Lovikor's father to demonstrate Oghelle's obscene wealth, trade supremacy and power to all those that came before him.
Aer'andil did not feel awe or envy, he felt disgusted by all this display of luxury and wanted nothing more than to return back to Gel'anr.
"Ah! My brother returns from abroad and with honoured guests no less. Welcome to my Hall oh Aer'andil High-King of Gel'anr and all Elves, and Norion Anorion Crown Prince of the Elven Kingdom of Udala. You truly honour us with your presence here." The King spoke from his throne not even moving a muscle as he lay there reclined with a knee on the throne swaying back and forth and his left hand supporting his head. His Queen sat next to him in her, much simpler, throne. As he spoke he exhibited no emotions or honest enthusiasm.
"We are honoured for the invitation, oh great King of Oghelle." Aer'andil responded as if in an expressionless auto-pilot.
"We have much to discuss Elven High-King and little time. I suspect you'll be departing soon? Your people must be in need of you?" Horigor King of Oghelle told them standing up looking bored with his life.
Aer'andil smiled. "Leave so soon? No I think I want to visit some of the other Elarian Human Kingdoms as well as the newest addition to The Alliance." Norion really had to make an effort not to burst into laughter from the look not only in the King's face but on that of pretty much everyone in the room including the Queen. Everyone except Imer and Lovikor who already knew of the Orkhavocs having been included in the Alliance of the Elves and the Human Kingdoms of Valana.
"New member?" The King showed interest for the first time.
"Yes, the Orkhavocs are now an ally of all Elves and Humans of Valana. Anyone declaring war on them declares war on all of us. What did you want to speak to me about oh mortal King of Oghelle?" One had to be downright dumb to not practically see the sarcasm dripping from Aer'andil's words.
"What I wanted…well you allied yourself with the mortal enemies of every living Human in Elaria. What I wanted to speak to you about you Child-King? Well for one thing I am now officially declaring war on the Orkhavocs. They killed my wife and almost killed my son. They have killed countless lives since and before the great war against Zah Dah. You fought against them then are you going to protect them now? Can you even protect them against an attack that is not led by Darkness?" Horigor sneered clenching his fists.
All trace of smile disappeared from Aer'andil's face. He was now in a deadlock and he knew it. As per the Alliance's charter the Elves or the whole Alliance could not engage in open warfare against someone who attacked an Alliance member unless that Alliance member requested it and the High-King accepted the request because it had something to do with the Darkness. Aer'andil had had the charter made this way so that the Elves and the whole Alliance would not be obliged to engage in every single squabble, skirmish and war between the Human Kingdoms of Valana. Now it was being used against him.
"As I said your Highness, I will be visiting many places before returning to Gel'anr. If you attack the Orkhavocs while I am there you'll be attacking the High-King of all Elves. What happens after that to Oghelle and its' people is on your head."
Horigor burst out laughing. "You are a funny person your "Imortalness". Do not worry I will wait until you leave Elaria and make the Orkhavocs extinct afterwards. I already have support from Eri'Adar and soldiers from Fadr on the matter. Had to give away a few trade privileges but what are privileges compared to wiping the filth that is the Orkhavocs from the face of Elaria? For now, we will feast, drink, fuck and be merry. You are my guest and we have state business to discuss but before business pleasure must always come first." He turned to some servants in the back of the room. "Prepare the dining room for tonight we feast!" Norion had never seen Aer'andil's face distorted by so much anger before. This was a different kind of anger that he'd gotten used to from his love. It was not the impulsive, passionate kind of anger. This was a calculated, seething loathing, as if Aer'andil wanted to do something completely different and was being held back by something he alone knew or sensed.
Norion squeezed his hand. Aer'andil reciprocated.
Minaroth and the others looked murderous as well but they held their calm, their King was not threatened and they would not show what they were capable of doing to protect him unless they had to.
They all moved to the dining room for the feast. It was a huge hexagonal room with a large rectangular table in the center. The chairs were made from silver, gold and various precious stones. At the one end of the table Oghelle's favourite animal the desert wolf formed a throne. In the opposite end a large fish made up for the queen's throne. Aer'andil saw an eagle throne and slumped himself down on it unceremoniously.
The King and a servant looked at him irritated.
"Your Highness, that is the seat of the Cup bearer of Oghelle. Your seat is…" The servant tried to suggest Aer'andil change seats but Aer'andil waved him off dismissively. "No, I am just fine here. Birds are very dear to the Elves of Gel'anr." He told the servant who looked at the King asking with a look what he was supposed to do.
Horigor dismissed him with a wave of his hand, his eyes betraying exactly how vexed he was with Aer'andil and his guardians. Norion sat to the right of Aer'andil and his guardians sat to their left and right. No one else would sit next to their charge.
The feast was more of a torture for Aer'andil who abhorred being shown around even passively like this as a trophy by the King of Oghelle to his court and indirectly to the rest of the Human Kingdoms of Elaria. "Here, see? The High-King of the Elves visited my Kingdom not yours." Aer'andil could just hear Horigor's thoughts.
"We cannot ensure your safety if you so choose to visit other Kingdoms in Elaria your grace." Horigor had told him at some point.
"I am not worried, my guardians are more than able to protect me, besides I am sure that without the Battalion I would not have been safe in Oghelle either."
"Yes, but the Battalion was there."
"Yes, but was it there for me or for your son?"
"Does it matter? For the both of you, besides you are more important than a child who may not become the next King." Horigor had replied to him with his son listening in.
"I am your heir, father."
"Only because my Queen has not yet given me a better candidate for the job. You are as weak as your mother, you are sure to lead Oghelle to ruin and all that I have achieved to the sands if I entrust you with this."
"My mother was not weak, she was just stupid enough to marry you, you crazy fuck." His father slapped him so hard it made him fall off his chair.
"You will not talk to your King like this boy, unless you like the fucking dungeon. Now be gone from my sight."
The rest of the night went by without any further incidents.
It was later at night Minaroth had gotten up to drink some water when she heard noises from the room Aer'andil and Norion were sleeping in. At first she shook her head thinking that the two boys were at it again but then her Elven hearing grasped sounds that were not the usual gasping panting giggles usually associated with the two boys fucking their brains out. She drew her sword and stormed the room.
Aer'andil was, as usual, fully naked and standing by the window overlooking the main inner courtyard.
" Cendal Anasol' Thalin." She greeted him in the traditional way, "Our High-King." "Is everything ok?" She thought she saw a shadow leave through the window but she was not sure even with her eyesight.
Aer'andil did not even turn to see her. "Yes, Minaroth everything is okay. I had a…bird visit me but it's gone now."
"Bird eh? And what news did this bird chirp to your naked ears?" Minaroth sheathed her sword.
Aer'andil closed the window looking outside, the moonlight making his face glow as if by a halo.
"We leave tomorrow…it is not safe for us here."
"Yes, my King. I will let Imer know to have a ship ready for us to depart tomorrow for Valana." Minaroth turned to leave.
"No, you misunderstood...we're not going to Valana, we're going to the east, to the Orkhavocs, our allies against the Darkness." Aer'andil corrected her.
"I see…may I ask one question?"
"Yes, of course."
"Before we left someone I do not know came into the throne room and gave you a letter. I know that whatever was inside that letter changed your mind about coming to Elaria…" Minaroth left the actual question unasked.
"What was written in the letter…?" Aer'andil paused for a second. "I am tired. Could you make sure no one outside this room hears us?"
Minaroth spoke three words in Elven.
"As always effective and efficient… Humans of Oghelle preparing army, expand into neighboring Kingdoms. Darkness sits on the throne. Orkhavocs not a threat, an ally. Oghelle and Nikorn preparing war with Orkhavocs, desire alliances with Valanan, Human Kingdoms…" Another pause.
"So we are going to Agteldosh capital city of the Orkhavoc Confederacy…or rather it is changing now isn't it? In any case we are going there from the south."
Minaroth nodded, she was not there to question or understand his motives, she was old school Elf. She was there to follow them to the letter.
"You've never asked me a question like this one before."
"I like to be unpredictable by not being unpredictable all the time."
Aer'andil chuckled. "Once every twenty thousand years?"
"Yes." Minaroth actually laughed back before leaving.
Aer'andil walked back to the bed and lay next to Norion caressing the boy's cheeks gently before snuggling next to him passing a leg over Norion's hips. He rested his head on the warm, scenty neck. "I love you so much, you and Tha'ala are my world…I am sorry."
Norion moaned softly in his sleep snuggling as close as he could to Aer'andil's warm body.
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