Bonus: The Last of the Dhealg'seala (Part Two)

Continuing from last post, here's part two of The Last of the Dhealg'seala. This is a multi-part short story that Char is writing. We'll be posting it until April 11th, which is when The Peacock King's 2nd novel starts up. And if this story isn't done by then, well, we'll just keep posting it too!

If you missed it, Part One is here.

And if you want to start The Peacock King from the beginning, then start here!


My escort led me to a grand set of doors, each easily twice my height, and wider than my arms could span. The dark wood was embossed with what I assumed was the seal of the Empire of Crux Radia, the craftmanship finer than even the adept workmanship found in the guilds in Rhivend. I resisted the urge to inspect the grain and the artistry, instead standing back while my escort approached the doors. He knocked gently, the sound so quiet that I couldn't imagine how anyone could have heard the sound without having their ear pressed to the wood. A short moment later, however, they swung open, smooth and quiet, revealing what appeared to be an extensive council room.

The room was far too showy for my tastes, but I couldn't fault the elegance of the decor. My Da had far gaudier accoutrements strewn about his home, and a quick glance confirmed that the leaders shared similar ghoulish displays of trophies... the usual heads and scalps, plus an artful arrangement of what appeared to be severed middle digits. They were as carefully placed as the fine works of art that graced the walls, and the beautifully crafted musical instruments displayed along one wall. They were works of art in themselves, but also showed the signs of loving and careful use. Books lined the walls and were casually scattered about the area, and I felt a small pang as I thought of Elricht being able to see such treasure scattered about like so much discarded clothing. He would be horrified at the mistreatment of such near-sacred objects, and I could imagine his delight at being able to pore through them.

The books alone were of higher value than the entire contents of the Dhealg'seala Hold. Perhaps not before the raids, but certainly now.

I caught myself in the middle of shifting my weight, and attempted to smooth out the motion as to make it unnoticable. The Laigr of Dhealg'seala would not show any manner of unease or restlessness in front of another. At the same time, I felt a pang of anxiety at having been separated from my brother, and then chastened myself for that as well. I had always been my brother's protector, and there was no reason to suddenly switch to clinging to him like a babe with his blanket. Personal pride aside, it would be a severe insult to the memory of the Dhealg'seala.

My shoulders tightened as I imagined the strong hands of my father resting on them, the weight of the clan with them.

My escort, the auburn-tressed soldier who greeted us on the holdland, quietly announced our presence. I gathered my wits about me and squared my shoulders, preparing myself to meet the Emperor of Crux Radia.

I am not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn't the person of the Jhe o'Radia. Perhaps I imagined someone bulkier, dark and scarred like my own father. The Emperor was quite different; tall, lithe, and very fair-featured for someone who was allegedly such a feared individual. His smile, which I am sure was meant to put me at ease, did nothing to alleviate my tension. The easy friendliness of it set my nerves further on edge, and I found myself readying myself for an attack from the back.

None came.

"I thank you for taking the time to see me," he said, his voice rolling the Rivendish speech with a pleasant enough Northern accent. "Especially on such a trying day as this."

I bowed low. "The honor is mine," I returned, mentally cursing that I could not return the gesture of speaking his language.

"Please excuse me a moment," he said, and then spoke to my escort in what I assumed was his native language. It was my first exposure to Radian, and I was intrigued by the difference in the rise and fall of the sounds and patterns it made. Something about my attention must have caught the Emperor's eye, for he flashed a smile in my direction and said something in his own language, amusement coloring his voice. My escort responded, raising an eyebrow as he cast his own glance down at me.

I flushed, embarrassed in spite of my determination to keep a cool face in front of these men.

The Emperor chuckled. "Forgive our aside, Laigr. The Ju-- well, I shall explain soon enough." He nodded to my escort, who bowed and said something that sounded like an exit. True enough, he turned and quietly left the room, closing the door behind him.

I suddenly felt very small and very alone.

"Please, have a seat." The Emperor inclined his head towards a set of couches to one side of the expansive room. I nodded and put far more bravado into my steps than I actually felt, selecting the couch that would place my back to the wall and taking a seat.

The Emperor chose a seat across from the one I occupied and casually arranged himself in comfortable repose.

"I would offer some form of refreshment," he said, the beginnings of a small grin playing about the corners of his mouth, "but I fear that it is too soon and you would politely refuse anyhow. I suppose we should therefore dispense with the usual boring pleasantries and move on to business?"

I nodded, at once appreciative of his informal attitude and put on guard by the direct tact of his conversation.

"Tell me, young Laigr," he said, his casual pose doing nothing to disguise the sudden focus of his attention on me, "what will happen to the Dhealg'seala."

The pain hit hard, and I couldn't keep the grimace from my face, the expression sending fresh waves of pain from the injured parts of my face. "My brother and I have claim to the lands still, but with only two of us to the Dhealg'seala name, we would not hold the lands long. Be it through treating with our neighbors or hostile takeover, the land is lost to us." My voice cracked on the end despite my attempts to keep it level.

The Emperor nodded. "And the Seal?"

My breath stilled completely, and I fought my hardest to keep my expression as neutral as I possibly could. "Seal, sir?"

He snorted, his pale eyes boring into mine rather uncomfortably. "I am quite familiar with the true birthright of the Laigr sworn to protect the Briar-Seal he is named for. There is no need or use in feigning ignorance with me."

I swallowed and nodded.

"Will the Seal be affected, Laigr?"

"Nay, Sire, as long as there is breath in one of the Blood."

His breath left him in one loud rush, and he visibly relaxed. "That is very good news, young Camdhegn." His grin, crooked as it was, fair glowed with genuine relief. "'Tis a good thing the Judge happened on you when he did then, eh?"

I fought back a snort at his caricature of my Southern Rivendish accent. "For all the good it will do you when we return, only to fight the moment we touch our land."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that," he said casually, his eyes hardening a touch. "The Council has already been made aware of the casualties stemming from this latest Dirybvik incursion, and by now are well aware that the Clan Dhealg'seala has appealed to the Empire of Crux Radia for..." He looked to one side, his smile twisting. "Rather, the Clan Dhealg'seala was clever enough to have entered into treaty negotiations with Radia in a rather timely manner, and of course the Jhe o'Radia was more than willing to provide support to their new allies while the Dhealg'seala stabilized their own holdings."

I stared at him, stunned at his adroit management of the situation. I could not find any way to truly take offense at his presumptuousness, even though some part of me felt I should. My greatest unease was in the idea of foreign soldiers present on my land. Clan Dhealg'seala had never relied on any but her own for defense. As grateful as I was for the presence of the Radians to help fortify the holdlands against further invasion, it was in its own way a small defeat.

He seemed to understand the dual nature of my reaction to the news. His blue eyes watched mine, seeming to read the very thoughts in my mind, and I could in turn see the beginnings of a query forming in his.

"Would it be such an imposition," he said carefully, "if you were in fact part of those forces guarding the land?"

"I'm sorry?" I was certain he wasn't questioning my presence there. Rather, there was the overtone of a slightly different question between the words.

He straightened, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. "Of course Radia, and the Empire of Crux Radia, has her own standing army. In addition to that, there is a smaller guard, an elite group of soldiers chosen for a particular duty and calling." His fingers, which had been tapping together as he spoke, stilled. "They are known as the Armed, and are technically independent of any nation and alliance, save to the Judge. He has expressed an interest in recruiting you into his ranks."

I drew a deep breath. "Sir, I am truly honored, but as Laigr..."

"The title remains yours, as do your duties, Laigr Dhealg'seala. There will simply be additional ones as well."

I opened my mouth, but one gloved hand held aloft stilled my voice. He took a quick moment to stare at the back of his hand, clearly admiring the embroidered silk wrapped around his hand, then spoke.

"No need to respond right this moment, young Laigr. Investigate the Armed, speak to the Judge, and see for yourself the benefits... and the drawbacks." The crooked grin appeared once more on the Emperor's face. "I would be lying if I said there were none." He straightened once more, draping his arms over the sides of the chair. "In the meantime, we have a Council to motivate into action, an unusually destructive raid to investigate, and a hold to secure." His grin widened, and his head tilted to once side. "Why don't we call it an evening and enjoy a good night's rest before tackling such tasks? I'm sure your brother has much to discuss with you by now."

"Aye, sir," I said, a small wave of shame washing over me. I hadn't considered my brother through this whole conversation, although the Emperor surely had extended the same hospitalities to Elricht as he was now offering me. I was suddenly eager to see him again, and to also find some rest. There was a lot to think about, a lot to investigate... and far too little time.

The Emperor stood, and I automatically rose to my feet as well. He ushered me to the door, holding it open with a small bow. The Judge was waiting there, giving no indication that he had actually been waiting there the whole time. "Talk with him," the Emperor said as a dismissal.

"Yes, sir. I shall." I bowed low, and took two steps back into the hallway. The large panels closed with a low thump, and I turned to face the Judge with far more confidence than I felt.

His warm gold eyes looked me over, and then he smiled. "This way, Laigr," he said, his enunciation far smoother than it had been mere hours ago. Something of my surprise must have shown on my face, for he smiled as he held out his arm in a way that invited me to keep pace with him, rather than follow behind as protocol would normally dictate. "One of the benefits of being one of the Armed," he continued, "is developing a knack for language. Rather, it is a skill that can be cultivated, if the natural ability exists."

"How is it done so quickly? You speak as well as if you had studied the language..." I paused, coloring slightly at the unintended offense.

The Judge chuckled low in his throat. "No offense, Laigr Dhealg'seala. The answer, though, is long enough in the delivery that I feel it is best saved until tomorrow." The expression on his face was amused, if a touch weary.

Suddenly, the weight of the day finally set in, and I nearly stumbled on my own exhaustion.

"Point taken," I said, flinching as my voice cracked. "If you would be so kind as to help me find my brother?"

"He is waiting for you in your guest quarters," the Judge said. "They're not far."

I was grateful that his opinions of 'not far' matched my condition. I stumbled through some manner of thanks, readily agreeing to meet him after breaking my fast even as exhaustion dimmed the edges of my vision. He opened the door to the suite even as the blackness briefly overtook me, causing me to stagger a touch as I crossed the threshold.

My brother exclaimed as the door opened, and he rushed to my side. He said something in choppy Radian as he steadied my shoulders, and the Judge's low voice quietly replied. I picked up from the edges of my brother's thoughts that he had reassured that I was in need of rest and some attention, but that no harm had come to me.

"He speaks the truth, brother," I said, willing myself upright under my own flagging strength.

Elricht smiled weakly. "I know, but this day..."

I nodded. "Let us look forward to tomorrow, Elricht. Today is finished."

The Judge nodded, then bowed low as he dismissed himself. "Alert anyone you see if you need anything. They will know to find me," he said, straightening and nodding in my direction. I returned the nod, tilting my hand in a small imitation of the bow I had seen the Jhe o'Radia form at our departure earlier.

"You have our thanks," Elricht said, sincerity adding gravity to his voice.

The door closed, and Elricht turned his wide blue eyes to me. "Camdhegn. I have such interesting things to tell you."

"I as well, dear brother, but could you prepare something hot to drink first?"

"Of course," he said, rising. "I'm sure I spotted a proper teapot on the stove. Can you make it to the couch from here? Or do you need to lie down?"

I snorted. "Elricht, I am injured, not dying. I am fine where I am." Another wave of vertigo hit, but I steadied myself in the chair, thankful that my brother had missed that lapse. "Tell me of these amazing things I can see dancing around the edges of your eyes."

Elricht smiled, his eyes twinkling. "Proper tea first, dear brother."

* * *


  1. "He would be horrified at the mistreatment of such near-sacred objects, and I could imagine his delight at being able to pour through them."

    I think you mean pore. Except that word also means holes in the skin. Hrm. Perhaps 'peruse'?

    You've also got two spaces between 'dancing' and 'around' in the last paragraph.

  2. ... I blame Camden's accent.

    Thanks for pointing those out! I did in fact mean "pore", and now I have to go beat myself for slipping. That's right up there with "bare with me"...