Azriel stood in the hallway for some time, trying to slow her heart. She was alone in the corridor, and could hear many voices in rooms over. She closed her eyes, opened them, yet the shimmer of the man that stood before her had faded away. She quickly exited the deserted corridors and made her way to the Counselor’s Hall where she found her father and the Rhodainian leaning over a large map, newly inked and ready to use. The map showed all of Lyrycul, and it was made to hang in the throne room. It stretched from one end of the table to the other, and a scrawled writing marked the places and kingdoms of the realm. In fact, three cartographers stood at the opposite end of the table, hastily filling in the blank spots of the map as the King studied it.
The Rhodainian was a beast of a man, and Azriel was wary of the long time Byzosinian rival. Ibesa Ra’shasti was his name, and he was a fierce warlord who worked directly under Rhodan. She never liked Rhodan, thought him to be a cruel dictator who mistreated his people. She thought him egotistical, for he demanded to be called “Sahan Sah”, which in the Rhodaini dialect meant “King of Kings”. But it was a strange thing to see her father talk to this man as if they had never before been enemies. This worried her, for it meant that the issue was grave indeed.
The rest of the Rhodainians were grouped in the chairs behind her father and their leader, and looked on in curiosity. Many of them had piercings covering them, and one man had six hoop piercings in his left cheek, each hooked to the next with a small golden chain. It was an exotic sight, one she had never before experienced. The men also had many tattoos, most of them all bearing the same intricate swirling pattern on their right arms. A few had them one the left, but the meaning of this escaped her. The only man in the room who had tattoos on both arms was Ibesa Ra’shasti himself.
“If the reinforcements you have requested from Rhodan do reply, then we must march to Virevos pass to meet with Atlivia’s army. Myrintheos will then send two thousand infantry to wait at Euphadeos. Hopefully they will not suspect the Myrinthians to be hidden in the ruins when we draw them out.”
Ra’shasti began to chuckle, but caught himself before his laughter could be heard.
“Sah Xengeos, you must understand, we cannot rely on hope alone. This is a foolish thing. What the Anacorans will do is stay in their homeland, they will not be drawn out. They have mountains protecting their front, and many scouts positioned on its peaks. It is a common military tactic. Why move from your supplies when you have the perfect advantage?”
Her father replied, “So that the battle is not waged on your doorstep; so that your people do not get hurt.”
Ra’shasti did not have as much self control as Azriel thought; he burst into laughter at this.
“You are too kind a man, Xengeos. You think of your people; what is to say that Emperor Zhao cares for his people like you do? What’s more, I have heard rumor that Anacor no longer holds regular citizens. I have heard that every person who is there is a hardened warrior, from the young to the very old. I have heard that Zhao uses every man, woman and child to build weapons of destruction unknown to us, to build his army. I have heard that he has many fire mages, and a whole army of Lich Ghouls and other monstrosities. What have you against this man?”
The King did not respond, merely looked back down at the map. Azriel could see the defeated look on his face, the struggle to find a plan hastily. It angered her how this outsider had made him look a fool.
“The only weapons I have against such a man as Zhao are the C’theran, and even they may not stand against these speculations of a massive army and netherworldly beasts.”
Azriel could be quiet no longer; she had to speak up.
“Your homeland has many warships; your people are capable of handling the roughest seas, I have seen that much,” she squeaked, her voice quiet at first, yet growing as she talked. “Perchance you and your warriors could lead an attack at sea, take them by surprise? The waters by Anacor are rough and cold, and are said to hold many monsters, yet an attack from behind would catch them off guard, giving us an advantage. It would be a boon to our people if your country’s finely made warships could maneuver those choppy seas.”
Her father looked taken aback at this bold assertion, but Ra’shasti looked at her almost as if he had been expecting it. The group of Rhodainians in the back sat a little higher in their seats.
“Ah, so you know of our sturdy ships. What a smart princess, what a smart idea. I never would have expected so much from a Byzosinian. The Anacorans would never expect an attack from the sea in those waters,” he said encouragingly, and he slapped his right hand to his left arm, a rather odd mannerism, yet his enthusiasm had a short of charm. Azriel decided that he was not as bad a man as she once believed.
“We shall send word requesting ships once my messenger, Ikeki, returns with news from Rhodaini.”
Xengeos turned from the map and stared at his daughter. Azriel knew that her father did not like when she talked about war— he preferred her to be safe and to lead the life of a woman, not some soldier. Yet she had to speak up, to voice her opinion.
Xengeos waved the cartographers off, and they left the room in quiet, shuffling footsteps. He turned to Ra’shasti.
“May I have a moment alone with my daughter? Once we are through, I will give you an inventory of all our provisions and estimate the soldiers I can produce.”
Ra’shasti nodded and with a wave of his hand the group in the back stood and followed him out of the room, leaving Azriel alone with her father except for the presence of Omyr Callan, who had hastily been writing down notes. The Counselor’s Hall seemed too large for the three of them, too open. Azriel felt as if she were vulnerable, a peculiar feeling that she had never gotten in her own home before.
Her father looked worried, the lines on his face deeper than ever. His skin looked ashy in the light of the hall, and he seemed tired, his usually neat beard unruly.
“You shouldn’t trouble yourself with the gruesome plans of war. My only wish is that you stay safe.”
Azriel sighed, blowing a loose strand of hair away from her face. She knew her father meant well, yet he had sheltered her for her whole life. She felt put down by his statement.
“Father, I am not a child any more. I know of war and I know that this may be an important one. I know that you know little of war, also. You are a man of peace. I know you depend on those warships, and the troops from Rhodaini. This is also my biggest fear. What will happen if the plan fails?”
Her father sighed, his frown prominent beneath his coarse red beard. She feared for him, for her people. She could feel it approaching, an omen that meant death. She felt dark times approaching.
“Nothing is certain as of now, Azriel. Currently we are awaiting the arrival of three-hundred and ninety C’theran mages from all over this province, and should our plan to attack from the seas fail, we shall strike with their combined magics.”
Azriel kept herself from retorting. She knew that her father was aware of the many warlocks and conjurors of Anacor; and somehow she knew that the C’theran would not be enough.
Her father smiled weakly to her, an act of feeble reassurance, and strode out of the room, leaving her there with Omyr Callan. The stout man looked up from his lists and stared at Azriel.
“You know, you are a bright young woman. You will make a fine Queen one day,” and with that he returned to his papers.
Azriel turned from him and left the room, angry that no one wanted her knowledge. She knew something was up, and it wasn’t just Anacor. Something deeper and darker was taking place, something that would strike a huge blow to her people.
As she strode out to the hallway, she caught the group of Rhodainians converging in a side corridor, one hardly used by the royals. It was meant for the servants and actually led to their quarters on the east wing of the palace.
She ducked behind a stone statue of the great Byzosinian leader Saraul wielding the legendary sword Gilándril and listened.
The leader, Ra’shasti, was speaking to them in his own tongue, in quick and sharp bursts, as if he was concerned or frightened. He pointed down the servants’ corridor and two men ran in that direction.
At once Ra’shasti turned to where Azriel sat and stared for a moment. Then he spoke in English.
“You may come out of hiding in your own home, Princess. But run to your father and tell him my messenger Ikeki approaches.”
Azriel stepped from behind the statue and looked at him. He seemed calm, but something troubled him, that was clear. She ran to her father, just as he said.