Greater of Two Evils, part 4

Thursday, October 2, 2008 - 2:10 PM

For twenty years, Lord Endelcar had sifted gold and silver out of seaborne trade, ranging from the coast of Jaevarrin to the Purayu isles and all the way south to the deserts of Antambil and even the far tropical jungles of the Ixte. Though he had little land of his own, his words were valuable to the merchant guilds in many nations, and his wealth and influence were quietly considerable. But like many men of power, Lord Endelcar could not rest. Even as old as he was, he still captained his own ships on occasion, and was constantly traveling, always seeking something more. As his son would describe him, he was 'grey like iron, not like an old man'.

Of course, he suffered from barbed rumors, creeping up behind him with accusations of dishonorable conduct or fraud or hidden sins. He knew the score; no one liked to see another man succeed beyond the norm. Bitterness and envy would always bring hatred to your doorstep. But Lord Endelcar was secure in his reputation as an honorable, educated, disciplined and generous man. After all, that part was true.

He was also a devil worshiper, but there were no rumors about that.

Resting his rope-worn hands on a marble balustrade, he watched the members and guests file in below him. The grand dome above him was painted with a marvelous depiction of a view from beneath the sea, resplendent with jeweled fish and the prow of a boat, and he found it quite lovely. The pageantry of the Kingmakers was important, and finding a place splendid enough for their grand Convocations was a duty intrinsic to his position.

“Is he here yet?” The voice that reached him was hollow from behind a blank mask. It was the Reeve, who usually came and went unnoticed.

“He is not,” replied Lord Endelcar. He didn't trust the Reeve entirely; no one did. The Reeve was there to do things the other Council members were unwilling to do, or those things which would compromise them. As the Hierophant, Lord Endelcar had bound the current Reeve with dreadful oaths and dark promises, so he knew how secure the Reeve's loyalties were. Even so, the man was just a monster, albeit a carefully controlled one.

The Reeve continued after appraising the gathering below. “Do you truly believe he is what he claims?”

“I saw the proof of it,” said Lord Endelcar shortly. “There's no disputing it. But all will... all must see for themselves tonight. That is why we are having a Convocation.”

The Reeve's flat eyes did not change, but he bowed in the slightly awkward yet congenial way he favored. “Forgive my doubts, grand Hierophant; I'll not dispute you.”

You had better not, thought Lord Endelcar, watching as the orrery of people below him began to establish themselves into the proper orbits. The other Council members were taking their places to either side of him now, greeting one another quietly. Convocations occurred only at great need, so many of the Council had not personally met in quite some time. The eight had ways of keeping in communication, but it was a rare day indeed that all were present.

After tonight, the Council would be nine, and the thought of this happening at long last put both dread and wonder into Lord Endelcar's armored heart.

The Manciple, all in black with a precious metal abacus cradled loosely in one arm, approached and offered him a smile, which he returned. They exchanged polite greetings momentarily, and he could see the questions coming. So he put up a hand to silence her, and indicated the neatly arranged audience below.

“He is there,” said Lord Endelcar, and the other Council members looked as one at Tristan, who was entering the great hall.

With Tristan came silence, and his poise swayed the court as if he were an oncoming storm and they were merely reeds. All in red and black, his flowing desert garments matched the ones worn by his unearthly vizier as well as her wings, all blood and shadows spreading out from her back. She was veiled, and on his arm, escorted like any lady of the court.

On his arm! Not bound, nor subservient; nor clearly the teacher and he the student. But on his arm! Lord Endelcar felt it difficult to breathe for a moment, but he mustered his voice to announce what all present already knew. “The Council recognizes the Monarch.”

As Tristan continued, climbing the stair, Lord Endelcar felt dizzy with the significance of the evening. It had been three generations since there had been a Monarch. Oh, yes, there had been pretenders... and devils were very good at discovering the truth, and very good at punishing liars. Lord Endelcar had craved the title, of course. Who among the Council did not? But to hold one of the Council seats was demanding enough, and by the time they claimed a seat for themselves they were old and wise enough to know the Emperor of Hell would not have accepted their petition. Indeed, He would have crushed them for bringing Him a flawed offering.

Pride, so the Book of Lies said. Pride so pure that it was untainted by arrogance, or fear, or need. Pride that demanded nothing Less, that burned away the flaw of hubris.

And Pride is very young this time, thought Lord Endelcar with a sliver of envy.

Tristan took his place at the balcony, with the vizier standing slightly behind him, and raised the gleaming red signet ring. At the same time, the air around his head scarred and tore, slits of seething crimson light that flared, burning red and white, and describing a barbed crown of letters in a jagged script.

Lord Endelcar began to kneel before he even realized it, but he restrained himself just long enough to be the last to do so. Even so, his grudging pride was swept away entirely by numbing elation as Tristan's voice filled the hall with dark beauty.

“What is Mine?”

The Kingmakers all replied in a humbled murmur, lifting their words up to him like the smoke from a burnt offering.

“The right to Rule.”

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