The War of Blood and Iron – Chapter 27

Adarion convened a council meeting early the following morning. Though Dronkhar was loath to leave Nolaara’s side, there had been no change in her condition, and he had a declaration to make to the council at any rate. They assembled in a wide, circular antechamber near the throne room. Adarion had recovered from Thrais’s attack, though his expression now was grave. Prince Nathias sat next to his father, trying hard not to look intimidated.

Dronkhar didn’t have to speculate regarding Princess Alyan’s location. He had passed her in the temple as she was arguing with a priest about being allowed to attend her resting champion. Whatever amusement Dronkhar might have felt on Jhellen’s behalf had been quickly swallowed by concern for his wife.

Wordlessly, he took an empty seat beside Sendax, directly across from Adarion. Melekar and Eolar were already seated and waiting.

“I have already been informed of some of what transpired in the wastes,” Adarion began without preamble. “Now I wish the whole tale. Sendax, your report?”

Sendax relayed the full account of what had transpired on their mission, keeping his descriptions direct and to the point. Adarion asked only an occasional clarifying question as he listened to the report. “Once everyone was gathered,” Sendax concluded, “Eolar and I searched the records room. The Baelrock kept thorough accountings of their trade and research.”

Dronkhar grunted. “They were the administrators and overseers in the old kingdom. It is not surprising that they would have retained that quality.”

Adarion leaned forward, an inquisitive light in his eyes. “Did these records make mention of the metal the Dar’Gol are constructed from?”

“Yes, your majesty.” Sendax took out a small sheaf of papers and placed them on the table for Adarion to examine. “They refer to it as Dar’iron. Despite their apparent obsession with it, it was deadly for the Baelrock to work with. Most of their attempts at shaping or smithing with it killed all those involved. So instead, they sold it.”

Adarion’s gaze flickered across the ledger pages, then widened with surprise. “Piraeus purchased the shipments?”

Sendax nodded grimly. “Until a month ago, almost as quickly as it was mined.”

“Who or what is Piraeus?” Dronkhar asked.

“It is another human kingdom that lies to Cealia’s northwest,” Adarion replied, still staring at the pages. “Though reclusive and only a quarter of Cealia’s size, they are well developed and quite formidable. We have…” His words trailed, and he frowned as he set the ledger sheets back down. “We had several trade agreements and treaties with them.”

Dronkhar arched a brow. “Had?”

“Their ambassador was recalled from Delnoth with no explanation, only an assurance that a new one would be appointed in his place. That was ten years ago. Since then, no trade has come from Piraeus, and our traders are turned away at their border. Even our embassy has gone completely quiet.”

“Everyone calls it the Silent Kingdom now,” Sendax added, and Prince Nathias shuddered.

Dronkhar reached over and picked up the pages Adarion had set aside. “Something is stirring there.”

Sendax looked at Eolar, who cleared his throat. “There is more, my king,” the younger enchanter said. “The Dar’Gol that Sendax and his men faced was not defeated, but teleported itself away. This is the first known instance of a Dar’Gol using magic. Sendax showed me the site where the battle took place, and I was able to find a trace of the Dar’Gol’s spell.”

Adarion’s gaze sharpened. “Where did it go?”

Eolar nodded solemnly. “Lathos, capital of Piraeus.”

Sitting back in his chair, Adarion crossed his arms, his thoughts obviously dark.

“Piraen…” Dronkhar turned the word over in his mouth. “Koltorn called the Dar’Gol guarding his throne room a Piraen construct. I didn’t know what he was talking about at the time.”

“Then it’s as we feared,” Sendax murmured. “The Baelrock did not construct the Dar’Gol. They only supplied the materials.”

There was a soft knock at the door to the council chamber. “Enter,” Adarion replied, and Ilinnia and Sorasil did so. The king spared them a cursory nod. “Welcome, friends. Thank you for joining us.”

Ilinnia bobbed a nervous curtsy, and Sorasil stepped forward. “Ilinnia and I have been conversing at length with the healers who are attending Nolaara. We have come to report on what we know.”

“Has… has there been any change?” Dronkhar asked, hoping and fearing the answer.

Sorasil shook his head. “She rests as comfortably as we can make her, but as to a course of treatment, I am afraid we are at a loss.”

Adarion gestured to a pair of empty seats, and the queferi joined the discussion.

“There is a corrupting influence within her that we do not understand,” Sorasil continued. “It is similar in nature to the presence manifested around the Dar’Gol, but it is stronger and far more destructive. The steel that Dronkhar placed within her body holds the blessing of Ceanur and right now, that blessing is the only reason she still lives.” He looked at Dronkhar with deep sympathy. “The priests of Ceanur can sustain the blessing, but unless we discover the source of the corruption, your wife will remain as she is. In time, she will succumb to the affliction.”

A painful silence filled the chamber, and Dronkhar sensed the weight of their compassionate gazes resting on him. He felt his rage build. Pity was not something he was willing to accept. Ilinnia, as if sensing his emotions, put her bandaged hand on his shoulder. “We’ll figure something out, Dronkhar, I promise,” she said.

“No,” Dronkhar rumbled as he stood. “I will.” He’d brought a large, flat bundle of oiled cloth with him into the council chamber. He tossed it onto the polished table with a muffled clatter and threw open the covering to reveal Life-Taker. Though sunlight filled the chamber from tall windows, the room seemed to dim in the presence of the black blade. The unlit runes still radiated malevolence.

“This was the weapon Koltorn used on her,” Dronkhar growled. “If what we think is correct, then the Baelrock did not forge it. The Baelrock dug up the Dar’iron, but something in Piraeus is shaping this evil. If there’s a source to be found, it’ll be there.” He pinned Adarion with a hard look. “I’m going to find it, and kill it.”

Adarion met Dronkhar’s gaze impassively. “You have placed your life on the line to protect the people of Cealia, and we will not leave you to face this darkness alone.”

Their meeting stretched on for another hour. Sendax and Ilinnia immediately volunteered to join him, as did Eolar and Melekar after further discussion. They, and a retinue of guards, would teleport near the border, then enter Piraeus under the guise of a diplomatic mission. The situation would need to be handled delicately, since they had no knowledge of the state of Piraen affairs, and an overt show of strength from Cealia could be taken as a prelude to invasion. Dronkhar chafed at the thought of a ten-day ride to Lathos, but Adarion was unwilling to risk open war without a greater knowledge of what they faced.

That night Dronkhar sat beside Nolaara’s bed. He watched her face as she slept and hoped that her dreams were untroubled. Propped against his stool was the covered form of Life-Taker. Every so often Dronkhar would glare down at it, and a black fire would kindle in the back of his mind. “Whoever forged you… whoever was responsible for this…” He glanced at Nolaara. “I’m coming for you.”

Nolaara’s quiet breathing was the only reply.