Cazaril stood on the left hand side of the Royina Iselle and watched the Roknari delegation approach, hiding the turmoil of his thoughts behind a bland expression. No Rokari embassy had made an appearance in Chalion's throne room since Roya Fonsa slew the Golden General, the Lion of Roknar, in a desperate act of death magic.
Roknar has always been quick to recognize and promote god-favoured soldiers because they won battles against incredible odds and none was more blessed than the Golden General. When he suddenly died, felled from afar by demonic cunning, the army had collapsed and retreated north in a confused crisis of faith, finally settling out as five fractured and weak Princedoms clinging to the northern coast. Caz had heard the lamentations their divines sang to the four gods, asking the unanswered why. How could the Demon Bastard touch the gods' own favoured one?
But here was this delegation, representative of the Archipelago and the Princedoms, arriving nearly unannounced scant months after Royina Iselle's ascension. He scanned the faces looking for...he wasn't sure what.
The ambassador bowed before the royina and roya-consort and began a sonorous declaration of congratulations and presentation of gifts. Cazaril noted dryly the absence of declarations of friendship or wishes for the royina's health and prosperity. They did trot out some truly amazing stuff, in addition to the little herd of prized Roknari horses already safely bedded in the stables, belying the idea that this expedition was hastily brought about.
After the dazzling train of gifts had apparently reached the end but just before Royina Iselle could rise to give her thanks - or signal her chancellor to do so for her - a man dressed in simple, nondescriptive robes padded barefooted and bareheaded to the front bearing a sword wrapped in green silk on his open palms. It took Cazaril a few moments to come to a heart lurching recognition that is was Borasnen's general whom he last saw at Gotorget. Or would that be ex-general?
The ambassador was now saying, "May royina and roya-consort now
permit us to offer a gift to the Lord Chancellor dy Cazaril" and
they hardly waited for her nod before the general was bowing before
Cazaril. He said softly in court Roknari,
"Here is the sword you surrendered to me after Gotorget, m'hendi", which was duly translated in a clear ringing voice for the rest of the court.
In bemusement, Cazaril picked up the sword, letting the green silk flutter to the floor. It had been repaired, cleaned and polished as it never had been in its entire life with the dy Cazarils and, judging by the way his sigil blazed and sparkled in the torchlight, all the stones had been replaced by a higher grade of gems. While he was marshalling his thoughts for the proper mode of Roknari to say thanks for giving back something you stole from me in a better condition, the general surprised him by kneeling at his feet and bowing his head to the flagstones.
In the most abject of Roknari tones and in the richest of vocabulary, he apologized for sending Cazaril to the galleys. Cazaril's senses reeled as the words, repeated in clear Chalionese echoed redoubled in his mind. The general had an air of serenity and dignity that reminded him forcibly of Umegat. "Who in all of Bastard's hell did you manage to offend?" wondered Cazaril too shocked to even remotely enjoy this. The general ended the formula with the traditional phrase begging to make amends in blood. It was only when he sat up, with his eyes fixed somewhere in the middle distance, and the Rokanari next to him drew his sword and readied himself for a double handed blow that Cazaril realized it wasn't mere formula this time.
His mind abandoned all attempts at finding the proper Roknari phrases and the sword he held in his hand flashed between the general and his executioner. The screech of metal on metal yammered up his arms and he had to shoulder the other man aside to get him to leave off. This was definitely not a symbolic act. Cazaril panted out the correct words to forestall just punishment until a more opportune time appointed by the gods. The other Roknari snarled that his mercy was as great as his ignorance, all of which was translated over the shocked cries and murmurs of the court.
Abruptly, the entire delegation turned and left the throne room, seeming to take a thunder cloud of hinted intentions and unsaid words with them. Royina Iselle and Roya-Consort Bergon were on their feet. What? I demand an explanation.
The general bowed humbly to the royal persons and began. "I was the general who accepted Lord Chancellor dy Cazaril's surrender of Gotorget. When the ransom list and money came for the officers, his name was left off. I knew then that he had been betrayed by Chalion at the highest levels. That it was no mistake was made very clear to us by the courier. I was at a quandary as to what to do with him. I had decided to behead him and add that to my trophies of Gotorget when my Prince suggested recruiting Lord Cazaril instead."
"'You will not succeed in suborning him, m'hendi', I said, but he reasoned that Lord Cazaril would come around once he knew just how betrayed he was over Gotorget. He devised a plan of sending him to the galleys until his spirit was broken and he no longer saw himself a lord of Chalion but a slave of the Roknari, and then he'll pardon him and bless him and raise him up to his side to serve Roknar. I thought the plan mad and wagered him ten thousand royals that it would come to naught."
"We sent him to my galley master who was not at all happy especially when my Prince charged him with a multitude of duties to ensure that he would win his bet. I told him to make sure the man lived and never mind the rest. He later reported to us that Lord Cazaril was so stubborn, he had to drag him behind his boat until he was half drowned before he would consent to sit on his bench and row. He was sure the man would provoke his own death. He asked me how he had offended me that I've given him this impossible charge." At that the general smiled briefly, oblivious to the shock his words were causing all around.
"Weeks went by with weekly inquiries from me or my Prince and weekly reports from our galley master. His reports were always the same: he still thinks himself a Lord of Chalion. After a while, our attention turned elsewhere and we quite forgot Lord Cazaril until a message from the galley caught up with me while I was on a campaign."
"My galley master wrote in deep apology saying they were being chased by Brajarans and Lord Cazaril was not, um, pulling his weight at the oars. He was punished in a way that was...unusually harsh and humiliating even for the galleys...and...", the general flicked a quick look at Cazaril's stiff face "and my shipmaster reported regretfully that his spirit and his mind have been broken." The general tactfully left out the details he knew including how his galley master had prayed to the four gods to spare Cazaril's life while thinking up inventive ways of killing his oar-master for chaining Cazaril to the stern rail. He had been too hard pressed by the Brajarans to do anything but watch helplessly although he did allow, it inspired his motley crew to row like they've never rowed before.
"Anyway, he reported that Lord Cazaril no longer saw himself as a Lord of Chalion, though he was uncertain as to what Lord Cazaril saw himself as. My Prince and I argued whether this meant he won the bet or whether I did. I am certain...", the general frowned and continued in a firmer voice, "I am certain I sent a message to my galley master asking him to release Lord Cazaril to my Prince."
"My thoughts turned to other matters and to my shock, months later, a new message, long on the road, arrived from my galley master. It seems that Lord Cazaril was not mad after all but strangely changed and disturbingly fey. My galley master fumbled for words to explain it. He said he almost seemed content at the oar though content might not be the right word. But the men who rowed near him were calmer and less likely to die of despair or descend into madness. They did not become animals but stayed men and some even became lordly. My galley master said he found himself almost addressing him as m'hendi on several occasions so... 'master of all he surveyed' he looked."
"To say I was shocked and dismayed would be...never mind. My Prince was a little wroth that I overlooked this matter and we immediately directed the galley master to release Lord Cazaril to us. By now the other princes and generals had heard of our little wager and they added their hand as well, some betting Lord Cazaril would be damaged beyond use, some saying he was pretending and not broken at all, some believing my Prince's plan would work." His eyes crinkled a moment in amusement and adding aside to Cazaril, he said, "Vardo's general put twenty thousand royals on you saying he spent a leisurely week torturing you while dy Guarida parleyed so ineptly in terrible Roknari for his courier. He said Lord dy Cazaril will not be so easily broken - Gotorget, betrayal and months in the galleys notwithstanding. We needed a secretary by then to keep track of all the bets and side bets."
Turning back to Iselle and Bergon, the general continued, "Then he disappeared. My galley master had sold him to another galley thinking we had lost interest in him because he had not heard from us in months. We all from the five Princedoms searched the fleet, twice, driving our men to near gibbering as they tried to recall everyone they threw over board and everyone who died of fever. A madness seemed to have fallen over us. Messages lost, words misconstrued, accusations flew, insults offered, offence taken. In the end, two generals and a prince lost...everything. The Emperor of Roknar was enraged when he finally heard. He cancelled all our wagers and sent his own men to search the fleet. They quickly tracked the right galley but it was captured by the Ibran Royal Navy the day before it was to return to port." The general did not mention the growing sense of doom and gnawing fear spreading among the Princedoms as this news reached them.
"The Emperor's men donned disguises to quietly search Ibra and they came across the Roya of Ibra's own men looking for Caz. They were first at the Mother's hospital in Zagosur and were able to divert the Roya's men. They wrote to me saying they have seen Lord Cazaril and he is truly, truly mad now. The last flaying inflicted on him would have killed most men and they were uncertain how he has managed to survive but they assured me, his body may have survived but his mind and his spirit did not."
"Thus ended our game, my Prince and I. But the Emperor bade us to make sure since this has been one unholy mess from the beginning. I entered Ibra with my Prince and our Divine, disguised as Wise Men on pilgrimage. We went to the Mother's house and gained their confidence with ten thousand royals, our original wager," he said with an ironic smile, "and claimed to be Lord Cazaril's friends here to ensure his well treatment. They were grateful and sorry to say that Cazaril had made an astonishing recovery in his mind as well as body and that he had left to walk home to Chalion several weeks ago."
"The Emperor was willing to let the matter rest until scant a year later," here he gazed fully at Cazaril for the first time, "we hear that Ibra and Chalion has been united, your betrayers are dead by uncanny means and you're Lord Chancellor over Chalion-Ibra. My Emperor's wrath broke forth anew and he bade me come here to make my apology in blood."
When the Emperor had commanded him to present himself as an atoning blood sacrifice to the Bastard in Chalion's throne room at Lord Cazaril's feet, he had wept and begged to die instead by any other means. He had prayed to the four gods in despair in his cell until he could no longer think and could barely breathe and wondered how is it that his traitorous heart kept on beating. Then one night, a pure white light enveloped him and he found himself in the holy presence of the Bastard. The goodness and peace of the god so smote him that he could only cry silently, you are god! you are god! Now he walked as if one ensconced in that incomprehensible light, a quintarian convert. When his Prince smuggled a means of suicide to him, he had refused with gentle thanks saying he wanted to see what tomorrow will bring.
And so now he knelt before the man whose destiny and future was
precious to him and to his god-sharpened gaze, he looked grievously
normal and mortal. After a long pause, Cazaril remarked with
surprisingly bland irony,
"And here I thought I was forsaken and forgotten all those months in the galleys." He blew out his breath added more thoughtfully. "Am I still the object of unhealthy Roknari interests?"
"They think you're the Bastard's own Golden General."
Some of Chalion's court laughed nervously, thinking it was a bit of witticism but the blood drained from Cazaril's face.
No. oh no. He knew what it meant. Holy war. The Archipelago and the five Princedoms have been united around a common cause. Holy war was upon him.
© 2003 by Caroline Wong (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Current version by Michael Bernardi, email@example.com
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Last updated: March 13th 2003