(Almost) The End
I had to keep Athal from commenting between the lines. Let one thing be clear: I don’t know if it had any actual effect that Raisse came to Athal’s aid, but even if it didn’t he’s glad she did, and so am I!
When we came back from the temple of Dayati people were standing in line waiting for us. We changed quickly and then handled them one by one. Really Athal handled it and I just listened and came along. One of the people to advise us had been selected. Our prisoner has died, probably killed from a distance by his own buddies. I felt sorry for Mernath then. With the people came a gift for me from Mehili, the general’s wife: a book of poetry in some language I did not even recognise, but with a translation. It was very thoughtful and beautiful gift, so I had to give her something in return. Halla suggested an album of drawings made by Shab Hafte and that sounded just right. When I asked he was quite willing to part with them, more willing than me even. But I think setting up a good relationship with the people here is one of the reasons I am here. We also inspected the Khas, who looked impressive in black. Athal even told me to wear more black, so I’ll have to keep that in mind.
Then came the visit from King Aheste of Jomhur, the man I had hoped would be our best ally and source of information to build the alliance. And that did come true, only in a very different way than I had expected. From what he told us we got a clear picture of the military situation against the Khas and it was as bad as I had feared. He also told us that only one man was capable of standing up to them with the army that was idling around here: General Beguyan. The very man we were going to see tonight.
Next were Zahmati and Roushan. They were actually close to our age and they came with a strict aunt type, who wasn’t mentioned and showed no expression, but was consulted on occasion. They were worried for the safety of Albetire and themselves and were willing to help, but were unsure how. I found them, and Aheste too, refreshingly sensible. I suggested that merchants should have plenty of ships and crew. And given that it was a possibility for the Khas to attack Albetire by ship I advised them to form a navy. When they told us they lacked an admiral experienced in fighting at sea we called for Kistid and Arvi and offered their help. They went off into a side room. It was only later that Athal remembered the root and the concession and when he explained things to them, they were willing to buy it for him. Actually they were willing to murder every man, woman and child that was part of the house, but now they only have to pay a huge fortune. Let’s hope that will be enough and the concession will be honoured and Albetire will stay free.
Dinner with the Khandihan was canceled because the Enshah needed him, and Athal was oddly relieved about that. Then we went on our way escorted by some of our soldiers and a hundred Khas looking dangerous in black, like when we had inspected them earlier. The city was still rife with unrest, but we experienced no trouble on our journey to the solid stone tower that looked quite pretty and impressive at the same time, standing there at the harbour in the light of the evening sun. Security was strict, but when we got up there we were made to feel very welcome and at home. Talk of ‘business’ was to left for after dinner, so we settled down and talked of other things. They were very friendly while we were getting to know each other, in fact Mehili was so friendly sometimes, that I wondered if she didn’t want to do more than just talk. After dinner though, she asked if the men’s conversation was something I took any interest in and when I said that I did and wanted to remain she seemed relieved so I don’t know.
Then we came down to business. Beguyan was about to seize power and he was working with Yilde and Koll Konandé. He invited them to the tower as well and we passed the time until they arrived with singing. Both of them had clear ideas as to why they should rule but in the end we came to a compromise that seemed to satisfy everybody. Koll Konandé would marry Yilde and she will be his regent until he is thirty. The difficult question of succession was left for later. That will make quite a source of trouble down the road. Koll Konandé would limit himself to palace politics so that Beguyan was free to fight the Khas as regent of the country. Athal would become sovereign lord of Little Valdyas and Little Solay and appoint an arbiter to decide disputes between the palace and the regent of the country. He thinks Reshan.
There was just one little detail that we had to take care of for them: get rid of the red party, the agents of the Nameless here in Albetire. Not that I’m not all for that but I did wonder how we were going to do that on short notice.
It was a somewhat like a scene in a play. Yilde played the part of the fool and Koll Konandé the ambitious young man. But they looked to the rest, Beguyan and Athal, to prove them right and to solve their problems for them. Beguyan played the old king still in control and Athal the powerful unknown factor from outside. What made it strange was that Athal insisted on not getting his share of the power being divided and the rest insisting that he did. (Usually it’s the other way around.) An odd way to negotiate but it worked out all right. Since I really want to get back home and spend some time just living there with the children.
The secret meeting had already taken too long for comfort and it was quite late so we all decided to go home. When we got home all was quiet. Very quiet. Athal scanned and found Mernath and Mialle and summoned them. The were scared and fighting some kind of compulsion laid on them, but together they managed to say “Don’t go to sleep tonight”. It took all they had, though, and they collapsed. I arranged for two soldiers to switch places with us and we waited to see what would come. If ever we needed proof that there are good people in the Guild of the Nameless we have it now.
And then it came. Some kind of devastating mental blow. It was so strong that not only semti were affected. I felt stunned and drained trying to get my bearings until I heard the children crying and I ran to the bedroom. One of the soldiers that took our place was devastated, the other badly shaken, and it was all we could do to get them and Senthi and the children into the small side room and seal it hoping that that would be safe. I let Athal know where I was and looked around, before trying to get everyone to calm down.
After a while I noticed the ground shaking and incredible amounts of power radiating from Hinla in all directions. I had no idea what she was doing. Not even if I should stop or encourage her, but the ground started shaking more and more and it really was directed only outward and not in any particular direction. Perhaps an attempt to protect herself and maybe all of us in the room, but out friends were out there and the palace could not stand much more so I grabbed her and when Senthi joined me we managed to stop her and the ground stopped shaking. Then I just held her for a while whispering to her, took a look at the battle raging outside, and it scared me.
There they were in concentric circles. The fighters on the outside protecting what was inside. Within that a ring of apprentices forming a shield of which they themselves were a part. And the same again inside, a ring of journeymen, within that a ring of five masters, and at the center three grand masters. Athal had suffered a huge blow, like we all did before the fight even started, and now he and the Order had to use up their strength to kill all of them before they could get at the grand masters. Realistically there was no way he could win.
Rikhi was there helping and the Order was doing all they could, the Khas were fighting off the rabble, but they could not get through the shields. Things were relatively quiet here so I got up and went closer. I saw the Khas drive off the fighters, and I didn’t know what to do. I saw Athal come out and fight and kill, and I didn’t know what to do. Then he stormed them and the Order joined in. Both grand masters turned to him and I saw him go down. Then I knew what to do. They were going to destroy him so I put myself in front of him and defended him with all that I had left. It was just me against the two grand masters so it was hopeless, but I had to do it anyway. Then all went black.
I woke up next to Athal in a makeshift tent. We were both alive, thank all the gods but one. The children were safe. And that’s all I cared about for now. I was still in a daze. Khora had lost her child, and her husband. She was much more upset about that than I would have thought, but given the screams when this all started who knows what she had been through. Was she especially targeted by the Nameless? Did he have plans for her? When Athal pointed out that she was free to marry who she wanted she immediately went for him. I explained that we live one wife to one husband. She didn’t like that at all. If she is grateful for my part in saving her she does not show it. But we are alive and the children are well. That and going home is what I’m going to think about.