Emperor Carrington stood in the midst of a regimen of his most capable guards. Raefestor was at his usual place beside and behind his liege, his armor scrubbed, polished, and gleaming a radiant shine. They had just arrived at Sun’s Hope for the first time since the mages led the city’s attack against Thryb.
The people of Sun’s Hope were nervous. They didn’t know what to expect from this man, as many of them had taken part in the rebellious attack against him. Many remained hidden in their homes, watching from windows but some traveled down the street to the courtyard where he and his men were gathered.
The news of his arrival had traveled fast. Each floor of the keep had a view of his company traveling down the road toward Sun’s Hope, and when he was spotted, the alert spread like wildfire. The sound of locking doors echoed through abandoned streets as other citizens debated whether they should see the Emperor in person. He had guards but no army, many reasoned, so he wasn’t here for conquest. Others noted that Raefestor was with him, which was not a sign of good things. Still, many individuals and some families made their way to the bottom level of the keep to see what was going on.
Down in the courtyard, Lord Jonders and the rest of the council members of Sun’s Hope stood as a group before Emperor Carrington. Lord Jonders leaned on the Sword of the Sun, a symbolic weapon that represented the authority of rulership in the keep. Its tip was touching the ground and he rested his hands comfortably on the hilt. The perimeter of the area was lined with people curious to see what was happening.
“Emperor Carrington, welcome to Sun’s Hope,” greeted Lord Jonders. “Shall I prepare a guest chamber for you and lodging for your retainers?”
“That won’t be necessary,” replied Carrington politely, a little too politely for Lord Jonders’ liking. “I won’t be staying but a moment. I simply have an announcement to make.”
Murmurs from the crowd were hushed by Lord Jonders’ raised hand, as his eyes remained locked on Carrington. His steely stare showed the Emperor that he knew something was amiss. Once the whispers quieted down, he dropped his hand back to the sword. “What is it you would announce?” he asked with exaggerated patience.
A hint of a smile crossed the corner of the Emperor’s mouth. The leader of Sun’s Hope knew the game he was playing; knew it well enough to play along despite everything he was about to lose.
“I’ll skip the chase and get right to the point,” he said quietly, his words intended for Lord Jonders and those in the area immediately surrounding him. Loudly enough for the entire courtyard to hear, he continued. “I’ve come to announce a change of leadership in Sun’s Hope.”
Many varied noises were heard coming from the crowd. There were gasps, a few cries of “no!”, as well as many snickers. Lord Jonders turned around and glanced through the crowd before turning back to Emperor Carrington with an amused look on his face.
“With respect,” he tried to say, but falling silent a moment to keep from laughing. Trying again, “With respect, Emperor Carrington, that’s not the way we do things here in Sun’s Hope. You have your kingdom…”
“Empire,” growled Raefestor from beside his liege.
With an arched eyebrow Lord Jonders continued. “You have your kingdom to run as you see fit. But you have no authority here, save as a visiting dignitary. I’m afraid your announcement will need to be dismissed.”
Raefestor grunted and drew his sword, just about to step around Carrington when the Emperor’s arm reached out and stopped him. “Put your sword away,” he commanded in a voice low enough that only Raefestor heard. Turning his head back to Lord Jonders, who had raised the Sword of the Sun and positioned himself in a defensive position, he smiled pleasantly as if he heard wonderful news from a long-lost family friend. He would, indeed, play along for just a bit longer.
“Forgive me, my lord,” said Carrington with a deep bow. “I forgot that here you like to let your people vote on everything.” He raised his voice for the people surrounding the courtyard to hear. “We have an impromptu vote for continued leadership of Sun’s Hope. If you vote for Raefestor as new ruler of Sun’s Hope, you vote for peace and a future. Or you can vote for Lord Jonders to continue his reign and I will leave. The caveat to that, though, is that Raefestor won’t.”
As if on cue, Raefestor’s sword gleamed with the brightness of the sun, courtesy of the God of Dawn. Instantly it was in his hand and he leapt to the nearest young man and ran him through. With a shout he leapt over the men standing in the center of the courtyard, spinning like a whirlwind, light flinging from his sword as he landed before a mother with her children beside her and plunged his blade into her stomach.
Immediately he leapt again, landing before Lord Jonders in a crouch, his sword lodged into the skull of the Minister of the Treasury who stood beside him. Raefestor looked up into Lord Jonders’ eyes as he breathed heavily, remaining in a crouch. The smile he gave was chilling, not the smile of any human but of a monster who kills for the sake of killing.
“Better decide fast,” lilted Emperor Carrington in an uninterested voice.
“He can have leadership of Sun’s Hope!” called Lord Jonders frantically, as he let the Sword of the Sun crash to the floor at Raefestor’s feet.
“Tsk. Tsk,” admonished Carrington as he slowly shook his head. “It’s not your decision to make. It’s up to your people.”
Once more, Raefestor leapt through the air, elbows pinned to his sides. One slow backflip later and he had landed in the crowd, drawing his sword across the throat of the man he landed behind.
All throughout the crowd were cries and calls for Raefestor to stop killing and be their leader. Around the rails overlooking the courtyard on each level of the keep, shouts of “Raefestor!” were wailed and echoed throughout Sun’s Hope.
All fell silent as Raefestor emerged from the crowd, wiping the blood from his blade with part of the cloak he tore off his final victim. He nonchalantly walked toward Lord Jonders. Standing before him he bent down to pick up the Sword of the Sun.
Turning it over in his hands, he examined the finely-forged blade, then held the hilt in one hand and the blade in the other. His face began to glow with the light of his god, which once again extended throughout his body.
“By the authority of the God of Dawn, you have been stripped of your position and your dignity!”
With a twist of his hands, Raefestor shattered the Sword of the Sun into thousands of pieces which rang softly as they hit the ground. He threw the remainder of the sword on the ground in front of Lord Jonders and turned to address the bulk of the crowd.
“Things are about to change around here,” he gruffly called out. “My first order of business is to remove your voting nonsense. I retain all control of all matters related to Sun’s Hope. I’ll give you a final vote – does anyone want to vote against my proposed will?”
Silence hung in the air as none dared challenge the paladin.
“By my authority, Sun’s Hope is now part of the Empire of Thryb. From here we will launch a campaign to track down and contain the escaped mages. All young men ages twenty-two through forty who wish to be part of this campaign will be rewarded for victory. Report to the throne room tomorrow at noon to sign up and be assigned training.”
He turned again and walked past Lord Jonders, selecting a random member of his former council. “Take me to the throne room,” he commanded, following the man to his destination.
This has been an excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Valceine Prophecy.
Click here to purchase a copy of book 1, Winter’s Bite.
Click here to subscribe to my mailing list and get updates on my progress.