Author: Scribe of Elhnaka PM
As the mysterious Shaman wishes to hunt the Elhnakans from the steppe, Nogalen faces the challenge of his life. Meanwhile Derina has to make some difficult decisions that may have consequences for millions of people on the steppe. Sequal to "The Ice Realm". Rated M. Reviews are highly appreciated!Rated: Fiction M - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Chapters: 6 - Words: 19,831 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 12-21-12 - Published: 08-05-12 - id: 3047940
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Derina handed a wrapped paper parcel to Birgla, the old servant woman who had been by her side for as long as she could remember. In a wordless warning, Birgla's concerned look dug another half dozen wrinkles in her forehead. With a demonstrative tug she took the small package and quickly hid it underneath her apron. The woman was just about to disappear into the darkness of the forest when Derina grabbed her arm and gave the old cheek a grateful kiss. The servant woman pinched her cheek lightly, the way she had done when Derina was a child, then she disappeared in between the trees.
Silently Derina sneaked back to the tent, careful not to make any noise. She took off her fur coat and crept back down besides Nogalen. She lay there and looked at him for a while. There were increasing whispers around the Taro-Kalian camp fires as to why she really rode out on these long excursions. It could not be coincidental that her longing for the wilderness had become so much stronger at the same time as Nogalen had returned from the catastrophic campaign against the Ice realm, it was said.
She did not have the slightest doubt that these rumors must have reached her father's ears, even if he had not given anything away yet. But it was not her father whom Derina was worried about, it was that these rumors sooner or later would reach the Elhnakan Crown prince that had not given up hope to make her his.
As a consequence of this worry Derina and Nogalen had lately become much more careful. Ever since Nogalen had returned they had mostly satisfied each other with the skills of their hands and mouths. They both saw this as a sacrifice, but at the same time a small price to pay for each other's company. They had not spent this much time together since they had been seventeen summers of age.
Deep inside they knew that these moments would not last for ever, regardless of how much they wished it could be so. Lord Bregas had become ever more insistent that his daughter would marry as soon as the news had reached him that Nogalen was among the few survivors from the defeat in the vain war against Intiopaglaton. But for now they consciously pushed these worries aside and indulged in the present, however dangerous this might be.
Derina let her fingers wander across Nogalen's chest, across the pale lumps that remained of his battle scars. Nogalen awoke and pulled her closer. Intertwined they fell asleep to the rhythm of each other's breathing.
Lenteres Dorianes ke Ritanio swung down from the saddle of the gelding that had carried him the last distance to Crown prince Laeveros's newly established camp by Lake Darban. The Duke stretched his aching muscles before he stiffly marched to the Crown prince's impressive field pavilion. His travel companion Jotanes Ambras, the Duke of Altivera, yet another of Emperor Teachios's entrusted generals, followed close behind him.
With certain distaste, but to little surprise, they found that the pavilion was guarded exclusively be Laeveros's renowned warrior women. Besides the desire to create an effect, the dukes could not understand the reason for this venture. Not even among the barbarous people of the steppe was it customary with units consisting only of women.
"Your Highness," said General Lenteres when they were let into the tent and both noblemen bowed deeply.
"How was your journey from Voltanalara, gentlemen?" Laeveros wondered without lifting his eyes from a parchment that depicted the entire northern steppe.
"Very good, Your Highness... even if I did not fully appreciate the enormity in the expanses of the steppe until today," General Lenteres answer for them both. He did not get any response.
"We have heard that around fifty of the Darban clan leaders have declared their support for that Naryan Shaman," Lenteres continued and nodded towards Laeveros's map. "Is this the same Shaman that hindered the return from Intiopaglaton, Your Highness?"
"Yes, but he is no threat. Over half the Darbans remain loyal," Laeveros said calmly. "This is not something that should concerned you way down in Voltanalara."
"It does not, Your Highness. But your Imperial father however is concerned for your position here at Lake Darban," Lenteres conveyed. "Should the rest of the Naryan and Darban noble houses prove to be equally deceitful as their relatives Your Highness would soon be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of enemies."
"And Your Highness would be cut of from any reinforcements," General Jotanes added. "Even with the troops His Majesty sent, you have no more than five thousand soldiers here. The rest are Brennish, but it is questionable how much their loyalty is worth."
Laeveros clenched his jaws in anger. "Had you not dissuaded my father from giving me the forces I requested from the beginning, I had not been forced to rely on the Brennish and we would not have been in this situation!"
Lenteres kept his thoughts on who were to blame for the debacle against Intiopaglaton to himself, he did not aim to incur the Crown prince's wrath unnecessarily, even if a number suitable comments passed through his head. "His Majesty is only concerned for your safety... that you should not fall victim to Brennish treachery."
"Return home, Your Highness!" encouraged Jotanes. "There is no one out here in the wilderness that you can trust." The General ignored the female body guard, who gave him murderous looks.
"You're wrong, gentlemen, there are honorable people among these tribes... especially one! You can return to Voltanalara. Tell my father that he need not worry. I will take care of the Shaman!"
Both men bowed and removed themselves from the tent. They would get one more opportunity to convey their message to the Crown prince, but it ended in with the same result as the first. One week later they rode back to the Imperial fortress city.
"He has changed," Lenteres said when they had come at some distance from the camp. "The failure against the Ice realm has changed him."
"Really, from what I can remember he has always been an arrogant little shit," Jotanes smiled.
"Ha ha, for sure, but he was absent in some way..." Lenteres said thoughtfully.
"He probably has a lot to think about..." Jotanes smiled. "Why widows along the entire Aion River curse his name to start with."
"It will be interesting to see what savage he plans to send after the Shaman!"
"Ha! To kill one madman at the command of another! Whoever it is I do not envy him... poor bastard."
Nogalen listened carefully to the words Derina read out for him. Despite her disapproving look Laeveros's words flowed completely uncorrupted from her lips.
"You know more than anyone what deeds this Shaman is capable of. I therefore ask you to aid me in exacting revenge for all our fallen comrades, who froze to death up in the mountains where we were forced to flee from this fanatic. I need someone I can trust. Your friend, Laeveros of Elhnaka."
The couple sat quietly for a moment and looked at each other. It was Derina that brook the silence. "I don't fall for his flattery and neither should you. He's asking you to go to war against a holy man."
"That Shaman is kidnapping and plundering," Nogalen said. "Hardly what you would call holy preoccupations!"
"The Elhnakans have demanded hostages for generations. Have you forgotten why I had to leave home... leave you?" Derina asked.
"No, I haven't," Nogalen sighed and thought back to the day Lord Bregas had been forced to send away his favorite daughter to Tsivra to receive Elhnakan schooling.
"And now they want to part us again? Remember that it is not only the Shaman who may threaten your life. Think if Laeveros finds out about us," warned Derina.
"I saved his life," Nogalen reminded and patted the Vasanese knife that Laeveros had given him as a token of gratitude. "Say what you will about him, but he is a warrior. And warriors don't forget these things."
"He's a warrior who kills people of the steppe, Nogalen. Men like him only give what they want and they take what they want. Laeveros wants the entire steppe to bow to him."
"And you dream of a united steppe?" asked Nogalen though he knew the answer.
"I remember that we both shared that dream once," Derina reminded.
"We did! There are still moments when I dream, but then I wake up Derina. I wake up and see how we kill each other. I see how the justice of the steppe doesn't extend further than the longest sword." It was not the first time they have had this conversation.
"And now you mean to fight for the Elhnakans once again? Against people of the steppe?" Derina could not hide the bitterness in her voice.
"I mean to fight for those who died during the march across the Cylabara Mountains! Believe me, there is nothing I rather want than to stay here with you, but if the Shaman is not stopped he will drag us all into a war with the Elhnakans!" Nogalen stood up to leave, but then turned around and looked straight into her eyes. "Please Derina, don't hate me for this!"
"Believe me, I wish that I could hate you!" She leaped forward and kissed him. "Don't throw away your life my love! It happens to mean very much to me!"
She pressed her hand against the small stone pendant he wore around his neck, the one she had given him all those summers ago.
Lord Bregas of Taro-Kalian went into his daughter's tent. He did not ask how her month long excursion had been or what she had done. He knew the truth and did not want to force her to lie. Had her mother been alive she would have told him to stop this game a long time ago. But he, the leader so renowned for his strength, was weak when it came to hurting his Derina. Had not everything been brought to its head he had most likely continued to pretend to know nothing. This he admitted, to his great shame.
"You're obviously careful," he said and pointed to her flat stomach. "I guess that I should be grateful for that!"
Derina was aware that he must have known something, but she still lost her ground when he addressed the matter head on.
"I would gladly have Nogalen's children, if I did not have to fear for his life because of it!"
"That will never be, Derina! His clan is nothing and he himself is a mercenary to the intruders! Braver than most men... I grant you that. But it does not change what he is. A man who can never become yours."
Derina read her father mind. "And with that said you want to try and get me married off again?"
"Yes, but not for the reason you think," Lord Bregas answered. "I do not care about Nogalen, you are still young and our clan is powerful enough so that any future husband will not ask any questions about your maidenhood."
"So what makes you so eager that I should get a husband now?"
"The Elhnakans! Crown prince Laeveros writes to me praising your beauty and your conduct. He has not yet asked for your hand, but if he does I can not deny him, however much I want to. Because..."
"Because to refuse Elhnaka a union through marriage would be the same as declaring war," Derina nodded without any expression.
"We have a responsibility towards our people!" Bregas established. "As much as Taechios would hate the thought of a daughter in law from the steppe, he would love the excuse to crush the last ounce of independence that we have."
"You could always denounce me! I and Nogalen would have to live as fugitives, but rather that then..."
"I would rather go to war with the entire Elhnakan Empire! But it will not come to that. You would never be able to even begin your flight. Nogalen rides east, surrounded by thousands of Elhnakan soldiers. Think of what would happen to him if the Crown prince found out about you two!"
"You do not have to pretend to care for his well being!"
"I don't care the slightest about him. But I know that you do! There are many rumors, Derina. The only way you can protect him from suspicion is to marry someone else!"
Derina fell silent. She clenched her jaws in anger and bottomless sorrow, but she knew that her father was right. "I will not betray Nogalen when he is so far away!"
"A noble thought... but every day you delay you risk his life!"
"You will get the rest when you deliver your first report," Laeveros said and threw the small leather pouch with coins to the Dünite who bowed deeply.
"I know many among the Taro-Kalian clan, Your Highness," the man ensured.
"Good! Find out if the rumors are true that the Princess has a lover and in that case who," commanded the Crown prince. "I would like to see what sort of man she prefers!"
The man was just about to leave when he collided with the Crown prince's herald in the tent opening.
"A letter from His Majesty the Emperor, Your Highness!"
"Give it here!" Laeveros eyes darkened as he took part in the contents of the letter.
"Prepare my horses and order my bodyguard to prepare to ride south! The Emperor requests my presence in Tsivra!"
Laeveros was about to leave the tent, he needed air, when he remembered the Dünite. "Your mission remains unchanged. But if you should be discovered remember that what ever Lord Bregas do to you, it is far more lenient that what I will do if you imply who sent you!"
Per J.H. Olsson