Summary: A prince agrees to marry a young priest to avert an apocalypse caused by the prince's ancestor. Will their mutual sacrifice save the world or will their commitment only lead to another disaster?
Warning: This story contains gay themes and includes some erotic content, sexual situations and mature subject matter in later chapters.
Prologue: The Sin of the Dragon King
In the ancient world, men were divided. They fought each other to gain land and dominance. With the rise and fall of each new ruler, warfare ravaged the land and civilization was set back. Into this chaos came the Dragon King. Wielding the ancient powers bequeathed him by his dragon ancestors, the Dragon King crushed the rulers and brought all men to heel under his rule in a brutal war that lasted over one hundred years. For the nearly five hundred years which followed, peace and prosperity slowly came to the land and civilization finally flourished. The Dragon King built a mighty castle in the foothills of the great Sentinels mountain range and the royal city of Daresfir grew up around it.
But it is the nature of men to covet power and dominance. In the far south, many weeks travel from Daresfir, barons entrusted with the governance of the people set themselves up as kings within their own lands and defied the Dragon King's rule. Infuriated, the Dragon King led his army south to crush this rebellion. He was gone for seventy years. In his absence, the son of the man left to manage the kingdom, who had inherited the stewardship from his father, looked at how well he governed the people and declared himself king. He sat upon the Dragon Throne and took up the Dragon Scepter.
The Dragon King, upon hearing this, was enraged beyond words. Calling upon his ancient powers for the first time in centuries, the Dragon King transformed himself and flew north in the shape of a mighty golden dragon. The usurper, fearing for his life, sent forth an army to fight the dragon. Cursing all those who would betray him, the Dragon King spread wide his wings, which seemed to cover half the sky, and smote the ground with a mighty stroke. A great fissure cracked the earth and the army was swallowed up, along with the great castle and much of the city around it.
But the Dragon King did not know the full extent of his own fury. Even as he shrank back into human form, satisfied by the destruction of his enemies, the fissure continued to widen. Black smoke billowed up out of the chasm and great jets of molten red lava shot into the sky. Mighty earthquakes shook the ground and the whole world groaned as the fissure plunged to the very core.
When all seemed lost, into the face of this imminent destruction stepped a single man. He kept his feet despite the shuddering earthquakes and held his hands up to the sky beseechingly.
"Oh ye Gods above!" he cried. "I, Mota, beg you to spare us! Grant me the grace to bear the world's fate and let the life of the world continue!"
A great silence fell and then a mighty chorus echoed into the minds of every living thing.
"Hear us! The selfless piety of Mota has bought thee a reprieve, but our mercy is not boundless. Only the humbling of the Dragon King's pride shall save thee. So long as the bloodline of Mota endures, so shall the world endure. But when his bloodline ends, the world shall end. Such is thy fate, until the Dragon King shall fall upon his knees and swear undying devotion and faithfulness to the savior of the world."
And with a mighty shudder, the great fissure drew closed until only a jagged crack remained, from which issued the heat of the world's inner fire.
The Dragon King looked upon Mota, but his pride would not be humbled. "I will bow to no mortal man!" the Dragon King swore. "You will serve me as everyone serves me," he proclaimed. He issued orders to have a vast temple constructed on top of the fissure and he placed Mota there surrounded by servants to protect and perpetuate the family of Mota. Then he retreated to the valley below and rebuilt the city of Daresfir.
Over time, men and women were drawn to the temple to learn from Mota's piety and a priesthood grew up around him. Through contemplation and study, the priests of Mota came to believe in the sanctity of life and they prayed for the salvation of the world, even while they lived with the knowledge of its eventual destruction smoldering beneath their feet.
During this same time, however, the Dragon King learned that the gods were not to be easily thwarted. As the years passed, he discovered he had lost his immortality and age overcame him as it must all men. In the 738th year of the Dragon King's reign, the Dragon King died. Then Prince Haro, the youngest of the Dragon King's ten sons, all born since the onset of the Dragon King's mortality, killed his brothers in a swift and bloody civil war to claim the Dragon Throne.
But upon the day the new Dragon King was crowned, Mota lay on his deathbed and he spoke a prophecy with his final breath:
"Unless the House of the Dragon King joins with the House of Mota, the world's fate is sealed. My bloodline shall fail and the world will be consumed in fire."
When King Haro heard the prophecy, he smiled. "Mota has four children and nine grandchildren. His bloodline will not end in my lifetime. Place more guards at the temple. I do not need to sully my blood with the offspring of some peasant priest."
And so it remained for a thousand years. The descendents of Mota lived in the Temple of Mota and prayed over the fissure that whispered of the world's doom, and the descendents of the Dragon King lived in the palace in Daresfir and ruled a kingdom that grew more prosperous with each passing decade.
Chapter 1: Prince Hadrin
"What did you think of the woman last night, Sire? Was she not exquisite?"
"Hmm?" Hadrin answered absently. He wasn't paying attention to the man seated on the far side of the room. He was far more interested in the papers on the table in front of him, representing the new responsibility his father had given him. King Halvar did not relinquish responsibility easily, so Hadrin did not want to give him any reason to take his new duties away.
"My Lord!" the gentlemen spoke impatiently.
"What?" Hadrin looked up to find Lord Grysfar glaring at him.
Lord Adis Grysfar was Hadrin's cousin on his mother's side. The Grysfar family used that relationship to their advantage, but their influence was limited by the fact that Hadrin's mother was only the king's mistress. King Halvar had declined to marry and his three children, Hadrin and his two sisters, had come from different mothers.
"The woman!" Adis repeated. "Do you even remember her name?"
Hadrin blinked at him. "I didn't ask her name. She was there to warm my bed and did the job quite adequately."
"Hmph!" Adis made no effort to hide his annoyance. "Lady Aynwin," he said pointedly, "comes from one of the finest families in the kingdom. She would make an excellent queen."
"I suppose so," Hadrin remarked, "if I were looking for a queen. Adis, I have more important things to do. We can talk about this later."
"Very well." Adis stood up, the annoyance still showing on his face. "There is another young lady I would like to introduce to you at dinner."
"Fine." Hadrin waved a hand absently. "Go away now, please."
Adis huffed in offended irritation as he left, but Hadrin ignored him. Adis' interest in Hadrin's future queen was entirely political and Hadrin knew it. The women Adis sent to his bed each night were all uniformly beautiful and well-bred and Hadrin enjoyed using them, but that was all. Like last night, most of the time he didn't even bother to ask their names. It wasn't important. At this point in his life, women were for pleasure and nothing else.
A sudden tremor shook the palace and the building creaked loudly. Hadrin gripped the edge of the table and his heart started to race, but this time the tremor quickly faded. Nevertheless, Hadrin hurried from the room to find out if there had been any damage. Previous earthquakes had brought down walls and portions of the ceiling in the older sections of the ancient palace. In the halls, people clustered together worriedly.
"Oh Your Highness!" one young woman cried as he hurried past. "Do you think there will be another earthquake?"
"I don't know," Hadrin replied without stopping. In the old palace, which was used primarily to house servants these days, he found guards already inspecting the ancient stone walls for fresh cracks. "Have you found anything?"
"No, Sire." The young captain, only recently promoted, saluted Hadrin quickly, pressing his closed fist briefly against his chest before pointing down the hall. "I've sent men to check the walls in the old audience hall. There were several new cracks after the last earthquake and they may have widened."
"Very well. Please bring me a report when you've finished your inspection."
"Yes, Sire!" The captain saluted again and hurried down the hall.
Hadrin returned slowly to his study. The earthquakes were growing more frequent and increasing in intensity. Many people whispered that it meant the end of the world was approaching. Hadrin wasn't sure what to believe. Ten years before, at the age of sixteen, he had visited the Temple of Mota for a month. While there, he had learned the story of his ancestor, supposedly a real dragon, who had nearly destroyed the world, and how the piety of Mota had averted that destruction. He had also learned that the life of the world was supposedly bound to Mota's bloodline, so how could the world be ending? After so many centuries, there must be thousands of descendents of Mota in the world.
Hadrin turned at the sound of his name. His father's secretary, Lord Halmi, hurried toward him as quickly as his uneven gait allowed him. A childhood accident had left Halmi with one leg shorter and weaker than the other. Out of courtesy, Hadrin walked back to meet him.
"What is it, Halmi?"
"Your father needs to see you right away."
"Of course." Without thinking, Hadrin set a pace that Halmi could maintain, but Halmi put a hand gently on his arm.
"Thank you, Highness, but do not delay for me. I will follow as quickly as I can." His gentle smile showed genuine appreciation for Hadrin's thoughtfulness.
Hadrin returned his smile and hurried ahead. At his father's study, servants and guards hurried in and out, moving with the brisk certainty of people doing something important.
"Hadrin!" King Halvar called as soon as he stepped through the open door. "I've just had word that a building came down in the city; on the north side in the old quarter. Go oversee the cleanup and bring me back a list of casualties."
"Yes Father!" Hadrin hurried out, accompanied by several others. In the courtyard, horses were already waiting to carry them to the site of the disaster. The old stone building was not the first to come down in the city during an earthquake. Because of that, many of the oldest buildings had been evacuated and, fortunately, this building was one of them. Frightened citizens gathered at a safe distance from the rubble and they quickly told Hadrin that no one had been inside at the time of the collapse.
"We feared this building would soon come down, Sire," a local official informed him gravely. "I ordered it vacated after the last earthquake. But there are others in equally poor condition whose residents should be moved, but I don't know where to send them. We have so many old buildings in this district and the residents are poor. Neighboring districts are reluctant to take in any more displaced citizens."
"Is that so?" Hadrin frowned. "I'll speak to my father. Perhaps an edict on charity will open up a few more doors to the homeless."
The official bowed. "Thank you, Sire!"
"In the meantime, organize laborers to clear the rubble from the streets. The crown will pay for it. How many more buildings do you think need to be emptied?"
"Fifteen, Sire. They were all built during the Great Reconstruction and are at least five hundred years old. Four house local businesses and two are used for storage, but the remainder are residences. At least a thousand people will be displaced."
"I see. Begin making arrangements for the evacuation at once. I'll find places for the people to stay. Protecting the lives of our citizens must be given the highest priority."
The official blinked in surprise. "So Mota teaches us, Sire; life is sacred. I shall begin at once." With a hasty but deep bow, the official hurried away to carry out Hadrin's orders.
Hadrin returned to the castle and proceeded straight to his father's study.
"Ah, Hadrin! Good. What did you find?" King Halvar's big table was covered with papers and maps of the kingdom. Halmi was seated on the far side of the table going through a stack of papers and making careful notes on one of the city maps.
"We may soon have a crisis on our hands if the earthquakes continue. We are losing too many buildings. Already some areas are starting to feel the pressure of overcrowding."
"Was anyone killed?"
"No, thankfully. The building had been evacuated. But if all the old buildings are emptied, we won't have enough room to house all the people. We will need to build shelters."
Halvar nodded thoughtfully. "Hadrin, do you believe the old tales?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do you believe our ancestor nearly destroyed the world and a priest named Mota saved it through prayer?"
Hadrin hesitated. "I don't know. It seems… unlikely."
Halvar chuckled humorlessly. "Doesn't it? There is something you should see. Ordinarily, you wouldn't do this until you assumed the mantle of the Dragon King, but under the circumstances, I think we can break with that tradition. Tomorrow, we will go to the Temple."
"So you can see it for yourself."
"The fissure that the prayers of Mota hold closed."
Hadrin stared and Halvar nodded slowly. "Oh yes, it's real. I have looked at it with my own eyes and once you see it, you cannot help but believe." Halvar put his hands on Hadrin's shoulders and looked straight into his wide green eyes. "Like every king before me since Haro, I went to the Temple after my coronation and was taken to the great room under the Temple. There I was shown the fissure and felt its hot breath blowing on my face. But when the priests asked me if I would fulfill the prophecy, I refused. At that time, in my youth and arrogance, I did not believe the world would really end. But now these earthquakes have me questioning my belief and my decision."
Hadrin gazed into his father's eyes, so like his own, and felt a great confusion. "You mean no king has ever had the humility to bow down in front of a priest of Mota?"
"Not that prophecy, Hadrin." Halvar gripped his shoulders briefly and turned away. "On his deathbed, Mota prophesied that his bloodline and the world would end unless his family was joined with that of the Dragon King. It is that prophecy which I refused."
"I don't understand. You mean they asked you to marry a priestess of Mota?"
"Not just any priestess, but a descendent of Mota himself." Halvar leaned on the table with a sigh and met Halmi's gentle blue-eyed gaze. "But the Holy Father Matar, who is himself a descendent of Mota, has sent for me and I fear the news will not be good. I want you to go with me."
"Yes Father." Watching him, Hadrin began to feel fear for the first time. What news could the Chief Priest of Mota have to impart?
Mora loved the meditation room on the top floor of the Temple. Few priests or priestesses cared to make the long climb up the several flights of stairs needed to reach this room, so he usually had it to himself. The dark gleam of the polished granite walls looked like stone seen through clear water. The white linen curtains covering the tall windows in the south facing wall floated silently on the breeze, blocking direct sunlight but filling the room with a warm, muted light. The ceiling high above was covered in smooth white plaster to reflect the light from the windows and the floor was made of teak panels; dark and smooth. A dozen or so stuffed cushions were stacked against the wall by the door. Mora knelt on another such cushion with his back to the windows, contemplating the blank wall in front of him.
This room was where he felt most at peace with himself. In this room, he could contemplate his future without becoming confused by fear and doubt. It was in this room, at the age of nine, that his grandfather had told him it was his fate to see the end of the world.
"You are the last descendent of Mota, my son," his grandfather had said in his thin, papery voice. "Until your mother's death, I had some hope, but now I am afraid there is none. When you die, the world will die with you, for there is no one left to fulfill the prophecy."
Mora remembered those words now as he studied the wall and let his empathic awareness reach out into the world around him. He could feel the other priests and priestesses, in meditation like him or engaged in other business. He could feel the servants going about their duties and the guards beyond patrolling the temple grounds. But most of all, he could feel the great fissure below the temple, slowly and inexorably sucking away the life of the world. Mora was always aware of the fissure, even when he was not meditating. It was the gift and the curse of his heritage. He was bound to that wound in the world.
Mired deep in his empathic awareness, Mora felt the young serving girl slowly making her way up the steps toward him. She did not want to disturb him. He could feel her unhappiness at being sent on this errand. Mora came out of his trance with a smile when she knelt in the doorway.
"What is it?"
"I am sorry to disturb you, Holy Father, but Holy Father Matar wishes you to attend him."
"Thank you." Mora rose from his cushion and picked it up.
The girl immediately hopped to her feet. "Please allow me, Holy Father." She took the cushion from his hands and clutched it to her chest.
Mora acknowledged her obedience with a nod and left the chamber. Partway down the stairs, she overtook him, but she remained three steps behind him. A nagging discomfort tugged at Mora just as he reached the first landing and he stopped. Turning to the serving girl, he held out his hand.
"Come here," he ordered.
Surprised, the girl clasped his hand as she stepped down onto the landing. At that moment, the floor began to shake as a tremor rattled the temple.
"Oh!" the girl exclaimed in fear and she clutched Mora's hand tightly.
"It's all right," Mora reassured her. "It's over already." Even as he spoke, the temblor died away.
"Oh thank goodness!" she exclaimed. "The earthquakes are so frightening!"
"They frighten us all, my child. Go about your duties now."
"Yes, Holy Father." The girl hurried down the stairs and Mora followed at a more sedate pace.
The earthquake had been small, but it had been very deep underground. Those were the worst. Mora sighed in resignation. He would have to go to the bottom chamber. The fissure would have widened again. He did not speak to anyone as he made the long trek from the top of the temple to the lowest floor. The servants he passed watched him nervously and whispered quietly to each other as he went by. They knew where he was going. As he entered the chamber, he found half a dozen priests, including Matar, clustered around the central point of the fissure.
"Did it widen?"
"Yes." Matar turned to face him with a sad smile. "It is wider by the width of a fingernail."
Mora returned his smile with a faint one of his own. "Some would say that is not significant."
"But we know better. Thank you for coming down, Mora. I'm sorry to interrupt your meditation."
"It's nothing. The earthquake would have interrupted it anyway. What is it?"
"I have sent for the king. We cannot keep this a secret anymore." Matar sighed deeply. "We cannot keep anything a secret anymore. We shall have to tell him everything so he can prepare."
"Prepare?" Mora moved close to his grandfather and lowered his voice. "What do you do to prepare for the end of the world? It will only cause panic if people know. Besides, don't we still have the length of my lifetime? I'm only nineteen."
"But the earthquakes… If you should die in an accident…"
"I'll be careful," Mora chuckled softly. "When is the king arriving?"
"Very well." Mora fell silent for a moment. "Will Prince Hadrin come too?"
"I don't know. Why?"
"I would like to meet him. I only saw him once during his visit ten years ago. I would like to know what kind of man he is."
"I have heard nothing ill of him."
Mora nodded in agreement. "Neither have I." He stared thoughtfully at the other priests, who were still taking measurements and carefully writing them down. The priests of Mota had been measuring and recording the fissure for a thousand years. In all that time it had never widened, until now when the earthquakes started. The first earthquake had occurred on the day of Mora's birth; the second on the day of his mother's death shortly after his second birthday. The older priests whispered that the gods were out of patience. Privately, Mora agreed. "May I attend your meeting with the king?"
"That is why I sent for you. I would like you to be there."
"Of course, Grandfather."
Hadrin looked up at the thick stone walls of the Temple of Mota. Its size was deceptive because it was built inside the valley of the fissure and much of its structure was invisible from the valley entrance. But in truth, it was the only structure in the kingdom which rivaled the size of the royal palace. However, for all its size, it contained scarcely a tenth of the population of the royal palace. The temple was built to impress, with vast chambers of polished stone that dwarfed those within and emphasized their insignificance. Hadrin had not really liked the temple during his previous visit. It was too quiet and empty.
They rode through the heavy wooden gates, past the temple guards, and onto the temple grounds. The temple walls encompassed vast gardens and pastures, as well as the temple building itself. They rode for another five minutes before reaching the courtyard before the main entrance. Several priests awaited them on the steps before the doors. They all bowed deeply as Hadrin and the king dismounted.
"Father Matar begs your indulgence for not greeting you himself, Your Majesty," one of the priests said. "The infirmities of age limit how far he can walk these days."
"I am glad he did not overexert himself," Halvar replied. "I still remember when he used to rap my knuckles with a switch for not paying attention during my lessons. I learned much more than my lessons from the Holy Father."
The priest smiled. "Please come this way. Shola will show your attendants where they can wait." He indicated a priestess with long white hair and she inclined her head briefly. Then he led the way into the cavernous structure of the temple.
Hadrin remembered the way to the austere chamber of Father Matar. It was on the ground floor so that the elderly priest did not have to climb stairs. When they entered the room, Father Matar was waiting for them, seated on a cushion in the middle of the floor. A young man knelt on the floor beside him. His dark eyes and straight black hair, which hung to his waist, reminded Hadrin of Matar, but his finely chiseled features and slender build were quite different from Matar's round face and stocky stature.
Matar bowed from the waist. "Your Majesty, thank you for coming. Mora, fetch chairs for our guests."
Halvar waved a hand as the young man beside Matar started to rise. "Don't bother with chairs. Cushions will do."
The young man bowed without answering and fetched two cushions from a pile near the wall. He placed the cushions in front of Halvar and Hadrin and returned to his place at Father Matar's side.
Halvar settled onto his cushion a little stiffly with his legs crossed in front of him. "I think we have little time for pleasantries today, Holy Father. Perhaps we should just go right to the point of this meeting?"
Matar nodded. "I agree, Sire, although I wish I had something better to say. No doubt you will have noticed that the earthquakes are increasing in frequency and severity."
"I must now confess that I have been withholding information from you," Matar continued with a sigh. "The fissure is widening."
"You are certain?" Halvar leaned forward and fixed an intent stare on Matar's face.
"There is no doubt." Matar sighed again. "But that is not all. This young man beside me; he is my grandson Mora." Mora inclined his head at the introduction. "Mora is the last descendent of Mota."
"What?!" Halvar stared from Matar to Mora in consternation. "How is that possible after all these centuries?"
Matar nodded sadly. "It has been a slow but inexorable process. One by one, the branches of Mota's family descending from his four children have died out. I had hoped my daughter would have more than one child, but she died when Mora was a toddler. And now, with the earthquakes, I think the gods have decreed that Mora shall be the last. There is no one left to fulfill the prophecy." The look of resignation on Matar's face made him appear ancient. "I do not think there is anything we can do to stop the inevitable."
"There is one thing." Mora spoke softly. His voice had a gentle, lilting quality that Hadrin found unexpectedly soothing. "If Prince Hadrin is willing, I offer myself to fulfill the prophecy."
"Mora!" Matar exclaimed. "Do you know what you're saying?"
"Yes." Mora met Hadrin's eyes steadily. "I am offering to give myself into Prince Hadrin's keeping and marry the House of Mota with the House of the Dragon King."