Princes and Prophesy


Prelate Yazid Valerian, soldier of Ilaweh, glowered at the bare, stone walls of the sparse reception area, awaiting the arrival of his prince. He had long since passed the point of anger at the delay. In other circumstances, he might well have stormed out in an indignant huff, casting a few loud curses in his wake to make his displeasure clear, but not this time. His business was too urgent to permit such indulgence. It had taken some measure of arm twisting, once quite literally, to arrange the meeting, and he had no intention of allowing his pride to undo that work.

Besides, it was becoming all too clear that this wait was deliberate, and leaving now would be surrender. Michael had been curiously unavailable since Yazid had delivered his treatise three weeks prior, and almost certainly, this situation was calculated to use up what little patience Yazid might still retain. It was, he conceded, a damnably effective maneuver. He tried to soothe his deep sense of urgency with the thought that this was Ilaweh’s way of teaching him patience, but the truth had a way of peeking through that bit of self delusion every few minutes, to prod at him like a mean child with a wooden sword might torment a caged beast.

Still, he had little choice, and so he continued to wait, the seconds slouching by, shuffling and dragging their feet in the sand instead of marching onward with precision and grace. He stared out of the single, tiny window. Below, the city of Bagdreme sprawled before him like a jewel, its minarets gleaming in the bright sun, and beyond, the burning desert. He tried to see things as a visitor might, to trick himself into being fascinated by the solid, stoic architecture that stood against the sands of centuries, impressed by the solidity of their fortifications, but it was useless. He was a native, and not the sort of man to easily delude himself.

For a while, he passed the time examining the few decorations in the room, but there were precious few to take in. The Rock of Xanthia was a fine fortress, but it was short on aesthetics, as it should be. Who could see a king who lived in opulence as anything but a weakling who should be overthrown? Yazid admired a well crafted sword that hung on one wall above a long, wooden bench, noting with satisfaction that it was no simple showpiece, but had seen actual combat. He tried searching for inspiration in a painting of Xanthius that hung on the opposite wall, telling himself that surely that proud warrior would have stood here for a month, if that was what was necessary.

At last, he turned to examining himself, cataloging the origins of the various dents and marks on his own armor and sword, and the scars that he had earned over the years. He was surprised, as he always was when he stopped to consider them, at just how many there were, remembering how he had received this one fighting a Laurean somewhere in Gruppenwald, and that one when he had fallen under the heels of a horse and had barely survived. There were hours of tales in those blemishes.

Hours, in fact, were just what he needed. He waited three before he was finally rewarded. He broke from his reminiscing at the sound of the latch, and shifted himself to a parade rest stance, forcing his face to take on a passive, disinterested expression, one more suitable for meeting with a prince.

Michael entered without ceremony. He was a fairly tall man, though not as tall as Yazid, and rail thin, with the hawkish features and dark, brooding stare that all his family bore. He was dressed only in simple black pants and shirt, unarmed, his long dark hair loose and flowing halfway down his back. His pointed, well trimmed beard fairly bristled as he glared at Yazid with undisguised annoyance.

“You’re a tenacious bastard, Yazid,” he said by way of greeting, and extended a dark, calloused hand.

Yazid extended his own even darker and larger hand, and gripped Michael’s firmly. “Ilaweh teaches us patience through frustration,” he said with a smile, pleased with his victory

Michael withdrew his hand with a nod, and took up his own parade rest stance. “What is it you want, Prelate?”

“You are avoiding me.”

“So I am. But only because I have no time, and your wild fantasies take away from more important things.”

Yazid nodded toward Michael with a scowl. “That much is clear from your dress. What could be more pressing that my ‘fantasy’, as you would call it? Is not warfare a matter of import with you, these days?”

“Aye, warfare is of greatest import. Real warfare, not this half-baked prophesy of dead gods and emperors walking the earth again.” Micheal’s gaze shifted to the window a moment, his eyes scanning the burning sands as if searching for hidden enemies. “You know damned well that the Jacynth issue is at a boiling point. If my father does not act soon—“

“It is a matter of proportion, surely.”

“Proportion?” Michael snapped his attention back to Yazid. “I’ll tell you about proportion. The women are in revolt! My own wife has banned me from our marriage bed as a coward. She’ll not have me return while a single Jacynthi dog still rules!” Michael pounded his fist against his chest to emphasize his point. “And I am a prince! Never mind that the Jacynthi are evil and deserve what they get. What will you do to sway the masses of sex-starved soldiers?” He turned away and began pacing, glaring at the floor, the walls, his gaze anywhere but on Yazid. “I tell you, it’s inevitable, and it will be soon. My father knows it, and still he drags his feet. It’s madness!”

Yazid drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, determined not to be drawn off topic. “Michael, you must listen! This is not some fevered zealotry, it is hard fact! These are not religious writings I put before you, they are historical documents! Xanthius himself wrote of this!”

“You interpret them zealously,” Micheal said with a snort. He continued pacing for long moments. Yazid’s heart seemed loud in his ears as he waited, hoping against hope, but it was in vain. Michael stopped pacing, looked him in the eye, and declared, “This is a fool’s errand.”

Yazid opened his mouth to protest, but Michael stopped him with a raised hand and a face of stone. “My decision is made. If you are set to go traipsing off to Prima on a wing and a prayer, most likely to die, then you’ll do it on your own, with your own men. Xanthia’s soldiers are all needed here.”

“You could spare a single century!”

“I cannot. They would be noticed leaving, and it would raise questions that I cannot address at the moment.”

“But Michael—“

“Enough!” Michael shouted. He slashed his hand through the air in a gesture of dismissal. “Try not to break anyone else’s arm on your way out, Prelate.”

With that, Michael turned and left, leaving the door open behind him.

Yazid struggled to constrain his anger, and failed. He smashed a mailed fist into the bench, splintering the wood, then, as an afterthought, lifted the bench into the air and hurled it against the wall, sending debris flying in all directions.

For long moments Yazid stood, chest heaving, tears of frustration welling in his eyes, when suddenly, he heard movement from the doorway. He spun, instinctively reaching for his sword, to find himself face to face with a second chance.

Philip, Michael’s brother, stood in the door frame, armed and armored, hair bound and tucked against his head as was proper for a warrior, his expression grim. He was considerably larger and more powerfully built than Michael, but shared the same features, the same smoldering stare, the same skin colored halfway between Yazid’s and that of a Laurean. “It must be important, indeed, that your passion would move you to destroy my furniture.”

Yazid bowed his head in shame. “Forgive me, my prince,” he said softly. “I insult your home. I will repay you ten times for it, I swear.”

“It’s nothing.” Philip strode into the room, his feet sounding heavily on the stonework, and closed the door behind him. “And I am no politician. I leave that to my brother. If you must use an honorific, I prefer Imperator.”

“Imperator,” Yazid said with a nod. “I thought you were—“

“In Erikar, yes. I was, but matters here require my presence.” Philip looked toward the painting of Xanthius, his eyes clouded and distant, and he said, half to himself, “My father is becoming an impediment that Xanthia can ill afford.”

Yazid nodded his understanding. “He is of the old ways. He provokes you deliberately.”

“Aye.” Philip allowed himself a slight smile. “Still, it is a difficult thing to raise my hand against him.” Philips expression grew wistful, and his eyes distant. “The beatings he gave me as a boy when I dared such things. He will always be a titan in my mind, I think, even after this.” He grew somber once again as he focused on Yazid. “But that is not why I am here with you.”

“You heard our conversation?”

Philip nodded. “And I read your treatise. I find it compelling.”

“Would that I had known you were here. I would have placed it in your hands instead of Michael’s.”

“No matter. It comes to the same end. My brother is right. He can ill afford to have any appearance of instability when we…convince my father to retire.” Philip paused, staring out the window as his brother had just done, contemplating the same matters. For a moment, Yazid’s heart sank, certain that he had already seen the end of this play. “But he is also ignorant of some things,” Philip continued, and Yazid dared to hope. “Your treatise rings true to me. In Erikar, we encountered a small village of Elgar cultists, who spouted much the same things you note in your work.”

“Indeed? What did they say?”

“The end of the millennium, Elgar rising, that sort of thing.”

“Xanthius wrote of Carsogenicus saying the same things before his execution,” Yazid said, excited now. “‘The scion of Elgar will rise from the blood of Tasinal, the Eye about his neck, in the City of Nothing, and the world shall become as ash.’ Can there be any doubt, now?”

Philip answered with a grunt. “There is always doubt.” He drummed his fingers against the windowsill, his square jaw working as he considered. “Knowledge is a weapon, and I am a warrior. I will have all the weapons I can find. If I give you the century you asked for, will you lead it?”

“I will! I will leave this very moment! But how will you avoid the questions Michael worries about?”

“I have men in Aviar, my personal retinue, on leave since we returned. You will not find finer soldiers or more devout servants of Ilaweh in all of Xanthia. And you will, as you say, go now. I will prepare a letter. I expect you to depart within the day, and be quiet about it. I can beat my brother into agreement if he hears of our arrangement, but I’d prefer to avoid it.” Philip flashed a broad, honest grin. “He hits damned hard, even as thin as he is. He’s quick.”

“I will tell no one until I reach Aviar,” Yazid promised.

Philip turned as if to leave, then paused, and turned back. “Perhaps Michael is right, and this is a fool’s errand. So be it. I will expect a map of the entire coast of Prima. But if he is wrong, I will expect more.” He began counting on his fingers as he spoke, tapping each one as he listed his points. “I will expect a map of this ‘city of nothing’, and I will expect troop strengths, defenses, the disposition of the civilian populace, the strength of their resolve, how much hardship they will endure in defending their city. I will know the political factions, who they hate, who they are allied with. I will know the weapons they can bring to bear.” Finished with his counting, Philip pointed a single finger at Yazid. “And understand this: you are all expendable, save the man who brings me that information. Do not waste your lives, but do not hesitate to give them up if necessary. Ilaweh be with you.”

“Ilaweh is great,” Yazid said with a nod. He hammered a fist against his breastplate, and left without another word.

The desert sun gathered him in a warm, friendly embrace as he exited the long, narrow entrance of the Rock of Xanthia. His young acolyte, Ahmed Justinius, was waiting for him on the steps outside, prowling back and forth like a caged lion, his white tunic darkened and clingy with sweat. Hard muscle rippled beneath his almost black skin as he paced, impatience radiating from him like heat wavering on the sand. His right hand hovered close to the hilt of the sword he wore at his belt, as if battle might be joined at any moment. We will fight soon enough, boy.

But, no, that was the wrong word anymore. Yazid felt both the swell of pride and the emptiness of loss in his chest to look upon his young ward, the sense of inevitability as his heart acknowledged what his eyes could not deny: the boy he had raised was truly gone forever. Here, in his place, was as strong a warrior as Ilaweh had ever caused to spring from the sands. It was a good exchange, a wise one, Yazid knew, but surely, it was a painful one as well. And it seemed so sudden. No, it is just the right time. He is needed now. Ilaweh is great.

Yazid’s sense of loss passed quickly into wry amusement as he realized he was not the only one contemplating Ahmed’s physique. Near the bottom of the stairs, three young women, resplendent and alluring in sheer, revealing silks, had gathered to admire his student, considerably less conflicted than Yazid in their appreciation. The strike Michael had mentioned would be taking its toll upon them as well as the men. They struck poses, competing to see which would first attract their target’s attention, but it was in vain. Ahmed continued to pace, jaw clenched, oblivious, brooding. After a few moments, they turned back toward the forum, clearly disappointed. Doubtless, their diatribes against the Jacynthi would have an even more savage edge this afternoon when they had their turn to speak.

Yazid smiled to himself. There were still a few things the boy would need to be taught, it seemed.

Ahmed looked up at the sound of approaching footsteps. “Yazid!” he called, his dark face brightening with excitement and hope as he closed the distance between the two of them in three huge bounds. “What does the prince say?”

Yazid laid an arm around his ward, turning him toward the steps as he continued downward, feeling considerably older than he had when he entered the Rock. “He says we must go to Aviar. We will find men there to aid us in our cause.”

Ahmed froze in mid stride, gaping in astonishment and glee. “Truly? We journey to barbarian lands?”


Ahmed placed a hand upon his sword, his eyes growing hard and grim. “And will we slay them?”

“If they give us cause,” Yazid chuckled. “But they won’t, most likely. Most of them fear us.”

“And well they should!”

Yazid nodded agreement. “But first, we must make ready for the journey. Come, we have much work to do.”