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Chapter VI

At first Caolan didn’t dare to believe it. A letter from Farrah, inviting him to dinner. He didn’t dare to dream that she was asking him to dinner because she’d taken a fancy to him, but the hopeful recesses of his mind couldn’t dismiss it. “She wants to strategize with me, plan out battles or something. That should be flattering enough.” No matter how many times he tried to tell himself that and that merely being a trusted ally of the daughter of Nihilus’ savior should be enough, the prospect of being her lover lingered in his mind as far more enticing.

“You’re right on time,” said Kiva as she welcomed him into the dining room. As soon as he was in he could see that the room was lit exclusively by candles. There was a subtle, sweet smell in the air. Kiva left the room as soon as Caolan was inside, and closed the door behind her.

Then there was the sight of Farrah herself. Such a perfect flow of elegance and sensuality Caolan had never seen before. Her fiery red hair was in spiral curls that draped over her exposed, smooth shoulders. The dress she wore was, again, loose and flowing, made of a soft material, but also hanging low between her breasts and on her back, right down to just barely above her round rump. Her lips appeared slightly redder than usual. Even the necklace she wore had a jewel on the end that came down to a point, drawing Caolan’s eyes to her full bosom, which he struggled not to stare at.

“I’m glad you came,” she said in a voice that was almost a breathy whisper.

Glasses of red wine were already poured, and Caolan took a drink to calm his nerves. In a moment he recognized the flavor, this was wine from the western city of Uvino, which had recently been captured by its rival city, Diga. A wine so expensive wasn’t wasted on casual, friendly dinners, and Caolan’s heart leaped in his chest at the implications.

“To what do I owe the pleasure of this invitation?” Caolan asked.

Farrah smiled and tilted her head to one side in a manner that Caolan couldn’t help but find adorable. “The war is finally coming to an end, Caolan…I’m sorry, your name, it doesn’t feel quite right on my tongue. Might I call you ‘Lan?’”

“Certainly, my lady!” Caolan said.

“Good good. Anyway, Lan, the war is coming to an end, and very soon we will all have to work together to bring Nihilus back to its former glory. We have our king, yes, but he will need nobility to help him rule the kingdom. Most of the former nobility of Nihilus was wiped out or driven from the land, so it’s the generals who will start the new noble families.”

“A given,” said Caolan.

“I think it would be in the kingdom’s best interests if we were to work together as much as possible. Decide on a common vision and create strong ties between the new noble houses, lest they should begin fighting amongst themselves.”

“So this dinner is…to promote good relations?”

“Oh, you make it sound so political, Lan.” Farrah giggled. “I’m talking about the future here. You’re one of the few I feel I can really rely on.”

Caolan prayed that the burning blush that he felt in his cheeks wasn’t as obvious to Farrah as it felt. “Why me?”

“You have quite the reputation. You’re someone who gets the job done, who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, who protects those he loves, and one of the few I can even trust.”

“You don’t trust the other generals?” Caolan asked.

Farrah’s entire expression changed. In an instant she went from flirtatious and hopeful to crushed and fearful. Her eyes widened, and Caolan could see a hint of tears welling up in them. After a moment she forced a smile. “I don’t want to talk about the other generals and what I might have heard about them. I invited you here to spend time with you.”

“My lady, clearly something is bothering you about the other generals.”

“It’s not important right now. I’ll deal with that problem when it comes up. …I hope.”

“Please, my lady, I insist you tell me what troubles you! I can’t bear to think of you troubled!”

“Well…it’s General Val that has me worried.”

“General Val?”

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” Farrah said as she took a sip of her wine.

“I know General Val has a violent reputation, but sometimes that’s what it takes to win a war.”

“I know that…it’s just…never mind. I never should have brought it up.”

“My lady, please, I must know! If you are troubled…if you think you might be in danger, even…”

Farrah hesitated and then spoke, “You know that I have a great many spies?”

“I would assume so. Any successful general does..”

“Well, some of them have been watching General Val for me. They’ve made some worrisome reports.” Farrah sighed. “They’ve overheard some of his conversations with his lieutenants. He wants to be rid of me, one way or another, by the time Elykos is crowned king.”

“Rid of you?”

The tears that Farrah had previously suppressed gathered in her eyes again and she bit her lower lip. “He wants me dead…”

“No! My lady! That’s horrible! Isn’t there something you can do? You said you have spies, can’t you poison his wine or something?”

“Poison another general of Nihilus? I could never!” Farrah said. “Even if he’s plotting evil against me, he’s still done so much for our people that I couldn’t…”

“Damn what he’s done for our people! If he’s plotting against you he’s a traitor to us all!”

Farrah reached out and gently touched Caolan’s hand. “Lan, I understand why you’re angry, but please understand why I can’t strike out against Val. If he’s a traitor for plotting against his fellow Nihilites wouldn’t I be a traitor too if I had him killed?”

“No doubt that vicious, mad dog knows you think that way and is taking advantage of it.” Caolan almost snarled as he spoke. “He expects you to take the moral high ground, and up there you’re an easier target for him and his jackals!” Caolan could feel a fire rising in him, an animalistic rage. Suddenly he looked at every conversation he’d ever had with Val, every time he’d ever spoken to him, in this light. It seemed that every word Val had ever breathed had a hint of malice behind it. How much he hated that ambitious, violent monster.

“Peace, Lan! Let’s not talk about Val anymore. Let’s just enjoy a nice dinner together.”

“But…fine. As you wish, my lady.”

For the rest of the evening Farrah attempted to make small talk with Caolan as they ate and drank together, but she knew that his mind was elsewhere. He smiled and gave courtesy laughs when she told a joke, even when it wasn’t even remotely funny. She knew she had him.

Once the meal was done, Caolan excused himself with little more than a token “goodbye,” and Kiva came in to clear the table.

After Kiva was sure Caolan was long out of earshot she raised the back of her hand to her own forehead and cried out, “But, my laaaaadyyyyy! I cannot bear to see you so troubled! I will fall upon my own sword before seeing you cry!”

Farrah and Kiva both laughed. “Yes, he’s a bit over-dramatic,” Farrah said.

“Was he a stage performer once?”

“I doubt it. Any trained actor would know that such a display is far too over-the-top.”

“Do you think he’ll deal with our little problem, then?”

Farrah nodded. “I’m sure he will. Give it a week, maybe two, and we’ll hear that General Val died in some horrible accident.”

Kiva chuckled. “You sure played Caolan there. Still…I can’t help but wonder about something he said.”

“What?”

“Well…” Kiva crossed her arms. “We know why Val has to die, he’s the biggest threat to peace in Nihilus right now. And his methods are...just awful. If he has his way we’ll invade Arx again, fight a retaliatory war. My question is, why not do what Caolan said and have him poisoned ourselves? I know we can’t be implicated in Val’s murder, but our spies could handle it and destroy all evidence. No one would ever know.”

“Just as much as Val and butchers like him are a threat to peace, so leaders like Caolan are the best assurance of peace, but only if they’re willing to act,” Farrah said. “I gave him the motivation he needed to do something that needs to be done. Something brave. That’s a step towards cultivating Caolan into the kind of leader he’ll need to be.”

“That, and you like playing the seduction game?”

“Yes, that too.” Farrah giggled. “It’s empowering, really. Show a little skin, pretend to be vulnerable, and just watch as smart sophisticated men become wild animals.”

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About the author

Nicholas S. Casale

Bio: Nicholas S. Casale, or "Nico" as his friends call him, was born on Vandenberg Airforce Base in California. When he was eleven years old, he moved to Colorado with his family for his father's new job.

He went to Lewis-Palmer Middle School, where teacher Mrs. Susan Doyle got him interested in history by expressing to him that it was not about facts to memorize, but about stories to be told. During this time, English teacher Mr. Todd Mucci also taught him how to write, and he began work on his first piece of historical fiction.

Though his family was fairly secular, he attended a youth group at the Little Log Church in Palmer Lake, Colorado.

In college, he majored in history, and studied various mythologies and religions throughout the world. After college, he became certified as a paralegal and worked at Wal-Mart for the next three years while he tried to find a job with a law firm.

After landing his first paralegal job, he still felt something was missing in his life, and struggled with bouts of depression and loneliness. That was, until he started attending a Messianic Jewish Synagogue in Colorado Springs, where he met the Hebrew class teacher who would one day become his wife.

He is now happily married to Jenifer E. Casale, who wrote "The Whispered War" with him and is currently working on a feminine counterpart to the famous "Hero's Journey" theory devised by Joseph Campbell.

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