The closer Aryn and Shamira got to the camp in the mountains the more they could hear of the ruckus. With all of the arguing and shouting going on Aryn was worried that the sounds might echo off the mountains into the valley below, and draw attention to where they were hiding. For a moment she wondered if she’d have to scold all of her followers like they were children.
That is, until she saw Kamal, her former geomancy tutor, running down to meet her. “Come quickly! Erelah’s lost her mind!”
“No time to explain, your Grace,” said Kamal. “Please, hurry!”
Aryn, Shamira, and Kamal all ran together towards the sound of the arguing. The crowd parted for Aryn as she arrived, and soon she could see what everyone was fighting about. Two people, a man and a woman, were bound to posts in front of Erelah, forced down onto their knees. Judging by their clothes the man was a knight and the woman was a priestess. Aryn recognized the crest on the man’s armor, he was Sir Raviv, son of the Count of Romak. From what Aryn understood he’d had a falling out with his father, who supported Queen Mahla, and had turned to supporting Aryn’s bid for the throne. Perhaps was he secretly a spy? That would explain why Erelah was sharpening a short, curved blade, one often used for executions.
“Queen Aryn,” Erelah called out as Aryn drew near. “The crowd is divided as to what to do about these two. I told them that they must abide by thy decision, since they have decided my authority is not enough.” There was resentment in the child’s voice at that, but also a hint of respect for Aryn.
“It looks like you’re about to execute these two,” said Aryn.
“Verily,” said Erelah. “They have violated the Law.”
“Of what crimes are they accused?”
“They are not accused, they have been found guilty,” said Erelah. “These two are brother and sister. She left their father’s house to join the clergy, he stayed on to become a knight. This means that they have not only violated the Law, but broken their sacred vows to live by the Law and uphold it at all times. These two were caught in incest. In one of these tents they were found behaving like beasts, fornicating with their own flesh and blood. As thou knowest, the Law strictly forbids such relations. For this they must be put to death.”
A mixed cry came from the crowd. Many were shouting their approval, demanding that the two be killed. Many others were calling out for mercy, begging Erelah to give both of them a second chance.
Then there were several others wearing armor and the same crest as Sir Raviv. They were swearing they would have revenge if Sir Raviv and his sister were killed. This third group was, undoubtedly, household guard and knights who served Sir Raviv, no doubt. They would not suffer to see their master slain.
“How many witnesses were there?” Aryn asked. According to the Sacred Scriptures if accusations were brought against someone that might lead to the death penalty the Law stated that there needed to be a minimum of three, but no more than five witnesses. One witness may simply be lying, two witnesses may simply be coerced, six or more witnesses were likely to be in conspiracy with one another. Aryn desperately hoped that she would be spared the responsibility of making a judgment in this case simply because there were not enough, or were too many, witnesses.
“Three,” said Erelah. “And I was one. With mine own eyes I beheld their nakedness and their unnatural fornication.”
Aryn’s heart sank. There was no way out of having to make this hard decision. “I would like to consult advisers regarding this matter,” Aryn said.
Erelah nodded. “As is thy right as the chosen judge in this matter. Who wouldst thou consult?”
“I would consult you, Kamal, Shamira, and my Mother and Father.”
Erelah shook her head. “Thy Mother and Father are not in the camp, and this judgment must be made immediately. This abominable sin must be removed from the camp before it festers.”
“Then, to stand in for my Mother and Father I would call upon Sir Raviv’s counsel.”
There was a murmur and a series of gasps from the crowd. A few even stifled their laughter. “The accused? Advising the judge presiding over him?” someone from the crowd yelled in protest.
“I would hear him make his case, at least,” said Aryn.
Erelah cut the rope tying Sir Raviv to the post and yanked it hard to drag him along. “Come, then. Her Majesty has need of thee.”
Aryn, Erelah, Sir Raviv, Shamira, and Kamal all left the camp getting far out of ear-shot of the others. For a moment Aryn hoped that some of the knights from Sir Raviv’s family would free his sister while they were away, but she soon realized the fight that would break out as a result.
Aryn looked around at the advisers she’d gathered and said. “Please do not argue with one another. We won’t get anywhere if you all start fighting. I will start with you, Sir Raviv, make your case.”
“Yes, your highness,” Sir Raviv said. “My sister is ten years older than I, and she left my Father’s home when I was still in the crib. I never knew her in my youth. While I was still training as a squire, I accompanied my mentor on a pilgrimage to the temple in the County of Mt. St. Orson. There I met her for the first time, and I had no idea she was my sister, she had no idea I was her brother. We spent time together, even fell in love. We knew it was forbidden for a priestess to marry anyone outside of the clergy, so we kept our affair hidden. Over a month later my Father joined us at the temple, and greeted her as his daughter and me as his son. Only then did we realize what we’d done. By then we were already in love, though. Please, you must understand, we are not just animals giving in to baser instincts, Zayd and I are in love!”
Aryn felt compassion for him for his mistake. She’d heard of cases before of people who did not know they were related falling in love, even having children together, and only finding out the truth years later. It was always tragic. On the other hand, the fact that he and his sister knowingly violated her priestly vows when they copulated, and later knowingly committed incest wasn’t really helping his case.
“Erelah, I would hear what you have to say about this,” said Aryn.
“When they discovered the depths of their sins they should have repented immediately,” Erelah said. “The fact that they continued shows that they are, contrary to arguments, just beasts, giving in to savage instincts. They have shown total dishonesty from the beginning as well. Mother Zayd broke her priestly vows when she engaged in a romance with someone not of the clergy, and by continuing to serve as a priestess long after she’d been tainted by her own sin. Listen, Majesty, I understand that thy people in this decadent age the death penalty for two people only doing what they did because they were ‘in love’ seems cruel, but it’s what must be done to remove sin from our camp! Incestuous unions such as this breed children with demoniac minds and disfigured bodies, and these two have shown no true remorse for what they have done! They must be put to the sword.”
Aryn turned to Shamira next. “What advice would you give?”
“I’m afraid that I must agree with Erelah,” Shamira said. She turned to Sir Raviv. “I’m sorry, Sir Raviv. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for you when you found out you could never be with the woman you loved but…” Shamira turned back to Aryn. “If they go unpunished after this what sort of message does that send? Many of your supporters support you because they want to see the Agalmite Church restored, and they know you’ll do that. If they know you don’t care who breaks the Law and how horribly how much confidence will they have in your leadership? How many more will break the Law thinking they can get away with it? It’s horrible, and a part of me feels that Sir Raviv and Mother Zayd don’t deserve it, but I’m afraid they must die.”
Aryn hated to admit it, but it seemed like Erelah and Shamira were right. She truly wanted to show mercy to Zayd and Sir Raviv, maybe just separate them, but the more she listened to Shamira and Erelah she realized that wasn’t an option. Still, there was one more person whose advice she hadn’t considered.
“Kamal, do you concur?”
“I do not, your Majesty.” As Kamal said this Aryn breathed a sigh of relief. “While I understand that incest is a horrible crime, you must understand that to execute Sir Raviv and Mother Zayd would be, politically speaking…stupid, for lack of a better word. I’m sure you noticed the knights who serve Sir Raviv chomping at the bit to rush in and save his life. Should we execute him we may end up with a mutiny on our hands. Now, that is the best-case scenario. They mutiny, and the rest of the forces loyal to you put down that mutiny, in the process all the knights loyal to Sir Raviv are killed. Best-case scenario. Worst-case? Some of them leave. They decide that you are not a just and righteous queen after all if you would execute their lord and lady. They go back to his father, tell him everything they know about the rebellion, and he, in turn, tells Queen Mahla. If you execute these two you’re inviting trouble.”
“Then perhaps the most prudent thing to do would be to execute all of them,” Erelah said.
Everyone gasped. “You can’t be serious!” Aryn yelled.
“Thou desirest to ensure justice but also protect thy loyal followers from a few traitors? Then we shall not just execute Sir Raviv and Mother Zayd, we shall execute everyone loyal to Sir Raviv. It may be the only way to ensure we are not betrayed.”
“That’s barbaric!” Aryn couldn’t believe what she was hearing, least of all from a child, and a child who was supposed to be a prophet.
“Such is war,” said Erelah. “Thou must make sacrifices in order to win.”
“Please, no!” said Sir Raviv, falling to his knees. “Just kill me, but spare my knights, and my sister!”
Erelah shook her head. “Thy sister is as much to blame as thee are for this mess, and thy knights have become a liability we cannot afford.”
“Zayd is not as guilty as I am…I seduced her! When we met in this camp I seduced her. She protested that it wasn’t right, but I insisted until she gave in to temptation. I am the devil at work here, the sin is mine! Punish me!”
Shamira grabbed Sir Raviv’s shoulder. “Even if that’s true, even if we do absolve Zayd of her part in your crimes, that doesn’t solve the other problem. If the knights loyal to you see you executed they will turn on us, one way or another.”
“You can’t kill them all for what I’ve done! You just can’t!” Sir Raviv protested. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get you to spare their lives!”
Looking him over, Aryn could see a man desperate to make amends and save the people he cared about, but also a man whose pleas were on the verge of turning to violence. She knew that if he wasn’t offered a solution soon he’d attempt his own solution and attack Erelah. Aryn racked her brain trying to think of something. She thought back to all of her lessons; theology lessons, politics lessons, history lessons, and so on. Then she remembered something from history that seemed helpful here.
“I may have a solution…but you might not like it,” Aryn said.
“Please tell me!” Sir Raviv begged.
“Hundreds of years ago, a knight and his squire were both found guilty of murder. They had worked together to kill a man whom the knight suspected of having killed his brother, though there was no proof. Both the knight and squire were to be executed, but the knight begged the king to let his squire live. Barbarians from Shadia had been attacking small villages near the border. This gave the knight and the king an idea…”
. . .
After Aryn had finished explaining her plan to everyone, the group of them returned to the camp. Everyone in the camp was waiting for their return, and all eyes were upon them. Sir Raviv was unbound now, his hands free, and many people in the crowd groaned in displeasure, expecting to hear that he was to be pardoned.
“I have been allowed a great honor that no knight has been given in centuries,” Sir Raviv said. “Queen Aryn, in her wisdom and mercy, has decided that it is justice that I should meet my end, because fault for this crime is upon me, but she has allowed me to meet that end with honor. I will die a warrior’s death, not a criminal’s. I will travel to the capital city of Aius. Once there I will attempt to slay Queen Mahla, and in the process slay as many of her bodyguards as I can. Whether I am successful or not, I will surely die, but my death will mean more than it would have if I’d simply been executed. This is a punishment, yes, a just one. It is also an honor, the greatest honor I could have been given, and I thank Queen Aryn for it.”
“Sir Raviv,” said one of the older knights wearing his same crest. “I would like to accompany you.”
Sir Raviv gave the old knight a confused look. “Sir Niv, are you certain? You are not guilty of…”
“Like you said, this is an honor. Something to give your death meaning. I’m not the knight I used to be, and I don’t have too much longer anyway. I’m old, if you haven’t noticed. I want my death to mean something too.”
“Well, with your wisdom and strength perhaps we will succeed at our mission before we fall,” said Sir Raviv. He turned to the rest of his knights,.“As for the rest of you, understand that I still believe in Queen Aryn and her cause. If you want to honor me then continue to serve her.”
There was some murmuring amongst the rest of the knights, but they generally seemed to agree. “What about Mother Zayd?” one of them asked.
“She cannot be a priestess anymore,” said Erelah. “To claim to be a priestess but still engage in incest is blasphemous.” Erelah walked over to Zayd and severed the rope tying her to the post.
“Other than that,” said Aryn, “I have agreed with Sir Raviv that he may take full blame for everything that happened between him and Lady Zayd. She cannot be a priestess, but she is otherwise absolved of her crimes.
Just as Zayd’s hands were untied and Sir Raviv and Sir Niv were about to head down the hill, two scouts came up the mountain. They escorted with them a large man with long red hair and a red beard. One of the scouts carried a claymore, obviously belonging to the prisoner.
Erelah’s white eyes met the prisoner’s black eyes, and she sneered at him. The prisoner visibly shook as Erelah stared.
“Tamas?” Aryn gasped once she realized who it was. She’d not seen him in two years, but it was definitely him. Last time they’d spoken he’d revealed to her that he was one of the twin sons of Therion, the last king of Nihilus. Furthermore he’d revealed that he was an Aeon, a demon living as a human, and she had him locked in the dungeon. That was just before Mahla took the capital city. She was surprised he was even alive, let alone here.
“My beautiful queen, glad to see you are well,” said Tamas. Erelah drew the blade she’d been sharpening for the execution and pointed it at Tamas’ chest. “Spilling my blood is a bad idea. You know this.”
“Aryn,” Erelah said. Everyone shifted uncomfortably as the prophet referred to their queen by her first name rather than by a title. “Thou knowest this man?”
“Yes. He was my husband’s bodyguard, before my husband was murdered.”
“Dost thou know WHAT he is?” Erelah asked.
“Aye. Please, lower your blade. I want to hear what he has to say.”
Erelah lowered the blade, but continued to glare at Tamas.
Tamas nodded to Erelah and turned to Aryn. “I knew you’d see reason. Your Majesty, I came to warn you about something you may have overlooked. From what I understand you are preparing to go to war with Mahla? Well, first of all, you should know that she’s aware of that, and that she has a rough idea of where you are. How do you think I found you?”
“I know she’s aware of our general location,” said Aryn. “That’s part of the plan. When she sends her armies to come looking for me we have scouts who will let us know, and Erelah will make the mountains themselves swallow up her soldiers.”
“She won’t send armies,” said Tamas. “She sent me and a hand-full of others to assassinate you. I killed them on the way here. I think she anticipated the trap, and I’m fairly certain I know how she was able to.”
“Spies in the camp?” Shamira asked.
“No, worse. It’s my brother.”
“You mentioned before that you had a twin,” Aryn said. “I don’t remember all the details. Honestly, I was too busy being angry with you to actually listen to what you were saying. What does your brother have to do with all of this?”
“You know what I am. Well, my brother is the same, except his powers are different from mine. Whereas I can conjure a legion of daemons under my command by spilling my own blood, my brother has the ability to read and enter the minds of others. He doesn’t even need to be near you to do it, he can enter your mind from hundreds of miles away. He can read your thoughts, and even put thoughts into your mind. Some people he’s even managed to completely possess and control.”
“And your brother sides with Mahla?” Aryn asked.
“Oh no!” Tamas shuddered. “My brother doesn’t side with anyone. He wants to see the utter destruction of all life on Erets, and he’s orchestrating the largest war this world has ever seen in order to accomplish that goal. Everyone is a puppet to him. He’s been pulling the strings behind Grand Duke Jachai, Queen Mahla, the King of Diga, the Shadians, the Nihilite rebels, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s even pulling your strings to some degree.”
Erelah said, “Thou speakest true, demon. A rare thing for thy kind. Do tell, how wouldst thou propose we put a stop to thy brother’s plans?”
“I don’t really know,” said Tamas. “There’s no way to surprise him. We’ll never catch him off guard. Part of his plan does involve becoming King of Arx, however, and he can only do that by marrying Mahla. If we can find out the date of the wedding we can at least pinpoint a location where we can try to bring him down.”
“Wait!” Aryn shouted. “You mean…Grand Duke Sahar is your brother? He’s the other Aeon?”
A chill went through the camp at the sound of this. A demon in human flesh was the commander of the largest army in Arx, and Queen Mahla’s fiancé. All they’d heard about Tamas’ brother’s powers of manipulation and mind-reading were bad enough without this horrible twist. Now they knew that even if they could force him to fight they’d be in for a bloody battle.
Tamas continued. “Yes, amongst Arxians he goes by the name ‘Sahar,’ but he is known as ‘Elykos’ or ‘Therion’s Heir’ to the Nihilite people. I can’t say for sure who else he’s manipulated and under what name. I’m certain, though, that when Prince Paolo was saying he heard God’s voice it was actually Sahar speaking to him.”
“If he marries Mahla then he’ll be king of both Arx and Nihilus,” said Kamal. “Son of a bitch…why didn’t you warn us sooner?”
“I didn’t know what he was up to until two years ago, and then I was locked in a dungeon,” said Tamas. “Until then he always told me that we were going to make things better in Erets, work toward peace. I believed him. Foolishly I believed him.”
Shamira stepped in, putting herself between Tamas and Aryn. “Aside from all this, I’d say we have another problem no one here is addressing, the question of whether or not we can trust you. You admitted to her Majesty that you’re a demon, after all.”
“Yet he speaks truly,” said Erelah. “I sense no lies on his tongue. Still, thou mayest not be speaking falsehoods, but that doesn’t mean thy intentions are to be trusted. I would meet with thee privately, in my tent. There I will determine whether or not you are trustworthy.”
Support "Tales of Erets Book Three: Holding the Heavens"
- Colorado Springs, CO
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.