Grand Duke Sahar had two castles under his control, one in Arx and the other in Nihilus. The one in Nihilus was the same one previously owned by Duke Jachai, before his demise two years ago, and was built for security rather than comfort. Farrah shifted uneasily as the portcullis closed behind her carriage. She was in the middle of an Arxian-controlled castle, surrounded by Arxian soldiers, with only Mave to protect her, and now the iron gate was closed. She believed Grand Duke Sahar truly was hoping to negotiate peace, as his message said, but every moment her sense of dread and foreboding grew. It was entirely possible this was a trap, and if it was she would have no way out. If Sahar meant to kill her he certainly would. Mave stopped the carriage in front of the keep and helped Farrah out.
The door to the keep opened and out walked the Grand Duke. He was dressed in formal attire, and his white hair was pulled back into a braid. Farrah was surprised that such a young man had such white hair. Even more surprising were his deep black eyes as he drew close.
Sahar was accompanied by two bodyguards, both fully armored and armed. Mave kept her hand near the hilt of her sword and her eyes fixed on the two of them.
When Sahar drew close he bowed to Farrah, took her hand, and kissed the back of it. “Lady Farrah! Even more beautiful than all of the stories about you.”
Farrah felt her face get hot and a fluttering in her chest as he kissed her hand. Countless men flirted with her every day, some far more handsome than Sahar. Why was she so flustered at his compliment?
“Pleased to meet you, your excellency,” Farrah said as she curtsied.
“I’m sure you’ve had a long journey, my lady. Please, join me in the keep. We’ll let you rest and make sure you’re fed.”
The more Sahar spoke the more at ease Farrah felt. Mave wasn’t going to let her guard down even for a moment, though she tried to wear a friendly expression.
Soon Farrah, Mave, Sahar, and Sahar’s two bodyguards were all seated in the dining hall of the keep. The chairs were made of a hard wood, and the rough edges stuck between the threads of Farrah’s dress. The castle’s servants brought a large loaf of bread to the table as well as a wedge of cheese.
“Not much of a meal, I know,” said Sahar. “We’ll give you a full supper later. For now, we must discuss peace terms.”
Farrah nodded to Sahar as she tore off a piece of bread and sliced a small piece of cheese. She wrapped the cheese in the bread and prepared to put it in her mouth.
Suddenly, Mave snatched the food from Farrah’s hand and held it out to Sahar. “Please, my lord, won’t you eat first?”
Sahar laughed. “You think I mean to poison your lady? You’re in the middle of my castle, surrounded by Arxian soldiers sworn to follow my every command. You think I would need poison if I meant her harm?” Sahar paused a moment and stared at Mave in amusement. Then he took the bread and cheese from her hand. “I am feeling a bit hungry, though. Thank you.” Happily, he ate the bread and cheese.
Farrah looked at Mave and rolled her eyes before taking another piece of bread and cheese and eating them.
“Now that we’ve got that little matter of trust out of the way, down to business,” said Sahar. “As you know, Queen Mahla has granted me the authority to negotiate a peace treaty between our nations. What are your terms for negotiating such a treaty?”
Farrah swallowed the bread and cheese she was eating and said, “Nihilus must become an independent nation again. Arxian soldiers will leave its borders, and Prince Elykos will become our new king, as is his birthright.” Typically she would have taken more time to build up rapport in such a negotiation, flirted and batted her eyes a bit. In this case, though, it seemed that her reputation would build that rapport for her. Being straight-forward and getting right down to business seemed more prudent here. Besides, she wanted to get these negotiations over with as soon as possible.
“Fair terms,” said Sahar. “Not every Arxian in Nihilus is a soldier, however. What do you propose to do with the Arxian merchants and missionaries who have settled in Nihilus?”
“The merchants may stay. Missionaries must leave Nihilus immediately. We don’t want them spreading descent amongst our people anymore.”
“You may have to drive out the missionaries yourselves,” said Sahar. “The Agalmite Church isn’t listening to the Crown anymore.”
“Fair enough,” said Farrah. “But any native Arxians still in Nihilite lands after King Elykos assumes the throne will be subjects of Nihilus, not Arx.”
“I’m sure her Majesty will not reject those terms.” Sahar took a little bread and cheese for himself and ate it before continuing. “In return we ask not only for your promise that all hostilities between our two peoples will cease, but certain…active steps towards that goal.”
“We will not disarm,” said Farrah. “Our people have a right to defend themselves, and we have a right to a standing army.”
“Of course, or course!” Sahar held up his hands. “But we’ve received word of a certain…extremist group on the rise in Nihilus, one that threatens peace. Tell me, my lady, what do you know of the Unchained?”
Farrah smirked. “They were a small sect of fanatics back during the reign of King Eryx. By the time King Therion usurped the throne from Eryx they’d been all but wiped out. After that, they slowly dwindled out of existence. It’s hard to convert new people to your cult when you tell them they can’t have sex or do anything fun.”
“They didn’t die out,” said Sahar. “And in recent times their numbers have grown again. We’ve been getting reports that they’ve been laying waste to taverns, vineyards, breweries, and brothels in south-eastern Nihilus, slowly working their way north-west. They have a new High Acharya, Quillan, who’s leading them in a new Crusade. According to the few witnesses who have escaped, Quillan first intends to rid Nihilus of all ‘worldliness’ and then march on Arx.”
“These aren’t just rumors?” Farrah asked.
“No. We’re certain the Unchained are on the march,” said Sahar. “So, I offer this caveat to our peace treaty. The Arxian soldiers in Nihilus will fall back to the border for now. They will establish temporary fortresses on the Nihilite side of the Arxian mountain range. You and the other Nihilite generals must focus your efforts on crushing the Unchained. When the Unchained have been defeated and the High Acharya’s head is presented to us all Arxian soldiers will leave Nihilus forever, and you may crown this Elykos as your king.”
“You expect us to go to war against our own people?” Farrah asked.
“Arx expects you to do everything in your power to make sure that peace lasts this time. If that includes killing the most violent, fanatical members of your own society then that’s a choice you have to make. If you can’t do that much, then perhaps you need Arxian soldiers to stay here and keep the peace for you.”
Suddenly Farrah was wishing she had seduced Sahar, even a little, before negotiating. Her reputation apparently didn’t help as much as she thought it would. She knew at this point she’d have to accept his offer. “I agree. We must rid ourselves of these fanatics. They’ve already killed our own citizens, so they are no friends of Nihilus.”
“Glad you agree with me,” said Sahar with a smile. “I’ll have some of my scribes draft up two copies of the treaty based on what we discussed here. Once they’re done you can sign your name to both copies. I’ll deliver one to my queen and you can show the other to your fellow Nihilite generals. I’ll have servants show you to your guest quarters in the meantime.”
Farrah felt sick as the servants led her to the room she’d be staying in. Here she was expecting to negotiate a final end to all hostilities in her homeland, only to find out there was one more war left to fight, this time against other Nihilites. She slumped down on the bed as Mave closed the door.
“Peace is in sight,” said Mave.
“Aye, all we have to do is kill a few thousand people,” said Farrah.
“I’m sure it’s not really as bad as all that,” said Mave. “There can’t really be THAT many Unchained!”
“Fine, a few hundred. That makes it all better,” said Farrah. She rubbed her temples with her fingers. “Prunikos! I could use a little distraction.”
Mave reached into her bag and produced a small ocarina. “I could play for you.”
“Thanks, Mave, but I don’t think so. Mediocre music right now really won’t do the trick for me.” Mave was taken aback at Farrah’s choice of words, until she saw Farrah’s teasing smile. “Mischief would be far more fun.” Farrah stood from the bed and walked over to the window. She pushed the panes open and looked out upon the training yard. In the yard, she could see a well-muscled young man, his torso exposed, tensing up as other men repeatedly struck him with sticks. “What’s all that about?”
Mave looked out the window. “He’s a squire, looks like, soon to be knighted. That’s part of his training.”
“What’s that supposed to teach?”
“Fearlessness. Pain tolerance. That sort of thing.”
“Seems to me the better training would be to have him try to dodge the sticks, or catch them or something.” Farrah watched the young man with fascination. Every time he saw the stick coming he tensed up the muscles in that area to resist the blow. There was a loud crack, and he barely flinched. Once she got past the point where she was thinking about how much each blow must have hurt, she began simply admiring this young man’s build. His strong shoulders, the well-defined muscles in his back, those big arms, that taut posterior. Just watching him she could feel a tingling that started in her stomach and worked its way outward. She shivered as the tingling passed her shoulders. Farrah’s breathing heightened and her breasts heaved each time the young squire’s muscles tightened. There was a hunger growing in her. A need that she couldn’t fully satiate on her own. “I think I just figured out how to make this a good day. Mave, go invite that young man up here.” Farrah gave a wink. She was already imagining what his toned back would look like with her nail marks running down on either side of his spine.
“That squire? Just like that? You don’t even know his name!”
“I’ll ask him when he gets here.”
“I thought you said men become useless once you have sex with them,” said Mave.
“Unless that’s the use you want them for.” Farrah sat down on the bed again and crossed her legs. “Now, you going to go fetch him for me or not?”
Mave did as she was asked and fetched the handsome young squire. She enjoyed being Farrah’s bodyguard, but these moments when she was dismissed from Farrah’s side so that Farrah could enjoy a man were always the moments that bothered her. It wasn’t so much that she was put off by Farrah’s promiscuity, one could not be friends with Farrah if one found such things offensive. No, she just worried because Farrah had a taste for big, strong men. Men who could overpower her, and she always put herself in a vulnerable position when she was alone, locked in a room with such men. Mave worried that sooner or later one of these men would be the death of her.
Mave stood outside her mistress’ door. The sounds of Farrah’s copulation with the squire were embarrassing, but Mave felt she had to listen, and listen carefully, in case her cries of ecstasy became cries for help. Mave squeezed her thighs together tightly as she listened to the sounds, trying not to get too worked up herself.
As Mave stood in the hall a short woman wearing a tattered shroud walked down the hall towards her. Mave was expecting that when this woman drew close she’d turn out to be an old woman, but to her surprise she was a beautiful young lady with long, blonde hair falling out from under the shroud.
“Please, help me,” whispered the young woman wearing the shroud.
Mave glanced down both hallways to make sure no one else was nearby before she responded. “What’s wrong?”
“My name is Galia,” said the young woman. “I’m a prisoner here. I have been for two years. It took me so long to even realize that I couldn’t leave, and they’ve been forcing me to work as a servant…a slave here that whole time.”
“Why are you a prisoner?” Mave asked.
“Grand Duke Sahar is not what he seems,” Galia said. “He’s a monster! He said I could stay here as his guest, but then he betrayed me. Please, help me escape!”
“How would I do that?” Mave asked. “I’d love to help you, but I can’t think of any way to get you out of here.”
“You came in a carriage, didn’t you?”
“Hide me in the carriage! Tonight I’ll sneak in there. You tell Lady Farrah about it before she gets in, and I’ll leave with you both.”
“Galia, was it? Listen, we’re here to negotiate peace. I don’t think helping prisoners escape will help our case.”
“If you get caught say you didn’t know I was there.” Galia pulled back her shroud just a few inches to reveal the bruises on her neck and a scratch on the left side of her face. “Please, it’s a nightmare living here!”
Mave’s heart sank as she saw the marks on Galia’s neck and the tears in her eyes. She could hear the hurt and despair in this young woman’s voice. “Fine. Sneak in there tonight and I’ll tell Lady Farrah you’re coming with us. If you get caught, though, I’ll deny knowing anything about it.”
“Thank you so much!” Galia bowed politely to Mave and scurried off.
Shortly after Galia had left, the door to Farrah’s room opened and the young squire came out. He was fully dressed again, but sloppily so. He blushed at Mave, nodded, and then walked away. Not a single word escaped his lips.
Mave walked into the bedroom to find Farrah lounging on the bed, the bedsheets draped over her. Mave closed the door to make sure they’d have privacy. She shuddered to think of what would happen if anyone overhead what she was about to tell her mistress.
“I needed that,” said Farrah as she stared at the ceiling. “That was…nice…”
“Did you get his name?”
“You said you’d ask him his name when he got here.”
“Oh. Yes. He told me his name…but I forgot.”
Mave chuckled. “Listen, my lady, there’s something important I have to tell you.”
“I’ll probably forget that too,” said Farrah. “Everything’s a bit…hazy right now.”
“That means I can get you to agree to just about anything at the moment.” Mave laughed.
“Yeah…probably.” Farrah was all smiles. Her eyes were distant.
“We’ll be taking a new friend with us when we leave here.”
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.