The muffled sound of gravel's shift. A glimmer of light shone through the dust. Pain in his head and in his joints. At the sound of shifting feet he tried to cry out for help, but found that his face was covered in dirt. One hand free. Each knuckle stiff and in pain. He moved his fingers, the only part of him that could move.
A voice dulled by the dirt. “Over here! We have a live one!”
The sound of shovels removing the gravel. The sensation of weight lifted off of his body. More light. Hope. He'd thought himself dead, but strangers were digging up what was almost his grave. In his weakened state he prayed they were not enemies.
Blinding light, and the disorienting sensation of being dragged to his feet by three men. “Another Digan soldier here. Bring the manacles.”
Milo could not see his captor saviors, neither did he have the strength to speak. His eyes still adjusted to the light, and his diaphragm to the freedom from weight.
A familiar voice. “That's not a Digan soldier, that's Milo wearing their uniform!”
“Barely, by the look of him.” Milo felt a hand upon his chest. “Merciful God who dwells below us, heal your loyal servant his wounds.”
Milo could feel the pain alleviate, and his eyes finally adjusted to the light. Standing before him was Magdiel, and all around were paladins and Digan soldiers in chains.
“We won?” Milo groaned.
“Yes, yes we did,” said Magdiel as he patted Milo on the shoulder. “We thought we'd lost you during that last skirmish. You know, the one in the field before the Digans even reached Caelum? Guess someone below still likes you.”
“I guess so,” said Milo. “What happened to Legate Atius.”
“He was found dead on a cot in a lone tent. Internal bleeding, as far as we could tell.”
Milo sighed. “He was the greatest threat the Digan Empire could throw at us. Without him they can't do anything to us anymore.”
“You think they'll leave us alone now?” asked Magdiel.
“No,” said Milo. “Of course not. Their emperor will use Atius' death as a rallying cry and bring greater armies against us, unless we act first. Besides, the Digans took hundreds of our people prisoner and sold them into slavery. We cannot abandon them.”
Magdiel nodded. “What you're suggesting we do is nothing short of an invasion. We need the Queen's approval before we can do that.”
“Then write to her,” said Milo. “Tell her the situation. She is, and always has been, the people's queen. Now her people need her.”
“I'll do that,” said Magdiel. “But before I do I need to get you inside where you can rest.”
“Our war with the Digan Empire is far from over,” said Milo, as Magdiel and two other paladins helped him walk towards the academy.
. . .
“Your majesty, the votes are in.”
“The votes for the new Chancellor?” Queen Aryn asked.
“Yes, your majesty.”
Aryn gestured for her messenger to step closer with the rolled paper in his hands. “Let's see it, then. Who won?”
“Tabor of Mamzar,” said Malachi, the royal messenger. “Though Sir Milo was a close second.”
Aryn smiled. “It's ok, I'm not disappointed that my father didn't win. He wouldn't have really enjoyed being Chancellor anyway. It's all paperwork and mathematics. Send out a letter to Tabor and have him come to Aius. He'll need the new signet ring we've made for him.”
“I will. And there's something else,” said Malachi. “Mother Galia has been safely escorted here to the capital. Right now she's in the Grand Cathedral with Shamira and a paladin named Omar.”
Aryn stood from her throne. “Well, I'd better greet this new Arch-Bishop of ours.”
“Your Majesty,” said Malachi. “If I may, part of my phrasing may have escaped your notice. You see, Shamira and Omar accompanied Mother Galia back here. The prophet did not.”
“Erelah stayed in Nihilus?” Aryn asked. “Well, that's good, then. She can fix things in that chaotic kingdom.”
It was only then, as Aryn walked to the Grand Cathedral that she put the pieces together. Erelah had called Tamas to go to Nihilus because she wanted him to embrace his birthright. Aryn wondered for a moment why Erelah didn't take him there from the beginning, but then she was reminded of the other morning, when she'd woken up sick to her stomach. Then the morning after that, which was much the same. And the fact that her appetite had changed so drastically as of late. She'd felt the changes to her body for a while now, but thought it was just stress from her crown and her lover's absence. It occurred to her that Erelah may have known that Aryn and Tamas, if left alone, would not be able to keep their hands to themselves, and all that implied.
Aryn was so wrapped up in contemplating this that she hardly noticed when she arrived at the Grand Cathedral.
Shamira's voice snapped her out of her daze. “Your Majesty.” Shamira bowed to Aryn. “Mother Galia has arrived, as have the other bishops. They're preparing to swear her in as the new Arch-Bishop.”
“And our new Chancellor has just been elected,” said Aryn. “Arx is nearly back to normal.”
Reconstruction of the Grand Cathedral was not quite done, but already Aryn thought it was even more beautiful than it had been before. The new stained-glass windows were more colorful, and now had the most important stories from the Sacred Scriptures written in the Ancient Script, along with illustrations. Everything from the creation story, to Erelah teaching the tribes the Law, to Melech's coronation, and countless others. Crystal chandeliers hung from the arched ceiling, casting a rainbow of lights throughout the sanctuary. A new statue of the God of Erets stood behind the pulpit, flanked by statues of angels. The light shimmered off of them, and filled the whole cathedral. Most importantly, in the courtyard in front of the Grand Cathedral stood the new Obelisk of the Law, completely re-constructed, as per Erelah's instructions.
As Aryn walked down the aisle between the pews, she could see the bishops all gathered around the pulpit, where stood Mother Galia, in elegant, pale-blue robes. On Galia's head was a crystal crown, with rays extending up from her head in seven points. Her earrings were diamonds, and gemstones were worked into the embroidery of her robe. On her face Aryn could see the expression of a woman who had suffered much, and had finally found relief and comfort.
Paladins and clergy lined the pews of the Grand Cathedral, all smiling at the woman soon to become their new Arch-Bishop. The bishops all gathered pedestals around Mother Galia. On each pedestal sat a scroll, one of the Sacred Scriptures, and each scroll had a cloth belt wrapped around its middle. The buckle of each belt was a precious stone. A diamond for the Book of Origins, a sapphire for the Book of Statutes, an emerald for the Book of Mercy, a ruby for the Book of Justice, a garnet for the Book of Promises, and an onyx for the Book of Wisdom. There were many other scrolls considered part of the Sacred Scriptures, but these six were held in the highest regard. “The Shaish,” as they were called.
The first of the bishops approached Mother Galia, placed two fingers on the diamond on the Book of Origins, and spoke. “Galia, do you acknowledge the authority and wisdom of our God, the God who created Erets. That his wisdom is greater than yours, and do you submit to his will?”
“I do, and I swear to always uphold his will,” said Mother Galia.
That bishop stepped down. The next stepped up and placed two fingers on the sapphire on the Book of Statutes. “Galia, do you follow the Law to the best of your ability, both in deed and in thought?”
“I do, and I swear that I always will,” said Mother Galia.
That bishop stepped down. The next stepped up and placed two fingers on the emerald of the Book of Mercy. “Do you have the kind of heart that would lead you to heal the sick even if they be your enemies, help the poor even if they be thieves, and care for children whether they be the daughters of kings or the sons of harlots?”
“I do, and I swear that I always shall,” said Galia.
“When confronted with injustice and the suffering of the innocent do you do all you can to correct it?”
“I do, and I swear that I always shall.”
“Are you true to your word? Keeping every vow, upholding any deal made? Furthermore, do you trust in God and the vows he has made to us?”
“I do, and I swear that I always shall.”
“Do you believe that you have the wisdom that it takes to lead all of Arx, and indeed all believers to fulfill the wishes of our God?”
“No, I do not. For this reason I swear I will never be afraid to seek the council of those wiser than myself, and often turn to the Book of Wisdom when the right answers evade me.”
All of the bishops spoke in unison. “Remember these vows, from this day until your last, and God will bless your time as Arch-Bishop of the Agalmite Church. Mother Galia, we hereby recognize you as our Arch-Bishop, spiritual leader of our people. You will crown kings and queens, you will oversee weddings, and you will guide us in our understanding of the Sacred Scriptures.”
Applause echoed through the sanctuary, and Aryn joined in. The new Arch-Bishop held up both of her hands and said a blessing in the Ancient Tongue over all of those present. Once the blessing was complete, Galia's eyes met Aryn's, and Aryn gestured for the Arch-Bishop to meet with her.
The two met in the Arch-Bishop's new office, just above the tunnels wherein Aryn knew the books of prophecy were kept, including the Book of Crowns, in which Aryn had seen her own name. Aryn took her seat and said, “First of all, I'd like to congratulate you on this great occasion.”
“Thank you,” said Galia. “I greatly appreciate it, your majesty. I just hope I can live up to everyone's expectations.”
“I have a feeling you will,” said Aryn. “But I would like to get to know you better. I was friends with the late Arch-Bishop Livanna and would like to have the same luxury with you.”
“Well, I should start by confessing to you that I am not a native Arxian,” said Galia. “I was born in Nihilus. When I was a child I even studied at Leti Academy.”
Aryn chuckled. “So...a former witch is our new Arch-Bishop? I'd think something had gone horribly wrong, if it weren't for the fact that the prophetess picked you.”
“You've heard the story of when Erelah first taught the Law to the tribes, right?” Galia asked. “When she was done teaching the Law fourteen tribes remained in Arx, but when she appointed Melech as the first King of Arx two tribes left and went east. Those tribes became the people of Nihilus, remember? Well, is it really so strange to think that the two tribes who lost their way so long ago might just happen to be finding their way back at this point in our history?”
“I suppose not,” said Aryn with a laugh. “In the end we are all truly one people.”
“If you've read the Book of Origins, yes. The God of Erets originally made fifty families, and all of them inter-married. We all descend from the same fifty mothers and the same fifty fathers, ultimately.”
Aryn smiled at Galia. “Wise. And very true. So, tell me more about yourself. Erelah said you were in the care of someone named 'Farrah,' what was that about?”
“Farrah is a leader among the Nihilite people. She rescued me from Grand Duke Sahar, even though she knew I was an Agalmite priestess. She was protecting me.”
“You were Sahar's prisoner?”
Galia's face turned dark. “Yes...I was that monster's prisoner for two years.”
“Oh, damn! I'm sorry!” said Aryn. “I'm surprised anyone can survive under those circumstances.”
“Sometimes I feared I would not. I came so close to escaping him so many times, and each time the punishment was worse than it was last time. The punishments got so awful that even if I saw a chance to escape that seemed foolproof I wouldn't take it for fear that I'd be caught. He's the worst sadist I've ever encountered, and I was in Nihilus when the Inquisition was there.” Galia paused a moment, remembering all that she'd experienced. “It's just awful to think that such a wicked man is still at large in the world, and even gathering followers. Please, your Majesty! Please tell me that you will do everything in your power to make sure he's defeated as soon as possible!”
“I will,” said Aryn.
“I promise,” said Aryn. “I've already sent out letters to the noble families of Arx, requesting that they each send me half their knights. These knights will go west and help the paladins of Caelum drive the Digans out of our homeland, and then they will go east into Nihilus to defeat Sahar.”
. . .
“Amhras! Amhras! Amhras! Amhras! Amhras! Amhras!”
The crowd gathered in the square greeted their prince with their zealous chant. Tamas came before them wearing more traditional, Nihilite clothes; black finery with stars embroidered into the stitching. Across his forehead sat a circlet of iron, his temporary crown until he was truly made king. He raised his hands, and the crowd's chant slowly died down.
“I appreciate the enthusiasm,” Tamas said. “And I certainly appreciate your faith in me. A wise man once said that faith does not come from seeing proof, but rather when one puts forth faith that faith is rewarded with proof. You all have chosen to believe a lot about me. You believe that I am truly Therion's heir, that I am an Aeon, and that I can lead us to victory against Elykos.” Tamas took a dagger from his pocket and held it up. “I am here to reward your faith with proof.” Tamas rolled up the sleeve of his left arm and cut the back of his forearm. Blood poured forth from the wound, and from the moment the blood touched the ground daemons of the Void, terrifying and beautiful, poured forth from the red puddle on the ground and took flight into the air. In seconds there were hundreds of them, and the crowd stared up at this other-worldly legion in wonder. Sparks like stars trailed in the air behind each of the daemons. The daemons all flew in a clock-wise circle, until Tamas made a simple gesture with his left hand in the opposite direction, at which point they all changed their pattern to a counter-clockwise circle. When Tamas gestured towards the small puddle of his blood on the ground the daemons all flew down into it and disappeared back into the Void once more.
The crowd roared with applause.
Tamas spoke again. “With such an army at your backs who could really think you have anything to fear? My people, I tell you, we shall see victory. Elykos claims to be your rightful king, but he has proven again and again that he only wishes for all people to suffer, even his own. Nihilus needs a king who wants to see his people thrive. Elykos came here, to Erets, to murder and destroy. I came here to act as a guide, a guide towards a better future for Nihilus and for all people. This I promise, if you follow me I will show you that better future. As a symbol of that promise, I will establish the old Temple of Henwen as my capital. Henwen, the first Aeon, came here ages ago to bring us peace. The jealousy and pride of one blasphemous king ruined Henwen's dream. I intend to breathe new life into that dream.”
As Farrah watched Tamas deliver his speech, as well as the way the crowd reacted to his speech, she couldn't help but somewhat resent having listened to Erelah's advice. Erelah had told her she'd be a great leader in her own right, but how much Farrah wished she'd been standing beside Tamas as the crowd cheered. Still, her gut told her that she'd done the right thing.
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.