Tamas was surprised at how quickly he and Farrah's followers had managed to re-construct the Temple of Henwen. The fallen spire was back up, and the overgrown woods were cleared away. Craftsmen came with additional supplies to establish the spire as Tamas' new throne room.
All throughout the re-construction, Farrah and Tamas' followers asked why they were seeing Farrah's face in the paintings on the walls. All the while Tamas and Farrah both promised they would reveal the reason for that once construction was complete. Perhaps it was for this reason that the workers completed the reconstruction so quickly.
True to his word, once the temple was restored to its former glory, Tamas addressed the crowd.
“You've all done well, loyal subjects. What makes a king? Most would tell you that it's a blood right. Some might say it's leadership. The truth is that what truly makes a king is the support of the people. You think I could have done any of this myself? You all are the true power in Nihilus. Tell that to your children and your children's children, and don't ever let the people of Nihilus forget that again. You will not suffer tyrants, because only you can make a king. A crown is worn by someone high-borne, but it is forged by a common man. Now, I made a promise to you all while you were rebuilding this temple, the promise that I would explain why Farrah's face is in the paintings of Henwen. Well, the answer is quite simple.
“Farrah is Henwen.” Tamas allowed the crowd a moment to finish their murmurs. “Centuries ago she came here as the first Aeon to lead us all to an age of peace and prosperity. A tyrant king ruined her great plans for us all, but her soul has remained on Erets ever since, looking for a chance to finish what she started. Dear friends, Henwen is still ready to lead us to a better age if we are ready to follow.” Tamas gestured to Farrah, who then stepped forward.
“It's true, I am the Aeon who came to Nihilus so long ago. This temple was built to show reverence to me, and to be the place where I taught. I'm ready to teach again, ready to lead again. However, there is something I need in return from all of you. My plans way back then were ruined by a tyrant's ambitions. You must, therefore, promise me that you will never again allow a tyrant to rule over Nihilus. Promise me this day that you will tear down anyone who even attempts to rule by cruelty. If tyrants are tolerated everyone suffers. You must hold your kings responsible for their actions. Do you swear it?”
The crowd shouted, not quite in unison, “We swear it!” “No more tyrants!” “Nihilus must be free!”
“Good!” said Farrah. “Now, understand that I will hold you all to that vow a lot sooner than you might think. Marching west at this very moment is an army that calls itself the Unchained, and it is led by a man who wants to become the worst tyrant in Nihilus' history. I tell you, their very name is a lie. What they bring for us all is nothing more than chains and slavery. They would force us all to follow their extreme cult. They threaten people at sword-point and force them to convert, all in the name of setting them free. Does that sound like freedom to you? Nihilus stands at the very precipice of change, and is ready to become greater than it's ever been. Only by standing against this threat can we ensure that will happen.”
“Lady Farrah! Prince Amhras!” The scout running up to the front of the crowd broke the beauty of the moment.
Tamas stepped down off of the pedestal to meet the approaching scout. “What is it? You're out of breath...”
“The Unchained! They're maybe a day's march away!”
Tamas' fists clenched. No sooner had he rebuilt his seat of power than Sahar came to tear it down. At this point, it seemed that the temple itself was more important as a symbol even than he was. Really, as Tamas thought about it, the people of Nihilus might not need a king, so long as they had Henwen to guide them. A religious leader would be more useful at a time like this.
“Lady Farr...I mean, Henwen. Meet with me privately,” said Tamas. “The rest of you, prepare for battle. Get your weapons, make whatever fortifications you can. We'll be ready for them when they arrive.”
Tamas, Farrah, Mave, and Lemuel all retreated into the temple for a private strategy meeting. “Alright,” Tamas began. “No need to panic. We knew this day was coming, we just weren't expecting it so soon. Farrah, these people have been your soldiers far longer than they've been mine, what have you got?”
“Truth be told,” Farrah began, “Usually I've barely had to send my soldiers into battle because I've come up with some clever way to avoid it.”
“Bribery. Or making the enemy soldiers turn on each other using psychological games. None of which work on the Unchained, I've tried.”
“Alright, so what else have we got?” asked Tamas.
“Well, numbers, for one,” said Mave. “I've read the reports, Farrah. If our scouts' reports are reliable we have them outnumbered at this point.”
Tamas chuckled. “More people want to see an age of peace than want to see the world come to an end. Who would have guessed?”
“Numbers only really matter if you either completely overwhelm your enemy or plan on fighting a war of attrition,” said Lemuel. “Are we truly willing to endure those casualties?”
“No, of course not,” said Tamas. “That's why we have to think of something else...Farrah, do you have assassins in your employ?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Sahar is our biggest threat,” said Tamas. “I can support our army with my own legion of daemons, but not if Sahar is close enough to give his own orders. They'll listen to him before they'll listen to me.”
“Not sure if it's because he's the firstborn or if it's because he's more in-line with Malkira's plans for Erets. The point is, send assassins to kill him long before the battle starts. Have them dress as Unchained or whatever they need to do in order to get in there. If Sahar is killed I can make sure the battle goes in our favor. In the mean time...those phoenixes you can conjure, how exactly do they work?”
“What do you mean?” asked Farrah.
“They brought Lemmy here back from the dead. How does that work?”
“From what I've heard in legends they can only do that within an hour of someone's death. After that the soul has left the body completely.”
“One hour's not a lot of time, but it's enough time to give us an edge in this battle. Conjure phoenixes when the battle starts and have them fly around the battlefield, raising any of our soldiers who fall. Even if they only manage to save a quarter of them they'll keep the battle going in our favor. What other daemons can you conjure?”
“Wisps, for one.”
“What can they do?”
“Well, they're balls of blue fire...and each one I summon acts as another eye for me, and I can speak through them.”
“You can see what they see and speak through their mouths?”
“They don't have mouths...”
“That's not the point!” Tamas banged his fist on the table. “Do you know how many generals throughout history would have sold their right arms for the kind of coordination you can pull off with that? You can watch the entire battle from every angle, and speak to every soldier on the field. What else do you-”
“Good morrow, traitors.” Tamas felt a chill when the voice spoke in his head. Judging by the way everyone else tensed up they all heard it too. Lemuel glanced around the room, as if trying to figure out where the voice was coming from. “This is Elykos, your rightful king. Lemmy, you can stop looking around the room now, I'm in your head. Now, I've been watching and listening to all of you for a long time now, and I am most disappointed with you. My brother has filled your heads with false hopes. He wants you to think you're fighting for the glory of Nihilus and for a better age. You want to know the truth about him? The truth about Amhras is that he has been bedding the Queen of Arx. Yes, he's been seduced not just by the pleasures of this world, but also by the pleasures of the Arxian Queen's body! He's even gone so far as to fall in love with her! Amhras is a traitor, one worse than any of you! He would see Nihilus once again subjugated to the will of the Arxians. All his talk about tyrants? It's all a misdirection. He wants to point the finger at me and call me the enemy while he sleeps with the true enemy.
“Now, many of you may not believe me, I know, but I have more for you to consider. Right now I am inside of your heads, speaking to you. That means that everything your noble leaders have thought of, every strategy that's entered their empty little heads is known to me. There is no strategy you can bring against me I will not anticipate, you cannot surprise or outwit my army. The Unchained are the greatest warriors Erets has ever seen, because they fear neither death nor pain.
“And as for this 'better age of peace' that Henwen and Amhras promised you? It's a lie. Peace just means you lay down your arms and stop fighting. It means you accept your prison, this world that has you so blinded to true enlightenment!
“But there's no need for all of you to suffer for your past sins. Truth is, I believe in redemption, and I believe it's always possible. That being said, I will forgive the past crimes of any of you who come to me with Amhras in chains. Deliver him to me alive and I will welcome you into the ranks of the Unchained. Those who choose to stand and fight me will surely die horribly. As your scout already told you, you have one day until my army is upon you. Make your decision by then.”
Tamas could already hear the arguing outside of the temple, and their volume was rising. All that Tamas had said to stir up their emotions, bolster their courage, it was all gone as simple as that, thanks to Sahar's one show of power. Even Tamas now found himself doubting that this army could defeat the Unchained. With Sahar predicting their every move they simply could not possibly get the element of surprise. Certainly the plan involving the assassins was off the table.
Then there was the fact that a fair number of people in Farrah's own army would give into despair and may be desperate enough to actually turn Tamas over into Sahar's hands.
“Sahar! Er...Elykos! I challenge you to a duel!” Tamas shouted. He hoped it would be loud enough for those outside of the temple to hear it.
“A duel? Why would I agree to that?”
“Long ago, the earliest Nihilite kings started the tradition of dueling. When two possible heirs to the throne both had an equal claim and neither would submit to the other they could duel for the throne in order to avoid civil war.”
“Your claim to the throne is not equal to mine,” rang Sahar's voice.
“I am your twin, born on the same day. Besides, it's not just the throne you want, is it? It's me. I'm the greatest threat to you. That's why you told my people you'd forgive anyone who turned me in. Well, by offering this duel I'm fundamentally turning myself in. Just with a condition.”
“This works out better. I can humiliate you in front of your followers. Very well. Everyone, all you traitors out there, your prince has chosen to face me in a duel rather than engage my army in battle. I will therefore change my offer. Anyone who defects from his army right now and joins the ranks of the Unchained will be forgiven. We will meet in the open field tomorrow to settle this.”
After a moment of silence, Farrah looked at Tamas and said, “Are you sure about this?”
“No. Not sure at all, really,” said Tamas.
“Can you beat him in a duel?” Farrah asked.
“I don't know.”
“Then why are you agreeing to fight him?”
Tamas sighed and shook his head. “Farrah, he's got us beat. As far as he's concerned Nihilus will fall one way or another, but if he can just kill me he can keep the rest of his army intact when he marches to Arx. He's got a greater chance of victory in the long run if he can deal with me one on one like this. As for me? Well, a duel with him is literally the only chance I have at beating him. As I said, if I can kill him I can ensure that our army wins the battle ahead.”
“What if he cheats?” Farrah asked. “What if he has assassins lying in wait who attack you the moment you show your face?”
“If he does anything at all that violates the terms of a duel you step in immediately. Then you fight tooth and nail. You make sure everyone in our army knows to fight until they're dead to the last man if they have to,” said Tamas. “I know, many of them will retreat long before that, but you must stop him here! All of Erets is counting on what happens tomorrow. If he wins here it won't take him long to get to Arx and set the world on fire. Lemuel, do you know of any blessings you could place on my sword so that I'm capable of slaying daemons with it? I imagine that if he gives me so much as the smallest cut he'll be using my own daemon legion against me.”
“No,” said Lemuel. “I don't know of anything that can make your sword capable of killing daemons. But I do have a few other things you can use during the duel, just in case.”
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.