“Levin is going to be coronated soon,” Elenore informed Argrave. They were alone in a lounge, save Ansgar—Anneliese had not yet awoken. “Two weeks’ time, perhaps less. Your coronations may end up being at similar times, as things end up. I sincerely hope one ends better than the other.”
Argrave took a drink—it was quite potent. He swallowed it and winced, then looked to Ansgar.
“A tea suited for dispelling the morning sickness from alcohol,” the aged man explained. He had become the intermediary between Leopold and their party, despite the fact both resided within his mansion. “Leopold thought you might need it.”
Argrave shook his head. “I appreciate it, but no.”
“Shall I get something else?” Ansgar asked.
“Thank you, but no need to trouble yourself,” Argrave waved his offer away.
Ansgar put his hands before him. “You ought to get used to accepting help of this sort.”
Argrave looked to him, realizing he had a point. “Then… something minty, and sweet. Leave this for Anneliese—she’ll need it.” Argrave directed his attention back to Elenore as Ansgar left. “Speaking of… Anneliese told me you two drank together. It was rather hard to understand that from her slurred haze, and she was impossible to rouse this morning, so I thought I might ask you.”
Elenore watched the door shut behind Ansgar and said, “Yes. She had never gotten drunk before and expressed interest. I may have urged her onwards to gain some… candid details. She may have a rough time today.”
“Candid details?” Argrave repeated. “And what did you learn?”
“I learned sometimes it is better to remain ignorant,” Elenore said at once.
Argrave grinned, feeling rather pleased they were getting along. After a moment of silence, he leaned in, scratching his nose as he asked, “That’s good. But what exactly did you learn from those delegates? Things were too busy for us to talk last night, it seems.”
Elenore’s face grew serious as she recounted, “Levin wanted Relize on Atrus’ side… or merely opposing Vasquer. He was prepared to offer them some great deals, but upon hearing of our intent, the delegates decided to completely renege on their intent to back House Yiasten.”
Argrave leaned back into the couch. “Good fortune for once. Things are going well. Now is usually the time that things turn to hell.” Argrave scratched the top of his lip. “I’ll be careful with my publicity stunt, I guess. What will you be doing?”
“I have to go away for a time. Until I can have some of my key operatives learn druidic magic, I’m limited in my influence based on distance. Things in Atrus need to be stabilized—given how things went with the delegates, that’s possible. So, I’ll be travelling closer,” Elenore explained evenly.
“Going away?” Argrave leaned in, putting one hand on his knee. “Kind of… uncomfortable with that, honestly. But if you say it’s necessary, I trust you. Just be safe. If you want, I can have Anneliese screen the people you’re with for traitors. I’m sure she’ll agree.”
Elenore shook her head. “Like I said, I need to leave today. Doubtless she’ll have a rough morning. That won’t be necessary—she’s done it once before, after all.”
The door opened, and a greatly disheveled Anneliese stood there, still in last night’s attire. Argrave rose, uneased, until he saw her rubbing her eyes and clutching her head, shying away from the early morning light.
“I ought to be off,” Elenore rose to her feet. “The caravan comes to take me early. Argrave, Anneliese—good luck.”
“Be safe,” Argrave reiterated, then stepped to Anneliese. “Look at you. Are you alright? Wouldn’t fault you for resting.”
“Be quiet,” she hushed him at once, and Argrave laughed, waving to Elenore as she walked out. “My head is throbbing. I feel sick.”
Argrave put his hand on her shoulders and guided her. “Here. Drink this—it’s supposed to help with that. Failing that, I suppose healing magic could remedy your pain,” he suggested.
“Did that,” she said, obeying him.
“Really, you of all people look like this? I’m surprised.”
“Elenore gave me a bottle,” Anneliese said. “Never been drunk before… curious what it was like.” She drank the tea, then grimaced. “Eugh. Terrible.”
“Down it all in one go,” Argrave said, his voice distant. “You drank with Elenore? However did that come about?”
“To celebrate, I think. Talk.” Anneliese shook her head, then downed it all as Argrave suggested.
Argrave thought back to Elenore—she didn’t seem particularly affected. “Seems like I’ve already been beaten. She likes you more than me,” Argrave lamented. “Not that I blame her. You’re like—”
“Stop talking for once,” Anneliese quieted him.
Argrave did his best not to laugh loudly.
The streets of Relize were alive with people. Ever since the announcement, word had spread of Argrave’s presence in the city like wildfire, and sentiments that had quieted since the outbreak of the war redoubled. With the news out, Argrave could walk without fear of being discovered… yet ‘freely’ was not quite the right word. He had an escort—Galamon, Durran, and many of Leopold’s personal guard. Argrave bid Anneliese rest, and she agreed to that.
Leopold made the city even busier. He was calling in all of his family and business ties to show what, exactly, would be the price of refusal. Some of the patricians couldn't care less about politics, preferring to leave that matter to others… yet Leopold showed them that the two were nearly perfectly entwined, ensuring that all would be forced to vote. Coercion in part… yet negotiation by name.
It was a little similar to what Argrave was about to do. Kretthan, a prominent patrician, had a rather dark secret. His nephew had been afflicted with vampirism—a botched attempt at infiltrating a patrician family by the local vampiric coven. Though Kretthan announced his death, in truth, he harbored and sustained the young man.
It felt like Argrave had been dealing with too many vampires of late. He supposed it was inevitable, given Galamon’s presence—his promise to cure the man spurred him towards the things. Only this time, they wouldn’t be coming for his throat. He’d be coming for theirs… at least, in a metaphorical sense. Not all were bloodthirsty fiends. And some people were more than happy to play the enemy for the right price.
It made him feel a bit dirty, frankly… but he was doing a good thing, even if he was going about it in an immoral way. At the very least, that was what he told himself as Durran stepped ahead, knocking on the great oaken doors marking the entrance the Kretthan’s estate.
“So, Argrave… left?” Orion asked the man who went by the name of Boarmask.
The both of them sat by an oasis in the town of the southron elves. The helmet that gave the man his name leaned against his foot as he sat cross-legged, gentle winds rustling his short blonde hair.
“He did. They all did,” Boarmask confirmed. “And even despite Titus using his people’s ancestry as a cudgel, the southron elves do not care. The people don’t care. After all…” Boarmask laughed. “Someone else’s fate doesn’t affect them. And Titus does the ‘right thing,’ at least now. I suspect even if damning evidence was posted right before their face, nothing would truly happen. A few grievers might seek vengeance for the deaths that Titus caused, his deliberate slaughter…” he shook his head. “Won’t work. He's well-protected, well-loved, and paranoid. An unbreakable defense.”
Orion looked to Boarmask. “I could end him.”
The man’s blue eyes met Orion’s, and the two held their stare for a minute.
“Durran’s outburst… his exile, his departure with Argrave…” Boarmask shook his head. “I understand it. Who are we to decide what people want? Who are we to decide what people should do? Who are we to chart their fate?”
Orion thought at that a moment. “…the gods ordain all. That’s why Argrave did this.”
Boarmask laughed. “Argrave didn’t do this for the gods.” He looked to the prince. “The gods don’t ordain a damn thing. This isn’t a matter of faith. Fellhorn… these Vessels have blessings the same as you do. They claim that theirs is the right way.”
“Yet it isn’t,” Orion posited. “I know you are a faithful of Vasquer.”
“I don’t pray to Vasquer alone. I adopt whatever gods I feel are good for this world, no matter their pantheon. If you were born here, would you worship Vasquer’s pantheon?” Boarmask suggested.
Orion stood and kneeled before the oasis, peering into the water. “…but the gods…”
“You said their voice has left you,” Boarmask reminded him.
Orion sat, eyes still fixed on the pool ahead. “Then… no. I would never learn, and so could not worship.”
Boarmask nodded, saying nothing more. He left Orion alone with his thoughts. After a time, he watched him. “Why did you come here, Orion?”
“To learn. To think. To grow on my own,” the prince described at once.
“Ever since Argrave left… I’ve been feeling much the same way,” the man said, leaning back onto his hands.
Orion jerked his head back. “I need a moment of enlightenment.”
“Doesn’t exist,” Boarmask rebuked. “Or… maybe it does. People say it does. But for me… plenty of others… we just go through life, trying to puzzle things out. We aren’t gods. We aren’t demons. We are men. However we got here, whatever we are… we can make our own decisions, come to our own conclusions. Things aren’t clear. You can choose your gods, offer your worship, or refrain altogether. It’s…” Boarmask shook his head. “I don’t know. I can’t tell you anything.”
“I shouldn’t choose. I am stupid. Slow-witted, my father always called me. Slow-witted people should listen to their parents,” Orion said.
“Why?” Boarmask pressed.
“Because they know better,” Orion replied at once.
“Why?” Boarmask repeated.
“Because I am s—”
“You’re not stupid,” Boarmask shook his head. “It… your father is one of the worst humans I have ever heard tell of. He is a blight on the land far worse than the plague you and Argrave stopped.”
Orion’s hands clenched into fists in rage, yet after a few seconds, as though some voice had reminded him to calm, he relaxed. “Why is that?”
“Do you enjoy suffering?” Boarmask asked.
“No,” Orion answered at once.
“Your father has made hundreds of thousands suffer. Lightly for some, unimaginably for many.” Boarmask looked up to the sky. “What places you above them? Why should they suffer when you should not?” The man looked at Orion. “It’s all in your mind. It’s all what you think.” His gaze was certain for a few seconds, but then he broke off laughing. “But who am I to preach? I am only a hypocrite and a failure.”
Silence reigned between them, and Orion fell into deep thought, studying his own reflection in the oasis.
Boarmask stood up. “Well… it’s late. The last thing I expected was to speak to you all the way out in here in the middle of nowhere… but at this point, I’ve accepted all the weird nonsense occurring around me. Spring comes, then summer—it is to be blisteringly hot. I depart this place a failure, returning to where I failed once before: Vasquer. Even if I fail again, I must try and make things right.”
The man bent down and retrieved his helmet, putting it back over his head. He left no parting words, merely walked away. Orion stood up quickly and called, “Hold.”
Boarmask looked back.
“How do you intend to make things right?” Orion questioned.
No expression was betrayed beneath the iron boar mask, yet the man shifted on his feet uncertainly. In time, he simply said, “…there is a reason that the Margrave, a man of honor, rebelled against your father.”
Orion closed his eyes. “I will return. And I will judge for myself.”
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- Buried on a hill overlooking a little river with pinecones all around
Bio: Author of the #1 'Heroes of Berendar' fan-fiction. Vicar of Crust. President of the Richie Aprile fan-club.
Orion will soon discover the atrocity that Filipe did. Everyone know now because Levin and his manifesto.
I think it will be Orion that kill Filipe.