Lorchyra, the great obsidian matriarch, called The Long Darkness, had lived for thousands of years. She recalled the stars when they young, and though few ever heard more than a few words from her at a time across the span of years, she could move mountains with a whisper.
The timescale of the ancient wyrms defined them, and defined their culture. For Lorchyra and the other great matriarchs, a quick nap was measured in decades. A longer nap measured centuries, and a long sleep was counted in milennia. Her kiin kept eyes on the world, but the eldest of these were nearly as old as Lorchyra herself. They kept her lair free of vermin, and polished her illustrious hoard of precious coins and jewels, offerings from a bygone era when the Drac had ruled the world and had been worshipped as gods.
Her children rose and fell beneath a single closing of her great scaled eyelids, each eye the size of a temple, each claw large enough to cover a town, her tail large enough to dam a river, or rumble the ground like a quake when it lashed the earth.
The age when she had dominated and terrorized Runea had long since passed, and her periods of waking were brief, measured in weeks or months, and many felt that soon she would pass beyond the world entirely, falling into the deep sleep of contemplation and merge with the cosmos, becoming a goddess herself.
It had happened before.
Like all Drac matriarchs, she had her favorites. Her spawn hatched from her eggs, bearing the characteristic blue-black scales of her Obsidian bloodline. She laid a clutch of eggs every few hundred years, and upon awakening she would speak with her kiin, and get a sense of the outside world, and discuss the most promising of her children that had hatched during her slumber. She would ask to meet with them, and would speak with them, and on the basis of that single conversation she would determine who was fit to serve, and who was fit to be sacrificed.
Her eldest daughter, the one who most said would be matriarch when her mother passed beyond was named Ssurra, called the Night Wind. An eregaunte of power and grace who was the voice of her mother while she slept, she was a capable administrator, and her animus was strong, as was her command of the High Art.
But some speculated that her favorite was her youngest daughter, Sheldrache. In Sheldrache she spoke of her as an example of the future that she saw for their kind, and the personification of the Drac virtues. Sheldrache was the first of her children to undergo the First Exile, and the one who had lived among humankind for twenty-five years as one of their own, without an inkling of suspicion ever crossing her door. She had proven her guile, her deviousness, and her patience several times over. She had returned to her mother with stories of the world of Man, of the Many Kingdoms, and had shared what developments had occurred among that troublesome race during the centuries while Lorchyra had slept, ever since they had withdrawn to the Kaers and away from that troublesome race.
Sheldrache had informed her of the end of the Elvariens, their ancient allies, and of the feuding houses of Man at war with each other, covering the Many Kingdoms in constant conflict. In this the great wyrm saw the only hope for their kind, for in fighting each other the humans were their own worst enemy, and frittered away their potential by striving to work against each other. Sheldrache had also told her of their great advancements in the arts of war, of finance, and in their ever-increasing exploration of the seas of Runea. She told her of the spread of the wyverns, of the subjugation of the lesser races of Runea under the thumb of the humans, and of the sightings of the Yeomi in the lands far to the east.
As the great matriarch's eyes had grown heavy, and she began to sink once more into long slumber, Lorchyra, the Long Darkness, had touched Sheldrache with her animus, and communicated her own secret words to her within her mind, a private conversation between them both.
A time is coming. The beginning of the end. I have seen it in my dreams. The lost shall return, the unconquered shall be conquered, and the ancient wood will burn with dracfaer. You will see these signs, and you will rise to Exile once more. My brood will play their part in this destiny.
Sheldrache banked, catching an updraft and drifting over the skies of Kaer Drac with easy familiarity, gliding over the valleys and lush, unspoiled countryside of the Drac homeland. Her powerful wings kept her airborne with little effort, the skin stretched between them catching the updrafts and thermals and providing direction, but it was the High Art itself that kept her aloft, propelling her through the air at speeds normally impossible for a creature of her great size.
She'd been airborne for hours, and couldn't escape the itch. Sheldrache felt consumed by boredom. This was normally when an eregaunte would sleep, when the drudgery of eternity became too much to bear, when every day was filled with tedium and the same sights, the same sounds were sickening in their monotonous predictability. Sleep was refreshing to all species, and awakening from sleep, everything felt new and full of possibility. Dragons felt no different upon waking. It was past time for Sheldrache to sleep, yet she would not.
Sheldrache was afraid she'd miss something important.
At her age, she knew her sleep would grow longer and longer. She maintained her wakefulness, day after day, ever hoping that something would happen, and every day growing increasingly frustrated that it didn't.
As she was passing along the outer border of Kaer Drac, beyond which was the shimmering wall built by the High Art to keep the world out and remove them from that fractious world of Man entirely, she felt a brush of kinship against her aura. She released the dampening hold on her aura, and felt a barrage of emotions assault her. At the unharnessed power of her draconic animus, the creature it touched began babbling within its mind, spouting back worshipful thoughts of obedience and praise, almost mad with rapture. Inwardly, she smiled, and soothed the jabbering drake that was trapped on the other side of the barrier, and trying to find a way inside.
She concentrated, opening a small passage for the drake, who winged its way past and into Kaer Drac. Home, was the thought she sent it, conveying a soothing voice, like the soft stroking of the scales at its temple. You are home.
As it approached closer, it circled and wheeled about her gracefully in the air, and she laughed, joining in the aerial play. Together they drifted above the idyllic and unspoiled valleys that punctuated the lands of Kaer Drac far below, soaring between mountain peaks, sharing their draconic comaraderie. Something unusual had indeed happened, and her instincts felt justified. If she'd slept she would have missed it.
As the thoughts of the drake merged more fully with hers, she suddenly cried out in shock, feeling the stab of pain at its chest, and noticing the hot blood of dragonkind clotting around the wound. A cascade of memories assaulted her, memories that were not entirely those of the drake itself, possessing an intelligence and sophistication that informed her that these foreign thoughts were those of another Drac.
I am Iorneste, they said. I have just undertaken my First Exile. You can see the flames, and feel them as I did, this is what remains of the human town known as Sandridge, and worse, what the dracfaer has done to the Wyldlands.
She felt the warm heat of Iorneste's anger, and shared it along with him as her own. An unsettling memory of the prophetic words of her mother were also ringing in her thoughts.
That is not all. This drake was coerced into burning the Wyldlands by one who rode him. Somehow, the humans have found a way to ride the drakes, and they do it in this way. She felt the memory of the spurs gouging the drake's hide, and could feel the still-throbbing pain of his mouth where the bit had been held. She felt glimpses of memories of the rider from the drake, felt the strong bond he felt with her, and that he even now lamented her absence. She also felt his gratitude towards the young male Drac who had freed him from his servitude, at his new freedom and ability to seek the sky on his own, and of his burning desire to get home, to find home, and his sense of completeness and comfort in finding it at last.
I am now Yorn of Summersgard, dragonslayer, and I swear to you, my people, that I would never slay one of the Drac, nor could I slay this drake, though many now believe that I have done just that. I have sent this poor soul back to you to demonstrate what the humans are now capable of, but also because I could not bear his suffering. She felt the anguish in Iorneste's heart through the memory he had implanted, and could not be sure if the ire she felt was his or her own. Even Mourne is not aware that I have done this.
She sought the ground along with the drake, feeling the shock of association. Mourne? So Iorneste's mentor for the First Exile was Mourne?
The last of Iorneste's implanted memories drifted to her from the mind of the drake. Please take care of this one, for he has suffered enough. I have taken custody of the dragonrider responsible for this mess, and she will be made to answer for her crimes. My Exile continues, uninterrupted. I look forward to seeing you all in twenty-five years time.
Once she had absorbed these foreign thoughts, she applied her own animus to the task, making sure that no trace of them remained within the drake's mind. Then she gave the drake directions to join the others of its kind, and it winged away with a final trill of adulation.
There was only one whose counsel she trusted at a time like this.
Rrachma's lair burrowed deep into the earth, near the center of an inactive volcano. It was distant and isolated from most of Kaer Drac, but his hunting grounds still extended for miles beyond his lair.
She dove down into the bowl-shaped depression that marked the entrance, a mostly-inactive volcano that kept his old dragon bones warm while jeopardizing his voluminous collection of books, both human and dragon-sized. Rrachma claimed that he would know when it was time to move his library, but that this time would not come for many centuries yet.
The corridors were wide enough for even a dragon of her size to fly if she drew in her wings, and she did so, spiraling ever deeper into the mountain, relying upon her memory to guide her. She arrived in the heart of Rrachma's lair, landing gently upon the well-polished flagstones that were kept spotless by his human kiin, and caught him in the act of reading.
His scales were like polished gold, and his size was the equal of hers, simply due to the many centuries he had lived beyond her. Had they been of equal age, she'd have been decidedly larger. "Sheldrache," he said, as she landed, his eyes never leaving the pages of the book he was immersed in.
"Rrachma sire, I greet thee."
The razor tip of one of his claws curved under the page of the tome he read, turning the page with excessive care and gentleness and the papery sound was loud in the quiet hall. "What brings you here today, Sheldrache? I appreciate your company, but I have only read this particular volume once before, and I had forgotten how engaging it was."
The enchanted spectacles that were his hallmark were perched upon his nose, the frames crafted by his human kiin but the magic within them created by Rrachma himself. They allowed him to decipher any language ever written, and it was primarily for this reason that he had become the de facto librarian of the Drac. His age and status, his adoration for books, and his care in preserving them provided the rest of the justifications.
"I do not wish to keep you from your book, Rrachma, but something has happened."
Their auras merged, allowing Sheldrache to more quickly deliver the information she had gleaned from the drake. It had the desired effect, and he looked up and away from his book at her, as if about to ask a question, and then instantly having his desire for clarification sensed, and then answered by Sheldrache with a thought.
With it came the barest hint of a suggestion from Rrachma, so subtle that she was not entirely sure it had not been her idea all along. She took it as a blessing, and bowed her head to him with respect, not so much for his station, but for his wisdom.
"Tread carefully," Rrachma said, and then turned his attention back to his book. Sheldrache did not speak her farewells, having said that already via her animus, and launched herself back up into the network of tunnels, sprinting through the air towards the border of Kaer Drac, and passing through the barrier to the Wyldlands beyond.
Rrachma returned to his book after Sheldrache had winged away, stored on a shelf among his favorites. It was one that he had written, yet he was not the author of the story within its pages.
The story had been dictated to him, from the lips of a young dragon, many years ago.
"Tell me a story," Rrachma had said to the young dragon, who had just finished another of the towering stack of books beside him.
"But, eregaunte, you already know every story that I have read," the young Drac had protested.
Rrachma had smiled, his sharp teeth glinting amongst his golden scales. "That is correct, but there is still at least one story that I do not yet know, and you possess it."
The obsidian Drac had perked up, head and neck stretching forward in surprise, red eyes blinking. "I do?"
"Tell me a story that does not yet exist. Tell me a story that comes from you."
"You want me to create a story? Right now?" The young Drac had almost purred with pleasure at the novelty of the idea, and Rrachma had felt a paternal pride at the young drake he had sired.
"Yes," Rrachma had said, laying over to the side and sprawling upon the massive pillows stretched upon the floor, "If you can."
The young dragon had thought for long moments, and when he started speaking Rrachma listened, committing every word to memory. "This is a story of a human, a human who became the most legendary of men. This is the story of a slayer of dragons, of beasts great and small, of an extraordinary dragonslayer who roamed the Many Kingdoms, and even the Yeomi trembled at his name."
"What was his name?" asked Rrachma, smiling.
"Yorn. Yorn of Summersgard."
Oren was in a foul mood. Nothing made one feel less like a Captain than having an admiral come aboard his ship, disrespect him in front of his men, threaten his crew, steal something of unestimable value from his quarters, and turn the savior of himself and his crew into a prisoner, whisking him and his friend off of the ship, while praising the one who had killed the ship's prior Captain and treating her with respect, releasing her from his captivity.
"A bloody reversal of fortunes indeed," he grumbled, chewing on the end of his pipe and billowing clouds of smoke into the night air.
He stormed about the deck of the Maiden's Fancy trailing a cloud of acrid smoke and all who caught his eye made a wide circle so as not to get into his way. Broch remained behind on deck staring out into the sea, but Quints had gone with the men and most of the passengers to the island nearby to re-stock their supplies and, for the landlubbers like the merchant, to seek a place that wasn't on a shifting deck or confined to tight quarters.
The crew had laid a fire on the beach nearby, and were dancing and drinking in the firelight, their laughing voices calling out into the night, garbled as they crossed the water and the sound of the sea. The Waystones were small islands, and though some enterprising sorts had built small structures within the trees, there was no real industry or civilization to speak of. They were an excellent place to replenish supplies, having small creeks within the interior of the islands that provided ample water, small furry animals that could make a tasty meal in a pinch, and during the growing season, fruits that could be plucked from the trees.
It was also a good place for smugglers to stash their cargo, and among seafarers it was considered neutral ground, and all enmities were stowed and forgotten while within its waters. In theory, anyway. Not everyone possessed a sense of honor or fairness, and representatives of governments like the Esturian navy that had just passed them by and wounded Oren's ego in front of his crew would not have cared about the truce even if they had been aware of it.
Oren watched the fire and comaraderie of the distant shore without wanting to be a part of it.
Over the rush of the sea and its billowing winds there suddenly came a sound from the seaward side of the ship, carried in snatches by the sea wind: loud splashing and strangled gasps for air.
"Sir!" shouted Broch, pointing out into the dark waters. "There's someone in the water!"
Oren drew closer to the edge, pipe parked firmly in his mouth. "Or some thing," he countered, his bleak mood still hanging about him like the smoke of his burning tabac leaf.
The sound came clearer over the water, gasps, feverish drowning gasps gulping for air, quickly submerged by water. Broch turned a pleading eye upon the captain. "Sir, it's...it's a woman."
Broch had already tossed off his coat to the deck and placed one hand upon the rail, ready to leap overboard, but paused to look askance at Oren. His eyes were filled with hope.
"Rat bastard," Oren muttered at him, and pointed the stem of his pipe into the distance towards the gasping creature they could only hear, but not see. "You finally get what you've always wanted: a damsel to save. And yes, before you ask, she can sleep in your quarters. Just remember a drowning woman will pull you under the same as a drowning man."
Broch gave him a saucy smile of thanks. "You know me too well, Cap'n," he said, and then dove into the water, paddling out with sure strokes in the direction of the drowning woman before disappearing into the night.
Oren contented himself with the amusing thought that she'd be some oversized peasant woman of middle age and relished the look he would see on Broch's face when he arrived with the battle axe in tow, all starry-eyed for her rescuer. He heard the sounds of Broch's swimming grow more distant, and could not hear the woman at all anymore, an ominous sign. What could she be doing out here?
After a few moments, he called out, "Broch! Apeface!"
There was a groan from the distance, Broch's voice, and Oren began to chuckle. "I've...got...her, Cap'n! Lower a rope!"
Oren tucked the pipe in his pocket, and kicked a coil of rope over the side, placing one foot upon the bulwark, and peering down below towards the murky waters. "How's the water?" he called back.
Broch muttered something amidst all of his watery sputtering that sounded like a very unflattering portrayal of Oren's mother. He might have been offended, if she hadn't tried to kill him when he was nine years old.
Finally, Broch reached the side of the boat, his damsel in tow. He secured the woman below, and after snugging the rope called up to him. "Heave, Cap'n! Put your back into it!"
"I'll give the orders here, boatswain!" Oren called back, but he began to pull and found himself struggling to make any headway. "She weighs seven tons, Broch! Are you sure you didn't catch a whale out there?"
"Thought it was just my imagination!" Broch shouted back from below, treading water, already beginning to regain his breath. "Probably all the skirts she's wearing! That dress has more layers than a lord's wedding cake!"
Noblewoman, was the thought that instantly came to Oren's mind, and the thought of gold came with it, causing him to redouble his efforts. He was a powerful, stocky man, but after making only a few feet with the rope and feeling it beginning to slack and slip back through his hands, he called out to some of the other men standing on deck who had paused to watch the commotion. "You lads!" he grunted. "Get your arses over here and help me with this wench!"
They snapped to it at once, and joined him in pulling on the rope. With the aid of his men, they began to make headway. Once, when Captain Sorens had been in charge, the winch for the anchor had broken, and the entire crew had pitched in to haul it up to deck. This felt like a similar level of effort.
Finally they pulled her over the side and hauled her up on deck. One of the crewmen untied the rope and tossed it back over the side for Broch, while they laid the woman down upon the deck, dragging her into a patch of moonlight to get a look at her and assess her condition.
When Broch pulled himself up on deck, streaming saltwater from his clothes, hair, and beard, he found the captain and the crew crowded around the woman, staring as if moonstruck. As Broch moved closer, Oren looked up at the boatswain from his crouch at the woman's side and shook his head. "You lucky, lucky sonofabitch, Broch. I really hate you right now."
"What?" asked Broch, stepping inside the circle of men and looking down. "Oh gods, she's...she's beautiful."
The men moaned reverently and several nodded in agreement, unwilling to look away. The moonlight across her face illuminated her pale skin like glowing alabaster, and glistened in her wet raven-black hair. Her features were soft, noble, her nose perfectly-formed, and her lips full and kissed with youth's blush, and her wet dress clinging to the curves of her body. The dress was an elaborate affair, cut low in front, and sweeping down around her ankles, a split in the front revealing one very shapely bit of leg. There was jewelry in her ears and around her neck, a jeweled barrette in her soggy hair, and her buxom chest rose and fell lightly with her unconscious breaths.
"This is the greatest day of my life," Broch breathed, so quietly that only Oren could hear him.
The woman began to cough, and turned to one side, spitting out sea water onto the deck, and then suddenly jerked upright, shock written on her symmetrical features. Her eyes were wide, and a captivating shade of violet that Oren had never seen before. Eyes that could rule a man with a look. Eyes you could dream about for days.
"Okay, that's enough, you lot," Oren called to the men, gesturing for them to step back. "Let's not scare the poor lass." She looked around the ship, wet hair whipping about as she scanned the faces of the men who were all looking at her with spellbound attention, some of them taking a few hesitant steps back in response to the captain's orders. "Don't mind them, milady," Oren said, his voice soft. "They've just never seen a noblewoman this close before."
And then it happened. The woman bit her bottom lip for a moment, and then she smiled. Soggy with water and certainly not at her best as she was, with that smile every man who looked upon her was instantly smitten.
"Th-thank you," she gasped, her voice rich and commanding, soft yet deeper and more powerful than Oren expected. "Thank you for rescuing me. All of you. Thank you," she looked down at her lap, taking stock of her attire and waterlogged state, then up to Broch who Oren irritably noted was staring at her with open-mouthed awe, one step away from spouting bad poetry.
"What in the world happened to you, milady?" asked Oren, realizing he was going to have to do the talking. Some of the behavior of the crew was understandable. They had been at sea many days, and women, especially beautiful women were a distraction that was often deferred until reaching port. But that wasn't all of it by half. She really was an exquisite specimen, and though Oren felt their mute stares made his crew seem like dolts, he couldn't really blame them for their uncharacteristic silence.
Her smile fell, and her eyebrows drew inward, large violet eyes beginning to swell with tears. "Pirates," she said, lip trembling. "Our ship was attacked, and my nurse tossed me into the water, telling me to swim in this direction....at least, I think I was supposed to swim this way. I got turned around, and...tired...I thought I was going to die..."
"She steered you right, she did," Oren assured her.
She turned her attention to Broch. "You saved me. You didn't even know me, but you saved me..."
Broch found his voice, kneeling at her side, and taking her hand. "It was nothing, milady. Milady...what is your name, if I may be so bold?"
"Shelle," she said back to him, smiling once more and blinking back her tears. "My name is Shelle." She did not retrieve her hand from Broch's tender grip, and Broch did not seem in any hurry to release it.
"Shelle," Broch answered, tasting the name on his lips. "Pleased to meet you, Lady Shelle."
"Shelle," Oren echoed. "A fitting name, for someone pulled from the sea."
"A treasure rescued from the sea," Broch corrected him.
She blushed, and reached back to her long black hair, pulling it over one shoulder to bare her neck and wringing it out, dripping a flood of water onto the deck. "I don't suppose," she mused, "That one of you could lend me your quarters so that I could get out of these wet clothes?"
The men suddenly found their voices, each of them loudly volunteering and shouting over the other. Broch looked so suddenly smug that Oren wanted to punch him in the face.
Looking among the clamoring men, and the beautiful young sea nymph in their midst, Oren realized he had lost control of his ship for the second time that day.
Iorneste was sick of being imprisoned already, and it had only been a few short days. Mourne had slept, but Iorneste was not tired. His sleep schedule and even his appetite was measured in weeks at this stage of his development, and after gorging himself on fish he felt neither hungry nor tired. He nibbled on the bread and took sips of the water they were given, but most of his share went to Mourne, who did not object. Sleep would have been a blessing, at least he could pass the time a bit more. Not for the first time, but hitting him with a powerful longing every time a draft of sea air wafted in, was the desire to stretch his wings and fly. Flight always had a way of clearing his head, of putting the world into proper perspective.
Then he would remember he did not have wings, and that he would not be flying anywhere for another twenty-five years. It is no wonder time seems so long to humans, he mused, drawing up his knees to his chest and letting out a deep sigh. Reckoning the passage of days since leaving Kaer Drac, he found it hard to believe it had only been a week.
Most of his time during his incarceration was spent thinking, deep in introspection, punctuated by a few snatches of conversation with Mourne. He had an inkling of what it must have felt like for Selka to be confined to quarters aboard the Maiden's Fancy and although he felt little sympathy for her, he recognized her at last for what she was: a whelp, a child by the standards of his people. That she had done a horrible thing and needed to be punished for it went without saying, but he found himself hating her just a bit less.
Mourne and Iorneste chatted little, often alone with their thoughts, but having spent so much time in Kaer Drac where solitude and introspection were the norm, they felt little discomfort at this state of affairs. Mourne had not granted him any permission to escape, nor to use the High Art for any purpose other than one of life or death--his or Iorneste's. Despite his very rational arguments, Mourne was insistent that Iorneste remain human, and keep his gifts under restraint.
Their most productive discussion came about when plotting out details of their early association with one another, their "backstory" as Mourne called it, such that they would provide a unified front under questioning.
It turned out to be time well spent.
The sound of the ratcheting keys in the lock snapped Iorneste to alertness, and Mourne lifted his head from the dirty pillow, cracking his eyelid, squinting in the sudden light that flooded in behind the door. Two soldiers, armored, hands on their sword hilts, and with impassive faces strode into the brig, stopping before Iorneste and Mourne's gate. One of them kicked the bars.
"Get up! Admiral wants a word with you."
Mourne yawned, stretching into a sitting position. "Of course, kindly show me—"
"Not you," said the one on the right. "Just the dragonslayer."
Iorneste blinked, but rose to his feet. The two guards took in his height and size with guarded expressions as he looked down upon them, one of them unlocking the gate. Iorneste stepped out of the cell, giving Mourne a reassuring smile, who smiled back thinly in return. There was nothing to say, everything had already been said. Disarmed as he was, Iorneste was comforted knowing that if the Admiral tried to have him killed, his gloves were off and it would be the last mistake he ever made.
Despite the much larger size of the galleon compared to the Maiden's Fancy, the trip was reasonably short. His attempts at conversation were ignored by the two guards, one of them telling him to "shut up" which he found unforgivably rude. He could not really tell them apart, and wondered if they were kin. They certainly dressed with uniformity and their manner seemed to be uniformly curt and dismissive as well.
They reached the door of the Admiral's quarters, one of the two knocking on the door. "Sir? The prisoner you requested is here."
From inside, Iorneste could hear the creak of wood and the admiral's voice. "Bring him inside."
"Get inside, you," one of them said gruffly, pushing him hard upon his back. Iorneste glanced back behind him, bemused at the angry expression on the man's face that his shove had not even knocked him off-balance. Rather than antagonize him further, although Iorneste was tempted to do so, he stepped forward into the room, ducking his head to keep from clipping it on the low-cut door frame.
The Admiral's quarters were well-appointed and clean, with the first actual bed he had ever seen outside of a book's description, also affixed to the floor, with fresh linens and sheets. It looked very comfortable, and he yearned to lay upon it just for the experience, but the ever-stern look on the Admiral's face dissuaded him.
The Admiral was seated behind an oaken desk, hands resting upon its surface, fingers steepled. "You may leave us now," he said to the two guards, who bowed stiffly and departed, closing the door behind them.
Iorneste's eyes were drawn to the desk, where Yrmbane lay unsheathed upon its surface. Iorneste shuffled closer to the Admiral, who raised one hand and said, "That is close enough. I have some questions for you, Yorn of Summersgard, if that is indeed your real name."
"You doubt my name?"
The admiral smiled like a shark. "I have a good sense for people. Any successful man who leads other men must have such a sense. And I think you to be nothing but a snake. A confidence man, a rogue, who has duped others into thinking of him as a hero. A slayer of dragons, indeed." He sniffed, his manner as arrogant as any that Iorneste had seen on an eregaunte.
"Then I do not see what we have to talk about," Iorneste said, and his dismissive tone was not feigned.
"We have much to talk about."
"I disagree. You have already made up your mind about me. If I am a rogue, then you can trust nothing that I say. If your faulty opinion is not amenable to reason, then there is no point in attempting to convince you otherwise. I should go back to my cell and await the judgment of your more enlightened superiors, assuming that your superiors possess superior wisdom, which can be my only appeal in the face of such baldfaced bias."
The admiral's face began to purple, but his voice came back under control, but the heat was in his words. "I do not like you, Yorn of Summersgard. I do not like your tone. I do not like your professorial manner of addressing me, or how you appeared out of nowhere to slay one of Esturia's great dragons—"
Iorneste snorted. "It was hardly a great dragon. If it had been a great dragon, your daughter would have been devoured many years ago."
The admiral slammed his fist on the on the desk. "Enough! I will not have such disrespect on my own ship, within my own quarters no less!"
"You will give disrespect within your quarters to a guest, but accept none in return? This is a curious custom. Do all Esturians abide by such rules, or are you starting a new trend?"
The admiral rose slowly to his feet, voice dropping low and filled with danger. "You. Are. Not. A. Guest. You are a prisoner, and prisoners deserve no respect."
"Hmm," Iorneste looked down and scratched one of his arms in the casual way he had seen Oren do once aboard the Maiden's Fancy. "I think perhaps we should move on to the real reason you brought me here, as I do not think we will agree on my status while we are aboard your ship."
The admiral took a few shallow breaths, eyes darting to the door as if eager to invite the guards back into the room, but regained his composure somewhat, glancing down at the sword on the desk in front of him. "Very well, prisoner, before I toss you back into the brig and forget you forever, I would ask about your sword."
"Yrmbane? What of it?"
"It is a king's sword. Enchanted, this is obvious, and rare beyond measure. I have only seen another sword like it in my lifetime, and it was wielded by the Emperor of Sura in battle, and kept hung upon the wall behind his throne as a treasured heirloom, passed down within the dynasty through generations. How did you come to possess it?"
Iorneste smiled, and his smile was so predatory that the Admiral found himself taking a step backwards before his pride stopped him. "I am a rogue, as you said. I stole it, of course, from the hoard of a dragon that I killed."
"And that," said the Admiral. "Is a lie."
"You know that it is. Dragons do not hoard wealth, they would have no use for it, they are dumb creatures, little more than beasts."
"Then where do the heirloom swords come from?"
"From an age of Man which is now lost, of course! As it is taught in the very universities of Summersgard which you claim to be your home!"
Iorneste had been prepared for many things, but ignorance and a corrupted history left him momentarily speechless while he considered these ramifications.
Seeing his silence, and misunderstanding it, the Admiral took a few steps closer to Iorneste. "I will ask you again: Where did you attain this sword?"
"Very well, I see what you want to hear: I stole it from a lord. It was a precious heirloom that belonged to his family. I wanted it for myself, so I simply took it."
The Admiral's expression was one that dumbfounded Iorneste, until he realized that it was the expression of one that is, himself, dumbfounded. "And now," the Admiral accused him, "You mock me."
"You mock yourself. That sword was forged by dragons, this is truth. But you will not accept the truth. You will not accept a lie, either. What options remain open to me?"
"To reveal the true origin of the sword, so that it may be returned to its rightful owner. Or to gift it freely to the King, that he might show you mercy."
"I am the rightful owner. If you do not believe this, pick it up now, and strike me with it."
"Do not tempt me," the Admiral said ominously.
"But I am tempting you. Strike me with it, you belching monkey! You smell of dung and ignorance, the two most useless things in all of Runea!" Iorneste emphasized his insult by giving the Admiral his most insulting smile.
Suddenly Yrmbane was in the Admiral's hands, and he was swinging it in Iorneste's direction. Iorneste did not need to speak any arcane words, but simply concentrated and called upon the magic that dwelled all around him, feeling the bonds of the Binding slacken in the face of this matter of life and death.
The sword's tip instantly pulled itself down to the floor, and the blade wrenched itself from the Admiral's grasp, throwing him off balance. He would have fallen along with the sword, except that Iorneste caught him before he could fall, guiding him back upright with strong arms, and setting him back onto his feet with a patronizing brush of imaginary dust from the epaulletes of his uniform.
"How dare you!" the admiral shouted.
"Daring was you," said Iorneste, with a calm and measured tone, the softness of his voice a glaring contrast to the apoplectic rage of the admiral. "Using an enchanted sword with no idea of its true nature. The sword chooses its wielder. This one has chosen me. You have shown that you are not worthy of it, and so it has rejected you."
"I will listen to no more of your lies. Guards!"
The entered the room with such speed that it was obvious they had been standing at the door with the handle already gripped in hand. Both of them grabbed one of Iorneste's arms and started to pull him out of the room. Or would have, except Iorneste kept his feet planted firmly. "I give you my first proof of my sincerity. If you think you are worthy, you need only lift the sword again. But I tell you this, and mark my words well: That sword will remain where it is. No one but me will be able to lift it, because that sword belongs to me."
"Get out!" shouted the Admiral. "Throw him in a different cell from his friend! No food or water until this cretin is ready to show me the respect I deserve!"
He makes it almost too easy, thought Iorneste. "But I have already shown you all the respect you deserve. I much preferred your daughter, and this is something I never expected to say, in this life or the next. I see now where her temper and her stubbornness comes from."
The guards pulled harder on his arms, wrenching him roughly, and this time he allowed it, stumbling along with their effort as if going unwillingly. There was only so long he could remain immobile without arousing suspicion, so when they "forced" him out into the hallway, he gave every indication he was at their mercy.
He found Selka in the hallway, staring at him with eyes wide. "What did you say to him?" she asked, as the door to the admiral's quarters slammed behind him and the sound of something large and heavy being thrown against the wall followed close behind. "I've never heard him this angry before!"
As the guards continued to muscle him down the hallway, back to the brig he called back behind him in answer, "That he is not nearly as wise as he thinks he is."
Flame of Wrath
by the Feline Inferno, Fireytika