Weekend Wind Down – Lyned

Winter had come to the central belt of Temsevar’s Western Continent, but not as a gentle embrace of soft flaky flurries and decorative crystal icicles hanging from picturesque gables. It came as it always came: rapacious and violent with high winds driving dense sheets of hard-packed snow at sub-zero temperatures into every unprotected nook and cranny. It covered everything in a blood-freezing, impenetrable white shroud, armour-plated with ice.
The girl, who stood by the window, looked out into the maelstrom with storm-riven grey eyes. Before, she had only ever gazed upon the softer onslaught of cold which descended on Harkera. South of its protective mountains and warmed by the seas of the Lesser Ocean, the southern kingdom was blessed in suffering a less violent assault of the elements than that which now raged beyond her window. But despite being aggressively invasive, she found the bitingly chill draft that seeped around the window frame and through the shutters, almost comforting. It reminded her that beyond her own, ruined world, the pall of isolation was being inflicted on all Temsevar. And whilst it remained surely no army could march.
Everyone made mistakes.
A lady of the court might choose the wrong shade or weave of fabric to make a fashionable gown, a notary might add up a column of figures inaccurately, friends might fall out over false gossip. Those were all mistakes that everyone could understand and forgive. But to betray one’s country by mistake was a different kind of miscalculation. It was not the kind of error that anyone could ever understand or forgive – worse, it was not the kind of error one could ever understand or forgive in oneself.
It was odd how romance, fuelled by the flames of ardour and simple animal passion could capture even the most detached and analytical of souls, making it slave to the senses. She, who had always prided herself on the strength of her intellect and impartiality, had fallen hostage to the same blind emotions which she had despised in her friends. She had watched all her contemporaries becoming simpering spouses before they had reached their twentieth summers and had shaken her head at their folly in sacrificing their independence for an effectively subservient role in a life-time partnership.
She had believed herself immune to the snares of those more flaccid sentiments, and immured in a severe and secure maturity of affection. But all that had counted for nothing when she met Ralik. His presence had transformed her from being a sensible, well-founded and emotionally stable adult into something more like a giddy fifteen year old. Swept along by her own treacherous emotions, she had not only condoned but actively engaged in kidnap, treason and probably murder. She felt a stab of self-revilement and her lips twisted with irony. Yes, everyone made mistakes but Lyned Islin made hers on a scale of life-sweeping grandeur and shook the destiny of nations, careless, as she went.
One thing Lyned was not ignorant about was history and she knew Temsevar had always been politically unstable. Based on the city-states, each ruled by its own Castellan with feudal powers over the Vavasors of dependent smaller towns and villages, bound together by bonds of blood, marriage, trade and the necessities of survival and driven apart by power plays, intrigue, politics and war. A few of the city-states had on occasion grouped themselves through conquest or mutual design, into loose alliances or nascent nations.
Alone, from earliest times, Harkera had been a sovereign nation, proud of its strength and its heritage of high culture. Never, since the founding of the nation – an event long lost in myth and legend – had it been anything other than the wealthiest and most powerful of Temsevar’s political forces. Protected by the mountains which separated it from the central lowlands and deserts of the Western Continent, nurtured by the balmy currents and winds that came in from the Lesser Ocean, Harkera had been blessed by the gods with every advantage of nature: fertile soil, warm climate and in the mountains, reserves of precious and common minerals. Nothing had threatened the towering independence of Harkera, until Qabal Vyazin had begun his meteoric climb to power.
Lyned knew civil war had weakened Harkera politically and economically, but it had also strengthened it in military terms, but not enough, never enough, to stand against the precocious ferocity of the Warlord from the north. Then, with the wolves of Vyazin virtually at the gates of Harkera’s capital city, Cressida, a miracle had delivered the military genius of the age to defend her – Jariq Zarengor, the Black Vavasor. He who had been the architect of so many of Vyazin’s own victories, the Warlord’s most loyal right hand, had betrayed his lord, defected, and come to succour Harkera.
It should have meant the survival of Harkera, the turning back of the Warlord and the breaking of his sharp fangs upon the white walls of Cressida. But she, daughter of the most trusted Castellan in the councils of the Regent of Harkera, had committed as great a treason as Zarengor.
In her father’s service had been an exiled northern nobleman: tall, dark, and more than handsome enough to inflame her senses, kind and honourable enough to hold her heart and intelligent and educated enough to engage her mind. At twenty-five, she had long since set aside any thoughts of marriage and romance and considered herself wedded only to her studies. In her teens she had persuaded her father to allow her to travel to Keran, the capital of all Temsevar by virtue of its space port, to study there and all her ambitions since she returned were focused around the development of Cressida’s nascent university, which would have been the first ever founded on the continent. But Ralik had broken through that complacency and left her in an alien landscape of passion, blind to anything except the need to be with him.
And that would have been impossible in Harkera where a disinherited northern noble held the same status as a mercenary soldier and was not the fitting husband for the only daughter of a Castellan. The anguish of it had dominated her life for over a year. She had survived on snatched moments in his company, never more than brief encounters in private. It had become harder and harder to bear.
Then, at the height of the frustration, Ralik had come to her and offered her the chance to be his bride. He told her he had found a way that he could regain favour with his kinsman, Qabal Vyazin. He had been promised a grant of lands and the title of Castellan. And she, lost in the pangs of an exquisite emotional agony, had agreed that he should do it. She would have done anything to be with him. The price had been to deliver Harkera’s only hope back to the Warlord. But it had been a price she had agreed and even helped to pay.
It had only taken the violence and hardship of those events and of the subsequent journey to Tabruth to convince her of her mistake. She knew now that whatever burning desire she had felt for Ralik Vyazin, it had not been rooted in any genuine or meaningful affection and she also knew, that by some tragic jest, his affection for her was not only deep but possessive. Ralik remained entranced and in her sudden, frightening, awakening to wisdom she had come to realise that it was only through using that blinded enchantment she could hope now to survive.
She was like a rose cut from its briar, unable to live untended and alone in this alien soil, utterly reliant upon Ralik’s goodwill to keep her safe. The dangers around her were vivid and real and, although gently raised and sheltered in so many ways, she was far from naïve. She could still recall the hard hands of Warlord’s Commander Caer as they had bruised her body and the cold appraising stare of the Warlord himself when Ralik had presented her.
“You are the daughter of Morvyn Islin, Castellan of Kyphra,” he had said, the hooded eyes looking down his long nose, making of the words a statement not a question. She had nodded and lowered her eyes. The clear, carrying voice had taken on a note she found hard to place, something of amusement or irony perhaps. “Well Harkera’s loss is our gain. I am sure your father will be pleased to learn you are safe and well with us here. I shall see a messenger is sent to inform him.”
She had coloured then, feeling the deep red of shame flooding into her face at the thought of exactly how her father would receive such a message. Then the Warlord had dismissed her and spoken a few words to Ralik in private before they were allowed to withdraw.
She had never believed even in her most profound flights of fantasy that she would be one to shape world events. But in that moment of sudden shame she had seen that because of a single word of Lyned Islin – because she had said ‘yes’ and not ‘no’ – at that point, the very course of destiny had been shifted and its bedrock shattered. That in the moment she had given her agreement to Ralik’s plan, she had taken the axis of fate into her own hands and spun it in a new direction.

From Transgressor: Dues of Blood a Fortune’s Fools book by E.M. Swift-Hook.

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