There have been few times when I have seen my father, truly, maddeningly angry. The first was when I was only seven suns old. At the time, I had broken a sacred family artifact, the governing staff won from the Waterson tribal leader by my great, great, great-grandfather, the first symbol of Morien power. My tiny, yet powerful hands had pried the thing in two, and my father had promptly taken both ends of the stick and chased me around Castle Grey until at last he cornered me and beat me senseless. I had pretended that the beating itself wasn’t difficult, and it wasn’t. I was only a head shorter than my father at the time, and had a great deal of his strength. What frightened me was his face. It reddened and turned the color of raw, unbleached horsemeat. His fleshy eyelids bulged, pumped red rivers of blood into his eyes like a man gone to the wolves. And his frightening yell, ten times his own strength, a scream only heard by his enemies on the battlefield, deep as the God’s Basin in the far east, that could make a grown man’s eyes water.
Another instance, upon the day of my twelfth sun, my father had found the blueprints to my ship, or at least what I had dreamed my ship would be like. Sannath, I named it. After my mother. The plans were roasted on the firepit with our meal, my father’s eyes redder than the Husbands’ flame.
When we lost my mother, he was the worst.
My father unleashed, rage and fear collecting inside of him, hidden from my mother, until her lightness was gone. His rage buckled him, made his own body weaker. The weaker he was, the angrier he got, and the more he tried to prove himself, riding around the castle grounds on his horse, splitting open anyone who opposed him.
When my father looked at me in the feasting hall, I saw the eyes begin to blooden. While he was a more composed man than he had been in his youth, I knew what would befall his maids, and I pitied them.
I began the steady climb up to my quarters from the back stairwell. Better to draw less attention to myself now. I thought about my father having to explain his son, then dashing out of the place to confused and excited looks of whispering nobles. They would enjoy the show, perhaps extend their stays.
I could see a light on in my room upstairs. Odd, as Arcadia never left the lamps burning. Then my father’s guard stepped out, with three black-robed men, two Kingsguard apiece.
They nodded and reached for me. I slapped their hands but the Kingsguard surrounded me in an instant of flashing bronze and a few shouts.
“Heisir. Youngest son.” Emihil, the closest man to my father, stepped forward. “Why don’t you come with us a while? We would like to ask you questions of the day, just for... ah... mere observational purposes.” His pale face caved into itself at the lips, his features sunken into skin, roughly the color and texture of tree bark.
“Warmind Emihil, I can’t say the sun rises this evening.”
“Ah, and may the moon never rise, young Paul.” His wooden face carved a smile briefly, revealing pale green teeth, likely a byproduct of too much use of his Stone. “But you are coming with us, Soldier, no matter how you struggle. Your father just wishes to converse....”
He smiled victoriously at me, as if he had won further favor of my father as I had lost mine own. I lowered my head and avoided the gaze of the Kingsguard, many of which I knew well, and had helped their wives learn to read on the castle grounds. “Very well, Warmind.”
The robed man next to him, Adolpo, placed a slightly fattened hand on my shoulder, and turned me back in the direction of the stairs, to march down to my father’s meeting room.
The way was familiar; this was where Graydon and I had studied as boys. Down the Main Tower steps to the East Wing, third corridor.
But we didn’t stop at the entrance to the East Wing, nor the West Wing. We kept descending, down, and further down still. There was no way possible my father would call a meeting this far down... unless for a criminal trial... “Wait,” I asked suddenly, “what is the meaning of this? This is far lower than the meeting room!” My voice sounded unnaturally high-pitched.
No response. The point of a Kingsguard spear prodded the small of my back.
“Emihil, where are you taking me?”
The lights grew darker as we descended below ground, below water level. We entered the tomb of Dhannar, the last King touched by The Goddesses, and the first. The embarrassment of our lands. The place of shame, where war criminals come to die. Dhannar’s body, still blue-blooded and crystallized, shone with an icy light at the head of the altar, a body waiting, like the rest of mankind, for his soul to disperse to the next. Only his soul would never reach Akades, trapped in the chrysalis like some wretched, demented cocoon. The Goddesses, the souls of those before him, chose directly for him to never join them, abandoned him completely.
My breath died when I laid eyes on him, his purpling irises still widened in shock, about to take a final breath of fear in the presence of a Goddess given a corporeal form, a child of the Husbands and She combined. The God’s Day had been a rare miracle, and its coming had frightened them all, killing Dhannarism in the process. We were again the toys of another realm; Dhannar, all of Chaaya, was their playground, and like children they grew tiresome.
I wonder what that had felt like to him. Not the explicit death, as death comes to all men. I wondered what it might be like to be the shame of an entire race of people. Once a glowing, shining hope for men, the body between two worlds, with powers and charisma and joy unchallenged, now a symbol of human arrogance, betrayal, and amnesia.
I swallowed and shook those thoughts out of my head. No, there was no way for me to shame them all like this. I kept the Morien covenant... mostly. Now what was left was for me to play the role until they set me free to do as I chose. To live in obscurity, perhaps pronounced dead in a battle, only to have my family understand that I was simply too weak to do what they did so effortlessly.
“Paul.” A voice broke the damp air. My father stepped out of the shadow, a half of the broken staff from my boyhood in his left hand. He used it to support himself, make himself look stronger than what he was made of: sinewy, weasel-like muscle underneath brown robes that looked too heavy for him. A sewer rat in a black bear's fur.
“Son. You have betrayed us. You have betrayed House Morien. You have been doing what is most... unwise.” The pale shape of my brother appeared next to him, the silver in his spectacles flashing apologies and sorrows to me. So he had told my father. Fine, it that’s how it was going to be. I shook my head at him. His apologies would mean nothing, he knew nothing of his own brother. I felt nauseous, but very much alive. Not drowsy. Not cold, down in the one place they think they can intimidate me. Husband’s Ears, I’m not going to move now.
“Hello, brother. Father.” I held my head higher, drawing myself up to my full size, and counted myself lucky that I was half a head taller than both of them. “I Chose what was for me. And I did not Choose the Blue Goddess, as our family knows. I have not betrayed you, or Mother, or this House. I stepped aside for you to become more capable, and for me to help the name in the only way I am capable. I am not you, Father--” My words were cut off as his staff whipped across my face, slammed into my jawline, nearly shattering the wood in two. I staggered and fell sideways; none of the Kingsguard lifted a finger.
“Son. You lied to me for years.” He made to swipe at me again.
“With what? I never agreed to anything our family has done!” I grabbed the staff and staved off the blow, fighting for control.
“Gods Almighty! YOU LIED, PAUL. YOU SHAMED THIS FAMILY. EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT A SAILOR YOU ARE A FLOWER. A FOOL. A--” He stopped as I pushed the staff back into him. He lurched backward and toppled over his massive robes. Graydon made no move to help him, which I noted.
The Kingsguard did, however, and seized me on all sides. “Assault of the High Soldier! Stand down!”
I shrugged and let them. There was one of me and eight of them, plus the three advisors and Father himself. I could not get out of this any other way. I looked back at Dhannar, the King who had tried to do so much good, who had ended up dooming us all and fear crept into my heart, not for myself, but for the people who were ruled by the man now lying on the ground before me.
I looked at him too, pitiful man that he was. His eyes were still red, his face still the pink of a newborn pig. He was fumbling for something on the floor, likely the halved staff. But this whole time, he had really been searching for her. For my Mother. Sannath. The hope for us all died with her.
I tried to look at my father with her eyes. Her eyes, always leaking empathy, always looking into the future, of what could be, of what must be explored, of the potential of the family beyond the family pact, beyond war, beyond power.
My father could not, and should not have to live like this anymore.
I breathed deeply, and felt an invisible hand on my shoulder. “Father. I do not repent. I love you. This is what is best for Dhannar and for you. In the name of mother.” I swallowed again, keeping the lump in my throat at bay. I said nothing more, for fear of bursting this lump before due time.
And my father looked at me, with eyes that began to drain of their redness. For an instant, I thought he was beginning to see my way. No pact our ancestors had made would matter. We were not doomed to squabble in the world like the fledgling humans that had first laid waste. We did not have to be heroes or saviors or murderers or slayers, we just had to honor Them, all of Them.
My father remained silent for another moment, then his face reddened again.“Well, Paul,” he said. “You leave me no choice.” He snapped his fingers and the guards grabbed my arms. I felt ropes tighten around my wrists.
He turned away, and so did his son.
“Father,” I intoned, suddenly quite calm. “Where are they taking me.”
He didn’t speak. He just walked away.
In the back, Emeril cleared his throat and answered. “Trial, son. If you do not repent, you will be left to the Gods to deal with Morien honor. You have shamed this family.”
“That’s unheard of! This has never happened before! Father--” I tried calling out to him again.
“It never will again” were the last words I heard my father say before he vanished into the lower corridors.
Emeril took over. He commanded the guards to walk me up the stairs again, to the main level, where the houses would be seated, waiting for my ridicule. Some of the lowlanders might also be there, ready with fruits to throw in blessing, with the hope that the Goddesses might spare me.
The light of the doorway cracked the darkness and I shut my eyes to the people gathered there. Behind me, Emeril was reading the rites.
“Heisir Paul, House Morien, first of his name and second heir to the Morien title, noble Lord of Castle Grey and second Master of his House, shall be sentenced to trial upon sunrise. Due to the nobility of the Morien title, prison sentence shall be held in the Low Tower. Sunrise Chooses his fate....”
His voice continued, like the buzz of a mosquito in the back of my brain. I passed the faces of our soldiers, laughing at me, of women who once tried to seduce me, now horrified and slightly amused. I passed the nobles of the the court, who cast their eyes downward, perhaps even now plotting how to wrench themselves further from Morien’s grip. In the distance, I saw my sister, Lanni, the only woman who would fully meet my eyes. She was without words to her expression, she merely nodded.
The men behind me were talking strategy, ways to distance me from the Morien name to retain the House image. Ways to convince me to repent. But the damage was done.
I reached the Low Tower. My quarters.
The sun was beginning to set through the window, a purplish haze that settled over the world. The haze reached far across the earth, further into the depths than our human eyes can go, touching over everything in the Husband’s creation and within the Goddess’ power.
The light would touch me, a stranger in another man’s castle. It was the only good I could think of now, as I stared around beautiful Sirene for what I realized might be the last time I had such a view.
The world may have turned it’s eyes away from Dhannar, from myself, and somehow from the Morien House.
But here, in remains of the sun, the Gods were still watching.
I prayed it was enough.