Defiant: Chapter Nineteen

Greetings and happy Sunday!  I’ve sent off the third draft of my second novel, Dragon Herald, to some readers.  This week, I’m working on the outline for the third novel, The Sister’s Mage.  If everything works according to plan, it might be ready to draft in time for Nanowrimo.  We’ll see!

Here’s chapter 19 of Defiant while we wait!

Aida watched the men and women in blue robes mingle about the large room. The Council chamber lived up to her expectations for the Temple; built out of large stones and decorated with beautiful tapestries, the place exuded a sense of power. Nothing in the space came from the West.

Luca and Sienna also sat at the long, fine wooden table, each sitting on their own well-crafted chair. They faced forward, between two lines of similar tables on the sides. A larger, main table at the front of the hall dominated that side of the room. Two men and two women stood behind it as they discussed quietly among themselves.

A variety of men and women in the same blue robes milled about the side tables and talked with each other as they tried to hide glances at Aida and her friends. Mostly at Aida.

Four guards in royal blue capes and shined mail stood behind Aida and her friends, guarding either the door or the visitors. Captain Kyrra stood silently at the doors. The woman seemed more than willing to expel the Kort from Calas lands, but was held back by the priests. She was delighted to have engaged Hinir in Aida’s rescue.

“Do you think you’re the only Warrior ever to sit in this hall?” Sienna whispered.

Aida shrugged. As far as she knew, her parents had come as far west as any other Warrior. At the very least, Aida was an oddity in Calas history.

She glanced down the table at Luca. His jaw had not relaxed since he learned of Zara’s capture, and he’d initially refused to come to the gathering of priests. Instead, he’d demanded Captain Kyrra depart and save his mother. She declined, though it was clear she was willing, if so ordered.

“Let us resume our meeting.” A woman at the front table addressed the hall, and all the blue-robed Calas on either side found chairs at their tables. Stools scraped across the stone floor as the Council sat down.

“We are joined by some guests from Nathan’s village; Aida, Sienna, and Luca.” The woman paused while several of the members on either side looked back at the three friends. Some nodded at the name of Nathan; a few smiled. More than a few scowled.

“Welcome to you three. I am Amelia, current chair of the Council. Let me introduce you to some of our members.”

At the edge of Aida’s mind, she sensed something. Ignoring the introductions, she slowed her breathing and focused. At least one Warrior approached the Temple. She inhaled sharply. Did the priests know? Was the Kort army that close?

Aida closed her eyes and sought out the Warrior. No, it was just one Warrior, maybe two. There were a few soldiers, but not a significant force.

The priests continued to tell the three friends their names, and sometimes their specialty. Aida didn’t catch most of it, but attitudes toward her and the Kort appeared rapidly in each priest’s mannerisms. Once finished, Amelia opened the floor to discussion.

A woman on the left side, near the head table, spoke up. “I would like to hear from Aida how she came to be part of the village.” Aida felt like her stomach leaped into her mouth as she let the sense of the Warrior pass.

Amelia’s face shifted slightly, but she gained control before speaking a mere second later. “Kai. I understand your concern for those in the Council who have not heard the story, but it may not be one Aida wants to share. Perhaps I can give a summary?”

“All any of us have heard are from Nathan’s letters. Her heritage seems to be of great importance to this conversation.”

“To some.” Amelia glared at Kai.

A priest closer to Aida said, “I would also like to hear the story from Aida.”

Amelia, still standing, glanced at the man and sighed. “Very well, Gabriel. Aida, could you give us a brief history?”

Aida sat without moving for a moment, unsure of how to proceed. She didn’t want to share all the details again. It felt too raw, and she didn’t know any of these priests. What should she include? Should she mention the Warrior outside?

Sienna leaned over. “Just tell them what you told us at the village. Skip over the battle.”

That would have to work. It didn’t bother Aida to talk about the rest, though she never expected to share her story here. She licked her lips and took a sip of water. “Around eighteen years ago, my parents left the West.”

“And who were your parents?” Kai called down the room at her. Heads snapped back towards the interruption.

“Save your questions until the end.” Amelia spared a short glance at Kai but nodded to Aida with a small smile. “Please continue.”

Aida felt Kai had somehow insulted her parents, though she didn’t know why. Defensive now, she said, “My mother’s name was Kendra. She was a Tengarper in the house of Farnes. My father was Nestor, a Venkri Warrior from Yutta. They brought with them their ikast. I was born on this side of the mountains.”

She paused and looked up at the room at Kai. She returned her stare but said nothing. “We lived far south of Lortun, on the eastern side of the mountains for eleven years. We traded with some of the Lortun and the Calas and otherwise remained at peace. Then the house of Isma attacked from the West.”

“How did you know it was Isma? They could not have come over the mountains.” Kai leaned forward.

“That’s enough,” Amelia said. “Questions can wait for the end. Especially the unanswerable ones.”

Aida saw the banners of that night, visible as their enemy emerged from the woods and found them pinned against the drop of the cliff. The color red highlighting the Warriors’ garb. The cries of the soldiers, calling out for their house as they attacked. The angered onslaught of Biel in response, and his curses of Isma.

She took a breath, and then another. The Calas in the chamber remained silent as they waited for her story. Aida would not tell them more about that night.

“It was Isma. My parents and their ikast died, some to make sure I escaped. I fled and went to the village. I knew Dominic because my father had traded with him. Dominic and Zara took me in, and I’ve lived there ever since.”

Kai opened her mouth, but Amelia interrupted. “Thank you, Aida. That’s enough Kai. You have the information you were seeking. If she eventually does become an ikast for this Cugat, would you like her to tell him about your behavior?”

Aida thought to argue about becoming Cugat’s ikast, but the exchange was so odd she looked at Kai instead. Kai paled and slid back in her chair. One of Cugat’s spies, then.

A woman from the other side of the room spoke. “I’m sure he’ll make sure to sacrifice to Tymon for you.” She turned to look at Aida in the stunned silence that immediately followed. “Tell me, girl, do you worship Tymon?”

Dominic’s warning against mentioning Tymon to the Calas repeated in her head. She felt Sienna stiffen at her side. She needed these Calas on her side, at least enough to keep her friends safe and secure Zara’s release. It was time to lie. “No. I moved to worshipping the gods of my village.”

“A wise choice. The Kort, as we know, continue to worship Tymon.” The woman scanned the rest of the council. “There have been rumors of sacrifices here, in our territory. Deaths. A missing priest.”

“Rumors and fear mongering!” Kai rose from her seat. “You would lie to see us remain in the past, Isabel. What advantage do you gain here?”

Murmurs up and down each table grew in volume as Isabel replied. “Advantage? What kind of problems do you wish to bring on our heads? Look at the chaos even this one Warrior,” she nodded at Aida, “unintentionally brought to our lands. While the Kort previously remained far to the West, they march east in search of her, an otherwise innocent bystander to the irrational politics of her homeland.”

“And I suppose we fare better here then with our politics?” Kai leaned across the table. Shouts erupted from the two side tables as priests rose from their seats to join the argument.

“Order!” Amelia called from the front. “I call this meeting to order! Everyone sit down!”

As stools again scraped across the stone ground, Gabriel rose from his seat, where he had remained still during the previous debate. Amelia glared at him, but he spoke anyway. Not a loud man, the others looked at him with expectation nonetheless. “With respect to Aida, as this is clearly not her fault, and no disrespect to Kai, but we cannot allow the girl to become an ikast.”

He looked ready to continue, but Amelia put up her hand. “Yes, I know Gabriel. We will allow you to air your concerns soon. A larger matter is at stake here, and that is the Kort, and we’d like our three guests to tell us about their journey to the Temple.”

“I propose the larger matter is Cugat’s desire for Aida as an ikast,” he said.

“Later,” Amelia replied. “We will ask them to tell us what occurred at the village and on their way here. I will ask the guards to expel anyone who interrupts them.”

Aida did not speak as Sienna relayed the events of the past several weeks, starting with the news the Kort were coming to trade. She talked about their arrival and the peaceful trading that occurred, followed by the meeting with Ian that started Aida’s flight. She described the battle with Ferran and managed to leave out Aida’s display of power somehow. Also gone was Luca’s concerns following his first kill. Of their meetings with the Calas, she spoke highly of those who had helped them and little of those they battled.

Her description of Hinir’s pursuit left Aida out almost entirely. She spent most of her time on Zara and Hinir’s news the Kort had kidnapped the woman. Kai started to argue, but Sienna’s stare held her in place until she finished.

Amelia said, “Your story was detailed, but I can’t help but wonder why the Warrior among you played so small a role. Are you not a Youth, at the height of your power?”

Aida said, “I am a Youth, though I know little of how I compare to other Warrior Youth.”

“She must be at the pinnacle of her time as a Youth and of her power, or Cugat would not be asking for her as an ikast,” Gabriel stated from his seat.

“Your mother was a Tengarper,” Amelia said. “Can you sense the Kort?”

“Yes.”

A priest who had not spoken before rose slightly. “What evidence do we have she tells the truth? What if she doesn’t have these powers? Would that not make Cugat uninterested?”

Cugat knew she had the powers, as did all his ikast. “A Kort Warrior approaches the Temple as we speak,” Aida said. “Captain Kyrra could confirm I had no way to know this before entering this room.”

Amelia looked over Aida’s shoulder and nodded at whatever sign she received. “Are you able to sense any of us using those skills?”

“No.” Aida could sense every Calas in the room, but didn’t want to share that information. She needed these priests on her side.

Isabel, the woman on the right near the front said, “Of course she can’t. The Tengarper can’t read us at all. That’s why they want to ally with us and recruit soldiers from us.”

Kai remained in her seat, but her voice grew in volume. “More lies! Why would you say these things to the Council?”

“Do they not recruit Calas? Sienna here spoke of encountering many Calas soldiers. They had to battle some of them, some of us, just to get here.”

“A small number,” Kai said. “So a few of our younger Calas seeking adventure joined their army. Is that so unexpected? The Temple guard doesn’t recruit far from here and doesn’t travel anyway. Has it been so long since you were young you forget?”

“They recruit heavily,” Luca said. “Though not all may be in the open. We met many Calas on the way here, and most of them were hunting us.”

“A matter of debate,” Kai said. “You all could be lying. Or confused. We should send out more scouts.”

“They didn’t kidnap your sister. Or your mother.” Luca rose, hand on his sword. The room grew silent, though Aida sensed Captain Kyrra walk up silently behind them.

“Not now, Luca.” Sienna put her hand on Luca’s elbow.

He glared around the room and then sat down. “I would not lie about this.”

“We did take two Calas among the Kort as soldiers,” Captain Kyrra said. Luca jumped as he realized how close she was behind him.

An older man halfway down the right table rose slowly. “Whatever their intention is in recruiting, I want to know more about using their new Calas soldiers against other Calas. And of kidnapping this Zara. That can’t be tolerated, whatever other relationship we have with the Kort.”

“By their own admission, they ran and then killed some of the Kort Warriors and soldiers,” Kai said. “The fights were not one-sided. We should ask the Kort for their side.”

Sienna’s mouth opened to argue, but many members of the Council spoke out at once.

“I don’t think we can blame Aida for leaving.”

“The Kort were attacking three villagers, two of whom are Calas.”

“Would you want to become an ikast and lose your free will?”

“What does that have to do with their mother?”

Kai’s stool drug against the floor as she stood, voice above the mass. “The solution to all these problems is simple. Enter into the proposed treaty with the Kort, and give Cugat Aida as an ikast. She isn’t one of us, why care?”

Isabel also rose. “You can’t just sweep all the concerns under the table with your treaty. And perhaps she isn’t one of us, but does her story not sound like our own when we journeyed east?”

A few nods from around the table. Another woman said, “We left during the War of the Youth because of the problems of that system. They said they’ve made changes, yet here is one of their masters, crossing over our lands to force a Youth to be an ikast. She has resisted him, just as we resisted the West long ago.”

Isabel said, “The gods would be pleased she is fighting the influence of Tymon. Would you oppose the gods?”

“How do you know what the gods want?” Kai asked.

“The gods do not want Aida to be an ikast,” Gabriel’s voice was so soft, Aida was surprised anyone heard him, but the whole room turned to look at him. Young, disheveled, and exhausted looking, he reminded her of Nathan. A few sheets of parchment sat on the table before him, and he huddled over them even as he spoke. Amelia did not interrupt him this time.

“I believe Cugat is correct, based on the information Nathan sent. The Writings do speak of a child born to a Tengarper and a Venkri.”

Amelia said, “We discussed this. She cannot be the only child of that type of union in all of history, even if she’s the only one we know of.”

Isabel added, “I would not be surprised to find at least a few instances of that in the early Calas history when Warriors from both sides migrated here. Warriors with each other as well as with soldiers and servants.”

Aida had never considered that possibility, though it was obvious now. How many of the original Calas were Warriors? Some masters and Youth crossed the mountains with the hordes of servants and soldiers, but how many and what happened to them? The Calas had Warrior blood in them, though diluted.

Gabriel nodded at Amelia’s suggestion. “The Writings imply a great distance for the events to take place. Including her time in the womb, Aida has now traveled more than any other Warrior since the Departure, in flight from multiple enemies. She is the best fulfillment of the prophecy.”

Amelia said, “Gabriel, we appreciate your wisdom and your knowledge of the Writings, but am I not mistaken in that this wasn’t considered a prophecy until Nathan’s letter? Don’t many view it as a poetic rendering of something historical?”

“The Writings can speak of many things in time. Historical and prophetic are not exclusive.”

Isabel shifted in her seat. “I seem to recall these are some of the ancient Writings, from before the sea.”

“Yes, I think that makes them more authoritative.”

The time before the sea was even before the first Temple and the disasters, well before the Departure. Aida knew little of history that far back, but the priests all nodded their recognition. Nathan had said those parts of the Writings remained elusive and unclear, and might not have been anything more than the ramblings of a madman.

“Some might think it makes them more likely to have already occurred,” Isabel replied. “Is there anything else besides her mixed heritage and flight from violence?”

“No.” He looked down. “But let me offer another thought. Let’s say we aren’t sure this about her, but there is a risk. If it is true, and she becomes Cugat’s ikast, it would mean he would become incredibly powerful. She would as well. The person may not be as specific, but the effects are very clear. Why would we risk that? She doesn’t want to be his ikast anyway. We should protect her for at least two reasons.”

“Protect her?” Kai said. “It doesn’t look like she needs protection. She made it here just fine. She isn’t one of us, and you want to risk bloodshed over her?”

“So you admit the Kort pose a threat.” Isabel snapped her head back to face Kai. “There is no risk of bloodshed if they are peaceful, as they claim. They would have let the girl go when she first said no.”

Kai shook her head. “They can be peaceful toward us and still pursue someone from the West. Her family were fugitives. She should be happy someone wants to take her as an ikast. The safest thing is not to chase after some old possible prophecy. The safest thing is to make her leave or hand her over to Cugat.”

“She cannot be given to Cugat.” Gabriel was out of his seat. Other members called out against it as well, though not because of Gabriel’s argument but because they felt it inappropriate. Calas had adopted her; the Calas would take care of her.

The thought of these Calas handing her to Cugat made her stomach knot, but it didn’t seem an immediate risk given the council’s reaction. Nothing seemed an immediate risk with as much as they argued. She glanced back at Captain Kyrra, who raised her eyebrows in response. This is what held the Calas army back.

Amelia did not try to contain the chaos, but sat and leaned over to another man at the front table. Sienna leaned over to Aida, “That got interesting.”

“I can see why everyone thinks they take so long to do anything,” Luca said. “I don’t think they’ll ever decide what is going on. You did good, with the story, Sienna.”

His sister smiled. “Thank you. You were very brave on our journey.”

A temple attendant walked from the door at the back, taking the right edge and staying far away from the angry Calas at the table. After Amelia nodded he could approach, he leaned over between Amelia and Cameron to whisper something.

The priests all started to settle, and Amelia finally stood. “Please, take your seats. We have more to discuss.”

Kai said, “We aren’t even done discussing this.”

“True.” Amelia waited while everyone again sat down. “Earlier today, we heard everyone’s thoughts on the Kort’s arrival into our territory. This afternoon, we’ve heard from our three guests about the Kort in their village and their flight. We have one more guest who just arrived; a delegate from the Kort. It seems Aida was correct about the Warrior on the way.”

Sienna and Luca looked to Aida; she shrugged. She thought she knew who it was. The attendant at the back of the room opened the door again, and Ian walked in.

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