The Sovereign could hear the wheezing behind him, the march slowing, a resolve waning. He turned around flinching, a dull ache settled in his soul. The cold pierced through him mercilessly. He was about to speak, but the words would not come. Instead he looked at the braves of Carane around him, the expedition of seven, barely alive. They looked back at him, steadying themselves against the forest trees, even as the blizzard continued to batter them. They had been nine when they started.
“We should continue” said Harak, the lead of the archaeologists, fully knowing the reality of their state. The resolve still burns, thought the Sovereign. “Let’s stop for now” he told them. He looked at the forlorn sky. “I shall look for a place we can camp”. Deep snow had covered the treacherous forest floor. Nothing of the uneven surface could be seen. One wrong step and the Sovereign would trip and get buried under the layers of white, the rest of the crew far behind. It would be several hours before they would find him, fresh snow having erased all traces of the path he had taken. Time enough to freeze him to death. A happy thought, said the Sovereign to himself derisively. He continued to walk, taking one step at a time, watching his feet vanish under the bed of silver, peering into the darkness for shelter with his flaming torch, trying to retain a mental map of where he had left the others. The black stone walls glistened in the flickering light as the cave emerged from the shadows.
“Looks promising” said Harak to the Sovereign, examining the cold stone walls for endurance against the snowstorm, as the others laid down their equipment. The Sovereign nodded. For tonight at least, he thought. The fire was lit shortly after, with a roast on top. The perils of the journey were soon forgotten, some of the crew even breaking into impromptu mountain songs. The Sovereign smiled but distanced himself from the celebration, his thoughts with the two others that had not made it. Deep slumber stole upon the crew thereafter, their bodies warm and their bellies full, smiles on their faces as they dreamt of the glory when their expedition would lead to success. When they would find the hidden temples of Poruche, the goddess of wealth.
“It’s a lie, isn’t it”
The Sovereign had been staring into the fire for a long time, trying to grasp the entirety of their voyage, planning for every possible pitfall, calculating their chances of success. He gazed up from his reverie to face the person that had said the words. Sina, the feisty daughter of the Reizi clan, stood before him.
“What’s a lie?” he asked her.
“The temples of Poruche, we cannot find them. This expedition is a witch hunt.”
“And why can’t we find them?” he asked. “We have the finest crew – the most well-read about the Poruche and the strongest to endure this difficult terrain.” He raised his palm to her. “We also have the support from the oldest of the local clans, the Reizi, who have sent with us their fiercest warrior and the person who knows most about Poruche”
“We cannot find what does not exist” said Sina to the Sovereign, looking for a sign on his face.
“It’s an old legend” she continued. “That queen Poruche ruled Carane for many centuries. She was said to be immortal and she had turned Carane into the wealthiest nation of the known world. The citizens had elevated her to the status of a Goddess” She paused, looking carefully at the Sovereign. “They said that her crown held all her power and that the one who owned it would glimpse the wisdom of the gods.”
The Sovereign turned away from Sina and looked into fire stoking it. It was his turn to speak. He started “There were several who wanted the power of the crown for themselves and thus ensued chaos and war for the crown. One day, the queen was found murdered in the palace and the crown was found missing. Shocked, the citizens of Carane led a fearsome crusade against the traitor that had murdered their queen. The whole country in outrage, it did not take them long to find this person. He was hung to death after being inflicted with the most terrible torture.”
The Sovereign stopped and turned again towards Sina who was nodding. She said “The citizens entombed the queen and built five temples around her, overflowing with the wealth that she had bestowed upon the nation, her head adorned with the crown that had been restored”
“So which part of this is a lie?” asked the Sovereign.
“All of it” she said. “It’s a legend, nothing more. There have been several before us that have tried to find this, and in vain. They have only brought ruin upon themselves.” She paused and considered for a moment before continuing: “We are dangerously close to ruin ourselves. We have been on this expedition for many months now, we have lost good men and are drawing close to draining food and supplies in a land where not a single other being has been found. The weather has not been our friend either. Hunting has become increasingly difficult in this storm. If we continue down this path, I don’t think it will end well”
The Sovereign continued to gaze in the fire. He answered slowly and with consideration “The legend is real. Anyone that doesn’t wish to go down the path for finding wisdom is free to leave.”
This irritated Sina. “We have all risked our lives for you. Think of the people that follow you. Think of their families.” After a moment she added “Think of Carane. You have been away from the rule far too long. How do you know that everything is going as expected in your absence? How do you know that the country is safe? What will happen to the nation if you died?”
The Sovereign knew that it was her fear speaking. She had started to become lost in the increasing difficulties of their journey. “I have made sure that Carane is ruled by the finest in my stead. The future of the nation is secure. One must know to balance the security of today with the hunt for tomorrow” He turned to Sina, his mind resolute although his voice was empathic. “As for the crew, they follow the vision, not me. They want to feel the wisdom from the crown for their own selves. They have risked their lives for this purpose, not for an individual. Imagine the lives of the crew after they have found the wealth of a lifetime. Imagine the future of a nation that has the power of the Gods by its side.”
He took a pause, his voice alive with the possibilities of an undeniable future.
“The legend is real Sina, there is enough evidence to show that. They only thing that remains to be seen is -” The Sovereign rose, the fire burning bright in his eyes “-whether we have the strength in our minds to find it”