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”
How is death different from life? Fjor asked himself. He had his eyes closed. He could hear a running stream of water nearby. He could feel the warmth of summer on his face, smell the polished wood around him. He was not in the Carsanion Senate anymore. He was back in the alley of The Burnt Market, back to the place that mattered to him the most. He followed the sound of the stream of running water. “Gaspare?” he shouted. “Gaspare?”
There was no answer. He must have gone to deliver the wood in the market, Fjor thought to himself. No, a stronger voice said. No, he isn’t here. He will never be here anymore. Fjor started to tremble, but shook his head violently from side to side. “No!” he said, to no one and everyone. He said it to the society, to the council of Carane, to his own fate, to the stronger voice that was commanding him. The voice ignored him. How is death different from life? It asked Fjor.
Fjor played deaf although he knew the voice too well. He diverted his attention instead. The boy was good at survival, he told himself. He nodded to that thought for several seconds. He had survived before, hadn’t he? Fjor remembered the famine and the riots in the boy’s village before the boy had come to Fjor.
The hurricane had torn apart all of the fields in the village. The hunger had brought along with it evil and ill minds. The people had started rioting in the streets, fighting against one another, fighting against society for the injustice that nature had done against them. The boy had survived all of that. Fjor still remembered as the boy had told him. “I woke up to fires everywhere. The farmers were burning everything down. It didn’t matter whose home it was. They just wanted it all to end. Mother pushed me out of the house. She screamed and yelled and threw sticks at them. They didn’t see me escape. She told me to go find you, told me that you were my grandfather. I ran until I couldn’t. I was about to die of thirst. Carane’s Protectors found me and brought me here.” the boy had said. The forces of Carane had saved him once, Fjor thought. Surely, they would let him survive again? Surely, they would not…? He couldn’t find the strength to finish the thought.
Gaspare had given a new meaning to Fjor’s declining life. Fjor had tried to explain his actions to Gaspare, he had needed the validation. The validation that his actions were for the best of the country. That they weren’t for his own ambitions, for his own demons. Gaspare had always given him that justification, had always agreed to Fjor’s visions and plans. He was an obedient child, Fjor thought to himself, tearful. Naïve…I should never have agreed to take responsibility for the attacks… If only I had listened… The thoughts felt stranded and confused to him, as confusing as his own ambitions.
The shot from The Burnt Market rang in his ears. He saw the girl dead. He had not fired the shot during the procession. But the order had been mine. Had he believed in the cause? He had thought so. Had society not done it’s share in helping him through the years? The time to lie has passed. It didn’t matter now. There was more to it than he would ever admit. Why then was he so adamant on fighting this battle? Why did he still obstinately defend his misplaced sense of egalitarianism? Because, death needed to be different from life, came the answer from deep within. What was it that the Sovereign’s dog had called him? ‘A failure… Attempting to be victorious at least once in your life…’
Fjor laughed, not the laugh of a sanguine mind, but of a person resigned, bowed down to life and its will. He recalled the various deaths he had orchestrated. The three councilors had been charred to death. Fjor looked at the stream of water in front of him. He hurriedly reached out to it, taking the water in his palms, throwing it to the side. “This should help” he nodded to himself. “This will help fix things”
His hands continued to shake with the motion even after the stream had disappeared. He was fading in out of consciousness, back now in the Carsanion senate. They were all standing, all alert, all worried that he might harm one of them next. They needn’t have. It doesn’t matter anymore. Fjor was swaying uncontrollably.
They say that in death all things become clear, but it was even hazier for him, all the more difficult to let go. Just one thought emerged from the abyss, and Fjor opened his eyes once more, as the silhouette of the frightened Gaspare came before him. Behind him, he saw the Sovereign. He should have been happy to see Gaspare. He is alive. The forces of Carane shall protect him. But then he reminded himself of his own actions. The girl that had died in the procession was no older… He did not address Gaspare. “Please don’t punish the boy… Please… Please don’t kill him..” His eyes desperately searched the audience for a sympathetic face. They found Stizlam Tepalmi. He had survived the attack. I am not responsible for all the deaths. He could stop all this. They could forgive me. The actions of an old man….
“Please stop this” Fjor said to him, “Please protect Gaspare” he spoke his dying words with a hope beyond certainty, and collapsed, falling into a death no different from his life…
I hear the birds fly by, the rush of the mountain breeze
A distant rumble of voices, onto my ears roll
But only faintly, for my sanctuary has swallowed me whole
It seems like evening, although I cannot be sure
Time seems to have been suspended here, broken by this haven pure
My mind at ease, breathes in deep
An air pristine, makes demons seep
I tread without purpose, a walk slow
I am wandering now, drowning in my thoughts’ flow
Devoid of destination and of pain, I tread
My mind feels anew, ignited
I remember the future as I remember the past
I see the explosions, that had shaken the war last
I remember building my sanctuary, pulling it together from shards numb
And I remember a far-off future, where ashes it will have become
Troubled I am, by this unreal loss
But for greatness and welfare, into the realm of unknown must one cross
Protect my sanctuary I must, as long as my existence
But also let go I should, and progress for scaling the distance
For life goes on, unpredictable and fleeting
And onward one must march, a valiant heart beating
Dated: Hydrean: 7 of Monolith 36 Ennead Year of the Calyce
Author’s Note: It’s poetry this week ! This post marks another form of experiment in the Sovereign’s Saga on the blog. First person narrative from the Sovereign’s point of view albeit in ‘poetic’ form, as he records his journey in his journal that has since become lost in the sands of time. For more from the Sovereign’s Journal, you can check out: The Lost Journal: The Chains of Time. Next post: The next time we meet, we continue our journey of ‘The Burning Market’ series as the Sovereign and his team pit against the dark forces of Fjor Manar and an unknown enemy in Part II Ep VI: The Shards of Life. Find the journey till now: Part II Ep V: The Last Arrow
The philosophers of the destroyed world had been wise beyond measure, or so I would like to believe. They would have immensely respected the Cogitari and its function. I, the Sovereign of Carane, am blanketed in the cobalt energy of the Hydrean as I write this today. The thirty-six columns of the Cogitari surround me from afar and disperse the silvery sapphire illumination throughout the circular chamber. The Empire of Carane remains, as always, in a shared state of restlessness and peacefulness. It oddly mirrors my own state of mind. Or maybe it is I, who is mirroring the state of my empire.
Today is a day to reflect. The state of the nation is such that I can afford to be meditative about seemingly far-fetched thoughts. ‘Seemingly’, I say, because in reality, these are critical for the growth of an empire. Survival requires focus but progress requires an unconstrained mind. I can feel the force of my thoughts as I close my eyes. Their color is similar to the sapphire of the Hydrean. I see them emerging from the abyss. Their source, the core illumination pulsates in the vast blackness, firing each thought in its own trajectory and lighting up various parts within, an empire far greater than the Empire of Carane.
The thoughts are in abundance. Plans, ideas, strategies. Concepts for uplifting a nation. But I am not convinced. I don’t think any of this will be enough. The true test of these concepts would be in execution. The fragility of the ideas would be exposed then and the strong sapphire glow of many of these would be extinguished. That doesn’t bother me, however. The core illumination continues to pulsate, assuring me of its presence. What bothers me is the nature of time. As I watch my thoughts burn bright, the immutable temperament of time increasingly troubles me. Most of the thoughts are nascent, I see. Some of them are fully formed and some of them are behemoths. But even for the most colossal thoughts, I realize that none of them can escape the truths of time: that the thought can turn into reality only when time allows it and no one can force it to fruition sooner.
I realize that any lasting change from any of these thoughts would take years, decades even. By ‘lasting change’, I mean the kind of change that would uplift a nation exponentially. The idea has to take hold, the issues in the execution need to be ironed out, the plans need to be validated through the implementation and course-corrected when required. The ‘behemoth’ thoughts would require a much longer cycle for each of these phases.
Reflecting back on the destroyed world, I think I can safely say that no great monument there was built in a short time span. Indeed, it took the generation of a ruler to create one wonder for the rest of the world to see. I understand the patience behind those and I practice it too. And yet, there is a restlessness in my mind, when I see more and more of the ideas surface from the abyss and I realize that it would be a lifetime’s work to make them happen. It isn’t cynicism even; it is a restlessness to do good.
Is one supposed to be a slave to time? Is life supposed to be gradual and unhurried? The more I see life the more I tend to witness it in its leisurely pace. But I do not understand the need for such a deliberate march. All of my thoughts feel shackled, constrained by time and by life. A price, so it seems, that I need to pay. But I cannot stop planning ahead, for Carane needs me to. And even if the chains of time are a price for it, I will continue to pay the same. But I must persist, I must aim to charge ahead, regardless of the issues. I look around at the Cogitari, bathed in its sapphire glow, and reflect on the purpose I had constructed it for. Knowing predates Being, come the long lost words. I nod solemnly to myself. I am confident that my actions will yield results. The results may take longer than I anticipate today, but I will have accomplished my purpose in this life of mine. It is blind belief, I realize, but a strong one at that. Carane will continue to prosper, I promise. Carane will continue to soar.
Dated: Hydrean: 5 of Monolith 36 Ennead Year of the Calyce
Author’s Note: This post marks a new kind of an experiment in the Empire of Carane series. This is a first person narrative from the Sovereign’s standpoint as he writes his journal and is different from the third person point of view chapters that you usually see on this blog. This way you really get to be in the Sovereign’s “head” as he deals with the challenges of being a ruler. Hope you liked it! You can share your thoughts in the comments below.
The council of Carane streamed in solemnly over the course of the morning, occupying the wide but otherwise nondescript hall of the Carsanion Senate with their presence, their thoughts and their fears. Palmeida greeted them all as they entered and observed the gamut of expressions their minds portrayed, even though their faces through years of enactment remained impassive. She said nothing consoling however, for nothing was required to be said. The council was looking for results today, not hope. So she smiled instead, spoke politely and enquired about their well-being. She noticed something else in the behaviour of the nobles. Each took one look at the hall and enquired about their fellow councillors before stepping in. If they couldn’t find them, they chose to wait instead and proceeded only after a few of them had gathered, like a flock of birds who are only comfortable in packs. Fjor, the first to arrive in the morning, was comfortably seated and was more than amused at the behaviour of this flock who chose to stay far away from him. His frail form breathed it all in: the fear and the power. At long last, he had become a lion in the minds of the people, even if for a short time. At long last, he had made his mark on the world. He smiled to himself: a warm, true smile. Life, after all, was not in vain.
Palmeida observed Fjor’s arrogance from a distance. Only one word rose to her mind. Pity. She distracted herself by looking for others. Almost every councillor had arrived. Just two were left. From the ones that remain. Her thoughts went back to the charred remnants of the three dead councillors that lay in her hospital morgue. Mere bones where once there had been lives. The fire had taken everything from them. And there was only one person responsible for it.
Palmeida looked at Fjor again who was talking to the companion he had brought with himself, a young lad from his carpentry shop. Palmeida looked for signs of nervousness from the boy, but found none. If he were fearful of the consequences today, he was sure hiding it well. Palmeida smiled and watched the last two councillors arrive. She addressed Stizlam Tepalmi. “We are graced by your presence” The councillor smiled back although his haggard eyes betrayed his true emotions. “Today is the day for justice” he said. “This needs to end today”
Palmeida nodded. “We are confident that it will”. Stizlam nodded back. Palmeida smiled at a person behind the councillor. “So how does it feel to be alive?” The councillor turned around to find Vyanaar. “My Sovereign” bowed the councillor. Vyanaar continued “Kerii tells me you are recovering well.” The Sovereign paused. “Since after the failed assassination attempt that is”
Stizlam nodded. “The trauma still remains, but yes she is right. As you are already aware, I owe my life to her. Their attempt would not have failed, had she not aided me. Is she here today? I’d like to thank her again”
“Yes, she should be here shortly” Vyanaar said. Stizlam exited presently. “Look at them all” the Sovereign said to Palmeida when just the two remained. “The councillors are supposed to be the foundation of Carane. The combined strength on which the future of this empire rests. And look at them now.” He observed them all and added after a pause. “Weak”
“Not everyone is” Palmeida replied, titling her head to Stizlam. “Less than a week ago, he was almost killed. Most likely by a supporter of Fjor. And yet, he is here today” After a pause she said “He must have contemplated the possible consequences that the day encompasses. He knows what hangs in the balance today. The decline of certain people versus the demise of an empire. And he knows the scales can tip either way”
The Sovereign nodded. “Yes, I wish more people could show such strength in times like these.” His eyes went from the councillors and glanced over at Fjor who was still talking to the boy with elaborate gestures. There was a strength in Fjor even though he was in his final few years, the Sovereign noted. Or maybe the strength existed because he had little time left. And little to lose. The Sovereign remembered Jermiaani’s remembrance of Fjor’s conversation with him. “I might fail but I have nothing to lose” The Sovereign passed his glance from Fjor to the boy near him, the youth from his carpentry shop. Unbidden, his thoughts went to the dead girl in The Burnt Market, the one that had died during the procession. She was probably just as young as him. The thought distracted the Sovereign. He looked away from the boy. His eyes scanned the room once again.
Palmeida had followed his gaze. “Look at me” she said to him, holding his hand. “I seek vengeance as much as you do.” She could almost feel the fire that had charred the councillors, the fire that had reduced power to ashes. “But we can only have a singular goal going in there.” She paused and looked the Sovereign. “And we need to understand clearly what that is going to be”
The Sovereign nodded. “There are just so many things that can go wrong.” he said gazing in the distance.
“I understand” Palmeida said, squeezing his hand tighter. “We cannot focus on everything that can go wrong.” She smiled and recounted a tale from another era, surprised at how pertinent it seemed today. “We just have one arrow…” The Sovereign smiled. He knew where this was headed. He let Palmeida continue nevertheless. “The one arrow. It’s the last arrow. That is it, that’s what separates us from being the hunters to becoming the hunted. Everything can go wrong while firing the last arrow… But if it hits the mark…” She trailed off waiting for the true owner of the words to recite them.
“Then we push the end for another day” the Sovereign completed. “I’m surprised that you remember” he smiled.
“I couldn’t forget it if I wanted to” Palmeida replied. “The rebellion was the darkest time we have gone through” she said, shivering.
She looked at the Sovereign as he nodded. “So what is our singular goal for today, our singular target for our last arrow?”
The air felt pristine and untainted, a luxury in times of madness and misery. It silently entered the cavernous space, bringing with it sounds and scents both imminent and afar, as much of the present as of recollections and dreams, illuminating portions of the vast blackness inside. The images reeled in one by one, revealing themselves in the glow, painting a canvas both coherent and chaotic in equal measures. The Sovereign, his eyes closed, looked at the cavern stoically, breathing in deep, taking in the sights and the sounds that were as real to him as the air that was purging him.
The first set of images that presented themselves were as much about his vicinity as of his own thoughts: the rustle of the leaves, the flutter of wings, the battering of gunfire… But with every deep breath, the Sovereign found himself losing more of his surroundings, until the cavern became his reality. The images were starting to get progressively darker now, and not even the pristine air could mask them. The Sovereign braced himself even as fear and trepidation had started to set in, for he knew where he was being led.
He found the Burnt Market deserted, the memory from many years ago now fading. He saw the pulpit, raised tall, much taller than he had remembered. He found a golden device hanging from it, with its umpteen dials, beckoning him. He stood still however, for he knew the image was not yet complete. The shot rang soon afterward and he saw Jermiaani holding the dead girl, amidst a crowd that had given up all hope. The Sovereign looked at the spreading circle of red, and waited for the rage to subside. He let go, and the morning in the Burnt Market turned pitch black, extinguishing the memory.
The glow now darted towards a different corner of the cavern. He saw the old man responsible, frail and yet resolute, studying the carpentry of a young lad and beaming. The Sovereign paused for a moment. He observed the dynamics between the two, and nodded silently to himself, making a mental note. He progressed through the cavern, looking for the next shard of reminiscence. He heard the collision much before he arrived at the scene. He saw Kerii, shivering but unfazed, aiding the Council member to safety, the latter still reeling with shock. The Council was important for the functioning of Carane, the Sovereign silently thought. Without it, the center of power could shift drastically.
He moved on. He knew what would come next. He found anxiety engulfing him, and he begged the cavern not to illuminate this image. The cavern obliged. He just heard the healers talking to each other, mumbling and whispering, for no one wanted to deliver him the news. Finally he heard Palmeida’s voice: “They’re no more”
Three of the ten councillors are dead, the Sovereign found himself saying. He breathed in deep to allow for the pain to recede, waiting for his mind to steel itself. Three out of ten was no small feat. They had been his brothers, his companions right from the days of the rebellion… And now they were gone. Fjor had steered clear of any implication. There hadn’t been a shred of evidence against him. The Sovereign found fury replacing the pain and yet he couldn’t act. For every action had consequences and the Sovereign knew better than to topple a house of cards. He could only plan, for now at least. It was maddening, he knew, but also essential.
But more than the wait, it was the haze surrounding it all that bothered him. He didn’t know if he would be victorious. If the gamble paid off, he would be touted as a shrewd leader. If not? He shook his head violently even as the cavern observed unmoved. No.. The Sovereign said to himself. This has to work.
“Meditating?” said a voice. The Sovereign saw the cavern disappear, gradually replaced by the lush green plains of Gravasa. It was morning once again. The Sovereign shook his head. “Just thinking” he said to Palmeida, without a hint of fear or doubt that had been so prominent in his thoughts a moment ago. He had made up his mind. “I want to call the council tomorrow. I shall invite Fjor also. I don’t want to wait any longer. It’s high time that we start discussing on his demands.”
Palmeida considered the Sovereign’s statement. “You had said he is not the real enemy” she said. “Do we know who is?”
The Sovereign shook his head, clearly in a thought of his own. “There is no point in waiting. There have been four of the nobles dead already. The fifth just barely survived. No… I can see the endgame forming. This will be a gamble and we may lose terribly. But it is a hand we must play now”
Palmeida nodded, her mind drawn back to the ward, the three councillors in front of her, reduced to mere bones from the savants that they had been. “Please tell me that this will work” she said to the Sovereign.
“I don’t know that” The Sovereign shook his head. “I just can’t know that.”
After a moment’s consideration, he spoke again, this time with the conviction of a leader that had traversed many a treacherous trail, a voice that was so true to his own self.