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