Discover more from The Mad Christian
Earth Chapter 8: Counsel
Find the rest at https://tinyurl.com/EarthFisk
“I discern no signs of scarring or wounds,” Colinae said. An audible gasp escaped from those seated around the circle. Palpable tension filled the tent. “The boy is hale as he was on his Eve of Aging. His mind is sharp as well. Within an hour of waking, he recounted in detail every event in the captain's report, and even added a few new notes. With all my knowledge and expertise, I still have no explanation for his remarkable recovery.”
Sitting among the councilors, Earth felt like an exhibit on display, seated bare-chested as Colinae described the former severity of his wounds. The King was on a raised throne of dark wood, the others on stools in a circle.
“It is a miracle,” the priest said. He was a peculiar, scrawny man, dwarfed by his vast robes and countless medals. “A gift of the Forgotten. A sign of his presence with us. An omen of good fortune for our plan.”
“Myths and legends do not walk among the living," Gaoltea barked.
Acis countered in a smooth and measured tone. “The Madgyi are themselves a myth and a legend, yet here we are, infants before their knowledge and power."
“The murderer speaks true,” said an emaciated old man dressed in rags. “Who is to say? What portals are open to the world of man if only he has eyes to see them? But is it not often the eye which is the most deceptive sense?”
At this, all three the scholars descended into a debate about whether or not chaos can actually exist. At one point, just about when no one was listening to them anymore, including each other, they stopped at once in a jumble of words, which for some reason or other led the entire room to suddenly focus attention on the Chief Financier, who was himself engrossed in check checking figures in his ledger, mumbling to himself and more oblivious to the previous commotion than the rest. At this, the King cleared his throat, drawing them all back together.
“Omen or accident?’” he asked, his eyes scanning the their faces in turn. “Fortune or destiny? We quibble while our options remain unchanged.” He leaned forward, his expression grave. “For a fortnight, I have sought your counsel. We are at a crossroads that will wait no more. There is one path, one counter that might work, one chance at redemption. Tonight, the answer is clear as daylight."
At this, Earth let out a sudden, loud laugh. Not a cruel laugh, but a laugh I’d mirth, for the fire that burned in the eyes of the Shadowsun filled him with a certain unexpected joy. But uncertain hush that fell in tandem assault his senses with a binding shame. All eyes were on him now. Surely, it was scorn. At once, and he wished for a ledger to hide in.
Acis, his voice laced with a cold edge shifted in his seat, “Do you find humor in dark times?”
“I apologize, your grace, if….” Earth gathered himself. “It was a memory, something I recall from my Eve of Aging.”
“Why is he here?” The Master at Arms was a prickly man, broad-shouldered, with a pockmarked face. “We have examined him for mysteries, but happenstance and luck do not make a counselor.
The Shadowsun smiled, “Do you presume to reign for me?”
The retort caught the bulky man by surprised. He looked down in earnest, rubbing at his calloused hands, “No, your grace.”
“You spoke your mind,” the King said. He took in the whole group, “That is why you are all here, why I have called you, because I believe that each of you has something to say. Whether by the hand of the Forgotten or the randomness of time, Earth is cast among us at this extreme and wondrous moment. I decide it is for a reason. The circumstances prove it. There is no coincidence. He has a role to play. Luck? His or ours? I seize it for my own hope’s sake.”
The King stood to loft above them the Madgyi's staff. Its intricate runes a dancing, shadowy enchantment under the lantern light, “Here now, by destiny’s design, one of their relics, a key to their foul Madgyics, and more, proof that they bleed. Proof that they can die. For this alone, I will hear Earth’s tale of the events that brought us this reward.”
Earth recounted the events from the patrol and the farmstead. Whatever they might have said before, each member of the council listened rapt attention. The weight of the room drove him forward in excitement as the vividness of the memories took him. But it was just as he finished his tale of pain and exasperation that the King slammed his hand down upon the table before them with a shout of triumph and the whole assembly jumped as if just waking for the first time from a dream. There on the table sat the three small spheres of cast metal.
Turning about the room, the Shadowsun displayed a fourth one for all to see, “Based upon Earth’s story there are two more such ‘rounds’ somewhere in those fields, but finding one is sufficient confirmation. There was a hole in the farmhouse wall, as an arrow might leave in taut cloth.
“The power of these Madgyics may be less mystical than we thought,” Gaoltea said. “But their destructive force is all the more disturbing. If they can cast their spells at such distances…”
"It is glaringly apparent," Acis interjected. “These revelations provide the impetus you needed, your Majesty. You have made your decision. Our path forward is assured. We strike. Swiftly. At the heart and from behind. Open warfare is long upon us, and we are losing. They are the greater power. We must gamble with cunning."
Gaoltea's dismissed him, "You could not be more wrong. The plan is reckless, worthy of the Madking himself. Repeating folly will not still this calamity. Sending our most crucial personnel over the Foer Drihm Wall is condemning our best to meaningless deaths. It is to invite still worse retaliations. How long will the Culling last? We may not stop it, yet we may endure it.”
He rose and spread a map before them, pointing to various locations with authority. "Here, you can observe distinct patterns in their movements. I have witnessed similar tactics employed by coastal pirates under the Godking's dominion. This kind of maneuver is characteristic of raiding mentality. It is not a sustained assault. It is plunder. Nothing more. How long will it persist? We do not know. But it will not be everlasting, I assure you. Exercise patience, advocate longsuffering, and trust to prudence..."
"At what cost?” the priest's incredulity cut through the air. “Must we sacrifice more common lives to these barbaric demigods?”
“Do you expect us to see a pattern in that mishmash of intersecting lines and dots?” one of the scholars added with a touch of derision.
“Statistical diagnosis requires much more meticulous examination that toy soldiers and intuition,” said another. “Such rigorous examination takes time that we have not had. Nor can we afford to wait that long,” chimed the third.
At this, all eyes turned inexplicably towards the Chief Financier, who remained studiously perusing his ledger, though, Earth noted, stealing glances at the map sprawled on the floor from time to time. This time the King fixed upon the funny, little man with a raised eyebrow, allowing the pause to remain as tension in the air. The Financier noticed, in the course, that no one was talking. Then, in turn, also that everyone was looking at him. That was the point at which he jolted in his seat and dropped his quill. As his eyes darted about, he almost reached down for the quill, but instead used both index fingers to bury his face in the task of scrutinizing his ledger with seven times the urgency as before.
A glimmer in his eye, the King smiled at Earth, "I still recall it. It was my eighth year. The biting winds whipped at my unkempt hair even in the heat of summer. The Foer Drihm Wall. What a sight! You, Gaoltea, and you, too, Acis, were with me. I hardly knew you then, sitting on that pale dapple, overawed by these astute warriors calling my ’Sire, this’ and warning me, ‘Ambra House that.’ How little could my young mind comprehend the these perils looming over my young reign.
"You told me that day of the flying-chariots and the pungent sulfur stench. You spoke of my forebears who long ago repelled these vile forces by royal grit and determination while over us towered the Wall, a fortress, a sanctuary, the face of our nemesis.
“I will not lightly forget, nor can I discount my heart on this matter.”
A wide smile broke across Acis’ face.
“We strike,” the Shadowsun said.
“Madness,” Gaoltea answered.
“A studied gamble,” a scholar noted.
“A faithful prayer,” the priest intoned.
“Simplicity,” the hermit conceded.
“A strong hand,” the master at arms agreed.
“Madness,” Gaoltea said again.
“A chance!” Acis eyes darted about as he spoke. “Strike, and strike now. Use our guile against them. A vanguard of select elite. Swift. Silent. We scale the Foer Drihm Wall, infiltrate the heart of the beast, and discover the source of their power. So far as it is within us, under the Forgotten, we shall then destroy it, crippling their vile cult from within.”
“Madness,” Gaoltea grumbled a final time.
“I share your insight, my old friend,” the King said. “But I will not wander aimlessly from town to smoldering town, camping on desecrated fields while the ominous clouds grow more deadly around us. I will not do nothing.
“Acis, from your guild of shadows, assemble with yourself the two finest assassins in our realm. General Gaoltea, do the same with your Knights’ Rangers. Select for both general mastery and armorless reconnaissance. You leave the day after tomorrow when the moon shall be full to light your way.”
“A good omen of the Forgotten,” said the priest.
“Perhaps,” the Shadowsun smiled. “But if I am to look for omens, then I choose one of my own liking. One late addition to our strike force, a last gasp, a fleeting lark. But do not think me mad entirely, Gaoltea. You must admit you saw it coming.”
With a steady gaze, he locked gazes with Earth, the spark of hope infectious in his eyes. But now Acis was out of his seat.
“You cannot be serious! Sire? This untested child? A potential mole? At the very least, he will slow us down. At worst he jeopardizes the entire mission.”
“I will not turn my back on a gift from the Forgotten,” the Shadowsun was unmoved in the face of so passionate an appeal. “Am I wrong to think so? Is it not a matter of orthodoxy? Isn’t that right, Jaemish?”
The priest looked up, surprised to be called by name back into the conversation. After a hesitation, he nodded in affirmation to the King.
“This boy is the first to slay a Madgyi in a milenium,” Gaoltea smiled, heedlessly patting the cloaked assassin on the back. Acis’ jaw was tight, his eyes daggers.
“You underestimate him,” Gaoltea laughed. “I do not doubt that when the moment comes, he shall be your own salvation.”
“I think not,” Acis retorted.
“It is my command, all the same.”
The finality in the Shadowsun’s voice swept through the room. As the councilors prepared to go, he drew near to Acis, where no one but he and Earth could hear as he whispered, “I give you the mission. I give you the war. Do not begrudge me one battle. Go. What you do, do quickly.”
Acis nodded once in respect, and without delay swept from the tent.
"My lord?" Earth asked, after watching him go. "I am deeply honored. I shall serve you with all that is in me. But might there not be a wiser choice? I show promise with the sword, and I have hunted the fields as long as I can remember. I know how to stalk, and I can avoid prying eyes. But might not another of your Rangers be better chosen for this task? What hope have I of giving more than they?”
The King's smile did not diminish, but his gaze drifted off as if peering into some distant place, beyond walls and men and debates and wars. Then, resolute determination dawned in him, strengthening like a kindling fire given fuel. He fixed Earth with a steady eye.
“Hope, my friend, is precisely what you offer.”
Earth swallowed hard and shivered once from head to toe.
The story of Earth continues…