Sneak Peek: Palace of the Twelve Pillars

Chapter One

A Threat Delivered

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Dearest Lilia,

I am sure after these many years you have come to see the error of your ways in choosing Theodric over me. I am willing to forgive your transgressions and welcome you to my castle and my god, Sidramah. To make you even more comfortable, you may bring one of your children with you.

Waldrom

* * * *

Seven Years Later:

Queen Lilia stood by the doorway of the aerie at the top of the castle. A gentle breeze blew the scent of liliads through the open doors. Tapestries depicting Asha covered the stone walls. It was sparsely furnished with a wooden desk, chairs, a table, and bookshelves. Portraits of the princes were interspersed between potted miniature rosas. She took off the ceremonial day robe and tossed it on an armchair, leaving a simple white dressing gown. She removed the petite crown and placed it on the desk. Finally, she pulled the white ribbon out of a braid, freeing the hair to fall loose around her shoulders.

Her lady in waiting delivered a letter. “My Queen.”

After the servant departed, Lilia closed the door and picked up the letter. It was from her old school friend, King Waldrom. Slowly she read it.

I will forever love you, but I find it hard to believe you left me to spend your days in the drudgery of my enemy’s kingdom with his false god. My lord would have given you more.

Soon you will know the pain I have felt these many years since you went away. There will be no peace for you, or Theodric, as long as you remain with him.

Your only hope is to forsake him and come to me.

W

 

The letter dropped from her hand as a slow chill crept up her spine. She grabbed her shawl and went to the crackling fireplace, but still the chill would not go away. The evil message clawed at her heart until she could stand it no longer. She snatched the page from the floor and flung it into the hungry flames.

“I will protect my family from you and your evil, Waldrom,” Lilia vowed, as the paper burned, hissing and twisting like a snake set on fire. When the last of the charred paper floated up the chimney, she knew where to turn for help. Lilia ran down the hall to find Rupert, the words of Waldrom’s letter echoing in her head.

* * * *

Joachim stood and watched his twin brother, Brandan, practice the re-growth spell Master Adept Croifan was teaching them. Why must Brandan always be so difficult? Crack! The sapling exploded and fragments of the pot and plant shot everywhere, showering the room’s three occupants with ceramic shards and soil.

Prince and teacher ducked to avoid flying debris. Croifan straightened up, dusted off his clothes. “Not a success, I think. Get another plant, Brandan, and let’s try the spell again, but this time use all the steps.”

Shaking his head at the short, stubby Kningrad, Brandan said, “Master Croifan, this exercise isn’t necessary. We’ll never perform re-growth spells. That’s all done by low-level adepts. We’re much more important than they are.”

“You’re no more important than the lowest serf in your father’s kingdom. Besides, you never know when you might be alone and have to perform one of these spells to survive.” Croifan pounded his staff on the floor. “Do it again.” He pointed his staff, directing Brandan’s attention to one of the lily pads in a fish bowl on the floor.

Brandan looked at Joachim and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “You asked for it,” and with his deep voice began the chant. “Powers of Ramajadin quicken the streams of creation within your deepest regions and enable this tree an increase in the life blood that feeds all living things and frogs.” With a turn of his hand, Brandan then whispered, “Ignis.” The practice trees erupted into flames and separated the twins from Croifan, now a small green frog.

Glancing around the room in disbelief, Joachim yelled, “Brandan what have you done?”

“Nothing. Now let’s get out of here while we have a chance.” Brandan stalked to the door. “I have had enough of him and his lessons.” He stormed out of the training room.

Joachim yelled, “Summergo,” and ran into the garden after his brother.

Spring was blossoming in Crato, a country in the western hemisphere of the planet Ramajadin. The royal gardens shimmered with the variety of purples, golds, reds and blues of the flowers scattered across them, giving the landscape a feel of rebirth…a rebirth in the faith of the people and their love of the royal family.

Stepping into the courtyard, Joachim watched Brandan collide with their parents, King Theodric and Queen Lilia, entering the gardens from the royal family’s private quarters.

As Joachim reached the royal couple, the king grabbed his arm. “Whoa, boys, slow down.”

Lilia brushed Brandan’s tunic, wiping away some invisible dirt, and the king released Joachim.

“I’m sorry, Father,” Joachim responded as he brushed his blond hair out of his eyes. “I didn’t watch where I was going.”

Smiling, the queen asked, “Where were you two going in such a hurry?”

Grabbing his mother’s hands, Brandan said, “We finished our lessons and were headed to the kitchen to get carrots from cook for the horses. We were planning on riding. Would you and Father like to come with us?”

The king shook his head. “No, I can’t. I have to see Rupert about the meeting with King Waldrom.”

“Mother, you should come.” Brandan looked at Lilia. “You haven’t been riding in so long.”

“I wish I could but not today. I must speak to Rupert before your father, and then I have some letter writing to do. Maybe tomorrow.” She hugged the twins and then strolled with her husband toward the council chambers. “I’ll see you boys at dinner,” Lilia called over her shoulder.

As Joachim headed toward the family’s kitchens and reached the wooden gate in the center of the tall stone wall surrounding the courtyard garden, Brandan caught up to him and patted him on the back.

“Thanks for not saying anything to Father. I would be seeing the abbots for sure if he found out about my little spell.”

Turning, Joachim brushed Brandan’s hand away. “Maybe I should have told Father. Haven’t you learned not to use your magic for evil, especially during lessons?”

With a push from Brandan, Joachim fell to the hard ground. “Well, aren’t you Sir High and Mighty, like you haven’t thought about doing the same a time or two?”

He scrambled to his feet. “Yes, but I would never actually do it. That’s the difference.”

“Well, maybe you should once in a while, and then you might be more human. Besides, who does it hurt?”

“It hurts you and tears your relationship with Asha. If you have no self-control with Master Croifan, how can you ever expect to be an Anointed One and a king?”

Diving for his brother, Brandan caught his red tunic on a nearby glingkol tree.

Joachim jumped aside, causing him to land with a solid thump in a patch of blooming rosas.

“Setting that little fire won’t prevent me from being king.” He stood and caught his breath. “Besides, who wants to be an Anointed One anyway?” Brandan landed his fist on his brother’s jaw and then fell to his knees on the small hillock between the garden and a stone wall behind Joachim, exhausted and gasping for breath.

Joachim wiped blood from his lip, staining the sleeve of his silver tunic, and regarded his brother panting on the ground. He remembered the warning Croifan drilled into their heads from day one of their training. “Magic of any kind leeches the energy of the adept. You must learn to conserve your resources.”

He offered Brandan his hand. “You deserve to pay. You have no control over your magic, which makes it dangerous.”

Grabbing Joachim’s hand, Brandan pulled him to the ground, rolled over on top of him and sat on his chest. “Don’t lecture me about magic. I hear enough of that from Father, Croifan, and all our other teachers. I can control my magic. I choose not to.”

Seeing his father across the garden talking with a guard from the drill chamber and then coming toward them, Joachim struggled to get out from under his brother. He didn’t succeed before Father grabbed Brandan by the forearm and lifted him off. As Brandan tried to break free of his father’s grip, he glared down at his brother. Joachim got to his feet, straightened his tunic, and brushed the dirt off his tall lanky frame.

Eying Brandan, he remembered Father’s anger the last time Brandan misused his magic. As if the power drain and exhaustion Brandan always felt afterward wasn’t enough, if Father pronounced a dire punishment, it could push Brandan to do something desperate. Spending a week with the abbots might not bother me, but it would be like a death sentence for Brandan.

“Is this how princes of the House of Irinaeus should behave? You are fifteen-years-old and acting like common street ruffians.” The king brushed a chestnut-colored lock from his face. “What do you two know about the fire in the training room?” Neither boy spoke, as their father looked first from one to the other.

“Well, if no one will confess to performing unauthorized magic, then I haven’t any choice but to punish both of you. Starting tomorrow, you will spend your days with Abbot Frederic and the acolytes. You are to do anything they tell you as well as sit in on the lessons. Maybe that will teach you not to use your magic unwisely.”

Brushing a stray leaf from his brown hair, Brandan spoke, “Father, Joachim was struggling with the re-growth spell and accidently set fire to the trees. He was so embarrassed; he ran out of the room and left me to put out the fire. I ran after him and tried to calm him down. But he would have no part of it.”

Joachim spluttered, “But Father…”

The king held up his hand to silence his sons. “I find that hard to believe, but regardless of that, I’m sure a week with Master Frederick will help both of you.”

It was Brandan’s turn to splutter. “Why me? I didn’t do anything.”

“There will be no arguments. It’s your responsibility as princes to learn to care for the earth and your people with magic and prepare for the Aga Adept as Asha has written in the Annals of Time. Obviously you two need some reminding.” Their father’s stern face softened.

“I don’t understand why we’re taking magic and preservation lessons from a grumpy old Kningrad,” Brandan grumbled. “There are so many royal adepts who would be better teachers. How can his magic be as good as King Eyvindur’s or Master Rupert’s? Besides, aren’t those Aga Adept stories just fables created to make children behave.”

“I have explained this before. The other adepts are busy. Croifan may be a short, stubby Kningrad, unlike others of his race, but his magic is just as powerful. Size makes no difference when it comes to magic. You have learned more from Croifan than you realize.”

Brushing his dark hair back in his frustration, Brandan said, “He’s old and doesn’t know anything about what it is like to be an adept today.”

The king took a deep breath. “Someday you won’t be so impatient, and then you’ll understand the plan Asha has for us. I believe a week with Master Frederic will help you come to appreciate that.”

“Our final examinations are in a week.” Joachim stepped forward. “When will we study?”

“You’ll have to figure that out yourselves.” He turned to enter the High Council chamber.

* * * *

When Queen Lilia reached Rupert’s quarters, she found a messenger leaving the room with Rupert not far behind. “Rupert, I need to talk to you.”

“Sorry Your Majesty, but we just received a message, and I must find the king to tell him of it.” He walked quickly down the hall, leaving Lilia with her skirts lifted to run after him.

Lilia stopped to catch her breath when they reached her husband and sons in the garden.

As he approached the king, Rupert bowed. “Sire, we just received a message from Eyvindur. There has been a raid at Freiberg.”

“Raid by whom?” the king asked.

“The messenger was unclear who ordered the raid, but some villagers saw King Shigeo, lurking in the forest during the attack.”

“Why would the Mantion king be leading the raid?” Brandan stepped beside his father.

As he straightened his long gray beard, Rupert continued, “There was another force leading the raiding party. The villagers reported feeling evil that didn’t come from the attackers. Something or someone else was in control.”

“Rupert, take eight men from my personal guard and see what you can learn.”

“Sire, the Peace Summit is in a few days. We both need to be here. One of the generals can take care of this. The raid is over.”

“Father, I can go with them,” Brandan interrupted.

Lilia put her hands on his shoulders and gently turned him so she could look in his eyes. “Son, you haven’t been through your final testing yet. How can you think about going?”

“The tests are a formality.” Brandan sighed. “You know I can do this. When do I leave?”

“You aren’t going. Fifteen is too young to undertake such a task. General Geurin, the leader of the Guard, and his squad will go. Be assured, when you are ready, I will let you have your chance. Until that time you must be patient.”

“Father, how can you say I’m not prepared for this? I’m older than you were when you went on your first mission, and I have more training than you had. If you can’t see that, then you don’t know me at all.” Brandan turned and walked away. “I’m ready for this. I’ll show them all.”

Joachim followed and overheard him mumbling under his breath.

“Don’t be so angry. We’ll be doing this kind of thing soon and probably wishing we could be at home instead.” He attempted to placate his twin.

“What do you know about it? I bet if you asked, Father would’ve let you go.”

“No, he wouldn’t. I’m smart enough not to ask.”

“Well, aren’t you the special one, maybe the Aga Adept?” Brandan sneered before he pushed Joachim away and stormed into the palace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

Seeds of Treachery

 

Lightening blazed across the sky followed seconds later by roaring thunder. Waldrom parried the Mantion’s swing with one of his own. He threw his arms up in frustration. “You useless excuses for beings give me no challenge,” he shouted, clouting his opponent with the flat side of the sword.

“Find me one who can actually fight.” King Waldrom walked over to the window and watched without feeling as lightening struck a century old glingkol tree and set it afire. He turned from the window and asked aloud of his god, Sidramah, “What do I have to do to make Theodric’s kingdom mine?”

“There’s always magic, Sire,” a short, skinny Mantion replied as he scampered into the room. “You could cast a spell on him to make him give you his kingdom.”

Waldrom’s chief advisor and lead wizard, Melvane stopped and turned his gaze to the king. Waldrom was aged beyond his years from the use and abuse of Sidramah’s magic. The king’s slim frame was emaciated, and the olive features showed circles under his eyes that forever seemed to get larger, while his blond hair grew thinner and grayer with each passing day. The surrounding countryside mimicked the king’s aging transformation. The rains that brought such beautiful rebirth to its neighbor, Crato, brought death and destruction to Mahorg.

The forbidden magic of Sidramah affected all that should have been colorful and pretty, rendering it dark and ugly. As good magic drained the energy of the user, so the forbidden magic did the same; but unlike the good magic, it also drained the land’s sustaining energy. Consequently, the flora and fauna slowly perished under Waldrom’s rule. The people of Mahorg were forced to adapt and now used the energy of the magic to perpetuate their lives.

Though it was early spring, the trees that should have been bright green with the birth of new life were covered in browns and grays instead. Bold hyacinths and daffodils that graced the landscape of Crato were absent in Mahorg, and in their place, dried grass and weeds covered the ground. Grotesque fish swam lazily through a stagnant, scum-covered stream dividing the decimated palace garden. Mahorg once rivaled the beauty of Crato, but years of darkness had laid it to waste. The magic of Sidramah was unkind to every living thing in Mahorg.

At six-feet-two inches, Waldrom looked down on the four-foot-tall wizard. “No, we need something they won’t expect. I’m not sure what, but I’ll figure it out before we visit. Have you discovered anything about the sons?”

“Yes Sire, my spies found an interesting morsel.” Melvane rubbed a scroll with his long bony fingers before opening it and handing it to Waldrom. “Prince Brandan dislikes his teachers, and it’s been reported he dabbles with the magic of Sidramah. He’s frustrated with the old fashioned ideas Croifan the Adept is teaching him.” Melvane wiped his brow with the sleeve of his robe as he continued. “Using magic only for good irritates him, and he vents his annoyance on those close by.”

“Good, we can use that to our advantage. If Theodric doesn’t cooperate, we will kidnap Prince Brandan and groom him to be my heir. At least that’s what he’ll believe. Now gather the wizards and finish planning for our trip. I wish to have all my plans in place before we leave. This will be a most fruitful trip, although I am sure not all will be happy with the outcome. I must commune with Sidramah.”

* * * *

The wizard scurried out of the room. When Waldrom summoned Sidramah, no one wanted to be in the vicinity, for Sidramah tended to set intruders on fire. He reached his quarters and found Ekul, his sister, along with a messenger. He sent the messenger to the other wizards, demanding they meet at midday to finalize plans for the peace summit. As Melvane flipped through his books of spells and incantations, Ekul poured him a cup of tea.

His room was sparse compared to others in the Palace of the Three Crosses. A small bed, two overstuffed chairs, a writing desk, and an eating table with two chairs lined the walls. Scattered in disarray throughout the room, were books of all sorts. Their topics covered everything from simple purification spells to the most complex nullifications; they lay open and piled on top of one another.

“This won’t be easy,” Melvane murmured. “I need to get rid of the pesky Prince Brandan, so Shigeo and I can follow through with our plans to capture Waldrom.”

The pair, along with their brother, Tempest, grew up in the Mantion mining village of Dundalk, in the Valkan Mountains. The clans kept their young people at home to train them, but Melvane and a group of troublesome teens would sneak down into Dun Dealgan, the royal city of Mahorg, where they would stir up trouble. On one of these adventures, Melvane met a disillusioned Waldrom and befriended him. After Melvane’s family home burned to the ground and his father renounced him, Melvane became even closer to Waldrom. When Waldrom assumed kingship of Mahorg, Melvane became the Master Wizard.

“Then I could force our father to admit I am more magnificently evil than Tempest will ever be. Maybe I will offer Father a room in my palace. Oh, better yet, he and Waldrom can share a hut at the mines. You know…a place to rest when they aren’t slaving there. What do you think, sister?”

“You shouldn’t have to prove anything to Father,” Ekul snapped. “Tempest should be the one proving himself.” She slammed the teapot on the table and stomped across the room. “Father shouldn’t have blamed you for Mother’s death. If Tempest were watching the fire instead of ogling the servants, the house would never have burned. You should’ve told Father the truth instead of defending Tempest.”

“Sidramah ordained it, and it got us into Waldrom’s palace. It advances my plans to become King of Mahorg.” Melvane sipped his tea. “Besides, it gives me time to use magic to prepare Mahorg for my rule. It will be a glorious thing, you know.” An evil, smug smile settled on Melvane’s face as his mind drifted to thoughts of King Waldrom.

The human was still so naïve. If possible even more than when Melvane first found him in the bars of Dun Dealgan, but then Waldrom was just a teen who felt betrayed by magic and the world. The seeds of evil had already been planted when they met, but Melvane gave it the sustenance necessary to make it bloom. The teen so lost in his own preconceived offenses followed Sidramah’s path of evil. Now the king was right where Melvane wanted. Soon Melvane would have it all. Satisfied he took a sip of tea.

“The magic of those Cratonites is useless. All that namby-pamby talk about being one with the land and Asha is ridiculous.”

He caressed the magic book as if it were a precious gemstone from the Mines of Dundalk. Turning the pages, he continued, “The land is here for the taking. Use her resources and let the god replenish. Why should we restore the land? Mindless Cratonites…well, when I am finished with them, Father will finally acknowledge my power, or I will destroy him.”

“Whatever you say, brother.”

“I know what I’ll do. Where are those wizards?” Melvane closed the book. “They are never on time.” As he stormed out of the room, he knocked a pile of books to the floor.

* * * *

Sitting on a blood red, velvet brocade chair, King Waldrom drank his goll and contemplated the upcoming meeting. It isn’t right. Theodric’s weak. He listens to adepts when they tell him to renew the land. Imagine! They say it will take care of him if he takes care of it? Balderdash.

He signaled a servant to refill his cup. Father always said the land is there for the taking. Once you used it up, you moved on. Asha didn’t take care of you. You took care of yourself. To do otherwise was to show weakness. Sidramah was the only one who mattered.

Throwing the cup across the room, he removed his day robe, and shoved his arms through the sleeves of his black robe of communion. If anyone tried to get in his way, he would see they answered to Sidramah. Waldrom’s lord revealed to him the Way of Darkness. If Theodric and Lilia refused to see it, his lord would punish their treachery. Never again would anyone oppose him. Living in the North Tower and watching the destruction of their world and Waldrom’s rise to power would be a fitting fate.

The king pulled a dagger from its scabbard and slashed his wrist. He dripped blood into a silver goblet filled with sour wine and drank it to initiate his communion with Sidramah. A fly droned by. Waldrom grabbed it out of the air and tossed it in his mouth to chase the vile potation. Finally, he threw open the iron doors of the small, cold stone chapel adjacent to the throne room and stepped through them.

The room held a small wooden altar, and a chair stood in the center of the room. An iron brazier full of hot coals sat on the altar. Instructions to the servants stated it must be hot at all times. Beside the brazier sat a dagger with an intricately carved handle, portraying Sidramah torturing his victims. Waldrom walked to the altar, picked up the dagger, and placed it on the hot coals. Then he lifted the dagger out of the brazier.

“To acknowledge pain is weakness. I’m not weak, but a servant of the dark one. We are strong.” He laid the dagger on his right wrist. The smell of burning flesh assaulted his nostrils, and he bit his tongue to stop a cry of pain. “I’m strong.” He set the dagger down and prostrated himself on the stone floor of the chapel. “My Lord, I’m here to serve.”

The room glowed as the coals in the brazier flared and broke into flames. A booming voice emanating from the flames sent a shudder through Waldrom. He couldn’t help trembling in the presence of Sidramah.

“My son, rise and come forward.”

A blazing hand reached out of the flame and touched Waldrom’s forehead. Oh, how it burned, but he knew better than to flinch when touched by the evil one. The hand withdrew, and he fell to his knees. He bent forward and touched his forehead to the floor; it felt wonderfully cool, after the touch of the flaming hand. I don’t need relief.

“I’m strong when I’m one with you, Master. For there are none above you, only pretenders who offer no strength, no power. Guide me away from those who don’t believe. Lead me to your side, so we can destroy them. Then, with me as your conduit, you may come to rule Ramajadin. I offer myself to do your will. I’m your servant.” He stood and moved toward the door. Flames from the brazier roared out of it and surrounded him. Waldrom stopped. “What’s the meaning of this? Am I not your servant?”

A disembodied voice spoke from within the wall of flame. “You’re weak, son of mine. You must be tested in the flame if you’re to be my Anointed One.”

“But my Lord, have I not already proven myself worthy of your trust? All I’ve done was to glorify you. Mahorg is ours, and soon Crato will fall into place. Ramajadan will be yours because of what I’ve done.”

“You still love. There’s no room for love in my domain. Cleanse yourself of this love.”

The king dropped to his knees. “But she is the key to getting what we want. Without Lilia, Theodric is powerless to do anything. She’ll add a dimension to our rule that will cause all who would defy us to fear us instead.” Still the flames burned around Waldrom, getting hotter and closer.

A growl emanated from them. “Do you dare disobey me? She’s weak, a slave to Asha. She’ll only serve to be your downfall, unless you remove her influence over you. Don’t disappoint me. I’ll not withhold my anger if you don’t obey. There are others I can find to do as I wish.”

“Yes, my Lord, I understand. It will be as you wish.” The flames slowly died as the red glow which surrounded the voice faded. When no flame or glow remained, Waldrom stood and left the room. Once in the foyer, he removed the black robe of communion and donned his day robe.

“How can I make Lilia my queen and have Sidramah accept her?” An evil laugh echoed in his head. The burns on his forehead and wrist stung as if newly inflicted. Ignoring the laugh and the burns, he strode purposefully to his quarters.

 

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