Chapter 6: Revelations
Copyright© 2011 by Celtic Bard
The doors to the throne room were guarded, again, by huge armored Gnathar wielding mace-axes. The monotony of seeing the same guards everywhere almost relegated them to the status of furniture in the mind of Jonar. And he used the concept of huge in his own mind relatively, as none of them came up to even his chin in height. They were everywhere, their visored countenances' silent promises of violence made empty by the commonplace nature of the threat. Jonar simply stopped noticing them and their threats of retribution should he misbehave.
The giant doors to the great, vaulted room beyond opened of their own accord and a booming voice beyond proclaimed their identity for the throng gathered within. "Her Highness, Princess Issabella Waiya! Her Highness, Princess Alyssa Waiya! Lady Myka, Matriarch of House Junia! Priest Xavear, Lord of House Losh'Varrii! Commander Lailar Ulfjansson!..." And on the booming voice went until all of the gnath lords were named. Then, silence. Jonar was quite grateful not to hear his own name. He had half hoped to be able to hide amongst the other Gnathar.
That hope was dashed when all the eyes zoomed right in on him standing very close to Myka, sweaty hands near weapons, eyes darting around at the faces. And so many faces, and of so many different races, that he had never before seen that his eyes simply darted around almost out of his own control. Giant Jotnar down to tiny Gnomes, all eyes watched as the two Royal Princesses escorted the party of Gnathar and their charge. Many of the green and brown faces of the Ce'al nobles looked chagrined as they watched Myka, their eyes dark.
At the end of the long green carpet down which they walked was a dais. Two people sat upon that dais on magnificently sculpted stone chairs accented by jewels and flashes of gold and silver used like paint. They were Meikari in the true sense of the word. Their statures were that of Ce'al but they had the features of Gnathar. Their skin was slightly greenish and their ears were a little longer, a little more pointed, than a true Gnathar's. But they were extraordinarily beautiful. King Voendur was handsome to the point of being pretty and his delicate hands rested softly on the arms of his throne. He looked as he had been described to Jonar: an academic, not a warrior or true king. He wore a simple but elegant purple tunic and black hose of silk with a plain but heavily jeweled crown resting on his head.
Queen Leina Waiya, however, looked every inch a queen in the full bloom of her power. She had a heart-shaped face of stunning beauty with a straight, slightly retroussé nose, large, almond-shaped eyes of olive green, small, dainty ears, and a firm, regal chin. She was gowned in a light purple silk trimmed with white lace and blue-green cording. Atop her greenish-yellow hair sat a gold and silver, jewel-encrusted crown that was almost a work of art when compared to her husband's.
Princess Issabella and Princess Alyssa stopped three paces before the dais and bowed. The gnath lords and Myka all bowed as well. Jonar, his stubborn pride keeping him unbending, simply nodded his head to the Queen and King. This caused a stir among the courtiers and diplomats present.
A quirky smile tugged at the delicate lips of the Queen. "So sister, who is this you have brought before me?" her musical voice inquired drolly, her eyes locked on the penetrating gaze of Jonar. "He is not like the others, is he? This one is awed, but still prideful enough to remember who he is, whoever that may be. So tell me, who is this giant Gnathar you bring before me."
Myka closed her eyes immediately upon hearing the Queen's first sentence, praying to Cealie that she not try to throw him in the dungeons. Issabella turned and saw the praying Ce'al girl and then to her staring bodyguard. A similar smile tugged at her lips.
"That is a boy named Jonar of Telanaria." There was a gasp somewhere as the princess introduced the Gnathar. "It appears he was exiled from the Empire of the Gnath after his parents were killed by the Dei-Xhan. He is the bodyguard of Lady Myka. He found her after the village of Mynar was destroyed by Zondrons. It is he who insisted that the matriarch inform the authorities of the Dei-Xhan attack and that is why Commander Lailar and his men have brought them here."
The Queen nodded then scanned the court. "Ambassador Gnorthsson, please come forward."
It was not a request and everyone presence understood the frosty tone in the Queen's voice. A rippling in the crowd soon gave way to an aisle leading directly to a muscular, elegantly dressed Gnathar with long white hair, a fiercely scarred face, and large hands wrapped around the wide leather belt from which hung a massive broadsword. His most distinguishing feature, however, was the eye patch covering his left eye. One of the many scars on his head ran across his face from under the patch.
The Ambassador from the Dorkan Empire strode forward and executed a minimal bow to the Queen. "Eivar Gnorthsson, ever at your Majesty's service," he said in a smoothly refined bass.
The Queen nodded towards Myka. "You have heard the plight of the matriarch of Junia?"
"I have, your Majesty," the broad shouldered man said, soberly. He strode to stand beside Myka, nodding absently to the towering form of Jonar. "Your House has the sorrow and condolences of the Emperor of Dorkan. I assure you that the Imperial Navy will not rest until the beasts of Zondro-Xhan pay for your loss. When word reached my agents in Port Meikari of your story, they sent word to the Admiralty and to the Imperial War College in Ft. Jotnar in the Empire of the Sail. Dorkan and Jotnari ships in the Gulf of Dorkan have been alerted to keep a watch."
"What of the possibility that the raiders fled by land?" Commander Lailar asked.
Though the gnath lord's tone indicated he thought this unlikely, the Dorkan Ambassador smiled. "The border patrols throughout the Empire relish the thought. Commanders up and down the frontiers have had to refuse men volunteering for duty because of the thoughts this idea has sparked. Do not worry. Dorkan's borders are sealed to Dei-Xhan."
Queen Leina rose and descended the three steps of the dais to stand before Myka. Her gentle hands cradled Myka's dainty fingers. "Know that we grieve with you, Myka of Junia. All of Meikar yearns to hear the words from our allies and protectors that the wicked ones who perpetrated this ignominy have been brought lo. With the grace of the God of Justice, your enemies will be slain, daughter of Meikar," Queen Leina promised, her voice throbbing, reverberating throughout the throne room. Then her eyes darted up to Jonar, her olive green orbs resting on his sapphire. "Now, you must tell me of this giant you have acquired. I perceive that only Ambassador Qorvarq Jzahrman of the Islands of the Jotnar would be taller, were he present. And this one is yet a boy."
Myka bobbed before answering, "I do not know much about him, your Majesty. Only the circumstances of his expatriation."
"Hm, truly? And you have so much faith in his honor and honesty that you entrust your life to someone with the reputation of the Telanarian?" she asked, her eyes now scanning the nobles and functionaries of the court.
"I know nothing of his reputation," Myka replied honestly, looking quizzically into a confused Jonar's eyes. Then she looked beyond him to the other gnath lords and saw that they all had frowns on their faces and were staring the same way the Queen was.
The Queen let go of her hands and beckoned her husband from the dais. "It is the end of the day, let us go to more comfortable quarters," Queen Leina said as King Voendur offered his arm to her. Her eyes were still focused on a point somewhere in the crowd. "Let our friends join us. Ambassador Gnorthsson, will you join us?"
The Dorkan bowed gracefully but shook his head regretfully. "I am afraid I must beg your forgiveness, your Majesty. I must send a more thorough report of the Zondron incursion immediately to Dorkan City. The Emperor will wish to know what his men are looking for and why."
Queen Leina nodded as if she expected this. "Then Ambassador Ghanjasson will accompany us in your stead," she said.
A frightened gasp followed the suggestion and heads began turning to where a rather thin, scraggly-looking Gnathar stood. He wore rich clothes but they were poorly coordinated and he caught as many derisive looks for his clashing wardrobe as for his uncouth appearance. His braided black hair was quite ratty and the scuzz of facial hair made him look like a drunkard. His pig-like blue eyes peered around the throne room from within deep folds of skin, giving him a frightened, almost trapped countenance.
"Um ... uh, that is, I must apologize, y-your Majesty, but I also have reports to complete and I must check on Gnarsyl," the swinish envoy stammered lamely, sweat standing out on his shining forehead.
Queen Leina swept past him with her guests. "It was not a request, Ambassador. Come along."
"Your Majesty, please! I really must see to my Gnath!" Ambassador Ghanjasson pleaded, pointedly keeping his stiff back towards Jonar. "He may be in extreme danger, your Majesty!"
They were in a cozy little sitting room not in the Queen's quarters but just a short way from the throne room. Princess Alyssa had whispered to them that this was where the Queen did business serious enough to warrant her personal attention or business which had the possibility of getting out of hand. Myka nodded sagely at this pronouncement but that just confused a far-too-calm Jonar even more. He somehow sensed that the Queen was worried about him becoming violent. This suspicion was borne out by the fact that there were several Gnathar guards surrounding the Queen and the Imperial Ambassador. Of the ten gnath lords that accompanied Myka and Princess Alyssa from Port Meikari, only five were with them in the room. The other five, men Jonar had never really come to know, had quickly split off from their group upon leaving the throne room. Lords Lailar, Xavear, Dourden, Brandar, and Caoldir were ranged behind the young Gnathar with intent eyes. Jonar suspected something important was going on but he couldn't put a finger on what.
"Sit down, Lord Yothorin," the Queen ordered in a frosty tone. She swept past him and seated herself in the most luxurious of the carved and cushioned chairs surrounding the cozy little fire crackling on the arched hearth. The comfortable chairs were the only furniture in the room painted with intricate frescoes depicting the building of the city of Hynost-Qaanzyr. Jonar's attention was brought back to the Queen when he felt her gaze on him. "So, young Jonar. Do you have any questions?"
Jonar stammered, not really having anything to say of any importance. Lord Lailar stepped forward, however, glaring at the Ambassador from the Empire of the Gnath. "I do, your Majesty. I have taken Jonar into my clan. I claim grievance rights under Meikari law and custom."
Somewhat surprised, the Queen nodded her head and waved a graceful hand at the cringing Ambassador. "As you will, Commander Ulfjansson."
Lailar stomped over to stand before Yothorin. "What Pride does your Gnath declare, Ambassador?" the gnath lord demanded angrily.
"Darwyth Pride," he mumbled, eyes downcast.
This caused Jonar to start but Lailar continued as if he expected as much. "Why do you fear for your Gnath?"
"Gnarsyl knows of the plight of the Telanarian but not that he is not to discuss it with his Pride mates."
"Including Gnusyl the Daggerfang of the same Pride, companion of Jonar Telansson?"
Yothorin nodded glumly, his eyes darting up for a quick look at the towering youth standing behind Lady Myka. "Gnusyl is the progeny of the Pride's alpha. Gnarsyl will not know to keep such information to himself. This could inflame the young Gnath," the emissary mumbled brokenly.
"Why do you refer to Jonar Telansson as the Telanarian?" Myka demanded suddenly, drawing all eyes to her diminutive form.
Yothorin's eyes became wild and he swallowed nervously several times before his mouth snapped open. "Th-the elders o-of T-telanaria put ou-out a bount-t-ty claiming Jonar T-telansson killed a quarter of the v-village's p-population, including his own parents," he admitted, bringing cries of astonishment and horror from even the Gnathar Royal Guardsmen, the impassive men suddenly clutching their mace-axes in murderous grips. "Th-the Imperial marshals knew this was not true but decided to honor the guerdon notice. The elders kept the bounty valid for two years throughout the northlands. Then they must have decided the young man must be dead and revoked it. I d-don't know the particulars, but the Grand Justicar always suspected that a power struggle had been ended in the district and the elders won."
"What did that have to do with Jonar Telansson?" Princess Alyssa demanded angrily.
The Ambassador shrugged. "Probably nothing, directly. The district was always run by the warriors and the armsmasters because it was so close to both the Domain and Zondroland," he began, more comfortable now that he was focused on the princess. "Until a few years ago, that is. Suddenly the warrior castes and their armorers began to die sudden deaths. Telan of Telenaria was the last remaining of the caste leaders molded in the old way. He was young but strong. His business in arms and armor was widely known and respected and he was the last strongman to hold power of any kind in the southern and western districts. Then the request of the reward for his son's death came through and those at the capital began to put two and two together."
"Did anyone in the capital ever suspect collusion with the Zondrons?" Princess Issabella inquired shrewdly.
The Gnathar shook his head vigorously. "If that was ever suspected, the elders would have found three Imperial legions camped in their front yards and several of them would not have survived the Inquisitors," Ghanjasson promised.
"What about alliances with pagans?" Xavear asked knowingly.
"Of course," Yothorin replied quickly, his eyes lighting up hopefully. "Telan Novarsson was notorious for refusing to deal with certain pagan clans in the Domain. He had enemies in places other than his own village."
Jonar stood impassively, shocked into numbness by what he heard. So he had been exiled not because he had no sponsor, but because his father had far too many enemies and not enough friends to ensure that his son would be protected should anything ever happen to him. The young Gnathar let his eyes roam around the room, looking at the strange expressions of outrage and anger on the faces of the people he was coming to call friends. They were honestly furious for the way he had been treated by his own people, despite the fact that he had no real feelings of any kind on the subject.
He blinked as everybody was suddenly rising, many of them looking at him. "Is he an imbecile or just so ignorant of politics and his own situation that he shows no emotion to the revelation that he was grossly offended by his own people?" Queen Leina asked Myka.
"Ignorant, would be my guess, your Majesty," Myka answered honestly, her face wet with tears of anger and sympathy for her friend. "He was cast out before the age of education in the Empire. He is as a child in all but the physical sense."
Queen Leina glared at the Imperial Ambassador. "Then we will take care of that for him," she declared sternly. She looked up at the stoic Jonar with pity in her eyes. "Would you like to learn, young Jonar?"
"Very much, your Majesty."
The Queen smiled, her olive green eyes shining. "Then tomorrow Lord Lailar will take you to the truthseekers while your young matriarch stays with me under my protection. At the chapter of the Order of the Ever Present Truth there is a Gnome magician who owes me several lifetimes of favors. He will set you on the path of your self-education while Lady Myka and I discuss her kin and the disposition of the House of Junia.
Jonar rose early the following morning and quietly dressed in the most modest of his new clothes, a white tunic and black trousers. Seeing a half-dozen Royal Guardsmen standing outside of Myka's door, he went down to the stableyards where Gnusyl was lounging with nearly three score more Gnaths. He was easy to spot from a window overlooking the yard due to his size, but getting to him in the crowded courtyard was another thing. As it turned out, he didn't have to. As soon as the big Gnath heard steps on the flagstones of the court, his long neck popped up and the sharp eyes caught sight of the lean giant. Lumbering up from his resting spot, Gnusyl picked his way among the clustered bodies of his fellows to arrive by the door his companion exited.
"Good morning, my friend," Gnusyl greeted pleasantly. "You look worn out. Did you not sleep? You are not having night terrors again, are you?"
Jonar smiled wearily. "You know me too well," the boy remarked. "I learned some things yesterday which brought back the terrors. I am just glad we are no longer on the road, otherwise Myka and the rest of our friends would have been awakened this morning. But enough of this! How were you yesterday? I was too caught up with this Queen and Lady Myka to get to see you. I am sorry."
The massive shoulders of the Gnath hunched in the creature's equivalent of a shrug. "I will learn to amuse myself, now that we are back among people," the great beast replied solemnly. Then his toothy grin appeared. "Besides, I have not been amongst so many Gnaths since we were joined. I even met one from my own Pride. He is from the eastern clans, though, and didn't know of news from home."
Jonar nodded soberly as he led his Gnath towards the gate of the palace compound. "His companion gave me much news from home," he said, his deep voice grim. "Perhaps too much news. I think Lord Lailar plans to take us home so he can rebuke those who cast us out, Gnusyl. This man from the Empire told me why we were exiled and why we were so hunted in those first couple years. Now that I think on it more, I may be looking forward to going home. There are some people for whom I have questions of my own."