The Prince of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
Aaron had Tanith transport them to the clearing beside the transport platform that had not only carried Aaron to Andor originally but was also used by Ashanna in her search for Aaron. The clearing was just as overgrown as it had been when Lady Thalia first found the infant Aaron on the platform in his bassinet. Tanith raised her hands and swept the growth away with a murmur.
Aaron immediately felt that recurring urge to plunge head long into the forest. Something was drawing him as it had every time he was in the vicinity of the platform. Something was tugging at the edge of his consciousness but would not come out of the shadows. He did not have the time to ponder the situation since he had a more important matter to attend to. He needed to figure out exactly how they were going to get to Tarra and not rouse suspicion or even downright hostility. His silent musing was interrupted by Dana.
"Aaron, are you sure you know how to use this?" Dana asked, the concern evident in her voice.
"Yes, well, I know where we are and I know which one goes to the palace," Aaron shrugged. "However, since we do not want to just show up at the palace, we will have to pick another site. Therein lies the rub, for I do not know where the other locations are. We will have to select one at random and hope for the best."
"My mother did not use the one within the palace so I have no idea where it is," Dana explained. "She used a platform within the temple, but I do not know which jewel that was either."
"Well, now I know of two locations that we could use," Aaron nodded in thought. "But, I am not sure either is a good choice."
"Well, you could select the fourth gem and be assured that your destination is safe and closer to your short term goal."
The three spun around drawing swords as Driscoll approached from the previously hidden pathway, leading three saddled horses.
"Be at peace," Driscoll brought his unused hand up, palm out. "These mounts will make your traveling easier."
"Hail, and well met, Driscoll," Tanith laughed, sheathing her sword. "I see you have traded your oxen in for horses."
"Yes, Your Highness, I have," Driscoll chuckled.
"Your Highness?" Aaron looked at Tanith.
"Well, you are a prince amongst your people and I happen to be a princess amongst mine," Tanith blushed. "I was not trying to keep anything from you, it just never came up. And really, why would it, for I am a princess with no subjects. Metal Wyrms are nobility, with platinum being royal."
"Oh," Aaron replied and then turned to Driscoll. "I know who you are; why are you here?"
"To aid you in your travels," Driscoll replied. "Clearly you cannot walk where you are going, so the horses are a gift that will aid you. And you need a destination; the fourth gem is your best bet."
"Why should we trust you?" Aaron eyed him warily and slowly began to draw power. "It is my understanding that you and your siblings are the reason that my people are no longer here."
"There is that," Driscoll conceded. "However, in our defense, the alternative would have amounted to genocide. What would you have us do?"
"Not interfere," Aaron replied disgustedly. "There were systems in place to prevent total annihilation of any of the races. Is that not part of what the swords were for? You should have let them determine their own solution. All you accomplished was punishing one, elevating another and sentencing the third to a slow decline into nothingness. Where are your creations now?"
"Perhaps you are right," Driscoll nodded. "In any case, these horses will aid you on your travels and I do recommend the fourth gem. Go in peace and be careful, magic is monitored on Tarra."
"What do you mean, monitored?" Aaron eyed the God.
"Magic is part of the religion of Tarra," Driscoll spread his hands out. "A perverted religion, though. Its use is closely guarded and monitored. You will present an enigma and a dangerous one, at that, to the religion of She that has no name."
"He is right," Dana interjected. "Adepts are mostly female. If a male demonstrates the talent he is brought into the temple and made a eunuch. They have a purpose within the temple but never in a position of power."
"It is thought, correctly I might add," Driscoll smiled wanly, "that eunuchs do not possess the drive or aggression to conquer. You will upset their status quo, and that makes you dangerous. Worse, you bear the symbols of the King of Tarra. You will be regarded as a heretic and the priestesses will want your head on a pike."
"Why are you helping us?" Aaron asked, clearly confused based on everything he was told.
"Many reasons," Driscoll sighed. "Probably the most important is a sense of guilt. Be assured my reasons are pure. Be wary, the priestesses of She that has no name will try to kill you, and they are everywhere."
Driscoll explained that the horses were well trained. The one he handed off to Aaron was named Bramble, Dana was handed Briar, and Tanith received Barb. Aaron smiled when Driscoll introduced the horses and remarked at the uniqueness of the names, since briar and bramble were names describing roses, while barb was another name for thorn. Driscoll reminded them to be judicious when using Eldritch and cautious around any priestess they met. He wished them good hunting and turned and vanished.
Aaron turned toward his mates, shrugged his shoulders and after taking the reins of his horse led it up onto the platform. Tanith and Dana followed suit with theirs. Once everyone was settled in place, he moved over to the table top and touched the ruby in the lower left-hand corner and then touched the third emerald from the top, followed by the fifth sapphire in that emerald's row. The air above the platform began to hum and Aaron could feel the platform begin to draw power. He then touched the fifth emerald from the top and then the fourth sapphire in its row. After looking at his mates and receiving a nod from both, he touched the ruby in the lower right corner of the table top and stepped back toward them, taking the reins of his horse.
The air hummed and crackled with the energy of the platform as a small white light appeared growing in size until it engulfed the travelers in its brightness and then vanished, leaving the platform empty. The undergrowth began to shoot up until once again the clearing returned to its previous state. A large hart stepped into the clearing facing the platform and dipped its head.
The palace at Cumbra, first-city of Tarra, in the fifth year of the reign of Queen Ariel Whiterune, 11th Queen in succession.
Her Royal Highness, Princess Rachel Whiterune, High-Priestess to She that has no name, was in her private sanctuary in silent supplication to her Goddess. The room was located within the Temple of the Eternal Flame, itself an extension of the palace, in the city of Cumbra. The sanctuary held a small altar on which sat a brazier and kneeling bench but was otherwise unadorned. Within the brazier flickered a single silver flame. Flanking either side of the entrance door, both inside and out, were her temple guard, dressed in the black robes and red sash of the warrior caste of the priestess-hood, known as the Sisterhood of the Eternal Flame. The Sisters were all Eldritch adepts, as well as masters of the glaive, a type of polearm consisting of a single-edged tapering blade, the preferred weapon of the temple guard.
Within the temple there were four caste levels, called Orders. The highest level was the Order of the Priestess; every temple had one, each confirmed by the High-Priestess and posted to temples throughout the kingdom. The second level was the Order of the Sisterhood of the Eternal Flame, or the Sisterhood for short. The Sisterhood was the military arm of the temple and all of its members were warrior-priestesses. The Sisterhood was charged with the temple's protection as well as good law and order throughout the kingdom. The third level and the most numerous was the Order of the Acolytes. These novices performed the more menial activities of the temple and assisted the priestess in the celebration of holy rites. An acolyte was trained in all aspects of the temple and could achieve either priesthood or sisterhood based on her particular skill set. The lowest level was the Order of Adepts, who were eunuchs that exhibited a talent in the use of Eldritch. They performed the functions of scribes, searchers, or diviners. They also enchanted scrolls and concocted potions.
After a half hour of silent prayer Lady Rachel felt refreshed and ready for the rest of her day. She stood and turned upon hearing a knock at the door.
"Enter," she commanded. One of her personal guard opened the door.
"Most Blessed Mother?" an acolytes entered the sanctuary, head bowed, and prostrated herself before the altar.
"Yes, my child," Lady Rachel replied gently.
"Her Majesty wishes to speak with you," the acolyte spoke from the prostrated position.
"You may rise, my child," Lady Rachel smiled. "Please inform Her Majesty that I live to serve."
"Yes, Most Blessed Mother," the acolyte stood, bowed toward the altar, and left the sanctuary.
Lady Rachel waited several moments, giving the acolyte ample time to deliver the response and then left the sanctuary, her guard falling into position in front and behind her. As she navigated the halls of the temple and then the palace proper, she was beseeched with requests for blessings, or the opportunity to touch her robe. She accepted it all with seemingly good grace and a certain amount of displayed humility. The normally crowded hallways parted before her as she made her way to the throne room. Stopping at the double doors, guarded by the 'Red Guard of the Rose', the royal shield-maidens, she awaited her announcement.
The Red Guard of the Rose was the royal guard of Tarra. Originally it was the Black Guard of the Rose, an all male guard, sworn to protect the king with their lives. The tradition was handed down from father to son for generations until the banishment ended male rule. The head of the Black Guard was traditionally the Prince, the wielder of Black Rose. The newly established Matriarchal monarchy kept the tradition alive changing it to the Red Guard of the Rose, with its head the Princess wielding Red Rose. The members of the guard were outfitted in chain mail shirts and pants with red cloaks, shortswords and shields, emblazoned with a red rose.
The double doors opened outward as she was announced. "Her Royal Highness, the Most Blessed Mother."
Lady Rachel entered the throne room of her niece and looked around at the assembled nobility. She slowly approached the foot of the dais on which stood the Rose Throne and nodded to the sitting Queen, her eyes settled briefly on the large brazier behind her and the flickering silver flame.
"Your Majesty, I live to serve," Lady Rachel proclaimed, spreading her hands out wide.
She noted her two daughters sitting in their chairs at the lower level of the dais just to her right and nodded to them. They were next in line for succession since as high-priestess she was unable to assume the throne. There were shield-maidens flanking both the Rose Throne (although it really was nothing more than a copy) and the lesser thrones on the lower level. Without turning around she knew that there were more shield-maidens flanking the inside of the throne room doors as well as strategically stationed in the various alcoves of the throne room. The tradition harkened back to the days before the banishment and other than the color, and gender change, continued to this very day.
"Blessed Mother, any news?" the Queen asked.
"No, Your Majesty," Lady Rachel replied. "All attempts at discerning the location have failed. We must conclude therefore, that the throne is beyond our reach, no matter how considerable that is."
"Then without the throne the swords are lost as well," the Queen sighed dejectedly.
"It would seem so, Your Majesty," Lady Rachel nodded. "Where your sister went to with Red Rose is unknown and our attempts to discover the location have been fruitless. We must face the realization that our endeavors may be for naught."
"There is no other way to summon the 'Hall of Kings'?" the Queen asked hopefully.
"None, Your Majesty," Lady Rachel shook her head. "Without the throne the hall cannot be commanded."
"And you are sure that the Elfen will rise up again?" the Queen asked, already knowing the answer.
"That is what all my portents reveal, Your Majesty," Lady Rachel replied.
"Then we are doomed," the Queen proclaimed. "Clear the throne room, I would speak to my cousins and aunt in private!"
Lady Rachel turned and watched the nobility and other courtiers leave until all that was left were the people that the Queen had requested. The shield-maidens remained as well, since their vows of service included a vow of silence.
"Do you really think it will come to war?" Queen Ariel asked rising from the throne and descended the steps, meeting her cousins on the lower level.
"I do, I really do," Lady Rachel replied nodding. "You must face the inevitability that without the throne and its power we are truly vulnerable."
"How I wish my mother was here," Queen Ariel sighed. "She would know what to do. Or Ashanna, she was always the stronger."
"I wish your mother was here as well, child," Lady Rachel replied solemnly. "But, she is not, and it is up to us to do what we can."
"But how?" Queen Ariel asked desperately. "How?"
"She that has no name may be persuaded to assist," Lady Rachel spread her hands in supplication and looked at the brazier. "But she will most assuredly ask a great price."
"Whatever it is I will pay it," Queen Ariel replied earnestly.
"Even if it is a great sacrifice?" Lady Rachel replied watching her. "Even if you must sacrifice yourself?"
"Even if that," Queen Ariel stood, placing her hand over her heart.
"I am not sure that it will be necessary," Lady Rachel replied, a small smile escaped before she set her expression again. "I will investigate the matter. By your leave?"
"Oh yes, Aunt Rachel," Queen Ariel smiled warmly and then hugged her. "Please let the court back in on your way out."
"As you command, My Queen," Lady Rachel bowed slightly, turned and left.
As she left the throne room Queen Ariel climbed back up the dais and sat in the throne. The two cousins looked at each other with a smirk before composing themselves as the court was let back in.