~Section Two~


Piercing eyes studied the solitary figure sitting quietly in a distant corner of a great chamber called the ‘Hall of Assembly’, the political strategy room since the beginning of the Rebellion.  The eyes squinted in wondering question...  ‘So, this is the wisest of councilors, personal advisor to the ‘Maker of worlds’?  Doddered, unkempt, nervous… Who really is this man, ArdonAzubahKenath, [‘Ardon’, as he was more often called]?  He looks more the part of an Eastern slave merchant awaiting his next client, and....he has just recently returned from one of his mysterious deep space sojourns.  This person deserves closer scrutiny.’

Ardon had been sitting in the Hall of Assembly for nearly an hour, it being his custom to arrive early so as to observe the others entering, and to not be observed.  This afforded him the luxury for a silent inquisition of the gathering crowd and time to ponder the possible unfolding of the night’s events.  He had learned long ago to watch warily for clues that revealed motives and intentions.  More than once he had managed a coup on some spy or enemy agent sequestered among the loyal children of the Empire.  Tonight was special, at least according to Mother, and from the looks of all the military brass and high-ranking officials, Mother hadn’t been exaggerating.  These people needed his scrutiny.

He frowned in surprise and disapproval watching a ‘lowly’ naval officer shyly enter, his eyes opened wide in awe of the gathered company of royal officials and leading military officers.  For some moments the man stood there, arms hanging limply, with folded hands.  The nervous fellow looked more like a trapped animal seeking escape than a captain in the Empire’s navy.

Ardon stirred, leaning forward, concerned.  ‘Now why does Mother trouble our presence with a washed-out captain, unfit to hold the bridge of a cattle barge or... that scrap heap of a ship... the...’ It took a moment for him to recall.  ‘Oh yes, that derelict, Shikkeron...?  Should have scrapped it out before the Great War.  What’s Bedan doing at such an important counc...’  Ardon snapped his fingers.  ‘Oh, yes... the Zephath... Sirion...  The Shikkeron was a first responder to its distress signals.’  He slowly shook his head.  ‘Why does Mother need Bedan’s council here?  The official report contains everything he could provide.’

Ardon’s apparent arrogance was not as it appeared.  True, he believed his position on the Head Council was well deserved, and he also believed it would be through the roles of the various councils that permanent peace was to be obtained, the military actions only a necessary stopgap to provide time for diplomacy to win out.  Bedan, a captain of peacetime necessity, and one of the countless younger children, made the man’s deficiencies loom greater in Ardon’s mind.  The fellow was just another of the ‘dullards and misfits’ this war had gathered to itself.  The great leaders of the ancient times were the ‘heroes’ who must bring matters to a finish.  And wasn’t that what this evening’s gathering was all about?

It troubled Ardon to think that Mother (Ma-we*) did not bother to inform him, or seek his advice concerning Bedan and the Shikkeron.  It was not her silence about the matter when they visited in private conference earlier; it was her obvious secretiveness that was most disturbing.  True, she informed him, in somewhat lengthy detail, about Mihai’s reaction to being offered the king’s crown, and she being given another kingship later in the day, and he was also made privy to Trisha’s promotion to field marshal, something that also perturbed him as it had Mihai, but for additional reasons.  It was Mother’s incessant riddling and evasiveness that had been most perturbing.

“I think the girl has the right stuff.”  Ma-we had said so offhandedly about Trisha, before adding, “And she’s so pretty, too.  Don’t you think so?”

Ardon had sputtered about the woman’s youth and inexperience, presenting numerous reasons why she shouldn’t be given such a high military post.  Though not mentioning it, he secretly believed the position should go to a member of the council, possibly Lord PalaHar, a highly respected military officer and a member of the Council of 24, as was he, who understood the value of diplomacy in conflict.  Plus, her being an ‘off-worlder’ and so new to this realm led him to suspect the children of this world might feel resentment having to bend a knee to such a person.  The shadow of such a feeling already was being manifested by a few in the way they saw Ma-we dote over some of them.

Ma-we had brushed off Ardon’s arguments, saying it would be ‘Good for some to learn a little humility.’ she eyeing him carefully as it was spoken, then, bouncing from her chair, her golden tresses drifting high into the afternoon breeze, politely dismissed him, replying as she turned,  “The hour is upon us when humility may not only save the soul, but may well preserve the heart.  It’s time some of my children learned that... ArdonZoiathenBethy, (man who sees little use for the titmouse).’

Ardon scratched his chin over Mother’s final words, the name she called him.  For hundreds of millennia he had been called ArdonAzubahKenath, ‘man of stones’.  At least it was the name’s original meaning.  Ardon ignored the less noble ‘the man who abandons the festival of the winds and hides himself in the misty caves’ that many of his younger sisters came to attach to it.  And that was another thing.  His mind wandered…  For all his age and wisdom, he being one of the most ancient of the children, he never was able to understand women at all - that was, except for Tashi.

Craning his neck, he scanned the room.  Tashi, governor of the Trizentine colonies, was supposed to be here this evening.  He searched carefully to see if she had made her arrival yet and been missed.  Satisfied it was not the case, the man settled back in his chair, watching the door, but his mind became distracted in seeking the reason for Mother’s name-calling.

“Hello there, Sweet One!”

Startled, Ardon looked up just in time to have two soft hands cradle his face and two full, moist lips smack his.  Eyes opened wide with surprise, Ardon stared dumbly into Tashi’s face.

Leaning back, Tashi studied the perplexed fellow who was still trying to get his bearings.  She frowned, shaking her head.  “I’ve come all the way from the Trizentine, holding my passions in check in anticipation of this coming night… to be spent with my lover… and you have nothing to say to me?  Tsk… Tsk.  Maybe I should have accepted that captain’s request to wile away some quiet hours with him.”  She pulled Ardon’s face close as she bent forward again, planting another kiss on him.

While sheepishly stuttering his hellos, Ardon glanced around the room, concerned that others might have seen or heard Tashi’s amorous advances.  Satisfied none had, he relaxed and, taking her hands in his, smiled, replying quietly, “It is good to see you, too, Governor…”

Tashi shot him a scolding stare.

 “Er, well… of course, of course, I’m overjoyed to see you and… and…”

Though teasing, Tashi’s voice was serious to the point of threatening.  “I have not contained my feelings these many days to be put off by a stuffed shirt, Lord Ardon.  As you have promised… and I will collect on that promise…this visit belongs to me and I shall have my way concerning it.  Tonight, and tomorrow, and the next, and the next if I wish… and I do wish… and for all the days I am here on this sojourn of mine, you will lavish your time and energies upon me.  ‘Our’ bed I shall warm with you for my entire stay.”

She stood upright, shoulders back, eyebrows furrowed, hands still holding fast to Ardon’s.  “And if you think your phony piety will allow you to show aloofness toward me this eve, I will shout out to the entire crowd your passionate love songs showered upon me in your hidden chambers…songs that others so openly confess to all the world, but you, you stodgy old hermit, hide in secret vaults, fearing your dignity might be questioned should others hear that you also desire the flesh of women with manly abandon.”

Ardon’s face flushed red with embarrassment and concern.  He squeezed Tashi’s hands, pleading quietly.  “Oh no!  No, my… my Sweet One!  I do want to be in your company.  I have been waiting long to see you.  It’s just that… well… you know this council is so important, and…”

“And…?” Pulling a hand away, Tashi shook a finger at him.  “And if you don’t behave, I will take my leave with that officer over there…” pointing at Bedan in a distant corner, “and I will deliver my pent-up desires upon him!”

Almost jumping from his chair, Ardon quietly cried, “No!  No! I mean… I mean, I do want your company… really.  I am sorry that…”

Tashi grinned.  “That’s better.  No more ‘granny grunt’ stuff.”  She kissed him and turned to leave.  “I have other business to attend to, but I will not be far off.  Do not leave me alone after this night’s council.  I will be waiting.”  She hurried off to see some others.

Ardon slowly settled back into his chair, his eyes ever watching Tashi’s sensuous movements as she glided across the room.  Not even a muscle twitch gave away his pounding heart, his sweaty palms the only evidence the passions the man was fighting to keep under control.  “Oh my!  Oh my!”  He mumbled under his breath.  “How does she manage to do that to me?”  He hated and loved that woman.  Hated her because she could strip him – the great councilor to Lowenah – of all his emotional control.  Loved her because she chose him to be the one she so tortured.  How?  Strumming his fingers on the chair’s arm, Ardon pondered the possible reasons.

The woman’s given name was ‘TaanathShiloh’, meaning ‘my peaceful ebony child’, but was later changed to ‘PurooQanaTashi’, having the dual meanings, ‘mistress of the passionate wild fires’, or ‘the child who possesses the wild fires’.  And the woman, Tashi, certainly lived up to her name.  Ma-we had struggled to keep the girl’s passions in check until her ‘coming of age’ celebration.  After her release of service from her ‘virgin year’ the child had gone wild, so to speak, and did chase down her dreams of passion like a consuming wild fire.

Ardon had come upon the woman during one of his many sojourns into the uncharted abyss of the Nebulan Cloud Bank.  His need for supplies had delivered him to Exothepobole, a then tiny mining colony on Sustrepho, far out in the Trizentine.  Tashi was already the elected leader of the mining council - no small achievement considering she was one of the younger children during that time, being only a few thousand years of age.

Sustrepho was a dark, cold planet, being a great distance from its nearest star.  Conditions were harsh and unforgiving.  Not only could the metavideoxide be a dangerous mineral, but mining for it was equally so.  Some of the early veins went two miles deep under the mountains west of the outpost.  It was Tashi’s job to secure the safety of the miners and make sure they had adequate supplies, responsibilities she executed flawlessly.  In fact, Tashi was responsible for turning Exothepobole from a tiny mining camp into a thriving city, provincial capital, and mercantile exchange for the entire Trizentine Star Systems.

Ardon’s arrival at Exothepobole caused quite a stir, few of its inhabitants having met the acquaintance of one so ancient, they being considered almost mythical creatures among the children of the latter part of the First Age.  Tashi, being head of the mining council, took it upon herself to make Ardon’s visit somewhat of a celebration and, seducing him with wine and song, bedded the fellow that night and, using her sensual wiles and cunning personality, entrapped him into surrendering to her his heart… the only woman ever succeeding in such a feat.

Looking across the room at the woman now, her glistening black ebony skin and knee length, obsidian-midnight dark curly hair, Ardon slowly shook his head, his ardor for Tashi growing by the second.  How did she do it?  It wasn’t fair!  He was in control.  How did that woman pierce his defenses?  Still, this coming night of passion was looming before him with increasing anticipation.  For but a moment, the fellow wished she had clothed herself this eve in more that just her silk lace shawl… for just a moment.

Squeezing his eyes shut in an attempt to regain his composure, Ardon considered why Tashi, the governor of the Trizentine, was here at this council.  The reason troubled him. ‘The Stasis, those mischievous Stasis!’  If the threat of Asotos reneging on the armistice pact wasn’t bad enough - an armistice pact that Ardon was most proud of, he being the chief negotiator for the ‘Children’s’ side – the growing boldness of the Stasis Pirates was even more disquieting.

“My Lord Ardon…” a nervous, hesitant voice broke upon Ardon’s ears.  “Excuse me, my Lord…”

Ardon’s eyes popped open, he dumbly staring into Bedan’s face, the man’s hand outstretched in salutation.

Bedan smiled shyly.  “It is such a great pleasure to greet you again.  I’ve…”

Ardon blurted out, “Again?”

“Y… ye… yes, my Lord.”  Bedan swallowed hard.  “On Pilneser, after the Great War, I was a courier sent to deliver to you a letter of congratulations from the Council, for your heroic efforts at successfully sealing an armistice pact with our enemy.  Of course you would not remember, my Lord, but it was such a great reward for me to be…”

Ardon politely took Bedan’s hand.  “Of course, I remember.” – he was not sure, but it was his diplomatic style.  Smiling, he asked, “You’re captain of that old, I mean that boat.  Let’s see, now… oh yes, the Shikkeron, isn’t it?”

Bedan nodded, afraid to explain that the Shikkeron was a ship, not a boat.

Releasing Bedan’s grip, Ardon nodded,  “Yes, yes, some kind of a brigantine, isn’t it?  I recall it was in service during the Three Hundred Year War, resurrected out of the scrap yard for use in the Great War.  So it still flies…?  Interesting… interesting.”

Nodding, Bedan added, “Was refitted some dozen years ago, into an imperial brigantine… a much heavier ship, Lord Ardon, almost up to frigate class now.”

“Good.  Good.”  Ardon replied.  Having no desire to hear further about the matter, he changed the subject.  “So… er… Captain… er Bedan, what brings you so far from your duties?  Who’s tending your bo… er, ship now?”

Bedan smiled, standing straight.  “She’s here, at the spaceport, I mean.  Orders… came down from the top.”

Ardon leaned forward, looking up at Bedan, squinting.  “Really…?  And you…?  What are you doing here?”

The nervousness returned to Bedan’s voice.  “From Mother, directly from her.  She summoned me not six weeks ago.  Just got here today, running full out, making smoke all the way just to get here on time.”

Ardon frowned, asking, “Why?  What’s so spec…” He caught himself, asking more politely.  “What does Mother want from you that requires your presence here?”

Bedan shook his head.  “I don’t know, my Lord.  Mother didn’t say.  I thought you might know, you being so important on her council and all.”

Feeling flustered to think that Ma-we was keeping secrets from him but unwilling to reveal those facts to someone like Bedan, Ardon swept his hand in a motion that signified unimportance, replying, “The world is troubled over so many trivial matters, there is not time to discuss this at the moment.  I’m sure Mother had good reason.”  He looked up to see Admiral NikaoEimi enter the chambers.  Wishing to dismiss Bedan without being rude, he pointed,  “There’s the commander of the Second Fleet… Navy, you know.  Maybe he can tell you.”  Then attempting to show interest, he added,  “If you find out something important, please let me know.”

Bedan bowed low, thanking Ardon for his time, and then hurried over to speak with the admiral.

Heaving a sigh of relief, Ardon settled back in his chair, glad to see the admiral was now being troubled with that ‘nuisance officer’.

“Lord Ardon...”

Surprised, Ardon looked up to see Symeon’s smiling face as he approached, hand outstretched.  Ardon stood, grinning.  “You snuck in on me, my friend.  SymeonKephim!  So good to see you.”

Now here was a man in whose company Ardon felt quite comfortable.  Delivered here from the Second Realm, Symeon and his fellow brethren from that wild place were most acceptable companions and conversationalists.  True, they usually, and willingly, spent most of their time in his presence, listening – something Ardon relished.  They did, though, have interesting anecdotal opinions that were worth considering.  And Symeon… he so much reminded Ardon of Mihai in her younger days, so filled with excitement and that impetuous spirit, always in a hurry, so full of life.

After a warm greeting, Ardon patted Symeon’s shoulder, asking, “Has our councilor to the Lady been kept busy this day…?  You know, with all kinds of court business and important governmental matters?”

Symeon shook his head.  “No, my Lord Ardon, Mihai has secluded herself away all day, even choosing to spend some quiet hours with a few close acquaintances for sup.  My Lady informed us - Paul, Jonathan, and me - of very little, other than we should expect the unexpected this eve, something I find so curious.  She’s usually so open and direct with us.”

‘So…Mother was keeping many secrets this day.’  Ardon nodded approvingly, being informed concerning Mihai’s new kingship and Trisha’s promotion to field marshal.  It made him feel good to think he was so highly trusted that Mother should reveal secrets to him, yet hide them from others.  Still… he did not know everything.

“Tell me, please, Symeon, my friend.” Ardon asked, probing for added information.  “Did our Lady say with whom she was to sup?”

“No.”  Symeon lowered his eyes in thought, shaking his head.  “When she called me earlier this eve, her voice was filled with subdued excitement.  She asked me if I would be sure to arrive early to the council because she had a surprise.  Then she apologized about missing her late luncheon and that plans were now made to dine with special friends.  So!  I’m here early, but I don’t see her or her surprise as of yet.”

Patting Symeon again, Ardon grinned, nodding, “Oh, I think you will like the surprise.”  He winked.  “It is a good one, you know, a good one.”

At that moment, Zadar entered the council chambers and, eyeing Ardon and Symeon, hurried over.  Clutching Ardon in a bear hug, Zadar joyously cried, “Papa!  It so good to see you after these many months!”  He stood back, his hands gripping Ardon’s shoulders.  “I have heard of your adventures on Stargaton.  Tell me… did the Seimieah Straights deliver up to you the hidden jewels of NiShanderiah, seeing you had deciphered her riddles when last we spoke?”

Ardon took Zadar by the upper arms, shaking his head.  “No, no, my little son.  NiShanderiah was a witch extraordinaire.  I fear I must wait until her return during the ‘after days’ before I will succeed in having her secrets revealed.”  He stopped, staring into Zadar’s face, pride growing on his.  He then complimented the ‘boy’ on how well he looked in his new army uniform, which led him into a timely lecture concerning what must be done to bring this rebellion to a finish.  Zadar listened intently. 

It was only a few weeks after Asotos’ attempt at murdering Mihai when Ardon had returned from a deep-space sojourn to Palace City.  There he remained with Lowenah after she discovered she was ‘with child’ and long into the days after Zadar’s birth, the first and only child born after the Rebellion began, and one with a most profound and troubling secret shared by his mother only with Ardon.  Ardon took to raising up the boy as if his own, even allowing him to journey into some of his secret lands.  With Ardon’s fatherly mentoring, Zadar became filled with the desires for exploration and adventure.  The two became inseparable until he – Zadar - was handed over to Tolohe, to be raised up to manhood by her loving care.

Zadar never forgot Ardon’s kindness, his devotion never diminishing for his adoptive father.  Now, after all these years of war, and Ardon’s outspoken opinions that downplayed the value of the military while encouraging more diplomacy to bring the Rebellion to a finish, Zadar - a man who had devoted his entire life to the military, believing it to be the only solution – always patiently listened to his mentor while he explained the importance of ‘using the carrot over the stick’.  As he had done before, this night Ardon did not miss the opportunity to lecture his ‘young’ protege on the subject.

“Now you will see…” Ardon firmly clasped Zadar’s hands while he spoke.  “What you do is all fine and good, but it is such a waste, such a waste.  You are so smart, savvy, I mean.  You would do so well as a member of Mother’s council.  I have clout, you know.  Mother would listen to me, you know.  Of course, you will have to start out as my loyal apprentice… for a little while, of course, until you got the hang of things.  But for you, it wouldn’t take long before your voice would be heard in the assembly.  And… and, with your military experience, you have a lot to bring to the table.”

Zadar, a diplomat in his own right, thanked Ardon, nodding, “Your wisdom I shall seriously consider, Papa.  The hour is coming, soon, when your ways will be put to the test.  I hope to be there to see their outcome.  Mother has hinted to me that such a thing might take place.”

Grinning, Ardon tenderly kissed Zadar on the cheek.  “You make me proud, son, very proud.”

“Watch out for him, boy!  He’ll make a ‘wuss’ out of you, and then some!”

Ardon and Zadar turned to see a giant of a man, dressed up in an admiral’s uniform, gingerly approaching.

The man, smiling, added, “Make ‘wusses’ of us all…  Right, Ardon, old fellow?”

Frowning, Ardon sputtered, “Admiral Euroaquilo, I do not appreciate such…”

Ignoring Ardon, Euroaquilo clasped Zadar’s hand, grinning, “Good to see you, my boy!  Good to see you!”  He stared at his uniform, commenting, “Well, well, so that’s the snazzy style of dress for the new army?  You look good in it.  Not as good as your navy pilot’s duds, but still mighty fine.”

Caught by surprise, and somewhat embarrassed – a rare moment for the fellow – Zadar stuttered, “It… it… it’s…was… is a gift from Mother.”  Regaining his composure, he added,  “This was delivered to me upon my arrival, me being told to wear it at this evening’s council.  I was told that I was to take leave of the Fourth Fleet and join with the new army commander, but wasn’t told who.  Asked Mihai about it tonight at supper, but she spoke not a word concerning it.”

Ardon, put off by Euroaquilo, knowing it was done on purpose to irk the fellow, interrupted, asking, “You had dinner with Mihai?”

Euroaquilo ignored Ardon, bullying his way in with another question of his own.  “So where is that sister of yours?  Heard you kept some pretty close company since the two of you arrived.”  He stole a glance at Ardon, whose face was filled with surprise and trepidation.

Still stealing glances at Ardon, he asked Zadar, “So, have you seen our girl lately?  I was hoping to catch up with her sometime while I was visiting.”

Before Zadar could reply, Ardon interrupted, clutching Euroaquilo’s arm, “Now see here, Admiral…there are many other, more important matters to discuss this evening than that child.  There is great need of clear minds at this council.  We have many other, more important matters to discuss than her!”

Euroaquilo smiled and shrugged.  “Have it your way, Lord Councilor.  I just wondered where I could find her.”

Well!”  Ardon harrumphed. “I suggest you search for her after this night’s events.  I’m sure you will find her slinking around one of the darkened taverns at that late hour!”

Euroaquilo stared down at Ardon, slowly shaking his head.  “My, my, you are an old fuss tonight, aren’t you?”  Although put off a little by Ardon’s brashness, he continued on with some lighthearted conversation, catching up on the local gossip and chatting about some of the others at the council.

The Admiral, EuroaquiloIllyricum, was commander of the Navy’s Third Fleet, stationed to the east of EdenEsonbar.  His name’s meaning was, ‘the great stormwind’ acquired because of his booming voice that matched his size.  Six feet plus one-half tall and weighing sixteen stone, he made an impressive appearance wherever he went.  Even Ardon, who felt little real respect for the military, was somewhat awed by this man.

And why not?  Many were the stories repeated of Euroaquilo’s valor in combat.  Mihai, a close companion and ally of his, had told Ardon many tales concerning his bravery.  “He tore off the castle gate, pitching it at my captor, crushing his skull and providing me with escape.”  She had confessed to Ardon one day at a council meeting.  She had then demanded he, Ardon, bestow upon Euroaquilo the ‘Golden Medallion of Bravery’ – Ardon being the purveyor of such rewards – a medal the man cherished, and was found wearing this evening.

As he thought about it, Ardon puzzled aloud.  “So they still call you ‘the twin’?” referring to Mihai’s and his close relationship and how inseparable they once were.

Euroaquilo placed a giant hand on Ardon’s shoulder, shaking it, grinning.  “My dear Lord Ardon, my sister is the sweetest, most wonderful person in the world.”  He frowned.  “There was never found, for me, a more passionate, caring, lover in this world until… until he ruined her with his twisted tortures and evil deceit.  I have shared the battle against the demons in her mind since that day.  Others fear her company, but I… I know who she really is.  She and I are still one mind and heart.  We are still twins by that very nature.”

Looking into Ardon’s eyes, he slowly shook his head, softly sighing, “At least she got to see the morning sunrise.”

Zadar was about to ask what Euroaquilo’s words meant when laughter echoed from the entrance, across the chambers.  The three looked over in time to see General PalaHar squeeze through the doorway, TereoAprupneo and PlanetesAntistrate each hugging an arm.  The laughter stemmed from PalaHar’s dilemma, that of being pursued by two lovely women.

Planetes - better know as ‘Planetee’ - finally leaned forward, looking past PalaHar and into Tereo’s face, her eyes twinkling.  “You may have managed a coup with your pillow-talk earlier, but an afternoon’s delight is more than sufficient for you two.  I have forced a promise from this fellow and the after-hours belong to me.”

Tereo – ‘Terey’ – offered up another wicked laugh.  “I surrender him up, but shall remain the victor.  My sweet scent shall linger in his thoughts and dreams for many long hours.  You shall have to force the gate just to be remembered this eve.”

The two continued their friendly sparring after passing through the door, PalaHar politely remaining silent.  Finally Euroaquilo, grinning with his own brand of mischief, called to Zadar for them to be off to mix it up even more.  Zadar, always a willing accomplice to a good game, nodded, and off they went, leaving Ardon alone with his thoughts.

Ardon watched while a battle of wit and winsome words filled the room, it gaining in strength as more of the crowd gathered in, choosing sides and entering the contest.  He liked to see such jousting, but could never understand it, especially on such serious occasions as this, but still… let them have their fun.  He settled back into his chair, snuggling into its soft leather cushions.

He was no more than settled when another, greater commotion arose among the crowd near the door.  All attention was taken off PalaHar and his companions, being given to others who still remained hidden from Ardon’s view.  ‘Who could it be?’  That was everyone’s question as a flood of the curious descended the bleacher-like seating area, to see who was causing the stir, filling the floor with a sea of bobbing heads facing the door.

Standing did little good, Ardon being no man of great stature.  As the excitement of the others grew, so did his curiosity. He pushed ahead until he was standing at the back of the growing crowd.  This was still no good.  When his polite requests for passage went ignored, he finally decided to ‘forge ahead’ slowly pushing his way into the mass of spectators in an attempt to see what was happening.

As he advanced, the people nearest the doorway began to retreat, allowing whoever was approaching entrance into the council chambers.  Ardon managed a peek at the doorway just as Mihai passed through, into the room.  He stood dumbstruck at what he saw.  A collective gasp arose from the gathered company – the effect Ma-we had intended it to have.  Even Ardon, although knowing about Mihai’s acceptance of a new kingship, was caught up in the moment, he being mesmerized by the woman’s stunning appearance.

Mihai blushed as she sheepishly bowed, the woman never learning how to take such adoration easily.  Her gold and chrysolite crown glittered with flashes of blinding diamond white, sapphire blue, ruby red, and jade green, radiating the woman’s face so that it appeared to emit its own divine glow.  And the iridescence of the woman’s silken satin gown, with its woven, purple lace and kingly, royal-purple flowing cape gave the impression that one the Cherubs had arrived from the outer-worlds to gather with them.

For the longest time, the crowd, including Ardon, stood transfixed, their breathing of silent excitement being the only sound filling the chambers.  Eventually, with a great deal of effort, they began to queue up to offer welcome to the new king.  As with the others, Ardon found himself shuffling along to get into the long receiving line so that he, too, could offer up his salutations, a decision he was quickly going to regret.

 How he managed to do it Ardon never could quite figure out, but Zadar had wiggled his way past the crowd and was the first to gather Mihai’s attention.  He, unlike his more reserved brethren, swooped down into a graceful bow while grasping the woman’s hand up in his.  Still bowing, he looked up and into Mihai’s eyes, uttered sweet salutations, and then kissed her hand.  Mihai blushed again, thanking Zadar for his tender kindnesses.  Zadar then stood up and advanced his attention upon Mihai’s escort, demonstrating an equal affection for her, setting the precedent for all the others to follow.

It was when Zadar turned his attention away from Mihai that Ardon noticed the woman’s escort.  His face paled as he groaned silently within.  ‘That woman!  Why her?  Why tonight?  What deviltry has delivered her to this doorstep this eve?  And why was she placed as the King’s escort on this important night?’  And worse, he wondered why the fates had placed him in such a dangerous place at this moment.  There was no escape, not so close to the front of the receiving line.  He must suffer and endure whatever indignities were to be heaped upon him, hoping only for indignities.

One after another, Mihai passed along the line, the men courteously following along in Zadar’s stead, the women bending in a curtsy and then tenderly kissing Mihai on the lips.  This was followed by offering the same salutation to Mihai’s escort, one RachelOchranNohah, an acquired name, RachelOchlah, meaning ‘little charming ewe’, being her birth name.  She preferred to be called ‘DarlaUmehahAstrni’ or ‘Darla’, she never offering a reason why.  Few outside the military ranks knew this woman, and the few who did cared little to be in her close company..  For many of them it was most disconcerting to see her here… and with Mihai.  So it was, for many this formal recognition of Darla was little more than protocol.  Still, there were some in the crowd whose love and care for this girl was real and genuine.

After PalaHar’s greeting, Mihai reached out, hugging the man.  Before standing back, she kissed him tenderly on the lips, saying,  “My Lord PalaHar, it is so good to see you.” 

She lowered her voice.  “The world grows dark, my Lord, and I see little light to guide my path.  It is such a pleasure to know that Mother’s torch-bearer is with us tonight.”

After some small chitchat, PalaHar turned his attention to Darla.  Following his formal welcoming, he leaned forward, kissing her in the way Mihai had done with him.  He then drew Darla close in a hug, whispering quietly in her ear as he did.   “Child, your journey has yet to begin.  The night will
become black with evil madness before the sun shall shine upon us again.  You… you, my dear little one, must become the star that leads us through that wicked hour.  Your valor shall prove to become our rallying cry… our deliverance.”

To say that Darla was confused would be a great understatement.  She stood back, searching PalaHar’s eyes for answers.  There were none found.  Hesitantly, she thanked him for his kindness, wishing him success in his many endeavors.  Then, releasing his hand, she took Mihai’s, leading her to the next anxious greeter standing in line.

Ardon waited uneasily, his nervous anticipation growing with each of Mihai’s advancing steps.  Darla, being busy in her attempt to act appropriately as Mihai’s appointed escort, paid little attention to those in line, her being so focused on the moment.  She did not even notice Ardon until she turned to introduce the new King.  Her smile melted away when her eyes finally took recognition of him.  It was quickly replaced by an angry frown and piercing stare filled with malice and hatred.  The room went dead silent.

Ardon froze, he not daring to move or speak, watching Darla’s fingers involuntarily constricting into tortured fists, only to open and then close again.  The hair suddenly went up on the back of his neck, his ears picking up the growing insect-like staccato rising up from deep within the woman’s throat - the last sound heard by so many of her adversaries.

Mihai, fearing the worst should time delay the coming moment, awkwardly stepped forward and in front of Darla, posturing, “My dear Lord Ardon!”

She faked an innocent smile, the scent of a growing tempest flaring her nostrils.  “My dear Lord Ardon.  How is my Lord doing tonight?  It is such a pleasure to be graced by your company, your wise counsel at this eve’s council being deeply appreciated.”

“My Lady, I am doing splendidly.”  Ardon stammered, nervously glancing toward Darla, sighing in relief at seeing her forced composure.  “And you… you do look so beautiful this night.  May I offer to you whatever services I have available to me?”

Mihai thanked him, pressing his hands with hers while placing a gentle kiss on his lips, she adding, “The day may well come when I call out to you for them.”

Mihai’s interruption had gathered its magic to the moment and saved Ardon from a dangerous, possibly life-threatening encounter.

Darla had fought down her ‘madness,’ regaining quiet control. 

Just how Mihai and certain others tolerated this creature was beyond him.  This was not the first time he had witnessed it nor, he feared, would it be the last.  As Mihai continued on with her pleasantries, his mind flashed back to the day of his return to Palace City just after Mihai’s attempted murder.

There he was, consoling Mother, he leaning over her, they hugging each other, lost in the cries and wails of lament, when little six-year-old Darla entered the room.  In a vicious, blind rage, the girl screeched and lunged forward, tearing and biting at the ‘monster’ attacking her mother.  It took weeks for the wounds to heal and many more for the scars to go away.  It pained him, even now, just recalling that attack.  Although the event was almost six millennia ago, it appeared to Ardon that Darla never forgot, her hatred for him only growing until, again, after the Great War he had been confronted by her, only to be saved that time by Euroaquilo.  No!  The girl was a menace and a danger!  Why Mother put up with her was beyond his understanding, and why she had been invited here – on this night – was even a greater mystery.

Mihai backed away, making room for Darla to step forward and receive her official salutations from Ardon.  She, though, did not move, her icy stare boring into the man.

For his part, Ardon politely bowed, acknowledging Mihai’s escort.  “My Lady, may all be well with you.”

Darla remained motionless, glaring at Ardon.  Mihai finally gave Darla a nudge with her arm, whispering, “Mother will be most displeased to see her favorite daughter acting so rudely.  Do your part.  Or is it shame you also want to deliver upon me?”

Moved by Mihai’s scolding, Darla stepped forward, arms stiff at her sides.  She bowed ever so slightly and in a most formal way replied, “Your Counsel…good evening.”  She turned away, not even looking Ardon in the face, stepped behind and around Mihai and tugged on her elbow to go.

Mihai looked apologetically at Ardon, addressing him as ‘Lord’ and wishing him well.  She then excused herself, following Darla’s direction, and advanced on to the next person.  Soon the room was again filled with the quiet chatter of private conversations while Mihai and her escort continued to receive the long line of well-wishers.

As soon as they had distanced themselves from him, Ardon slipped from the crowd and retraced his steps to the quiet, safe world of his perch.

From there he pondered the life and history of this madwoman who was so bent on his destruction.  Ma-we had shared it with him, oft repeating it through the years, but still he was more troubled by the way she fussed over the girl than for the reasons why.

He had heard it all, and not just from Mother.  Unlike the other children, Darla had no pleasant memories to cling to.  Her world was torn apart while she was but a babe, when Ma-we permitted the child to nurse at Mihai’s breasts while she convalesced after Asotos’ attack.  Mother found it so therapeutic for her daughter that later, after Zadar was born, she offered the job of wet-nursing him to Mihai also.  For three years, until the age of six, Mihai acted as mother and nursemaid to little Darla.

All the while, the child’s increasing nightmares and panic-filled fainting spells were largely ignored, Ma-we believing the girl had suffered a great emotional shock because she had been nursing Darla when Asotos attacked Mihai, she falling to the floor, Darla crashing headlong into it after being dropped by her.  Ma-we had repaired the physical damage and believed the child would eventually outgrow the emotional trauma.

Indeed, it may well have been Ardon’s entry onto the scene that saved Darla from going hopelessly insane. Much to Ma-we’s dismay, when she discovered the demons growing in the girl’s mind, it was too late to cure her.  But at least they could be suppressed –for a while, anyway – until a cure might be found.  Yes, Darla had been thrown onto the altar of fire and blood from the dawn of her memories.  Violence and terror were her earliest companions.  Only long after her gaining adulthood had others come to truly fathom the evil buried within her mind…fathom, but not understand.

So why did Mother allow her most dangerous child the freedom she did?  Ardon puzzled.  True, the child needed love and attention, something Ma-we and Mihai always showered on her.  She drew so close to Mihai that the girl refused to leave her bed until the growing sensual emotions that were waking within her forced Mother to make other arrangements for her.  It was understandable that she acted in such a way.  She had no companions who willingly shared their lives with her.

Ardon remembered well, he living at the Palace for many years after his return.  Oh yes, there were still the parties and gatherings, fewer and less attended, but visitors there were aplenty.  Zadar was always the center of attention while Darla would often stand silently in the corner or slink off into the shadows to seek solace with imaginary friends.  Euroaquilo’s willingness to take Darla under his wing and provide loving companionship not only eased the girl’s heart, but also introduced her to the realities of war.  Here, Ardon believed, was where Darla’s madness worked to her advantage, and he wished she would remain there until her cure was accomplished.

Ardon did not hate Darla.  He was ridden with a deep inner sadness concerning her.  Still, one was to consider the welfare of the people over one person no matter the cost to that being.  At least that was how Ardon viewed matters.

And then there was Zadar, the youngest of all the children.  Darla loved him from the start, acting as much his protector as she did for Ma-we.  And Zadar?

As he grew in stature and manhood, his devotion deepened for his sister to the point of what some came to view as worship of his older sister.  To this day it was wisdom to not criticize her while in Zadar’s presence.

And the things Mother allowed Darla and her other children to get away with bothered Ardon so. The last time he was almost attacked by Darla, the last time she had spoken to him, some forty years before, the woman had been in a drunken stupor.  At least tonight he had smelled none of the strong drink on her like he had Planetee.

Why Mother put so much trust in Planetee he did not know.  True, she was an Ancient, but there were limits and responsibilities.  More than once he had witnessed that woman crawling up the Palace steps, reeking with the stink of strong wine and vomit.  Never once had Mother turned her away, much to Ardon’s disgust.  Planetee was one of Mihai’s closest councilors and confederates in war.  He feared so often for Mihai’s well-being because of her.  Still, Planetee was a force to be reckoned with, and he felt he was not up to that task.  He turned his attention back to Darla.

It was true that Darla lived in a world of satanic madness and pain that was not of her making.  And it was true that Ardon’s unkempt appearance and long, disheveled hair caused some of Darla’s actions.  Still, the woman should be watched more closely, especially in a gathering like this.  Who knew if the serious matters discussed this night might not bring out the monster in her anew?  He must remain alert to the possibility. He must act as the peoples’ protector if no one else would.

At that moment a fellow councilor called to him.  He stood, smiling, and extending a hand, sauntered over to the man.

*    *    *

‘So! This is the world of angels and fools, the blowhards of government and policy making!’  The eyes hidden in the shadowy confines of secreted corners of the council chambers studied the many faces in the gathering crowd.  There was scorn on the whispering lips of the person behind those eyes, the disdain for people of pompous society and highbrow pedigree evident in the creature’s bitter frown.  Visions of days long ago flooded the person’s mind, filling it with the sights of torn and bloodied bodies of the dead and dying, all the while, the ‘grandiose chatter’ of the amused audience concerning itself with the glory of the kill, or bravery of the defeated.

Turning its attention back to matters at hand, the creature muttered under its breath, “And who, this good eve, is the next to find my blade?  And yet, it is not for the cheering crowd I deal death out by choice, but is it not the voices within that still cry out for the sport? ‘A clean kill tonight!  Show your skill and cunning, and allow it no second breath!  Cleave it to the kidneys, yet let it live long enough to smell your sweet joy in its capture unto death.’”  Shaking off the intoxicating vision, the creature sputtered, “It is for the safety of the King and its council…  Indeed!  The world I shall save tonight.  Is the death of one not a fair price to save so many?”

And there was the one hiding behind secret doors, waiting for someone’s message or directions.  But the spy was not secret to all, nor would it survive long enough to receive a ‘well done’ from its awaiting master.  Now to wait…to wait and see who shall deliver the treasonous note to the contemptible thief.

Sucking in a breath as though sniffing the breeze, wary eyes examined the crowd.  Nostrils flared with disquiet.  ‘Too many are the foul odors of mischief and evil in this room tonight.  Have all the worlds’ vultures gathered here to me, or does the wind itself offer up its putrid scent to offend my thoughts?  And yet another I smell whose presence I do not yet discern, but like the Kriggerman on the prowl it comes ever closer.  Its very breath hastens the death of us all.’

Quietly, the creature slunk further back into the shadows like a panther waiting its prey.

*    *    *

“Come with me.”  Mihai was emotionally exhausted as she tugged on Darla’s sleeve, pulling her toward the stairs that led high into the upper bleachers.  “I need a rest from these well-wishers.”  She turned her head to look down at the gathering crowd as the two ascended the steps.  “We’ll take a little breather up here.”

“Whew!”  Mihai sighed relief.  She nudged Darla, pointing down toward the main floor.  “There, right there, you see where PalaHar and Terey are standing?  There’s a trap door in the floor that allows a person to be lowered out of sight.  Well… not just people, but stage props and things like that.”

Darla sat up, asking, “Like what?  Why would a council chamber have a trap door for props?”

“Oh…” Mihai smiled.  “This wasn’t always a council chamber.  Really, it has been that for less than your lifetime. This was the Palace Grand, Mother’s private theater, before the Rebellion, that is.  The entire floor was…is the stage, the far wall the backdrop for the plays’ settings.  Two and three dimensional holographic scenes would accent the story-line and acting, creating an illusion for the audience, making everything so real.”

She softly stroked Darla’s knee.  “There are a vast number of storage rooms and passageways under these bleachers, and the many landings scattered about within the seating area.  Then there’s the wide upper landing above and behind us that circles around in a horseshoe formation nearly to the far wall.  All of those things were originally constructed for the actors’ use… to bring the plays more to life.  Oftentimes the people in the audience would become part of the play itself.  Oh, it was so much fun.” Then pointing down at the spot earlier mentioned, she added, “I came up through that trap door.  I was a flower blossoming in spring, and I sang a little song after the hidden elevator had lifted up to the stage.”

Mihai nodded dreamily.  “I was only eight years old and, as I remember, the center of attention, receiving the most accolades for such a splendid performance.”  Her face clouded.  “That was so long ago now, back in the days of endless peace.”

Just then, Governess Anna entered the main doorway, accompanied by two other court officials.  Mihai pointed.  “See that door?  Only the actors came in the way that overlooks the Winter Gardens.  The audience always entered from up there, behind us.”  She waved her hand in the direction of the upper deck and beyond where a set of double entrance doors were now sealed closed.  “We would come down these steps… they were lighted, of course, because the chamber was usually hidden in blackness awaiting the play… then we would shuffle our way along the different rows of seating.  When the lights came up, oh, what a thrill!  You would never know what sights awaited anxious eyes.”

Darla studied the surroundings, fitting Mihai’s tales into what she was seeing.  “A person must have been pretty special to get an invite here.  There’s only seating for about three hundred or so.  You must have been pretty special to come here so often.  I’ve only been here once before, and that only on business… like tonight.”

Mihai squeezed Darla’s arm.  “No one ever comes here anymore unless it is on business.  And yes, I was special, just like every other young child of Mother’s.  This is where she showed them off to their older siblings.  She made them feel special.  I’m sorry that those days were gone before you had your hour of magic here.  I…”

Darla sourly interrupted.  “I’m made to feel special all right.  Every chance they get, someone makes me feel special!”

Mihai took Darla’s hand and looked into her face.  Her voice was gentle but chastising.  “There is reason why you have been gifted with the name ‘RachelOchranNohah’ (lit. ‘the ewe that makes trouble her resting place’).”

Darla stiffened, peering into Mihai’s eyes.  At length, after seeing no malice, she answered,  “Old fools sit on old councils dreaming old dreams!  They care not for understanding or insight.  They pine wistfully for the past and torture any who do not understand such useless dreams.  I have been gifted that name by the very fools who do not wish to forget the past, nor remember the deeds of today’s heroes.”

Mihai nodded.  “Be that as it may, your actions here this eve were out of line, supporting the argument that you have been gifted the name you rightfully deserve.”

“What’d I do?!”  Darla exclaimed in question.

Scolding, Mihai answered, “You know full well what you did.  This night you were my consort, a lady of this court.  It was…is, your responsibility to act the part… even if you don’t want to.  What you did was rude and uncalled for.  Ardon is a great councilor in Mother’s court.  He is well-respected and deserves to be treated that way.”

Darla sputtered a nasty retort.  “Big bag a’ shit…!” She chanced to see a scowl cross Mihai’s face.  “Wind…I mean wind…  Big words with little meanings that drizzle in a piss pot, they are.  Chief of the War Honors Council!  He wouldn’t know a hero if it bit him on the ass!  I didn’t want to waste pleasantries on a fool who would have no real appreciation for them.”

She looked down, folding her hands in her lap.  “His kind are what ruined this… your world, too blind and unbending, unwilling to see the demons in the hearts of men.  And after they were seen, too stupid to act effectively and bring matters to a rapid finish.  His kind waited until my kind took to the field and watched as my kindred were slaughtered while protecting those sorry fools.  Then, when the body count was delivered up to them, his kind cried, ‘What?!  You ask that we should also honor your dead for deeds well done?  There is no honor in dying.  It is the living, the judicious, the wise, who deserve the honor, for they protect the people through councils great and small.’”

Mihai’s retort was sharp but tempered.  “Rachel!  You call down evil on our Mother by those words for she, too, fell into such treacherous reasonings.  Are you also bitter of soul at her?  How could that be?  I know of your unquestioned love for her.”

Darla stared into her lap saying not a word.

Mihai thought a moment, then asked, “What did Ardon ever do to you?”

Darla shot a glance at Mihai, hatred burning in her eyes.  “Old fool!”  She stared back down into her lap.

Taken aback, Mihai pondered the reason for Darla’s outburst.  After thoughtfully considering the matter, she leaned over and wrapped her arm around her little sister’s shoulder, drawing her close and speaking softly in the girl’s ear.  “Today my demons tried to invade my waking hours.  They are strong and growing in power by the hour.  Do you not also feel their anger, their rage because of being trapped in a mind so filled with love for Mother?”

Darla did not look up or move.  No word came from her mouth.

Mihai quietly pleaded.  “At least admit to their presence.  Admit that you, too, are infected with the Devil’s spawn, as I am.  Do not deny that they also live in you.  At least admit it to yourself.”

A thunderous voice shattered the moment.  Mihai and Darla looked up to see Euroaquilo stepping over the row of seats directly behind them.  “How are my precious children tonight, especially my one and my own?”  Before either could move, he had swooped down and gathered them both up in a giant, loving bear hug.

Like the sun breaking out from behind a thundercloud, Darla’s face lit up radiantly.  She squealed with delight, stood, and flung her arms around Euroaquilo, and cried, “I have yearned so for the hour to wrap myself up in your love.  My coverlets I have already pulled from the bed in anticipation of your visit.  Hurry, my heart is passionate for your manliness.  Let’s leave these… important fellows… to their important business and be off to make some important business of our own.”

The shock of the moment quickly disappeared from Euroaquilo’s face.  He grinned, leaning down and kissing Darla on the forehead, exclaiming, “My little roe has missed me so?  Am I the only stag in the wood?”  He shook his head.  “I cannot believe you have hidden yourself away waiting only for me.  Though it does impress me to think I am so highly sought after...”

Darla nuzzled her head in his chest.  “There is no other like you.  My dreams are your playrooms.  You make my heart sing with passion and delight.”

Mihai took Euroaquilo’s hand, her eyes searching his, telling him tales of her concerns and the relief of having him there.  A sad smile grew on her face.  “Lord Euroaquilo…”

Euroaquilo tipped his head down and kissed Darla on her upraised lips.  “Dear little one, I am your willing servant, but business first.  You know my motto, ‘the prison of dreary work only heightens the heart’s passion for release.’  So let us off with dreary work so we can ride the wind of heart’s passion with abandon.”  Allowing no time for reply, he asked so politely, “May I make company with my two beautiful sisters tonight?”

A giggle rolled from Darla’s lips.  She leaned up and kissed Euroaquilo again before dragging him down beside her.  In seconds, both she and Mihai were snuggled up close to their companion, Darla on his right and Mihai on his left, the man’s arms around them both. . . 

Legend's Heroes posts are available, 
but so is the whole book with 
the rest of Of Councils Great and Small
for $3.99 HERE.

Enjoy other posts: 

Destiny's Road 1-0011-0021-0031-004, 1-0051-0061-0071-0081-009,

Of Councils Great and Small 2-0262-0272-0282-0292-0302-031,
2-0432-0442-0452-0462-0472-0482-049 & 2-050

Legend's Heroes 3-0513-0523-0533-0543-0553-0563-0573-058,
3-0703-0713-0723-0733-074 & 3-075

Forges of Hell 4-0764-0774-0784-0794-0804-0814-0824-0834-084,
4-0964-0974-0984-099 & 4-100

Find YOUR book at:;

E-book $3.99
Lg. Paperback

Take a look at Book, Comments, and Blurbs at ask David.The Chronicles of Heaven’s War, Book I – Sisters of the … Enjoy what we share.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting. Please allow a week for a response.