Chapter 26:

The Three Houses

Reverie's End: Blades of Malice

Day: 7/28/991; Time: 8th hourBookmark here

Ordalia and her vassals arrived in Gamma at the break of dawn. However, traveling through the massive city was a task that took a few more hours. They made sure to avoid the slums and other locations, where nobility were easy targets for thieves. Some dared to risk their lives for the hopes of striking at a fortune; it was a good idea not to tempt them. Gamma had its splendor, but any large city has its dark side. Besides Lloyd, Miri, and Amalia, Ordalia had seven knights with her. It didn't hurt to be prepared. Despite their best efforts to not attract attention by wearing modest apparel, it was hard to hide their regal appearance. Many heads turned as they passed through. It was obvious that they were not the usual travelers.Bookmark here

Amalia and Miri were the only two that seemed not to belong to this entourage. Amalia's constant glances and enthusiasm as she walked down the streets of the markets gave away that she was a tourist. Miri was more reserved, but even she had an occasional look of awe on her face. The wares sold were ones the two girls had never seen before. Exotic spices, clothes, food, weapons, and ornaments, imported from all over Ethos, as well as items of unknown origin, could be found in abundance. But there wasn't time for sightseeing, much to Amalia's displeasure. They were here for a council meeting.Bookmark here

It was something that Miri and Amalia did not know how to prepare for. They were scared and excited; most people would never have the opportunity to meet the king. The beauty of Gamma did a good job of distracting the girls from these thoughts. The city had plenty of things to look at.Bookmark here

Eventually, they reached Castle Gamma, which stood right by the sea of Alon. The titanic castle was approximately 10 skars in height at its highest point. It was very likely the largest structure in all of Ethos. Its four stone towers could be seen from far outside the city limits. The castle represented the peak of mankind's civilization on Ethos. No expense was spared in adorning and constructing the castle. Gold, silver, stone, wood from the Gamma Tree, glass, or anything else. The green and blue flag of Charon waved in the air, atop the castle, for all to see, and for them to know that Charon was the greatest and oldest country in the world.Bookmark here

Lloyd, looked at the castle knights standing before him and announced, "This is Lady Ordalia of House Isles. We wish to speak with the king… there are many matters that need to be discussed at the council meeting today."Bookmark here

The guards looked at Lady Ordalia and her knights, noting the Isle's emblem, and nodded in agreement. The tall golden-haired leader responded, "The King has been expecting you. I will escort you to the meeting chamber." The gates opened and the entourage entered the castle.Bookmark here

Isles Castle had a grand interior, but Gamma exceeded it still. It was only fitting that the inside of the castle matched the exterior's magnificence. Blue and Green seemed to be the most prevalent colors in the castle, for both carpet and decorations. Several paintings of various landmarks from Ethos were hanging on the walls, as well as portraits of the past rulers of Charon; there were many of them. Besides all of these items, it was common for statues to be found on the various floors of the castle. Just shortly after entering the castle, Amalia was entranced by a knight holding a trident; it was only a marble statue, but it was a shocking way to be greeted upon entering. The trident was aimed at a large marble sea creature of a half-skar in length; it was an Aquarius fish, commonly found in the sea of Alon. There was certainly a story behind these statues, but Amalia had no way of knowing what it was. Bookmark here

Ordalia coughed, looked over at Amalia's bewildered face, and laughed. "Let's get going. There will be plenty of time for you to explore later," she said. Amalia nodded, although she was barely paying attention to anything Ordalia said. The group continued to go down various hallways and go up flights of stairs for a few minutes, until they arrived at a centrally-located room on the 5th floor. It was the room where major house meetings took place. The present matter at hand required the utmost secrecy and care, suitable only for the four major houses and those directly involved, such as Miri and Amalia. It would have been unwise to invite the remaining 89 minor house leaders as well to such a gathering.Bookmark here

The tall knight that was escorting them opened the large green and blue doors that led to the council room. Inside was a large ornate circular table, adorned in gold. The ceilings were at least a skar in height, as was the norm for most of the castle. It was a spacious room where sound projected well, fit for discussion, and suited for those of noble birth. Two of the parties were already there, the representatives of house Eris sat on the left, and House Nyr on the right. Both leaders were quite decrepit and advanced in age.Bookmark here

Sarah of House Eris, was a gray-haired and green-eyed woman of 70 years of age. Her best attempts at adorning herself could not hide her age. Sarah and the three others with her all wore the hawk sigil. House Eris had trained carrier hawks for generations and were the eyes and ears of the crown. They were adept at information-gathering.Bookmark here

Manheim of House Nyr, was a bald man with brown eyes, aged at approximately 80 years old. It was a mystery how he was not dead yet. He had been an epicurean his entire life, taking advantage of every privilege nobility had to offer him. Anything he desired was immediately his. Such activities generally shortened one's lifespan, but Manheim still had a youthful and mischievous expression on his face. It was never easy to tell what he was planning. He was a master of manipulation and getting what he wanted. It was not a surprise that House Nyr's sigil was a green serpent.Bookmark here

These two elders continued to lead their houses, refusing to retire, much to the dismay of their kin. There were many who thought it was time for a younger generation to seize the reigns of power. The heirs to those legacies were present with them at this meeting: Victor of house Eris and Aria of House Nyr. Both were eyeing the other parties with suspicion. The elders had learned to hide their emotions and faked their smiles; the youth had not yet learned these intricacies of council meetings.Bookmark here

Victor had short golden hair, and fierce bright blue eyes. He was in his early 30s and the grandson of Sarah. Birthright was not the only reason that he was well-respected and next in line to rule over Eris. He was a season war veteran; a great-sword user. He was intelligent and spoke multiple languages, as was expected of aristocracy.Bookmark here

Aria of Nyr inherited her grandfather Manheim's penchant for mischief. She was a petite and attractive woman with curly red hair and pale skin; she was only 25 years of age. Her green eyes, as well as her smile, were frequently used for seduction. But she was not just destined to be a trophy wife; she was well-known as a powerful mage. Aria was a worthy heir to Nyr's legacy.Bookmark here

Ordalia had not seen her rival's faces in a while, and she preferred it that way. She went over to her seat and sat down, ignoring the tense atmosphere in the room. Miri and Amalia felt a bit out of place, and forgot what to do for a moment. Lloyd gently tapped them on their shoulders, startling the girls. He motioned over to the seats by Ordalia and they followed him there. Everyone had now taken their seats and were waiting for the arrival of the fourth house. The wait was to be expected, since those with power play by their own rules. They were all waiting for the King of Charon and the ruler of House Gamma. These titles belonged to the same man: King Janus. Everyone was waiting for him and his son Rikard.Bookmark here

After a few more minutes of this uncomfortable silence, King Janus finally arrived, as well as his son, and two royal guards. All four of them were tall and had a regal presence, especially King Janus. He was a brown-haired man of 45 years of age, and had been ruling Charon for the past 21 years. He was experienced and ruled well, but his dark-blue eyes seemed tired. Being king was not a job that allowed for much rest.Bookmark here

His son, Rikard, was being groomed to rule one day. He was only 16, hardly older than Amalia, and yet had the entire weight of Charon's future on his shoulders. The timid boy had black hair and the same dark-blue eyes that his father had. Amalia, in particular, was surprised to see someone her age at this meeting.Bookmark here

King Janus and his party went to their designated locations and stood there. The King turned to the three houses, and spoke, "Greetings, members of House Eris, Nyr, and Isles. I hope that your trip to the capital was pleasant," said the king in his deep, yet melodious voice.Bookmark here

"Cut the chit chat… why are we here? This better be for a good reason," replied Manheim in an ornery tone of voice, as he looked up at the king.Bookmark here

"Silence! You dare to speak to the king in such a manner?!" yelled one of the royal guards.Bookmark here

Manheim was shocked for a moment and then burst out laughing. "You must be new!" he said.Bookmark here

King Janus motioned to the guard to stand down and refrain himself. "Very well, let's get started. We are here at Lady Ordalia's request; she will give us the details, said the king. The Gamma party finally sat down and waited for Ordalia to begin speaking.Bookmark here

Ordalia, as with any experienced politician, knew the importance of saying only what was necessary. She needed to avoid mentioning the Emerald if possible. The lady of Isles began to speak, "You are all aware of the Blades of Malice's recent activities. In the past, they may have just been a disorganized group of rebels, but they are becoming quite formidable. It is known that they have set their sights on Gamma; we expect their arrival as early as the 9th month."Bookmark here

The leaders of the other houses did not seem alarmed at the news. Perhaps it was caused by arrogance and reliance on Castle Gamma's 800 year legacy of being impregnable. But it was also possible that just as Ordalia held back information, the others did as well. They may have already known about the Malice's intentions.Bookmark here

Manheim responded, "The Malice are rabble, nothing more. It is unlike you to be so fearful… and to make a call to arms. How very uncharacteristic of the great Ordalia of the House of Isles. What happened to the battle strategist of old? The one that never lost a battle… except for that one two years ago, of course."Bookmark here

Manheim was good at provoking and he had succeeded in irritating Lloyd, who was ready to defend his lady's honor. Ordalia put her hand on Lloyd's shoulder, reminding him that Manheim's remarks should always be ignored; Lloyd decided to allow the rude comment and let Ordalia answer for herself.Bookmark here

She sighed, took a deep breath, and spoke, "It is because I have much experience in military warfare and have a large information network that I know when a threat is real… I have personally seen their capabilities. Their leaders are talented fighters, and they have fearsome magical beasts with them. The Blades lack numbers, but they are powerful… My men have died fighting them."Bookmark here

The other houses paused for a short moment, and Sarah replied in a shrill voice, "House Eris is constantly monitoring our borders. How come we have not heard of these "magical beasts" or any activity coming from the Blades?"Bookmark here

"Either your hawks are asleep or you're not telling us everything that you know," replied Ordalia, spitefully. She was growing increasingly annoyed with the elders; it was Lloyd's turn to try and calm her down.Bookmark here

Victor gave Ordalia a dirty look and Sarah exclaimed, "What are you insinuating?! House Eris has served the crown loyally for generations!" At least that is what Sarah claimed; Ordalia knew better. Elder Sarah was as much of a serpent as Manheim, maybe even more so.Bookmark here

Manheim cackled; he was amused. "Finally! That is the Ordalia that I was looking for!"Bookmark here

King Janus had been watching in silence the whole time. But now he intervened and said, "Let us allow Lady Ordalia to continue. I believe she has not finished speaking her mind."Bookmark here

Everyone quieted down and Ordalia continued speaking, "As I mentioned earlier, I have seen these Blades of Malice kill my own men. They were last seen at the Dusk Mountains and they are going to be here any day. They will gather their forces together and they will strike at the most convenient time. The Malice are not uncivilized savages. They can inflict harm on Gamma. We need to be prepared for the assault."Bookmark here

Manheim interrupted, "What do we have to gain from this? Surely Gamma can defend itself? It's still standing after all this time."Bookmark here

Ordalia retorted, "If Gamma falls, then nothing will stop them. Eris and Nyr will fall in mere days. No kingdom will be able to stop them… all of Ethos will belong to them."Bookmark here

A silence swept over the room. For the first time, the danger seemed real to the sarcastic and grumpy elders. King Janus broke the silence, "You speak true. We will begin training in earnest. All other houses are to have men on standby, ready to aid when the battle starts. I don't think there will be any objections to this?"Bookmark here

The representatives of House Nyr and Eris were obviously unhappy with the proposal, but they could not go against the king's command. They were obligated to obey.Bookmark here

Sarah broke the silence, "Who are these little girls with you, Ordalia? They seem a little out of place."Bookmark here

Ordalia did not let Miri speak, and answered for her, "These are Miri and Amalia. Do not let their appearance fool you. They have fought with the Blades in the Dusk Mountains. They will be serving my house in the coming fight."Bookmark here

Sarah only replied with, "I see." and did not say anything else. King Janus formally concluded the meeting and all of the parties were allowed to leave.Bookmark here

It was a long walk down the stairs to the first floor. No one said anything; it was hard to believe that the largest city in Ethos was about to become a battleground. On the first floor, the Aquarius fish statue was still waiting for Amalia, but she was too busy to notice it. Her mind was filled with other thoughts at the moment. A certain young man at the meeting had caught her gaze and he refused to leave her thoughts. The others were concerned with how to prepare for the coming battles. Miri certainly was not going to waste time; she and Amalia needed to make every day count.Bookmark here

They left the castle and walked until there was no one within earshot. Ordalia suddenly stopped and turned to everyone else. "Manheim and Sarah are up to something. I want to know what they are scheming," said Ordalia, whispering. She motioned to two of the knights with her, who were actually trained spies, and gave them their orders. "Meet me at the usual location if you learn something valuable," she instructed. The spies vanished into thin air, disappearing without a trace. Amalia was not the only one that could use illusions; it was a common skill among famous assassins.Bookmark here

Lloyd began to speak, "Are you sure this is wise? You do not want to cause further strife between the houses."Bookmark here

Ordalia replied, "Any possible reconciliation ended two years ago. I cannot prove it… but I know Manheim was involved with my parents' murder. We will never be at peace. I must rise above them; there is no peaceful coexistence with those snakes."Bookmark here

The party stayed at the Isles' family vacation home in Gamma for two days. Miri and Amalia took the opportunity to explore the city. Eventually, Ordalia heard back from her men, although it was not in the manner that she expected. One of the men arrived at their doorstep, heavily wounded, and quickly losing blood. Amalia was the first to see him; she immediately started healing him and alerted the others. Ordalia and the others rushed to see what the cause of the commotion was. They waited several hours for the man to heal, and then Ordalia began the debriefing without delay. The man was clutching a piece of garment with two wings and a blade embroidered on it. He had come across the Blades of Malice while shadowing House Eris. The man that Ordalia sent to spy on House Nyr never returned.Bookmark here

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