None of Arelon’s people greeted their savior when he arrived. It was an affront, of course, but not an unexpected one. The people of Arelon—especially those living near the infamous city of Elantris—were known for their godless, even heretical, ways. Hrathen had come to change that. He had three months to convert the entire kingdom of Arelon, otherwise Holy Jaddeth—Lord of all creation—would destroy it. The time had finally come for Arelon to accept the truths of the Derethi religion.
Hrathen strode down the gangplank. Beyond the docks, with its continuous bustle of loading and unloading, stretched the city of Kae. A short distance beyond Kae, Hrathen could see a towering stone wall—the old city of Elantris. On the other side of Kae, to Hrathen’s left, the land sloped steeply, rising to a tall hill—a foothill of what would become the Dathreki Mountains. Behind him was the ocean.
Overall, Hrathen was not impressed. In ages past, four small cities had surrounded Elantris, but only Kae—the new capitol of Arelon—was still inhabited. Kae was too unorganized, too spread out, to be defensible, and its only fortification appeared to be a small, five-foot high wall of stones—more a border than anything else.
Retreat into Elantris would be difficult, and only marginally effective. Kae’s buildings would provide wonderful cover for an invading force, and a few of Kae’s more peripheral structures looked like they were built almost against Elantris’s wall. This was not a nation accustomed to war. Yet, of all the kingdoms on the Syclan continent—the land named Opelon by the Arelish people—only Arelon itself had avoided domination by the Fjordell Empire. Of course, that too was something Hrathen would soon change.
Hrathen marched away from the ship, his presence causing quite a stir among the people. Workers halted their labors as he passed, staring at him with impressed amazement. Conversations died when eyes fell upon him. Hrathen didn’t slow for anyone, but that didn’t matter, for people moved quickly from his path. It could have been his eyes, but, more likely, it was his armor. Blood red and glittering in the sunlight, the plate armor of a Derethi imperial high priest was an imposing sight even when one was accustomed to it.
He was beginning to think he would have to find his own way to the city’s Derethi chapel when he made out a spot of red weaving its way through the crowd. The speck soon resolved into a stumpy balding figure clad in red Derethi robes. “My Lord Hrathen!” the man called.
Hrathen stopped, allowing Fjon—Kae’s Derethi head arteth—to approach. Fjon puffed and wiped his brow with a silken handkerchief. “I’m terribly sorry, your grace. The register had you scheduled to come in on a different ship. I didn’t find out you weren’t on board until they were halfway done unloading. I’m afraid I had to leave the carriage behind; I couldn’t get it through the crowd.”
Hrathen’s narrowed his eyes with displeasure, but he said nothing. Fjon continued to blather for a moment before finally deciding to lead Hrathen to the Derethi chapel, apologizing again for the lack of transportation. Hrathen followed his pudgy guide with a measured stride, dissatisfied. Fjon trotted along with a smile on his lips, occasionally waving to passers on the streets, shouting pleasantries. The people responded in kind—at least, until they saw Hrathen, his blood cloak billowing behind him and his exaggerated armor cut with sharp angles and harsh lines. Then they fell silent, greetings withering, their eyes following Hrathen until he passed. Such was as it should be.
The chapel was a tall stone structure, complete with bright red tapestries and towering spires. Here, at least, Hrathen found some of the majesty he was accustomed to. Within, however, he was confronted by a disturbing sight—a crowd of people involved in some kind of social activity. People milled around, ignoring the holy structure in which they stood, laughing and joking. It was too much. Hrathen had heard, and believed, the reports. Now he had confirmation.
“Arteth Fjon, assemble your priests,” Hrathen said—the first words he had spoken since his arrival on Arelish soil.
The arteth jumped, as if surprised to finally hear sounds coming from his distinguished guest. “Yes, my lord,” he said, motioning for the gathering to end.
It took a frustratingly long time, but Hrathen endured the process with a flat expression. When the people had left, he approached the priests, his armored feet clicking against the chapel’s stone floor. When he finally spoke, his words were directed at Fjon.
“Arteth,” he said, using the man’s Derethi title, “the ship that brought me here will leave for Fjorden in one hour. You are to be on board.”
Fjon’s jaw dropped in alarm. “Wha—”
“Speak Fjordell, man!” Hrathen snapped. “Surely ten years amongst the Arelish heathens hasn’t corrupted you to the point that you have forgotten your native tongue?”
“No, no, your grace,” Fjon replied, switching from Aonic to Fjordell. “But I—”
“Enough,” Hrathen interrupted again. “I have orders from Wyrn himself. You have spent far too long in the Arelish culture—you have forgotten your holy calling, and are unable to see to the progress of Jaddeth’s Empire. These people don’t need a friend; they need a priest. A Derethi priest. One would think you were Korathi, watching you fraternize. We’re not here to love the people; we are here to help them. You will go.”
Fjon slumped back against one of the room’s pillars, his eyes widening and his limbs losing their strength. “But who will be head arteth of the chapel in my absence, my lord? The other arteths are so inexperienced.”
“These are pivotal times, Arteth,” Hrathen said. “I’ll be remaining in Arelon to personally direct the work here. May Jaddeth grant me success.”
He had hoped for an office with a better view, but the chapel, majestic as it was, held no second floor. Fortunately, the grounds were well-kept, and his office—Fjon’s old room—overlooked nicely trimmed hedges and carefully-arranged flower beds.
Now that he had cleared the walls of paintings—agrarian nature scenes, for the most part—and thrown out Fjon’s numerous personal effects, the chamber was approaching a level of dignified orderliness appropriate for a Derethi gyorn. All it needed was a few tapestries and maybe a shield or two.
Nodding to himself, Hrathen turned his attention back to the scroll on his desk. His orders. He barely dared hold them in his profane hands. He read the words over and over again in his mind, imprinting both their physical form and their theological meaning on his soul.
“My lord . . . your grace?” a quiet voice asked in Fjordell.
Hrathen looked up. Fjon entered the room, then crouched in a subservient huddle on the floor, his forehead rubbing the ground. Hrathen allowed himself to smile, knowing the penitent arteth couldn’t see his face. Perhaps there was hope for Fjon yet.
“Speak,” Hrathen said.
“I have done wrong, my lord. I have acted contrary to the plans of our Lord Jaddeth.”
“Your sin was complacency, Arteth. Contentment has destroyed more nations than any army, and it has claimed the souls of more men than even Elantris’s heresies.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“You still must leave, Arteth,” Hrathen said.
The man’s shoulders slumped slightly. “Is there no hope for me then, my lord?”
“That is Arelish foolishness speaking, Arteth, not Fjordell pride.” Hrathen reached down, grasping the man’s shoulder. “Rise, my brother!” he commanded.
Fjon looked up, hope returning to his eyes.
“Your mind may have become tainted with Arelish thoughts, but your soul is still Fjordell. You are of Jaddeth’s chosen people—all of the Fjordell have a place of service in His Empire. Return to our homeland, join a monastery to reacquaint yourself with those things you have forgotten, and you will be given another way to serve the Empire.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Hrathen’s grip grew hard. “Understand this before you leave, Arteth. My arrival is more of a blessing than you can possibly understand. All of Jaddeth’s workings are not open to you; do not think to second-guess our God.” He paused, debating his next move. After a moment he decided—this man still had worth. Hrathen had a unique chance to reverse much of Arelon’s perversion of Fjon’s soul in a single stroke. “Look there on the table, Arteth. Read that scroll.”
Fjon looked toward the desk, eyes finding the scroll resting thereon. Hrathen released the man’s shoulder, allowing him to walk around the desk and read.
“This is the official seal of Wyrn himself!” Fjon said, picking up the scroll.
“Not just the seal, Arteth,” Hrathen said. “That is his signature as well. The document you hold was penned by his Holiness himself. That isn’t just a letter—it is scripture.”
Fjon’s eyes opened wide, and his fingers began to quiver. “Wyrn himself?” Then, realizing in full what he was holding in his unworthy hand, he dropped the parchment to the desk with a quiet yelp. His eyes didn’t turn away from the letter, however. They were transfixed—reading the words as voraciously as a starving man devoured a joint of beef. Few people actually had an opportunity to read words written by the hand of Jaddeth’s prophet and Holy Emperor.
Hrathen gave the priest time to read the scroll, then re-read it, and then read it again. When Fjon finally looked up, there was understanding—and gratitude—in his face. The man was intelligent enough. He knew what the orders would have required of him, had he remained in charge of Kae.
“Thank you,” Fjon mumbled.
Hrathen nodded graciously. “Could you have done it? Could you have followed Wyrn’s commands?”
Fjon shook his head, eyes darting back to the parchment. “No, your Grace. I could not have . . . I couldn’t have functioned—couldn’t have even thought—with that on my conscience. I do not envy your place, my lord. Not anymore.”
“Return to Fjorden with my blessing, brother,” Hrathen said, taking a small envelope from a bag on the table. “Give this to the priests there. It is a letter from me telling them you accepted your reassignment with the grace befitting a servant of Jaddeth. They will see that you are assigned to a monastery. Perhaps someday you will be allowed to lead a chapel again—one well within Fjorden’s borders.”
“Yes, my lord. Thank you, my lord.”
Fjon withdrew, closing the door behind him. Hrathen walked to his desk and slid another envelope—identical to the one he had given Fjon—from his letter bag. He held it for a few moments, then turned it to one of the desk’s candles. The words it held—condemning Arteth Fjon as a traitor and an apostate—would never be read, and the poor, pleasant arteth would never know just how much danger he had been in.
“With your leave, my Lord Gyorn,” said the bowing priest, a minor dorven who had served under Fjon for over a decade. Hrathen waved his hand, bidding the man to leave. The door shut silently as the priest backed from the room.
Fjon had done some serious damage to his underlings. Even a small weakness would build enormous flaws over two decades’ time, and Fjon’s problems were anything but small. The man had been lenient to the point of flagrancy—he had run a chapel without order, bowing before Arelish culture rather than bringing the people strength and discipline. Half of the priests serving in Kae were hopelessly corrupted—including men as new to the city as six months. Within the next few weeks, Hrathen would be sending a veritable fleet of priests back to Fjorden. He’d have to pick a new head arteth from those who remained, few though they were.
A knock came at the door. “Come,” Hrathen said. He had been seeing the priests one at a time, feeling out the extent of their contamination. So far, he had not often been impressed.
“Arteth Dilaf,” the priest said, introducing himself as he entered.
Hrathen looked up—the name and words were Fjordell, but the accent was slightly off. It sounded almost . . . “You’re Arelish?” Hrathen said with surprise.
The priest bowed with the proper amount of subservience—his eyes, however, were defiant.
“How did you become a priest of Derethi?” Hrathen asked.
“I wanted to serve the Empire,” the man replied, his voice quietly intense. “Jaddeth provided a way.”
No, Hrathen realized. It isn’t defiance in this man’s eyes—it’s religious fervor. One did not often find zealots in the Derethi religion—such people were more often drawn to the frenzied lawlessness of the Jeskeri Mysteries than the militaristic organization of Shu-Dereth. This man’s face, however, burned with fanatical passion. It was not a bad thing—while Hrathen himself spurned such lack of control, he had often found zealots to be useful tools.
“Jaddeth always provides a way, Arteth,” Hrathen said carefully. “Be more specific.”
“I met a Derethi arteth in Duladel twelve years ago. He preached to me, and I believed. He gave me copies of the Do-Keseg and the Do-Dereth, and I read them both in one night. The holy arteth sent me back to Arelon to help convert those in my home country, and I set up in Rain. I taught there for seven years, until the day I heard that a Derethi chapel had been built in Kae itself. I overcame my loathing for the Elantrians, knowing that Holy Jaddeth had struck them down with an eternal punishment, and came to join with my Fjordell brethren.
“I brought my converts with me—fully half of the believers in Kae came with me from Rain. Fjon was impressed with my diligence. He granted me the title of arteth and allowed me to continue teaching.”
Hrathen rubbed his chin thoughtfully, regarding the Arelish priest. “You know what Arteth Fjon did was wrong.”
“Yes, my lord. An arteth cannot appoint another to his own position. When I speak to the people, I never refer to myself as a priest of Derethi, only a teacher.”
A very good teacher, Dilaf’s tone implied. “What did you think of Arteth Fjon?” Hrathen asked.
“He was an undisciplined fool, my lord. His laxness kept Jaddeth’s kingdom from growing in Arelon, and has made a mockery of our religion.”
Hrathen smiled—Dilaf, though not of the chosen race, was obviously a man who understood the doctrine and culture of his religion. However, his ardor could be dangerous. The wild intensity in Dilaf’s eyes was barely under control—either he would have to be watched very closely, or he would have to be disposed of.
“It appears that Arteth Fjon did one thing right, even if he didn’t have the proper authority,” Hrathen said. Dilaf’s eyes burned even more brightly at the declaration. “I make you a full arteth, Dilaf.”
Dilaf bowed touching his head to the ground. His mannerisms were perfectly Fjordell, and Hrathen had never heard a foreigner speak the Holy Tongue so well. This man could prove useful indeed—after all, one common complaint against Shu-Dereth was that it favored the Fjordell. An Arelish priest could help prove that all were welcome within Jaddeth’s Empire—even if the Fjordell were the most welcome.
Hrathen congratulated himself on creating such a useful tool, completely satisfied until the moment Dilaf looked up from his bow. The passion was still there in Fjon’s eyes—but there was something else as well. Ambition. Hrathen frowned slightly, wondering whether or not he had just been manipulated.
There was only one thing to do. “Arteth, are you sworn as any man’s odiv?”
Surprise. Dilaf’s eyes opened wide as he stared up at Hrathen, uncertainty flashing therein. “No, my lord.”
“Good. Then I will make you mine.”
“My lord . . . I am, of course, your humble servant.”
“You will be more than that, Arteth,” Hrathen said, “if you would be my odiv, I your hroden. You will be mine, heart and soul. If you follow Jaddeth, you follow him through me. If you serve Wyrn, you do it under me. Whatever you think, act, or say will be by my direction. Am I understood?”
Fire burned in Dilaf’s eyes. “Yes,” he hissed. The man’s fervor wouldn’t let him reject such an offer. Though his lowly rank of arteth would remain unchanged, being odiv to a gyorn would enormously increase Dilaf’s power and respectability. He would be Hrathen’s slave, if that slavery would carry him higher. It was a very Fjordell thing to do—ambition was the one emotion Jaddeth would accept as readily as devotion.
“Good,” Hrathen said. “Then your first order is to follow the priest Fjon. He should be getting on the ship to Fjordell right at this moment—I want you to make sure he does so. If Fjon gets off for any reason, kill him.”
“Yes, my gyorn.” Dilaf rushed from the room. He finally had an outlet for his enthusiasm—all Hrathen had to do now was keep that enthusiasm focused in the right direction.
Hrathen stood for a moment after the Arelish man had gone, then shook his head and turned back to his desk. The scroll still lay where it had fallen from Fjon’s unworthy fingers; Hrathen picked it up with a smile, his touch reverent. He was not a man who delighted in possessions—Hrathen set his sights on much grander accomplishments than the simple accumulation of useless baubles. However, occasionally an object came along that was so unique, Hrathen reveled in simply knowing it belonged to him. One did not own such a thing for its usefulness, or for its ability to impress others, but because it was a privilege to possess. The scroll was such an object.
It had been scribed in front of Hrathen by Wyrn’s own hand. It was revelation directly from Jaddeth; scripture intended for only one man. Few people ever got to meet Jaddeth’s anointed, and even amongst the gyorns, private audiences were rare. To receive orders directly from Wyrn’s hand . . . such was the most exquisite of experiences.
Hrathen ran his eyes over the sacred words again, even though he had long since memorized their every detail.
Behold the words of Jaddeth, through His servant Wyrn Wulfden the Fourth, Emperor and King.
High Priest and Son, your request has been granted. Go to the heathen peoples of the west and declare to them my final warning, for while my Empire is eternal, my patience will soon end. Not much longer will I slumber within a tomb of rock. The Day of Empire is at hand, and my glory will soon shine forth, a second sun blazing forth from Fjorden.
The pagan nations of Arelon and Teod have been blackened scars upon my land for long enough. Three hundred years have my priests served amongst those tainted by Elantris, and few have harkened to their call. Know this, High Priest, my faithful warriors are prepared and they wait only the word of my Wyrn. You have three months to prophesy to the people of Arelon. At the end of that time, the holy soldiers of Fjorden will descend on the nation like hunting predators, rending and tearing the unworthy life from those who heed not my words. Only three months will pass before the destruction of all who oppose my Empire.
The time for my ascension nears, my son. Be stalwart, and be diligent.
Words of Jaddeth, Lord of all Creation, through his servant Wyrn Wulfden the fourth, Emperor of Fjordell, Prophet of Shu-Dereth, Ruler of Jaddeth’s Holy Kingdom, and Regent of all Creation.
The time had finally come. Only two nations resisted. Fjorden had regained its former glory, glory lost hundreds of years ago when the First Empire collapsed. Once again, Arelon and Teod were the only two kingdoms who resisted Fjordell rule. This time, with the might of Jaddeth’s holy calling behind it, Fjorden would prevail. Then, with all mankind united under Wyrn’s rule, Jaddeth could rise from his throne beneath the earth and reign in glorious majesty.
And Hrathen would be the one responsible for it. The conversion of Arelon and Teod was his urgent duty. He had three months to change the religious temperament of an entire culture; it was a monumental task, but it was vital that he succeed. If he did not, Fjorden’s armies would destroy every living being in Arelon, and Teod would soon follow—the two nations, though separated by water, were the same in race, religion, and obstinance.
The people might not yet know it, but Hrathen was the only thing standing between them and utter annihilation. They had resisted Jaddeth and his people in arrogant defiance for far too long—Hrathen was their last chance.
Someday they would call him their savior.
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