An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Extinguished Flame Tiberius

Tiberius awoke trembling in his bed. Except that it wasn’t him who was doing the trembling. He could feel his entire chamber shaking, as though the entire palace was throwing a massive, childish tantrum. Groaning to himself, Tiberius drew back the warmth of his blankets and stumbled out of bed. Feeling around for his clothes, he started to dress himself, knowing that he would be summoned at any moment.

The palace was not throwing a tantrum, but the Queen most certainly was. Only she had the power to induce the kind tremors that Tiberius was experiencing, and only one thing could make her angry enough to do so. In truth, it was more like one person—Jayslen, the crown prince.

The relationship between the Queen and her son had been a war of wills since the prince was just a headstrong boy. Unfortunately for the entire Realm, that headstrong nature had developed into an independent stubbornness that set him in conflict with his mother over and over again. And, as Jayslen’s personal tutor and counselor, it was Tiberius who frequently took the brunt of the Queen’s wrath, instead of the oft-absent prince.

The old man was just pulling on his second boot when the expected knock came at his door.

“Counselor!” came the gruff voice of the Captain of the night guard. “Her Majesty requests your presence on a matter of the gravest urgency.”

“Of course,” replied Tiberius. “I will be with you presently.” He finished doing up the buckle of his boot, scratched his lazy hound behind the ear and slowly stood, feeling every one of his many years creaking through his stiff spine. Reaching for his walking staf, he strode to the door of his chambers. The first thing he smelled when he opened it was the sharpness of Captain’s iron breastplate, followed quickly by the stench of old beer, poorly masked by mint leaves.

“Let’s get on with this,” grumbled the old man.

“This way,” said the Captain, as though Tiberius—who was walking these corridors when the Captain was still a babe on his mother’s breast—did not know the way himself. There was nothing to be gained by making an issue of it, however, so Tiberius simply grunted and fell in behind the younger man’s clanking, measured step.

The palace had stopped shaking, which meant that the Queen had either worn herself out, or her anger had turned from intense tantrum to a much quieter—and farm more dangerous—smouldering fury. He would have to step carefully. Though she was not the most rational woman he had ever met, the Queen was not prone to rash action and he was not overly concerned for his own well-being. Still, when dealing with someone who possessed the power to burn him to ash with a single thought, he had always felt that a little prudence was likely in order.

By the half-conscious counting of his steps and turns, Tiberius determined that they were not headed to either the Hall of Counsel or the Queen’s personal drawing room, where most of her previous meetings and clashes with Tiberius had occurred. The captain was leading him somewhere else, somewhere deep within the palace itself.

Speculative thoughts began to percolate in Tiberius’ mind. He beat them down. Curiosity was a too dangerous. It was the enemy of rational thought, often driving a man to step beyond his bounds just to satisfy it. By the time the Captain’s footsteps finally stopped, however, Tiberius knew exactly where they were.

The Deep Hearth, which housed the Queen’s own Flame, and that of her children.

“The Queen awaits within,” said the Captain.

“My thanks,” replied Tiberius. Reaching for the cold iron handle, he pulled open the door.

As soon as he entered the room, Tiberius knew that he was not walking into a mere war of wills between a domineering mother and her headstrong son. No, this was something far more devastating, and far more permanent. Jayslen’s Flame, the intensity of which the old man could normally feel immediately, was not there. It had gone out.

The prince was dead. That much was certain. Yet Tiberius was still blind, and that could mean only one thing: Jayslen had passed the Auratorch on to a successor.

And with it, a power that could destroy the world.

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