An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Summoning of Messangers Tiberius

With the Deep Hearth well behind him, Tiberius stalked quickly through the palace corridors. His mind was racing in a thousand different directions at once, the most troubling being the possibility that the Torch was now in the possession of one of the Flameborn. Though it was not an eventuality he liked to entertain, he also knew it was one that he could not afford to dismiss. The Nine knew, Jayslen’s bold mouth and fearless nature had earned him more than a few enemies among highborn and the College. Any one of them could have arranged to have the prince violently disposed.

But Jayslen had passed the Auratorch to another. That was an act that could only be done willingly, and only as he was dying, which meant that his life had not been snuffed out in an instant. Would the prince have passed the powerful relic onto the very person who killed him—or paid to have him murdered?

Yes, Tiberius decided. He most certainly would. He always hated the Torch almost as much as he hated his own mother, always thinking of it as a curse. In some ways, I suppose he was probably right. He would have thought it a fine joke to bind his killer with the same curse, even if that person was already flameborn.

The very thought filled Tiberius with an even greater sense of urgency.

“Captain,” called Tiberius over his shoulder, where the man’s armour clanked loudly as he rushed to catch up.

“Yes, sir?”

“What’s your name, son?” the old sage asked, never breaking his stride as he turned briskly around a corner.

“Avendor,” came the reply.

“Excellent. Sir Avendor—it is Sir, right?”

“Yes, of course. I received my stripes seven years ago.”

“Good, then you will understand the importance of haste in your duty. I need a messanger sent to my chambers at once.”

“Your Honour, I am not…”

“A servant. Of course, I appreciate that, Captain Avendor. I truly do. But the Queen has set for me a matter of gravest urgency and I have not the time to call for a servant myself. If you find the task beneath you, then by all means send one of your own servants. Just make sure that it is done, and done quickly. I doubt that either of us would care to test the Queen’s patience this morning.”

“No,” the Captain agreed gruffly. His vain attempt to mask his fear and apprehension was almost comical. The Queen was nearly as famous for her lack of patience as for the things she did to those who wore it too thin. For anyone who worked in or around the palace, a little fear and apprehension could go a long way in surviving for another day. “Very well, I will see it done.”

“My thanks,” relied Tiberius. “And you may see to it at once. There is no need to escort me back to my quarters. I do know the way.”

“But…”

“I am only blind, Captain, not incapable. I’ve been walking these halls for many years without killing myself.”

“As you say, your Honour. Expect a messenger at your chambers within a quarter hour.” Tiberius slowed his pace as the Captain turned and scurried away. When he was satisfied that the man was indeed gone, he continued on, turning down yet another corridor, one which did not lead directly towards his chambers. Carefully, he counted off his steps in his mind, following the familiar early-morning smells of the kitchen. Ignoring the rumbling in his stomach, he passed right by, climbed a narrow flight of stairs and found himself at the doors of the Chapel.

Closing his unseeing eyes, Tiberius bowed his head and brought two fingers to his brow—a sign of respect for the Nine. Very quietly, he pushed open one of the doors and entered the Chapel itself. Immediately, he was surrounded by a deep stillness. His nostrils filled with the scent of dust, incense and the old, pine pews. The Queen had never been a pious woman, so the chapel was rarely used. The Chaplin himself did not even live in the palace, as had been the custom when Tiberius was a boy.

The sage liked coming here. He even fancied he could feel the presence of the Nine, and the Teacher most strongly of all. It was a place for him to come and pray, think and mediate, all activities that seemed to be in short supply in recent years.

Today, however, his visit had another purpose.

He strode down the center aisle until he came to the altar, where the Holy Canticles laid open for the devout to come and read. A familiar pang of envy filled Tiberius’ heart as his hands moved reverently across the smooth pages, imagining he could actually feel the words. He had long ago come to terms with his own blindness, but there were still moments when he longed for the gift of sight, to be able to sit and read a book without the need for a specially embossed volume or assistance from one of his aides. It was an idle fancy, however, and he pushed the thought from his mind as fingers found the bottom of the book. He began searching through the pages. When he found what he was feeling for—a single torn corner—he turned carefully to that page.

Satisfied, he said a quick, quiet prayer to the Nine and turned to make his way back to his chambers and await the arrival of not one, but two very different messangers.

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