An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The New Captain Carvesh

“Captain? What were you thinking, uncle?”

“Only what was necessary in the moment.” Carvesh, Anya and Carwell were gathered together in the upper room of Quelana’s home. It was the only place that was not filled with the wounded and the dying, and offered at least some measure of privacy. The hysterical woman had been dragged away, with orders that she was to be watched carefully. It was clear that she had gone mad with grief, but Quelana believed she would recover enough to recognize how irrational she had been. In the meantime, they would take all measures to keep her away from Carvesh.

“How was that necessary? You’ve just given me a military position.”

“A relatively minor one.”

“I’m an exile, uncle,” said Carvesh. “I have no place in the army.”

“You have no place in Relen’kar at all.”

“Yesterday you had all but arrested me. You threatened to put me in chains.”

“As I recall, that was your idea. I was just saying that it could be done. I know what I said, Carvesh. I know that I said you could not leave the village on your own. But things have changed. Yesterday I was investigating rumours. Today I find myself at war.”

“If my mother finds out—“

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. It won’t be the first time we’ve butt heads. I’ll survive it. She’s a hard woman, Carvesh, but she has to be. It’s the only way she keeps herself alive. There are a half dozen other Lords who’ve had their eye on the Winged Throne since your father’s execution. The only things that keep her in power are her iron will, the support of those Lords still loyal to her, and Jayslen’s rightful claim as heir. If she should lose any of those—well I’m afraid she would find herself in a very difficult position. But that’s not the point. The point is that we’ve deflected—at least for the time being. When people look at you they won’t see the tall southerner with a prince’s name. They’ll see Carvesh, the demon slayer.”

“You mean Demonsbane?” Anya smiled.

Carwell furrowed his brow. “It’s not very good is it? Torshen would have done better. He always had a way with words.”

“It may be a tad melodramatic,” she replied.

“It seemed right at the time.”

“Like making me Captain?” Carvesh interjected. “What are we going to do about that? Can you undo it? Say you made a mistake?”

“I’m afraid not. I don’t make a habit of lying. Besides, it was a decision I’d already made. That woman just forced me to declare it earlier than I’d intended. If we’re going to fight this war, then I’m damned well going to do everything I can to win it.”

“I don’t see what that has to do with me.”

Carwell regarded him thoughtfully then turned to Anya. “He really doesn’t see it does he?”

“He never has,” she replied.

“No, I don’t suppose you would. Merek was blind to it too—even to the end. But I suppose that’s part of what made him who he was.”

“I don’t understand what either of you are talking about,” said Carvesh.

“He’s saying you’re a natural-born leader,” Anya smiled and placed one hand on his forearm.

“I’m just a farmer,” he protested.

“No, my dear. Farming is only something you’ve been doing. You’ve done it well, but it’s never been who you are. You were born to lead, my love. That you don’t see it in yourself only confirms it.”

“Your father was the same way,” said Carwell. “Have you ever wondered how he came to the Winged Throne? Why Torshen stepped aside for a younger brother?”

He had, of course. As Carvesh understood his history, no first-born heir to the Winged Throne had ever abdicated as Torshen had done. Younger brothers had laid claim to the Throne, but such ascensions had always been wrought with war and blood or political scheming, and has always left the Realm in a worse state than it had started—drained of resources and fragmented by opposing allegiances. Torshen had been the first and only prince to ever step aside of his own free will, clearing the way for Merek to become King.

Carvesh remembered the day it happened. He had been just six years old and his grandfather, King Lachlan had been ailing. The Lords of the Realm had descended upon Relen’ayar for a special Council. Carvesh had been excited because it was the first time that he was to allowed to sit and watch the Council in session. He could still remember his grandfather, looking so grey and tired, rising slowly to his feet and calling on Torshen to address all those assembled.

And so he had. Dressed in royal garb, he had stood before all the Lords of the Realm, looking every inch like a king in his own right. He had spoken of his love for his father, and the honour in which he held his own family. He had spoken of duty to the Realm and of doing what was right in the eyes of the Nine. Carvesh was not sure why he recalled those details so clearly, but he remembered thinking the peech sounded just like one of the High Chaplin’s sermons. At least until the moment when Torshen had announced that he was renouncing all claim to the Winged Throne, in favour of his younger brother. The Council had erupted into a cacophony of voices, and Carvesh, Jayslen and Vhanna had been ushered back to their rooms.

Six months later, Lachlan Rayderon had died and Carvesh’s father had been ascended to the Throne.

“I have wondered,” Carvesh admitted, “Though I’ve never been able to do more than that. While I was in Mesinia, the entire Yeartide separated me from Relen’kar, and the People of the Sun care little for our politics. So long as trade continues, one King is much like another.” Anya nodded in agreement. “There were few answers to any questions I had. And since returning, so much of our time and energy has been spent in trying to stay hidden that I’ve never dared to ask anything about my family.”

“For fear of drawing too much attention to yourself,” concluded Carwell.

Carvesh nodded. The only people he was ever able to speak freely with were Anya—who knew less about his family than he did—and Jayslen. But Carvesh had always found his brother to be unpredictable and moody. Any mention of their father was more likely to be met with sullen silence than any real answers.

“Then let me tell you.” Carwell sat down on a bench, folding his hands and wresting his forearms on his knees. “There have been those that have said that Torshen was a coward. He was nothing of the sort. Others will tell you that he was showing the first signs of madness. Another lie. His mind was as sharp as his sword. The simple reality was that both your uncle and your grandfather saw something in Merek. I saw it too, first when we were boys and then later when we campaigned together on the Ice Range. We all recognized that, while men might follow us because of our power and and titles, men would follow your father simply because of who he was. They followed him because they wanted to follow him. Because they loved him.

“Hear me when I tell you that Merek Rayderon was a man worth fighting for and, if necessary, a man worth dying for. All the Nine know that your brother did not inherit that quality. I believe you did.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Carvesh. “Men don’t follow me.”

“Madik,” Carwell countered, “and Jadoc.”

“Uncle, I really don’t think—“

“The Mayor speaks well of you. That woman outside claimed that her son fought and died because he was inspired by you. Merek did that to people too. And what about Taaru? He cares nothing for my title, yet he defers to you.”

“He speaks the truth,” said Anya. “I’ve known as much for years.”

“But I don’t want it!” Carvesh shouted. He felt trapped and cornered, and for a moment, he was transported back to that day when he was taken from his father’s arm and told that he was being sent to live across the Yeartide. All the same emotions began welling up in his heart. He wanted to scream in frustration. He wanted to grasp on to the power of the Flame, just for an instant, so he could smash something to pieces. “I don’t want anyone dying for me!”

“Of course you don’t,” said Carwell. “Any man who relishes the death of his followers is not worthy of his power. But sometimes it’s the men who don’t want the burden of leadership that are the best suited for it. I told your father this on the morning of Torshen’s abdication. I’m telling you the same thing now. You were born to greater things than this, Carvesh. I’m not sure why the Nine chose to deny you the Flame, but in just one short day, I’ve come to believe that your purpose is greater than working the land and tending you livestock. I recognize that those are important tasks. I just don’t believe that they are for you.”

“You’re going to insist on this, aren’t you?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Ashes and bloody embers. How am I supposed to shoulder that kind of responsibility? How am I supposed to look a man in the eye knowing that he could die because of some decision I make?”

“With a great deal of difficulty, I should expect. I won’t pretend it’s easy. But it’s what men need. When a man believes that his commander respects and values him, he will push further and fight harder. Your father taught me that.” Carwell shook his head and smiled sadly. “He was a master at it, and he never even knew it.

“During our campaign on the Ice Range, I watched an entire company of mercenaries throw themselves at a band of armed Titans in order to save your father. These were hard, vicious men, whose services your grandfather had purchased in order to bolster the strength of his own forces. The sort of men that are loyal to nothing but their own purses. Yet they threw themselves against the Titans with zealous ferocity.”

“What happened?” asked Carvesh.

“They were slaughtered. To a man. And do you know what your father did? He honoured them. He wrote their names in a small book he kept with him—he called the Book of the Fallen—and when he returned home, he spent an entire year tracking down their families. Mothers and fathers, wives and children. To each of these, he sent a letter, along with fifty golden crowns, as recompense for their loss. When your father died, years later, seven of those mercenaries’ sons were serving, or training to serve, as members of the Winged Guard. As far as I know, they’re still serving today, dedicating their lives to protect your family.”

“I’m not my father.”

“No. You’re not. He was more hot-headed than you seem to be, more prone to thinking with his heart instead of his head. I think you might have more of your mother’s patience and cunning. But never forget, Carvesh, that you are the son of Merek Rayderon, and that is not something to be taken lightly.”

“I don’t know—“

“I do. Trust me on this. Now you’d best get packing. We still have a long march ahead of us. I’ll see you in the square later today, Captain.”

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