An Agemonia story by Mike Pohjola
On this day the stars shone not upon Orrery Hill, a Benemite town known for its proud knights and wise stargazers. On the high point of the hill was High Eye, the greatest observatory in all of Benem. Just below High Eye was Bryndel Castle, home to House Bryndelion, who ruled Orrery Hill and the entire the state of Glammet.
In Bryndel Castle's ballroom Lunara Bryndelion knelt before her father, holding her sheathed sabre, her long tail flat on the stone floor. Lord Felim seemed shaken, disturbed, as he stood on the stairs slightly above Lunara.
"Lord Father," Lunara spoke, "I have horrible news."
House Bryndelion was ruled by the magus Selenna Bryndelion. Lunara was her third daughter. Her eldest sister was in the capital Starhaven taking care of family business and politics, and sitting in the electoral college. The middle sister, now expecting her first child, was home in Orrery Hill, researching magic and helping their mother rule.
Lunara would have been interested in cosmography and magic, but as the youngest sister she was trained as a knight. Come war, she would lead the Bryndelion armies.
On this evening, some weeks before she knelt before her father in the ballroom, she was summoned to meet her mother in her stargazing chambers in High Eye. Lunara entered the observatory, where the cosmographers took her to her mother. The main room was filled with starcharts, telescopes, and bookshelves, but the key feature were the large windows which showed the night sky.
Many of the constellations were visible, as was the double spiral of the galaxy which they called the Eyes of the Night.
"I wonder if they call our people nighteyes because of the galaxy," her mother said, admiring the Heavens her tail turned to Lunara, "or if they call the galaxy that because of us."
"I always assumed we are called nighteyes because we love looking at the stars," replied Lunara walking next to her mother.
"The cosmographers tell me it is going to be a very clear night," Lady Selenna told her daughter. "I intend to stay here all night looking at the Eyes of the Night."
"Be careful lest the night looks back upon you," Lunara joked.
"I would welcome it!" mother said laughing so happily her sharp teeth showed. "But that is not why I have summoned you. Come, Lunara."
She took Lunara to her private bedroom. On top of the luxurious bed of black quothian silk was a large package wrapped in blue linen.
"It is for you. Open it."
Lunara cut the strings and drew the linen off. Inside she saw a beautiful shield, not a dent or a cut on it. The borders were bronze but the center was black, blacker than any metal she had seen. She touched it, and it was warm.
"It's not metal."
"Nay," mother replied.
"Aye. I had it repaired for you. Your grandmother wielded it once, and her aunt before her, like the knights of our house have always carried it. Quivrenscale protects its wielder from magical attacks." Then she added ironically, "and, you know, the shield protects from regular attacks."
"Aye, that much I know," Lunara smiled.
"Take it. It's yours."
She thanked her mother, and took the shield. It was light and warm but not hot, very pleasant to hold. Like a part of her arm, already.
Lady Selenna looked at Lunara for a while, smiling. Then her grey face grew more serious. "There is something else. You remember Virgon Gramask?"
"The magus of House Gramask? That absent-minded old tomcat?"
"Aye. And the ruler of Runedale and one of our staunchest allies. In any case, he has suggested I marry you to his son Bo."
"I've never even met him."
"I know. Other than that, I am inclined to agree to the proposal. But you're right, you should meet Bo Gramask first. Which is why I have arranged a meeting for the two of you in Starhaven. You will meet him in four days at their city mansion."
"I would have to leave tomorrow morning!"
Lunara had had other plans, but it was to no avail. Loyalty before everything was their house motto, and she tried to live by it.
But there was one thing she could do before riding out in the morning. With that in mind, she bowed before her mother and exited High Eye.
Mother could decide whom Lunara would marry, as she had with her elder sisters. But mother could not decide whom she loved.
She rode down the hill through the busy artisans' quarters, by the Bluefire station, and down into the workers' quarters with their unpainted wooden shacks.
Leaving town, she directed her mount by the fields and into the forest. The togrel stepped softly on the woodland path, its thick antlers occasionally ripping a dead branch from a tree. After half an hours' ride they arrived at an old hunting cabin that saw little use these days. But it fit Lunara's needs perfectly.
She got down from the togrel's big, shaggy back, and tied the animal to a tree. The light of candles and sorceror's lanterns shone from the window. She entered without knocking and put down her shield, sabre, and cape.
A man was kneeling before the fireplace, trying to get a fire started. His tail moved as he puffed into the wood. His silk suit was covered in soot and ash.
"Why not use magic?" Lunara asked Rhaedon Highweld.
He glanced at her, and grinned sheepishly. "I thought this would be more romantic."
"I certainly like the view, if that's what you mean," she said, petting his tail. He purred softly. "But it's the middle of the night and it's a bit cold in here."
"Besides, I'm not much of a magus." He started puffing on the fire again.
"You're not much of a knight, either," she teased.
He got up to face Lunara. "I always figured myself as more of a lover," he said. Lunara pressed herself against him, her fingers on his face, their tails gently intertwining.
"I think we have found your true calling," Lunara said.
The fell together on the furs in front of the cold fireplace, removing garments from each other slowly at first, and then ripping the last ones off when they could no longer bear the anticipation.
The stars shone upon the cabin that night.
Afterwards Lunara leaned naked against the fireplace, chopped a few sticks, and lit them with a candle. Soon she had a fire going.
"I wanted to let you do it so you can show off," Rhaedon joked.
They sat in silence for a while looking each other in the eye, listening to the sound of the fire, and the occasional low yowl of the togrel outside.
"Listen," said Lunara, "remember how I was supposed to ask my mother for a permission to marry you?"
"I have a vague recollection," he grinned. Oh Heaven, did he think this was good news?
"Well... It is too late now. She wants to marry me to a Gramask."
"Did you tell her nay?"
"I promised to meet the boy."
"Can you refuse?"
"I do not know. But this thing between you and me... Do you honestly think your mother would ever have given her son to her worst enemy?"
"This thing?" he said, angry now. "You mean our love? I care not what our families think. I love you, and I know you love me!"
"Aye. I do love you, Rhaedon. But if you care not, why have you not proposed?"
He couldn't find a good answer. His bravado disappeared like the stars at dawn.
"Are you telling me it is over?"
"I must be loyal to my family. If I marry Bo Gramask, I can no longer see you." She let that sink in. "So I'd say we have to make love as often as possible before then. Otherwise I can't take it."
His hurt feelings overshadowed his desire, but not for long.
Returning from the hunting cabin the next morning, Lunara met her squire Gianna Maddarch at the Bluefire station. She gave the reins of the togrel to Gianna who walked the animal to a stable.
As nobles they rode Bluefire in first class for free. Lunara took the shield from her back and put it next to her on the bench. The agura powered engines glowed blue and hummed a pleasant, low sound. The monorail whizzed out of the town, past forests, rivers, out of the state of Glammet, and to Starhaven, the capital of the Republic of Benem.
The Bluefire monorail had been built by the ancients, and only had a few stations, Orrery Hill and Starhaven being among the lucky ones. Travel anywhere else took much longer.
They got off the monorail. The Starhaven station was busy as always with magi, food vendors, families, street urchins, beggars, cutpurses, prostitutes, korallian pirates, quothian silk merchants, four-armed pattangan porters, Amethyst Order officials, priests of the Fifth Eye, cosmographers, monorail drivers, police officers, and passengers of all sorts.
They took a togrel-drawn carriage to the Gramask town mansion located on the Celestial Bridge which united two continents. The house was fine but not extravagant. Made of marble and painted with pictures of the glory days of the house.
A cosmographer was in the hallway to meet them.
"Ah, star Lunara Bryndelion. Welcome to Starhaven. I am Gishley Skyfford, adjutant to star Bo Gramask. Would you like to freshen up?"
"Nay, thank you. Take us to star Bo."
"Aye, star," the cosmographer said and bowed.
He led them up the stairs and into a simple chamber with soft chairs and a ceiling painted to look like a particularly beautiful night sky. On a table there were wine and cakes.
"I shall tell star Bo that you have arrived," Gishley Skyfford said.
"I hope star Bo is as eager as his adjutant," Gianna quipped as the cosmographer had left.
Lunara smiled wrily. "When Bo comes, I want to be alone with him," she said.
"Of course, star."
Soon enough Gishley Skyfford arrived, and said, "May I introduce star Bo Gramask."
Bo Gramask was roughly her age, with a fair complexion and dull eyes. Easy enough on the eyes, but would he have a spark in his soul like Rhaedon?
"Star Lunara, it is a pleasure to meet you," Bo said.
"And you, star Bo."
"I trust your journey was pleasant."
"It is not a very long journey."
"Nay, I suppose not."
Sparks certainly did not fly immediately.
"Miss Maddarch, may I show you the garden?" said Gishley Skyfford. Gianna agreed, and they left the potential couple alone.
"I have not seen you in any tournees," Lunara said, "I take it you are not a knight."
"Nay, I am more interested in commerce." He certainly was not interested in this conversation.
"Oh! That sounds very interesting," Lunara lied politely.
"Aye." Bo said. He then took a small bell from the table, and rang it. He got up and walked to the door through which he had entered.
What was this? Had Lunara walked into some sort of trap? She got up and put her hand on her sabre handle.
Almost immediately the door opened and in walked two big ignisaur guards, their armor bearing the insignia of house Highweld. Assassins? Nay, they were followed by an older nighteye in very expensive robes. Heaven! It was Phaewiss Highweld, the daughter of the Supreme Arch-Magus, and a member of the electoral college.
"Thank you, star Bo," she said. "You may leave us."
Bo Gramask bowed to Phaewiss Highweld and left, without giving so much as a glance to Lunara.
Phaewiss Highweld sat on the chair opposite Lunara, and poured herself a goblet of wine. The mortal enemy of Lunara's family and the sister of her lover, alone with her and two strong ignisaurs. Lunara did not sit nor did she take her hand off her sabre.
"Please sit, star Lunara," Phaewiss said.
"I would rather stand."
"Why? So my guards won't kill you? Worry not, star Lunara. If I wanted you dead, my assassins would have shot you full of poison arrows by now."
Strange enough, that put her slightly more at ease. Perhaps she was not in mortal peril. At least not an immediate one. She sat down and poured herself a goblet, too.
"How may I help you, Elector Phaewiss?"
"You are a military woman, star Lunara. So let me explain this in terms you can understand. Your family is allied to House Dengault, and sends plenty of soldiers to protect the trade routes that pass through their lands."
"Elector Phaewiss, it is I who commands those soldiers," Lunara said. Clearly Phaewiss Highweld thought she was an idiot.
"Fine. You send those soldiers there. I suppose you also know that those trade routes arrive from the free city of Mossport and that it is Benem's prime trading partner?"
She nodded, but in truth had not known that. Commerce did not really interest her.
"It is very honorable to protect one's allies," Phaewiss said sipping wine.
"House Highweld needs those trade routes, and the Dengault ships will be sunk. As a gesture of good will, I wish to warn House Bryndelion and advice you to keep your warships somewhere else when that happens."
"You know my eldest sister takes care of politics," Lunara said. "Galanna Bryndelion? I believe you sit next to her at the electoral college."
"Aye," spoke Phaewiss as if she had a sour taste in her mouth. "Your sister is married to a Dengault, and unlikely to withdraw her support from her mother-in-law."
"Nevertheless, she speaks for our family in these matters."
"Yet you, star Lunara, command the Bryndelion armies. And it is precisely a military issue I wish to discuss."
"Nay, I think you already spoke to my sister, were denied, and now set up this elaborate plan in order to have a secret audience with me."
She could see Phaewiss Highweld was having trouble keeping up that smile. Clearly, she had guessed right.
"We could make it worth your while, star Lunara. I could arrange a marriage between you and my brother Rhaedon. I understand you two have grown... close."
This was a tempting offer, indeed. Ordinarily the distrust between their families would have made marriage impossible between them, and this was likely to be the only chance Lunara had for spending her life with her loved one. But would she be willing to work against her own family for it?
"And just think... Being married to the son of the Supreme Arch-Mage, you would surely take your sister's place in the electoral college."
This was not quite as enticing as Lunara was not interested in the political game. Clearly whatever information Phaewiss's spies had delivered on her was incomplete. But it was enough to stop her from daydreaming. She would never betray her family. Not for anything, not even for love.
"I thank you for your offer, Elector Phaewiss," she said politely, "but I must respectfully decline. If you wish to further discuss my marriage, you should contact my mother."
Lunara turned her tail and walked out of the room to the antechamber where Gianna Maddarch stood waiting. She was astonished to see Phaewiss Highweld and the ignisaurs in the room.
"Star Lunara, what in Heavens happened?"
"We will talk on the Bluefire, Gianna," Lunara replied quickly. She strode away from the Gramask Mansion and towards the monorail station.
To be continued…