Kingdom steeped in magic is invaded all it's heirs put to death - Save one!
Last Of The Etherwites
Gertrude held the babe close to her chest as she cautiously made her way to the rear of the castle. Death and carnage were all around; she stepped over bloodied corpses. Nerves strained to breaking point, she hid behind a pillar as the invaders fought with a few of King Etherwite’s men. Once the combatants moved out of sight, Gertrude ducked from cover to cover, clutching the sleeping babe in her arms. The Queen’s last command to Gertrude as the babe’s wet nurse was to protect the child with her own life. If she and the child survived, the Queen made Gertrude promise that she would raise the child as her own. First, she needed to get out of the castle before any of King Rominy’s men spotted her. She hoped the child would continue to sleep while she made her escape.
The Queen informed her to find the trapdoor in the stables, at the rear of the castle. According to the Queen, this was a secret tunnel that came out a safe distance from the castle. Gertrude passed a burning building. Hiding behind some barrels as she spotting more fighting ahead. One of King Rominy’s men saw her; she started to run, but he blocked her way, advancing towards her, sword raised menacingly. Holding the infant protectively in her arms Gertrude trembled in terror; backing away from her attacker. Suddenly one of King Etherwite’s men appeared; he called out to Gertrude to run, whilst stepping in between the two, clashing swords with the invader. Gertrude ran; she did not look back. She felt gratitude to the soldier even though she knew he was only carrying out his duty as a defender and would most likely die, without knowing whom he saved. The sounds of battle lessoned; as she saw the stables ahead franticly, she searched for the trapdoor. Finding it partly covered by straw, looking around hastily to see that nobody saw her, she gently put the baby on the ground. Removed the straw and pulled the latch as hard as she could with both hands. It took several attempts for the trapdoor to finally open. The baby began to stir and whimper fretfully. Gertrude picked the infant up, cradling the babe in one arm as she heard voices and footsteps approaching
Without thinking, Gertrude tightened her grip around the infant and jumped down into the tunnel. She quickly pulled the trapdoor shut, hoping no one had seen or heard anything. The tunnel was dark and confining with no light to guide her. Gertrude stumbled, feeling her way, occasionally stopping to look back, listening. There was no sound or pursuing lights behind her, just an eerie quiet and all-encompassing darkness. The infant started to cry, she stopped to let the child feed on her. After several minutes she continued on blindly for what seemed an eternity. Finally, she saw a shaft of light above. Putting the infant down, she reached up, searching for an opening. There was no trapdoor this time; the exit was covered by tree branches and leaves. Pushing the branches to one side, Gertrude hoisted the infant out first, then scrambled out herself. Taking one last look back at was once her home. The people she cared about and served loyally for years all dead now. Gertrude shed tears as she cradled the infant in her arms, head down; she turned and began to walk, heading north-west along a worn path.
Thirty-two years passed since the reign of the Etherwites was brought to an end.:-
The aged King Rominy rules still in Madara while King Rominy’s son Jonas sits on the Etherwite’s Rune Throne. The kingdom of Ethral, where once magic thrived. is now controlled by the inquisitors; only those sanctioned by King Jonas and the inquisitors can practice the arcane arts. Anyone found practising magic without approval face imprisonment or death. While far to the west across the black sea, the empire of Landisfarn has an eye on the two kingdoms. Rumours of war between the two kingdoms and the empire are rife.
King Jonas Rominy sat with one hand resting on an arm of the throne. He moved his fingers delicately across the strange engravings etched into the arm. Similar etchings covered most of the throne. Jonas leaned closer, studying the intricate patterns engraved in the wood fixedly. Hearing footsteps approach, he lifted his gaze as the Lord Chancellor approached carrying a missive. The Chancellor bowed, handing the letter to Jonas. “This just arrived by messenger bird Sire.”
Jonas took the missive noting his father’s seal. “Are we going to war with the empire?” He asked aloud with a sardonic smile. Breaking the seal he opened the letter as the Chancellor waited nervously. After reading it, he put the letter down at his side and gave a wry smile to his Chancellor. “No need to worry; we are not going to war, not yet anyway. The empire wants to open trade with the two kingdoms. They have already sent a delegation to my father, and one should arrive here in three days.”
The Lord Chancellor frowned, “Can we trust Landisfarn, Sire?”
Jonas’s look was one of having just tasted something bitter. “Father doesn’t trust them, but we can’t ignore the opportunity of trading with the Landisfarn empire. We can still prepare for a war secretly in case Landisfarn is trying to deceive us.”
The Chancellor chewed his bottom lip nervously, “I should prepare to receive the delegation then, Sire?”
Jonas stared at the Chancellor in thought for a few moments, “Better send for the inquisitors as well.”
The Chancellor raised his eyebrows, “Do you think they will be needed, Sire?”
There was an uneasy silence as the King once more glanced at the carvings on the throne. When he looked up, he had a curious expression as he regarded the Chancellor. “Do you know what these engravings are, my lord chancellor?”
The Chancellor shrugged his shoulders, “There are ornamental carvings is all, Sire.”
The King slowly moved his head from side to side, “Wrong, they are actual runes. That is why it’s is called the Rune Throne. You know my father supposedly had all the Etherwites executed.”
The Chancellor frowned sceptically, “I was there, Sire. I’m sure your father executed all of them. If you are referring to the rumour that the Queen beget a bastard child that survived. It was just that a rumour spread by those loyal to the Etherwites.”
King Jonas stared at the Chancellor; his eyes narrowed to slits, “Pity!” The Chancellor’s eyes widened in surprise. As the King continued, “You know these runes are said to grant great power to whoever sits on this throne. That only an Etherwite can bring them to life. Just think, if we had just one Etherwite here under our control, what that might mean!” There was a glint of madness in the King’s eyes and flecks of spittle around his mouth as he spoke.
The Chancellor felt a lump in his throat, swallowing he shifted nervously on his feet. “Sire, the Etherwites sat on this throne for more than a hundred years. If it was supposed to grant such power, why hadn’t it done so? We may have not been able to defeat them if what you say was true.”
The King was silent as he nodded his head slowly, then he looked up once more, with the same cold stare that made the Chancellor fear for the King’s sanity as well as his own safety. “Maybe it’ was only one particular Etherwite that could have used the throne. Now we may never know thanks to my father.”
King Jonas Rominy scowled as the High inquisitor arrived flanked by the Lord Chancellor and another inquisitor. “High Inquisitor, I wasn’t expecting yourself to be here in person.”
The High inquisitor bowed lavishly. “This is a special occasion, your majesty; how could I not be here.” The Chancellor and other inquisitor bowed in turn and made their way to one side of the throne.
Jonas despised the High inquisitor; he reminded him of how much he hated his father. Both men were alike bull-head and unbending. Whereas Jonas preferred cunning and compromise as long as it got him what he wanted. Jonas looked to the Lord Chancellor. “I trust our guests have all been shown their rooms and have suitably refreshed and rested themselves, my lord chancellor?”
The Chancellor cleared his throat before speaking. “Yes, Sire, there is six in the party all have chambers in the west wing.” He paused, combing a hand through his white hair. “There is a woman of some standing in the party. An exotic beauty by all means, so I’ve been told, Sire.”
King Jonas smiled slyly, “Really, I look forward to meeting this rare beauty.” They all fell silent facing forward as the steward ushered in the delegation. The King scrutinised the party. A well-built man with white hair and piercing black eyes led the party. By his bearing, Jonas took him to be the leader of the delegation. Behind him were two women servants and two men who looked to be scholars judging by their attire. The Chancellor explained earlier that there was also an armed escort with them when they arrived. Only the delegates were allowed into the castle. However, what caught the King’s eye was the woman next to the white-haired man leading the delegation. His eyes fixed on her appraisingly; the Chancellor had been informed correctly about the woman. She was a stunning beauty with shoulder-length jet black hair, creamy complexion and green eyes: full red lips and a well-proportioned figure. Dressed in a red tunic and a matching wide skirt and leather sandals. She stood a little over medium height. On her head, she wore a delicate silver circlet on which an agate jewel hung to rest on the top of her forehead.
The party stopped in front of the throne; the white haired man stepped forward bowing and spoke. The King looked puzzled, only understanding a word or two of what was said. He looked at the others, who were equally confused. The woman stepped forward then and bowed gracefully. “Allow me to translate, your majesty. I am Darina, a maiden of the sisterhood. The emissary does not speak your tongue well.”
King Jonas leaned forward, looking closely at Darina, “Please do erm, lady Darina.”
The high inquisitor leant over to whisper in the King’s ear. “Careful majesty, this one knows magic.”
The King Jonas Rominy waved at hand at the inquisitor to be still. Darina smiled, staring at the High inquisitor. “That’s right, inquisitor. I am a sorceress, a witch if you prefer; am I distasteful to your sensibilities?” Darina challenged, her smile changed to a look of defiance; her gaze passed between the inquisitors and the King
His anger rising, the High inquisitor’s face turned red and began to twist into a mask of rage. He took an involuntarily step forward while trying to control himself and smooth out his facial muscles. “How dare you speak to me thus and in front of the King; know your place, witch.”
In a complete change of tack, Darina bowed her head demurely, taking on a look of repentance. “My apologies, your majesty, I have offended your inquisitors,” Darina said. She let her eyes roam over the throne briefly before bringing her gaze back to the King.
The King gave the High inquisitor a cold stare. “Inquisitor, restrain yourself,” he snapped. “Your rudeness is unpleasant. It doesn’t matter if lady Darina knows magic or not. She is from another country so not subject to our rules. She is also our guest, as are the rest of her party.” This was precisely why Jonas didn’t want the High inquisitor here now; he was too hot-headed. The King also relished being given a chance to rebuke the High inquisitor. The white-haired man listened intently to the exchange with concern spoke briefly to Darina. She reassured him it was all right before turning back to the King.
The King cleared his throat, shuffling on the throne. “No need to apologise, lady Darina the High inquisitor, was the one at fault. I apologise for his rudeness.” He gave the High inquisitor another black look. “Why is such a woman here as a lowly translator? It was very clever of her to goad the High inquisitor and be contrite after. It makes her look the better person, and it belittles the inquisitors. There is a lot more to this woman than her obvious beauty, or is it just that she is a witch that makes her so mysterious, I wonder.” The King mused as Darina introduced the white-haired emissary as lord Nanton and the talks began in earnest.
Later Darina met with lord Nanton in his chambers. Bryon Nanton wore a worried frown on his face as he regarded Darina. He grasped both her arms with outstretched hands, staring into her eyes. “Darina, are you sure this is what you want? Your mother would not have approved, I’m sure. You can still return with me give-up this folly, I beg you.”
Darina gave Bryon a sad smile, “Uncle... It is strange to keep calling you, Uncle, when you have been more like a father to me. Ever since you took us in all those years ago, even after mother died, you have been there for me.” She sighed as Bryon let his hands fall to his side, fearing what Darina was about to say. “I need to find out who my birth parents were. The answers, I believe, are here, and if what we suspect is true. It may also be my destiny.”
Bryon bowed his head a moment. Then facing Darina again, he decided to have one last try to persuade her from a path he believed would not end well. “We will be here for two days; please reconsider in the meantime, don’t make a final decision yet.” He paused, running a hand through his white hair. “There is also the Emperor to consider he is up to something; there is more to this wanting to trade than meets the eye. You could be in grave danger if you stay here.”
Again Darina smiled sadly, her expression becoming deadly serious. “I’ve already agreed with the King to stay on as a mediator. Don’t worry, I won’t do anything drastic until you are safely away from here.”
Bryon raised a finger, pointing at Darina. “Beware of this King; he is cunning and a little insane, I believe. Now go and get some rest and think about what I said.”
“I will consider what you have said. I doubt I will change my mind, though. Goodnight, uncle.” Darina turned and left, heading to her own rooms.
The next day both lord Nanton and Darina were kept busy with the negotiations. King Jonas haggled over the most minor details. While the scholars wrote down the points agreed on and the ones yet to be ironed out. It wasn’t until mid-morning the following day that the final trade deal was signed. Lord Nanton was eager to return home as soon as the trade deal was signed. Darina went to bid him farewell at the castle gates. Lord Nanton mounted his horse and paused, looking down at Darina. “Be careful, Darina... You know I always thought of you as my own daughter.”
Darina smiled, looking up at Bryon. “I know, uncle, take care and a safe journey home.” Bryon gave a nod of the head then nudged his horse on joining his waiting entourage. Darina watched as they passed through the castle gates and out of sight. The king was waiting for her with a young guardsman as she returned to the castle.
“Lady Darina, this is captain Lucas Edmore. A member of my royal guard, for your protection, and guide during your stay here,” Jonas said. He tilted his head to one side, trying to gauge Darina’s reaction.
Darina smiled with a graceful bow, “Thank your majesty. That is most considerate of you.” So I’m to have one of the king’s lapdogs following around. Not unexpected, but inconvenient none the less,” Darina thought. She gave the captain a cursory look over. He was tall with well-groomed blonde hair, blue eyes, a nicely shaped nose, clean-shaven and a firm jaw—all in all, a dashing figure in his black and maroon uniform.
The captain stood sharply to attention and gave a brisk bow. “Lady. Darina a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to showing you what the castle and grounds have to offer.” Darina once again smiled and gave a polite bow of her head in reply.
Three days later, Darina walked with the captain to the stables. The King gave the captain permission to take her riding; this would be her first time outside the castle since her arrival. Darina was surprised that the captain made such a request of the King. More so that the King agreed to it. Lucas Edmore proved to be one of the most taciturn men she ever met. He was always polite and careful of her needs but hardly ever spoke above more than needed. Darina found him so frustrating sometimes she wanted to cast a spell and turn him into a pile of ash. Other times she just wanted to make him talk more. She got to know several maids and servants and even one or two of the soldiers in the castle when the captain wasn’t around; all had been very friendly and talkative. Unlike the captain, she assumed that was why the King assigned him to watch over her in the first place. Darina was determined to make him open up and talk more
The captain selected a chestnut mare for Darina; he blinked his eyes slowly as he watched her look the mare over. “Do you normally ride side-saddle, my lady?”
“I can get both legs over a horse captain; give me a hand up,” Darina replied with sarcasm.
He blinked again without saying a word, helped her into the saddle, then mounting his black stallion.
They rode through the west gate; the sun rose in the sky with no cloud in sight. The day feeling warm with a gentle summer breeze. Darina took a deep breath of the morning air and surveyed her surroundings. They rode along a narrow winding trail with green meadows on either side. The captain pointed to the left, where a fork in the trail led up a rise and disappeared into a woodland. “This way,” he turned his horse, and Darina followed suit. Eventually, they came to a small clearing were a stream meandered through the woods. Captain Edmore stopped his horse turning to Darina, “We will take a break here if you please, lady Darina.”
Darina smiled sweetly, dismounting, following the captain. She gave him a curious look raising an eyebrow. ”Why have you brought me here to this secluded spot, pleasant as it is?” What are your intentions?”
Lucas combed a hand through his hair as he regarded Darina. “Intensions! I thought you were getting bored and needed to get out a little, is all. A bored sorceress can be trying for all those close to her.”
Darina took a step closer to the captain, “Hmm... do you think I’m a trying person then, captain?”
Lucas remained still and blinked, “No, my lady, but I could see that it was a possibility if you remained confined to the castle much longer.”
Darina folded her hands behind her back. “Please stop calling me, lady. Darina will do
The captain slowly blinked his eyes, giving a courteous nod of the head. “As you wish, Darina.”
Darina turned her back on the captain, walking over to the stream, then turned to face him again. “You know you’re more at risk here alone with me than I am.” She raised a hand, waving it at him.
As was his habit, he slowly blinked his eyes, “I don’t put much faith in magic; I trust in cold steel,” he touched a hand to the sword strapped to his waist. “Not that I don’t doubt your skill Darina. I do think magic is overrated though.”
Darina pursed her lips, smiling, “Let’s see which is better then captain, shall we? Can you have your sword pointed at my heart before I can cast a spell? Prepare to defend yourself.”
Lucas’s eyes widened slightly, then he reached for his sword, only getting it out of the scabbard before it was wrenched from his grasp by an invisible force. Then he was lifted off his feet and pinned on the ground, unable to get up. “Darina arched her eyebrows; her eyes sparkled with mirth as she helped the stunned captain to his feet. "I believe I won captain"
Lucas dusted himself off and cleared his throat. He picked his sword up and sheaved it, “Indeed, that was... most surprising from what I have seen and learnt about magic; it usually takes a little time to cast spells. Not so in your case; it seems you are a very rare sorceress, Darina.” Lucas wondered how she could cast spells instantly when most needed to think about what spell to use and even chant the required spell. “She is an exceptionally skilled and dangerous sorceress. I wonder if she can be trusted.”
After resting up a little more, they rode back at a leisurely pace. Darina kept glancing at the captain, who seemed lost in his own thoughts. Darina smiled, secretly feeling smug after managing to shake the captain’s self-confidence a little. Arriving back, the stable hands took their horses to be attended. The lord chancellor waylaid Darina as she entered the castle.
The chancellor held a missive in his hand; he gave a short bow of the head, then handed the communiqué to Darina. “This recently arrived for you, lady Darina,”
Darina noted lord Nanton’s seal as the chancellor handed it to her, “Thank you, my lord chancellor. She didn’t open it straight away; as the chancellor left, instead, she headed for her chambers. She needed to change and freshen up first and read the letter in private.
The King sat with an elbow resting on the arm of the throne. He stroked his ginger beard with two fingers lost in thought for a moment as he gave captain Edmore a severe look. “So, how was your ride with lady Darina? Did you manage to learn anything about her,” he finally said.
The captain considered his reply. “I didn’t learn much about her motives, your majesty. One thing I did learn, though, she is a formidable sorceress.”
King Jonas tilted his head to one side, scrutinising the captain more closely. “Oh, how do you know that captain?”
Lucas hesitated a second before answering, “Let’s say she gave me a demonstration of her power, your majesty.”
King Jonas leaned forward slightly, his eyes narrowing to slits as he regarded his captain. “Really, do you think she is a match for the inquisitors? I, for one, would like to see them taken down a peg or two.” He gave a short burst of laughter. “Very well, captain, that is all, for now, you may go.” The King gave a perfunctory wave of his hand to dismiss the captain. Lucas stood to attention and bowed courteously before turning to leave.
Darina read her uncle’s letter twice, making sure she absorbed every word; there was nothing in it that would be considered unusual. He arrived back safely, and the journey had been uneventful. The trade deal with the two kingdoms and the Emperor had been signed, and that the Emperor was pleased. What got her attention was the words, ‘The Emperor was pleased.’ This was significant; the Emperor never showed any emotion about anything pleased or otherwise. Also, as long as she had known lord Nanton, he never showed any concern about how the Emperor felt. He ended the letter by wishing her well and to be careful. There was definitely something going on back in Landisfarn. Darina decided if she would do anything, it had better be soon before things got more complicated. As usual, that evening, she dined with the King and a few of his top aides in the dining hall. The lord chancellor, the High inquisitor, still hadn’t left yet. As ever, captain Edmore attended, who avoided looking at her for some reason. At the same time, the King kept staring at her when he thought she wasn’t looking. The topic of conversation centred around the trade deal with the empire. Darina excused herself early after dinner and returned to her chambers.
Darina changed into black back in her room, tying her long hair into a ponytail and waited until she assumed everyone would be a bed. Eventually, she opened the door a crack and peered out, watching and listening intently for any sign of movement or sound. All remained still and silent; exiting her room, Darina quietly headed towards the throne room. The heavy locked door took only a moment to unlock for someone as skilled in the arcane arts as herself; the door opened silently. Darina entered moonlight shone through the arched windows along the outer wall to her left. Dimly illuminating the hall and casting long shadows all around. At the far end of the throne room, cast in a muted glow, stood the throne. Darina cautiously approached, stopping in front of it; she hesitated to stare down at the throne. She got the distinct impression the throne seemed to be inviting her to sit. Tentatively she held a hand out towards it; as her hand touched an arm of the throne. The runes began to radiate a dull light. She pulled her hand back, lifting her shoulders; she sighed, reaching out again with her other hand. Once again, light radiated from the throne; Darina took a deep breath and sat on the throne. A dazzling burst of light emitted from the throne as all the runes came to life. Darina sat bathed in a blinding display of pulsating light.
Darina gripped the arms of the throne with both hands so tight her knuckles turned white; as she felt a force pushing her against the throne. Searing pain racked her from head to toe as magical energies coursed through her body. She clamped her mouth shut, clenching her teeth, trying not to scream. Eventually, the pain subsided. Darina floated outside her body, looking down on herself. “Am I dead? Has it been all for nought?” She asked herself. Looking down at her body her chest rose and fell “No, I’m not dead; I still breathe.” The sensation was strange and disorienting, so she decided to ignore the strangeness of it all and look around... She could see with different eyes now. The throne was connected with every living thing in the world—infinite lines of energy like veins stretched out from deep underneath the throne in every direction. The throne represented life and harmony in the world. Somewhere far of she couldn’t see where there existed a similar throne. One that represented darkness and discord, one that would suffocate and prevent life from flourishing until eventually snuffing life out altogether. Darina found herself back in her body. The memories of past Etherwite kings and queens came to her. All their skills, forgotten and forbidden knowledge, so much that she could hardly take it all in. Finally, she slumped into unconsciousness.
Darina’s eyes opened, her vision blurry, and her head hurt; she could make out shapes, figures standing around her. She closed her eyes and opened them again. Her vision gradually clearing, everything came back into focus—Captain Edmore stood over her, his sword raised pointed at her heart. Behind him the King, with the lord chancellor beside them, the High Inquisitor with several inquisitors. Many royal guards were surrounding the throne also. “You got me this time, captain,” Darina grimaced, speaking in a husky voice
The captain's expression was one of regret; he gave a nod of his head. “So it would seem, I’m sorry, Darina.”
The King stepped forward with a smug expression, “I knew there was something suspicious about her. I told you, so my lord chancellor didn’t I.”
The chancellor rubbed his chin with a finger and thumb. “You did, Sire, but you don’t really believe she is an Etherwite, surely not.”
The King scoffed at his chancellor, “Why else would she sneak in here in the middle of the night and be sat on the throne.”
“If she is, we should kill her now, your majesty,” the High inquisitor said, staring intently at Darina.
The King turned on the High inquisitor furiously, “Don’t be a fool, man. You inquisitors should be able to contain her magic if she isn’t willing to work with us.”
Darina raised her eyebrows staring at the King and High inquisitor calmly. “Your inquisitor is right, your majesty.”
The King frowned, “What? Right about what.”
“Better Kill me now if you can. For I am the last of the Etherwites.” Darina said defiantly
The inquisitors were already hastily casting spells to contain Darina. The King glanced around at the inquisitors. Sweat broke out on their faces as they quickly mumbled spells to no effect. He turned back to Darina. “I’m sure we can work this out together, my dear; we don’t need the inquisitors. What do you say.”
Darina sighed, feeling sorry for the King for what was about to happen. “I’m sorry, your majesty, I can’t do that.” She paused, looking to captain Edmore. “It’s up to you now, captain; plunge your sword into my heart to end this now, or many here will die.”
The captain looked aghast at Darina, hesitant he stood dumbfounded, struggled with his conscience. He could not kill anyone in cold blood, let alone Darina; in fact, he admired her. “I... I Can not even if I die here.” He shook his head, staring at Darina, ready to accept whatever fate awaited him.
Darina leaned forward. “Then come to me if you want to live.” She whispered to him. Still, hesitant he refused to move. “The blade cut deep into her hand, blood trickling over it as Darina grabbed the captain’s sword; droplets of blood falling on to the floor. She pulled the sword to her before the captain could let go; yanking him forward, he stumbled, falling over her. Darina’s eyes turned completely blue and glowed as noxious gas rose from the floor surrounding the throne. The guards began to cough and choke, gasping for air. One by one, they fell to the floor. The inquisitors tried to escape only the High inquisitor made it out of the throne room. The rest fell writhing on the floor gasping for air, their faces turning blue. The King and the chancellor tried to get to Darina, the King falling at her feet. The chancellor stumbled at the side of the throne. The gas cleared, Darina’s eyes returned to normal as she looked down at the King, his face turning blue and gasping for air.
Darina let out a long sigh, “I’m sorry, your majesty, I don’t have full control yet, I would have spared you if I could, but the ghosts of the throne are a vengeful lot.” She said sorrowfully, watching him take his last breath.
Captain Edmore got to his feet, looking around at the chaos in disbelieve. He turned to Darina and knelt at her feet. “My Queen, I am yours to command.” He offered his sword to her.
Darina gave a brief smile, “Thank you, captain, or should I say general, for you will command our army.”
The captain stood proudly giving a curt bow. “As you command, my Queen.”
They both turned, hearing coughing as the chancellor got shakily to his feet. “I heard, I’m yours to command also majesty... erm that is my Queen.”