Lordac frowned. “There has been no movement from the mountains?” he asked.
“None, Your Majesty,” the human groveling at his feet said. “No one has seen a dragon in nearly a hundred cycles. People grow bold even though the stories of the dragons are still told.”
“A hundred cycles is nothing to the dragons,” Lordac said. “It is a mere blink of the eye.”
“I don’t like this,” Sianni said. “Why aren’t the dragons doing anything? Shouldn’t they be trying to eradicate the children of the Guardians, like they used to do when they attacked the city?”
“Yes they should, if they hold true to their old pattern,” Lordac said. “I don’t like this either. They’re probably up to something.” He sighed. “Keep the spies moving in the north. I want to know as soon as even a scale is seen.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” the man said. He bowed his way out of the throne room.
“What are we going to do now, Lordac?” Sianni asked. “Mother wants information on what the dragons are doing.”
“What do we tell her, that the dragons have receded into their mountains? We don’t know what they’re doing. They could be gathering their strength to attack. They could be in a torpor. They could have fled the continent altogether. Do you want to run the risk of dragon fire to check that out?” Lordac asked.
“Not again,” Sianni said. “I don’t want to face that again. That hurt.”
“Then we have to be patient and see what my agents turn up,” Lordac said.
“I wonder what the mortals are doing on the mainland?” Sianni asked. “Maybe we should go see how they’re faring, get a better idea for how things are going. Have they moved up to the northern half of Vassa yet? Or are they still clinging to the shreds of their lives in the south?”
“Why don’t you go find out?” Lordac said. “It would do you good to get out and see the world.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Sianni said. “I told you before I don’t trust what you’re doing here. Why are you allowing other people to settle on this island? Aren’t the people born here enough for you?”
“Sianni, do you have any idea about the concept of inbreeding?” Lordac asked. “I recall a rather messy result when some of Hlad’s children decided to only breed with each other. Within a few generations they became lackwits and imbeciles, with no more intelligence than that of a loper. Hlad had to destroy all of them and start over. I don’t have any intention of seeing that happen with the people of this island. I need their intellect intact.”
“I wonder how the mortals are getting over here. The desert is fairly large and stands between you and the rest of Vassa,” Sianni said.
“There are ways of getting around it, if you go far enough east and even possibly west,” Lordac said. “Though I will admit I didn’t travel too far to the west when I first started exploring Vassa.”
“I ran into a lot of Rauha’s children in the forest there,” Sianni said. “They were less than pleased to see me.”
“You’re the daughter of one of the Guardians of Darkness,” Lordac said. “We fought against the children of the Guardians of Light just as much as we did the dragons. Why would they be pleased to see you?”
“Well, I’m proof that mother at least has not forgotten this world,” Sianni said. “You think they’d be grateful for that information.”
“Rauha is probably still in contact with the bulk of her children. They don’t need you as proof,” Lordac said, thinking for the first time in a while of the small band of elves he’d helped before.
“Your Majesty, pardon the intrusion.” A young woman looked distinctly frightened as she curtsied to him. “Gereon has returned. He brings new blood with him.”
“Why so frightened?” Lordac asked. “Did he bring back something so terrifying?”
“There is a female he brought back,” the woman said. She held up her arm and Lordac could have sworn he saw bite marks. “She is violent and has injured several people.”
“Have him bring her to me,” Lordac said. “I would see this wild woman. Perhaps I can tame her.”
“Yes Your Majesty,” the woman said. She hurried out of the throne room.
A short while later, a writhing, shrieking thing was dragged into the room. It took three men and a number of ropes to get her anywhere. “This is the wild woman, Your Majesty,” Gereon said. “I found her on the edge of a forest near the eastern border of the desert.”
The woman looked up with a snarl. Her expression changed when she caught sight of Lordac. “You,” she said, tossing her hair out of her face. “You are the kind one. You made us a new home and taught us how to bend the forest again.”
Lordac stared down at the one eyed female. “Ah yes, I remember you,” he said. “How do your people fare?”
“We are not numerous, though our numbers are growing,” the woman said. “Our children now have a better chance to survive their birthing and live to become adults. A full generation have passed into adulthood and another has been born. The forest bends to our will now and we have built ourselves better homes. We do not visit the forest floor often because it is too wild. I was only down there because I was searching for a lost child.”
“Your Majesty, we should kill her,” Gereon said. “She’ll be of no use as breeding stock here on the island. And none of us speak her vile language as you do.”
“Isn’t that one of Rauha’s children?” Sianni asked. “She looks a bit like them.”
“Not anymore,” Lordac said. “Rauha abandoned them in a forest cursed by a Chaos tree. I helped them find a new way to live.”
“Did you encourage them to worship mother?” Sianni asked.
“They have the right to choose who and what they wish to worship,” Lordac said. He sighed. “I’ll not kill her, Gereon. You’re right that she won’t be good for breeding stock, but I’m not my mother that would destroy things because they have no obvious use.”
“I will kill any who tries to touch me,” the one eyed woman said.
“I believe you would,” Lordac said. “However, I do not intend to watch any of my people die. You will stay at my side for now, a wild little thing to entertain me.”
“If that is what you wish, then I will do as you say,” the woman said. “Remove my bonds.”
“Remove the ropes, Gereon,” Lordac said.
“Your Majesty, she’ll attack,” Gereon said.
“She will do no such thing,” Lordac said. “Release her.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Gereon said. The man cut the ropes binding the woman.
Without warning, the woman leapt forward. She slammed into Gereon, driving him to the ground. She seized hold of his head and gave it a savage twist. The sound of the bones in his neck snapping echoed in the suddenly silent room.
One of the men drew a short blade and raised it above his head. Lordac held out his hand. The man froze. “Leave her,” Lordac said. “She only did what was expected. I suppose I’ll have to find a new man to search Vassa for likely breeding stock though.”
“You would let this murderer live?” one of the men asked.
“Yes,” Lordac said. “Though I’ll not let her roam free.” He released his hold on the sword wielder. A black iron collar appeared around the one eyed woman’s neck. A long iron chain extended from it to the floor next to Lordac’s throne. Lordac jerked on the chain and the woman was dragged forward until she fell on her knees in front of Lordac. The chain shortened until only a few feet remained. “I think I’ll keep her as a pet for now.”
“Yes Your Majesty.” The men bowed and left the throne room.
“What is your name?” Lordac asked.
“Eser.” The woman pulled at the collar on her neck. “Why must you do this?”
“Because I can’t have you killing everyone who offends you,” Lordac said. “This will ensure you are left unmolested by my people.”
“But I am not free,” Eser said.
“No you’re not,” Lordac said. “But things will be better this way.” He stood. “I’d better go inspect the rest of what Gereon brought back with him. At least the ship builders are listening to me now. The boats they’re making are far superior to anything on the mainland.” He strode out of the throne room.
He inspected the group and decided to turn them loose in the general population. There was a good mix of men and women. He was pleased to see that there were no children in this batch. Children were always difficult to deal with when they’d been taken from their parents.
Lordac decided to take a walk around his kingdom. He started with the shipyards. A half dozen ships were being built. It was hard because wood was so scarce on his island. He’d cultivated a small forest for the past hundred cycles and still there weren’t enough trees to do everything he wanted to do.
He visited homes and businesses, speaking to his people. They were all a generally happy group, content to live and serve under his rule. Their grandparents had told them the tales of how things had been before he came, and they had no desire to return to that life.
As Lordac returned to the tower, he frowned. He could feel the energy of a fresh death. It had taken him a few candlemarks to tour his kingdom. Gereon’s death energy would have faded out by that point. He entered his throne room.
Sianni was sitting next to the throne as she always did. Lying on the ground in front of her was Eser. The elven woman was dead, her face twisted in a mask of agony. “What did you do?” Lordac demanded.
“I told her she had to worship mother and she refused,” Sianni said. “I punished her for her defiance. I think I broke her though. I’m not very good with mortals. They’re so fragile.”
Lordac removed the collar from Eser’s neck. He closed her eye and smoothed out her limbs. He stood and faced his sister. “I think it’s time for you to take her place, little sister. Yes, you chained at my feet will be a grand thing,” Lordac said.
Sianni laughed. “You can’t do anything to me,” she said. “You tried, remember?”
“True, but I didn’t try that hard,” Lordac said. He brought his hands up. An iron collar fastened around Sianni’s neck. A great black chain wound down and around until it met the floor. Energy crackled along the chain as he twisted the links.
Sianni brought her hands up and pulled on the collar. It didn’t budge. Her look of scorn turned to one of confusion. She pulled on the collar again but it didn’t move. She tugged on the chain. She shrieked and pulled back hands burned by the magic coursing through the metal. “What did you do?” she asked.
“Exactly what I said I’d do,” Lordac said.
“But how is this possible?” Sianni asked.
“Sianni, you haven’t been paying attention have you?” Lordac asked. “What am I to these people? What am I to Eser’s people? I am their patron, their king, their god. I can draw power from them as mother draws power from those who worship her.”
“You are trying to take mother’s place,” Sianni said. She tried to pull away but the collar held her. “I’ll tell mother. She’ll obliterate you.”
“How are you going to tell mother when you can’t leave my throne room?” Lordac asked with a vicious smile. “You’re trapped here until I decide to release you, and do you really think I’ll be doing that any time soon?”
“I’ll kill you myself,” Sianni said. She lunged forward. The chain shortened. She choked and fell back onto her knees.
“Now, now, little sister,” Lordac said. “You shouldn’t be so hasty. You’ll only end up hurting yourself.” He called for one of his servants. “See that this body is dealt with in the usual fashion.”
“Yes Your Majesty,” the man said. He collected Eser’s body and hurried out of the throne room. Lordac seated himself back in his throne. He smiled as Sianni shrieked and tried to attack him again. The chain held her back and she collapsed. She stared up at him with hate filled eyes. Lordac smiled and leaned back.
“Now, let’s see,” Lordac said. “Where shall we go from here?”