Chapter 3 – Valos

by Jordan

The High Lord of Acariel Forest walked beside Satos’kyr, his crimson doublet, breeches, and cape accented by silver buttons, belt, and clasp, the last of which was wrought in the shape of a kingfisher. Beside the Whitescale he seemed a dwarf despite his height, his auburn-haired head several feet short of the Dragon of Aladria’s shoulder. However, this was not cause for him to strain his neck, for no man dare look a Dragon in the eye, not even Valos Dragon’s Friend. Nearly of an age with Ralius Khalterian, the High Lord of Acariel Forest was slim and long of leg. His sharp features and understanding eyes retained the comeliness he’d had in his youth, but the faint smile lines and beginnings of crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes betrayed the truth of his age. Though he did not doubt he could grow a truly kingly beard, Valos preferred to keep himself clean-shaven, claiming that it better became a man of court.

Beside him, Satos’kyr was easily thrice the size of the largest of destriers, and weighed enough to crush an elephant. Her claws were each large enough to be daggers, and her tail alone had the strength to smash through the marble pillars that lined the walls of her Dragonhome. When she flew, she would cast a monstrous shadow upon the ground, her wingspan approximately thirty yards from tip to tip. However, though the sight of most Dragons inspired awe or fear into the hearts of men, and Satos’kyr did not lack the ability to do either, whether it was because of her grace, her beauty, or her honor, she was best known to inspire love. Through the vast gardens of Silvermoon they walked, flowers of every color, shape, and size blooming on either side of them as they spoke, though the Whitescale’s mouth remained closed.

“Vulnyr loses its heir, Sasemos calls a meeting of his Thanes, and now this? Can we trust this so called Nethat?” Valos asked, the last word spoken with a passable Taryl accent.

“I confess, I do not know this Lady Elyz of Two Rivers, but I have confidence in Lady Enestria’s judgment.” Satos’kyr’s disembodied voice had the grace of femininity but the conviction of a Dragon.

“She has only just lost her son, your Grace; no loving parent could suffer such a loss and be clear of mind. I suggest you call a meeting of the High Lords. Instruct Lady Enestria to send this oracle of hers in her stead, if she truly does trust her, that we may all hear her prophecy.”

“Not unwise, but perhaps too soon.” The Whitescale stopped as they entered the round clearing that marked the center of the gardens. “I intend to allow Vulnyr time to search for its lost heir. Should Vulnero be found, I would much prefer to have Lady Enestria present, as only befits a meeting of the High Lords.”

“With all due respect, your Grace, I could not disagree more. It is quite possible that Vulnero will never be seen again, and should that be the case, it may be too late before the High Lords can convene. Better that we meet now than risk being taken by surprise by the Sataryans.” Valos spoke as the Whitescale stretched her massive wings and settled back upon her haunches.

“Should the Sataryans mass an army and march north through Pass Khalterian, it would be against Ralius Khalterian’s best interests, as well as leaving their country vulnerable to an attack from the south. If they invade, I need only send word to Ikoro. I doubt Sasemos is fool enough to leave his people unprotected. Bestial though he may be, the Shadowbane does not lack foresight.” Though her words were confident, Valos could sense Satos’kyr’s uncertainty behind them.

“But if Ikoro will not strike, what then? If our allies should leave us to defend ourselves, how can we hope to repel an army as massive as Satarya’s?” The High Lord of Acariel Forest sat upon a marble bench along the perimeter of the clearing, facing the Whitescale from the side. The fresh morning air helped to clear his mind of the many troubles that had been haunting his nights of late.

“Then I will have no choice but to go west and seek out my uncle, leaving Aladria under your command.” Valos felt the Dragon’s eyes on him as she turned her head to face him.

“My command?” he asked reproachfully, “Should Sasemos come storming through Pass Khalterian with a horde of Sataryans at his back only a Dragon could hope to defend us.”

“And if I go west, my uncle must return with me. Then Aladria would have not one but two Dragons fighting in her name. All you must do is hold until I return. But let us not speak of war, not here.”

“I agree,” the Dragon’s Friend audibly sighed with relief, “we must avoid war at all costs. This is no time to end our era of peace.”

“It may not be our choice.” The Whitescale said looking up at the ring of many-colored moons that ran north to south, as though they held some secret wisdom she could glean with her Dragon’s eyes. “The Gods alone know the path of fate. It is for us to walk that path, whether or not we understand why or where it ends.”

“Raetha draws ever closer to the horizon,” Valos observed after a moment of silence, “soon summer shall be upon us. Perhaps if Vulnero is found we can hold a tourney in his honor.”

“Let us pray that he is.” Satos’kyr spoke as she gazed upon the sky.

And so they did, not only for the lost Krisnal boy, but also for another year of peace, for Rynan’s strength and Leamar’s wisdom. Valos felt the peaceful harmony of uniting with his soul and entreated Martria, Praelus, Rikva, and Hatharen, the Gods of Hope, Courage, Justice, and Honor to watch over his wife and children, to show their noble servant Satos’kyr the path of truth and justice, and to protect Aladria.

The rest of Valos’s morning was slow, but relaxing. He took breakfast in his study in the Kingfisher’s Tower, one of the six that formed a ring around the circular, domed citadel where Satos’kyr had her Dragonhome. The Whitescale’s father, Tanariath Moonwyrm, built the towers and citadel when he named Silvermoon as the country’s Capitol. She’s already ruled almost as long as her father did, and yet she remains so young by the standards of Dragons. Our mortal lives are but moments to them.

Valos had asked her once, how long Dragons naturally lived. She had explained that she knew of no Dragon who’d died of old age alone, though Salethrias Skyborn had lived to be five centuries old, and The Flame of Amaralia was said to be the oldest Dragon in the world. Some say he was created upon the First Dawn of Tinirael. They also say it is death to look upon him. Valos thought with a shudder.

Marlyn’s been here. He realized as he noticed the crimson letter that sat beside the large black candle that was the centerpiece of his vast cedar table. The silver kingfisher seal told him it was from Whitemoon. Easing himself into what he called his ‘leather throne’, the High Lord of Acariel Forest opened the envelope and unfolded the letter within.

May Hatharen be with you, father. I hope you are enjoying your stay in Silvermoon. It seems we may have a hunt of a different sort for the turning of this season. I have pledged myself and two-hundred men to Lady Enestria’s search for Vulnero. Lady Elyz has seen him in her visions. She says he passed through The Ghostlands. We leave two days before Ammar’s rising, to convene with Raeth and Krisnal men at Dawn’s Home. Eight thousand strong shall march into that valley, it would be a wonder if we return empty-handed. –Laeros

“Eight thousand strong march into The Ghostlands, how many will leave with their lives?” Valos wondered aloud. Sataryan men were known to enter that forsaken valley to search for signs of the Zalkriel, though never for more than a few days. In times of war, hosts from Aladria and Satarya were both known to enter The Ghostlands, hoping to use it as an alternative to Pass Khalterian, but rarely did they leave. Most of those who died in the valley were left behind, littering the already presumed haunted stretch of land with the corpses of half a dozen armies.

Folding the letter and pacing it back in its envelope, Valos stepped onto the terrace of his study for a breath of fresh air. There the Dragon’s Friend watched the fledgling knights of Silvermoon train in the yard below, the ringing of steel on steel echoing off the towers and citadel to reach his ears. Mingled with it were the gruff commands of Satos’kyr’s new master-at-arms, Sir Drays Tilan, also known as Drays Storm. A seasoned knight from Yliria, he was known to have won countless melees. The Whitescale rewarded Drays with his position as master-at-arms after his instrumental role in protecting Skyclaw Fortress from Mogaskor’s Black Army. The Majerosi outnumbered Anaris Talar’s men four-to-one, and when their war machines breeched the walls, it was Drays who led the defenders to a miraculous victory.

Valos turned to the sound of the door opening behind him and found the strapping young Raeth boy that was his squire, Marlyn, wearing his white cape fastened with a red fox’s head brooch and his sword at his hip, as he always did.

“My lord, I hope I am not disturbing you.” Marlyn said, bowing.

“Not at all. Care for a drink?” Valos replied, motioning toward the flagon of wine that stood between two piles of books on his table.

“Thank you, my lord.” Marlyn poured two glasses and handed one to Valos.

“To your brother.” The High Lord of Acariel Forest said, raising his glass to Marlyn.

“My brother, my lord?” The boy looked at him quizzically.

“He leads a thousand men north to join Lady Enestria’s and my own in the search for Vulnero.”

“To Sir Allister, then.” Marylyn said, and to him they drank. Valos watched the boy to ascertain his reaction to the news. “Is there something more, my lord?” He asked when he realized The Dragon’s Friend had been staring at him.

“Enestria’s Oracle has seen Vulnero in The Ghostlands in her visions. It is there they mean to search first.” Valos spoke as he lowered himself once more into his leather throne.

“The Ghostlands?!” Marlyn exclaimed, nearly dropping his wine. “This is folly.”

“Men will be lost,” Valos admitted, “but it is not Vulnero alone for which they search.”

“My lord?” The Raeth boy gave him another quizzical look.

“He took the Twilight Sun with him when he left.” Not that it wasn’t his to take. “If he and the blade were to fall into enemy hands, the repercussions would be dire.”

“I see. I shall pray that he is found.” Marlyn stood, his wine cup empty and his face notably more somber than when he strode in.

“As shall I. Tell Sir Tilan I wish to speak with him when he has a moment.”

“Aye, my lord.” And with that he was gone.

It turned out to be a few hours before Sir Tilan had a moment, but he appeared at the door to Valos’s study just the same, freshly changed into attire more fitting for court than drilling men in the yard. He wore a bright blue blazer over a white doublet and leather breeches bleached white. His black mess of hair was wild from the fighting, and he had gone a few days without shaving, his black stubble forming a shadow across his angular jaw. It was Sir Tilan’s eyes that interested the Dragon’s Friend the most however. Within those twin pools of burnt sienna, Valos saw both the wisdom of a man who has spent a good deal of time in the wild, and the cunning of a truly skilled killer.

“You wished to speak with me, Lord Valos.” Drays said by way of greeting, inclining his head as he entered the room.

“I did. Please, have a seat.” The Dragon’s Friend motioned toward the seat Marlyn had left across from him. “How have you taken to Silvermoon, Sir?” He asked when the master-at-arms was comfortable.

“I cannot complain, my lord, the food is plentiful and the women beautiful.” Drays smirked as he spoke.

“And your boys? How fares the training?” Valos asked, ignoring the jape.

“Quite well, some have the makings of true knights.” Drays sat with his legs crossed and his hangs on the armrests of his chair.

“I’m glad to hear it. they may soon have an opportunity to test their steel.”

“Is that so, my lord?” The knight’s voice was more amused than anything.

“Indeed. I have proposed to her Grace that a tourney be held in the Capitol in the event of Vulnero’s safe return.”

“That all sounds well and good, assuming he will return.” Drays spoke, pouring a glass of wine for himself from Valos’s flagon.

“You think he will not be found?”

“An heir and his heirloom do not simply disappear into the night. Oracles can say what they will, but Vulnero’s still in Vulnyr if you ask me, most likely buried in some unmarked grave.” Valos couldn’t help but find Drays’s casual demeanor unsettling.

“To what end? The Twilight Sun was made by the Whitescale’s own grandmother, I would be surprised if there was not a way for her to find it. What man would want to bring the wrath of a Dragon upon himself?”

“Perhaps a spy, loyal to Satarya or some Majerosi horde.” The knight drank deeply and refilled his glass.

“A disturbing thought. I would hate to think that some Thane or Warlord wields The Twilight Sun.”

“No use worrying about it now though. I hear the search is already underway.” Valos recognized the look in Drays’s eyes as he spoke. He knows something.

“Near enough. Eight thousand men march east from Dawn’s Home, two days before Reatha’s rising. Some of them mine own.” That last thought sat uneasily with the Dragon’s Friend.

“I cannot say I would follow them. I’ve spent some time in that valley myself, a treacherous place at best. I vowed I would never go back, as I’m sure any man would.”

“You’ve been in The Ghostlands?” Valos was less surprised than intrigued. “On what business?”

“Forgive me, my lord, but that is not my story to tell.” Drays stood and gave the High Lord a warm smile. “Excuse me, if you would, I am in dire need of a good bath.”

“Thank you for your time,” the Dragon’s Friend said, rising and clasping the knight’s hand, “it was an honor to meet you, Sir Drays.”

“And you, Lord Valos. I look forward to this tourney of yours.” Drays bowed and left, closing the thick oaken door behind him with a thud.

If there is a tourney to be had, Valos thought in ponderous silence.