Episode Four: Flight of the Sun Chaser

Copyright 2023 Elias Graves

Sun Chaser chafed against its moorings. The brilliant gold ship reflected its namesake in the dazzling glare as it fought to lift away from the ground and begin its most ambitious flight to date; a trip to space station King’s Moon and back. The ardent dream of prince Reven to have a vessel safe enough and grand enough for a royal to travel to space, Sun Chaser carried fifteen passengers in comfort. Thirty meters long and ten high, the ship with it’s gracefully curved prow and twin outriggers providing power looked every bit the part of the finest ship on the deep. But the deep below was not the destination of this vessel. Sun Chaser was built to visit the deep above.

The imposing yacht bucked and bounced in the air at the limits of the creaking ropes as four men brandishing large knives with curved and polished blades approached the tethers binding the ship to the ground. One of the men called out “Ready!” He and the other three men took a stance with feet placed wide apart, their bodies bent forward and the knives grasped by both hands raised above their heads.

The ship crashed to the dirt below and back up to limit of the tether’s reach. Each heavy rope was tied to one of the four corners of the lift outriggers and at the other end to a heavy wooden post in the ground. Sun Chaser heaved up, pulling one of the mooring posts partly loose. “Now!” yelled the crewman and all four of them chopped their heavy knives down into the ropes. Sun Chaser jumped again as the men struck their blows in unison but the damaged post gave way, launching a spray of dirt into the air as it popped up from its hole. Smacking the launch attendant on the bottom of his jaw as it launched with the ship, the post sent the man sprawling over backwards from the impact, his knife skittering across the tarmac as an afterthought of the assault.

Sun Chaser pitched into the air and out of control as Reven fought to stabilize the ship. The craft flailed from side to side and front to back looking like a wild beast that’s under the leash for the first time. Reven glared out through the front window at the captain of the guard who was insistently pointing toward the rear of the craft and screaming “DON’T GO! DON”T GO! Your mooring rope is still attached!”

Reven pointed to the dust-covered man regaining his feet and yelled “He can finish the job!” The prince eased Sun Chaser back to the ground as the crewman with the knife ducked and ran toward the ship. The man swung his broad curved knife at the heavy rope three times, missing twice and clanging against the metallic outrigger. On the third blow, the rope fell away, leaving the ship free to fly. The prince furrowed his brow and glared at the man through the front window then whirled the ship around, slamming the attendant to the ground with a wet thud. Reven watched a moment, stroking his thin chin, to confirm the man’s death then yelled “Captain, tell your men that failing their duty to me is not a wise move for their career.”

The captain, not quite sure what the prince had just yelled nodded, saluted and dropped to one knee for good measure.

Reven nodded at the captain then turned his attention to the controls as his passengers put themselves back together after the wild start. “I believe our rough ride is over, good people.” He continued to adjust the controls “Phase, reversed. Polarity, two thirds. Antenna to King’s Moon.” Sun Chaser began to accelerate upward, lifting its nose to the deep above as it gained speed. The vessel shuddered and groaned at first but soon settled into a smooth ride with the ever diminishing sound of wind noise as the atmosphere grew thinner and thinner.

The prince now turned to look at his passengers, smiling at them as he cast his gaze from one to the next. “My friends, today is an auspicious day for us! We bring glory to the gods! You are in the midst of a history making event. Scribes will record every detail of this journey, the first ever for a royal into the deep above.” The assembled priests, seers, scribes and elders all nodded and hailed Reven as a fearless leader, worthy of being king one day. Reven smiled and lifted his sharp chin, soaking in the adulation.

“For many centuries our people have known the gift of tricking gravity. Our dear god To-Theon The Trickster revealed the mysteries to us long long ago. Our people have put this knowledge to good use in accordance with the will of the gods. We make the stones as feathers and soft as clay and with them we build shelter for our people and edifices to show our gratitude to the gods.” The religious members of the crowd all nodded approvingly, murmuring about the great temples and walls and statues of gods that stood guard over the cities and harbors around the world.

“We have even used this gift to master flight into the deep above. That education has not been without setbacks, as you know.” He moved his hands behind his back, bowed his head and slowly shook it side to side, always keeping an eye on who’s noticing him and not. “The deep above is as dangerous as the deep below and many men have lost their lives learning how to survive up here. We owe them our deepest gratitude for showing us the way.” Smiles and self-congratulatory nods came back to Reven from his followers.

“True, true!” called out the high priest Shem-Ta. “My own grandfather still floats out among the gods. Many of us have loved ones who have given all for their service. We thank them all.” The crowd agreed.

Reven nodded his approval to the priest and continued “But to date, no royal has left Opella alive in bodily form and my father Fasto has ordered that the honor fall to me. This ship, Sun Chaser, exists to change that. The gods are smiling on us. The priests have spared no detail in making this craft worthy of carrying a prince into the deep above. I have personally watched over and guided the development of this machine and I am satisfied its ready. Remember this day, men. The gods will remember Reven!” Again, the fawning praise came in from the group. Reven’s ego grew another size.

Opella shrank in the distance behind them as they ascended toward the blackness above.

The flight became monotonous and eventually an influential elder named Prissor signaled to prince Reven he had questions about Sun Chaser. The prince motioned to the old man to come up to the front. “Come, come Prissor! I will tell you all about how this marvel works. We’ve come a long way since your day isn’t that right?” Prissor grunted and grasped for something to grab hold of and managed to get to his feet. A lumpy old gentleman, obviously well-fed and lively in his day, now hunched over a bit and leaned against the gravity pulling him back. The gleaming brown skin of his bare head led the way bobbling from side to side.

“We have indeed m’lord.” Prissor said grabbing hold of the console to fight the gravity pulling him back. “Your efforts to make this project work are commendable. Now would you kindly show me how it works? I see nothing but three dials!”

“That’s the beauty of it all, Prissor,” Reven said, waving his long arms arms out to display the controls. “Tricking gravity comes down to three simple things. You’ve seen waves on the surface of the deep have you not?”

“Many times, m’lord. Countless journeys over the deep I’ve made and an infinite variety of wave both small and mighty I’ve ridden,” answered Prissor, puffing out his chest proudly but feebly with the boast.

“Yes of course,” dismissed Reven. “And when another wave comes from the opposite direction, what happens?” Reven didn’t wait for the old man’s reply. “They crash into each other and dissipate quietly, that’s what happens. Gravity is no different. Offer up a like yet opposite wave and we can make gravity think its working when in reality, we cancelled it. Follow?” Reven raised his chin up and stared down at Prissor, raising an eyebrow. “Since a wave is a wave is wave, they all follow the same rules. We can make simple vibrations which will trick gravity so long as they are mirror opposites.”

“Yes, m’lord. That makes perfect sense. So simple.” He leaned forward and squinted his eyes to read the markings on the other controls. “Forward/reverse, simple enough. How does that work?”

Reven nodded knowingly and said “Polarity, my friend. Like a magnet, gravity has polarity. We can trick it to provide acceleration or deceleration on our journey. We can push away or pull toward whatever body we target with the antenna.”

“Which is this one labeled ‘target?’ Prissor pointed his stubby finger at the third dial and Reven reached out to grasp the hand and keep it away from the controls.

“You mustn’t touch, Prissor! Hands clear. But yes, this is how we navigate the ship. You’ve never met two people who are alike have you?” The prince draped his robed arm over the old man’s rounded shoulders and squeezed.

“No m’lord. People are all individuals. I’ve never met my twin.” Prissor strained to keep his composure under this onslaught of arrogance.

“Of course not. Look at you! There’s not another man on Opella who owns this face.” Reven rolled his eyes just a bit with that statement. “The gods made each one of us unique. The same applies to bodies in the deep above. Every one is different than all the others. If you know how to read that gravity signal and tune your receiver to it, you can trick yourself into its field and get pulled right in. It’s so ridiculously simple a baboon could do it!” As Reven threw his head back, his tall hat exaggerated the movement into theatrics. He clutched his stomach and erupted in a hearty laugh. “My point is,” he continued recovering his composure, “An expert in navigation isn’t needed to pilot one of these. Any simpleton can do the job. We can make a fleet of vessels like this and have no need for trained navigators. Traveling to King’s Moon or the real one is just a matter of adjusting the dial.”

“So someone as untrained as a prince could do it?” Prissor smiled a little at himself at his own cleverness.

“You watch,” said Reven tossing his head aside. “I have us tuned to King’s Moon and we are flying straight to it. It hovers right above a fixed a fixed place on Opella, held aloft with its gravity engines. If you look closely, you can see it ahead in the distance. Now, as we get close, I’m going to have to concentrate. If you would, Prissor, please take your seat.” He stared straight down his long thin nose at the man to remind him his place.

“Of course, m’lord. Thank you for the lessons. This is a beautiful and fascinating machine you’ve made. I feel blessed to be here.” The old man lurched back the dozen or so steps, reaching from one seat back to the next to keep from falling to the back of the ship. He fell into his seat next to the wall where he plopped himself down in the generous cushion with a grunt, muttering to himself about the future of the throne. He wiggled and wrestled and fussed until he got himself comfortable.

Everyone else inside Sun Chaser strained to look out the small front window to see the magnificent stone fortress in space. As the ship glided closer to the structure, its scale became apparent. The name King’s Moon was accurate; the station was magnificent. Despite being a giant cylinder, the scale of the stone tube dwarfed any construction back down on Opella. The light gray granite gleamed in the sunlight and the door at the end came into view. The door, shaped like the tri-star sunrise seal of the king, begun to slide open.

“We’re coming in,” said Reven smiling broadly. “We have made history today, friends!” As Reven’s voice trailed off, an ear-splitting pop startled everyone and an explosion of sparks lit up the inside of Sun Chaser in a flash of white-hot molten particles that left everyone blind momentarily.

The loud hiss of rapid decompression erupted. A sickening thud followed and Prissor’s head slammed against the wall, affixed by the vacuum, sealing the hole. He exploded into a panicked scream “Oh by the gods make it stop! Get me loose from here!” His bald dark skull peppered with steaming burns from the shower of fire, he braced his hands against the wall trying to wrestle his head away from the agony.

Otto the scribe began stomping feverishly at the small fires erupting in the cabin as smoke filled the room, creating the aura of a miasmatic underworld where furied men danced to keep the devil’s flames from licking their toes.

“No! Don’t free him!” Reven immediately realized the decompression stopped when Prissor’s head hit the wall. “He’s sealing the hole. Don’t let him move or we will all surely die today!” The prince turned his attention back to the controls and guided the Sun Chaser into the landing bay.

The other men piled on to Prissor to keep him from tearing his head away from the wall. He flailed his legs about as his hands grasped the sides of his face, his features twisted and smashed into the likeness of a demon attacked by a god. His incessant screams of “Oh gods make it stop! Make it stop!” filled the yacht’s cabin.

As the outside door closed, the loud SHUSHHHHHH of air flooding back into the bay overtook Prissor’s howls as the loudest sound in the fight. Reven threw the hatch open to clean out the cabin of smoke. With the air pressure equalized, the wall let loose of Prissor’s dark bare head. He slid to the floor in a heap and the wound on his scalp came into view as the others recoiled at what they saw. His dark skin was mangled and purple where it was exposed to the deep and seeped dark blood from around the wound. Still-steaming burned spots covered the right side of his face and head where the shower of fire sprayed him. He laid motionless save for the dramatic heaving of his chest as he gasped for air.

Milon, the high priest of Rann-Shial called out to the others “He’s alive! Fast, lets get him some help.” He and the others bundled Prissor up in his robes and carried him out of the yacht without waiting for any of Reven’s ceremony and preening. The prince waived his long arms about to clear the smoke as the crowd hauled the injured man away. He walked over to inspect the damage to his yacht and traced his long thin finger around the ragged hole no bigger than his thumb. Small chunks of Prissor’s scalp and blood stains clearly demarcated the perimeter of the damaged area. A cone-shaped scorch mark beginning at the site fanned out across the floor of the cabin resembling the sun’s rays.

“By the gods what was that? I know Prissor was not showing me respect but I didn’t expect such a dramatic response from the gods! It seems I am more valuable in their eyes than mere men. I have dreams and visions. I am to be welcomed into the heavens by the other gods as one of their own. My reputation will have erased all doubts about my worthiness to join them.” He smiled to himself and leaned in to inspect the damage. “I wonder if this is somehow related to the falling stars we all see…”

The station crewmen began to enter and Reven barked “Get this cleaned up! I want that hole repaired by tomorrow! Do you understand?” He spun round with his arms out to accentuate the drama of his exit and disembarked onto King’s Moon. “This will be named for me soon when I am king.”

A delegation of the station’s priesthood assembled to meet prince Reven as he exited the Sun Chaser. Murmurs of omens floated around the group following the incident on the flight until Reven appeared and all fell silent. “My prince,” said a tall man in a white robe. “I am Bastis, high priest of King’s Moon and I am truly honored to welcome the first royal ever to visit our busy hub. You have glorified the gods and created great stories for yourself today my lord. It appears you had a rough ride, though but you overcame the odds! Praise the gods. Losing TWO crown princes in a generation would be unthinkable. Do you need medical attention or rest after your incident?”

“Thank you Bastis,” answered Reven, walking past the delegation with a nod. “The gods decree we shall offer a sacrifice and I surely feel the need to offer one after this event. Show me first to your sanctuary. You do have a sacrifice ready for me don’t you?” The prince turned and raised an eyebrow as he looked the priest over.

“The ceremony is all ready for you to officiate, my lord. The sanctuary is the first stop on our tour and if you will be so gracious as to walk with me, I’ll take us there.” Without hesitation, Bastis waved his robed arm out to indicate the direction and began to walk. He didn’t so much walk as stride, with his head back, chest out and a long graceful gait that set him apart from the others as much as his white robe contrasted with the ruddy gray robes worn by the others.

King’s Moon is actually modeled on the underground cavern system below the great temples on Opella, did you know that my lord? All the stone in its construction was lifted here under order from your great-great-grandfather in the early days of travel into the deep above. For three generations, it has served us all in exploring the deep above as the gods will it. I am deeply honored to serve my king as high priest of this magnificent achievement and I give all I am to serve.”

“Your loyalty is noted, Bastis,” Reven replied. “I am led to understand that sacrifices to the gods take a different form than down below, is that right?”

“You are correct, my lord. A fire on board a pressurized vessel is not a good thing, as you saw for yourself on the way up. We reasoned that the purpose for burning the sacrifice is to send it up to the heavens and since we are already here, there’s no need to turn something to smoke. We simply push the living sacrifice out an airlock directly into the arms of the gods. For you today, we have something very special arranged.” The priest motioned for Reven to enter the sanctuary through a golden door emblazoned with the sunrise tri-star emblem. “The sanctuary, my lord.”

Reven entered and glanced over a small but otherwise correct sanctuary. Three robed monks held a short, naked man on a chain and collar. The manacled captive bowed his head down and remained motionless, resigned to his fate. “This is a thief, my lord. He was caught in the act not long ago and we all know what the gods say about unlawful acquisition. A thief must be sent to the gods forthwith so they may punish the man by stealing his soul one piece at a time. We have saved him for you, as we all know how dedicated you are to the gods and the law. We thought you might like to make an example of him.”

“My, my Bastis, you’ve outdone yourself,” said Reven with enthusiasm. “It’s not often we get to send a man into his fate with the gods. This is a special day indeed!”

The three robed monks led the doomed man to the airlock door and pushed him through into the antechamber where he curled up on the floor. Reven ceremoniously presided over the entire hour long production before the outer door was opened and the instant depressurization pulled the man out into the deep. The blast of air tossed him like a toy out into the deep where he began to fall towards Opella.

“Now watch as he falls, my lord. As he builds speed, he will get hot and vanish into a flash and puff of smoke as the gods claim him. Ah yes, there he goes. The gods may exact their revenge on him now.” Bastis’ businesslike narration of the events detracted something away from the mysterious and mystical feel of the sacrifices but he made certain every required step was done in order and with due reverence.

“Very impressive, Bastis. I like your style, friend! You may be a valuable member of my team one day.”

“Thank you my lord. The gods are kind to me. Shall we continue on?”

The tour continued to the view of the cargo vessel bays. “Not much to see here, my lord but this is where the bills are paid. Containers of diamonds brought back from the Bo-Alli mine dock here before their contents go down to Opella for building projects.”

At the tour’s end, Reven and Bastis dismissed the hangers-on and continued on to the observation deck together. The large open plaza hummed with human traffic snaking through from one point to another. Shops of all manner covered the open area and the cylinder wall was clear, offering a breathtaking view of Opella below and the deep above in a 360 degree panorama through the polished diamond blocks.

The wispy white clouds in the top of the atmosphere drifted past far below and the view of almost half the planet outshined any painting ever created by a man. “You’ve never seen Opella from this height have you my lord?” Bastis observed how awe-struck even the vain prince Reven appeared in looking over the world below.

Reven stood in silence staring down at the continents, oceans, clouds and of course the white ice shell which covered most of the north of Opella. “No I have not,” said Reven as he snapped out of his brief reverie. “I could get accustomed to seeing the whole planet from this perspective every day. Perhaps one day I will move the throne here, friend!” The prince half-smiled and watched Bastis for a reaction to his boast. There was none.

A trio of white flashes appeared below them, falling toward Opella.”There! Did you see those Bastis? More of the falling fire. Reports of these events come in from all around Opella and they become more frequent every month. What do you suppose it means? How many impacts has King’s Moon sustained recently? This falling fire or whatever it is. The one that hit Sun Chaser was no bigger than a rat’s turd yet it ripped a hole open in the hull.” Reven turned to face the high priest, folded his arms and awaited an answer.

“I don’t have an exact number, my lord, but several every day that we notice. The station will shudder and the sound of shattering rock echoes through the place. The walls of the station, of course, are as thick as two men are tall and they provide excellent protection from the small impacts. I fear a larger one, however. Any day from the observation deck here, you can look down on Opella and see many more burn as they approach the planet. My concern about the matter grows yet my own prayers and rites bring no answers.” Bastis folded his hands in front of him, index fingers pointed up and rested his chin at the tip.

“The priests at the main temple have the same lack of answers. My frustration with them grows. There are two competing ideas, yet neither has emerged as the truth. I bring this up because you strike me as a pious man, Bastis and your service is up here, closer to the gods. I want you to make it a priority to understand the nature of what we see falling to Opella. Pray. Observe. Test. Offer sacrifices. Use all the tools at your disposal to divine whether we are witnessing a war among the gods or an omen sent to warn us of something.” Reven paced from one side of the room to the other as he gave his directive.

“My lord, I am honored to be your servant,”said Bastis. “But I must remind you that divination of the will of the gods isn’t really my speciality. I’m more an administrator than a vizier. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful toward your orders, but am I the right man for the job?”

“Your piety and faithfulness to the law is what I see, Bastis. Rely on that to assist you. Send regular updates to me down below, am I clear?” The prince stopped his pacing and stared down the priest.

“You are clear, my lord. I will do as you order.”

“I knew I could count on you, Bastis. You’re a good man and faithful.”


Episode Three: The Road To Debrano

Rise of the Sun King

Episode 3, The Road to Debrano

Copyright 2022 Elias Graves

“It’s three days journey by carriage and there will be no lights. We need to take lanterns and candles if we want to see,” Rehema said to herself as she packed for the trip. Bekha remained in bed covered up to keep the ruse of her breakdown intact, only speaking occasionally to remind Rehema not to forget this or that. She knew there would be no return to the palace.

“I told you to be careful with that,” Rehema barked at a pair of slaves who clumsily bumped into the door frame moving a large trunk, nearly dropping it. She flittered from the front of the apartment to the back directing a choreography of servants packing and slaves moving things out to the carriage house. She checked and re-checked her lists and notes until she assured herself that everything was just so and ready for the journey.

The lights of the city kept the night in check as the servants loaded the last of the trunks into the cargo carriage. Bekha peered from under her hooded robe at the eerie orange glow of the town as Rehema led her slowly toward the gold chariot, marveling at the artificial sunrise that kept the robbers, beasts and wild men away.

Dangers awaited their journey outside the safety of the city walls and lights. Bekha breathed a sigh of relief over the risk as she observed the immense size of the horses and the armed men they carried. Gold helmets and silver swords glinting in the artificial light provided by the temples were both unnerving and reassuring at the same time. The princess-widow reviewed the alternative of remaining with Reven. She shuddered at the idea and twisted her face into a scowl complete with furrowed brow, squinty eyes and a well-acted choke.

“Are you alright m’lady?” Rehema asked.

“Yes, I’m good. Let’s get out. Our life here is over before it began, friend.”

The carriage sunk momentarily under Rehema’s step up onto the outriggers but righted itself just as quickly. “Give me your hand m’lady and watch your step. The carriage will buck when you step up. That’s it.”

Bekha smiled at the maid and said “Despite what you think, you are not my mother, friend. I am no longer a child and do not need remedial instruction on basic tasks.”

“Yes, m’lady. I’m sorry. But you are my charge and I get protective. Especially now with you in such a vulnerable state.” She pulled the carriage door closed with a thud and signaled to the driver they were ready to go.

The driver, a burly brown-skinned man nodded his acknowledgment and clucked the horses into action. The carriage lurched forward as it began to move and bounced around a bit before it settled into a smooth hover. The caravan stretched out for two blocks between the horseback guards and three carriages needed to carry the princess and her things. The parade set off south, and with the palace sitting on the coast, half the night would be spent simply winding the way through the city and the temple complex to the south. The temples dominated a plateau to the southwest of the city and positively buzzed with activity of all kinds. From merchants selling sacrifices to all the priests, seers and pilgrims, the area made up the second largest settlement on the whole planet.

The mountain-like temples dwarfed every other building in the area. They pulsed out an orange glow which grew more and more intense as the party approached. The broad bases and flat sides tapered to a peak pointed to the heavens, recognizing the gods which gave the gifts. The power of those same gods emanated through the gleaming white walls, illuminating the entire city below to the north. Bekha and Rehema both pulled the carriage curtains back as they passed the buildings, in awe of the massive stone structures which gave light and power to the entire city. Statues nearly as tall as the temples stood sentinel at the front of the complex. All the gods lined up as motionless stone to keep eternal watch with stern faces over their holy places.

As Bekha watched the temples recede, she felt acutely the influence of civilization and the gods begin to wane. The party moved beyond the walls and into the wild country beyond.

Eventually, the sun rose again from behind the river and illuminated he first guard house hostel along the road as they approached. Rehema had ordered the caravan travel at night while the temperatures were cooler and fewer eyes were out on the road staring at the poor widowed princess. Having slept all night in the softly jostling carriage, Bekha spent the day watching people come and go at the guard house through her upper floor window. The shadows grew long and the temperature moderated late in the day. Rehema organized the refitting of the caravan, ushered Bekha back to the carriage and gave the order to move out.

The horses kept a rhythmic cadence along the road with the staccato crunch of crushed rock under hoof. A dozen or so hyenas that lurked around the guard house looking for an easy meal fell in behind the caravan with an eye for some horse meat. The horses sensed the pack’s presence and tensed up under the riders. Within half an hour of leaving the guard house, the moon slid up the sky as the sun dipped and the first sign of trouble came with the distant bellow of wild men. “By the gods what is that?” Bekha whispered to Rehema.

“Wild men, m’lady. Real ones from the caves in the mountains south. Calling out to gather the clan for night time.”

“They sound like babies crying almost. They frighten me. I’ve only encountered the slaves who work in the city and they make no sound at all.”

“Because they’ve had their vocal cords cut, m’lady. Their howls are so loud. What we hear tonight is certainly two valleys south of here and if they screamed like that in a room with you…Well you’d go deaf from it, I imagine.”

Bekha wrinkled her brow and her lips at hearing this. She had no idea the slaves had their voices cut out. What else did she not know about her world? She peered under the heavy black curtain to look at the darkening wilderness sky. She called the city, with its familiar night time glow and bustle, home and the darkness puzzled and frightened her. “What happens if we run across wild men along the road?” she asked.

The howls erupted again. One at first, then joined by another and another until a cacophonous chorus filled the air. Bekha shuddered again at the sound and clutched Rehema’s arm. “Hush m’lady. That won’t happen,” the nurse replied. “They won’t attack an armed caravan. They are cowards that way…attacking the weak and the lonely.”

After a few minutes, the howls grew quiet, the unnerving noise replaced with the regular sound of horses marching hooves. Bekha dozed off in an uneasy sleep again until the captain raised the alarm. Then one guard after another called out “Wild men! Wild men! Every man to arms!”

Again, the wild men howled out painfully loud and the shrieks raised bumps down Bekha’s back. She let out a scream of her own but quickly found Rehema’s hand clapped across her mouth. “Hush child! If those beasts know there are women here, they will be on us and we will be their dinner!”

The clash of swords against spears punctuated by howls from both men and beasts tore through the night as the attack intensified. The dull thud of weapons against skulls and the shrieks of pain dragged on in the the raucous ambush. Bekha peered out through the curtain to see the wild men and the guards furiously beating at one another. Shorter and stockier than the guards, the wild men forced many guards to the ground while wrestling. By crouching on their short legs, the wild men gained leverage and flipped the taller, thinner men to the ground, then leaping on top preventing the human from escaping.

The wild men lurched in from every direction. The guards fell back to surround the princess’ carriage and the wild men understood that the humans were protecting something important. Two of the brutes dove through the line, making for the carriage door. The carriage gyrated from side to side as the wild men clambered up onto the lifter nacelles, crashing the walls with stone hammers trying to see what the prize in the box might be. Bekha screamed as one let out an ear splitting howl and hacked at the door.

Bekha and Rehema tossed garments out of chests to create a hasty hiding place in a carriage with no place to hide. The beasts pulled at the door latch with brute strength and Bekha feared her life was now as short as her late husband’s. The carriage driver took advantage of their momentary distraction with the carriage doors and speared three of the creatures down before they knew they were being assaulted from behind.

As rapidly as the attack began, it ended. After taking several casualties, the wild men pulled back and returned to the darkness of the night.

The tall black-skinned captain of the guard pulled open the battered carriage door to check on the ladies and found them both peeking out of the piles of clothing. “You are safe, m’lady,” he stated flatly. “The threat has been dealt with. I apologize for the inconvenience and delay. We will be underway shortly when we have cleaned things up a bit. Stay in the carriage as we don’t know if the survivors will regroup and return.” His abrupt speech and formal manner marked him as a commander to be respected.

“Thank you, captain,” Rehema said. She didn’t like the idea of round two with these creatures. The carriage couldn’t withstand another assault. “Did we lose anyone in the fight?”

“Yes. Three of our guard were lost and three others injured,” the captain said.

The captain shouted “Let’s go men! May the gods be with us! You’ve seen now the perils of our assignment. Let’s take this job seriously, shall we?” With his sharp staccato commands, the garrison sprang into motion. The men reassembled the caravan and set the horses back into marching order. The captain commanded the three fallen soldiers stripped and left beside the road. He mumbled to himself “The hyenas will have them disposed of in an hour. One of those beasts weighs as much as those three men combined. Certainly not enough meat there to feed a dozen of them.” He cast a watchful glance toward the pack of cowardly scavengers hiding in the shadows. He couldn’t see them but the bizarre killers gave up their presence with their hungry whines and yelps.

By morning, the company reached the next guard house and inspected the damage done during the melee. Bloody handprints tarnished the bright appearance of the golden carriage in the morning sun. Shreds of gold foil waved in the breeze, ripped down off the sides in the fight, revealing the wooden structure beneath. Men with hammers and tools of all kinds swarmed the carriage all day as Bekha and Rehema stayed close to the guard house, still shaken from the previous night’s violence.

“I am sorry about last night m’lady,” said Rehema as the two watched the men making hasty repairs on the carriage. “I thought traveling at night would keep the prying eyes of the public off you. I didn’t stop to think about the dangers of the night.”

“Either way is a risk, friend. I don’t blame you for what happened.”

“Perhaps, m’lady,” Rehema said. “But the only risk posed by the prying eyes of the public is a little embarrassment, not a threat to your life.”

“Public embarrassment, I’m afraid, is a fate worse than death.”

By evening, the battered carriage proceeded south along the river road as the sun set and the mountains encroached closer and closer from the west. Bekha again watched out the window in silence, marveling at the stars above. “Every star is a god, Rehema. I can’t believe how many there are. We only know a few of them by name. Do you suppose my Shura is among them?”

“So I’ve heard, m’lady. And I cannot say about your husband.”

“But there’s a war happening up there. I’ve seen five fall from the sky just tonight and I fear the heavens will be dark soon if this doesn’t end. It can’t be a good omen. I wish I had vision to know what this all meant.”

“I wouldn’t dare to speculate on such things, m’lady. Religion and matters of the gods are far above my station to know,” Rehema said. Her curt replies reminded Bekha of the nurse’s reticence to discuss subjects outside her role.

“I’m sorry Rehema. I don’t mean to put you in such a position. I’m merely thinking out loud. My uncle Memey at the monastery can read such signs. I’ll ask him what it all means when we arrive.”

“Thank you, m’lady. The subject does make me uncomfortable. I would not presume to know the will of the gods and to speculate on their motives is bad form. I prefer to keep my thoughts on you and your needs.”

“I will miss him forever,” Bekha mused. “Shura. Though our time together was brief, I saw his kindness. He was destined to heal our people.” Her voice trailed off as she turned her head back to the window.

Rehema remained silent but wrapped her arms around the grieving princess who drifted off into sleep. “What have we done, mistress? What have we done? Your husband is gone. You didn’t go to the priests to receive your blessing and yet you are with child. This situation is desperate,” she mused to herself, wiping a tear from her eye. “The gods have certainly kept their motives dark on this matter.” Bekha slept in her arms.

Some time later Bekha jumped awake with the noise. “Attacked again? By the gods!” The laughing of the hyenas as they closed in on the caravan spooked the horses who began stomping their hooves and neighing in alert. “Is that hyenas I hear? Why are they approaching us?”

Rehema woke up with the noise and looked out the curtain. “Oh by the gods, m’lady! They are coming in and there are so many!” One of the huge beasts lunged up onto the carriage lifter causing the vehicle to rock wildly as it tried to right itself. A wild animal the size of three men clawing at it wasn’t in the design specifications. Rehema screamed and jumped back across the carriage as the monster leered in through the window, its hideous teeth bared, drool dripping off its chin. The dark-furred animal laughed at the two women cowering within but made eye contact with Bekha.

“They want human flesh,” said Bekha coldly. “They had a taste last night from eating the guard’s bodies. They want more. I can sense what they want.”

“You’re talking nonsense m’lady,” Rehema answered, desperately re-creating the clothing fortress she assembled the night before.

“No, I can hear them. I’ve never felt this before but its so intense that its coming in to me.” She turned to the window and stared at the beast through the glass. “Stop this! Now! You will not survive this attack. We will strike you down. GO! NOW!!!” Rehema yanked Bekha back to the far side of the carriage as her screams became more and more delirious.

But the hyena jumped down off the carriage, yelping at the others. The beasts all stopped their laughing and began to whimper, turning away and running off into the night. The captain immediately came knocking on the carriage door.

“Are you alright m’lady? The threat seems to be gone, though I can’t say for sure why.”

“Yes, captain, we are fine,” answered Rehema, Bekha still feigning her delirium for the captain. “A little shaken but unhurt. Can you explain what you saw just now? Why did they run?”

“I don’t know. They were closing in for the kill. There must have been 50 of them and we were outnumbered. I thought we were through. Then as soon as it started, they ran away. Almost as if something scared them.”

“Thank you captain. Can we get underway again?”

“Of course. Everyone appears safe and the threat is gone. Let’s get out of here. We can make Debrano by morning. We’ve already turned off the river road onto the road to the monastery.”

Rehema turned to Bekha, her arms folded and an accusing scowl on her face. “What just happened here m’lady? What did you do?”

“I don’t know Rehema. I felt them. It was so intense all of them thinking about human flesh. I just yelled at them to stop. I yelled and yelled and I felt them all. I can’t say why they listened.”

“You will never cease to amaze me m’lady,” Rehema said, shaking her head.

By morning, the caravan approached Debrano monastery. At first, the plateau came into view, towering over the surrounding valleys. The buildings on top emerged as the caravan got closer. A small city-scape perched high atop a mountain beckoned the travelers to come and stay. Bekha marveled at the size of the place. She calculated she would need two hours to walk the length of it all. Monks through the years cut cavernous cisterns deep inside to collect rainwater, making the place self sufficient and quite safe from predators. The only two ways up were on a gravity lift or a rope.

Holy men in ages past chose this spot to train the next generation of priests in isolation away from society’s influence. It grew from a simple school for clergy into a self-sustaining community with all the associated support systems in place. The seminary called the place home as did farms, an orphanage and even a breeding program for animals to supply the king’s desire to hunt beasts. The holy ground now embraced its new role as shelter for a grieving and supposedly bedridden princess.

The caravan pulled up to the base of the cliff and the captain began bellowing orders to the detail. He knocked on the carriage door and Rehema opened it. “We are here m’lady. We are making preparations to get you up there and our journey will be at an end.”

“Thank you captain,” Rehema answered back to him. “Just how will we get up there anyway?”

“We will unharness the horses. The lifters on the carriage provide buoyancy and it will be a simple matter of hauling the whole thing up with ropes.”

“Oh my,” said Rehema, surprised. “I wasn’t aware that could work.”

“Of course,” acknowledged the captain, obviously not wanting to continue the conversation. “Good luck to you m’lady.” He turned and walked away.

Soon, the driver had the horses unharnessed and the carriage hovered alone. Monks from above lowered heavy ropes down from a crane arm and the guards tied them to the top. The carriage swung in the breeze as the monks cranked the crane, reeling up the rope. Slowly, the carriage ascended the cliff to its new parking place. Rehema clung to Bekha not so much to comfort the princess as herself. “I don’t trust these things, m’lady. I don’t understand how they work.”

At the top, the monks swung the carriage over the plateau and began to push it towards a group of low buildings. Bekha was holding her stomach, clearly in distress as they arrived. “This journey has been hard on you m’lady. But that’s not all is it?”

“Whatever do you mean Rehema?”

“Don’t play innocent with me, child. You are carrying a baby. How did this happen? You never went to the temple for your blessing.”

Bekha began to sob. “Oh Rehema, I’ve made a grave mistake. I was all set to go to the temple when Shura was killed. We decided that we would have one night together before the gods gave me a child. Now this. I’m carrying his son.”

Some months later, Sojan is born.

Episode Two: Bekha Plans Her Escape

Rise of the Sun King

Part Two: Bekha Plans Her Escape

Copyright 2022 Elias Graves

Bekha stared at the sunrise flooding her chamber with light. She had insisted to Shura, her husband, that she have a suite facing the sunrise at the palace when she moved in so she could begin each day with a visit from his forefather, the sun. Shura was, after all, a descendant of Anrasumek, the god of the sun and the light and it seemed a respectful thing to do. She was as devoted to him as he was to the gods and part of being a good princess was showing that publicly.

As a female member of the royal family, her actual responsibilities were few in number and ceremonial in nature. Opening new buildings, attending festivals and religious events were the most pressing items on her calendar but otherwise, her time was mostly her own and it was boring. Dull dull dull. To pass the time, she often roamed the gardens outside with the animals which lived there. Strange beasts from all over the world lived in certain areas of the grounds for the enjoyment of the king and his family. Colorful birds, goats of all descriptions, ponies, different dog breeds and unusual cats were all kept in enclosures around the back of the property and Bekha found great peace among them. She found their honesty refreshing and soon became quite attached to them.

When one is married to the crown prince, social events become the most challenging journeys to navigate, filled with all the back-stabbing, conniving, thieving jackals one can imagine. So many of the royals and members of polite society were nothing more than sophisticated confidence men or scammers, trying to make a profit off their association with the king. Bekha hated those people and avoided parties and festivals whenever possible. She felt more comfortable at religious observances and there was never a shortage of those, which gave endless good excuses to avoid purely social events. After all, who can criticize the queen-to-be for attending religious observances? Besides, it was a good example to set for common folk, who were not always so publicly observant of the faith as were the royals and the elite.

Bekha looked herself over in the tall mirror opposite the windows, checking to see each piece of her costume was in place. Her hat was tall and straight and red with a tri-star sunrise image in gold across the front. It was tall enough, in fact, to conceal every trace of her long black hair under it, which was tucked carefully up inside. A collar of gold draped across her neck and shoulders lent the appearance of open petals with her dark head emerging from the center like the stigma of a grand and graceful flower. Her dress of red mixed with gold threads woven in the pattern of vine completed the transformation of Bekha-the-girl into Bekha-the-queen-to-be. Everything was perfect. “A perfect fool; a clown. That’s what I look like.” She shook her head and smoothed the dress once more. No matter how entitled she believed herself to be, she was never entitled enough to shed herself of the false niceties and pretentious conventions of court life.

She was scheduled to have breakfast with King Fasto, Prince Reven and Shura this morning to learn all about the brothers’ exciting hunt. Bekha went to bed hoping her husband would slip into her chamber when he came in late the night before as he so often did. But he had not and she was a little disappointed. He was normally so affectionate and thoughtful of her. He must have been tired, she thought. Or very late.

Bekha turned as she heard the great door to her chamber open. It was her maid, returning from a recent summons from the central hall. Rehema was a small woman who had been Bekha’s nurse since the beginning…had in fact been midwife for Bekha’s birth, cut the girl’s cord, bathed her and wrapped her up in a blanket. Rehema was much more than a nurse or maid for Bekha. She was an advisor, confidant and moral guide and was the one person who dared speak up to the little princess when she had tantrums over too-cold meals or too-warm drinks. Being a southerner, Rehema’s skin was naturally dark with that golden glow behind the deep brown-almost-black hue that Bekha so loved to stare at and her frame was slight and wiry. Her robe was long with a hood and full arms only a hint of her face appearing from under it to give her any identity at all. The full robe was standard uniform for most royal servants. Rehema’s, however, stood out in that hers was always made from the same fabric as Bekha’s clothes so they matched. Bekha could be a little vain that way.

Rehema carried a message, written on paper, rolled up and tied with a gold ribbon; her thin hand trembled as she extended it towards her lady without saying a word.

“Meet me in Shura’s chambers.


Nothing else. Bekha looked at the note front and back as if she missed something then at Rehema’s face and said “What is it, now woman? What’s happened? You know.” The servant remained silent and began to sob as Bekha grabbed her by the shoulders and looked on her face which was twisted in an unmistakable expression of disbelief and grief. Bekha dropped the note and ran from her chamber, down the broad corridor and around the corner to her husband’s private chambers. As she ran, she passed one servant after another visibly shaken, crying and muttering “I’m so sorry my lady” as the princess passed by, a look of realization growing on her face with every frantic stride toward the crowd gathered at Shura’s door. “No! No! No! This isn’t so,” she screamed as the crowd parted to let her enter. Inside, she saw King Fasto sitting at Shura’s desk and he rose as she entered. His tall lean figure draped in white with gold trim along with his tall white hat made him look like a statue, Bekha often said.

“My child,” he began as Bekha closed the distance between them and she began to wail then fell to her knees on the floor. She batted away his awkward attempts to comfort her as she cried. “There was an accident on the hunt yesterday. Shura…Shura was killed when his chariot crashed in front of a charging animal. Honestly, child, I haven’t even given a thought what this means to anyone until just now. I’m simply stunned. I still cannot comprehend this. The gods do not take us into their confidence in these matters.”

The young princess was overwhelmed and began to fall limp to the floor. Fasto summoned Rehema and the two helped Bekha onto Shura’s bed where she blacked out altogether for some minutes. Rehema shooed all the hangers-on out of the apartment and closed the door. The king followed the others out but said to Rehema before he left “I will, of course need to speak to Bekha later regarding a commemoration for my son. She needs to be involved in the planning with me.”

“Of course, my king,” Rehema said and bowed to acknowledge his authority. He said nothing else then walked out the door, leaving the nurse alone with her charge. She returned to the bedside and held Bekha’s hand in her own which still shook from first grief but then later anger and rage.

Bekha was still unconscious but Rehema vowed to repeat herself until the princess heard and understood. “Oh, child, we are in a terrible position! Your Shura’s death was no accident. Everyone is already talking about it. That Reven! He’s the devil, I tell you! We must run away from here.” Impatient, the maid gently tapped Bekha’s face from one side to the other until the princess began to awaken.

Once Bekha came to her senses and heard Rehema’s explanation, she said “Woman, bite your tongue! Reven my be a scoundrel but he’s no killer. His own brother? Never. Shame on you for even saying such things! Shame! There is no need to run. I’m not sure where this event leaves me, but nothing bad will happen.”

“I confess to being out of line speaking to you this way but I’ll tell you what becomes of you, child,” Rehema said flatly. “You become property of Reven. I’ll tell you something else, my lady. I heard the talk from the hunting camp and Shura’s death was no accident. The groom says Reven deliberately crashed the chariot. You are not safe here my lady!”

Bekha’s eyes flashed from left to right in a panic of indecision then focused on her maid’s steely black face and resolute eyes then said “You may be right, woman. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s to trust your intuition. But I cannot be rash.”

“Come my lady,” Rehema beckoned. We must go to your quarters and prepare to leave tonight. We must not waste a moment.” The maid was already at the doors of Shura’s chamber before she was finished speaking. Bekha rose from the bed shaking her head at her maid’s fiery decisiveness then covered herself with one of Shura’s dark robes. She headed for the door, pausing along the way to look at her husband’s desk as he left it before the hunting trip. Among neat stacks of papers sat his signet ring, gleaming gold and still partly caked in red wax. She picked it up and followed Rehema to the door.

“Duck your head down, Rehema,” Bekha instructed her servant. “Say nothing to anyone we encounter along the way.” Rehema opened the door for Bekha where they found a crowd still gathered around the door. “There is nothing for you to see here,’ Bekha announced to the crowd in her best royal command. “Go on about your business. There is much to be done.” The pair swept down the corridor in silence back to Bekha’s chambers, where they found the door standing ajar.

“Oh, child,” said Rehema. “I knew it. That Reven is already at work. Let me look in first and see what’s going on.” She approached the door and wrapped her neck around the edge to see who had entered the princess’ chambers. “I don’t see anyone inside, my lady. Shall I go into your room and look?”

Bekha said nothing and walked in to the apartment, through the sitting room and into her private bedroom. “You haven’t wasted a moment, Reven,” she said to the prince who was pacing between the desk and bed, head bowed and slow of step.

“My dear Bekha,” Reven said with an unnatural and entirely-too-dramatic tone. He looked up, his thin face contorted in a poor excuse for a concerned expression. Bekha always thought Reven was a fake through and through, although she never believed him to be evil until now. Overly accommodating when he wants something but dismissive with a sneer if not.

“I tried to come between Shura and the beast! Oh how I tried! That bull came in behind us from around the bush. He was on us in an instant and behind Shura’s chariot. I immediately tried to spear the thing but its snout deflected the tip. When I saw the creature lunging his horns at Shura, I ran into his chariot from the side hoping to knock him out of harm’s way.”

His eyes darted between Bekha and the ground as he spoke. “But I could not. I failed my brother. I will use the rest of my days to make that up to you, my lady.” He halted and looked up from his still-bowed head as if looking for her acceptance of his story.

Bekha said nothing for a moment, watching Reven carefully. Rehema taught the girl early on how to watch body language and she was a bit of an expert in the art of catching liars in the act. She’d embarrassed both her mother and father on more than one occasion by either spoiling a surprise or revealing a deception. With Reven, she had learned that nearly everything that came from his mouth was a lie, even if the truth would better serve him. Everything was an act with him. She believed that, deep down, there was no Reven. He was just whatever he needed to be at the time. No matter the encounter, wherever the event, Reven was the center of it, the hero of it and the reason for its stunning success. If failure was the result, it was always in spite of his other-worldly heroic efforts that fell just a bit short. How he fooled anyone with his act was beyond her. But by and large, most people simply shook their heads and said “Oh that Reven! He’s such a drama hound!” then moved on. He seemed harmless enough.

“Reven,” she finally said. “I’ve seen the two of you in your chariots before and I know that if anyone needed rescuing, it would be you and not my Shura. He is the finest rider in all the kingdom.”

Reven raised his head finally and stared at Bekha with a pause long enough to inform her he was not pleased with her remark. “That may be your opinion, woman, but that does not make it so. We have much to discuss. Please summon me as soon as you can. Our marriage must be done before seven days have passed.” His pitiably pleaful voice disappeared in a single sentence, replaced by his more common commanding sneer. He turned with a flourish of his robes, exiting the room with all the showmanship he could muster.

Rehema approached the door after he left, closing it and latching the chamber from the inside. “It maddens me how he thinks everyone is property,” she said.

“To him, everyone IS property,” Bekha replied. “And unfortunately for me, the law is on his side. I am now his wife; a possession. And all that’s needed to make it eternal is the blessing of a priest and an entry in a ledger with a fresh wax seal. What you have told me is true. I saw death in Reven’s eyes. He killed my beloved Shura and he knows I’ve seen it. I am not safe. I will not marry that beast. Never.

“Now listen to me, Rehema. I want you to communicate with King Fasto and arrange a meeting for he and I tomorrow morning to discuss the memorial events for Shura. Then I want you and everyone else to leave me to myself until then. I wish to be alone.”

“Of course, my lady. As you wish.” Rehema left the apartment to carry out the orders while Bekha collapsed onto her bed crying.

The following morning, Bekha found herself escorted to King Fasto’s sitting room by a pair of palace pages. He was standing near the window gazing out at the garden as she entered the room but turned to bow to her as she entered. She bowed in return and gave a half-hearted smile from under the dark hood she wore that day and said “Good morning, my lord. May the gods guide your path.”

“Thank you my child,” the king answered back to Bekha. “This entire affair has shaken me to my core, girl. I believed the future of the kingdom was written, with Shura guiding it gracefully with you at his side. Now… Now everything is upside down. Reven is so different than Shura. He was never taught to have the temperament of a king; he is impulsive and vain. You, however, were raised to be a queen. I will rely on you to moderate Reven in the future. He will need a steady hand to show him how to consider situations from all sides and not merely his own narrow interests.” The king slowly shook his head and looked at the floor which was the first time Bekha ever saw Fasto as a man and not demi-god. He was broken.

“My lord,” Bekha said. “I do not know how to express this to you but I cannot be Reven’s queen. My family raised me to be Shura’s queen. I am devoted to him and him alone and could never disgrace him by sharing my life with another. I’d sooner be cremated with him than be forced to live under another man’s roof.” She cautiously looked up at Fasto from under her hood to gauge his reaction to her forward statement.

The king folded his arms across his chest and shook his head. “Oh my dear, you were raised to be the wife of the king, whomever that may be. The position is what you married, not the man. The law is clear on this matter, child. Just as Shura’s title of crown prince passed to Reven after the accident, his marriage to you does also. There really is no debate in the matter. Besides, what could you do? There is no legal provision for a widowed queen. Now, the kingdom has invested considerable resources into you, your upbringing, your training… You are not free to simply walk away.”

“But there is legal provision for a widowed wife, my king and I am that. From my birth, I was taught to love Shura and to devote myself only to him. I took that responsibility to my heart, lord. I love your son with all that I am and with his death, my life has no meaning. I can declare my chastity and devotion to my husband and request to live out my days at Debrano monastery. The law is also clear on that.”

“Bekha, that practice faded generations ago and you know it.”

“My king. There is more. Reven came to me yesterday; he was waiting for me in my apartment after my meeting with you. I looked in his eyes, sir. He is hiding something and I cannot stand by him. I will not.”

“Hiding something? What do you think my son is hiding? Accusing him is a serious matter, child.”

Bekha paused and took a deep breath. “I saw death in his eyes, my king. You know I have the gift of sight. He knows something about my Shura’s death and he’s remaining silent.”

“You know Reven. He will twist stories to make himself look better at any occasion. He is likely overstating his effort to stop the accident. In all likelihood, they were separated and Shura made a mistake. I will not believe Reven was somehow responsible for the accident, however.”

“My king, have you spoken to Reven directly about this?”

King Fasto paused and finally said “Why, no, child. I have not. I was told he felt ill after the event and was resting. I received reports from his aide, Mansun.”

“Do you not find that curious, my king? That Reven would not carry this news to you personally and instead send an aide? You should summon him here and ask him what happened. You have sight; you will see.”

King Fasto looked up and raised a finger and his eyebrows, opened his mouth but checked himself before speaking. After a moment, he did it again. He finally said “You are an insistent woman aren’t you? I can respect that, Bekha. I will accede to your request.”

Bekha and King Fasto continued to discuss details for the memorial and how he should be remembered as they waited on Reven to arrive from the summons. There would be an observance for a full month, from one moon to the next. A grand observance with none other than the king himself speaking would bring the event to a close. The wedding of Reven and Bekha was to occur during this time as well.

Within fifteen minutes, a page knocked and entered, announcing the arrival of crown prince Reven. He swept into the room with his usual strut complete with upturned face, a sneer directed at anyone less-than-royal and always with a swish of his cape to make certain his entrance was grand. Face to face with his father, he bowed his head slowly and said “My father, my king. May the gods guide your days.” Without waiting for his father’s reply, he raised his head to look the king in the face.

A little surprised at his son’s insolence, Fasto said “And may the gods teach you a little humility when addressing your father. Bekha and I have been discussing Shura’s death and it occurred to me that you have never told me the story yourself. I should like to hear your account of your brother’s death from your own lips.”

“My father, I am not being disrespectful! I am merely drawn to the face who bears the favor of the gods to be my king. It is a sight to behold.” He lowered his head, keeping his eyes up.

“Hmpf,” said Fasto, perhaps imperceptibly. “All the same, I’d like to hear the tale.”

“My father, it is so fresh a scar and I am so wrought with emotions, I know I cannot tell you without breaking down. Please tell me what you know and I’ll correct anything that’s not straight. Would that satisfy you?”

“No, Reven. I want to hear from you what happened when my eldest son lost his life. You owe me that since I was not there to prevent it. It was you who stirred him up into the idea. It was you who coached him on how to plead with me. It will be you who tells me how he met his end.”

“Father!” Reven called out. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were accusing me of instigating my own brother’s death!”

“Nonsense! Why in all that is real would you think that?” Fasto bowed his head and walked slowly away from Reven before turning back. “I’m waiting.”

Reven took a deep breath and retold his version of the story where he and Shura were surprised from behind by a bull. About how Reven tried to spear the animal and push Shura to the side away from the giant horns. About how Shura lost his balance on the chariot and went over. How the great beast tossed him then came back to finish the job. And finally how Reven heroically slew the beast in retribution. Then the sobs and apologies that he wasn’t good enough to save his poor poor brother.

“You hold something back from me, son. What is it?”

Reven said nothing for some time then finally added “My father my king, I do not wish to say more. Shura’s reputation should remain intact.”

“His reputation was earned through action. You better speak your mind now, son.” Fasto was breathing faster and his slumped posture of the last day gave way to his usual demeanor of no-nonsense get to the point communication. Reven dropped his gaze to the floor and joined his hands together, fidgeting like a school boy under scrutiny from his master.

“Father. All I can say is that Shura left my side against my request. I warned him it was unsafe to split up but he believed he could divide a group and get us a good chase. He forgot about the bull which always waits a ways off from the herd. To watch over them. The bull surprised him. I was not close enough to intervene. Shura died because of his own mistake and I don’t want anyone to know that. Surely you understand my hesitancy to speak ill of my brother. You know I worshipped the ground he walked upon, father.” The prince peered up from under his hood at is father, as if waiting to see if his story held.

“I admire your loyalty, my son. Your duty, however, is always to the truth, no matter the consequences.” The king looked at Reven intently, patiently, as if waiting to see if the boy would crack under scrutiny. “We will not discuss that version of events outside this room, do you understand? Shura’s reputation as charioteer and hunter will remain intact in the public’s eyes. Go from me now. I have matters to discuss with Bekha.” He turned, motioned for Bekha to follow him and tromped out of the room into a private office.

Reven gave Bekha a scowl before his customary flourish of a grand exit and she followed the king into his office. He sat behind a massive stone desk with intricate carvings of gods and seas and beasts around the edges. Bekha always had been fascinated by the detailed stone work all over the city and wondered how the men made such delicate images in such a hard and unforgiving media as stone. She supposed it had something to do with the staffs that the priests carried but she didn’t know exactly how. Priests were always present with their staffs whenever stone carvers or masons worked. He smiled at her from the chair and said “See my dear? I told you there was nothing more than a little white lie to protect Shura. That’s the deception you felt isn’t it?” His forced pleasant expression was obvious to Bekha.

“No, my king. And you know it’s not true either. May I be excused?”

“Of course, my child. This is a trying time for you and you are not in your best form. Go rest and we will finish our plans later in the day.”

“Thank you my king,” Bekha said as she bowed and backed out of the room. She walked quickly down the hallways back toward her apartment, each step falling faster than the last. Before long, she was fairly running through the halls back toward the one person she could trust, Rehema.

In a flurry of messages to King Fasto through the day, Rehema conveyed to him how hopelessly distraught Bekha had become. A doctor had been summoned and recommends that she be removed and taken elsewhere to recover her senses. He eventually appeared in person toward the evening to see for himself how bad she was. “A damn woman having a tantrum because she didn’t get her way” he muttered to himself as he entered the room. Rehema showed him to Bekha’s chamber where she was curled up in a ball on her bed, shaking rocking and sobbing hysterically. Repeatedly King Fasto tried to communicate with her but it became obvious that she heard nothing he said. He spoke to the doctor for a few moments then left.

The doctor approached Rehema and said “The king has decided Bekha shall be removed to Debrano Monastery to recuperate from her trauma. She will be returned here for her wedding when she recovers. Make the necessary arrangements to move her.” He unceremoniously tuned and left the room.

After he was gone and the door closed, Bekha said to Rehema “Some bedside manner he has! How rude he was to you! I’d complain to the king if I weren’t in a hysterical coma. But we must move quickly. I’m unconscious of course, so you will have to handle everything, understand?”

“Of course my lady,” Rehema replied with a wry smile. Their plan was working.

Episode One: Obstacles

Shura and Reven Hunt the King Deer

“Brother,” Reven said to Shura not long after they cleared away from the hunting camp. He called his horse to move quickly as the hovering chariot rose up to full height, affording him an excellent view of the savanna spread out before him. “I’m worried about father.” He did not continue his statement but rather urged the horse on faster and faster. The golden chariot floated above and behind the giant gray beast as Reven jammed his boots into the foot blocks to brace himself against the shifting platform. Shura followed suit, running his horse to keep up with Reven. The two animals pounded out across the grassland to the south, kicking up clouds of dust that marked their trail across the low hills as they charged off in search of a king deer buck. It was late in the year and the antlers were fully grown; a perfect time to hunt a trophy. A nice specimen with nearly a two meter spread was spotted last week and the boys wanted to bring it in. With mating season beginning for the deer, the buck was certain to have a body full of hormones driving his search for a mate. The boys hoped this situation would lead the animal to make a mistake and leave himself exposed to the sight of the two princes.

“I know, Reven.” Shura caught up to his younger brother and moved out front a little. He had to shout now to be heard over the noise of the two horses beating the ground in their trot across the countryside. “You’ve made that known to me over and over and my opinion on the matter is known to you. Why are you acting the parrot on this subject? Your statements are the same the hundredth time as they were the first.”

Reven pushed his horse to keep pace with Shura. “You never drop the mask do you brother? Even alone out here in the endless valleys of the hunting preserve without so much as a porter to hear us, you keep up all the formalities of court. It’s just us now. You can speak freely to me.”

“My role is bigger than me, brother. All that matters is that I do what’s expected of me. You know that. Now stop feinting in your argument and speak your mind.” Shura briefly took his eyes off the trail ahead and glanced over at Reven with a scowl.

“Ha! Ever the prince,” Reven called back. “Yes I want to talk about father again. You notice his weakness. And you revel in reminding me of our duty as royals yet you ignore father’s failure in his most basic responsibilities. He is charged to elevate the lives of his subjects; to improve the health and success of the kingdom. But he does little besides fret over whether the temples are clean and the festivals begin on time. What action has he taken to make anything better? Nothing! You know the gods will judge us on whether we allow weakness to exist without crushing it. It’s more than father’s reputation at stake. More than his fate in the afterlife. You are at stake. I am at stake. All of Opella’s esteem in the eyes of the gods is at stake.”

Shura remained silent as he turned his horse up a long hill, looking for a good vantage point from which to scout for the buck. “I don’t need a lesson about duty from you, brother. And I certainly don’t need to hear outright threats against father from you! He is the king; the father of all the kingdom. The whole world! His decisions are his own, guided by the gods, and it’s not my place to judge his thoughts or actions. The gods and the fathers will judge him in the afterlife and he will receive the reward he earns, for good or ill. I will not be a part of idle gossip about him.”

Reven peeled off to keep pace with his brother, heading up the hill. The savanna was a harsh place, filled with dangerous animals, unforgiving terrain and wild men willing to skin and roast a kingdom man, especially a royal, on sight. In a world of green and brown, the gleaming gold of the two chariots hovering behind the massive gray horses was the visual equivalent of a royal fanfare announcing the princes’ intrusion into this wild place. Shura brought his rig to a complete stop at the top of the hill, adjusting his chariot as high as the tack would allow him to rise. He scanned the landscape from horizon to horizon, looking for signs of the great stag. The horse chafed at the upward tug on his harness and stamped his feet in protest but Shura needed as much altitude as he could get to spot the deer. The chariot bobbed up and down a bit under Shura’s shifting weight as he turned to look from left to right, spooking the horse even more.

Reven matched Shura’s posture on the hilltop, bringing his horse to a stop and raising his chariot up over the animal’s head. The heat rippled the air to the eye with waves radiating their energy back into the air. The trees in the distance danced like snakes standing up on their tails, which made observing details across the distance difficult. Shura looked over at his younger brother. It was easy to see why people believed Reven was the older of the two; he was taller than Shura and his thin face, sharp jaw and animated eyes reinforced his commanding voice. His proud posture, elevated face, and puffed chest were all clear signals he was a man who scoffed at the idea following.

“Besides brother,” Shura said. “Even if we both disapproved of father’s actions, what are we to do? We dare not speak to him with such disrespect and our pleas to him will yield nothing but pain to us. He will not be changed except his esteem for both of us will be diminished and we will find ourselves princes of greatly reduced authority. I sympathize with your point of view, brother; it is not without merit. He has not provided progress for our people but he has given them stability after an era of profound and rapid change. There is value in allowing people to pause and catch their collective breath, as it were.”

Reven began to reply but Shura raised a finger in the air to let his brother know he was not finished. Reven rolled his eyes as Shura continued. “Our grandfather Oman led Opella into an entirely new era when gravity was enslaved by us. He discovered the secret of making the heavy weightless and of turning stones to clay; he opened up an entirely new world of works to us. Overnight, difficult things became merely tedious and the impossible became daily life. Real walls, impenetrable walls, rose up to protect our fields and people. Monuments and machines and buildings erupted from the coasts of every continent around the globe. The stars we previously marveled at are now our fellow sailors of the deep. We harnessed power to make the night illuminated and speak to others across the world as though we stood face to face. The entire view of reality for our people was shifted in a generation and the stress on our culture was apparent. Change is good, brother, but people can only accept a little at a time. They needed time to catch up.”

Reven stared at Shura, impatience growing within him. “Brother,” he said. “It was two hundred years ago that the first shipments of diamonds came from the mines of Boran Station. Nearly three hundred since King’s Station was first constructed in orbit and the first power plants went up. Four hundred since men first lifted a house-sized stone onto a wall. These wonders are indeed marvels but no-one alive today remembers a time before we flew into the stars. How many centuries are needed to catch up to history?”

He changed the subject. “Look, brother! Woolies! To the west.” He was up on his toes and shielding his dark eyes with his hand from the brilliant sunshine to see. “Its a big herd, too. I see two, no, three large males with enormous horns. They are magnificent!” He turned to look at Shura. The herd was nearly a kilometer away up the next hill grazing in the warm sun. Their shaggy coats looked a little out of place there on the warm savanna which was dominated by animals with considerably less fur but the herd had thrived there since king Oman brought them from the cold north over 200 years prior.

“Should we, brother? Look at them! We could be on them in an instant and have one down before they see us. You know how bad their eyes are.”

“Oh, that is a real temptation isn’t it brother?” Shura said. “We could finally have our first woollies. And alone, without guides. THAT would raise our esteem in our father’s eyes wouldn’t it? Much more than questioning his authority on running a kingdom.”

“But we mustn’t,” the crown prince continued. “We don’t have permission to hunt anything that dangerous alone. We’ve had that discussion with father and the answer is always the same…’Not yet. Soon.’”

Reven rolled his eyes. “Oh brother. Always with the rules! We’re both of age and don’t need anyone’s permission to do anything. I say we go after them now and prove to father we are ready. Leaders lead; they don’t follow rules.”

“No. Not today. I will not defy father,” Shura said. “We will take the king deer as we planned. And there he is! To the south. It’s the one we wanted too! He’s a beast.”

Reven spotted the buck. “It’s him! Look, he’s as tall as a man at the shoulder; nearly as big as my horse here. And his antlers…each one is as long as I am tall. And six lobes on each side! He will make a splendid trophy and I wager big enough to make it into father’s gallery. We must get him!”

“Outstanding, brother!” Shura proclaimed. “Let’s not get fancy about this. We have nearly a kilometer to close and he is faster than our horses, but he lacks the endurance to keep up that speed for long. We will pace ourselves and let him get tired. I will stay to the left and you to the right. We will come up from behind and on my mark we will both go spears to the ribs. Understand?”

“I understand perfectly how to take down a deer, brother!” Reven called out as he lashed his horse to a full gallop without waiting for Shura. He charged half way down the hill before the crown prince got underway.

The younger brother closed the kilometer quickly but the deer, wary creature that is was, heard the roar of the hooves, looked back toward the rushing chariots and sprang forward at full sprint away from the danger, his long body covering meters with each graceful lunge forward. Shura fumed. Reven would now get his horse winded and lose the deer! The prince decided to stick to his plan and keep his horse fresh for the chase. Let the impatient Reven exhaust his animal in a sprint then take the kill alone after the deer slows. One spear would be enough.

As Reven beat his horse faster up the hill, the predictable happened and his pace slowed. The deer began to open the distance. He had already crested the top and would disappear over the ridge any second while the inflamed Reven furiously urged his horse on faster and faster. Shura kept his pace and soon overtook Reven, then rapidly closed in on the tiring stag.

He guided his horse in close to the animal’s left side and readied his spear, bouncing it in his hand to find the balance point he wanted. The deer peeled away to the right before Shura could raise the weapon. The animal’s maneuverability was remarkable given his size. The strain of the long run was showing in his quivering muscles and panicked eyes and he was losing speed. Shura yanked his horse around to the right with his chariot swinging widely out to the animal’s side. This was a dangerous maneuver and many hunters had met their own end trying to turn a rig so fast but the young prince was well-practiced as a charioteer and he made the turn with ease.

As it turned, the deer saw Reven still coming in and so cut back to its left to avoid the second threat. This mistake, born from exhaustion, drove the deer back to Shura who was now ready. He thrust his spear down into the animal’s ribs just behind the shoulders and leaned into it to push the shaft as deep into the vital organs as possible. The deer lunged forward with an adrenaline-fueled panic and gained a few steps on the two brothers, now converged in their pursuit, but then stumbled and went down. As Reven rode past the scene, he landed a spear again into the animal’s rib-cage then brought his horse to a stop. Shura jumped down out of his chariot and pushed a sword into the buck’s neck, ending its struggle.

Shura fell to his knees gasping for air, partly from the physical activity and partly from the adrenaline and endorphin rush that filled his veins and mind with the thrill of conquest and victory. Reven ran up to him beaming with pride over their kill. He stalked around the animal again and again, sizing it up. He examined the massive antlers and proclaimed them to be the finest example ever taken from the king’s hunting grounds.

As he regained his composure, Shura rose to his feet and challenged Reven. “You! Listen to me little brother. Exactly this sort of impulsive behavior from you is why father says we aren’t ready to hunt woollies alone. A move like that could have gotten one of us killed! Do you have such little consideration for your own safety? Is a trophy worth your life?”

Reven burst out laughing. “Oh Shura, you must learn to have a little fun. We are in no danger from this animal. Do we hunt birds with the same caution as tigers or bears? No. Now, about father…” The insistent prince was determined to press this matter with his brother.

Shura cut Reven off before he could begin. “Not another word about father, do you understand? Our opinions mean nothing to the king of the entire world and you would do well to keep your own confidence on that matter. As your brother, I have an informality with you that no other person enjoys and you may use that as you will. But I warn you that others who hear such talk will not understand it to be idle discussion and will assume it to be plots against the throne. Do not invite that upon yourself, brother. Do not.”

Reven stood silently for a moment with his chin upon his chest, his eyes closed. He took a deep breath and let it out then said “You are, of course, correct. There is nothing to be gained from gossip. Let’s celebrate our kill! We have the world at our feet today, brother. Let us bask in the sunshine…the smiles of the gods. We must give thanks for our kill! Then when we get home, we should ask father for his blessing to hunt the woollies. What do you say, brother?”

But inside, Reven felt the growing realization that his brother was weak just like their father. He fumed.

Shura smiled. “Now you’re making sense. You are right in saying the world is at our feet today. Life is certainly not perfect but if it were, that would leave us with nothing to do when we take control in due time. I will agree to talk to father about the hunt if you swear to me that you will not take it so lightly as this one.”

“Of course, brother, I’m not a fool. An angry woolly can throw a man 20 meters then gore him clean through with both horns in an instant. The only thing good about getting killed by a woolly is that the event is mercifully quick. Let’s go tell the porters how to find the deer and we will celebrate tonight like princes.”

The Princes Plead Their Case

The following day home at the palace, the two found themselves in front of their father who sat upon his throne. An imposing stone seat upon a stone dais in front of a stone wall made certain that all who entered this room felt the king’s kinship to the eternity of stone. Shura believed that father chose to see them from his throne when he was going to say no to their request although he had no real evidence to support that feeling. It was just a hunch.

Everything about King Fasto was tall and thin; his stature, face, hands, limbs, and even his hat. His movements were purposeful, graceful and not hurried. Each action was measured and curated to present the image of the fatherly benevolent king, even to his own sons. As far as the world knew, there was no Fasto-the-man apart from Fasto-the-king; he existed only to fulfill the obligations of his office. The young men approached the throne and took to one knee, bowing their heads, as they approached the throne. The king spoke.

“Welcome my sons! May the gods guide your days. I am joyful to see you both and congratulate you for your majestic trophy that is certainly impressive enough to hang in the main gallery. I am well pleased in your skills. Please rise and come to me.”

The brothers lifted their eyes and rose, beaming with pride. The throne upon the dais meant the king, even seated, was still above eye level of the two brothers. Everyone must be smaller than the king. They looked up and smiled at their father as Shura spoke. “Thank you father. May the gods guide your days. We thank you for your praise and we work to increase your name and your esteem to the gods. We are pleased you agreed to our audience.”

“You are my sons! Of course I will always accede to your desire for an audience. What sort of father would refuse to listen to his son? A poor one, that’s who! Now what is on your mind?”

Shura nodded towards Reven who stepped forward. “Greetings father. May the gods guide your days. Shura and I are grateful for the trust you place in us. We endeavor daily to make you proud of our actions and to increase your name. We had a thrilling time on our deer hunt, father…” His voice trailed off a little as he watched for his father’s reaction. With none appearing, Reven continued “We spotted a nice herd of woollies…”

King Fasto held up a hand without hesitation. “No! You will not.”

“But father,” Reven continued in a noticeably higher pitch and with a little stomp of the foot beneath his robe. “You promised us for a year now that we could hunt them without guides soon. This is a beautiful herd not far from camp. The porters and guards will not be far so far away they can’t reach us if there is trouble. Shura and I are competent hunters and horsemen, father. You cannot deny that. We ARE ready,’ he called out with a hand in the air for emphasis. Shura thought to himself this was one of Reven’s better performances but if he keeps on with the hysterics, all would be lost.

Fasto shook his head. “My boy! You know the way to convince me is with a solid argument…not a tantrum! Does a woolly’s horn care about your foot-stomping? No, he doesn’t. And an angry cow protecting her young is every bit as dangerous as the bull. It’s not your skill as a hunter that I doubt, Reven. It’s your judgment.”

He turned. “Why are you having your baby brother make this plea, Shura? Why can you not ask me yourself? Is it because you know the two of you are not ready?”

“No, father. I am ready.” Fasto and Reven both noted Shura’s use of the word “I” instead of “we.” “I have hunted woollies with the guides enough to know how they react. They are not smart animals, father and are predictable. Respect their size, endurance and those monstrous horns and its easy to take advantage of their weak eyes. I can do it. I ask Reven to speak because he is a man also and I do not want him to be neglected simply because he is the younger son. He deserves respect also.”

Fasto nodded his head and looked down with approval on his maturing prince. “My son. You are ready. You have my blessing and you are indeed wise beyond your years.”

The boys stood motionless and remained silent. They did not think the king would give permission to go but here it was. “Ha! I have left you two speechless! I am delighted that I can still surprise you sometimes. It is difficult for a father to let his boys become men but it is inevitable. I must allow you to become the men you will be. Taking down the king deer is in my opinion, a more challenging hunt than the woollies, if less dangerous. You may find it a less satisfying hunt than you imagine.” Reven smiled to himself hearing this prophecy. “Be safe,’ Fasto continued. “Be wary and may the gods guide your spears.”

“Father, we are certainly speechless!” said Shura. “We spied the herd and watched them graze. We can find them again in a day and bring home another stunning trophy. I thank you for your trust and I will work to increase your name. Reven and I will bring home that crusty old brown one; he had horns longer than anything I’ve seen before. Thank you.”

“Thank you, father,” echoed Reven, tugging on Shura’s robe to say “let’s get out of here while we are ahead” and he began to bow his head then back away from the throne and the tall thin man upon it. Shura immediately stepped back and bowed the same as Reven and they found themselves together outside the throne room door in the grand gallery. A hearty hug and laugh was shared by the brothers as they celebrated their newfound quest and walked away to make preparations. All the while, Reven boiled inside at his father’s disrespect for him. Dramatic action was needed to prove his worthiness.

The Princes Hunt Woollies

Six days later found the brothers mounted upon their golden chariots floating behind the horses outfitted now for dangerous game. Both animals wore heavy leather to protect their flanks and necks from the possibility of contact with a woolly’s horn. Each chariot carried four spears and the princes both had sword and knife. Together they set off into the grasslands again looking this time for the dangerous woolly hornbeast.

The woolly was a curious creature, found originally by king Oman in his journeys north to the frozen wastes. Standing two meters high at the shoulder, its head hung downward more like a bison than upright like a horse giving the whole animal an almost comical pig-like appearance. The body, three meters in length, was capped with a blunt head and snout filled with flat teeth suited for munching grass. The most striking feature of the hornbeast lent itself to the animal’s name: its horns. Two of them, one in front of the other curving up from the top of the snout. The front one being a full meter in length, curving forward and up while the second was about half that length, straighter and somewhat stubbier looking. The animals used these horns to dig through thick snow and ice in the north to reach food underneath. The weaponized appendages were also used for self defense; a charging hornbeast could easily scoop up and toss a full grown giant horse ten meters and then trample it down with a ton and a half of angry-hooved aggression. The woollies were known for having exceptionally nasty tempers; much more-so than even the testiest of bison or buffalo. This combination of size, volatility and a dangerous weapon emerging from the nose made them a formidable prey. Only the strongest of predators dared to attempt to take one down.

The princes sauntered their horses out to the same hill as the previous week and halted. That day Reven was peculiarly quiet, having said barely a word the entire ride. When asked, he attributed his silence to his focus on the hunt. His demeanor changed when they spotted the herd, practically in the same place as the week before and he replaced his furrowed brow with a broad smile.

“I told you they were predictable, brother,” Shura called out to Reven as he spotted them to the west, motioning that direction with his hand. “Right on schedule. And the big nasty looking one we wanted is on this side of the herd. The gods have smiled upon our hunt today!”

“Indeed they have Shura,” Reven said. “You post up just this side of the herd while I move ahead and provoke the big male into chasing me. I will draw him to you where you will be waiting with your spears to make the first hit. From there, I will wheel back around to help finish him off.”

“That’s a solid plan, brother, but you must keep your speed under control. Don’t wear your horse out as you’ll need the endurance to stay ahead of that nasty thing. Getting under his feet would be the last thing we knew of you.”

“Not to worry,” Reven said. I know what’s at stake today. Maybe more than you.”

“What is that supposed to mean? Don’t be coy with me, brother.”

Reven laughed then urged his horse on towards the herd. Shura followed suit, bearing off a little to the left, turning round to face away from the herd and wait for Reven to draw the large male away from the group. The younger prince set off a little more to the right than Shura thought he ought to but there was nothing to be said now; Reven was far out of earshot.

Shura waited for what seemed like an hour for Reven to return and he was growing concerned when he saw the dust flying up, headed his way. His heart began to pump faster and the adrenaline with it. The hunt was on! As he strained to see which way he needed to start moving, he was shocked to see a young male woolly leading the charge. As he got closer, Shura could see there was already a spear in its side. Behind the front animal came Reven furiously waving another spear in the air. But there was more dust following and it was the giant brown bull they were hunting! What had happened? The plan was completely ruined and Shura knew he had to make a decision fast on how to handle this. He would run to intercept the lead animal and get it down first, then he and Reven could concentrate on the big one together.

He urged his horse on, slowly at first, then gaining speed and setting his angle to intercept the running wounded animal. Reven had buried the shaft of the spear deeply into the animal and struggle was was evident on its face as it ran, with its head thrashing from side to side furiously trying to swipe away the fierce pain in its chest. The animal never saw Shura approach and he easily lunged his spear into the bull’s side, opposite the first wound. The animal began to slow and Shura knew the danger was decreasing by the second; he finally dared look behind him to assess the situation with the angry monster chasing Reven.

Shura saw that Reven had closed the ground between them and was coming up fast from the right with the bull not four meters behind him. Shura knew this was a deadly place to be. “You peel right, I’ll peel left!” he called out to Reven. “We will circle back behind him before he knows what happened!”

But Reven did not peel right. Instead, he swung his chariot hard left, colliding with Shura’s in a violent crash, then leaned into it to push him further off center behind his horse. Shura, confused, managed to steady his now unstable chariot and looked at his brother’s determined scowl. Reven lunged over with the butt-end of a spear and pushed even more, causing Shura’s chariot to lean dangerously over to one side.

“Reven! What are you doing? Stop this insanity. You’re going to get me killed!”

Reven saw in Shura’s eyes when the crown prince realized what was happening and then gave another grunting push to send the chariot past its tipping point. The harness became twisted, the chariot flipped and lost lift, crashing into the ground. Reven rode on as the angered woolly overtook the helpless Shura. In an instant, the beast got a horn under the chariot and threw it up and forward, the golden mangled cart arcing through the sky with the ragged body of Shura ejecting from it while the horse rolled into the dirt.

As the heap crashed back to earth, the woolly finished the job by running right over the top of the whole mess, horse and all, crushing it further into the savanna. A large cloud of dust filled the air giving the whole scene a blurry wash. The bull slowed and turned to go for another strike when Reven came in from behind it and planted a spear, then rapidly another into the animal’s side. The beast let out a deafening bellow then ran away from the scene, disappearing in the tall grass to die.

Reven pulled his rig to a halt and jumped down, running first to the downed juvenile woolly to make certain it was dead. A sword plunged into the creature’s neck produced no reaction from the carcass. Returning to his brother, he walked slowly, looking over the situation.

He approached Shura’s mangled remains shaking his head. “Brother, I tried to tell you we had to act on father’s weakness but you wouldn’t listen. You became an obstacle. Kings must lead, Shura. The gods have told us that. We must be leaders to Opella and take her to ever greater glory if we plan to join our forefathers the kings as gods when our time comes. The gods and the fathers are harsh judges and your future kingship was already in danger by your failure to act. Obstacles must be removed. I’m sorry it had to be this way but history has a funny way of happening. I am destined to lead our people to places they never dreamed of and you were in the way. You didn’t see it. Father doesn’t see it…but he will. Everyone will see. Even the gods.”

Satisfied the bloody scene told the story of an accident, Reven headed back to camp alone rehearsing his tale as he made his way. He rode into camp alone and a murmur broke out among the staff and by the time he got the chariot to a halt, a crowd of 30 porters, cooks, aides and guards crowded around him clamoring to learn the fate of their beloved crown prince. As he tearfully spun his tale of being surprised by an angry bull and the wailing of the crowd began, the groom led the horse and chariot away, examining the damage to the side of the prince’s vehicle, looking back at Reven with a furrowed brow as the story of a horrible hunting accident unfolded from the animated prince’s mouth.

Rumors grew and circulated quickly around the camp and suspicion arose within hours about the truth of Reven’s story. He led a group out to the gruesome scene to collect both the trophies as well as the remains of the late crown prince and the groom began to collect up the tack from the ruined chariot and dead horse but Reven intervened. “No, gather it all together. We will burn the chariot. I do not want another to ever use my brother’s gear. He deserves at least that much respect.” As the group rode away from the scene, the smoke rose up into the sky of the savanna while carrion birds circled above, drawn by the scent of death. The staff continued to whisper about whether it was possible that Reven was responsible for this horrific tragedy.

Copyright 2020 Elias Graves


Opella is a world gripped in ice. For millions of years, an ice age held sway over nearly all the northern half of the world leaving only a narrow band around the planet as habitable by people.

But inhabit this world, they did. A global seafaring society island-hopped their way around the planet with primitive sail technology and navigation by the stars. They established harbors and cities on the coasts of every continent around the globe.

Welcome To Opella