Sown Seed, Spring of 29 SC
Each step took him closer to the cold stone walls of Ioannina. The castle stood tall, an ominous shadow in the misty dark of the pouring rain. His father led the way, riding in a basket placed on the back of a large clay golem, a wicker roof deflecting the majority of the water. His son followed behind the animation, escorted by half a dozen of their human servants. The son shivered in his rain-cloak, the drizzle was beginning to seep into even the expensive wool of his garment. His glance at the servants showed they fared worse, with their cheap linen and fur cloaks clinging to their skin. The son gazed back up at the slowly approaching fortification. He hoped they would reach it before he looked like his servants.
The father dismounted the golem at the base of the large hill the castle was set upon, renting a stall in the public stable to hold it. He left five of the servants to guard one of his most valuable possessions, retaining one to accompany him and his son. The five men stood, trembling under the thin roof of the open stable, their breath visible in the cold rain. This weather was usual, the kind that preceded the frostbitten winters that came from the southern fjord. They would likely catch the freezing, but that could be afforded by the father. As long as they still had a few fingers, they were useful, and if they died there was more to choose from. The son took one last glance at the silhouettes fading into the endless gray of rain.
The arch of Ioannina greeted them, the lights of the lanterns on the walls barely visible. Crossing under, the father sent his last servant to stand outside the door, waiting with the other pitiful butlers and guards who belonged to those inside the Council building. The father pushed open the old doors, and warm gold light, along with heat, spilled into the courtyard. The two rushed inside, pulling off their damp and soaked cloaks, handing them to waiting pages. A guard gestured for them to enter the main room, from which angry voices could be heard. The father took his son aside just before entering.
"Remember what I told you. You are not to speak, you are to observe. This is a privilege, one your brother couldn’t handle.”
The son knew what was expected of him. He nodded, already keeping to the rules his father had set. His father looked at him as if expecting that he would break his command and speak. After a moment, he turned and entered the room. The son left out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding and followed.
Unlike the orange and yellow glow of the foyer, the room was lit by the cold white light of the mage rods that hung from the ceiling. An old table stood in the middle, two ornate chairs on each side, with one specially decorated at the head. Three men sat at the table, one on either side of the figure in the most regal seat. There sat the wizard Eternal, the Vasilias, the most dangerous being in the realm, the world as far as the son was concerned. He was deep in conversation with who the son recognized as Stephenos, lord of Salina.
“Adrian! We thought you got lost! Terrible weather out there truly.” One of the other men clapped the father on the shoulder.
“Only one such as you could get lost in a bit of water Faustus.” Adrian smiled, “It’s good to see you! How’s the time in Filicudi?”
“Fair enough. Our temples stand far more graceful than yours still! But who’s this?” Faustus squinted at the son. Then he turned, jovial once more. “Time to bring in the new? Sounds like you’re getting too old for this game.”
Before Adrian could respond, a silky voice interrupted, “We are happy to see you have arrived safe, Adrian.” The lord in question turned to the source of the statement, quickly dropping to one knee, his son shadowing his actions. The Vassilias stood from his throne, walking around the edge of the ancient table to place a hand on Adrian’s pauldron clad shoulder.
“Rise friend, take your seat. We have important matters to discuss, just as soon as our guest of honor arrives.” Eternal’s hand slipped from Adrian’s shoulder, resting at his side. The lord returned to his feet, bowing his head in acknowledgment of his liege. As Adrian began to pull out the ornate chair, Eternal’s gaze fell upon the young man still kneeling before him.
“New blood is ever welcome here. Join us, what is your name child?” As the son’s sight lifted to meet Eternal’s, he could see though there appeared to be emotion in his words, his eyes were filled with apathy. Startled by the ambivalence emitting from the Vasilias, it took him several moments to answer. Eternal waited patiently.
“I am Aesop, son of Adrian, heir to the throne of Alicudi.” Despite his trepidation, his voice held strong. Eternal smiled. His uncaring eyes did not flicker. “Welcome Aesop, join us at our table.” Just as his father before him, Aesop nodded his respect as he stood. A golem approached, it’s limbs grinding as it placed a chair. It lumbered back into the shadows where it would await further commands from its master. Aesop sat, the chair nowhere near as padded or elegant as the others. As the three lords and their Vassilias began discussing life in their realms, the young man prepared himself for a long night of silence and listening.
After roughly an hour of small talk and politicking, the door opened to reveal two soaked figures, the water running off their clothes. Beornhold, Oberjarl of Basiluzzo, stepped to the table, pushing the second figure before him. The two kneeled as Eternal rose, laid his hand on each of their shoulders, and bid them welcome. The golem brought in a second chair, and the second figure sat across from Aesop.
The figure was a young man, perhaps a few years younger than Aesop. His brown hair and brown eyes denoted him as a Salinian local and his muscular build told of the years he had spent at sea. Like Aesop, the man sat silent, listening to the lords at the table as Beornhold coldly greeted the other three, the animosity between them clear. The Oberjarl seated himself and got straight to the point of why they had gathered.
“A fleet of pirates attacked Anemos a week ago. They burned most of the city to the ground and the piers were severely damaged. A Salinian trade ship was caught in the battle and was captured, though the vessel that assailed it sank into the waves by the actions of an Aiolian golem.” Silence reigned for several moments as Beornhold paused to allow Eternal to voice his words. The Vassilias instead nodded for him to continue.
“Anemos is occupied by a small force of looting pirates. They number in about two dozen. The rest have left, pillaging elsewhere in the two seas. One of our Basiluzzite ships ventured to the trading city only to find it in ashes. This boy was rescued, he was aboard the Spiro, the ship was captured. I have brought him if you wished to question him.”
Again, the lack of noise was deafening. The four lords awaited Eternal’s verdict, as he sat in thought. Suddenly smiling to himself, he turned to Aesop, looking at him expectantly.
“Tell me child, why is this such a problem for Aiolia?”
Aesop paused, he hadn’t expected this but gathered his knowledge.
“Anemos is our primary trading port with the rest of the Linirean region. Without it to resupply our ships and the canal occupied, business ventures between our realms will become much more expensive and dangerous to operate. Depending on how well they can defend the channel, the flow between realms could be halted entirely, leaving Aiolia without its major imports.”
Eternal’s eyes had lighted, a spark of curiosity hidden within them. “Extremely well said! But continue, what are Aiolia’s major imports?”
Aesop shivered a bit at the gaze directed at him but relaxed at the praise. “Aiolia imports primarily comforts from Koh, including such things as textiles and tapestries.” Aesop stalled, searching his mind. “Sucia supplies a great amount of Aiolia’s foodstuff, but,” again, he fell silent, realizing the dramatic implications of what he had just said. Eternal nodded.
“With the loss of Anemos, the potential of the mass starvation of Aiolia is at stake. We have stores to last us a few years, but without access to the fields of Sucia we are looking at a collapse of our entire realm.
“Give me some solutions.”
Beornhold began, “Basiluzzo can volunteer three warships. The rest are at sea, raiding.” Eternal nodded, accepting this contribution.
Faustus looked at Adrian, nodding at him. “Our sister cities can donate our galleys and scorpions, giving you a dozen ships.” Again, Eternal nodded. He looked at the last, Stephenos, and instead of allowing him to speak made a request.
“You will give me five of your triremes, filled with building material and engineers. I will accompany this fleet.” The lords stared at the Vassilias, shocked that he would leave in the middle of such a situation. “I will aid in the construction of defenses around the channel, to ensure that this will never occur again. I will then venture to my laboratory and begin my research once more. It has been too long.”
The council sat in silence, knowing that to question the Vassilias was to risk death. Eternal spoke once more, “I expect I shall be away for half a decade. Prepare your ships once you return to your cities, I shall expect them in this port within the week.
“Now,” Eternal turned his gaze upon the young man, “we must discuss your tragedy, Dennis Deaconson. What happened to the golem aboard your ship?”
Dennis had sat up, squaring his shoulders, ready to tell the tale of his father. He hadn’t expected the question about the golem. “I… My father awoke it, he set it on the ship that attacked us.”
Eternal’s shifted, taking on a more somber tone, though his eyes sharpened. “That is most unfortunate. I spoke with my record keeper, your father had not yet paid his due on the golem, he was intending on paying it off over the next two years, yes?”
Deacon stared, stupefied at the topic Eternal was focussing on. “...I suppose? I-”
“You do realize that the duty to pay off those debts now falls to you, as the head of your household?” The Vassilias interrupted, circling his prey.
“The most unfortunate part really, is that my record keeper and I find you unfit to make good on those payments. Your father’s ship is lost, losing you your income, meaning you are a debtor.” The golem that had brought in the chairs suddenly grabbed the young man from behind. Eternal stood, beginning to stride over to the interlocked pair.
“Thus, the punishment for such a state is death. Thank you for your account and information, it was valuable to the discussion.” Eternal stood before him.
“Goodbye Dennis, son of Deacon.” Dennis pleaded as the golem pulled him away, heading towards the holding cells. He would hang on a necklace of rope in the morning.
The Vassilias turned his attention back to the four lords, his sharp, excited gaze lessening in the wake of his entertainment leaving.
“You each have your tasks, complete them. For now, I bid you goodnight, as I shall be quite busy in my preparation tomorrow. Farewell.” On the final word, the wizard Eternal left the room.
Aesop sat in shock. The brutality of what the Vassilias had done to Dennis shook him to his core. In his mind were planted the seeds of doubt, was the Vassilias and his father wrong in how they treated the common folk?
Beornhold sat plotting. He could see the thoughts flashing across the face of Adrian’s spawn, though the other three were already in too deep of conversation to take note. “Perhaps,” he thought to himself, “there is an ally here.”
As the three lords stood to retire to their chambers, the Oberjarl approached Aesop, passing him a note, saying, “open it when you’re alone.” With that complete, Beornhold began his trip to the holding cells, to mourn with the son of Deacon and ask for his forgiveness.
Aesop waited until his father had fallen asleep, then opened the note by candlelight.
‘Now that your eyes have been opened to the corruption, meet at the dock at sundown on the day the ships leave to begin to root it out. Burn this.’
Aesop burned the note.