Chapter 11 – An Unexpected Visitor
Seventh of Learning 1142
King Terrence was in the throne room, awaiting his son’s return from the Other Realm. Today, if all went well, Eric would be a man. The king wondered what class he would get but refused to speculate. Whatever it was, it would be good. Eric was favored by Sheba, and that had to mean something.
He glanced at his wife, who sat on her throne. She was excitedly chattering with Queen Rhea, while King Leonid stood off to the side, watching them. They had vacated the ornate seats that Leata had provided, probably too excited to sit. They too were waiting for their daughter to return from her transition. At first, it annoyed him that Eric would have to share that moment, but when he thought about it again, it seemed oddly appropriate.
The two seemed to hit it off, so transitioning at the same time, sharing that victory together could cement them as a couple even before marriage. A celebration before the celebration so to speak.
His mind returned to Eric’s first trip into the Other Realm and the bizarre happenings that seemed to make less sense as time went on. Dahr had entered his transition dream. Insanity. And then he emerged with a shared familiar and a holy weapon. Unheard of. Hopefully, this time, everything was going to go as planned. It’s not like he and Chari could share…
A slow burning sensation began to form in the pit of his stomach. He remembered Veloran suggesting that they needed to hurry or they would be late. Late for what? You could start a transition at any time of the day or night…unless…no. It couldn’t happen again. Not twice. He clenched his fists and then let them relax. If it was Sheba’s will, it would be, and he would accept it. It wasn’t like he had a choice. Who was he to question a god? And if they did share a transition, what of it? All that meant was that Sheba favored their union, which was a good thing, right? But still, he felt doubt claw at him. He wanted Eric to be well. Chari too, obviously. He told himself it was all in his mind, that everything would be fine, but the more he tried to reassure himself, the more nervous he became.
The crowd didn’t help. It was too early for the throne room to be packed like this. There were the usual assortment of guards about and a couple of high ranked nobles as well. People were probably gathering in anticipation of Eric’s return. Perhaps the excitement came from knowing that Eric was favored by Sheba. After his son’s first foray into the Other Realm, and the oddness that surrounded it, people wanted to be here to see what happened. It was only natural. And they had royal guests. Some would be around to see the king and queen of Melar, most just to say they saw them, and others, the higher ranking nobles, might hope to have a few words and perhaps be remembered at some later date.
On second glance, King Terrence realized that some of those nobles weren’t his, but rather were vassals of King Leonid. He didn’t recognize quite a few of the people milling about. He never really thought about how full the throne room was. It was designed, along with the rest of the castle, to hold a great number of people, yet it was seldom crowded. But now as he looked around, he realized that the crowd went further back than usual, with people more spread out, almost all the way to the door. A fine audience to witness his son’s triumph.
Everything went back to that. Eric had been disappointed that he had not transitioned the first time. Terrence had felt Eric’s pain and embarrassment, but in the years to come it would be forgotten. No one remembered the failure before your success. Not if you were royalty anyway. It still hurt to see his son hurting, but these were the moments that kept you grounded and built your character. Eric would be stronger for it, for all that the experience was unpleasant. And he had nothing to be ashamed of. Veloran had said that Sheba favored both of his sons.
What was more than passing strange was that Eric hadn’t transitioned, but Dahr had. He hadn’t had a chance to talk with the boy about that and didn’t understand it, but between entertaining his royal guests, negotiations, and all the mundane matters that came up every day, King Terrence had had precious little time for his other son. That was something that would have to be rectified sooner rather than later.
Over the last couple of years, he’d grown used to ignoring the boy. Of course, that was before the boy knew that Terrence was his father, or so he’d thought. But Dahr had always suspected. He’d known on some level. How did it feel to know that your own father didn’t have the time of day for you? It was absolutely unacceptable. He had grown used to keeping Dahr in the background. Moving forward, he’d have to be more mindful of Dahr and what was going on with him. But today couldn’t be about Dahr. It would have to be about Eric. He’d make it up to the boy… the young man, somehow. Dahr had transitioned… at fourteen years old. Unheard of, like the rest of it. He really did need to talk to Dahr, but not today. He was still determined to let Eric have his moment.
Assuming everything went to plan, of course. Because of how things had gone the last time, King Terrence was understandably nervous.
It wasn’t long before three new figures entered the increasingly crowded room– Veloran, Chari and Eric. Terrence wanted more than anything to run to his son and talk to him, but with all these people around, a more formal decorum was required, and so he smiled and nodded, waiting as they all knelt. He forced himself to wait a beat before asking them to rise. He was impatient to hear what had happened, but resigned himself to the slower formality of protocol, a necessary burden of leadership, but an expected one.
Finally it was done and he could get some information. “What news, Veloran, High Priest of Sheba?”
Veloran looked apologetic, then started talking. “Both Prince Eric and Princess Chari have completed their transitions on this day, apparently together… in the same dream. Princess Chari, by the grace of the goddess is a Level 1 Warrior. The blessings of Sheba be upon her. Prince Eric…”
He paused for a moment here, and Terrence didn’t think it was for dramatic effect. “Prince Eric is a Level 1 Tank, and has received a second holy weapon.”
The king looked at the high priest expectantly, but no further information was forthcoming. Finally he spoke.
“A Level 1 Tank?”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“What in the blazes is a Tank?”
Veloran shrugged eloquently. No one else had an answer either.
“Do you mean to tell me that my son has a class you’ve never heard of?”
“Yes, Your Highness. That’s exactly what I mean to tell you.”
The king released a long held breath and asked, “Okay, how about his final skill then?”
The high priest didn’t answer, but Prince Eric did. “My final skill is Taunt, father.”
“Taunt? I’ve never heard of it. What does it do?”
“I don’t know,” replied Eric, lamely.
The king turned his attention to the high priest, who repeated his previous shrug.
King Terrence looked around. “Has anyone heard of this skill?”
No one answered. The king shook his head as if to clear it.
He returned his gaze (more of a glare by now) to the high priest. “So we have a class that no one has heard of and a skill no one can define. Does this happen often?”
“About as often as two holy weapons and a shared familiar making it back from the Other Realm,” replied Veloran, wryly.
The king looked frustrated for just a moment, then started laughing. He started and couldn’t stop. Everyone looked at him, but it was Queen Treya who joined him first, then others. The whole situation was ludicrous. His son was a, what was it, a Tank? And what of his other son. He hadn’t learned what his class was, he’d only heard that he’d transitioned, but no one had thought to actually ask his class with everything going on. An oversight for sure. As if on cue, Dahr burst into the throne room, followed a moment later by his somewhat more sedate familiar.
“You’re back!” He ran to Eric and hugged him. “That’s a cool sword you got!”
“Wait, what?” asked Eric. “How did you know about my sword?”
“I saw you in a dream. The pose was sorta silly though.”
Chari giggled a bit and then looked abashed when Eric glanced at her.
“What in the blazes is going on with my sons?” asked King Terrence.
No one had an answer.
“Well then, at least, Dahr, can you tell me what your class is?”
“No, Your Majesty.”
“What do you mean no?” King Terrence had trouble keeping the exasperation out of his voice.
“I mean I can’t tell you what my class is. My god will not permit it.”
“Your god? Not Sheba?”
“No, your majesty. Not Sheba.”
“Well who is your god then?”
Dahr looked a bit embarrassed. “He instructed me to call him George.”
“George! Is this some sort of joke?” demanded the king.
At that moment, the room filled with bright light, and everyone present was forced to shield their eyes. And when that light faded, a beautiful woman stood in the room with a bow slung over her shoulder, partially covered by her long blonde hair. Beside her sat a large white wolf, looking up at the throne with what looked like it might have been amusement.
The king was off his throne and on his knees in a moment. He was the first, but everyone else followed.
Sheba, however, laughed and motioned for them to rise.
“I am not a queen that requires such devotion. I require only that you live your best lives. Be honest. Live with integrity. With honor. Do your best. No one can ask for more than that.”
All of them got to their feet, but Terrence was still king and he wanted answers. Before he could ask for them, the goddess spoke.
“King Terrence, you have served me well for all the years of your life. Know that you have my love and respect. I have blessed both your sons, but Dahr is sworn to another, as is my will. His allegiance serves my purpose. Yet he must honor…George, as his power derives from George’s will. You have no idea how much I didn’t want to say that sentence. The right thing is sometimes difficult even for the gods.”
“But what is his class?” asked King Terrence, unwilling to accept not knowing.
“Dear Terrence, Dahr’s role is to obey George to the best of his ability. Your job, hard as it is, is to accept and honor that. Be happy that my purpose is served by his service.”
The king looked like he was about to protest, but nodded instead. “You’re right, of course. It’s just that so many unusual things have happened in the last few days. Everything is so strange.”
“I wish I could tell you things will get less strange, but they will not.”
The Goddess turned to look at Chari.
“Princess Chari, I welcome you. You have been, in so many ways, the sword I have sought. It is my will that you marry Prince Eric, no matter what happens.”
“Then I will,” she said. “I think I would have anyway, so it’s good you didn’t try to stop me.”
Her father and mother both started to protest, but the goddess waved it away laughing.
“She’s always been quite the warrior, your daughter. It’s better that she followed her own heart than your advice. She’d have never been happy with Mitra or Iorana.”
Both the king and queen looked aghast as they realized the goddess knew that they tried to persuade her to choose a patron other than Sheba and both remained silent for the rest of the encounter, hoping the goddess would not again turn her attention to them. Sheba, however, had moved on. She turned to Queen Treya. She opened her arms for a hug and Treya, startled, moved in to embrace the goddess.
“Long have I watched you Treya. You are my perfect warrior. You never have to think to obey me, your very will is the twin of my own. It is an honor to have been chosen by you.”
Jaws dropped as the goddess embraced the queen, who broke into tears while the goddess soothed her. No one had expected that, and the queen finally pulled herself together and backed away.
Now the goddess returned her attention to King Terrence.
“It is time to start training both the princes and Princess Chari. Not tomorrow, I mean now. They have much to learn if they are to survive the trials to come. Even now, events are happening that will change this world forever, and this family, Chari included, are central to them. There is no time to waste. Adopt and acknowledge Dahr, and for my sake train him. In everything. The more he learns, the more secure he’ll be.”
“High Priest Veloran had warned us of danger if we don’t adopt him formally.”
“The danger will happen either way. Adopting him will save his life, at least in the short term. What happens in the long term is beyond my ability to see. Stay strong, my warriors.”
“My goddess?” asked Eric, “May I ask a question?”
The goddess inclined her head.
“What’s a Tank?” Eric blurted out.
The goddess smiled. “You are, my child, you are. I think it won’t be long before you figure it out for yourself, but remember this. No class will work harder to defend those they care about, not even a Guardian. Being a Tank is unique in this world, but it is not unique throughout all worlds. There are other Tanks on other worlds.”
Every eye in the room was on the goddess as she spoke, but it was the king who broke the silence that followed.
“Other worlds, my goddess?”
“Kalutu can explain it to you. Or Eric or Dahr for that matter. Unfortunately, it is time for me to go. The energy I exude can overwhelm mortals and too much of it will have a long term affect on the health of those exposed. I wish you all luck. Make me proud.”
She was looking at Eric and Dahr when she said that last sentence. And then she was gone. No one spoke for a long time.
Unsurprisingly, it was Chari who broke the long silence. “Well, that was entertaining.”
Everyone looked at her. Veloran was smiling, her parents looked frustrated and embarrassed, King Terrence was chuckling, but Treya walked over and hugged her.
“I’d like to welcome you to the family.”
The king moved toward her and welcomed her as well, and then it was Dahr’s turn. He walked up to her hesitantly. Shyly. Uncertainly, as if he didn’t know what to expect.
Chari smiled at him, ruffled his hair and pulled him in for a hug. Dahr’s eyes widened and when she released him he stepped back quickly, but he was smiling, with just a tinge of relief, the king thought.
Eric was the last to approach and he hugged her, but as he started to pull away, Chari pulled him back and kissed him full on the lips.
King Leonid looked like he’d swallowed glass but somehow held his tongue. A goddess had blessed their union, they might as well be married already. He looked at Terrence and sighed wearily.
“I suppose we need to finalize our agreement.”
Terrence nodded. “Yes, but first, I’m going to have to summon some people. It’s time for me to formally adopt and acknowledge Dahr, and get these kids…”
Prince Eric cleared his throat.
“…these young adults some training.”
King Leonid watched while his Twylian counterpart issued a bevy of instructions to pages and other people around the room, while inside he fumed. He’d been humiliated publicly in a foreign throne room. Had a mortal been responsible, he’d have declared war. It was intolerable.
He made a hasty excuse before people started to arrive and hurried back toward his room. One of his servants was there already.
“Jerish, start packing. We’re getting out of here.”
Jerish was boyish in spite of being almost 20 years old. He was tall and gangly with a shock of uncontrollable red hair above a freckled face. His green eyes met the king’s, displaying both curiosity and intelligence.
“You heard me. We’re leaving.”
The servant began moving about the room organizing a few things before heading for the door. Queen Rhea passed him as he was on the way out.
“What are you doing?” she asked the king.
“Are you mad?”
“We’re leaving, Rhea. No arguments.”
“Oh there’ll be no arguments. We’re staying, and there’s nothing else to talk about.”
“They’re going to put my Chari…our Chari in danger. I won’t have it.”
Rhea looked skeptical. “Come now. This isn’t about Chari.”
“She’s our only daughter. Our only child. We can’t let her face danger.”
Rhea chuckled. “Ruling is always dangerous, and I know you know that. So what is this really about?”
Suddenly, Leonid looked older. He sat heavily on the bed, and she sat beside him.
“We were humiliated, Rhea. Humiliated! In front of all those people. In front of a rival!”
She placed a hand gently on his. “Not a rival, Leo. An ally.”
“How do I return to the negotiating table now, when my strongest bargaining chip is off the table?”
“Ah,” she said, realization lighting her eyes. “You think you’re negotiating from a position of weakness.”
“Well? Aren’t I?”
“Leo, my foolish king, you are not.”
“The goddess of honor just visited the throne room of Twyl to make a show of how strongly she supports the king and queen here. Being their allies would do nothing but strengthen us. And more to the point, King Terrence would never use that as a bargaining chip. His wife had said as much when I learned the boys were favored by Sheba. In fact, this could work to your advantage.”
“Tell him the truth. I’ll bet if you tell him that you feel you can’t negotiate any more because he holds all the cards after Sheba appeared in his throne room, he’ll go out of his way to be fair to you.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because he’ll see it as the honorable thing to do. He won’t allow you to walk away feeling like Sheba’s visit forced you into concessions.”
“Do you think so?”
“Yes. And as for the danger, I think it’s far more dangerous to ignore a goddess’s will than anything else that might happen to her. I don’t care what you say, this wedding is going to happen. And if I don’t miss my guess, it’ll be sooner rather than later.”
Leonid stared at his wife, not for the first time aware of how lucky he was to have her. He lifted her hand from his and pressed it to his lips.
“You really are marvelous,” he said softly.
She blushed slightly, apparently surprised at the compliment, but it was true. She was clever and wise as well.
The door opened before they could continue and Jerish entered, three servants behind him, all holding wooden chests.
“Forget what I said, Jerish. We’re staying.”
Jerish nodded and bowed. “Of course my king. Okay, lads, you heard the king. Out with you. Let’s find you lot something useful to do.”
Leonid chuckled, then shook his head. “That was Sheba, Rhea. The Goddess of Honor, Combat and the Hunt.”
She looked amused. “I know who Sheba is, husband.”
“Of course you do, it was just…overwhelming.”
“Yes, dear. She’s a goddess. I don’t know what else you’d have expected. It bothered you, didn’t it?”
“Not being the most powerful entity in the room.”
He opened his mouth to protest, but closed it again. There were a lot of people he could lie to, but Rhea wasn’t one of them. And the gods, who were always listening, also knew his heart.
“Yes. It bothered me.”
The two sat on the bed, holding hands, overwhelmed by the events of the morning.
“At least Chari got a normal class,” said Leonid finally.
Rhea looked at him amused. “As opposed to a special class, personally selected by the goddess? You really are an idiot sometimes.”
Leonid chuckled, and cleared his throat. “Yes, well. Do you think she’ll be all right?”
Rhea grew serious. “At least we know Eric will be there to protect her. It’s been a while since I prayed, but this might be a good time to start again.”
The two sat quietly for a long time. There weren’t many moments like this when you ruled a country. You had to take the quiet moments when you could. King Leonid of Melar strongly suspected there wouldn’t be many in the days and weeks ahead.