Bitter Words

Zotharan stood in the entrance hall of his Citadel, waiting. A dry breeze crept through the chamber. Wavering torches illuminated the carvings of dogs and other hunting creatures that adorned the pillars. After a while, Daskesurul’s highest-ranking servant stepped in.

“You wished to see me?” asked Canrasiul.

“I wish to know what has befallen Erulorian.”

“Ah. Of course. Because you still care about her, for some reason.” Canrasiul flinched, seeing Zotharan’s expression. “Lord Daskesurul knows he can’t trust her, but he hasn’t harmed her.”

“Is she imprisoned?”

“No. He’s just ordered Iruzathe to watch her, to see she isn’t plotting against us.”

Zotharan nodded. He had not expected Daskesurul to keep Erulorian incarcerated. She might be low-ranking, but she was still valuable, and Daskesurul would greatly increase his status by having a third Nayusuru in his entourage. “You must tell me how she fares in his court.”

“As you wish,” said Canrasiul. He did not hold an impressive rank himself, but he had proven useful over the years by keeping Zotharan informed of the intrigues among the low-ranking Nayusuru. Sometimes, he even revealed information about Daskesurul’s plans – as long as he thought it would do the Court of Zaresnar no harm. In return, Zotharan treated him as an ally.

“Would you like a drink?” Zotharan asked.

Canrasiul seemed grateful for even this insignificant courtesy. “Yes, thank you.”

Zotharan led him to the parlor, which was as gloomy as the rest of the Citadel. Arched windows looked out over dreary grasslands. Zotharan lit the lamps and the hearth, then poured out two chalices of quanzia wine. Canrasiul accepted his drink with a weak smile.

“I’m surprised that Lord Daskesurul has been so merciful to Erulorian,” he said. “Especially after Olemnashial betrayed him. What did you say to him?”

“Didn’t you lurk in the shadows to listen?”

“Of course not! As if I would be so audacious as to spy on my ruler.” Canrasiul frowned. “Your own audacity amazes me, Zotharan. Lady Ruzenathra might consider it treason if she learned that you’d met with my lord in secret.”

“Doubtless she would.”

“And would she be right to think you’d betrayed her?”

“Yes.” Zotharan’s voice was as remorseless as stone. “I have promised to bring Lord Daskesurul the Scepter of Xathun if he does not hurt Erulorian.”

Canrasiul put down his chalice. “Are you mad?”

“I’m tired of serving Lady Ruzenathra.”

“But you’re the Sovereign’s favored servant! You have everything you could want!”

Zotharan laughed bitterly. “You think that’s all I want? To be a servant?” His grip tightened around the stem of his chalice. “I have nothing that Lady Ruzenathra cannot take from me. She can humiliate me, imprison me, scourge me, hurt my friends, hand them over to her vassals…”

“But that’s how it’s always been for us.”

“True. I can never be free of the Esu… but I can tear them down.”

“This is senseless!” Canrasiul stepped closer to Zotharan, as if he felt concerned for him. “What will Xanuspari and Kurunari say? They’ll feel that you’ve betrayed them too.”

“Are you trying to dissuade me from helping Lord Daskesurul?”

“He won’t be grateful. He never is. And you’ll be despised as a traitor. I fear he will treat you harshly once you’ve joined our court.” Canrasiul hesitated, seeing Zotharan’s indifference. “What exactly are you planning? I hope Lord Daskesurul isn’t wrong to trust you?”

Zotharan’s lip curled in amusement. “Why should Lord Daskesurul fear any treachery? I have promised to bring him the Scepter, upon my name and upon my Citadel.”

“Then you have no choice! You’ll probably regret this.”

Zotharan shrugged. “So I’ll cast away all I’ve fought for, and I’ll be despised for a while, and perhaps I’ll find myself under Lord Daskesurul’s power, but in the end, what does any of it truly matter?”

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