endaran’s wounds took over a week to heal, and it was even longer before he regained his full strength. During that time, Ruzenathra relented and let him return to Carashanza’s Citadel, where the magical atmosphere helped him recover more quickly. Meanwhile, Daskesurul used the portal anchored at Jorazo to send more soldiers to Tuyaz-Oa.
“Our envoys have been speaking with the rebel leaders,” Carashanza told Mendaran, as she ground herbs to make another drink for him. “Those who continue to defy us will face dire retribution, but clemency is being offered to anyone who surrenders now.”
Mendaran felt relieved. “Do you think any of the rebels will yield?”
“Duke Kavaquar of Nawoyaz has already lost his nerve and withdrawn his forces.” Carashanza grinned. “Your feats in battle have spread panic among the mortals. This is why the Sovereign needs you.”
Mendaran wearily leaned his head back against his pillow. The thought of returning to battle made his stomach knot, but he knew that if he was to defeat the rebels, he must purge all doubt, sympathy and remorse from his heart. He had to be more like Ruzenathra.
“There must be no more mistakes,” he murmured to himself.
“Quite,” said Carashanza. “Once you’ve captured Yhara-uza and removed the last of the Ghaz Ahaya princes, perhaps the Sovereign’s anger against you will subside.”
As soon as Mendaran felt well enough, he portaled to Jorazo, then rode out to rejoin the main army.
Admiral Yekachua had sailed his fleet up the Iyuan, battling his way past a blockade of sunken ships and two fortresses that stood on islands in the middle of the river. After a fierce fight he seized Yhara-uza’s docks, but his men could not breach the defenses of the upper city.
By the time Mendaran arrived, Yhara-uza was besieged by both Yekachua’s fleet and General Kahezen’s army. Broken bodies, debris and the smoldering remains of siege towers lay beneath its outer walls. Smoke drifted from the burned warehouses along the waterfront. Rebel yuyarni wheeled overhead, guarding the city from any who might try the scale its fortifications.
Mendaran made his way to the general’s command tent, which was pitched beyond the outskirts of the city. Kahezen and his captains were leaning over a map, discussing ways to break through the western gatehouse. They bowed when Mendaran walked in with Canrasiul at his side.
“So,” said Mendaran, “what can I do? Shall I try tearing down the walls?”
Kahezen blinked. “Can you do that?”
“Probably.” Mendaran studied the map, seeing how the city’s defenses had been built in a series of tiers. The palace itself stood on a hill to the west of the river, guarded by mighty walls and bastions. That was surely where the defenders would make their final stand.
“The outer wall is ten feet thick, Kaniyari lord.”
“In any case,” said Canrasiul, pouring himself some enasaru, “Lord Daskesurul would rather you didn’t cause so much destruction this time. Surely there are wiser ways to use your power?”
Mendaran accepted the rebuke in silence.
“At present, our men are trying to breach the city’s defenses here,” Kahezen pointed to the map, “but if you could simply fly over the wall and hold open the gate, it would save many lives.”
“That sounds simple enough,” said Mendaran. “When do we attack?”
Mendaran did not think that getting into the western gatehouse would prove much of a challenge, but he was wrong. The Tuyaz-Oans had sent their greatest wizards to defend the walls. Mendaran was forced to slice apart a series of complex defensive spells while floating thirty feet in the air. A relentless barrage of arrows struck his wards. Stress made his temper rise.
The moment the Tuyaz-Oans’ wards broke, Mendaran lashed out, hurling scores of wizards and archers into the street below. A moan arose from the remaining defenders.
Mendaran strode across the rampart, throwing men from his path. He blasted open a tower door and swept into the room where the winch for the portcullis was housed. Dozens more men charged at him. Mendaran incinerated them without blinking. He had gone beyond pity.
He single-handedly raised the portcullis, then watched in satisfaction as Kahezan’s men poured through. The fighting was no less brutal than it had been in Jorazo, but this time Mendaran remained with the bulk of the army, smashing any resistance the Tuyaz-Oans offered. As soon as the Ukuzechans secured the first tier, he moved on to storm the next gatehouse.
The city surrendered at dusk the following day. Mendaran swept into the Aduyura Palace. He had slain countless men, but his armor remained bright and his hands were unbloodied.
“So, this is the heart of Tuyaz-Oan power,” he remarked, glancing around.
Yhara-uza’s imperial palace did not impress him. It was nothing like the gilded residences of the Gabakaruan vassal-emperors. The only decorations he could see were the beaded wall-hangings, a few ceramic vases and wooden door-screens painted with plants and wildfowl.
“Actually, the Tuyaz-Oan empire has two hearts,” said Canrasiul. “The vassal-emperors chose to reside here in Bakoqua, but Lady Liralian’s original territory was to the north, in Danyubao. The Danyubaon city of Ranazayu is regarded as a second seat of government.”
“Why is this wonderful?”
“I was being sarcastic.” Mendaran glanced at General Kahezen, hoping to see him smile, but the man just looked somber. “Well, if the rebels want to keep fighting us, they’ll need a new leader, since I hear we’ve captured Eraquan’s uncle. His reign didn’t last long.”
“Indeed,” said Kahezen. “Many of the emperor’s chief advisors were also taken prisoner, including Lord Tarkano and the High Wizard Jarqual – though it is unlikely that Jarqual will live long enough to face execution. You broke his spine when you threw him from the wall.”
Mendaran felt ill when he heard this.
“Eraquan’s mother, sister and wife have taken refuge in the Temple of Uanosha,” Kahezen continued. “Lord Daskesurul will not allow us to seize them while they are on sacred ground, but I’ve placed guards around the temple so they cannot leave.”
“What will happen to them?”
“Either they’ll give themselves up, or they’ll spend the rest of their lives in the temple, living off the charity of the common people. If they do ever decide to grant their allegiance to Zaresnar, Lord Daskesurul will most likely spare them. He does not like to execute women.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” said Mendaran.
A commotion at the end of the hall caught his attention. Several Ukuzechan guards came in, dragging a robed figure between them. The prisoner’s pale skin and dark eyes reminded Mendaran of his own. For a moment, he wondered if the man was a Kayagan like Wanoa, but that was unlikely. What would someone from Kayaga be doing so far south?
The captain of the guards addressed Kahezen. “Lord General, we found this man hiding in the palace. He says his name is Zacham Tarax. He claims to be a Vanotaquan ambassador sent to visit the Tuyaz-Oan imperial court, but we believe he must also be a wizard, for he was carrying this.”
A guardsman held up a small, plain-looking metal chest. Canrasiul shrank back with a strangled hiss. Mendaran glanced at him, waiting to see if he would take the box. When he did not move, Mendaran picked it up himself and opened the lid. Several rings lay inside, set with chips of glowing stone. All the magic within Mendaran recoiled.
“Are these ghaztarites?” he asked Canrasiul.
“Yes.” Canrasiul stared at the stones in horror.
The Vanotaquan smirked. “Emperor Gaxam was willing to offer an alliance to the Tuyaz-Oans,” he said, abandoning his struggles. “With our ghaztarites, we could have saved their fleet and their city, but Emperor Eraquan was too proud to accept our aid.”
“So why are you still here?” asked Mendaran.
“I was ordered by my emperor to remain in the city and kill you, half-breed.”
“With these azuhans?” Mendaran stared at Zacham coldly, then reached into the box and lifted out one of the rings. His magical energies withered as he touched it, but his human body was unharmed. “Interesting,” he murmured.
Carashanza had taught him how to weave spells with words and gestures like a human wizard – she had thought the knowledge might prove useful one day. Mendaran focused his mind on the ghaztarite, then chanted the spell to draw upon its power. The jewel glowed brighter. Mendaran shaped its magic into an orb of cold violet flame that floated above his hand.
“But – but how?” stammered the Vanotaquan, paling.
Mendaran turned to him with a smile. “These stones may be poisonous to the Ankaykari, but, as you say, I’m a half-breed. General Kahezen, perhaps we should let this man go. Let him return to Vanotaqua and tell Emperor Gaxam that his ghaztarites do not harm me.”
Kahezen bowed his head. “As you command, Kaniyari lord.”
Mendaran returned his attention to the fire-orb. As far as he knew, ghaztarites were most useful for wards. He doubted his orb would do any damage to a mortal if he threw it at them, but it would probably leave an Ankaykari crippled for a while. He quickly extinguished the fire.
Canrasiul stared at Mendaran in shock as Zacham was led out. Mendaran sighed. He should have anticipated this. He was a Kaniyari. By revealing that he could weave spells using the dreaded ghaztarites, he had just given the Ankaykari another reason to fear him.
“What will you do with those jewels?” Canrasiul asked faintly.
“Give them to the Sovereign, I suppose. Until then, I’ll keep them safely warded.”
Canrasiul cowered back as Mendaran walked past. His frightened gaze followed him across the length of the hall. Mendaran felt uncomfortable, but he did not know what to say to put him at ease. Despondency settled over him. He would always be an outsider among the Ankaykari.
Mendaran asked a servant to show him to his rooms. As the most powerful man in Tuyaz-Oa, he had been assigned the vassal-emperor’s personal quarters. Mendaran’s gaze travelled over the wall-hangings, the jade carvings and the elegant glass vases. He wondered if Eraquan had chosen them himself, or if they were family heirlooms. A copy of The Deeds of Heroes lay on the bedside table. Mendaran’s heart lurched at the sight of it. He had often read that book himself.
He believed he had reconciled himself to killing, but he did not sleep easy that night.
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