The eerie yet sweet and somber and almost awe invoking cry of the carynx echoed across the barren lands encrusted in layers of pale sheets. Yerra- Maxinimus VI, stared almost blankly over the procession, his mind muddled and thoughts anything but coherent. There was likely enough a dreadful stench of ale on his breath, but that was not why the withering ruler was beyond himself. As the pole bearers settled the open-faced vessel on that ancestral stone, the Yerra-‘s mind came back to him. Again the horn-shaped in the likeness of a heavenly specter wailed and shook the deer’s soul. It was a sight he could never have envisioned, a dirge he would not have dreamt of hearing, and a truth that was almost impossible to face. Yet, there lay the facts as clear as crystal and simple as could be, not unlike his baby boy lying on that stone now, exposed to the elements beneath the Ellamus Tree.
Again, Maxinimus forced his gaze from the stone and the tree to fix on the horn that was just left from the main focus of the ceremony. He watched the tongue clacking within, the jaw working in its odd, far from natural fashion, and did all he could to push the utterance of every note from his mind. Terribly did the Yerra- wish for someone close at hand to give him strength, someone who could support his weakened heart in these difficult times. Mirri was still locked up in her private chamber, the sobbing only ceased by a depression-induced sleep. Even were she here, Maxin could only assume he would be her rock in these stormy seas. Yet, it wasn’t just support he needed and would prefer not to be but a distraction from the choice he would rather not be forced to make.
He sat at the center of a decision that could not be taken lightly and would undoubtedly write the course of history for the next several generations. By Maxinimus’ paw alone would the choice be made to take what those foreigner healers had done as an attempt, willful assassination, of the sole heir to the Taliann line. It would be a grievous error to immediately set the path of the kingdom on one end or the other, but it had been nearly a ten-day, and the captives remained in their rooms locked up in the manner of a prison. They were still being seen to as guests merely kept from coming and going as they pleased. The fact they lived or were not sentenced to the dungeon was causing some unrest among the citizens. Maxinimus knew the choice had to be made soon, but he hadn’t the slightest idea which way to decide. He almost desired to have the decision made for him or at least to find someone who would steer him in the right direction. Looking beside him, down the row of honor, Maxinimus’ eyes lighted on one who may serve just that purpose.
Almost on queue, the somber muzzled elk rolled diamond eyes over to Maxinimus, meeting his gaze with one of sorrow but equally inquisitive. In a very brotherly manner, the Yerra- of Desmus offered a paw to hold. That support, that thought of closeness to near kinship, was not taken for granted by the deer. He took the other man’s paw and gripped firmly, not tight but enough to insist that the reassurance was not only welcomed but perhaps needed. Allowing a moment to pass, to see if it was but a temporary action or something more sincere, the elk gave a brief smile to his peer. They shared that basic yet meaningful connection for the rest of the ceremony. And even after the carynx was silenced, the final observance of the young prince allowed, and the rites performed by the bishops, they still remained close.
Out of respect, the spectators of lower orders of church and government, as well as relations and friends to the prince, flitted away on the wintery breeze. Despite not being asked to remain behind, Imfay stood with Maxinimus still. Though words had not been exchanged, the man read enough in the deer’s grip that he was to linger on. With the elk was his young son, of an age with Maxinimus VII, and to be the next Yerra- of Desmus should the courts allow him that chance. The boy, able to read a situation as well as his father could, allowed the older men space. He went wandering beyond the Ellamus tree that had served the burial place for the Taliann line since time immemorial. The grave grounds were a sprawling plotted forest, the trees marked with sigils and names of the departed. It would give the boy something to look at while the two leaders spoke in private.
“My apologies Imfay, I suppose I needed someone to lean on for a time,” Maxinimus offered the best explanation he could give, “It’s not something anything can prepare you for and certainly not the type of thing I could force on Mirri.”
“It is an unfathomable event, my friend. The loss of life is surely sorrowful, yet to lose one in the prime of their youth, ill or of good health, is doubly tragic. I wish I could offer some greater condolence beyond understanding of your plight. Though, I suppose, what could be done now from anyone’s position aside from any living relatives of the Taliann line?” the elk shrugged, though attempting to sound sympathetic.
Allowing the man his paw back, Maxinimus considered the thought as he wrung his hands, “Yes… Actually, I perhaps have something you could aid me in, Imfay. Not quite a task or anything laborious; however, I would greatly appreciate your opinion on a matter.”
“If it pertains to your heir, I must insist you look elsewhere. After all, I would be considered a biased voice among it all,” Imfay remarked, feigning a modesty that would be belied by the truth of what he was about within himself.
For a little while, Maxinimus fell silent, watching the young elk peruse and inspect the various grave markers. It wouldn’t do to open the throne of Okyna to an elk; however, as he thought on the boy for a bit, it sounded a more or less reasonable choice. Instead of pressing the matter, Maxinimus changed course to what sat on his mind more prominently, “It is an issue that pertains to Okyna but perhaps more so to the greater kingdom itself, though not the succession at this moment.”
“What do you have on your mind, Maxin? Surely, it can not be so dire if it is not something I’m unaware of, I would hope,” Imfay replied skeptically, allowing the hidden powers of his personality to come to a halt.
With a look that did not inspire confidence in the elk, Maxinimus answered, “You see, Imfay, there are some foreigners, healers from the east, we have as captives. We can not say with definite certainty that what they did was an attempt on my son’s life, but neither can we dismiss it. You see why I’m perplexed by this situation. If we let them go back to the east, then we possibly send back killers who successfully destroyed a monarch of the west, our position is weakened, and for all we know, their armies await news of the prince’s death to invade. That is if they are guilty. If not, we send them back, and all is right in the world. Then we have the other option, to keep them or execute them. Both choices leave us with a similar outcome, the citizens are satisfied that justice has been dealt, a potential invasion quashed, and they are out of mind forevermore. However, if they were blameless in Maxin’s death, we stain our own paws with innocent blood. It is a no-win situation, I believe, even if my councilors believe otherwise.”
Imfay stood in stunned silence, unable to believe what he was hearing and beyond himself that his fellow Yerra- would not have disclosed the information to him sooner during his visit. For a moment, the elk considered forcing the man in his direction with the use of his powers, but that didn’t seem wholly necessary. Maxinimus was looking for a guiding voice, a way out, or at least a scapegoat should he make a poor choice; this was almost ideal for what he planned. Resting a friendly paw on the other man’s shoulder, he offered a gracious smile, “I see where you are coming from, my friend, and I believe you are in a position to make a choice that will cause ripples in the tide of history. I propose a solution that will benefit the Mes’un’Thra more than anything before.”
“I am listening. What do you intend?” Maxinimus asked, curiosity plain in his tone as he looked on the elk with wonder.
Pulling the man closer, as though what he was about to impart was to be a secret, “An absolute seizure of power. It sounds brash, almost foolish, I know but think of it. They have sent some of their own to our lands, no doubt intending to kill your son with faulty medical practices and perhaps even worse than just that. If we were to cut them loose and send them back, then best-case scenario, they celebrate their gruesome victory. If we’re wrong and they plot to siege the west, then we will never be ready. Better we bring the fight to them, take the east and topple their empires and reform them beneath us. No longer would we argue over the northern, central, and southern borders. We could split the continent into thirds and no longer have a single issue in regards to territory. So what do you say, Maxinimus?”
“Terlynn, come here,” Imfay called to his son as the Yerra- of Okyna left his side and went forth to inspect his child one last time. The youth, not yet through his teens, came quickly to his father’s side, minding the grieving man who wept his silent pains alone. He only briefly glanced at Maxinimus and an infinitely briefer time on the dead before fixing forward on Imfay. Stopping short, he awaited whatever instruction his father would give next to then fall in line with a turn of the elder elk’s head. Silently, they made their way away from the graves, the icy winds of Winter beginning to whip up across the fields. Almost in sync, the elk pulled their heavy knitted scarves over their muzzles and rose the collars of their shren hide coats.
Terlynn was much too like his father in that regard, he thought, whether it be by instinct or
deliberate mimicry, he couldn’t tell. If his father were hungry, so was he; if he was cold, so was Terlynn, and if Imfay was angry. With a shake of his still growing antlers, Terlynn removed the thought of his father’s scorn from his mind, even if it were only temporary. Perhaps it was better to be thought that in almost all aspects, they were alike. Even if their wants, their looks, their attitudes were nearly the same, their actions indeed were different. The type of behavior out of servants that would force Imfay’s paw into lashing would instead be abided by Terlynn if not met with a less harsh reprimand.
As they walked, Terlynn again measured the height of his horns against his father’s, wondering if he’d ever get quite so tall. Though he was already head and shoulders taller than most any of his age back home, Terlynn couldn’t imagine he could gain any more height. His father was a mountain of a man in that regard, yet was built very lean, a body type that Terlynn had no worries about mimicking. The prince was almost a twin of his father if only he were the right height, and that much he could be content with waiting for. However, what he was less readily willing to abide was waiting to see why his father had called him over with such haste.
Finally, about midway back to the palace, along the main thoroughfare, Imfay addressed his son, “We’re going to begin for home immediately, Terlynn.”
“Why, father? We’ve only just got here a night ago, and the services have only finished up a bit ago. I thought you said everything was in place back home for us to remain for a score of days or so,” Terlynn rebuffed, not so much in condemnation of his father but genuine confusion.
Clearing his throat, Imfay made as much clear to his son he possibly could, “There has been a change in our plans, you see, Terlynn. I don’t know if you caught it, but Yerra- Maxinimus has good suspicion to believe that the foreign healers, not those from our lands or the northern country, but some from the east, are likely the cause of the prince’s demise. We’ve surmised that it isn’t unfounded to believe that this is part of a greater scheme those treacherous nomads and barbarians have concocted. So now, we’re going to promptly return home and prepare our armies for war. The Okynan armies will lead the charge but need support. That is where we come in, or if we’re lucky, Yerra- Narihul will send troops from Jia’Nac, and we can fall behind them. Once we reach home, that will be our next move. Once everything is in order, we will head north to speak with the third Yerra-.”
“Okay, will I get to meet that Yerra- as well? After all, you said you wanted me down here to help build relations with some of those who could be my peers when the time came. You’ve never taken me up north before, so I’d appreciate being able to see the caribou lands, father,” came the response. The boy was a bit downcast for having to leave so quickly, but there was a spur of hope on the horizon.
Allowing his son to come abreast with him, Imfay rested a paw on Terlynn’s head, “Of course you’ll come with son. Your time as a Yerra- is fast approaching, and we need you ready, knowledgeable of those who will be so close in rank to yourself.”