Of Mortals: Chapter Thirty-Five

“That’s it! I got it now! You’re a bastard of the Yerra. There are no two ways about,” Marshal Litheiuss remarked, setting down across the young private, Orathone. He wagged his finger in the other man’s muzzle with conviction, “I was at the ceremony, probably one of the few close enough to look at the heir. You look just like him, and I’d swear you’re a brother or cousin to him if the old Taliann line were any stronger than it’s been in the past few generations.”

“I don’t know if that’s intended as a compliment or not, Marshal,” Orathone replied, sowing the seeds of his oats into the mess of his bowl that was supposed to be breakfast. Times were getting tough, Winter being a primary instigator for the hard patch they reached and helped in no way by the new orders that Yerra Maxinimus had begun laying down. To Orathone, or at least to Litheiuss, who gave his apprentice all his insight, there was a new system in place. For some reason, an inner circle of knights to the Yerra was treated well while the others were essentially left out. Those anointed to whatever status they held were fed well, housed better, and treated as nothing more than sharp and shiny ornaments to be hung about the halls of the Taliann estate. The rest were left to go into business for themselves, pray they may be raised up in the ranks eventually, or turn on those who were too dangerous to be let go in the hopes of gaining the Yerra’s favor. It was little surprise to Orathone that Litheiuss would rather joke than face the truth of it all.

“Why do you say that about the bloodline of the Yerra?” Orathone whispered his question, not only attempting to hide his inability to make S’s properly but also to keep from exciting to many in the mess hall.

The Marshal was far less subtle, changing neither tone nor volume in his voice, “Well, the sixth, had only his one son, and Maxinimus the seventh was lame and ill and well passed on, may they blood leave him lie. But the father of the current Yerra had only that one son and his sire one son and one daughter. That son was murdered in his cradle by another trying to take the throne. So our Yerra’s grandfather had to select a man to marry into the bloodline and assume the role of Yerra on his death.”

“Do you think it’s… Do you think it’s the bloodline of that grandfather that married in that’s weak, or was it the true Taliann blood?” Orathone put forth the question with hesitation.

Litheiuss only chuckled in rebuttal, “That’s the real question, isn’t it? Which blood got us into this mess, or was the Goredrinker involved? No one knows, but I know we’ve best be getting on for the day.”

After emptying their bowls and loading them up in their day packs, the two deer exited into the desolate city streets. Neither wanted to address the rumors running rampant since nightfall, but both were more than aware of them. Orathone was just glad that had the events last night been factual that neither he nor his master had been involved, yet the veteran was less convinced of that much. It wasn’t that Litheiuss believed there wasn’t an issue with the northerners that had been guests to the city, there was still evidence that supported the claims of violence, but he wasn’t confident he didn’t want to be caught up in all of it. If they had scarped with the elk, they both could have wound up dead, and it simply wasn’t worth the potential of moving up in the ranks. There was a chance to confirm what gossip was passed about between the lower-cast soldiers about the inner circle, again a reward not worthy of his life. Regardless, it was too late now to do anything but postulate what had sparked the unrest and what remained of the aggressors. Litheiuss had been given an idea, but it required more proof before the claim could be substantiated.

“What’s on the agenda today? Have any of the paths cleared up to the north?” Orathone asked, knowing the answer was already established after an endless succession of days with little activity beyond training, banter, or brawling with other low cast would-be knights.

The Marshal led his sole subordinate to the gates of the Yerra’s estate, “I’m thinking we get in there. We’ll either get a good idea of what’s going on with these ‘elite’ guards, or I should, if nothing else, give the Yerra my proper notice. If there’s nothing for us here and he has nothing for anyone outside of his circle, we should forge northward.”

“The trails, though? You said yourself they wouldn’t be manageable for the rest of the season, at least if not into Spring,” Orathone protested, thinking what that life would be. Living on the move while Winter still loomed only half-finished.

Litherius, long in antler and graying in the muzzle, didn’t buck at all for the worry in his apprentice’s tone, “It will be manageable because one way or the other, those elk got down here and the Yerra knows at least one of them got away.”

“Do you think any one of them could have made it all the way back to their home without issue?”

“We’ll see. Perhaps there’s a bounty on the escapees. If not, they caught them, or there’s a cover-up in the works. At any rate, let’s get in there and do our talking. And you don’t open your muzzle about a single thing we’ve talked about. You oblige and go along with what I say if asked, that’s it,” the elder deer ordered before heading for the path into the estate grounds.

Orathone browsed the collection of oddities hung, cluttered and erected all around the study of the Yerra while the Marshal discussed matters with Maxinimus. It was not difficult to find items that sparked his interest but viewing them was a touch more complicated, having all the knights that could be stuffed in the room lining the walls. Just as the multitude of bones and artifacts were items Orathone could never imagine having seen before in his life, he was equally impressed if not put off by the auras the knights cast. Then again, thinking more thoroughly, much of what he had or had not experienced beyond the past score of days was in a fog. It was as though with the coming of Winter, his mind had become enamored with a stupidity that was hard to calculate. Litheiuss diagnosed it as simple trauma to the head, a swelling that would dissipate in time and enlighten him to what had been lost. But he had also insisted any swollen tissue would have removed the clouding over his mind, yet Orathone had no such marks on his brow. All that stood out on his skull were the horns that had grown to little more than buttons of bone as though he were just a youth. Again, the elder deer explained it away as an uncommon but not impossible rare ailment that prevented the proper growth of antlers. Litheiuss had attempted to comfort with the judgment, insisting that he was one of the lucky ones, able to grow even minor points. In contrast, others would have none and appear closer to a female overall, unfortunately. After a time, Orathone’s daydreaming was broken off by the call of Litheiuss who’s tone had sharpened to an edge more dangerous than his blade.

“Yerra Maxinimus, this is my apprentice. Private Orathone will be traveling with me to root out any of the other infidels trying to creep in from the north or beyond,” Litheiuss tried to cover any disdain he had for the younger man’s absent-mindedness in his response to the Yerra.

Bowing slightly, Orathone took stock of the Yerra seated before a tall and narrow stained glass window that cast him in multi-colored shadows. For a moment, the young buck felt a queer tugging on his mind while looking at the Yerra. However, he quickly forgot this, remembering to bow to a full and proper angle. Quietly, though clear as not to mutter, Orathone address Maxinimus, “An honor, Yerra Maxinimus.”

“Yes, an honor, I am sure,” Maxinimus remarked, waving away the formalities with a simple gesture, “Honor is not that important to me, young Orathone. What I care is that my officers return alive. The teacher imparts wisdom on the student yet, the student must do their part to protect their teacher. Should Marshal Litheiuss come into harm, his life at risk, you must do whatever it takes to change his fate, even if it means taking his place. I have far more use for a seasoned officer than one of your ‘stature.'”

“Yes, Yerra Maxinimus. I will do all in my power to ensure we both return safely,” Orathone whispered, subduing his own glare before setting it against the dimly lit glower of the Yerra.

Litheiuss was quick to react, seeing both men sparking with irritation, “Of course, we will both return without issue. Between my might and Orathone’s eagle eyes and nerves, those northern invaders stand the chances of a fly in the spider’s web.”

“He’s not the same as the man I once knew. You could tell something was strange about the whole meeting, couldn’t you?” Litheiuss whispered as they exited the estate.

Keeping an eye out for anyone who may be eavesdropping, Orathone nodded, “I don’t like him. He rubs me the wrong way. I guess I wouldn’t know what he was like before, but he isn’t someone I would trust to turn my tail to.”

“I’d like to just believe that losing his son turned him into a more morose and dismal man. However, I’ve known others to lose a child, and they came back around eventually. Even knowing his line is vanquished without an heir, I can’t imagine… Where are you going?” Litheiuss called to Orathone, who wandered off to the wall of the estate.

Orathone came to a low window barely visible as the snow banked high and only allowed a brief opening for the portal. Dense iron bars led into a nearly pitch-black corridor that seemed to be of similar qualities to the rusted frame. Looking in, Orathone could discern, just barely as his eyes adjusted, that what lay inside was undoubtedly a dungeon. Somewhere inside, someone whispered a less than distinct command that only barely touched the deer’s ears. Litheiuss was coming over as Orathone, stealthy as he could, slid an arrow from the quiver of shorts on his thigh. Just as the Marshal made it to his apprentice, Orathone tossed the bolt in and stood to full height, meeting the man’s queer glance. He shrugged, “Sorry, Lith, I thought I heard someone talking. What’s down there you think?”

“Food stores on one side and dungeon cells on the other. Why do you ask?” Litheiuss asked, aware there was little to glean from the question.

Orathone could only make a forced and awkward grin, “Must have just been a servant taking inventory.”

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