Authors: Elí Freysson
The Silent War, Book 3
Published by Elí Freysson
Copyright 2016 Elí Freysson
I want to thank everyone who encouraged my writing endeavours through the years, Beatriz Ogeia and Alex Bradshaw for helping with proofreading, and the Fantasy Faction forums for being such a great little community.
The year 301 After Dissolution. Spring.
Peter Savaren stood up. It was time.
The meditation and the herbs had been the final part of mental preparation largely centred around erasing fear and doubt about the change, the sacrifice, the battle that lay ahead.
So he took the latch off the door and opened it into the hallway with a calm and focused heart. He left the little room he had used as a meditation room, and entered the Nest’s winding hallways.
The tunnel system was the coven’s haven. Here, up in the mountain looming over Mooncape, they had performed their rituals and experiments away from the eyes of the world. Here he and his brothers and sisters had unearthed the wisdom that had been lost over the centuries. Now their efforts would be put to the test.
This was a dangerous move. The ceremony had not been successful for generations. That knowledge had been lost in the internal strife that had plagued their secret society for so long and enabled their enemies to keep them down. But for no longer. He felt as much in his soul and bones. He was ready to take on the role the Brotherhood of the Pit needed. It was his duty and his right.
Peter heard the buzz of the ceremony and though he couldn’t make out the words he felt their power in the air. He had been taught as much since his earliest years, as was any descendant of Zakari Manso and the order he had founded. A great power had been summoned out beneath the night sky, and the only component missing was himself.
He arrived at the steps to the surface and took them with a slow, even pace. He knew that when he went back he would not be the same, perhaps even unrecognisable, but he had purged fear, doubt and excitement from his mind. So upon seeing the site of the ceremony he felt only focus and determination.
His brethren and servants stood in a semicircle on the mountain’s peak, surrounded by braziers which kept them warm in the night, air and illuminated the runic circle. It had been drawn on marble flagstones that had been arranged with great precision where Tovar Savaren had died.
Peter’s father had fallen while trying to seize power and uplift the coven a year earlier with the same mindset as so many of his predecessors. It had been a great loss to the coven and Peter himself, but if he had lived then this ceremony would most likely not have taken place. Nor would what it was meant to achieve. It was time to abandon methods and ideologies that had held the heirs of Zakari back, and to wield the same power as that great sorcerer.
The night was cold, but in spite of being stark naked Peter didn’t feel it. This was a moment of the mind, not the body.
His brethren were all hidden by their ceremonial hoods, becoming an unrecognisable crowd instead of individuals. In unison they chanted words mankind had not created, like one voice coming from many throats. His servants rode the stream of words they had practised incessantly for months. They were as one as the demonic song rang through the air and weakened the divide between worlds. It was almost as if the words worked through them, rather being spoken by them.
Peter made eye contact with no-one but saw that they were not too entranced to notice him. He himself focused on the circle drawn on the stones. It was a multi-layered work of art, power bound on the earth as runes, symbols and lines. Much of the coven’s preparation had gone into perfecting the circle. No still-living man had drawn such a thing, after all. Every single line had to be utterly precise to control and bind the entities which now observed them from beyond the divide.
Peter stepped inside the ring and knelt in the middle of it. His brethren began to chant faster and the words almost became a drumming. The sounds and power in the air were intertwined, and began to join with all of his senses. His heart beat in rhythm with the spell and the entities brushed up against Peter’s mind.
He picked up the small, sharp knife that had awaited him within the circle, and added his own words to the choir as he drew the blade along his left cheek. The blood leaked slowly down along his neck and joined with the runes that had been drawn onto his body.
The choir’s song turned into maddened screams and the entities flocked to Peter as he sang the final words of the spell.
They wanted to drown him, invade his soul and destroy everything in their path. But the signs on his body and the choir forced them to comply. He received them as they demanded, but with conditions and enough willpower to demand them.
The entities joined with him and for a moment, or an eternity, Peter knew truth and horror and power and secrets barred from flesh. He burned with pain, the like of which he had never imagined, but didn’t know whether it was his body suffering or something else, nor whether he screamed or the entities did.
The men of the Brotherhood finished the song and spoke in unison.
“On crossroads the flesh will be sacrificed. On a field of battle and a place of power the Dragon will burn as a man and rise again in great power. Hail to the Dragon in the shape of man.”
They watched the body inside the circle fall down on all fours. All were silent. The ceremony was concluded and the power in the air began fading away. It only remained to see the results.
Lars pulled the hood off his head. He was not known for letting emotions get the better of him. He was the cold knife and the loyal guard dog who had served Tovar Savaren loyally and skilfully, and now served his son. So he was rather surprised to feel his knees shake as his master looked up.
For the ceremony had been a success. What remained was neither Peter nor the entities. And what came next would mark a turning point.
The year 301 After Dissolution. Fall.
Hunger Isle was well named. It was little more than a pile of dirt that had managed to break the surface of the Inner Sea, but then given up and settled. It was flat and exposed to winds and little grew on it other than hardy grasses and other inedible plants. There was no fresh water to be had and the isle generally served no purpose other than to beach the occasional ship.
Consequently, it made for a fine meeting place.
Kolgrimur looked over the isle as he stood in the ship’s stem while his men rowed the final metres. Hiding an ambush there would be a challenge under any circumstances and he was quite sure it would be impossible now, given the crowd standing in a few separate groups on the middle of the isle.
Not that he had been worried. The Brotherhood had not lived up to its name in a long time, but some customs were always to be honoured and the peace circle was one of those. Kolgrimur looked at the circle in his grip. It had been woven from wicker and a single sunflower and had been delivered to him along with a call to a major meeting.
No man worthy of the word didn’t accept such an invitation, if only to know what was going on.
He counted the ships that had been dragged into the sand and squinted at the groups. All the coven leaders around the Inner Sea seemed to be in attendance. Kolgrimur was last, then, and the meeting could begin without delay.
The ship slid up on the beach. Kolgrimur’s men leapt overboard and dragged it far enough for it to stay there. He stepped ashore with the circle in his hand.
“Be at the ready,” he said softly, and approached the crowd.
His coming had been overlooked by no-one, and all eyes were on Kolgrimur as he headed to the middle of Hunger Isle trailed by his men. He carefully went over the situation, and the individuals and their weapons.
No-one approached him, but Anders did turn to face him and nod.
“Good day, brothers,” Kolgrimur said formally and inclined his head to the men who were his rivals and equals, enemies and kinfolk.
“Good day, Kolgrimur,” Anders said a bit dryly and the others repeated the words. He was thin, well-dressed and had perfectly straight grey hair that matched his eyes.
“Your cousin’s fate is on every lip,” said Boler, a short, stocky man with greying hair and a beard, and prematurely aged skin. “Our condolences.” Boler’s face and voice did not match the spirit of the words, but then he wasn’t known for displaying his feelings.
Kolgrimur stopped walking, and put his hands behind his back.
“Arvar chose to abandon my guidance and fumble for power,” he said in his dark voice. “He fell victim to his own carelessness.”
“Carelessness is not the problem around the Inner Sea these days,” Kohler said gloomily. All knew what the beefy, blond man was referring to.
“Are you quite sure of that, brother?” Kolgrimur replied.
Someone clapped hard three times, as a sign to pay attention. Kolgrimur looked towards the sound and saw Lars, the Savaren family’s loyal killer. He was bald, with deep-set, stinging eyes and a face that seemed specifically designed for causing unease.
The killer’s coven brethren were up to something behind him. The meeting clearly had begun.
“Welcome,” Lars said in his harsh voice. “My master Peter Savaren has called you all to this meeting to discuss important matters.”
One’s instincts were to watch the speaker, but Kolgrimur looked past him and saw the Mooncape men part for someone walking through the group.
“And where is the young master?” Anders asked.
Lars stepped aside and a person walked out of the group. No-one spoke but Kolgrimur heard a few muffled gasps.
The man wore a white robe with golden edges and a hood that cast the face into shadow. Old symbols Kolgrimur had only ever seen in books were sewn on the sleeves and shoulders. The garment was wide enough to swallow the man and turn him into a vague image of power instead of a person. This was the robe of the Dragon. The symbol of the highest leader.
Kolgrimur could not see his eyes behind the hood but still felt a shiver pass through himself and guessed it had been due to Peter’s gaze.
Renor, who could never stay silent for long, was the first to speak.
“You certainly are presumptuous, young man!” he said sternly.
“Yes,” Kohler said now that he wasn’t the first. “By what right do you wear that garment?”
The other leaders did not address the robed man directly, but Kolgrimur heard whispers among their subordinates.
Peter Savaren took his hands out of the sleeves and threw his hood back. All fell silent.
The face was pale, narrow, with a thin nose and crowned with short, black hair. The eyes sat deep in the skull and were so brown as to be almost black. They had always been that way but still, there was something different about them. They held a terrible power. Anyone raised to sorcery could see as much, but Kolgrimur had never felt such an aura from a human being. He immediately knew something enormous was going on and began to go over the possibilities and their consequences in his head.
Peter let his dark gaze fall upon every leader, one after the other, and Kolgrimur saw each one stiffen. He steeled himself as the boy turned his way.
Finally he finished the semicircle and put the hood back up.
“I am the Dragon clad in flesh,” he said in a dark voice that Kolgrimur felt carried strangely out of the hood’s shadow. “I am the rightful leader of the Brotherhood of the Pit and the heir of Zakari Manso. And I have come here to receive oaths of loyalty.”
Silence reigned for a few moments.
“How... how can that be?” Anders asked upon regaining his voice.
“We all know our forebears concealed many things in the old pages,” Peter said. “They hid their power and knowledge in riddles, which the internal strife of lesser leaders then scattered. We worked out which pages we needed and arranged for Vajan the kinless to bring them to my father to seal their alliance last year. He and his master Arvar,” Kolgrimur again felt the hidden gaze, “did not realize what they were giving away.”
“The ceremony has not been performed in lifetimes,” Fuller said. “No one knows how to harness that power. How can you have managed it?”
“We all know the mantra,” Peter said without looking at Fuller. He didn’t seem to be looking in any particular direction but it was difficult to be sure. He just took a few steps ahead until he was about the same distance from all the leaders.
“We stand upon crossroads regarding the fate of the Brotherhood. I sacrificed my blood in Mooncape’s place of power, which is now a field of battle as well after my father’s death last year. And I burned. I fulfilled all the conditions.”
He raised his hands high, like a funeral chanter.
“It is time to cease inner conflicts!” he said. “It is time to end division. Conflict is natural to men and as long as leadership is divided between many we will keep ourselves down and expose our throats to our foes. We need to stop hiding in shadows, trying for power with craft and endless patience. That has been tried for generations. We must snatch it with fire and steel and take our place in the world again.”
“This is madness,” said old Rovin, who never minced words. “Even if you have dug up some power and call yourself the Dragon you have no business bringing fire down upon us. Secrecy is what has kept us alive.”
“As hungry cutpurses pinching the occasional crumbs of power.”
“The old days are long since past!” said Jonas Tinvil, Rovin’s right hand. “By what right do you intend to doom us?”