Chapter One Year 4730 – The Sacred Tower of Jenh
After years of studying the ways of his kingdom, the time had come for the elder son of Empress Arialla Antarius to be crowned as prince of Onsira and heir to the throne. The coronation was to be a grand and joyful event, for the crowning of a prince meant that he, with his new duties and responsibilities, could help the people. The empress had spent months preparing for her son to be crowned, inviting nobles from all regions of Onsira, as well as the other kingdoms of Manastaecies. They gathered at the realm’s capital, Jzifélan, and eagerly awaited the ceremony that would be held inside the tower at the center of the palace. Everyone would witness the crowning of her beloved son and the hope for a brighter future.
When the day finally came, it seemed as though everyone, especially Loracaz, was both excited and apprehensive. It was midwinter day, Loracaz II’s twentieth birthday, the earliest day that Onsiran law would allow him to be crowned. The day seemed far more solemn than he had expected it to be. Although it marked his transition into adulthood, and he had the people’s full support and trust, his heart felt anything but happy and light. Most of the happiness surrounding his coronation stemmed from the hope that he would be able to put a stop to his father’s tyranny, and he worried about whether he would actually be able to do anything.
On the third floor of the royal palace, Loracaz stood on his balcony, looking down upon the garden. Ser’s light cut through the overshadowing clouds to shine down upon the trees and statues. He watched with eyes of rich, velvety blue, sprinkled with lines of shining green, as his people walked the cobbled path from the palace to the garden tower, seeming to not care at all about the snow piled on the ground. His hands gripped the railing as he thought of all of them filling the seats of the coronation hall inside the sacred tower, eager to watch the coronation. Faerie-light sparkled here and there among the elves, and a few small dragons had been allowed inside.
“You needn’t be so nervous, Loracaz.” The voice startled the prince, who had no time to turn around before a silken hand caressed his. He breathed in the sweet aroma with which he was so very familiar. “What have you to fear from the people who love you so very dearly?”
Loracaz turn to gaze at the woman who had come up beside him. The vision of her made him feel calmer. She reminded him of Goddess Jenh herself, the way her hair and gown were adorned with jewels of emerald, gold, and amber, The jewels accentuated her slender neck and long fingers, and there was an aura about her that reminded anyone who saw her they she was high priestess of Jenh’s head temple.
“Liriel,” he breathed, smiling affectionately as he met her eyes. They glowed with Jenh’s colors: bright shades of yellow and green. “I have nothing to fear with you at my side. What I do worry about is whether I will actually be able to fulfill their hopes.” He gestured to the people who walked so joyfully below them.
“How can you fail when you are so devoted, my love?” she replied, then looked down at the garden. The subtle movement shifted the tiny silver bells that adorned her veil, and they twinkled. It was a sound that Loracaz heard often, but that he never grew weary of. In fact, to him the priestess looked more magnificent than ever, dressed in preparation for the blessing that she would bestow upon his coronation. Her very presence lightened the prince’s heart.
“You are nowhere near ready for the ceremony, dear prince,” Liriel said after a moment, looking over the undershirt and plain cotton pants that he wore. “Come, you need to finish dressing right away.”
Her comment made Loracaz blush. His white linen shirt, edged in a design of interlocking blue lines, gave him the semblance of his legendary ancestor, but it hardly completed the formal uniform that he was expected to wear for the ceremony. He nodded to Liriel, then followed her back into his room. In his hearth, a fire glowed and crackled, providing them with a warmth that was a welcome change from the bitter cold outside.
As she looked around for his clothes, Liriel noticed a book laying among the pillows of his bed, and smiled to herself. “Are you still tired from staying up so late with your studies, sweet prince?”
“Only a little,” Loracaz replied as he sat on the edge of his bed. “You are certainly affectionate today, Liriel.”
“It is suiting for your twentieth birthday, is it not?” she replied, then winked at him. “Would you rather that your beloved not regale you?”
“Certainly not,” he chuckled in reply, and took her hands into his.
Looking down at him, Liriel smiled shyly. Though they both loved one another very dearly, their positions as prince and priestess left them nervous together. Obligation as much as respect limited their affections. Until the day when they joined their hearts together through the Rites of Kuetzarrin, it had to remain that way. Not only that, but their purity was expected to remain unblemished until they were joined. Knowing that, they were always careful in how much they allowed themselves to demonstrate the feelings in their hearts.
“Loracaz…” she whispered, blushing, “You’ve got to prepare for the ceremony.”
He met her eyes, gazing back at her with a longing stare before pulling her closer. The bells on her veil twinkled as she nearly fell onto his lap. She grasped the prince’s shoulder, and the white silk of her gown draped over the coarser fibers that covered his legs. Liriel gasped and looked straight into his eyes. Feeling how close she was to him, her leg touching his, her heart fluttered.
“Worry not, dear priestess. I would never let you fall.” Loracaz intertwined his fingers with Liriel’s. His free hand slipped beneath her veil and caressed her pale cheek, then played in the rich locks of her onyx hair.
In the silence that followed, Liriel drew closer to her prince, slowly allowing her eyes to fall closed. She took in a deep breath, almost able to taste his aroma of books and incense that surrounded the man she loved. Before she could exhale, she felt her veil lift, then his lips touching hers, the heat of his skin warding off the mid-winter cold. Another bell twinkled when Loracaz moved his hand to pull her closer into his kiss, and she gave her body to his grasp. A soft moan emerged from her throat as she melted against him. His tongue slipped past hers, and he held her close, unwilling to end their kiss too soon.
“Loracaz…” Liriel whispered when at last he released her.
The prince grinned. “You act as though it is your first kiss every time,” Loracaz told her in a hushed voice.
Liriel felt her cheeks warm with blush as she pushed a lock of rich brown hair from his forehead. “You always make it feel that way.”
He chuckled softly. “If you continue act this sweetly with me, Liriel, then that shall never change.”
Then another voice came from the hallway. “You’ve gotten so close, despite not being ceremonially joined together yet.”
Started, Liriel immediately stood up straight and smoothed the skirt of her gown. She glanced over at the boy who stood in the doorway, but avoided looking directly at him.
Loracaz met his gaze evenly. “Good morning, Zarrek,” he said flatly, not at all pleased at his brother’s habit of sneaking in so quietly.
With a nod, Zarrek stepped into his elder brother’s room and shut the door behind him. The lad, little more than twelve years old, was already dressed for the ceremony. He wore black pants, the sides edged in yellow and green lines, and a velvet shirt of a deep shade of violet. His collar was pinned with a broach given to him by their father, and his boots, polished to a gleaming black, reached halfway up his calves.
“Father asked me to make sure that you were ready on time,” Zarrek told them as he walked over to sit in his brother’s armchair. “You should not distract the high priestess from helping you dress.”
“It is all right, young prince,” Liriel told Zarrek with a smile. “Our people are still making their way into the tower. Loracaz shall arrive in good time.”
Zarrek gazed at her with his hazel eyes. His dark brow, and the straight cut of his carbon-black hair at his chin, made him look much sterner than a boy of twelve should have. The outline of his muscles could be seen through his sleeves, reminding Loracaz of how different the two were; he spent his time studying, while Zarrek was often sparring with his father or visiting the temples to hone his magic. His words also reminded Loracaz of the feeling that their father preferred the younger lad and had higher hopes for him.
With a gesture from Liriel, the prince got to his feet and accepted his silken overshirt from her. It was a mixture of sun-lit yellow and vibrant green. Its white collar was decorated with one of Jenh’s symbols: a diamond with yellow at its top, dissolving into green at the bottom. One he had donned it and buttoned the cuffs at his wrists, Liriel smoothed a wrinkle from his chest and gave him an endearing smile.
“Zarrek,” she began as she handed Loracaz his ivory pants, “has Yanve finished his preparations in the ceremonial hall?”
As they spoke, Loracaz pulled the pants over his legs, admiring the way the golden-green lines that ran down each side accented his height. He was also glad that custom dictated the wearing of two layers of clothing; it would warm him against the chill of winter’s air. At the very least, the prince noted, the snow had stopped falling long enough for his ceremony to be conducted. It had snowed the entire week before, worrying everyone, the empress most especially, whether it would even be possible to access the central tower in such weather.
“Aye, High Priestess.” Zarrek’s replied, his voice demonstrating full respect to her; his father had raised him to offer nothing less to those who communed with the elemental goddess. Although they had accepted Métius, they had not forsaken Jenh “The Shrine of the Crowns is ready to be opened.”
Seeing that Loracaz was nearly ready, the priestess took a cummerbund of pale gray silk from his dresser, then wrapped it around his narrow waist. She fastened it at his back, then gave him an admiring smile; it was no secret to anyone that she found him unfathomably handsome. Now that he was so regally dressed, his mess of hair, which draped haphazardly past his shoulders, looked quite out of place. Zarrek watched her escort his brother to another chair and begin to run a brush through his dark locks.
His parents had once been that affectionate to one another, Zarrek thought to himself, although they hardly showed it anymore. Even if the boy had been old enough to worry about why they had changed so much in the past few years, or what other things they once had once shared together, he hadn’t the time to do so. He was glad to have his rituals and swordsmanship to occupy him; letting the attention of a woman sway him would make him as weak as his brother.
Seeing them together, the youth understood exactly why his father disapproved of Loracaz so strongly. Whether or not the couple followed suitable protocol in their conduct, it was Z’Lé’s expectations for his sons that mattered the most, and Loracaz did not abide by them well enough. He had too little skill to protect his beloved, let alone his kingdom. With that in mine, Zarrek saw the day’s coronation as nothing more than an empty gesture.
Once Loracaz had his hair tied back, he was ready to don the boots that he reserved for ceremony, the forest-green leather with the same white lining and dual-colored diamonds that matched his shirt. Nervous tension aside, Loracaz was ready to accept his crown and make his title of prince official.
Seeing that his brother was nearly ready, Zarrek excused himself and left the room. Loracaz watched him leave, an uneasy feeling weighing on his mind.
“He is so strange, Liriel,” he commented.
“You still feel that he acts mysteriously?” she replied. “I see no harm in his eccentricities, sweet prince.” Liriel wrapped her small hand around his and leaned on his shoulder.
“Not so,” he told her, smiling at the feel of her warmth. “Métius inspires him to act like that. I cannot understand why Father was so insistent upon taking him to that awful temple, yet he does not ask me to go.”
“Doesn’t he? I remember you mentioning once or twice that he had.”
Loracaz shook his head. “He only inferred that I should, for the good of unification. What I mean is, he has never demanded that I go, not the way that he does with Zarrek. He will even argue with Mother about that matter.”
“Your father is indeed a rare man,” Liriel commented. “He allows you to court Jenh’s high priestess, yet your brother must dwell in the temple of evil if he is to visit mine as well.”
The gentle way in which Liriel spoke of it made the prince scoff. “You make it sound acceptable, even though this kingdom has had such misfortune come to it ever since the Temple of Métius was built. How could he accept the Destroyer’s temple, knowing that suffering would come with it? Strange things have been happening in this kingdom, and they get worse as the years go on.”
“I know, Loracaz,” Liriel replied. “The reports come to us from all over the kingdom every month. Many of those who take refuge in the temple worry that Métius is at the root of the unending rains that ruined our crops this fall, as well as the snows that fall so thickly this winter. Some claim that they’ve seen his demons roaming the night.” She turned to stare up into her lover’s eyes.
Without a word, he caressed her cheek, gazing down at her. His thoughts fluttered around, wondering what he could possibly do about the evil that seemed to be spreading across the land. The hopes of his people were set upon Prince Loracaz alone, yet he was not at all certain how he was going to help them. Strange forms had been glimpsed during that year’s darkest nights, twisted things only half seen by the elves. The mornings after those nights, there were bodies found scattered across the realm, pallid and contorted, as though the had been subjected to torture before having their life-force stolen away.
Other times, families reported someone missing. None lost had yet been found, and Loracaz wondered whether the sight of them would even be a welcome one if they were.he found it hard to pull himself away from thoughts such as those, to focus on his coronation, but he also worried that he would have to prepared to shield his people from the Destroyer’s dark powers.
Thus far, Liriel and the high priest had been able to do nothing more than console their followers. Against the evil god, the elemental goddess had little power or defense. They’d had to enlist the aid of Kearr’s priests, who possessed spells of purification and healing. It was a difficult request for those devout to Jenh to make, and even Loracaz hoped to restore Onsira without Kearr. If he kept on studying, he believed, he would find out exactly how to accomplish such a feat.
“Let us begin, Liriel,” he said at last, and graced her bejeweled forehead with one more kiss. “Father is quick to anger when he is kept waiting.”
With a nod, High Priestess Liriel walked beside her prince as they left his chambers and proceeded down the hall. Loracaz admired the way way her presence felt so gentle and unimposing presence; she was, despite being the head of the capital city’s temple, and she was quiet and unassuming, as well as understanding. Her compassionate nature soothed him and made him feel that together, they could heal Onsira. All that he could hope for beyond that was that she would one day ascend the throne as his queen, and rule Onsira in peace with him.
At the top of the stairway, the couple smiled at Empress Arialla and her emperor. The sight of her son in such regalia awed Arialla; he had grown into a man as handsome and honorable as he was intelligent, and her faith in him was stronger because of it. She had dressed for warmth as much as formality that day; her blue gown was lined with fur, its chestnut-brown collar peeking out from beneath her auburn hair to warm her neck. Her eyes, though stained red from nights of pain and lack of sleep, matched the azure hue of her gown.
Years ago, they had once sparkled with affection for the man at her side, and she had been able to smile with pride for having chosen him. Since he had become a monster of an emperor, her joy and love were no more, and all that remained to attract his attention was the youthful pallor that still lingered upon her skin. She took no joy in that, though; it reminded her of the naïve youth who had chosen Z’Lé as her life-long lover, the first step in her dooming of the kingdom.
Emperor Z’Lé towered above Arialla’s small form. For an elf, he was exceptionally tall: over six feet. From his head, hair of purest black, stretched down to the middle of his back. Like Loracaz, he had tied it back, tight and smooth. When his shining amber eyes met his son’s, the prince looked away, chilled by the stern gaze that he found. Ashamed as he was to avoid his own father, he could not face the man who would hurt his own people, even his own empress, and kill in the name of an empire that only he wanted.
He was relieved when Zarrek stepped up to his side; his presence meant that they were ready for the ceremony to begin. Loracaz released a nervous sigh, and was about to hook his arm into Liriel’s when a squire came towards them with a bundle of clothing. With a respectful greeting, he offered a shawl of white fur to the empress.
“Your cloak, Lordship,” the lad said next. Z’Lé nodded and allowed the boy to drape his cloak of rich purple velvet around his shoulders. He pinned it with a broach in the shape of Onsira’s old banner: a squat, round leaf with a glittering star to represent the goddess. This star, however, sparkled black beneath his chin, rather than the traditional golden yellow.
Since the younger prince already wore his cloak, the squire turned to Loracaz next. “I have brought the ceremonial cape, your highness.”
Loracaz nodded, and accepted the thickly-woven cloth. It was dark green, lined with golden silk, and the embroidery incorporated tiny beads of jade and malachite here and there. He pulled the cloth close around him so that it would keep him warm against the snow-chilled air outside.
He tried not to focus on the extent of the cold or the way slow fell thicker and thicker every year. Once he had more authority, he would be able to do more to determine why Winter came earlier and lasted longer, why the rains grew worse in the spring and fall and the summer heat burned unbearably. He gazed down the stairs that would lead him out into the palace’s garden, reminding himself that he had to focus on the ceremony if he wanted to have more power to ensure that his people were fed even though so many of the crops failed.
The prince’s people were counting on him. A wave of realization, standing a mere sliver of time away from bearing the well-being of Onsira’s thousands of citizens and the fate of all the races upon his crown, shocked him. Could he really change what his father had done? He was beginning to starve his own people, and few kingdoms were willing to trade with the expanding empire that Z’Lé had made the kingdom into. Loracaz still could not understand why. The prince trembled at the thought of his father being anything like the king of Thiizav.
Perhaps it was only the cold, Loracaz thought to himself. Emperor Z’Lé may have been acting misguided of late, but the prince could not envision him as a dark lord. King Vulekthoz was a servant of Métius, and in that right held ultimate power over Thiizav, tolerating no defiance. Though he questioned his father’s allowance of demon-worshiping ambassadors in Onsira, Loracaz could not accept that his father was a servant of evil. He did possess a Zeah, after all; nobody could worship the Demon King and retain the magic granted to them by Goddess Jenh. His worries were merely rooted in the possibility that he might go so far as to sacrifice his Zeah in exchange for greater power.
“Loracaz?” Liriel’s soothing voice interrupted; she knew how he often let his thoughts digress, and had made it her goal to pull him back into the present whenever he seemed to wander too far.
“I am ready,” he replied, trying not to sound too distracted.
Zarrek gazed up at his brother, his face a mixture of unease and disappointment. Like his father, the child believed that Loracaz was not quite fit to be prince. He would only practice sparring when absolutely required to do so, although his skill– or rather, his lack thereof, proved how much he needed it. Though proud of his own technique, Zarrek was sometimes ashamed to admit that his elder brother lost to him when they sparred.
Z’Lé refused to knight him. He would not allow Loracaz to practice with the even the lowest-ranking soldiers of his army, for fear of showing how unskilled he was. To the emperor, any prince who could not best his own warriors was merely a noble of ceremony, not worthy of being knighted. In fact, it was the warrior aspect of nobility that the emperor stressed. If he could not convince his son of that, even after emphasizing the ancient hero’s deeds and the praise granted to those who were skillful with a spear, he would leave the boy to be shaped by his own shame.
Knowing what his mother stood for, Zarrek both hoped for Loracaz to become a prince worthy of Onsira. At the same time, he’d taken to heart what his father had taught him about pride and power, longed to accept the crown for himself instead. Under Onsiran law, Loracaz’s dedication to Goddess Jenh made him fully worthy of taking the crown. It was one of the few things that Z’Lé had not been able to change. Had he been able to, he would have withheld the crown until his son had become proficient in at least one weapon.
Loracaz had shown some interest in the time-honored spear, the weapon that legend dictated had been used by Loracaz I to free the goddess from her crystalline prison. It was that feat which had made the hero into the realm’s first king. To his father’s disappointment, Loracaz II spent too little time learning to use the spear and too much time with the high priestess. Had he such capacity, Z’Lé would have rescinded the archaic laws that allowed Loracaz to focus on leading Onsira as Jenh’s herald.
Emperor Z’Lé resented his son for letting Jenh’s priestess win his heart, He had meant for his children to respect all four deities equally. Besides that, he he believed that a nobleman was meant to be mighty above all piety. Though he had considered it, Z’Lé never mentioned the sacrilege that he saw in taking a priestess from her maidenhood; taking the throne was the only way for an elemental priestess to leave behind her vow of chastity.
In the end, despite all of his protests and arguments, Z’Lé had been unable to deny Loracaz the crown and the honor of being heir apparent. It was impossible to not give his firstborn what the ancient laws had promised him, and he was forced to walk with him into the tower and grant him the rights of the royal bloodline.
The procession began with a joyful fanfare from the musicians who lined the garden path. As the sound of the trumpets and drums guided him towards the doors, Loracaz could hear his footsteps pounding with every heartbeat, and it was not until Liriel pulled her hand from his that he realized how hard he’d been clutching it. She gave him a weak smile, understanding his tension.
Loracaz II walked through the garden behind his parents, relieved to not have the emperor glaring down at him. He felt incredibly tense around his father, and for many reasons. Many knew that Z’Lé had become cruel to his empress, and they were all relieved to know that he had never harmed his children. Whatever frustration Loracaz caused him, it never evolved into the same punishment that Arialla received; for her, his anger brought fear and betrayal that hurt far more than the bruises he left her with.
Above all else, Loracaz could never shake the feeling that there was something more to his father that would bring harm to them all. Not just to the family, but to all of Onsira and the spreading empire that it had become.
“Are you afraid?”
Loracaz blinked, having been deep in thought once again. He looked over to Liriel, soothed by the compassion in her eyes, and shook his head. “No,” he replied. “I am only anxious to have this ceremony completed.”
He turned to gaze out of the archway that led from the palace to its central garden. Outside, priests and priestesses lined the snowy banks of the path that led to the tower. They were chanting the ancient hymn of the kingdom. A pair of knights stepped into the doorway and greeted. They were dressed in full ceremonial armor, bearing spears adorned with yellow and green ribbons, reminders of what Loracaz could have been.
Liriel told him something to comfort him, but he was not listening. Instead, Loracaz was watching his parents and his brother walk down the path. In the snow, bards were dancing beside sorcerers in celebration. Usually demure and stoic in their colorful robes, that day they worked playful and colorful magic. With so many spells flittering about the garden, Emperor Z’Lé seemed even more mysterious and foreboding in comparison. As much as he spoke of respecting all four gods equally, it seemed that the shadows clung to him closest of all.
Lately, Loracaz had found his father’s presence more and more haunting, It wasn’t just because of his acceptance of Métius; it was also in the way he treated Arialla. When Z’Lé had his way, he seemed affectionate, even doting. Other times, he showed no hesitation in ensuring that she knew just how angry he was. Loracaz often wondered how much influence Métius had over his father’s temper, and what could be done to tame it.
“We’re almost there, Loracaz,” Liriel whispered to him, letting her had caress him.
Loracaz nodded and drew in a long breath to steady himself.
The tower that he was walking towards was a representation of another key part of the old legends: the tower where Goddess Jenh had been kept while she was entrapped. It was in a tower that rose above the mounts that Métius had caged her in a crystal that seep away her elemental powers. It was in memory of her champion that the royal palace had been built, as well as the tower at its center. Its bricks were lined with gold filigree, and all five stories were decorated with banners of green and yellow.
As Loracaz passed through the doors, Liriel’s arm hooked in his, the building towering above him like the gates to a godly realm, the priests followed them inside. The open space inside awed him. Story upon story on either side of him were filled with elves and fae alike, dwarfing the altar at the other end of the hall. Many of the other kingdoms had sent delegates to witness the crowning of the prince. The sacred tower was incredible when it was empty, but to be there when it was filled with people who had come for his sake was beyond words.
Windows of stained glass, each depicting a scene from the ancient texts, filtered colorful light into the great hall. The air felt warm, and it smelled of the same soothing incense that Liriel often did. Once the final priest in the procession was inside, a pair of servants, dressed as ceremoniously as their rulers, pulled the bronze doors closed. The creaking of metal, and the hard, echoing sound once they were shut, was the signal for silence from audience.
On the dais that upheld the altar, High Priest Yanve watched the royal family’s every step towards him. The glow that surrounded him signified to everyone that he was the High Priest of Jenh, who led the temple along with Liriel. His ivory robe and mantle were edged in a pattern of yellow and green triangles, stitched together with fine golden thread. They had been handed down from one high priest to the next for as long as he could remember, along with the circlet that adorned his hair. Its leaves, pounded from sheets of gold, shone against his graying hair, and in the middle of it, just above his forehead, was a gleaming emerald.
Yanve was a humble man who only wore such finery on ceremonial occasions, a trait which had earned him the respect of his people. He was a descendant of Shiir, the first elf to meet Jenh, and bore the same aura that the goddess had granted his ancestor. The elderly elf hardly seemed mortal, so deft and sublime were his movements and stature.
“Citizens of Jenh’s kingdom,” he began in a deep voice, as gentle as it was steeped in power. “Hail to Her Imperial Majesty, monarch descended from the holy bloodline of Jenh’s champion, Empress Arialla Antarius!”
Resounding cheers and fanfare filled the room as Arialla stepped onto the dais and bowed to the high priest. As she gazed up at him, he recognized the suffering in her eyes, the pain that so often brought her to him for counsel and refuge. The air between them became thick with his desire to free her from the sorrow that ached within her heart, to lighten the burden of the people whose lives had been changed because of her decision over two decades past.
Yanve nodded to the empress, and she took her place upon a throne that had been carved from stone taken from the ruins of the legendary tower. He then presented the emperor to the audience, who hailed him, even if it was only to keep from insulting him and inciting his anger. Yanve had only unfeeling eyes for the tyrant; his gestures were empty of the reverence that he had shown Arialla. Never before had a high priest disapproved of a ruler as Yanve did, and never had a leader of Onsira so threatened Jenh’s clergy.
By Jenh’s grace, Z’Lé took no notice of the priest’s unfeeling actions, and took his seat beside Arialla.
With Zarrek, however, the high priest felt far more unnerved. Yanve had never known anyone so young who know so much about the dark arts of Métius. Besides that, he tread the line between opposing schools of magic; it was a feat that only a sorcerer should attempt, and only with the balance of the other two schools and careful training at an academy of magic. No sorcerer, however, would partake of the devotional ceremonies that Zarrek had.
Zarrek believed in unification, but his approach seemed different from his father’s. There was promise in him that he could take the good from what Z’Lé wanted and do away with the dark facets of it. He needed only the right guidance. Yanve was cautious around the boy, but did his best to keep from shunning him altogether; he could not forsake the boy and let Métius be the only god who would accept him.
Once the priest had presented the young prince to the people, Zarrek bowed to them, then gave the priest a cautious look. Rather than make any comment on what he sensed from the aging man, however, the boy walked over to his father, where he stood watchfully.
“Praise to the holy son of Legend,” the priest declared when Loracaz approached him, his every word hinged upon the honor and loyalty that dwelt between them. “Give welcome to our future leader, who bears the name of Jenh’s greatest hero: first-born son of Arialla Antraius and Z’Lé Spyrytte His Royal Highness, Loracaz II!”
His announcement brought grand, roaring cheers from every being gathered throughout the tower’s five stories. The noise was like the voices of the gods, so profound and overpowering was it.
‘You must protect this realm,’ Loracaz though he heard them say. ‘You must purge it of all evil.’
To Loracaz, those duties were of highest importance; he never accepted praise without remembering what he owed his people for their allegiance. In that cacophony of of praise and applause, the prince could feel his people’s love for him resounding, down to his core, and he understood just how much they had come to rest all of their hopes on him.
It wounded him that his father would take advantage of the kind of trust that rulers had from the populace. Z’Lé had not hesitated in sending them into battle for an empire that was beyond the ambition of any other ruler. He had an odd sort of charisma, powerful enough to inspire so many of his people to join the royal army — enough to see it grow by more than threefold. He had sent them to cross the borders of the three kingdoms that neighbored Onsira and occupy their lands. Whereas the Dragonridge Mountains had always demarcated Onsira’s borders, in the seven years since he’d declared himself emperor, Z’Lé had widened his borders far beyond them.
Loracaz was well aware that he had to to put end to his father’s imperialism, and thereafter work to restore Onsira’s relations with the neighboring kingdoms. He could do nothing about the lives that had been lost, but he hoped that the other nobles would accept his aid in repairing what the army had destroyed.
Liriel squeezed Loracaz’s hand, pulling him back into the moment, and together they stepped onto the dais, and turned to face the audience. He raised a hand to ask for silence from all of them audience.
In the ensuing hush, he said, “Thank you, wonderful people of Onsira. I am proud to be a leader of so loyal and endeavored a populace. Only under sworn duty have I come to accept the crown this day, and it is with the same servitude to you, my people, that I shall one day be your king.”
Loracaz chose his words with care, not daring to upset his father with promises to remove the dark temple before it set the roots of evil too deeply into the land, or to end the imperial campaigns.
“My preparation for this day would not have been possible without the guidance of the woman I love. In the months to come, I shall at last join my heart with hers, and make her your princess. One day, you will see he as your queen. Praise be to Liriel, High Priestess of Jenh!”
Awe and cheer rose from his audience. Many were those who had not yet known of the prince’s relationship with Liriel, including the ambassadors from the various kingdoms of Manastaecies. Those from villages further from the capital city knew less of it as well. In fact, many had thought that Loracaz was a solitary prince who spent his time studying; few had suspected that his frequent visits to the temple were due to his love for the priestess. This, at least, came as a welcome surprise.