None of them realized it was going to be this severe, this intense. Oh fires . . . and he was furious!
Lanico clenched his fists beneath his cloak, hiding them from judging view. He hated having to leash the near-boiling anger that coursed from his gut. He could almost feel the heat of it, licking his neck and brow with every throbbing heartbeat.
The council met once every full moon. For the past one hundred years, that had always been the way. But not a single elder, including Lanico himself, had ever considered they must deal with the type of issue raised this evening. It was, by far, the most concerning they had ever had.
The four leaders sat about the fire. There was not a careless gaze, not a hint of a smile made. The intensity was dense enough to cut through.
It was bound to happen—this meeting, this topic.
Trayvor, the former Advisor to King Oetam, glared at Lanico, a blazing furnace in his eye, “If you don’t tell him to straighten-up, he WILL be banished from the Great Mist,” Trayvor barked. He looked to the other two elders, who remained silent, uncomfortable, then continued: “Unlike others, I don’t care if he is your ward, Lanico!” His teeth glinted in the firelight. “I‘m the one that spotted him beyond the boundary, and I’m the one honest enough to say he’ll bring danger to us ALL!” His antipathy against the General Prince was palpable and always had been. His resentment against Lanico for not caring enough for Raya, his deceased daughter, intensified into hatred after she and their infant son, Tyren died. They were Trayvor’s would-be royal kin, and they would have paved him a way further into the castle.
The brief moment following Trayvor’s tirade was silent but for crackling wood and a few distant owls at their nightly calls. Fenner, the former Odana Military Chief, exhaled sharply, and the former Major and Second Advisor Stoutwyn shuffled his feet. They all were quite uncomfortable with this, with all of it.
Lanico’s jaw clamped, his features now more angled in his tension. Marin isn’t my ‘ward’, he is my own adopted son. My son! It has been years! He controlled the rising urge to jolt forward and hammer a fist into Trayvor’s lifted chin. I’ll get him, too . . . get him to kiss the ground.
Fiery ash flurried toward the sky as a charred log rolled in the fire and brightened it. The next seconds seemed an eternity. Remembering himself, his position, his training, Lanico straightened on the stump he sat on and restrained the roaring inside. He had over a hundred years’ experience challenging Trayvor, and, consequently, snuffing out the anger he summoned. One hundred years. That thought alone was enough to set a weight in his stomach and stun him. Glaring at the flames, he understood he himself was the better man, and he had long held greater responsibility.
Lanico broke focus from the flames and steadied his gaze into Trayvor’s fire-glossed eyes. The slight creases around Lanico’s eyes deepened, the anger stilled. “You banish my son, ANY of you, and you’ll have to answer to me.” His voice resonated deep and confident: “I don’t take easy to talk of banishment. Only we are old enough to remember what’s out there and what we recall . . . is a death sentence.” He shook his head slowly. “No. There are other ways to deal with his misdeeds—not banishment.”
“Banishment has been a rule since we settled here,” Trayvor said, closing his eyes smugly with a slow blink. Hearing only silence, he opened his eyes to view Lanico’s seasoned warrior’s glare upon him and considered the horrific possibilities behind that glare. The seemingly ageless half-breed General was visibly controlling his fury. Suddenly, wisely, Trayvor felt uneasy. “Hmpf!” he retorted simply. There was no contest with Lanico, not with that—that death stare still piercing into him.
Trayvor glanced at everyone, his scouring expression flared by the fire. “Right.” He grumbled. He wasn’t going to lower himself, to reason with the half-breed—too wild to tame. Fires to him and his heathen ward! He whirled from them, swinging his cloak around him, grabbed his walking stick, and without delay stomped off through the earthen path and brush heading back to the village. His thick legs and feet kicked up dirt at his stride.
He glowered back briefly with his WynSprign glowing eyes. “You’ll regret it, not choosing banishment.” His voice faded in their minds as he stomped off. From over his shoulder he yelled out, “Wisdom over brawn!”—getting in the last word in his defeat.
Stoutwyn and Fenner held their gazes uncomfortably at the fire in front of them. It was a mutual instinct to avoid eye contact. They shifted their weight uneasily on their designated wooden tree stumps. Lanico’s anger could be frightening, more than most, and the three of them including Trayvor, were the only ones who knew why. Though they all had long been considered equals, it was difficult to watch Lanico being blasted at and so disrespectfully by Trayvor, and over such a delicate matter.
“Well!” said Fenner suddenly, hoping to end his share of discomfort, “I guess we accomplished a lot this even’.” He smirked. “Oh, we’ll sort this all out in the morn’n’.” There was silence. He nodded after the lack of response, and then stood to stretch his thin body, his dark brass-toned skin accentuated by the blazing flames.
It was late. Certainly too late for this level of debate.
Still stretching, Fenner raised his thin arms high. “Oh, Lan . . . don’t go glomering on so. Ya know that Trayvor has always been a bit . . . well, hasty.” He paused and stifled a yawn. “I’m treading on home now. Good even’ to you both.” He bowed, slightly, a forgotten sign of respect for Lanico, their General Prince—if indeed those titles still applied. He turned to march toward his home quite a stroll away, his mane of hair bouncing with his strong strides.
Lanico turned his glance away from Fenner and gave the seated Stoutwyn a forlorn look, his Fray face only paler in the night. It was just the two of them now. Stoutwyn and Lanico had been friends since before the seizure of the Odana Kingdom. Lanico had always had good sense and taken Stoutwyn’s advice, just as his deceased father Oetam had.
Stoutwyn looked reassuringly at Lanico. “Now, c’mon now, Lan, Marin was caught not following the rules . . . again. Why must he wander outside of our Great Mist realm?” It was more of a statement than a question. Their realm had been kept secret, protected, all these years. Stoutwyn scratched his head. “We know that he’s not a bad young WynSprign, but he must be dealt with in a way that teaches the others . . . He is not above our rules, you know?” He held his floog out on his knee.
Lanico leaned toward Stoutwyn, stretching his long body. His elbows rested on his knees and he cradled his forehead with one hand, as the other hung low. He turned through his curtained hair, grimacing at Stoutwyn. “But banishment?” he asked, his teeth glinting from the blaze.
“I know, that was a bit extreme,” Stoutwyn puffed around his pipe stem. “We all know that Trayvor is a bit quick to speak.”
“—And slow to think,” finished Lanico, a slight smile lifting the corners of his mouth.
“Aye!”—Stoutwyn blew out smoke quickly— “And it’s not as though we can contain the young lad. But,” he rationalized, “something must be done, Lan.” His stare was uncommonly serious. “Something . . .”
“Stout, you and I both know that if Trayvor weren’t here, this conversation of banishing Marin wouldn’t be taking place . . .” He raised his voice. “It’s been over a hundred years since he was advising at my father’s side, and he still holds my heritage against me. He still seethes that I chose to adopt Marin—claiming him as my heir. He still blames me for . . .” Lanico felt his pulse quicken and throb. No, I blame himself for that too.
“Aye. Trayvor blames you for everything.” Stoutwyn knowingly interjected.
Lanico swallowed against the truth in that statement, but he continued, “It has been obvious that—that swine still secretly wishes he could be King.” Damn him! A rumble of distant thunder growled over some far-off place. Stoutwyn remained silent, giving short nods as response.
In the silence, Lanico Loftre, the General and Prince of Odana, sighed pensively. Marin himself only complicated the matter and Lanico was allowing his temper to get the better of him. They were past the days when Marin would come to him after falling and seek a kiss on an elbow to heal the scrapes. No, Marin was old enough to rebel and try to escape from their secret forest realm.
“I’ll talk to Marin about this in the morning,” Lanico breathed, looking back to the fire, glowing ash still lifting toward the sky. “He’s probably asleep by now.” He paused. “I’ll let him know that if he is caught again, he will face banishment. It seems the options are limited and we are well over the limit on his attempts.”
“That’s the way, Lan.” Stoutwyn nodded again through smoke. “He’ll listen this time.”
Lanico reasoned with himself. It hadn’t been easy, being the only guardian for Marin all these years. He tried his best, always. Tomorrow’s talk will go all right, he reassured himself. He would convince Marin to stay in their territory, or so he hoped. He felt a sense of calm return and slid his gaze and his infectious smile to a weary Stoutwyn seated next to him. “Your turn!” he called out suddenly.
In one quick streak, Lanico leapt straight onto the high tree branch above them. Though years older than all of them, he remained youthful with his Fray heritage and still seemed young enough to be the son of any of them. Some had begun to have their suspicions about Lanico’s heritage—there had always been rumors. He shrugged them off, as all his fellow elders did—it was their sworn duty of course, one of the last ones. Even Trayvor upheld the trust. They would take to their death the identity of Lanico’s holy Fray mother.
Lanico quickly began to climb off into the dark night toward his section of the Great Mist.
Stoutwyn could hear him laughing as his voice faded into the darkness above and stood looking up at the branches. He grumbled, “Pfft. That show-off”—he waved his thick hand in the air with annoyance— “leaping about like a crazed squirrel . . .” He picked his way to a nearby pool of water for the fire bucket and doused the fire. Their glowing meeting site immediately blackened in the night.
Stoutwyn’s eyes flickered with a dim glow in the newfound dark.
Lanico approached the heavy wooden door to his home, a simple house carved into the side of a tall hill covered with living trees. Ancient tree roots supported the interior walls to the home he shared with Marin. The door gave a low moan as it opened, revealing the still and quiet that lay within. Without the aid of moonlight, the interior was dark. Lanico’s eyes were glowing lightning blue in the enveloping darkness. He left the door open for only a moment so the bright moonlight could show him the candle on the thick wooden table by the door. Once lit, the candle illuminated the small kitchen and eating area. He removed his green cloak, hung it on a small hook, and closed the door.
The candlelight hinted at the sitting room hidden beyond, and faint light gleamed on his sword that hung on the wall there. He ran his fingers through his long, silver hair, whispering, “What to do with Marin, what to do with Marin . . .” He moved with caution, for the young WynSprign would be asleep in his den.
Lanico’s boots thudded softly against the wooden floor planks as he entered the sitting room and cleared a small stool from his path with his foot. The scrolls resting on the stool rolled and bounced onto the floor mat below.
Lanico sank into troubled thought on his favorite chair, his arms along the armrests. The wall behind him displayed his sizable collection of weapons around the sword, all well used in practice and in combat. The staffs had scuffs and dents and the swords were dull, with thousands of tiny scratches from countless strikes. Reluctant Leader, as Lanico called it, was the sword he wielded as the Odana General Prince. He was still the crowned Prince of the WynSprigns. The sword was truly the most prized item in their simple earthen home, recalling his rank in days long past. Constructed from the finest steel in all the world and Lanico kept the Reluctant Leader razor-sharp. Despite the countless strikes it had endured, not a blemish or mark marred it. It was perfect, made of a rare steel available only to royalty, cryntanium.
Lanico had become accustomed to the silence of his home these years. Marin was often wandering outdoors and leaping into trees—and lately, leaping into trouble. He had tried to raise Marin as best as he could, but the circumstances were quite different from when he lived in the castle. There, they would have had ample assistance; cooks, maids, tutors, trainers, and of course his own Fray mother, who would stop by occasionally. Here in the wilds, there had been none of this.
The responsibility of raising Marin had also come to Lanico for the sake of his friends Lieutenant General Izra and Second Lieutenant, “Emerald Knight” Treva, Marin’s late parents.
“Treva,” he breathed. Closing his eyes and seeing details of her lovely face now etched in memory. What would she have thought about all of this? He had no living offspring, but having raised Marin as his own since the boy’s birth; he would see to it that Marin was next in his line for the throne. He whispered to the lost love who wasn’t there, “I could get it back for him—the people of Odana will need a respectable King, after all.” He took another slow breath and continued, “And unlike my mother, I—I won’t be around forever.”
He felt a lump rising in his throat. Open, his eyes glowed cyan again. He thought about the staggering odds of returning and claiming the throne, and immediately brushed this dream aside. Who am I kidding? General Prince Lanico died during the Battle of Odana, as well as did any chance of reclaiming the throne. It was a nice dream, however pointless.
He glanced down to spot a scroll just at his foot. “But, that’s a thought for another day . . .” he muttered quietly. The past hurt too much to deal with, every memory a sharp blade. Without an army, or even a sizable group of trained warriors, any plans to take back the throne would be a fool’s dream.
He quieted his painful thoughts and swallowed hard against the stone in his throat. His face hardened and he moved onward, inscribing on the scroll the events of the night’s elder meeting, as if it were somehow more important.