“Not since the Blood Wars has a member of your tribe journeyed to Casoria, and then not to court,” William continued. “I’d hoped to see a Pentacacus this session or the next. I never thought it would be you. It seems life is full of surprises, even at its close. As our guest, you will be treated with courtesy and your words heard without interruption.” The King motioned Oren to his feet and he rose. “And please forgive the rudeness of the Earth Skyll, Elymas. His impatience to end no doubt masks a concern for my health. Is that not right, Skyll?”
Elymas mumbled something that might have been a curse or an agreement. No matter. The King ignored him.
“Not long ago, Oren Hunter, I made a vow to the Shautu on the bluffs of Ron Jonna that I have kept. He made a promise to me as well. If you carry evidence of its fulfillment, I beseech you to produce it at once.”
Oren nodded and from the inside of his vest drew a flap of soft leather. He unfolded it and lifted out a fragile object. Casorians and Skylls alike strained forward. For most, the view was blocked, but those who did see fell back, perplexed. If they’d expected a brilliant stone or a trifle worked in gold, they were disappointed. What appeared was a feather — an incredibly blue feather, but a feather, nothing more. The King reached for it as a dying man grasps for hope. His hands shook so badly that the Hunter didn’t release it until it was safe within his clutch.
The King reached for it as a dying man grasps for hope.
“It is mine now,” said William, firmly. “Have no fear.”
Oren had stepped up on the dais with his offering, now he stepped down. For a brief moment, his eyes flashed in a smile.
“When the Shautu asked me to deliver this, I was skeptical of my mission. Now, I no longer doubt its importance but am curious of the cause. If I may ask, what does a blue feather mean?”
“Freedom,” said the King promptly. “My father is released at last. Could any of you have delivered this? Could any of you have cheated the Void?” He turned his head to look at each of the Skylls. All dropped their heads save for Elymas, who stared straight ahead. They didn’t answer, for William was talking as if a man alone. He turned the feather over and over until the blue was lost and the feather became a dark sphere. “I fought a bloody senseless war, but I would do it all over again to have this. My thanks, Oren Whitehair. I’ll make a suitable reply to the Shautu before you go. Ondred will see you to your chamber.”
Ondred stepped down from the dais, waiting for the Oren to follow, but the hunter continued to stand before the King. “Majesty, there is more.”
“More?” William grimaced, then broke into a coughing fit. “A feather for me as well, no doubt.” With his sleeve, he wiped the spittle from his mouth. “Well, hand it over. I’ve struggled with thoughts of my own death long enough.”
“No, not that.” Oren shook his head, and drew again from his vest. This time he brought forth a rolled parchment. “The Shautu has a request.”
“I’m surprised and flattered that the wise and powerful Shautu should seek advice from a mere King,” he said, finally. “Truly, I’m honored. But I’m also the ghost of a man, probably dying, and the better part of dusk has fallen. If you seek counsel or redress, I will do my best to render fair judgement, but I ask you to be brief. My critical powers, though still intact, are limited by endurance.”
“It isn’t a matter of judgement I seek. I’ve been wronged by no man. Nor has the Shautu. I bring an announcement.”
The King straightened his spine against the throne. It cost him a searing pain in his right lung, but he contrived. He was the Warrior King and recognized the winds of trouble stirring about his throne. For the moment, the feather lay forgotten in his lap.
Oren unrolled the scroll. The parchment crackled, a flimsy thing when held by giant hands.
“To His Royal Highness, William III, High King of Casoria and his gracious and noble Queen Laveth,” Oren read. “The Sea Star spends its glory at the Axis child’s birth, while all that is hidden rejoices in the passing of a Skyll into the very Deep. Again, a Skyll of Three Stripes walks among us; surely the tree will bloom again.
Thy reign has been blessed.
I hesitate to interrupt what must be a time of joyful festivity, but let the Authority of the Blue Stone prevail over thy natural inclinations. I do not use this authority as a whim, only at urgent need. Send them both to me, the babe as well as the new Earth Skyll. Danger abounds, and much is at stake.
Oren will guard them and Oren is my right arm. He wears a mark as well, token of the heaven’s trust.
Signed by my own hand,
Shautu of the Blue Robe,
Keeper of the Precious Stones,
Guardian of the Eld Forest.