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Chronicles of Azulland: Book III
by Jane Shoup
Diversion Books A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp. 443 Park Avenue South, Suite 1004 New York, NY 10016 www.DiversionBooks.com Copyright © 2013 by Jane Shoup All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. First Diversion Books edition April 2013 ISBN: 978-1-626810-06-8
While it is true that the early months of 1480 found the people of Azulland either recovering and rebuilding from acts of war and epic catastrophes–or fleeing from them, I feel it prudent to remind the reader that we were not the only European nation embroiled in duress. The long and bloody Ottoman-Hungarian war raged on. In fact, at the battle of Breadfield, the previously victorious, marauding Turkish army was all but annihilated. The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, also known as the Spanish Inquisition, began its mission to root out heretics. The black plague resurfaced here and there, killing hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands at a time. And, on a smaller scale, in Milan, the Sforza family viciously fought and even killed one another for the regency. Although the War of the Castilian Succession had finally come to an end, the resulting peace treaty, the Treaty of Alcáçovas, sewed new seeds of conflict by establishing the principle that European powers could divide the rest of the world into spheres of influence and colonize them. To compound injury with insult, the indigenous people of those territories were to have no say in the matter. Given that context, by the spring of 1480 we were an almost serene nation. Peace reigned–not that it was an easy peace. After warfare, one finds oneself distrustful of calmness. Still, even as hundreds fled our shores, the majority of us took to the tasks of repairing and rebuilding with a renewed sense of appreciation for our lives and communities. There was one man more intent on tearing down than rebuilding–Denyson Folworth, and, as we go back to the story, his will be the first face you see. We begin in the center of the country, in the palace of the city formerly known as Nawllah. For the most part, the damage of invasion has been repaired, leaving the palace much the same as before. It is a vast, flat, ivory-marble structure with magnificent courtyards that are, on this day in May, once again flourishing with color and life. Step up and enter the Nawllahian Palace from any of the heavily-guarded front doorways, and the grand foyer opens before you. It is a place of remarkable luminosity. The ceiling is some sixty feet high, and numerous, narrow windows admit the optimum amount of light. The floor is a checkered pattern of ivory, pure white and coral-colored marble and the pillars are coral crystal. Although the Nawllahian Palace is best known for its courtyards, habitat to rare, exotic birds and animals, the grand foyer is marvelous to behold. The throne room is ahead and to the left. It is large, perfectly square and rather ordinary by throne room standards. The ceiling is perhaps thirty feet high and the walls are covered in colorful, richly detailed tapestries. There is a back corner platform from which musicians play, although not so often of late, and there is a narrow purple carpet laid across the ivory marble floor from doorway to the throne. Purple, as you may recall, is the primary color of standards in New Qaddys. Nawllah’s color was green. It is interesting to note that both the official scepter and the throne are still ornamented with priceless, fist-sized emeralds. On the throne, Denyson Folworth sits, surrounded by a few dozen onlookers. He is a handsome man with dark hair that is rapidly silvering as he approaches his thirty-sixth year of life. A year ago, he was heir to the throne of Qaddys–but with the death of his father, King Henry Folworth of Qaddys, the overthrow of Nawllah and the fact that Rehan Isolde, heir to the throne of Nawllah, was too weak to hold on to his birthright, here he sits–the self-proclaimed king of New Qaddys. And here, the story continues …
The young man that took the floor of New Qaddys’s throne room struck Denyson Folworth as almost pretty. His movements, too, seemed disturbingly feminine. He would not do. People needed to heed the word of the songbirds he sent out. But before he could draw breath to dismiss the fop, his newly appointed secretary, a man named Johannes Fox, was there, leaning in to hand him something. Denyson was not at all certain he would do either. He seemed simpering. It was his opinion that a secretary needed to be respectful but not obsequious. It seemed oddly fitting the man’s name was Fox. He looked like a fox. “A missive arrived for you,” the secretary said. “Marked urgent.” As Denyson took it in hand, the secretary backed away. Denyson broke the seal and glanced over the message–yet another request to receive the Spanish ambassador. He looked back up at the young man waiting to perform and decided to give him two minutes. “Begin.” “You ask about Forzenay’s Five?” the young man said. “I will tell you about the Five. They like boys,” he said slowly and with great affectation. Slowly, Denyson grinned. On second thought, perhaps this songbird would do after all. “They take boys into their camp,” the young man continued, “use them and then pass them from man to man. Sometimes it’s willingly on the boy’s part, say for the sake of money, but sometimes not. It was for me, but I saw others for whom it was not. Care you for specifics?” “No,” Denyson replied, “although I feel certain you could supply.” “Oh! Without doubt; I was there after all.” Denyson gave a non-committal grunt. “Tell me what you know of Queen Nadia. What is the truth of that?” His eyes widened. “Very simply, they stole her. She was in mourning you know, as was the rest of the Folworth family after the tragic death of King Henry. The poor dear, she could not be consoled to the point that King Denyson feared for her life. So, she was brought to the palace at New Qaddys where she was attended night and day, but the Five wormed their way in under the pretense of friendship and stole her away. Killing half a dozen guards as they did.” Denyson pondered whether to let that part of the tale stand. Did it not give the Five too much credit? He not only wanted them painted as corrupt but ineffectual, their reputation vastly overblown. Still, the legend surrounding them would not be changed overnight. It had to be done little by little. “You’ll do,” he announced with a wave of his hand. The thespian smiled, bowed as a girl would, and traipsed over to the disapproving, overweight treasurer who was waiting to dole out the funding needed to go forth and spread his tales. The pretty young man would be one of approximately three dozen so far. Warrants for the arrest and detainment of the Five had also been widely posted, each bearing the names and likenesses of the men. Only a few of the Five claimed any part of their actual given name, but once he discovered them, he would post that, as well. Forzenay was most likely the man’s real name, but none of his scribes had been able to uncover the true origin of the moor. In a country where blackamoors were such a minority, he ought to have been easier to trace. Flynn Graybil, who went by Graybil, had been far easier to track down. He hailed from a tiny village known as Daleog and had a wife and daughter. Unfortunately, the family had unexpectedly up and left their village before his soldiers arrived, but they would be found again. They now had excellent profiles of each of the Graybil’s.
The name Vincent had not been enough to go on to track him down or learn more of his home or heritage. He was a handsome man with brown hair and brown eyes–but not so fine looking that people stopped to stare. These men were good at many things, concealing themselves among them. Stripe’s name had come about because of a prominent stripe-like scar on his face, but they knew nothing else of the man. Kidder, too, was a mystery, perhaps moreso than the rest, because there was really nothing to make him stand out. King Denyson Folworth’s goal was simple–rob the Five of their anonymity, tarnish their reputations and, eventually, have them executed. It was the same with Leif Livingston, although Livingston had been branded a thief and a traitor. That had been particularly satisfying since Livingston had once commanded his army. With his golden hair and stunningly handsome face, Leif Livingston had enjoyed a far too easy life. He was one of those men to whom everything came–leadership, respect, affection, but Denyson was determined to change that. If he had to use every last coin in the treasury, he would see the Five and Livingston destroyed.
As Folworth sat brooding about Forzenay, the reverse was also true. Pacing in a secluded courtyard at Stonewater Forge, the home of General Lucas McKeaf and family, Forzenay reread a report detailing the lies and slander being aggressively circulated about them. The account had been written by a trusted friend who had also provided a copy of the warrant for their arrest. Warrants did not typically provide the sort of minute artistry that had gone into this one. Their likenesses had been disturbingly well captured. In short, they had been exposed. He couldn’t help but wonder if his life’s mission was at an end. If it was not an end, it was definitely at a crossroad, because they would not be able to continue as before. Before, they could hide, blend, mix easily into new places. Before, they’d had the guidance of the seidh, the “white witches” of Azulland, but Milainah, their leader, was gone now, and he had not felt any connection to the seidh since her demise. It was an immeasurable loss. The seidh had provided a link to the spirit realm that had not only guided their paths, but saved their lives. “There you are,” Kidder called cheerfully as he rounded a tall hedge and came toward him. “Not the easiest spot to find.” “Probably why I come here,” Forzenay replied irritably. “Yes, yes. To ponder and deliberate the many woes thrust upon us,” Kidder teased. “And on such a perfectly beautiful morning. Warm and sunny, but,” he paused and looked upwards, “with fluffy white clouds floating in a ridiculously blue sky.” Forzenay crossed his arms and waited. “Here,” Kidder said, thrusting a pamphlet forward. Forzenay grabbed it and glanced over the cover which read, “The Heinous Assassination of King Henry Folworth.” “What is this?” “Facts for the masses. You didn’t plan for us to become helpless whipping boys, did you?” Forzenay gave him a look before opening the pamphlet. As Kidder walked away, undoubtedly smirking as he went, Forzenay’s lips twitched. Helpless whipping boys, indeed. By the time he’d devoured the pamphlet, which detailed how King Henry had been poisoned by his son who lusted after his kingdom and his wife, he felt a heady surge of optimism. The writing was clear and strong and the facts were compelling. The piece also revealed Folworth’s attempts to blacken their reputations as well as Leif Livingston’s. It did not solve the dilemma Folworth had created for them, but to strike back felt good.
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