ZIHAEN, The Shadow of the Revenaunt, Book 2


‘Thank you for your help, Captain Rabaun.’ The young Opitian merchant shook the port captain’s hands cordially. ‘Your cooperation is truly extraordinary. I assure you that our trade consortium will be very grateful.’

‘It is my pleasure, Grand Merchant Un-Banshir,’ Rabaun said, beaming. The merchant was very young for his exalted rank, barely in his twenties, but he represented enormous wealth and his affability was flattering. ‘The friendship between our two countries and our proverbial good trade relations are of great value.’

‘I am really sorry I have to depart tomorrow.’

‘Are you going to leave us, Grand Merchant? That is unfortunate. I had hoped to have you with us until after the coronation celebrations.’

‘I would have liked to, but I must be in Mandaba soon. I expect one of our merchant ships to pick me up tomorrow. So if you see a carrack coming in under the Opitian flag, I hope you will extend to her the same courteous treatment I received from you.’

The harbormaster bowed. ‘Of course, Grand Merchant. You may be assured that your ship will receive our full hospitality.’

‘That’s very kind of you, Captain Rabaun. I must go now. I will see you again before my departure, I hope?’

‘Probably, Grand Merchant. Tomorrow will be a busy day. The fleet must be readied in a short time and we still have a lot to do if we want to be free for the celebrations.’

‘That’s life,’ Emaun un-Banshir said cheerfully. ‘Work, work, work.’

With a polite bow, the young man took leave of the port commander. Once outside he sniffed the salty sea air and nodded. Tomorrow.

He walked toward the water. Before him, he saw a small vessel under the flag of the Southern Fleet. It seemed to him a post ship or an auxiliary of the fleet admiral, and he regarded her approvingly. Aweel was the name on her stern. He did not know what it meant, but the ship looked well maintained and the crew was clearly proud of her. One of the workhorses of the Navy, always busy and with a high degree of freedom. On the afterdeck stood a bearded man and the merchant raised his hand to him. The sailor returned his greeting before going back to work.

Grand merchant Emaun un-Banshir looked around at the activity on the quays. He noted the carts piled with marine equipment and victuals, the modern wooden cranes lifting the goods on board, the industrious crews hurrying to rig the newly arrived sails. He looked with appreciation at the way the sailors walked along the yards, unhindered by vertigo. He heard the shanties that lightened the work and measured its tempo. ‘What a pity,’ he said by himself. Then he laughed. Tomorrow.


Ghyll looked at Kerianna, still decorously veiled, and they held each other’s hands like children in the dark. Then, smiling and nodding, they stepped through the palace gate into the sunlight. Behind them, clothed in the pomp and splendor of their rank, were the royal guests from Opit, the dukes of Vavaun and Asharte, the landscommanders, the merchant princes of Terekander, the prince of Leudra and the chancellor.

Nobles from all over Rhidauna lined both sides of the driveway, with mages and priests of all Orders, guild masters and senior military, in order of rank and status. As Ghyll and Kerianna passed them, the guests bowed and joined the tail of the procession. The parade was timed so precisely that the royal couple’s first step on the market square coincided with the last knight joining the queue.

Down the entire length of the square lay a royal blue carpet, flanked by a double row of guards, who were visibly sweating in their sweltering armor. Behind them thronged the common people. Ghyll saw little more than a surging crowd filling the entire, huge square. Hundreds of the most fanatical onlookers clung to the statues in the fountains without regard for their soaked finery.

The announcement of their young king’s marriage to a beautiful princess had been met with joyousness by the whole nation and they all hoped to catch a glimpse of their new queen.

With his right hand, Ghyll waved at the cheering populace and with his left, he clung to Kerianna’s hand as if he was afraid of going adrift. A stout matron in the front row nodded approvingly and shouted, ‘Tilia’s blessing on the both of you, Highnesses!’ Ghyll smiled at her, at which the woman blushed.

Across the square waited the high temple of Dragos, God of Law and Wisdom, patron of Kings and Princes, whose feast day it was today. The green slate roofs sparkled in the sunlight and the six images above the door, portraying the various aspects of the God, shone radiantly.

Slowly, Ghyll and Keri climbed the temple stairs. On the landing, both turned around and waved to the elated crowd. Then, hand in hand, they stepped into the twilight.

Before them stretched the still empty temple. To left and right rows of massive columns rose to the roof. In the sidewalls were tall windows; the sunlight through their stained glass created a mystical atmosphere.

The two walked toward the large white statue of Dragos, a bearded, serious deity with a golden staff in one hand and the other outstretched in blessing. At his feet, the priests and their seconds shrank to infinitesimal creatures.

As Ghyll and Kerianna crossed the nave, the members of the entourage behind them went to their designated places. The only things Ghyll was aware of were Kerianna’s fingers entwined with his, and the wonderful light of the godly image falling on them as they knelt for Dragos’s pontiff. Of the wedding ceremony, Ghyll remembered nothing but the last sentence: ‘In the name of Dragos, the Wise and Righteous, and of all Gods in, around and over us, I declare you, Ghyllander Halban Hardingraud, and you, Kerianna un-Balhamber, husband and wife, and may the Gods ever guide your path.’

Amid deafening applause Ghyll kissed his now unveiled wife. Then both sat down on chairs in the middle of the aisle.

With a deep bow to Dragos, the pontiff stepped from the divine light to make room for the stately, gold-brocaded person of the archpriest, the highest cleric of the entire world. From the back of the temple came a procession of nobles with the ornaments of state. To Ghyll’s vague surprise his foster brother Olle was the first in line. He wore antique blue-enameled armor and a fearsome helmet with three royal blue feathers, and his footsteps echoed through the temple. In his hands he held the largest sword Ghyll had ever seen. When Olle positioned himself to the side of the deity, the weapon reached from the floor up to his shoulders.

After him came the highest reigning nobles, the prince of Leudra with the crown of Rhidauna and the dowager-duchess of Halendaun with the queen’s crown. Beyond them, others followed with Childegard on a velvet cushion, the Staff of Justice, the chain and other regalia. When all had taken their designated places, Archpriest DeValastain began the coronation rite. Still in his dream state, Ghyll came forward. Two priests removed his marriage robes and dressed him in a simple white tunic. Barefoot and stripped of all possessions, he knelt before the altar. The archpriest cried to the gods, prayed and begged; Ghyll understood nothing. The murmur of approval, the ‘ayes’ and ‘hear, hear,’ of the audience told him that they at least knew what was going on.

When a richly robed priest poured a generous dash of fragrant oil over his head, he nearly gasped, but maintained his pose of submissive worship. After an eternity, strong hands helped him up and removed the oil-stained tunic. Other hands enveloped him in a costly robe of purple damask and rare furs, and gave him soft velvet slippers for his feet. Again he had to kneel, but on a cushion. The archpriest lifted the crown and held it above Ghyll’s head.

‘Do you swear and promise to serve the people of Rhidauna and to perform the Will of the Gods?’

Automatically, Ghyll replied, ‘I do swear and promise.’

‘Will you carry and maintain the Staff of Justice?’

‘I will.’

‘Will you spread the Gifts of the Gods about your country and people?’

‘I will, and I promise, so help me the Gods.’

With these words, the archpriest lowered the crown to just above Ghyll’s head.

There was a metallic clash, and with a shock, Ghyll heard the voice of his foster brother, booming loud and threatening through the temple. ‘His Royal Highness, Ghyllander Halban Hardingraud, third of his name, is the rightful King of Rhidauna. Let him that contradicts this come forward and take up the challenge, that I may show him his errancy in appropriate ways.’

It was dead quiet in the temple. Through the silence came a faint noise from outside. A loud bang reverberated and the great doors swung open. A huge knight in dull black armor stomped through the nave to the altar, accompanied by six warriors clad in black leather. Their flashing swords, profane in this sacred house, elicited cries of anger from the attendees.

‘I deny the legitimacy of this coronation.’ The deep voice of the unknown thundered through the temple. ‘This boy is a usurper. The true prince Ghyllander Halban Hardingraud died in the destruction of Tinnurad.’

‘Nonsense! That’s a filthy lie,’ Olle said, red with anger. ‘I, Olle thu Tinnurad, vouch for King Ghyllander’s royal descent, proven with documents and witnesses.’

‘You are false,’ the man replied darkly. ‘Your documents are false, your witnesses bribed.’ Over his shoulder he said, ‘You will kill the usurper.’ With these words, he leveled his sword at Olle and sprang.

Ghyll, all nervousness forgotten, threw aside his damask robe. Barefoot in a white undertunic, he ran to the coronation regalia on the altar and snatched Childegard from its pillow. Golems in the temple! The sword hummed in reply and a white light played along the blade. Ghyll had counted on fire or ice, but this light was new to him and for a heartbeat, he stared. Then Bo jumped into the aisle and threw a small white ball at one of the other attackers. The priests at the altar dove away when boiling water burst against the altar. Then the first makemen attacked Ghyll with unusual agility, and the young king was hard-pressed to withstand their onslaught. The golems pushed him back and back again, until he ended up against the altar table. Torril came running, wrapped in a bright white light, with an ax in his hands. He sprang forward to assist Ghyll, and mud splattered all around under the force of his blows. Armed guards ran through the nave to assist their king and soon the six golems fell as offerings at Dragos’s feet.

Only Olle still fought the big warrior. He shook his head when Ghyll wanted to help him. ‘Mine!’ Ghyll nodded and stepped back.

The two seemed evenly matched. They were of the same size, and both in archaic armor. Their huge swords went around as easily as practice swords and sparks scorched holes in their tabards. Back and forth they moved, closer to the nave as Olle prevailed, then toward the altar as his opponent took the upper hand. It seemed disorganized, but Ghyll knew his foster brother and understood he was planning something. With a few quick strokes, Olle forced the black warrior backward, toward the pews and the breathlessly watching nobility. Then, unexpectedly, he kicked the heavy candlestick to his left between the legs of his opponent. The black warrior staggered into a row of benches. Someone screamed, but before the spectators could move away, Olle raised his sword and brought it with all his strength down on the warrior’s head. The black helmet split, blood and brains splashed around, and the whole row of high nobles tumbled, pews and all, scrambling to escape the warrior’s weight.

Olle raised his sword. ‘For Hardingraud and Rhidauna!’ he shouted.

‘Hardingraud!’ someone echoed, and others joined him. Amid loud applause, Olle went to the altar and knelt down for Ghyll. ‘You are my King,’ he said simply. Then he rose. ‘Let the coronation continue!’

Someone hurriedly came forward with the purple robe. The soft pillow had died in a cloud of feathers, so Ghyll knelt on the mud-spattered floor at Dragos’s altar, with Childegard point-down before him, his hands gripping the hilt.

The old archpriest came forward. He held up the crown and placed it on Ghyll’s head. Though his hands shook, his voice was firm. ‘Ghyllander Halban Hardingraud, King of Rhidauna and Champion of the Gods!’

A thunderous applause rang through the ancient temple. ‘Hardingraud!’ the cry went up again. ‘Hardingraud and Rhidauna!’

Ghyll looked at Kerianna. He saw how the tension flowed from her and he winked at her. Now the audience laughed.

‘Kiss her, Sire!’ someone at the back of the temple shouted. Obediently, Ghyll stooped and kissed Kerianna. She blushed and Ghyll grinned at her, which provoked new laughter. Then Ghyll took the second, smaller crown. My mother’s crown, he thought, and suddenly he had a feeling of completeness. He held it over his new wife’s head. ‘Kerianna of Opit, from the Royal House of Un-Balhamber, herewith I, Ghyllander King of Rhidauna, crown you, my wife, Queen of Rhidauna.’

Cheers, stomping feet, deafening clapping, and the rhythmic pounding of the guards with their sword hilts on their shields, a joyful chaos, through which the new King and Queen walked to the exit. The double doors swung open a second time and a wide beam of sunlight set them in a golden glow. Ghyll ignored the bloodstains on the gleaming marble as he led Kerianna into the light, and presented her to the waiting populace. The lord steward’s voice cried out over the square.

‘Their Royal Highnesses Ghyllander III Hardingraud and Kerianna, King and Queen of Rhidauna!’

Ghyll looked at his new wife.

‘Queen of Rhidauna,’ Kerianna repeated softly.

Ghyll grinned at her triumphant face and under the frenzied cheers of the crowd, led his queen down the stairs.

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