I'm posting another sneak peek of my still unnamed book as I write it in the hopes that it'll force me to finish this thing. In this one you get to meet my "villain."
Stones older than his line creaked in the wind as he crossed the threshold of the Viltuvian. Marciano snuggled deeper into his coat, despite the still mild autumn air. He despised this place, an old ruin from the first Empire broken and beaten during the Elven war. A set of jagged teeth grinning down upon the capital city beneath it.
It was his own cursed luck that the Emperor would favor here, sometimes even holding court as the wind ruffled and tossed the elaborate wigs on the Viscounts heads, sending their manservants scattering after them. But Vasska barely noticed, as he paced about what had been the rotunda, his eyes always glancing heavenward as if he could see more than crumbled stone and a few industrious bird nests.
He’d spend hours, sometimes even days, walking the old halls of previous Emperors, trying to absorb something from the weed encrusted floors they’d walked to legitimize his own claim to the throne. His father’s power grab had been tenuous at best, but the Aravingions, sick of the infighting from the previous families decided to see where this new line was going. No one expected the religious fervor of Emperor Vasska.
Marciano shifted his shoulders, the sack upon his back slipping down. It cost him nearly a hundred men to retrieve the cargo inside. He drew closer to the old senate floor, encircled with candles. The only light beating back the darkness and the siren call of the ruins for bandits who for centuries called it home until the Emperor had them all executed. Not for being bandits, killing a few peasants happens to everyone now and again, but for daring to sit upon the Holy Throne.
His Lord was squatting over the small remnants of the mosaic that’d been laid on the floor, only a tiny donkey head and a man who seemed to be scratching his own backside remained. Vasska mumbled to himself, “Yes, yes, that must have been here and,” he dashed to the far right, “of course, the Scion of Pies rested here.”
All Marciano saw was more grass than stone. He coughed politely into his fist. Vasska’s head popped up, slipping back his royal hood that his handlers insisted he wear while out so he didn’t catch cold…again.
The Emperor was getting on in years, on the longer side of forty and with a few wrinkles to show for it. But he never seemed old, just middle aged, even when he was in his young twenties. While most Emperors would be spending their wild youth killing and bedding whatever crosses their path he was on his knees, praying away whatever sins he could think of. Some he was even a bit hazy on, but Coopering sounded wickedly awful. He’d confess to that one almost daily now.
He favored warmth to fashion, wearing simple vests and tunics, or a plain robe at night. Most upon meeting the Emperor assumed it was all some big joke the Aravingions loved to pull. The man sitting proudly upon the throne looked just like your average neighbor yammering on about how the kids these days don’t appreciate good Morris dancing. Or the priest, singing the tales of Argur and her great defeat of the pantheon.
Vasska was completely ordinary, right until you looked him in the eye. It was like staring into a black pool of water, only instead of your face reflecting back, it was your own sins in life. And he was watching and judging them all. No one had ever been found worthy.
But killing was a sin, unless done in Argur’s name. So the Emperor would laugh jovially at the foreign dignitaries who were certain the leader of all of the Arav’s was really one of the Priests who never left the mans side. Later they would have terrible accidents, horse throwing a shoe, a runaway miller wheel, or a terrible case of falling on their own blade thirty times. Truly, Argur moves in mysterious ways.
The Emperor walked towards Marciano, “What have you brought me, my good chum?”
Marciano dropped the bag and reached inside, his hands grasping a full head of grey hair. He passed the head to the Emperor who squealed a bit and cradled it like a newborn babe.
“My Lord, I bring you the head of King Eldric, your sworn enemy is no more.”
Vasska giggled, a disturbingly high pitched noise best left to mice and school children trying to frighten adults. He tilted the kings head towards his own and opened the eyelids. A sea of milky white answered back as the no longer king Eldric’s pupils had rolled back. His fingers went up to the dead eyes.
Please don’t, Marciano thought, trying to move as far away from his Lord as he could without taking a step.
But sure enough, Vasska pulled both eyes down until the grey sea eyes stared up into his own, “It is written that one cannot know true victory until looking his enemy in the eye. Is that not true?”
Marciano tried to remain poised as the Emperor fondled the dead, “I wouldn’t know, Sir. I always marked victory by the other sides death.”
Vasska looked at him, those pools searching for a weakness but Marciano had faced this down many times. He knew his own heart and misdeeds and, while he tried to atone for them, he would not grovel for it.
But the Emperor was in a jolly mood, “And that is why you are a soldier, Marciano, not a true leader as I am.”
“Yes, Sir.” And that soldier despised his lords fondness for handling the heads of his enemies. From a lowly bootblack who got in his way, up to Kings and Princes whose land got in his way, he wanted their heads. Wanted to stare into those dead eyes and Argur, Marciano did not wish to know what his Lord got out of it.
Vasska scrambled off towards the shattered throne, the back long since scattered amongst the ground. The only part left was the stone seat, cracked in twain, upon which he set down the head still endlessly staring out into the vast ruins of a world he’d never cared to know.
“Sir,” Marciano interrupted the Emperor’s musings, “there is a small problem.”
Vasska looked up at him, his concentration broken from the head, “Oh? Well, out with it then?”
“Neither of Eldric’s sons were killed in the attack. There are wild reports that one of his sons was sighted through the Northern Pass,” (and the Southern Pass, off the coasts of Scepton, and on a ship to Dunlaw. Bored soldiers could have wild imaginations).
“Are there any more of his children?”
“Most of the daughters are married off already and unreachable, but not in line for the throne. There were reports of a younger son being in the castle, but he seemed to vanish into the shadows.”
Vasska tapped his chin, lost in his own world, “Good, good.”
“Not particularly good, Sir. If either of these boys makes it to the army before the spring to rally their allies, there will be no chance of our own men marching upon the tower.”
Vasska reached out a hand, eternally clammy and slightly limp. He touched Marciano’s black armor gently, “You trouble yourself too much, General. Take a small company of men to flush out this supposed younger son. People do not simply vanish into the shadows.”
Marciano bowed, also trying to break any physical contact with his Lord, “Yes, Sir.”
The Emperor walked slowly back to the head, picking it up and running his fingers through the blood matted hair, “Oh, and Marciano. Do not concern yourself with the older boy. Measures have already been put in place.”
Despite his years fighting to the top of the army, the old general still shuddered as he turned to take another ship back to the barbarian’s lands.