The horse shook its head as Kirrin approached the massive gates of House Charam. Kirrin slowed the dun horse to a walk so it had a chance to cool down.
As many times as Kirrin had passed through them, they never failed to impress and intimidate. Giant blocks of marble, with the hawk emblem carved into each pillar. Each bird stretched taller than a full-grown man, stretched in flight– a scroll clutched in its talons.
The gateman looked bored as Kirrin approached. Like most of the estate workers, the man didn’t know what Kirrin’s position was in the so’har’s service but he didn’t ask questions.
Don’t ask questions. You don’t want to know what I do, even if I could tell you. The so’har kept his shady and underhanded dealings a secret between himself and Kirrin.
Kirrin used the same dismissive manner he’d seen the nobles use, treating the guard as if the man were invisible as he passed through. The gatekeeper nodded and let him pass through without question.
Kirrin stopped inside the gate. Normally, he would enter the palace through the back, or one of the side entries typically used by the servants. Not the main doors in the front. He didn’t feel like walking all the way around to the back. What he had in his possession was important enough that he felt braver than usual. He decided to walk right through the front door, and tied the horse’s reins to the hitching post, and made his way up the broad marble steps.
Hopefully, this will be quick.
At the top, he was greeted with a terse nod from the man at the door. Like the gateman, he recognized Kirrin as part of the household and allowed Kirrin entry, but without any fanfare that a high-ranking visitor would be given.
One of the servants looked up when he entered the foyer, then went back to polishing the brass railings on the stairway. Kirrin turned and made his way to the official wing of the palace, directly to the steward’s offices. The steward was the power within the house. That man knew everything that went on within the estate and acted as the gatekeeper to the so’har- At least during daytime hours. Kirrin often wondered just how much Esh’ral actually knew about what took place at night.
Looking at the bland expression on the man’s face, Kirrin decided the man probably didn’t care. Esh’ral was bent over a stack of papers behind his desk when Kirrin knocked lightly on the open door and the man glanced up. The man looked like he had just bitten into a bitter lemon. He always looked that way and Kirrin had learned to ignore it.
“The so’har is expecting me,” Kirrin said. For a moment, he considered waving the piece of paper under Esh’ral’s nose, but the man likely knew already.
A slight sniff. Kirrin cleared his throat in response. He was no longer intimidated by the steward, and over the past few years, the standoff between them had become a bit of a game.
Regardless, in this round, Kirrin knew he would win because Hak’kar had requested his presence. Kirrin had something the man wanted. Desperately. Kirrin couldn’t help smirking at the steward. Esh’ral stood up with a sigh and left through the side door. A moment later he returned and sat back at his desk, flipping through papers.
Kirrin coughed, just loud enough to make his point. Esh’ral looked up, sucking in his breath then sighed. “The So’har is in his private offices.” As the steward spoke, he waved his hand as though he were shooing off one of the servants.
Kirrin snorted a laugh as he turned on his heel and headed down the hallway. Passing by pillars, plants, and statues, he came to the smaller office that Hak’kar used with his private advisors.
The carved paneled doors were open, voices coming from inside. One of them was definitely Hak’kar’s and the man didn’t sound happy.
“There are rumors that he has begun compiling a list of prospects.”
“At fourteen? Already negotiating a marriage? And how old is the second one? Eleven? Twelve?” This came from a second voice, similar to the so’har’s, but without the intensity.
“Sons of the da’har. Princes of the realm!”
Kirrin heard a loud crashing.
“House Charam was not on that list. I’ve brokered countless deals for the man. Deals no one could negotiate. They should be eager to ally with House Charam. Yet, every time an alliance has been broached, they have brushed it aside. This is how the man repays our loyalty?”
“Perhaps it is an oversight,” the second voice said.
Kirrin could hear the tone of voice, the advisor trying to soothe the ruffled feathers of a powerful man who felt slighted.
“This was no oversight,” Hak’kar growled.
“Trust the gods,” the other man answered. “Have they ever failed you?”
Curious, Kirrin took a step closer. He could see a dark wooden table at one side, with a half dozen comfortable chairs around it and plants and statues around the outer wall. Against the wall was a sideboard, lined with carafes filled with various colored liquors. The finest brandies, wines, and whiskies. Hak’kar had lavish tastes.
“Is there a reason you are standing in the doorway?”
Kirrin jumped at the new voice, which came from directly behind him.
Trained instincts kicked in and he spun around, stepping to the side in order to put distance between him and the intruder. The sudden move surprised the newcomer, who also took a quick step backwards.
They stood there, eying each other warily. Kirrin didn’t recognize the man but that wasn’t surprising. Despite being an integral part of the so’hars machinations, Kirrin was not part of the main household. He mostly stayed among the staff in the back estate. It had begun as a punishment– when he’d been caught trespassing and Kirrin had never questioned his accommodations. Later, he began to realize that Hak’kar had intentionally kept Kirrin out of view. Nothing should trace back to the so’har.
When Kirrin met with Hak’kar, it was after hours, in a private room or early in the morning before official business commenced. Being invited to a meeting in the middle of the day? That was new, and it made Kirrin wonder if this was a sign that his status might be changing.
The man staring at him now was dressed in well-tailored silks and custom-made boots, with a lean physique without much muscling. Not much of a real threat, although Kirrin knew that looks could be deceiving. As a trained shadow-dancer, his teacher had a casual ease that people underestimated in a fight, to their own regret.
This man, though, didn’t move like a trained fighter- more like a startled rabbit. Kirrin recognized the man, although they’d never been formally introduced. A relative of Hak’kar? Kirrin studied the man for any resemblance. He didn’t see one.
“It sounded like the so’har was… busy,” Kirrin said, by way of explanation.”I was not eavesdropping.”
The man cocked his head with a dry look of disbelief. “The so’har is in a meeting.”
From the sound of the voices, Kirrin didn’t envy Hak’kar’s visitor.
A moment later, the man came out of Hak’kar’s study, almost bumping into them.
“The so’har is expecting you,” he said, “hopefully your news will improve his mood.”
Looking at the man, Kirrin could see faint resemblances to the so’har, the same square jawline and build. He was also wearing the rich burgundy of House Charam, of a better cut than the household staff.
The man nodded. Then he waved his hand forward, inviting Kirrin to enter the room before him.
Unsure what to do, especially given the tense discussion that had just happened, Kirrin hovered just inside the door, waiting for instructions. The advisor walked further into the room and waited. He reminded Kirrin of the steward, standing patiently with folded arms.
Hak’kar was standing by the far wall, looking out the open window, his hand balled up in a fist, resting on the ledge. He was wearing dark green silk with a charcoal vest embroidered with burgundy and gold thread. Kirrin noticed the official burgundy jacket draped over the back of the chair. He ran a hand through his hair, then turned, acknowledging their presence with a nod.
“Zuriat, sit,” Hak’kar said, waving them towards the couches. Hearing permission to enter, Zuriat’s shoulders relaxed and he walked over to the couch.
Zuriat. Now Kirrin had a name. It wasn’t one that meant anything to him, though.
Once Zuriat moved, Hak’kar spotted Kirrin by the door. With the barest flick of his wrist, Hak’kar motioned Kirrin to join them.
Hak’kar poured brandy into a decanter and picked up three glasses, carrying them over to the couch.
Kirrin felt awkward with this strange role reversal. Normally, Kirrin would have fetched Hak’kar’s brandy or wine, and then waited until the man finished whatever he was working on, often standing patiently for long periods of time. Now, Hak’kar was making time to meet with Kirrin and this advisor.
Zuriat turned in his seat, taking Kirrin in again. From the look on Zuriat’s face, he was probably wondering why Kirrin was there.
How much does he really know?
Hak’kar had always kept Kirrin’s role and work away from the formal council. Kirrin was Hak’kar’s secret weapon. Secret. How secret was he? From the mildly curious expression on Zuriat’s face, Kirrin doubted he knew very much.
Hak’kar sipped his brandy, sitting forward on the couch. The anticipation was palpable. Kirrin saw it in the pulse at Hak’kar’s throat, the licking of his lips and slight clenching of the fingers.
“So your mission was successful?”
Kirrin nodded. The mission had sounded simple enough. Kirrin was tasked with acquiring a sacred relic from the high priests’ at one of the temples. In order to gain entrance, Kirrin had scaled up a thirty-foot wall, digging for finger holds and toeholds, fighting the urge to look down. It had been worth it, the thrill he felt when he had reached the lone open window to the inner sanctum and held the stone in his hand.
When he’d first picked it up, he almost flinched, expecting Iyana to appear, smiting him for his insolence. But nothing happened. No Iyana. No Takkara. No one. A moment had passed, and then another. No lightning came. No thunderbolts. Not even a high priest shouting about an intruder.
Hak’kar referred to it as The Tear of the Stolen Child. A large faceted Starlite, the size of a child’s fist. Kirrin had never seen one up close before. He had marveled over its silvery blue shimmer. Looking at it, he could imagine that it was the hardened tear of a goddess. Curious, Kirrin had done a bit of research. Some of the stories claimed that it opened a door to the gods. It was reputed to have been a gift from Iyana to her Faenyr lover.
Why would a goddess gift a mortal with such an object?
Maybe it did hold some power, after all, but Kirrin couldn’t find anything to indicate what its powers were or how Hak’kar might intend to use it.
Watch for Luck’s Ruin, available spring 2021