Death's First Kiss is Always the Sweetest (Being Part III of 'Night of the Grey Wolves')

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Like a ship of bones sinking slowly into a sea of costly furs and pillows, King Brodas of the land of Dakat, Chief Priest of Arakat, God of The Redeeming Flame and Birthing Dark gave up a final shudder as a cock crow could be heard echoing across the rooftops from the impoverished Old City.

As the old man's wives wailed and prostrated themselves round the bed, two hard men regarded one another across the wreckage of the old tyrant. Prince Enirin and Lord of the Chamber Eriall were congizant that the ears of the courtiers gathered round were attending their every sigh and frown to augur how the succession would go.

“Prepare for the sacrifice,” called Enirin, taking the golden dragon diadem from his father's withered head and placing it upon his own. “For I am now thy king.”

Eriall exploded in a purple faced wrath and soldiers appeared at the back of each, cloaks cast aside and hands upon weapon hilts. “Impudent youth! Arakat has appointed thy brother Demasjyt who shall be here within two nights. I always knew your ambition would ruin you, with your dalliances with foreigners and intrguing in the harem!” he shouted, staring angrily at Jaesper, who, bold enough in an open fight, felt somehow quite out of his usual depth. This was no tavern brawl to be soothed over with a a jest or a bawdy song. The air in the chamber, though filled with the subtle smoke of exotic fragrances crackled with the potential for sudden outburst of deadly violence.

Prince Enirin, a graceful and fit young man had once explained to his favorite minstrel, Jaesper the circumstances that made the lands of the east so difficult for outsiders to comprehend,

“Dakat, like all the city-states of the steppes east of Lake Rhun and west of the The Red Mountains had changed rapidly in the long age after the coming of the prophet of The Redeeming Flame* a thousand years ago. The list of kings prior to that time had been expunged and the heathen idols of the false faith of the moon and sun had all been smashed. Defaced inscriprions from that time could still be seen upon long abandoned temples and public buildings throughout the east. The new faith brought by the King in Yellow** took root in the wake of a plague that had laid low a third of the population. Or so the old books all said.

The trauma of the pestilence had called for dire measures and the enemies of the New Faith were all expunged in the cleansing fire. After the resistance of the plains cities was overcome in a dark crusade, the necessary sacrifices were obtained from the ranks of criminals, though at times of successful war, prisoners were offered up and said to be particularly desirable as food for Arakat. When Dakat sent its war chariots south to war against the great enemy, those ranks of the defeated who had not been marched to the land of Black Arakat hidden behind the walls of his mountain fortress were consumed in traditional fashion by being confined in dozens at a time in towering wooden colossi which were set aflame at the culmination of certain rites. The enemy died so that the land may be made fertile, it was said. And who are we to question the word of God?”

Jaesper had taken all this in with equanimity. It certainly was incentive to keep on the good side of the inquisitors. Now, he had the distinct feeling that should his sponsor's plot fail and the Prince's coup be foiled, he might find things growing hot for him. In a very direct and unhappy way.

“You know I am eldest, Eriall. Send your men back to the whorehouses where they were born,” shouted Prince Eniran. The Chamberlain, unwilling to provoke swordplay around the still warm body of his old king, turned his upper lip back in a feral snarl. “The True God wither you with his great eye,” he cursed and departed, with his guards. The hangers on of the royal court recovered somewhat from their shock and breathed relief, looking for opportunities not to be associated with the scene.

A serving girl tickled Jaes' palm and he realized he was being given something. His hands closed round a small round object and the slight woman in her simple dress disappeared without so much as a glance. A strand of red hair could be seen peeking from under her headscarf.

Later, Jeasper picked apart the balled up bit of papyrus and read the cipher, which he had committed to memory. It was from Ahmo, bidding him to come to the rendezvous point in the old tunnels, which he had made a map of for her. Now it comes to it, he thought. As fond as he had grown of Eniran's company, he was eager to cast the dice and be done with it.


The tunnels beneath Dakat were held to have been made by a nation of dwarves from the distant Red Mountains. What became of them was lost to memory and song, save hints that they opposed the True Faith and had been taken off to the land of Arakat# for redemption.

They tunnels were too regularly built to have been mines and there were no known sources of ore of any kind nearby Dakat. As all known entrances had long since been sealed by the authorities. The network had become a trysting spot for courtiers and a place to hatch conspiracies. Some said it led to deeper delvings which were the site of unspeakable rites.

The pair of access points outside the castle itself were a closely guarded secret. One that the troubador had, through his prowess in the bedchamber managed to winnow out of the Prince. Jaesper the bard nervously gripped the jewel eyed wolf skull that formed the pommel of his dirk as he rounded each corner, his oil lamp casting a quavering light in the utter dark.

At last, at the central node, he spotted a tall cloaked figure carrying a similar lamp, like a beacon on a rocky headlands during a storm at sea. Ahmo had become a solitary guide post from whom he hoped to learn what his next part was to be in this shadow play.

It was only when suddenly hands grasped at him from every direction that he realized his foray into eastern intrigue had somehow gone all wrong. A gag was stuffed into his mouth and a bag was thrust over his head and he was bound and he felt himself being dragged along a rough stone floor. The familiar voice of Eriall spoke soothingly but full of menace. “You'll be useful for bringing the usurper to justice. And then you shall be cleansed in fire.”

* That's their name for Sauron if it wasn't clear.

** The Witch King

# That's Mordor, yo! These folks aren't elves. They have an entirely unrelated langauge.

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