Romnan emerged from his sanctuary to find Sobahn’s seemingly lifeless body at his feet. The poor soldier had almost made it to the sanctum before the soul eaters caught him. Poor man. But the soul eaters were nowhere to be found.
He bent down to inspect the soldier. Still flesh. Still warm. The soul eaters had left the poor man alive!
No matter. He would not leave the man there as bait in a trap. The soldier deserved a better fate. Besides. Once he was back to health, they would send him out the other entrance.
Perhaps he and his brother would teach their guest a few bits of magic. He smiled. Quickly, he gathered the limp body in his arms and went back into the sanctum.
“Brother,” he called, “we have company.”
“Do we?” Qualzath inquired, emerging from his place of solitude. He looked at the seemingly lifeless form of Sobahn. “Sobahn of Trynath. Interesting. Seems he was a bit stronger than the soul eaters anticipated. Perhaps he has an immunity to soul eater venom. Quite the chance finding, brother.”
“Then we nurse him back to health?” Romnan inquired.
“Yes, brother,” Qualzath replied, smiling, “and then we teach him how to defend himself against them and block them out of his mind.”
“Then I shall set about gathering the medicinals needed to heal him,” Romnan replied, “and shall set into motion the next stage of his life.”
The moment Sobahn’s body had been removed from the soul eaters’ tunnel, the image that stood before Hadrax and his men vanished. But the mind talking continued. Now unnerved, Hadrax commanded that the first tribute be rounded up. Soldiers went from door to door within the city, pulling any red haired boy they found away from his family and his home.
The frightened boys were rounded up and herded to the mine entrance. Fifty youths, ranging in age, were brought to Hadrax. He frowned. He had expected to find more. Perhaps he could send word to other cities in the area. Or maybe conquer them.
He knew he would need a steady supply of red haired boys. Babies. Toddlers. Small boys. Teens.
One way or another, he would make good on his bargain. He wanted nothing more to do with these mind-talkers. Keeping them satisfied would ensure his kingdom riches. It would also make sure that there was no child to fulfill the prophecy. He would be making all happy.
Olgath, the Master of the Dark Ring, would be pleased. Golmagug, lord of the Inquisition, would be relieved. The emperor would reward him. Only those he had conquered would despise him.
Who cared whether his subjects loved him. They would learn to fear his name. They would learn to obey his demands. Those who refused would be executed.
They would find him a ruthless master. He would not be kind, nor would he allow them to breathe easy. He would raise their taxes. He would bind them with laws to break their spirit. He would show the emperor that he was a worthy governor.
“Herd the youths into the tunnels,” he commanded, “we shall set up a gate upon the main tunnel which will be guarded day and night to ensure that no one will enter except our tribute to the mysterious mind speakers of the main tunnel. No miners shall enter therein. Once a year, we will hold a festival of sorts to pay tribute. On that festival, no mining will take place and the guards shall emerge once the gates have been locked.
“Bring forth the scribe. Set him to pen and parchment so that this will be remembered. We must keep record.”
A city scribe was forced forward. A table was brought for him to write upon and a chair so he could sit. He took out his writing kit and set the table up for recording. He began writing by recording the date and setting forth the festival to fall upon that date every year following. Shakily, he wrote the description of all that would take place and every ordinance that governed it. A darkness had fallen over Korlabdis.
Niobe called for a messenger and a scribe. Both entered at the same time. She waited for the scribe to set up his small scribe’s table and to set out his pen, ink, and parchment. She allowed him to sit down and ready himself for his task. Unlike her husband, she was a patient person.
The scribe nodded to acknowledge that he was ready. She nodded back to signal him to take up his quill. He did so and dipped it in his ink.
“A message to Hadrax at Korlabdis,” she began, “from his beloved wife Niobe. My dearest. I write you to report a matter so delicate that I am not sure how to address it. Know well that, before I begin, I had not intended this to happen. It was as much a surprise to me as it will be to you. In fact, I was in such shock that I had both the surgeon and nurse executed upon hearing the unwelcomed news.
“Know that I have taken all precautions, in the past, to avoid such a thing from coming to pass, so am at loss as to how it could have happened. From all accounts, lotus was supposed to prevent and, in fact, was supposed to render me infertile. Yet, for some unknown reason, I have become pregnant.
“I am writing to find out from you what you wish to have done. Shall we sell the child once it has arrived? Or shall we merely cast it into the Big Muddy? Continuously, and forever in love, your loving wife, Niobe.”
She allowed the scribe, now fearing for his own life, to allow the ink to dry before motioning him to roll the message into a scroll and bring it to her. dripping molten wax onto the parchment to create a seal, she pressed her ring into it. After the wax cooled, she handed the scroll to the messenger. The scribe had hurriedly packed his possessions and made a hasty retreat before the disgruntled nobilis could also execute him. the messenger made his exit with the message firmly in hand.
Hadrax called for a scribe. He needed to report to the emperor. He also wanted to find other cities in his general area whose governors were not in the emperor’s good graces. Perhaps they weren’t sending enough tribute. Or maybe they weren’t in agreement with the empire.
The scribe set up as the general fidgeted with the bindings of his armor. When Hadrax finally got his breastplate unbuckled and removed, the scribe was ready to begin his task. Turning around, Hadrax nodded in approval.
“To His eminence, the emperor. From Hadrax, victorious general over the battle of Korlabdis. Greetings. It is my pleasure to report the taking of Korlabdis with very little bloodshed.
“The governors, being cowards, have fled. Unfortunately, they have taken the tomes you desired. However, I have been able to restore the use of the ancient mines of Korlabdis for your glory, but at a price. I was forced to meet the—demands, if you will—of the mind-speakers that have long held control over them. That price was that I would agree to send them the city’s red-haired youth.
I will understand should you decide to remove me from command in disgrace. Yet, I wish to know if there be any other city you wish me to besiege and take governorship of from their current leaders. Perhaps, in this way, we can continue the tribute to those who dwell within the mine’s central shaft…as well as raise taxes so that the glorious empire can continue at full strength.
Your humble servant, Hadrax.”