A Castle of Sand

By Allan Stevens

Radaban sat by a small table, in his thirties, lithe and well muscled, he had an aristocratic bearing, without the foppishness of his predecessor. The Chancellor poured the wine into the golden goblet, it was common knowledge that the Chancellor abstained and Radaban took the cup and drank deep. He had not expected to be elevated to his present station. Darin was still young, Radaban listened to the Chancellor's explanation of the night's events without question. Even to the point of the swift despatch of the guards, he had ridden past the bodies as they hung in chains by the Palace gates. His thoughts turned once more to his daughters, now in truth, they would be his little princesses, and the lineage would continue. Those corpses would have to be disposed of before they took up residence in case they became fearful, the law is the law, and Radaban, at his forthcoming coronation would pledge himself to uphold it. However, his daughters would be spared such sights for as long as he was able.

The Chancellor stood by his balcony, the air was still and carried with it the warmth of a fine Autumn day. He continued his speech to Rabadan, he spoke of loyal service to his new ruler. Of the importance of continuity of leadership to maintain, trade vital for the survival of Talassen. He gushed about the delight that the prescence of a fair Queen and children would bring to the citadel.

Rabadan listened, it was a fine speech. The Chancellor himself was surprised with it's eloquence given the short notice for it's preparation. He stopped in mid sentence as the goblet fell to the floor, its ringing note giving Cire the signal for which he had waited. He entered swiftly and locked the doors to the chamber, a glance at Radaban told him that the potioned wine had worked.

Cire walked briskly to the opposite wall, he took down the tapestry that hung there and revealed a small wooden door, through which he disappeared. A few moments later he returned, with him were two others, thick set with brutish features. These two took hold of Radaban, and bore him through the door. The Chancellor remained where he stood, looking out over the white city that was Talassen.

" Cire you understand your instructions?"

" Yes my Lord Chancellor."

" Then I shall join you presently, the drugs will lose their effect in a wick or so, I will be there in two, I want that conscious when we begin."

Slowly Radaban's eyes completed their focussing, his feet were now plain. He used the lines of grout on the tiled floor as another reference point, as they straightened in his vision he began to think about raising his head to take in the rest of his suroundings. Standing, at the moment seemed beyond him, his legs were leaden, and his arms felt strangely disconnected. An unseen hand grabbed his hair, and his head was pulled back, through the pain he felt a certain gratitude to his assailant, this quickly turned to a roar of anger. It would have if he had been capable of speech, or any sound at all.

He was gazing into the visage of the Lord Chancellor, his tight fitting black cowl, in the darkness of where he was, emphasised the paleness of the face. The patch of colour drew his attention to the eyes. His thoughts were formed in his mind, and Radaban questioned himself.

Why did he think of this? The eyes are the windows of the soul, it was a common thing, often said by the Merchants as they traded. Ambivalent, it could be an insult or a compliment, Radaban was convinced of its truth, he had looked into the eyes of the liars at the court, as they sought to entwine him into their schemes. He was trapped under those eyes, as a bird is trapped by the snake, he was being drawn through the window, he saw the naked soul of the Lord Chancellor of Tallassen, and it was a vision of the purest evil.

The Chancellor took a step backward and gave a low bow, it was an act of mockery, reinforced by his tone as he spoke.

" Your illustrious Majesty Radaban, King of the White Marble City of Talassen, I am your humble servant."

As the Chancellor arose he clapped his hands as a signal, slowly the room began to fill with the light of small oil lamps scattered here and there. Fear now was in Radabans eyes as the light brought knowledge of his predicament, there was fear and also the promise and curse of a terrible revenge he would wreak on the Chancellor. He knew the implements that surrounded him well enough, and he knew that for the moment he was helpless in the Chancellors torture room.

Radaban tried to turn his head to take in the full picture of the room, searching for the glimmer of hope that might mean escape. His head was fixed straight ahead, he now felt the restraining cords round his hands and legs, the loop of the circlet round his skull, small beads of sweat broke out on his forehead, although the room was chilled, the bare stone walls prevented heat from entering. The braziers although prepared with charcoal and kindling, had not been given the spark that would give them life to fulfill their purpose.

The Chancellor broke the heavy silence.

" I call this place my mirror, here, my Lord you will meet your true self. I will aid you in your journey of discovery. You cannot speak, this I know, the effect is not permanent, and the potion will not harm you. I require you to leave Talassen, and appoint myself as your regent. Unfortunately this demands your co-operation, this is why we are here. You, Radaban, would find what I ask inconceivable. That your death would be avenged and the people of the City would rise against me, I have no doubts, however it would only be a diversion, the Army of Talassen, is, and always will be mine. I am not lacking the will for slaughter, do not misunderstand me Radaban, the rabble will die in their thousands, the merchants will side with wherever are the richest pickings, and the heaviest lining to their pockets. Your death, a simple enough task my Lord would create a vacuum, which would again lead to instability, and wasted time. I have prepared the proclamation, and it awaits only your signature and seal. A few rumours will silence the wagging tongues of the bootlickers of the court. Your exile will be comfortable, you will be given gold, you will be escorted to wherever you choose. Your lady wife has kinsfolk in the North, it is a pleasant enough place although I understand that winter tarries a little longer, and arrives somewhat sooner. As I have said my Lord Radaban, you think what I ask is impossible, yet I tell you that it is achievable, you will sign and you will leave Talassen. This will be done by the Radaban who lurks inside the body with you. I will show him to you,"

There was a bench, behind the Chancellor, he turned, and picked up a mirror of polished bronze, it glowed with a warmth that seemed alien in the cold light of the room. Radaban was transfixed by the apparition he saw, and once more the fear grew in his body, coldly permeating throughout his limbs, freezing his heart, and each word of the Chancellor fell like a snowflake in the winter that was now his mind.

" Behold Radaban, King of Talassen, look and learn. You wear the purple cloak of your high office, it hides the stake to which you are bound. The circlet of gold upon your brow, I placed that myself, it will serve as the crown until your coronation. The smile on your lips will only pass in time, it is caused by the burning of leaves, how long can you hold your breath Radaban? I forget my Lord, you see the Radaban of old, let me show you your true self."

The Chancellor replaced the circle of bronze back upon the bench, and as he spoke he made sure that his eyes were firmly fixed at the centre of Radaban's sight.

" To eyes that do not know our little secret Radaban you have the look of the true Lord of Talassen. The smile on your lips, could have two meanings my Lord, a smile of pleasure, or of a darker passion. We two know of these things Radaban, our innocence was lost long ago. I for myself, do not mourn its passing. There will be little strength in your limbs for a while, until you recover enough to sign my appointment as Regent, I will leave you here alone, with these thoughts. Your good wife will see that smile, and hear your silent acquiescence as she is introduced to pain, it will be a long death for her, you will carry her screams etched on your heart. She will be the last, you have two daughters I believe? One of those will be the first to die, eventually, the other will follow in her own time. They are strong, healthy children from a good stock, they will endure much I think. You will stand there smiling upon them as they suffer. You will carry the curses in your Lady's eyes, I care not for feminine screams, she will lose her tongue very early in the process.

Your children will also see their father smiling at their fate, there will be no curses from them, they will see the love in your eyes and endure their suffering for as long as they are able. Their thoughts will be our father is happy for us, see how he smiles. Your eyes will carry these sights forever Radaban. Death will dim them, maybe in heaven they will forgive you when you meet again. You will not die at my hand Radaban, you will rot in a prison cell waiting for a freedom that may, or may not be given to you. The rabble will mutter, of that I have no doubt, but are you enough of a prize to warrant the risk of rebellion? That will be work for the politicians, and my work and art, is politics. If you are freed what will freedom bring, just sunlit memories of my mirror, and the satisfaction of my death. That may not be as I may escape, yes you would vow to pursue me, you would hunt me down as a dog, if you found me your vengeance would be terrible, if you found me. Think of not finding me, it would be nearer the truth. These things will happen Radaban, this I promise you, as I promise you exile and safe conduct from Talassen."

Radaban had expected a final word as the Chancellor left, the sound of the heavy door bolt sliding home penetrated his brain like an axe wielded by the executioner would have sliced his neck. Now he was alone with his thoughts.

Copyright (c) Allan Stevens April 12th 1998 and presented with Permission of the Author.

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