Part 3: The Hearth

Friday, July 1, 2011

The golden orb that is Regina's sun merged with the wavering red border of day and night. It was sunset on the same day of Dorian's onset of his trauma of physical change and the working of the curse of his ancestors’ pact with the darkness of Yog-Shishan. Supra human good and evil lies deep within all the choices of mankind.
           All the family were gathered in the great banquet hall for the moon feast. What the Vihlani called their evening meal. Torin, the Reginian Banquet Major-Domo, scuttled about checking and badgering, berating and ordering the flow of food and service to the hall. He stopped for a moment to survey the scene. All seemed in order. The beautiful intricate mural walls, the precious stone and golden ceiling with its white manna lamps sprinkling their gossamer light over the room. His eye alighted on the exquisite sculpture of the Origan dancer that the Archduke Luthur had purchased for 150 million Vil credits fifty years ago. Collecting sculpture and females were just about the only diversions from the Vihlani power game that His Royal Highness allowed himself. Originally the statue of the Etteasian Worg-strangler and its victim stood in that place, but Her royal Highness, Archduchess Larrienne had persuaded Luthur to replace it. He had accepted her argument that it was inappropriate for an eating hall, and had it moved to his office instead. "Good thing too!" thought Torin. Though it wasn't the most vile of the master's collection. That dubious honour was reserved for the massive sculpture of Yog-Shishan, the sculptured 'glob' which had in real presence corrupted the Vihlani culture. It stood in the palace gardens and had attracted more than its fair share of weapons fire during the last Vihlani dynastic war. A fitting tribute to the evil god, whose minions inhabited the island of Thule on Vihlany. Torin had noted that no birds ever visited the statue and the gardeners had given up trying to grow anything near it.
           Torin looked over at the dais where the black basalt high table stood, seating the close family around it. At the head of the table sat Luthur, Archduke of Regina, in all regal splendour. "There is a line in the sand that you never cross with His Royal Highness, for past it was a sea of your own blood, " Torin reflected. On Luthur's right sat Prince Egon, second son of the household, cruel and unrestrained, most like his father, but without the measured control. He had fought more duels and killed more slaves than most Vihlani his age. Next to him was Thane, the youngest prince, quiet and reserved like his mother Larrienne, already climbing the corporate ladder. Princess Maris HiVas sat on Thane's right. She was senior in rank to Thane in the complex Vihlani Noble hierarchy. So she would be head of that family branch, with Thane taking her family name, but retaining his assets, when they were finally wed. Farther along sat Mirien, deep in conversation with Dorian. "A vision of a woman, " thought Torin as he glanced admiringly towards her. The most kind and considerate of all the family. So much so that Torin wondered if the Archduke had not been made a cuckold, so untypically warm natured was she. He was convinced that the statue of the Origan dancer had been modelled on her now dead mother, Luthur's concubine, Galenna. If anything, Mirien surpassed her mother in stunning beauty and her sublime nature.
           As is the custom of the Vihlani, all offspring of a full blood Vihlani sire or dame are acknowledged as full blood Vihlani, with full rank and privileges. Mirien was one of the few who could dissuade her father from a course of action or opinion. She was very protective of all her siblings, even Egon.
           Torin broke from his musings to quickly check that the servitors were doing their assigned tasks correctly. They were. So he resumed his study of his master's table ménage. His eyes were drawn back to Mirien; then reluctantly moved across to Dorian, first prince and heir to the Archduke, most likeable of the young princes but with a passionate nature. Yet he had a temper! Dorian restrained himself from excessive violence towards those he perceived as weaker than himself. That, however, did not mean he would not kill, if necessary. He had fought only two duels. But what duels! In the first he had killed the second best duellist of his rank for insulting his family's honour. In the second he had killed the Count of Sylea, Reor HiValan, considered the tenth best duellist then living, though Dorian had been severely wounded and nearly died. He was many weeks in need of physical and magical healing. That duel had been provoked by what Dorian explained as 'Improper groping of Mirien by the Count.' Most wise Vihlani took note of the young prince's prowess with the Karrusar blade and some did of his motive. Egon did both.
           Torin watched as one of the table servitors served the Archduchess Larrienne her third course while she sat at the opposite end of the table to Luthur. A reasonable mistress by Vihlani Noble standards, she never missed a detail and was extremely demanding that things were done correctly and efficiently. She was in conversation with her best friend, Loran HiVlandi, Archduchess of Veren, who Torin noted had allowed her body to age gracefully. Most Vihlani kept themselves in peak condition either through their natural powers or artificially, with a combination of magic and medical technology. Next to her was her husband, Avik HiVlandi, Archduke of Veren and Lord of the third most powerful family in the empire. He was a thickset man with eyes like a cornered animal. He had allied his family to Luthur's steady march toward the Imperial throne. His daughter by another wife sat next to him. Correna, Torin noted, was revealing every possible alluring physical asset she had, and, as usual, it was all directed towards Dorian. "Nymph of a woman, " he thought. Torin removed his stare from Correna's body, for he was all too aware of what would happen to him if any of the Vihlani picked up his thoughts. Woe betide the slave who thought his soul his own. Luthur's brother Duke Adrian HiVilany came next along. A cool, deliberate plotter who usually out thought his adversaries, a moderate by the measure of Vihlani politics. Now lastly his look fell upon Somare, Consort-wife and favourite of Luthur sitting half on her chair, the rest of her body arched provocatively towards Luthur, stroking his beard, whispering obscenities into his ear. She was certainly dressed more subtly than Correna, but the message was the same. Being the mother of Egon was sufficient to condemn her in Torin's opinion.
           The table was like some lonely dark whale beset by swimmers all pushing and pulling to their own secret and not so secret agendas. An island of villainy surrounded by a lake of repression and despair.
           "Your new form will not change who you are Dorian. It does not change anything with me, " Mirien said reassuringly laying her elegant hand upon Dorian's shoulder. A wave of love spread through his body.

           "It is natural! I have already gone through mine, " interjected Correna, who was seeking to cut into the conversation. She had been furious at not being seated next to Dorian and always sought to counteract Mirien's influence on him. She knew quite rightly that Mirien disapproved of her and had told Dorian so in no uncertain terms.
           Dorian glanced across at Correna distracted by her interjection and then by her voluptuous body, nefariously enhanced by her low bodiced diaphanous gown of lubricity. Mirien did not lose her focus and continued on.
           "Dorian!" she scolded, her tone sharply bringing his attention back to her. "It is natural for you to have some difficulty in adjustment to the primal passions this time will bring. The legacy of our race on its unnatural alteration is most difficult for those who bear its greatest effect." She chose her words carefully considering the company she was in. Later she would use the more truthful words of her heart.
           "Primal passions! Unnatural alteration! What words of weakness Mirien!" Correna spat the words out. "Our race's legacy-gift from Yog-Shishan has set us amongst the Gods. It is our true destiny! It IS natural. Dorian is only realising his destiny. He needs only the proper support and comfort." She almost orgasmed the last words towards Dorian.
           Mirien affixed such a stare at Correna that the blood seemed to flow from Correna's body leaving her shrunken and pale, such was her unseen psionic assault and anger.
           "Do not assail my daughter Mirien HiVilany!" commanded Avik, noticing what was happening, with considerable threat as he did so.
           "Leave her be!" countered Dorian, reacting to any assault on Mirien as he invariably did. "She speaks more truth and honesty than some at this table."
           The rest of the table fell silent at these contested outbursts of voice and psionic power.
           "We are not here to assail each other!" boomed Luthur pushing Somare firmly onto her seat. "We are here to celebrate the alliance of our great families. There will be no more of this bickering." he said nailing everyone with his most impellent stare short of frying their brains. All wisely deferred and were silent.
           Both Dorian and Avik eased themselves, but not so Mirien and Correna who continued to an imperceptive mind-duel.
           "All shall join in toast of celebration, " commanded Luthur holding his crystalline goblet up as his assigned servitor carefully filled it.
           "Yes! To an alliance of the two greatest families and to the greatest throne and its next Lord, Luthur HiVilany, " proclaimed Avik eager to wash over the previous confrontation.
           All knew which throne he referred to, but it still paid to be careful how openly you spoke about the Imperial succession. The goons at Imperial Security Corps would also know what Avik meant, if they were monitoring the occasion, but then they assumed everyone was a conspirator until shot dead at the opportune moment. Besides which Archduke Luthur was definitely the front runner, their future boss. All joined in the toast. Survival alone: a good reason to do so!


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