Normally, the opening ceremony of the High Council of the Kings, was full of pomp and circumstance. Though the regular gathering of these five kings took place five times per year, the Kremellian conception of a year was entirely different than the modern one – something closer to the order of a decade, but with important cyclical differences (which we won’t get into here for the sake of brevity).
As this was a special session, however, and it was agreed by all that the matter which lay before them was one of urgency, it was agreed in a unanimous vote that an abridged version of the ceremony would be performed at this time. In broad strokes, it meant that the Ritual of Presentation, in which each king knelt to give homage before the Iabolex – an enormous antlered skull of a megaloceros – was cut short. Instead of the obligatory three day feast which was to follow this ritual in the ordinary calendar, they agreed to jump straight to business. This act of court was ratified by the presiding Lawspeaker of the Citadel, Outhne, who was a living codex of law and lore of that country, and arbitrator in case of disputes.
King Consciolus Greppo, as First King, had the right to speak first to the assembled group, which in the end consisted of: Mergolech, Second King of Cannaxus; Murta, Third King of Holmat; Martis Ovnis, Fourth King of Edebia; and Eradus Drynarus, Fifth King of Devera. Absent were the assembled throng of spectators who by tradition normally were welcome in the Hall as witnesses during High Council sessions. Also present were Benda, who stood at the center of the present issue. And Machef, too – the sable golek, and king among his people – was begrudgingly admitted after some official hemming and hawing on the part of Greppo and the Lawspeaker.
Eradus argued eloquently and effectively on his behalf, that under the right of kings, Machef should be allowed, even though his kingdom was not one of the five officially recognized ones. Consciolus Greppo had counter-argued that right only applied to recognized human kings, and that beasts should be left to their own affairs. To this, Murta, who was half-man and half-eagle, strenuously objected. Using Murta as precedent, the Lawspeaker ruled in favor of the provisional admittance of Machef (to the council session, but not to membership in the Five Kingdoms), and the proceedings commenced. (Note: Neither Tob Gobble nor Lualla and Sol admitted.)
Grepp began, “My friends, my fellows, my kings of the assembled lands of Kremel, brought together here today in extraordinary special session of High Council, I bid you all welcome, and to be of good and sober cheer. The matter before us today is a serious one, which impacts all our kingdoms equally. “
“The Way to Quatria has been rediscovered.” He paused with a dramatic silence.
“I don’t know the way,” Benda interjected, out of turn.
“The Lawspeaker reminds our guest that he will only speak when addressed by the court.”
Benda nodded, and put his head down.
Greppo continued, “Long ago, the Way was lost when the Four Ships people parted from our land. Their departure lead to a long period of chaos and conflict among the many chiefs and princes of Kremel, who jealously fought over the scraps left behind when the colonies and factories were abandoned by the Four Ships people.”
“Generation after generation continued these ancient feuds, even though their causes were long since forgotten. In some places,” Greppo said, looking pointedly at Murta, “the traces of these conflicts linger even still. And it was only of late, in the age of our forefathers, that peace was brought at last to our Five Kingdoms.”
“That peace is both a blessed and a fragile thing. It rests on the knife-edge of our vigilance, our preparation, our foresight, and our honorable and fair-dealing. The path is narrow that guards intact the precious balance we have won through our hard struggle, and that of our fore-fathers.
“The memory of the Citadel, and of the Loremasters and Archivists of her Treasury, is long. Not only do we recall the trials endured by all to establish and maintain in peace the Five Kingdoms in the departure of the Four Ships people, but we remember well that Sunny Age when they lived among us, and all were wealthy, and there was no need for kings or chiefs. Men put away their petty quarrels, and lived in the manner of the Four Ships people themselves, singing and playing upon the lute, psaltery, viol, and lyre. The factories provided for all, and the administrators distributed the fruits of the land and of their trade with other lands with great equity and probity.
“The Citadel remembers too the dark time before the Four Ships people, in which the twelve and twenty tribes of Ancient Kremel roamed as nomads and hunters across the land, and into far Ablem and Ner, before Ner became a desert, and before the Fall of Seftar. It was a time of brutality, and men suffered rude but mercifully short lives simply surviving.
“The Citadel remembers all the way back to the founding of the Great City of Kremel, and before, to the landing of Omounna upon these shores, in a closed vessel with neither rudder, sail, or oars, adrift on the Great Waters. Her vessel beached itself on our lucky rocky shores, and after some days in fearful wonder, the people who lived there had finally worked up the nerve to go investigate this wondrous craft and its occupant more closely.
“Just as they did so though, a great antlered beast appeared from the great circular cleft in the mountains (which would become the site of the Citadel), and crossed the beach to where the vessel lay. The people knew and worshipped this beast, the Iabolex, on account not just of his immense size and majesty, but because of the kind of tangible light which emanated and passed in its wake. It walked thusly, illuminated, to the vessel of Omounna, and shook the craft firmly but gently with its great antlers, which stretched as wide at least as the height of three tall men. And like an egg, it cracked, and from it emerged the pregnant Omounna. The people believed she were the princess of another land, who had offended the gods in her faithlessness, and been set adrift in that pod by her superstitious people. She carried with her a kind of living bread, fermented from seeds of that far off land, which she also kept in a pouch, and she had a scroll with strange letters writ upon it. Though the vessel was lost to the sands of time, our custodians and scholars have guarded and studied these treasures down through the ages. The bread, fim, and the seed blim, have sustained us down through the ages in the hardest times which followed. The runes of that scroll, for the most part, form our alphabet, and have enabled us to keep and study the long history of our people since the founding of our city, when Kremel was young.”
Mergolech rapped twice with his knuckles on the table, as was the fashion of that Council, and said aloud, “Time.”
The Lawspeaker looked gravely at Mergolech, and then to Greppo. Greppo nodded, and said “I yield,” and sat down.
“The Lawspeaker recognizes the time of King Mergolech, Second King of Cannaxus.”
Mergolech rose, and spoke thus: “I believe what the esteemed King wishes to say, is that in the long history of our peoples, we have seen both shadows and light. Some might say more shadows than light. As custodians of that light, we owe a debt to the future to not just guard its flame for future generations, but to seek ever after the source of that radiance, and fan those flames ever higher.
“The history of the peoples of Cannaxus is altogether different from those of the Citadel, or of the plains and lake country, or of the mountains and forests and islands. My people have always sought that essential radiance in the seas, among the flashing scales of fish in catches of great abundance.
“We are, in fact, here gathered due to one such a seeker and fisherman, one of my land, one of my countrymen, whose catch perhaps exceeds that of all others, though even he himself may not yet realize the importance of it. I speak of no other catch than The Way Back to Quatria.”
Benda opened his mouth as if to speak, but caught himself before the hard gaze of the Lawspeaker stopped him.
Mergolech continued, “Though I, as his king, by rights am owed the First Fruits of his catch, I too owe this same duty upward to the High Council of the Five Kingdoms, and the greater benefit of our realms. I present therefore him here before you, as under our law. I yield my remaining time,” he said, and sat down.
“The Lawspeaker recognizes Murta, Third King of Kremel, and Lord High Protector over Holmat and the border regions.”
Murta, as man, rose, and addressed the kings assembled around the great circular table under the gaze of the antlered skull of the Iabolex which graced that hall. Benda and Machef stood a little ways apart, near but not too near the Lawspeaker.
“My kings,” Murta said, “I bring you not regal and flowing words, nor profound lessons from history. I bring only the testimony of what my eyes have seen, and my ears have heard.”
“This man, this guest of the court and protege of Mergolech, is no humble fisherman. He is no friend of Kremel, no dutiful servant of his King or the High Council. He is a spy, and carries within him a demon, sent from afar to prepare the way for an invading force.”
Benda shouted out (completely out of turn, he knew), “No! It is not so.”
“The Lawspeaker demands silence for the final time, or the invited guests will be removed bodily from the hall, that the solemn proceeding may continue.”
Murta went on, “To protect our great lands, and the Five Kingdoms for which we’ve all fought so hard and sacrificed, the only logical answer which lays before us now is to invade and capture that country, and divide its spoils amongst ourselves for the greater glory of Kremel. It must be done before they can turn around and, in their cruelty, do much worse to us. Under the right of kings, I call to put this matter to a vote.”
“I second,” said Greppo, without a momen’ts hesitation.
“The Lawspeaker recognizes that the Fourth and Fifth Kings have not yet spoken in their turns. Do they allow this vote to pre-empt their alloted time?”
“They do,” replied the Fourth King, Martis Ovnis.
“They do not,” corrected Eradus, Fifth King, and friend of Benda.
“Nevertheless, with the support of the majority, the Lawspeaker calls the five assembled Kings of Kremel to vote on the measure proposed: to immediately mount an invasion of Quatria.”
Benda, who was already fuming, remembered then the dire warning given by the High Augur before he left that land, and he broke down and wept.
The vote passed, 3 to 5, with Eradus and Mergolech opposed.