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“No magic under any circumstances, eh?” Cadock-Tir frowned. An alien expression on his cheerful face.
“There are exceptions, of course,” Takeya explained. She glanced around the council room and made eye contact with each of the jarls as they sat in stunned silence. “The most common one being for agricultural purposes. Nations that would have difficulty feeding its people without the use of magic are exempt from the ban for that explicit purpose. Even Calitha is banned from their use of golems.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Sathryon-Maw shouted. “Their entire infrastructure is built around golems! How is a nation centralized around commerce supposed to function without the means to deal with imports and exports? What kind of authority do the Preservers think they have?”
“They will have to manage,” she replied. “I’m sure I don’t have to explain what this means for your country. It is understandable that ore and coal production will decrease, but as your people don’t utilize magic to produce food, you have no reason to use any magic at all. As for the legitimacy of the ban, this is a strong recommendation. Of course, it will be up to the jarls of Aluvalia to enforce it, but the goal of the Preservers is to judge what is best for mankind as a whole, without the prejudices of nation.”
“What about in self defense?” Jadis-Sel asked. “Or wyvern hunts?” The Aluvalian way of life was concerned with those hunts, as well as the trade of wyvern horns as prize. The horns were practically used as the most valuable currency in these lands. Jadis was surprised that neither of those buffoons had mentioned it yet.
“Surely you don’t mean to say that braving those blizzards to die fighting dragons is a tradition worthy of exception? If you are so eager to prove yourselves, killing a wyvern without magic would prove more prestigious, don’t you think?”
“Killing those things is damn near impossible as it is,” Rauvin-Bek grumbled. “We couldn’t possibly hope to do it without magic.”
“Then perhaps for the time being your people should consider abstaining from wyvern hunts.”
“Abstain fro- girl are you mad?” Sathryon fumed, pounding his fist against the table for emphasis. “Aluvalia culture revolves around those hunts! It’s how we determine clan strength! Wealth!”
“Yes, we’re well aware that image is very important to you, Sathryon,” Rauvin said, arms crossed as he sat relaxed in his chair. “Maybe now you won’t be so inclined to throw lives away in the name of attaining more horns.”
“It’s easy to ridicule the group at the top when you have no hope of achieving their renown,” Sathryon countered. “You’re all so fond of mocking me and my people. Perhaps I should remind you that this last month the Bear clan has slain more wyverns than all of your clans put together. Not that that’s saying much since the Sellis clan is included in that tally.”
Jadis clenched his fist. “And how many hunts were you present for?” he asked, though he already knew the answer.
“My shield brother lead them. There’s no reason to have both of the clan jarls attend the same hunt.” Sathryon made eye contact with him. “I learned that one from you, actually, Jadis.”
The image of his shield brother’s face flashed through Jadis’ mind. A smiling, cheerful man in one instant shifting to a bloody, broken mass in the snow. So much blood had been spilled that day.
The room went silent, the sound of the burning torches enveloping the table. An insult like that was grounds for a formal duel. Takeya looked quite bothered that the discussion had descended to this level, but it was no longer her place to speak. Everyone looked to Jadis, now.
He stood from his chair, staring directly across the table to the man that opposed him. “I admire your courage, challenging a jaded soldier with nothing left to lose, but I think the days to come will be hard enough. Let’s not make it more difficult by thinning our numbers even further. I warn you, though, Sathryon-Maw. Cross me one more time and Aluvair himself will not be able to save you.” He addressed the Kitsuyan woman. “I’m through with this discussion. I’ve heard all I need.” He adjusted his belt and beard before retiring from the room.
As he left the Clan House, he heard hustled footsteps behind him. Cadock-Tir hurried after Jadis, cane slamming on the stone repeatedly as the aged man moved.
“What is it, jarl?” Jadis asked. “Must I return?”
“No, no,” Cadock replied. “I just wanted to speak with you awhile. I can only suffer their brooding for so long before I need to hit someone.”
“So you choose to suffer my brooding?”
Cadock laughed. “I suppose. There’s a change in the winds, Jadis,” he explained, quoting an old proverb. “Would you care to join me for some drinks at my clan hall?”
“I’d be honored,” Jadis said.
They took their conversation to the dining room of Cadock’s clan hall: the room of revelry and relaxation for all Timberhorn clan members. The entire building was made of wood, which was unusual for Aluvalian structures. The Timberhorns embraced their animal’s likeness to a degree some found unnerving. The dining room was decorated with the animal’s skins, and desert trees that resembled the lizard’s horns were placed all round the room.
For an animal that even still was used as a beast of burden, the clansmen took pride in their identity. Jadis couldn’t help but respect them. Even at it’s prime, none of his own clansmen could have regarded the Sellis clan hall a home the way the Timberhorns probably did. “I was very impressed with the way you handled Sathryon’s insult,” Cadock said as the first couple of steins were passed to them. The two jarls were given a wide berth of space in the room. Many people even nodded their recognition of their obvious seclusion and moved to a different table. “I half expected you to demand a fight then and there.”
“That man is insufferable. It took every ounce of strength I had not to challenge him. I doubt he’s lifted a blade in the last decade.”
Cadock guzzled his manna, getting at least half of the blue-tinged liquid on his beard. “I will admit part of me wants to see you relieve his shoulders of that proud head of his,” he said, wiping his chin dry as he gestured for a refill.
“Perhaps one day, friend,” Jadis concluded. “But I’ve been thinking about what you said about him a few weeks ago.”
“You can’t possibly expect me to remember that far back, son,” he grinned.
“Son? Cadock you’re not eight years my senior. You just like to play the part of the wise old man.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he whined, groaning and massaging his back with an exaggeration that brought a smile to Jadis’ face.
“You remember when we were talking about the clans. You said Sathryon is just trying to keep the Luminous Hollow strong when he holds so many wyvern hunts, and how he wants me to abdicate my seat on the council so a larger clan’s jarl can have my seat.”
“That does sound familiar, now that you mention it,” he held up his beard, wiping any spilt manna with a bare hand.
“It’s almost as if he’s preparing for something,” Jadis proposed.
“And you know what that something is?” Cadock asked.
“I think he’s trying to gain a quiet control over the entire Hollow.”
“That’s some accusation, Jadis.”
“I know, but hear me out. He presents the Bear Clan as the superior clan. At least the best warriors. He wants me off the council because he knows I’ll oppose him, and with my clan where it stands these days, I’m an easy target. Rauvin agrees with whatever anyone says if you pester him enough, and you’re too powerful. Nobody would take him seriously if he tried to remove you.”
“What about Thomri-Moth and and Dagan-Pak?” Cadock offered.
“What about them?”
“You seem to forget they are also jarls that have chairs in those meetings.”
“They’re easy to forget. With Dagan’s vow of silence and Thomri’s refusal to offer his own opinions, I’m surprised they’re still on the council.”
“Then why doesn’t our favorite Bear Clan jarl target them?”
Jadis took another gulp from his stein, thinking. “Why indeed. I just assumed Sathryon either paid them off or didn’t concern himself because empty chairs are easier to deal with than opposing ones. Either that or he’s concerning himself with me because my clan is by far the smallest in the Hollow these days.”
Cadock chuckled, shaking his head. “Not everything is about you, Jadis.”
He furrowed his brow. “What do you mean?”
“What if Sathryon is just worried about you?”
Jadis burst out laughing. “You must be joking. Sathryon insulted me in front of the entire council today, Cadock!” He all but spat as he said the Bear clan jarl’s name. “He ridiculed my absence in the wyvern hunt that ravaged my clan two months ago! You can’t imagine what it’s like to walk through the Sellis Clan hall in the silent darkness. No torchlight, no laughter. Just memories.” Tears fell upon clenched fists as he struggled to speak. The thought of his shield brother, Serandis’ smile stabbing his soul once more. “I’ve lost what little respect I had left for that man today.”
Cadock’s humorous demeanor was gone. He placed a soothing hand on the table, leaning close. “What if Sathryon’s comment wasn’t meant as an insult? What if he meant to imply that you would have died that day, too, if you were there? Look, forget about him for now. What if you and the rest of your clan joined the Timberhorns? All the clansmen here respect you. You’re a respected fighter, and I think you’d find peace here.”
“Cadock, I appreciate the gesture but–”
“I know what you’re going to say, so don’t waste your breath. Just know that this is a standing offer, and we won’t discuss it further. All that being said, why don’t you join us on tomorrow’s wyvern hunt? Both I and Walen-Tir are going.”
Jadis found it amusing that both Timberhorn jarls would be going on the hunt after Sathryon had scorned the idea today. “Thank you, jarl. I’ll consider it.”
Jadis stood from the table. The crowd of Timberhorns had diminished. Night was approaching, for as little as it meant deep in the caves.
“But, truth be told, Cadock, I’d rather have died in battle with my brother that day than live to see the world forget him and my clan.” He bowed his gratitude for the company before leaving the hall unattended.