Lord of Astaroth.
He had held that title for centuries now, it was what had built him, it was what had made him this way, it had shaped him into the ruthless tyrant that he was now, as the unyielding and irrational ruler of this vast empire. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and the crown of Astaroth was the heaviest of the seven kingdoms, but Ryder never complained, he never did to anyone, and not because he did not have anyone to complain to or anything to complain about, but because he was him, he was Ryder Axeris d’Croix, he was Lord Ryder Axeris d’Croix of Astaroth, he had made a reputation for himself and he was more than capable of dealing with whatever came his way, and he had done exactly that throughout the years without falter.
All until now. All until the burden of the year of Osyron had been placed on his shoulder, and heavily too.
“What troubles the ruler of Astaroth?”
Ryder had heard and he knew who had spoken, but he remained in the same position he had been in since he had come here, his head down, held up his thumb and index fingers which pressed into the bridge of his nose, one leg which supported the hand that held his head firmly planted on the steps just below the throne he sat in, the other leg laying limp, and his eyes closed. He took in a breath.
“Lyra of Dragonsbane,” Ryder spoke in his thoughts, not wanting to speak out. “The Khione girl of Dragonsbane troubles me.”
General Mavrek d’Croix stood before his brother’s son and watched him, for four hundred and eleven years he had been ruler of Astaroth, taking the throne and leadership when he had only been a hundred and three years of age. At first, nobody had expected him to have lasted up to a year, he had been young, much too young to have assumed leadership over the kingdom of Astaroth then, and many wanted to usurp him from that position, but Ryder had been brave and courageous, and he had his uncle Mavrek at his side to keep him safe and advice him. He had grown up well. He had grown up to be the kind of leader Astaroth needed.
The year of Osyron was always a difficult year for Astaroth, most especially for the one who sat on the throne in such a year, so Mavrek could understand what ailed his nephew. It had weighed on his brother too.
“You have finally acquired the Khione girl, Ryder.” He started. “And I know you have probably heard this way too many times, that you do not have enough time in your hands as the year of Osyron is drawing near.”
Ryder sighed but still remain quiet and with his eyes closed. He breathed in and out steadily, and calmly.
“And the girl is quite a handful as we have all heard and or witnessed,” He paced. “Plus the issue of her memories of the last thirty-eight years being wiped, leading to her inability to remember you. And also…”
“I have my own way of dealing with things, Uncle.” He spoke up, cutting Mavrek short. He still did not move from his position, and neither did he open his eyes. “I will deal with it when and how I see fit.”
“And I trust your judgment, Ryder. But this now isn’t just about you but the whole of Astaroth and the other kingdoms. We unleashed…” He paused in his talk and in his pacing. “No, Axeris unleashed this… cursed death wanderer and if it comes, it comes not just for the one seated on the throne of Astaroth, but for the whole of Astaroth as well and eventually the other kingdoms stretched across.”
Ryder opened his eyes and turned his head, his attention focused on his uncle with absolutely no trace of emotions in them, Mavrek could not tell his mood by just looking at him. “I know of the legendary tale and its consequences, how it came to be, and the way to seal it.”
Mavrek moved and walked to the side, taking one of the seats in the throne room, one close to Ryder. “The girl is adamant, young, naive, reckless…”
“I know all that uncle.” He rolled his eyes and sat up, leaning his bank against the seat. “You do not have to mention all over again.”
“How do you plan on getting her to fall in love with you then?” Mavrek asked but Ryder did not answer. He didn’t even look like he wanted to bother himself to answer either, so Mavrek went on. “We could make her fall in love with you.”
Ryder turned his head to him and blinked once, he had the plainest expression and Mavrek could not tell if he was interested in hearing what he had to say, or if that was just a sarcastic look he was giving, but he voiced out his thoughts anyway. “A love potion.”
Ryder’s face changed now, his eyes narrowed and his expression was readable. He was angry. “A love potion?”
“You know what the consequences of doing that would be, you know the importance of purity in this sacrifice, and you are the one to suggest this to me?”
“You know!” He banged his fist on the golden armrest, his voice echoed through the empty room.
Mavrek sighed and stood up. “Then may I suggest that…”
“No, you may not!” He said, waving a hand in his direction to stop him, then he looked away and rested his forehead on a fisted hand, his elbow on the armrest, his eyes closed.
Mavrek paused and walked closer to Ryder before he continued. “…that you search for another Khione.”
His eyes flew open but he did not move. Another Khione?
“With the way things are, you rather not keep all of your eggs in one basket, it would be better for you and the kingdom if there was another option made available.”
Ryder’s eyes fluttered closed and he breathed in, what Mavrek had said now was a very good strategy but he was in no mood to commend anyone, most especially him, not after what he had suggested in the first place. Making her fall in love with him through the help of a love potion would ultimately stain the purity of the sacrifice and there would be no way to atone for that.
He leaned in towards Ryder to whisper, although he was not close enough to him. “The earlier you get on it, the better for us all.”
The door squeaked open and Mavrek turned to see Xanth, in his full armor, walking into the room. Mavrek took in a breath and stood up straight, taking a couple of steps to the side, and stood fully facing Xanth.
“Lord Ryder,” Xanth called, going down on one knee in courtesy in front of him. The sound of his armor clanking and rubbing against each other as he moved made Ryder open his eyes and look at Xanth, he never called him Lord except if they were among commoners, strangers, in a public gathering or he wanted to relay something that needed his utmost attention. Plus he had his full armor on. Ryder sat up straight in the seat.
“The fort at the Eldham border had been attacked again, it had been an ambush and the casualties are slightly high.”
“What is the report?”
Xanth stood up. “Food supplies have either been damaged or carted away by the Rocheveron army.”
“Let’s go talk about this in the meeting room.” Ryder stood and walked past him, heading out of the room, Xanth bowed slightly as Ryder walked past him, and then he turned to Mavrek.
“General, I think you should come with us since this is a matter concerning the soldiers and our border.”
Mavrek, with a tight look on his face, nodded to Xanth. “I will be right behind you, you go ahead first.”
Xanth nodded and without wasting any more time, turned and walked out of the room, going after Ryder.
Mavrek sighed and stood awhile in the throne room after Ryder and Xanth had left before he walked out of the room. Just as he was stepping out, he caught sight of Tezani walking down the stairs and he smiled at her, the kind of smile that revealed that there was more than just a maid and master relationship between them both.
“There is a way to do things, Ryder. A way to get things done.” He murmured as he watched her walk past him, her face turning bright red when he flashed her a bright half-smile. He too had his own way, he would just have to make sure that became the only way. He walked away from the door, heading upstairs, he should pay the Khione girl a visit.
Novel by me, Harriet Ifeanyi.
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