The Viper's Egg (A Short Story)

The Viper's Egg

No one in the High King’s inner chamber breathed as fragments of shattered crystal skittered across the black marble floor, where His Majesty had flung his wine bowl in a fit of pique. “Not while I live,” the young monarch growled, levering himself ponderously from the embrace of the cushioned throne. Standing, and with the added height of the raised dais, the king was nearly as tall as the general, who returned the royal glare with haughty disdain.

The musk glands behind the general’s ears pulsed visibly. “Your great-grandfather pushed the Talessanin horde back to the Longship Nebula and the Peggelan Reaches. His name is burned into the stone of their memories. Yours could burn as brightly, Liege. Their border planets have grown complacent, ripe for the picking; only give the command, and our enemies shall be as chaff.” The general took a step forward, boots crunching on the shattered crystal in the spreading crimson puddle on the floor. It wasn’t wine, only tartberry juice mixed with a little kevat, but it looked like blood.

The king’s guardians shifted uneasily, fingers stroking blades and blasters until the king, never taking his eyes from the general, held up a quelling hand. “Not,” he repeated, his voice soft now, but carrying an undertone of steel, “while I live.”

 “Then you are as weak and timid as your father before you.” The general’s voice was heavy with contempt. “He would have peace with those savages at any price. They took his honor. They took his dignity. They took his son, and slew his brother, and still he would have peace.” The general took another step forward, grinding more crystal shards to dust. “Now he is gone, and you are king. Will you not seek vengeance of your own?”

 “Vengeance?” The king shook his head in tired disgust, drawing one hand absently across his taut, distended abdomen. “A hand for a hand, a life for a life, and soon there is no one left to bring in the harvest. No, I will maintain my father’s peace with the Viper’s people.”

“The Viper.” The general turned, holding the king’s gaze, and spat an insolent black stream into the tartberry juice. “That for your Viper. He is a myth. A figment. A cradle story invented by the Talessanins to frighten disobedient weanlings. Do not be such a child, Liege. It does not become you. Your father is dead, and you must be a man.”

The king scowled. His gaze bored into the general. Then it shifted to the watchers, weighing each in turn. At last he gave a small nod, as if he’d reached a decision, and looked back to the general. “My father is dead,” he said quietly. “And the Long Council is ended. It has been a time for change. Perhaps the time for truth has come as well.” He winced slightly, clenching his teeth as his hands cradled his abdomen.

The general stepped quickly forward, but stopped at a sharp gesture from the king.

“Do not trouble yourself,” the king murmured. “We are well enough.” He moved back to the throne, settling himself again among the cushions, which his attendant deftly adjusted to relieve the discomfort of the king’s advanced condition. The king waved a languid hand toward the general. “Rest yourself, Strength of my Dominion, and I shall give you my truth. Then you may judge my reasons as you like.” He leaned forward slightly in his throne, fixing the general with a stern stare. “But there will be peace.”

The general, somewhat more subdued, stepped to the edge of the dais and knelt on the bottom step, head bowed, hands still; waiting.

The king nodded in satisfaction as he settled back into the cushions, and began his story:

* * *

Uncle often took me with him to his hunting lodge at the lake on Arcone’s moon, and at first, this time seemed no different from the others. I had seen five summers, and was at that awkward age when a boy’s brood pouch is newly opened, and everything seems to itch and ache. I was restless and fretful, so Uncle brought my old minder, Giralt, along to look after me, even though I was far too grown up—at  least in my own arrogant, adolescent opinion—to need looking after.

Giralt was a good companion for me at the time, since he was gravid, and I was naturally very curious about brooding. His egg was just beginning to show signs of an umbilical bud when we arrived, and he would take it out now and then to check its progress. Sometimes he would let me look at it, and show me how to tell it was progressing properly.

Once, he even let me hold it. I still remember the feel of that egg—the first I’d ever been allowed to touch. It was warm, and slick with his fluids; the shell was still quite leathery, but had thinned enough that we could see the fetus growing inside, all elbows and knees, and oversized head. She was a fine, strong, girl baby, and Giralt was tremendously proud of her.  I could cup her, curled as she was inside the egg, between my two hands, and feel her pressing here and there against the shell when she moved.

I imagined what it would feel like to have such a fine egg growing inside my own brood pouch, when it had developed more fully, and I began watching Uncle’s guardians with more interest than I had before. There was one particularly pretty young woman a summer or two older than I, who was beginning to show signs of coming into her first season. Her hips seemed broader by the day, and her breasts seemed fuller, and I imagined cupping them in my hands as I had done with Giralt’s egg. I never would have tried such a thing, of course, even though I was my father’s son. Besides the fact that she, being female, was much taller and stronger than I, and rather intimidating, I knew I was still too young, and that she had undoubtedly already chosen a man to carry her first egg. But Lishen smelled like bliss, and I took to following her around whenever the opportunity presented.

That was how I discovered what Uncle was doing.

I had found a reading nook in the library of the lodge complex where I could see out the window to watch Lishen walk sentry; she had a singularly alluring manner of walking. It was nearly time for the sun to rise, and I knew Giralt would be hunting me to chivvy me off to bed, so I had crawled behind the cushions on one end of the nook, and closed the curtain only just enough to cover the displacement, hoping to make the nook seem open and unoccupied. I was watching Lishen walk, and thinking about her scent, and scratching an itch at the edge of my brood slit, when I heard them come in.

It was difficult to make out their words as they entered the room, but Uncle seemed to be quite angry about something. His Guardian Prime also seemed rather agitated as she began systematically pushing back the curtains of each reading nook in turn.

I thought Giralt must have given up looking for me and gone to Uncle, and I was about to emerge from my hiding place to take my punishment, when the Prime gave my curtain a perfunctory swat, and then moved on to the next alcove. I froze, heart pounding. It was one thing to be caught hiding from my minder; it was another thing altogether to humiliate Prime in front of Uncle. So I decided to wait until they left, and then sneak back to my room. As it turned out, they had not come to the library looking for me.

“A ransom?” my Uncle burst out as soon as his prime had flung back the last curtain. “He wants to negotiate a ransom?” I could hear his feet slapping hard against the stone of the floor as he paced back and forth across the library. “He should have the fleet in motion by now.”

“He has sent an envoy, that is all.” The Prime’s voice was soothing, as if she were trying to calm Uncle. “The Talessanins will naturally deny any knowledge of the business—they may have already done so. And even your brother could not ignore such an insult as that. Nothing has changed in our plan except the timing.”

Uncle stopped pacing, and huffed. “True. My brother may have the brains of a stone, but even he should be able to follow the signs we left back to the Talessanins.”

“Precisely,” said the Prime. “And the abduction has already been leaked to broadcast correspondents, so he must be seen to act decisively—and soon. When the Talessanins refuse to return your nephew, as they must, since they don’t have him, your weakling brother will have no choice but to threaten to take him back by force.”

Their words frightened and confused me, but even in my hiding place behind the curtains, I could smell the heavy musk the Prime was giving off, and it made me feel quite tranquil. I decided I must have misunderstood.

 Apparently, the Prime’s musk was having the same mollifying effect on Uncle. “You’re right,” he said, after a moment. “In two nights, perhaps three, there will be troops positioned along both sides of the border, and we should be able to get close enough to place the body without being noticed. No king could ignore the flayed corpse of his only son and heir strung up outside the enemy’s fortifications.” Uncle was beginning to sound quite jovial.

I felt sick.

“It will go smoothly, Majesty,” Prime assured him. “A mere handful of nights until the boy is out of the way, and the war begun. A king must lead his army, and who knows what might happen in battle—especially if it is helped to happen.”

Uncle chuckled. “And the king has only one brother.”

They said nothing more after that, though there was a good deal of scuffling, and muttering, and moaning before they finally left. I stayed very still and tried not to even breathe. It was half morning by the time I finally dared to creep away.

I heard Giralt peek in not long after I had gone to bed, and sigh, and go away again. I wanted to tell him what I had overheard, but I didn’t know whom I could trust.

I spent most of that sleepless day, and much of the next night, trying to think of a way to escape; or to at least send a message to my father. I thought it likely that the communicator in my room was being monitored—which would explain, I realized, why I had received no replies to the few messages I’d sent since we arrived. So I tried to convince the communications officer that there was a girl back at home in the palace compound with whom I was secretly involved, and I needed to send her a message without Uncle finding out because he would tell my father. The communications officer was very sympathetic, but informed me that all outgoing lines were dead due to a damaged coupler, and my message would have to wait until the next supply pod brought a replacement.

Stowing away on a supply pod seemed a promising option, until a few casual questions in the kitchens revealed that the next pod was not due for another six nights; it would undoubtedly be too late by then.

I considered just going off into the forest by myself, on the grounds that they couldn’t kill me if they couldn’t find me. But I’d been out there with Uncle enough times to know I wouldn’t survive more than a day or two on my own anyway—not even if I could manage to filch some basic supplies from the well-guarded store rooms, and make it past the very vigilant guardians that I suddenly realized were stationed at all the lodge exits as well as in the outer courts. I wondered why I hadn’t noticed before that Uncle’s security had been so dramatically increased. I guess I’d been too caught up with admiring Giralt’s egg, and stalking Lishen to pay attention to such things.

At midnight dinner, Uncle seemed to be watching me with a sort of calculating glee that made me wonder if he’d received further news. I determined that if I was to have any chance at all to survive, I would have to trust someone, so after dinner, I went to find Giralt. He was sitting by the fire in his room, holding his egg between his hands, and singing a lullaby—the same one he used to sing me to sleep with when I was a weanling. It was comforting and familiar, and I found myself certain that Giralt was the right one to trust.

I laid the whole situation out before my old minder, and asked him what I should do. He stroked his egg one last time, and tucked her back into his pouch to keep her warm. He rubbed at his chin for a moment, looking deep into the coals, and then he drew a deep breath and said we must leave immediately. He told me that his own prime had been a transport pilot when she was younger, and had taught him to fly well enough to get us to one of Father’s outposts, so long as Uncle had no fighter drones hidden in the vicinity. And if there were drones, well, perhaps we could at least get a message to a relay station. We were dead anyway if we did nothing, both of us—I as a sacrifice to Uncle’s greed, and Giralt as a witness of my whereabouts since my supposed abduction. I’m ashamed to admit I had not thought of the danger to him, and to his egg.

He put out the fire, and handed me a tablet, explaining that we’d pretend he was giving me a lesson on structural tension points as they applied to transport engineering, so that the guardians on duty would allow us close enough to board. It might have worked, too; I like to think it would have. But we were only halfway to the hangar bay when the alarms began to sound.

At first, I thought our escape attempt had already been detected, or that Giralt had betrayed me after all. Then I heard the screams—piercing, haunting sounds, shrieks of fear and pain that cut through the keening of the alarms and echoed down the corridors of the lodge complex, seeming to come from every direction.

Giralt put a hand on my shoulder and nudged me calmly forward. “Move quickly,” he murmured, “but do not panic.”

We passed two more turnings and a cross-corridor before the first guardian barreled around a corner in front of us. She was one of the younger ones, about the same age as Lishen, but not yet ripening into her seasons. Her armor was damaged and sparking, she had blood smeared up one arm, and her eyes were wide with panicky terror. She nearly took Giralt’s hand off when he reached out to stop her, but he snatched it back just in time. She stumbled to a stop, staring at us—or perhaps through us. “The Winds have come!” she sobbed, “They are sweeping the corridors. Flee if you wish to live!”

“The winds?” I felt utterly bewildered. What kind of winds could possibly produce those unholy shrieks.

“The Nine!” she cried, turning to look back down the corridor from which she’d come. “The Winds that follow the Viper. They’re just like the stories say—tall as trees, dark as night, silent as breath. I—I think I saw the Viper himself. He came out of the wall and killed three guardians before they even knew he was there.” Her eyes fixed on me then, as if she had just realized who I was. The blood drained from her face, and her musk glands released all at once, filling the corridor with the scent of her fear. One hand lifted to point right at my face, and she hissed, “He was looking for you!” before she turned and sprinted off down the corridor.

A chill slithered down my spine, and for a long moment I just stood there, frozen, in the corridor. Then Giralt nudged me forward; the hangar bay was still our only real option, whether I was being hunted only by Uncle, or also by some new, mysterious threat.

Three times more, we encountered guardians in the corridors, two small groups, and another lone warrior. All of them were afraid, though none so panicked as that first young one. All of them spoke of the Winds stalking the corridors like death embodied. The defense was in chaos. The guardians had been prepared for a possible attack, the outer courtyard fortified and sentries doubled, but when the strike came, it had been from within the complex, in multiple places at once, and entirely without warning. The ring defenses had not even detected an approaching transport craft. Whenever the guardians began to regroup, the enemy appeared again, stepping from shadows where no one had been before, emerging from solid walls, sometimes moving entirely unseen, dropping defenders like a bloody harvest of kevat canes, and then gone like mist. Screams punctuated the darkness, and musk hung heavy in the corridors as we drew closer to the hangar bay, and now and again the rumble of an explosion would vibrate through the stone walls.

After that last, lone warrior, all the guardians we encountered were dead, as were the three domestics we found huddled in a blaster-blackened corner. I tried not to look too closely as Giralt hurried me past.

It was not until we pushed through the hangar bay doors that we found Uncle—or he found us; I have never been quite certain which it was.

Two of the three transports Uncle kept at the lodge had been sabotaged. They crouched on the bay decking, oozing smoke and sporadically coughing out gouts of flame. I think it was Uncle’s way of ensuring that his lodge staff would not escape to reveal his secrets. Uncle stood at the base of the remaining craft's boarding platform. He saw us almost as soon as we stumbled into the bay. Prime stood next to him, directing a small phalanx of defenders. These were not frightened girls, they were the experienced soldiers among Uncle’s guardians—his elite guard. And they stood between us and our only possible escape. Giralt moved in front of me, placing himself between me and Uncle; between me and all those armed women. Did they know of Uncle’s plan? Would he act against me in front of them? There was no way to know.

Uncle’s eyes fixed on me. “There you are!”  His relief sounded genuine. “Do you know how many women we have lost trying to find you?” His anger was equally sincere. I wondered why none of the guardians we met in the corridors had seemed to be looking for us. Uncle looked up at Prime, then back at me. “Kill them both,” he said, his soft voice just audible over the sounds of the dying transports.  “They’re no good to the Talessanins unless they’re alive.”

Giralt reacted more quickly than the guardians, flinging me behind one of the burning hulks, and twisting in behind me before their blasters blackened the decking where we’d been standing. He had a big knife in his hand, and I wondered vaguely when he’d acquired it before it flashed into the throat of the first guardian to round the corner. Giralt pulled her toward us, still choking on her own blood, and snatched her weapon from her hands before she hit the floor. The second guardian fell to a bolt from the first one’s blaster, moments before Giralt buried his knife in the belly of the third.

Where had he learned to do that?

Hands grabbed me from behind, and I looked up into the exultant leer of a fourth guardian, just before she spasmed and crumpled to the floor, her body sliding from the blade of a long, curved dagger with barbs that dripped blood. I could hear voices shouting, then, a long way off—Uncle, and Prime, and Giralt—but their words, whatever they were, washed past me on the air like so much meaningless musk. My mind, my whole being, was paralyzed by the shadow that towered over me.

He hadn’t been there a breath, a heartbeat ago. But now he loomed out of the smoke, taller than any woman I’d ever seen, pinning me in place with the piercing gaze of one dark eye, and one robotic red optic that glowed out from where his other eye should have been, held in place by a black half mask that looked to be covered with reptilian scales. He nodded solemnly at me, that shadow, sizing me up with his unsettling gaze. My skin crawled as he bent to press something into my hands, then turned to face three more guardians who’d come around that side of the wreck. The back of his black leather armor had been tooled to show the likeness of an alien beast—a scale-covered thing that glared malevolently at me from dead, slit-pupiled eyes behind a distended, gaping mouth that flaunted a wicked pair of curving fangs.

This man was the Viper!

Everything moved slowly, like an underwater dream. I looked down to see that I was clutching a weapon of some kind, a bit like a blaster, but smaller and more elegant. I looked up and around, and realized that a new cluster of guardians had burst in through the hangar doors behind us—Lishen and three others—closing on Giralt as a fifth rounded the corner from the direction of Uncle’s transport. My hand drifted up, fingers wrapping slowly around the grip of the small blaster. Lishen flowed through the air, face frozen mid-leap into the fierce grimace of a warrior triumphant. My finger found the trigger at the same time Lishen’s blade opened Giralt’s throat, and then time sped up again as the woman I half loved crumpled to the deck plates in a bleeding, smoking heap with the man who had been half a father to me.

It was too much for me; I was still a child, you will remember, and I had never seen combat before. I dropped the weapon, and fell to my knees beside Giralt. He was still breathing, if you could call the rasping, gurgling sounds he was making breaths. I shoved Lishen off him—she was well and truly dead, but her skin was still warm, and soft, and perfect except for the startling burn, like a thick red vine, where my desperate shot had caught the side of her face, sending its pulse energy deep into her brain.

Giralt raised one hand to lie against my cheek for a moment as he looked into my eyes. That look said many things that had never passed between us in words. Then he lowered his hand to lie against his abdomen—against his pouch, where his little daughter lay curled in her egg, her umbilicus nearly ready to attach to a father he could no longer be. I slid my hand into his brood pouch, and he closed his eyes, relaxing in death as his last breath rattled from his ruined throat.

I realized, as I drew out the egg, that everything had gone quiet and still. The skirmish had ended, and I was still alive, so my side must have won—whoever that was. A quick glance showed me a deck scattered with corpses. Uncle lay a few lengths away in a pool of spreading blood, and Prime was crumpled at his feet. Tall, dark figures moved among the bodies, bending over each to tug off their insignia.

 I looked back down at the egg I cradled in my hands. The baby shifted restlessly inside, distressed by the sudden violence that had so irrevocably shaken her tiny world. My body was not ready to accept her umbilicus, and she was too big to fit in my still-developing pouch; I knew this was so, but I tried anyway, knowing she would grow too cold or too dry if left outside a brood pouch for long. But I was still half a child myself, and she could not fit. I laid her against the skin of my belly, willing it to be warm enough, but knowing it was not.

A huge figure knelt slowly beside me on the deck plates, and I looked up into the face I’d seen before—the man with the red eye, and the death creature on the back of his armor. The Viper. “We must go, young prince. Your father is waiting.” His voice was deep and unexpectedly gentle, though heavily accented. He reached a big hand out to close Giralt’s staring eyes. “He was your friend. I am sorry.”

I didn’t move, just looked back down at Giralt’s egg. She was dying right there in my hands, though she didn’t know it yet, and I could do nothing to save her. Giralt had wanted me to try. He had asked me to watch over her. I could not leave her there to die alone.

The big man reached over to gently touch my hand. “What is it?” he asked.

I shook my head, and the tears came as I tried to explain. “It’s Giralt’s egg,” I whispered. “She’s going to die too because my pouch is too small, and I can’t keep her warm enough.” I slid my hand into Giralt’s pouch again, gathering a handful of his fluids to spread over the egg, knowing it wouldn’t be enough, but needing to try.

He knelt there next to me for a few long, helpless breaths, the Viper, and when another of his tall, dark warriors—one of the Winds, I suppose—came to hurry us along, he waved the man away. Then he drew a deep breath, and reached up to peel the scaled black plate away from his face, the one that held the red robotic eye. He looked down at me with his two good eyes, as he tucked the mask thing away, and then quickly moved his hands down the front of his armor, opening it from neck to navel. He pulled at a shirt he wore underneath, baring smooth, tan skin not so different from ours, almost as if inviting me to take up Giralt’s knife and disembowel him on the spot.

“I have no brood pouch,” he said, his voice intense and urgent. “But my kind burns hotter than yours.” He took one of my hands from where I cradled the egg against my own belly and laid it against his. “Am I warm enough?”

His big hand completely engulfed my own, and fear surged through me again quickening my heart—but he was right, I realized. The skin of his belly was warm like the inside of a brood pouch. Warm enough? I didn’t know, but hope sprang into my heart. She couldn’t implant in an alien, that would kill her too, but if he could keep her warm enough until we could find a suitable surrogate, and if we could find such a surrogate before she needed to implant...

“Maybe.” I did not want to give him the egg. She was my responsibility, and he might be my enemy. But he was all I had to keep her alive, and I had to at least try. So I tucked her carefully against his skin, and he folded his long, webbed fingers around her, keeping her warm. I smeared her one more time with Giralt’s fluids, though they were drying fast, and then drew a deep breath and nodded at the Viper.

He called out orders in his own tongue then, like a sort of eerie song, and the others, the Winds, began to disappear—one moment there, vanished the next. A terrible, purring vibration reverberated through the hangar bay, and a long, black craft appeared, hovering over the mess on the decking as a hatch slid open. Once we were aboard, and the door closed, there was a sickening shift, and I could see through a window that we were floating above the moon’s surface, already well outside the ring defenses. Another shift that made me feel I might vomit, and we were somewhere else, and the stars outside were unfamiliar. It took two more shifts before we reached the border outpost that was our destination, and I was feeling quite ill, but I staggered off their black craft on my own two feet.

Father was waiting, just as the Viper had said, pacing back and forth in a big room where another tall Talessanin, an ambassador in a long green robe, sat rigidly at a table. Guards lined the walls, theirs and ours, eyeing each other warily, fingers drifting now and again to weapons.

I told Father about the egg, before anyone else could speak, and he sent immediately for one of his retainers, Mollet, who had recently lost a weak egg to an incomplete umbilical implant, and was properly ripened to accept a new one. The Viper handed Giralt’s egg back to me with great care, and I checked her over as Giralt had shown me, before I gave her to Mollet. She seemed no worse for the journey.

I learned, then, that when Father sent his envoy to the Talessanins, demanding my return, the Talessanin ambassador offered to help investigate my disappearance, and to use his best resources to rescue me, if possible, from my actual captors. Father was skeptical at first, but after the ambassador pointed out some discrepancies in the evidence, Father agreed to the plan. The Talessanin ambassador summoned the Winds. I don’t know how they found me.

Father recognized the insignia the Winds had taken from my captors as those of Uncle’s household, and my story corroborated the account given by the Viper.

It would not have done, however, for the Long Council to know that the king had gone to the Talessanins, our age-old enemies, for help. Father might have lost his throne over that, and with Uncle dead, countless numbers would have suffered in the chaos that would have followed. Instead, we all agreed to say that the Talessanins had held me for a ransom, which father had paid in order to get me back. It was a blow to his dignity, but he kept his throne and his legacy.

You know the story we invented about Uncle—that he died in a raid attempting to rescue me. That was a lie; Uncle was a filthy traitor, and so was his Prime. The supposed ransom money went to Mollet to help him properly support Giralt’s egg.

As for the egg, she implanted before morning, and Mollet’s pouch sealed, so I didn’t see her again until after she was born. She was a beautiful baby, and grew into a strong child. She became a soldier in her mother’s platoon, though neither she nor her mother knew it—the secret must be kept from the Long Council, or the kingdom might have fallen.

But the Long Council has ended, and my father is dead, and the secret is mine to tell. Mine, and the egg’s. I watched her through the years as she grew in strength and rose in rank—she, who held strong in the heart of battle even before she hatched. I loved her, you know, at first because she was Giralt’s, but later for her own sake. When she was a woman, I took her to my heart, and to my bed, and now I carry her first egg—her fine son and mine—and she is dearer to me than ever. I shall probably make her my Prime when she learns to speak to her king with enough respect to keep peace with her sister guardians.

But I owe her life to the Viper. I owe my own life to the Viper. And the Viper is most certainly not a cradle tale invented to frighten disobedient children—though I grant you he was rather frightening. I have not seen him again since then, or heard from him either, but Talessanins are a long-lived race compared to ours, and I imagine he is still very much in the prime of his life, out there somewhere beyond the border places. And so long as I live, there will be peace between my people and his.

* * *

Silence hovered, thrumming in the air of the high king’s inner chamber as he finished his tale. No one moved until the general drew a long, shaking breath, eyes still lowered.

“Forgive me, Liege,” she murmured. “I did not know.”

“There was no way you could have.” The king’s voice was gentle. “The secret was well kept. But perhaps you understand, now, why I will not make war against the Talessanin Empire.”

The general nodded slowly, staring contemplatively at the black marble floor. Then an impish smile quirked the corner of her mouth, and she looked up, meeting the king’s eyes once again. “Because of their superior technology?” she asked, mischief frolicking in her voice.

The king leaned his head back and laughed. “You have always been good for me, Strength of My Heart.” Then he winced, face drawing into a fierce grimace, as his hands clutched at his abdomen and came away streaked with blood. When the spasm passed, he pushed himself up again out of the throne, and held out a hand to the general. “Come, little egg,” he said, teasing her. “I have lingered too long over old memories; it is time to meet our son, and make some new ones.”

The general rose from where she knelt on the dais steps, and went to the king, bending to offer a supporting arm. The king took it, and the two of them slowly left the chamber together, as the royal guardians closed rank around them.

* * *

A true account recorded by Senessarath Eng,
scribe to the First High Chamberlain,
who stood in the king’s inner chamber and heard the king’s own words.
Collected by Kimmenestalan of House Trakanaleth, Historian of the High Archives.