|Credit: Roy Lathwell|
“Perhaps.” Protector Jira sounded distracted, as she looked about. All around them, the once-proud city of Koyr lay in char and rubble. The main thoroughfare, River Run, was cleared—perhaps at the expense of side roads, most of which were blocked by debris. “But this is comfortable enough. The weather is agreeable, and seeing is easier. If all the world’s horses were as hard-hit as our own, perhaps they have nothing but oxen to pull us.” She paused. “I presume Isenbund is better preserved than Koyr.”
“Indeed, notable. At least the Old Town, the walled district, survived in reasonably good order. Much of the wooden structures outside did not fare so well. But the Old Town is more than enough to house the survivors.”
They said little else as the cart followed the road, which in turn followed the Vliskoyr River. But when they passed through a gap that was once the famed Iron Gate, Phylok spoke again. “What happened to the gate? No madman could have carried that away!”
“I rather expect to pass through it yet,” said Jira.
• • •
The acropolis was ancient, perhaps predating Camac itself. Seven walls, one inside the other, climbed the hillside. The acropolis proper was inside the highest wall.
Phylok nodded with approval at those who guarded the first gate. “One could choose a worse place to sequester oneself at the end of the world,” he mused. “A hundred good soldiers could defend this place from any army you could field today.”
“There are granaries and storehouses under the hill itself, I’m told,” Jira replied. “Koyr used some of them, but the shafts and tunnels go on and on. The sages say it might at one time have been a Goblin fastness.”
“Let us hope that none are left sleeping there.”
They continued up the hillside, gate by gate, until they reached the top. Jira chuckled at the sight. “The Iron Gate,” she said. “As I thought, our hosts took it down and moved it. They must intend to live here, far above the chaos and debris. An interesting statement.”
Through the Iron Gate, the acropolis showed no signs of the recent chaos. Yet, there was much evidence of patching and construction on the ancient buildings. Here, the narrow streets were laid out in rings, an echo in miniature of the walls outside. The cart wormed its way around and through, until at last the driver pulled the placid oxen to a stop before a squat circular building.
“I believe that was once a tower,” Jira replied. “The ancients could have seen for miles from here.”
From the outside, the building was unimposing, its circular walls the only distinctive feature. Workmen stood atop a roof that once was higher, laying brick and stone.
“The center of the center,” Phylok whispered. “I wonder whether this is a statement as well.”
• • •
The driver announced them: “Protector Jira, of the Northern provinces. Captain Phylok, of Isenbund.”
“Enter, in all peace and harmony,” came the sharp reply.
Captain Anlayt is not pleased to have us here, Protector Jira thought, as they entered the Council Chamber. The chamber took up much of the old tower’s ground floor. It seemed far larger than necessary, but perhaps they would close off sections later.
“Welcome to Ak’koyr,” Anlayt greeted them. “I trust your sail was uneventful?” His expression lacked the warmth of his words.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” said Jira. Spring in the North was often stormy, and the fastboat had been tossed like a rag before they reached the Straits, but Jira had resolved to make no complaint. “Captain, have you made a survey of the Gulf region? What is there to report?”
Anlayt gave her a dismissive look. “Forgive me, notable, but I report to First Protector Nisodarun. This is not your domain.”
Jira drew herself up, looking down at Anlayt, her swirling blue cape and her anger making her seem even larger. “The First Protector fell to the Madness! Have you forgotten the rules of succession?”
Anlayt fell sullen, as those nearby stole glances in their direction. “Of course I am familiar with those rules.”
“Good. Then you know, until we appoint a new Protector for the Gulf region, then the nearest Protector is to take charge. Of the nine Protectors, only myself, Protector Kontir of Stolevan, and Protector Borvin of the Spine have survived the events of the past year.”
“Truly? No word from the East?” Anlayt could not hide his surprise.
“I myself surveyed the East,” Phylok spoke for the first time. “If any of our mechanisms of government survived the last year, they have been swept aside. Those provinces not lying in anarchy and ruin have thrown off their allegiance.”
“Pah. Ungrateful wretches, the lot of them. And I myself am Eastern.”
“So what news of the Gulf?” Jira insisted.
“You saw the rubble of Koyr for yourselves. Vlis is much the same. Camac is worse.” Anlayt sighed. “The Pearl Throne was smashed. I have seen it myself. I cannot be certain, but I believe the scattered remains in the throne room were those of Her Sublime Majesty.” He turned away, and nobody spoke for a long minute. “And you?” he finally continued. “Have you other news?”
“Stolevan has fallen, but Protector Kontir tells us that several other coastal cities have maintained or re-established order. I will let Captain Phylok speak for Isenbund.”
“Isenbund lives,” said Phylok, “but the summers have grown shorter in the last few years. If that continues, we shall be icebound in a generation. Do you know of any other Captains in this region, besides the two of us, that have survived? No? We three may be all that is left of Camac’s governing mechanisms, outside the southern coast.”
Anlayt nodded, the silver plume atop his helmet bobbing in counterpoint. “Then you should urge your folk to gather here, Captain Phylok. The more we have working together, the more likely we can recover from this crisis.”
“They would not, Captain Anlayt. The Northern folk are proud citizens of Camac, and they will not lightly throw aside their allegiance. Nor will they lightly abandon their home, until it becomes absolutely necessary.” He drew himself up. “And as Captains, we should defer to the surviving Protectors.”
Anlayt gave Phylok a sour look. “Much of the old order, by necessity, must be put aside, no?”
“Perhaps,” said Protector Jira, “but it is our duty to preserve what we can. What of the eastern Gulf?”
“Only the cattle are left,” said Phylok. “They roam wild through the streets of the old fishing towns and across the plains. If any folk have survived, they stayed out of sight. Our remnant, Isenbund’s remnant, and the three of us are all that is left of Camac.”