|Credit: Roy Lathwell|
“Thank you, runner,” said Jira. “You are dismissed. Take a meal and rest in the guest chambers. You are familiar with the locations?”
“Indeed, Protector.” The runner saluted. “I presume you have no further message?”
“Oh. I do. Take this message to Hundred Perin, at the garrison: Captain Phylok is landing shortly. Please provide him with an honor guard. Have the runner at the garrison accompany the escort, and inform me when Phylok is ready to receive visitors. That is all. When you have spoken to Perin, you are on leave the rest of the day and all of tomorrow.”
“By your command, Protector.” The runner saluted and headed down the hallway.
“Captain? I trust your journey was uneventful?”
“Indeed, Protector.” Phylok saluted, then smiled. “Anlayt’s suggestion, to search Camac for an heir, was most interesting. I wonder what his ulterior motive is.”
“I believe it a gamble on his part,” said Jira. “If we can find a surviving, legitimate heir to the Pearl Throne, I expect that he will try to exert undue influence as an advisor.”
“That makes sense. I presume we depart for Ak’koyr in the morning?”
“As soon as feasible. I had left orders for Hundred Perin to dispatch the falcon when you arrived, so Anlayt will be expecting us.”
About a week later, one Protector and two Captains—the only surviving parts of a once-vast government apparatus—stood on the prow of the caravel Joy Beneath the Northern Stars, anchored in Camac harbor. Jira felt heartsore at the destruction of the beautiful capital, a place she had visited often, but resolved to show none of it to Anlayt.
Phylok, through lack of either pride or desire, was not so reticent. His voice caught. “This—this. You can hear of something, but to see it with your own eyes…” He turned away.
“This is bad,” said Anlayt, more subdued than Jira expected. “It is worse when you stand in the midst of it. I shed tears of my own at the things I saw.”
“Is there a single soul among the living here?” Jira sounded skeptical. “Can a sane one live among this rubble, knowing what a glorious city this was not two years ago?”
Anlayt shrugged. “I saw nobody among the living, when I made my survey at winter’s end. Unless you count the last few starveling mad wretches as ‘living.’ No, I did not order them slain, although that would have been a mercy. If one had been Her Sublime Majesty, or an heir…” he shuddered.
“The Imperial Library?” Jira asked. “I presume it too is rubble?”
“The entire Inner City, as all of Camac, was a ruin,” Anlayt sighed.
“But if we can reach the Inner City, we should search the Library,” Jira insisted. “Perhaps there is something worth preserving.”
The Great Pier was a solid single stone, said to have been laid in Camac’s harbor by the legendary Thurun himself. Some said that Thurun was a Maker, and Made the pier in place rather than transporting it from some other location. Jira wondered if the painting in the Imperial Keep, showing Thurun lowering the huge stone into the harbor, was still intact. She had always made a point of viewing the painting when she had visited the First Protector. Another stop on the tour, she thought.
But whether the painting survived or not, the pier itself was impervious to such trifles as the destruction of an empire. The caravel anchored in the harbor, and the landing party boarded two fastboats. They rowed to the Great Pier and made fast. One of the more agile sailors scrambled up the rough wall of the pier, then fastened a rope ladder up top for the rest of the party. “Have a care,” she called. “There are bodies on the pier.” She cocked a crossbow and kept vigil as the others joined her on the pier.
Jira reached out with her magic as Anlayt and Phylok set the marching order. She allowed the traditional Bronze Circle to form around her, protecting the mage, but she sensed no danger on the pier. Nor do I expect much in the city proper, she thought, beyond falling rubble. Four strikes coming ashore, and the greatest danger was likely to be overwhelming grief.
“On the way back,” Jira spoke as they passed the first of several corpses, long dead, “we shall wrap and mourn these. No sense in letting their shades add to the rubble.”
“Protector, we could spend a year or more, doing nothing but that,” Anlayt protested. “Besides, is that truly necessary? The souls in question departed the mad folk right away, no?”
“How do you know that?” Anlayt shook his head, and Jira continued. “A ruin it may be, but this is Camac. We will follow her laws. We need not scour the city, but those we find we shall treat with the respect demanded by law.”
“Look around you,” said Anlayt. “This is Camac. Are the laws not also in shambles?”
“If that is so,” Jira replied, “then why are we searching for an heir to Her Sublime Majesty?”
Anlayt scowled, but many soldiers nodded and a few grunted agreement. Phylok gave the “forward” whistle, and the expedition marched across the pier and into the ruined capital.