Rodden Karkomin trotted briskly through the streets of Tasanon, the capital of Miris, his hood pulled low over his face. His black cloak was pulled tight around him, and he was sure he seemed like an ominous creature, dark cloak and horse, especially now in the hour of twilight, as the people of the city began drifting to their homes.
The city seemed very ill-kept, but what city did, in this day and age? All cities were now glorious islands of civilization amidst an ocean creeping up, dark and deadly, threatening to swallow up all lands in its monumental waves. After the fall of the nation Randein east of Miris, there were few passages that were safe anymore. If it wasn’t the armies of Evorion, then it was the dozens of bandits and brigands running amok over the roads and countryside. Rodden feared that they were beginning to dominate the cities, crawling up from the slums to spread their anarchy to all places of society.
This was no time for petty theft and bickering between individuals. Not when each murder spread the shadows of Evorion even further over the beaches of each island not conquered. Rodden thought it was miraculous that his home, Paltoren, had yet to be attacked, since it lay on the borders of the dark nation, but his father was sure they would last some time yet. He hoped they would. Rodden had already spent nearly a week riding through Randein and had seen the conditions it had fallen to. Soldiers stalked the cities, taking as they would, burning and pillaging to their pleasure. It was awful, and Rodden had no intention of allowing his homeland, or any other country to suffer as Randein did.
There was just one catch about Miris. Rodden had no idea about their stance with Evorion, and it was entirely possible that the two nations were allies, or that Miris was a tributary, complicit. That was one of the main reasons Rodden had been sent here – to find out the truth. But because he didn’t know the truth, not yet, he kept his hood low, his cloak tight about him, and his mouth shut.
Given the tight doors and the closed windows, these people certainly lived in fear, but that told him nothing. He had routed at least two groups of bandits on his way through Miris, and he wouldn’t be surprised if there were brigands in the city, and they were the ones causing so much fear. People still in the streets looked at him with furtive, cautious glances.
As he trotted on, a group of guards, seemingly oblivious to the atmosphere, marched toward him. There were half a dozen of them, all dressed rather messily, as though they didn’t care how they looked, only that other people could see their muscles. They stopped in front of him, a little surprised by his presence, and probably also by his audacity to go about on the streets at this hour.
“What are you doing here, stranger?” asked one, the biggest and meanest of the lot. “Don’t you know the rules here?”
“Obviously not, if he’s not from around here,” said another. “Where are you from, stranger? Why are you here?”
“I am here to deal with the king,” Rodden replied. “It would benefit you all if you would move and hinder me no further.”
“Well! Listen to this fellow!” the leader exclaimed. “Thinks he’s better than us! What’s your name, sir? What have you got to see the king about?”
“That is information for the king’s ears only.”
“Ha! Do you know what I can do to you?” The chief took out a dagger and gestured with it menacingly toward Rodden.
“Yes. I’m also aware of what I could do to you, if you continue to hinder me.”
“Well! It looks like we’ve got ourselves a fighter here!” The others laughed around him, and the chief drew his sword. “Let’s see how good he is.”
Rodden sighed angrily, and spurred on his horse. He sped through the guards, knocking those too slow to move, such as the chief, aside onto the ground. Behind, he heard the guards cursing after him, but he cared not, as he was more concerned with his mission.
It wasn’t long before he reached the palace, but when it got there, it seemed he was expected. As he came up to the doors, the guards stationed there halted him.
“Dismount, rogue!” one said. “We’ve already been informed as to your disrespect to the king’s men.”
“What do you mean to do?” Rodden asked.
“We shall take you to the king immediately, and then he shall judge you.”
Rodden knew this was his chance to speak to the king, and he complied. He dismounted from his horse, and the two guards took him by the arms and marched him inside.
They led him through the atrium and up through stairwells and corridors. All the while, Rodden’s mind raced with a way to discover the position of the king, and how to tell him his purpose without sounding desperate or crazy. Just as they reached the double doors of the king’s chambers, Rodden thought of a brilliant idea.
“Enter,” said the king’s voice, and the guards forced him inside, where he fell to his knees at the foot of the king’s large, purple bed. “Why is this man thus brought to me?”
“He was disrespecting some of the soldiers in the city, sire,” replied a guard. “And he was trying to gain access to the palace.”
“Please, my lord,” Rodden pleaded. “Whatever you do, do not send me to Evorion, where they will surely take me and torment me long in their dungeons.”
“That is an odd request,” replied the king. “I would never consider such an act. Do they not say that the most terrifying punishments mortals can conceive are but shadows of the pains of the dungeons in Morvoros? Anyway, I have no intention of ever surrendering anything to that accursed nation.”
“Then,” Rodden said, flinging back his hood. “Sir, know that I am Rodden Karkomin, son of Lord Corval of Paltoren, and I have come seeking aid for my nation against that name which you call accursed. For while we are not yet assailed, we anticipate it, and we see that they only way now to defeat the swollen, shadowy, state is to make a final alliance against it.”
The king gazed at him with mixed emotions. Then at last he laughed.
“Why didn’t you then explain yourself sooner?” he asked.
“I was not sure of your relationship with Evorion. I had to speak to you personally to find that out.”
“Well, you did so cleverly. Leave me. I’ll have my servants take you to a room for the night. I shall ruminate on your offer, which I think I shall accept. You are right about one thing, certainly, young Karkomin. Whatever the outcome, this will certainly be a final alliance against the coming darkness.”