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Authors: David Gowey

Kaschar's Quarter

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KASCHAR’S QUARTER

 

 

 

THE DEFAULT KING

VOLUME 1

 

 

 

DAVID GOWEY

 

 

 

 

First Edition

 

Copyright 2015

Table of Contents

 

VOLUME 1

Prologue

Chapter One: The Student, or Ignorance

Chapter Two: The Survivor, or Injustice

Chapter Three: The Opportunists, or Greed

Prologue

 

In these, the end of my days, I set out to make a history of my comings and goings. I am still unsure how I feel about such an undertaking. While I do wish the rising generation would have some knowledge concerning the errors of our age, I also do not wish to force those of tender hearts to wade through the sorrow that did consume our world in those times. In this, I am torn between the desire to protect the curious from both apathy and horror. How can I warn sufficiently of our downfall unless I tell of its consequences? And how can I simply tell of the calamities that befell us without relating the causes?

Therefore, I endeavor in this work to provide a history; not a scholar’s history, and certainly not a child’s history. In all respects, I shall try to make it a true history. Let the historians and philosophers work out the problems of our times, all while reclining in the comforts of hindsight. Let them ascribe our age’s downfall to any number of factors, from the Mentite War to the plague and everything else under heaven. However, they cannot glean from all their studies and suppositions the experience forced upon these two eyes or felt by these two hands; they can neither sound the depths of our grief nor summit the heights of our folly. All I can do is to offer what I have in all humility, if only in the hopes that you, the reader in some future age, may come away from these pages with more knowledge than we had.

I therefore commit these pages to the future.

 

- Words of the Emperor in Qepperdan, Matthieu Sartonné, as narrated to his page,
Jarun Hichame

 

Jarun Hichame had ascended these stairs hundreds of times in his years as imperial page, yet tonight felt different. Summoned by one of his fellows just as he had changed into his bedclothes, he was at first annoyed that the emperor would call him at such an hour. After all, did he not have servants outside his own bedchamber? He pressed on regardless, hoping to at least be useful briefly to his master before again retiring to bed.

The candle's dancing flame cast playful shadows across the stone passageway. Jarun walked as quickly as he could without putting out his only light, as the full moon was yet several weeks away. It had been not since childhood, when he was first brought to the palace following his father's death in war, that he had stalked these corridors at such a late hour. Now, his usual boredom was displaced by curiosity. He arrived at the door to the bedchamber to find two guards standing watch outside, as was the custom.

“The emperor is waiting for you,” one spoke in a gravelly voice as he opened the door. Jarun entered silently. Once he had passed the threshold, the solid door was shut behind him. Silhouetted in front of a roaring fire was the emperor.

“Ah, Jarun,” he said. “It is so good of you to come at such an hour as this. I know it is late, but there are things I must get off my mind.” He spoke again, as if he could sense Jarun's apprehension. “Come here, boy! Do not be shy.”

Jarun found himself gripped by a strange reluctance. In all his years of service, it was rare that the emperor would say more than a few words of command to him. He was a servant, not an advisor. What advice could he possibly give to the ruler of the known world? Still, he did as the emperor commanded, seating himself in a chair across from his master. It was padded with the finest silk, usually reserved for the emperor's own robes; rare was the page that would experience such luxury for himself.

“What is it you need me to do, my lord?”
he said, trying his best to hide his apprehension at his ruler's strange manner.

“There is much weighing on my mind of late, Jarun. Things past, as well as things to come.”

“Forgive me for saying so but you have lived a long and full life.”

“That I have,” Matthieu chuckled. “That I have. Perhaps too full, some would say, yet I cannot do anything to change it. Nor would I...”

“May I ask if this is all you have called me here for?” The emperor took on a more serious aspect then. His eyes went to the fine embroidered rug at his feet, then back to Jarun.

“You could say so, yes, that I have summoned you here to tell you of my life. Truthfully, I could not sleep tonight, nor have I taken many occasions to do so in several months. It is as if I am being constantly reminded of my own mortality, and the fear that my history shall be lost to the world haunts the moments before sleep takes me, to the point where it becomes altogether elusive. Waking, I dream of days past, yet real dreams are as fleeting to me as good fortune and old songs. One day, my boy, you will feel as I do, looking back across a life that has taken you places which you could not imagine. Tell me: what do they teach you in the university concerning my history?”

“Well,” Jarun replied, “they teach us how you defeated the usurper, Jerra Mianuchur, and gained the throne of Qepperdan for yourself.”

“And before that?”

“Not much is spoken of your birth country, my lord. I am afraid our lessons are a bit incomplete in that regard.” The emperor laughed again.

“That is not too surprising, considering the land of my birth has changed so much since I left it as to be almost unrecognizable. I myself have not even seen it since I first left, when I was but barely older than you are now. A part of me wishes that such things would be forgotten, yet I know that would be a great disservice to future generations.”

“How so?” Jarun asked, puzzled.

“Do they also teach you of the Qenshi crusade? The Mentite War?” Each earned from the page a confused stare. “Goodness, do they not teach you anything in the university?” Jarun was silent still. “Why, when I attended university in Leganne all those years ago, it seemed that we were so awash in knowledge that our mortal minds could not contain it, as if our very beings were aflame in its glow!” The emperor looked Jarun in the eye once more. “And I suppose you would have no idea about Leganne, would you?”

“No, my lord,” he replied. A bemused smile flashed across the king's face, exaggerated further by the flickering of the fireplace.

“Then that is why I must tell you my tale: so that I will no longer be the sole guardian of my history. Heaven knows that I have kept much to myself over these many years, not sharing my thoughts and remembrances... Perhaps, it was because I felt that to do so would be to open old wounds better left alone, or maybe it was that I feared growing close to anyone who could possibly use my own life story against me. But I know that you are not the kind of man to do such a thing, which gives me joy that I have not felt in a long time.”

“Excuse me, my lord, but may I ask why? Why you have chosen me?” It was a long moment before the emperor spoke again.

“I knew your father, Jarun. He was a good man, and I wish I had been able to shed tears at his death. How senseless a demise it was for a man such as he! Yet I was prevented by forces beyond my control from any showing of the proper emotions at that time...” The emperor looked lost in thought for a short while before he continued again. “He saved my life, and for that I am grateful to him and to his posterity. There is much in you that I also saw in him; do not forget that, no matter how long you live.”

“But what can one orphaned at my age know of their parents, except that which we learn from stories?”

“You forget, or perhaps they did not teach you, that I lost my parents as well, albeit under slightly different circumstances. I say slightly because it was also during a war, but a much different war than that in which we find ourselves involved today. It as if life is a many-act play, wherein the plot remains constant but old actors merely retire, to be replaced by new faces, worn by ancient hearts. Of course, many of the men who defined my life before I was emperor are now long dead, their glory as faded as their bones. Only I and my history remain.”

“Tell me of this history,” Jarun said excitedly. “Tell me, that perhaps I might help you shoulder the burdens; ease the pain.”

“We shall see if such pain can be eased,” the emperor responded wearily, “but if it can, I feel that you may be the one to do it. I only ask you this one thing.”

“What is it?”

“Are you ready for a very long night? Will you mind terribly watching the sun rise again and bleach out the stars that wheel ever above us before you complete even the beginning of my tale?”

“Yes, my lord. If it is what you desire, then I shall hear you out. All of it.”

“Do more than hear me out, my boy: listen. There is a vast gulf between simply hearing and listening, and if you are to learn any of the myriad lessons I wish to be taken from my life, then you must fervently do the latter. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes. I shall do my utmost.”

“Good,” the emperor said, relieved. “Then we shall begin.”

Chapter One: The Student, or Ignorance

 

I never wanted to be king. I had planned out my whole life from the time I was ten. At sixteen, I would enter the university in Leganne, where I would study law and classical philosophy. After graduating with honors at age twenty, I would return home, claim the hand of my beloved in marriage, and live out the rest of my days awash in philosophy and marital bliss.

It could have happened. My family was at no lack of means or support for my endeavors. My father was a merchant in dyes and linens, and my mother was no less well-established, having come into a tidy fortune at the death of her father. Surprisingly for their time, they were neither harsh nor cruel in raising me; in fact, they seemed to have an uncommon devotion to my welfare.

My future father-in-law was also no obstacle to my ambitions. He was a stern man, born of bureaucracy and the harsh realism which attends it, yet hidden beneath his public facade was a romantic heart. I believe that he secretly saw in me somewhat of a fulfillment of the abandoned dreams of his own youth, though for reasons of his own, he could not afford to show it.

In my eighteenth year, my plans were well into effect. My education was half completed and my every communication with my beloved only further assured our imminent and cooperative destiny. It was in this year, the seven hundred and forty-third according to the Common Reckoning, that it happened. What it was that happened, no one was entirely sure. Across the known world, it was nation against nation, prince against prince, neighbor against neighbor, and friend against friend. It was as if something had spoken to the common soul of man and caused him to go mad in an instant.

It is the prerogative of scholars now to determine which came first—the plagues or the wars—but as for myself, I do not think it much matters. Knowing the stimulus does nothing to change the fact that our response was to panic... That our response was to die; for die we did, by the thousands if not millions. Those few who survived the wars and the plague could hardly be called lucky. Without exception, they saw their world collapse around them, reduced to naught but ashes and the gnawing memory of the departed.

I only hope that my emotion will not carry you away to unnecessary lengths of anger or pity. At the very least, let it be remembered that though we may have been deserving of many of our rewards, there is no room for the absolute in delving the hidden recesses of motive and action. As shall be shown hereafter, men—even in all their infinite cunning—can never fully escape the bands they craft for each other or for themselves, whether for good or for ill.

 

- Words of the Emperor in Qepperdan, Matthieu Sartonné, as narrated to his page,
Jarun Hichame

 

The carriage bumped along the hardened road, worn into wide ruts by centuries of traffic. A little over eight days on this road now stood between the university in Leganne and Matthieu's home in Heilicon, though it had been many a month since he had last seen its stout city walls or sat in prayer at Saint Maunde's cathedral. Even longer still were the months since he had last seen his beloved Beate Kerns. Judging by his recollection of his own thoughts, Matthieu supposed he missed her more than he missed his own parents; such were the trials of his young love.

As this was the final day of his journey, Matthieu sought out the first sight of the city walls. Of the many times he had travelled this road between his home and the western port city of Leganne, which sat beside the east bank of the River Ellorin’s meeting with the Great Bay, he had never once failed to glimpse the city before his parents and other companions had. Even though he was alone now, he engaged himself thus regardless. In those previous journeys, he had discovered for himself the place where he could view the walls: first would come a series of low hills, followed by a southward turn in the road. From that place, he could look out the left-hand window of the carriage and spot his goal. Its weathered stones were comforting to him, bringing to mind the walls of his family’s own spacious home within.

The carriage had now passed through the hills and began its sweeping bend to the south. At last, the small dip in the hills rolled into view until the slender towers of Heilicon’s Lion Gate could be seen on the horizon, topped with little finger-like banners fluttering above pinnacles of red brick and gray tile. Though the current state of relative peace in the Ossiric League did not demand the great protection offered by Heilicon’s sturdy walls and foreboding gates, they still remained as symbols of a much more troubled and ancient age. The feeling of security within those walls was unmatched in much of southern Corastia, and certainly in Matthieu’s own heart.

Once again, the road curved toward the great Lion Gate as it passed through the sprawling fields which surrounded the city. These too had once been the scene of much bloodshed in an earlier time, but now the peasants who worked them had little to fear from the outside world. Off in the distance, Matthieu could see clusters of men and women shuffling through the shorn stalks of grain, preparing for the three days of Festival which would follow the current month of Harvest not one week hence.

This would be Matthieu’s first Festival as a man, and he planned on marking the occasion accordingly. His two years at the university had opened his eyes to a great many things, not a few of which he had experienced as a result of his privileged status as a student at the university in Leganne. Throughout much of Corastia, students like himself were granted much more legal protection than even townsfolk could claim, as they fell under the jurisdiction of the Church itself. Rumor and observation had shown Matthieu a world much different from the one that had managed to creep into what he felt had been a secluded and sheltered childhood. Awash in learning, the world lay before him as a field of fresh snow; he was the intrepid buck, eager to leave such marks on it as would be remembered until time itself wore them away as under the snows of some future day.

Such were the aspirations of a young man. All this he thought to be contingent on living exactly how he saw fit and nothing less, and it would start in one week hence. Though he certainly had many friends and acquaintances in Leganne, his oldest friends were here in Heilicon, along with the greatest public houses this side of the Ellorin. This time, his mother and father would not be able to prevent him from enjoying the festivities here. All he needed was a jug of wine, a purse of his father’s gold, some of his old friends also home in time for Festival... Perhaps he could even cajole Beate into joining him. Courtly love, as the romantic ideal of his time was called, was just that: an ideal, set down by frustrated celibates whose only love was for antiquated verse and the philosophies buried there in words none but the most learned could read anymore. Matthieu and his peers had no use for rhymes and pleasantries, except in the wooing of women.

A shadow fell across the carriage as it passed under the Lion Gate and into the city proper, bringing Matthieu abruptly out of his pondering: he was home. Even the stench of the city which had come to him from afar the day before was familiar in a way which brought with revulsion a strange sense of comfort. Heilicon, merchant capital of the south, was his home and here he belonged. Peering from behind the curtain on the carriage's small window, he was confronted with a row of public houses and taverns for those weary travelers who did not have such a home to which they could return. It would not be long now before the carriage would bring him there, for his father had paid a hefty sum for this transport. Had the caravan leader not been an old friend of his father's made over his years as a cloth merchant, such an arrangement would not have been possible at all. Even the road to Heilicon had its share of bandits, though the guard who had accompanied this caravan had ensured a voyage free of incident. Regardless, Matthieu was only grateful to be home.

Martin Sartonné stood conversing with another merchant, garbed more richly than was his father; it had always been his practice to reserve the best of his inventories for his most prestigious customers, so as not to diminish its grandeur by overfamiliarity. This merchant, however, evidently aimed to impress, braving the muddy streets near the central market in Lamatali silks and a gaudy hat topped with a high plume of Irritaschian peacock feathers. His father was not noble born, but the illegitimate son of an outcast lecher and some unknown, perhaps long dead, tavern girl. Only untiring hands and a timely marriage into a junior line of the House of Weikern had saved Martin from a life of certain ignominy, and his manner showed that such as he had now was still new and uncomfortable to him.

Averting his attention from the merchant, who by now was gesturing in frustration, Martin caught the eyes of his son in the carriage.

“Matthieu!” he cried out, bidding a hasty goodbye to the other man. Pushing his way through the bustling crowd, he came to the side of the carriage as Matthieu opened the door. His father’s embrace was firm, bringing with it the pungent odor of the dyebaths. “You return to us safe.”

“Yes, father. We had no trouble along the road.”

“Then my silver was well-spent. Come now; your mother waits for us both.” Matthieu had brought little with him—a few books, enough changes of clothes to see him through Harvest, a clamshell container of chalk-hued lead powder he had purchased in Leganne for Beate—but the carriage still went on without them, bound for home as they were by another route. The streets of the market square were near enough to the stout wooden house Martin Sartonné had purchased shortly before Matthieu was born. It stood among shops and many more of its kind that had risen in recent years with the growing merchant class. No more was Heilicon to be a shadow of Leganne and its ports, but a trader’s haven in its own right. Had Martin been born perhaps a generation earlier, he would have shared his own father’s fate: name and honor drowned along with him in beer mugs and bosoms. Instead, name and honor were well intact, growing steadily with every caravan that trundled off westward to the Ellorin, loaded down with Torisia’s finest velvets and linens. Matthieu could not have been happier, unless of course Beate was finally at his side.

“I trust your studies are going well,” his father said.

“Well enough,” Matthieu replied in a flat tone. “I find philosophy and history easy tasks, but law is another matter.”

“Philosophy and history will not accomplish your goals, Matthieu. The League needs clerks and officers, not scholars.”

Your goals
, Matthieu thought sullenly.
Not mine
. He had always ever had one goal, and he would see her this very afternoon, should his father permit. Wishing for God to permit accomplished little; Its hand was immaterial, while his father’s was as real as his own. It would be a great relief when that hand could no longer grasp him so tightly.

“You know, your mother would not be so silent if she saw your face.” At his father’s words, Matthieu found himself involuntarily scratching at the wispy patches of whiskers that sprouted from his jaw. He was barely a man when he had first left for Leganne, and had the face of a boy. Now he only thought to look his age. “I suppose neither will Beate.”

“If it troubles them so, then consider it all gone,” Matthieu replied. “But we shall see.” His father’s irritation was obvious, but he chose to not let it bother him as well. As they nearly turned the corner of a tavern, one of the last between them and home, a man’s voice called out from behind them.

“Oh, Brother Martin?” Matthieu turned to face the speaker and saw two men standing side by side, richly clothed in linen and each wearing a wide, rounded hat of silk. The one who spoke was slender as a candle, the look in his eyes like a cat observing a ball of yarn before he struck. To his right was a stockier man whose fingers held too many ill-fitting rings. He had never met these before, though they had the look of men in his father’s trade. However, it was not their clothing that made them stand out, but the manner of address they used.

Mentites
, Matthieu thought. Only one of their order would address another as such, especially speaking to Martin Sartonné. His father was hardly religious, much less a devotee of the Cyrnnish heretic.

“Hail, Brother Martin,” said the first man. “It is indeed a rare pleasure to see you again, as well as your son.”

“What do you want, Richard? And why this ‘brother’ nonsense?”

“Are we not children of the self-same god?”

“Yes, only I am most certainly not a part of your…
brotherhood
.” The second man approached.

“Incidentally, that is our purpose in speaking with you. We have a certain proposition to make…”

“Excuse me if I decline prematurely. Matthieu, you go on ahead.” Matthieu ducked around the corner to listen to the strange pair out of sight.

“It would be quite tragical,” said the first, “if you were to refuse us.”

“Yes,” continued the second. “We have a most important offer related to your salvation and the salvation of your beloved family.”

“Salvation, is it? Now is that to be temporal or spiritual? Because you know as well as I that the city watch is more than willing to punish deservedly your peculiar brand of sedition. All it will take is one informant for the both of you to be in the stocks by nightfall.”

The first man feigned shock.

“Oh, Brother Martin, there is certainly no need for such threats! Why, we only wish to help you better your station by the means that our God has provided us.”

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