Once Zorin had removed the Hand from Ashenmore, I sent word to the furthest corners of the kingdom. With Lysander dead a new leader for the kingdom would have to be swiftly found. Lazrilus, Una and Ooma, almost immediately, suggested that I would take on this role. Of course, I laughed at their suggestion. When the other surviving members of Midon’s Council seconded this motion, I soon stopped laughing. The various nobles of Ashenmore were summoned to the capital, in order to decide the business of the kingdom’s governance, once and for all. It wasn’t long before, once again, the throne room of Ashenmore was bloated with the assembled lords and ladies of the kingdom. I sat at the back, amidst the blackened, fire-ravaged corners of the room, watching as a contingent of noblemen from The Onyx Valley conversed with a trio of noblewomen who owned a small palace along Asha’s Pass.

After a while, one lord from The Onyx Valley, a tall, thin fellow called Lord Kalron, inquired, asking the question that was lurking on all the lips of his fellow nobles: what had happened to Lysander. Baron Midon was also present for this meeting and when this question was asked, the crippled lord craned his head forward, eyes narrowed with suspicion. I told the assembled nobles about what had transpired. At first, I could tell, they doubted the truth to my tale but, when Midon’s Council, as well as Una and Ooma stepped forward to confirm my story, their scepticism withered into oblivion. Kalron, without hesitation, asked to see the staff. I brought it out from my personal chambers and held it aloft for the entire room to see. Kalron stepped forward. He held out his hand and asked, in a very quiet voice, whether he could hold the weapon. I stared as the nobleman loomed above me, throwing my whole body in shadow. After a moment’s hesitation, I thrust the staff into his outstretched hand. Kalron twirled the staff between his fingers, examining it’s short, silver shaft. Then, abruptly, he shoved the staff back into my palm and shook his head, smiling.

“In future,” said Kalron, “you shouldn’t be so quick to relinquish power like that into the hands of a potential rival.” Kalron turned to his fellow nobles from The Onyx Valley.

“He’s unpolished,” said the nobleman, “and he’ll need our guidance, but I couldn’t think of a better candidate to rule over Ashenmore than Demetrius. After Tamburlaine, Midon and Lysander, I think our kingdom is in need with a fellow so willing to share an object of such power. Hail, Demetrius, slayer of tyrants, the protector of Ashenmore!”

“Hail,” responded the crowd- except for Midon, who simply glared at me in furious silence. “The Protector of Ashenmore!

Overwhelmed though I was to be considered worthy of such a role, I refused, despite the protestations of Kalron and his allies, to receive a formal coronation. I insisted that as one born without royal blood, it would be wrong for me to embrace to title of king. Eventually, Kalron agreed and, instead, it was agreed that I would take on the newly established title of High Protector of Ashenmore. A new Council was formed, one that would work in alliance with the ‘Protector,’ as opposed to being the mere lackeys of the ‘Protector.’ The days following this decision were a flurry of celebration; it had been a long, long time since I had seen the streets of Ashuron overflowing with such merriment as there was in aftermath of my unexpected ascension. I was visited in the palace at least a hundred times a day by nobles, merchants, and dignitaries from all over the Southern Isles, all of whom congratulated me on my new titled and insisted that they looked forward to a long, benevolent relationship. Even Regan found the time to visit me, briefly, and offer me a cold, limp handshake, though, I could tell by the dullness of her eyes and the grey lines that had started to form about her jaw that the death of her brother still weighed terribly on her soul.

It was during the conclusion of these days of celebration that Ooma bade me farewell. She shook my hand planted a wet kiss on my cheek and claimed that she would send as many good Spirits as she could catch the ear of my way in order to bring me good fortune. Una and Lazrilus chose to stay in Ashuron, taking up residence in my old house – since I had by now moved into the palace. I bestowed Lazrilus, after some heated discussion with the Council, with the rank of nobility, making him a fellow member of the new government of Ashenmore. When I told him this, the Vomoran actually started to weep with gratitude, until a sharp dig in the ribs from Una brought him to his senses. The pair of them had already agreed to marry once the new Council had been fully established.

Once I broke news of his promotion to Lazrilus, I decided to take a stroll along the border of Ashuron, stopping occasionally to greet men and women, as well as to marvel at the remnants of the destruction that had been wrought during our siege of the capital. Eventually, I found myself standing inside the harbour, looking out across the glistening sapphire blanket of the sea, deep in thought. My thoughts turned, briefly, to Santos. I found myself praying to Ahasathoth for his health – a foolish gesture, since, from what I could recall of the Spirit Whisperer’s demented ravings, the young prince no longer believed in our god, preferring to cast his mind in the direction of the vast, unknowable cosmos, where some unintelligible, unobservable battle between celestial beings was, apparently, being fought. My thoughts then turned, against my will, to the Vomorans and, more specifically, to Laila and the Solossians. The young noblewoman had fled the harbour aboard one of the three Vomoran warships, first invited into the capital by her wretched Father. I found myself thinking that, most likely, the young traitor would seek refuge in Vomora, with the so-called Supreme Vizier of the Church of Valkarria, the Mad Sorcerer, Uruk. One day, perhaps very soon, this enigmatic monster would come, swooping across the sea with a terrible armada of Vomoran ships, seeking the lost Hand of his dead goddess. When that day came, would even the almighty power of Asha’s staff be able to protect us from such a dreaded foe?

I shook these concerns aside. Perhaps Lysander could plot his next courses of action for decades to come, but I had no intention of following his example when it came to governing my kingdom. All I could do, and I had long ago vowed to do just this, was provide my fellow citizens of Ashenmore with the best example that I could offer as their ‘Protector.’ When, and if, the day came that evil forces, either from across the sea, or within our own land, threatened the newfound peace of my countrymen, I would do all that I could I thwart it. The rest, I told myself, was up to the whim of Ahasathoth, the Spirits, and whatever else hovered above the sky, looking down on the trials of mortal men with divine eyes.

The End

About The Author

Rhys Clark

I am an English and Theatre Studies student at the University of Warwick. I particularly enjoy dystopian literature and political satire. My influences as a writer are George Orwell, Christopher Hitchens, Kurt Vonnegut and Harold Pinter.

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