Prologue: The Farewell
As the kingdom of Ashenmore retreated into a silent and dignified grief, a dark figure slipped out of the window of the palace’s library.
This figure slithered across the neatly trimmed courtyard, taking care to slip behind the evenly spaced-out trees and looming stone pillars whenever a guard came across its path. The moon’s silver eye lit the way for the figure as they broke free from the palace’s embrace entirely and began to pick up pace, darting across the High Square of the city’s capital, Ashuron. The figure lowered its head, letting its long, dark hair fall over its eyes and cheeks, as two elderly Clerics crept down the street. One Cleric held a burning torch in his left hand and murmured a prayer for the queen’s soul and the kingdom’s future in a voice as delicate as the petals of a rose. The other Cleric had draped a white veil of mourning over his face and echoed each distinct line of the first Cleric’s prayer with a hurried, grief-stricken: “Farewell!”
The figure fled past the towering, three story houses and broad, bulging Temples from which the Clerics poured to spread their sorrowful, sacred lament to every corner of Ashuron, out of the cities Inner Quarter and into the hodgepodge of houses and theatres and drinking dens and places of business of the Lower Quarters.
Occasionally he brushed past a pair of Clerics, lost in prayer.
Once or twice, the faceless shadow would stumble in its flight and knock shoulders with one of Ashuron’s residents. The figure would mumble out an apology, unnoticed by whoever he had bumped into. Some of them were drunk. Most weren’t – to drink on a night such as this would have been frowned upon by the rest of the city – they were just too preoccupied with Talia’s death to exchange blows with some clumsy runaway.
The figure’s flight eventually took them to the harbour and, to be more specific, to a hulking grey fishing ship bobbing against a jet-black dock. The ship’s name: The Huntress, had been scribbled beside the vessel’s rudder in paint that was probably intended to be gold but, even in the faint light of the moon, was obviously a faded yellow. A short man with a long, thin beard and gloved hands was lurking beside The Huntress. Captain Borok’s reputation for punctuality had clearly not been exaggerated.
Indeed, the first thing that Borok said to the figure was the following reprimand:
“Sorry,” whispered the figure, “I had to grab this.”
The figure raised a thick, crimson tome out from the folds of his long, brown cloak. The Origins of the Worm, by Lord Kanandus, the finest scholar in the history of Ashenmore, praised far and wide for his historical writings on the first king of Ashenmore, Asha the Indominable. Borok snorted.
“Won’t have time to read that on the boat. You’ll be hard at working, doing the job of a whole crew of men. And what are you whispering for? There’s no one around. Their all too busy crying over the death of the old crow.”
The figure stiffened and tightened his grip on the book. Borok coughed.
“No offence, your highness,” muttered the grizzled fisherman.
“You are forgiven,” replied Prince Santos, coldly. He flicked a thick lock of black hair out of his eyes. Borok licked his lips.
“She was a good enough queen, I suppose,” mumbled Borok, “fair, in her own way. Took he time to leave the palace walls, which is more than I can say for her predecessor. And, I’ll say this, she was certainly a better queen than Mad Iliya.”
“That’s some interesting praise,” said Prince Santos, “but I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything else. Here, let’s cut this short.”
The Prince took a small leather bag out from where it had been hidden, tucked in the back of his breeches. Borok swiped the bag, with ravenous delight and tipped its contents into his withered hand. Four gleaming rubies tumbled into the fisherman’s palm. Borok grinned and tucked the bag full of precious stones into his trousers.
“Now, let’s make this clear, one final time,” said Borok, “when the palace comes for me, and people will come for me, this never happened. I never made a deal with you. I never met you. If you’re caught and dragged back to shore, you’ll be a thief, as well as a runaway, in the eyes of your Father. Understand?”
“Yes, Captain,” said Prince Santos. The prince extended his hand towards the gruff sailor. Borok’s eyes softened and he clasped the prince’s soft paw in his weathered old claw.
“May Ahasathoth guide you, my prince,” growled Borok, “and all of his angels!”
Moments later, the only sign that the prince had been there at all was the faint snarl of an old, battered engine and the faintest gash of silver foam in the black water. Borok offered the prince a final prayer of good fortune, that he whispered, embarrassed, into his thin beard, then turned on his heel, heading for the city.