By Alicia Steen
“Mernan! Saddle my horse,” King Certan calls.
“Where are we going?”
“To Certainna. She can tell me where the Lady Ashrah is.” Mernan stops cold, but Certan continues. “I just received word that Elhren and the Dragon Lord will join Dnovan and Morcant. If we are to crush this rebellion, we will need help from someone with power to match theirs.” Certan finally notices Mernan staring at him. “Well, get to it.”
“Yes sire.” Mernan moves toward the kitchen first, to gather supplies, then heads for the stable. His mind refuses to process what Certan had just said. There are stories about Lady Ashrah, each one worse than the last. She is said to never age, and holds power in one hand and death in the other.
With the hour Mernan stands at the castle gate with two horses, ready for the quick journey. The look on Certan’s face as he mounts up says he was planning to ride through the night. Certan gives quick orders to his most trusted knights, and rides off with Mernan following close behind.
Mernan watches the streets as he rides by. Signs of the recent satyr invasion still remain, but even so the markets are as lively as ever. With the promise of internal strife in the near future, many have left the memory of the invasion far behind. This revolt seems to have happened in an instant, but it has been a long time in coming. Violent change is on the horizon. Now that Certan has decided to ally himself with Lady Ashrah, will the Camlon Mernan had come to love even exist when all is over?
Mernan and Certan ride through the west gate into the forest covering much of Camlon. When they leave the main road and reach a crossroads, Mernan stops his horse.
Certan also pulls up. “What is it, Mernan?”
“This is as far as I go.” Mernan lifts a tear-scarred face. “I can follow you no further than this.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I will not fight against you, Certan, but I know about Lady Ashrah, perhaps more than you do. If you forge an alliance with her, you will have crossed beyond the point of return. She is more than dangerous.”
“Lady Ashrah is Camlon’s only hope. I don’t like this any more than you do, but as king I have to make the hard decisions. The blood of those who join this revolt will be on their own heads.”
“Will it? If you die, will they truly be held accountable? Even once, have you ever thought that you and your father might be wrong?” Mernan shakes his head. “No, Certan. None have forced you on this road; you take it by your own choice.” Mernan turns his horse aside.
“Farewell, Certan. Even if your future does not see you blest, I will forever remember the times I knew you best.”
With these last words, Mernan urges his horse down the opposite path. Certan watches him leave in silence before continuing down his road alone in the waning sun.
The Lady Certainna lives with her few servants in an old tower just outside Camlon’s border. She does not often receive guests, but when King Certan, her brother, rides up to her door, she does not refuse.
“Certan, king of Camlon. To what do I owe the surprise.”
“I wish to speak with the Lady,” Certan replies.
Lady Certainna looks at him sharply. “You’re serious,” she says with false laughter. “Be careful, Certan. Once you meet with her, there is no going back.”
“I already have but one course open to me. She may be able to change that.”
“I should refuse,” Lady Certainna says, “but somehow I do not think that would do much good. Very well, follow the mountain until you arrive at an emerald lake. She doesn’t like unnecessary visitors, so have something of worth to say when she addresses you.”
Certan bows. “Thank you, Lady Certainna. I will not forget this.”
Lady Certainna gives a mirthless laugh. “Do not thank me. Believe me, Certan, pointing you to the Lady is no favor.”
Lady Certainna watches as King Certan rides away from the tower. When he is out of sight, she calls for a servant. “Bring me the swiftest falcon. Morcant must know to be wary.”