"What?! What did he say?!"
"He said you are insane, father." Owen replied.
"No! No pain! My ears are ringing, though!" his father shouted back at him.
"You should have waited for my brother, Lord Atrin. As I originally counseled." Dua hooked Owen’s father under his left arm and helped him to his feet.
"I used too much of the substance, that was my problem. But it worked! A bit more…energetically than I thought, but still this is a good experience! Well, scientifically speaking anyway. I should have waited for your brother, Dua, but I was too excited!" Excitement certainly danced in Lord Atrin’s eyes, and the ringing was starting to subside, which was good, but his hearing was still slow in returning.
"You were lucky father; this substance of yours is dangerous. Why do you insist on trying to blow yourself up?" Owen’s concern for his father was plainly written across his face.
"You well know the answer to that, Owen. Our thanage is not as well provided with resources as the others. The pittance we make selling southern wares and spices at the Ark, barely cover the expense of importing them, and we have found less and less valuable ore of late. But with the substance, if I can figure out how to harness the reaction, we can make Nydalia great, a power to rival the other thanages. The possibilities are endless! Things that would require men and horses a week to do could be done by devices powered by the substance in a day." Atrin had long dreamed of securing the future of his thanage and the discovery of the strange liquid from the south, when combined with grain alcohol and a type of mineral found in his lands, could be the very thing he needed.
There wasn’t much threat from the other thanages though, the High Thanes had long demanded peace between the Five Thanes for as long as anyone could remember. And being that the capitol surrounded the lake where all the rivers in the lands met, and therefore controlled the Ark, the massive floating market on the lake; the High Thane could dictate policy. The quickest way to be cut off, economically speaking, was to disobey the High Thane’s order and break the peace. But economics was a world which Owen could not fully comprehend, and the knowledge that the High Thane controlled the Ark did little to help him comprehend the bigger picture. Owen began unbuckling the singed leathern armor his father wore when conducting his ‘experiments’, as Dua helped on the other side.
“The Ark doesn’t have to be the only large market does it? What stops us from opening our own market elsewhere?” he demanded.
“Well, for a start, the combined armies of all the other thanages might put a damper on that. Do you not understand? The Ark is the biggest, wealthiest, most populated market on our continent. The damn thing is easily ten miles long if it’s an inch! And at least half as wide! It is massive, and the only thing more massive than its size is the income the capitol receives from taxing the wares sold there. Do you think the High Thane would stomach a threat to that income? Or, do you suppose that he would direct the other Thanes to supply him arms men with which to dissuade us from building it? He has to allow the local markets for us to supply our folk, but anything larger and it’d be a thorn he couldn’t ignore. Or if that’s not good enough, perhaps you could tell me where we’d put it? We have mountains to the west and mountains to the east and the only place nearby that is big enough to house such a venture is so close to the next thanage that their Thane, Luthir, would undoubtedly take offense, if not demand a cut in order to protect us from the High Thanes wrath. Which he couldn’t do, and even if he could it would be at so high a price that it would be disastrous for us financially.” Lord Atrin spoke calmly, though with visible effort since this was certainly not the first time Owen had been educated on the topic of the Ark and its importance to the Thanelands.
“Well…why don’t you take what you have to the High Thane now, then? With the capitol’s wealth, certainly he could reward you handsomely for this discovery and provide you with better… ahem…facilities?” This was a new tact that Owen hadn’t tried before, and probably wouldn’t have tried at all if he didn’t worry over his father’s safety so. He waived his hand dismissively as he said it toward the singed and smoke blackened bunker behind his father as he said it.
The look of horror that came over Lord Atrin’s face was so striking that Owen stopped removing the leathern breastplate mid buckle.
“No. No, no, a thousand times no! Could you imagine what would happen if we just turned this over now? Firstly, we are so young in this new science that there is nothing to stop the High Thane from claiming all our work for himself and awarding us nothing. Or from outright accusing us of sorcery. And even worse…Son, I have personally seen the devastation of just a little bit of the substance in a controlled experiment. What would happen if there were a war? Our relations with the south are still strained; the Church is always turning ill words toward them for their many gods. Imagine an invasion of the south. Imagine a wagon load of the substance resting along the wall of the Surijah Palace. How many would die? No, I will not give him this until I have time enough to ensure there is no military usage for it…or if there actually is, to lie and say I have tried to find one and failed. Such wide scale death will NOT be my legacy.”
Dua had stopped after unbuckling his shoulder strap, and was looking intently at Owen.
“Your father speaks true, etuf kael. Your people have no great love for mine, and I feel only their desire for our silks and spices is what stays their blades.”
Owen finished unbuckling his father’s garment in silence, placing the pieces he and Dua removed into a sack for transport on horseback. It was true that the Church was always exhorting his people to piety and taught that God was One and not many. Blasphemy was a word often heard in reference to the Southern Peoples. It might not take too much for the Arch Bishop and the High Thane to drive the faithful south, and if this were in the vanguard…the destruction would be legendary. Once the armor was secured in the sack, the better to hide it from prying eyes, the three men gathered up their gear, and the uneaten picnic they had brought, and began walking toward the path between the dunes where their horses were tethered.
They had cleared the beach, the still sparkling ocean now hidden behind the high sandy dunes, and had just caught sight of their horses when they noticed an extra horse with his rider still mounted. Shielding his eyes with his hand, Owen recognized Simon, one of his father’s personal guards.
“It’s Simon, father. Though I thought you told him to keep to the head of the path as a scout…” he said, dropping his hand and looking at Lord Atrin.
“I did” he replied, “Ho! Simon! Is something amiss?”
“That depends, my lord!” he shouted back, “would you say a visit from Bishop Yothric is ‘amiss’?”
“How was his mood?”
“All saintly fire and brimstone, my lord.”
“Then, yes, I would call that ‘amiss’. God forgive me, but I hate that man.”
“Come now father”, Owen jibed gently, “hate does not become you. Our bishop speaks for the great Arch Bishop, after all.”
“Yes he does. But not for God, I think. Hate does not become a man of the cloth either, yet both our bishop and Arch Bishop seem to have nothing but for those who love other gods. Best make yourself scarce when we get back home, Dua.” Atrin said, without looking toward the other man.
“Yes, my lord. I shall await my brother’s return at the end of the Bridge.” Dua responded, meaning the northern side of the land bridge that separated the Thanelands from the lands of the Hajrim.