“It’s easy, hearing the stories, to see them as merely having been very strong, very capable, very intelligent, but I’ve always felt there’s another element to it. Call it what you will – chance, luck, Fate even – but it’s there. Behind every victory, every defeat, every high and every low, a phantom paintbrush on the canvas of their tale.Foreword to “Rinn’s Heroes”
“The ending was inevitable, really.”
There was a knock at the door, and Ormak raised his head as Gathar pushed the heavy wooden slab open, shutting it behind him firmly. Although aging, Gathar’s physical fitness and martial puissance could be seen in the way the scalar moved and carried himself, and not least in the sword on his hip. He crossed wordlessly to the open window behind Ormak, extending his head out to watch for listeners, then shutting it gently. Ormak said nothing, returning his gaze to the papers on the desk in front of him. Gathar moved back around to the front of the desk, facing his father. He blinked twice, slowly, then spoke.
“What are you doing?”
Ormak raised one brow plate and his eyes flicked up briefly to meet Gathar’s, but his head remained hunched over the papers, a quill scratching along in a rough, hard-edged motion.
“Have you any idea how much risk you’ve put us in?” Gathar asked, hard eyes fixed on his father.
“Of course I do,” muttered Ormak.
“If they revealed themselves openly to you who knows how many others already know they were here? Vexir could be on their way now for all we know!” Gathar’s voice was a thunderous whisper.
Ormak put his quill down and looked up at his son. “What was I supposed to do? You saw who they were!”
Gathar shook his head. “It doesn’t matter! Our people,” he said, “are what matter!”
Ormak said nothing, but held Gathar in a withering gaze. The weight of it made Gathar’s heart jump in his chest, and for a moment he was no longer a warrior standing before a frail old man, he was a young boy standing before his titanic father, his fingers sticky with forbidden fruits from the pantry. He closed his eyes and exhaled, calming himself.
“What did they ask of you?” he asked after a moment.
“They wanted our support.”
“And did you give them it?”
“Only if theirs is the winning side.”
Gathar didn’t say anything for a moment, his eyes fixed on his father’s. “Do you think it will be?”
Ormak shook his head. “No.”
“They know nothing about Scale, they have no military or political backing, and their best plan appears to be to brazenly stride into Karan Taul and cut down the Scalelord,” Ormak continued. “If that does work, the most likely aftermath is an explosive civil war among the clans, where Keldrath’s superior forces will all but guarantee their eventual control, or alternatively another Markex meekly assumes the throne in Valasar’s place and things continue much as they are.”
Gathar narrowed his eyes, confused. “Then why offer them our support?”
Ormak retrieved the quill, dipping it into the inkwell to his right and resuming his scratching. “Because it seems to me as if they are continually underestimated, and I intend to buck the trend.”
Gathar nodded. “It is still reckless of you—”
“Most things are,” interjected Ormak, before blowing on the fresh ink and setting one of the sheets aside. “Now, about these reports from Strith…”
Father and son’s discussion turned to more mundane affairs, before Gathar eventually took his leave, closing the door to his father’s office behind him once more, and setting about the errands entrusted to him.
Elsewhere, a door was knocked, and Ashek Vexir rose to open it.