“When gold scales return,— The Prophecy of the Golden Dragonborn
And rule the palace of glass,
Peace will reign, once more.”
Lord Markex, without saying a word, descended the steps before his throne, his corded muscles rippling with every movement, armour glinting, reflecting the sunbeams that shimmered through the glass walls of the palace. Glass that in days past had hues of green, blue, red. Glass that should now have a golden sheen. Glass that was without hint of colour.
“This way, my lord. Lady Markex is within the hatchery.”
Tygon gave a curt nod, striding ahead of the servant.
“My lord, I should temper your expectations before entering. The Lady Markex sent me without glimpsing the child, but please sire, remember how long it has been since Scale has seen any of the Gild. The hatchling has Markex blood regardless of scale. They will still be a worthy heir.”
The Scalelord paused his stride for the briefest of moments, before continuing. The pair strode on through the palace’s halls, the servant on the verge of jogging to keep up with Tygon’s stride. Other members of the palace retinue passed them, bowing and curtsying to the king. Tygon took no notice. As the pair came to a small door, the servant placed one hand upon the Scalelord’s chest.
“My lord, please. Do not hold anything against the hatchling. It’s been centuries since the last.”
Icy blue eyes met the servant’s, below bronze scales.
“You need not remind me.”
Tygon pushed the servant’s hand from his chest, firmly, but not forcefully. He was a strong man, and a strong leader, but he knew the servant’s sentiment was meant well. Pushing the oaken door, he bent to enter the hatchery.
“My love. I thought you might have kept me waiting all day.”
The voice had a feminine lilt, but was still harsh to the ear. Resting in a seat, holding a bundle of cloths, Tygon met the gaze of the Lady Markex.
“Sora. You know I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“That I do. Come here. You’ve someone to meet.”
Tygon inhaled slowly, then exhaled, taking three slow paces to stand next to Sora. He took the bundle of cloths from her, peering down at the tiny form within.
“I’m sorry. I know you hoped it would be him.”
Tygon sighed. “It wasn’t hope, Sora. It was something more. I’ve always known we had the Gild within us, I feel it in my bones. I was so certain…”
“You Markex and your prophecies. The Gild means nothing, Tygon. No more than our scales dictate who we are. You need to put this out of your head – we have a son now. A son that doesn’t deserve to grow up with a father who expects something he can never give.”
The Scalelord folded back the cloths, getting a better look at the ebon hatchling within.
“Perhaps you’re right.”
“Every one of you Markex hopes to be the one to return the Gild to Scale, and no Markex has done it. And yet, the Markex rule Scale. You rule Scale – as our son will when we pass. And it isn’t the Gild that ensures that.”
Tygon Markex’s gaze remained firmly fixed on the bundle of cloths, his blue eyes locked with his son’s.
“One day, he will be great,” the Scalelord said after some time.
“He will. And he’ll need a name worthy of that greatness.”
The pair were silent for a moment, until Tygon wrested his gaze away from the infant’s.
“Valasar. Valasar Markex.”
“People of Scale!”
Tygon’s voice rang out over the streets of Karan Taul, loud and clear. Valasar was fidgeting with his collar.
“Stop it,” hissed Sora, slapping the boy lightly on the wrist before turning back to face the gathered crowds, a pleasant, empty smile on her face. “Sit up straight, everyone’s watching,” she whispered out the corner of her mouth.
“No they’re not,” whispered Valasar. “They’re all watching Dad anyway.”
“Another year, and another Kal’dai celebration is upon us.”
“They are, you know,” whispered Sora. “There’s a lot of people very interested in the crown prince.”
Valasar scowled, and straightened his back.
“I can’t breathe in this collar.”
“Yes you can, stop being dramatic.”
“These seats are so uncomfortable.”
“Everyone has to do uncomfortable things now and then.”
“Well sit still and you won’t waste all your energy. You can have something to drink soon.”
“I want to have wine.”
“You can’t have wine.”
“You’re too young for wine.”
“Raikos gets to have wine.”
“Raikos isn’t a prince though, is he?”
“No but I’m already five and he’s only four and four months.”
“That’s between Raikos and his father. You’re not allowed any wine.”
“It’s because my scales aren’t the right colour.”
Sora’s queenly expression broke, and she turned to her son, concern and confusion writ on her face. “What?”
“Raikos gets to have wine because his scales are red and Clan Keldrath have red scales doesn’t he. I don’t match and that’s why you won’t give me wine.”
“That has nothing to do with it. Nobody in Clan Markex has golden scales.”
“But my scales don’t match your scales or Dad’s scales either.”
“Valasar, the scales have nothing to do with it. You’re five years old, that’s why you’re not allowed wine.”
“But if I had golden scales you and Dad would love me more and you’d let me have wine.”
Sora leaned down to be level with her son, disregarding her presentation before the citizenry momentarily. “Where did you get that idea?”
“I heard Dad talking to Uncle Saris and he said he wished my scales were golden.”
Sora flashed a momentary glare at her husband, still speaking before the enraptured crowd. “You must have misheard him.”
“No he was talking about me and he said he ‘wished I had the Gild’. That means he wishes I had golden scales.”
“He was probably talking about the mining guilds.”
Valasar furrowed his brow. “But it’s true though, isn’t it? He does wish I had golden scales. I can tell.”
Sora looked the boy in his wide eyes and took one of his hands in hers. “That’s not true. Your father and I love you more than anything in the world, alright? And you know that. The scales don’t matter, not one bit. And even if they did, look how impressive yours are. How rich and deep the colour is, how shiny they are, the way they make your eyes gleam. So many people would love to have scales like yours. You should be proud of them.”
The boy looked at his hand in his mother’s, then up to her face, trying not to smile. “You really think so?”
The door to the courtyard opened, and Valasar swiftly stood to his feet. In the doorway, Tygon narrowed his eyes.
“You’re not ready.”
Valasar’s eyes went wide. “I…I don’t know how to put the breastplate on myself.”
Tygon crossed to the far end of the courtyard and bent forward to retrieve two of the dull blades on the rack. “Too much time out with your friends and not enough time with your tutors, then. A king ought to know how to don his own armour.”
The boy, now with eight summers under his belt, looked dejected. “Will you help me?”
Tygon shook his head and tossed one of the blades to his son. “An enemy isn’t going to help you protect yourself.”
“…But we’re not enemies.”
“Right now we are,” said Tygon, pacing into the centre of the sparring ring, Valasar following without thinking. “You always have to be prepared,” he said, then launched forward with an overhead strike. Valasar tumbled to the floor, narrowly avoiding the blow, and scrambled back to his feet.
“Please, Dad, it’s so sore without armour.”
Tygon shrugged. “All the more reason for you to learn how to fasten it yourself.” He struck again, but this time the boy parried. His countenance was focused.
The clash of steel rang across the courtyard, followed by a yelp.
“And that’d be you dead.”
Valasar rubbed his temple. “Please, Dad, I just need help fastening the side straps, I can’t reach them.”
Tygon shook his head. “You’ll have to go without, then. A king can’t rely on anyone but himself.”
Another flurry of strikes and the pair recoiled, Valasar panting. “I don’t understand, all my friends are still using wooden swords. Raikos uses steel but he always gets armour. Why do we have to do it like this?”
“I need you to be better than them,” snarled Tygon as he lunged forward. Valasar tumbled forward into a roll, emerging on the other side of his father.
“But I am better!”
The ring of steel on glass filled the air as Valasar’s practice blade connected with his father’s backplate.
“See? That’d be you dead!”
Tygon turned to face the boy, nodding sagely. The boy lowered his weapon, then Tygon tapped his glass chestplate. “Except I have armour,” he said, then a lightning-quick strike knocked Valasar to the ground, flat on his back.
Tygon knelt down next to his son, the boy groaning.
“You’ve still got a lot to learn.”
The sound of feasting and merriment echoed around the great hall, the crown prince and his friends laughing and joking at the far end of one table while the other nobles enjoyed themselves throughout the rest of the hall.
“And so then,” began Raikos Keldrath, heir-apparent to Keld Rock seated next to Valasar, “he looks at me and—”
The doors to the hall opened loudly and the chatter died to a lull as the herald scuttled forth. “The delegation of Clan Rakesh, if it pleases his Grace.”
Tygon nodded and he and Sora rose and proceeded forward towards the doors as a number of ebon-scaled Ka’man nobles entered the hall. Tygon and Sora busied themselves greeting the foremost among the group, but standing shyly among them, a young val caught the prince’s eyes. Elegant half-moon spectacles framed striking eyes, and she wore a long dress of flowing black fabric, set with beads of metallic dragonglass which glittered like stars.
Raikos looked from Valasar to Garn Vexir, the lanky green vak seated opposite, and the two began to grin, watching as the prince seemed to take no notice of them. Across the room, Valasar’s eyes met with the val’s, who hurriedly looked away and down to her feet before the delegation were seated.
Garn and Raikos stared at Valasar, grinning expectantly. The prince came back down to earth and looked from Raikos to Garn.
Garn flashed his brow at Raikos, but said nothing.
“Someone catch your eye?” asked Raikos, trying not to smile as he busied himself with the kalakar haunch on his plate.
“You met her before?” asked Garn, taking a sip of wine from his glass.
Valasar blushed, and said nothing.
“That one’s…Illia? Ie…Ielar?” asked Raikos.
“Yeah, she’s Ielar,” said Garn. “Illia’s the mother.”
“Trust you to know,” said Raikos. Garn shrugged and reached for more food from further up the table.
Raikos turned back to Valasar. “You gonna talk to her?
Valasar looked embarrassed. “What, me? No…”
“Why not?” asked Garn.
“Well, I mean, I…she wouldn’t want anything to do with me…”
Garn and Raikos looked at each other and laughed.
“Nothing,” said Raikos, trying his best to stifle his laughter.
Valasar chanced a look over towards where Ielar had been, saw her seated towards the end of another table. Their eyes met again and both hurriedly looked away. Raikos and Garn erupted into laughter again.
Raikos composed himself, as did Garn. He started speaking, and Garn fell back into a fit of giggles. “You know you’re the crown prince, right?”
Valasar looked from one to the other.
“Like, you know you’re going to be Scalelord one day, don’t you?” said Garn.
“Well, I, yeah, I mean…”
“Everyone wants something to do with you, Valasar,” said Raikos. “It’s as if you’re the only person who hasn’t noticed you’ll be the most powerful vak in the country one day.”
Garn and Raikos started laughing again. Valasar’s expression was stony.
The pair gradually calmed down, then noticed the prince’s face.
“You alright?” asked Garn.
Valasar nodded. “Yeah. I’m just…I’m gonna get some air,” he said, standing up and leaving the hall. Garn and Raikos looked at one another and shrugged.
The young prince headed outside to the gardens, took a seat on a bench and looked out onto the Glass Bay. The sea was like it’s namesake, flat as a sheet and pristine, a wide expanse of water, perfectly still. He looked out over the shimmering glass roofs of Karan Taul, and his head swam thinking about the road ahead of him. Time passed, he wasn’t sure how long, and he stood and turned to leave.
Ielar stood in the doorway and their eyes met. Hers went wide.
“Sorry, I…” Ielar mustered a haphazard curtsy, still surprised.
“No, it’s alright, I was just…”
“Hello! Ah, uh, hello.”
“My name’s Ielar.”
“Ah, yes, I…I know who you are.”
Valasar eased the book shut, then stood and stretched. His golden glassmail shimmered as he did so, and he remarked to himself how comfortable he was in it now. The Golden Claw’s traditional regalia had chafed and weighed on him when he first was assigned the title, but it had become like a second skin in the year or so since. He replaced the book on the shelf it had come from. If he was quick, he’d be able to get a quick sparring session in with Sir Kliric before his watch began. His bladework was the equal of vak many years his senior at this point, and he was hopeful his father would notice this in their next bout.
He descended the stairs from the study quickly, and as he did so heard voices drifting out into the landing below. He could recognise them as belonging to his mother and father, but the words decayed in the air and he couldn’t decipher their meaning.
“I’m as surprised as you are.”
Alighting from the stairs, Valasar turned his head and saw them in their quarters, the door left ajar. They were studying…something, but he couldn’t make out what.
“We’ll have to tell Valasar, this will be a big change for him.”
Valasar watched as his father took a pace back, revealing the target of their attention.
His heart plummeted and his eyes went wide in shock as he saw his mother cradling two eggs, the sunlight streaming through the window reflecting off their deep golden shells.
They hadn’t noticed him, and in a panic he fled quickly down the stairs, his head spinning.
Eggs. Golden eggs. He had to steady himself on the banister, took slow, deep breaths. He looked at his gauntleted hand, looked at the deep ebon scales covered by the gold-tinted glass. Tears streamed down his face before he was even aware they’d begun to flow.
Thousands of hours of princely education flashed through his memory, the immensity of the work he’d done to prepare himself for the throne that it was his duty to assume. His birthright. A birthright and a duty that would be stripped from him were his parents to bring forth the Gild again.
Hearing footsteps coming from below, he fled to his quarters, sat heavily on his bed, and began to sob.
“What’s the meaning of this?”
Valasar’s expression was grim, his hand quivering on the hilt of his sword. “You’ve left me no choice, father.”
Tygon looked with pity at his son, and shook his head. The other nine Claws stood to attention at the sides of the room, watching the exchange between father and son.
“You told me once that a king can’t rely on anyone other than himself. You told me I needed to be better than everyone else.”
“I’ve spent my life working to prove I am.”
“Valasar, don’t do this.”
“Silence!” The prince’s voice reverberated around the throne room, shaking with emotion. “I won’t let you take everything I’ve worked for away from me,” he said, barely more than a whisper.
“Valasar, what are you talking about?” Tygon descended from the throne until he stood halfway up its stairs.
“I know you don’t believe I’m worthy. I know you’re disappointed by me.” There was venom in the prince’s voice.
“That’s not true…”
“I know you love those eggs more than me. I know I’m a burden, but I won’t be any longer.”
Tygon shook his head slowly. “Please, my son…”
“Valasar, he’s unarmed and unarmoured!” called Arem Ulriss, the Blue Claw.
“I challenge you to Skellos Taikim,” said Valasar, his head bowed and his eyes fixed on his father’s.
“We don’t have to do this,” said Tygon.
“I do,” said Valasar.
Tygon sighed slowly. He regarded his son for a long moment, blinked slowly, then looked down, himself dressed in simple, elegant finery, but without armour or weapon. “This is how you wish to take your crown?”
Valasar set his jaw. “An enemy isn’t going to help you protect yourself.”
Tygon nodded, hearing his words spat back at him. “Very well, then. I accept your challenge.”
“Sire!” barked Kallos Orn, the Silver Claw.
“Quiet, Kallos. My son has decided this is to be the way of it.”
Tygon waved a hand towards Kallos, silencing him, then turned to Valasar. He paused, looked up once towards the glass ceiling and the night sky outside. “I am ready when you are.”
Valasar drew his blade and darted up the stairs, delivering one quick slash that connected with his father’s arm, blood spilling down it. Tygon grunted, and closed his eyes, standing passively. Valasar took one step back, adopting a ready stance.
“Fight back,” he said, grimacing. Tygon shook his head.
Valasar delivered another slash, more of his father’s blood splashing onto the glass stairs. “Fight back!”
Tygon winced, but did nothing.
Valasar struck again, the Scalelord giving no response. Valasar took one step back. “Hit me!” he roared.
Tygon shook his head.
Valasar’s expression was black. “You must draw blood.”
Tygon nodded, and slowly moved forward to close the gap between father and son. Gently, he reached one hand out, placed it on Valasar’s cheek. Confusion and rage set on the prince’s face.
“Goodbye, my son,” said Tygon. He pressed one claw firmly into Valasar’s cheek, until a trickle of red blood broke between the black scales.
Valasar roared in wordless anger and lashed out, his sword biting into his father’s chest, ending the challenge as swiftly as it had begun.
Valasar approached the door, Garn Vexir and Hath Suros, the Bronze Claw, saluting from their positions at either side of it.
“She’s inside,” said Garn.
Valasar nodded and said nothing, moving past the two guards and entering into the room beyond. At the far end, his mother stood by the expansive window, the great glass panel running floor to ceiling, looking out onto the darkened streets of Karan Taul.
“Where are they, mother?”
Sora turned to face her son. He could see the tears streaming down her face, her eyes red, her expression disgusted. For a moment, he felt a twang of guilt, felt that this was all some terrible dream that he’d awaken from in only a moment.
But he didn’t.
“How could you?” Sora whispered, her voice cracked.
“I did what I had to.”
“That’s not true…”
“Where are the eggs, mother?”
Sora’s expression hardened, something of the warrior she used to be showing through. “Far away from you.”
Valasar closed the distance between them. The heavy glass crown was uncomfortable on him, weighed down on his skull. Sora backed away.
“Stay away from me. You’re no son of mine.”
Valasar stopped mid-step, obeying his mother’s instructions without thinking. “As you wish.”
Sora and Valasar regarded each other in silence, only a few feet separating them physically, but a gulf of miles between them nonetheless.
“You’d better just kill me like your father and be done with it.”
Valasar narrowed his eyes. “…Where are they, mother?”
“I’ve no words for you.”
Valasar stared his mother down, his expression turbulent, before he snapped. “I obeyed the rules!”
“You killed your father!”
“I had to!”
Sora broke down in tears, her chest wracked with sobs. Valasar bristled, fists clenched, before he turned to depart.
“You had better give me answers tomorrow.”
Valasar left, shutting the door on his mother’s tears behind him. He turned to Garn and Hath.
“I want them found. Every available ship, every available vak. See to it those eggs are brought to me.”
There was a soft knock on the door, and Valasar rose. The handle turned gently, and Ielar eased the door open slowly, entering and closing it behind her.
“Ielar…” Valasar crossed quickly to her, reached out a hand towards her shoulder. She recoiled, and he froze. “What’s wrong?”
Ielar looked up to meet his gaze, her eyes watering. “What have you done?”
Valasar’s expression fell. “I…I did what I had to.”
“What you had to?!” Ielar’s expression was a mixture of anger and confusion.
Valasar took a step back, straightened his posture. “It was the only way.”
Ielar shook her head. “No.”
Valasar’s face hardened. “You don’t understand.”
“You’re right. I don’t. I don’t understand who you are.” She took a step back from him, tears rolling down her face.
“I did what I had to! I’ve spent my whole life training for this! For the throne, for iakim, for all of it!”
“It didn’t have to be this way…”
“Yes, it did! You don’t understand how close it was, how near it came to slipping through my fingers!”
“What are you talking about?! Why would anyone deny you the throne?”
“Because I don’t deserve it!”
“You’re scaring me,” whispered Ielar, as Valasar stalked forward, continuing.
“All my life, I’ve trained for this throne. I did everything my father asked of me, and it was never enough. Never! All the hours of study, all the hours of statecraft, of bladework. He never believed I could be Claw! I worked so hard for his love, his approval, and everything I did only showed me that I wasn’t worthy of it, wasn’t worthy to replace him, because I didn’t have the Gild!”
“The Gild means nothing…”
“It means everything.”
“It’s a story!”
“It’s a prophecy.”
Ielar shook her head and backed towards the door. “I’m leaving.”
Valasar kept pace with her. “Stay.”
“And what if I don’t?! What will you do then?! Kill me too? Goodbye, Valasar.”
Ielar turned quickly and fled the room, sobbing as she ran from the palace.
Valasar stood in front of the window, the night wind buffeting him as he looked out through the shattered pane and towards the dark waters below.
“Nobody could have survived such a fall,” said Garn from his position by the king’s shoulder.
Valasar grimaced and knelt down, retrieving a shred of golden fabric caught on the jagged edge of the glass. It smelled like her, like the comfort of his mother’s embrace as a young boy. He clenched it in his fist, the cloth whipping in the wind from the window.
“She’s gone, then.”
Garn was silent for a moment, not sure what to say. The only sound in the room was the howling of the night wind outside, the battering of the stormy rain on the palace.
“I’m sorry,” Garn ventured after a while.
Valasar ground his teeth and said nothing.
There was a knock at the door, and Garn turned to see Hath stood in the open doorway.
“Sire,” said the Surosi.
“What is it, Hath?” Valasar kept his position and gaze at the window.
“Sire, they found the vessel. No sign of any eggs.”
Valasar closed his eyes and leant one fist on the window frame.
“We scuttled the ship. If anything was on board, there’ll be nothing left of it.”
“I…I heard about the Scalemother, sire. My condolences.”
There was no response from the Scalelord. Hath crossed to where Garn stood and the two exchanged a look.
“Leave me,” said Valasar. The two Claws bowed, then turned and left.
Valasar stood in silence for a long time, then yelled and struck the wall with his fist. He felt a crunch, and knew the hand would be swollen by morning.
He kept his gaze fixed on the dark waters below, where his mother had thrown herself to her death to escape him and what he’d become. He tore the glassmail gauntlet from his bruised hand, stared for a long time at the cracked black scales.
“How rich and deep the colour is, how shiny they are, the way they make your eyes gleam. So many people would love to have scales like yours. You should be proud of them.”
In the privacy of his parents’ chambers, a single tear rolled down the king’s cheek. His grip on the shred of cloth loosened slowly, until the storm winds whipped it from his grasp. He watched it fly out into the night, the elegant golden fabric a gradually fading light as it disappeared into the darkness.
“My lord, there’s been a sighting. A phalanx of dragonborn troops were spotted heading north towards Rell. Their leader matched Gaur’s description.”
The Scalelord turned to face the visitor. The setting sun shone through the palace walls, casting his dark scales in prismatic light.
“My lord, what are your orders? Shall I send for the Greenfangs?” inquired the visitor, rather urgently. Valasar paused a moment, as if considering something, before replying calmly.
“The Greenfangs will not be necessary.”
“But, my lord, is it not wise to enact swift retribution? Cut off a dragon’s head, and the body will perish, no?”
“The Greenfangs failed to deliver last I tasked them with removing that head.” The visitor seemed confused.
“Sire, you knew about Gaur? You suspected him of treason?”
Valasar paused, choosing his words carefully, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “Gaur was…unexpected. But he is no longer our priority.”
“My lord, I’m afraid I do not follow.”
Valasar began to descend the steps from the throne, making his way towards the door connecting the throne room to the rest of the palace. He continued speaking as he went, “You wouldn’t. It’s simple really, the Legion have defected – gone north to pledge service to another lord. The two that claim to be my clansmen.”
“My liege, surely that is all the more reason to act swiftly? A legion of troops and a seasoned commander to lead them will lend legitimacy to their claim, no?” The visitor scurried after the Lord Markex, trying to keep pace with him as best he could.
“It is of little concern. One must allow their opponents to posture, to cultivate their hubris. When their arrogance has swelled, and they give challenge, then one makes an example of them. This is how the game is played.”
Scale’s king paused at the door, leaving the visitor with one last remark before departing.
“We must let them make the first move.”
Valasar’s head swam, and he fell to his knees under the weight of the strike. He looked up, saw the red vak before him rear up for another blow, the silver trident singing through the air. He tried to lift his blade up for another parry, but the muscles wouldn’t obey. Time slowed.
He looked to his right, his eye meeting with Garn’s, the Green Claw’s eyes wide as he looked on, then looked back to face his brother. For a split-second, he saw the imposing figure of his father, the glass blade he wielded thursting forward towards him, then he blinked and saw the three tines, Narinn’s face a snarl as he stabbed forward.
Valasar dredged his last reserves and reached up with his left hand, feeling the point of the weapon slice into his fingers as they clasped around the central spar of the trident. His muscles burned as he pushed forward, trying to resist with what strength he had left.
The two locked eyes as they struggled for control, and Valasar saw in Narinn’s the stern gaze of his father, the fierce stare his mother used to have when he was punished as a boy, and something else, a focus and hardness that he didn’t recognise.
His arm burned, and he released his grip on his sword, bringing the other up to push back on the weapon, pushing his feet against the ground as best he could to prise the trident away from his chest and himself back to his feet. His face contorted with the effort, and from the corner of his eye he thought he spied two figures amongst the crowd of onlookers – one with the bronze scales and comforting eyes of his mother, her head shrouded in elegant golden fabric that he’d watched whip away into the darkness of a stormy night so many years ago, and one dressed in a long dress of black fabric, set with beads of metallic glass that glittered like stars, a pair of elegant half-moon spectacles framing striking eyes.
His grip weakened, and he felt himself forced to his knees. He turned his head to face them, and heard a singing whistle approaching him.
The pair smiled, and he wasn’t afraid any longer.