Wall of Doom Excerpt

Wall of Doom Excerpt Copyright 2018 by Worker Bee Press

 

PROLOGUE

Queen Abisola sat numbly by the fire.

The shadow of the flames danced on Abisola’s troubled face, eerily reflecting in her worried eyes.  She was dressed in a foot soldier’s battle attire, her long dark hair braided and tucked down the back of her tunic.  The queen wore no insignias of any kind to note her rank.  She waited deep in thought and wondered how her life could have come to such a pass.  She waited and waited, this being the fourth day and night of waiting.

Iasos, her consort, gently rocked the baby he held, cooing if the child stirred.  This was the child he had sired with his queen––Princess Maura. As Iasos gazed at his child, he did not wonder at the events he knew were to come, but his luck of having been chosen the Royal Consort.  It was more than luck.  The stars had decreed it to be his fate, for he truly loved his lady and had since the day he first met her.

Iasos had been sent by his father, Duke Enos, to further his education at the university in O Konya, the royal city.  As he was of noble blood and his older sister was soon to inherit the Duchy of Enos, the boy was entitled to live at court during his stay in the city.

Duke Enos wanted his only son to make a grand impression at the royal court.  Knowing the queen was fond of beautiful clothes, he gave Iasos shimmering cloth made by the nimble hands of the desert men from Siva as a gift to the monarch.

A nervous Iasos presented bolts of turquoise and iridescent white with river pearls for fringe.  They had cost his father a year’s profit from the duchy, so rare were they.

“These are from my father, Duke Enos,” boasted young Iasos, waving his hand over the expensive bolts, “but this is from me.”  The handsome boy took a slim volume from his breast pocket.

The queen’s personal guards quickly surrounded him.

“Oh, dear,” he piped as he handed Rubank, the Royal Consul, his book.

After inspecting the volume, the Royal Consul placed it on a gold platter and handed it to the amused but wary Queen Abisola.

“I composed these poems myself in honor of our most beautiful and illustrious queen.”

“You honor me,” responded Queen Abisola.  “I will certainly entertain your poems before I retire tonight.  I hope I do them justice.”

“You are most kind, Your Majesty,” answered Iasos, blushing.  He bowed very low, and the royal consul waved him back into the court audience.

Queen Abisola spent the rest of the afternoon meeting with impatient ambassadors, fawning nobility, wealthy merchants seeking charters, anxious artists needing a patron, and weary messengers from the far-off corners of her vast country.  As she listened to the speeches and announcements drone on, she occasionally glanced at Iasos who stared sheepishly up at her.  Something about him pleased her very much.

She gestured to Rubank.  “I want Duke Enos and his family investigated.  Find out everything there is to know, but do it discreetly.”

Rubank nodded in reply, such was the custom as he could not speak.  His tongue had been cut out voluntarily when he became consul to the queen.

The queen stood and left the throne room without glancing back, but she was smiling.  She was still smiling when she entered her private quarters.  Handing her crown, jewelry, and official robes to her maids, she quickly stripped and lay down on a table for her massage.

A woman in her late autumn years entered the room with a basket of herbs and oils.  After selecting perfumed oil, she heated it by rubbing it between her hands and began massaging Abisola’s shoulders.  “You seem pleased tonight, Your Majesty.  The cats seem almost at rest.”

The masseuse was referring to the two tattooed jungle cats facing each other on either side of the queen’s back, starting at her shoulders and extending down the back to the buttocks.  They looked as though they were springing in mid-flight with their extended paws crisscrossing each other.  Inside the figures of the cats were ancient symbols and words.

The cats, called uultepes, were the personal mascots of the Hasan Daegian royalty.  However, by modern times, the majestic cats had been hunted to extinction.  Many believed the cats existed in myth only, but the images of two springing uultepes were tattooed on every Hasan Daegian queen or king as dictated by tradition, the meaning of which no one could fathom any longer.

Abisola murmured, “Sari, do you believe in love at first sight?”

“No, Great Mother, can’t say that I do.”

“Then do you believe in lust at first sight?”

“Aye, that I can attest to.  I fell under the spell of a fat cook with a nightmare of a wife and three grubby babes.  But, oh, how that man could cook and make love after stuffing me with roasted eggs in a spinach base and hackleberry wine.  No man has fed me so well since.”  Sari paused massaging, remembering.

“What happened to him?”

Sari poured more oil into her hands and stood thoughtfully.  “His wife found out about us and kept whacking him on the head, so he told me I had to go.”

“Hmm, by the Goddess, that feels good.  Lower.  Are you talking about Grebbe, the cook who died about forty years ago?  He was found face down in a yoko root pudding.”

“The very one.”

“Sari, you didn’t kill him?” gasped the queen, hiding her mirth.

“It was his heart.  All that weight.”

Abisola patted Sari’s arm.  “I’m just teasing, Sari.”

“Oh.”

“You’re right.  He was a wonderful cook.  Too bad he died.  Hmm, that feels wonderful,” murmured Abisola, drifting off.   “Sari, you are such a liar.  What would a relative of mine be doing with a mere cook?” she mumbled sleepily.

“Your Majesty, has someone caught your eye?”

Queen Abisola didn’t respond, for she was fast asleep.

Sari smiled to herself.  “I will answer you now that you cannot hear me.  He loved me truly even though I was royalty.  Such is a rare commodity in life.”

********************************************************************

It was another three weeks before Abisola sent for Iasos.  In her small private audience chamber, she told Iasos that she desired him and asked permission to court him if he so wished.

Iasos sighed with relief, for now he knew why he was being watched all the time.  He stammered, “Ah, yes.”

Abisola reached over and kissed his hand.

Iasos returned the hand kiss.

The queen handed him a flower, and the courtship officially began.  He was a lad of twenty, and she had been the ruling monarch for over three hundred years.

********************************************************************

That had been three years ago.  Now, Iasos looked down at his child. She was the color of a dark blue sea from the top of her royal crown to the bottom of her chubby royal heels.  A dark indigo baby!  She even cried blue tears.  All royal Hasan Daegian babies were born blue and lightened to a bluish-white cast as they grew older.

As old as Abisola was, she still retained a bluish cast to her nails, the outlines of her eyes, and her sex.  Their blue blood was a sign of the royal family’s predestination to rule Hasan Daeg.

Iasos nuzzled the baby’s cheek.  The tension of waiting was beginning to strain his nerves.  He was alone with his queen, having dismissed the servants.  The guards were positioned down the mountain and ordered not to intrude no matter what they heard until the queen descended.  The royal couple realized if anything went wrong, there would be no one to help them.

“Do you think she will come tonight?” asked Iasos impatiently.

There was no reply from his downcast wife.

“Abisola,” he insisted.

Abisola jerked her head up.  “Shh, listen!”  She jumped up and strained to hear sounds in the night.

Iasos strained too, turning his head.  There was a faint whooshing sound coming from the west.   He dreaded the moment that would soon be at hand.

“She comes!” cried Abisola, jumping in front of Iasos and her child.

Their tent quivered in the loud and fearsome wake.  Sticks and twigs, as well as their food and gear, scattered about the ground. A great cloud of dust flooded the air, making it hard for the royal couple to see.

A sharp cry pierced the sky.  It was the cry of the great eagle as she snares her prey.

Both mother and father of the babe stood rooted, seemingly unable to move.

“Queen Abisola and Consort Iasos, come forth!” cried a loud and unnatural voice.  A series of loud clicks followed.

Abisola looked questioningly at Iasos.

He nodded.

She tucked a dagger inside her tunic.  Looking about, Abisola motioned for her husband to join her.

On a small knob not far from their camp, three figures stood silhouetted against the starry sky with their wings occasionally fluttering.  Large these creatures were, just as the old stories stated.

Iasos shuddered to think he was going to hand his daughter over to the Dinii, Overlords of Kaseri, a race which had become a myth to his people.

The largest of the figures beckoned impatiently.  “Hurry, there’s not much time!”

Abisola and Iasos trudged silently to the hill, grateful that the baby had been given a mild sedative so she would not cry during the transfer.  Abisola wished she had taken some of it herself.

Iasos could not feel his limbs move as he followed Abisola.  He wondered how his wife could be so calm.  Thinking he would explode at any moment, Iasos wished he had learned how to fight, but it was too late.

They stood before the mighty avian emissaries.

“Empress Gitar,” addressed Abisola as she bowed.

Iasos bowed as low as he could with the baby.

“Queen Abisola and Consort Iasos,” replied Empress Gitar, her wings expanding in acknowledgment and honor.  “I wish we could meet on a more joyful occasion.”  She pointed to her two companions.  “This is my Commander, Yesemek.”

Yesemek pulled off her plumed leather helmet and made obeisance to Queen Abisola.

Queen Abisola nodded.

“And this is my uncle, Divigi Iegani,” announced Empress Gitar.

Iegani stepped away from his empress and the commander, expanding his wings to their full breadth and bowed as low as his old bones would allow.

Queen Abisola heard him in her mind, “Salutations, Queen Abisola, Great Mother and Protector of Hasan Daeg.”

The Hasan Daegian queen glanced at Iasos.  She could tell from his wide-eyed expression that his mind had heard the Divigi too.  She nodded to Iegani and turned her attention to Empress Gitar.

Gitar was an astounding presence.  She stood over eight feet tall with a wingspan of fifteen.  She was taller than her subjects by a head.  Downy black feathers covered her body, which resembled a Hasan Daegian’s.  The feathers on her head were white with the tips dyed purple while the rest of her black feathers sparkled with diamond dust.  Her nails were purple too, and this same shade was used on her lips as well.  She wore no clothes except for a V-shaped crown studded with multi-colored gems.

Abisola could see six nipples protruding from the feathers on her torso.  She realized that Gitar must have recently given birth herself.  That’s why the Overlords had kept them waiting four days.

Iasos must have realized this too.  “Empress,” he said, stepping forward with the baby.

Abisola pulled him back and turned angrily to Gitar.  “How do we know what you say is true?” she hissed.

Gitar held out her hands in supplication, understanding Abisola’s indecision and anxiety.

Iegani spoke aloud.  “My good queen, our spies tell us the same as yours.  The enemy to the east makes ready to move on us.  Not today, not tomorrow, not next year even, but they will come as sure as it rains upon the land.  They will come before our deaths, before yours.  Unless we move now and plan for the future, we will never be able to defeat them.  Their armies will become too powerful, their magic makers too knowledgeable.  You know this to be true.  You’ve been getting reports for years.”

Abisola blinked in confusion.

Yesemek clicked a message with her teeth to her ruler.

Gitar nodded.

Dropping her weapons on the ground, Yesemek bowed and stepped closer to Queen Abisola.  “Your Majesty, if this were not true, why have you been sending out parties searching for the Mother Bogazkoy?  It is because the Royal Bogazkoy, her offspring, is dying.   It will cease to exist within forty years.  Even now, you grow old as it can no longer sustain the Hasan Daegian queens as it once did.”

Rattled, Abisola asked, “You know about the Royal Bogazkoy?”

“We gave the offshoot of the Mother Bogazkoy to the first queen of Hasan Daeg to bind our pact,” replied Iegani.

“Do you know where the Mother resides?” asked Abisola.

Iegani shook his head.  “That secret was not handed down.  I’m sorry.”

It was true that the Royal Bogazkoy was slowly dying, almost imperceptibly, but dying still.  Abisola’s grandmother had first discovered the awful truth when she plucked out her first gray hair at the age of two

hundred.  No ruler of Hasan Daeg had ever aged until released from ruling and from the Bogazkoy’s powers.

“What can my child do about an unnamed enemy or the death of the Royal Bogazkoy?  She’s only a babe.  Not even weaned,” cried the desperate queen.

Empress Gitar spoke to her.  “She will not be a babe always.  We plan to teach her the way of the warrior.  Our military is more modern.  Your countrymen have not fought a battle in over six hundred years.  We need her to fight and motivate others to pick up the sword, or we shall all perish!

“Over two thousand years ago, our ancestors allowed your people to settle in our kingdom.  We needed beings to manage the land so it would attract the game needed to sustain us.  In return, you would recognize our sovereignty.  We are creatures of the air, not of terra firma.  We are warriors, not farmers.  As we hunt at night, your people rarely see us.  Most do not even believe we exist.”  Gitar sighed.  She wanted to sit down as she was fatigued.  She clicked at Yesemek who spoke for her.

Yesemek affirmed, “We fly outside these borders and have seen first hand the destruction of the enemy.  Their leader moves at random with no other purpose but to plunder and burn, terrorizing the population into submission.  He is gathering a confederation of states controlled by his men that has become the bulwark for an empire.  He is unstoppable, a great military mind who rarely shows mercy.”

“This enemy which plagues us, what does he want?” asked Iasos.

“He is from the country of Bhuttan, thousands of miles to the east.  He is called the aga and his name is Zoar.  His followers believe him to have a religious destiny to rule.  They worship him as the incarnation of Bhuttu, their god of destruction.

“We have only the basic facts about him and his people’s beliefs.  We do know they believe in a myth in which Bhuttu destroys the present world and joins with his wife Bhutta, giving birth to a new Kaseri.  Zoar’s people believe that he is the physical reincarnation of Bhuttu.”

“What has this Bhuttu to do with us?” inquired Iasos.

Iegani straightened his shoulders, tired from the weight of his ponderous wings.  “The Hasan Daegian culture has all the qualities of the Bhuttanian’s goddess, Bhutta, who is the Great Mother who rejuvenates and restores the world. Like Bhutta, your culture stresses rejuvenation and health with the plants you cultivate.  You rarely eat meat.  There is little death, except from extreme age.  Your bloodlines are through the female.  Hasan Daegian queens are long-lived.  They have the power to restore and heal.  They are referred to as Great Mother and Protector.  Even though the Royal Bogazkoy is dying, it is still potent.  You are the living proof as you have lived many years.  You have a secret the aga will want one day . . . longevity.  Zoar will seek to possess the tree.”

Iegani looked at Princess Maura.  “And he will come for her, because through the princess, Zoar will aim to control the Royal Bogazkoy.  I have just enough years left to teach her the way of the mystic.  She will need many mental disciplines to accomplish what she has to do.”

Iasos shuddered and clutched his baby closer.

“What is she to do?” asked Queen Abisola, quaking with dread.

Iegani looked into the queen’s tearful eyes.  “She must destroy the aga.”

“Oh, Great Divigi, tell me.  Can you foresee whether she succeeds?”

“She may and then she may not.”

Iasos asked, “If she succeeds, will she know peace then?”

The owl-like man shrugged.  “Upheaval is what she will know.”  He paused.  “I’m sorry, but I do not write the future.  I merely interpret it.”

Iasos sobbed.

Abisola, able to stand it no more, took the baby from Iasos, gently kissed the baby’s forehead, and gave her to Yesemek.

Both Yesemek and Iegani placed the baby securely in a pouch wrapped around Empress Gitar’s neck and torso.

Without saying adieu, the empress of the Dinii and her companions spread their mighty wings and sped upward into the night sky, each crying its particular totem cry—those of the eagle, the hawk, and the owl.

Queen Abisola fell into her consort’s arms and collapsed upon the ground from the great rush of wind pushing them down.  As Abisola cried, she knew it was the end of peace for Hasan Daeg.

 

CHAPTER 1

Aga Zoar awoke with a terrible thirst.

He rolled over onto his current wife, who was nursing their latest child.  She cursed him for his clumsiness as she pushed him away.   Looking about for some wine or even water and finding none, he rolled back to his wife, took her free breast in his mouth and began to suckle.

His wife slapped his face and kicked him, ranting at Zoar in a language he had never bothered to learn.  She made gestures usually not demonstrated by a highborn woman before leaving in a huff with the baby.

Zoar rubbed his stinging face, wondering what she said to him.  He did not doubt for one moment that it was not polite.  Still, it would be nice to know what she uttered occasionally.  He was just too lazy to learn her language, and she hated him enough not to learn his.

After killing his wife’s family and torching her small mountain village, he gathered her upon his horse while she kicked and screamed as they rode away . . . and she hadn’t stopped screaming at him since.

Zoar thought perhaps he should be kinder to her.

His wife had given him three children, including his heir, Prince Dorak, who was beautiful like his mother and intelligent.

Zoar was pleased with his first-born, legitimate son.  He pondered on his pretty young wife again.  He was sorry that her family had been killed, but that was the way of war.  It was nothing personal.  It was business.

He climbed off the bed and pulled on his pants and woven tunic.  At the clapping of his hands, a servant girl entered with a tray that held a bowl of warm water and hand towels.  He washed his face and hands before sitting back in a high leather chair for a young girl to braid his black hair, trim his beard, and clean his nails.  Her hands trembled a bit.

Other servants entered carrying food and drink.  After placing the trays near Zoar, they went off to the side, kowtowing and awaiting further instructions.

Standing silently behind the leather chair was KiKu, Zoar’s advisor and spymaster.  He was a tall, dark man with black eyes that missed nothing.  KiKu waited patiently.

Zoar was suspicious that KiKu thought himself to be better than Zoar as his country had a more advanced culture.  This irritated Zoar more than just a little.

Tired of waiting, KiKu coughed softly.

“What is it?” asked Zoar, gruffly.

“Great Aga, I bring reports of a fog barrier to the west of us.”  KiKu’s eyes gleamed with excitement.

“And?”

“I believe there is land beyond this gray mist.  It is not the end of the world as we thought. The fog is not a natural phenomenon. I believe it to be a defensive screen.”

Zoar pulled at his beard.  “How is it made?  With magic?”

“We’re not sure.  Information is still coming in.”  KiKu stepped forward.  His bald head gleamed in the smoking torchlight.  “Great Aga, I have studied various reports over several months now, and I find them to be of great interest.”  KiKu shifted his weight.  He wondered how to make this barbaric king understand there may be something astonishing to be discovered beyond the mist.  How did one give another the gift of imagination?

“Do they concern gold?”

KiKu’s heart sank.  “Eh, no, Great Aga.”

“Humph,” groused Zoar before sucking on a peach.

KiKu quickly added, “Something better than gold.  I’ve had all the ancient records and maps studied.  Prior to six hundred years ago, there are records of a country called Hasan Daeg at war with the Cameroons.  They lost the war and receded within their borders for good.  After that, this fog appeared, and no one has seen anyone from Hasan Daeg again.  The country was just forgotten and became the stuff of myths.”

“How can you forget about a country’s existence?”

“This fog or mist produces a hypnotic effect as one tries to penetrate it.  It makes one forget why he wanted to go into the fog.  I have gathered many reports of travelers, vagabonds, and merchants entering the fog only to wake up several days later with a terrible headache, but they have food and water beside them.  For whatever reason, they never try to enter the fog again.  They are not afraid.  They simply don’t want to.”

Zoar thought hard.  A fog which makes one lose heart.  “I can see you are excited.  There must be more, and I love a good story.  You will make this a good story, won’t you, KiKu?” purred Zoar.  He watched KiKu blink.

KiKu blinked only when he was nervous.   Otherwise, his eyes never closed but remained large black pupils, forever watching.  Even when he killed, he never blinked.

Zoar had once watched him rip out a man’s throat with two fingers.  It had only taken a second.  That’s because Kiku had liked the man.  If KiKu didn’t like someone, he could make that person suffer a long time—very long time.

“Aga, Hasan Daeg is a culture older than two thousand years, according to the oldest records.”

“What of it?  I’ve conquered countries older than that.”

KiKu’s guts twitched.  How very well he knew.  His country had been one of them.  “But this is a two-thousand-year-old state rumored to still exist, and it has had only seven queens and two kings.”

“You mean they have lived in anarchy much of the time?”

“No, Great Aga.”

“The place is run by priests?”  Zoar loved baiting KiKu.  He enjoyed the spylord’s humiliation.  It tasted sweet.

“No, Great Aga.”

“I grow weary with your impudence,” growled Zoar, throwing his peach pit at KiKu.  “Be quick with your tongue or I’ll feed it to a borax!”

KiKu sighed inwardly.  “The people of this land have been ruled by the same family for over two thousand years, each ruler succeeding by right of ascendance from the last in an orderly and calm fashion.  From my accounts, which are from both written and oral sources, the rulers of Hasan Daeg live to be an average of 370 years old, ascending the throne when they are about forty.  They abdicate around the age of 330, and then they travel to the woods to meditate and wait for their impending death.”  KiKu stopped.  He wanted his words to leave a strong impression.

Zoar stared at him for a long time.  Finally, he murmured, “Let me understand.  You are telling me there is a country to the west of us, which no one has seen in the last six hundred years, where the rulers live to be almost four hundred years old, and in two thousand years, they have had only nine rulers.”

“Yes, Aga, it is a great mystery.”

“If it is a mystery, how do you know your sources to be true?”

“Because one of my men penetrated the mist barrier.”

The Aga leaned forward.  KiKu now held his interest.  “How did he manage that?”

“A year ago, I sent twelve men to explore this region.  Eleven returned with strange tales, but none of them had been inside Hasan Daeg.  Only one man returned, having been in this land several weeks ago.  He had traveled the outskirts of the mist, always going southwest.  At the southernmost region of the country, there is a corridor in the mist where one can enter freely as long as one is a Sivan.  My man dressed as a Sivan merchant. He brought back not only wondrous tales but plant specimens and water samples.”

“What is so important about plants and the water?”

“The plants sing.  I know it sounds impossible, but I’ve heard them myself.”

“Bring me such a plant.  I wish to hear such a plant sing.”

KiKu dropped his head.  “Alas, Great Aga, I cannot.  We did not know the proper way to care for the plants and they died.”

“How unfortunate for the plants and perhaps for you,” rasped Zoar.  He grabbed a knife off a tray and began peeling a fruit.  “What else?”

“The Hasan Daegians do not venture outside their borders.  Their economy is an agricultural one.  They make items such as hemp ropes, perfumes, oils, salt, and teas, but they are most famous for their herbal medicines, especially those used by women.  They even make medicine from a fungus that stops infections within the body.”

Zoar carefully cut the pear-like fruit into even slices.  “I have never heard of this Hasan Daeg, even as a myth.”

KiKu looked defeated as he now regretted mentioning this report.  He could have escaped and made his way to Hasan Daeg, and Zoar would have never been able to find him.  KiKu now realized how foolish he was to reveal these treasured secrets.

Only a great mind could fathom Hasan Daeg and what it could mean to the world.  A great mind like his own and not this buffoon lounging before him, but KiKu plunged on.

“Aga, the desert men of Siva front for Hasan Daeg.  For six hundred years, the Sivans have acted as middlemen for them, taking their goods at the southern border and trading in the Sivan name.”

KiKu could see Zoar’s face was starting to turn red.  This was not a good sign.

“You said there had been seven queens and only two kings.”

“Their society is a matriarchal one.  The bloodline runs through the women.”

Zoar looked truly baffled.  “But that goes against nature.  Who has heard of such a thing?”

KiKu did not remind Zoar that his own society had been matriarchal before Zoar had scattered the Hittal nobility to the four corners of Kaseri.  KiKu shrugged.

“How do you explain the rulers’ longevity?”

“My spies cannot answer this question, but there is an ancient tale that the first of the Hasan Daegian queens made a pact with a plant that needed a host in which to live.”  KiKu felt strained.

Couldn’t Zoar see that he was handing him something more important than metal or land for conquest?  KiKu was talking about life extremely long-lived.  If they could get their hands on the secret, they could live four hundred years or more.  Perhaps forever!  This was information worth granting a slave his freedom.  His heart raced at the thought of being free.

Zoar was enraged.  KiKu was feeding him horse dung.  A plant singing indeed!  “I need to pay my soldiers.  I need land to give my governors.  A populace to govern.  Slaves, minerals, grain.  I don’t need a bunch of old ladies growing pretty flowers.  Does this country have anything else to offer?”

“No, Great Aga, nothing but health and long life.”  KiKu would not get his freedom now. He realized belatedly that a sneer was in his voice.

Zoar jumped up, grabbing KiKu’s embroidered silver robe and pulling KiKu effortlessly toward him.  “Take care.  You try my patience.  I’ve got a world to conquer, and I don’t need silly fools like you daydreaming about singing plants and old hags who rule an imaginary kingdom.”

KiKu knew it would be futile to attempt killing Zoar.  He would be dead before he could raise his arm.  Zoar’s guards stood attentively around them, and since they regarded KiKu and the rest of his spies as not worthy of spit, they would have been only too glad to put a spear through KiKu’s neck.

“I need facts,” Zoar spat. “Hard facts.  Just the plain truth like how many troops, the nature of the terrain, the climate, important details like that.”  He pushed KiKu to the floor.  “What do you give me?”  Zoar roared.  “Fairy tales.  Nothing but little children’s bedtime stories!”

KiKu kowtowed.  “Master, Master, forgive me.  I thought you would be interested.  All of your subjects adore you.  We want you to live forever!”

Zoar gave him a vicious kick.  “All of my subjects fear and hate me, you piece of borax feces.  I am the Great Aga.  I am a god-king. I have subjugated many peoples to do my bidding.  And with all those millions, I have an addled-brained ninny like you in charge of my spy network.  Get out of here!  Go before I cut your liver out myself!” screamed Zoar, kicking KiKu.

KiKu, a once-proud prince now a slave, crawled out of the tent while grunting with each blow.

Zoar, working himself into a lather, paced his tent.  He pounded his chest.  “Idiots!  Idiots!  I am surrounded by fools.”  He flopped on a

stool.  “All my subjects fear and hate me,” he muttered.  The Aga winced at the enormity of his statement.  Fear and hate were all he had ever known, even from his mother, and he barely remembered her.

It was all he would ever know.  That’s what power did to a man.  So, why did he lust for it?  Had he ever loved?  Yes, he loved his son Dorak, and he loved his first wife for a brief time.  They had been young but not careful.  She died during a hunt when a borax charged, and her horse went down.  He couldn’t get to her in time.

Zoar saddened at the memory.  He cried at his wife’s funeral while placing zuni petals on her pyre.  It had been her favorite flower.  He stood until the fire burned itself out, and with it, a part of him died too.  But, oddly, he felt relieved.  He was free from the cares of love and would never have to give of himself again.  Zoar had walked away from the smoldering pyre never to look back.

Now, he loved only power.  A great empire was being born under his leadership.  He scoffed at the notion of Hasan Daeg.  Two thousand years be damned.  He was building for ten thousand years and more!

Even after his death, his son Dorak would honor his father by constructing grand temples and monuments to the legend that was Zoar.  He may never live to see the completion of his dream, but Dorak would.  The Great Aga!  Ruler of Kaseri!