The Golden City
Two men sat whispering by the glowing embers of the chamber fire. One on a beautiful crafted chair laced with animal skins and gracefully contoured ivory armrests carved with scenes of men on the march and animals running from the hunt.
The other man was older, resting a hand on his knee while holding a beautifully carved, ivory medicine staff; its butt planted firmly against the ground. The older leaned in on his perch,— a stool that matched the throne in splendor but not stature.
The flickering light danced across their countenances’,— revealing the comforting counsel from the kind face of the one sitting on the footrest and the anxiety written on the other’s.
“My Lord,” replied the older, trusted advisor, “Your fears are unfounded. Your daughter lives.”
“A·Qutue, how can you be so sure? She has been gone for over a moon and I have heard nothing but rumors.” The grief stricken man sighed as he fell back into the deep cushions of the large seat; cradling his head on his posted right hand as if only by the support could the weight of his thoughts be held aloft. Tears welled in the father’s eyes. “The eastern kingdom celebrated a great sacrifice with a woman of our land as the gift.” His head dropped into both his hands as he shook. “I have heard the talk of the servants.”
“My King,” A·Qu·tue placed his palm on the king’s knee. “I have heard those rumors too; but the eastern heathens’ ritual was thwarted and the woman was said to have escaped. Besides, I dreamed last night. Your daughter is under the protection of a mystic warrior. The gods themselves are watching over Haiwi for her safe return.”
“I truly hope you are right my friend, but I fear for her as I fear for our kingdom.”
“She will return. I have seen it.”
The monarch leaned in close to his most trusted advisor, his features pleading yet clothed in sorrow, “Please my friend,— if you have dreamed such comforting thoughts,— talk with the Great-One now and share with me the truth of this confidence.”
A·Qu·tue stood and pushed a lone coal back into the pit with the butt of his staff. Reaching for a pouch at his side, he pulled the leather bag from his hip and sprinkled some of its contents over the flames. A green smoke sputtered up from the fire and a strong aroma filled the chamber. The older man closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then hummed as he fell into the trance. Dark clouds hid the details of his thoughts as haunting forms drifted in an endless void amid the odor of the burning incense. The seer could hear voices, but the words were garbled. The image of a young woman reached out of the mist to A·Qu·tue — smiling, but the form wavered then disappeared as another,—a man floated by prone, with a flint blade in his ribs. A little pale-skinned stranger cried out. Then A·Qu·tue was standing before the temple. The beautiful ivory throne of his king fell from the sky and at the very sanctuary; it burst upon the ground and crumbled into dust. A·Qu·tue took the powder into his hand slowly letting it sift as the wind blew the particles into a whirlwind. A small child cooed and a young woman giggled. The mystic warrior of his previous visions appeared suddenly taking the priests wrist and blew the remaining dust of the throne from the seer’s hand. The powder turned to smoke and the awful fanged features of a Nephraceetan came out of the cloud, purging A·Qu·tue from the trance.
The king watched in earnest what was but a moment as A·Qu·tue awoke, frowning and fell back onto his stool, exhausted.
“She will come back soon? Tell me.— What do the spirits say?”
“She will come, but…” The old man drifted off.
“But, but,—but what.”
“She comes,” but tragedy marks her return. How can I tell you of the danger?
“Yes,—yes, Haiwi will return soon, then will she marry Ca·roo·a·too as I have promised and they will have a son?”
A·Qu·tue shook his head, “I believe Ca·roo·a·too is the reason why the princess is missing.”
“Nonsense,— he would have nothing to gain by harming her,” but a wrinkled brow and a hand rubbing the face and brushing the graying hair from the weathered forehead belied the king’s confidence.
“You are possibly right; but perhaps her disappearance wasn’t by his hand, but because of his hand.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“You know how she expressed her displeasure at your choice for Ca·roo·a·too as a husband.”
“Yes, but he would make a good husband and ruler.”
“But I fear, my King, that his longing for power reveals a darker side that Haiwi herself brought to my attention.”
The king smiled a sly crooked grin, “You and my daughter are conspiring together against me,—— my old friend?”
The old priest became blustered, waving his hands in dismay, “Never,—my Lord. I would never betray you or the kingdom, but your daughter has confided with me often. She is wise for her years and even she sees the truth.”
“Why would you say such a thing?”
“Have you not seen his grandiose ploys before the people and…”
“Stop this now. You are my most trusted friend, but you are wrong. Ca·roo·a·too has been like a son to me, especially since the disappearance of my daughter. And did he not lead the search party through the perilous Dark Forest in search of her? How many men did he lose in that endeavor? Fifteen? — And even now he is training an army to avenge us against the Yak·a·taw·wee·kee·tuo.”
“Yes my Lord. He is a brave man, but he can also be ruthless.”
“A ruler must be able to execute justice,— on his enemies, or — he’s not much fit for the position.— Ca·roo·a·too is of noble birth and has been raised as such.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“Are you alright?”
The older man’s head dropped and his eyes closed as he ran his hand over his face. “Yes,—but the vision,— it took a lot out of me.” He leaned hard on his staff. “I need to retire.”
“Yes, my good friend. You retire and maybe your dreams will reveal more and better news.”
A·Qu·tue stumbled from the chamber, deep in thought. This vision was new. He needed to ascertain its meaning, but the quest had drained him more than normal.—— And the darkness he felt — troubled him.
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