Categories > Original > Fantasy > Ashar0 Reviews
Ashar is given surprising news from Lord Varador.
By Kira Morningstar
Chapter 3: The Consul of Aragathia
Ashar had to walk quickly to keep pace with Benthem, who seemed to be deep in thought as he led him through Varador Castle.
“Benthem, wait! Where are you taking him?” Miqah called after them from the west corridor. He strode toward them purposefully, his dark cape swirling behind him as he walked.
Benthem stopped and turned, waiting for Miqah to catch up with them. “To the east tower, as you instructed.”
“Lord Varador has changed his mind. He says to put him in the west tower.”
“The west tower?” Benthem repeated, as if not quite comprehending. “But that’s the consul’s tower.”
“Yes. And he is to wear this.” Miqah held up a golden disc embossed with Varador’s crest—two crossed axes—that was attached to a heavy golden chain.
“But that’s a consul’s medallion!”
“It is,” Miqah agreed, slipping the heavy necklace over Ashar’s head.
Ashar looked down at the magnificent golden crest and then back at Miqah, as puzzled as Benthem.
“What, are you saying he’s a consul now?”
“But…a consul outranks me!” Benthem protested.
“And me,” Miqah nodded. “That is what Lord Varador has decreed.”
“Is he still a slave, then?”
“How can he be a consul if he’s a slave?” the man demanded, crossing his arms on his chest.
“He is bound to Lord Varador in service. He is not free to leave. But he is to have high rank,” Miqah explained.
Benthem shook his head, struggling to understand. “What’s his consulate, then?”
“What?! You mean the entire north front?”
Ashar listened to this conversation with wide eyes, not quite daring to believe what he was hearing. He looked down again at the thick golden disc that rested against his chest. Its weight pulled against the back of his neck.
Was he really to be a consul, a high magistrate in Lord Varador’s empire? Was he truly being put in charge of Aragathia—the north front?
But what did all this mean? He didn’t know anything about ruling! Why would Lord Varador do such a thing? And what would he expect from him?
“I don’t know how to be a consul,” he said meekly.
“Of course you don’t,” Benthem muttered darkly.
“Watch yourself,” Miqah warned, his voice lowering to a whisper. “Lord Varador has decreed this. Are you going to argue with him about it?”
Benthem sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I just don’t understand.”
“We’re to be his advisors,” Miqah continued. “We’ll be accompanying him to the north front.”
At this, Benthem seemed to brighten. “His advisors?”
“Yes.” Miqah held out his hand. In his palm were two golden rings, both with the lord’s crest. “One is for you, and one is for me.”
Benthem took the larger of the rings and proudly put it on the middle finger of his right hand. He knew what an honor it was to wear a ring with the lord’s crest: it meant he could answer correspondence with Lord Varador’s personal seal.
Although he still felt astonished at the lord’s decision to promote Ashar to such a high position as consul within mere hours of his arrival at Varador Castle, now he began to see that his own rank had just been improved by association with the boy. A consul’s advisors were nearly his equals; and since Ashar, by his own admission, knew nothing of ruling a consulate, it meant that he and Miqah would hold the real power.
And, after all, Ashar was still a slave.
“Put my ring on my finger,” Miqah requested, the second ring still sitting on his palm.
Benthem flushed with embarrassment, as though he had forgotten for a moment that Miqah only had one arm.
“Of course,” he answered. He slipped the ring onto the man’s fourth finger, aware suddenly that this was the first time he had ever touched Miqah. His hands felt warm and strong, and he realized then that they each wore the same seal. They were equals, both of them now in positions of new power.
Would they be of the same mind as advisors to Ashar? Or would they disagree on matters?
The two men exchanged a long look as each of them pondered this question.
Ashar was completely unaware of the subtle communication between Miqah and Benthem, and was not even completely sure what it meant for them to be his advisors. But he felt relief; he had no idea how to be a consul, and he felt comfortable around Benthem and Miqah, if only because they were the only men at Varador Castle he knew.
“To the west tower, then,” Benthem said.
Ashar continued to look around his room in disbelief. He still couldn’t get over his surprise at being led to such luxurious accommodations.
His rooms were at the very top of the west tower. He had been given two immense round rooms, one above the other. The upper room was his private bedroom and living area, while the lower room was more of a study and parlor—a place where he could entertain guests.
Everywhere he looked he saw some object of luxury—beautiful vases and urns, paintings, and statues. Both rooms had a wall fountain, one that spilled water from the mouth of lion, and the second from a pitcher held by a young boy. The parlor was colorful, decorated in deep, rich reds, tangerine, blues, greens, and gold, while his upper rooms were more calming, laid out in aquamarine and silver.
His windows overlooked the entire countryside, for the tower afforded a view in every direction. The west tower was the highest tower at Varador Castle. From it he could see the snow-capped Emerald Mountains in the east, and the rolling green hills of the land that surrounded the castle. He watched the sun rise over the river Tun, its light glimmering on the clear waters. The moon Doth was rising, too, while Kara was setting behind the Emerald Mountains.
Ashar had been too excited to sleep much. He had dozed off a few times, only to wake in confusion upon finding himself in an immense, extraordinarily comfortable bed and in a room that seemed, to him, made for a king.
He looked at the consul’s medallion that he had hung on one of the bedposts after retiring. Was it really true? Was he to be consul of Aragathia? But why?
Merely because he had tamed the lord’s horse?
If Benthem had been perplexed by the lord’s decision, Ashar was even more so. He knew absolutely nothing about political life. He wasn’t even sure what a consul did, precisely. Why would Lord Varador make him consul and put him in charge of the north front?
It made no sense.
He sighed, though he felt a bit excited about the turn of events. He had arrived at Varador Castle in chains, and now he was to oversee the most important territory in the lord’s empire.
Why had Lord Varador given him such a position? Was he really so impressed with Ashar’s ability to tame animals? But how did taming animals make him qualified to be one of his consuls?
He had tossed and turned most of the night with these thoughts, and now was no closer to finding any answers. All he knew was that he was glad Benthem and Miqah would be going with him to the north front. They were to be his “advisors.” Ashar knew he would rely on them almost completely when it came to ruling the consulate, because he did not know anything about the matter.
He had wished, the night before, for his falcon, Fynnian, thinking that if only the bird could find him, he could send a message back to his family to let them know he was well.
As he lay in bed remembering this, he was stunned when Fynnian alighted on one of the open stone arches that formed the windows of the tower.
“Fynnian!” he cried, leaping out of bed.
The bird ruffled his feathers in reply, raising a wing to preen himself.
“How did you find me?” he exclaimed, grinning at the large, handsome hawk.
Fynnian regarded him expectantly.
“You want something to eat, don’t you?”
Ashar looked around the room and then spied a tray of bread, nuts and lexia seeds. He grabbed a handful of the seeds, along with a few bread crumbs, and scattered them on the window seal.
“Wait here! I’ve got a message you can take with you.”
Ashar went to the immense desk that occupied one corner of the room and found some parchment paper, tearing a small piece from it. Then, dipping a feather quill into a well of dark ink, he wrote:
My Loved Ones,
I am safe and well at Varador Castle. The lord has made me consul of Aragathia. I am going to the north front. Do not worry about me.
He waited for the ink to dry and then carefully rolled the message into a scroll. Then he put it inside the leather container affixed to Fynnian’s foot.
The falcon continued to eat until all the bread and seeds were gone.
“Take that message back to my family,” Ashar whispered. “Thank you for coming, Fynnian.”
Fynnian answered him with a great screech, taking flight and soaring west, toward Whitehall.
Ashar watched him go, smiling. He didn’t know how the bird had managed to find him, but he knew Omah had a hand in it.
He closed his eyes.
Thank you, Omah, for blessing me and watching over me. You give me so many good things. I know I do not deserve them. I don’t know why you brought me here or why you have given me this new position. Please guide me so that I know what to do, no matter what happens.
He opened his eyes again, just as a flock of beautiful red and gold bela geese landed on the river. The sight of the rare birds, so rarely seen in great numbers, was spectacular, and Ashar held his breath in wonderment.
There was a knock at the door.
“Ashar?” Benthem called. “May I enter?”
It took Ashar a moment to adjust to the notion that Benthem was asking for permission to enter.
“Yes,” he answered.
Benthem came into the room, nodding when he saw he was out of bed.
“Good. Get dressed. Lord Varador wants to leave right away.”
Ashar nodded, throwing off his nightshirt and reaching for his tunic.
“No, you won’t be wearing that now,” Benthem instructed, stepping aside to let the tailor—who had measured Ashar the night before—into the room.
The tailor entered holding a two-piece military-style outfit made of embossed leather, encrusted with heavily ornamented gold fittings. The skirt was short, falling mid-thigh and leaving his legs bare. It was obviously something a man of high standing would wear, and Ashar felt a bit ridiculous to even think of putting it on.
“I’m to wear that?” he asked.
“Yes. Hurry, the lord is waiting.”
Ashar then noticed that Benthem was dressed in something similar, though his outfit was not as heavily ornate as Ashar’s.
The tailor, who had stayed up the entire night to finish Ashar’s clothes, seemed to fret over the fit, pulling and tugging on the garment as though not quite satisfied with it, until finally Benthem sent him away.
“Put on your medallion,” he instructed.
Ashar nodded, slipping the heavy chain over his head. The golden crest seemed more appropriate when worn with his new clothes. He put on the short leather boots that completed the outfit, lacing them up with long thongs.
Miqah had joined them and gave Ashar an approving nod. “You look like a consul.” Except for the fact that you’re so young, he thought to himself.
Ashar swallowed, wishing that he felt like a consul. It was one thing to be asked to tame a few animals, and quite another to suddenly be asked to oversee the most important territory in the lord’s empire.
Miqah was carrying something else that Ashar was to wear: a belt with a sheathed sword.
“Must I wear that?” Ashar asked, frowning.
“Yes,” Miqah answered.
“It’s a good sword,” Benthem reported, sliding the sword from the sheath to show it to him.
“I’ve never carried a weapon in my life, other than a slingshot,” Ashar protested.
“Still, as consul you must be armed,” Miqah insisted, holding out the belt to him.
“I won’t use it,” Ashar remarked, taking the belt and fastening it around his waist. He took the sword from Benthem with obvious reluctance, slowing sliding it into his sheath.
Miqah and Benthem exchanged a concerned look.
“Are you saying you won’t defend yourself, if someone comes at you?” Miqah pressed.
“That’s right. I would sooner die than hurt or kill someone else. Omah forbids it.”
Benthem looked at Miqah with obvious exasperation. “What are we supposed to do about this?”
Miqah shrugged. “If he won’t defend himself, we’ll have to protect him. But who’s going to want to harm him?”
“Vican, of course. He won’t be too pleased when he finds out Ashar has the consulate of Aragathia. You know he was hoping for that post himself.”
“But surely he wouldn’t dare do anything about it.”
“Who was consul of Aragathia before me?” Ashar asked, trying not to worry about who this “Vican” was or why he might not be pleased with him.
Miqah turned to him. “No one. It was the only post Lord Varador had not yet filled. Everyone expected General Vican to be appointed. So your appointment is going to come as a surprise to many.”
“It comes as a surprise to me,” Ashar remarked.
Benthem and Miqah both smiled at this, nodding in agreement.
Ashar took a deep breath, and then looked directly at each of the two men. “You both realize I know nothing about being consul. I have no idea why Lord Varador chose me for such an important position. I will be relying on both of you heavily, because I won’t know what to do. I hope you will speak freely with me about all things.”
The men seemed pleased with this, both of them seeming to relax a bit.
“We will,” Miqah answered, and Benthem nodded to show his agreement.
“We’d better go to the stables and make sure the horses are calm enough to ride,” Benthem suggested.
“My pouch,” Ashar said, reaching for the red leather purse that held his lythia and prayer scrolls.
“Leave that behind,” Miqah suggested. “You can keep your things in your new pouch.” He motioned to the fine leather purse that was attached to Ashar’s belt. Ashar retrieved his instrument and the prayer scrolls and put them inside his new pouch, buckling it closed.
The tailor returned to the room, knocking to gain admittance. “I almost forgot your cape,” he explained, holding up a cloak of rich crimson material. He draped it over the boy, fastening it at one shoulder with an elaborate golden cloak-pin. Then he repositioned the consul medallion so that it was displayed prominently.
The three men stood back to examine him.
“You look the part,” Miqah admitted. The tailor nodded.
“It’s true you look like a consul,” Benthem agreed, “but there’s no question you’re very young. You’re going to raise a lot of brows in Aragathia.”
Lord Varador spent the night in seclusion, working sorcery to bring himself power. He knew his trip to the north front was of the utmost importance. His men were starting to doubt his authority and were confused by what was happening to the animals.
So he spent hours using the dark power of his mind to extend his reach as far as he could, focusing his energies on the province of Aragathia.
Several times during the night images of Ashar came, unbidden, into his thoughts. He found this intrusion annoying. What was it about the young man that was so compelling? How was it that he had such power over animals? And how had he managed to break his mind-search, something that no one else had ever been able to do?
After witnessing his power over Nash, it hadn’t taken Varador long to realize that he needed a different approach when dealing with the young shepherd of Whitehall. It wouldn’t do to have him living like a slave or feel resentment toward him.
That was when the idea came to him that he should give Ashar a position of authority. Yes, he was still technically his slave, but if the boy were treated well, perhaps he would be even more cooperative in helping him.
Although he hadn’t been uncooperative, Varador decided Ashar would have more of an incentive to assist him if he gave him a coveted province to oversee.
He knew Benthem and Miqah would run the consulate, which was why he appointed them officially as advisors. The boy was merely a headpiece, and one which he would eventually replace.
He made Ashar consul also to give him authority. Varador didn’t want to ride to the north front with a shepherd boy in tow to control his mount. By giving him the authority of a consul, it would make his presence seem less surprising.
Varador was so wrapped up in his own logic that he failed to see how surprising it really was to have appointed a mere boy to the position of consul of Aragathia. Dressing Ashar in a consul’s garb wouldn’t make it any less astonishing. In fact, the sight of someone so young wearing a consul’s medallion was almost humorous, if it weren’t so serious a matter.
Vican would be furious, Varador realized. He found this thought irritating, too, feeling angry with the general in anticipation of his reaction. How presumptuous of Vican to assume that he would be made consul of Aragathia! Varador could appoint whomever he wanted! If Vican said even one word about it….
The lord frowned when he realized his thoughts had strayed again from his purpose. He sighed. He was having more trouble than usual focusing his power. He knew it was because of Ashar, and this troubled him.
Like Ashar, the lord did not sleep much that night.
The men rode hard and fast across the countryside, heading north. After a few hours Ashar began to be concerned about the horses. Lord Varador didn’t seem to care that he was pushing them beyond their limits or think about the fact that they needed water and rest.
Finally Ashar decided to do something about it. He was riding alongside the lord, who was leaning forward, his brow furrowed as he stared intently ahead of him.
“The horses must rest!” he shouted.
Varador turned to him, surprised to be addressed.
“I said, the horses need to rest! We must stop! This is madness! They can’t go on like this!”
The lord sat back on his mount, which Nash took as a signal to slow down. Varador slowed their pace and changed direction, heading toward one of the many brooks that coursed over the countryside.
Nash took no additional persuading. She made for the water and immediately lowered her head to drink, her sides heaving as she struggled to catch her breath.
The other horses had joined them at the brook, and only then did Varador realize that Ashar was right to have said something. He had been prepared to reprimand the boy in front of Benthem and Miqah for daring to issue a command to him, but he felt foolish now for failing to realize he was pushing the animals too hard.
In his haste to reach the north front, he had completely discounted the animals’ needs. Now it was clear they were exhausted. They would have to stop for awhile, to let the horses regain their strength.
He dismounted, walking toward a grove of birch trees that had caught his attention.
“Ashar,” he said, without turning, “walk with me.”
Ashar obeyed, immediately sliding from his horse and rushing to catch up with the lord. He expected to be reproached for bringing up the matter of the horses, but he wasn’t sorry that he had done so. He knew he was right to have said something.
“Are you not afraid of me?” Lord Varador asked, once Ashar had joined him.
“Of course, Sir.”
“Didn’t you think I might discipline you for what you said to me?” The lord turned to regard Ashar, who met his gaze evenly.
“I didn’t think about that,” Ashar answered. “The horses needed rest and water. They are living creatures. Could you run all morning and not need rest or drink?”
“You will never address me in such a manner, publicly, again.”
“Did you hear me? Don’t argue with me!”
“I heard you,” Ashar replied carefully, “and I will obey you in all matters, if I can. But what you were doing was wrong. I had to say something.”
“I just told you not to argue with me. How dare you speak back to me!”
“I’m sorry to have upset you. I am not arguing with you. I am merely stating my position.”
“You are arguing with me! I want you to be silent!”
Ashar nodded and walked quietly alongside the lord. Varador had his arms clasped behind his back as he walked, his brow once again furrowed. He had a sudden urge to turn to Ashar and strangle him, and then just leave him there in the grove of birches.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a pack of wolves appeared before them there among the trees. They stood with their teeth barred, growling viciously, the fur on their necks standing on end.
Alarmed, Lord Varador froze, taking a quick tabulation of their number. There were seven of them, and they were advancing toward them in a menacing fashion.
Benthem and Miqah came running, swords in hand.
“Draw your sword,” Lord Varador whispered.
Ashar shook his head, frowning.
“Obey me,” the lord hissed.
The wolves looked ready to attack.
Worried that there would be bloodshed if he didn’t do something, Ashar stepped forward. Then he began walking calmly toward the pack, holding one hand out in front of him.
“Ashar, no!” Benthem cried. “They’ll tear you to pieces!”
Just as Varador was about to command Ashar to stop, the demeanor of the wolves inexplicably changed. They stopped growling and instead began whining and yipping, nudging him for attention and seeming more like puppies than wolves. Ashar got down on his knees to pet them, receiving delighted licks for his efforts.
The men watched in utter amazement.
“Unbelievable,” Miqah murmured, voicing what the others were thinking.
“I wonder what got into them? I’ve never seen wolves act that way,” Benthem remarked. “They usually don’t bother with us.” He left unspoken the obvious: that this was yet another instance of animals behaving strangely.
Varador had watched Ashar fearlessly approach the wolves with a mixture of disbelief, curiosity, and begrudging respect. The boy was brave, but more than this, it was obvious he was supremely confident in his power over animals. Where did his power come from? And could Varador claim such power for himself?
“Ashar,” he said sternly, “I told you to draw your sword. You disobeyed me.”
Ashar looked at him, trying not to smile when one of the wolves began licking his hand. “I could not obey you, because you wanted me to hurt these wolves. I cannot harm an animal. These wolves are like my brothers.”
“You will obey me in all things,” Lord Varador pressed. “You should have done as I asked.”
“If I had done as you asked, these wolves would have surely killed you,” Ashar replied.
Varador was silent for a moment. It was probably true that, had they attacked, the wolves would have, at the very least, injured him. He couldn’t very well punish Ashar for saving his life. Yet his defiance annoyed him.
“When I tell you to do something, you must do it,” he repeated, trying not to let his exasperation show. “You are my consul now. You must display perfect obedience. If you disobey me in front of my men, I will punish you.”
Miqah glanced at Benthem, who raised a brow in response. Lord Varador had already told Ashar that disobedience would result in death. Now he had modified this sentence to punishment. Not only that, Ashar had clearly disobeyed him by failing to draw his sword when ordered, but Varador was answering that defiance with a mere reprimand.
As if sensing their thoughts, Lord Varador continued, “I should take your life right here and now for your disobedience. But you are very young and have much to learn. Since you were able to tame these wild animals and prevent them from attacking me, I will forgive you for your error. But from this point on, Ashar, I expect perfect obedience from you.”
The lord waited, expecting Ashar to thank him for his leniency and to promise to obey him.
Instead, Ashar was quiet for a moment, looking at one of the wolves he was petting. Then, he lifted his head and looked straight at the lord.
“I will tell you the same thing I told you before, but I will clarify my position for you. I will obey you in all things, as long as what you ask me does not go against my beliefs. But if you ask me to do something that I know is wrong, I will not do it.”
Lord Varador was furious with this answer. But then the wolves, as though sensing his hostility, started to growl at him. So he said nothing, but instead turned on his heel and walked away, sword still in hand.
“You’ve made Lord Varador very angry,” Miqah remarked. “You’re lucky that he didn’t strike you down for your defiance.”
“It was not my intent to make him angry,” Ashar answered. “But I must be truthful with him.”
“It’s clear enough those wolves are protecting you,” Benthem said. “I’m amazed at your power over animals. I don’t know how you do it.”
“Any power I may have doesn’t come from me, but from Omah,” Ashar replied.
The wolves followed them across the countryside the entire day, whining whenever the men tried to discourage them from following.
When they finally stopped for the night, the pack settled in nearby, refusing to leave even when Varador threw stones at them.
“Make them go away,” he said to Ashar, finally.
Ashar only shook his head. “I can’t control what they do. I can only keep them from attacking us.”
“We can’t have a pack of wild wolves trailing us to the north front! It’s obvious they’re following you, so I want you to do something about it!” Lord Varador insisted.
So the young man went out to the wolves, who greeted him excitedly, their tails wagging and thumping on the ground. “You must go away,” he said to them. “You are frightening these men. They won’t sleep well if you are here. Please go away.”
Amazingly, the wolves acted as though they understood what Ashar asked of them. They turned and began walking away. One of them raised his head to offer a mournful howl, and then the others all joined in, creating a hauntingly beautiful wolf song.
Ashar watched them go, as surprised by their departure as anyone.
“I thought you said you couldn’t control them,” Lord Varador remarked, when Ashar returned to the encampment. “Yet they seemed to have done exactly as you requested.”
The young man shook his head. “I didn’t think they would. I’m sure they can’t understand our language, so I don’t know why they decided to leave.”
“It’s clear they did understand you. You have a remarkable power over animals, Ashar of Whitehall. Tell me, where does it come from, this power you have?”
“It comes from Omah, as do all gifts,” Ashar answered.
“And who is Omah?”
“Omah is the One True God.”
“Why do you think Omah has given you this gift?”
Ashar fell silent for a moment, considering. “I have often wondered about that. I don’t know the answer.”
Benthem and Miqah had set up their tents, one for Lord Varador and another for the rest of them. But when Ashar moved to retire his tent, the lord detained him.
“You will stay in my tent tonight,” he commanded. “There is plenty of room. Miqah says you play the lythia. You will play for me.”
“As you wish,” Ashar agreed, relieved that the lord no longer seemed to be angry with him. He accompanied Varador inside his tent and sat down on one of the bedrolls. Then he retrieved his instrument from his pouch and began to play.
Lord Varador was completely enchanted by the music. He listened quietly, marveling over the young man’s skill. It was yet another amazing gift Ashar possessed.
He alternated between feeling jealous of Ashar and simply enjoying the music. There was something haunting about the songs he played. The music seemed to summon up old memories. The songs were sad and yet, at the same time, somehow hopeful. He’d never heard anything quite like them.
Ashar continued to play until at length he saw that Lord Varador had fallen fast asleep. He smiled. Then he put his lythia away and spent a few minutes in prayer before he retired as well.
They would arrive at the north front sometime the next morning. Ashar shivered when he thought about what it would be like to ride into the encampment as consul.
From far in the distance, a wolf—as if in response to his thoughts—let loose another long, mournful howl.