“Sing little bird, or I will end you.”
Laeka, The Last Seer
Today she was to die, and even as a certainty she hated it all the same. Laeka was the queen of Blood-Lily, her city, and had fought long and hard against the invaders who now held it. Once, her long reddish hair and dark skin were a sign of beauty. Now she was ragged, battered and worn. But even in her torn state she still remembered– all the wrongs, and the name of every traitor she knew of.
Seven days before she had been leading the last remnants of resistance. Now she was to be paraded through her own capital amongst her own people and be mocked for a title she had no choice in bearing. Like the two other women who were doomed to be executed that day, she was the Voice of the Divine. They were the incarnations of the goddesses’ presence. Of her own Skybound folk, the Sky Goddess chose her.
She was a Seer. A powerful Shaman who could strike with lightning, blizzard and thunder. A woman graced with the Spirit Realm in trust to maintain the balance of the world.
Too bad few saw it that way, at least recently. But she could wax about it all she liked, she was still going to die. Laeka rubbed her forehead and then rubbed her temples. A lack of hydration was giving her a severe headache. Well, that, and the jeering guards all around her. A din lapping at her final moments like a pack of sharks hunting a lone seal. Even in that moment her heart did not quicken to impending dread, as all she felt was fury. Anger that boiled up from her belly and unleashed itself from her limbs and voice.
“FALSE SEER!” Cried a man.
“LYING PROPHETESS,” exclaimed another.
“Traitorous bastards,” she barked in return.
Three guards surrounded her, and two more upon the back of terrabird mounts. Fine silken blue sashes were tied to their waists and light blue headbands around their heads. These men were crusaders of the SkyBlue Truth, the religious zealot allies of her foe. She leaned against the wooden bars of the cage and reached out a hand. One man slapped her hand away, but she dodged the blow with relative ease.
“If I could get my l’engai I would gut the whole lot of you,” she seethed.
“Sure you would-” a guard said, and leaned in close to smile at her. Before he could even react, her hand snaked around his head and grasped his hair. Tied in the long corded topknot of a warrior, she yanked hard to drive his skull against the cage.
“Serves you right,” Laeka mocked.
The man fell to the ground and was quickly picked up by two of his compatriots. Their leader cast a glance over Laeka and she knew that look. You want to beat me again, but this time I’m not tied down or starved. Your lord fed me, and you know I can speak. My sisters and I can bring the storms upon you then.
The guards moved farther away from the cage carts and gave them a wider berth. Just within stabbing distance with their l’engai harpoon-spears, and just out of reach of the warrior women. If there was anyone who could break free of an army in the middle of its own procession, it was a Seer.
But of course Laeka knew that what she just felt was a moment before the end. A little fun before she was gutted for play in front of the rabid masses. She snarled in quiet as she heard more of her citizens speaking of betrayal.
“Long live Aileedilandilee nii Gauzea!” Proclaimed a rider at the front of the procession. Ailee? AILEE?! HE IS NO KING! Again anger and yet, nowhere to release it. Even in her defeat she could still see the pieces on the board moving. The game of sovereigns played out before her as she heard the people shouting the name Gauzea, The name of a dead Kingdom coming back again.
With her body starting to drain from whatever food she’d eaten previously, Laeka let her back lean against the wooden bars. Soon she would be placed upon the stage Dilandilee had mocked her about the night before. Then a harsh light would come down and he would begin his grand pronouncement. No dread came to her however, just her anger.
It took them more than half the day to make their way through the city and each of its three thirds. Between the gates and the pronouncements it was a sluggish progression that only served to make the waiting of execution even more real. There was no mourning to be had, but she still wished there was a way out. That meant all she could do was fathom what was the aim of capturing the Seers. But as she started to think about it in depth, the cart came to a jolting stop.
Silence. The crowd was quiet, and even the guards were just standing still. Her eyes were half-closed and only when the cart shook with the sudden stop did they snap open wide. We’re here. Laeka drank in the sight of the scene. The carts before hers were already being unloaded and she saw the injured broken forms of her sisters. Epustiq of the Whale Clans in her ivory war-gear, and then Tekheezii of the Clouded Mountain Tribe in her studded leather. Both powerful Shamans, both laid low by the same black-eyed westerner.
How could I ever forget you Ifsii.
Contempt and admiration. It was humiliating for her to even consider it, but if there was one person to kill her she respected the fact it was Ifsii of the West. The strange pale woman had appeared not long after Dilandilee joined the Crow’s War and spread his conquest. In the bloody conflict that overtook most of the central Islands of her world Ifsii’s story stood out.
From the Western Shore came the Black-Eyed shaman and her bone spirits. From that far away place the light skinned warrior drove a wedge between any resistance she found. Only by his own grace did Dilandilee end up on her good side. Laeka respected her story, her reputation and above all her skill. And so she desired no one else to kill her.
It’s almost poetic. Sierding poetic. Laeka cursed to herself.
The fanfare surrounding the execution was top notch. Guards all wearing the same rough spun sky-blue dyed cloth surrounded her. All were holding tall harpoon-spears with the bent daggers hanging from them. How dare they hold the Two-Blades. Laeka had no interest in giving any bit of respect to whom she considered dishonored Warriors. Her long raggedy hair was the first thing to come out of the cage as she leaned backward to glare at the men and let her body hang out over the ground below.
Finally, after a bit of pulling from the guards she relented and a shudder of air swarmed around them. Currents shifting in weird ways as a Shaman among the guards came forward to search her for a talisman. Laeka held out her arms and let them pat her down. No talisman was found. I’m one with the Goddess I don’t need a mortal connection.
They were cautious in pulling her out. Caution continued to as they forced a foul smelling bottle into her mouth. After fighting them on drinking she felt someone grab her nose and she was forced to drink. She hated the concoction but knew it was the only way they were going to keep her contained. Just long enough for the song and dance of her death to be finalized.
Quiet broke as the gathered mob roared. He’s here.
“AILEEDILANDILEE” The word was shouted over and over again. Declaring Dilandilee in her home tongue of Sk’eeo over and over again. A wave of thrumming sound that rolled over the crowd toward the stage that was just out of reach. She assumed there was a stage. Even as a child she remembered watching the building of gallows, and the presentation of the soon to be executed. A spectacle, used to rally the masses behind their new king.
Finally, she was walked further among the throngs themselves. Guards cleared a path for her and the other Seers. Several women dressed in dark blue sang a quiet hymn along the inside of the cleared path. High Priestesses still loyal to her. They were using Spirit Cant, the ancient tongue of the Goddesses to send a protective prayer over her soul. Laeka pushed past the guards and leaned toward them.
“To the Highlands, sisters,” she choked in the thick Highland accent.
The priestesses lowered their hands and raised their voices as the mobs furor increased. The crowd tried to grab at her as she was dragged out of sight of her sister priestesses. Young boys jeered at her from under the shadows of the adults, and girls looked at her with uncertainty. All of them were so happy to see her die. Dilandilee dropped gold after poisoning our water, and spreading flux among my people.
Her feet no longer moved as the two men pulling her along were now literally dragging her. She could feel the tips of each toe as they created rivets in the mud. The streets themselves were nothing but mud and sket from all the terrabirds being used to pull in the grand procession of death. Nothing like the smell of guano at eulogy.
The crowd was desperate to get in last minute jeers, jabs, and even a few rotten fruit. By now her head was hanging low. All the defiance she could muster slowly eroded away through the lack of food, and exhaustion lying in her bones. Options of escape were gone. Only the embrace of death awaited her, the final escape of the mortal coil.
Before her the crowd parted almost magically to let Tekheezii and Epustiq before her. Then the guards picked up the pace as her toes cut more lines in the muck of the street. She was limp while they took her closer and closer to the stage. Already the other Seers were there, poised on their feet with several guards ringing them from behind.
Then, at center stage was a tall man wearing a cloak made of paradise bird feathers. Long red feathers sewn together into a crimson red cloak with the mantle then rimmed with thick fluffy golden down. Upon his head was the high crested crown of the Skybound Kings, and around his neck a bone; the man was a Shaman. She glared at him as soon as their eyes met. Dilandilee, the man who claimed to be Ailee, to be King.
“AILEENANDILEE!” chanted the crowd. Their voices rumbled across the open square that she soon found herself in. In that moment she look behind her and sighed at the sight of the three grand towers that once held the priestesses of the gods. Already the blood red lily of her people was being torn down and replaced with a mutated version used by Dilandilee. His face was strong and graced by a mane of tightly curled black hair. His skin the color of dark ochre and tinged with dust from travel on the road.
Over his shoulder the man carried a long war paddle with a sharp wooden head. Underneath the cloak he wore a finely lacquered set of lamellar armor. Small rectangular pieces of metal stitched together with strong leather thread. His feet were then clothed in tight stylistic sandals made of fine leather. He must import it from the Seal clanners out east. She sighed at the pomp and circumstance.
“For so many years you have been ruled by weak Kings and Queens who bow to heretical demagogues.” His tongue was golden to the people and the mob ate it up. Roaring louder and louder with each little flick of the hand, or swoosh of his cape.
“But not anymore,” he began, his voice increasing in volume, “we have carved from the warring cities a new nation, Gauzea of old! We shall end the Crow’s War and with our combined might unite all the Isles under the rightful rule of Blood-Lily!”
“AILEE!” continued the crowd.
Dilandilee lowered his hands to quell the sound of the crowd, and they complied. Quiet lulled quickly across the mob as the gathered citizens of the city prepared to hear more of the so-called savior.
“We shall carve our new nation from the Ruin of the Crow’s War with the help of a friend from the Western Shore,” he said. The crowd’s quiet waned almost as a slow gasp came from among those present. A ripple started to shudder from the back streets into the grand courtyard itself that ran out in front of the three tall spires. People moved away in fright, disgust, and pure dread as a lone form flanked by men cover in bone plated armor made their way toward the stage. A steady clacking of a staff end striking the ground was the only sound heard as all focused on the arrival of the King’s foreign counsel.
It was a woman of indeterminable age. Her skin far paler than the usual dark brown and dark olive that graced the Islands that ringed the Great Bay region. Definitely lighter than anyone on Azure where Bloody-Lily was found. Her hair was dark, unkempt, and fell over her shoulders in an untamed mass. It almost completely covered her face as she pressed forward with each step, hunched over while leaning on her spear shaft.
“I see you still like pomp Ailee,” the woman said as she took the stage. The guards in bone came to stand on either end of the platform.
She’s faking all of this. When we dueled before the palace, she was resplendent in a white dress. Laeka was determined now to remain focused in the last moments of her life.
“Yes dear Ifsii, what else is there.” Laughed the King.
Ifsii straightened her back and shifted as the armor on her body creaked with the change in posture. Always the show-woman.
Laeka was nearing her end, and even then she ran the list of traitors through her head. Her lips moved quietly as she named them all as fast as she could. The Goddesses needed to hear it completely, one last time.
Ifsii slowly made her way to stand at Dilandilee’s side as she turned to face the Seers. Tekheezii was praying alongside Laeka as Epustiq was motionless.
The first kill was Tekheezii to Laeka’s far right. A swift back spin of flair that then slide underneath her neck and into the soft flesh of her throat. Blood poured down in a crimson sheet along Tekheezii’s neck as she choked on her own slashed throat. Ifsii pulled the extended spear head back toward herself and dipped a finger into the blood.
“Divine of Stone guard my sister’s soul,” Laeka murmured as the light faded from Tekheezii’s eyes.
“She will love, she will,” Ifsii replied under her breath.
“The first false prophet falls and her soul sent to the foul beneath where it came from, praise the SkyBlue Truth,” Dilandilee jeered the crowd into a frenzy. Once again silenced ceased, and the roar of the mob deafened the air.
Next was Epustiq who was choked after Ifsii pulled the shaft over her throat. It was done so serenely that it was almost beautiful in twisted way. Epustiq did not even fight the end of her life, she merely accepted it. The three of them had known after their defeat that their Age was coming to an end. The Age of the Songbird, a new era of time was dawning on the Shattered Crescent, one that would be written in blood and bone.
Soon only Laeka remained. Her arms were tied and her legs were shackled, trussed up and ready for her death. No poetry now, and certainly no romance.
“Divine of Sea carry her soul free,” she said.
Ifsii was now standing a few spans away from her. Or was it three paces? The lack of hydration was finally starting to get to Laeka, and her vision was blurring. Muscles in her arms were straining from all the forced positioning.
“The last to fall, former queen of Blood-Lily and liar to the masses, Laeka Dawnrise,” Dilandilee roared to the thundering horde. His hands raised above his hands in an elegant gesture as the executions were nearing their end.
My family escaped, they are in the Highlands among those loyal to my name.
“Honestly,” the Black-Eyed Witch began, “I regret doing this.” She regrets killing us?
“You regret killing me, or winning that duel a week ago,” Laeka spat back. They could talk for hours, but the former queen knew her minutes were almost up.
“Both. I wish I did not have to sign the agreement, but it was done,” Ifsii lamented. Then she held the shaft of her l’engai to her left and leaned upon it. She eyed the King as he whispered something to a guard and turned to face them both. The crowd was getting impatient, signalled by an increasing demand for blood. Some were even starting to push against the squad of soldiers.
“Wish we could talk longer,” Laeka stated.
“I could not agree more,” Ifsii replied. Her voice was coarse, and gravely, a mark of strain from a wound that was peeking up from the armor covering her neck.
“Even if you kill me, the Divine will choose another,” Laeka sighed.
“I know, so does the King,” Ifsii retorted.
“I’m ready,” Laeka relented.
“You’ve been ready love, you’ve been ready,” Ifsii lamented.
This was a wasted time. Laeka felt her body tense as the moment soared towards resolution. That’s when she felt it. A tearing into her skin that punctured her chest and blood pouring out of her body. It was a horrible pain. Anguish even, but she remained still, and her eyes lifted to stare at Ifsii.
“So ends the Songbird’s Age,” Ifsii iterated, a deep malice growing in her eyes.
“Divine of Sky have mercy on me and you,” Laeka iterated. She was cold, so cold. Her eyes were barely open as she took her last breath. The last Seer died, and a new era dawned.