Enthroned in Sin: The Fall of King CasamirRead it here!
Truth be told, Freya had not volunteered to be Asbrand’s wife out of duty to her family or to her sisters, but because she knew how terrible things had grown to become in their village. Leira was, and would always be, her home, and she nursed a silent anger for the way that Asbrand had misused it and the relationships his great grandfather had forged. She was a quick girl, despite her young age. At 18, she knew little about the world beyond the village, but she knew more than anyone about the world within, and she knew she could manage and renew what had been lost. Perhaps she was naïve, but she had such high hopes for the future, that no one could stop her. Her father had been optimistic about the match, and she had nursed his mind for some time to allow it. Her ideas had become his own, and so it had been done.
But now, as she sat in her green linen frock, and pulled the bridal crown from her loose red curls, she knew she could do nothing now to change the future. There was no Earl to wed, and the Hastein family was suddenly vulnerable to all the wolves of nearby powers. Her home would fall to ruin, and the only one to blame was the drunken fool of a man who had off and dropped dead on the morning of his wedding. She did not mourn him, only the future she might have known, and the change she might have forged.
The King was a shadowy figure, a myth, a legend even among those who had met him. None would claim to know him, that would imply a friendship that King Casamir offered to no man, and though it was rumored he did occasionally take women to his bed, these ladies were themselves often strange, ethereal beauties, the daughter's of lords, foreign ambassadors, oracles and sometimes even servants. His tastes were undefinable, and clearly he saw things other men did not, both within the shadows which surrounded him and seemed always to draw his attention, and within the hearts of those who came before him.
Fastidious in diet, he was nonetheless a powerful figure, tale and lean-built, his skin was pale and his hair dark as the blackest night. He had a severe, sharp look and a sharper tone of voice which spoke of an intellect which had little patience for foolishness or ignorance. However, despite the severity of his appearance, and the fact that he always seemed from expression to be torn between rage and isolation, he was undeniably handsome. There was something striking, unique in his features which meant that whoever he was focused on would find it nigh-on impossible to draw their gaze from him.
Casamir was possessed of an overwhelming presence, a power of attraction and dominance which brought men to their knees, and women to his bed. At forty-five, he showed little signs of age, and indeed, had the look of a man who has simply matured and grown more experienced, rather than diminished as youth has begun to fade away. Eyes the color of cold grey slate regarded those who supplicated themselves with calculated precision, though rarely was he entertained or even truly roused by the words of his courtiers.
This day, as the petals strewn about the roads of the city in adulation of the army's heroic return began to tumble in the rising winds, and the storms began to engulf the plains beyond Vyrra, the King sat enthroned, hearing the words of those who had traveled from far and near to have an audience with him. It was insufferable...
On the edge of the southern border, where mountainous crags leveled into sloping plains, and violent storms turned to summer rains, Hyllun Abbey stood. It had not always stood on the site it now occupied, having been built nearly two centuries before in the village of Tolnner, just beyond the great walls of the capital. It was in those times that Morsylonne had seen the worst storm season it had yet known, and would know for many a century. The Priestess of Hyllun had foreseen a great flood, water pouring from between the Iron Fangs beyond, and transforming the sturdy village into nothing but a body of water. The capital would be spared, but the Priestess foresaw in her heart of hearts that there would be nothing left of Tolnner save its name.
The people of Tolnner had sprung into action, many fleeing the town. Yet other remained, rooted in stubbornness and tradition. The storm season would come, and it would be difficult, but it would pass without grave damage as every storm season before, they said. They watched as the monastery had been disassembled to its very foundation, and carted off to be built elsewhere, watched as men and women and families departed to a calmer land, or to the capital itself. They scoffed and chided and even laughed. And then they died, for the waters came as the priestess had promised they would.
From then on, in storm season, Tolnner stood as a wide lake, as big as an ocean, with no trace of the village that had once occupied the site. But in the dry and wretched months of summer, the water would recede, the ground crack, and the wooden and ivory bones of homes and residents could once again be seen. With every passing year, less and less remained, until there was no trace of what had once been.
But Hyllun Abbey remained, rebuilt and anew in the south. There were few who could recall the stories now of where it had once been, but it was written in the histories of this land, where anyone might stumble upon it. It was a lonely place, a place to forget or to be forgotten, but it was peaceful. The women of the halls were covered, educated, and kind, and it smelled of age and incense. And this is where Eliška, daughter of King Casamir, had grown up, forgotten and alone.
A long time before, in a time many could not remember, or chose not to remember, Casamir had wed a Lady. The men and women of his court, and the servants below it, dare not speak of her, for fear of their King's wrath. All that was widely known was that she had born him a child, a girl, and then soon died. The girl had been born in the early years of the Great Campaign, and when it had been clear that it would stretch far longer than predicted, she was sent away. She left the arms of her wet nurse as no more than a babe, and was taken to Hyllun Abbey. It was there that she would be taught arithmetic and verse, and all that would be expected of her when she reached an age of marriage.
The Sisters of the abbey had all been like mothers to her. They had been strict, yet kind, and they had raised Eliška well. She had been but a child as she flourished in this new environment, so far removed from the storm clouds and rocky crags of the home she could not remember. She was bright, and had the same intensity of eye as the father she did not know. They did not seek to tame her at the Abbey, but to hone her, to shape her wild edges and bring her to terms with who she was and what she would be.
The girl spent many nights staring at the ceiling of her well-worn room, wondering what she had done to anger her father so. For what other reason did he have to send her away? It was true that he was out, winning lands and conquests, but she might have stayed in Vyrra even in spite of this. Tutors could be hired, Nannies sent for. But he had not wanted her in his home, casting her out, an orphan in all but name. Eliška had seen the eyes and heard the whispers of the sisters of the Abbey, and understood how they expected her to turn bitter towards her father, to turn a dark eye to whatever plans he might have for her. But while she could not say that she loved him for what he had done for her, her abandonment resulted not in bitterness, but in a fierce desire to achieve. Yet instead of quelling the free spirit within Eliška, the Sisters taught her how to use it, and when to hide it.
Now, at 19, she was well past the age that she should be married, and yet her father's unfinished campaign had made it impossible to send her home. Eliška was not oblivious to the discourtesy of the situation. The Sisters of the Good Work had promised to keep her and raise her, but had been promised in return that she would return to the seat of her father after her marriage years arrived. Those years had come and gone, and no one had come to claim her and take her home. A few sisters had even asked her if she was interested in taking her vows and joining them at the Abbey to do the Good Work, but the Priestess had chided them. Eliška was far too beautiful, far too noble, and far too bright to waste away in the halls of their great Abbey. But now the campaign was over, and the time for waiting had passed. High Sister Yingrit had been sent to Vyrra to seek an audience with the King, to remind him of his kith and kin, and the promises made almost a decade previous.