Chapter 13 (King Valen)

It was difficult to run a country, even during peacetime. Preparing a nation for war was a logistical nightmare. Of course, if there was anyone capable of leading the endeavor, it was King Valen. After his discussion with McCarthy and Ichoron the previous morning, he’d spent the rest of the day with his advisors, reviewing the positions of their troops. There were currently three royal processions traveling between towns and villages around all of Allomoria. Wherever they went, they proclaimed his intention to declare war on Meronne and drafted a predetermined number of individuals into their company.

Each royal procession travelled with one of his angels. They were present for public appeal and, more importantly, to quell dissent among those who objected to his draft. Ichoron had travelled with the southern procession, rounding up new soldiers from the rural countryside. The other two angels, Kyzella and Saphine, travelled with processions north of the Elderwood Forest. Kyzella rode with the company to the far west. Saphine helped spread the news of his war among the towns surrounding Doronhine, the capital of Allomoria.

“My king, we can expect Meronne’s spies to have reported our activities to their Queen by now. Every day that we waste is more time for her to assemble her forces,” an advisor spoke, bringing the king’s attention back to the present. He was seated at a large oak table. A detailed map of Allomoria was spread before him, with colorful wood blocks arranged to represent the positions of troops.

King Valen stroked his chin. “Would it be possible for Ichoron and the soldiers who are already near the southern border to hamper their progress, perhaps by launching a surprise attack on a border town?” A full day had passed since Ichoron had left the castle. That was more than enough time for the angel to return to his assigned company of soldiers. Along with being gifted with superhuman strength, Ichoron possessed prodigious speed and endurance. He ran at the pace of a galloping horse and could maintain that clip for hours without rest. His incredible strength meant that even a few dozen pounds of armor on his body didn’t slow him.

The group of advisors huddled over the map, discussing possible strategies in response to King Valen’s question. The king examined the paths through the Elderwood Forest. There were several that curved and snaked their way through the trees. The Elderwood Forest was an annoyance. It made it much harder to exert his control over the southern region of Allomoria. It would be even harder to maintain this control when he’d annexed the country of Meronne, which was also south of the trees. King Valen had decided that he might just burn the whole forest down once this war was over.

Another one of his advisors spoke up, an older woman named Lovett. “Currently, we barely have enough soldiers in the south to control the newly enlisted citizens. There’s a risk of mutiny if we send the soldiers into Meronne without backup. Perhaps you could send Kyzella? She and Ichoron by themselves could wreak enough havoc on the border to buy us some time.”

King Valen shook his head. “Kyzella is busy right now, and she’ll be needed back with the northeastern procession once she’s finished her other assignment.”

He looked at the purple block that rested to the west of Doronhine. It represented the royal procession that travelled with Kyzella as they collected newly drafted citizens. However, he knew that the angel wasn’t with the procession at the moment. Ichoron would have run to her before returning to his company and informed her that she was needed to track down the runaway, Everin.

King Valen sighed quietly to himself. Everin’s escape was threatening to cause a serious hitch in his plans. However, he trusted McCarthy to retrieve the boy quickly and discreetly. As much as the king didn’t like the man, he was useful. King Valen was a public figure. He couldn’t create angels without others catching on. He needed someone like McCarthy to do the dirty work, and McCarthy tended to do a good job getting his hands dirty.

The third advisor, an older man with balding hair, asked, “Is it really necessary that Kyzella escort the northeastern royal procession? She could be much more useful to us at the southern border.”

“Yes,” the king snapped. “It is necessary. Without her presence to maintain order, the enlisted citizens are prone to revolting.”

The man backed down instantly. “Of course. My apologies, my king.”

King Valen didn’t like the way the advisors viewed his angels – as tools to be used on a battlefield. The citizens of Allomoria had been quite receptive to the existence of angels. Few people questioned where they came from. Most simply accepted that a new one appeared every few years, ready to perform the king’s bidding. This public response to the angels was useful because it meant fewer questions and less people digging into their origins. However, it had an unfortunate side effect. People, such as his advisors and generals, tended to view the angels as nonhuman. They would often ask impossible tasks of the angels, treating them like engines of war rather than human beings with very real limitations.

King Valen looked at all three of his advisors and back at the map. There wasn’t anything that he would be able to do to buy himself more time without risking Kyzella and Ichoron. He waved towards the advisors.

“You are dismissed for now. If you devise a way to disrupt Meronne’s activities that doesn’t require sending the angels in without reinforcements, let me know.”

“Yes, my king.” They all spoke in unison as they bowed and left the room.

When the doors to the chamber had shut, the king rose from his seat and strode to the window. He surveyed his capital of Doronhine that spread out below. A grassy lawn stretched between his castle and the outer stone wall that surrounded it. Beyond the wall were cobblestone roads and tall wooden buildings. Citizens walked down the streets, enjoying the cool, evening air.

Just inside the castle walls were dozens of children from Doronhine. Slides, climbing walls, a sand pit, and a field for sports had all been erected on the lawn in front of the castle. Local children flocked to the place. The massive playground had been one of the first construction projects authorized by the king, and by some accounts, it was his most successful. Children in the capital of Doronhine could be found on the playground at all hours of the day. If he pressed an ear to the window, King Valen could hear their laughter and shouting.

Overhead, the first hints of the purple and green sunset were beginning to appear. What a horrific war it must have been, the king mused. So terrible were the weapons used that they’d permanently stained the sky. He frowned. To single out the last war of the old gods as horrific was unfair. All wars were horrific, he knew. Yet here he was, preparing to throw his country into the depths of a bloody struggle.

Before his doubts could gain leverage, King Valen reminded himself why his war was necessary. It was preemptive. Allomoria and Meronne had been in unofficial conflict for years. If he didn’t strike now, with his angel experiment soon coming to fruition, it would only be a matter of time before Meronne attempted to destroy his country. Along with protecting his people from Meronne’s future attacks, the king also knew that his long-term plans would not be able to advance until the threat of war from Meronne had passed.

King Valen turned away from the window. As beautiful as the sight of his kingdom was, he couldn’t enjoy it. He didn’t enjoy much of anything – he hadn’t for a long time. He walked back to the table and dropped his weight into his chair, slouching in the seat. Now that the room was empty, he didn’t care how he looked. He was the most powerful man in Allomoria. His vaults were filled with gold. He had servants waiting to complete his every request. He could claim any lover in the country as his queen, yet he was still unmarried. He asked himself what had made him like this, but he knew the answer.

He pulled the gold crown off his head and examined it, turning the circle of sculpted metal around in his hands. At the base of the crown, etched in elegant script, was a name.

It read, “Kennedy Valen.”

King Valen hated his name. More specifically, he hated the person who’d given it to him.

His parents had been devout followers of the old gods. Per tradition, they’d named him after Kennedy, one of the most powerful of the deities. His parents had claimed that the old gods no longer lived in this world – they’d destroyed their earthly forms in their last battle. However, they believed that the old gods could never truly die, and that they still existed without physical bodies, affecting the course of events in present-day Allomoria. As a boy, Valen had been brought to many religious ceremonies with his parents. His father had been one of the most powerful lords in Doronhine, so their worship had taken place in the stone chapel just outside the castle walls.

King Valen didn’t believe in the old gods. He knew that they were dead and gone for good. Faith had been something that his father had failed to instill in him as a boy. There had been something else that Valen’s father had given him, however. It didn’t occur in church – only in the privacy of their home. His father would ensure that his mother and the servants were away. He would carefully lock the doors to his study and turn to face his young son.

The boy would stand there, shaking with fear from what he knew was coming.

“Come on, Kennedy. Why don’t we play for a while, just you and me?”

The boy would always be too petrified to answer. It wouldn’t have mattered, anyways.

“That’s right. Let’s have some fun,” his father would tell him as his cold, unyielding hands began to strip the boy’s clothes away.

King Valen snapped out of his memories and shuddered. He couldn’t let himself return to that place, not when there was so much to be done. He placed his crown back on his head and rose from his seat. There would be time to relive his trauma later. There always was.

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