Chapter 27 (McCarthy)

“Tell me about King Valen, sir.”

McCarthy looked up from his desk. He’d been carefully translating a text recovered from the one of the ruins. The language of the old gods was simple enough, but the pages of the book were ripped, and the ink was faded and smudged. It was difficult to make any sense from the ancient text.

“What about King Valen do you want to know?” McCarthy asked Mao, who sat at a table next to him. She struggled to translate her own text: a small book with a title that McCarthy translated to, “Catch-22.”

Mao set her wood pen down next to the paper she had been writing on. “Can you tell me the story of how he rose to power? I know that he wasn’t the son of the previous queen, and nobody’s explained to me how he ended up inheriting the throne.”

McCarthy’s initial instinct was to refuse his apprentice. As a practice, he preferred to only administer information when he chose to. As with everything he did, it was designed to enforce his position of power over others. However, Mao had been with him for two full years. She’d more than proven herself to be loyal to him. If she was to eventually learn the true history of the angels, she would need to at least understand King Valen’s history beforehand.

McCarthy sighed. He closed the text that he’d been translating: a book from the old gods that described properties of something called “nuclear energy.” The reading was difficult to understand. The writers appeared both fascinated and fearful of the power, and much of the technology described on the pages was alien to McCarthy. There were frequent mentions of words he didn’t understand, such as “uranium” and “isotopes” as well as references to strange ancient cities: “Hiroshima” and “Nagasaki.” He hadn’t been making much progress in his translations. Perhaps a break from his work would give him fresh insight.

“Sure. I’ll tell you, but you have to promise me something,” McCarthy told his apprentice.

“What is it?”

“This conversation doesn’t leave this room. King Valen prefers to keep his past private. I’m only sharing this information with you because it will be important for you to know later. You won’t share this with anyone, right?”

Mao nodded eagerly. “Of course, sir.”

“Good.” McCarthy leaned back in his seat, deciding where to begin. He stared into the single candle that rested on the table between them. Its flame glowed steadily, illuminating the sharp corners of Mao’s eager face.

He began, “Before King Valen, Allomoria was ruled by Queen Elzani. She came from a long line of kings and queens. The Elzani family had ruled Allomoria for the past four centuries, and there was no indication that they were going to stop. Queen Elzani had a son and a daughter, both of whom were strong and sharp-witted. Either one would have been a fine heir to the throne.”

“So, what happened to them?” Mao asked.

“Don’t rush, my child. You need to understand the big picture first,” McCarthy chided. “During that time, there was a noble by the name of Lord Valen who was the second-most powerful lord in Doronhine. He worked closely with Queen Elzani, serving as an advisor and loaning soldiers and supplies to aid in conflicts. Lord Valen had just one child, a son named Kennedy.”

McCarthy waited for a reaction from Mao, but she didn’t interrupt. Good. He continued. “Kennedy Valen was a troubled youth. He rarely emerged from his father’s manor. By all accounts, the boy came across as quiet and even depressed to those who interacted with him. At one point, Queen Elzani suggested that Lord Valen take his son to a healer, but the man insisted that Kennedy was fine.”

McCarthy thought he saw Mao nod slightly as he narrated. He was sure that the story of the child born to a family of nobles and not fitting in resonated with the girl. “Then, one day when he was about fifteen, Kennedy disappeared,” McCarthy said. “He stole a horse and ran away from home. A search was mounted throughout Doronhine and the area surrounding the city, but it was unsuccessful. After a month, it was decided that the boy was gone for good.”

 The candle glowed ominously between McCarthy and his apprentice. He could see that Mao’s face was locked in a deathly serious expression. Her eyes bored into him. Someone else might have been put off by Mao’s intensity, but McCarthy was used to it by now. That same intensity was another thing about Mao that he thought would make her a good successor.

“About five years later, Lord Valen died in a hunting accident. He and his two servants were killed. Their bodies were recovered a few days later. There were no witnesses to confirm what exactly happened, but judging by the injuries they sustained, it was suspected that they were mauled to death by a bear. Just a few months later, as news of his father’s death spread, Kennedy Valen returned to Doronhine. He was practically unrecognizable when he made his reappearance. He’d left as a damaged, quiet boy. He returned as a confident, well-adjusted man. He wasn’t necessarily friendly, but he was sociable and generally not disliked. He carried an aura of mystique around wherever he went as people speculated about where he’d been for the past five years. Soon, Kennedy managed to earn the trust of his aging mother and took up his role as head of the Valen household. There he claimed the title his father had once held and became the new Lord Valen.”

“Just as the buzz about Valen’s return was beginning to fizzle out, Queen Elzani became very ill. Healers across Allomoria were summoned to her bedside, but none could cure her. Weeks passed, and her strength continued to diminish. As it became increasingly apparent that she was dying, people began to talk about arrangements for her replacement as ruler of Allomoria. Since her husband was a commoner, the throne wouldn’t fall to him in the event of Elzani’s death.”

“That means it would go to one of her children, right?” Mao asked.

McCarthy nodded. “Normally, yes. However, both her son and daughter were just kids. Neither was old enough to rule a country. The most likely course of action would be for the throne to fall to Queen Elzani’s brother until the eldest child, her son Truman, was of age to rule.”

“I take it that’s not what happened, sir?” Mao prompted.

“Right,” McCarthy said. “Queen Elzani’s brother was killed in his sleep: strangled to death somehow. On top of that, just a few days later, both of Queen Elzani’s children were poisoned. Queen Elzani herself was too delirious with illness to process what had happened to her kids. It was probably for the best.”

“And King Valen was the one who killed her brother and children?” Mao asked.

McCarthy smirked and shrugged. “He certainly had the motive, but nobody could find evidence that it was him. After the deaths of Queen Elzani’s brother and children, only two people stood in line between Kennedy and the throne: Lord Grismane and his wife. The Grismane family was the richest and most influential family in Allomoria, not including Queen Elzani and her family, of course. This meant that they were to take the throne should the Elzani family leave it empty and without an heir.”

“I haven’t heard of the Grismanes,” Mao said. “I thought I knew all of the powerful families in Doronhine.”

“No need to fear, my child. You do know all of them,” McCarthy assured her. “Now pay attention, this is where things get interesting. The Grismane family no longer exists. Lord Grismane suffered a strange and terrible fate. Just a week after the death of Elzani’s children, Grismane died in a freak accident. He was out riding late one night and never reached his destination. His body was found just a mile from the Grismane manor the next day. From the damage done to him, it appeared that he’d been struck by lightning.”

“The news rattled Doronhine,” McCarthy continued. “Lord Grismane was a well-liked figure and people had been expecting him to be a capable king after Elzani’s death. With Lord Grismane out of the picture, that meant that his wife was next in line for the throne. Unfortunately, she committed suicide just days later, presumably because she was too distraught over his death.”

Mao frowned. “Was it really suicide? It sounds like there’s some pretty obvious foul play involved.”

McCarthy grinned. “You’re right to be suspicious, but I assure you, it was a genuine suicide. She stood on the ledge of the highest window in Grismane manor and declared her intentions to onlookers before leaping to her death. She killed herself. There could be no doubt about it.”

“So, what happened next?” Mao asked somewhat eagerly.

McCarthy chuckled. Anyone else who heard this story would be upset by the wanton death and misery, but Mao seemed to relish it. He straightened in his chair. “With the Grismane family eliminated, the next most powerful family in Allomoria would be tapped to provide an heir to the throne. That family, of course, was the Valens. Since Kennedy was the head of the family, the throne was set to fall to him. Soon enough, Queen Elzani passed away as her illness proved to be too much for her to take. There was a royal funeral the next day, and just hours later, Kennedy Valen was sworn in as king of Allomoria.”

“Did anyone ever accuse King Valen of assassinating those who stood between him and the throne?” Mao questioned.

“Yes, of course people have their suspicions. Some extremists have even tried to take the king’s life. Several assassination attempts were made on him in the first few months of his reign.”

“But were the people who tried to assassinate him protestors who thought he needed to be brought to justice, or were they part of the same group who’d been arranging the deaths of other heirs to the throne?”

McCarthy grinned wider. “You picked up on that fast. Smart. You see, we’ll never know what their motives were for attacking King Valen. Every would-be assassin was killed in making their attempt, so we couldn’t bring them in for questioning later. It would appear that the same people who thought he was unfairly on the throne may have validated his presence there by attempting to assassinate him. Because attempts were made on his life, we can never be sure if King Valen arranged the deaths of those above him or if he was supposed to die but managed to fight off his killers.”

“He must’ve had some well-trained bodyguards,” Mao commented.

McCarthy shook his head. “Sometimes I forget that you were just an infant when this happened. All of Allomoria rustled with rumors and conspiracy theories after the failed assassination attempts. To this day, King Valen rarely travels with bodyguards. Every assassin was killed by the king himself. Usually the attempts were made in private places, his bedroom, for instance, so there were never any witnesses. Nearby servants would simply hear a commotion and some shouts. When they’d rush to King Valen’s side, they’d always find their ruler standing over the bodies of dead men and women who’d been attempting to slit his throat.”

The corners of Mao’s lips twisted upward as she listened to McCarthy speak. “Who is King Valen, really?” she mused.

“Nobody really knows,” McCarthy answered.

“Do you know?” Mao pressed.

McCarthy smirked. “I know more than most, and you will too, in time. I’ll share that information with you once you’re ready.”

McCarthy could see a flicker of disappointment on his apprentice’s face in the candlelight, but she knew better than to challenge him. He appreciated that about Mao. Her curiosity, combined with her ruthlessness, it reminded him of himself when he was younger. Perhaps that was why he’d taken such a liking to the girl, he thought. She possessed all the traits that had made him so effective when King Valen entrusted the angel project to him.

He continued. “By the time the angels started appearing and working for the king, most people simply chalked it up to another one of the strange phenomena surrounding King Valen. He’s been king for basically your entire life, so his behaviors probably seem normal to you. However, King Valen’s rule has been much different from the previous rulers of Allomoria.”

Mao’s eyes lit up again as McCarthy tempted her with more tantalizing information. “How so?”

“Along with his mysterious rise to power, King Valen is the first ruler of Allomoria with no respect for the old gods. He discontinued the practice of holding public worship ceremonies, and while people in Allomoria are free to believe what they want, he’s said publicly that he doesn’t keep the faith. On top of that, he hasn’t taken a queen. Some suspect that he’s gay, but there’s been a gay king of Allomoria before. It wouldn’t be a new precedent for him to set. However, even though he has no children of his own, one of the first construction projects commissioned by newly crowned King Valen was the creation of the massive playground just inside the castle walls.”

Mao nodded. “I was banned from the playground as a child for hurting the other kids.”

McCarthy sighed. “Of course you were. The point is, it’s a bit of an odd project for a king who’s just assumed the rule of a country and has no kids. Then, of course, there’s the angels. When Kyzella first appeared, people were fearful. People are always fearful of things they don’t understand. However, it soon became apparent that Kyzella was just as bound by King Valen’s will as any citizen of Allomoria. Soon enough, as stories of her effectiveness in driving away raiders from Meronne spread, she was hailed as a hero. When the second angel, Saphine, appeared a few years later, she too was worshipped by the citizens of Allomoria as a great defender of their country.”

“And that’s where you came into the story,” Mao said. “The creation of Kyzella, Saphine, and later Ichoron and Everin.”

McCarthy grinned. “Precisely.”

“I don’t suppose you’ll tell me how you started the angel project or how they fit into King Valen’s long-term plans, sir?” Mao asked.

McCarthy shook his head. “When the time is right, I’ll explain everything.”

She tried to hide the look of disappointment, but McCarthy could still perceive it.

“Don’t fear, my child,” he said. “That time is coming sooner than you think.”

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