It was for the longest time the central platform had been vacated. Fifteen councilors in the Hall of Guidance, a vast hemispherical hall whose floor was made entirely from polished obsidian, and yet none volunteered to be on that stage at the moment. The baron had slumped into his throne and begun drumming his fingers impatiently. The tension grew suffocating until, finally, Father Felacia, the bishop of Ironheart rose from his seat.
The man in black cassock and black leather boots did not take the stage. Instead, he stood at his bench and turned to the baron:
“Rick, perhaps it is wise to start with what happened eight years ago. This is quite sudden, after all. We all need time to collect our wisdom,” the bishop suggested.
From among the masters, a figure stood up in response to this suggestion. It was Thomas Jeremy Clevandi—the master of commerce, a merchant from the port town of Merlock—who spoke next.
“In addition to what the bishop said, I only became a citizen three years ago. I have no clue what happened in Ironheart eight years ago so I am having trouble following the topic. Any clarification will be much appreciated,” he added.
There was exactly one other person who had no clue what happened. Steve the ironsmith had been sitting nervously next to the inventor, wondering why it had been so quiet, what kind of serious topic they had been talking about that led to this atmosphere, and whether or not the meeting had been concluded already. He jumped the bandwagon and sprang on his feet.
“I-I am having trouble following this topic too. Please clarify!” he stammered aloud.
The bishop opened his mouth as though wanting to say something but he thought better of it. The man sat down first. Steve and Thomas took the cue and sat down as well. The council’s attention naturally returned to the baron.
Sir Richard hissed in annoyance. The drumming of his fingers ceased.
“Very well, let us hear from the historian,” the baron said.
The historian took the stage and sat down on the edge facing the baron, legs crossed. He placed a fancy brass-colored cittern in his lap and placed thin fingers on the cittern’s strings. His smooth voice, vibrant as though always singing, addressed the merchant.
“Out of curiosity, which saint do you worship?” he asked.
“Riverie of the flowing water,” the merchant answered.
The historian nodded. An enchanting and mystique melody, like the spreading morning mist on a wide open lake, began filling the obsidian hall.
“In Ironheart, we worship Tenrid of the purifying flame. It is believed that the forges in this kingdom are blessed by Tenrid and, once a man dies, he should be purified in her flame, that he is free of his mortal sins, on the final journey to God’s kingdom.”
The music abruptly stopped. “And here our tale begins,” the historian announced.
After a short pause, the music picked up its pace again. The melody was faster and grander than before. The white-coated minstrel—known only by the name Gerath—took in a deep breath and began to sing. His voice melted into the melody and brought life to a tale of an age long gone.
“But the witch’s curse was a sin far too great for the man to bear. The miasma in the terrible plague defiled the flame of a saint. It writhed! It changed! But it never faded away. And when the ashes of man returned to the sky, the miasma gained wings, and spread throughout the lands…”
The melody changed again to a slow, repulsive gloom. His voice deepened and trembled.
“It covered everything; the river, the plain, the earth, and the sky…It brought deaths to every street, to husbands, and to sons. A third of the great kingdom became the witch’s domain. From the wheat fields, a thick forest grew. Lakes turned into swamps. Houses crumbled, mushrooms mounded, tears damped the soil…”
The baron shifted uncomfortably in his throne. The historian saw this and stopped the music abruptly.
“To be continued at Brown’s Boulder after curfew,” he declared, fluttering his white coat in a sweep, grandiose motion, and jumped off the platform. “Admission fee is one pris per person, no haggling!” he added.
The historian headed to the church’s bench instead of his seat and sat down next to the deacon. His exaggerated laughter started a riot on the masters’ side. The merchant was, at first, dumbfounded and then he threw his arms up high in resignation. The strategist, the astronomer, and the mythologist were furious. They demanded the church to turn over the greedy traitor.
The church refused, naturally.
The baron raised one hand to halt the chaos. “Enough!” he ordered. His disgruntled shout ended all noises in the council.