Steps Saga Part 5 – All The Ascendant’s Sons

By Thomas J. Lauser

Letherious’ carriage stopped outside of his home, a villa in the hills outside Minthera. Aside from two lights—one in the atrium, and another in Martin’s bedroom, the building was completely dark.

“How about a tip, sir? It’s rather late.” the driver asked as the Senator climbed out of the carriage and approached the villa’s front gate.

“For doing your job? Not a chance,” Letherious replied without looking back.

The guards opened the front gate, and the Senator walked up the path, through the door and into the atrium, where Muriel, his head servant, sat waiting for him.

“Welcome home, Lord Blackwood.”

Letherious paid little attention to her, and instead rushed to the adjacent room, his study. There, he put down his satchel, and began looking through an assortment of letters and papers on his desk.

“Senator Blackwood, Muriel. Senator,” Letherious corrected her.

“You were my lord before you were a Senator,” replied Muriel, who had followed Letherious into his study. She was relatively young for a head servant, had blonde hair which she kept in pigtails, and wore a white bonnet. Before Letherious hired her to help with Martin’s condition, she had been a battlefield nurse, and treated her future lord’s wounds during a campaign on the Irridan Frontier.

“Still,” Letherious said as he frantically searched through a stack of letters, tossing those he deemed useless to the floor. “Address me properly.”

“Very well, Senator Blackwood,” she nodded. “You’re home late.”

“Busy day.”

“How did it go?”

“Quite well, actually,” Letherious grinned. The thought of his traitorous brother behind bars awaiting execution brought him great satisfaction. He looked forward to the day Venomar joined him, and the savage Orcs at last had their rebellion ripped out from under them.

“Is this everything?” he asked after he’d reviewed every item on his desk. He’d been waiting for a message—an important one—from a very influential associate.

“Yes, sir.”

“Nothing in the dead drop today?”

His associate communicated through messages left in a barrel near the villa’s exterior wall, usually with instructions on where to meet next. Given the delicacy of the matter, Letherious trusted only Muriel with knowledge of the dead drop’s existence.

“No, my—Senator Blackwood,” Muriel said, correcting herself mid-sentence.

“Should have been,” Letherious shook his head. What was the hold up? “When did you last check?”

“A few hours ago.”

“Check again in the morning,” Letherious sighed. It seemed he’d have to wait at least another day for a proper update.

“Are you hungry? I could make something if you wish.”

Letherious hadn’t eaten anything since dinner at Lady Scapula’s residence in Minthera, and that was hours ago. But he had no desire to spend any more time with Muriel than necessary. He had other matters to attend to.

“I’m fine,” he replied. “How’s Martin?”

“He’s had an excellent day!”

“Truly?” Letherious beamed.

“Yes, my lord. He ate a whole chicken breast!” she explained.

“On his own?” he inquired, so excited he looked as though his grey eyes were about to pop out of his skull.

Muriel lowered her eyes and frowned.

“With the help of Edgar and I.”

Letherious let out a deep breath and looked out the window to his left, through which he could see the villa’s stables. Before the accident, Martin had spent much of his time there, petting the horses and longing for the day he’d be old enough to ride a true steed, not a mere pony.

“But it’s still the most I’ve seen him eat in months! Once he had a few bites, there was no stopping him!” Muriel detailed, sensing her master’s sorrow.

“Good. And remember,” Letherious said, looking back at her. “It’s Senator.”

“Right, Senator,” she replied meekly. “It won’t happen again.”

“Is he still awake?”

“He is. I tried to get him to go to bed, but he refused. It seems he won’t rest until he sees you.”

“Well. Best not to keep him waiting.”

Letherious strutted past Muriel, exited the study, and walked down the hall towards Martin’s room. Once more, his head servant followed him.

“There was another message,” she said as she struggled to keep up with her master’s quick pace.

Letherious stopped.

“Why wasn’t it with the others?” he snapped.

“It came with a courier,” Muriel explained. “He didn’t leave a note.”

“And who was it?”

Fury built within him. What sort of message was this? And why hadn’t Muriel mentioned it earlier, if it was indeed so important?

“It was from Priscilla.”

“Her name is Martin’s mother! Martin’s mother!” Letherious corrected her. As with his title, he’d lost count of the times he’d reminded Muriel about how to properly address his former wife.

“Yes. Right. Well, she wants to see him,” Muriel said quietly.

“No!” Letherious shouted as he marched down the hall. “Not a chance!”

Letherious had seldom seen Priscilla since the day she decided she could not handle the shame of Martin’s condition any longer. Their union had been loveless for some time—Alistair had been fortunate enough to marry for love, forcing Letherious to accept an arranged marriage to Priscilla Gonzalez, the daughter of a prominent Mealgan nobleman with six generations of pure Mage-Blood to boast of. His parents were overjoyed, but at the ceremony Alistair told Letherious he looked “more like a pallbearer than a bridegroom”. As Letherious saw it, Priscilla’s exit had not been soon enough. Still, it pained him to see his wife walk out on their child—the single positive product of their marriage—over something the boy could not control.

Right before the Senator reached the door to Martin’s room, he stopped and turned to face Muriel.

“Do you think it would make him happy?” he asked, pointing to Martin’s door.

“I do, Senator Blackwood. I do.”

Letherious looked up at the ceiling, took a deep breath, and exhaled. He then nodded slightly.

“I’ll consider it.”

He then wheeled around and opened the door.

“I’d like some time with him by myself. If we need anything, I’ll let you know.”

“As you wish, Senator.”

Letherious stepped into Martin’s room, where the ten year old boy lay in bed covered in blankets and flanked by toys from all over Theranos. When he saw his father, Martin clapped his hands and squealed with delight.

“No! No! No!” he repeated, a wide smile on his face. It was the only full word he could say.

“Hey there, my boy,” Letherious said as he approached Martin’s bed. “Heard you won’t sleep until I come to see you.”

“No!” he said once more. One of the rare times he used the word properly, Letherious noted. Perhaps he was getting better.

Martin had a frail, thin body, and wore a fine set of dark blue Mealgan nightclothes. He had the brown eyes of his mother, and black hair like his father, but it only grew on half of his head. A result of the gruesome injury he suffered almost five years earlier.

They were walking through the streets of Minthera, on their way to visit a collector of rare Quippa cards when the attack took place. The Orc thugs disguised themselves as a group of slaves, blended in with the crowd, and quickly overwhelmed Letherious’ guards. He did not realize what was going on until he heard Martin scream and watched as a green-skin charged him with hammer in hand. Letherious drew his Gladeon and ran to his son’s defense, but acted too late to save Martin from a blow to the head. Furious, Letherious fired magic at every Orc in sight, cutting down some while forcing others to flee.

When the melee had ended, Martin lay on the ground, blood gushing from his cracked skull like guts from a shattered pumpkin. Letherious used Yellow Magic to stabilize the wound, and rushed the boy to the nearest Mage-Doctor, who managed to save Martin’s life, but could do nothing for his mind.

Imperial officials quickly traced the attack to the Yinnari Selectives, an international trading syndicate that had grown jealous of Blackwood Company’s rapid expansion. Letherious’ parents, Regis and Penelope, had been attacked as well, but their guards made short work of the hirelings. Penelope, then a Senator, brought charges against the Selectives, and with the might of the Imperial government behind her, managed to arrest all nine members of the Inner Circle, the group’s hierarchy. With them behind bars, the group soon became a memory, thus making Blackwood Company the most influential name in trade.

Though they were unable to locate the Orcs who fled the scene, Letherious refused to give up, despite his father’s belief that the “true perpetrators,” had been properly dealt with. He traced them to a Clan Makros village in The Arch, and traveled there to deliver the justice he felt necessary.

It took him but hours to complete the deed. He savored each second, every thrust and twist of the blade. An Oolak addict drowning in the comforts of his hallucinations to escape his nagging wife, disappointed father, and wailing child. When at last he departed, bathed in smoke and screams, he knew all he’d ever been told about vengeance was a lie. It was a succulent, intoxicating delight, and he could not wait for his next taste.

“It’s good to see you, son,” Letherious said as he wrapped his arms around Martin and brought him close. “I missed you today.”

“No!” Martin cried once more, forcing Letherious to grin.

“I was working for you,” he explained as he let go of the embrace. “Your uncle continues to get in our way.”

Letherious picked up one of the toys at the foot of the bed—a stuffed Avarad Liger he brought on a trip to Serrac—and turned it over in his gauntlet hand. Due to Alistair’s Mage-Blood status, a senator would need to be appointed as judge for the trial. He hoped Ferdinand would make the wise choice and select him to deliver his brother’s sentence.

“But he won’t be a problem anymore,” he went on. He then put down the toy and ran his fingers through Martin’s hair. “He’s in the Carcerium, where traitors belong.”

“Da,” Martin said.

The sound so surprised his father he nearly leapt off the bed. Aside from “no,” Martin had only ever made noises, nothing resembling true words. Letherious starred at his son in shock as a daydream he longed believed impossible stepped into reality.

“What?” Letherious asked as he shook his head in disbelief.

“Da. Da.” Martin repeated.

“Yes! Yes!” Letherious exclaimed, his voice filling the villa. He leapt from Martin’s bedside, quaking with anticipation. “You’ve almost got it!”

“Da. Da,” Martin’s mouth struggled to form the final sound, his face straining. A strongman laboring to hoist a boulder above his head.

“Dad. Dad. Dad,” Letherious encouraged his son, repeating the word as slowly and methodically as possible.

“Da, da,” Martin nodded his head, his eyes ablaze with focus.

Until at last the boulder fell.

“No! No! No!” Martin howled, shaking his head through a tempest of tears.

Letherious sighed, closed his eyes, and buried his face in his hands for the next half hour, with only the sound of his son’s cries to comfort him. His father had warned him, the Senator recalled. Warned him against hoping for improvement. Martin didn’t have an illness or a disease, he had said, and thus there could be no cure for Martin’s condition. Only acceptance.

But how could someone accept this? How could anyone look at Martin and see anything other than a tragedy of life? For Letherious, it provided him all the motivation necessary to continue with his quest for vengeance, and the will to turn to the single individual who offered him not comfort, but a promise. A promise, though a conditional one, that what so many deemed impossible did indeed exist. A means to reverse the damage that had been done. A cure.

The Senator rose, approached his wailing son, and wrapped his arms around him once more.

“Good try, my boy. Good try,” he said as he cradled Martin. Tears dripped over his military cloak. “But soon, you won’t have to try anymore.”

Letherious turned away from his son and walked out of the room, his fists clenched at his sides.

“And then they’ll suffer. Every last filthy greenskin.”

Muriel stood outside the door, her eyes cast down at the floor.

“Don’t forget to check the dead drop first thing in the morning. Something better be there,” he said before taking the stairs to his bedroom.

#

“Welcome, Alistair. I’m glad you came.”

Alistair knelt on the marble floor in the Emperor’s Suite at the top of Reman’s Spire. Emperor Ferdinand III stood in front of him, starring at an iron door sealed by three separate locks. What in Octavarius was he keeping in there, the abolitionist wondered? A Grand Vonn? A bloody dragon? Was that how Ferdinand planned to execute him?

“I’m in chains,” Alistair replied, holding up his hands. “Not like I had much of a choice.”

“To the Summit, I mean,” Ferdinand said, turning away from the door.

Alistair had heard stories about the Emperor’s Suite, but never laid eyes on it. It was even more beautiful in person, featuring a large sunroof; a series of colorful murals depicting The Ascension of Reman Brennan, and four windows looking out at many of Minthera’s other legendary structures, including the Great Cathedral of Beatrice and the Julian Assembly. Banners depicting Ferdinand’s heraldry, the Overflowing Chest, hung on both sides of the locked door. A wide white and gold carpet led up to a large desk, upon which rested several books, stacks of parchment, and two bottles of wine.

“Not like it did much good” Alistair said, shaking his head. “I’m sure we’ll be back to riots in the streets by tomorrow.”

“Perhaps. But for now, your abolitionists are defeated,” Ferdinand said as he walked over to the desk, pulled out a chair, and sat down. “They left the Assembly today with their heads in their hands, crushed by the knowledge that their figurehead is a traitor. Anyone who takes to the streets would be reserving a place in the Carcerium right next to you.”

“I’m no traitor,” Alistair insisted. “I took a stand against injustice. Who cares if it was inspired by Venomar?”

“I didn’t label you a traitor. You can thank your brother for that.”

“Tell me. Did you know?”

“About Venomar? I concluded my investigation some time ago—much to your Letherious’ dismay. How he found those two scavengers is beyond me. “As you can see you’re your brother’s. . . ” Ferdinand said, pausing to glance out the window. “Growing support has caused me a great deal of trouble.

“I’ll say. You’ve lost control of the Senate.”

Alistair doubted what he saw earlier was an isolated incident. He suspected Letherious and his Expansionist counterparts had been pushing the Emperor around for months, maybe even years.

“I haven’t lost control!” Ferdinand shouted. “Letherious is the Senate. He’s their bulldog, their rabble rouser. He says things even the most radical slaver wouldn’t dare.”

“I doubt you brought me here to discuss my brother’s lust for power,” Alistair said. “Drop the blade already. But know this isn’t over. Someday, the slaves will be free.”

“I hoped you’d say that,” Ferdinand said, smiling. “Despite today’s events, I’ve invited the abolitionists back tomorrow. I’m sure few will come, but I’m hopeful enough will attend for debate to flourish.”

“And why would you want that?” asked Alistair, bewildered. “You’ve got your scapegoat right here.”

“Because I didn’t hold this Summit to make matters worse, Alistair. I have an Empire to fix. And I believe you can help with that.”

Alistair could not believe it. Was this some kind of a ruse? A trick to pump him for information, perhaps? He’d limped here in chains, certain he would be executed. What did Ferdinand intend to do?

“Then you’re not going to execute me?”

“Not if you fulfill your duty to the Empire. Your relationship with Venomar is of benefit to me,” Ferdinand explained.

“I will not kill the man. If that’s what you want, you can send me back to the cells,” Alistair snarled. Ferdinand laughed so hard he looked as though he might fall out of his chair.

“If I wanted an assassin, I’d hire one. You’re no fighter, Alistair. Your encounter with the Den of Whispers proved that. Besides, it’s been tried,” Ferdinand placed his left hand on a large stack of papers on his desk. “Just a few times.”

“Then what do you want?”

“It’s more about what I need. What the Empire needs. An end to Venomar’s Rebellion,” Ferdinand slammed his fist down on the table. Alistair shrugged his shoulders.

“Still sounds like you want to kill him.”

“If I kill Venomar, another will take his place,” Ferdinand shook his head. “Such is the way of things. And that one might be worse! He may truly be a terrorist.”

Of course Ferdinand knew the truth about Venomar’s nature, Alistair thought. He wondered how many Senators knew, and who was behind the widespread slander about the Seragorn Arkresh. Letherious probably knew, though Alistair suspected the propaganda ran far deeper than that.

“I am sending you to Avarad with an Imperial envoy. I need you to convince Venomar to negotiate with me,” Ferdinand ordered.

“I’m no errand boy. Send a letter,” Alistair shot back.

“We exchanged several before he attacked Palmeria,” Ferdinand stood up from his chair and began to pace the length of the room. “But Venomar’s terms were non-starters. You cannot trade something for nothing. He seems to think certain things are entitled to his people, but it is not that simple.”

“That’s no way to handle diplomacy. What does he want?”

“He wants every slave set free and the entirety of North Avarad,” Ferdinand explained, stopping in front of the locked door. “I understand North Avarad is part of his ancestral lands. But that province is essential to the Empire’s wellbeing. I cannot surrender it.”

“North Avarad supplies the entire Empire with grain,” Alistair replied. “The food markets would collapse. You’d have to disband several legions to offset the cost.”

“Precisely” Ferdinand nodded and turned around. “I offered freedom for the slaves in exchange for peace and something of equal value. He refused, calling anything less than both of his demands a ‘half victory,’ and my request for a concession a ‘second slavery’. So instead, he’s opted for war, and intends to fight until his demands are met.”

“Is peace not enough? Slavery is wrong. You shouldn’t need to negotiate to do what’s right!” Alistair insisted. Ferdinand sounded much like himself before he released his slaves, he thought. Aware of its immorality, but too scared to take action.

“You did what was right, and they nearly killed you for it!” Ferdinand slammed his fist, knocking a stack of papers off the desk “They desecrated the home of The Ascendant all to stop the beliefs of one man!

“You’re the Emperor, your word is law!”

“Absolute power is greatest lie in politics, Alistair! You saw the power the Senate holds. Negotiating with Venomar will be dangerous enough to begin with. But if I leave without a fair deal, they’ll bury me next to Baudelaire,” Ferdinand sat down in his chair and let out a deep sigh. “And that will help no one.”

From behind the triple locked door came a low pitched, guttural cry. Alistair recognized the noise as something he’d heard before, but he could not place it. A childhood memory with no context; a randomly remembered lyric without a full song to connect it to. Ferdinand turned his head, a look of great concern on his face.

“What the hell is that?” Alistair asked.

The Blue Helms and Ferdinand’s chamberlain, a grey haired man dressed in a blue doublet and green trousers, paid no attention to the noise, as though it were as commonplace as a servant pouring a glass of wine.

“Nothing,” Ferdinand replied quickly. “Cedric, remind them I’m in a meeting.”

Cedric, the chamberlain, nodded and began the lengthy process of opening all three locks. He then stepped through the open door, and closed it again.

“I hoped you and your brethren would argue well enough to convince the Senate to abolish slavery,” Ferdinand replied, returning to the conversation. “But now I see that without peace in Avarad, there can be no true freedom for the Seragorn. Even then, the Senate will have a difficult time accepting it. But if we can receive something in exchange, I believe they may at least tolerate it.”

“You’re right,” Alistair said. As long as we’re at war in Avarad, they’ll always be seen as the enemy. And even then, they’ll be in danger.”

Alistair had done what he could to protect the slaves he released by offering them employment and passage to lands like the Virgos Isles, Jedor, and Oyrosi, where slavery had long been illegal. But if the entire Empire freed their slaves, they would need far more to ensure their safety.

“Perhaps that’s something Venomar can assist us with,” Ferdinand suggested. “You are a businessman. He is an idealist. You need to convince him to see reason and drop his demands.”

Once again, Alistair saw no alternative. He just hoped the Seragorn Arkresh would listen to him. Clearly, resolving the conflict in Avarad would be more difficult than he realized.

“I’ll do my best. I’d hope he’d listen to my council.”

It pained him to do so, but he’d already begun thinking of suggestions he could make to Venomar. Offers he could put forward in exchange for freeing the slaves. The bigger issue, however, would be talking the Arkresh out of North Avarad. Venomar mentioned its importance during their first meeting, and Alistair had no doubt convincing him to leave it in Claudian hands would be as difficult as convincing a tree to run a mile.

“For your sake, Alistair, he’d better,” Ferdinand said, pointing at the abolitionist. “Until he agrees, you will remain under Imperial custody. The Knights of Hamilton will escort you to Avarad, where you will contact Venomar and convince him to negotiate with me. If you succeed, you will be pardoned. But if you fail, then I will have no choice but to put you on trial for treason. And we both know how that will end. Do I make myself clear?”

“As day, Your Grace,” Alistair nodded his head. “I’ll succeed. By The Ascendant, I swear it. I’ve always thought abolition offered our best chance for peace.”

No matter how much value Venomar placed in North Avarad, the slaves were more important. Surely, he could make the Arkresh see that.

“It still does. A necessary peace.”

The door behind Ferdinand opened. Cedric stepped out. He closed the door, relocked it, and returned to his place at the Emperor’s side.

“I assume all is well?”

Cedric nodded.

“But I must ask,” Alistair began.

“Yes?” Ferdinand replied, turning back to Alistair.

“Why? Your predecessors wanted nothing but war with Venomar.”

Ferdinand sighed, leaned back in his chair, and looked over at a ledger on his desk.

“You mentioned the economy. The Imperial treasury is on the brink of collapse,” Ferdinand explained. “Between our efforts on the Irridan Frontier, the rising cost of tuition for Mage-Students, protecting the Icebane Border, and this damnable conflict, I hardly have enough coin left to feed our soldiers. With the current budget, we’ll be bankrupt in a year’s time. And then Venomar will win regardless.”

Ferdinand looked wounded—as though the admission itself had ripped a hole in his chest. Alistair was shocked. As he recalled, the Senate gave Ferdinand the Nine Rings of the Emperor because they believed he could repair the Empire’s floundering economy, not drive it further into the ground. Before he took the throne, Ferdinand had owned businesses in everything from wines to clothing. If he could not find a simpler solution to the Empire’s money crisis, there likely wasn’t one to be found.

“We’re spread too thin. Investing in too many causes,” Alistair said. “It’s time to pull back, and focus on what made the Empire the power it is to begin with.”

“Agreed. But that cannot be done without peace in Avarad,” Ferdinand replied. “In your speech, you said you loved the Empire. You called it the greatest nation in Theranos. Anyone with sense knows that is true no longer. Help me, and we can begin to make that a reality again.”

“Very well. You’ve got a deal, Ferdinand. I see no other option.”

“Because you have no other option.”

Alistair tried to stand, but the Blue Helms moved their blades in front of his throat the second he started to move.

“Woah, watch it! I’ve already said I’m going to help!”

“Guards, let him up, but do not remove his chains.”

Two Blue Helms grabbed hold of Alistair’s arms and lifted him up.

“Come now, what good am I bound like this?”

“No good. I don’t want you casting any magic until you’ve returned.”

“But you already know I’m useless in a fight!” Alistair pleaded.

“Then if your group gets attacked, it’ll make no difference,” Ferdinand countered. “Take the door to your left to the Planetarium. There, you can meet with my emissaries and plan how to best reach Venomar.”

“That won’t be easy,” Alistair said as he walked over to the Planetarium door. He’d heard rumors of the Planetarium, a room with a full map of Theranos projected by Phatan’Era technology. Mohaven would probably lose his mind if he laid eyes on it, Alistair thought.

“I’m confident you’ll find a way. You did once already,” Ferdinand laughed.

“By accident,” Alistair shook his head. “Doubt it’ll be so simple this time.”

“Nothing this important ever is. Best of luck, abolitionist. The fate of the Empire rests in your hands.”

Alistair nodded, and the two Blue Helms opened the Planetarium doors. As he stepped through the threshold, he thanked The Ascendant he was alive at all. He was a prisoner of the Empire, but a prisoner with the purpose. And if he succeeded, he’d not only save his life, but the lives of every chained Seragorn. He just hoped Venomar would have the sense to listen to him.

#

“Do you think he knows?” Ferdinand asked as the Planetarium doors shut behind Alistair.

“From the sound of screaming alone? Doubtful,” Cedric replied.

Ferdinand took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and massaged his forehead. It had been a long, arduous day. Alistair discovering the secret he kept locked in the Suite’s family quarter would’ve been the crowning jewel in a landslide of seemingly insurmountable setbacks. The Summit had been an utter disaster, and only through the abolitionist’s new mission did he have any hopes of recouping his losses.

“Tell Eugene to block off all entry into the Carcerium’s top level. Don’t even let Letherious in there.”

“That will be difficult, sir. Senator Blackwood has a master level security clearance.”

“I know he does!” Ferdinand shouted, kicking his desk. “Tell Eugene no one is allowed in!”

“As you wish, Your Grace. Should this succeed, how do you think Senator Blackwood will respond?”

“To me completely outmaneuvering him? I simply cannot wait to see the look on his smug face.”

Ferdinand smiled. He and Letherious had been close once, but that was before slavery became the Empire’s most pressing issue, before the younger Blackwood brother made his desire to wear the Nine Rings painfully evident. He remembered well the first time Letherious took control of the Senate as he had earlier that day. It surprised him then, but had since become commonplace. No longer, Ferdinand swore. So long as Alistair returned with good news, he’d be taking back his Senate for good.

Cedric glanced back at the triple locked door.

“For his sake, let’s hope Alistair can pull it off. He’s going to be—”

“If I didn’t want to discuss it with the abolitionist, then I surely don’t wish to discuss it with you, Cedric,” Ferdinand said coldly, without even looking at his chamberlain.

“Very well, Your Grace,” Cedric sighed. “Will that be all?”

“Indeed. You may go.”

Ferdinand waved Cedric off, and the chamberlain walked out of the room. The Emperor poured himself a glass of wine, and chugged it down. He then stood up, walked over to the door behind him, and opened all three of the locks. Inside, bathed in moonlight, Isabella, Ferdinand’s daughter, sat holding an infant Seragorn.

“I suppose asking him to sleep at night is too much?” Ferdinand asked after closing the door.

“A baby is a baby, no matter what race,” Isabella replied. “Don’t you remember doing this with me?”

“Shamefully, no. Your mother handled most of that work. I suppose this is my comeuppance.”

“I dare say it is,” Isabella sighed, and her eyelids began to flitter. “I’m tired. Mother just fell asleep. Jaker went to bed hours ago. Could you take over so I may join him?”

Ferdinand walked over and took the infant Seragorn from Isabella. Almost as soon as the child left her arms, she succumbed to sleep. The boy had the pale green skin of his father, teal eyes like his mother and grandfather, and on his left hand, azure ley lines signifying his status as a Mage-Blood.

“I’m trying, my boy. I promise you, I am.”