The final argument

Written by Kristóf Szöllösi

Callor di Orotter, the newly crowned Duke of Dérhalom, felt himself about to burst with pent-up emotions. His father's body had barely cooled down at the funeral home, but these cheeky nobodies, these Sehonna sole lickers, were already making fun of the old man and the entire di Orotter house! At this thought, the hot-blooded young man's hand jerked towards the dagger hidden in the sleeve of his jacket, but he gathered strength and stopped the movement halfway.

No. Carnage cannot be a solution here and now, only a nice word. After all, that's why they came to Svaeladon, the Maeron Grand Council, right? To show the world how much better they are than those Shadow Valley murderers, and to try to resolve their problem peacefully, involving the lords of the other duchies, before it turns into more serious bloodshed. At least that's what Mevera had explained to him on the way here, and he'd learned over the years not to question his sister's word on political matters.

So he didn't pull out his hidden blade, just took a deep breath to quiet his angry mind, and then looked deeply into the eyes of the cake-faced scribe standing before him.

"I'm afraid you didn't properly assess the seriousness of the situation," he said with forced politeness. "My father, Helsam di Orotter, Duke of Dérhalom, was murdered two weeks ago." They poisoned his wine so that he would drown in his own blood! And we can prove that the di Vemmar family of Shadow Valley ordered this disgraceful act, and we have come to hold them accountable in front of all of Enerith!

"It's clear," the clerk sighed resignedly, and then began sorting through the documents lying in front of him. "However, what I said before still stands." If your name is not among those invited, you cannot enter the amphitheater.

Anger flared up again in Callor's heart in an instant. They were already so close to their goal! Literally at your fingertips. The Grand Council of Maeroni met in the theater in front of them, overlooking the sea, lit by hundreds of torches and lanterns. The colors of Enerith's rulers gathered here to discuss the continent's most important issues and to administer justice in disputed cases.

They would only have to take a few steps and they would be inside. Just a few steps, and all of Nouros would find out how many scheming, scheming dogs live in Shadow Valley. With a few words, Mevera could turn the great lords on Dérhalom's side, whether it was the blue-cloaked wizards of Yrannon or the withdrawn necromancers of Rawadar, there could be no doubt about that. They should just get into the amphitheater and bring justice to his poor father.

But the interior of the theater could have been on Tharras with that much power. A few steps or a few thousand miles, it didn't matter, it seemed clear that they weren't going to get in. The cake-faced official looked like a real bastard who wouldn't recognize noble blood even if it was spit in his face, so they couldn't expect any concessions from him. Of course, they could have tried the harder way, to see if the scribe would be in a more lenient mood after a few slaps, but there were also half a dozen spears of the Prince of Svaeladon hanging around the entrance. And unlike the emissaries, they could keep their weapons.

Callor cast a cold glance at the rest of the Dérhalm delegation, but he had to realize that he could hardly expect any help from them. Mevera insisted that they appear before the council with the smallest and most innocent entourage possible, thereby emphasizing that they had nothing to fear, but what had seemed like a good idea last night, in the warmth of the inn, seemed like a banal side dish while hanging out at the gates of the amphitheater. . Behind Callor were only a few elderly and burly nobles from Emerald Gorge and Golden Field, and none of them looked like they could take on the city guard.

I just wish she had brought some of her tougher cousins with her! Then this cake-faced nobody would talk to him in a completely different tone!

"Look, we're dealing with an important matter." Very important,” Callor tried again. His jaw tightened and he felt a vein start throbbing on his forehead.

- No matter how deeply your family was affected by the death of your father, I don't think that their accusations are more important than what Count Arneo del Orovis had to say or the presentation of the honorable ambassador from Vaila. – The scribe sighed tiredly, then sat up behind the Dérhalm delegation and glanced at the ever-longer line. - Matters of such minor importance are discussed by the External Council anyway! - he concluded the discussion, and even had the presence of mind to make a sweeping motion with his fleshy hand.

Less important? Less important?!

Callor wanted to scream. He wanted to impress upon the fellow that House di Orotter was one of the oldest ruling families in Maeron. If their blood flows, then the blood of the whole region flows. Insulting them is like insulting the most exalted rulers of the legendary Quoronia! His hand moved towards the hidden dagger again, and this time he didn't even want to hold back, but then he felt a soft touch on his shoulder, which instantly dispelled the red fog that had settled on his mind.

"I see there's nothing we can do here, Callor," Mevera said in a low but firm voice. "The mighty of Enerith are too engrossed in their petty games to recognize the real problems." So let us go to the Outer Council to discuss the death of our beloved father with those who can understand the magnitude of our grief and anger: the other princes of Maeron.

Callor had to admit to herself that her sister, as always, had hit the nail on the head. After all, what could the gruff soldiers of Neiralis or the profiteers of the League of Kalmar Warriors understand from the gravity of his father's murder? Probably nothing. It would be better to discuss this matter in the Outer Council, where the princes of Maeron will render justice for the spilled blood of the Lord of Dwarf, and where the princes of Maeron will pronounce damning judgment on Shadowvale.

He gave the scribe one last, disdainful look, then turned around and trotted off with his entourage in the direction of a nearby side street.

***

The Outer Council met in an old but colorfully renovated castle, just a few blocks away from the amphitheater that housed the Maeron Grand Council. The building's majestic limestone walls, fountains decorated with wonderful sculptures and richly carved, solid oak furniture quickly made Callor forget all his anger. On his way here, he grumbled that as a Maeron prince, he shouldn't be pushed into the background by some foreign envoys at the Great Council, but seeing the ornate castle, he had to admit that this place also seemed worthy of revealing the case of his father's murder to the other rulers.

The audition itself took place in the ballroom. The walls here were covered with beautiful tapestries, all of which depicted classic hunting scenes, and the glass ceiling was designed so that the moonlight falling on it illuminated the center of the room. The organizers of the External Council sensibly moved the speaker's podium to this place, on which Mevera now stood.

"Dear princes, esteemed assembled, my dear friends and allies!" I wish I could greet you on this beautiful night with a nicer word, but unfortunately I have to give you some sad news - Sister Callor began her speech, which she had practiced at least a hundred times on the way from Dérhalom to here. – As you have probably all heard, my noble father, Helsam di Orotter, protector of Dérholom and truest follower of the Immortal Lords, is no longer with us. Died. He was murdered! So I come before you today to serve you justice! Let the guilty head fall, so that we can wash away with blood the stain that fell not only on Dérhalom, but on the honor of Maeron as a whole!

The princes and their ambassadors roared as one in the hall, and Callor, who was sitting right next to the podium, absolutely understood why. Mevera stood on the dais as if she had stepped out of some ancient realm, a legendary quor queen. He raised his chin, pressed his lips to a razor-thin, and in his eyes there was that strange mixture of determination and ferocity that hovered around him during all his speeches.

Approving murmurs and encouraging applause could be heard from all corners of the ballroom, even the Yrannon inquisitors in the corner seemed to be nodding in agreement. Only a modest delegation of a couple did not react to Mevera's words and sat as impassive as they had been a few minutes ago. Callor didn't even have to look to know it was the Shadow Valley. The lord of Shadow Valley, Reslar di Vemmar, did not have enough honor in his heart to appear in person at the trial, so he sent his third-born son, the repulsive Koltan di Vemmar, in his place.

The impossibly fat young man, wrapped in colorful silks, took a seat in one of the back rows, with bodyguards behind him, and a strikingly young fourteen-year-old niece by his side. In his fleshy left hand he held a cup of wine, and with his right hand he caressed her thigh lazily, while he never took his watery eyes from Mevera for a moment. Callor's stomach churned with disgust at the thought of such a repulsive figure staring at his sister, but he tried to reassure himself that in a few days, Koltan, like everyone else in his cursed family, would be held accountable for what he had done against his father. for assassination.

"The Duke of Dérhalom is being killed, he was attacked from behind, because no one would have dared to try to kill him directly!" Mevera continued his speech more and more fiercely. – His own butler, Victom Bolvar, poisoned him one night before the bodyguards could intervene!

Upon hearing this, several people in the hall roared, while others shouted loudly and demanded the butler's execution as soon as possible. However, Mevera did not let them interrupt him, he continued in a raised voice.

– After his arrest, until the beginning of his interrogation, the assassin insulted Dérhalm, with a fervor that we have only experienced from one of our neighbors so far. And if that wasn't enough, we also found out where the roots of the Bolvar family go back. To Shadow Valley! To the possession of our chief rival and most infamous adversary!

In an instant, there was silence in the room. The princes whistled and shouted freely until the life of a cupbearer was at stake, but now that the first serious accusation was made, they all restrained themselves. They knew very well that anyone who starts to approve now commits himself to Dérhalom, and such a step could even have long-term consequences, depending on how the later part of the hearing turns out and how many allies Mevera can bring to his side.

"Gentlemen, are we really wasting each other's time by listening to such frivolous accusations?" Koltan finally spoke in a slow, bored voice, who didn't even bother to stand up or take his hands off his niece. "Scolding Dérhalm is no greater crime than insulting the Kalmárhadurs, and who cares what hole the ancestors of some bugger peasant crawled out of?"

The silence was still not broken, but Callor saw from the corner of his eye that the representatives of Wind Gorge and Star Lake were nodding their heads in approval. Of course! Those unprincipled nomads have been playing the tune of Árnyvölgy for many decades, you would have thought that even such a despicable murder would not change their opinion. But they can still win everyone else over to their cause. True, Koltan had acted very superior so far, but Mevera had only come up with the most insignificant evidence. His goal with this was to lull the people of Áryvölgy into a false illusion of security, at least that's how he explained it the night before at the inn.

"You won't beat anyone by acting stupid, Mr. Koltan!" Callor's sister snapped and turned slightly to the side to look directly at the Shadowvalley delegation. "It's a shame enough that Reslar sent a two-legged pig to represent the di Vemmar family instead, don't make your situation worse by trying to deny the obvious!" My father has been a big thorn in your side for a long time, don't deny it! He obtained from you the right to stop goods on the national road in Vessettrév and Svaeladon, not to mention that he also deprived you of the ores extracted from the Busongó mines. He was a better trader, a more skillful diplomat and a greater warrior than you, that's the truth!

"He couldn't avoid the poisoned chalice anyway," Koltan interjected, to which Csillagtó's emissary laughed nervously, but then silence fell on the ballroom again.

- After searching the butler's room, we found several letters that gave instructions to carry out small and large sabotage actions, and all of which were closed with the coat of arms of the di Vemmar family. And if that wasn't enough, the assassination was carried out with a scorpion berry, and everyone knows how much the lords of Árnyvölgy like to use this poison if they want to get bigger and better people out of their way.

At this, the nobles of Smaragdszurdok and Aranymező jumped up, as Mevera had discussed with them well in advance, and burst into enthusiastic applause. Besides, they weren't alone. Callor could see at least five or six other emissaries nodding their heads, indicating that the members of the Outer Council were growing in sympathy with them. It was not for nothing that when her sister got into oratory, her words even found their way into the hearts of the truly powerful. Callor knew, felt, that they had a winning case. They will walk out of here as if they have bought compensation for their father, this is not even possible to dispute.

"Caller!" Shut up your bitch or I will, but there will be no thanks! screamed Koltan, whose greasy forehead was covered in huge, pearly drops of sweat. "What baseless accusation is this?" Forging a seal is not a great art, and the scorpion berry can be obtained by anyone with a few crowns in their pocket and who knows where to look for it. Show proof, you scumbag! Concrete evidence or expand from here!

Hearing this, Mevera smiled. It was a curt, mirthless grin, the kind a Daleron dueling hero would flash at his opponent before delivering the final, fatal blow. And Callor's sister was prepared for just that. With his left hand, he reached into the tassel hanging from his belt and pulled out a small, fragile flower with black petals.

"Black ram that we found on my father's lifeless body after the assassination," he announced in a dramatic voice, raising his hand high above his head so that every member of the Outer Council could clearly see the petals darker than night. – This is the legendary flower of Shadow Valley, which can only be found in all of Enerith in the innermost gardens of Reslar di Vemmar. Everyone knows, Koltan, that your men did this to the pieces of Count Laemir who was quartered, as well as to the graves of the leaders of the Spring Peasant Revolt who were buried alive. Are you saying that it also came from somewhere else, and that it was only by sheer chance that it was brought to the side of the murdered lord of Dérhalom on that fateful evening?

It already worked. Those gathered in the hall jumped up as one. There were those who rewarded Mevera standing on the podium with a standing ovation, while others screamed red-headed and demanded Reslar's execution as soon as possible. It was one thing to kill an insignificant nobleman or brutally put down a peasant rebellion, but killing a prince was a completely different story. Callor's mouth stretched into a wide, satisfied smile.

He would have liked to have bled the di Vemmas himself to avenge his father, but in the end he was satisfied with what they had achieved here. The dogs' heads would roll, that was out of the question. Their family trees will be wiped out, and their wealth and possessions will be distributed among their neighbors. Who knows, if you're lucky enough, you might even get to burn them on a pyre of dry wood instead of beheading them. That would be the only truly worthy fate for these cursed Shadow Valley residents!

He was about to go to help Mevera off the podium when a huge thunder shook the palace.

The walls shook, the candles lighting the ballroom danced wildly, and the glass ceiling cracked and threatened to break under its own weight. Desperate shouting began in the distance, and the members of the Outer Council immediately began wailing, loudly demanding their bodyguards to rush them to safety as soon as possible.

At the moment of the thunder, Callor instinctively cowered to protect himself from any falling debris, and the next moment he felt something small and fast speed past his head. When he lowered his hand and looked around the room, the first thing he saw was Mevera. Her sister was still standing on the podium, but not quite as gracefully and confidently as she had been a few moments ago. He was now crouched, his hands pressed to his stomach, and Callor saw coldly that a short, black-feathered arrow protruded from his fingers.

Assassination!

Callor made it onto the podium with a single jump and caught the cowering Mevera. Her sister's body felt like a heavy weight in her hands. His mouth opened again and again, his lips formed soundless words, but he could no longer speak. Blood was leaking from his teeth, and the color was draining from his face at a frightening rate. It could only be the effect of poison, the arrow itself should not have been lethal.

- Everything will be fine! Callor moaned, his tongue stuttering in shock, as he clung to Mevera as if he could chain her to this world as well. "Listen, Mev, everything's going to be alright!" We'll get out of here, get you a healer who'll knock you out in no time, and then we'll watch the execution of the di Vemmas together, okay?

They were desperate, pleading words that belonged more to a wish than a ready plan, but Callor could think of nothing else. His muscles froze, his brain was unable to form logical thoughts, and his world narrowed to his sister lying in his arms, breathing more and more slowly and with difficulty.

Mevera smiled faintly, her mouth opened one last time as if she wanted to say something, and the next moment the life left her. His body still lay in Callor's hands, but his soul was far away, leaving to return to the Stream of Life from which it had emerged at the time.

In an instant, the dark curtain of grief fell upon Callor. He just knelt there on the podium with his dead sister in his arms and didn't know what to do. Where did you screw it up? How did he deserve the wrath of Fate, that it first took his father and then Mevera away from him so suddenly and so violently? And anyway, why was he so foolish as to think that nice words could achieve anything?

The red flames of anger rekindled in his heart, more fierce than ever before. He was wrong! He was foolish enough to believe Mevera when he talked about the importance of diplomacy and the power of good speeches. He should have taken blood revenge against all the di Vemmar freaks over his father's funeral, but he didn't, and his sister had to pay for his faltering in the end, with her life!

But now he has learned his lesson, once and for all. He won't be weak anymore.

Behind him, the podium creaked as someone else climbed onto it, and the next moment he heard the uncertain, trembling voice of one of the delegates from Aranymező.

"Is everything alright, my lord?" You shouldn't...

Callor did not hear the continuation. His soul was consumed by a wildly snarling mixture of revenge and anger, but a cold, calculating calm settled over his mind. Slowly, carefully, he laid Mevera down on the planks of the platform, then straightened up, his eyes fixed squarely on Koltan and his experiment. The fat man was just trying to get up from his chair, but he froze in the middle of the movement when he noticed that he was being watched. The bastard di Vemmar's limbs were trembling, and sweat was literally dripping from his huge body. Well. Just be afraid! See what he does with it!

Callor never took his eyes off the Shadowvalley delegation as he charged across the ballroom, heading straight for them. True, he didn't see a crossbow or any other weapon on any of them, but he didn't let that bother him. They shot the arrow! Mevera's blood is drying on their hands! After all, who else would be in the interest of such a vile act? Koltan's bodyguards tried to stand between Callor and their master, but they could not prevent the hot-blooded young man's plan, since he was not going after the fat man in the first place.

A dagger pulled from the sleeve of her jacket flashed in her right, and Koltan's niece fell back in her chair with her throat cut from ear to ear. The blood gushing from the girl's neck thickly covered both the fat man and Callor, but the Duke of Dérhalom did not care about such things now, he just stared straight at the third-born di Vemmar boy.

"Is this your revenge?" Koltan moaned after a few seconds of silence. "Are you paying for your own sister with the blood of a teenage whore?"

"I didn't kill you just because you deserve a slower death," answered Callor with icy calmness. "I will torture you to death in your own dungeon along with all your relatives." I will paint the Maeron red with the blood of the di Vemmarok, so that everyone will know that the people of Dérhalmi are not worth being angry with themselves!

"Oh, there will be plenty of blood here, we agree on that," laughed Koltan with a self-satisfied head. Now that he knew that Callor did not want to execute him, his courage immediately came. "There will be as much blood as the sea!" The only question is, will you be able to stay afloat, little di Orotter, or will you rather drown?

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