Eldest and Youngest Son of the Sun
The midday sun beamed down, reflecting off the polished stone of the castle to illuminate the internal chambers wherein the royal couple sat in repose. Just then, a lady knocked on the chamber door and entered.
“My king, my queen- the boy Zacharion.”
The boy, now bathed and attired in clothes more pleasing to his hosts, emerged from behind his minder. He thanked the lady with a carefree embrace, and then her masters sent her out to fetch food and drink for them.
Turning to his hosts, Zacharion said “What do you wish to know?”
Again sitting, Zebulon waived to a third chair and bid the boy to sit down. “Tell us in whole how our common master passed.”
The boy did sit, and then after a pause he began: “I knew for some days that Master Ilker was not feeling well. Yet, with difficulty, he kept up his work around the cabin. In addition to training me, he also began having me dig into the earth in a space that he marked out and then drag a great stone from nearby to it. In the final few days his breathing became very difficult, and I had to take over his work as he could not complete it anymore. It was then that I realized that he was dying.”
“What did he say to you?” Keela said, her eyes showing what her voice and posture did not, “He sent you here not just to give us things that we left with him long before your birth and tell us that Ilker died.”
Zacharion nodded. “The night before, after he refused supper, he had me help him walk to the hole that I dug for him. He said to me ‘I die this night, after a long life. I had many allies, many enemies, many friends- but no family but what I made. I told you much of myself, as I saw myself, but soon you must leave this place because only you can tell the world that I am at last gone from this place.’ I felt sad, but also at peace. I felt a presence greater than us calming me, as if to assure me that—thought this must end—there is yet a place for me in this world, even if I must journey to assume it.”
White-haired Zebulon and Ever-Fair Keela gave each other knowing looks.
“That was when he said ‘You shall take my horse and go into the world to tell all of my allies and friends that my time in this life is done. I insist that you personally visit each and every one of my former students and allies, and let them tell you of their time with me. When you come to know the truth of my life, then you may come home to claim what I bequeath to you.”
His hosts did not respond in words; their looks were enough.
“I do not know what that is either.” Zacharion said with a shrug.
The elder couple smiled. “To the end, still the same Ilker.”
“I was a young man when I met Ilker.” Zebulon said, “Not much older than you, and with no fortune but what I made for myself as I was the youngest son of a nobleman and had neither land nor any other consideration made for me by my father. My elder brothers were not fond of me, and my father could not find a place for me elsewhere because that was when the Brilliant Empire fractured into warring factions and my father’s old friends had lost their influence in the world.”
"This was the time of the Creeping Night.” Keela said, “The ones then called ‘The People of the Moon’ moved into the world, bringing whole nations into thralldom, using corrupted houses and the men of those lines as vessels for their schemes before they could openly walk amongst us. It was a time of whispered plots, of madness hiding as meanness, and of tongues slick with poison for hearts and minds used.”
“With trouble comes opportunity, for those fearless or foolish enough to risk it, and I was both.” Zebulon said, “Already Ilker had some acclaim as a leader of skill and cunning, thwarting incursions by cult-lead degenerates and bandits, as well as a man of virtue and steel. I asked my father to meet with him, and he did come, but not for my father’s sake- instead, for mine. He heard of the distress that we knew, as times strained our house’s ability to hold us all together, and Ilker took pity upon us. Ilker took pains to test me, and when he found that I had solid skills as a warrior as well as potential for leadership, Ilker struck a pact with my father. My family since then had been faithful to him.”
“Master said that you were one of his best.” Zacharion said, “He often praised your courage and heart, and held your skills in high regard, even if the two of you disagreed on matters of philosophy.”
“I still remember his disappointment when I told him that I accepted the crown. ‘A man like you must be free to the whole world!’ he said, ‘Yet you would chain yourself to a single state, and be thereafter ruled by the interests of that crown instead of all the nations in common. ‘ I felt the sting of his disapproval keenly, but Master Ilker was always far beyond the world in his view of things, though I am proud that my reign has made possible a greater quality in the Solar Nation than ever been seen.”
“I remember him not being so approving of me either, at first.” Keela said.
“An opinion that changed after you saved my life during the Sack of the Black Tower.”
“Yours chiefly, but one of many I saved during that war.” Keela said, turning to the boy, “That was when I became ‘Keela of the Knife’, as I had to cut out so many Life-Stealing Shards from the bodies of so many men- or cut down those so far gone that I could not save them.”