The Crownless Traveler descends the mountain.

Xelious crag is rocky, steep, and precarious, and with each unsure step, the Crownless Traveler watches stones break and roll, down below his worn grey cloak, down and away from his leatherbound ankles and sandals, down and out of his sight. One rock juts out firm, and he rests upon it awhile, surveying the lands below.

The free kingdoms of Illinwyr stretch as far as he can see, inviting meadows and farms. In their midst, a great stone castle, and the Crownless Traveler is reminded of the Atavistic Throne, so far away now. The castle is comparably nearer, and he will reach it in days.

Rustic timber farmhouses and tilled land, cleared of trees form the outskirts. Authentic people, simple lives. The Crownless Traveler passes through high fields of wheat, grasps outwards, strips the grain from one stalk. He stares at the grains as he walks, each an entire universe, his own just one, like all of these, so long ago. He eyes a mill up ahead, and places these few grains in his pocket, sparing them from being ground to stardust. He will save them all.

It is market day in the town, hawkers with stained and dirty clothes holler and call. Raucous crowds watch jugglers, or gather around the town crier to hear the news. The Crownless Traveler pulls his hood across his face. He does not wish to be recognised, does not wish to be delayed.

At the steps to the castle, rough men in hardened leather, helmets, and blue and gold cloth cross halberdand pollaxe, bar his way. The Crownless Traveler pulls down his hood, reaches for the scabbard at his waist. He need not draw it this time; upon sight of only the hilt, he is ushered into the great hall. Her spies warned to expect him.

Long tables draped with silks run the hall, a brazier at their centre. At the head of the room, a golden throne on a raised dais of blue carpet. A woman sits there; lithe and pale, a regal dress of blue silk; a crown of golden hair.

She sees the weapon before she sees the Crownless Traveler, and calls for food to be served. He sits across from her at the royal table, and a thousand courtiers take their own seats. A servant comes soon, serves food – roast meat and vegetables. Then, the Crownless Traveler causes a stir, for of a thousand mouths in the room, only one soul eats.

The queen pushes her chair out amid the silence, calls for a servant to bring water and a cloth. She falls to her knees, reverently removes the sandals from the Crownless Traveler, and washes his feet. A thousand courtiers drop to their knees in veneration.

“Will you sit upon the Atavistic Throne?” she asks.

“There is much to be done first.”

The Crownless Traveller stands, runs barefoot out of the hall. The queen holds her skirt and pursues; a thousand courtiers and guards follow, a train of confusion. He runs around the castle, to the top of a tower, finds a single guard posted before a stack of firewood.

The Crownless Traveller stops, considers the pyre. The onlookers abate their breath. The Crownless Traveller reaches for his sword. With cautious, steady movements, he holds the scabbard in his right hand , and with his left, he clasps the hilt, draws the sword.

An inch of blade shows, and the whispers begin. He continues to draw, half the blade now shimmering rainbow, and the whispers become voices. He girds his courage, steadily continues unsheathing, and the voices are shouts, maddening, cloying shouts of endless souls, regrets of all things done, of all things undone, of memories of the worst thing to ever happen.

The crowd covers their eyes and ears, run screaming from the sight, but the Crownless Traveler steels himself, and plunges the blade into the pyre. In seconds it burns alight, a bonfire blazing with every hue from the blade. Yet as he pulls it from the fire, only a sliver of its brilliance has been spent. He sheaths the sword, empties the breath from his lungs.

She stands, still watching, showing no fear or excitement, just elegant stoicism.

“You light the beacon”

“I call for aid.”

“My armies are your spear, my navies are your carriage, and my spies are your ears, human. For all of our sakes.”

“Muster every man in the free kingdoms who would stand against this. Travel south across land, and rally at the lands of the golden light. Ride for ruin.”

“The library. It holds books from...before. Yet you must hurry. The dread pirate lord sails on it even as we speak.”

The Crownless Traveler nods in understanding. Rough men in blue and gold form a guard of honour, as he heads towards the coast.

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