A/N: Some explanation is necessary here - as the Lay is written in first-person and entirely from Jaya's perspective, I have no way of exploring things that happen out of her direct experience. Hence this little appendix, for any side stories where inspiration strikes, and allow me to flesh out more of the era of the War of the White Dragon as well as perhaps some tales of the original Lay, with Mishuvel and such. It also allows some cameos on the Asmodian side of the war effort. :D Anything published here in Mending The Broken Wing is considered canon with the storyline of the Lay.
This vignette is inspired by a german fan of the lay called Sen Cross, and a pair of characters that when she described them to me, I just had to write something... Published with her permission. Timeline with the Lay is circa Ch.25.
Carcarron is less a country keep than it is a fortress, and Kaith cannot help but be aware of it.
It is a forbidding structure, the castle at the center of the Twinned Duchy's seat of power; dark stone flecked with shiny black, and when it catches the sun the keep as a whole gleams against the whiteness of the snows that yet surround it, a monument to artful power - an old keep, and one built to withstand sieges as much as the harshnesses of an Asmodian winter. In Ishalgen where he was born, it is already blooming spring, greenery reclaiming the territory it has lost in the colder months, but the thaw will not come for some weeks to Carcarron. It has bred a hardy people, and Kaith sees the evidence of it everywhere as he and his brother are ushered gently through the keep.
Everything is precisely ordered here, a testament to the discipline and love of liege that the men and women here hold for the lord of Carcarron. Multitudes of armories leaned gently against the inner walls are stocked with glittering weaponry and polished armor, well-kept, better guarded; sentries patrolling on the battlements, the upper entrances left blocked by snow, as much to confound the enemy as to ensure that those who are on the wing have the advantage of mobility, even in the closed quarters of the castle. Tents ring the grounds for miles, bivouacked housing for the brave souls that have answered the Dragon's call to arms, each legion laid out in precise lines that keep the tent-city from becoming a tangle of interwoven territories. In the west courtyard, glimpsed from the air on the approach and then again as they follow their escort through the corridors, he can yet hear the sounds of a drilling batallion, sometimes in formation, sometimes in pairs and lines, and when they pass aground they are joined in an utterly chaotic free-for-all that has Erimes fidgeting with the pommel of the sword slung across his back, curls of aether drifting up through his leathers, betraying his longing for the skirmish. The soldiers fight with naked steel, the better to whet their appetite for battle, and Kaith's brother is aching for the slightest invitation to join them.
It is not to be - at least, not yet. Kaith touches Erimes lightly at the elbow, and the young Daeva makes a face, allows his hands to fall away from the hilt of his blade, though his fingers still twitch and flex as he watches the skirmishing over his shoulder when the escorts lead them away. Perhaps later, when their business is concluded.
One does not lightly dismiss the summons of the White Dragon, after all, no matter how politely it is worded.
Aelinian Carcarron, the Dragon himself, is in his office when the escort ushers the brothers in. He stands when they enter, a gentlemanly gesture and a respectful one, previously seated behind a desk of silvery-grey wood, delicate-seeming at a glance, but the desk is as old as the keep, polished smooth, the surface slightly dished from the usage of a thousand lords before the one that currently holds the post. There is much about the presumptive Lord Carcarron that is deceptive; he is slender, for one, but his bearing is dignified, powerful beyond his frame; his height is neither particularly impressive nor particularly lacking, and while he is in fact shorter than either of the brothers he has called to summit, his presence is that of an Asmodian nine feet tall, with the quiet confidence to match. An indigo cast to his skin, eyes the dark azure of twilight skies, black hair in places gone early to white; Kaith does not think them an affectation of vanity, not when he surveys the battle-scars that stripe across Lord Carcarron's nose and mar his brow. Young he is, practically new-Ascended, but a Duchy and the title of its founding duke were accolades given in war; Kaith does not think that the line of Carcarron has allowed its sons and daughters to forget this fact, either.
There is a blade resting in its scabbard, the leather swordbelt slung across the top of the Dragon's horn-backed chair and only the white bone-pommel visible over the top, and when Erimes sees it, Kaith senses more than sees his brother's interest piqued. An immortal in the heart of his own army, yet he keeps his weapons as close as his allies, and closer.
A war-lord in the purest sense of the word, then. Curiouser and curiouser.
"Welcome, gentlemen," says the Dragon, and he indicates with a splay of one taloned hand to the chairs before the grey-wood desk, the other palm rested flat upon what appears to be a sheaf of parchment-papers. "Have a seat, and we'll dispense with the formalities, if it makes you no nevermind. We do not stand upon ceremony here at Carcarron, at least when I can help it. I only beg you hear me out before you ask your questions, which I am sure will be many."
The brothers exchange a glance as they ease themselves down into the chairs; Erimes, habitually careful of his weaponry, is visibly intrigued by the prospect of doing away with as much of the usual noble frivolity as possible. Kaith would sigh, if he thought he could afford it in the presence of Lord Carcarron; certainly if the Dragon wishes to win his brother over to his cause, he is doing a bang-up job of it thusfar.
"My aim here," continues the Dragon once they are all comfortably seated, he himself regaining his chair with a certain absentminded grace before lacing his fingers together in the air before him, elbows on the desk, "is nothing less than a successful assault into the very heart of Elysea, to take Sanctum itself and stamp out the heart of the Elyos resistance." Erimes sucks in an excited breath through his teeth, the blunt statement of his mission more than enough to set an edge in his teeth and a boil to his blood. "It is an ambitious goal, and one that most of Asmodae has held at one point or another in their lives. I believe that I can make it a reality." He leans forward across the desk, quietly impassioned, calm and confident with it; Kaith can almost feel the magnetic pull that the young Daeva has in the earnestness of his words, raw charisma the likes of which the Chanter has never before seen. "You have seen something of the soldiers that have joined the cause; I can tell you with complete honesty that those stationed here at Carcarron are merely a fraction of those pledged to my banner, less than a fifth. And for every hundred mortals under my command, there are ten oathbound Daevas."
"That's -" When Kaith sucks in his breath, it is for an entirely different reason than his brother, for such an army has never been raised before, except beneath the aegis of Asphel-Umbra himself. Even Erimes is startled by the figures, but where the fires of war are beginning to burn in his gaze, glimpsed through the sheaf of his jade-green hair, the Chanter is boggled by the sums. The Dragon, azure eyes piercing, waits patiently for Kaith to right himself; the elder brother finds his feet easily enough, though he is momentarily annoyed with himself for being so easily unbalanced by Lord Carcarron, by all accounts a half-weaned pup of a Daeva, frighteningly young to be at the helm of such power. "That is an impressive claim, my lord - but if you have rallied so many to your cause, then why are we here? Surely your coffers must be strained enough, feeding and housing such a force, that two mercenaries are not worth the expense."
"Do you want us to join your army?" True to form, Erimes is leaning forward somewhat in his chair, his entire aura one of ferocious anticipation. Aelinian Carcarron could not have set his gambits with more effective bait, whence Erimes Karvahal is concerned.
But the Dragon unfolds his hands and smiles, a calculating look that sends a spike of adrenaline surging northward through Kaith's spine. "No. I want you to lead it."
If so much as a hair falls from their heads in the silence of that office, Kaith would hear it.
Carcarron leans back in his chair, his face carefully neutral, but clearly secure in the fact now that he has the brothers' undivided attention. "There are problems inherent in such a large force - one of which is that, despite my leadership, I am only one man, and even Daevas sworn to serve another will jockey constantly for position. Merely the act of finding a place in the hierarchy of factions causes ripples. Ripples cause waves, and waves will cause this army to tear itself apart long before we can achieve our goals. Therefore, I find myself in need of lieutenants, gentlemen - lieutenants that are eminently capable, and able to act with autonomy when necessary. Men and women who will rally their spirits, not inspire them to infighting." His black brows rise, azure gaze pinning the pair of them in place. "The pair of you are my first choices."
It makes Erimes suspicious, and he scowls, dark as a thundercloud on his tattooed face. Kaith's brother has his flaws, but no man is without his silver lining, and Erimes's is that his first thoughts are for the protection of Kaith. He snorts, shifts his weight, stares the Dragon in the face and does not apologize for the unrepentant snark in his tone. "Really. Us. Over all of these alleged Daevas you already have under your command? Am I supposed to be impressed?"
Kaith makes a small gesture with his near hand, reining in Erimes, just a touch. Their roles are beginning to reverse, now; it is Kaith who is intrigued, Erimes who is watchful. "This is a genuine offer, I think, brother. Do you even know who we are, my lord?"
Another rise of the lord of Carcarron's brow. "I would hardly have invited you into the center of my fortifications, if I did not." He flips aside the top sheet of the sheaf of papers before him, the gesture almost negligent; Kaith does not need to squint to see his name written there, upside-down in familiar script, and further down the page, his brother's. "Kaith Brightfeather, originally of the Duchy of Karvahal, in Ishalgen. A bluebird, the notes say, rather unusual. Once you Ascended, you left Karvahal for the first legion that would accept you, and spent your early years making a name for yourself as a Chanter in the Abyss. Your former commanders speak very highly of you and your poise under fire." Carcarron flashes a grim smile. "At least one such, General Lethe, has asked me to tell you that you are welcome back in her legion at any time, should you ever decide to abandon your mercenary ways and start acting like a civilized person again." A talon held up in deflection. "Her words, not mine."
Erimes snorts again, but the arrogance of his relaxed set is belied by the slow tensing of his frame; the both of them are waiting for the Dragon to go into detail about Kaith's parentage, of the Elyos that raped their mother in order to sire the bluebird upon her, of the undeniable fact that Kaith is of mixed blood and ungently bred to boot, while Erimes is not. But it does not come; Raum flips another page and continues on, as if the knowledge of the Chanter's halfbreed status does not concern him in the slightest, as if it is an extraneous detail to him, such as the color of his eyes or hair. "Erimes the Swift, born Erimes Karvahal, also of Karvahal in Ishalgen, an eagle. Formerly Brigadier General of the Shadowwing legion, before their disbandment - at your behest, I see. The most knowledgeable of your peers claim that you followed your brother into the sellswords, rather than the other way around. They also claim that you are eminently pragmatic in combat, and highly skilled with a blade." The Dragon abandons the papers at his desk, calm and cool where he sits in his chair; Kaith cannot help but wonder where he is going with this line of inquiry, but it is, of course, Erimes who charges headlong into the fray, heedless of the political mindfield that they have found themselves in.
"And do you know what he is? His heritage?" Erimes gestures abruptly with his chin to his brother, hands fisting on his knees, a dangerous cast to the boyish planes of his face. "Do your papers tell you that? In the sense of full disclosure," he adds bluntly, intentionally trying to provoke the wrath of Lord Carcarron, to sniff out a reason to throw his offer back in his face, "I think you ought to know what you're getting into, because let me tell you, I won't stand for Kaith to be sniffed at just because you found out after the fact."
A more honest show of filial devotion, Kaith could not have asked for, though perhaps he might need to impress upon his dearest brother the importance of not humiliating either himself or their host, just because he has the option to. The Dragon's poise is remarkable in the face of Erimes's rudeness, however; he merely regards Erimes coolly a moment, then flicks his azure gaze to Kaith. "May I ask you a question?"
"Certainly," says the Chanter, though he cannot help a certain sense of wariness.
"Are you capable?" There is no malice in it, no teasing, no snideness or the sneering that he has come to expect from those around him; it is a simple inquiry, calmly asked, and makes Kaith's brows fret as he searches for the barb beneath it, and finds nothing.
"Yes, my lord."
"Strong?" persists the Dragon, in the same manner of tone. "Stout of heart? Able and willing to command?"
"Of course," says Kaith sharply, affronted, his pride bridling at being questioned in such a way. "I could hardly have earned all that I have, were I not."
"Then what does it matter what your heritage is?" says Lord Carcarron, frankly and patiently, and Kaith and Erimes both are left staring at the young Daeva behind the desk, for the first time in a very long time caught entirely off their guards. The Dragon folds his hands one over the other, leans once more across the desk, his head slightly tilted and his words even and measured. "The sins of the father are not that of the son, Kaith Brightfeather. To hold you accountable for your birth would be to hold the sun accountable for setting. The moons accountable for rising." A dismissive gesture, the flick of one lifted set of talons. "It is a thing you had no say in the making of, nor a thing that you can alter. It holds no interest for me." He pauses; the lord has a sense of timing to rival any Chanter. "What does hold interest is the man that you have become. You have grown into power despite all of Asmodae being arrayed against you. The deck, as the saying goes, was stacked far from in your favor, and yet you emerge, stronger than before. That speaks to me of a powerful will - a will I would have at my side, as my ally. You would bow to no one. And if any in all my legions speak against your bloodline," this last is sent not for Kaith's benefit, but arrows directly into the heart of Erimes's argument, the young lord of Carcarron's face stern and his eyes hard as flint, "then you may report them directly to me, and we will see if old Daevas cannot learn new tricks."
There is a span of heartbeats where none of them speak. "You're serious," breathes Erimes, and the Dragon nods solemnly, returning his gaze to the assassin.
"Deadly serious, eagle. There is no other kind, in time of war." He gestures for the closed door behind them, an expansive spread of hands that encompasses the keep as a whole. "I grant you free run of Carcarron and all the forces stationed here, if you like; you may inquire among the soldiers and Daevas yourself, even the commonfolk, to see the truth of what I claim. You are my guests, and as such you will be fed, housed, and treated with the utmost respect while you make your decision. It is not a light one, and I do not expect an answer without a chance for great thought. Any further questions that cannot be answered by my people, you may ask me directly."
It is uncomfortably like a dismissal, but the Dragon has a budding empire to run; as he and Erimes left the office, this time without their Carcarrese escort, that fact becomes more and more prominent in the forefront of his mind, and Kaith is unsure as to whether or not that is a positive thing. On the one hand, he wonders what Asphel himself might make of all of this, if he and his generals know the full extent of what the Dragon has wrought here - but on the other, the Dragon's offer speaks to his pride, whispering a sweet promise of recognition for all that he has done as a man, and not all that his sire had done to ruin him.
He has lived in the shadow of his mixed heritage for so long that he has almost forgotten the taste of sunlight, and now here into his previously uncomplicated existence is the Dragon, offering him room to grow.
Tempting - more than tempting.
They find themselves in the west courtyard, leaning against the stone walls with their arms folded across their chests, watching the soldiers drill again; like a moth to a flame, Erimes is drawn there, and he restrains himself from asking to join the fray only on his brother's behalf. "I don't know about this, Kaith."
The Chanter sends his gaze to Erimes's face, features schooled to blankness. "Do you doubt his intentions?"
"No, of course not," and the eagle scowls down at the tamped-earth floor of the yard, scuffs his bootheels in the snow-damp dust. "For love of Aion, he wants to sock Ariel herself in the face, and he very nearly has the strength to do so. I'd give my left arm to be a part of that." A curl of his lip, a sudden fang-flashing grimace that Kaith cannot identify until his brother speaks again. "It's you I'm worried about."
Kaith startles a little, and the smile is on his mouth before he can stop its flowering. "You doubt the genuineness of it, then."
"I doubt he has the pull to keep them all from slinging 'bastard' and 'halfbreed' in your face at every opportunity, that's what I doubt." Erimes comes off the wall, begins to pace; the campaigners nearby are calling to his blood, to the ferocity innate to his bones, and he defers it only for sake of Kaith, who is the only being that matters to him in all Atreia. Kaith would be properly touched, if his brother did not so much resemble a caged panther, marking out the bars of his prison with every step. "I'm sure he can assault Sanctum, and he may even take it - but I'm not as sure that he can keep his promises about giving you a place of honor. One that no one can usurp."
The words spill from him: "But brother, what if he can?"
Erimes stops his pacing, and he and Kaith stare at each other - and in that moment, they know that there is only one choice to make.