Damrod had returned to the capital city of the empire of Naibern nearly three weeks ago, but until now had not been summoned into the presence of his Emperor. When the attendant had come for him, he had risen slowly and come after the man in a foul temper. In truth, he was worried for his life, but he had found that behaving as if he had been wronged in some way lessened the feeling of fear which rose in his mind when he thought of his meeting with the Emperor, which must come, and was more likely to come to a bad end for himself than to improve his prospects under the Emperor’s rule.
At the moment, he was following the attendant down a long hallway which was lit so poorly that the walls looked black. Even the attendant he was following was garbed in a black tunic. Unable to keep his thoughts to himself, he exclaimed loudly “Darkness and gloom everywhere! One could think the Emperor is trying to make his subjects as gloomy as he is himself!”
The attendant, who was accustomed to outbursts such as this one from men who had been called to wait on the Emperor, made no reply, continuing down the long passage without a pause.
Damrod and the attendant had been walking in this manner for some time when they finally halted before a set of large double doors which were as black as the rest of the building had been. Signaling that Damrod remain where he was, the attendant reached toward the door and grasped the large knocker situated in the middle of it. Having knocked several times, he waited silently for the call from a voice which proceeded from the other side.
The call was not long in coming. “Bring him into my presence now, though he hardly deserves to be seen!” cried the voice, in a tone which showed clearly just how low the Emperor considered most of his people.
The attendant pushed open the door, stood to one side as Damrod strode in after him, and retired once more, shutting the door on his way out.
As the emperor did not appear to be in a hurry to speak with him, Damrod was afforded ample time to study the ruler he had followed blindly for the past several years. It was not his height which made the emperor imposing, for Damrod could see that the man was no taller than he was himself. Rather, it was the face which intimidated a man. The face was worn with age, which only added every year to the hard scowl which seemed etched into the emperor’s countenance. He had a long scar on the left side which came down from his ear, coming within a fraction of an inch of his jaw before it stopped abruptly. The Emperor had black hair which had only recently begun to whiten at the edges. From the hair, Damrod continued to observe his ruler in a state of awe, letting his eyes wander until he came to the man’s astonishingly dark eyes. They were dangerous eyes, fitting perfectly within the man’s dangerous face. Once Damrod had looked into those eyes, he could not bring himself to look away, standing as one hypnotized by the fearsome stare of his ruler.
After a moment of this, the Emperor broke the silence by exclaiming “You may want to explain this, if you think it will save your life!”
Looking down at the paper the Emperor had thrown at his feet a moment before, Damrod saw the letter which Valun had sent explaining his view of Damrod’s true character.
After allowing his servant a moment to observe the note, the Emperor spoke again. ‘He desires me to exile you to a lonely island. Why should I not do so?”
“I only followed your orders, my lord.” Damrod replied, still staring at the letter.
“What am I to do with a servant who is away for as long as you were and does not once report back to me?”
“I believe those men know of you. Do you think I would have survived long if I were found to be sending messages to Naibern?”
“A good servant does not speak so to his master! Their new king sent me that! Why did they not rise up against him?”
“I can not tell you that, my lord. Mayhap they have, but I would not know, for I was sent away before it was written.”
“If you were the king, how came you to be sent away?”
“This king Valun arrived with thousands of men at his back. I could not stand against him. I was lucky enough that he did not have me executed then.”
“Would you like to show them how stupid they were to let you live?”
‘Yes. If that is your order, I would gladly do so.”
“I have been mustering the army in the days since you returned. If you had not been glad to do so, you would have had led them at the end of a pike. You will have the honor of invading the land of Corridane. Before the month is out, all those little countries will have fallen to me!”
“My thanks for the honor, my lord. May I have leave to prepare myself?”
“Go do so at once. I will order the armies to march within the day, but you shall have ample time, for the Gairbairian invaders march first.”
With a deep bow, Damrod took leave of his lord’s presence. Immensely relieved that he was not doomed to die, he went hurrying off to find a set of armor that might fit him.