Torlan’s brother Railon was a wanderer. He had now been traveling in countries east of Gairadane for several years, after spending some time in the North, and even a year traveling in the South, in the places which had recently fallen under the banner of Kalveston, the warlord ruler of the vast new empire which he was still forging with the blood of his countrymen.
Railon had drawn blade with Kalveston’s enemies many times over the course of his time in the South, yet he had never crossed swords with the man himself, for the Naibern was the superior swordsman, and Railon had not wished to die in the midst of turmoil he cared but little for. His skill with men and head for tactics had, however, apparently come to the attention of the emperor, who had once sent the red-haired, dark-skinned captain a white flag and an offer of respect and high pay in the Naibern ranks. Railon’s response had incited the emperor to place a price on his head, as he had nearly attacked the messenger and sent back a reply laced with insults and which concluded “Were I less of a man I would have waited for the chance to kill you in the dark as a spy would. I will not join you for power over half the world, and I will always give aid to the destruction of your plans and your life, until you are dead.”
But at the moment, the threat of the southern emperor and his hunters was far from Railon’s mind, as he waited with stoic patience for the morning opening of the gates of Jaltair, the capital of Qufaud, a country which bordered his homeland.
There were several others waiting alongside him, and he had spoken to some of them to speed the time along. However, he had discovered that, in addition to the more ordinary petitions which people might bring before their rulers many times in a month, several of them had come to demand asylum and protection from bands of rogues who were evidently coming up from the south and causing general havoc and hardship among the people.
When he heard these complaints, Railon said to himself “That fiend Kalveston has not stopped. Perhaps he is searching for me, but it is more likely that he simply wants to bring the whole world under his banner. It seems my course has been set for me.” To those he spoke to, he added “I know who is ordering this. I am a great captain and I have fought him before. I will go to your Taljun and ask him to let me lead soldiers against this threat.”
Accordingly, as soon as the gates were opened, Railon joined the crowd of people who were making for the palace, ignoring the curious looks sent his way by those who took notice of his bright hair and straight sword. “A galjan is here. What would he want of the Taljun?”
“Who can say? Even galjani can not get everything for themselves.”
“True. Let us go and attend the Taljun’s audience so we may discover what this one wants.”
Railon overheard this exchange, as the two men were standing only feet behind him in the line which had developed as they drew near the Taljun’s palace. In passable Qafaudi, he answered “This galjan wants the freedom of all people from warlords too big for their helmets. That is all.”
Soon afterwards, the opening of the Taljun’s audience was announced to the public, and those who had reason began to file forward through the intricately worked wooden gates that closed off the palace from the people. The people were sent in one by one, while those left behind waited in the wide courtyard, which was paved with stone and dotted with wide-spreading trees to offer shade to the ruler and others, until it was indicated that they should enter.
Several people entered and departed before Railon was called in. Some were visibly happy, and others appeared less pleased with the answer they had received from their ruler. It was not long before Railon himself was called to come forward for an audience, and he moved quickly, as the familiar epithet of “galjan” resounded throughout the meticulously maintained courtyard.
On entering the Taljun’s audience hall, Railon observed that the same level of care had been taken in the room itself, which was cleared of everyone except the ruler, some advisers standing close to his side, and of course Railon himself.
The Taljun, an elderly man sporting a long beard which nearly covered his chest, spoke almost as soon as Railon had set foot inside. “Are you the only galjan waiting outside? I do not grant galjani meetings freely. My men say you have the look of a great warrior.”
Giving the ruler the sweeping bow which was customary to him in such meetings, Railon replied “Yes, I am the only one, and I thank you for allowing me in to you. Whether I am a great warrior is really a matter of whose side you are on.”
The Taljun guffawed loudly at this tactical retreat of an answer. “That is a wise choice, and I wish my own men could be ready with such a one as that. But now, tell me, what really brings you here, so far from your home?”
“May I drink? I have had a long time coming here. I came to warn you that there is darkness brewing on your horizon. I have been there and seen it myself. Your people on the southern border are being harassed by bandits ignoring all opposition. Therefore I ask that you give me men to patrol your borders, and if you will not let me lead them, then order your wisest captain out to do it himself. The one who leads our enemies will not stop until he dies.”
An attendant then entered with a drink and passed it to Railon as the Taljun exclaimed “Then we must move even more swiftly than he does. I can not have my people attacked like this while I sit here.” Turning to the several advisers who stood nearby, he added “My men shall follow this man. See that they start before the sun has set a second time, and that my greatest general goes with them. Do as I have said.” As he waved airily in the direction of the viziers, two of them hurried off to do his bidding.
Passing the goblet back to the attendant who stood waiting for it, Railon said “Many thanks for your swift action. May your wisdom increase with the length of your beard. I crave leave to go now so that I may prepare myself.” The request being instantly granted, Railon was sent on his way, with a warning that a runner would be sent to find him when the soldiers were ready to start.