Sovereign Sacrifice – Elise Kova

FİERA EASED herself away from the smoldering remnants of the fire she’d been using to peer along the Mother’s red lines of fate to catch glimpses of the future. She sat back on her heels, hands on her thighs, and stared out the wide, open window that overlooked her dying city. She had been charged with the sole duty of protecting them… and she had failed. “At least it will finally be over,” she said thoughtfully. The words made her vision real. For nearly ten long years, the Solaris Empire, led by Tiberus Solaris, had laid siege to Norin. Mhashan would not fall easily. Fiera had used the sword to see to that. And her father would never surrender; the blood of the greatest king to ever live, King Jadar, flowed through his veins and hers. They had a family name to honor, though their ideas about how exactly to do so couldn’t have been more different. She pushed herself away from the small fire pit, standing. Her scrying room was attached to one of her sitting rooms, accessible through a curtain. Fiera made her way across her chambers and into her closet. She’d need her finest to deliver this message. If they were to fall, they would fall with the same dignity they’d lived and fought with.

Dressed in deep crimson splashed with accents of bright silver, a decorative pauldron over one shoulder with chain mail draping off, Fiera stepped into the halls of the castle. Things were quiet. But they usually were these days. Hunger was beginning to scrape the very bottom of every citizen’s stomach. Most of the castle staff had been dismissed long ago with the command to conserve their energy. Fiera knew at least half of them were dead now. Only an extremely loyal few remained at their posts. Heading down a wide staircase, Fiera stepped into a side hallway accessible through a narrow door on the side of the stairs. When she was a girl, this hall had been filled with the sweet scents of perfume and fine soaps, imported from the Crossroads. Now, it was merely damp.

Humidity beaded on the walls from the heated washing tubs. Sweetsmelling soaps had run out long ago; now, the best they could do to clean their clothes was boil them. A middle-aged man tended the steaming tubs. Magic radiated off of him, sparking throughout the room as he kept each of the large, wooden basins bubbling hot. He went from tub to tub, stirring the contents. “Hanc.” “Your highness.” The man released the over-sized spoon he’d been holding and dipped low into a bow. When Fiera was young, an elderly woman would threaten to crack her knuckles with the too-large spoons if she was caught snatching soap shavings for her personal use. Fiera didn’t know where the woman was now; she’d vanished like all of Hanc’s other helpers.

“What can I do for you?” “I need you to collect all the bedsheets in the castle and begin stitching them together.” Luckily, the tubs were filled with colored garments. That meant he should have plenty of white sheets at his disposal. “It doesn’t matter if they’re clean and the stitches do not need to be tidy—merely sturdy.” He stared at her, clearly working to process the odd request. “I need you to do this with haste, as many as you can. Do you understand?” “Yes, your highness,” Hanc said slowly. Then, timidly, “Any particular way they should be stitched together?” “Not really. So long as they are white—or close enough to white—and the banner you make is large, it should be enough.” “I shall do so when I finish this wash and—” “You shall do so now,” Fiera interrupted firmly.

“There is precious little time. Remember, you need to do as many as your hands can bear in the coming hours and only stop when the time comes to use what you have produced.” Hanc gave a small nod. Fiera wished she could tell him more, but it was better not to. They all needed to keep their faith in these final hours. Ignorance while doing so was the best she could give them. Fiera went to leave, but paused in the doorway. “One more thing.” “Yes?” “Tell no one of this task save my brother. But wait to go to him until the time is right.

Perform your duty as discretely as possible. Start with the sheets not on beds to avoid suspicion, then those in vacant rooms. Use my quarters if you need a place to work.” Fiera doubted she would spend much time in them in the hours to come. “How will I know the time is right?” “Trust me when I say that you will.” It would be obvious what he was making when the time came for it—if it wasn’t obvious already. “Work with speed, Hanc.” “Yes, your highness.” Fiera left him and started back up the stairs. Her hands worried the familiar stone banisters as she wound up to the royal council rooms.

A war council was convened at all times of the day, it seemed, though the discussions had dulled the longer the siege dragged on. When she stepped into the stately room, the men and women who had been lounging in velvet tufted chairs stood instantly. “Your highness.” They bowed rigidly, hands at their sides. “Captain.” Zira, Fiera’s head knight and right hand, saluted. “Report on the city’s status,” Fiera commanded. “Grain stores have been entirely depleted outside the castle,” Denja reported, adjusting the scarf around her head. She had once been a councilor of commerce, and a good one at that. But the war had robbed her of much purpose other than rationing.

Perhaps, in the days to come, her skills with negotiation could be put to use again. “We’re relying entirely on the sea now.” Her eyes were now on Twintle. “In the waters we dare to sail, fishing has been scarce… Though, the fishermen claim that with the season’s shift, new fish should come to the area. There’s still the reserve of dried fish at my warehouse at the docks,” Twintle, councilor for maritime, picked up Denja’s report. “No breaches reported by the guard along the outer wall. No movements of the Imperial army since half their forces retreated two weeks ago,” Zira added. It was a standard report Fiera had been receiving for years now. The only variant was that each time she heard it, there was less and less to say. Most had thought she was far too young to be placed at the head of the Knights of Jadar five years ago when it happened at her seventeenth birthday.

But war changed girls into women, and softness into steel. “Any report of Imperial ships at sea?” Twintle shook his head. “Not since our last effort to drive them away.” “The pirate Adela?” “No sightings,” Twintle said, with no small amount of relief. Fiera nodded, relieved as well. They had enough to worry about. Adela could go terrorize the brutish and uneducated masses on the Crescent Continent. “Open the grain stores of the castle to the soldiers. Denja, anything you can dredge up from the bottom of barrels in the castle or city is to be turned out. Ask the nobles again to search their larders—by surprise this time.

Let’s see if we can’t find anything hidden away in their cabinets. All combatants have first claim. Let the people eat after our military, and then a curfew is in order. All non-combatants are to remain indoors.” “If I open my warehouse—” Lord Twintle began from the other end of the table. “You will quickly run out. Yes, I realize.” Fiera rapped her knuckles against the table twice; a ring in the shape of a silver phoenix rung out loudly. “This ends in the coming days. Feed our troops, give them strength.

” “You had a vision.” Ophain, her brother and eldest sibling, said softly from the head of the table opposite her. He still had not risen to greet her. The man was a shade of his former self. Fiera remembered him towering over her with broad shoulders and a noteworthy amount of muscle ever since she was a girl. But he had been one of the first in their family to begin refusing food to help it last longer, and his perpetual fast had taken a toll. “The Mother has blessed me with the sight,” Fiera affirmed. “This ends. So if you agree with my will, brother, see it done.” All eyes shifted to Ophain.

Officially, he was the head of the council as the crown prince. But Fiera was the head of the Knights of Jadar, the soldiers of the West, and that made her nearly his equal. “I will see it done.” “Then I will be the one to tell Father,” she said to him and turned to Zira. “After, I will address the people. Send criers for a royal announcement now and meet me in the armory.” “Yes, your highness.” Zira bowed low, hovering there as Fiera left the room. She rotated the heavy silver ring around her ring finger, worrying away at the smooth silver. It would end.

She had told them the truth in that. Fiera paused, staring out a window lining the hallway. She imagined a city burning, ransacked by their enemies. Was it wrong not to tell even her most trusted advisers how it would end? Pushing the thoughts from her mind, Fiera continued on to her father’s chambers. More and more often, she found him on his wide balcony. The sheer curtains that drifted in the open archways of his room obscured his form. “Do I hear the soft footsteps of my youngest child?” Nothing about her was still soft. “Yes, Father.” “Approach, girl.” Fiera did as she was bid.

Even as the head of the Knights of Jadar, she was still a girl to her father, and no amount of cunning deeds or ruthless bloodshed would change that. “What have you come to trouble me with?” Even as he spoke, silver crown heavy on his brow, King Rocham gazed out over the city. Fiera wondered if he, too, could imagine it burning. “We are making preparations for the end.” That brought his attention to her. Rocham’s dark eyes set against leathered skin scrutinized Fiera, and she let no weakness show. “The Mother has gifted me with a vision.” “Finally,” he murmured. “Well, tell me.” “This will all end soon.

” “How does it end?” “We will lose.” This was the one man whom telling could make a difference—though Fiera doubted it would. She knew how deep her father’s pride ran. Rocham settled back once again admire his kingdom, likely one of the last times he would see it in the bright afternoon sun. Soon they would be looking from this balcony at just another stretch of the Solaris Empire. The history and name of Mhashan would be wiped from the maps and reduced to “the West.” That was, assuming they still had their heads attached to their shoulders when Tiberus Solaris ruled. “Then we shall die fighting.” Her father stood and Fiera’s heart sank. “As is our way.

” “As the head of the Knights of Jadar, I must remind you our forces are tired and weak. If—” “I was the one who gave you that title. It does not give you the ability to question me,” he cautioned. Fiera continued despite. “If we fight, the losses will be even greater than they otherwise have to be. Let us at least attempt peaceful negotiations.” “I tried to negotiate with the monster Solaris ten years ago. He is a power-hungry child who cannot be reasoned with.” “Father—” “And if we are to lose,” the King continued, not hearing her. “then I will die killing the bastard.

” Were it not for her years of training, she would have shouted at him. Her hands would ball into fists and she would tremble with rage. But Fiera was a weapon. She’d been hammered, sharpened, and forged from birth. Her brother would rule. Her older sisters were royal prizes—trophies to be married off as it fit the crown. Thus, her father had not needed her to be genteel. He’d needed her to be a soldier, a tool that could take the shape of whatever the kingdom required. And that was what she had become. “You will not kill him.

With the size of the Imperial army, you will not even come close to him,” Fiera said, level, as the king started into his quarters. “But perhaps we can—” “I will take no more of your treasonous talk. The time for negotiations has long since ended. If Norin is to fall, then I shall burn it to the ground myself before I let Solaris sit on my throne.” Fire sparked to life in the air over her father’s shoulders. Fiera merely stared at him, willing her face to remain passive. Not a single emotion would betray her by floating to the surface. She had weighted them all, burning them deep within the flames of her gut. “And as the head of the Knights of Jadar, you will heed my orders. Go and ready the soldiers.

Prepare them to take one last stand for King and country. Prepare them to die.” “Yes, sir.” Fiera gave a bow and strode from the room, not one crack in her stony mask. She strode down the hall and down a flight of stairs. The royal quarters were toward the top of the castle. Down and to one side were the council chambers, comprised of meeting rooms and offices. Down and to the other were the barracks, training grounds, and armory. Two strong pillars of the Ci’Dan family had lifted them centuries ago to royalty: diplomacy and combat. Fiera strode between racks of swords in one of the oldest armories to the very back right corner, where an unassuming second door, bolted with a heavy lock, waited.

At the door’s side was a black-haired woman, eyes shining in the light of the mote of fire hovering over Fiera’s shoulder. “The criers have been sent. I gave them my horse to do it with,” Zira reported, pushing away from the wall. “Ophain is carrying out the rest of your orders.” “To the letter?” “To the letter.” “Good.” Fiera tugged at a chain around her neck. The lock on the door had only one key—the one she was never without. Through the door was a narrow hallway, illuminated by an inferno at its end. The wall of fire filled the stone passage, perpetually burning, just in case anyone dared try to break into this most sacred chamber.

With a soft sigh, Fiera relaxed her flames. With it, the slow sap on her power vanished. Maintaining the flame, day and night, was a leech on her. But a worthy one. For behind the wall of flame, a silver scabbard hung on a wall, embellished with rubies as large as a trout’s eyes that picked up the faint blue glow emitted by the pommel. “Zira, I fear this may be our last battle together,” Fiera began as she reached for the sword. “The Mother told me little of our fates following the end of this war.” “If it is the Mother’s will that I die this day, I do so with the honor of serving you,” Zira said with ease. The woman was one of the greatest mercenaries ever to come out of the Nameless Company. She knew the face of death as early and as well as her own mother’s.

“May I make a request of you, princess?” “Anything, you know it is yours.” “I know we spoke of my defending your family. However, if it is possible that this is our last battle together, I would like to stand by your side.” Fiera’s hand ran lightly along the scabbard of the Sword of Jadar. The room was empty, save for the lone sword and a narrow table below. It made the weapon seem all the more powerful. Yet the sword’s strength was wavering. When the war started, her father told her where it had been hidden—slumbering, waiting to defend Mhashan—since the age of Jadar. Fiera had been the one to take the sword, learn what she could, and harness the latent powers of the crystal it was crafted from. Doing so had dulled the sword’s energy and nearly killed her.

But the walls surrounding Mhashan had held for ten years. “Then by my side you shall be. See to it that my brothers and sisters are protected by the best in your stead. Entrust the key to the old escape route to my brother, if need be.” “What about your father?” Zira missed nothing. “The king can defend himself,” Fiera said, deathly quiet. Her father had his chance to live for the people and refused. So she would let him die with his mistakes; his fate was on his shoulders alone. “Do not waste the loyalty of good men on him.” Fiera pried her gaze away from the weapon to look Zira in the eye.

The woman had been with her now for four years and, from the start, they seemed to have a bond that transcended words. Fiera felt fate keenly. She knew its pull, just as she knew when someone’s red lines were knotted to hers. She might not always understand the purpose right away, but the Mother revealed all in time. “Understood,” Zira said with a small bow. Without a moment’s more hesitation, Fiera lifted the Sword of Jadar and strapped it to her wide belt. It was cumbersome. But so were the trappings of leadership. She had born worse burdens and still walked. Zira at her side, they left the castle together.

A score of Knights joined them in the royal stables—right at the end of the long drawbridge that connected the castle to the city across a wide, dry moat. Fiera doubted her father would even raise the drawbridge. He’d convinced himself he was ready for this fight, ready to meet his end. She, however, was not ready to meet hers. Someone needed to defend the people of Mhashan, even after they became citizens of the Solaris Empire. She held the sword that could do just that. Fiera sought a life of service, not glory in death. At the end of the drawbridge, their group of Knights met with another already there, filling in the gaps. They all wore red armbands bearing the seal of the Phoenix of the West, a sword clutched in its talons, emblazoned in silver. A crate had been carried out for her to stand on.

There were no cheers or fanfare as she stood atop the humble wooden box, looking out over those assembled. Fiera took a slow breath and clutched the leather-wrapped pommel of the sword. She tried to draw power from it—whatever power was left—so she could find the strength to do what must be done. “People of the West, this siege has gone on for nearly ten long years,” Fiera began, her voice echoing off the buildings that lined the square. “But I am Fiera, Princess of Mhashan, youngest daughter to King Rocham, and head of the Knights of Jadar, and I have received a vision from the Mother above. The end is near, and we must be ready for it.”

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