Prince Aarik looked at his twin with a helpless expression. "Another victim has fallen to this strange ailment. Many of our people have died, brother. Is there nothing we can do?"
"What would you have me do? Do you think I have done nothing? I have traveled this vast world for a cure. Since this sickness has stricken our people, I've thought of naught else. I am king. It is my duty to protect the subjects of Zerus. I feel helpless. No cure can be found, and my people are dying!" King Rohman roared with frustration.
"Easy, brother. Aarik is as concerned as you. We all are," Prince Thane pointed out.
Rohman sat with his face in his hands. "I know this, Thane, but it does not lessen my frustration."
"What of the The'Rans? They're gifted with the special healing powers of the light."
Prince Kalian joined in the conversation. "Thane, you know the The'Rans are no more, and even if there were any left, only the great power can save us. No one really knows if the great power ever really existed."
The Ceyan people were many, but this strange ailment was spreading rapidly, causing the afflicted slow painful deaths. Rohman sighed, raking his fingers through his hair. "This is true, Kal. The The'Rans disappeared a very long time ago."
No one knew where the sickness came from or how it was spread. So far, the quarantine of the sick seemed to be working, but they weren't sure for how long. Stranger still, the sickness only seemed to affect Ceyans. Thane and each of his brothers had traveled their world in search of a cure, but no other races had ever heard of such a sickness.
"If the The'Rans are all gone, then why does the Crystal of Tiearen still glow? The legend of the crystal states that as long as the powers of the light survive, there are living The'Rans. Granted, the glow of the crystal is dim, but still it shines."
"But how can that be? The The'Rans were gone long before we were born. Not even the slavers of Xanadon have The'Rans, and they possess all manner of races," Rohman countered.
"I believe there is a chance they still exist," Thane refuted, his eyes locking with Rohman's silver gaze.
"Is the crystal with you now?" Aarik asked his youngest brother.
"No. It's among my other relics at my palace. I am positive the crystal still glows. If the legends are true, there must be The'Rans who possess the powers that we seek."
The room fell silent. Kal raised his head. "It is hard to make sense of this all. Should we rekindle our hopes once more when they have already been dashed so many times?"
Queen Daliah entered the council room, her gown of ilsa flowing freely around her firm figure. "Why do my sons have such long faces?"
Rohman looked up with an angry scowl on his hard face. "Mother, you know women aren't allowed in the council room, queen or no. Please leave us. We have no time for silly women's chatter."
Daliah blushed with embarrassment at her eldest son's abruptness, and turned her head to hide the expression of hurt that briefly crossed her lovely face. She looked to her other sons for support. Kal and Aarik nodded to her respectfully, while Thane smiled at her with encouragement.
No one liked to cross Rohman when he was in one of his moods, but Thane reminded himself to say something to Rohman when their mother was gone. Then again, Rohman was always disrespectful where their mother was concerned. Thane's heart went out to her in that moment. He was proud of her as she squared her shoulders and lifted her chin defiantly. The fierce look on her face said she wouldn't let Rohman deter her from why she had joined them.
Daliah smiled as if Rohman's words had not affected her. "Now that I have all my sons together, I wanted to mention that it is time for the four of you to begin your search for your brides. You're all over fifty H'trae years. Rohman, you are nearly one hundred. Surely you should understand my position when I say that it's past time for you to be producing heirs. I feel it is my duty as queen to remind you of this. The future of the kingdom is at stake. It would also be nice to have some little ones at the palace again."
Seeing the explosive look on the king's face, Thane spoke up first, trying to spare his mother the pain that Rohman's words would cause. "Mother, we're all eager to settle down and find brides, but right now we have a much larger concern than pursuing our own happiness."
The queen pouted. "But there's always a crisis of some sort. Can you not find some time to search for your mates? I begin to think that you four enjoy your whoring ways too much to settle down."
"Mother, this is no mere crisis. Our people are dying. As queen, surely you can understand our dilemma." Thane walked over to Daliah, put his arm around her and gave her a quick squeeze and peck on the cheek.
"I wouldn't be doing my duty if I did not remind you. I so rarely see you all together that I felt now would be a good time to mention it."
Thane gave his mother another reassuring squeeze. He was closer to his mother than the rest of his brothers, and it was generally he who was able to reason with her. "We appreciate your concern."
"But the palace has been in preparation for the Feast of the Flesh that will be taking place within the next few days. Women from all over Zerus will be here. At each Feast we've hosted, each of you merely dallied with the women who were here hoping to snag a royal groom, only to snub them later on. Eventually the dallying must stop. Or do you all believe in that silly prophecy from so long ago?"
She referred to the prophecy of a wandering mystic who they had once entertained in their palace. Thane could still remember the mystic's words clearly, when she had been asked by Daliah about her sons' future brides.
The sons of Pytor will find their brides in a world unheard of. These brides will be gifted with beauty and possess great skills that will save your people.
"Could it be so, Mother?" A frown marred Aarik's face as if he too remembered the prophecy, his blond brows furrowed. He turned to his twin. "The The'Rans?"
"What are you talking about, Aarik?" Daliah wanted to know.
Rohman, who looked as if he had been holding his temper in check from the minute Daliah joined them, finally exploded. "Mother! Get the farken out of here! I said that women are forbidden from entering this chamber. We have heard enough of your nonsense. Leave now or I will ground you to your quarters for ten moon risings!"
Daliah's hand flew to her mouth. With a stricken look on her face she fled the council room. When she was gone, Thane stormed at his brother, furious. "Why do you always talk to her in such a manner? She is our mother!"
Rohman's voice was as chilling as his silver eyes. "She is our mother. I do not dispute that. What is your point?"
"She deserves your respect! She is the queen. When you show such disrespect to her, especially in front of the servants, you shame her. You even let that wicked bed wench of yours, Ani, mock her. The queen! Mocked by a lowly bed wench, and it is your fault! How do you think that makes her feel?"
"I don't think about how she feels, nor do I particularly care," Rohman answered in a tone that suggested he was bored with the conversation.
"You are a most unnatural son," Thane hissed.
Rohman shrugged in response.
"Roh, you were a little harsh with Mother. Can you not antagonize her for once? She means well," Kal defended.
Rohman maintained a stubborn silence.
Aarik projected his thoughts to his twin. Mehier, you will eventually have to let this anger go. I know you hurt, but she hurts too.
Never! I will never forget what she did! Rohman projected back.
Aarik let out a mental sigh, but didn't attempt to sway Rohman again.
"Getting back to what we were talking about," Kal said, trying to ease the tension in the room. "Thane, you were telling us about your feelings on the The'Rans."
Thane was still seething over Rohman's insolence to their mother, but pushed it aside for now. "As I was saying, I believe the Crystal of Tiearen is glowing for a reason. I have researched this matter thoroughly, and the only conclusion that I can come up with is that there are The'Rans out there somewhere, and they apparently hold the powers of the light."
"Yes, we understand this, but would those powers be sufficient? Would we not need the great power?" Aarik inquired.
"I think you may have touched upon something, Aarik. I'm beginning to think that old prophecy might tie into our dilemma. Our people need saving, and perhaps we have seen no The'Rans because they are indeed in some unheard-of land."
"But what of the great powers, how can we be sure they exist?" asked Kal.
"Remember," Thane pointed out, "one of the great queens of Zerus was a The'Ran. It was said she possessed a power greater than any The'Ran who ever lived."
Rohman chimed in. "Dyshira? No one knows for sure. It was only hinted upon in the records of the Royal Lines. Besides after only a few H'trae years of her reign, Dyshira's name was stricken from the records. She was obviously barren, as King Garm died with no heirs. How could she hold such great power if she couldn't bear her mate any heirs?"
Thane wouldn't back down from this when his people's lives were at stake. "I feel that I'm right in this matter."
"All right, then, brother. Prove it. Find them," Rohman challenged.
"How will he be able to do that? You yourself have seen no The'Rans. What makes you think our little brother would fare differently?" Kal asked the king.
"I will go to the Temple of the Ancient Ones," Thane declared.
"That's out of the question. To go there without being summoned could mean your death. I will not lose another brother." Rohman's fist pounded on the table.
"I must. If I die, it's my destiny, but we could all die if I do not try."
"I will go with him," Kal volunteered.
Thane looked at his oldest brother with determination in his fierce gaze. He wouldn't be swayed even if Rohman pulled rank and ordered them not to go. A smile touched his lips as he watched the king sigh in resignation. What choice did he have? The fate of their people rested on the knowledge of the Ancient Ones.