“I’m telling you, there’s something not right about this! Why would I lie about a talking greywolf? Why would the Dechi surrender right after the Alpha was slain? Their forces were powerful enough to keep fighting even if their wolves stopped!”
“As far as you could see. Which is to say, not very, considering your view was from beneath that great hairy corpse.” Gillireth laughed. “I knew we would be victorious from the start. Jarrah is never wrong. It was fated.”
They rode astride horses through the remnants of the battle. Now washed and in fresh attire, they looked their royal selves again, especially Gillireth in his crown and tidy beard. Still coated in filth, their soldiers were tending to the bodies of their fallen comrades, carrying them off to be dumped into mass graves. The Dechi had retreated to their nearby castle and were expecting a visit from the king to discuss terms. As brutal as the long war had been, it followed a certain cadence to which all civilizations at the time were accustomed.
The day had aged by the time the pair had reached the Dechi citadel at the other end of the expansive, rolling fields. The conquered ones and their beasts stood about in the surrounding streets, watching the men. Zolan felt every set of eyes as he dismounted and entered the stronghold in toe with his brother. He felt very much an interloper.
A tall, thin Dechi man with long, slate-grey hair stood beside an empty throne, greeting them. “Congratulations on your victory,” he said with a smileless bow and mysterious accent. “You have managed not only to slay our Alpha greywolf, but our king as well. Without their leadership, we are lost and cannot risk this fighting any longer.”
Gillireth’s eyebrows rose. “Your king has also been killed? Well! One of our soldiers is either very modest or very dead,” he snorted. “But enough flattery. I have come to discuss terms.”
The thin man nodded. “I am Hemming, steward of the throne. This war has left us short of many things, but young maids is not one of them. We offer you the late king’s delicate daughter as your prize in addition to our kingdom, and all that remains of its riches, if you will accept our surrender.”
A small young woman dressed in red was ushered in from one of the side halls. Her amber eyes darted up and down from the floor to the brothers. Her hair was a rich gold with streaks of white laced into a long braid. Though she was only eighteen years old, she was the most alluring woman either of the men had ever seen.
Gillireth was immediately smitten by the fair princess. His eyes glistened with a look of satisfaction which Zolan had never seen before. “Tell me,” the king asked, “what is your name, young lady?”
Her voice shook as she told the floor, “Calysta.”
“A beautiful name for an even more beautiful maid.” He took her elegant hand and bent down to kiss it.
“Brother-- I mean King, may I have a quick word with you alone before we move any further?” Zolan asked sternly.
Gillireth sighed, half lidded. “Alright. We’d like just one moment alone, if you please,” he told Hemming. The brothers were left in the quiet throne room.
“Do you not think it would be wise to consult Jarrah before you make your decision?” Zolan asked.
“Really Zolan, I thought you of all people would be eager to find some peace with these folk. What’s gotten into you? She’s a girl, gentle as a lamb. How dangerous could she possibly be?”
“It’s not just the girl,” Zolan said. “It’s this whole business. Something doesn’t feel right.”
“Just because Jarrah isn’t here doesn’t mean you’re my new mystic advisor,” Gillireth joshed. “We can ask him about the girl later. Now if you’ll let go of this foolishness, I expect there’s a wedding to be arranged!” He smiled gleefully.
Gillireth and Calysta were wed that night under a veil of stars so that he could enjoy his spoils without delay.