When armies march,
an age will end…
“The Son is rising. I can see the light.”
“The sun has risen long ago, my queen,” replied one of her holy knights.
He will expect to find a powerful kingdom to rule.
“Yes, and He shall have a kingdom worthy of His glory.”
“Your Majesty?” the knight questioned. Jonah was his name. One of the First, the five braves who’d brought her the Cup of Eternal Life.
It hadn’t worked, of course. These things never did—unless one was worthy of them. For many years Queen Genevieve had prayed to her God for guidance. She’d purged the disbelievers and heathen heretics from her lands, established order with laws to purify the soul and safeguard against the evil of pride and the temptation of sin in all its forms.
Still, the glory of God, His guiding voice, had been denied to her for all these years until one day, in her despair, she’d sought to purify her body with boiling water. No pain was too great for the majesty of her God. No sacrifice too much for the promise of eternal life in His all-encompassing embrace.
And as the scalding waves had lapped at her knees, His voice had spoken to her from the shadows. In His mercy, he’d declared her devotion divine. He’d named her His prophet and shared with her a glimpse of His power. At once, the water had cooled to soothe her burns. Her pain had disappeared, and when she’d managed to tear her gaze away from the miracle, He’d shown her another.
Awed by His power, Queen Genevieve had prostrated herself at once and sworn fealty to Him and no other. His counsel had never left her side since.
Her court might think her mad, but Genevieve knew the Holy Truth now, she was its bearer, her God’s chosen messenger in this world until He came to speak for Himself. Until He deigned them all worthy of His presence.
Your knights grow suspicious. Send them away.
“Leave me now,” she ordered. “Find me Sir Arnaud. He is summoned before the queen.”
Yes, well done.
“Why him?” she asked when the knights had left. “There are hundreds of them now, and more flock to the Holy Order every day. Any of them could carry out your commands better than the traitor.”
It is not service I require. It is knowledge. He alone has spoken to the heathen queen.
Not so. There were others: Frederick and Lucca. Oh, but yes, yes. Her weary mind remembered. Frederick was dead, long years ago now. And Lucca… a heretic made example to the rest of them. He’d screamed his dead wife’s name as he’d been pulled apart, a final affront against their God.
Bearing witness, Sir Arnaud had sworn himself into silence and solitude. His ominous words that day had sent a chill down Genevieve’s spine. “The next time you hear me speak will be my last. But my words will live on long after my death!”
As an elder of the Holy Order, younger knights took care of him, provided food, water, and clean robes. Genevieve questioned them often about Sir Arnaud’s condition. They always replied the same: “He prays in silence and never speaks a word.”
For twenty years he’s done this. For the strength of his conviction alone she ought to have him executed—his piety surpassed even her own.
She stayed her hand for one reason. With all his devotion, piety, and silence, God still hadn’t chosen him. He’d chosen the queen of Synealee instead.
When the knights returned, Sir Arnaud was with them. Age had left its mark on him, as it had on Genevieve herself. His hair was white, grown past his shoulders in shameful disarray. His beard, too, reached past his chest. The plain linen robes he wore were as clean as she’d ever seen them, save for two the dark spots that would forever stain it where his knees pressed into the ground during endless prayer. This was one of his nicer robes. She’d seen him before in ones with holes worn through.
But none of that mattered when she stepped close and looked into his eyes. Such unusual eyes he had, so steady and serene, filled with utter peace. It was said he never faltered in his routine, never displayed a hint of fear or doubt. It was said he was the silent prophet, and any who sought him with questions found answers in those eyes.
It was said…
Genevieve despised him for every scandalous whisper that bore his name. The queen had defied death, she was by far the oldest regent ever to sit the throne of Synealee. She was God’s chosen, his instrument and herald.
Yet her people—her knights—spoke of only him. In their whispers, he was no longer Sir Arnaud. He was Saint Arnaud the Silent.
No audience, God decreed.
“Leave us,” she ordered.
Arnaud showed no reaction to her command.
“I am told you speak to the heathen queen of the north.”
Not a word, or a twitch in answer. Arnaud didn’t even blink.
“What would your acolytes think if they knew their Silent One wasn’t so silent after all?”
The knight stared at her.
“You’ve drunk from the Cup, haven’t you? All of you must have. The pride of men hath no limits. Nor does their irreverence.”
“But it didn’t work. Here you are, as old and decrepit as time itself, no better than you would have been without it. Worse, for knowing your prayers went unanswered. And do you know why? None of you were worthy.”
A slow blink.
“You will tell me what was said between you and Nialei the Whore.”
He remained silent.
“Your queen orders you to speak!”
He’ll not part with his secrets so easily.
Arnaud’s gaze darted to the side and back to Genevieve. As if he’d heard!
She rushed him. Her hand raised of its own accord and struck him across the face. She felt tainted by just that brief contact, her palm stinging with the coolness of his flesh. “Tell me what you know, damn you!”
Without speaking a single word, Sir Arnaud leaned down to match her stoop and dared gaze into her eyes with a stare so direct Genevieve felt herself falling forward.
Shadows closed in around Arnaud, then swallowed all but those cursed, knowing eyes of his. She lost herself in them, her aged heart thrashing, her lungs laboring to keep up as visions took shape before her. A woman with golden hair and magic in her eyes. An endless winter. A dark cave, and inside, a hermit older than time itself, yet possessing youth eternal. And the Cup. She sensed no pride in what she saw. Only humility, awe, and love.
Genevieve whimpered, broke away and turned her back on him, suddenly cold and weary. So weary…
Enough. You tire yourself needlessly.
She couldn’t allow such a man to live. “Guards!”
Seven knights rushed in, swords drawn in readiness.
“Take him to the gallows.”
“I said take him! In the name of God, burn the heretic!”
Two of the knights seized Arnaud with obvious reluctance. God’s guiding voice said nothing, yet she still felt His presence. Surely He wasn’t displeased with her.
Arnaud stayed his guards with a simple look. “You dare invoke the name of God,” he rasped, “when the Devil whispers in your ear.”
The knights gasped, drew away in shock.
“I know what you seek. You think to earn His favor by tearing down those who oppose Him, but you’re wrong. Queen Nialei’s world is not yours to conquer. She has her own gods to obey and has little care for ours. I have glimpsed the future, False Prophet, yours, and hers.”
No, let him speak.
“You will fail,” Arnaud prophesied. “Your armies will march into Wilderheim, waving your banner with pride, and they’ll find nothing but snow and death. Thousands will fall and none by the Queen’s order. It’ll be her progeny who’ll raze your armies to the ground. Her son will be your undoing, and his cause will be just. And you, my Queen, will not live to see this come to pass.”
“Burn him,” she ordered, clenching her shaking hands at her sides. “Take him from my sight and burn him at once!”
The knights took him away quickly but without force. None was necessary, as Arnaud walked out with his head held high. Genevieve hurried to her window overlooking the courtyard, eager to see him swallowed up in flames, feverish with doubt so deep it made her shiver. Then she saw the gallows, a centerpiece platform as high as she was tall, made of steel and stone, and her shivers eased.
Then she heard her God’s soothing voice whisper in her ear, Fear not, my queen, while I walk by your side. Your armies will know the taste of victory. I will allow no other outcome.
Genevieve watched Arnoud walk up the steps to the stake and stand with his back to it. He didn’t resist when the executioner tied him in place, showed no fear as the wood was laid all around him. No quick death for Saint Arnaud the Silent. He would not have the luxury of flames lapping up his robes. The fires would burn high around him, but never touch him. He’d die in slow agony, suffocating on the heat and smoke. She would hear his voice once more as he screamed.
The pyre was lit. Flames spread to encircle him, then rose as high as he was tall. Smoke obscured her view, but Genevieve thought she glimpsed Arnaud’s face turned toward the sky, his eyes closed, and his lips moving in silent prayer. She stood there, waiting for his screams, but she was denied.
A shudder of apprehension racked her ancient frame. Could he have spoken true? “Show me again,” she pleaded, desperate for reassurance of His power. “Show me as you did that day. My faith weakens. Doubt grows in my heart.”
Look away, God crooned. All the heathens in Wilderheim could never hope to equal my power. Look at yourself and believe.
Genevieve turned away from the sight of Arnaud the Silent slumping against the post. She shuffled her feet to the hearth, feeling the incredible weight of all her four score years pressing on her shoulders. Retrieving a mirror, she gazed at her own reflection.
A beautiful young maiden stared back at her, with pale skin and hair as black as night, and lips as red as cherries. She smiled, her strength once again restored, and her faith renewed. With a reverent, young hand, she reached up to touch her own cheek, twirled around on the polished wooden floors, her slippered feet as sure as they’d been decades ago.
And she never once looked away to see the shadow disappear.
Book 3 of the Dawn of Ragnarok series is currently under construction.
“I have barely just begun to scratch the surface as I type this, but one thing that already stands out is how the story is telling itself to me. Each scene goes through iterations of a completely different plot. Like the hero of the tale, it has layers of illusions that shift and change, until I reach the truth beneath the surface. It’s a curious way to write a book. Definitely a first for me. “