12 The Prince of Darkness
The meeting of the surviving Karainas was not going well. At all.
At first Scarlett thought everyone was in a bad mood because it was just past dawn, and they still hadn't eaten anything. That, besides the fact that everyone had lost someone they loved the day before, would be reason enough for the women to be at each other's throats.
However, a few minutes into the meeting, Scarlett was beginning to understand that not everything had been running smoothly among the Karainas, even before the attack.
A group of about fifteen Karainas were saying that they had been unhappy with Grina's decision to keep them away from the fighting going on in the nearby kingdoms. That their influence had waned over the years because the High Chieftess refused to let them intervene until it was inevitable. And that that had given the Hova the confidence to strike the way they did the night before.
The other women defended the High Chieftess' decision, saying that she made that decision in our best interests. We would go when we were needed, but not before. We had to preserve our own, and concentrate our power when the time was right. If the kings and queens themselves weren't taking measures against the Hova, why would the Karainas go out and fight?
Soon, all the women were out of their seats, talking heatedly to each other. Some yelled, and others seemed ready to break out into fist fights. In the corner of the room, Voty looked on silently. Pakuri walked around the room, listening to the multiple conversations going on, and Scarlett stood near the door.
She was growing impatient.
Regardless of what the women thought about Grina, she wasn't the issue here. They needed a leader, and they needed to decide what to do about the kidnapped girls. While they wasted their time arguing, the Hova could be crossing the wall, taking the girls and Mimbi away forever. If they couldn't even keep the Hova out of their own village, how could they ever attack them in their lands if they wanted to get the girls back? They could be separated and taken to different places; tracking them down later would be impossible.
When Ragnor walked into the room, all hell broke loose.
Behind him, two guards held up the captured Hova. His face was concealed by a hood, and he had been stripped from the waist up. He was so… human-like, thought Scarlett. The only difference between him and other men was that his skin was so much paler. Almost transparent. His dark veins contrasted with the whiteness of his skin.
Half of the Karainas moved towards him with knives and swords. The other half tried to stop them.
"ENOUGH!" yelled a leathery voice.
It was Wenna, the star watcher who had been assigned temporary leadership of the village.
"I know I've been invited here just to hear you out, and that I have no say in who will lead you. But I haven't been able to hear ANYTHING because of your squabbles. So, I will act as secretary of this meeting and we will proceed in an orderly manner. We are all in pain, but we must set aside our grief for now," she said, speaking slowly and firmly.
It was clear that her years had given her the wisdom and calmness that few other women possessed. Despite her years, which were close to seventy, she stood up straight and held her head high.
"You, tie him to that chair," she said, pointing a wrinkled finger at Ragnor and the Hova.
Ragnor nodded. The two guards moved the Hova towards the center of the room, and tied him up on the wooden chair that was placed there just for him.
"We attempted to interrogate him last night, but he refuses to speak to anyone other than your leader," said Ragnor. "I believe that is you, Matron Wenna."
"Take off his hood," said Wenna.
The guard removed his hood, and almost everyone in the room gasped. The Hova's face was even paler than the rest of his body. His lips were dry, almost bloody. He slowly opened his mouth, as if setting his jaw, showing off his pointy teeth. Then he opened his eyes, which were a bluish silver that Scarlett had never seen among humans.
Then the insults began. They yelled at him, calling him monster, murderer, scum. It wasn't until Wenna raised her hand that the yelling stopped.
"What do you call yourself?" said Wenna to the Hova.
"Before we start with this 'trial' or whatever this is supposed to be, I want to say that I am deeply, terribly sorry about your loss. And that I swear on my life that everything I speak here will be the truth, and nothing but the truth," said the Hova, looking up at Wenna.
Scarlett could swear that the women were growling.
Wenna walked up to him and slapped him in the face.
"Do not mock us, Hova. And don't take us for fools. Your words mean nothing to us. Your life is ours now, and we will decide what to do with you after we're done using you in the way that we see fit," she said.
The Hova didn't react. He only nodded.
In the corner of her eye, Scarlett saw that one of the guards was whispering in Ragnor's ear. His brows were furrowed, and his eyes darted between Wenna and the Hova's back.
"What is your name?" asked Wenna again.
"Since I doubt my name will help you believe me, let me say something first. The attack on you yesterday was just a diversion. A coalition of several armies are preparing to march on your kingdoms. What they did here was a precautionary measure, so you wouldn't be present in the wars to come. You are the only ones the people of my kind really fear. And what you saw yesterday, was some idiotic noble's brigand of mercenaries. They are not Davorin's real army," he said, almost in one breath.
The women started whispering, but Wenna ignored them and slapped the Hova again. This time, she slapped him so hard that something in the Hova's mouth cracked, and a thin trickle of blood began to fall down the corner of his mouth.
"I will ask you one last time. What is your name?"
"Acheron," he said, spitting out some blood.
"WHAT?!" screamed a woman from the back.
Wenna took a step back, as if she had just seen a ghost.
Ragnor unsheathed his sword.
Another woman called out, "Cut off his head, now! We can't keep him here!"
"LIAR!" screamed another woman.
Scarlett had no idea what was going on. Pakuri and Voty seemed just as confused as she was, glancing at each other conspicuously.
"Your family name wouldn't happen to be Pendragon?" said Wenna, once she had composed herself.
"Sadly, it is," he said.
"Then why are you betraying your father, Prince Acheron, son of Davorin?" said Wenna, making everyone's hearts almost stop.