Chapter 3
Sibling Rivalry

AZ 1454 - Midsummer
Castle Zephyr, Hesperia, Zephyr

Daphne was truly thankful for Uriel's company. Growing up, she only had her brother for a playmate and he had grown distant many years ago. Having someone who she could speak with so freely was something almost no royal could ever enjoy. She treasured every moment.
She confided in him like no other. She was able to tell him about her brother's treason, her father's death, and her fears for the safety of her mother and all the brave men fighting in the Darklands. In return, he entertained her with tales of adventure from distant lands she could only imagine, harrowing excavations of ancient tombs and all the dazzling treasures he uncovered. Her heart was lightened by unloading the burden of her secrets and lifted by her delight at Uriel's tales.
Though he had stated his interest in the 'Duergar tunnels' of the Vione Mountains when they first met, he had not brought the subject up ever since he agreed to stay with her. He never asked for any compensation beyond a couple light meals and one of the lesser guest rooms. She would have given him more without a second thought, but he insisted on living as simply as she would permit. For someone accustomed to a life of privilege, she found it amazing that anyone would deliberately accept a more humble lifestyle.
Though he was never far from her side for any protracted period of time, he would occasionally spent a day or two every now and then in the nearby Delate Mountains to keep his skills as an outdoorsman keen. As for his fighting skills, he spent hours every day practicing in the army's training yard and sparring with any Bodyguards willing to challenge him. Unless her duties demanded her attention elsewhere, she made a point to watch his practice sessions.
On this day, he was facing off against a dummy with his throwing knives at an impressive distance of twenty paces. He had already thrown a few, but he always let Daphne pick how he would throw the last one. He looked at her as he twirled the knife between his fingers.
"Where do you want it?" he asked.
"The neck," she replied, "just right of the throat."
"You get more and more specific each time... Alright, over, under or side?"
"Underhanded."
"Ah... okay... Point or grip?"
"Grip."
"Ooh... You picked a tricky one this time... I can't make any promises."
"If anyone can do it, you can."
Uriel grinned, tossing his knife up and catching it out of the air.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Princess," he said, sizing up his target and then looking back to her, "but an Alf's senses would be a big help right about now, even if it was only a half portion."
Daphne had always been sensitive about her birth, but Uriel handled it in such a light-handed manner that did not make her feel quite so self-conscious about it. Even her own mother did not make her feel so at ease with who she was. The young treasure hunter truly was an amazing person.
Uriel eyed his target carefully as he twisted and drew back his arm. He looked back at her one last time before throwing. She returned a wry grin from the treasure hunter and then watched the blade whiz through the air. The point of the knife just barely stuck into edge of the dummy's neck, wobbling briefly before falling to the ground.
"Got it!" Uriel exclaimed triumphantly.
"That hardly counts," Daphne teased him. "It fell out, after all."
Uriel was not going to passively accept her teasing, however. He drew a hidden knife from the inside of his boot and offered it to her.
"It's your turn now, Princess," he insisted.
"Not me!"
"Yes, you. And you can't use any of your Alf tricks, no magic or nothin'."
"I would not even know the first thing about throwing knives."
"What have you been doin' watchin' me all this time?" Uriel asked. Taking hold of her wrist, he said, "Don't worry. I'll show you."
He guided her up to the dummy and put the knife in her hand.
"This is only five paces, so it shouldn't be so bad," he said, stepping behind her and taking hold of the hand gripping the knife. "Because this is your first time, we'll start simple. Pinch the point between your thumb and forefinger. Just like that."
Uriel moved in closer. Daphne could feel his body pressed against hers. He put his free hand on her hip and nudged her to turn sideways.
"You want your opposite side to face the target," he said directly into her ear. "Now just pull back a little bit--"
"Your Highness!"
A Royal Bodyguard rushed up to them. Daphne secretly cursed him for interrupting her lesson, but had to accept responsibility for whatever had come up. Remembering how close Uriel was to her, she quickly pulled away from him, blushing at the misunderstandings bubbling up in the Bodyguard's mind. She quietly handed the throwing knife back to Uriel as she addressed the Bodyguard.
"What is it?"
"A small flotilla has appeared in the bay and is has dropped anchor just outside of port," the Bodyguard said. "They are the same make as the transports built for the invasion fleet. A landing party has come ashore and is demanding an audience with Your Highness."
It was a curious turn of events to be sure. This could be a request for aid from the fleet, but something did not feel right. She needed more information.
"Who is leading this landing party?" she asked.
"He did not give his name," the Bodyguard replied. "He and his entourage are cloaked, but they speak our language and by their accent, they seem to be Zephyrian."
That told her little, but the Bodyguard did not know anything more. She usually worked to repress her powers of the mind, but her concern over the situation significantly weakened her control. She did not dig deeply, but she did not have to. It was much easier to skim the surface thoughts. It was easier still to ask questions.
"How many people are in the landing party?" she asked.
"Counting the leader, twelve men," the Bodyguard replied.
"Very well, Summon Lord Menelaos and Lord Dionysios. I want them with me along with eight Bodyguards. We will meet these men at the gates of the dock."
The Bodyguard bowed and said, "It shall be done, Your Highness."
Though she did not have any evidence to justify it, Daphne was gripped with a growing unease. If these mystery men were part of the invasion force, they would have identified themselves as such. Why would they hide their identities? Could they be deserters? No, they would not want an audience with her if that were the case. If they returned to Zephyr at all, they would want to draw as little attention to themselves as possible.
Perhaps they were Notians fleeing the rebels. Though they were said to have Zephyrian accents, many Westers could easily pass for natives. About a month after the invasion fleet set out from Notos, the last cities under the Protectorate's control fell and hundreds fled to Zephyr seeking asylum. It had been months since the last refugee landed on their shores, but maybe others managed to launch a fresh escape to the west.
What if they were rebels themselves? What would they want? Did they think they could strike at the Zephyrian homeland? Were the three transports the smaller or the larger type? A light transport could carry at least 200 men, certainly no more than 300, but that could mean as many as 900 men poised for an invasion. That was almost the same as the new Fourth Legion's numbers. Daphne was confident that they had the advantage, but it could be a bloody and hard-fought battle that awaited them.
"What's troubling you, Princess?" Uriel asked.
"Troubling me? Nothing."
"You're a bad liar. These people that've come in have you worried. Let me go with you."
Part of her wanted Uriel to be by her side, but she knew it would not be appropriate for him to join the delegation.
"That would not be a good idea. It is a matter of official diplomacy."
"I'd feel better bein' there, just in case there's trouble."
Daphne hesitated a moment before relenting.
"Very well, but you must stay behind me and do not speak unless spoken to and if you are spoken to, mind your manners."
"I'll do what I can."
It did not take long for Lords Menelaos and Dionysios to arrive with eight Bodyguards in tow. Lord Menelaos was the prefect of the Royal Guard and the man her father charged with the overseeing the defense of the kingdom in his absence. Lord Dionysios was the legate in command of the Fourth Legion and Menelaos' second when it came to matters of defense. Because Lord Dionysios was appointed by Daphne herself when she commissioned the new legion, his loyalty to her was particularly strong. He and Lord Menelaos did not always see eye-to-eye, but sometimes it was beneficial for a ruler to hear differing opinions on important matters.
Standing before the Princess, Menelaos and Dionysios saluted her.
Following his salute with a curt bow, Lord Menelaos said, "Your Highness, we have heard the report and I do not think it wise for you to personally treat with these strangers, at least not until we have identified them and ensured there is no threat to your person."
"Our mysterious guests have called for an audience with me," Daphne replied. "It could prove troublesome to deny them. I would think that you, Lord Menelaos, with Lord Dionysios, Uriel, and eight Bodyguards would be more than enough to ensure my safety."
"Master Uriel, Your Highness?" Lord Menelaos asked.
"He has requested to accompany me and I have granted that request."
"But, Your Highness..."
"The young man has saved Her Highness' life once already, my lord," Dionysios said. "If Her Highness wants Master Uriel at her side, I see no harm in it."
Before Lord Menelaos could argue the point any further, Daphne said, "We ought not leave our guests waiting any longer."
"Of course, Your Highness," Menelaos replied grudgingly.
A carriage was readied and the group set out toward the meeting place. It took a short while to reach the gates separating the docks from the city. As they were passing through, Daphne called out to the guard manning the gatehouse.
"You there, close the gate behind us."
"Yes, Your Highness," the guard replied.
"Is that wise, Your Highness?" Lord Menelaos asked.
"It is only a precaution," Daphne said. "I am sure it will prove unnecessary."
The gates creaked shut as soon as her entourage passed. After disembarking from her carriage, she was flanked by Uriel and her escorts. The twelve cloaked men were waiting with a half-dozen city guards surrounding them for good measure. If they meant treachery, the cloaked men would not have an easy time of it.
"You have become quite the cautious one," the apparent leader said. "Is this Zephyrian hospitality?"
The leader threw back his hood to reveal Daphne's brother Prince Carpos. Indeed, she could feel that it was him before she saw his face or heard his voice. Looking on him for the first time in three years, she could see that the years had changed him. He seemed crueler than before, more arrogant as well. She could also sense it from within his mind. As she had feared, he had come for nothing less than throne itself.
Both the men of Daphne's entourage and the city guards promptly saluted the Prince the moment they recognized him. He ignored them, though, his attention directed wholly at Daphne.
"It has been a while, Sister," Carpos said with an evil grin.
"Yes, it has, Brother," Daphne replied coolly.
"Old Menelaos I know," the Prince said, eyeing Lord Dionysios, "but who is this other? He is dressed as a legate, but I have never seen these colors before."
Dionysios bowed and replied, "Dionysios, son of Eugenios, Your Highness, legate of the provisional Fourth Legion."
Carpos arched an eyebrow.
"Raising an army in our parents' absence, are you, Sister?"
"I must do what I can to defend the homeland in their absence," she said stiffly.
"So you must," the Prince mused. "You know, it is rather cold of you, dear Sister, to meet me out here on these filthy docks. It would seem that I am not welcome in the city, much less our own home."
To avoid revealing the truth to her escorts, she spoke directly to Carpos' mind.
It stopped being your home when you betrayed it. I know why you have come here and I will not allow you to have your way.
Though unable to contact others, Carpos did have the ability to reply to another's call with his own mind, thus restricting their conversation to the two of them.
It would seem that your mind powers are even greater than Mother's. However, it is of no avail. My men have been hardened by many battles while yours are inexperienced. What can you hope to achieve?
Daphne knew the threat was no idle one. Images of his men's brutality bubbled up on the surface of Carpos' mind. It was what he wanted Daphne to see, and though she knew better than to trust it as the whole truth, she did not believe it was entirely false either. The threat was real and grave, but she had to stand her ground.
I will not quietly hand over this kingdom to you, Brother. We do not need to resort to violence, though. Go back to your fellow knaves in Notos and never return. Let this be the end of it.
Carpos responded by laughing out loud, a haughty laugh that unnerved Daphne's escorts. His true nature was coming out and it would not be long before his deeds were revealed.
The Prince abruptly cut his laughter short and gave his sister a glare that cut into her like a cold knife.
"I gave you an offer before I left for Notos," he said. "It still stands, even now. You have had four years to consider it and the moment of truth has come. Decide."
Without even a moment's hesitation, Daphne replied bluntly, "I refuse."
Carpos stepped forward and snatched her wrist, squeezing it just enough to be painful. His look was very harsh and his mind bent on having his way.
"Because you are my sister, I will give you one last chance to tell me what I want to hear before I make you regret it."
"Let her go," a voice commanded.
It was Uriel. He gripped Carpos' wrist, forcing him to release Daphne, and wrenched his arm back. Carpos looked at him in a mix of anger and confusion. His men all reached for their swords, prompting Daphne's Bodyguards to respond in kind.
Before any of them could draw and risk bloodshed, Daphne said, "Uriel, let him go."
Uriel did as she said, seeming completely heedless of the armed men around him. His focus was wholly centered on Carpos.
"I know what you've done," he growled, "and I'm not going to let you hurt her any more."
Daphne could feel their anger. Uriel for her sake and Carpos for himself. However, another emotion clouded over Carpos' mind: jealousy. It was nearly as strong as his anger.
"What is this?" Carpos asked, his voice dripping with disdain. "A little indulgence of yours, Sister? I suppose you are a grown woman, after all... but I must say that you have poor taste. Surely you can do better."
Uriel then did something neither she nor Carpos was expecting: he punched her treacherous brother square in the face. The blow was so forceful that it knocked Carpos into his Bodyguards. Time seemed to stand still in a moment of stunned silence.
The Bodyguards who were not holding Carpos and even Daphne's own escorts drew their weapons and had the points fixed at Uriel's neck.
Fearing for his life, the Princess hastily shouted to her men, "Stand down! Lower your weapons!"
While they obeyed and lowered their swords, Carpos' men did not move. Holding his injured jaw, the Prince noticed the blood trickling down from the corner of his mouth, which sparked fresh ire. Glaring at Daphne and Uriel, he shook off his Bodyguards and straightened himself up.
"Is this your decision then?" he asked. Seeing that his sister could not be moved, he spat on the ground. "So be it." He turned and walked away, talking as he went. "This could have been bloodless, you know. Remember that any deaths this day are on your head."
The Prince and his entourage returned to their boat. Soon his ships would storm the docks. Only three triremes defended the port, but could she signal them in time?
Daphne had to act quickly. She turned to her bewildered Bodyguards. She could not possibly order them to cut down Carpos before he left the docks, but she could not let his forces reach land either.
"We must defend ourselves," she said. "Lord Menelaos, return to the palace and secure the castle grounds. Let no one in or out except by my order."
"Your Highness, what--?"
"There is no time," the Princess said hastily. "Lord Dionysios, marshal the Fourth Legion and have them ready here at the docks." To the city guards, she said, "Report to Lord Eusebios and tell him to muster the urban cohorts and the watchmen. I want an entire cohort ready at the Fish Gate should anything get through the first defensive line. Divide the rest between reinforcing the gates and patrolling the city. Inform Lord Polycarpos of the situation as well."
"It shall be done, Your Highness," the more senior of the city guards said.
The city guards bowed and departed.
Daphne pointed to two of the Bodyguards and said, "You two, dispatch heralds to notify the shore batteries to attack those ships if they come into range. If they do not withdraw with a warning shot, tell the artillerymen to sink them."
"But, Your Highness..." one of them said.
"Do as I say!" she commanded. "The Prince is a traitor. He intends to attack the city and take the throne for himself. He is defying the order of His Majesty the King and threatening the people of Hesperia. There is no time to waste! Hurry!"
"Ye-yes, Your Highness."
The Bodyguards went to mount their horses and rode off. Daphne then gave orders to the others.
"You two, accompany Lord Menelaos. You two, get a century from the urban cohort at the Fish Gate and clear the civilians from the docks."
"What about you, Your Highness?" Lord Menelaos asked. "Are you not returning to the palace?"
"No," Daphne said. "I will remain here."
"Your Highness!"
"My father always said a king must lead from the front. In these times, a princess will have to suffice."
"Your Highness, I must insist."
"You have your orders, Lord Menelaos."
Lord Menelaos furrowed his brow and replied, "Very well, Your Highness. It shall be done, but I am sending more men for your protection."
Daphne gestured to the remaining Bodyguards and said, "In the meantime, these two and Uriel will be enough."
"As you say, Your Highness."
Lord Menelaos, Lord Dionysios, and the Bodyguards left to execute their orders. Daphne looked out into the bay at Carpos' ships and then to Uriel.
"What else can I do?" she asked.
"You're asking me?"
"I have studied all the classic strategists," Daphne said, "but I could use a more... unconventional perspective."
"Well, when you put it that way..."
Uriel looked around for a moment before finding something. He pointed to the great Lighthouse of Helios, about half a furlong to the north of where they stood.
"Do you know how that lighthouse works?"
It was a curious question for him to ask, but Daphne replied, "If I am not mistaken, there is a large bonfire at the pinnacle of the tower. Its light is reflected by mirrors of polished bronze and fanned out by a crystal lens."
"A crystal lens? Is it locked in place or can you take it out?"
"I think it can be removed for repairs or replacement," she replied, albeit unsurely.
"Okay, let's go."
"Where to?"
"The lighthouse, of course. The carriage is too slow, so let's take a horse."
With all the saddled horses in the entourage gone, they had to unhitch the horses from the carriage to ride. Daphne and Uriel rode on one and the Bodyguards took two of the others. They raced across the docks toward the lighthouse.
The Lighthouse of Helios was said to be the largest and tallest in the entire world. Along with Castle Zephyr, it was among the crown jewels of Hesperia and the whole kingdom. Of course, its height posed a considerable challenge in their urgent situation.
The interior wall was lined with a spiral staircase that extended upward many fathoms. As they ran up the stairs, Daphne was quickly becoming winded. She could not hope to keep up with Uriel's seemingly boundless stamina or the well-trained Bodyguards.
She then realized she was not being mindful of her powers. Even a weak recovery spell would take too much time to cast and take effect, but her powers of the mind were a quicker, more efficient way pushing her body beyond its normal limits. It was only temporary relief, though, for she knew she would feel the repercussions later. It was a price she would have to pay.
Once they reached the top, Uriel did not even stop to catch his breath, hastily assessing how the lighthouse functioned for himself. The bronze mirrors lined half of the perimeter of the level. The lens, nearly half a fathom in diameter, was set in a marble slab connected to a machine that allowed the beam of light to traverse. In the center was a large bronze cistern filled with oil.
Uriel beckoned to the Bodyguards to help him remove the cistern's cover. Above the oil was an iron grate to hold kindling. Uriel picked up a bundle of kindling set against the wall and stacked it on the grate.
He looked to Daphne and asked her, "Can you cast a fire spell on the kindling?"
"I do not know any fire spells," Daphne replied. "I have only studied white magic."
This earned her a critical look from Uriel, quite unjustified as far as she was concerned, but now was not the time to argue over the matter.
"Could you conjure up a little beam of light at least?" Uriel asked.
"Yes, but..."
"Good, wait a second."
Uriel pulled out a small lens from his robe and held it between Daphne and the kindling.
"Alright, I want a little beam, but try to keep it going until I tell you to stop."
Daphne chanted quietly as she pointed to the lens. A thin beam of light shot from her fingertip through the lens, making a small circle of light on the kindling. Though it was a weak spell, maintaining a constant flow made it much more difficult and tiring. She did not have to exert herself for too long, however, for smoke began to curl from within the kindling in moments and miniature tongues of flame began to appear. As the fire spread through the kindling, it reached the surface of the oil and ignited into a roaring fire.
"What was that?" one of the Bodyguards asked.
"It's how we're going to beat those ships," Uriel replied. "Now I want you two to help me with the lens."
The Bodyguards followed him to the lens, where Uriel pointed for them to wait.
"I'm going to push the lens out of its setting," he said. "I want you two to hold it. Whatever you do, don't drop it."
Uriel pushed gingerly on the lens, easing it out of its setting. Daphne could tell the Bodyguards were nervous, but they were doing well keeping their hands steady. Using her powers, the Princess helped strengthen their calm and sharpen their focus. Once the lens was out of its setting, Uriel went around to the Bodyguards.
"Okay, we're going to turn it around," he said. "I'm going to help you, alright? Let's do it nice and slow."
Uriel guided the turning of the lens, so the Bodyguards' main task was to maintain their grip on the lens. They moved slowly and carefully, managing to turn the lens around without any problems.
"Now we put it back in the setting," Uriel said. "I'll help you get it started and then I'll get on the other side."
The three of them began to wedge the lens back into its setting. Uriel then went around to inspect their work.
He told the bodyguards, "That's looking good. We're not going for a snug fit, okay? We need to be able to shift the beam up and down." He beckoned and said, "One of you get on this side and hold the top edge. The other one will stay over there and hold the bottom edge."
They moved into position and Uriel checked both of them before saying, "Good. That's right." He then looked to Daphne and said, "I'm going to need your help, too. You know that little circle of light that appeared on the kindling once the light went through the lens? I'm gonna need those sharp Alf eyes of yours for this. You need to look for that same type of circle on the ships. You'll also have to turn the crank that makes the lens traverse. You got all that?"
"Yes," she replied. "I will try."
Since the sun was beginning to set, it made it easier to see the circle of light on the water. It was a good distance away from even the closest ship. She turned the crank and the slab slowly ground in the direction she wanted. Once she had it lined up with the ship she was targeting, it was simply a matter of adjusting the lens.
"Tilt it upward just a little," she said.
They had the beam locked on the ship and Uriel held his own lens at arm's length to focus the beam further. Uriel looked to her.
"It may be too far, but do you see any oil on the deck or something like it?"
Her senses had nothing close to the acuity of a full-blooded Xotika, but she strained her eyes for all their worth. She could not make out the details very well, but she thought she found something useful.
"I see a big earthenware pot that the crew is dipping little clay jars in. It might be oil, but I cannot be certain. Tilt the lens down a hair."
She went back to the crank and made a slight adjustment. She then looked to make sure the light was pointed at the right spot, directly on the mouth of the clay pot. However, there was no sign that it was having any effect.
"The light does not seem to be strong enough," she said. "Hold the lens steady."
She summoned as much energy as she could with so little preparation. She cast the most powerful beam of light she could sustain, shooting it through the lenses. It ignited whatever was in the pot, causing a flare that was easily visible even for a human, but the fire did not spread beyond the confines of the pot.
Uriel moved the smaller lens he held just as Daphne's spell was fading. Suddenly the entire deck of the ship was awash with flames. Daphne looked at Uriel in surprise.
"What did you do?"
"I burned one of the men on board with the beam," he replied. "Or at least I think I did. It's hard to tell. I'm guessing he accidentally bumped into the pot trying to get away and broke it. It looks like they're carrying liquid fire. It explains why it spread so quickly. Now let's get the next one."
"There is no need," Daphne said, pointing to Carpos' flotilla. "Look."
The two surviving ships were turning back. The Prince's scheme to invade Hesperia was foiled and he was forced to retreat lest he lose all of his forces. Zephyr had been spared a bloody battle that day, but Daphne could not afford to let her guard down. As long as he had the ability, Carpos would not give up on his ambition. She had to be vigilant and prepare for his return.