Lore: Sarillians/Golden

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The Truth of the Sarillians

We arrived at the Sarillian’s mountain community on the thirteenth day of the Turn of Debts. Corpses decorated the cliffside road, some no older than a few days, and the smell of feces struck us long before the village came into view. Of the Sarillians themselves, I knew only that they were rebels—perhaps terrorists—led by a firebrand who had rejected the One True King and his laws.

“They reject all law,” you had said. “I expected them to have killed each other by now, yet they live on. You are the only one I can trust, Nimleth—the only good among all your people. I must know whether the Sarillians’ defiance leads them to prosper or wither. Are they hope for your kind...or despair?”

And so I came prepared for objectivity but also for the worst, for my love for you was brazen and sure. The sight of the village did little to dissuade me. Their homes are but dead branches balanced into precarious piles. Their “farms” are little more than yellowing, potted bushes and trees. The streets are virtually paved with excrement, and the Fae who live here are sad, hollow creatures.

I had seen enough. These were not the hope of the Fae. If anything, they were proof of the need for law. The order to turn around was on my lips when we were attacked. Malnourished as they were, the Sarillians overpowered us, slaughtered my royal guard, and held me to the ground with five spears at my throat.

That was how I met Shandala. She stood over me, blotting out the sun. She was as emaciated as any of her people, yet her eyes glistened, and her countenance bore a furious strength I had never seen in a Fae. “I know why you’re here,” she said. “The One True King hopes to wipe us out.”

I spat at her. “I came to observe! To judge! But whether you kill me or not now, your actions have ensured your destiny.”

“Hmph.” She frowned, seemingly uncertain what to make of me. “We have only defended ourselves.”

“By murdering my delegation! Kill me too, and be done with it!”

“There is no need, for you are not like the others.” She grabbed the head of one of my dead guards by his hair, turning it so I could see a tattoo on his neck—the omsilla, symbol of the Royal Executioners. “You say you came to observe, yet you travel with assassins.”

Words left me. I did not know they were assassins. I had thought ours to be a mission of peace, their duty defense only.

After several seconds of my silence, Shandala said, “Take her away.”

They left me inside a small tent of stretched droper hide. I don’t know how long I sat there. Hours? Days, perhaps? My thoughts were my prison. I could think of no reason for you to send mercenaries with me, let alone to keep their presence secret from me. I could think of no explanation to exonerate you.

The suns rose and fell before I found strength to move. I was cold, and the smell of roast meat and canyon peppers shook me from my stupor. I pushed open the flap and saw a small bonfire in the center of the village.

There was no guard. All the Sarillians sat at the fire. Tentatively, I stepped out and walked toward the flames. Several of them saw me yet paid me little attention.

The fire did not feel like a celebration. Jubhawk meat turned on a spit, but no one sang or drank or told stories. They sat in several isolated groups, muttering between themselves about nothing.

On the opposite side of the fire, two began shouting. One drew a knife and sliced the other across the throat. Then he sat back down and wiped the knife on his leggings as though nothing had happened. No one reacted, not even to move the body.

“I was wondering when you’d emerge.” Shandala appeared next to me.

I jumped in fright, my attention fully absorbed by the murder I alone seemed to notice.

She followed my gaze. “Still observing us, are you?”

“I thought I was a prisoner,” I said.

“We don’t keep prisoners.” She gestured me to follow as she walked to the corpse and dragged him to the nearest slope. “We don’t restrict freedoms here. That’s the whole point. We will not repeat his tyranny.” She dropped the corpse down the hill and into the dark.

“The One True King is no tyrant,” I said. “He loves us. He protects us.”

“From what, pray?”

I gazed into the dark, as though I could see the corpse on the road below. “From ourselves.”

Shandala sat on a log, far from the others. She indicated for me to join her. “Tell me truly, what is the One True King to you?”

I met her eyes and was surprised to see empathy rather than accusation. “My savior,” I said, and I told her how my uncle used to beat and violate me, until the day I was rescued and placed into your service.

Shandala did not speak for a time. The firelight glinted off the tears on her cheek. “I’m sorry you had to go through that,” she said finally. “No one should have to face such horrors.”

“I owe him my life. He set me free.”

“Free to serve him, you mean.” She placed a hand on mine. “I do not belittle your rescue—that was a good and needed thing! But you are still not free. Not truly.”

“I serve because I wish it!”

“Is that so?” Shandala asked, though not accusingly. “And what if you wished otherwise? Would he grant it to you? Would he let you live here, for example, free of all constraints? Or would he send his mercenaries to retrieve you?”

Her meaning was well taken. “I...don’t know. I have never wished it.”

“Yet I do,” she said, “and so do all who live here. And his answer was assassins.”

I did not know what to say to that. “There must have been a reason.”

Her laugh came like the song of cherrydoves. “Oh yes, ‘all things happen for his reasons.’ Is that not so? We harm no one out here, yet he will not suffer anyone to live outside his rule.”

“Your existence causes others to question,” I said, knowing this to be your utmost concern. “He worries about those who might fall under your influence against their best interests.”

“But not against their will.” Her face grew stern, but not, I thought, because of me. “He fears what will happen if the Fae question him, yet unquestioned belief is mere dogma, and service in fear of punishment is slavery.”

Her words struck true, and I immediately saw the danger in them. In that moment, I understood why you sent assassins. I stared into the fire. The flames leaped past the roasted jubhawk, licking the night air with both destruction and warmth.

“I, too, was beaten and violated,” she said, “not by my uncle but by my father—a member of the Council. He believed he was doing the king’s will, hurting me when I misbehaved, punishing the ‘Faeness’ within to make me good.”

Now it was she who stared at the fire, her eyes glistening moistly in its light.

“I killed him. I freed myself...but that is not how the Council saw it.” She turned to me, her gaze so sharp and demanding that I had to look away. “You say he loves us, yet he kills those who displease him, giving them no hope for repentance. Is that how you treat one you love?”

I had no answer. A piece of jubhawk meat fell into the fire, sending up a cloud of sparks and choking smoke. I said nothing.

“The One True King believes there is inescapable evil in all of us,” Shandala continued. “He tries to control it, to drive it out through fear and punishment. That is not love but abuse.”

The choking smoke cloud consumed the jubhawk. Still, I said nothing. Shandala’s words suffocated my own.

“True love,” Shandala said, her voice softening, “is unconditional. It wishes others joy and freedom, knowing that the former cannot exist without the latter. That is why I fled. That is why I created this community. Here, we are free. There is no king here but ourselves.”

“But your village is sick,” I said, still not deigning to look at her. “The corpses on the road. Excrement on the street. Murder in front of your very eyes.”

She nodded through all of it. “I know. We are not good—not always, and some of us not ever. But . . . has the king’s subjugation uprooted our evil, or does it merely hide it? Goodness cannot be forced. It must be learned—practiced like an instrument, where one has the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. True love does not track the evils of others. It hopes for good instead.”

The smoke that had consumed the jubhawk meat now lifted, dissipating in the air. Stars glittered through the blackness like shining festival lights.

“There is good here, friend,” Shandala said. “And more will come. Stay with us a while and see.”

She stretched out her hand, though I could hardly see it through my tears. I placed my hand in hers, our fingers weaving together. I did not know what I would see, for her village of rebels was—and is—truly sick in many ways. But I have never experienced this love she spoke of, true and unconditional. I want to try.

So I return your messengers back to you, Lord King. The Sarillians removed his tongue—I could not stop them, but I could give him this tale for your eyes alone. Please, do not send another.

These are my people, as all Fae are my people. I will not turn my back on any of them, least of all those battered by a system I helped to maintain. You did rescue me, and for that I am forever thankful, but my love requires more. I must discover what that is.