Fatal Decision- An Aviandrian Short Story

This story takes place right before the prolog of my first book Gateway to Aviandria. If you haven’t read that book yet (which is likely at this point) never fear. It will just introduce you to a couple characters.

Fatal Decision

“Good flying today, boy.” Alder scratched Lyonal’s favorite spot just above the giant bird’s beak. Lyonal puffed his feathers slightly and gave a shiver of pleasure. Alder reluctantly turned to pick up his satchel but turned back as the big bird reached out and nipped at the fabric of Alder’s riding uniform. “I know, I know. I wish I could stay here all day too. Rocs are so much easier to understand than people. I always know what to do with you.”

Lyonal simply gazed back at the young Elf as if to say, “If you want to stay so much, why don’t you?”

“You know I would if I could.” Alder patted his roc’s beak. “I’d rather fly with you than anything else, but I promised Dillyn I would eat dinner with his family, and I can’t back out again. If I can get away in time, I’ll come back and we can go on a short flight together before dark.”

The roc gave a small squawk but allowed Alder to shoulder his bag and walk away from the nesting area.

“Alder!” The call came from across the giant courtyard that acted as the landing area in the mews. Alder glanced up to see Marken, a fellow rider in the Sky Corps of Aviandria. “Are you heading to dinner?”

Alder shook his head. “I’ve got other plans this evening. I’m just on the way to drop off my bag at the barracks.”

“Great. I’m headed that way too. I’ll walk with you.” Marken fell into stop alongside Alder. Alder silently accepted his company. There really wasn’t a polite way to refuse, but Alder wished he could. He didn’t usually mind the company of other riders, but Marken could talk the ear off a rabbit, and Alder’s thoughts were jumbled enough as it was.

“I assume you’ve heard what Gallis is trying to do now?” the other young rider didn’t even notice Alder’s silence. “Crazy, isn’t it? I don’t know how some families are going to do it. There are lots of families who can’t spare any of their men to join the military. Some don’t even have any men to join at all. Requiring one man from each family is just insane.”

“That’s what the alternate financial donation requirement is supposed to be for,” Alder muttered.

“It still doesn’t make much sense.” Marken shook his head. “If the family can’t spare a man, there’s no way they can spare the money. Besides, the military is plenty large. We haven’t had a reason to go to war in ages.”

Alder stopped to look around before he responded to the other rider. Satisfied there weren’t any eavesdroppers, he answered the other rider, still keeping his voice low. “I know that, and you know that, but do you want to be the one to tell Gallis?”

The other rider grimaced. “A person would have to be insane to tell that to Gallis. Nobody wants to end up like Saralea.”

“Saralea, or any other of the ‘accident’ victims,” Alder’s lips narrowed. He hoped the subtle warning would signal Marken to change the topic, but the hint was lost on the other young man.

“I know. It’s still hard to believe there isn’t any proof. It’s so obvious those weren’t accidents, but there’s no way anybody can do anything about it without evidence. Speaking of Saralea, has her roc taken well to being released?”

“She seems to have,” Alder answered, relieved to be moving to a slightly safer topic. “We actually haven’t seen Gwen for a while, and that’s a fairly good sign.”

“It’s too bad Gwen wouldn’t accept another rider,” Marken said. “She seemed like a good roc.”

“She was,” Alder agreed, a bit sharper than he had intended. This might be a safer topic, but it didn’t make it any less painful. Losing a member of your Sky Corps division was like losing family.

Alder was relieved to look up and see they had nearly reached the barracks. “It looks like we are here.” He forced a smile toward the other rider. “I’ll just wish you a good evening here and let you get to dinner. Take care of yourself.” It was good advice, especially considering how loose-lipped the other rider seemed to be.

It only took a couple of minutes to deposit his bag, and then Alder was on his way to where he was going to meet his best friend Dillyn.

“Well, if it isn’t Lieutenant Alder,” a voice boomed out, freezing Alder in his tracks. His heart sank into his stomach, but Alder had the presence of mind to turn toward the speaker and perform a sharp salute.

“Come, come, Alder.” Gallis strode toward the young Elf. “There’s no need for such formalities while you are off duty.”

“Of course, Your Highness.” Alder released his rigid pose, but he couldn’t entirely rid himself of tension. The last thing he wanted was a conversation with the king, especially where any word he spoke had the potential of coming back to wound him.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. You never come by the palace since Berrion’s passing.” Gallis started walking, motioning Alder to follow.

“My duties keep me fairly busy, Your Highness.” Alder obeyed the king and matched his pace.

“Yes, of course they do. And I’m sure a dull old man like me doesn’t provide the same attraction as a clever young man like my son was.” The corners of Gallis’s mouth turned upward as if reflecting on some bitter-sweet memory.

Alder remained silent, unsure how to respond to such a statement. Of course, he couldn’t reveal the real reason he avoided the king whenever possible.

Gallis saved him the worry of answering as he clapped him on the shoulder and continued. “That’s beside the point, at any rate. There’s no sense in calling forth gloomy memories when there are so many exciting things to talk about. You’ve heard about my new recruiting initiative of course.”

“Yes, Your Highness, I have.” Alder’s mouth started to go dry. This was where one wrong word could cost him his life.

“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” Gallis asked, beaming.

“It will certainly increase the size of the military,” Alder answered, choosing each word with caution.

“Indeed it will,” Gallis said. “So what do the other brilliant young riders think? Are they pleased about being able to expand the ranks of the sky corps?”

A wave of panic rose inside of Alder. Gallis’s words seemed congenial enough, but Alder sensed a trap within them. Not a trap for him, perhaps, but he could tell Gallis was fishing for a hint of anything—or anybody—who might cause him trouble. If Alder told the truth, he would be betraying his friends, but he also knew he was a terrible liar. Gallis knew this too, which was probably why he had sought Alder out.

Alder considered carefully before he spoke, each word feeling like a greater and greater liability. “We always welcome new recruits in the Sky Corps, but in reality, I spend most of my time with Lyonal, and he cares little for such topics of conversation, so I haven’t asked for his opinion.”

“No, I suppose not,” Gallis chuckled, but the penetrating gaze he turned on Alder was filled with suspicion.

He knows, thought Alder. He knows I’m dodging the questions. He was going to have to find a way to escape the conversation before Gallis figured out a way to force a more concrete answer from him.

“If I might beg your pardon, Your Highness, I actually have an engagement I am late for,” Alder hesitantly broke the silence that had developed between them.

“Oh? Then it is I who should beg your forgiveness for holding you up,” Gallis gave the polite answer. “By all means, go and enjoy your evening. I don’t want to take up too much of your well-earned free time. Perhaps we shall get a chance to talk again soon, and remember, you are always welcome at the palace. Don’t hesitate to stop in and visit.”

“Thank you, Your Highness.” Alder gave a small bow before hurrying off. He breathed more freely with each step he took away from the king, but he could still feel Gallis’s eyes watching him walk away. He had escaped this time, but the next round could turn out very differently.

Alder didn’t even bother to glance over as he heard other footsteps approaching him. He knew Dillyn’s gait anywhere. “What was that all about?” Dillyn wondered as he fell into step beside his friend.

“Gallis was trying to find out who opposes his plan,” Alder answered.

“Did he have any luck?” Dillyn gave his friend a sympathetic grimace.

“I don’t think so, at least not enough to do anything with,” Alder shook his head, “but I’m pretty sure he has guessed I didn’t tell him the full truth, and he’s probably worked out that I am not thrilled about the whole idea.”

“I certainly don’t envy your situation,” Dillyn placed a supportive hand on Alder’s arm, “but if there’s anybody who can get out of this one, it’s you.”

“He has to be stopped.” Alder hadn’t really even heard his friend’s statement.

“I know.” Dillyn’s usually cheerful tone became uncharacteristically sober. “I just haven’t figured out how yet. I’ve thought of forming some sort of petition, but nobody is going to want to put their names on something like that. The only people who could really stop him are the Council, and he has them all so terrified they would never dare bring up so much as an objection. They will just blindly accept it when Gallis officially proposes it tomorrow, and it will become law.”

“Unless—“ Alder stopped, and Dillyn had taken a few more steps before he realized and turned to see what was holding his friend up.

“Unless what?” Dillyn asked, giving Alder a searching look.

“Unless the Council couldn’t feign ignorance. What if there was some way they could become undeniably aware of all the horrible consequences Gallis’s proposal could create? They couldn’t pass it without being in blatant violation of the oaths they all took when they became part of the Council.”

“True, but that’s easier said than done. None of them is going to be brave enough to bring it up,” Dillyn pointed out.

“They might not have to.” Alder’s jaw set.

“You have a plan.” Dillyn knew his friend well enough it wasn’t a question.

“Maybe,” Alder answered, and forced a smile, “but nothing worth bothering about tonight. Let’s get to your house before your mother starts worrying. Has Jay tried to bring home any more frogs lately?”

The distraction worked, and Dillyn started off on the much safer topic of his little brother’s mischievous antics. Alder walked next to his friend, only half listening. He did indeed have a plan beginning to form in the back of his mind, but it was something he would have to do himself. There was no sense dragging Dillyn into it.

Alder shot a quiet look over his shoulder at the palace. He very well might be taking up Gallis’s invitation to visit, and much sooner than he had expected. He also knew it would not be nearly as welcome a visit as the kind Gallis had intended.

Alder turned his attention back to Dillyn. He might as well enjoy the time he had with his friend, and he was certainly going to savor every bite of his dinner. If he worked up the courage to go through with his plan, it may very well be the last meal he ever had.