There was a soft knock on the door and Nicodemus Darkwater, High Priest of Borean, head of the Church of the Griffin God looked up from his reading. He took a bookmark from the small side table next to the large, plush chair that he was relaxing in and placed it among the gilded pages. He carefully closed the large book, an illustrated copy of the holy book of the church, from which he had been seeking guidance. His wrinkled hands, skin the texture of thin parchment, shut the book reverently, and he grunted with the effort as he lifted the huge tome from his lap, setting it aside.
Liam stood outside the doors of the throne room, waiting on the ceremony to end. It took every bit of his training to prevent himself from pacing as he waited for the doors to open. He hadn’t set foot in the palace since the day he had been banished nearly three months before. For someone who had spent nearly every day in the palace, it had been a long exile.
Liam Donal, former Commander of the Imperial Griffin Cavalry, was cold. In fact, he was freezing in the frigid air that filled the mountains of Marubean. But he hardly noticed it. And what little he did notice, he didn’t care about. Because he was once again doing that which he loved above all else. He was riding a griffin.
Liam paused outside the ornate door that marked the personal office of the High Priest. He had asked for this appointment and yet he found himself nervous. He hadn’t been like this since being summoned to meet with the Lord Commander of the Griffin Cavalry, when he had been but a green lieutenant. He knocked softly.
Liam Donal stepped into the magnificently appointed throne room of the High Church of Borean to the sound of a crashing fanfare. He walked forward confidently, presenting himself before the throne, bowing deeply. The throne was in the shape of a large griffin, its front feet forming the chair, while its head and wings flared above the head of the High Priest. It was carved from a single block of blue marble in stunning detail. Liam dropped to one knee before it.
The wind was bitterly cold as it roared through the mountainous peaks of Marubean, outside the city of Desanth. The winds were so harsh the griffin Liam had been riding had been forced to find a clear spot several hundred feet down the mountain, in a sheltered valley below the city. He had been hiking up the trail that stretched from this valley to the city gates. Apparently, it was the standard backup landing site for the city. Given the notorious weather in these mountains, Liam was not surprised that such a site existed.
Silence reigned in the throne room as the Emperor pronounced this dread sentence. No one moved. Every breath was held. Men who were there would later report in their private correspondence that the only sound was the deep and even breathing of the Commander of the Imperial Calvary. Liam spoke in a respectful and surprisingly firm voice.
“I await to hear your judgment, Your Majesty.”
The sound of Liam’s booted feet on the stone floor echoed loudly through the large and nearly empty throne room. Normally, the room would have been thronged with courtiers and petitioners, but today there were less than two dozen in attendance. They quieted as they saw him making his way towards the throne.
The antechamber outside the throne room in the Imperial palace had never felt quite so stuffy, Liam reflected. He’d been waiting for nearly an hour for his audience with the Emperor. He was doing his best not to pace and was failing.
“Attention!” Liam’s voice rang out across the parade ground at the infantry barracks in Kandara. The assembled men snapped to a stiff posture. They were dressed in their best Imperial uniforms, having cleaned up after the long march back from the desert. It had been a long, demoralizing duty for all the men, in both the infantry and cavalry units.