A servant moved forward, offering to help it up. It scowled at the girl, baring its broken teeth at her. She backed quickly away. The creature heaved itself and its heavy load onto the wooden Throne, squirming around to face the other inhabitant of the ritual chamber.
Its voice was hoarse, unmusical. It wheezed from time to time, as if labouring for each breath.
“Greetings to Zamashka ... Prince of Votika. The Bound King ... sends to you his ... personal greetings. He thanks you for your ... generous tribute. In recognition of ... your gift ... he offers a hope that you may ... live long. He also offers you ... gifts ... in the surety that you will ... use them wisely.”
The herald slid the satchel from its back and fumbled with the clasp. With thick, malformed fingers it withdrew a selection of items, offering each in turn to the the Magician Prince that stood before it. First a fine shield; then a crude cauldron; an orb of polished and engraved bone; and finally a glass vial of crimson liquid. The Prince inclined his head as each item was presented, and gestured to the servant who took each item gingerly and placed them on the low table to the left of Zamashka.
They were treasures, indeed. He was pleased with his success - but especially anxious to take custody of his final prize.
“Finally ... O Prince Zamashka ... Lord Sorin has granted you ... ten more years ... of life. You shall not die ... when your life would run out ... provided you ... avoid the spite ... of your ... enemies.”
The creature made a ghastly rattling, coughing noise and its body convulsed and shook as it slid down off the chair onto the floor of the ritual chamber.Prince Zamashka realized with a combination of disgust and unease that the twisted creature was trying to laugh.
During the Winter Solstice, the rules of the wasteland - eternals of Winter - offered opportunities to win their favour with tribute of dragonbone. Some of their boons were won by representatives of the Empire; some were won by other nations. Some of the boons have already been put into action; others have not yet been received.
On the last day of Winter, a number of heralds visited the Empire to reveal the detail of which of the many offered boons had been won by which of the peoples invited to attend the eternal courts. The heralds say that between the nations, thirteen-hundred measures of dragonbone were given in tribute, the lions share gifted by the people of the Empire ... but they were not the only folk to win boons.
- The boon of the Keeper of Tharim’s Throne was gifted to the Royal Houses of Dawn. Gui de Lusignan is named as the chosen of Tharim.
- The power of Skathe’s Vengeance was gifted to the Scions of Atun and Atuman. It will be directed at High Lady Suriad, Salt Lord of Dubhtraig.
- The knowledge to call forth the Black Wind was gifted to the Scions of Terrunel. The text detailing the ritual will be delivered to Drefa Brackensong.
- The gift of a portrait commissioned by the Lady Skathe was gifted to the descendants of the Sorcerer-Kings. Grand Ilarch Oana of the line of Issyk will receive this boon.
- The Raging Fire of Surut was been gifted to the Masters of the High Peaks. It shall fall upon their enemies in Spiral.
- The Destruction of the Walls has been gifted to the descendants of the Sorcerer-Kings. It shall fall upon the Court of the Fountain at their command.
- The power to shake the earth has been claimed by the tribes of the Dragon. It shall fall upon the deep places of Areshan.
- Enough food to fill the bellies of an entire territory has been gifted to the sons and daughters of Naguerro and Hierro. It shall be delivered to the people of Hierro in Segura with the blessings of Agramant.
- The Cruel Blessing of Agramant has been claimed by the sons and daughters of Naguerro and Hierro. It shall fall upon the head of Baroness Jaqueline duMoi, general of the Wolves of Kobol, in the territory of Kalino.
- The Hunt that plagues the Dreams of an Army has been gifted to the the descendants of the Sorcerer-Kings. It shall fall upon the head of Gabriel Barossa and the Wolves of War.
- The Gift of Sorin’s Blood has been made to the Princes of Jarm. It has been granted to Zamashka, Prince of Votika.
- The power to call forth the servants of Sorin to ride the cold meat has been granted to the tribes of the Dragon
- The use of the Dragonbone Eye has been granted to Zamashka, Prince of Votika.
- The grim legion will fight in the name of the tribes of Kallivesi and Suaq. It has stridden forth to Liaven's Glen to slay the Jotun.
- The Shield of Wisdom, which is named "Measure" has been gifted to the Princes of Jarm. It lies now at the hand Zamashka, Prince of Votika.
- Ten more years of life, the gift of Sorin, has been granted to the Princes of Jarm and claimed by Zamashka, Prince of Votika.
- The power to abandon mortality and join the Queen of Silence has been granted to the descendants of the Sorcerer-Kings. Tisia of the line of Maykop has taken her place among the ranks of the Grim Legion.
- The use of Rangara’s Cauldron has been granted to the Princes of Jarm. It has been claimed by Zamashka, Prince of Votika.
- The Wisdom of Rangara has been granted to the tribes of the Dragon. It has been granted to Hinodir of the Bright Orb.
Tharim, the Bound King, deems the Winter Solstice to have been a success, and thanks the people of the mortal realm for their tribute.
Several of these boons have already been implemented, others will fall into place over the coming months. In certain cases those boons may prove tricky to use - in particular, the claiming of a boon from Agramant apparently by the Hierro orcs of Segura causes a difficult legal situation.
Of the other claimants, only Zamashka, Prince of Votika is well-known. An extremely powerful Magician-Prince of Jarm, and a leader of the Southern Alliance, Votika is known to be a grandmaster of the lore of winter and a wily and dangerous player of the game of princes.
Of particular concern to the Empire are the threats to the Court of the Fountain in Redoubt, and to the person of Gabriel Barossa and the Wolves of War - especially as these threats apparently come from the people of Axos who were believed to be at least somewhat friendly to the Empire. No doubt there is more going on here than meets the eye!