A legendary figure in Before the Sun Fades, recalled almost reverentially by the remnants of his people, King Sariven faced the darkness consuming his valley to the last, until the palace fell with him still within it. But how much did he manage to learn about the oncoming disaster? What secrets did he take with him into the shadows? Despite his desperate struggle to save his people, was there something more he could have, should have done?
Warning: contains serious spoilers, to the point where if you haven’t already read the book I really suggest you don’t read any further! After all, the tale of Rakariel’s attempt to restore the valley depends inextricably on the tale of how it came to be engulfed in darkness in the first place.
King Sariven (Sariven Elmyre Darel) is the last ruler of the forgotten kingdom of Daresyne. His younger sister was sickly, and died in infancy; his younger brother was stillborn. He was raised with the knowledge that he was the only heir to the throne, that his country came before all else, and that he could not be allowed to risk himself lest the small kingdom collapse into chaos. Despite the burden resting on his young shoulders, he grew into a pleasant, confident, and fairly charismatic adult, assuming control of the kingdom at 22 when his mother died.
In many lives, that would have been the end of it, but Sariven’s life was not so simple. Alliances made by his forebears protected his country, but also served to leave him vulnerable: a young king, with no close relatives remaining to inherit the throne and the next in succession tied inextricably by blood to the neighbouring countries. Tugged in conflicting directions by the desires to see his country safe; to resist being used as a bargaining chip; and to avoid Daresyne becoming a mere vassal state or even invaded, Sariven realised he could not cope alone with the demands placed upon him. In this time of trial, he turned to the gods of his people for aid.
Raised to his duty and good at heart, he had little difficulty in calling upon them. In exchange for their gifts, whether a blessing for himself, or a bountiful harvest in a barren year for his country, or strength and fortitude for his army and guardsmen, he offered up something dear to him. But each time he asked for assistance, the price grew higher… until it reached levels that he could no longer afford to pay.
Daresyne remained stable, carefully balanced between its competing neighbours, for over a decade. It was only towards the end of that time that Sariven, turning more and more towards the support he could not find in any other external quarter, ran up against the limit: the point at which the price for another blessing for either himself or his people would have been his own life.
Perhaps he should have turned inwards, and sought aid from the people he was protecting. Perhaps, one day, he even realised that. If so, the realisation came far too late.
With the spectre of war looming, one of Sariven’s closest friends and allies in court agreed to pay the price of his next gift for him. Bitterly regretting the loss, yet trapped in a situation from which it seemed there would be no escape with only his own powers to aid him, Sariven accepted. Divine charisma imbued him, and he negotiated yet another seemingly impossible situation without bloodshed. Adored by his people — how could he not be, now — and his fame as a diplomat king spreading, perhaps it should have ended there.
But it was not to be.
The peaceful, prosperous, and unfortunately small kingdom, which also controlled one of the main trade routes across the mesa into whose side the valley was embedded, was just too good a target. Sariven had yet to choose a bride, and his distant cousins were all yet further enmeshed in the politics of the countries their parents or grandparents had been married into. If he fell, each of those distant claims would suddenly be of great importance. Daresyne would be ravaged by war despite all that he had done to protect it. The diplomat king had to become a martial one, a war leader and a champion, a man who could see the unseen, defend himself against any assassin’s blade, field an army against a force ten times its size and win. To this end, Sariven sought another gift: that of magic.
But now, thanks to the blessing of divine charisma he had received, though almost anyone would be willing to sacrifice their life for him in a heartbeat, that sacrifice would be meaningless. Only the rare few immune to his blessing could make a meaningful sacrifice on his behalf. His guard scoured the country for anyone who held an opinion on him other than adoration — and they found a young man named Avin.
In another life, in another time, perhaps the two could have become friends. But Sariven was desperate. The enemy was at the gates, metaphorically and all too soon, he feared, literally. He asked, almost demanded, Avin’s cooperation. He would have promised him almost anything. But Avin wanted to live. He wanted his young family to be safe, and he wanted to spend the rest of his life with them; he asked nothing more of life. Desperate to convince him, Sariven swore they would be protected, that they would be safe, warned Avin that he couldn’t promise that unless Avin made the sacrifice, knowing the forces poised to fall on the peaceful land.
Against his will, pressured by his king’s demands, afraid that Sariven’s inability to promise his family’s safety should he not aid him was a veiled threat, Avin agreed.
Perhaps the gods gave a subtle warning. If they did, the priests, swayed by Sariven’s supernatural charisma, failed to heed it. The ritual was performed, the words were spoken, the deed done. Avin gave up his life for the safety of his family, and Sariven was granted magic power — but at a terrible cost. For Avin’s intent had been everything. The gods granted his wish, protecting his family from harm throughout the generations to come. Sariven’s, granted by the ritual, remained unpaid-for… and the gods began to enact the consequences. The priests who had been complicit in the act were immediately cut off from them. While Sariven’s price remained unpaid, he was untouched, but every external blessing he had ever asked for became twisted. Bountiful crops failed, or grew choked with bountiful and poisonous weeds. The divine protection upon the valley in which Dareldis, the capital city, lay, became a divine seal. Darkness closed in, and the strong, fast guardsman, their senses, reflexes, and judgement all heightened, became terrible monsters.
Master of magic and linked to them all by the threads of divine power, Sariven felt every last moment of it. He used all his newfound power, searched for every scrap of arcane knowledge, fought the monsters that he had in a sense created and, in private, mourned their deaths, and still he could find no solution.
Daresyne fell. Dareldis was lost, an entire city and the valley it lay within sealed from the world. Sariven shut himself away with the collected knowledge of his people in a desperate search for a way to escape the awful fate he had brought upon them, but the only answer he could find was the one he could not accept: that he should die, and in doing so pay the price the gods demanded, releasing the curse… for if he did, the survivors would be leaderless and undefended.
He has lived four hundred years since then, his life preserved by his gift of magic, and even now, though driven half mad by solitude and time and the weight of all that he caused, he still searches the dusty tomes of a kingdom’s knowledge for some fragment of an answer that could save the remnants of his people.
Questions about Sariven? Questions for Sariven? Ask away! (Though it might be a good idea to specify which era’s King Sariven you want to ask a question of!)