One evening following a grueling day of judging the souls of the dead, Lord Makar slouched down into his dark throne and listened as his wife began to sing. Ordinarily these quiet moments were his favorite but that particular night he felt unusually tired. Mere minutes into the song, the grim judge struggled to keep his eyes open. He soon raised his right fist in front of his face before yawning.
Seeing his sign, Morae held her voice mid song. She stepped away from the throne and approached her husband.
“You must be exhausted, my love,” she whispered as she leaned over him.
“It has indeed been a long day. I should probably sleep a little,” Makar replied after yawning once more.
“How about a hot bath beforehand?” his queen suggested.
“A warming bath, yes, that seems like a fine idea,” he replied.
Thus Makar ordered the Morkrai to make the preparations. The shadow beings quickly gathered water from the well outside the halls and began to heat it under a fire. Meanwhile the couple stepped away from the chamber and made their way towards the kitchens. One Morkrai followed them and there he picked up a bowl of fruit and offered the fresh harvest to his Lord and Lady. Morae helped herself to a bunch of grapes and some cherries.
Eating with the grace of a queen, she proceeded to grab a handful of raspberries before asking:
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“Not particularly,” Makar responded simply.
Morae ate the juicy raspberries before speaking again.
“Are you sure? It’s been a while since you last ate,” she uttered softly while touching at the fruit inside the bowl. “Why not try some pomegranate seeds?” – she asked.
“Very well, I’ll have a few, just to taste,” he replied.
Morae took a pomegranate from the bowl and passed it to the Morkrai. The creature quickly sliced it in half with a thin knife before offering it back to her.
Morae removed a handful of seeds and put them into Makar’s mouth.
“Mmm… delicious,” he murmured after swallowing the bursting seeds.
Morae simply smiled in response.
“I think our bath should be ready by now,” Morae noted as she handed the bleeding pomegranate back to her servant.
They walked towards the bathroom just as the Morkrai had finished pouring the last batch of hot water into the wide tub. Before leaving, the shadow creatures rested two soft towels onto a marble table in the corner of the room.
As soon as the Morkrai left, Morae wrapped her arms around Makar.
“Alone at last!” she declared happily before they kissed.
Morae then made her way towards the cool marble table. There, next to the towels, stood a collection of numerous glass vials filled with essential oils.
“We have some lavender, jasmine, bergamot, mint….Which fragrance would you like? ” she asked.
“The mint,” Makar decided.
“Mint, good choice,” Morae smiled as she took the bottle from the table.
She poured droplets of the thick oil into the tub before putting the bottle back in place. She undressed and edged into the steaming bath. Makar disrobed and soon joined her. The pair rested in the tub for a while, enjoying the pleasant aroma and soaking until the water started to grow chill. Not long after Makar and Morae grabbed their towels and made their way towards the bedroom.
“How long have we?” the goddess wondered once inside.
“We have time enough. The dead can wait a little longer. Our Morkrai will watch over them whilst I spend some time alone with you, my dear queen,” Makar replied as they perched on the bed.
That night they made love before falling asleep in each other’s arms. Hours later they woke up to the sound of a horn. Finally rested, Makar rose quickly and dressed himself, Morae hurriedly followed. She snatched a comb lying next to their bed and moved to brush her hair. She was about to leave when Makar stopped her.
“Aren’t you forgetting something, my dear?” he asked, holding up a spiky black crown decorated with onyxes and crystallized dark roses.
Morae took the crown from him and stared at it for a few quiet seconds.
“My queen deserves her crown,” Makar whispered.
“And you, my dear king…where’s your crown?” asked Morae.
Makar grabbed his hooded cloak and robed himself.
“I would rather keep my hood up,” he replied before pulling the dark hood over his face, “as long as they can hear my voice, the souls will never need to see my ugly face. I would rather they gaze upon my beautiful queen.”
“There’s nothing wrong with your face dearest,” said Morae as she rested the shadowy crown on her head.
Makar smiled at her before they strode towards the throne room. They passed through the kitchens on their way where Makar ordered the Morkrai to bring food over to their thrones. Unquestioned, the Morkrai obeyed their master and quickly began to prepare a meal.
The couple walked silently into the towering chamber and took their seats on the dual thrones. Soon after the Morkrai laid out great platters of food. Makar and Morae were still eating their breakfast when two Morkrai entered the hall, dragging a dead soul behind them.
Still chewing his food, the Lord of the dead gazed down at the spirit stood before them. The ghostly figure was a middle-aged man with thin grey hair and a long beard. His clothes were left dripping wet from sea water.
Finishing his meal in grim silence, Makar passed the empty plate to one of his servants before speaking:
“Captain Larnin, son of Erios of Gragia, I am listening. You may begin,” the grim judge spoke in his cold and emotionless tone.
Makar and his queen listened carefully to Captain Larnin’s tale. There Morae waited until he had finished his story before speaking.
“What a fascinating tale. I have never had the pleasure of visiting Makar’s sister’s kingdom, nor have I ever seen any of Afa’s creations. What more can you tell me of these water Enai? – she asked.
Hearing her words Makar turned to face his wife.
“Morae, my dear, I fail to see how this is in any way relevant to my verdict on the Captain’s fate. Why ask?” he whispered into her ear.
“You’re right, it’s not relevant. I’m just curious,” the Lady of sorrows replied.
Makar smiled and kissed her hand before resting back in his seat.
“Very well. Captain Larnin, for the sake of my wife’s curiosity I would like you to tell us more about my sister’s servants,” uttered Makar, all the while staring down at the ghost.
Captain Larnin turned his head slightly to face the goddess before speaking:
“My Lady,” he began, “Lady Afa’s servants are vicious monsters whose love for violence is equal only to their love for their watery home and all creatures of the sea. Their women are beautiful, with long turquoise hair and blue fishtails. Yet the one that sank my ship was a young, strong male. I will never understand why he chose to attack me and my crew but, judging by the look on his face, he appeared to enjoy watching us suffer. Destroying my ship seemed to be enough to keep him amused, but then his kin joined him and pulled some my crew down into the depths. One of his women even drowned my first mate’s young boy,” he concluded his tale before wiping a tear from his face.
“Thank you Captain Larnin. Your tale proved to be very entertaining but now it has now reached the time for me to declare your fate. I see little virtue nor any noble deeds in your life. Before becoming a sailor you lived the life of a petty thief, spending most of your days robbing people in the streets, occasionally getting into drunken fights. I therefore sentence you to remain here in these halls, forever,” the grim judge declared.
The Morkrai grabbed Captain Larnin and pulled him away into one of the cold halls. Makar took a few sips of water from a cup offered by one of his servants. The horns sounded once again and the Morkrai trudged back inside, dragging more members of Captain Larnin’s crew into the hall. Makar listened to each of their stories while some promptly removed their jewelry and offered it as a gift to Lady Morae in exchange for a further audience with the goddess. Morae listened to each story before stepping away from her throne in order to deliberate with her husband.
“It seems this crew mostly consists of former criminals who, like their captain, decided to do something more useful with their lives,” Makar whispered to his wife.
Morae gazed down thoughtfully at the lost souls below before speaking:
“That is perhaps true for most, but not all of them,” she noted before pointing towards the only female crew member, a short brunette dressed in a grey cloak. “That woman there, she’s different. She is the only one here without a criminal past.”
Makar glanced down at the woman again before turning to face his wife.
“Oh her. Indeed, she spoke little of her life. She said only that before joining Captain Larnin’s crew she worked at a market stall,” Makar recalled.
“Well, that is only the barest truth. Once during her time at the market stall she spotted five street children trying to steal her goods. Instead of punishing them, she took those orphans home and raised them as her own. She was a loving mother to all of them, and she helped them to find work and to settle down,” Morae replied shrewdly.
“And you believe her?” her husband asked.
“Naturally, my powers allow me to sense lies. This woman spoke the truth,” the goddess replied.
Makar smiled at his wife before responding.
“Well done, my dear. This in fact means we have found a noble soul, one worthy of an afterlife in my father’s palace. My mother will be thrilled to learn of this,” Makar whispered before turning to face the crew once more just as Morae returned to her seat.
One by one, he announced the fate of each wretched individual and watched as the Morkrai dragged them away until only the woman remained.
“Please, my Lady stop this! These people were my friends, they did nothing wrong. It was the Enai, that caused us this misery, why are you punishing us?” the woman cried out to the queen.
The couple stood up from their thrones and glided down the steps towards the ghost. The woman shivered in fear as she watched the dark gods silently approach her. Once close enough, the pair stood facing her perfectly still, then at last Lady Morae suddenly started to sing. A few seconds later the woman lay down on the ground, her eyes closed, deep asleep. Makar ordered the Morkrai to fetch a bowl of water while his wife stared at the pale body lying on the ground.
With the items in hand, Morae helped her husband as he began to clean the woman’s face, her hands and her feet before pouring the remnant water over her body. Makar finally placed his right palm on the woman’s forehead before shouting:
“Eviria, daughter of Auria, I hereby grant you pardon and release you from my realm,” Makar proclaimed loudly. There he used his divine power to light the woman’s body up under a pale flame. There was a fleeting brightness in their dark realm before the light soon caused her to disappear.
Only moments later Eviria woke to find herself lying on a blanket of clouds. Confused by her new surroundings, she gazed upwards to see the ceiling of a vast golden palace filled with the brightest lights. Suddenly she noticed a figure walking towards her. It was a beautiful woman dressed in white with long flaxen hair adorned with a golden crown.
“Lady Era-Gragiya!” Eviria shouted and quivered once she realized quite who she was addressing.
The goddess smiled before holding out her hand and helping the woman stand.
“Eviria, daughter of Auria. My son Makar has deemed you a noble soul, and thus granted your release from his kingdom. I am delighted to welcome you into my home,” Era-Gragiya answered warmly as she led the woman into a hall where the other noble souls were each seated.
Unlike the innumerable souls in the grim Halls of Makar, these spirits appeared almost as though they were still alive. Instead of standing, locked in a state of trance-like sleep, these bright beings were happily sitting together and chatting away, as if merrymaking in a warm tavern. One friendly faced woman rose and offered the newcomer a drink of sweet nectar. Eviria immediately took the cup and sat down on a chair with a fresh smile spread over her face.