Warning – spoilers if you haven’t read The Crown yet!

When I originally wrote The Crown I introduced the story of Sondalan much earlier. I had Perisina take Sarah to the High Command’s private gallery, which is not usually viewed by anyone but agents. However, I moved it to keep the story’s pace up, especially in the early chapters. Also, the gallery is included in the third book, The Reign, so I thought I’d save its introduction until then.

We stepped out into what I presumed was the Agency High Command. I couldn’t be sure, because this section was nothing like any part of it I had seen.
These walls were covered by huge panels, as was my quarters. But they were red gold, the same color as the agent’s uniforms. It was not well lit, and I got the impression the lights had been powered down for the night.
“This is the older section of the High Command,” Perisina explained. “It was the original home of our agents, before the newer, outer building was created. Now it is only used when our children are taught about our history.”
I wondered what would happen if we were discovered here. I couldn’t hear any sounds at all, apart from our footsteps.
Perisina led me around a corner into another corridor. I noticed, with quiet surprise, that the walls here were filled with paintings.
They were holo paintings, done with brushes and oils, but with electrodes embedded in the paint. It made the figures in them move along a pre-programmed path. When I had first arrived these paintings had freaked me out. It was no surprise to see holograms moving, but actual paintings?
I had soon grown used to them. I had even tried some myself. I had grown more adept recently, as holo paintings were highly prized.
“These paintings,” Perisina said in a whisper, her voice breaking the silence, “chronicle the history of our race.”
I knew she meant her race, the Vendel. Whenever agents spoke of their race, it was a reference to their distinct difference from the rest of the population.
I looked over the paintings. Most were violent depictions of war and many of the them featured agents in the Safety Zone. I shuddered. Even in a painting the elongated face, the pinprick eyes, were horrible things to see.
As we passed more paintings I noticed some were relating a battle I knew about. The long running war that our two races had fought before we had become allies. Most of the paintings showed the Vendel triumphant.
But Perisina passed them by. She turned another corner, into a darker corridor, and stopped in front of a huge canvas that covered most of the wall. It was not well cared for, unlike the others, and had a fine coating of dust.
The picture was dark and foreboding. In the middle stood a man, who I assumed was an agent, although the uniform he wore was multicolored and much more grand than the one I was used to. He was raised on a dais, above many other agents, most of whom were looking at him with awe.
To his side and slightly behind him stood a beautiful woman. Her face was blank and emotionless, but I thought I could see pain there, somewhere. Behind her was a building I recognized as my home, the Palace.
“This,” Perisina said, gesturing to the agent, “is Sondalan. He was a powerful agent who lived thousands of years ago.
“He was one of the noblest of our warriors. He was commissioned for many assignments, and completed all of them successfully. Then, as now, no agent was allowed to show much emotion in our work, so no one questioned the heavy losses his assignments invoked, both to our enemies and to our own agents. Our work is perilous. But nearly every agent who was sent out with Sondalan never returned.
“His success earned him many honors. He was the youngest agent ever to serve on the Agency’s High Command. He had a certain way about him,” she added, thoughtfully. “He could make people believe in him, want to do his will. Some thought he had hypnotic powers.”
She turned her eyes to the woman in the painting.
“No one knew exactly when or how it happened, but the Overlord at the time, the Lady Carsian, fell in love with him. She was seeking a consort, and when she announced that she would take Sondalan, few disagreed.
“Many say he bewitched her. Once they were bonded she signed all her power over to him. After that, she was never seen again. Sondalan told the people she was pregnant, and her condition delicate, so she could not take visitors. But he did not bother with those lies for long. He didn’t need to.
“Some members of the High Council became concerned over what he was doing, as he took more and more power to himself. He insisted on being the only leader of the Agency’s High Command, and enough agents supported him, enabling him to succeed in this goal. It was only afterwards that it became clear most of his supporters had ulterior motives. He had promised them places in his government.
“As soon as he had the power of both the High Council and the Agency, he produced trumped up charges for all his enemies and had agents round them up and execute them. His followers forced the agents to follow his orders. Any who refused were destroyed. All but one.
“Kandaharn was a high ranking agent who had managed to avoid the cull. He gathered up loyal agents and some Verindalian warriors, who had commandeered some of the fleet. They challenged Sondalan to battle. The war between them raged for thirty years, with heavy losses on both sides. But Kandaharn was a better warrior than Sondalan. He was a skillful manipulator, but he had no gift for warfare.
“Soon the agents under his command began to defect to Kandarharn’s army. In a last ditch attempt to save his life, he flew out into space, hoping to seek refuge on another planet, where he could plot his revenge. But his reputation had preceded him, and the Ditonians, to whom he had fled, handed him over to Kandaharn, and he was executed immediately.”
Perisina turned to face me.
“This is the saddest chapter in the history of our race,” she said, her face drawn. “The story is never told, for the Agency is proud of its commitment to your family’s protection. That an agent would take such advantage of an Overlord disgraced us all, especially that he would seek to destroy not only your family, but his own as well.
“Ever since that day, no agent has ever been allowed to bond with an Overlord. Anyone who did would be seen as a defector, and immediately sentenced to death. The Overlord who accepted the agent would be considered unfit to lead. Their ability to govern, their judgment, would be questioned. Were they being manipulated, as the Lady Carsian was? No one would trust them as Overlord again.”
I gazed back at the painting at Lady Carsian’s face. “But everyone’s different,” I protested. “You said it had happened before that.”
She shook her head. “Even then, it did not happen often. Our races have always had an uneasy alliance. And Sondalan’s betrayal brought great shame on my people. No one would take such a risk again. We are trained to consider your family sacred, to never think of you as anything other than a ruler. If any agent was discovered to have thoughts to the contrary, their reliability, their core obedience, would be questioned. We could never allow such a deviation from our protocols.”
Perisina led me back to my quarters in silence, closing the door of the passageway behind us.

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