Birthright: Family Matters
by, 01-09-2013 at 06:16 PM (242 Views)
Saturday, January 5, 2013
(After playing the Birthright scenario “Family Matters” Friday (Jan. 4) with Jeff Smith, Stephen Turner, and Erik Huffine from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.)
Shaemes Whitestaff was a young lad of 17 who had been content in his role as minor noble in the country of Aerenwe, at least until the current regent, Liliene Swordwraith, died in the early spring of the year 551 Michaeline. It was little less than a month later when it was determined that he was the next in line to the throne of the old woman and so moved his court and advisors to the castle of Caer Callin in the village of Calrie in the province of that same name to become king. He was slight of frame with auburn hair and had been sick as a child. He was only a novice with war, having spent most of the time studying to learn the laws of the land and how to administer a government.
Gaelyn Markland was a priest of Haelyn. He was an aged gentleman who had seen 41 years; his hair was mostly white with only a little red left over from his younger days. He was stark and hard around the edges. He had been an advisor to King Shaemes’ father before his death the year before and now found himself in the court of the entirety of the kingdom, advising the boy king.
Ruinil hailed from the Erebannien mostly. He was tall and strapping. A true companion to his friends and liege, he dutifully served the boy king in whatever capacity he might need. He was a ranger of that forest and had been a yeoman for the family all of his life.
Only three of the seven provinces of Aerenwe were cultivated, being verdant grasslands that were farmed and fenced by the people. The other four provinces housed the Erebannien, a great forest where no army had ever marched. Those forest provinces were controlled by two separate mages: the High Mage Aelies and Rogr Aglondier of Ilien, a nearby land that also housed the Erebannien.
King Shaemes found himself ruling a court that was barely acceptable and that had 19 gold bars (each bar the equivalent of 2,000 gold pieces) in its treasury. He had a few units of troops scattered across the lands composed of infantry and archers, mostly in the more civilized northern provinces. When he took the throne, he decided he would leave the taxation of the people at its present light level.
It was less than a week after Shaemes had taken the throne that he called Gaelyn to his study.
“Gaelyn, I think that we need to learn more about the country,” he told the priest. “These people are still grieving the death of my great aunt. I think that we should travel through the cities and let them know that we share their grief but that we’re pushing forward to develop a stronger country, one seeking new trade, new allies.”
“Are you speaking of sending an emissary or are you talking of going yourself, My Liege?” the other man asked.
“I think I should go myself.”
“That would be an expensive trip.”
“We have a few bars left in the treasury, I’ve seen.”
“Whatever My Liege desires, of course, we will see it done. Perhaps we should send for Ruinil to scout out the road and secure us a safe path.”
“That would be wise. If he would begin a plan of travel. I know my guard will accompany us. Or should we just go with the three of us?”
“That would be a terrible idea, My Liege. It will certainly take more than my prowess at arms to protect you.”
“Maybe it might be best, at the moment, to go in disguise, so that we can truly see what the country is like: how they feel, how they act, find out their woes, their joys, as simple travelers.”
Gaelyn felt the situation suddenly slipping away from him.
“Simple travelers get robbed on the road more often than royal travelers, my lord,” he said. “I would highly advise against it, but if it is your will, it will be done.”
“I think that is what we should do,” King Shaemes said. “We shall go in disguise; you, Ruinil, and myself, as simple travelers looking for work elsewhere.”
He smiled, pleased with himself. He had been sheltered all of his life. Gaelyn frowned.
“Yes!” he went on. “That is what we should do. Go find Ruinil.”
“Yes,” Gaelyn said, leaving the chamber. Once he was alone, he whispered “Ruinil, I need you.”
He knew that the yeoman had special powers, handed down by his bloodline, that if anyone said his name, he would hear it and would hear what was being said about him.
* * *
King Shaemes met with a chamberlain named Daene who told him there were rumors that the country of Osoerde, on their northern border, had moved troops from some of the inner provinces to the province of Algael, which bordered the Aerenwe province of Dhoenel. The man also asked, when he learned of the king’s plans, for permission to surreptitiously send men ahead on the king’s route in order to act as a secret bodyguard while he traveled. He was also adamant that at least two bodyguards go with the king as well.
“I will have two with me,” King Shaemes said. “Gaelyn: he is older, but he is wise. And Ruinil.”
“What does Gaelyn say about this?” Daene asked hopefully.
“He is for it,”
“No, about having extra bodyguards.”
“I would not worry him about that. He has too many other things to deal with. Send for Richard, my wisest chamberlain, so that I might talk with him.”
“Very well,” the man said, defeated.
Richard, King Shaemes oldest and wisest chamberlain was at least 90 years old. It took him several minutes to cross the room where the king was holding court. When the king told him of his plan, he loudly protested. Of course, he did everything loudly, as he was losing his hearing and thought everyone around, therefore, must be losing theirs as well.
“No no no!” he said. “That’s out of the question! You must take a least a bodyguard! Plus you must have an entourage. Don’t forget that you must also carry the royal coat of arms at all times. Preferably you should have, also, several maids, as well as cooks and food tasters!”
He blustered on for several minutes.
“And of course you must not forget the washerwomen!” he said at last. “Things must be kept clean! A king is not to be seen with dirty robes! And, of course–”
“I would like you to arrange all of that,” King Shaemes finally interrupted the man. “When we return from our general scouting mission, I will come back and I want to go with the entire retinue and meet with the leaders of Osoerde. So, if you could put this plan in to place ...”
“You want to talk to Jaison Raenech?” Richard said.
“When I return.”
“I understand he’s positioning his men on the border. They’re probably going to invade any day now!”
“We will see what is happening while we are out. First hand.”
“Very well. I don’t see as well as I used to, but I will arrange it My Liege.”
* * *
The chamberlain Daene found Gaelyn in his apartments and advised the man that at least a small retinue be with the king or he should at least arrange men already in the villages that that the king was planning on visiting.
“Yes, absolutely,” Gaelyn said. “Please, please make that happen.”
“But the king has advised against it,” Daene said.
“No need for the king to know.”
“Very good, sir. Thank you, sir. Can you at least keep him here at Caer Callin for a day or two so that I might make the arrangements?”
“I will do what I can.”
* * *
“I need a carriage,” King Shaemes said to Onwen, the Master of Carriages. “Not too fancy, yet workable. Throw some dirt on it, scar it up a little bit.”
“You mean this one, sire?” the man said, taking him to the royal carriage.
“No, that’s too fancy. I need something that looks like one our simple folk would use. But yet, I want it sturdy enough.”
“Simple folk don’t own carriages, sire.”
“Well, a wagon then.”
“Something like what you would carry hay in. Or maybe pigs.”
Onwen stared at him, his mouth open.
“What?” he finally said. “A wagon?”
“Yes,” the king said.
“But you – a wagon?”
“A wagon, yes. If you could have it ready.”
“How about a coach?”
“No, it needs to be something simple. We’ll be leaving tomorrow.”
King Shaemes then went to the seamstresses and tailors in the castle and asked them to make him some simple clothing and then dirty them up. This was also met with amazement.
* * *
Gaelyn soon heard about the king’s preparations from Daene. He groaned when he learned about the wagon and about the king talking to the castle’s tailor. There were many questions and rumors moving through the castle wondering exactly what the king was up to.
* * *
Ruinil was approached by Onwen as he was heading for Gaelyn’s chambers.
“Could you help me, sir ... your grace?” the dirty little man asked him. “The king wants a ... wagon?”
“I’m not ‘your grace,’” Ruinil said.
“Yes, your service ... sir. The king wants a wagon.”
“You may simply call me “my lord’ if you wish.”
“Your Lord, my lord, excuse me. The king says he wants a wagon. I assume it’s to ride around in. He didn’t want the carriage. I don’t know what to do. I could get him a wagon, but–”
“By the Gods, you make him a wagon!”
“Yes. Construct. As in use your hands.”
“Or go purchase one.”
“I have pressing business.”
“I’m sorry sir. I’m sorry.”
The little man groveled away.
Ruinil went to Gaelyn’s chambers and knocked on the door.
“Come,” a voice called from within.
Gaelyn looked harried and harassed.
“Gaelyn, you called for me?” the yeoman asked.
“Thank the Gods,” Gaelyn said. “We must meet with His Highness and ... calm him down, I think. He has it in his head that we, the three of us, mind you, are to travel the countryside, gauging the reaction of the people, to his ascension to the throne.”
“That sounds good,” Ruinil said. “A king should know his land.”
“He wants to be in disguise. Just the three of us.”
“I can make that happen.”
Gaelyn stared at the man.
“I expected more support from your side of the court on this actually,” he said. “At the very least, meet with him with me so that we may at least convince him not to run around speaking with all of the servants, asking them to do all these things. He’s going to give the wrong impression.”
“Very well,” Ruinil said.
“And ... do you have any red root? I have a splitting headache.”
“I could call one of the meisters, if you need.”
“No no no. Perhaps after we meet with ... there’s no point in curing a headache just to gain another one.”
* * *
King Shaemes had found the armory and spoken to Vaesil, the armorer. He was salt of the earth and only referred to the king as “Your Highness” when he remembered. He was very helpful, however. When Shaemes first arrived, the man had shown him several guilt swords and wonderfully engraved crossbows. However, when the king had told him he had wanted the same kinds of weapons the guards used, he grinned, pleased.
“Really?” he said. “Come over here.”
He showed the king several broad swords and crossbows that were simple yet effective in design, all of them well oiled and cleaned. The two men were looking over several weapons that were lying on a table when Gaelyn and Ruinil found them. Vaesil was holding a crossbow in one hand and an apple in the other.
“Are you sure you don’t really want me to show how this really works?” the man said.
“I understand these,” King Shaemes said, taking the crossbow and loading it.
“Oh!” Vaesil said. “Then I’ll stand over there with the apple on my head!”
“I’m not that good.”
“My Liege!” Gaelyn said with a loud cough. “Excuse me. Master Vaesil, is it? Please excuse us for a moment.”
“Yes, my lord,” Vaesil said. “Yes, my lord.”
He bowed and left the room.
“So, has Gaelyn told you about our adventure?” King Shaemes asked Ruinil.
“Yes, he has indeed, My Liege,” the man replied.
“What say you? Do you think it is as good an idea as I?”
“My Liege, I do think it is a wise decision for a king to know his land.”
“Excellent! Thank you!”
“However, My Liege, that is exactly why you have men such as me.”
“That’s why you’re going with us.”
“I would be happy to ride the land for you.”
“And I will go with you.”
“Surely there are things here at the castle that are more pressing than to ride about the land.”
“The most important part of being king is knowing the people. I have been hidden away, studying, for the last 12 years. It is time that I get out and meet these people.”
“But there are concerns for your safety, My Liege,” Gaelyn said. “We must make that paramount.”
“That is why I have you,” King Shaemes said. “I think more attention would be caused if we had guards, wagons, and the like.”
“Yes, but it would be the right kind of attention.”
“I do not know.”
“I think that mere numbers and the royal seal and the banner would dissuade any bandits or fell-minded men from attempting anything to harm your safety, My Liege.”
“My fear is not that they would cause us harm, but that while we are out, they would attack the castle.”
“This is a strong castle, My Liege.”
“Especially if our neighbors to the north are already moving troops in.”
“Yes. That is another matter that I wanted to bring up for discussion, My Liege. It’s not exactly the best time for taking a leisurely stroll through your lands. There is much to consider to the northern border.”
“That’s why I want to go see it firsthand.”
“Then perhaps we should assemble the proper entourage and make haste to the border.”
“Chamberlain Richard is doing that now, so that when we return–”
“He’s a wise man, for his age.”
“My Liege, whereas a smaller number may travel more freely, perhaps in some ways even quicker,” Ruinil said, “still you must understand that our chief concern is your safety.”
“I do understand that,” King Shaemes said. “I do appreciate that.”
“Perhaps if you want us to travel in disguise, at least take a bodyguard and we can travel as a caravan, if this is a decision that you are insistent upon making.”
“I have a wagon prepared. I have clothes prepared for us so that we can go unnoticed and travel freely.”
“That brings up another point, Your Highness,” Gaelyn said. “These types of things, if you want them to remain secret, they should be kept secret. We shall summon the proper servants and discuss these options with them but please try to refrain from going around the castle grounds and talking out in the open to all these servants and such about this. It will do nothing but give the wrong impression of you, Your Highness.”
“I understand,” King Shaemes said. “But it is too late.”
“Well, it is too late for what has been done, but it is not too late to avert future issues, Your Highness. If you have other needs or concerns, discuss it with me. I will see it done.”
“I think, right now, the only thing lacking would be foodstuffs. I was on my way to the kitchens.”
“I will take care of it, Your Highness.”
“Then we should be ready to go by tomorrow.”
“We might need at least another day’s preparation before we can leave.”
“Indeed,” Ruinil said. “At least.”
“What have I missed?” King Shaemes asked.
“Well, there are many considerations,” Gaelyn said. “We have to make sure that the government is in order before we walk away from the castle. There’s etiquette, procedure, protocol involved in this kind of thing, Your Highness. We can’t simply abandon all of the traditions of this great country.”
“I understand that and I understand the rule of law of the land and who’s in charge when I’m absent, who has the power.”
“Who is in charge when you’re absent?” Ruinil asked.
“That would be Aeric, the seneschal,” King Shaemes said. “He will wear the chain and mantle of command when I am absent.”
“Is that a sound choice, My Liege?” Gaelyn asked.
“He ran while the queen was sick.”
“He did run thing in the interim between the death of the queen and your ascension, but if the men massing on the border is any indication of his rule–”
“I don’t think he ordered them to go anywhere.”
“No, My Liege. I mean, his foreign policy may have caused a rift, which has prompted the massing of soldiers on our borders.”
“Your Highness, I am taken to mind suddenly that the swords on the border are of much more concern,” Ruinil said. “This Raenech is a cruel and hard man. I wouldn’t put it past him to attack the castle, or at least attack one of your provinces.”
“After he’s raped and pillaged his way here,” Gaelyn added.
“Were you to be caught out in the field by a number of soldiers, it would be catastrophic.”
“It would put a damper on things,” King Shaemes said.
“It would,” Ruinil replied. “At least a damper.”
“But, as king, I’ve decided that we will travel. I will grant you your day before we leave.”
“Then will you also grant us more than just us? At least your guard?”
“I have my spies too and I understand that preparations are being made to place spies ahead of us as we travel.”
“Who would do such a thing?” Gaelyn blustered.
“You are not the only ones with the ears,” King Shaemes went on. “We will take precautions. We will carry with us pigeons to send word back in case we need help.”
Gaelyn put his hand to the bridge of his nose and groaned lightly. The headache was getting worse.
“In all fairness, Your Highness, it seems like the best precaution would be, perhaps, to send someone else,” Ruinil said, “but if you are want to do this, then we are your men.”
“And I thank you for that,” King Shaemes said.
“Aye, Your Highness, we will see it done,” Gaelyn said.
“Shall I prepare animals then?” Ruinil said.
“Please,” King Shaemes said. “We will be riding in wagons.”
* * *
Ruinil, noting to himself that the king had not actually said they were not to bring his bodyguard along, spoke to the sergeant of the royal bodyguard, telling him of the king’s plan for the day after the next, and that the guard would accompany them, albeit dressed as commoners and with only a few simple weapons. The sergeant was happy to comply.
“We’ll be travelling as a simple caravan,” Ruinil told the man.
“Discrete,” the sergeant said, sounding out the word carefully.
He ordered the man to have another wagon or perhaps carts readied, noting that the men would be riding on them as travelers or merchants. The sergeant told him he would arrange it. Ruinil went to arrange for the horses for the journey.
* * *
King Shaemes met with a young but white-haired mage that afternoon. Trevor Ciesen offered his services to the crown as a true blooded mage. He noted that there was no official mage yet in the court and, for his services, asked for control over the province of Dhoenel or Calrie or four gold bars.
“Master Ciesen, I’ve just taken over as king,” he told the wizard. “Feeling where we are as a country, financially, at this time I don’t think that I can afford to pay you what you’re asking, even though I am sure that it is well worth the money. I would ask that, for two gold bars for your services, until we are in a better position.”
“I am still willing to help you without the payment,” the mage said quietly. “Out of loyalty to the king. If you need my services, please call upon me.”
He told the king that if a man was sent to the village of Ruin’s Keep near the Erebannien in the province of Calrie, he would come.
“Before you leave, if you could introduce yourself to Gaelyn, my advisor,” King Shaemes said, snapping a finger and pointing to a nearby page, who ran out of the room.
“Yes, Your Highness,” the mage said.
Gaelyn soon arrived and met the man.
“One of the wood-dwelling folk, eh?” Gaelyn said.
“Uh ... no, My Lord,” Trevor said quietly.
“Oh, you live here?”
“Yes, My Lord. In this province.”
“My apologies then.”
“I was told to introduce myself to you as I will be potentially coming to your assistance, if you have need of me.”
“What assistance could you provide?”
“Oh, many powerful spells, My Lord.”
“Demagogue and the like. You do know what that is, do you not?”
Gaelyn did. He knew it was a powerful spell that could affect an entire province, playing upon the fears and loyalty of the province towards its ruler to increase or lower the loyalty of the people therein, depending on how the mage cast the spell.
“Well, if we have need of your services, I’m sure we will summon you,” he said.
“Very good, My Lord,” the mage said.
* * *
That same day, King Shaemes received an invitation. It read:
The honor of your presence is requested at River Hall on Haelyn’s Festival in this year
551 Michaeline. With the marriage of our children, Leira Bellaen and Aeric Pelien,
we also celebrate the joining of our two houses. We could think of no better gift than
The festival was a little more than two weeks away. The wedding itself was a weeklong event. It would still leave time for his own travel across the land.
King Shaemes went to the castle’s library and eventually found out who the Peliens and the Bellaens were. The Peliens were a powerful family within the province of Dhoenel while the Bellaens were a powerful family in the province of Halried. The two families had been feuding for hundreds of years and the marriage appeared to be a peace accord between them after far too long.
* * *
The tour of the countryside, just the three of them, was uneventful.
When they had arrived at the stables, two days later, they had found all 24 of King Shaemes’ private bodyguard there, waiting for them on several carts. They were all dressed as commoners though they were all well-armed. One of them was dressed in fine clothing with many ruffles.
“I’m a merchant!” that soldier said proudly.
“Shut up, Howerd!” the sergeant snapped at the man.
King Shaemes rolled his eyes.
When they arrived at towns, people were lined up along the streets as if they were there for a parade, or to see the king. Many of them had small flags of Aerenwe, but at the same time, none of them looked at the king or his party of “merchants.”
“Is that the king?” one little boy called but his mother quickly hushed him.
Only the best food was available at the inns that they stopped at, but when King Shaemes asked if they were expecting him, they denied it. One inn was even called The King’s Head that had a painting of Shaemes’ face both over the front door and within, both of them very accurate. The innkeeper refused to believe, allegedly, that Shaemes was the king, all the time looking towards Gaelyn.
Gaelyn was adamant that he had nothing to do with it.
Word had gotten out.
* * *
Some days after that, they arrived, this time along with a proper retinue, at River Hall, around noontime.
They rounded one final bend, and the walls of a grand estate stretched out before them. It sat near one Aerenwe’s minor rivers – the creek’s babbling filling the air as they drew new.
River Hall, a three-story, white marble edifice, sprawled across its considerable grounds, surrounded by high walls that protected it from poachers. However, the manor looked obviously indefensible against siege. The hall itself seemed well fortified, which one might expect, considering the frequent incidents of banditry in the province they had heard of.
To one side of manor lay a garden with statuary placed artfully among the greenery and blossoms. It looked as though a labyrinth hid deeper in the garden, though the high hedge walls concealed much of the area.
The drive leading to the manor was filled with carriages and mounts; grooms rushed hither and yon, leading horses to the huge stables off to the other side of the house. As they approached, a team of grooms rushed up, bowed, and helped them dismount. Once they’d unloaded their possessions, they led their horses away.
A young man with long blonde hair and a mustache, assuredly not older than his early twenties, stepped forward to greet them. He sketched barely a bow and said, “My Lords and Ladies, I welcome you to River Hall and bid you a good stay. I am Hadrien Pelien, second son of the baron, and I am here to see to your needs.”
“Very good,” King Shaemes said.
Hadrien led them into the house and showed them to their quarters. He offered to guide them around River Hall’s grounds if they wished and noted that there was a luncheon in the courtyard. He also told them a chamberlain named Stiele could give them a list of all the events if they so desired. He noted that either he or the chamberlain could show them around the grounds if they so desired.
At the luncheon, they all met the immediate members of both families.
Baron Brosen Pelien was the father of the groom. A large man with long blonde hair and a long mustache, expertly waxed, he was glad to meet the king. He seemed a bit vain and loved to show off the manor. Jonathan Pelien was the baron’s brother and seemed friendly enough, though he chose his words carefully whenever he spoke. Aeric Pelien, the groom, was a tall young man with long, dark hair and a handsome face. He seemed friendly enough but when one spoke to him, his simplicity shown through. Buess Pelien was the youngest of the baron’s three sons, also dark-haired, and seemed very eager to please and helpful. Finally, Hadrien Pelien, who they had already met, was to inherit the province from his father someday. He did not like the Bellaens at all and was against the wedding.
They also met the bride’s family over the course of the next few days. Baroness Laera Bellaen was the family’s matriarch and mother of the bride. She was shrewish, shrewd, and sharp with a harsh opinion of the Pelien family. Her husband, third of the men she’d married, had a mass of black hair on top of his head and was very friendly, though never seen without a drink in his hand. He never stood when he could sit and never sat when he could lie down. He seemed to most love the comforts inherit with his nobility. Leira Bellaen was exceptionally beautiful with a fragile frame and lovely blonde hair. She was bright, sparkling, and innocent, and seemed very sweet and kind. Her mother and sister hovered nearby, making sure they were never far from the woman. At one point, when Gaelyn intercepted Laera while her daughter spoke again to the king, she frowned at him.
“I do not have time to speak to god-beggars right now, My Liege,” she said to him.
“I am not a god-beggar,” he replied. “I’m advisor to the king himself.”
“I care not,” she replied, moving away from the man.
Leira’s brother, Ladie Bellaen, actually hit it off with Ruinil. The man had long, red hair and proved to be exceptionally quick-witted and humorous, with jokes that were clever and original. He was easy to talk to and bright. Even his puns were clever and made one think. He didn’t really care for the marriage, but it was merely because he didn’t like the Peliens and thought they would corrupt his sister. He was of the opinion that what would happen, would happen, however. He also had numerous jokes about the Peliens. Though he laughed with him, Ruinil also advised Ladie to watch his tongue, as soon the Peliens would be members of his family. He was unhappy with the sound of that, but agreed that the man was correct.
Finally, Jarri Bellaen was the youngest daughter in the family. Her face was already growing sharp and she was spiteful. Once, when Gaelyn had actually managed to intercept the baroness by “inadvertently” standing on her dress and seemingly not having the intelligence to raise the correct foot quickly, the king had almost gotten Leira to privacy, only to find another woman slipping her arm around his on the side opposite of Leira. He found Jarri there and she began talking about everything and nothing until Leira was called away. Between the mother and daughter, no one could monopolize the bride.
At least 200 of the nobility were present at the wedding. Additionally, there were numerous servants and the like. Many of the guests were trying to get time with the king of his advisors. One man approached Gaelyn asking him to talk to the king about lowering taxes for the rich. King Shaemes himself was approached about raising trade tariffs to dissuade trade from other countries and promote the local craftsmen of Aerenwe. There was also a lot of question as to whether or not war with Osoerde was inevitable. Several ladies approached King Shaemes; all of them seemed to think that their daughter would make a wonderful match for the king.
King Shaemes found Hadrien and asked him, based on the troop placement of Osoerde, what he had done to protect the borders. The man told him that the archery unit in the province was arrayed along the border. He noted that his father was not a leader of men, however. King Shaemes suggested that Hadrien begin training men in the province to defend themselves. Hadrien assured him that he would see to it.
The king also made inquires of both Hadrien and Ladie as to why they were against the wedding. Neither man could say more than that he did not approve of the other family, Hadrien more so than Ladie. Ladie seemed more annoyed by the Peliens than truly hateful of them.
The inquiries and requests to the king and his advisors continued throughout their stay.
The king also talked to both Leira and Aeric in private, individually. He learned that the two seemed to actually be in love. She said she did not know how wonderful a man could be until she met him. He, in turn, could not stop talking about her. Though he was not eloquent, he seemed sincere. He also met both Laera and Michael Bellaen and with Brosen Pelien. Laera, who really controlled the Bellaens, seemed sincere in the marriage ending the age-old feud that was damaging her family. Though she hated the Peliens, the feud was more damaging that the marriage would be. Michael seemed more concerned with food and drink than with the marriage or the wedding. Baron Brosen Pelien also very badly wanted to see the feud over and done with.
The true festivities began on the fifth day of their stay and ran through the sixth day. There were tests of strength with a joust, as well as foot lists, archery contests, and foot races. Ruinil participated in the archer contest and actually won the platinum trophy, valued at 200 gold coins. Gaelyn won the foot list.
King Shaemes took his two advisors aside.
“I appreciate your skills, your prowess,” he said to them, “but we are at a party for these people.”
“Of course, My Liege,” Gaelyn said.
“It would be nice if you would donate those trophies to a local charity or church.”
“My Liege, in all fairness, you are the local charity,” Ruinil said.
“Well, if you could donate it to the church, I would appreciate it,” King Shaemes said.
When the king wasn’t looking, the two men simply exchanged their trophies.
There were also sumptuous banquets on both days. The number of people trying to get the king’s ear continued. The wording was more casually introduced and worked more carefully into the conversation by then. Several guests remarked upon the obviously strained friendship between the two families. Many of them expressed their doubts that the marriage would last.
At one point during the last banquet before the wedding day, King Shaemes stood behind the bride and groom, a hand on each of their shoulders.
“Lords and ladies, gentlemen, goodwives, before us we have a pair that are truly in love, and I ask you to support them,” he said. “Cease any conversation of doubt. Be supportive of this joining of families because we are here to rebuild this country, to see it grow. Just as they will see their family grow, this country must grow with them. New trade, new prosperity. So, we’ll just drink a toast to the new family and offer them well-wishes and good fortune.”
“Well spoken, My Liege!” Gaelyn called out.
“I offer as a gift to the newlywed couple to come and spend time with me in Caer Callin,” the king went on. “As a support of the union and the peace that they will provide.”
There was applause and people raised their glasses. King Shaemes noticed that Hadrien did not raise his glass. Shaemes picked up his glass and then tilted it towards Hadrien, staring across the room at the man. He very slowly raised his glass and barely tipped it to his lips. Then Shaemes drank. Hadrien left the banquet soon after.
* * *
On the night before the wedding day, King Shaemes awoke to cries of “Assassin! Assassin!” from inside his room. The page who slept at the foot of his bed was stumbling to his feet as the armed guard who stood watch over the king rushed a man who had come from a secret panel in the wall across the room. The man was thin and wore a dark mask that covered his face. He fled into the secret passageway.
“After him!” King Shaemes yelled.
The guard grabbed a lit taper and ran into the passage. Someone was trying to break down the door and King Shaemes ordered his page to open it. Two other guards rushed into the room as Shaemes picked up his sword. They looked around the room and one of them went to the secret door.
* * *
Ruinil woke up to the sounds of shouts and cries of “Assassin!” He grabbed his short sword and rushed to the king’s room to find him standing by his bed, sword in hand. A guard stood near a black secret passage in the wall while another stood near the king.
“My Liege!” he said. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” King Shaemes said. “Someone came through this doorway.”
“Keep an eye on him!” Ruinil said, pointing to the king.
He rushed to the passageway.
“Boeric went after him!” the guard in the passageway said. “But I haven’t seen him!”
“How long did he go?” Ruinil said. “Just now?”
“Moments ago, My Lord.”
“Watch the king!”
Ruinil grabbed a taper and headed into the darkness of the passageway. There were numerous branching passages and doors along the walls everywhere.
“Boeric!” he hissed.
He only went a little ways before he turned around and headed back to the king’s chamber. He told the guards to watch the king and then told Shaemes that he was going to wake Gaelyn and head into the passages. He had Gaelyn woken and told the man there had been an attempt on the king. After Ruinil explained what he’d found, Gaelyn sent for torches and Ruinil went to get his leather armor. Gaelyn took his shield and the torches to the king’s room, meeting Ruinil there.
They sent for more of the king’s bodyguards and then headed back into the secret passages, using a red candle to mark the way. The passages were remarkably clean though dark. Gaelyn thought that whoever it had been must have known the passages well to navigate them. Ruinil agreed and both figured it was someone from the Pelien family or their servants.
Other guests, woken by the cries and the commotion, had begun to arrive and question what was going on. The king ordered that they be told nothing.
* * *
After half an hour, Gaelyn and Ruinil found Boeric, who had lost the assassin and then gotten himself lost in the passageways. The guard noted that he had not opened any doors for fear of being accused of being an assassin himself. He apologized profusely. They told him to follow the red wax marks back to the king’s chambers.
* * *
King Shaemes went out to the courtyard to see what lights might be on in the castle. None were aside from those in the area where the disturbance had taken place. Baron Brosen found him there and asked what had happened.
“It seems as though an assassin has breached your walls and entered my room,” King Shaemes said.
“My Gods!” Brosen said snapping his fingers at his guard. “We’ll spare no expense to find this villain.”
“My guards are even now traveling through your secret passageways, looking.”
“Oh ... oh dear.”
“If you could get some of your men to search, I would appreciate it.”
“Yes! Discretely. We will search discretely.”
“Please check on Baroness Bellaen and make sure her family is in good health.”
Brosen scowled but complied.
Soon, lights were lit all over the manor.
King Shaemes went to the well, drew water, and offered some to the guards. They were grateful to drink from the bucket and the two waited with him.
“In just a few moments I’m sure that Gaelyn and Ruinil will come out and reprimand me for leaving my room,” he said conversationally. “But that’s one of the perks, isn’t it?”
The mean seemed uncomfortable but one replied with a careful “yes.”
There was more uncomfortable silence.
“You know, Your Highness, I was wantin’ to ask you something,” the short guard suddenly piped up. “My mum, she always wondered ‘How does one become a highness?’”
“The luck of the draw, I would imagine,” King Shaemes said.
“Oh oh oh. Then my Uncle Sparc, he should be a highness. He’s very lucky.”
“Shut up, Nobby!” the other one hissed at him.
“Sorry, Sire, sorry,” Nobby said.
“What say we find the kitchen and see if there’s any food available?” King Shaemes said.
“Ooh,” Nobby replied.
They soon found the kitchen where there was cold meat, cheese, and bread. Just as they had all settled down at the table to eat, a hue rose from the part of the castle that he realized the Bellaens were quartered in. King Shaemes dropped his turkey leg, leapt up, and ran out of the room. Nobby grabbed the turkey leg as the guards ran after him.
* * *
Still somewhat lost in the secret passages, Gaelyn and Ruinil heard a wailing cry not far off. The found the door nearby where the cry was coming from and Ruinil flung it open.
The room was well-lit. A couple of men in armor wore the coat of arms of the Bellaens. Laera Bellaen was crouched on the bed, cradling the body of Leira Bellaen. The daughter’s throat had been slit and blood covered the bed. Duchess Laera was shrieking and wailing. Nearby, Jarri knelt on the floor, banging her head on the wood and wailing. Michael stood in the doorway, his mouth hanging open. Ladie stood just outside the doorway, his shoulders shaking and he cried silently to himself.
As she wailed, Laera screamed for the blood of the Peliens incoherently, declaring that they must pay for the murder they had committed upon their daughter. She cursed and gnashed her teeth.
The two guards looked towards Ruinil and raised swords in his direction, pointing at the two men.
“By the Gods, men, what happened here?” Gaelyn said.
“Is this the assassin?” one of the guards cried.
“No!” Gaelyn said.
“No, we’re not bloody assassins!” Ruinil said.
“We’re the king’s men! Put down your sword.”
“They killed her!” Laera shrieked. “The Peliens killed her! They killed my daughter! You tell the king that he has to do something about that! You tell him right now!”
“Stop your wailing, woman!” Gaelyn said.
“You go to hell, you fool!”
“What happened here?”
Ruinil glared at one of the guards, who had lowered their swords. The ranger sheathed his sword and pointed at Jarri.
“Take care of her,” he said. “Get her out of here.”
The guard looked towards the duchess, who continued to scream at Gaelyn of justice, beheadings, and death to the Peliens. Ruinil grabbed the man by his arm.
“We are trying to bring peace here, sir,” he growled. “Take that girl out and calm her down.”
The guard moved to the girl and lifted her from the floor.
King Shaemes arrived at the doorway, passing through those who were clustered outside. He called for Gaelyn who left the horrible abattoir behind. The advisor told the king that the young bride had been assassinated.
“We must search the house!” Ladie said. “We find out who did this horrible thing!”
“We will see to it,” Gaelyn said.
He saw Baron Brosen coming down the hallway in their direction and he moved to intercept the man. He quickly told him what happened and ordered his men to search the castle and the ground. Gaelyn advised that the Baron and his family stay well away from the Bellaens for the time being. Baron Brosen agreed wholeheartedly and left to lead a search of his own.
Ruinil, meanwhile, looked back into the secret passage for blood. He found none. He guessed that the girl’s throat had been slit straight across the windpipe, meaning there would be a lot of blood in the room and the bed, but not necessarily blood dripping off the assassin.
King Shaemes entered the room, the two guards close behind him. The little one, still holding the turkey leg, offered it to the king and then hid it behind his back.
“I’ll hold it for you, Sire!” he hissed.
King Shaemes approached Laera, who remained hysterical. He began to speak but she started screaming at him that he had to find the murderer that had killed her daughter. He took one of her bloody hands and assured her that they would find the murderer. He squeezed her hands past the point of being painful, assuring her quietly that they would find the murderer. He also suggested that she and their family go to the chapel and pray. She jerked her hands free, still wailing and crying over the body of her daughter.
He turned to Michael.
“It’s now time for you to be the strong one in your family,” he said to the man.
Michael’s eyes opened wide in terror.
“Give her your drink,” the king went on. “It’s not time for you to drink, now. She needs it.”
* * *
The search only took a half hour before a cry went up that the assassin had been found. In a wine cellar was found a bloodstained servant. His name was Terem and he was the personal servant of Jonathan Pelien. The man was dragged to the courtyard by guards.
King Shaemes and Gaelyn headed for the courtyard.
“No one talks to him but one of us,” King Shaemes told the other man.
“Yes, My Liege,” Gaelyn said. “Guards!”
He pointed at the king and then headed towards the courtyard at speed, the king following at a more leisurely pace.
Gaelyn found that two Pelien guards had Terem by the arms. Other guards were in the courtyard, as well as numerous wedding guests. Jonathan and Hadrien Pelien were also in the courtyard and the mutters of accusations noting that Terem was Jonathan’s personal servant were starting to spread. Jonathan protested his innocence loudly, as did his servant. Gaelyn pushed through the crowd. He put one hand on the servant.
“In the name of the king and at his command, I take this man into custody!” he shouted.
Two Bellaen guards grabbed Jonathan and the Pelien guards put their hands on their swords.
“Stay your hands!” Gaelyn screamed as other guests backed away.
He pointed at Jonathan.
“You two! Take him! Bring him with us!” he shouted at two of the king’s guards who stood nearby.
The two men moved towards Jonathan and took him into custody.
“He’s obviously the murderer,” one of the Bellaen guards said. “He obviously made his servant do it!”
“I represent the king!” one of the bodyguards said, slapping himself in the chest. “I represent the king!”
They finally handed over Jonathan just as the king arrived.
King Shaemes climbed onto the edge of the well.
“My Liege!” Gaelyn blustered.
“Lords and Ladies! Gentlemen!” the King called out. “Unfortunately, the festivities have come to an end. It is time for those of you not connected to the family to collect your belongings and leave.”
“Your Highness, in the middle of the night?” someone called.
“By the time you gather your belongings, it will be daylight.”
“Sir?” Gaelyn said.
But the questioner had turned and walked away.
King Shaemes yelled for Brosen, who appeared within moments.
“I need a room that is not connected by one of your hallways,” he told the man.
Brosen thought for what felt like a long time.
“The stables, sir,” he finally said.
“What?” Gaelyn said.
“I cannot help how the castle was crafted, My Lord,” Brosen said.
“Then that is where we go,” King Shaemes said. “Take him to the stables. Put each of them in a separate stall. Find Hadrien as well.”
As they parted, a shriek rose from the far side of the courtyard. Baroness Laera strode across the ground shrieking “Where is he!?! Where is the murderer!?!” There was still blood on her hands and on her nightshirt. Michael trailed behind her, urging her to calm down.
“You shut up!” she shrieked at the man.
“It would be in your best interest to take your mistress back to the chapel,” King Shaemes said to the Bellaen guards standing nearby.
The two men hesitated and then headed for the woman. They intercepted her and there was a hushed conversation even as Gaelyn got to the stables with his two prisoners. King Shaemes looked around for Ruinil but saw no sign of the man.
“Where is Ruinil?” he asked.
* * *
Gaelyn, in the stables, heard the king call for Ruinil.
“Ruinil, we need you in the stables,” he said quietly.
* * *
Still searching the secret passages, Ruinil heard his name spoken by Gaelyn’s voice and that he was needed in the stables. He ordered his men to continue the search and then began to make all due haste to find himself out of the twisted network of corridors. He soon arrived in the courtyard and saw the king there.
“Send your fastest messenger to the village of Ruin’s Keep and tell Trevor to come here post-haste,” King Shaemes ordered.
“You require a mage, My Liege?” Ruinil asked.
“In this case, it would not hurt.”
“I’m not sure that I trust sorcery, Sire, but I will do as you command.”
* * *
Both of the men being held in the stables protested their innocence to Gaelyn. Terem also claimed that someone had forced him to kill.
“Both of you keep your tongues behind your teeth,” Gaelyn said. “I’m not the one you need to convince. We will wait here for the king.”
Jonathan seemed affronted while Terem seemed cowed by the command. Gaelyn put them in separate stalls.
King Shaemes entered the stables. He ordered the prisoners to be made comfortable but not be allowed to speak. As the guards went to do so, a gasping and a grunting came from one of the stalls. One of the guards backed out of the stall, horrified.
Terem lay on the floor of the stall, blood pouring from his mouth, his nose, and his eyes. He struggled on the ground.
“Escort the king out!” Gaelyn said.
The man on the floor died within moments.
“I told him he wasn’t to speak until the king told him to–” the guard said.
“Escort the king out!” Gaelyn said again.
The man quickly escorted King Shaemes out of the stables. On the way, the shaken guard told him he had told the man not to speak but Terem had said he knew who had manipulated him. He was about to say the name but then he started spewing blood everywhere. The king asked if he had been attacked but the man said it had looked more like magic of some awful sort.
* * *
Gaelyn looked over the body but could not determine what had killed the man. Nothing natural had done it and he guessed that it was some kind of terrible magic.
King Shaemes reentered the stables, Ruinil close behind him, and walked over to stall that housed Jonathan.
“Well, I hope nothing like that happens to you,” he said to the man.
“What happened?” Jonathan said.
“Your servant is dead.”
“We do not know. He is dead.”
“We do not know. He just started to bleed from his mouth, his nose, his eyes.”
“We do not know.”
Jonathan thought of that.
“He was a faithful servant,” he finally said.
“So, what happened?” King Shaemes asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Why did he break into my room?”
“I don’t know, My Liege. I have no idea. Unless it was to frame me for some reason.”
“Who would want to do that?”
“I could not tell you. I was asleep in my bed. I had not seen Terem since he helped prepare me for bed earlier this evening.”
“Would your servant have been familiar with the passageways?”
“Oh yes. Some of the servants here are.”
“We need to prepare Leira’s body and have their family leave before we can figure out what is going on. I don’t think it’s good for them to stay. If I were you, I would not go near them.”
“I will not.”
“But do not leave.”
“May I leave the stables?”
“Yes, but do not leave the grounds.”
“I will not.”
Jonathan left the stables.
“What happened?” Ruinil asked Gaelyn.
“The servant is dead,” the priest told him. “The assassin is dead.”
He went over to the stall.
“By the Gods!” he said. “Did the guards do this to him?”
“No, the guards didn’t touch him,” Gaelyn replied. “It was either poison or magic. Or a curse of some sort.”
Ruinil spit on the floor.
“Sorcery?” he said.
“Yes, most likely,” Gaelyn replied.
Ruinil expressed his opinion that ordering everyone to leave was a bad idea. They also discussed what magic might have been used to cause Terem to kill against his will.
* * *
Within two hours, the Bellaens had packed up their wagons and carriages and were ready to leave. They stopped only long enough in the courtyard to register a formal complaint with the king. When he said that he would have his advisor Gaelyn bless the body before they went, he was politely rebuffed. He expressed his sincerest regret that it had happened. Michael thanked the king.
The servants of the family were barely restrained from attacking each other and a few of the more hotheaded ones were arranging duels. The king noted that if there was any attack made, all involved would die. There was muttered and mumbling about that.
Ruinil took the king aside as the family prepared to leave.
“I do not think it wise to let anyone leave the castle at this time,” he said quietly to the king. “I know that there is grief. I know that there is murder, but there may be an assassin in our midst. If we allow him to leave, then we may never discover who he is.”
He looked at the family, stepping onto their carriage.
“Or she,” he said.
“I think any assassin could leave at any time,” King Shaemes said. “I’m more concerned about bloodshed that might be caused by the continued closeness of the families.”
Gaelyn noted that the families could be kept separated but also urged him to keep everyone in the castle. He thought they should keep everyone there until they could deduce what had happened.
King Shaemes returned to the baroness.
“As much as I hate to do this, I must ask you to stay,” he said to her.
“There will be bloodshed if we stay,” she said.
“No, there will not be.”
“There will be. I cannot retrain every servant or watch them at all times.”
“You will watch your tongue, woman, when you speak–” Gaelyn said.
“You go to hell!” the duchess shrieked at the man.
“Shut your mouth!” Gaelyn said, casting a command spell.
The woman’s mouth clamped shut. She gasped and then went for his eyes with her fingernails. Guards intervened but other Bellaens started to shout imprecations. Someone screamed as two servants fell into fighting, one stabbing the other with a dagger. The still standing servant glared at the king and his advisors.
“It’s worth it to have one of them dead!” the boy shouted.
More servants were now verbally assaulting those of the other family. Guards from both sides had their hands on their weapons. King Shaemes ordered his own guards to restrain the murderous servant and then ordered the Bellaen guards to restrain the baroness. He told them he would talk to them later. He ordered everyone from both families to return to their rooms. He also asked Baron Brosen to close all of the tunnel openings. He noted that they would have to nail all of the doors shut and King Shaemes ordered him to hurry. Ruinil suggested sending some of the king’s guards to make sure it was done properly.
“Shall I deal with this servant?” Ruinil said, indicating the young Bellaen man.
“Take him out and kill him,” King Shaemes said.
“Yes, kill me!” the youth shouted at Ruinil. “Kill me!”
He spit at the yeoman.
“Yes, My Liege,” Ruinil said.
He had a page fetch his axe and then he and two guards took the man outside of the walls. The servant, defiant to the end, actually laid down himself on the log that Ruinil found to do the deed. He told the man his misdeed and the youth noted that the Peliens murdered Leira, the most wonderful incredible woman of all time, so he killed one of them for that.
“Do what you must, sirrah!” he said.
Ruinil did the deed.
* * *
For the rest of the night, guards were busy keeping servants of the two families from each other.
The next morning, a servant of the Bellaens came to the king with a message asking permission to leave the castle immediately. He replied that he would give an answer within the hour. Then he called for Gaelyn and Ruinil and spoke with them.
“Kind of a difficult situation for a young king,” King Shaemes said. “I hated having to decree death upon the young boy last night.”
“He welcomed it,” Gaelyn said.
“My Liege, unfortunately, you are still responsible for bringing justice,” Ruinil said. “Although someone, apparently this servant, was responsible for killing the bride, it gave no cause for this man to wantonly kill another servant who had nothing to do with this. It was murder. It was justice that we did.”
“We did have a message from the baroness this morning,” the king said. “They are ready to leave. I told her I would give her an answer within an hour. I do agree that keeping them here might be better, but I’m afraid that our own resources would be strained, perhaps beyond our capacity, if we continue to hold them. I’m hoping that I can convince them to stay another day in the hopes that maybe our friend Trevor will be here. Maybe he can shed some light on what happened to our assassin. Do you have any suggestions? Any ideas?”
“Do you believe this man?” Ruinil asked. “That he didn’t do it ... that he was forced? One of the guards who was in the stable, he kept talking about how the man started to say he knew who the person who forced him to do what he did was. He started to say the name when he died.”
“There is magic in the world,” the king replied. He looked at Gaelyn. “Just yesterday, we saw what you can do. If there’s a more powerful caster, who knows what could happen? I do not believe that Jonathan was that man. The one person I’ve talked to while we’ve been here who is against the marriage is Hadrien. Everyone seems to support it. The baron, the baroness, the brothers and sisters. All but Hadrien.”
“You think Hadrien’s a sorcerer?”
“I do not know.”
“As always, I’m at your command. If you wish me to keep these families here, I will do what I can to see that they stay.”
“What would the typical burial ritual as far as preparing the body ...” King Shaemes said to Gaelyn.
“I do not think the mother of the deceased would want me anywhere near her family,” Gaelyn replied. “And honestly, I do not wish to attend them. At all.”
“The girl was sweet, at any rate,” Ruinil said.
He suggested for the Bellaens to send for their own priests. King Shaemes thought on the matter for some time.
“It may not be the wisest move, but I’m going to allow them to leave,” he finally said. “It will be more difficult if they stay. If you could tell them that they can leave.”
“That is your command?” Ruinil said.
Ruinil went to the Bellaens quarters and informed them that there was no new information and, despite what had occurred between the two families and the wrongs against the king, he understood their grief and would allow them to return to their own lands.
The Bellaens left with all due haste.
Other guests also left the estate.
* * *
Trevor Ciesen arrived the next day. After learning of the situation, he guessed that true magic had been used to silence the servant and keep him from revealing the name of the person he was working for. The king questioned him on what a young man might need to cast such a spell but the mage told him that only a tome would be needed. However, in the case of the magic used, the magic would have to be quite powerful, not the kind that a simple hedge mage could use.
Ruinil suggested to the king that Brosen might be somehow behind the spell casting. He also suggested Jason Raenech, the self-named Duke of neighboring Osoerde, might be capable of something.
“He is not without making mischief in other kingdoms,” he said.
“That was my thought,” King Shaemes said. “The fact that maybe he had sent someone down to cause strife.”
“How could he have heard of the marriage of these two families?” Gaelyn asked.
“It’s not exactly secret,” Ruinil said.
“No. But he’s not exactly here.”
“Servants talk. Townsfolk talk. Invitations went across the land.”
The three men looked at each other.
“I am loath to recommend this, My Liege,” Ruinil said, “but perhaps we should make some sort of overtures to the Bellaen family.”
“Yes, I agree,” King Shaemes said. “We may have to. I’m not sure what they would require more than the blood of the person who killed their daughter.”
“Perhaps giving their son a place of honor in the kingdom. Or even pledging their youngest daughter to another noble.”
“The Peliens have a younger son. But I don’t think that’s going happen. It is a possibility. Most of the provinces are smaller than these two so it would not be much compensation.”
There was little else to do at River Hall. King Shaemes told Baron Brosen that the matter was not over and he would continue to work to resolve the situation. Baron Brosen desperately wanted some resolution and an end of the feud.
They returned to Caer Callin the next day.
* * *
Over the next week, the feud escalated. Assassins were allegedly sent to the Pelien estate and mercenaries burned Pelien holdings. There was talk that some of the agents working against the Peliens were killed. Likewise, Bellaen holdings were set fire to. In response, King Shaemes put his archers in Halried on high watch and moved a unit of infantry into Dhoenel and put them on high watch in the hopes of stemming some of the violence. He also sent letters asking the two families to guarantee that they were still loyal to Aerenwe and to himself as king, as well as wanting assurances that they promoted the safety and welfare of the country over priority over anything. He noted that if they believed that, for them to strengthen their pledges to him and their country again to uphold the laws of the land, swear allegiance to protect the provinces of the land and not shed the blood of the land. He hoped that would stem some of the worse of the feud. In addition, he sent each family a gold bar. It seemed to help.
Osoerde’s troops continued to muster across the borders. He sent a letter to the Duke of Osoerde, who claimed that the troops were merely training.
Within a day of receiving that letter, however, Osoerde declared war on Aerenwe and sent troops across the Berendor River. Only a unit of 200 archers and a unit of 200 infantrymen defended the province. Against the force of 400 cavalry, 400 infantrymen, 200 archers, and 200 pikemen, King Shaemes ordered his men to flee the province and regroup in the province of Calrie.
The next week, King Shaemes mustered more troops in the kingdom. In the end, he sent an army of 600 infantry, 600 archers, 400 pikemen, and 200 knights raised in the provinces of Calrie and Halried. That left a unit of 200 irregulars in Calrie. Ruinil and Gaelyn led the army.
The battle was vicious and mostly one-sided. The knights on the right flank led by Gaelyn crashed into the Osoerde infantry and were met on one side by a unit of charging Osoerde cavalry. The infantry unit was destroyed and the Osoerde cavalry that attacked their flank were ineffective against the knights.
Infantry and pikemen moved up on the left side against part of the Osoerde cavalry. On the left, the Aerenwe forces also moved to engage the Osoerde troops. In the center, the Aerenwe archers held back, hoping for an opening but the Osoerde cavalry pivoted and roared up the middle to engage them. The Osoerde archers hang back.
Ruinil’s archers in the back routed the cavalry that had been sent up the line against them before they could even reach the Aerenwe line. On the left side, the troops fought viciously against each other.
Aerenwe troops on the left and right sides pivoted into the center even as another unit of pikemen moved from the back lines and attacked the Osoerde pikemen and fleeing cavalry there as more troops moved forward on the left flank. More troops also moved to the right to support the main battle going on in the center of the field of battle. The Osoerde archers in the rear moved forward to engage the archers who were waiting on the left side, clashing with them and then being routed, fleeing back towards their own lines.
On the left flank, the Osoerde infantry was destroyed. On the right flank, Gaelyn’s knights wreaked havoc among the Osoerde infantry while taking little damage in return.
In the center, in the great melee that was going on there, the Osoerde cavalry still trying to flee the field of battle was destroyed by the pincer that was the Aerenwe pikemen. The Osoerde pikemen there were also wiped out, leaving the center of the field of battle free.
The routing Osoerde archers on the left side fled with Aerenwe forces in close pursuit. The Aerenwe archers caught the fleeing Osoerde archers and fought them to a standstill. Though the Osoerde cavalry fought viciously, they were pushed back and then destroyed by the Aerenwe knights led by Gaelyn and the archers led by Ruinil.
One of the Aerenwe infantry units that had not yet been in combat suddenly fell back and left the field of battle. From his vantage point on the nearby hill, King Shaemes recognized the colors of the unit: it was led by Hadrien Pelien.
The last Osoerde infantry unit was wiped out by the archer unit that they, themselves destroyed, the only Aerenwe unit that was completely wiped out.
Hadrien’s infantry unit had fled the battle and was soon found. Hadrien was not with them. He had fled across the river into Osoerde.
When they met at the king’s pavilion after the battle, Gaelyn noted that their troops were massed and ready and only the Berendor River stood between them and Osoerde. King Shaemes protested that he couldn’t afford war, but Gaelyn pointed out that he could if he took the treasury of Osoerde. He noted there would also be taxes collected from the provinces of Osoerde when they were victorious. He pointed out that, as the duke had recently usurped the throne of Osoerde, they were actually liberators.
King Shaemes decided to take the war to Osoerde. He said he would take command of Hadrien’s unit in the war. That met with some resistance from Gaelyn.
“Put me at the forefront of your army, My Liege!” Ruinil said. “I will take that province for your kingdom!”
King Shaemes agreed. He sent a letter to the wizard Trevor Ciesen to catch up with them. He also sent a letter to Baroness Laera that the killer of her daughter had fled the country and he was personally leading an army in pursuit. A letter went to the baron, telling him his son was a traitor and had fled into Osoerde. He further stated that he would pursue the man and that he would be talking to Brosen when he returned. He soon received a reply that the gold bar would be returned to the king immediately.
Within a week, his troops crossed the Berendor River into Osoerde. There were 400 archers under the command of Ruinil, 200 knights under the command of Gaelyn, 400 infantry, and 400 pikemen. They left a unit of 200 infantry behind. They found the resistance there was weaker than they expected. In the end, all that could be arrayed against the massive force of Aerenwe were 400 local levy holding the right side, 200 irregulars holding the left, and 600 archers in the center.
On the field of battle, the knights of Aerenwe roared down the right side of the field at the levies positioned there. They were followed closely by other Aerenwe forces. Osoerde moved its archers towards the right even as the other forces of Aerenwe focused on the left side of the field.
On the right, one unit of Osoerde levy was immediately routed and completely fled the field of battle. The other unit holding that side fought back viciously and several knights were killed in the melee. On the left, the Aerenwe forces struck the irregulars and one of the units was repelled and fell back. The other units destroyed the irregulars, that remained.
The Osoerde archers opened fire on the infantry trying to join the battle on the right side but only injured the unit they were trying to wipe out. The Aerenwe cavalry there fought the levy that still stood to a standstill, neither side making headway against the other. The injured infantry unit that tried to join the battle fell back but the fresh infantry unit managed to injure the remaining levy soldiers rather badly.
On the left side, the forces of Aerenwe rushed the archers positioned there. Those archers let fly on the archer units rushing them but did little damage or injury to those forces. When the two sides collided, the Osoerde archers were destroyed in the melee. The Aerenwe archer units under Ruinil charged across the field towards the two remaining Osoerde archer units. His men were struck by the arrows, but Ruinil’s unit retained cohesiveness and both units of archers crashed into the remaining Osoerde archers. One of the two Osoerde units was routed and fled the field of battle, while the other one fought the Aerenwe archers to a standstill.
On the right, the Aerenwe knights were joined by infantry and pikemen and the Osoerde levy fell back and was then destroyed. Then the knights, infantry, and pikemen joined the Aerenwe archers. The cavalry crashed into the Osoerde Archers, the footmen coming in behind. It took very little to destroy the remaining unit of archers, leaving the field of battle in Aerenwe’s control.
King Shaemes lost no time in occupying the province of Algael, assigning a unit of infantry to neutralize the stronghold of Duiren Haneire there. He levied taxes in that province and sent back to Aerenwe to increase taxes in all of the provinces to pay for the war. He also sent spies out to try to find William Moergen, the rightful ruler of Osoerde. He told them to convey the message that Osoerde invaded and that they pushed back Raenech’s forces and would now help reclaim the country if he pledged allegiance to Aerenwe to create a larger, more powerful land.
He also received word from the present Duke of Osoerde, Jaison Raenech. In the letter, he claimed that he had fallen under the influence of his advisor wizard. The letter went on to say that, while he was mustering troops for a training exercise in Algael, the mage cast a spell upon him, forcing him to declare war and invade. In the letter, he admitted to having a vested interest in taking Aerenwe’s lands, but claimed he never planned to invade. However, he wrote, once the die was cast, he felt he had to pursue the matter to its end.
King Shaemes sent the messenger back asking who the mage was. In the letter that returned, it noted that the mage had been duly executed. It also noted that Duke Osoerde was willing, if King Shaemes withdrew his troops from the nation, to give a formal apology and send a gold bar to show his remorse at his unintentional acts. He also noted that he understood there was a traitor that had escaped to his borders and he was willing to send the traitor back to Aerenwe if the king pulled back his troops.
The king had not yet heard back from William Moergen.
Gaelyn thought a single gold bar was a slap in the face.
“I do not think that this Raenech is truthful at all,” Ruinil said. “My suggestion is that, in good faith, you cannot leave until the traitor is captured. Once he is captured, then perhaps discussions could be opened again.”
King Shaemes sent a letter that he could not leave until the traitor was captured. He said he must have him in his hands. Secondly, the loss of life must be paid for and, as generous as his first offer was, he thought a more appropriate payment would be three gold bars. He noted that he would also be waiting for the capture of the traitor.
Within a day, a letter came back, offering King Shaemes two gold bars and noting that the traitor had fled to the city of Moriel and had been captured. It noted that he would be sent to the king post-haste, once the troops had been withdrawn back across the Berendor River. He wrote back that he would gladly come to the capitol and claim both his prizes, his three bars and the traitor. The letter that returned noted that the gold bars and the traitor would be sent directly if, upon their receipt, all of his troops withdrew back across the Berendor River.
In that time, King Shaemes also heard back from William Moergen. What he learned was that the former duke didn’t have any troops or money, only the secret support of the people. Gaelyn advised that the king send for the man so that once Raenech was defeated, he could be reinstated. He sent his spies out again to ask William Moergen to return with one of them so that Shaemes might protect him and rally troops in Algael as they would join forces so that he could reclaim his throne.
Trevor Ciesen never arrived.
King Shaemes sent a final letter to Duke Jaison Raenech, noting that he felt he was in his territory even in Algael. He claimed it and noted that he would see the duke shortly with the traitor and the five gold bars.
He also decided that he would perform the investiture ritual and before his troops moved on, he had invested the province of Algael into the Kingdom of Aerenwe.