Prologue- Ceraborn falls
The watchers had come back only a few moments earlier, just as the winds had begun to blow as fierce as they ever had before. The darkness loomed across the kingdom and an endless grey cloud hung over it with a threatening nature. The gates were locked and barred and Ser Alfred's men dismounted and made way towards the lower halls. Ceraborn was the eldest of all Western Kingdoms, the first to be built by the New Folk after Brodon Westermann's conquest over a thousand years ago. And still, yet with walls and lands slowly decaying, it was the crown of power within the West. Ser Alfred sighed heavily as he took the mares from their masters and put them in the stables, they seemed worn and scared- he had seen mares act like this before, even if those whom he told did not believe him. His mind however was on other things that evening, he thought of his son Aeldard out on his first ride down to Fildron. The road was secure and the party full of good strong riders, yet a father must worry for his son, if he does not then the title of father is as worthless as a blunt sword. The mares wouldn't calm, he threw in hay and cooled them with water, yet all stared towards the gate and bashed their hind legs upon the stone floor. This night indeed was full of a great unseen darkness.
He closed and barred the stable doors but the mares continued to whimper, he decided it best to ignore them. Perhaps it was just the ride that had wearied them. Ser Alfred walked into the Lower Halls and took off his cloak.
'A dark night out there tonight, even the horses are spooked.' He sighed.
'The horses will be fine, both horse and man just need rest. We've been hunting all week, and for what? There hasn't been a fucking thing seen out there.' Replied a rider.
He was tall and well built, he wore a Knights attire but with a red cloak, he was of the house Glindale and his name was Ramon. 'All by order of the king though, the king does not send men out when he has no need to-'
'Fuck the king's hunch on what might be out there. Where did these rumours come from anyway? From farmers? No good source. A load of old shit if you ask me.'
'Well no one is asking you Ramon, and I would very much appreciate you not using such foul words in the King's court.' Replied Alfred bluntly. Ramon yawned. 'I've got a whore waiting for me tonight, be my last chance before I join The Riggon.'
'What delightful conversation starters you have. Either obscenities or sex, have you nothing else to talk of?' Said Alfred as he sat beside the fire place, watching Ramon with a keen eye. Ramon sat opposite him as other riders came in and out of the place.'What would you have me talk of? Wine? The king? Or perhaps Elmorc?' Said Ramon with a snakes smile. Alfred twitched a moment before regaining conscious control.
'The king's business is his own and-'
'Then why has the king made it so well known? Even the whores know about it!' Protested Ramon.
'Elmorc has done many years of service for this family, he is an honourable man but one whom the king feels is...straying from conventional methods of wizardry.' replied Alfred uncertainly.
'I hear he's going to execute him. It'll be the first man Giraud has executed...in public anyway.'
'Don't you dare question the king! Who are you to say such things?! WHO?!' Said Alfred rising from his chair in great anger. Ramon held his hands in apology and Alfred re-took his place by the fire.He sighed and reached for another log, he turned and rested the wood against his cheek.
'What is wrong?' Asked Ramon as sympathetically as he could manage.
'The king's decision tonight could either break or keep his family in power, there is already unrest in the south over wizardry. The people need a leader with strength in such times as these, and what with the... Other rumours too.'
'Now who's doubting the king?!' Said Ramon with a vicious smile.'His brother-in-marriage! That is who! Now go and change, the dinner starts soon.' Ramon rose from his chair and Ser Alfred turned to the flames, he threw the log into them and watch as it crackled and burnt. And then, just for a second, he heard it again. The same thing he had heard and dreamt of for many nights now, the sound of women, men and children screaming. And the roar and crackle of the fire of dragons. He threw another log onto the flames and the vision faded away. It wasn't worth the time or energy to think so unhealthily on dreams and visions.
'Come Ser Alfred, we shall be late for sure if we do not go now.'A tall brown haired knight stood beside the door, he wore fine blue attire embroiled with two golden phoenixes.
'Sorry, I was thinking of something else.' Alfred returned.
'Well then come, there is good wine, women and food aplenty up there. Come!' the brown haired knight began to turn away.
'The evening is dark outside Ser Alister, you ought to watch it. The darkness heralds many dangers.' Alister turned back to face the old man. He watched as he pulled himself from the chair and tended to the fire. His eyes seemed almost tempted by the flames. Alister walked across to the old man.
'I do not doubt what you said in the halls, but we must respect the king.' He said placing a large gloved hand on Alfred's shoulder. Alfred took the hand and patted it.
'I prey to the Gods that the king is right in what he says, yet I feel a great unease. Listen to the winds Alister, listen to the closely.' The two stood silent. The wind battered against the stable doors.
'I hear nothing but the sounds of spring wind, though you wouldn't know it were spring. The farmers up near St. Abrahams have had a terrible crop this year, the king has had to send his own reserves to help the people.'
'And what if the king starves? Will the people help him? Especially with his response to the Wizards-' Alfred was silenced almost immediately by Alister. The knight bent before the old man and whispered softly to him.
'The king has done what he has done for a reason. We must stand by him, guard him and die for him. These are very troubling times, and it would be a great help if old men like you would stop fussing of the whispers of the wind and the nonsense of fools such as Elmorc.'Alfred looked Alister straight in the eyes.
'And if Elmorc's threats are carried out?'Alister pulled himself back up, as tall as ever, and put a hand upon his sword.
'Then I'll see you in the burning flames.'
The Great Halls were beyond imagination, the floor was marble and great pillars of black and gold stood in rows of six from the north to the south end of them. There were six long wooden tables, held now for over one hundred years, which were engraved with the sigil of the house. The house was Haurr, the great Lords of Men since Brodon III. But now a new king sat upon the Old Throne, his name was Giraud, second of his name and his reign was prophesied to be long and great. Alister made his way through the servants and lords and bowed before the king.
'My king, may The Gods bless you and your house.'
'Ah Ser Alister.' Replied the king, he was a man tall in stature with a mane oak brown. He had a short and trimmed beard and wore a fine dark purple gown. The crown was seated upon a pillow beside the throne. Giraud was not a king who would wear the crown as if it were a show of his manhood. Unlike his father, Giraud felt that he should make sure that his people see why he should be respected and sit upon the Old Throne.
'And may the Gods bless your house too my friend.' He said as the man kissed the hand of the king. As he did so a the wind battered at the windows and the hall seemed to shake. All fell deadly silent.Alfred, stood behind the still kneeling Alister, raised his hands and calmed the people down.
'It seems that the gods too feast tonight, and that perhaps Ophila has had too much wine!' There was great laughter from the lords. Giraud bid the jester and harpist to sing another comic tune. They did so and soon all were comforted again. Alister went back to his table, Alfred stood in front of the king. He neither kneeled nor smiled at Giraud.
'Alfred,' the king said solemnly.'I have nothing to say to you. You know what will happen, and yet you will do nothing!' The king returned to the throne and sighed heavily.They spoke in hushed voices.
'And what then do you expect me to do? To attack them and then, when I am asked before the Arch-chancellor to explain this, tell him that a dream and a wizard told you of what they would do? I would be ruined, and so would my family and name. I will not risk that!'
'Then you are a fool even more than I thought you were! You say you will not risk your family and yet you stay here, this is where it will happen! In this very room!'The king smashed a hand against the throne. The music stopped immediately and all were silent.
'Did I ask for the music to stop?' He said. The music began promptly.He pulled Alfred closer to the throne. 'So long as my arse is sat here and my guards honour their vows then nothing will happen. I bid you farewell Alfred.' Alfred pulled himself from the king's grasp and made his way through the crowds, Kingsmen Goldsmith was stood before him.
'Do not cause the king any more distress. Is that clear sorcerer?' He said blocking Alfred's passing.
'And who do these orders come from?' Alfred asked.
'Those who ask for it to stop. You have caused the king far too much trouble already, you are walking on incredibly thin rope.'
'I am no sorcerer either. I am the hand of the king and-'
'You are no "hand of the king!' Ha! You lost the badge the moment you visited him.' Replied Goldsmith with a vicious smile.
'Goldsmith, where are my sons?' asked the King. Goldsmith, though tall and battle-worn, had a voice as soft as snow. 'I believe they were looking for Blackwing your grace. Prince Beldred relaxed his watch on the beast.' to which the king gave a hearty laugh.
'I shall go and find them your grace, and her majesty too if you so wish?' he asked.The king nodded and placed a hand to his chin. He leant against the back of the throne, cursing every moment of sitting atop the vexatious chair. He thought of what the halls had seen, over the three hundred and seventy five years of Western rule of Men. He looked up towards the stone heads of his predecessors- each carved against the walls, six aside, and all with the same dissatisfied look on their ever-fading faces. He was brought suddenly back to reality by the feather-like touch of Gwenling. Gwenling stood beside him, the crown dangling from one hand and the other over the king's hand. He looked into her cyan eyes, she looked at him. He held her hand and kissed it.
'My love, where were you?' he asked.
'Watching the boys, Handred is becoming a great archer.' she replied, letting the crown slip back onto it's cushion and seating herself beside her love.
'Aye, and in good time too. He must go out on the next hunt.' he said solmenly.
'I know.' Said Gwenling after a moment. The feast went on.
Greygor's Point was fortified to withstand a hundred years of war and bloodshed. The stone towers, erected proud and strong across the coast and ever battered by wind, rain and snow, stood gallantly. Gwenling watched me closely from the nearest tower, named 'Fairpoint' by its keepers, as my company began down the embankment and towards the drawbridge. The smell of burning flesh and fresh fish mixed, the hairs on my neck stood as straight as the towers and twice as strong. Commander Ledgewood rode a steady pace ahead of us. We were one hundred strong, more than enough to deal with the raiders and we had been told that many of us wouldn't even see the battlefield. I looked across to my right, my brothers-in-arms riding beside me in armour as thick and strong as dragons-hide. I felt constantly watched, as if surrounded by men who were both vulture and valiant lion. They were here to protect me, I knew that, but I also knew that come the time of the first arrow shot I would not be surrounded by their armour but would hav to rely on my own. 'Boy!' shouted a man from behind me, though he were only two years my elder.
'Aye sir!' I replied.
'Where's ya' sword boy? Every man must fight with bow and sword.' The sound of boots and wind left his speech splintered.
'Aye sir, I know that. But I'm more skilled with a bow. I've got my knife besides, it'll do for me.' I held my knife close to me, I prayed that it would do what I had said it would. The rain began to fall, a soft constant splattering upon the mud. We marched onwards, soon we came to The Woods, the winding path was covered in the broken branches and burnt remains of Folders Farm, pilaged and now destroyed by Him. Ledgewood's horse stopped suddenly, he held an arm up and the sound of boots fell silent immediately. He watched the horizon, squinting through the leaves and hills towards where Folders once stood. A man fell beside me, a barrage of arrows came from our left. There was no time to raise shields or scramble away, the arrows came ever faster a neverending wave. I took refugee behind a large Graveswood and shot my own arrows, one after the other, even though I never saw to whom I was sending these steel kisses.
'Archers! Aim and fire! Let the fuckers have it! In the name of the King, let them have it!' the voice of Ledgewood rang across the wood. He dismounted, his horse running to safety. I watched him dive towards a sheilding downded trunk and send out a few arrows of his own. A few cries came and afterwards...nothing. We waited. A silence too perfect fell upon the wood. I found a few men had fallen, maybe twelve in all, and for the moment one or two were being treated for wounds. Wyde, the physician, held a man up and wrapped a bleeding arm in a clean wrapping. I gave the man another sword, from a fallen brother, and he held it tight and proud.
'Lad, we need to get you out of 'ere.' said the man as he lifted his head, I saw his face and it was covered in blood.
'What's your name soldier?' I asked, keeping my voice low.
'Captain Olover.' he replied, wincing as he tried to move his wrapped arm.
'Be careful, stick close to me and keep low.' I said.
'I don't need you're help, you need mine.' he returned, pulling himself up straight, the sun was lost behind him and suddenly all was dark around us. The rain began again, he said nothing and slowly we started on our way again. The twelve were left behind, though were bound together with nothing valuable on them, we would take them back to the Castle when we returned. Until then we would pray that the wolves would not get them first.
Olover grunted with every step he made, a large moon shaped bloodied patch upon his arm just above the elbow. I walked behind him, the road had narrowed and so we had to go at one man after the other, if attacked now then we would die. We walked for an hour or so before turning East, this was the final march toward the town.
'Olover?' I enquired suddenly, mostly to stop the silence that had befallen upon the troops.
'Aye sir.' he returned with not so much as a glance at me. I walked beside him now, the path having widened again to allow two men to walk together.
'What do you make of the recent issues?'
'Ain't got no thought on them sir.' But I knew that was a lie, I persisted.
'You must have, these are your people. Your lands, do you not feel their pain?' I enquired. Suddenly the beast turned to face me, all men stopped silent.
'My father was a farm hand, he worked at the farm all of his life. Until last winter we were all fine and well, I'm a blacksmith by trade. But then a man with too much power decided he didn't like certain people, and since then the lands have turned to shit, the crops don't grow and babes are born as either cripples or bastards. And now I look beside me and see the son of that man, the one boy who might one day sit upon that same throne, and he asks me whether or not I feel the pain of those people! Let me tell you right now Handred Haurr, second son of King Giraud II, I felt that pain far more than your father has.' I made no reply. We moved on once again. But the muttering of the men became louder and louder, soon Ledgewood swept up and down the ranks and we stopped again.
'What the fuck is this?! The day is falling and you lot are walking along like a couple of nattering Sisters! And what about?' no man dare look him in the eye.
'The lad, Commander, he's causing trouble. He's asking Olover about the...bandits.' The commander turned to me, he stood tall and broad, he looked me up and down and smirked.
'Say it then.' I said suddenly, almost without thought.
'What's that?' the Commander returned, coming closer so I could feel his breath on my face.
'Say what you are thinking, don't hold you're tongue.' I replied, I needed to know what people thought, this was no time to pretend that the world and I were separate.
'You're father is a good king, the problem is that he doesn't know what to do. He's sent us, the best of the best, to deal with the people who are against the Throne and the People of the lands,' he walked along the troop, back and forth, ', and we will do our duty by his crown. We have his son with us, perhaps the future king. We will show this boy what it means to cross the crown, we will show those riders what it means to cross Giraud, and we will kill them.'