Eismark, the Northern Kingdoms, 500 years later.
Graham reached Whitespire on the saddest day anyone could remember. It was the day of Queen Solvig’s funeral, and the castle and the surrounding city was shrouded in gloom. Even the magnificent white tower that had given the place its name, looked grey and dull where it rose above the castle in the center of the city. Black mourning banners hung limp and damp in a hopeless drizzle that drenched everything and turned the streets into rivers of mud. To the good people of Whitespire it seemed as if the heavens themselves were weeping for their young queen.
Graham urged the horses on, and they slowly made their way through the city. The covered cart rattled as the mud was replaced with cobblestones when they entered the merchants district. With the market-square in the middle of a network of streets lined with shops and stores that stretched all the way to the port, it was the largest district in the city.
Located next to a natural harbor on the banks of the River Sórnan, which curved its way from the hills in the lowlands all the way up to the Frostridge Mountains before it reached the icy sea at Isenheim, Whitespire was one of the largest cities in the North. Its port was normally a bustling hive of activity, but today it seemed deserted. The only people he saw was the sailors readying the ships to escort the young queen to her final rest on Mourn Isle, hoisting black sail and banners bearing the blue dragon seal of the royal house.
From the cart came a small whimper and he glanced over his shoulder at the bundle that lay nestled between the bags and crates that hold all his worldly goods. When the whimper stopped, Graham pulled his damp cloak around himself and continued up towards the castle.
An hour later he was being lead through the dark halls of the castle by the chamberlain who was wearing a sombre black tunic over his blue jacket.
“The king has locked himself in the royal bed chamber”, the elderly man said. “He’s refused to see the medicus. He won’t even accept the Reverend Sister’s blessing!”
“He will see me”, Graham replied calmly. They came to the closed doors of the king’s rooms. Like the white tower, these doors’ origin predated the castle and the city, and the wood was so old it looked almost black. Inlaid in silver was the fearsome dragon that had become the High-Kings and Queens’ crest.
The latest man to take the silver dragon as his was wailing so loudly not even the heavy doors could do more than muffle the sound slightly.
“Announce me”, Graham said.
“But, Messere…” The man looked ready to bolt.
“Announce me”, he repeated sternly.
The old man visibly gulped then knocked on the door. It was answered with a crash followed by a roar.
“I told you to leave me the fuck alone!” The voice barely sounded human.
“I did warn you, messere”, the chamberlain stammered. “Perhaps we best do as his majesty orders.”
“How long has he been like this?” Graham asked, ignoring the man’s suggestion.
“Ah, since the day Queen Solvig died a week ago.”
Graham’s grey eyebrows crawled up towards his thinning hairline. “The Queen died a week ago and you are just now seeing to her funeral?”
“Forgive me, messere, but his majesty didn’t allow for the priestesses to take the Queen to the Hall of the Dead. Ser Vidar had to order the knights to forcibly hold the king down while the body was removed. After that, he locked himself in and has refused all food and drink, save for strong spirits and mead. The medicus fears he intends to drink himself to death.”
Graham pressed his lips into a thin line. “Well, that ends now. King Arn has a duty to fulfill.” He raised his hand and placed it on the wooden door. “Go to the kitchen and have them prepare a meal. Chicken, broth, bread and tea sweetened with a full teaspoon of honey. Nothing else. Hurry up, man!” He barked and the chamberlain scurried off to find someone he could yell at.
Graham waited until the man was out of eyesight, then he raised a gnarled finger and drew a series of interlocked runes on the door. He mumbled a word under his breath and a deep metallic clang sounded as the heavy bolt was pushed back. The door slid open and he stepped into a room that looked like it had been ransacked by bears and then trampled by a horde of wild boars.
A strangled sob came from a pile of wood, fabric and stuffing that had been a dainty sofa and a pair of Azerian silk curtains. Graham crossed the large chamber, ignoring the crack of broken glass under his boots, and the stench of urine and vomit that filled the air.
“Enough of this now, Arn.”
“Gray?” The voice was hoarse.
“Aye, it’s me. Come out so I can take a look at you, boy.”
The huddled figure that emerged from the pile bore only a small resemblance to the young man he had come to know when he, together with a small group of allies, ten years ago, had helped Arn win the throne and crown from his older brother who had betrayed Eismark and allowed the Eastern Empire take control over the kingdom, and all the North. The face was haggard, the eyes blood-shot from drink and sorrow. Just thirty years old, Arn was a man broken by grief.
Arn nodded numbly, looking around as if he saw the mess for the first time. When Graham righted a chair and then a small table, he simply followed his example and started listlessly to pick among the debris, putting the few unbroken items on the empty shelves.
It took them almost three hours to clear out and clean the room. When the Chamberlain had returned with the a tray of food and found the High-King on his hands and knees scrubbing the floor he had nearly fainted. Graham had simply waved him and his horrified protests away and ordered the man to bring up buckets of clean water and bundles of fresh herbs so they could rid the chamber of the foul smell.