Chapter Thirteen - Live's Lived
The king trudged into his dining room. To his surprise, once again the girl was there. He hadn’t expected Clarice to take her meals with him frequently, but he was thrilled by her choice. A large weight of guilt lay on his shoulders as he looked into the girl’s eyes and saw the sorrow for her lost magic.
Gerod had an odd thought the night before. After dinner, he considered the very likely thought that Clarice’s family would be coming north to get back their daughter. Gerod figured that, were that to be the case, he should likely have an army of his own ready. He sought not to fight, but the army would be good for morale, he supposed. He knew this action would mean settling old debts.
“Clarice, you’ll be staying in the castle today,” Gerod said to her.
“Ay, Gerod. Have you any books to read? There’s little for me to do otherwise,” she said softly.
Gerod thought on the matter. There weren’t many books in the castle, only a small few that he’d been told to read when he was younger. Books about his family, books about the history of the continent. “Nothing with stories in it, I fear. Only histories, dark, dry, histories,” he told Clarice. A smile formed across her face.
“There are few things I enjoy more than dark, dry, history,” she said. “Can I read them please? Where have you hidden them?” Gerod took her to a staircase in the hallway. It lead up to the terrace above the castle, but before then it dwindled off into a small library. When he opened the door, Clarice barged in. A look of wonder formed across her face as she saw the modest bookshelves the room held.
Gerod called out to ask if she needed anything more, but her words were a muffled slur of excitement. He was pleased to see the girl smile for once.
Gerod left the castle, somber and ready to face his past mistakes. I need these men, he thought. Recent days had started to be better than those he’d lived since becoming king and he knew within him that he wanted to, in some part, defend the city.
There was a small list of men Gerod had wronged. Martin Spartwell was one. He devoutly supported Gerod’s brother and blamed him for his death. Spartwell had missed the opportunity to leave Shalonsbury with Thomas the night of his brother’s deception.
Spartwell tried to rebel against Gerod. He couldn’t, however, raise a strong enough army. The coup was shut down before it truly started. The king had been merciful, sparing Spartwell and assigning him to work in the stable breaking horses.
That was Gerod’s first destination. He walked alone through the city streets, hiding himself in parts, and boasting in others. The inn was in the south west corridor of the city. Aqueducts led the way to it, and Gerod quickly found himself at the gate of the stable.
A boy stood outside the door. He was meticulously twirling a broom handle around his head, thrusting it up and down in the air, catching it gracefully and holding it at his side. “Hello, my liege,” he said without looking up. “You have business with Lord Spartwell?” Gerod knew not this boy.
“What is your name, child?”
“Sablehand,” he said astutely.
“Not your profession, your name,” Gerod said.
“My answer is the same. My job is who I am, unfortunately so too is it my name, as well as an accurate description of me,” Stablehand spoke.
“How did you get a name such as this?” Gerod asked. He heard a small chorus of laughter from what he assumed was a few boys crouching behind the stable wall.
“It started when I first got here. We have cows to, you see, and I was told to work with them. I was assigned to milking, and I sat at my stool and began to work. All the other boys laughed, they said ‘you cannot milk that cow,’ and yet, I sat and I sat, and after a while my job was complete. They called me stablehand ever since. A jest, yes, but I’ve accepted it as my truth.”
“Your hand is stable with a broom handle. Is it good with a sword too, boy? Where is Spartwell, I must speak with him.” Gerod said.
“I’ve never held a sword, my liege. Lord Spartwell waits inside.”
He gestured to Gerod to come inside. As he walked through the door, Gerod saw the flock of ugly children – now nearly adults themselves – that waited behind the wall, laughing at their friend’s story.
“Spartwell,” Gerod said, seeing the old soldier sitting at a table. He held a horn full of mead, sipping slowly at it.
“Spartwell, I seek your support. I know we’ve had our differences, but there is a greater force coming against us. The southerners are attacking again – they seek to rescue their daughter, a woman whose magic I’ve used to strengthen my heir, Thomas’ nephew.”
Spartwell seemed indifferent to Gerod’s calls. “And what good will I do? I’ve fought my battles. I lost the will to fight the day I lost the leader I’d fight behind.”
“You wouldn’t be listening to me today if that was true. What do I need to give you to join me in this defense? The city needs to be defended.”
“Money, I’d assume,” Spartwell said. “A sizeable chunk of money. Money, and a bit of power. That boy you were speaking to outside – he’s a good kid. The stablehand story, it’s a sad, truthful joke, but I’ve seen him practicing with that broomhandle – his technique is immaculate. Take him on as a squire, and funnel some gold to the poorest stable in the capital.”
Gerod agreed. “Shall the boy come to the castle to learn?” he asked. “I would like to work with him before any battle comes about.”
“No, I think not.” Spartwell said. “He will come to you when the battle does, and he will be prepared. I will train him, I seek for him only to be by your side in the moments of necessity. He’s a strong bastard, he doesn’t need to be weakened by a fool like you.” Spartwell smiled slightly. “Now get out of my house, you monster. You have the support you seek.”
Gerod understood the message clearly. He’d never sat down in the room, making it far easier to leave. He stood in the center of the street knowing fully where next he had to go. There’s only one more person, he though, one more person with the power to support me, and hopefully less of a power to deny that help.
Victor Dawn was the man. Dawn had his brother, Damien’s right hand man. The two had been the closest of friends their whole lives, working together often – Dawn practicing his swordsmanship while Damien practiced his own magic.
Victor Dawn was, naturally, quite angry at the king after he killed his closest friend. The man took up housing in the south of the city. He ensured his home had no windows facing the castle, a petty defamation toward the king. Gerod had never found himself in a situation to address the reason behind his betrayal.
He was a man of subtlety. Next to the normal bravado a knight exhibited, Dawn showed far more discipline and respectability toward his duty. He took little pleasure in the sword – he strove more to view his lifestyle as one of charity.
Or so Gerod assumed. He had spoken with him but once since the fateful battle. A half year after his brother’s death, he summoned Victor dawn to court once with the intention of addressing his absence. Gerod knew clearly why he’d not shown his face around the castle, but he hoped dearly to have the support of Victor Dawn. His was the oldest family in Olander, and Victor was both educated and wise.
The Dawn family were those who lent their name to the capital city. Gerod had decided to introduce an ultimatum to the leader of the family Victor Dawn – either he was to return to the court and perform his duty as an advisor to the king, or he would be defamed and unnamed. He was the last born, and last living member of the Dawn family, Gerod had figured the threat would bring him back to the court.
The Dawn Lord had a different hope, of course. At the moment Gerod spewed his plan forth to the good knight, his sword was promptly drawn.
“Five thousand men,” Victor Dawn barked. “Five thousand knights and mages in this and every city over Olander will flock behind me. I’ve seen what your army has been reduced to, I know you have a fifth of that number. You will leave me with my name. You cannot take it from me, and I will not take the kingdom from you.”
Gerod was speechless for the moment and, seeing that to be the case, Victor Dawn kept speaking. “You will leave me to my own life within the city – I will continue the legacy of Dawn, and you and I will live our separate lives. You are no king of mine, Gerod Norsom. You killed the only Norsom my family’s ever respected. A true king acts – a true king doesn’t lock himself away in a castle and wait for death to come to him.”
The Lord of Dawn walked out of the hall promptly. The crowd that had gathered followed him, leaving Gerod with few men in the castle. His cloak flourished as Dawn’s armour glimmered in the light.
Now, the reluctant king stood outside the door of one of the few honourable men Gerod had ever known. He hoped now the same honour could be seen within him. He rapped carefully on the door – a hesitant motion at first, speeding up frantically before stopping.
The door went unanswered for a moment, but after a time it swung open. “You?” the somewhat aged Victor Dawn said. “I didn’t think I’d have to endure your face again before I died.”
“I’ve missed you too, Victor,” the king spoke, hoping to settle things with a non-chalant comradery. “I fear the continent needs you again – we need to resolve a mistake I’ve made for the good of our future.”
“You fucked up again?” Victor said. “First you kill your brother and steal his throne, you greedy abomination, and now you’ve thrown my family’s city – all of Olander – to the dogs over your own family’s position?”
“I didn’t murder my brother. He told me to, you have to understand this. You knew him better than anyone, Vic, you should know what would’ve happened when he used his magic like that.” To Gerod’s surprise, a sullen look swept over Victor’s face.
“I understand that, Gerod. I understood that the day we got back to Dawnsend,” he told him sorrowfully. He raised his arm and placed his hand upon the king’s shoulder. “I was a fool then, driven by sorrow. Even when you called me to the castle. Had you not threatened to take my power away, I would’ve come back to your service immediately. I… I saw you on the throne that day, I saw you sitting where your brother deserved to be and worst of all, I saw you coping with the shit that you did.”
“I know, Victor. I need you back again. I need you to advise me, please. The kingdom needs the power of Dawn at work in Dawnsend once more.”
A sad smile managed its way onto the knight’s face. “Ay, my liege. I suppose we shall work together for the time being. Now, shall we return to the castle? I miss the smell of stone in the halls.”
“Will your family come with you?” Gerod asked.
“No, I fear. There’s little family to bring – it’s still just me. I fear I made no progression over the past decade.”
“Let’s carry on to the castle, we’ll begin working together tomorrow. I have recruited also the Spartwell’s, and apparently I’ve been given a new squire – a boy called Stablehand. In the castle, too, the Lindberg girl Clarice has taken residence. For that reason, I fear the other Lindberg’s will soon find themselves flooding the city.” The king declared. The two returned to the castle.