The Quarrels of Mages and Men

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Chapter Sixteen - Dark News

The king sat upon his throne. It wasn’t a common place for him to rest, but today he felt that he was prepared to perform the duties of his job. Gerod loathed the throne, he found the cushion upon it to be half as comfortable as any of the chairs in the dining hall, and twice as gaudy.

For once, there was a few people interested in speaking with him. Normally, Gerod was left alone in the castle, meeting with people on occasion, but usually performing the duties of a king alone.

Beside him stood the reawakened force of Victor Dawn. He stood wearing a proper set of leather armour, an admirable sword slung at his side with a customary shield strewn upon his back. He wasn’t there to protect Gerod – the knight knew as well as Gerod that no one would be coming to cause harm to the king on that day – but instead as a mediator. Any question the king was asked was promptly discussed between himself and the noble knight.

One man, a local merchant, had already had a moment with the king. During it, he asked Gerod for some financial assistance with his struggling meat pie business. Oddly, Gerod felt compelled to help the poor man, throwing a few pounds of gold his way and telling him to leave to his stand.

Anxiously, Gerod sat on the throne waiting for the moment he could climb to the terrace atop his castle and look down upon Clarice and the rest of the city. He wondered how Clarice was finding the city, whether she was enjoying the sights or if she preferred the more modest look of a fishing community like Rainhome. That had to wait, however, as two more men waited for Gerod’s communication.

The first was an odd looking fellow. He seemed out of place not only within the walls of a castle, but within the walls of a city like Dawsend. Instead of asking his name, Gerod stood and asked “Where are you coming from, stranger?”

“I’m a resident of Shalonsbury. A smith, i make the finest wares in the city.”

Shalonsbury, Gerod thought. The city where my brother betrayed me.

“I know your city well, friend. Did we meet twelve years ago during the battle?” Gerod figured it was worth a chance to introduce some familiarity between himself and the commoner. The last thing I need is another enemy.

“No, I don’t believe we did. I was in the salt mines back then, my father worked the smithy in those days. A good man, went by the name of Aleysha. I share his name.”

“Aleysha, you’ve come a long way. What purpose caused your travel?”

“I bring frightening news, my liege.” he began. “I regret to tell you that a large army marches toward the city. Southerners, I presume. They came from the south, anyway. I doubt they would’ve come from the north, gone south to Shalonsbury and then turned around again.”

The man was rambling and Gerod felt the need to interrupt him.

“Yes, I know well who may command this army. I had hoped they wouldn’t march north again, but I know that such a hope was unfair. Thank you, my friend, for coming to tell me. You shall be rewarded.”

“Please,” Aleysha began. “Don’t reward me. I have done nothing that merits a reward. I have only acted as anyone within this kingdom should act. Anyone loyal to the king should seek to tell the king of any issues. I don’t deserve a reward for doing the right thing.”

Gerod was taken aback. Someone loyal to the king? He thought, immediately culling the moment of loyalty with wonder of whether or not he deserved it. And what a king to be loyal to.

“Regardless, Aleysha, you will be rewarded for your actions. Have you any attachments in Shalonsbury? A family? Friends?”

“No, unfortunately. I was going to have a family and I had friends, but my wife seemed to become entangled in my friends and somehow my friends ended up with families instead of me, if you follow my crudities, my liege.” Aleysha had a funny way of delivering his message that Gerod enjoyed. A snicker could even be heard from the oddly silent Dawn.

“Very well. How would you feel about aiding me within the castle? If you’re a smith, our army will no doubt need new weaponry, and the stables always need horseshoes.”

“My liege, you can’t mean it. I would be honoured, but surely you cannot chose me for this job purely because I delivered a message. That’s a flawed hiring system.”

“And yet it is the way I have chosen. Come, wait inside while I meet with my last guest.”

The final guest was a Hooded Messenger. Why must I always deal with men of shaows? Much like seekers, the Hooded Messengers were an organization that traveled distances to deliver messages anonymously. They were rarely used to communicate innocent matters, and Gerod associated them only with death.

“What can I help you with today,” the king spoke.

“Your liege,” the messenger said. His voice filled the room while he spoke only in a whisper. “I have a message from a man who has paid me well. He told me to tell you that he has your daughter. He will wait in the centre of the city tomorrow in the early morning, willing to return her at the price of fifty pounds of gold. Should you not meet him then, he will kill her.”

My daughter? Gerod wondered. I have a daughter as much as I have a son. Could it be Clarice? “Did he say anything else?”

The bold knight looked wonderingly at the king as he spoke unwaveringly. The messenger replied with a concise negation.

“Be on your way, messenger.”

Gerod figured it was Clarice that had been abducted. I shouldn’t have let her out of my sight. Gerod thought. A part of him was pleased to hear that someone believed Clarice was his daughter. In their short time together, the sad king had come to think of Clarice as his own. He hoped she wasn’t repulsed at this notion.

“My liege,” Victor began as soon as the messenger left the hall. “What is this matter of your daughter?”

“Wait, my friend. We will tend to the smith first – he may be useful for this. You will be regaled with the story of my ‘daughter’, but the time for such things I not yet upon us.” Gerod figured he would wait to tell Dawn the nature of Clarice being in the capital that evening, before they were to set out and meet the abductor.

He stood from the throne and walked over to Aleysha. “Come, my smith friend. I must show you the terrace.” As I must scour the city for a girl. “You too, Dawn, come to the terrace.”

The men began to ascend the stairs of the keep. There were seemingly countless flights of stairs to reach the terrace. The whole time they walked, Aleysha had an enormous grin spread across his face.

“What pleases you so, smith?” The king asked.

“I just never believed I would meet someone with such power. The people of Shalonsbury, you see, they talk about the battle that happened just south of the city like it was yesterday. The story of your brother running ahead isn’t what they focus on, though. Everyone talks about the brave Gerod who moved to fight afterward, who - with his brother - slew an army as quickly as a chef can fry an egg.”

This thought disturbed Gerod. Do the people see sacrifice as a spectacle? Have the lost lives become a statistic? “Thank you for your kind words,” he managed to choke out. “I do hope your skills can aid us in a similar victory in the coming months.”

“Oh I’m sure it will. I was being humble before, really. Everyone in Shalonsbury loves my work. I made daggers and swords for the local militia when there was a threat of stray mages running through the city. We managed to gut them and hang them before the night ended and, if you don’t mind me saying, the cuts were clean.

“That is good to hear,” the king lied, growing more and more perturbed by the indifference the kind smith was showing. He’s loyal, though. Dawn seemed to be exhibiting a similar apprehension. His closeness to the king’s brother had made him quite sympathetic to mages.

They emerged onto the terrace. Upon it stood a single tree, a large monster with grey bark and a purple layer of leaves. From the edge of the terrace, the whole city was visible. Gerod looked down and examined his Dawnsend. The streets looked dark and loathsome, the sun had begun to set and the nature corridor of the city had become a dark forest. He scanned the city, seeing the crater still burning and the other districts seemed to only be lit by the torches within their alleys. Where are you, girl?

He couldn’t see her, though he had issues identifying anyone in specific. The city was a blur to him. “Aleysha, how do you feel about the city?”

“It’s beautiful, my liege. I hope to see it tomorrow.” The man spoke genuinely, something Gerod wasn’t accustomed to. “If you’ll let me, of course. I can wait to see it if you need me to begin making arms instead.”

“No, friend. Go forth and see the city. Do you know how to use one of your swords?”

“Ay, but not well. I occasionally spar with those I make weapons for, but they always seem to let me win – hoping for a discount, I suppose.” He laughed. Gerod also wasn’t accustomed to that.

“Wonderful. I’m sure you heard what the man waiting behind you said to me, yes?”

“Ay. Are you wanting me to come with you to meet with the thieves?”

“Yes, if you would. Though, I don’t want to put you in danger. It’s been many years since I have had someone so kind within these city walls. You heard, then, that they have my daughter?”

“Yes. I didn’t realize the heir was a girl, sir. Not that there’s any issue in that.”

Gerod thought for a moment. Should I correct him? Need he know Clarice is not my own, or will she become my own? Should I lie to one of my only supporters?

“No, Aleysha. The heir to the kingdom is not the girl. I hope she will be, but not yet. My son was the heir, but a disaster has taken him from the kingdom. Samuel, his name was.” Gerod was surprised to soon feel the gloved hand of Victor Dawn upon his shoulder. He’d almost forgot the brilliant knight had come to the terrace with them, his silence made him into an admirable guard.

“I’m so sorry, my king. Who, then, is the girl?” Aleysha asked, visibly entranced by the king’s story.

“Her name is Clarice Lindberg. She is a powerful girl that is, for now, living within the city. I am treating her as my own and looking to tamper her for ruling. Do you know the Lindbergs?” Promptly, the sympathetic hand of Dawn left his shoulder and without looking he could feel the glare the man had placed upon him.

“No, sorry sir. I don’t know much, but I suppose if they’ve got a last name, they must be important.”

“Yes. The Lindberg family are currently marching north to kill me, I suspect. Kill me, and take back their daughter. Do you understand my predicament?”

“Yes sire. I’ll work diligently to refill your armory.”

“I appreciate it, Aleysha. Come with me, I will show you your room for the night. I, however, must sleep, though I would love to continue speaking with you.”

They descended the many stairs of the castle. Gerod showed Aleysha to an unoccupied room within the castle. A dusty old bed lay within it that the smith seemed delighted to see. Easy to please, I suppose. “Sleep here tonight, my new friend. Tomorrow we have a dirty business to attend to.”

“Ay, sire. Thank you.”

The king left the room, having grown tired of exchanging praise. His wife awaited him, he was sure, with a set of judgments to toss towards him. She’ll know¸ he thought, she always knows. As he walked down the hall, he peered into Samuel’s room. The body still lay on the bed. I don’t know what I expected. No one was going to move him. He couldn’t bring himself to move the boy. He was largely deluding himself into a belief of what the crooked seeker had claimed.

“You stole the Lindberg girl? You killed your son? Surely there is a story, you god damn fool,” Victor spoke.

“I am not a good king, Victor,” he told him. “The years haven’t made me wise, they’ve only made me fearful. You knew my brother better than anyone, you’ve known my family your whole life. Wasn’t it a great family?” Gerod’s face held a look of sad nostalgia.

With a sigh, Victor murmered an affirmation, “yes, it was great. Your brothers were more like family to me than any Dawn’s. I miss them every day, you know. Why did you steal the girl, though?”

“I needed to make Samuel stronger,” he said, beginning to regail the knight with the story of Clarice’s abduction, the death of his son and the ultimate sequence of disappointments and disasters that led him to this situation. After a pitiful retelling, the knight seemed understanding.

“I will stand beside you, Gerod – hell, I’ll even go into the city tomorrow to help you get her back. You say she’s a good girl?” Gerod asked with a heavy look.

“She’s more woman than girl, and more brilliant than good. She’s a spectacle, I hope to name her as my heir. The claim of my daughter being kidnapped isn’t far from a truth to me.”

“Goodnight, Gerod. I’ll be in the city square when morning breaks. You’ll see me, waiting to defend.” The knight left, his head hanging lower than his posture would wish.

“Another war?” Lucia spoke. She always knows. “Over that girl, this time, I suppose?”

“Yes, Lucia. How was your day?”

“Dreary. Lonesome and dreary, like most of them. You seemed so happy this morning – I could hear your voice booming through the halls.”

“I suppose I was. Clarice has been spending much time with me. A part of me hopes she will take the realm off of my back.”

“The Lindberg girl? You don’t think she’ll protest when she learns that her father marches to rescue her?”

“Well, I hope her father strikes me cleanly and truly. I grow weary of this kingdom.”

“As do I. Come to bed, Gerod, you must find sleep.”

She was standing in front of the bed. A torch illuminated her face – her eyes covered in a thick film, her teeth rotting. Her neck held burns, running down her breasts, and her hand – Gerod avoided looking at it.

“Yes, let’s sleep.” Gerod said, and did.

He woke a few hours before the sun, anxious to rescue Clarice. Faintly, he could hear the sound of a hammer striking against stone outside the castle. The man is dedicated, Gerod thought with a grin. Perhaps it isn’t futile. Even if the south comes here, my decisions should please them.

He got out of bed and slung some clothes across his body, choosing nothing that would be too slimly fitting, or too royal. Gerod didn’t want to be recognized within the city if he could avoid it. He decided the best thing to do would be to not notify the city guard, either. He had no intention of alerting the public to his actions.

As he walked out of the castle and into the city, he clutched between his arms a sizeable sum of gold. He hoped that the thieves were true to their words, and that they wouldn’t be waiting for him with a militia waiting to kill the king. For I am a king.

He put a hood over his head and entered the fray that was Dawnsend. He could hear some merchants beginning to set up their shops, as well as the continually louder and louder hammering of Aleysha. The forge was in front of the castle, across from the seeker’s hall, and Gerod intended to get his smith before meeting the thieves.

“Aleysha,” the king spoke as he grew nearer to the man. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, sire. I have something for you first, however,” he walked across the forge and grabbed a sword that hung from its hilt. It was a new sword, the hilt was a beautiful weaving of green and black. “It’s a traditional sword, my father told me about the hilts meaning – or what he learned of it. He always called it the snake’s bite, that hilt design, green like a viper, black like venom. I heard some different stories about it back in the salt mines, but I like his story better. The sword is sharp and potent, I hope we won’t need it today.”

“Thank you, Aleysha. Have you your own sword?” The king asked.

“Yes, shortly I will have one. What I gave you was once mine, but I’m cooling a sword I made this morning for myself. It is made of a fine bit of silver I found in the armory, I hope you don’t mind – I can always give it to one of the more deserving soldiers after today.”

“No, my friend. Keep your silver sword, should the night bring us dark creatures, you may just need it.” The king had heard stories of creatures within the night while he was a child but never truly believed them as some did.

The two men began their descent into the city. Sitting beneath the fountain of Dawnsend was two men, and pacing around them was a wounded Clarice. As they grew nearer, they slowed and walked more cautiously. No swords, the king noted. But do they have magic? He hoped that they didn’t, but knew that hope rarely amounted to anything.

“Greetings,” Gerod spoke. “You have my daughter, shall we sort this matter out as discussed through the messenger?”

One of the two men met his question with laughter. “So it’s true then, eh, what they’re sayin’ in the streets. The king’s got no magic?” Each word was preceded by laughter. “I’d always thought those mages at Skyhull were just making things up, but really no magic in the castle? Even the king’s daughter – she’s all drained.”

“Silence, please. I would appreciate concluding this arrangement quickly. We need not alert the people of the city, unless you want the city guard to get involved.”

Gerod and Aleysha now stood immediately in front of the boasting men, who were now standing. Clarice crouched in the background.

“Why we don’t gotta make a deal like before now. Now I know the king isn’t any sorta mage, that’s somethin’ you wanna keep quiet now isn’t it? Well, the price just gone up ten pounds for your daughter. Haha!” He was a disgusting man. His breath smelt like the fishy streets of the city and reminded the king of the sorrows of the continent.

“My friend, I don’t think we’ll be making the arrangement any differently. A man who doesn’t stick to his word within a deal isn’t truly a man. Please, accept the gold I’ve brought – the gold we’ve agreed upon – and return my child.”

Behind the two thieves, Clarice was slowly creeping forward. In one hand, Gerod noticed a makeshift shiv was tightly clenched, in the other an old and shabbily bound book. Slowly as the two thieves began mocking the king she put herself within reach of the backs of the men’s legs. Gerod watched as she dug the shiv deep into the heel of one of the men. As the other reacted and turned around, she thrusted the book into his stomach.

Within a second of Clarice’s actions, Gerod and Aleysha drew their swords. Aleysha promptly drove his sword into the chest of the man Clarice had stabbed while Gerod used his sword to force the boasting fool to the ground. He reached over and pulled him up by the dwindling hairs that remained on his head and held him up. Blood made a path through the mortar of the cobblestone road beneath the dead thief.

Dawn ran across the courtyard, readying his own sword and taking his place beside the king, ready to fight any backup that may arrive.

“People of Dawnsend!” the king cried out to the small crowd that had formed around them. He recognized his squire, Stablehand, standing in the small assortment of people. “This man is a traitor to our kingdom. He abducted, abused and likely raped the noble Clarice Lindberg, heiress to the southern city of Rainhome. Following this abduction, he intended to blackmail the kingdom and myself, the king. For these reasons, I sentence him to die.” Gerod firmly gripped the coiled hilt of his sword. He kicked the man he held in the back of the knees, forcing him to the ground above the fountain. In one swift motion, the man’s head was promptly removed and a stream of blood and viscera discoloured the water within the fountain.

“Citizens!” The king called out once more. “I apologize for the trauma that has filled our noble streets. Where I stand now, I will leave fifty pounds of gold for you to make use of as you all feel fit. The thieves looked to take it for their own in exchange for the Lindberg girl, but I intend to give it to those deserving of wealth and respect. With this, I leave you again.” A spectacle out of sacrifice.

Gerod, Clarice, Victor, and Aleysha turned and began to walk into the castle. The smith knew how to use his sword, Gerod noticed. A good trait, surely. Though he didn’t look back, the king could hear his citizens scuttling to the chest of gold, and pieces being jingled and handed out to people.

“Clarice, are you alright?”

“Yes, I am. Did I think fast enough? Lucia, a pretty good ruse, yes?” Clarice said smugly. “Learning names can clearly help. They didn’t rape me, though, my liege.”

“Trust me, Clarice, no news would make me happier, but the public doesn’t need to know that, just as the thieves’ didn’t need to know who you were. I will prepare a wash area for you when we return to the castle. I should introduce you to Aleysha, too. He’s the man standing beside me, a good smith from Shalonsbury. Run off into the castle now, I have need to speak with him in the armory briefly.” Victor walked with the girl to the castle.

Instead of running into the castle, she walked off with a limp. Noticing, Dawn tried to support her and help her stay off her feet. The king wondered what burdened her feet. Her face was scratched badly, but he didn’t notice any clear scars. It had clearly been bleeding earlier that day.

“Aleysha,” Gerod spoke. “You’re very good with a sword. I hope when at true battle comes to us, I will see you using that fine piece of silver.”

“Thank you, my liege. I will begin to forge some new weapons immediately. I’ve been considering experimenting – putting some mined salt into the swords blade to really make any wounds the weapon makes seem even worse.” He laughed a bit and Gerod couldn’t avoid smiling too. The man was brutish but he seemed kind.

“One more thing, friend. I would appreciate if you didn’t inform Clarice about the approaching army. She need not know who comes to the city, and I need her to understand my cause before she understands her own.”

“Ay, my liege. You have my word.”

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