Chapter 10: A Hint of Betrayal
The feasting halls were probably the most used of the keep containing three large tables two smaller tables at the back of the room sat either side of a larger table each of them with high backed chairs sitting behind facing into the room, down either side of the room were long tables with benches where the loyal men of the lords would sit and feast with their leaders in times of celebration, in the center of the room was a raised wooden platform where performers and jesters would play out their songs and scenes for the lord’s and their followers amusements. The celebrations of Tajaar’s and his hounds victories lasted long into the night, he sat at the lord’s table eating the finest foods the lands had to offer, from wild hogs to giant oxen cooked by sevents still steaming and sizzling as they were lifted from pitted fires and laid upon enormous platters on the table before him and the lords. They would cheer periodically raising their tankers while telling stories of their wins to the new lord, carving the food with ornately decorated daggers and blades or tearing large chunks of tender meat bare handed stuffing it into their ale filled mouths tossing chunks of meat at Tajaar’s hound who lay before their table enjoying the finely prepared meals. Tajaar felt lost talking to his new found friends, as they sat there nervously laughing along with them all the while talking back and forth with his hound deliberating their escape from the nightmare of having to live this company each night. The lavish halls they sat in where hot and humid almost uncomfortable to the pair who had spent too many nights curled up in dark and damp surroundings, before long had passed they could take the heat no longer standing from the table belly full of ale slightly drunk and feeling the effects he bid his host a good morrow and beckoned his appointed squire to show him a place where he and his hound may lay rest for the night.
As he was led by the stout squire a little more than five feet stomach bulging at the waist he seemed little more than a boy himself squires were usually aged eighteen to twenty years by the time they would come to serve yet his squire looked barely sixteen. His platted black hair laid upon his back would sway as he walked, yet this blue eyed boy was one of the sort to be seen reading many a book his demeanor was one a of a timid boy who knew very little. It seemed almost as if he had walked himself sober as they strolled down endless staircases and elaborately decorated corridors before they came upon two large oak doors with cast iron fittings and braces big enough to withstand many men pelting upon them. “This will be your room until the the naming ceremony sire”, the squire explained indicating them to enter, “your hound hower may find the comfort of the the stables more to its liking, me lord” he comments as Tajaar attempted to enter, with a smile Tajaar replied,
“I suppose my hound would but I also know that a free meal of many horses is a temptation this hound may not be able to reframe from at this time.” with a grunt and a sniff the hound pushed Tajaar into the room, pushing and squeezing its way through the door almost too small to allow it entry it’s stoned scales scratching deep grooves into the solid oak as it passed the doors. His squire transfixed on the damaged doors while biding his master a good eve and sound sleep while pulling them closed.
The chambers were far bigger than the cramped dank cages of the pit and were much more lavish than anywhere they had laid to sleep for the night, a large oak bed lay center of the room against one wall above it were old shields and weapons mounted upon the wall. Either side of the bed lay two carved chairs, in the center of the room there was a large skin rug perched on top was a table with a jug of fresh clean water. On the opposite wall to the bed was a large inset fire place with a well prepared fire inside already crackling and roaring above which hung a portrait of Lord Hatch. To the far side of the bed were thick velvet drapes that were partially open revealing the night sky beyond. The hound immediately found its way onto the large thick wooden bed pushing itself atop of the lavish cloths covering the bed circling round to find a sweet spot and setting down with a thud the sides of the bed gave way under its weight, lifting its head to see what exactly had just happened while sniffing, seeing no danger it settled back down yawning then quickly began to snore so loud the doors of the chamber began to rattle with each breath. Bidding his new friend a good sleep he made his way through a large set of curtains to a balcony overlooking the city, his eyes followed the rows of houses stretched out across the city with plooms of smoke rising high into the night sky and the faint sounds of chatter and laughter drifted in on the wind as he surveyed the lands. “Tajaar,” a soft voice spoke to him from his side, a little startled and staring down he could see a small beggar boy looking back at him, the face of the cheeky smiling boy looked back for a moment before he began to talk once more. “I must tell you of why you’re here and what is going on.”
“Explain child for I know not how I was able to fight such a fight I can recall no training, my life to this point has been nothing but a mystery to me.” Tajaar explained to the boy still a little unsure of his surprising guest.
“Do not be frightened,” the boy stated closing his eyes looking towards the floor he began whispering words in tongue not known by many, before Tajaar’s eyes the boy grew into man and aged until he recognised his face from the pit’s chambers from the night before. I come from a place where many simple men go mad in the exchange of forgotten knowledge. For we have seen many lords rise and fall thanks to our exchanges with this ancient knowledge. Now more than ever we realise we are in danger, yet more frightening is to follow if we die or leave these lands the balance we hold over this land will tip to an unknown state. We have chosen you and your children to take our place in time and we have much to teach you. Deep within any man lies the truth and evil and this plain needs both if it’s to survive in time one will win over the other, given more time the other will come back to win again, this is the way of the order of life. The now old man spoke to Tajaar in a strange way that seemed to ring true even from his small existence on these lands.
“I commend you sir for such a tongue that can weave such words of wonder but you really have told me nothing of who I am, where I came from and these are answers I crave. Not the words of stories of grandeur. I am a..., well there lies the question again, you may answer at least this for me this day before I am to continue on this path, who am i?” Tajaar spoke with the voice of a man now desperate to know such answers destined to rule lands and a fort of his own. By what hand was he to rule he knew nothing of the ways of keeping people happy and looking after their very protection, it seemed almost a ridiculous notion at best. The wizard almost avoids the question once more replying with, “I can tell you my friend you now have a name and a path to walk, from here every choice is your own we have not chosen them for you, we rescued a soul from an ill fate of being poisoned by two greedy masters choosing to honor their coin over life, there are many who would lead you down wrong paths and they are all yours to choose from, so choose wisely. For now you must sleep and decide what they should be. Tomorrow you have your first of many things to decide upon,” smiling back at Tajaar before he could utter another question from his lips the wizard transformed into a ball of light and sped off into the night sky like a shooting star. As the star faded into the sky and disappeared he felt as if his body was being crushed by a massed and heavy weight finally gathering a breath he called out for help hearing a loud bang as he faded into darkness.
Feeling a sudden relief from the weight he drew a large breath opening his eyes wide to see the hounds eyes looking deep into his feeling the warmth of his companions skin against his, he quickly sat up, checking his surrounding he could now see day time was upon him, as daylight poured in through the slightly open curtains. With barely a chance to assess little else the doors slammed open, the hound leapt to its feet growling and snarling at the men who had entered his chamber. “Are you ok my lord,” they called weapons drawn “do you need us to slay this beast?” stood holding their blades out you could see the horror lying beneath the surface of their skin. Wiping the sweat from his head and looking round once more to check what was happening or if someone or thing else was in the room before he realised they were talking about his hound, he warily replied to them “you may try but I fear you would loose your life in the attempt for I nor the hound would allow it, now why have you entered my chambers?”
“We were on our way to collect you our lord wishes to speak with you on matters of your win, on our approach we could hear you calling for help,” waving his hand Tajaar indicated all seemed well and to wait for a moment as he gathered this thoughts. Placing his hand on the hound to calm it, the hound chuffed and shook before dismounting the bed to the floor stretching its hind legs as it dragged them from the comfort of the bed.
“Looks like we have much to learn my friend, if these two days have taught me anything something or one is playing with our future whether be it good or bad we need to asses if we are in danger, for now I say we follow the way of things until we have a better picture.” Tajaar was now embracing his hound scratching it under the chin. “Do you know friend I have fought an epic battle by your side and dined in glory with you yet never asked you for your name.” looking back at Tajaar the creature explained.
“That question has never been asked of my kind without the power of the wizards behind the creature that asks, our language is not presentable by your tongue, I would ask you to name me as you wish the pack leader always chose the calls we are known for depicted by what we do in our first moments of life.” the hound replied. “I can assume by the voice I hear you are a stud hound?” Tajaar enquired.
“The voice you hear is one of your own mind’s creation, master I am a bitch the first alpha female of my kind my stud was killed by hunters when we strayed too close to their camp and cattle, food in the forest had become scarce as creatures left our territories to avoid the undead marching onto the forest floor, every 100 years they would appear for one season retracting with the sunlight and warmth as the spring sunlight returned.” the hound lay by his side breathing deeply and sighing. “Forgive me friend, I did not mean to remind you of such hard times, what of your pack you left to find me?”
“We live for many, many cycles each of my pack where descendants of their father yet none of them grew to be who he was, they respected me and learned to hunt quickly, their respect for the other creatures of the forest fell away as their skills increased. The pack has grown strong and will be without me, they believe I am dead and I want it that way. They are ready to go on their own journey and I was ready to try my luck on my own away from them and the memories of my stud were all to present as I looked upon them.” she explained with a tone that only a lost heart could understand. “I heard a name last night at the lord’s table that may suit you, Sola it means lonely one it seems to me conjure a picture of a creature that is scarey on the outside and a deep heart that beats within its chest.”
“You honor me Tajaar, warrior of the beasts, I gratefully accept my title, shall we not leave before the Hatch leader becomes impatient with our absence from his court?”
“I fear I have befriended a creature that is wiser than me, we shall attend court my friend,” the two of them rested the crowns of their heads together for a moment before rising to their feet and headed to the doors and court.
Approaching the courts of Hatch they could hear the conversing inside the great hall as they appeared to be debating over the events of the pit and current affairs of the realm. Each member calling over the last as a dizzying array of voices filled the air as they approached the door. Tajaar’s belly grumbling with a deepening hunger, he could not help but be distracted from the events inside. Sola would be hungry soon and in need to hunt they eat often and grow cranky without a feed, the voice in his mind told Tajaar.
As he entered the great hall where all council members met there was a horseshoe shaped room full of benches stacked in layers of five high where the layers met at the back of the room was a large cushioned chair draped in the sigil of the Hatch clans the highest of any seat in the room. Hanging from ropes beneath the large sandstone arched peaks rising from the floor aboard several carved stone columns that met in five points above the chambers, four small outer layers two either side of the room with hanging bowls made of polished bronze filled with oil which when lit would shower the room in light and one arched peak in the center rising higher still where light flooded into the room via large pointed windows nestled between the arches, were the house banners of the city hung each of them depicting the houses using the characteristics of the people that owned them. The walls contained the previous leaders of the cities weapons now mounted on large hooks on top of each of their owner’s sigils for all to see. The floor of solid stone was carved with intricate patterns in a large circle in the center of the room directly under the large archway above. The voice of the Hatch’s generals could be heard inside saying. “It took many years coming but it was one I can’t easily forget that, if we did win this battle then it just maybe our last chance to stop this attack, creatures have moved close to the city limits, we use more arrows and bolts daily and the bodies of creatures are beginning to stack high we need to increase our forces on the west gates,”
“Call me arrogant or foolish if you will, but I see no reason that your plan is better than the lord commanders to push forward the hunt, in time the dead will recede back to the swamps. However I see where you are coming from and believe me I want to say we can do both, but that is just not possible. All I know is we need to make our move and soon.” Maester cleric declared calmly from under his hooded cloak.
“Our situation is dire, the dead walk through the pass in numbers that are not easily counted, and the dark forest seems to be crawling with so many creatures running for cover the scouts cannot easily fathom as to what may be going on in there. There is talk that they sense the dead are approaching and are scattering to the four winds to avoid them leading them directly into the cities and sewers to take refuge from where they are causing all manner of problems.”
A familiar belly filled laugh filled the room” Leave it to you to call out the obvious McEllen, we know why they are moving, but not why all of a sudden they are choosing this time to venture out of limits of the dark forest and into the city. Apart from the odd mad creature we rarely see them even when the dead come crawling from the graves. Right now all manner of creature and beast seeks refuge within our city walls, we must stop this advance from happening before all manner of creature over run this city’s walls and we need to stop this mayhem before the dead can arrive.”
“Relax my lord, it will take the dead weeks to reach our city walls and by that time we will have the creatures in order, and would have sent word for more men of the realm. We could ask Lord Renly and his hound to see if he will seek out the wizards of the White Wood Forest, to see if they can help us stop one or the other. They owe us after the exchange of lands and deeds we gave them.” the lord commander ways into the conversation.
“You speak like the fools of court they believe those lands were theirs to begin with,” the maester replied holding back a laugh of absurdity.
“Our attempts to call them to the aid of the realm may fall on deaf ears my lord, the maester has a point. I don’t see them calling to our banners. We are barely holding onto what little sways we have over them, they may just decide that the realm needs to be taught a lesson or two in humility. Even before we count on their participation may I ask, pray what mad man will go to the land of wizards? The last three men we sent on errands to the white forest that even got close to the boundaries of their land came back mad as a March hare”
“Merrin they were not mad just a little off. Joffrey’s squire has started talking again at least. We don’t need to mention what happened with the smith’s boy. and the cleric’s messenger was not a boy of a complete and sound mind before he left. “The maester announced. The hall gave a great cheer and roared with laughter.
Merrin seemed not amused by maester’s joke, as he who would have to convince some poor wretch to travel to Crooked village which lay many hectares beyond the outer boundary of the white forest. Where any manner of man with any whittle of sense would not set foot that far outside the forest. Tajaar knew all too well that the wizards were ahead of anybody here in this court after all they had somehow lead him here before this had even come to the Hatch’s attentions and they own most of these lands. Was it their will for me to intervene in this he thought to himself, thinking he would wait and observe what they know of what is going on, maybe the wizards would give him a sign. This all felt a bit strange and still a little false as if sometime soon it was all about to end with him being killed for spying on the realm, his thoughts were broken when the lords Hatch’s voice called to the maester, ” maester cleric are there any matters that requires my attention before I retire to the council of the generals and the place where such matters that were talked about with men that can act upon your orders as my orders?”
“Only two my lord. There seems to be a herd of young dragons while fleeing the forests from the west have eaten a herd of oxen belonging to the peasants and they are demanding retribution they seem to think our guards slay them every day. Made all the harder to argue the point against when a new lord slays one in the same battle you slam another with ease although quite a performance, it is not easily replicated. Which bring me to the second matter on the council’s agenda the walls to the north took some damage due to my lord’s ogres who keep using its coarse rocks as a scratching post pushing them in buckling the base if we are to withstand attacks from creatures and the dead we need to make good the damage.”
“This is why we have camps away from the walls using them to lighten off the masons workload, seems to do more damage than good. Tell the masons they are to move them back to the south side of the keep, the cliffs will stop them damaging the wall. Whilst they are there they can gather rocks for the masons from there, they will still be cutting down their workload from there. As for the oxen, gather some wild cows breed them with our livestock and see they get paid out of the commander’s pocket. Save the legs of some whores at least for a week, and tell him if he fails to protect the good people that pays his gold from the forest we will leave it up to them how best to punish him.”
“They will be moaning for their purses I for see an epidemic my lord, they are calling for the head of the commander and generals as it is, my lord. That is the fifth attack in as many weeks and I can see no quick fix unless we send out a champion to slay them and its mother, ”
“Your humor amuses me maester cleric, now tell me what do you make of this request for the wizards to join the fight. Gods know they are a law onto their own kind, is that not why we gave them their lands, so the city didn’t develop any new holes from their crafts. If any deal is to be struck with them we must find something to exchange otherwise they won’t barter with us. Now with their home lands between us and dead man’s pass they must feel safe enough.”
“It won’t be easy my lord they are as you say, not easily swayed and I do not envy the job of Merrin to find a willing man to enter their realm and make the request.”
“ I see, well tell the keepers If not for their idiot ogres our masons would have completed these repairs long ago they work slow and move stones even slower without them, still send out a rider Merrin. Maester Cleric I thank you for your council and I’ll leave any other matters in your hands. I must settle the generals before we ride, only 5 moon cycles remain before I wish to leave for dead man’s pass. As for the dragons i shall see what can be done”
“My lord”, he replies as he was already on the way out of the door.
“Maester Cleric is not one for listening to the commander rants on how we should conduct the people of this city, or the roar of the drunken generals as they debated the best way to run a horde of skeletons and dead back to the abyss from whence they had once slumbered. There are not many men who dared turn their back on lord Hatch let alone speak to a lord in such a manner, his advice and counsel is sought across many of the cities in the realm.” Merrin explained to Tajaar as he watched open mouthed at the maester walking off out of the halls. “ I find him interesting at the least, anyone who wishes to know what truly goes on, one would want to know what he knows.” Tajaar’s mind churned the information round his head with almost a fascination of the mans air of invisible power, Sola watched as he left lowering her head as he passed we must follow the maester he thought to himself, this is where answers may lay in wait.
“My lord Hatch I have questions of the maester may I excuse my absence from the council chambers my hound grows hungry as do I and I know not of your strategies but feel there are more important questions to be answered on matters not worthy of this court’s attentions?” Tajaar called out his eyes darting between his lord and the door where the maester had just left. “We called you to court to preside over a matter that you may be able to help the guards with, two men were detained after a debt was made upon your victory they claim you as theirs and as such the coin you earn belongs to them.” Hatch announced looking annoyed by the development of his new champions past. “ They speak the truth I was their property until an event in the cages changed things, details on that matter are a little off for me this being one of the reasons I seek the words of a man who may know more than I,” Tajaar answered with an air of puzzlement with the claim of the Nomeys.
“I know these men are Nomeys and their house is not one worthy of these halls, see this matter is cleared before the light settles on this day or the victory of yesterday may fall short of your expectations, they are a rancid family that has no honour and fixing the fight is not beyond their abilities. To have a man raised in a place of honor for less than honorable means,” the lord explained holding back a rage of the very thought of a Nomey in council. “My part was one of battle and I was placed into the fight as such by the Nomeys I know not of any deceptions my lord, rest assured the matter will be addressed,” bowing his head and leaving court Tajaar’s mind was now plagued with a thousand questions and only one man to ask of them.
Exiting the hall Tajaar could see the maester talking to someone who was hidden behind a column in the corridor, they seemed to know each other as the maester smiled once or twice as the two conversed, it did not take long for him to become noticed by the maester. So Tajaar began his advance on them, Sola sniffing the air as they advanced. The maester seemed to cut his conversation short before his conversation partner could be seen, turning to meet Tajaar as he approached where he stood bowing his head looking to the side to catch a glimpse of who he may be talking to, only he saw nothing but wall, no corridors or other means of exit Tajaar’s mind began to wonder. “So the man of the fallen battlefield seeks me out now I wonder what question he would have to ask of a simple maester like me, could it be the visits in the dark of the night from an apparition of sorts, maybe he seeks answers of his past. Before you ask any of these questions know this for free new lord, I know not the whys or hows this has come to be but I to intend to find out. I was almost set on the idea of you being some sort of hoax until I seen you in battle, the Nomeys are not below such acts to find their way into more coin. Yet hear you stand hound by your side with an intriguing look of wonder in your eyes, speak to me lord what would you have me tell you?”
Tajaar had stunned look locked upon his face, were to take this conversation was lost upon him he started with so many questions and appeared to have none about himself yet could not shake where his converse partner had disappeared to. “Ask not where he went but where he may appear next follow me to my place of wisdom we can seek answers there to some of your questions at least, but some of them will have to wait until the rats have some tales to tell my friends who listen to the vibrations of the wind for me,” the maester turned walking off beckoning them to follow him.