Rin was invited to attend the next meeting of the King's Chamber. This was a first for him. The people of the Firstlands were not meant to know about the Captain of Secrets in the King’s Chamber, the title that Rin covertly held. He was not normally permitted to attend meetings of the King’s Chamber due to the crowds of reporters that found themselves at these meetings. They regularly viciously attacked the characters and actions of the members. They were incredibly critical. King George Hapsburg decided it would be best that they did not see Rin in his council, due to the sensitive nature of his origins, and a few other things related to the position itself. The Firstlanders would not appreciate a sneaky New Belgian working to control them. Rin thought this a splendid idea. He liked that he could stay out of the view of the public’s eye. Nevertheless, he was commanded to attend the next meeting by his loving ruler to discuss matters of which he was not informed.
The king’s son came to inform him of the meeting with his father. A boy of 14 arrived at his penthouse apartment in The Landing. The capitol and the first city in the world, The Landing was one of the only cities with such high rise apartment buildings. They were not cheap either, as they were built by the Landers themselves. He was a very small boy for his age, with the dark shoulder length hair and startling blue eyes from his father. He was squire to the Kinsblood officer, Wulf, a former captain of the Golden Men. The scruffy knight, with his angry face and gruff demeanor, attended the invitation with his prince.
Prince Julian stood at his apartment’s door with a letter and a dozen guards of his father’s. He denied Rin pleasantries expected of a young prince, as he was wont to do. Somehow the small teenage boy, much shorter than Rin, seemed to be looking down on him with a passion. Rin watched the prince give his formal address his father had made him write and deliver, most likely as an attempt to teach the boy humility. It seemed he had yet to learn it. Rin stood in his pajamas sipping his mug of beanroot as Prince Julian declared, “My father, King of the Firstlands and the Shattered Chain, King George Hapsburg, first of his name, invites you to the next meeting of the King’s Chamber in the Newfort. You are to discuss pressing matters withheld by the king for this time. You are expected to be at court on the morrow in your best apparel for the occasion.” Rin heard his voice crack several times while listening to his invitation.
Although the invitation surprised him, he merely nodded his head in acceptance and said, “OK, tell your dad I’ll be there. Thank you, Prince Julian.” Then Rin shut the door just late enough to see the incredulous look on the Prince’s face. Silently, Rin wondered what the topic of this important meeting could be. Probably some lord has disparaged his name once again. Rin told himself in the wake of the meeting. Or maybe just another spy he wishes to dispose of. George Hapsburg was an efficient and effective king. Anyone educated enough to read the reports of the crowns income knew that, though many weren’t. The realm had no love for their new king, he didn’t have the authority that Spencer’s descendants always held. Anything King Hapsburg did to improve the realm seemed to annoy the royal lords and loyal peasants to no end.
The next day Rin was walking through the smelly, bustling streets of The Landing. He wore his long black leather jacket with emerald studs and simple denim jeans. The sun showered on the city causing the dank smell of people and animals and rotten food to grow worse than normal. Rin did not travel with a guard as many nobles did in the Firstlands, but he walked discreetly, in the shadows, as to not draw attention of the rabble. It was a short walk to the castle, but he had to dodge the vicious merchants piled into the market to get their chance to rob a noble with outrageous prices.
When he reached the Newfort it was mysteriously uncrowded. If there was a meeting, the reporters should have been flocking into the castle to get their piece of the story. Everyone wanted to know what the lowborn king would do next. But today there was no one crowding themselves into the castle. The city guard stood the perimeter of the short wall of polished black stone, and the gate was down at the door of the great siege walls farther down the street to the main castle. The only people around were the guard and the groundskeepers with their golden eagle standards on their attire for their king.
Rin took a moment to admire the architecture of the Newfort. When he moved to The Landing, he took some time to look at the history of the Newfort. Its elegant black stone battlements and magnificent sprawling gardens that surrounded it were not the original castle. The inner rooms of the capitol building were reworked steel and aluminum from the ship that carried the landers. King Spencer Jackson had ordered the reconstruction of the hulking spaceship into a castle soon after the Landing day. Later, his great grandson King Kyle Jackson the architect hired the greatest masons the kingdom could find to construct the sprawling polished black stone caste that made the Newfort. The west wall bordered the King’s River near enough to fish off the battlements. The stables at the east lead into a grand yard where peasants sometimes gathered to hear a King's decree. The hundreds of towers looked down on the city that expanded far out from the castle itself. Most grandiose, the Grand Gate at the front was carved beautifully in a huge arch covering the wide path that was made for cars to travel in and out before they were left obsolete.
He started down the long path through the gardens that were nestled in the shadow of the Grand Gate. He kicked up dirt as he walked on the dry gravel road. Flowers bloomed beautifully and leaned over short cobblestone walls to greet Rin on his walk into the castle. The sunshine warmed him and held the garden in a stunning light. When he reached the gate, he saw Lord Chester ride by on a gallant brown horse. Six nights in shining armour rode beside him, one holding up his standard of a great wooden gate on a blue banner, representing his family’s honor of Riverguard. Rin slipped through the giant steel gate with Lord Chester’s opening and represented the King’s parchment that gave him leave to enter the castle at will. The guard nodded and let him pass into the castle.
He knew the castle well enough to find Spencer’s Hall quite easily. The throne room was named after the first King of the Landers. It was at the center of the castle, where the walls were built of the cold steel from the ancient ship. Pieces of machinery, whos uses were long forgotten, lined the walls and were worn down to smooth glass and torn plastic. Spencer’s Hall had a ghostly feel to it. Nestled in the heart of the Newfort, the hall had seen more atrocities than any other in the Firstlands. The throne sat in the back of the windowless room. It was solid old world oak, gilded with gold and beautifully carved. It was the seat of countless Kings, all descended from the first Lander king, until now.
Traditionally, the King’s chamber met at the foot of the throne in Spencer’s Hall. They spoke over the matters of the realm as the reporters filed into the tight room and took notes on all the goings on. Now, however, he found the room empty but for a few servants mopping up the floor. The two girls in rags fled the room as he walked in search of the King’s Chamber. The room was haunted as ever and the emptiness ogave him an ominous feeling. There were no reporters, no captains, and no king. Rin was terribly suspicious of the whole invitation now.
A voice chippered from across the room. “Ah! There you are, Captain Rin. We were afraid you had gotten lost.” Rin whirled his head to the Captain of Politics. The Lakeman stood with overly perfect posture. His black hair was short with grey streaked above his ears. Ross Bean wore a tight green tunic with the standard of a white lake crane on his breast.
Rin replied to the friendly looking man. “Hello Ross. Where is the rest of the King’s Chamber? This doesn’t look like the traditional scene of the meeting of the Captains.” Ross’ face darkened when he asked. He gave a look as if to say, “How rude of you to ask!” Rin thought him a royal suck-up, so naturally he said nothing of the sort. He wouldn’t risk the king hearing of some insult on his loyal spymaster.
Ross said in his soft voice with the light accent of the Lakemen, “The king thought it prudent not to inform the newspapers of this meeting. It seems the matter may be… confidential. We are meeting in the King’s private audience chamber. I suppose to keep from raising suspicion. Many servants and lordlings pass through Spencer’s Hall at any time.”
He could not imagine what would cause the king to call a secret meeting. The possibilities ran through his head as Ross ushered him to the audience chamber. He would find out soon enough what the matter of the meeting was. They passed Xavier Harrow, the lord of the Crossway, and Ser Vincent Harrow, his loyal brother and man-at-arms. Rin has seen them recently about some debts to the crown. They quickly averted their eyes in shame when they saw Rin. He knew their secrets as well as they did. These were some of the many subjects of the Captain of Secrecy’s works.
They entered the office to see the rest of the chamber awaiting their arrival. Altogether there were eight of them, including the king. There was young Charl Sway. New to the chamber, the recent university graduate was incredibly competent at managing the scientific development of the Firstlands. Though he didn’t seem capable of holding a conversation for more than a few minutes. Rin saw the brute of a knight, Kinsblood Wulf. He was a muscular man with not much to say. Yet if he got the coin, he would kill anyone or anything you asked. That’s why the king named him Captain of War, though the realm hadn’t seen a war in eight hundred years. He was leaning his chair against a wall, picking his teeth with a bone handled knife. The Enlightened Harris, the head of the Lander’s Church sat serenely in a chair across from the king. He wore cloth robes with tokens and dyes representing all the Deity Landers. The ancient man, with a long grey beard, looked as if he was in the most beautiful sleep, with his eyes barely open, and staring blankly. The good Lord Hampstead Gates of Nicoli sat as the Captain of Treasury. Although he worked well as the Lord Treasurer of the Firstlands, Rin knew he only sat in the chamber because of the great wealth of gold in the vaults of Nicoli. Lastly, he noticed the mysterious grey Manner Nacht. The old professor with a thin mat of grey hair and black robes, was protected by the thousands of years of the knowledge of the Landers and the Old World.
Rin took his seat after bowing to the king. The chamber surrounded in chairs a massive oak table with a map of the Firstlands burned into it. One end of the table was left clear of chairs and the king sat on the left beside Charl Sway. The king wore his normal, modest attire. He wore a grey doublet with gold buttons. His trousers were black and loose fitting, yet he still gave a kingly appeal. His hair was short cropped and jet black and his bright blue eyes peered into your soul with unending knowledge. He sat with good posture and resided in a grand chair with elegance and grace. He waved Rin and Ross into the room and waited for them to make themselves comfortable.
George cleared his throat and said in a kingly voice, “I thank all of you for coming to the meeting of the King's Chamber. I’m glad to see you all here today. You all have met my Captain of Secrets, Rin.” The chamber took a moment to acknowledge his presence. None of them seemed to care very much about him being there. “But I’m afraid Charl and I have some distressing information to share with you all. Charl, you have it prepared, correct?” Charl looked up, startled. The young scrawny man had been staring into space for a good while. He adjusted his wire frame glasses and nodded.
“Yes… Yeah let me, go get it.” He stood and left the room from the door Rin didn’t come from. After a few moments, he wheeled a cart into the room and placed it at the end of the long table. On top of the cart was a confusing mass of wires metal rods and pipes. Rin thought it looked much like the walls of Spencer’s Hall. Charl fiddled with the contraption for a moment, then prepared to speak. He announced timidly, “I feel like I could not introduce this well enough. The lab received this late in the night. Let me just play it for you.” He fiddled with it once more until there was a click and a high pitched squeal. Then it started to make other noises. There were grunts and growls and mumbling none that sounded like much to Rin. Then it turned into speech.
The transmission went, “Attention, people of Esher. I am contacting you from the Flagship of the 21st Federation Fleet under Admiral Xyx. The purpose of this message is to inform you of the Galactic Federation plan to launch a full scale invasion of your planet. They plan to subjugate your planet to the Federation and harvest and resources available to them. Giving you this message is high treason and I am putting myself in grave danger to deliver it. Please hear my warning and prepare your defense the best you can. I fear that my planet has lost hope and has been ravaged by the Federation. I do not wish to see this happen again to this one. Good luck, fellow humans.” The machine clicked again to end the message and a squeal slowly went away.
The chamber was left flabbergasted and quiet. There were a few moments of stunned silence where none of them spoke. Ross Bean was the first to speak with his sanguine positivity in the face of grace news, “Well, this certainly is some dreadful news.” He noted the obvious fact as if it was his doctoral thesis, although it was the understatement of the century.
The king stood. He seemed that he wanted to make a statement, or ask a question. The chamber eagerly waited to find out which from the notoriously hard to read man. Rin himself never knew what George intended. Nevertheless, he made a ruthlessly proficient ruler, if only the kingdom thought so too. He raised his voice, but used his normal, calm and collected tone, “I need all of you to do your sworn duty and advise me. What are our options? What might be the best course of action here?” He paused seemingly to have forgotten something. “And I trust the realm won’t hear of this. Or of any of our meetings henceforth. I have made arrangements for the newspapers to be quieted until we approach a more stable time, and our meetings will remain secret.” The chamber men nodded. They agreed with the sentiment that the peasants and petty lords were too unruly for the truth.
Ross spoke again, “Well, Your Grace. First, I must be sure, Is a surrender an option? These are obviously advanced beings, am I wrong?” Whenever Ross spoke he pursed his lips into a smile that made Rin want to punch his neat featured face in.
Wulf seemed to feel the same way. He glowered at Ross and growled, “Are you as dumb as the ass that you love so much to kiss? We can’t surrender to no damn space monsters. They’ll flay us alive and beat us for not thanking ‘em.” He spat out saliva as he talked.
The captain of Politics, disheartened, responded, “I was only ensuring myself it wasn’t an option. But, I would like to put in that diplomacy is always an option.”
“Says you, you brown-nosed ass.” Wulf fired back with little meaning of it.
“ So, you do propose we fight off this invasion, Wulf?” The lord of Nicoli inquired. Lord Hampstead narrowed his eyes as if he were negotiating a deal between another merchant. He had black hair tied back neatly, and sharp golden eyes that could read what you had for breakfast from your face. He wore a flamboyant doublet gilded with gold and gems.
Wulf stated boldly, “Of course I do!” Rin could tell that the angry bearded man meant it. He was not one to doubt himself.
Hampstead nodded his head sarcastically. “And how do you plan to fend off this attack. As the Captain of War, you surely have a plan, am I wrong?” He did not give him a chance to respond, “It must be a terrific one my friend. I have looked at the inventories of the kingdom. We lack fuel for any vehicles still left in working order. And those are only capable of hauling around a few fat lords. The Landers left us no way of replicating the firearms needed to fight wars on the Old World. Not to mention how slow it is to produce ammunition. There are only a few hundred firearms left in the Firstlands, and most as artifacts or prizes held by some lords. The art of war has really been lost to the Firstlands since the Divide of the Third Generation. All we learned from that was how to build better castles. But even if we did have the equipment to wage war, we do not have loyal men to fight for us. The common people, I’m sorry to say, do not love their new king. They long for the days of the old Jackson kings, although our new liege is a wise and just ruler. Even most lords silently lament their king. The affair that led up to your coronation might be one factor, your grace. Calling the banner men of the Firstlands might bring up a revolution itself. If this threat is real, and we plan to oppose it, we must consider our situation carefully.” The points Lord Gates made were all valid and well put, as far as Rin knew. This would be a critical challenge ahead of the King’s Chamber if they meant to defend Esher.
The chamber took a moment to digest this. Wulf looked like he was put in his place, but he still had his vigor, “Then what do you propose we do, “m’lord?”” He threw at him with fire in his voice.
“Well, we can take some exact inventory, stockpile and gather equipment, maybe raise some loyal lord’s levies. It should be gradual, so as to not alert the realm. I could fetch some numbers and send some messages now, if it pleases your grace.” Lord Hampstead was fastidious and dutiful as the Lord Treasurer. Rin was glad to have him in the chamber with him.
“You have my leave to go do so, Lord Gates. You will send agents to collect and count every firearm and motor vehicle in the Firstlands. If some lord refuses, show them a decree that I will sign when you have it prepared. Keep it quiet at all costs.” The king told Hampstead. The lord collected some parchments and folded them into a small leather pouch hanging from his shoulder. He bowed and left the audience chamber to carry out his orders. The king asked the chamber men when he was gone, “How can we win over the realm. As Lord Gates has told us, we need my people to love me if we want them to fight for us.”
Ross’ eyes lit up. He was the man who loved to make people love him, and most did. He was widely adored and sometimes openly called the saving grace of the king’s image. Rin knew that he never showed his true colors, and when he did no one would like them. Ross said, “I’ve been reading some literature on the Old World recently, your grace. I have read about tournaments that kings used to hold in the ancient kingdoms on the Old World. It is said that many lords came to fight and win games with knights and peasants together watching and laughing. They’d all fight to win the king’s favor. I’d be honored to arrange a tournament worthy of your grace.”
The king nodded his head in agreement. “I’ll think about this, come back to me with some plans drawn up. We’ll see if this would be profitable. You have leave to go fetch those now Ross.” Ross bowed and left with the same motions as Hampstead a few moments before. “Enlightened Harris, you have my leave as well, you are not required to counsel on matters of war.” The ancient man silently rose like a ghost leaving a possessed body. He wordlessly crept out of the chamber, neglecting to bow or formally give salutations to the king. Neither Rin nor the king would forget such a transgression.
The king’s face changed now to a more serious complexion. He lowered his voice, “Now I speculate that we must do some things that we may regret to win this war. Immoral things. Evil things even. But it is for the greater good and must be done. Do you all agree?” They all nodded their heads in solemn agreement. Rin knew why the chamber men left were there. He knew the king did not trust the others. They were too honest, truly good men. Perhaps that’s why Rin had trails on them at all times.
Rin spoke up for the first time’ “Your grace, we will do anything it takes to protect the realm. Anything.” He repeated, knowing the consequences of what it meant. The king looked at him giving him a glowing look of approval. “I will travel to the Newlands for your grace. I will seek out the ancient arts of war that live so well in the south. You may hatch some schemes and play your cards well here in the north, but I will bring the savageness of the south up when you shall need it. I assure you we will have the power to fight back. In the south, there are men skilled enough at morseback to slice your head off with a cheese knife, orders of thousands of men devoted to the art of killing with a spoon, archers that fire for miles, and the Apprentices rebuilding the destructive force of the Old World. I have friends in all of the Newlands from New Belgium to New Amsterdam who I can bring to fight for your crown.” Rin has finally found his mission. He came from the slums of Washington to the King’s Chamber to defend the world from the alien invader. There was no one better for the job.