Chapter 26: The Wind Carries The Signs Of Calamity
Behind a desk made of fine [Black Marble], a highly valued luxury, Luthais Dharnas was sorting out the reports made by the army’s quartermasters.
As the marshall of the royal army, he had to keep a tally of all troops and units under his command.
On this very table, information records of the highest grade were converging, enabling Luthais to have a precise assessment of the current situation, the tension between the Leandar kingdom he served and the Terus empire, who had recently gathered a large regiment of soldiers to annex the border town [Blackquarry], the same place where the materials of his desk had been crafted after being revealed and mined.
The town itself was located on the Blackburn family’s territory, who had founded and developed the place after the discovery of a mine rich in high-class materials, and the city soon became famous from unearthing marble and other precious stones to trade with.
Luthais was not going to stand by and watch while another country subjugated and conquered part of his home; his assignment, and honor as First Marshall of his Royal Highness The King made it his duty to serve and protect all citizens belonging to the kingdom, regardless of the family or house they were affiliated with.
Picking up one of the reports on his desk, the stern-looking half-elf furrowed his brows, tapping his index finger on the stone’s smooth surface with growing irritation.
An idle thought flashed through his mind: would the palace replace the overbearingly ornamented pieces of furniture if he was to smash them apart? His whole office was filled with expensive and rare objects, most likely intended to be so to play on his ego.
This treatment was not unjustified, although Luthais was not out with the army often anymore his influence in the capital was no less than that of the other dukes, if not slightly higher, he was also a powerhouse of the seventh rank, fully capable of breaking the table like a twig if he ever was to give in to the urge to do so.
The reason why he was frustrated to the point where violence seemed like a welcomed opportunity to let out some steam, was the situation described in the crumpled piece of paper in his hand, which the common folk had dubbed the ‘Sloppy Siege of Blackbquarry’, so as to emphasize the seriousness of the invaders and yet the inefficiency of the King’s answer to the issue
Roughly three-quarters of a turn ago, the Terus ambassador had left his residence and mysteriously disappeared during one of his excursions in the red light district, without his guards noticing anything.
On the following day, his headless and suggestively mutilated corpse had been displayed in the middle of the noble district, a very demeaning message directed at the empire he was representing.
Outraged and rightfully feeling insulted, the entourage of the ambassador had left the capital to return to their nation, while the king had tried to express his regret and offer compensation for this grave diplomatic incident, to no avail.
Shortly after this ugly affair that had been subject of many rumors for a while, a large number of troops bearing the Terus banner had been spotted marching towards [Blackquarry].
For a reaction to the death of an ambassador, as powerful as he might have been within Terus and as brutal as his murder was depicted to be, the army had been far too massive; and the king had to call in the marshall of his army, Luthais, to take direct command of the defense of the city, the local garrison far too small to withstand an attack of this scale.
It was not uncommon for different nations to squabble over the ownership of some small patches of territory in profitable locations, because the borders were too far-stretched to be maintained at all times, and thus the ownership was switched maybe once a century if another nation was catching wind of a current holder being unable to mobilize a defense force.
[Blackquarry], on the other hand, was a major town, with a large highway leading straight to the capital Thurgau; losing the city meant opening a path for a siege of the main metropolis that sheltered the King and all the principal institutions of the country, a situation to be avoided at all costs.
Luthais therefore had taken control of the combined army of the King’s personal soldiers as well as the troops belonging to the House Blackburn led by the duke’s second son, and made haste to arrive before the enemy.
Thanks to the direct road, they had arrived three days before the Terus, rushing to mann the stone wall that had been erected a decade ago, promoting at the time the simple rural village to an important town, only to find themselves in a desperate position once their foes were in position.
The reports on the enemies had mentioned a large number of common foot soldiers, yet it had failed to underline the presence of the ten leaders of each division, who were nonetheless quite obvious as the enemy camps was always organized in ten different parts around ten extravagant tents.
Luthais had been on the wall to receive the commanders personally, the son of the duke at his right, when they had arrived on ten identical white war horses, wearing general’s attire, adorned with numerous medals awarded for military merits.
Based on the pressure they weighed on the world, they should have been from the sixth to the seventh rank in either knighthood or magecraft; in other words, they were all veteran soldiers of high standing within the Terus army, and even a marshall like the half-elf had no way to accurately probe their strength, forcing him to rely on the cold sweat dripping from his back to determine their strength as he was facing them.
The marshall couldn’t figure out how the death of a insignificant diplomat would justify such a large display of military might, but he had refused to shrink back; meeting the invaders face to face, and following the customs of the sieges, he had asked for their demands.
Thinking back to it, Luthais was still fuming, the enemy generals had the audacity to order the defenders to retreat and hand over the city, without offering the chance to make amends for the humiliation their diplomat had received.
Disregarding the fact that the compensation the Terus empress was requiring was clearly out of proportion, this act of aggression was not the proper way to proceed in regards to international treaties; simply annexing parts of a different kingdom without any attempts of peaceful diplomatic negotiations first was a breach of several conventions and more importantly: tradition.
However, the half-elf had to admit that the enemy had brought enough firepower to back their demands, as expected of a large empire.
The ten generals were around Luthais’ level in terms of strength, and the Terus empire could send all of them here without having to fear for its security, while the Leandar kingdom might barely be able to muster ten warriors and mages of that rank in total … at least, that was his own analysis of the situation.
Unwilling to simply gift the city to the attackers, he had assumed his role of a marshall and ordered all warriors and mages to get ready for battle, sending a messenger back to the capital to request for reinforcements, his objective being to hold the siege until the arrival of the strongest reserves of the kingdom.
Unexpectedly, this had appeared to be a wasted effort, as the enemy didn’t appear to be in any hurry to take the city, only fighting small skirmishes from time to time, usually circling through their war camps; there had been never more than one of the ten divisions altogether in battle, and they had always retreated to get healed by the priests that accompanied the army before suffering casualties.
Consequently, the defenders on their wall had suffered no death toll, although the stress on the limited number of soldiers had been steadily increasing until the Whitehall’s soldiers had showed up along with the fifth daughter of the House, a highly respected priestess of the church, capable of healing almost a complete army at once.
As both sides were reluctant to go all out, a stalemate had soon taken root, with Luthais unwilling and unable to abandon [Blackquarry], and the Terus generals refusing to fall back on more diplomatic means.
Highly suspicious of the opposition that could have mounted a sneak attack or smuggled assassins into the capital using the tumult, he had ordered to tighten security on all borders and search the surroundings of Thurgau for any hidden forces, but apparently the only action the empire was dispatching was the single-minded assault on one city by a tenth of their entire forces every day.
After almost a quarter of a turn, the king had recalled his commander to the capital to discuss the circumstances of the siege that was embarrassing him in public.
Being incapable of discerning the real motives behind the unpredictable move even three quarters of a turn after the beginning of the siege – and Luthais was absolutely sure that there had to be a real motive – was darkening the half-elf’s mood, endangering the furniture around him. He plunged his head once again in the message, trying to wring a confession out of the ingenuous letters, a list of the total number of casualties on both sides, which wasn’t approaching the three digits combined.
Unbeknownst to him, the door had opened, he must have missed the knocking. Raising his eyes from the paper, the marshall recognized the intruder as one of the royal pages; however, he was not important enough for Luthais to remember his name. Nodding, he gave him permission to speak.
“Sir, the king asks for your presence during an audience this afternoon. I was sent to summon you.”
Placing a hand on his forehead, the marshall tried to control a headache threatening to take a hold of him; he had failed to make the necessary progresses regarding the military aspect of the siege, and now its political aspect was seemingly coming to haunt him too.
“I have no new insights about that ‘Sloppy Siege of Blackquarry’. Tell His Majesty I decline participation in the audience. Important military matters keep me from attending.”
A small wince escaped the page boy’s lips when Luthais uttered the words ‘Sloppy Siege of Blackbquarry’. The king had been livid at the mention of the term by a noble right after it had gained popularity among the common folk, and had immediately banished him from the court for an indefinite amount of time. The phrasing had since been deemed as taboo in the whole royal palace, hearing it from a high-ranked official had hence caused the boy to feel uncomfortable.
“No sir, it is not about … the siege.”
The pause in the sentence, and the badly-concealed anxiety in the page’s voice convinced the marshall to take a closer look at him, unable to make heads or tails out of the situation.
Shivering slightly, the royal garb designating him as one of the personal attendants of the king was crinkly from a messy rush through the long corridors of the palace without any attention paid to the formal conventions, the cold sweat that had ran down his brows further staining the clothes.
Clearly the boy was terrified by something; yet he calmly delivered the last sentence that drove a shiver down Luthais’ spine.
“A messenger delivered a golden scale to the royal chamberlain yesterday, it has been proven to be genuine.”
Well aware of the rumors on the meaning of this insignia, the marshall needed a moment to gather his shaken wits.
A golden scale was said to be one of the dragon king’s scales himself, and was supposed to introduce his personal envoys, requesting an audience in a day’s’ time.
Though the dragons were respected and considered as signs of good fortune when spotted while flying, they were also feared for their enormous power and influence.
Seldom leaving their mountain chain, one of the few reasons that could lead them to part from their abode laid within the scale, representing the command of their king who claimed to fulfill the will of the Dragon God.
In all the myths on the emissary, he had always visited nations about to commit a grave sin: a king trying to summon a greater demon to subdue his enemies, an emperor deciding to commit genocide on one of the people under his rule…
In all those stories, a herd of mighty beings had followed the scale and its bearer as the foolish rulers were invariably refusing to heed to the advice of the envoy, causing their nations to wiped out of the maps and the memories of the world, forever a dusty tale on the dragon races overbearing power.
Luthais himself did not believe in the existence of a Dragon God, or thought of any event as divine retribution, but he was aware of how much the word of the dragon race could sway influences within the royal court to disregard the stories simply as folklore and myths.
The smooth fabric of his uniform suddenly felt very stiff, irritating the half-elf and urging him to scratch his skin, as a single drop of sweat ran down past his right eye.
In addition to the conflict with the Terus empire, the dragons were now moving as well, adding one more worry on his pile of work. If the Leandar kingdom could, at least, defend itself against the army at their doorstep through patience, the assault of a single dragon of the legend rank would be devastating, not to mention a whole herd of them.
“Take me to the king.”
Gulping down to get rid of the lump that had formed in his throat, Luthais picked up his jacket and followed the page, trying to put up a strong front to reassure the tensed boy, even though he felt like throwing up himself.
The reason why the king was requiring his presence had nothing to do with his position in the military, but rather as his birth as the son of the late king’s most trusted advisor, the royal court magician Eldrin. At the current king’s birth, Luthais’ father was already holding the position of royal court mage and, as a close friend of the late king Giles Loewe, he had been looked up at like an uncle and hero when the two boys grew up.
Luthais himself had been born after that appointment and had always heard stories about both their fathers while attending the court under king Cederic, who felt the need to see him as a close friend like their fathers had been to each other.
The half-elf did not mind their intimacy initially, but they had different opinions on many topics, and he had finally asked for a position in the military to preserve their friendship rather than drift further apart from him.
Moving through the long corridors of the palace, each step seemed to add another bit of weight on his shoulders, he was dreading the conflict that awaited him at the end of the hallway, a disagreement with the dragons would be hopeless at best.
To the page boy’s credit he was containing himself with an admirable courage, walking with steps steady, and enduring the silence that spread between him and the one he guided.
The guards in front of each passageway most likely didn’t hear the soon-to-be-born rumor, calmly greeting the marshall and his guide, opening the doors for them to proceed deeper into the royal quarters.
The half-elf had been expecting Roderic to be on the throne, handling matters regarding the kingdom, but he had also considered the possibility of the king canceling the usual court meeting in regard to the perils threatening the kingdom.
“My King, I’m here to answer your call.”
Bowing to his old friend, Luthais tried his best to keep his voice calm. The king was seen as a reliable, dependable pillar of the country because of his identity of a knight of the ninth rank, but the half-elf had never seen him look this distraught in the century they had known each other.
“It is good to see you here, Luthais. I have grave news, but you probably already know them. In less than three candles, a messenger of the dragon king is scheduled to arrive.”
“Is it true then? Has a golden scale appeared?”
Rather than being apprehensive at the prospect of the confirmed appointment of an envoy from a race that had never moved unless there was a proved matter of a world-shaking importance, Luthais felt rather curious about the golden scale’s tradition, which apparently was given effects exactly like the myths said it would.
“Don’t be ridiculous, uncle. A proper scroll with details on the time of the appointment was delivered. There was a golden scale on the roll, but only as a proof of identity, nothing more.”
The one who rebuked Luthais’ statement was the second prince, Claud Loewe. Born only twenty-five years ago, the capital had fawned over his birth as the royal line as well as the other noble lines had customarily not been blessed with many descendants, until the queen had surprisingly given birth to twins twelve years ago, nothing short of a miracle considering that between her first son and Claud, the second prince, more than a century had passed.
Claud had inherited the masculine figure and the gold blond hair of his father, making him a perfect stereotypical prince in the eyes of the people.
“Anyway, I am glad that you were able to make it before the others I have sent for. The expectations are driving me insane, the dragons never went to Leandar before and now they use a golden scale to request an audience?!
I’d rather have sent for you earlier, but I needed to inform the ancestors straight away, I just returned from the lower levels myself.
In any case, it’s good to have you by my side.”
Ignoring for his son’s attempts to prove himself as an adult, Cederic tried to smooth things over, looking honestly relieved to be in Luthais’ presence. The ancestor’s mention had fascinated the half-elf, who by now was far more interested than afraid in the whole affair, eager for the moment to learn more about the king’s predecessors, whom he shared a bloodline with.
The sister of Cederic’s father had married his own father, making them cousins; that family bond with the royal family was one of the reasons why he was always treated well in court and had been able to pick his own position in the workings of politics and military, albeit his merits in the army were solely attributed to his strong sense of honor and morals, not to mention his strength.
The king himself was well aware of the importance of that familial connection and had reached out to Luthais when he hit the age of human adulthood at 25, hoping to grow and cultivate the affiliation between the two branches sharing the same blood. Friends were a rare good for any crowned head, everyone always expecting the king to be flawless, or currying his favors, but the half-elf had accepted his ruler for what he was.
As Luthais was losing himself in thought, the dukes and duchesses had arrived, each led by a page.
“Now that all of us are here, and while the ancestors are gathering, I would like to solemnly ask if any of you has an idea of what the reason for the dragon’s visit could be?
I want to add for your personal information that although our elders will be present during the audience, they made it clear that they will not interfere with my decisions, they trust us to sort out this exceptional matter without their help.”
Displaying the full majesty of the muscles under his royal robes and his inborn regal demeanor, king Cederic addressed the whole room, letting his cold inquiring green eyes wander over each and every person. Most of the attendants were either dukes and duchess’ or their sons and daughters, Luthais was not able to identify all of them.
“I am not going to blame any of you. I can promise you that there will be no prosecution of your possible wrongdoings … if you admit them at this moment. Regardless of what circumstance led to the current predicament, the whole nation is in danger right now. I will personally try to work out a solution with the envoy so there will be as little as possible of a punishment from the dragon’s dynasty, but first we need to survive this storm. And to survive, information is essential. There is not much time left, so speak up if you have a hunch on the incident that caused all of this to happen, now is the time.”
Scanning each of them once again with his piercing gaze, the king sighed for a last time, disappointed to be unable to prepare for the upcoming trial.
“I see. Let us head to the throne hall then, and meet up with the elders. The time for the meeting draws close, let us depart.”
Leading the procession of the highest ranked nobles of the Leandar kingdom, Cederic Loewe exited his private quarters, followed closely by his wife and children displaying expressions worth being the counterpart of their king’s nervous face.
As a directly-related kin, Luthais had the right to be second behind them, leading the train of people, the first duke in the row, then the people of the different Houses in order of their founding and subsequent grandeur: Whitehall, Sheridan, Silverwood, Blackburn.
Silently, they progressed through hallways getting increasingly grandiose, nearing the chamber where the audience was going to take place, a somber mood encompassing everyone present, although it was unknown whether it was because of doubts on the ordeal to come or guilt.
Golden doors emerged in front of the wealthy crowd, fit to represent the splendor of a Kingdom’s ruler. King Roderic hesitated for a moment, turning around and looking at the mass next to him. In one way or another, each and every one of them was related to his family, having a claim to the throne.
The event that would happen within the next candle would most likely deal a huge blow to the kingdom, and in extension on himself.
Choosing to say nothing, the magnificent blond man steeled himself and pushed open the two wooden wings, flooding the quiet corridor with the chatter of thousands of excited voices, leading the lords and ladies in the large hall. He headed straight for his throne, his wife taking place on the smaller seat beside the golden monster.
Luthais himself accompanied the royal family to a lounge, five of them being arranged around the throne – one for each family that ruled over a dukedom – ; however, it was a special occurrence for all of them to be filled.
The half-elf looked regretfully at his house-reserved spot as he was the only one to occupy the seats; he wished his father was there to help him through this streak of bad fortune.
The lower nobles were also all attending on this day, cramming their own section beneath the podium the throne was placed on, on the left side of the red carpet coursing through the place, while the right side was reserved for the rich and influential citizens.
Recognizing one of the figures, Luthais was surprised to notice the man that owned the bakery he usually frequented resting in one of the reserved seats; overall there were a lot of persons whose appearance would fit better within the crowd of commoners that had to stand in the back of the chamber.
The sudden appearance of the King prompted the audience to quiet down, waiting for the words of their ruler. A low murmur broke out when the sound of a door opening resounded one more time, and a set of shadowy figures took their seats in the galleries of the upper half of the room, situated straight above the royal chair, all of the indistinct shapes hidden under a dark-transparent veil.
The wave of power emanating from these lofty individuals was enough to silence everyone and quite a few faces in the masses turned pale at the open display of strength from the Leandar kingdom.
Regaining the initiative over this meeting after the shadows’ entrance, the king rose and calmly inspected the people of his kingdom, before letting his thundering voice boom throughout the great hall, compelling respect from every individual present.
“We are pleased to see Our subjects present in this hall. Let this public audience … begin!”