1. Welcome to Black Dahlia, an adult 18+ roleplaying and writing forum! Don't forget to vote daily for BDRP! The more you vote, the more awesome writers find BDRP, so vote each day! Click here to vote on Top RP Sites, here to vote on RPLovers, and here to vote on RPGFix.
  2. Follow BDRP on all major social media! Tweet at us, Like us, Follow us, Pin our Boards, Reblog us, and check out member Art!
    Dismiss Notice
  3. Looking for more ways to find partners? Check out the Fandom Catalogue and Genre Catalogue!

    Sign up and share what fandoms and genres you are interested in! See who's into the same things you are and give them a shout!
    Dismiss Notice
  4. Hey Guest! We've created a cute new charity medal you can grab by donating to help save the rainforest! Check out the post here for a preview of the medal and more information.
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Our team is growing! Apply to today if you are interested in becoming a staff member! Prefer to volunteer your time to help better our community? Apply to join our Community Helpers team! Check out the application here.

 World Building Beyond the Ashen Victory ( Wren & Epicurean)

Discussion in 'Roleplay Execution' started by Epicurean, Aug 28, 2019.

  1. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
    495
    Local Time:
    4:27 AM
    The sun seemed reluctant to drive off the fog spirits this morning, but slowly, they rose and dissolved – enough, at least, for Duke Aldin to see into the valley where the Medhrans had their camp. Soon, he could make out the earthen rampart he had abandoned two weeks before. The long mounds of the mass graves around it bore witness to the price he had made the enemy pay for it. But still, he could see a city of tents. At least two thousand fighters left, many of them very well equipped, all of them battle-hardened. His own warriors, the Duke knew, the last host of his Queen, numbered hardly eight hundred. One hundred of them were knights, the remains of Vinar nobility. The rest were assorted soldiers, mercenaries, fighting peasants, desperate all, hungry all, yet so far willing to fight on. The local mountain men had saved the day a week before, when their archers had driven the enemy from the castle’s outer wall. The following counterattack had cost Aldin his last war-horse and his hip still ached with every step…

    Aldin turned his head when he heard the discrete clearing of a throat; he looked right into the intelligent blue eyes of Olbert, the only of his boyhood friends still alive.

    “They will come hard today,” Olbert announced in his quiet, ever dignified voice. “But the spies wanted less bread than before, and no coin; it fits what they say: High King Bhorra is out of silver and out of bread. There was barely any harvest here, of course. They are beginning to starve. Some already have scurvy, or the red flux. Winter can’t be far off. You might just have bought us enough time.”

    The Duke wiped away the flattery with an impatient gesture. “Blood bought us time. But good. Good! I hope their guts all rot,” he replied, spitting over the battlements.

    “They must try soon, and the last scout said it is today. Would explain why things were so quiet yesterday,” Olbert mused; Aldin found that the very slim diet they had been on the last few days was clouding his mind. Olbert was right. They would not just starve before Gidarne’s high walls – they would try to take the castle, destroy Vinargal once and for all.

    Aldin gestured to the enemy camp. “Look! There’s Bhorra.” The towering man on horseback and the night-blue banner were unmistakable. To the left and right of the enemy standard, pure red banners went up.

    “No quarter,” Olbert commented unnecessarily. Aldin nodded grimly. He could see men assembling down there. The Duke turned to a soldier carrying a horn. “You! Sound the alarm. Olbert, everyone in the outer courtyard in a quarter-hour except lookouts. Ask the Queen to show herself – the window will do. I want to speak before they come.”

    Soon, the ragged bunch, the last defenders of Queen Sarra, were assembled in the tight quarters of the outer courtyard. Aldin felt his knees shake, felt his filthy beard trying to tangle with the bevor protecting his neck. This would be the enemy’s last throw of the dice – but anything except a devastating rout, any result that allowed High King Bhorra another try, would likely mean the end. The Duke banished that thought.

    “Warriors! Kinsmen! Brothers!” he called from the battlements, his voice raw but strong, echoing from the towering stone. He could see the Queen, standing at an open window, looking down on him and her soldiers – the last of them. Aldin began slowly, as he ever did.

    “I have news! The enemy has no more bread, while we have it. The enemy is sick, while we stand tall. He has slept for too long in sodden tents, while we have straw and fire-wood enough. Strong still are his numbers, sharp still are his blades. He knows all this. And he will not retreat. He wants these walls. He wants your lives. He wants our Queen. He will come with all his host, thrice that we have. We will greet him with stone and bolt and arrow, but come he will. Another day of blades dawns, brothers! Another day when we fight under our Queen’s gaze against the foe that has plundered our land, destroyed our homes, despoiled our fields and killed our kinfolk. I can see it in your eyes: While we have more than the enemy in provisions, we have too little for you to be at your best. You know I have eaten no more than you. I feel it too, brothers. The Holder of the World has sent us another dark day in a long row of dark days…”

    He let the grimness sink in, let the men experience their own despair for a moment. Then, Aldin slowly raised his gauntleted fist and began to shake it, a few times slowly, then punched the air.

    “But all is not lost!” he thundered. “For it is the enemy’s last attempt! He has nothing more to give! He knows that winter is upon us, he can feel it in the cold wind, in the hollowness of his own stomach. They will come once more today, like so many times before, and yes they will come strong, but have we not stopped them when they were well-fed? Have we not taken their war-machines? Have we not killed the best of them already? Is not their King Bhorra the last of his greats? Brothers, they were eight thousand when this warring season began. Now they are two thousand, and not the best. Will you abandon me, your Queen, your brothers now in this last of days, when there is nothing left to lose but everything to gain?”

    Finally, Aldin could feel the familiar surge of power. He was sure it was God’s hand, the hand of Hûl, finally come to release the strength that had always come with the fight itself, however weak he might have felt before. He spoke more quickly now, hammering home his message, trying to give his men the strength he himself felt.

    “Not I have given you this chance for victory - it was your own strength, your own will, your own bravery! Let it not falter now! The Father of the Angels smiles upon us! His shield lights the way! This is your chance – the chance to carve your names into every heroes’ stone from now until eternity!”

    The Duke pointed to the Queen in a dramatic gesture – but never had a time more called for such a thing.

    “If it is Hûl’s will to see us fall, then fall we will – at the feet of our Queen, shielding her to the last! But Medhraland will have to prove with rivers of blood that Hûl is on its side, for Vinargal still stands! We still stand! Let these walls be tinged in the invader’s blood! One more victory we must have! Just one, brothers! If we have this day, then all days are ours! Man your posts! I see you! The Queen sees you! The Father of the Angels sees you! We still stand!”

    The battle-cry was taken up. As the Medhrans approached in their assault columns, defiant, rhythmic cries of “We still stand!” sounded louder than their drums…

    *

    When Aldin had to abandon the outer wall two hours before noon on the second assault, he was not worried; it had happened twice before, it meant nothing. He had sold those battlements to Bhorra for a dear price.

    But the defense of the second wall was not as fierce. The bolts and arrows of the Medhrans seemed to overpower those of the Queen’s men, as if suddenly, the greater numbers made themselves felt. Soon, they crossed the courtyard to assault the second wall. Aldin could see it, feel it in the way they moved, in the posture of his defenders – they were in serious danger of losing the second wall, and it was much too early for that.

    “Forward, my lords! To the battlements!” he called, giving his voice the strength which, in truth, was wavering in him. The Vinar knights were his only reserve, and already he was forced to use it, including himself.

    Soon, Aldin stood atop the second wall. The enemy had a foothold on the battlements, half a dozen armored Medhrans had formed up around the end of a ladder the Queen’s men had not been able to throw back quickly enough, but Vinar knights were pressing hard, driven by Aldin. Olbert, next to the Duke, entangled one Medhran’s pollaxe in his own. Aldin lost no time – he turned his weapon’s hammer head towards the enemy and brought it down with all his strength. The enemy collapsed and fell off the battlements into the inner courtyard. Aldin didn’t think the blow had killed him, but if it hadn’t, the fall certainly had.

    While the others used his spectacular strike to drive the enemy back, Aldin cast a quick glance into the outer courtyard. His heart jumped. There was the High King, getting ready to mount just this ladder – but no, his bodyguards were already dragging him back.

    “There’s Bhorra!” screamed Aldin at the top of his lungs. “Archers! Kill the High King! Kill him now!”

    Indeed, arrows rained down, but a few crossbowmen had big shields they used to cover Bhorra as he retreated around a corner, out of sight for most of the Vinar archers. Aldin cursed and turned back to the fight.

    *

    The sun was already sinking towards the hill-crests when finally, the second wall had to be abandoned, leaving only the last one, which wasn’t a true defensive line but rather made up of stone houses – sturdy, the windows too small to climb through, but no battlements to shoot from. Almost every man was wounded; a glancing blow on his helmet had let Aldin dizzy for half an hour, but he was back now, helping to fortify the innermost gate with his own hands, his heart racing. There were about three hundred Vinar still fighting. Many knights and nobles the Duke had seen die – most of them the last of their houses. How many fighters the enemy still had he did not know, but his last glance before the gate was shut had not held much promise, even if the Medhrans were clearly exhausted.

    Once more, he rallied what he had left, marshalled them in three formations five men deep, packing the gateway. He saw no more chance to win. They would all die here. Preparations had to be made. He put Olbert in the last of the three blockading positions and instructed him quietly: “If you see the second line falter, run to the Queen. Make sure she has the chance to end her life before they are upon her.” Olbert nodded, his face pale.

    It took High King Bhorra long to marshal his final assault, but at long last, they started to batter the gate. It held only minutes. Aldin took up position in the second rank of the first position, muttered a few quick prayers and then, one last time, raised his voice to a desperate volume he had no longer thought possible.

    “By God and all his angels, by all that is high and holy, HOLD! HOLD, I say! Not enough blood has been spilled! This is the end either way – make it so the Vinar will never be forgotten! Die with valor! We fight to the very last breath!”

    His ragged, almost maniacal voice echoed in the tight gateway. Then the gate broke and the Medhrans were upon the Vinar. The first formation gave only inches before it stood. Aldin took no more care for the long-studied knightly arts – he simply hacked away at every helmeted head he could see, killing one man by driving the iron spike at the end of his pollaxe right into his eye-slit.

    Step by step, the first formation merged with the second as they were driven back by the sheer weight of the Medhran attack. Aldin’s pollaxe broke. Cursing, he drew his sword – but in these confined quarters, it didn’t much matter which weapon he used.

    The commotion in the enemy’s tight ranks was sudden; immediately, the Medhran gained back an arm’s length or two. Then, Aldin heard a boyish shout from behind: “I got Bhorra! I got him, he went down! Look!”

    From some unknown depth of his soul, Duke Aldin drew one more ounce of endurance. He had to see. He had to be sure. The Medhran were falling back, already almost back at the gate. Then he could see it. Two from the High King’s guard, carrying Bhorra with his battle-crown askew on his helmet, a bolt protruding from his neck. Aldin did not have to think; the realization was immediate, as if by word of Hûl himself.

    “Bhorra is dead! The High King is dead! Forward, Vinar! Forward now! The High King is dead!” he bellowed over and over, desperate to not let this gift from on high go to waste.

    *

    With the death of their leader (Bhorra’s guard was massacred shortly after, the dead king recovered by Vinar), the whole Medhran army was thrown into confusion. Countless were killed in the castle grounds, countless more tumbled to their death on the slope in the sinking darkness. Their camp burned as Vinar recovered the rampart in the valley. Aldin’s cuisses clanked as he made his way to the castle’s main building in a haze of disbelief. He had to force himself up the steps to the third floor, where the Count who called this castle home had his hall.

    Aldin staggered into the room, panting, his vision blackening as the last candles were unnaturally bright. For a few long moments, he fumbled with his vizor until one of the Queen’s ladies saw his predicament and helped him open it. He swallowed and sank to one knee – not out of courtly manners, merely managing to give his weakness some acceptable form. He forced his gaze up to Queen Sarra’s. She had risen, as pale and thin as they all were, the tension making her eyes hard and cold.

    “Your Majesty… your Majesty’s enemy, the High King Bhorra, is dead. I saw it with my own eyes. The enemy has flown the valley, most Medhran have fallen,” he reported mechanically, but with the next words, he broke into sobs. “It is the end of the war. We have prevailed!”

    @Wren
     
    • Love Love x 1
  2. Wren

    Wren Her Royal Majesty - The Feather Queen Member

    Messages:
    185
    Local Time:
    10:27 PM
    There was a faint scar under her right eye. She traced it with her fingers often as a reminder. No one came out of war without a scar. Not even a Queen.

    Her world had changed the day her father died. Most war, she'd learned, was a monotonous, endless conflict that resulted in unnecessary deaths, but like any royal before her, Sarra protected what was hers. This land, these people, those freedoms - no one would take her kingdom when she had fight left in her veins, and he would have been proud of her. Her father had once joked that she was the throw away heir and had given her liberties that her brother had never seen. No one expected the sweet, stubborn, spoiled little girl to ever grow up into an unbreakable leader.

    The irony of those assumptions was heavy upon her as Sarra traced that scar under her eye and watched as her people, or those of them that were left, ran into battle with her name on their lips. She should’ve been down there, with them, a weapon in her slightly callused hand as she went to war along side of those that gave their life for her. Instead, she was protected in a tower, fed and dressed slightly better than the people that were looking up at her with more honor than she could have ever hoped for herself. It was sickening how much things had changed and how her priorities were shifted.

    Now, it was more than just helping for the greater good.

    Now, she was the greater good.

    “Your Majesty,” a small voice started. “I’ve placed the items you’ve requested on the table.”

    Eila was a fair young lady whose eyes were always so bright despite the things she had seen. She was no more than twenty years old, just a few years younger than the Queen herself, but her somewhat malnourished appearance made her already pixie like features even more sharp, often confusing individuals into thinking her younger than she was. Eila was a cousin of some relation, but Sarra had never paid much attention to their genealogy. All the Queen knew was that Eila was a kind hearted soul and immediately after being crowned, Sarra had requested that she remain as her ‘assistant’.

    “Good.” Sarra replied to her cousin, watching Aldin on the makeshift battlefield as his speech finished. The man was impressive,and even though she had been somewhat removed from the conflict for a while now, she still admired him greatly. The Duke was, in a way, her shining knight, although Sarra would never admit to it. He was infallible and unmoveable, always calm in the face of intense pressure. She’d always thought that he would have made a better King than she a Queen, but those opinions were, as always, internalized and never spoke aloud. How dare she second guess her birthright? It was almost shameful, but it was true.

    The hand that touched the scar under her eye fell and Sarra gripped a pair of thick curtains to remove the sight of death from her view. She couldn’t stand to see anymore of it, and her anguish came out in a fit of rage.

    “Hûl - what kind of a name is that?” The question was rhetorical but the Queen laced it with venom. “A ridiculous one for a God, if you ask me. Perhaps he’s nothing but a made up fairy tale. A children’s story. Because if Hûl were a real God, he would have mercy on us instead of slaughtering everyone like cattle.”

    “Ma...Majesty?” Eila sputtered.

    “Oh, don’t stand there and act like you haven’t thought it.” Sarra turned on her heel and narrowed her hazel eyes as she spoke. “Why would a God punish the good? The innocent? Why would he murder the downtrodden and build up those that steal for the betterment of themselves? It would seem that our ‘beloved’ Hûl aligns himself with the selfish and the unjust. Perhaps worshiping one of these false deities would do us better than worshiping this ‘Hûl’.”

    Sarra marched toward the table where a small collection of things had been placed. She started to sort through it, taking her time to find what she was looking for.

    “Please don’t say such things, ma’am.” Eila rushed toward Sarra and placed a gentle hand on her arm. “It’s blasphemous to speak of Hûl that way. He only tests us and our devotion to him.”

    Sarra shoved the hand away before shrugging off the cloak that she had wrapped around her shoulders. Tossing it at Eila, she then selected a tunic from the pile of items on the table.

    “Tests us? Why would we need to be tested? Our people, us - we all pray, we sacrifice, we follow order.” She turned and gestured to the back of her dark blue gown. The color of the material had always been stark against her pearl-like skin, but it was even more pronounced with the added weariness of the last several months. Something had to change. Sarra was determined.

    “Ma’am, you don’t mean to wear those clothes, do you?” Eila’s concern was touching, but she was obviously dense. Why else would Sarra ask for trousers and a shirt?

    “A Queen should not be locked up in a tower looking like a fragile doll while her people fight with their lives. Even Bhorra has been sighted within his troops. This is an embarrassment. I will be joining Aldin myself.” Once again, Sarra gestured toward the back of her gown, instructing Eila to assist her in disrobing. The younger woman did not move.

    “Forgive me, Sarra, majesty, cousin,” Eila shook her head. “I cannot help you do that. You are more than just a doll locked in a tower. You are a vision of hope, strength, a continuation of the values that we as Vinar have held onto since this conflict started. You mean so much to the people. Their morale depends on you. Our numbers might be few and many might have died, but victory is on the horizon. Even the Duke believes as much. Did you not hear him?”

    Eila moved in front of Sarra, looking directly into her eyes. “You mourn for your father and for Derrik. Your people. Your kingdom. But you cannot just run out into the middle of battle and get yourself killed, and you must stop talking about Hûl in such blasphemous ways. If it is his will, it will come to fruition. You must be patient.”

    A knock on the door to her chambers had both Sarra and Eila glancing away from one another, but Eila’s words still held thick in the air between them. Sarra was helpless. Her responsibilities were so much more than what she had ever thought possible. The younger woman made a fair point - she was more than just a Queen to her people. She was an icon, a symbol. Something worth fighting for.

    Eila moved first, snatching up the articles that she had collected. She left a vial on the table, instructing Sarra on it’s use. “I was advised to give you this. You are to drink it if the enemy overwhelms the remaining guard.”

    The indication was clear as day. Poison - it would be painless and quick. But as Eila exited the room, Sarra vowed that she would not take such a coward’s way out. The Vinar did not go down without a fight, and Sarra was just as much Vinar as those on the battlefield.

    -----

    News of Bhorra’s demise came quick. Sarra had resigned herself to sitting in a chair, observing nothing in particular, but waiting for nightfall to come and a report from Aldin and his men. Perhaps there would be good news and hopefully no more bad. She wasn’t sure what she would do if the casualties claimed the last people of her kingdom.

    The Count’s hall was expansive and decorated with the most outlandish items, but it was easily Sarra’s favorite room in the entire structure. Every piece had a story, and some of the ladies of the castle had entertained the Queen with them since her arrival. It was only fitting that the news of Bhorra and the end of the conflict greeted her there. The silence of the castle had been deafening, but as Aldin rushed to give her the news, sound roared in Sarra’s ears as if it had been building up until that very moment.

    Your Majesty… your Majesty’s enemy, the High King Bhorra, is dead.

    Aldin collapsed to his knee, and she had stood, gown grasped in her hands as she started to rush toward him. He was tired. They were all so tired. But his words stopped her in her haste.

    It is the end of the war. We have prevailed!

    The end of the war. Surreal was the feeling of relief that washed through her, and emotions mixed until they became confusing and difficult to understand. Grief, anger, joy - a cyclone of confusion that made her heart beat faster and her breathing more shallow as her chest tightened. Bhorra deserved more than death.

    “You are certain?” Sarra asked, springing back into action only moments after his words paused her. She kneeled down on the ground, both knees resting upon her gown as she forced him to look into her eyes. Her hands gripped his shoulders in an unorthodox gesture, but then again, when had Sarra been anything expected of a Queen?

    “You’ve seen his death with your own eyes? Bhorra is no more?” The time for questioning was not now, as the Duke seemed on the verge of collapse.

    “Eila,” Her voice cracked as she spoke. “Help him. Get him a warm bed, food, healing, and see to it that he gets some rest. Send in one of the other men for a debriefing.”

    Softer, she instructed Aldin directly. “There is still much to be done, but you have exceeded everything this kingdom could have wished for. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

    Sarra was reminded that if it was Hûl’s will, it would come to fruition, but as she stood up to her feet, she had to wonder what her God’s will truly was.

    ------

    She was naive to think that things would improve quickly. Morale wasn’t better by any means, but it was poor in a different way. Grief washed over the Vinar as the dust began to settle. The people would have to rebuild, but their numbers were so small that traveling to the desolate settlements that once existed would have been more of a risk. Their projects would remain with the borderland people, and Sarra’s priority was requesting aid of their allies as well as more protection. Her duties as Queen once again shifted, and instead of being a symbol for her people, she was directing the recovery efforts herself. After another busy day, she sat in the library, ink to parchment, as she drafted letter after letter to the surrounding nation leaders. Help would come soon enough, but for now, the candles were on their last wicks and nighttime was upon them. She rubbed her eyes and yawned softly.

    A noise toward the door startled her, and with a hand over her chest as she realized that she wasn’t in any danger, Sarra took a deep breath.

    “Aldin,” She said with relief. “I wasn’t expecting you. Are you feeling well?”

    He had changed since she had first met him. Once a muscular man who was well cultured, he was now thinner and more wiry. His hollow-eyed appearance had saddened her at first, but now, she was grateful that there was at least one face that was recognizable among a sea of strangers. The Duke helped her feel a small sense of belonging that she might have otherwise lost.

    Getting to her feet, she threw all traditions and expectations away. With a swift move, she pulled out a chair for him and gestured toward it. In the privacy of the library, they were not royal and subject any longer. They were merely two people that had been through too much.

    “The Count has stashed some brandy behind an old volume of hymns. He must have thought no one would find it,especially given the mundane topic of the book, but the binding didn’t align with the others on the shelf.” Sarra walked along the wall covered in book cluttered shelves, pausing with a tap to her chin before she found the one she was looking for. “He’s not smart enough to keep secrets. I don’t know why he tries.”

    The small decanter was enough for the two of them, and extracting two matching glasses, she poured them each a satisfying portion.

    Before they could dive into conversation, Sarra cleared her throat and instructed him. “Please - no more ‘your majesty’ or ‘ma’am’ or any of the other ways that you can think to formally address me. I am tired, and I wish to be Sarra, if only for one night.”

    She raised her glass in his direction. "To you, Sir. For saving my kingdom."

    @Epicurean
     
    • Love Love x 1
  3. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
    495
    Local Time:
    4:27 AM
    Duke Aldin knew he could no more call his Queen by her given name than he could pawn her crown for whoring and drinking, but the significance was clear enough. He accepted the royal toast with a bob of the head and tried to relax.

    Saving the kingdom. Had he been any less tired, he would have snorted. They had heard little since coming here to Gidarne, but he knew that war and the death of nobility had lead to brigandry, brigandry to famine, famine to plague and plague, again, to brigandry. Many villages were gone entirely, wealthy towns reduced to four or five living families, cities almost completely deserted. Tremyllan, his own ancestral lands on the coast, was among the hardest hit. Personally, he was without any money or treasure, having had no means to extract duties from the Duchy’s vassals and little hope of finding any if he had been able to try.

    “Our scouts have the Medhran remnants, a few hundred, fleeing in complete disorder,” he began to report, because that was one thing he still knew how to speak about. “Their lords have died, so have many mercenary captains. Their princes elect their High King – they will all have to go home to do that. Before the war I heard Bhorra needed years to establish a firm hold. We should not hear from them any time soon,” Aldin concluded.

    He was waiting for a feeling of triumph, but it would not come. He had bathed, he had eaten a little, he had not worn his armor for the first time in weeks. All that was good, but no triumph had come so far. The facts having been reported, he could no longer maintain his firm voice, and it began to crack as he continued.

    “We have again had many, many dead; many noble banners will never rise again…” He didn’t mention that losses among the paid Vinar soldiers and mercenaries meant a great relief for the royal coffers. “The Margrave of Vrun is dead. They had to take his arm, and he perished this morning.”

    “Our houses are… were… kin,” Aldin sighed. “My first tournament bout was against Ulric of Vrun.”

    As hard as he tried to contain it, his eyes started to fill with tears.

    “We spent five lances each that day, and none could unseat the other; we wanted to run again, but the heralds would not let us… I… just forgot to maintain my friendship with him. One more thing that cannot be recovered.”

    That last thought made Aldin think of his children, the small girls who had delighted him so. The nameless dread when Fyna had delivered the first, a hard birth. The Duchess had survived both births, but the Yellowing had taken her and the children in the second year of the war, when most of Tremyllan had suffered the first famine after much plundering and a bad harvest. Duke Aldin sobbed, once, then shook his head to somehow regain control.

    “Excuse me, my lady,” he managed to say before he took an overlong sip of his brandy. He had so much to advise Sarra on, so much that needed doing, but he did not know where to start, and speaking of these things would no longer serve as a means to keep him from thinking.
     
    • Love Love x 1
  4. Wren

    Wren Her Royal Majesty - The Feather Queen Member

    Messages:
    185
    Local Time:
    10:27 PM
    There was a desire for just a little sense of simplicity. Their world had changed, and yet, it had remained the same. Sarra's only wish was to go back to the easier days, before she had a title that ruled her life and changed things for her forever. Unfortunately, going back in time wasn't in the cards for her, and even as she requested that Aldin address her by her first name, he still found a way to avoid doing that. She was a Queen now, and because of that, being called Sarra by anyone, even her friends, would be something that would never happen again.

    What was the point, she thought, of even having a first name? Her identity was hers no longer, and instead, as she sat there in the presence of the Duke, she found that it had morphed into something people like him and her other subjects made it. Freedom, as she had once known it, was gone, and despite having the most ultimate power in a ruling sense, she was as much as slave as those that the Medhran kept captive. Her fist clenched under the table, and with a sigh after Aldin's continued talk of war, Sarra accepted that this was how things were. This was how things were always going to be.

    She was silent as he spoke, and even more so when he talked about those that they had known who had fallen. Sarra was naive in that she didn't realize how much the death of her people impacted those around her. Seeing Aldin distraught over the fallen houses of their nobility sobered her internal disgust of her title. He wasn't the only one that spilled tears over this. Sarra's own house had ended with the death of her brother, Derrik. Her children, should she ever marry, would not carry on the banner of the Olmalis.

    Her hand reached out to grasp Aldin's in support.

    "Grief is not easily conquered when it is hidden. All of us will need to cope in some form or another." She stated, a look of reassurance in her eyes.

    If only she could take her own advice. Her own grief manifested in many ways - anger and unnecessary outbursts seemed to be the most common as of late. So many nights she had fallen asleep with swollen, reddened eyes, and even once, she'd considered seeking out those blasphemous witches to see if there was any magic that could make things better. She'd gone through stages of grief, until finally she was numb in a way that almost scared her. Her selfish spiral was hidden though, pushed down into the depths of her soul so that she could continue to be the symbol that her people needed her to be. Strength was the image of the Queen, and although she was a new Queen, she had promised, vowed to be the best one.

    "The past cannot be changed and we cannot predict the future. The present, however, is a place where we can make a difference, and I would hope that my father would have been of a similar mind. We have lost a great many people and a great many houses, but if it is Hûl’s will, the kingdom will rebuild and the nobility will return." She took a sip of her brandy and closed her eyes as it burned down her throat. She was starting to become annoyed with Hûl and his 'will'. What other answer was there to give when her people needed reassurance?

    "It is up to us to ensure that we salvage what we can as a kingdom and start to recover from our losses. While this war might be over, we are still limited in number and that leaves us vulnerable. I have vowed to protect as many of the remaining Vinar as I possibly can, but...." Sarra looked down at her glass. "I admit that I am not that experienced in the ways of these things."

    She fell quiet for a moment after that, eyes remaining on the dark liquor in her glass as she mulled over her thoughts in almost a trance. When she finally had a grasp on herself again, her hazel eyes flicked up to meet his. "I fear I am too lost and that I will fail my kingdom."

    @Epicurean
     
    • Love Love x 1
  5. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
    495
    Local Time:
    4:27 AM
    All the Queen said was empty talk, Aldin realized, even the religious profession – but not the last bit. So she was aware of her inexperience, aware of the magnitude of her task, and afraid to fail. It made sense, didn’t it? She had never been intended for the throne. It was good that she knew these things, but somehow, that failed to register in his heart. As she finished, he noticed her eyes, more suited to friendly gazes than to burn with the force of command…

    He let his gaze wander across the room; it took him time to find his words, and the feeling of being in another man’s chambers did not much help. Aldin was still waiting for triumph or at least relief to wash over him, but it would not come. Would it ever? Would he always feel like this now?

    “Majesty, I cannot take away your duty – but you are not alone; after Marshal Lindrad fell, I made it my labor to lead the army. Angels know I could not deliver victory quickly and at low cost, but now that it seems to be here, that only means it is even more so my duty to advise you. That has always been the way: The Queen rules, the Princes of the Realm advise. We will see how many still live… the other ducal houses are extinct, but a few Counts of the Realm may be left, and last I heard, the Prince of Orlam was still alive.”

    The coin Orlam had sent in the summer had gone a long way to keeping the army together and fed; Orlam, far in the South of Vinargal, had been left largely untouched by the war. Aldin realized that he was the last of the old ducal houses that once upon a time had decided to cease their quarrels and, with Hûl’s approval in the shape of a sudden crown of light, had made the strongest of them, the Duke of Olmalis, their King – an ancestor of the woman now sitting across from him.

    “We must leave here, and soon, I think; the County of Gidarne can’t feed us through the winter. Orlam would be best, but we cannot reach it ere winter. So I say we head east, towards Obhragal – to Glinn, maybe. They have fared better; I have some kin in that area and you have an ancient right to the castle. We want to keep the army together. I suppose it is not too bad that it is winter, if we find a place to stay. You can have news brought, and we can plan…”
     
    • Love Love x 1
  6. Wren

    Wren Her Royal Majesty - The Feather Queen Member

    Messages:
    185
    Local Time:
    10:27 PM
    It wasn't enough.

    Despite Aldin's words of reassurance, Sarra knew that she was alone. There was no other ruler of this realm that could understand what she and her people had been through. She had been but a child when the war had begun, and now, years later, she wore a crown that she didn't feel belonged to her. Her path in life had skewed itself, and there was nothing she could do but follow along and hope for the best.

    "Thank Hûl that Orlam has fared well in all of this. I have been full of worry that the war had breached further than we knew. I hope my Uncle is still alive." The Prince of Orlam was of no blood relation, however as a child, her father had often considered him family. His sons and daughters were frequent guests in Olmalis, and Sarra had hopes of marrying into their family as she grew older. It was unfortunate though, that several of the Orlam kin had died in the war. Sarra wasn't certain how many of the Prince's children were still alive, but his territory had likely given them the advantage that was needed to end the conflict. She had half a mind to send a messenger for word of their status, but with Aldin's next thoughts, it seemed they would likely be leaving soon.

    "Your assessment is correct. We cannot stay here and continue to dry up all of the resources that belong to Gidarne. They've helped us enough, and the burden of recovery should not be theirs to bare for us." But travel to Glinn? They were close enough that it would not take long to arrive, and it would be easy enough to send word of their departure from Gidarne. Sarra, who's hands were stained with ink, collected a blank piece of parchment and pushed aside her brandy.

    "With your recommendation, we will prepare to leave in three days for Glinn. I believe that course is best for the army and once we arrive, we can plan our travel to Orlam." The Queen wrote on the parchment and allowed it to dry before rolling it. Handing it over to Aldin, her grip remained for a long moment before she released it. "Obhragal and Olmalis have always had tense relations. With Glinn being so close..."

    Sarra hesitated. "As much as I adore Eila, she cannot protect me as I may need."

    Sitting back in her seat, the Queen frowned.

    "I've been told that carrying around a weapon for protection is uncouth for a Queen, so I must request that someone with one remain with me at all times. You, Sir, would be my first choice, but seeing as how we have an army to instruct, I understand that might not be possible." Her voice was strengthened as she spoke, pushing back the vision of a scared little girl she must have seemed before and replacing it with what little confidence she could muster. "My brother was a suitor the Princess Enna of Obhragal. With our arrival in Glinn, her father will certainly wish to meet with me before we move on. Given the family's vocal disgust over my ascension to the throne, we can only hope that our weakened state will not spark another war."

    Sarra reached for her glass of brandy, downing a large, unladylike gulp quickly. "They wanted a male to take the crown so that Enna would become a Queen. Even if I was able to marry her, that obnoxious cow doesn't deserve the title."
     
  7. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
    495
    Local Time:
    4:27 AM
    Being a ducal prince, Aldin had been accustomed to politics early; but he had been only nineteen when the war had started, and that meant little opportunity to gain experience. And certainly, he had never played a role in the outside relationships of the King and now the Queen, being too young. That had now changed. The Queen had made it clear she would rely on him for advice on that field as well. Another thing to worry about. He let Queen Sarra finish and then worked down the list of comments she had made.

    “Majesty, I will needs be in your presence often – yet, you are correct, of course, for I will have to see to the army as well. I think Feyen Malbré would be a good choice. He is of fine manners and his family have served yours as hearth knights and officials for long,” Aldin opined, wishing to give Sir Feyen a chance. He was a brave, strong-nerved, quiet man Aldin rather liked, but his retreating character made him difficult to advance.

    “I agree that King Trâl is likely to visit Your Majesty at Glinn; let us hope he is of a higher mind than to take advantage of Vinargal’s weakness. Your Majesty will be wise to work on the friendship with Trâl, and learn what is to be learned about the man beforehand. I myself know little, I’m afraid.”

    There were several other minor items to discuss – for instance, before the letter could be sent to Glinn requiring the Castellan and city elders there to open their gates to their Queen, the name of the Castellan had to be found out. Fortunately, some of the royal chancellery were still with the Queen’s household, so this and other matters of the sort could be taken care of.

    *

    The next few days, for Duke Aldin, held work in organizing the army’s and court’s march to Glinn. In good weather, it would only be four or five days, but there was continuous rain, meaning bad roads. There were also difficult meetings with many of the knights; kinship and local groups formed who asked, in varying degrees of urgency, when the Queen might release them to go back to their home and see to their lands, insofar they had them. Aldin had little choice but to make promises whose vagueness he did not like at all – yes, they were required to come to Glinn, but there, they might be released. Yes, it might well be that some would gain new lands and titles with so many nobles lost in the war. Some of the more politically astute men also voiced opinions. The most frequent one was that the Queen needed to marry as soon as was feasible, preferably gaining a consort from the eastern allies. Aldin could not deny the wisdom of that advice, because the Vinargal kingship was one accident, illness or assassin’s blade away from extinction. Yet, he was afraid that any such marriage might mean the definite end of Vinargal as an independent kingdom. That, in turn, would threaten his own ancient rights and those of his peers, such as were left.

    He also had his own estates to take care of; he wrote letters to several vassals in his duchy of Tremyllan or their successors to inquire to the state of affairs there – the replies, he knew, would take a good number of weeks. It would not be feasible before the winter, but in spring, he would be almost forced to hold a diet to gain some form of overview over the duchy. He was glad to be able to forget that for a while. The first campaign he had led himself had been right at the start of the war, a sudden Medhran landing by sea. The Vinar had been slow to react and Tremyllan had suffered for it almost as much as the westernmost part of the kingdom. To his knowledge, his ancestral castle still stood, but many other castles and towns, villages, bridges and roads were mere ruins, with livestock and population decimated and much arable land lost to dereliction.

    *

    Their departure was delayed, because many ox-carts had been broken down to gain lumber for the defense of the castle and had to be rebuilt, but six days after the death of High King Bhorra, the royal entourage and army were on the way. With officials, civilians, servants and the usual assortment of hangers-on, they numbered over 1200 people, Aldin estimated. The Count was grateful to see them go and expressed that gratitude by a renewed pledge of loyalty to Sarra – a gesture with some style, Aldin thought, because the man could not know if the royal house would exist in a year.

    Before the war, fine carriages had been the way to travel for high-born ladies. These no longer existed, and so Queen Sarra was forced to ride like everyone else. At least, Aldin had found her a soft-gaited palfrey. She rode inside a cordon of knights and courtiers and soldiers, while he kept dashing up and down the line, keeping the host together, making sure bogged-down carts got the help they needed. It kept him quite busy, but it also distracted him from the constant rain. He didn’t look forward to the next few nights, in barely heated tents in this awful weather. Clothes, he knew from experience, would never quite dry and even solid boots would start go give out after two days or so…
     
    • Love Love x 1
  8. Wren

    Wren Her Royal Majesty - The Feather Queen Member

    Messages:
    185
    Local Time:
    10:27 PM
    At first, she didn't mind the rain, and the feeling of the droplets on her skin was symbolic for the young Queen. The damage of war was being washed away, in a sense, and she could appreciate how important that was, not only to her but to everyone else within their company. However, after several days of the same dreary chill that never seemed to go away, Sarra was less impressed by the symbolism that she'd found. Her toes were numb and her clothes stuck to her body in unflattering ways, and despite being a decent rider, the saddle of the horse was marginally uncomfortable. Her muscles ached and she longed for the modes of travel that she was used to.

    "Eila, how much further until we arrive?" She'd asked for the thousandth time, and her lady grimaced before providing her reply.

    "About as long as when you last asked, Ma'am. But don't worry - there will be plenty of food and warm blankets for you when we arrive."

    Sarra watched Eila for a long moment, eyeing her carefully as the lady responded. Was that an eyeroll? With a growl that was hardly as menacing as she thought, the Queen halted her horse and redirected it out of the surrounding sea of people, animals, and wagons. Her actions were greeted with shouts and grumbles as she disrupted travel in the most direct type of way, but Sarra, who had embraced her royalness in that moment, didn't seem to mind. In fact, she wished that she had done this sooner than she had.

    "Where is the Duke?" She asked, but her eyes found him in the distance. The Queen directed herself toward him, and when she was within earshot, she made her demands. "I want a group of men, Aldin, and they will escort me ahead to Glinn. I cannot stand these conditions and I do not believe that any citizen of Vinargal would want a queen that is missing her nose, fingers, or toes because they froze off of her body! My face is already blemished by the Medhran - it will be quite ironic that after their retreat they were still able to take a piece of the Queen!"

    Despite having seen her own share of hardships during the war, Sarra had never been without a warm bed and food in her stomach. She was starting to realize that even though she had been in the midst of physical conflict, there was always an extra layer of protection for her that others did not have. Her father had ensured that she was taken care of, and even with his death, that still continued. It made her angry, but at the same time, it made her selfish because she didn't wish to give up those luxuries.

    "How much further is Glinn? No one seems to be able to answer my questions and I demand one. Now." In reality, it was just a smattering of days, but to Sarra, who was already fatigued, it had seemed like an eternity. Mud splashed up and coated her leg, and the Queen glanced down at the mess before returning her gaze to the Duke. Her lower lip trembled, and it appeared that the strength that had driven Sarra was about to break.

    She'd heard the whispers. The quiet demands of her. The continued redaction of her freedoms because of traditions. She would be forced to marry. She would be made to let someone else rule over her people because rumors wanted her to seek out a husband from another kingdom to help her. She was young, yes. Naive, also yes, but she was not stupid and incapable. She might not have been specifically meant for this title, but that did not mean that Sarra would not try to do her best on her own. With that darkness settling on her shoulders, this entire journey to Glinn had been exponentially worse for her than she'd originally imagined. There was worry for her home and her friends, what little of both remained, and the realization that she may not ever return to Olmalis was unsettling.

    Would King Trâl force her hand into marriage with him? His wife had died years ago, and while he was much older than she, the threat of war could push her further than anything else. She would have no choice but to agree to his terms, and then, he would seize her land, her people, and their coffers for his own. But Glinn was still the only hope that they'd had. Gildarne had taken too much. This was a risk she had to take.

    Once she arrived, Sarra would figure out a solution to the rest, but she had to make it to Glinn first. At this rate, it would be the dead of winter before this horrid journey would end.
     
  9. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
    495
    Local Time:
    4:27 AM
    Part of Duke Aldin wanted to give a sharp answer. He had given Sarra no reason to treat him so impolitely. Another part, the stronger one, simply could not be bothered. It was also an annoying habit of the Queen to speak in speeches, giving orders, asking questions and making comments in one big squall. Quietly, he felt stupid for not thinking of riding ahead before. There really was no need to stay with the army, they weren’t about to attack Glinn, after all.

    “Majesty…” he sighed, unable to hide his exasperation, throwing his hood back in deference to courtly manners, “if Majesty would be so kind as to wait so I can reply: At our current speed, we should be able to reach Glinn in three days. If we leave the army behind in the morning and go with the knights, we shall be there before sundown tomorrow. It might mean doing without some amenities until the rest of the army arrives, however. We have no enemies ahead. It’s your decision.”

    Aldin’s palfrey made a soft complaining sound; he had been holding the reigns too tight and left them looser now. It wouldn’t do to vent his temper at the poor beast.
     
    • Love Love x 1
  10. Wren

    Wren Her Royal Majesty - The Feather Queen Member

    Messages:
    185
    Local Time:
    10:27 PM
    Sarra wasn't immune to the irritation that she spotted on Aldin's face and in his actions. She knew that she had to sound like a selfish chit, and to an extent, she was embarrassed by it. But she was tired of this and cold. It was miserable for everyone, but in her mind, it was by far worse for her because, well, just because.

    "I am not existing in these horrible conditions for three more days," Sarra interrupted, but was quickly shut down as the Duke continued. Three days was too long, but less than a day? Internally, Sarra groaned. The Queen didn't want to wait until morning, but at least it was better than the other option.

    "Fine. Gather your men and we will leave in the morning. I'm sure that we can find something to make up for the lacking amenities in Glinn." She looked down at his horse after it made a noise and then back up at Aldin. "And be more kind to your mount, Sir. That poor beast has been nothing but kind to you."

    Then she gave her own mount an affectionate pat and cooed at it like it was a pet.
     
  11. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
    495
    Local Time:
    4:27 AM
    Aldin glossed over the repeated insult, but he did not forget; indeed, it was on his mind still when they started riding hard for Glinn in the morning. Even during the short breaks, he did not seek the Queen’s presence. If she kept acting so cattish, he would not be able to ignore that forever. Honor had its limits, and so had his patience, and both limits were of the sort even your liege was supposed to respect. Especially in these times, the remaining princes of the realm had to show their virtue. If she did not understand that, things looked bleak indeed, for whatever favor the Vinar might still hold with Hûl he would withdraw if they lost their ancient customs…

    At the end of the journey, Aldin kept goading the troop onwards, the Queen and Eila in their middle. They had lost their way once in a forested stretch and the roads were horrible. If they didn’t manage to reach the city by sundown, that meant a night without tents, and that was dangerous to everyone’s health. To ride in the dark was foolish…

    *

    The sun had already gone below the horizon when they finally saw the castle hill in the distance. A barren heath surrounded the city to the west, from whence they were coming, and in this weather, it was a dreary spell indeed. Aldin could see a shepherd driving his small flock away from the road as they approached. The Duke could not blame the man; stealing livestock had become so ubiquitous some didn’t even take it for a crime anymore. That, he thought, would have to change. Order needed restoring.

    The rain had turned into a light but continuous cold drizzle. The horses were frothing at the mouth and Aldin was sweating at the same time as his fingers were getting numb. His gloves were drenched and he was glad he had decided to wear his armor for the ride, for the padding gave some warmth and the steel some protection against the weather.

    Olbert steered his mount next to the Duke’s. “What do we do if they don’t…?”

    “They will,” Aldin said grimly. “Some things must still be as they ought to be.”

    Aldin could only hope he was right. He had no plan whatsoever for the case that the good citizens of Glinn might not let their Queen in, except a vague idea to somehow inform the castellan. He felt like his head was fogged; everything went too quickly for him, he could no longer plan ahead as he ought. All he wanted was to sleep, to eat, and maybe pray.

    The troop slowed down as they approached the gate so as not to cause alarm. In fog and rain, they could not see too much of the city, except the castle raising above it at, as Aldin knew, the Kralba river. Many fine artisans lived in Glinn. It was a city of clothmakers, of tailors and jewelers, but there had also been a guild of mechanics before the war who produced clocks and other mechanical wonders.

    Duke Aldin took two other knights and rode forward, one bearing his own, the other the royal standard, which they unfurled as they neared the gate. Some soldiers stood in the gate; the first thing Aldin heard from the city was the guard’s commander’s call to stand down – he had recognized the banners.

    A barrel-chested man, fists at his sides and in armor, awaited them at the gate. Aldin reigned in his mount and looked down at him; the old ways had not crumbled enough for him to dismount for a mercenary in a town’s employ.

    “From her Majesty the Queen of all Vinargal, Sarra, who has recently defeated the Medhran High King in battle, greetings – I am the Duke Aldin of Tremyllan, and in Her Majesty’s name, I bid the townsfolk of Glinn to welcome its liege, and to let Her Majesty and Her following pass to Her castle within its walls,” Aldin announced formally.

    The guard captain seemed eager not to anger the Queen – or the armed men fresh from a great victory. Thus, the royal party were the spectacle of the day as it proceeded up the slope of the city to the castle. The townsfolk were too surprised to cheer, but no man, woman or child in Glinn could remain ignorant of the Queen’s presence for long.

    Soon, Aldin entered the great hall of Glinn Castle at Sarra’s side. It was heated so well (apparently, the messengers had come through) that Aldin’s fingers ached as they recovered from the cold, now that they were freed of the gauntlets. The Castellan, it turned out, was a man approaching old age, his belly and red complexion betraying a love of wine and meat. He approached the Queen and knelt to her to kiss her hand.

    “Welcome, Your Majesty, to the castle of Glinn! My name is Gerfrid of Glinn, I am Your Majesty’s castellan, as my fathers have been for long. If it please Your Majesty,” he added with a gesture to his back, where a long banquet beckoned, “pray you and your men take seats. Food and drink enough have been prepared.”

    On a dais in the far part of the hall, near the great corner hearth, the high table stood for the Queen, Gerfrid and the highest-ranking members of the royal party. Aldin stared into space; nothing beyond food, wine and rest held much interest anymore.
     
    • Love Love x 1
  12. Wren

    Wren Her Royal Majesty - The Feather Queen Member

    Messages:
    185
    Local Time:
    10:27 PM
    The cold shoulder from Aldin shouldn't have bothered her as much as it did, but it was safe to say that they were both annoyed with one another. She didn't seek him out when their party rested, despite usually requesting his company, and she didn't look at him even when the Duke remained at her side as they entered Glinn. Instead, Queen Sarra lifted her chin defiantly and ignored him.

    The castellan named Gerfrid was an interesting individual, and upon his greeting, the Queen was touched with emotion. Gerfrid reminded her of her father, with reddened cheeks and smile lines that crinkled around his eyes. The King had been a joyful man, much loved by his people for his kind heart and his confident rule. Sarra was reminded that they hadn't even had the time for a proper burial, and as her body unthawed in the entrance of the castle, she discreetly wiped at a tear that swelled up in one of her eyes.

    "It is a pleasure, Gerfrid of Glinn, and I thank you for the hospitality. The castle is already comfortable beyond measure, and the food!" She clasped her hands together with joy. "Oh, it looks divine."

    Sarra turned to Eila, grabbing the poor woman by the hand and tugging her along. "Sit, sit, everyone," Sarra instructed, depositing her cousin in a seat on her way forward. The Queen was more peppy than she had been in days. "Let us enjoy ourselves. It has been earned."

    ----

    It was hardly the biggest feast she'd ever attended, but it was by far one of the most memorable dinners that she had ever enjoyed. Sarra laughed along with Gerfrid, who was quickly becoming a favorite of hers, and Eila seemed to enjoy the entertainment as well. But the Queen watched her Duke throughout the dinner, noting how tired he still seemed, and wondering if his coldness toward her was more than just irritation with who she was as an individual. Aldin had suffered more than even Sarra had, or at least, that was how she perceived it. His sorrow was difficult to imagine, and having lost much in his lands as unexpectedly as she had, Sarra's heart ached for him.

    "My Lord Duke," She started after yawning to express her readiness to retire. "Will you escort me to my chambers for the evening? I wish to speak with you about our plans for the army." And to apologize, she thought, but that would come in time. "Eila, can you and Mister Gerfrid ensure that the Duke and the other members of our company have plenty of warm clothes, blankets, and hearths to keep us comfortable? When that is finished, you should also rest."

    Her instructions were simple enough, and without waiting for any prompting, she stood and waited for Aldin.
     
    • Love Love x 1
  13. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
    495
    Local Time:
    4:27 AM
    Aldin followed his Queen, taking a candlestick with him from the table so that they would find their way. The wine and food and warmth had taken some of his annoyed mood, but he was not actually pleased by the idea that the Queen wanted to plan right away. His back ached from having worn armor in the cold for too long. He had not had good wine all summer and the contents of Glinn Castle’s excellent cellar made his head swirl a little.

    The castle was spacious; he was sure everyone would have a warm place to sleep, and he had already been to his chamber to dress for the banquet – he couldn’t hardly attend in armor, after all. He didn’t envy whoever was now trying to keep that from rusting. Many had theirs painted to protect against rust…

    Shooing away his meandering thoughts, he sat down with Sarra at her behest. Somehow, she looked much happier than before. There were folk like that, he knew, who could not for the life of them stand the cold and the rain. But that was no excuse, not for a Queen, at least.

    “Your Majesty, you wished to speak of the army; it is perhaps best that I describe its current state,” he began stiffly. “The knights we need only entertain, not pay; there are four dozen of them, and that is not too bad a core. However, Your Majesty will wish to enfeoff many of them with lands, to re-establish your rule. There is a mixture of men-at-arms, then – about three hundred. They do need upkeep and pay, but not much. We might have a problem, however, with the mercenaries, about five hundred. They are mostly archers and crossbowmen, from everywhere in the world. Some of them will want to go home now that the war is over. The Vinar companies among them we should keep, even if they are somewhat expensive, because they could easily turn into a liability. Unemployed warriors often turn to robbery. Their captains mostly trust me. If we employ them through the winter, we shall have a decent core for next year. The rest – laundry maids, repairers, teamsters and such – we can always have, they need not be kept. That is what I can say about the army; but the next moves, I suppose, will not be warlike. They must be political, aimed to re-establish your hold on the realm,” he finished his statement.
     
    • Love Love x 1
  14. Wren

    Wren Her Royal Majesty - The Feather Queen Member

    Messages:
    185
    Local Time:
    10:27 PM
    The castle was not nearly as nice as the one that she had called home, but it was more put together than any other that she had been in since the beginning of the war. She had never been to Glinn before, despite her father talking fondly of the city many times in her life. Sarra had always hoped to visit, but she had hoped to visit under circumstances that were not associated with war.

    Her cheeks were warm and pink - a sign of the delicious wine that she tasted during dinner. She hadn't been much of a connoisseur of spirits of any kind, so with the glasses that she had indulged in mixed with her underlying fatigue, it was no surprise that she felt more relaxed than she had in years. The war was won! There would be no more bloodshed, and her kingdom was still her kingdom. No one had stolen it from it's rightful ruler, and her people could live in the peace that they had once known again.

    There was a slight smile as she thought of that while walking next to Aldin. They reached their destination after moving in mostly silence, but as soon as he was comfortable, the Duke jumped right into discussing their plans for the future. Sarra huffed a little, but let him speak until he was finished, but when he stopped talking, Sarra reached for one of his hands and grasped it tightly with her's.

    "Sir," She started, quickly calling him by his name before continuing. "Aldin, please. I do not wish to talk to you about our plans for the army. T'was just an excuse to force you to speak with me alone." Sarra cleared her throat. "I realize that I was discourteous to you over the last two days and because of that, we've not chatted as I am used to."

    Dropping his hand, she looked down at her fingers as she spoke. "I suppose what I am trying to say is that I apologize for for my impoliteness. Would you forgive me?"
     
    • Love Love x 1
  15. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
    495
    Local Time:
    4:27 AM
    The Duke stared into the brazier that was heating the room; outside, the rain had picked up once more and he realized that he was corporally comfortable for the first time in weeks. He could not bring himself to look at the Queen, however, as much as he usually liked to share a look with her.

    There was mulled, heated wine on a table; he took a deep gulp, half-emptying his cup, the spices and heat burning his mouth a little.

    Then, finally, he responded and looked in Sarra’s direction. Why was every little thing so hard suddenly?

    “It is forgiven,” he declared, confused by how flat his voice sounded – like a lute whose strings had so little tension their tone hardly changed, no matter where the player depressed them. “It is not for me to be your judge, Majesty, and my duty to you does not depend on points of courtoisie.”

    That was the truth, of course, but it was also false in a deeper way. The wine had not helped the fog in his head; the Duke could still not think clearly.
     
    • Love Love x 1
  16. Wren

    Wren Her Royal Majesty - The Feather Queen Member

    Messages:
    185
    Local Time:
    10:27 PM
    Sarra frowned at Aldin's response. He was not to be her judge? It hurt her in a way she hadn't expected to hear him say such things. Perhaps she was naive to think that their relationship was more than just that of a Duke and his Queen. The people that she had once considered friends and family were gone - all of them, except for Aldin. He was the only one left, but perhaps, the end of the war had changed things between them.

    "I am apologizing to you as Sarra, not as your Queen." She stated firmly. "I consider you a friend, and because of that, your opinion of me as a person is important."

    The Queen tilted her head up and aimed her hazels upon him before turning it away. "Unless you do not agree? That we are not friends, at least to some extent. If that is the case, then I suppose that you are dismissed for the evening and I hope that you rest well. Otherwise, I would like to talk, as we used to, where we actually look at one another and listen to each other's thoughts for the day."

    Sarra gnawed on her bottom lip, uncertain how to rewind time and make things better. "I appreciate all that you've done for me and for the people. Without your help, I would surely be more lost than I am now."
     
  17. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
    495
    Local Time:
    4:27 AM
    The realm is doomed, the Duke thought bleakly. It didn’t even feel like a catastrophic thought; it was a rather calm observation, but inevitable with the way the Queen behaved. There was no difference, for a prince, between a friend and an ally. Nobody could be their friend who was not also their ally, and vice versa. A Queen could not act as if she were just any person, could not take on a sort of persona aside from her role. It was not only unheard of, it was wrong and dangerous. But could he lecture Sarra on the basics of being a prince? No, he thought, one learns these things as a child or nevermore. But perhaps she knows, and needs only reminding.

    “We must be friends,” he responded matter-of-factly, “you and myself and the Prince of Orlam, if there is to be any chance. If you bestow grace on me – by speaking to me alone, by taking me into your confidence - I shall be glad, for we indeed alone of the first rank, and I do wish to speak to you in this way. Yet we cannot banish who we are like one banishes an evil spirit; no matter how late the hour, how private the place – you are still the Queen, and I am still your vassal. To pretend otherwise is imprudent, it will be in vain and it is ultimately not right.”

    He re-filled his cup and emptied it once more. From somewhere beneath the fog, some conviction and a shadow of force, even some warmth had seeped into his words. A life outside one’s place in the world; perhaps she had spent too much time with stupid chamber-maids, or bored court ladies, Aldin thought, unable to keep from a slight shake of the head.
     
  18. Wren

    Wren Her Royal Majesty - The Feather Queen Member

    Messages:
    185
    Local Time:
    10:27 PM
    The realm was not doomed, but only time would prove that. Sarra listened to Aldin and his reply, but she did not entirely agree with him. Be friends, they must, but enjoy one another's company? Sometimes, it was like pitting two wolves against one another. She might be Queen but she did not have to enjoy the company of those in her court. As Sarra, she'd had more liberties and her opinions of others were more free. It appeared that she'd misjudged - her desire to be considered the same as she used to was just impossible. She was Queen now.

    And perhaps a little piece of her had been meant to die with her family.

    "I never wished to banish the fact that I am Queen, however I do wish that I could have at least some semblance of the normalcy that I once knew. Is it so wrong? To want that old life back?" She was grasping for something that she shouldn't, and it was more damaging to her than she would ever know. "None of this has been easy on anyone, yourself included, and in all honesty, I don't know what that has to do with making an apology. All I was hoping was that you would forgive me, that we could have a conversation, and instead, I'm being lectured about what is and is not appropriate for a royal."

    She huffed a little, standing as she did so. Sarra walked toward a window and looked outside.

    "I suppose if all is forgiven, then, I have no need to keep you."
     
  19. Epicurean

    Epicurean Well-Known Member Member

    Messages:
    495
    Local Time:
    4:27 AM
    Aldin retreated, shaking his head. If the Queen stayed this way, then Trâl, a shrewd old ruler, would out-maneuver her without ever making a real move. How could he impress to Sarra that being a good Queen didn’t mean the end of any life?

    *

    As it happened, it took weeks before Aldin spoke again to the Queen in anything resembling a private setting; the arriving army had to be quartered and soon after, there was much in the way of correspondence to make and visitors to receive. In Vinargal, there had always been a class of Royal Knights – low-born nobility whose ancestors had at some point earned the gratitude of one of Sarra’s ancestors and thus had been given a small estate, enough to keep them ‘in the saddle’, as it were, that is to supply them with arms and armor, but not much more. Combined, they held much land, and all Royal Knights from the area came, alone or in kinship groups, to swear renewed fealty to Sarra, now that she had proven victorious. A few stayed at court, no doubt hoping for further advancement. The death of so many higher-ranking royal vassals (and vassals of the princes of the realm) opened opportunities which had not existed for centuries, and whoever was left was looking for their own enrichment and, as Aldin had to admit, a higher degree of safety. He himself had designs on a few territories around his Duchy of Tremyllan, but that could wait.

    News were slow to arrive; from the East and South, relatively near to Glinn, they were good and more or less complete. Those parts had remained almost intact in the war.

    From the Golden Meadows that lay south and west of Gidarne, they were quick, but quite bad – that was the land on which the last, bloodiest phase of the war since Sarra’s accession had been fought. Once made up of many tiny to small territory, many villages had no lord watching over them now, but again many could not have fed one at any rate. The mostly flat, fertile area faced a winter of famine, even though some places had managed to sow winter wheat, making a better time the next year possible. Little could be done about the winter, though.

    From further west, that is, from the royal lands and Tremyllan, came mixed news. There was much devastation, but most places still inhabited had sown their rye or wheat and there had been a decent harvest of turnips, beets and carrots. Aldin gave his stewards and vassals orders to let the peasants hunt this winter, hoping that it would turn a borderline hungry winter into a bearable one – which in turn might keep away plagues.

    The news, too, meant some revenue. It wasn’t much, but it would keep the royal court in place for a while with contributions from Glinn’s citizenry and the lands outside the city that supplied the Castellany itself. Burgrave (the older word for Castellan) Gerfrid turned out to be a good householder, and Sarra made him her Seneschal, which gave him the authority over her coffers. Aldin had to admit he was good at it, but he found the decision a little quick. Yet, it was made before he could intervene with Sarra. In any case, he could not have made adversarial advice stick, he believed; while she was no longer, as he called it in his own mind, pouting at him and indeed rather friendly, she had not sought him out privately anymore except on matters touching on the army.

    The rest and light work combined allayed the dark thoughts that plagued the Duke. In the evenings, he drank heartily of the sweet mulled wine, and that helped as well, he thought. He found himself missing the Queen’s company; there were too few ladies at Sarra’s court now in general. In the lightest of moments, he even found himself thinking about a new wife to give him heirs; he hoped that spring would bring many vassals of the realm to court. There were no other Ducal families left. He would have to settle for a Countess then or a particularly rich and well-connected Royal Baroness – but his ancestors would forgive him, because they certainly didn’t prefer their house to die out.

    *

    Aldin, Olbert and a few of the other old hands had been out of the castle, visiting one of the better taverns in town. There had been much singing, much laughing, much drinking of ale and a good amount of whoring, something for which Olbert had a special penchant. Aldin, as red-blooded as any man, had refrained from it; not that none of the mercenary girls had pleased him, but he had always been keen to protect his reputation – that, at least, what was he told himself as they ascended back to the castle. The truth, he knew, was that he had drunk too much early in the evening and lacked the will – for anything extraneous, really. The fog over his mind, while diminished, was still present. He knew he was not in the best of states, but this evening, he was drunk enough not to care.

    As he said good-bye to his companions (who were quartered in another building than he) in the courtyard, he noticed lights in the Great Hall. That was a little unusual this late, but he had just decided to ignore it when a servant bumped into him in the dark.

    “Duke Aldin, is that you?” the man asked, audibly out of breath.

    “Indeed!” Aldin replied. “And who might you be, running into me as if I’m a gate you wished to batter?”

    “Apologies, my lord – Her Majesty sends for you. She awaits you in the Great Hall. There has been a message – the King Trâl of Obhragal is coming to visit the Queen, and soon,” the servant hastily relayed, eliciting a groan.

    “Well then. Off to the Great Hall I am, perhaps to get myself shorn for not being around whenever she…” Aldin didn’t finish the sentence. It was unworthy to speak this way. “Bring me a big jug of water to the hall. I need it.”

    With that, the Duke started up the portal steps and up the stairwell to the Hall.
     
  20. Wren

    Wren Her Royal Majesty - The Feather Queen Member

    Messages:
    185
    Local Time:
    10:27 PM
    She was too busy to care about the whereabouts of Duke Aldin. Since their chat after the arrival in Glinn, things had picked up a notch. The armies had arrived, which preoccupied most inhabitants of the castle and the city for a few days. Getting everyone settled and sorted was a bit much, but Sarra was able to effectively assist wherever possible. Giving orders and making decisions on things without Aldin was starting to become a bit easier, but she refrained to him on military matters because that was the least of her expertise. There was some concerning news out of the east, but Sarra had been expecting it. Word had finally reached the other kingdoms that the war was completed, and Obhragal was aware of the Queen's arrival so close to their territory. Sarra waited daily with anxious breath, wondering just when the King would announce his first official visit to the castle in Glinn.

    Outside of those worries, the Queen had started to gather a new group of socialites with whom she interacted with frequently. Quirin and Tarric were two knights that frequented her company, and rumor had it that they were looking to advance their status by flattery to the Queen. It so happened that it was working in their favor, and Sarra had taken a liking to them. Eila seemed enchanted by Quirin, and Tarric...well, he seemed enchanted by the Queen. Sarra was not ignorant of those observations, but she chose to ignore them. Now was not the time to entertain someone who was hardly qualified to hold the title of her consort.

    Gerfrid had turned into an invaluable asset. He was jovial in a much needed way, and Sarra found herself laughing at his stories every night at dinner. He was such a well spoken older man, and he had fond memories of Sarra's father. The tales he wove over wine were easily the highlights of her day, and as her newly appointed Seneschal, Gerfrid became a trustworthy advisor quickly enough. His reports of the finances of the kingdom were full of detail and well put together. It made decisions easier as to where the funds should be allocated and what they could stretch as far as starting what little recovery they could before winter settled.

    The reports from the various standing towns and villages throughout the kingdom were not as poorly as she'd expected. In fact, the news from Olmalis was reassuring, and a hope blossomed that she would be able to return to her home. Her plans remained the same for the time being. She would visit her Uncle in Orlam as soon as spring came, and from there, she would find a way to make her way to Olmalis and recover what she could of her previous estate. She had yet to hear word of Orlam's status, but Sarra was confident that it would come soon.

    Things, for once, didn't seem too horrible, but the Queen had not spoken much with Aldin as she used to. It still ate at her in the back of her mind, and she struggled with how their relationship had turned. She missed him and it made her sad to see him in passing only, but duties were duties and they were both important, busy people.

    One evening, she was enjoying Gerfrid's story of her father's antics when word from the East came.

    "And the King...well, he laughed so hard at Averitt that the wine came out of his nose!" Gerfrid's laughter boomed and echoed around the hall, and Sarra was smiling from ear to ear along with the rest of those that had joined them. "Your father was a great man, Your Majesty. May he, and Lord Averitt rest in peace."

    It was a sobering end to a great evening, and the entire table fell silent in remembrance. Finally, someone cleared their throat and one by one, the entire group began to disperse. Goodnights and farewells were given to the Queen, and she waited until everyone but Eila, Quirin, and Tarric remained. The two gentlemen were giving their goodbyes when Gerfrid returned in a haste.

    "My Queen," He stated, his face flushed from his physical exertion as well as from the wine he had been enjoying. "Pardon the interruption, but a letter was just received from Obhragal. If I didn't find it urgent, I would have waited until the morning."

    He thrust it at her and Sarra, with concern on her face, ripped the red, wax seal and started to read.

    "Where is the Duke?" She asked, sobering from her own enjoyment of the wine. She addressed the four others in the room. "Leave me and find him. I must speak with him at once."

    ---

    Sarra paced the great hall as she mulled over the possibilities of what this meeting could mean. She knew in her heart of hearts that there would undoubtedly be some form of coercion tried. King Trâl was not a stupid man and he was a vapid one. Sarra did not feel prepared at all to be meeting with him, royal to royal. She would have to entertain him, and the idea of playing nice with an old man that had never seen the fields of war after her people had lived through one had made her stomach churn.

    Obhragal had even refused to come to the aid of Vinargal after the death of her father and her brother. That was unforgivable in the mind of the Queen. Their darkest time had come after the fall of the Olmalis. It was fortunate that Sarra had survived, but she had not come out of that conflict unscathed.

    Now, King Trâl was visiting Queen Sarra in hopes to capitalize upon her naivety. Fortunately, she was on to him.

    "My Lord Duke," Sarra started when Aldin entered the hall. "Where have you been?"

    Her voice was hardly chiding, and was in fact full of the distress that she felt. "There has been news from Obhragal. King Trâl travels to Glinn. He will be here in just a few days at most."

    Her eyes were large, pleading for his help. "I knew this would come, but I am not nearly prepared enough. I have been thinking, but..."

    She started to pace again, eyes dropping to the floor as she started to spit out her thoughts in rapid succession. Her tone gradually turned into a snarl. "There is so much that I will need to do. We must assess his armies. We need a strategy for protection, and most importantly," She gnawed at her bottom lip. "I need to find a consort or else be forced to marry. He will not leave until he has me under his finger. I know it."