WA Delegate (non-executive): The Grand Empire of Rolais (elected )
Founder: The Grand Empire of Rolais
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Regional Power: Moderate
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|1.||The Free Land of Liberterialands||Civil Rights Lovefest||“The Land of Principle and Freedoms”|
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Copost with Ryeongse
The palace stirred with life, as servants and staff moved with desperation to pamper the court for the coming arrivals of their cousins to the east, those of Ryeongyse. Cha Jun sat quietly, as the court moved with utter haste to finish the last moment touches on the court, as scents were placed carefully around the hall, with new rugs and mats elaborately placed around the hall. They knew their task, and knew Cha Jun wanted a proper court in honor of his guests. It had been troublesome to ensure safe passage of the guests, and even harder to arrange a meeting. Months had passed at this point, and Cha Jun had truthfully begun to ponder if it was all for naught. Luckily, fate had fallen into his hands with Okkjeons capture, and with the path clear, he’d have his talks with the men who shared his ancestors.
Pan Young sat beside him, he’d become a familiar face of the courts, and the left hand of Cha Jun in recent campaigns and administration. His mustache was cleaningly trimmed, and his face was scented with the finest odors wealth could buy. He wore a linen robe of white, trimmed in purple silk, affiting to his standing in the court. A pair of ornate rings adorned his middle fingers, one a shade of blue, with the other, a shade of red.
To his right was his son, or rival some would say, Mok Kang-Young. He wore a simple robe of linen, a soft blue mixed with a softer green. He’d shaved his face since his adoption, and tried to become a more prominent member of the court, but struggled to actually play the game. It had endeared Cha Jun greatly, even if the soldier wasn’t cut for the soft words, and empty promises, his utter loyalty to the regime was enough.
Cha Jun had made sure to have both men readied for the arriving guests, hoping he could have some form of entourage accompany him in the talks, both men being his elders, they held an aura of some wisdom, even if both were merely ten years his elder. He needed these talks to go well, and hoped the two elders would support him in the talks if he began to falter.
He was still unsure on how the talks would proceed, but believed that a strong relationship with his southern cousins could bring profound benefits to his regime. He tugged at his collar, his throat feeling unusually tight, as he braced himself for the delegation.
“Gukwang,” Pan Young mumbled, in a slight whisper, “Fret not; this is merely talk among equals and friends.” He smirked, as he understood Cha Jun’s greater nervousness. “Do not fear, your Majesty, you have faced greater battles than that of a woman.”
Cha Jun smiled at his cousin, but still postured himself carefully, as he awaited his friends, and possible wife.
Munsang was glad he decided to wear his full suit of armor. It was a cold, cold winter. With steel lamellar armor reflecting the dim sunlight above with gold highlights signifying his rank, he hugged his baikhu mask closer to his face, guarding his mouth against the frigid air with a slightly warmer piece of steel with cloth padding. The winds experienced on the long trek northwards spooked his horse as well as the horses of his entourage, even causing him to fear that his tassel would blow away like a runaway scarf to the winds of the Eternals. Thankfully, that was not the case. His tassel, indicating his command over the cavalry of Ryeongse, touted its proud image atop Munsang’s helmet. Not that he depended on its image, but it was rude, after all, to greet a nation, a fellow Hyannic at that, with unimportant nobodies.
It was a surreal experience in Saeju. As Saejin guards bowed and escorted the Ryeongsean party to the palace in the center of Okkjeon, faces of monsu, as well as the occasional dsen and khemakh, weary as they were but with smiles on their faces, talked in Gogwihan-eo. They were accented differently and likely had their own dialectic words, but Munsang affirmed in his head that the two peoples’ tongues should be mutually intelligible. As mutually intelligible as fifteen hundred years of separation could ensure.
With Munsang were two heavy cavalry captains, each bringing a string of four heavy cavalrymen. Behind them, also mounted, were four Hyeongshinjo mages and six Cheonyanten guardsmen as well as a small group of diplomats, scribes, and scholars. Although the lamellar armor of the heavy cavalry, impressive as it was, showed little in the form of clothing quality, the Hyeongshinjo and the courtiers especially donned heavy swaths of richly-colored silk against the cold of Saeju, in contrast to the relatively modest clothes of the Saejin. There were uncanny similarities between Ryeongsean and Saejin clothes; after the entire history of the Kostuan Empire itself, from its rise to its demise at the hands of Namalar, Hyannic fashion had changed remarkably little, in the homelands itself as well as in the lands of the migrant Ryeongseans.
Key amongst the delegation, silently riding beside Munsang, was Amonaji Kanei. Donning sweeping layers of silk, her elaborate deep red and white hanbok suited against the icy Bantry cold, Kanei’s hair looped around close to her head on either side of it, before joining a larger braided swirl to the back. Neatly arranged hairpins glimmering with deep-blue sapphires intervallically adorned her golden head, hidden partially with an embroidered ayam winter cap. A small tassel hanging from its center flimsily twitched as the wind idly blew.
The horses idly shuffled their hooves as the company stood waiting before the gates of Okkjeon. Munsang shivered slightly. He turned to Kanei. No doubt that even with the thick and comprehensive hanbok she had on she felt the gelid air. Even so, she sat on her saddle, still and composed. Maybe it was a monsu thing, to be able to stand the cold. Maybe why compared to them, the Hyannic humans back then usually only clustered around the southern parts of the Confederacy. Nevertheless, the cold was unbearable to him. Perhaps because he found himself without adequate padding during the siege of the Kostuan remnant fortress. Perhaps because in that same cold he had lost so many brothers in arms. Munsang cleared his head. Trauma could wait. Business first. Besides, if news from Uyuti had indicated anything, Saeju had experienced its own period of trauma, thankfully now beginning to come to a close.
“This is it,” Munsang exhaled, trying to warm his face with his mask insulating the heat from his breath. He turned to Kanei once more. “Nervous, milady?”
Kanei kept silent, still attentively staring ahead at the unmoving city gate with large, glassy eyes, the same silver as her hairpins. Munsang pressed his lips together. He should not have been surprised. Kanei had said remarkably little in the months into their journey to Saeju.
The gates were massive, but well polished and maintained, imprinted upon them the names of each Gukwang that had called the city their home, along with artistic depictions of those who had built the city. Each monsu that had lifted a stone from the ground that had constructed the city into the wonder that it was today, or so the art would have you believe.
A horn bellowed out from the walls, as the riders were spotted, multiple horns across the walls returning the call, as the roar echoed from one end of the city to the other. Slowly the center gate opened, large enough for horse and man to enter without the full hassle of opening the massive gates themselves. Inside stoically stood a group of riders, the banners of multiple provinces and dynastic houses flapping in the cold breeze, as they awaited to accompany the guests to the palace proper.
One rider rode out to personally welcome the guests to the city, his uniform one of a simple Lamellar, with a belt of black, where his military honors dangled from his waist. His face was handsomely decorated by that of a simple mustache, but worn from exposure to the elements. He bowed his body as best as he could from his horse, as he turned his mare away from the party, and brought her to a stop.
“The people of the sovereign kingdom of Saeju, welcome you to his Majesty’s city of Okkjeon.” The rider spoke loudly, so all could hear, as he gestured them all into the city proper.
Munsang, Kanei, and the rest of the Ryeongsean delegation returned the rider’s bow with their own. “On behalf of the Kingdom of Ryeongse and the Won Dynasty which rules it, I as well as this delegation offer our humble and sincerest thanks for your hospitality.” This kind of speech was still new to Munsang. A part of him wished to return to that life of simplicity of being a lower-ranked soldier, receiving and executing orders without the need for pomp or such formal speeches. Still, if speaking like some sort of Byeolsan aristocrat was his duty now, then he would carry it out.
The rider smiled, nodding, before turning his horse towards the gate, “Follow closely behind, the people of Okkjeon have rallied across the city to welcome our southern kinmen, so do not separate from my party, or you may be lost among the crowds.” He finished, gesturing for the other riders to lead the way, moving the people aside as they began their march to the palace.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Saejin crowded the streets, though organized and built to handle massive crowds, the people came out in an unexpected number. They called praises to their southern kin, similar to that of how they’d welcome a foreign sovereign. Rumor had escaped the palace walls that among the delegation was perhaps the future Queen Consort of the realm, and as such the people crowded in excitement for their possible new queen. Many years had passed since the people of Okkjeon could celebrate a possible wedding, and so no expense was spared, as the people made sure to adorn the city with glamor befitting the possible wife of their Gukwang.
They screamed out warm welcomes and cheered as the delegation and riders slowly strode down the streets. Peddlers of goods presented dozens of expensive items, hoping one among the delegation would take their goods, and brandish it within the palace proper. So much was the excitement, multiple citizens tried to rush toward the delegates, all being halted quickly by the city milia, who walked beside the riders.
They wore elaborate hanboks, of varied colors, with decorative cloaks of red and white. In their hands they held banners of Okkjeon and the royal banner, newly created, representing the So-Okk dynasty. Hundreds of the guard stood along the center street, holding back the frenzied citizen body.
Munsang was stunned. Obviously, foreign hospitality was to be expected but only on the end of the audience which hosted the incoming delegation. Certainly not the common masses. Certainly not to this level of fervor. He caught words ranging from “A thousand warm welcomes to our kin to the south!” to “Who are those?”, but the overwhelming majority of voices clamored in infatuation, the best word to describe this feverish craze, with Kanei. He cast his concerned gaze at Kanei. She was as composed as ever, even if a glimmer of surprise danced about her eyes for a moment.
“Why this level of craze?!” Munsang did his best to yell his question over to his rider escort, pulling his mask down to make his voice so loud that it hurt. “And what can get them to stop?!”
The rider laughed, as he slowed his horse, to allow Munsang to ride next to one another, hoping to have an actual conversation, “The people have not welcomed a foreign delegation in decades, not to mention a possible queen.” He mumbled, gesturing to the young woman within their delegation.
As the aggregated party moved closer to the palace, even though hindered by the amassed crowds, Munsang put his hand to his chin. “How foreign do you in Saeju perceive us to be? Are we not both the children of the Homelands?”
The rider turned back to the attention of Munsang, puzzled, “The people do not view you as foreign, but merely lost, or separated. They are pleased beyond our understanding for relations in any form to be restored, alike to our shared country of old.” He said with a slight smile, before waving his attention back to the people.
Munsang let the rider focus on the people. The delegation was going to be stuck in the main street all day at this pace. The rider’s words floated around Munsang’s head. If the Myokko Hyannics were lost, then what were those who were still in the Homelands? It was true from a certain standpoint. There stood the Eternals serving as the curtain between Saeju and Ryeongse, an ugly scar and a testament to the suffering of the Hyannic people. There was also the province of Hyan under Uyutahn control, perhaps the greatest shame to Ryeongse and perhaps Saeju alike, if not even more. Although the Tong were allies to Ryeongse, in Uyutahn Hyan lingered a sense of defeat and humiliation. Munsang was unsure if the people there even spoke Gogwihan-eo anymore, a language even an exiled people like the Myokko had managed to preserve for centuries upon centuries.
Relations? That word stuck out to Munsang like a stain upon a piece of cloth. Did it really come to that, Ryeongse and Saeju not as two parts of a greater whole but two distinct nations? Even after a millennium and a half of separation, something which should have warranted little surprise at this concept of “relations” between Ryeongse and Saeju, it felt unnatural. But that begged the question: how united were the Homelands all those years ago, before Uyutahn boots marched eastwards in their campaign of conquest? Was not Wonmyokguk established as its own entity, separate from the monsu Hyannics who had already alienated this group of humans?
Perhaps Munsang’s source of confusion lay in Ryeongse’s relative isolation. Other nations out there spoke the same language and yet aligned themselves into different polities. The Hallish states, for example, all maintain a unique identity albeit united by language. All the way across the vast oceans in Tylos, the ruins of the Savoset Empire organized themselves not into one successor state but multiple, a fractured reflection of their once-mighty regime. It made no sense to Munsang to let such arbitrary divisions separate a common people and culture. But perhaps that was merely the order of the world. As little sense as it made.
Nevertheless, such relations did open the way toward something greater.
The wide city streets of Okkjeon slowly became more and more narrow, as the delegation began to reach the Royal Palace Quarter. The crowds began to fade, as the commoners slowly vanished, replaced by those of the minor nobility, or minor administrators who bowed their heads stiffly to their cousins of the south. The tone was much more elegant, along with the people, as they softly welcomed the distant travelers to the city proper.
The riders came to a quick stop, as the interior wall of the palace came before them. He gripped the horn that had adorned his waist, and blew it loudly, quickly summoning the opening of the palace gates. As the gates opened slowly, the riders unmounted their horses, dropping to their knees, before bowing in proper fashion.
The palace center adorned many pieces of art, varying from statues of noble lords, to expressive pieces of orante scenery, clearly commissioned from a more mild climate. Though the palace had an aura of uneasiness they could all feel, with a dark undertone that could be felt on the faces of those stone giants that stood within it. Many statues seemed partially unkept, while others seemed marked or damaged with stains of smoke permanently entrenched upon their very surface. Only two among the dozen marble kings imposed greatness, the two statues both standing twelve feet tall, were that of Okk Maeng Jun and his son Okk Cha Jun. Both were adorned in a layer of gold lamellar armor, while ornate jewels of a multitude of different colors draped down their shoulders. One man, the elder, lifted a geom of solid gold, pointed towards the west, while the younger, held a crown of gold pointed in the east. Both statues imposed an aura all of their own, as a contingent of the palace guard approached the party.
The guards all wore a single colored red Do upon their chests, stamped with a single pattern symbol of the unified So-Okk dynasty that had recently come into power. Every guard among, wore a blue or red decorative belt, representing their higher rank in the palace guard. Multiple men wore that of the jeonrip, some varying in color and size, while others wore a simple beonggeoji trimmed in red. Only three of the guards wore proper kabuto helms, polished to shine a deep maroon, with only two among the three, wearing menpo masks. Though they were far from organized, each monsu shared a commonality in their weapon attached to their waist, being that of a simple geom sword and a ceremonial dagger tucked under their belt.
The eldest of the guard, and clearly the most senior officer among them stepped before the esteemed guests, dropping to both knees, before bowing deeply. Soon the other guards followed their senior, letting six seconds pass, before the senior officer stood and addressed their most honored guests.
“His Majesty, the Gukwang, son of the eternal Gukwang Okk Maeng Jun, Fire in the East, Phoenix of the South, Father of the Heavens, Okk Cha Jun, welcome you to the Heavenly Kingdom of Saeju.” He addressed loudly, before saluting in military fashion, gesturing to the central palace doors. “His Majesty awaits you in his most humble hall.” He finished, as he stood in silence.
The palace doors opened moments later, clearly rehearsed for this very moment, the palace interior coming into view, with dozens of courtiers bowing their heads to the guests of their esteemed Gukwang. Horns blared in ceremonial fashion, and a multitude of drums beat, as the guests were welcomed into the hall of the eternal sovereign. The hall was long, but at the end, sat the royal family of Okkjeon.
Acknowledging the palace guards, Munsang led the Ryeongsean delegation down the hall, stopping halfway. He removed his mask, hanging it on his belt, and then got on his knees, his right leg first and then his left. As he and his armored men did so, a choreographed dance of response, the clanging of their plated greaves echoed throughout the palace hall. Putting both of his gauntlet-adorned hands in front of him, Munsang gently slid them forward, fully bowing and resting his forehead on his hands in a complete kowtow. He and the rest of the Ryeongsean delegation, including Kanei, remained in their bow as they waited for the acknowledgment of the Saejin king.
Cha Jun watched with unreadable silence, before lifting his right hand slowly, gesturing an acknowledgement, pleased by the respect shown to him as a sovereign. He smiled, examining the delegation carefully, before standing, as he gestured with both arms for them to be welcomed into his home. At this time a drum beat three times, and a horn blared from the back of the hall, a signal for the courtiers of the palace to exit the hall.
The courtiers quickly withdrew themselves in a timely manner, as servants readied mats for the delegation to rest upon, with a fresh tea kettle placed between the two parties. The formerly long hall was closed into two, as servants began to close the entrance off, pulling down another wall, shrinking the room into a more private abode. The palace guard remained, yet idley stood in silence around the four corners of the shrunken hall. Clearly still uneasy, but ready for any foul signs of aggression that could become their Gukwang.
Cha Jun sat with a firm posture, his linen and silk robes elegantly moving from his thin stature. “Please, sit, I beg you. Let us share a drink.” The young sovereign asked, gesturing if his guests would be so kind to drink with him.
Munsang knelt up from his kowtow, a look of surprise on his face. Definitely not the most orthodox procedure. But it would be even more imprudent to refuse the Saejin sovereign’s offer of hospitality. “We gratefully accept your offer,” Munsang bowed his head again before leading the Ryeongsean delegation to the mats set up by the palace courtiers. Munsang again looked at Kanei. She was following his lead just as she had done up until this point. Her face still seemed to yield nothing in the way of her thoughts or feelings.
In accordance with this change in atmosphere, Munsang felt it proper to remove his helmet, which had been glued to his head the entire time, and tuck it under his arm. The other men of the Ryeongsean delegation removed their helmets as well. Kanei had already removed her winter cap. The Ryeongsean delegation all sat on the arranged mats. Munsang and Kanei took the center spots while the other members of the entourage lined either side of the two outwards.
The young sovereign seemed pleased with the delegation, as he lifted the kettle himself, pouring each member of the delegation a small cup of tea, before doing likewise for his own family. “You must be quite surprised by my informality,” Cha Jun chuckled in an undertone, as he gestured for the delegates to each receive their tea, “but you must understand, as my guests, it is the duty as host to offer tea, especially to those of my kin.” He smiled, taking his own cup, blowing the off steam carefully, before taking a deep drink.
Munsang accepted his cup with both hands and a smile. "We are deeply honored by it, Your Majesty," he responded. The other Ryeongseans similarly accepted their teas. Munsang added with a slight chuckle, "Perhaps if the court in Byeolsan similarly offered tea to their guests at the start, we would receive more of them."
Cha Jun grinned, a slight smile lining his lips, as he thought of the foreign court that shared ancestry with his own. “I would see your court if you would have me, one day.” He added, knowing the state of his realm. He could not leave for some time, no doubt, yet the possibility of seeing new lands was a powerful dream for him.
Cha Jun straightened, as he took a sip of his own tea, wincing as it was still boiling hot. “We can now begin talks, if you would like, my friend.” He said, motioning, that he held the Gukwang’s audience. “If you would need anything, merely ask and you shall receive, if I am able.” He added, regarding food or other items.
“Of course,” Munsang replied with a bow at his head. Although the cold made him want for a nice cabbage stew to warm his insides, the tea he had for now would suffice. Besides, a feast would be in order once all matters were said and done. As such, Munsang began, “Firstly, I come bearing the earnest wishes of His Majesty the King of Ryeongse, in establishing relations with this fine kingdom. His Majesty’s request is for basic exchanges to take place, to facilitate the journeys of our nations’ travelers and travelers and for Ryeongsean and Saejin scholars to travel to the other nation to study with each’s own resources and facilities. In particular, if Your Majesty permits, a university in Yesanchom has voiced its interest in archaeological studies in Saeju, the successor of the Homelands from ancient times. From exploring possible ruins of our predecessor Wonmyokguk to collaborating with Saejin scholars on other findings, I believe this arrangement of exchange between our two nations can lead to our brightest minds reaching newer heights.”
Cha Jun leaned forward, his face uneasy to read, as his eyes revealed nothing of his thought, before sparking to life. “Yes, that could prove quite lovely, no, almost poetic.” He said with a hint of jest, as he sipped more of his tea. “Two lost brothers seeking out the history of their shared past, like one of the old songs they’d sing in the lowlands.” He said with a sly smile, as he glanced around to his confidant, before returning to Munsang. “Yes, I would find it most pleasing to agree to this exchange, and will contribute to any search for knowledge at my own expense.” He said, with a smile.
The insinuation was lost to the Ryeongsean general. “Thank you for your graciousness, Your Majesty. I am sure this will bring to both of our nations a newfound opportunity for growth and academic prosperity.” Munsang could not admit he felt completely ignorant of this proposal. He had often wondered about what relics of the past could be unearthed in the Homelands. Still, Munsang could not exactly feign complete interest either. He was much rather interested in conducting military drills with his brothers to the north rather than setting up forums of academic study.
Still, business was business. Although Munsang prided himself more as a soldier rather than an emissary, His Majesty of Ryeongse had sent him here, after all, as the leading representative of the entire kingdom to the inheritors of the Homelands.
“Secondly,” Munsang continued, “I come bearing an invitation by both Byeolsan and Tscynyasi, an offer to join our alliance and form a trilateral pact in the Northeast, against the hostilities to the west and to the south, from wherever they may come. If you should choose to accept, Your Majesty, the heads of state of each noble land can establish more details for an official designated place to ratify such an accord.”
Munsang could not be more removed from the words he was uttering. He felt no particular animosity towards the Tong, nor did he consider himself a sentimental historian, but it felt odd. His tongue relaying the words of His Majesty of Ryeongse did so with a pang of indifferent sorrow. The two descendants of the Homelands, splintered by the Eternals, joining forces with the descendant of that which conquered the Homelands. The easternmost parts of the ancient confederacy had at this point been forcibly stricken of their culture and history, not any more or less Uyutahn than its surrounding provinces.
Although it would secure the Northeast under common interests, the alliance would be poetically ironic. This tinge of tragedy would not be nearly enough to mitigate this proposal but be present enough to leave a tinge of something in at least the hearts of some in Ryeongse.
Besides, history was a discipline of the dead, decided and written by the dead. What mattered now was the living, in each state.
Cha Jun sat in silence for a long moment, his face unreadable as he processed the proposal, before a flick of his wrist brought Pan Young close to his mouth, as he whispered something. He whispered for some time, before Pan Young nodded, bowed, then left the room in a rushed manner. Upon the end of the private conversation, Cha Jun glanced at his guests, flashing a small grin, before he drank from his tea.
“I could join in a mutual alliance, yes, but I would have demands.” He began, as he placed his empty cup onto a mat on the floor. “I would have both of your states cover the expenses of my garrisons on the western border, with the Riddish, as well as help garrison my southern border, protruding past the safety of the Eternals.” He stated simply, as he poured another cup of tea from a kettle. “Meet these demands, and you can be secure in knowing, I will defend our shared interests in life and in death.” He concluded.
Munsang took a deep breath. “I will relay this information to both of our nations. As for the terms themselves, I can at least posit for Ryeongse that the kingdom would be willing not only to supplement Saeju’s western defense budget but also actively assist in securing the Eternals and Astrals, an area of interest and security for Ryeongse as well. I cannot speak for Uyuti, but I do not think such terms are an inconvenience to either nation if they serve the greater alliance bloc.” He took a sip from his tea.
“Lastly on His Majesty’s agenda concerning his delegation to the Kingdom of Saeju is the offer of marriage, with Your Majesty and thus into the So-Okk lineage,” Munsang continued, turning briefly to Kanei. Unlike before, at the precipice of the pact itself, Kanei appeared nervous, slightly biting down on her lip and trying to rein in her eyes to a specific spot. Munsang turned back to Cha Jun and continued, “We come here to officiate the agreement between the Nogyo Amonaji Clan and the So-Okk Dynasty.” Munsang procured from within his uniform a scroll tube, a deep, plain vermillion beautiful in its simple shade. He held it forward with both hands, bowing at his head. “This scroll contains the statements of both the Nogyo Amonaji Clan head and His Majesty the King of Ryeongse, for Your Majesty’s viewing and acceptance.”
Cha Jun took the scroll, skimming it, before placing it down, already knowing everything would likely be in order if these cousins to the south were truly like the Saejuan of the north. He smiled, glancing at the woman who would be his wife, then back to Munsang, “I accept this proposal.” He said, handing it off to a servant who bowed, and retreated, “That was a minister, he will have it evaluated then stamped and recorded as canonized in the records of state.” He said, before returning his eyes to Kanei, “An official wedding will need to be prepared, guests will need to be summoned, but as of now, at least in the state’s eyes we are husband and wife.” He concluded, before remembering, “Yet of course the people will demand a proper wedding in the style of the old ways.” He added.
Cha Jun’s, and everyone’s, eyes on Kanei, the Amonaji noblewoman slowly opened her mouth, composing herself with a breath forced straight, the frightful shakiness within it compressed by sheer will, “Thank you, Your Majesty,” she softly declared. “Whatever you should require of me will be done.”
Munsang took over, relieving Kanei of any more pressure, with a nod to her. He smiled at Cha Jun, “The old ways. How else can we possibly start the friendship and unity between kin once more?”
“Indeed, I will begin preparations, but as of now this business shall be considered concluded.” He said, before turning towards his bride, then Munsang, “I must call it here for now, but I shall discuss this further with you both soon. Please feel free to enjoy the comforts of my nation, while I continue my duties.” He said, before taking his leave.
3k Expansion Post
Sorahnpu, Ivory Palace, High Rachya’s Chambers
Dhoyanha couldn’t sleep. The blissful mercy of rest evaded her, as it often did, whether she was sick with fever like weeks prior or healthy (as she could ever be) as she was now. Nevertheless, by now she had long been able to cope with such an unfortunate state of the body. She would often dedicate her time, therefore, to other things, whether continuing to run internal affairs late into the morning or retreat to her chambers to partake in some solitary activity.
Today, she was reading. Reading the chronicles of the Yuannon, of their governance and culture, recorded by Angfar scribes during and after the era of the Freehold. Dhoyanha, at her desk, low to the ground and before which she sat on a cushion, slowly slid a paper lantern closer to the tome laid out before her, like a course of Majalaran curry before her into which she was beckoned to dig in. So Dhoyanha had obliged. She was hours into the text at this point. Dhoyanha turned to the window, her hair haphazardly draped over her face with apathy. A faint glow tinged the horizon. The dawn was likely not too far away.
Dhoyanha placed her sleek finger on the current page, with her other hand curling back a particularly obstructive strand of hair behind her horn. She squinted. Savoset foolishness manifested into over-ambition, causing them to target a prize they could not win, the text read, in the Yuannic script. A script Dhoyanha as part of her Rachya education had learned under the tutelage of countless scholars. The might of the Yuannon was flung wholeheartedly at Emperor Yutu’s forces, the defense of the former’s home poured out as retribution onto the detached wishes of the latter. What did the Savoset have to win, against the potential loss to the Yuannon, that could have caused them to harness a drive greater than that of the Freehold?
So history was against her too. Yes, Dhoyanha had an ambition: the full unity of Fahuatai under her rule. The destiny of the island to be under one crown, as it had been under such a subdivision during the days of the Freehold. Her dream. Her father’s dream. Was that more than what the Kerboutay wished? For peace and independence? To choose their own destiny? If only she had been Rachya then instead of her father. If only she could have brokered some sort of compromise keeping both sides placated. And yet, here she was: inheriting the throne of a nation having lost hundreds of thousands to war. Were all these lives worth it for mere political goals? No, Dhoyanha knew. She shut the covers of the chronicle and stood, pacing melancholically to her bed. But it was too late to turn back now. To have all those lives poured out for nothing.
Even if what they died for didn’t warrant their lives, they warranted something. Anything.
Something scurried outside the window. Dhoyanha, now sitting on her bed, flung her head to that direction. A bird? No, a rat?
Silence. No, Dhoyanha supposed. If it were an animal, why stop whatever it was doing? Right when Dhoyanha had taken a look towards the window?
Dhoyanha slowly inched towards the ground, where her scepter was. She grabbed it noiselessly, picking the gold staff of the floor with silent dexterity. Placing one end at the top handle and the other at the scepter’s base, Dhoyanha squeezed both ends firmly. She slowly moved her head, incrementally shifting her peripheral gaze towards the window while her hair obscured her eyes from whatever was at the window.
Silence. Dhoyanha managed to get a view at the window. Her eyes shot wide.
At the window, creeping in as noiselessly as Dhoyanha had grabbed her scepter, was an Ikori, clad in black and brandishing a tekpi in his hand.
The Ikori lunged for Dhoyanha with a roar. Dhoyanha whipped around, pulled at her scepter’s end, rolled and ducked under the attacker’s leap, and plunged what was now an unsheathed kris sword into the Ikori’s shoulder. The attacker cried out in pain. Dhoyanha swept at the Ikori’s feet and drove the kris into the floor, pinning him.
The Kushatryi at her door immediately burst in. Brandishing trident spears, they rushed towards the High Rachya and her assailant, wedging themselves between the two.
“High Rachya,” one addressed, a hint of utter terror in his voice. The terror of failure. The failure to keep the Rachya safe. “Are you hurt?”
“I am fine,” Dhoyanha defiantly responded. “No thanks to you two.”
“Please accept our apologies,” the second Kushatryi blurted.
“No, it was not your oversight,” Dhoyanha sighed. “Not yours.” She took another look at the Ikori. He was silent, steely-eyed and gluing his lips together. “Take him to the dungeons,” she softly commanded, narrowing her own eyes, silver like the receding stars, to match the Ikori’s hateful gaze. “Prepare him for some of my questions.”
The Kushatryi understood. From his waist, one procured a cloth and wrapped it with rope around the Ikori’s head while the other bound his cloth around the Ikori’s injury as Dhoyanha slid her kris from his shoulder. His blood splattered the tiled floor and Dhoyanha’s nightgown as the assassin howled in pain. “And get someone to clean this filth,” Dhoyanha added as the Kushatryi exited the room, dragging the nonresisting Ikori out.
“Yes, High Rachya,” both responded simultaneously, before leaving altogether.
At that moment, the golden rays of the sun broke through the hills to the west.
Sorahnpu, Lower Dungeons
This was only the second time Dhoyanha had ever come to the dungeons. And the first under a matter so dire to her safety as High Rachya. The first time she had come here was when she was a small child, lost in the lower catacombs after being separated from her father, who took Dhoyanha with him there. Why, she could not recall. All she remembered of that horrid day was the putrid stench, the terrifying darkness, and the wails, screams, and sinister groans of the prisoners. Her health had made things worse, as the narrow stone walls and extremely sporadic torch placement had made her feel claustrophobic; her nausea had lent its way to an excruciating headache, and when Dhoyanha’s father had found her, he found his daughter reduced to a ball, the girl in the fetal position and sobbing uncontrollably.
When Dhoyanha became old enough to wander the capital herself, she steered clear of the dungeons. She knew better than to enter for no reason.
And here was Dhoyanha’s reason, today, during a time of war. The dungeons felt even smaller now, but nothing seemed to swim or warp for her as it did all those years before. Additionally, knowledge of the dungeons, its purpose and the nature of those who were kept here, fortified her against those same noises, those same guttural screeches of agony, loneliness, and wrath.
Now that she was High Rachya, instead of just a sickly little girl whom the prisoners often took sadistic joy in tormenting behind their bars, the prisoners now carried themselves in a variety of manners, all different from before. Some prisoners bowed silently in deference to the High Rachya against whose laws they had sinned, while others ceased their noises if only to look, sometimes glare, at the passing ruler. Others still would curse at the High Rachya. “A miracle you didn’t die before your father did!” one prisoner callously taunted. “May you cough your lungs out and die like a streetside leper!” another shouted. Whenever such insults would be flung, the dungeon guards at each cell would enter with lightning-fast impulse, brandishing tonfas and proceeding to beat into submission their prisoner for the honor of the Rachya. Dhoyanha would pay the prisoners or the subsequent beatings no heed, as she kept walking to the Ikori assassin imprisoned here. Her principal destination and duty. The words would hurt no less, however. Dhoyanha bit her lip, taking her pain out on her lip.
“Perhaps Aro has truly abandoned us. The next ‘voice’ she sends can’t even speak without coughing like a dog.” Dhoyanha stopped. Her Kushatryi escorts behind her halted as well. She turned to face the prisoner who had uttered the curse. In the cell, bound to the floor with chains, was a female Gorrin, one of her horns broken off. Her face was scarred on that same side.
Dhoyanha walked up to the cell’s bars. “Must you insult Aro alongside me? I can bear curses directed at me. I cannot be so tolerant towards slander to our goddess,” she answered coldly. Her voice was devoid of all emotion, but a faint tremor in it indicated a suppressed anger.
Dhoyanha turned to the cell guards. “Let me in,” Dhoyanha spoke. The guards bowed at the head and unlocked the cell. The gate slid open with a piercing squeak against friction, dirt, and rust. The Rachya entered, her deep red gown sliding behind her, as if she glided over to the prisoner in righteous vengeance. “Mawpiang Darija,” Dhoyanha cited. “Political insurrectionist and arsonist. Arrested five years ago in Sorahnpu for the murder of six administrators.”
“I’m surprised dirt like us gets remembered by you,” Mawpiang snorted derisively. As with all the prisoners, Mawpiang was reduced to a loincloth, an additional strip of cloth around her chest like all the other female prisoners, as her only clothing, appearing animal next to Dhoyanha’s resplendent outfit.
“Is that not your victory, to be remembered in the end?” Dhoyanha smiled cruelly. “Although you would be hard-pressed to find your name uttered outside the heart of the capital, much less the island.”
“Well, to break it to you, princess, some of us want actual change as our goals,” Mawpiang spat at Dhoyanha’s hooves.
Dhoyanha looked upon Mawpiang with condescending disgust. “A relief to the island that your ‘changes’ will never occur.” She knelt before Mawpiang, matching her at eye level, close enough to peer into her soulless eyes but far away enough so that Mawpiang’s potential sudden outburst would be limited by her chains before she could physically harm the Rachya. “Even in here, you have managed to bring a greater punishment upon yourself.”
“May you perish like the disgrace you are. Aro choosing you was a mistake,” Mawpiang repeated. She spat directly into Dhoyanha's face. The Rachya leaped back, stumbling out of the cell as her Kushatryi guardsmen caught her.
“You dare—!” the cell guards simultaneously shouted in fury as they entered the cell and began to beat Mawpiang down with their tonfas. Even as Mawpiang grunted in pain, she bore a triumphant, sadistic smile on her face.
“She is unworthy to be offered up to Aro. There are some criminals whose sacrifice would be an affront to our goddess,” Dhoyanha sighed, wiping her face with a kerchief from her guard in contempt. “Immolate her after I leave. Alive and conscious.” She turned to leave, continuing down the dark hallway to her would-be assassin. Behind her chased Mawpiang’s laughter. It haunted Dhoyanha.
She soon reached the cell of the assassin. Like Mawpiang, the Ikori was stripped of his clothing, save for his bare undergarments. He was similarly chained to the floor. His slender face was covered in a crusty mixture of blood and saliva, his black fur being caked a dark maroon. Despite his feeble state, his eyes were fully aware. And hateful, as Dhoyanha entered the room and beheld the prisoner.
“You left him able to speak, yes?” Dhoyanha asked the bowing cell guards.
“Of course, High Rachya,” one of them responded curtly.
“Good.” Dhoyanha paced around the rather spacious cell, wide enough to give Dhoyanha an ample amount of space between her and the assassin. She looked upon his wound once again. The bleeding had been sealed, for the most part, but the guards had used the point to inflict upon their prisoner additional pain. From that, it seemed the Ikori would be scarred for the rest of his life. Not that he would have long to live, anyway.
Dhoyanha had just condemned a prisoner for insulting Aro through insulting her. There was to be no hope for the attempted murder of the High Rachya, therefore. But Dhoyanha had questions.
“What is your name?” Dhoyanha asked sharply.
The Ikori gave no answer.
“What is your name?” Dhoyanha repeated, more sternly. She glanced at the guards, whose puzzled look told her that the Ikori remained silent voluntarily.
At last, the Ikori croaked, “I have no name other than my dream.”
“Your dream?” Dhoyanha raised an unamused eyebrow.
“You know them well, do you not?” the Ikori chuckled. “The Cuan Chih Dhao.” The Kerboutay.
“So they resort now to espionage and murder, like petty criminals,” Dhoyanha sneered as she continued to slowly pace around the Ikori, whose head was kept solidly forward, refusing anything to the Rachya.
“I was not sent,” the Ikori coughed. “Not by anyone higher than myself.”
“Would have been convenient for the Kerboutay if you had succeeded, nevertheless.”
“I did not expect a sickly child to be able to stop me.” the Ikori closed his eyes. “I have underestimated you.”
“What a moment of revelation,” Dhoyanha mockingly smiled. “A shame you shall not have the opportunity to learn from your mistakes.”
“I suppose not, no,” the Ikori sighed. “What will it be, High Rachya? Immolation? An offering to Aro? Beheading?”
“Nothing that will come soon,” Dhoyanha answered matter-of-factly. “I still have questions for you.”
The Ikori rolled his head around, cracking the joints in his neck with a sigh of satisfaction. “Sure,” he said.
“You would answer?” Dhoyanha stopped, turning to the Ikori and approaching him, even closer than the chains provided safety for.
“Of course, anything for the High Rachya,” the Ikori jested, mocking a bow. “I find it prudent that you should know what is coming. You cannot stop it. My hope is that when everything does crumble by what’s already in motion, you would know what exactly is to occur and how powerless you truly are when you learn you cannot stop but a single thing.”
“So you did not act alone,” Dhoyanha concluded.
“No,” the Ikori laughed. “Did you think it an oversight or coincidence I was able to intrude upon your quarters with such ease? Especially with the Rachykhina under war?”
“How deep is this?” Dhoyanha pressed. She still stood facing the Ikori, too engulfed in the apparent conspiracy to resume her idle pacing.
“That is something I cannot disclose,” the Ikori pondered.
Dhoyanha sighed. It seemed the Ikori would not reveal everything. Just enough, apparently, to bring upon her despair. If only it actually worked.
“Do they all want to kill me? Is my death their ultimate goal?” Dhoyanha pressed.
“The death of the Rachykhina,” the Ikori gazed up at the ceiling as in rapture, “and the birth of Fahuatai: free of the curses of your dynasty.”
Dhoyanha bit her tongue. She pressed her lips together and turned away, closing her eyes. “My dynasty may be cursed, but Aro has entrusted me to lead Angfaran,” she simply stated. “As such, I will not fold to these schemes, and I will stop whatever it is that is in motion.”
“Don’t be so sure,” the Ikori grunted. He leaned towards Dhoyanha, still facing away from him, towards the mold-covered wall. “Because you are not the only one who knows of us. There is another force at play. Watch yourself. We are not the only people you should consider as your enemy.”
The Rachya slowly turned to face the Ikori once more. “All of this. How can I be sure that this is true? Is everything a lie?”
“You would just have to trust me,” the Ikori broke into a malicious grin.
Sorahnpu, Royal Palace, Throne Room
Dhoyanha sat in silence on her golden throne, leaning forward with both elbows upon her knees and both hands pressed together resting at her mouth. Before her were congregated advisors, generals, and palace staff, separated by meters enforced by Kushatryi guardsmen.
Her spire-like crown felt heavier than usual. Her entire body felt like a weight. Nights of sleeplessness had seemed to have finally caught up to Dhoyanha. She knew she was cursed to begin with, but her curses only multiplied from what others had heaped onto her. And now, the potential of treason within the palace was her latest burden pushed upon her already weary shoulders. Dhoyanha was afraid. Not of the threat of treason or death but of her burdens and curses becoming too heavy for her to bear. What then? Of her and Angfaran?
Still, the Ikori’s information had been helpful. It seemed the Ikori had underestimated her yet again. The nights afterward, she spent skimming through records and palace logs with her close palace friends and advisors, and even these Dhoyanha felt she had to vet extremely carefully. To her relief, not only did nothing show up for them, but they showed no signs of resistance, humbly deferring to the Rachya their fate.
Through instinct, she excluded from this secretive circle her regent, Buyritthorn.
“The war with the Kerboutay has reached the palace,” Dhoyanha calmly announced. This generated a round of murmurs and clamor in the audience. She silenced the crowd by meekly clearing her throat, continuing, “If you were already unaware, I was attacked two weeks ago in an attempt on my life. Luckily, through Aro’s grace, I was able to evade death, for now.”
The crowd stayed silent this time, although likely, from their range of expressions, Dhoyanha knew they had a million things to say. Nevertheless, she added, “This killer was abetted. No one, as you know, would be able to enter my chamber windows without the awareness of the entire palace. Even if those involved in the security of that part of the palace did not intentionally bring an assassin to my room, I will still count this, whether genuine treachery or unfortunate negligence, as treason. Theeradon Mahidol. Nekk Monkoltham. Tisorn Chaiyahue. Warala Pridai. Chayond Khemanchih. Step forward.”
A small group of advisors and security officers stepped forward, some in confidence, some in indifference, some in conviction, and others in confusion. Dhoyanha addressed them with narrowed, cold eyes, “You and your men would have surely caught the intruder, should you have been attentive to your jobs to the standard required by me, the High Rachya of Angfaran.”
One spoke out, “I—”
“Save it for below,” Dhoyanha sighed. “Whether innocent or guilty of treason, the fact still remains that the Rachykhina was nearly thrown into ruin over my attempted murder. You will answer either for your ignorance or your betrayal of the nation in the dungeons.” Kushatryi guards stormed at the named officials in the blink of an eye, dragging each below. Some cried out in indignant protest while others whimpered in fear. Still, some remained silent, even as they were forced out of the throne room and into torture in the dungeons.
Dhoyanha turned to the remaining attendants of the court. “To those of you loyal to the Rachykhina, be on your wits’ end. Fortify your heart against the temptation of traitors, and find those whom you can trust. To those of you against me whom I have not been able to identify yet, know this: you fight not against me but against Aro. Are you still so confident in your cause?”
One Path Forward: Part I
Copost with Eskeland
Byeolsan, Inner District, Royal Palace, Throne Room
The twin, behemoth doors of the palace throne room groaned open, beckoning Theodor to an expansive hall, devoid of all people except sporadically standing Cheonyanten guardsmen and, in the center of the hall, before a low table to the ground and on a cushion before one side closer to the throne, was King Jangyeon. On the table was a teapot and two jade cups, atop jade saucers.
“Sit with me, please,” Jangyeon smiled, beckoning with one hand while pouring with his other a splash of green tea.”
Theodor followed by sitting on one of the cushions, “Thank you for inviting me. Now, was there something you wished to discuss with me? I assume you didn’t invite me here just to talk.”
Jangyeon chuckled softly. “What is wrong with simple talk?” He gently slid one cup and saucer to Theodor. “But no,” Jangyeon’s face grew more serious. “I want to get to the point: after consideration, for the interests of Ryeongse and for the stability of Eastern Sokos, I offer my aid in your conflict against your pretender. Nothing too large, of course. We have our own nation to worry about, and we are not allied. Nevertheless, I cannot sit by and allow a region near us to fall into instability. Much less so if it should fall under the hands of a volatile despot.”
"So this is what the small meeting is about, hmm…" Theodor took a sip of tea from the cup, "While everything is under control, I must admit some help would be more than welcome, especially from such an esteemed person like you, the faster this war is over the better it is for everyone. But I assume this isn't out of the kindness of your heart, what do you want in exchange?"
“To only offer help to my neighbors in exchange for a service is extortion, to say the least,” Jangyeon remarked, sipping his tea slowly. “I do so for the interest of Ryeongse and for Eastern Sokos. The only thing I want in exchange is your victory and Eskeland’s commitment to peace in Sokos, something I am certain that Mikhail will not honor. That is why he needs to fall. And if I can expedite this process, then why should I refrain from doing so?”
“Spoken like a true Eskelian. Then I suppose there is no reason for me to not accept. Very well Jang, I shall accept. What will you be sending over?”
Jangyeon raised an eyebrow at Theodor’s curious slang. He answered the Eskelian king’s question, mostly unfazed, “I shall be sending ten thousand men, as well as a supplementary detachment of my navy. Four thousand heavy infantry, three thousand light cavalrymen, and three thousand heavy cavalrymen. Quite large for a foreign expedition but one made possible through the proximity of the conflict, which also explains why I want to send so many. I am additionally wary of,” Jangyeon searched for the Kostuan term while letting his tea swirl in his mouth, “bleeding over of the Eskelian succession crisis. A resolved conflict is a contained conflict.”
“You are right about that, which is why I want this war over as soon as possible. Those are generous numbers, it will suffice and I must thank you for it, Ryeongsean compassion truly knows no bounds.” Theodor sighed, “Can’t say this war hasn’t taken a toll on my health, certainly not what I was expecting I would do in my twenties, but a king must do his duty to protect its citizens no matter the cost and I answered the call.”
Jangyeon nodded. “You have done well. Ryeongse is proud to have such a meritorious people under an honorable king at its border. Although these few men I can send over cannot dictate the result of the war, we can only pray chaos does not descend upon Eskeland and, by extension, this region.” He leaned over slightly, taking the pot of tea and pouring it into Theodor’s empty cup. “Now, with that heavy topic over, I suppose we can move onto lighter discussions, if you have nowhere else to be.”
“Certainly, I can spend a few more minutes, I would like to stay for longer but, well, I have something important to do, but I would like to come some other time and have a proper talk ”
The two kings spent a few more minutes of the morning discussing the political affairs of Sokos. They had a great time. Theodor soon after left heading towards the estate where he was residing for the moment. Upon his arrival he was greeted by the captain of his guard who handed him a small package delivered from Eskeland, opening it he saw the item he had sent to get made. Closing the package again he headed inside to get changed.
A few hours later, Theodor came out of the residence, dressed in his most elegant outfit, and wearing his best feathered hat, he headed out, leaving in one of the palanquins, to the royal library where he was to meet up with Heonmye, in his pocket he had the small item he had received a few hours ago.
Byeolsan, Inner District, Royal Palace, East Wing Study Hall
Heonmye paced about the length of the hallway in melodramatic impatience. She pressed her lips together in worry, slightly smudging together her deep maroon lipstick. Heonmye wore a deep blue sweeping hanbok skirt, completely obscuring her feet, with gold highlights, underneath a lengthy, sky-blue jeogori coat also bearing these elaborate patterns. Her long, usually untameable hair was forcibly constrained to swirled braids about her head, an effort that took hours and the irreconcilable ire of her personal attendants. Still, with gold dragon hairpins affixed to her head, the task seemed worth it. Heonmye prided herself earlier in the mirror, wearing more professionally noble attire rather than her carefree casual outfit.
Which completely contradicted her rather unladylike impatience. Thank the gods she requested the hall be cleared when she and Theodor had planned their meeting.
Against her bosom she held tightly a rather girthy scroll, encapsulated in a gold cover. She frantically ran her fingers across the cold, metallic surface as she waited. Heonmye took a deep breath. I’ve done worse up until this point, she thought to herself. Heonmye stopped and shook her head. That helped with nothing whatsoever. Relax. Heonmye kept echoing the word in her scattered mind.
The door to the study hall opened. Heonmye held her breath, letting it go past her resolute mouth slowly as she approached the entering king of Eskeland.
Theodor closed the door behind and approached Heonmye, with a kiss to her hand he greeted her, “Hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long, oh wow, you look stunning today, that hanbok looks perfect on you, especially the colour, it highlights your features and your hair, you truly are the envy of the goddesses.”
Heonmye blushed, her cheeks nearing the red on her lips and the sunset outside in modesty. “Thank you, O Lord of the Avernai,” she jested, her eyes gesturing towards Theodor’s hat. “You look great, too, really,” Heonmye leaned forward and greeted Theodor with a more familiar kiss on the lips.
“Great as always. Actually.” Theodor went to take something out of his pocket.
“I have something to tell you.” Theodor and Heonmye fell dumbly silent, having said the same thing at the same time. Heonmye blushed and curled back a rebellious strand of hair.
“Oh of course, go ahead you first.” Theodor gestured.
Heonmye did a cheery little curtsy in acknowledgment. Her cheeks flushed an even brighter red. “Um,” she began, clearing her throat. “After careful consideration of my own feelings, my state, and my aunt’s wishes, I have decided that,” she cleared her throat again, this time to quell not her throat but her palpitating heart, “I have decided that I want to marry you. Um,” she flustered, almost dropping her scroll before a dumbstruck Theodor, “if that’s all right. I love you too much to not do so, I think. Would—would you marry me?”
Theodor was taken aback by her words, as it was unusual, if rare, for a woman to propose to a man from where he was, but he should have expected it knowing her, nonetheless it made Theodor happy, who also was going to propose to her, “Oh” He chuckled, “Of course I accept, I was going to do it too. You make me extremely happy and… I can’t imagine a life without you, I want you to be my queen. I even sent a jeweller back home to make this special ring for you to signify our engagement, it’s decorated with your favourite gem, pearls.”
Heonmye blushed even more, if that was possible, taking Theodor’s ring and running it through her finger. “I accept your proposal as well,” she giggled. “I guess if we were both going to do so, it was destined that we would be together.” She suddenly stood straight, as if an electric jolt ran through her body. “Right,” she blurted. “I forgot to give you this.” She extended with two hands the covered scroll to Theodor. “My engagement gift. Not jewelry, but I hope you can appreciate it. A collection of historic and modern Ryeongsean short stories and poems. An edition with a Kostuan translation written beside the original, with annotations made by yours truly.” Heonmye smiled triumphantly.
"This is a great gift, very unique, I can't wait to get into it. So I suppose all that is left is to tell your aunt, I hope she is fine with this." Theodor smiled.
“Yes, we should tell her that everything went well with the engagement and all that’s left for me is to leave to Eskeland with you.” Heonmye paused, her smile faltering into solemnity. “If only my aunt could come with. I suppose such is the life of the niece of the highest-ranking military advisor in the kingdom.”
"Such a lovely relationship you have with your aunt, I also have someone in my family who I love very much the same way you love your aunt, my cousin, Hildegard. She is like my second mother in a way, sad that we barely see each other these days ever since she married Obren and moved to Dhorvas, thankfully we still communicate through letters.”
“It seems duty is duty,” Heonmye somberly replied. “But I knew what is required of me should I agree to be with you. I must leave my home to join you as you return to yours.”
Theodor sighed, "Home, I'll soon be back home. Let's go, I'd like to make a stop by the estate before going to your aunt." Theodor grabbed her hand, and the two of them left the library.
Outskirts of Mavgilias, at the border with Eskeland
The sprawling fortress stood resolute against the dawn trickling over the western Eskelian hills. The shadows of the forests beyond into Eskeland seemed to almost lick at the border with Ryeongse, as if reaching for help. A sea of stone and brick, the fortress, topped with black-as-night tiles, was a veritable maze of battlements, courts, and walls. Activity about the fortress was somehow even more frantic than before. After all, Ryeongse was preparing to send off the most powerful man in Eskeland back to his throne to lead his nation out of civil war—alongside his Ryeongsean queen.
Naehwa tugged at Heonmye’s outer jeogori coat, securing the layer as Heonmye chafed. “I’m an adult,” Heonmye pouted impatiently.
“You’re my daughter,” Naehwa impassively retorted. “Hold still. You did all this wrong.”
Jangyeon stood watching the aunt and niece, beside Theodor, also watching, as Theodor’s and Heonmye’s palanquin was approaching readiness. The Dsen bearers were chatting amongst themselves placidly, poking the occasional joke at politics, Theodor, and the latest spike in vegetable prices.
Jangyeon turned to the Eskelian king. “You must be quite apprehensive. And excited. Heonmye is an excellent scholar and woman. You should take this fortune with a grateful heart. To her and to whomever you believe in.”
"It has been a blessing, if I am to be honest with you, I never thought I would come out of here with a wife, but life works in mysterious ways and certainly fate has brought us together, I just hope she is able to adjust to life in a foreign country."
“If she is anything like Naehwa,” Jangyeon chuckled, “she will be fine. As long as Eskeland has a collection of scholarly works, which I doubt your nation has any lack in.”
“Your Majesty!” a fortress administrator called out. In a simple yet richly colored hanbok and idly toying in one hand with the beaded strap of his gat hat, the man was over at the palanquin, pressing his lips together in satisfaction. He bowed to the two kings. “Preparations are all in place.”
“Speaking of which,” Jangyeon added with a finger in the air, as if a small eureka moment reached him. “I will be sending a sizeable escort contingent of twenty heavy cavalrymen, fifty light cavalrymen, ten mages, and one hundred light infantry to guide the palanquin to its destination, to return once you reach Pradl. I am sure your men can receive you once the border crossing is made, but extra reinforcement hurts no one.” More seriously, he continued, “Eskeland is in a state of war, after all, and under our safety currently is the king and future queen consort of the nation. To risk your lives outside of Ryeongsean soil would be foolish.”
"Thank you, I truly appreciate it. Our journey will be long, we have to take a ship from Pradl to Nyholm and from there a carriage to Valendorf, I unfortunately received the news of the fall of Tidahamn to Mikhail's forces, retaking it is going to be a real challenge. But anyways, I need to thank you for receiving me in your country. It has been an experience I will be looking forward to repeating under better circumstances."
“I as well. Perhaps I could even pay a visit to Eskeland in its truest splendor under the peace that will last ages,” Jangyeon smiled. He bowed to Theodor at the waist in cordial professionalism. “May the gods watch over you and Heonmye, and may balance be restored in Eskeland.”
Almost as if on cue, Naehwa and Heonmye finished their conversation, the former walking back to Jangyeon, bowing to Theodor on the way, while the latter entered the palanquin, imparting one last look upon her aunt and her king. Her eyes then fell on Theodor as she beckoned him into the palanquin. To Eskeland.
One Path Forward: Part II
Copost with Ryeongse
The voyage was long, their arrival in Pradl was met by a welcoming party from the people, who not only cheered for the return of their king, but also the arrival of their new guest, but that was just the beginning, the real celebration would come after. As soon as they could, they boarded a ship for Nyholm and followed the coast to avoid any storms or strong waters, days after they arrived in the city. From there would begin the final trek of their journey, the carriage to Valendorf. Followed by members of the Königsgarde and other nobles, the royal caravan departed.
After a long week of travel, Valendorf appeared on sight, St. Somerled’s Cathedral standing above the rest. Theodor was happy to finally be back home. He looked to his side to see an ever curious Heonmye taking in the sights of the foreign land, the first time she’s ever been outside of Ryeongse, “Welcome to Halder, my birthplace and home.” Said Theodor to Heonmye.
Lost for words, Heonmye could only take in the sights: the neatly arranged houses with rooves like autumn forests, the placid river by the city’s side, the cathedral stabbing into the sky like the sword of the city, in a quest to claim the space above them for itself. “It’s beautiful,” was all Heonmye could say with an awed giggle.
The carriage stopped in front of the cathedral where a welcoming party composed by the highest members of the council and other important people awaited them. The soldiers lined up and people from all over town congregated to welcome the new guest. Theodor helped Heonmye of the carriage.
Forward came Stefan who bowed and greeted them, “Your majesty, welcome back. How was your stay in Ryeongse?”
“It was extremely pleasing, I’m looking forward to returning there once the war is over,” Theodor answered brightly.
“I am glad to hear that, but don’t forget us.” Stefan chuckled, “And is this who I think it is? The future queen of Eskeland?” Stefan greeted her with a kiss on her hand. “A pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.”
Heonmye bowed fully at the waist to greet the noble. “It is an honor to meet you. Your reputation and honor to both the av Valbergs and Theodor have not gone unheard. My name is So Heonmye of Daemyundan in Ryeongse, nice and adopted daughter of Chief Advisor So Naehwa. And yes,” she smiled, “future queen consort to Theodor and of Eskeland.”
"Thank you, although my reputation is nothing to brag about. Well then tell me, how are you finding our beautiful country?"
Heonmye glanced around again at her surroundings. The cathedral towered above the party like a mountain, amidst the forest of surrounding buildings. The streets were serene and cheery, even with the atmosphere of war still present. The Eskelian people were wary and carried fear in their hearts, but they bore their troubles with a smile. “It’s splendid,” she answered at last. “Your people are very strong, able to bear the burden of war in such a determined and peaceful way.”
Stefan chuckled, "That much is true and how-"
"Allow me to interrupt you Stefan."
"Of course your majesty."
"What about the wedding preparations I told you about? Is everything ready for next week?"
"But of course, Friedrich is taking care of the last details, everything should be in place a few hours before the wedding. The invitations have been sent out as well, many have confirmed they will come."
"Good, great, amazing job, make sure to send my thanks to the rest. This wedding must be perfect, the grandest this country has ever seen, Heonmye deserves nothing less. Stefan, it's time for us to leave, we are tired from the voyage."
"Of course your majesty, take a good rest, same to you Lady Heonmye." With a goodbye from both, Theodor and Heonmye left for the residence they would reside in until the wedding day came.
In the next coming days a festival would be held to honor the wedding. Citizens and foreigners alike would find their way in to assist the festival and witness the wedding preparations
A week later
"I must say, Eskelian clothing makes you look even more beautiful, is there anything in this world that looks bad on you? How is it, too tight?" Theodor asked, examining Heonmye before a mirror.
“Certainly not as easy to breathe through as my hanbok,” Heonmye observed with a playful smile. She spun around and peered into the mirror. The colors were bright and vibrant, with the dress more frilly in some parts than her hanbok. Her collar was bare with the dress, another departure. Heonmye felt a little embarrassed at the dress’ rather indecently low neckline. It made her miss the modesty of her ethnic clothes. Nevertheless, although the aesthetics remained largely foreign to her, the dress had character. It had charm.
Even if not, perhaps this would be the kind of dress she would be expected to wear as the queen consort of Eskeland. Although, what would be wrong with wearing the hanboks she packed once in a while?
Heonmye tried moving her arms. The dress gave her more freedom there, as her sleeves felt airy and light. Her legs, under a similarly bulky skirt, were still quite restricted. Even more so than her hanbok, this dress restricted Heonmye’s waist. It was harder to sit without being restricted upwards, with a stiff back. Turning or bending forwards was near-impossible, thus making it harder for her to bow. Perhaps this was why women curtsied in the west. They had no other choice.
"Do not worry about it, you will get used to it after a while, probably…" Theodor chuckled, "But I won't limit you to using our clothing only in court, you can wear your hanboks whenever you want. So… this is your first time in a foreign country, how does it feel? I know it must be weird."
“It’s… refreshing,” Heonmye answered, deliberating her words. “I already miss home so much, but being here is like a different world, a breath of new air. And yet many things remain the same.” She turned now to fully face Theodor. “It is this country that I seem to have to behold not as some tourist but as queen now, it seems.” She leaned forward and planted a quick kiss on Theodor’s cheek. “At least you’ll be with me as I do so.” She smiled.
"Gods I'll never get tired of you." A knock on the door distracted the two lovebirds, "Yes? Come in" Answered Theodor.
In came one of the servants "Sire, the procession is here." She said
"Ah excellent. I suppose it is time to go Heonmye, are you ready?"
Heonmye nodded. “Let’s get married,” she answered, taking a deep breath.
The streets were lively like never before, so much that it would make anyone forget the war, citizens were gathered from all around the country to see the procession. At the front, the musicians played their songs, with trumpets and drums, followed by the soldiers of the Königsgarde, never letting their guard down, and standard bearers, following close by, nobles, some mounted on their horses other by foot, and then in the middle was the carriage with Heonmye inside and Theodor to her side mounted on his horse, waving at the people who cheered and clapped as the couple went by, at the back more standard bearers and finally, following last, the Hakkapeliitta proudly flying the banners of the kingdom on their lances.
The procession ended at the cathedral, where a long red carpet was laid on the ground from the entrance all the way to the point where the carriage would stop, the soldiers lining up along the way. The first one to enter were the nobles, followed by the patriarch of the country, Patriarch Vidar. Then came the carriage, with Theodor dismounting his horse to help Heonmye off the carriage, then together they went inside. And finally the rest of the guests from the lowest of classes.
The cathedral was decorated like never before, banners of the different houses, duchies, and baronies draping down from the railings at the top, a long red carpet that extended all the way to the altar from the door in continuation of the previous one. Flowers of different colours were placed on the sides of the benches. At the end stood the fresco of St. Somerled, illuminated by the coming light, blessing and presiding over the wedding.
The people took their seats, others who couldn’t find where to sit, stood, the patriarch positioned himself facing the crowd on his altar, with a book in his hand. Theodor and Heonmye began their walk towards the altar, linked arm to arm until they reached it
The patriarch began the ceremony with the sermon, in triumphant Skeljaner, “My friends, we are gathered here today to celebrate one of the most important moments in the life of a man and a woman and one of the biggest moments in the history of our country, the king’s wedding. It is truly beautiful to see that even in times of war the people are able to find the time to fall in love, especially our beloved king, who on his official trip to Nyskarna, was able to find his other half. It is truly humbling, and under the watch of St. Somerled, and the gods, we are able to carry it out without any inconveniences.” The patriarch kept going at it for a while longer, citing passages from the Book of Love, the book of the goddess Kara.
Theodor leaned in and whispered to Heonmye’s ear, “How are you holding up? Do you understand what he is saying? I should have asked him to say all of this in Hallish or Halder.”
“Some words here and there,” Heonmye mouthed back discretely. “I think I get the gist, though. I should be able to distinguish the vows and the kiss.” She winked.
“Alright. Hey, see that fresco in front? That’s the image of St. Somerled. They say when it is illuminated by the light, it means he is presiding over the wedding or any other event; this goes for the other churches dedicated to saints.”
Heonmye silently observed the artwork, the somewhat foreign words of the priest flying over her head. The magnificent hues glowed brazenly from the sunlight. It seemed this saint, with his stoic gaze, approved of Theodor and Heonmye’s union.
“Now, let us finally commence the last part of this most blessed ceremony.” Said the patriarch, opening the book he had in the altar, “Under the presence of St. Somerled and with the blessing of Kara, goddess of love, I recite the following; Theodor von Rosenthal, do you accept So Heonmye to be your wife and queen, on the good and bad times, until the day of your death?”
“Yes I do.”
“And do you, So Heonmye, accept Theodor von Rosenthal as your husband and king, on the good and bad times, until the day of your death?”
Heonmye understood Theodor’s affirmation and deduced what the question could be. She took a deep breath and briefly closed her eyes. Thinking of her parents. Her aunt. “Yes,” she announced with a serene smile, in native Gogwihan-eo, nodding to universally convey her statement.
“Then by the power ordained to me by the gods and under Lady Kara’s blessed watch, I declare the couple to be wed, you may now kiss.”
This time it was Theodor who embraced his new bride and queen in his arms, bringing her face to his as the couple kissed, to the jubilation of the congregation. Heonmye reciprocated her husband’s embrace and blissfully sank into his kiss, with cheers and applause from the crowd and the ringing of the bells.
Not long after the end of the wedding and being congratulated by most of the guests, the newlyweds departed on the carriage, for the tourney held in their honour.
“I’m gonna participate and win it in your honour.” Said Theodor to Heonmye.
Heonmye scrunched her eyebrows. “I’d be… honored?” she replied with perplexion. From what she had read of western-style shows of chivalry, the whole procedure seemed to her nothing more than an extravagant display of pomp, with a much higher risk of mortality than it warranted. “Be safe, love.”
“Also, I forgot to mention this, but, remember the other frescoes on each side of the cathedral, those were depictions of the gods, and similar to the other story, if they illuminate, which they did, means we have their blessings.”
Heonmye smiled. Even gods she did not believe in seemed to shower down their blessings upon the newlyweds, despite this time of internal turmoil. If only Heonmye was able to discern what her own pantheon thought.
At the arena, Theodor guided Heonmye to her stand where she would be able to see the tournament without being disturbed, before proceeding to leave to ready himself up. The tournament consisted of a free for all, three rounds, and the last man standing would be crowned the winner. Anyone could choose their weapon of choice and if they wanted to ride a horse or not. Theodor opted for using a sword and mounting a horse.
The tournament lasted a good while, with Theodor surviving for much of the match and eventually delivering the final blow to his last opponent, making him the winner, he raised his sword in victory. Heonmye cheered, clapping her hands and waving her Ryeongsean silk sash in the air. Even amongst the plethora of jubilation from the vast audience, Theodor was able to spot and discern Heonmye’s voice as if hers was the only one issued.
A few hours had passed between the beginning and end of the tournament and it was evening. The last event of the day was the masquerade ball, usually an event only people of wealth could afford, but this time anyone could assist as it was state funded. It was held at the town hall. After a quick change of clothes, Theodor and Heonmye departed for the place
At their arrival, they could see the streets were lighted up, and very well decorated, the town hall as well, and a certain air of mystery and intrigue hung on the place. The people walked around dressed in the best clothing, although the difference between the lower and higher class was more than obvious, the majority wore masks of different shapes and colours, some plain and simple and others more decorated and detailed. The plaza outside the town hall was full of stalls with people selling from food to beverages, some musicians playing songs and a jester went around doing jester things, but the highlight of the event was inside the town hall, the Masked Ball.
Heonmye had brought a glossy wooden fox mask, painted snow-white with red highlights, a traditional figure of Ryeongsean mythos whose visage she had packed before she left for Eskeland. It had laid idly in her quarters, almost completely forgotten had Lynn not spotted it months before and had made the connection to these kinds of masked dances. Perfect, as Lynn had said, for such experiences.
Perhaps it was a bit conspicuous. The patterns may have presented a “risk” of who, or what, was under the mask, but Heonmye need not have worried. The wild assortment of colors, shapes, patterns, and styles the other dancers brought to the hall made Heonmye’s abnormality feel like conformity.
“Go, explore the place a bit, go meet some people, drink or eat something, I am sure you must be hungry. With the mask no one will recognise you. I will go and explore a bit too, I hope they have the mask I’ve been looking for this year, the maskmakers guild had recently a supply issue, so I do hope they solved it. We can meet back at the town hall for the ball.”
Heonmye nodded and slipped the mask on. She was tired, and it had been a long day. Perhaps she could, with the anonymity her mask provided, saunter to the corner of the room, perhaps after snatching a glass or two of wine and perhaps one too many hors d'oeuvres, and recollect quietly on the day, her future, and Ryeongsean-Eskelian relations. If she had to be honest, Theodor’s willingness to leave her be and roam the ball to explore Eskelian culture by herself was nearly frightening. Heonmye was never one to shy away from a good party, but in a room full of strangers speaking a completely different language and practicing an entirely different culture than her own? A nightmare.
So Heonmye executed the first stages of her plan. She gently swiped a wineglass from a passing server and picked up a small circular loaf of Brelognian bread with a Namarian cheese spread on top, dotted with Eskelian fish roe. Avoiding overly enthusiastic dancers, in colorful arrays of clothing with too much cloth on their shoulders and too restrictive on their legs, as well as pompously dressed nobles haughtily asking her for a dance, Heonmye eventually found herself to her destination: a window, providing a view of the city’s lights below, near the corner of the ballroom.
Heonmye grit her teeth. The wineglass’ wide circumference made drinking the sweet elixir impossible without removing her mask. Anxious, she resorted to simply sliding her appetizer into her mouth through the space her mask did provide and stood holding her wineglass for later consumption. She did intend to consume it at some point.
“Annyeonghashimnikka?” The Gogwihan-eo greeting made Heonmye jump. She turned, startled to find a woman in a dress much like hers, wearing the mask of a dove.
“Yes, greetings,” Heonmye echoed back in her native tongue, matching the woman. She was stunned, lost for words as to how a Hyannic, Ryeongsean or not, wound up in this ball.
“Ah yes, forgive my intrusion, Your Highness,” the woman bowed at the waist, adhering to Hyannic tradition. “I could not help but notice your mask, your hair, and the way you carry yourself. I suspected you might be Ryeongsean, perhaps even the Ryeongsean queen our king married.”
“That’s me,” Heonmye chuckled awkwardly. “And you?”
“Ah, yes, I’m Anya Mahl,” the woman bowed again. Her pronunciation up to this point was Hyannic, undoubtedly, but her name was an odd mix of Halder and Hyannic. “I’m one of the few Shinmyokko in Eskeland, our mother country.”
“Is that so?” Heonmye raised an eyebrow in curiosity, not that Anya could see, of course. “And how do you like Eskeland?”
“It feels… like home,” Anya sighed. “I have known nothing else. My parents tell of my lineage hailing from the Homelands, the same as our Ryeong cousins, but we had apparently assimilated into Eskelian culture while still retaining our heritage and language.”
“That’s beautiful,” Heonmye smiled. “Perhaps there is wisdom in your family’s experience for me.”
Anya became as stiff as a board, her face draining of color. “Surely you cannot mean any connection between a family as humble as ours and yours, My Queen,” she blurted, bowing several more times. “Please forgive me for the intrusion.”
Heonmye held up a hand, politely asking Anya to wait and listen. “Please.” Heonmye looked Anya in her eyes, beyond the mask, and took off her own. Sweat was starting to accumulate on Heonmye’s soft face, from the exhaustion of the day and her stuffy mask. It was rather unbecoming for someone of her stature, either before or after the wedding, as the condensed sweat started meshing uncomfortably with her make-up. “I’m truly glad to know I am not alone in this country. That there are people of my ancestry living with me. That there were people like your forefathers who trod this path on which I now find myself walking. How did you come to this party, anyway?”
Anya blushed as she took off her own mask, revealing a round face with small, bright eyes supported by a thin yet resilient neck. “I have been able to work my way as one of the city’s top artisans. I was invited here by one of my patrons.”
“Then let’s meet again sometime,” Heonmye took Anya’s hands in her hand unencumbered by her wineglass, the latter cringing somewhat out of the discomfort of being touched so casually by the most powerful woman in Eskeland. “And please introduce me to your family. Do you live amongst Eskelians and Halderians or are there separate Shinmyokko villages?”
“My family lives here, with the ethnic people,” Anya answered, “but there are Shinmyokko villages here.”
Heonmye let go of Anya’s hands. “I will try to get more information to pay my cousins a visit, then. Perhaps they can help me find my footing and destiny here. The only destiny I’ve cared to entertain so far was mine with Theodor’s. And he’s the world to me. As such, I couldn’t think of anything beyond or after our marriage, after our union. Until now, I guess.” Destiny? It was not forwards that Heonmye looked but backward. To her family. Her home. Ryeongse. She longed for a connection to familiarity, instead of being thrust completely into alien lands. And here was her answer.
The music began to play its last few songs, marked by a slower tempo to account for how intoxicated the guests now were. “Ah, my apologies,” Heonmye giggled. “I think Theodor may be beginning to wonder where I am, maybe worried that some double-chinned aristocrat stole his queen away from him.”
Anya joined in the queen’s laughter. “Yes, please get going. I apologize to have kept you for so long.”
“Think nothing of it,” Heonmye smiled. She bowed, turning to leave to find Theodor amongst the ball. “Annyeonghi gyeseyo,” Heonmye farewelled, slipping on her mask once more.
“Annyeonghi gaseyo,” Anya bowed fully at her waist before turning towards her own destination.
Spotting Theodor in one of the tables drinking some wine, she approached him. She touched him in the back and Theodor turned around to see who it was, “Oh phew Heonmye.” He said, trying to speak properly as he was a bit drunk from all the drinking, “Thank the gods you’re fine, I shouldn’t have left you alone, I feared you could have gotten lost or one of these pesky nobles could have done something to you. So do tell me, how did it go, I hope you didn’t stand out too much with your mask, although with the clothes you are wearing I’m sure it must have been fine.”
Heonmye peered into her wineglass, undisturbed ever since she grabbed it. She gently placed it on a nearby table. “I was fine, thank you,” she smiled. “Seems you’ve had more fun than me,” Heonmye poked at Theodor’s very noticeable attempt to appear regally sober.
“A bit yes, turns out the local branch of the maskmakers guild had moved their location, and I don’t know where, but oh well, I guess next time, I hope I find better luck in Königstad. But you don’t look like you are having much fun and that worries me, what if we go and dance for a bit? It is a bit late and the masquerade will end soon, unfortunately we missed the communal dancing but we can have our own dance now, so what do you say?” Theodor said to her, extending his hand.
Heonmye opened her mouth to speak but shut it, repressing her words. Was such happiness possible during war? Was it not a necessity? She let out an exhausted sigh, as if letting go with that exhale of her worries, responsibilities, and concerns. For now, it was time for a ball, to close the night with her beloved on the dance floor. She took Theodor’s hand.
Georg’s Residence, Skarhamn
Ever since the arrival of Prince Theodor to the country, the war has taken a turn in favour of the Rosenthal supporters, this also meant that with the new military knowledge he brought, the war had stalled as neither side dared to make any movements. Tidahamn, the capital of the country, had fallen to Solberg forces not too long ago, forcing the court to move to Königstad, and now they controlled most of the south. Vindheim remained as the last bastion before they could advance north; however, Theodor was not going to allow it to happen.
Georg, who was a staunch supporter of the prince, was residing in Skarhamn for the moment, in the manor of a friend, while things were being sorted out in Königstad for him. He, like many of those loyal to Theodor, worried about the state of the country and the current war, he feared that things could turn more into Mikhail’s favour if nothing was done, despite countless reasurances from Theodor that it wouldn’t happen . Georg however wouldn’t stay calm about it. He spent many days pondering over what he could do to help more and then it came to him, asking the Volgars for help. It had been a while since he had written to his daughter Ellinor and with the current war, sending or receiving letters had become very difficult.
He wrote to his daughter. He began by asking her how she was adjusting to her new life, then how she was doing with the pregnancy, and finally he addressed the problem of the war wondering if there was anything she could do to convince the Volgars to send aid. He mentioned that Theodor was unwilling to ask for foreign aid unless someone offered it to him. Once he finished writing the letter, he handed it to his courier, “Here, deliver it to my daughter Ellinor in Volgaro, she is the wife of Prince Aleksander, tell her it is from her father and that it is urgent.” He said to him, the courier nodded and went on his way.
The courier would take the northwest route because it was easier, taking a ship from Nyholm to Volgaro would take more time and that is something Georg didn’t have. His journey would take him through Syrduria. He would take the road from Ballensberg to Andolis, then the imperial highway to Karinsfyr and finally Ravnova entering Riddenheim. His departure was delayed due to the weather, but after waiting some days, the weather cleared, all that was left was to take the road to Davir. He would make a short stop in Valken to rest but after that Davir was his last stop before reaching the Volgaro-Riddenheim border.
The rough weather of the Riddenheimic countryside made it all the more difficult for him to reach his destination, especially when he was stopped by an Iskrenite priest, who questioned his religion, but eventually he was able to reach the border. In the distance he saw the encampment of an army, at first he thought it might have been a Riddenheimer army, but as he got closer he saw the banner of Volgaro flying.
In the lands of Volgaro and Riddenheim winter was in full swing and the river known as the Dolgava was frozen, locking the river trade for the season.
Across a large bridge the courier could see a network of camps and fortifications, what once was a vast woodland leading into the eastern half Volgaro now looked like wasteland from the Volgar preparations.
As he crossed the bridge he was stopped by a host of guards.
“State yer business.” One said in broken kostuan behind his mask. The other four on his flanks brandished halberts towards the rider.
“I am a courier from Eskeland, I have a message to deliver to Lady Ellinor, the wife of Prince Aleksander, it is quite urgent”. Said the courier looking rather exhausted from his long trip across half of Sokos.
Some words were exchanged between the soldiers in the Volgar tongue before the one that had spoken previously spoke again. “Come on, I’ll take yer to the marshals.”
He turned as the makeshift gate opened behind him, leading the courier to a large tent with multiple shields bearing the different coat of arms of the marshals of Volgaro.
“Dismount and go talk ta them.” He said demandingly.
“Thank you very much.” Said the courier to the soldier as he entered the tent.
Entering the tent thirteen men sat discussing around a long table, a large map lay across it with chess pieces arranged in different areas along the map.
At the head of the table sat a man in fine garb with a pipe in his mouth smoking and listening to the rest before looking up to the courier and holding his hand up for silence.
Another man from the right side of the table turned around. “And who in the blazes are you?”
The courier was taken aback by the man’s attitude, he regained his composure and bowed, “I am sorry sir, I didn't mean to bother any of you but I was told to come over here. I am a courier from Eskeland, I carry a message from Duke Georg and I am supposed to deliver it to his daughter Ellinor, the wife of Prince Aleksander.” Said the courier.
A one-eyed man on the left laughed. “So my blood-brother did get married, that is fantastic, I apologize for Marshal Höger’s outburst; he is not yet trained in manners.”
“You watch your mouth you brute!” Höger said angrily before the man at the head of the table cleared his throat demanding silence.
“The Prince and his bride have not made it back from their trip with the Reichsfrau, what is it that your lord is wanting?” The man said looking at the courier quizzically.
“This is terrible then.” Said the courier, a worried expression on his face,he did not know if to tell them or not, he decided to ask for the man’s name first, “May I ask who you are first, sir?”
Hushed whispers went about the tent before the man sighed. “I am Drovij Van Utreik, Lord Marshal and acting Regent of Volgaro.” He said, letting a cloud of smoke out of his mouth as he spoke.
“Perfect I am pretty sure it might work.” He whispered to himself, “Well alright, I do not know if any of you are up to date with the current events in Eskeland.”
“Unfortunately since tensions have flared between Riddenheim and ourselves we have not had much word from the east.” A man in clothes befitting a merchant said on the right.
“Many of these men have not been home since the summer, and until we know for certain the Riddenheimic horde will not try and take this bridge, they will stay and us along with them.” Drovij said, placing his pipe in his mouth.
“Understandable. As of current events a war has started in the country after the death of the previous king. It is between two houses, the av Solberg, led by Duke Mikhail, who claims the throne through a supposed ancient claim, and the von Rosenthal, led by the now King Theodor. The war at first did not go in favour of the regency, but after the arrival of our majesty the tides of war have turned in our favour, however we have stalled and no progress has been made so far, neither side wishing to make a move yet. My lord Duke Georg wishes to seek foreign aid in this war. King Theodor might not ask for it, but he won’t refuse if someone offers it, at least that is what my liege told me. He sent me to deliver this letter to her daughter in hopes that she might convince Prince Aleksander to meet with King Theodor.” Said the courier, explaining to the men ,as briefly as possible, what had been happening in Eskeland in the past months.
Drovij sighed, rubbing his temple. “We’ve no men to spare but just as I listened to our brothers and sisters in Kohlenbirke I will listen to you. Give me the letter and I’ll make sure it makes it into the hands of Ellinor upon her arrival, unless you would rather go to and stay in Myrali until their arrival?” He said, looking at the rest of the table. “Any objections?”
A man on the left raised his hand, he was younger than the rest of the men in the tent, looking perhaps as if he had just become a man. “My Lord I mean no disrespect but, if we continue to divide our forces in such a way would the Riddenheimic hoard not outnumber us even more?”
“If we only send a token force led by Aleksander to help, we will be honoring our alliances and the boy will get some experience under his belt.” Marshal Höger said before Drovij could answer.
“Correct Höger, now courier what will it be?” Drovij said, raising an eyebrow.
“There is no problem with that sir, I just ask that it is delivered to them as soon as they arrive.” The couriers handed the letter over to Drovij before thanking them,”Thank you for your time sires.” Bowing and leaving.
A week later the royal family would arrive back in the ports of Myrali, the mood in the city was somber as the streets once filled with merchants now lay empty as every fighting age man and women had been sent to the border of Riddenheim, the guards quickly met with the Reichsfrau and her entourage, one of them handing the letter to the lady Ellinor before bowing and returning to his post.
She read it, it had been a good while since she heard of her father. She had been overseas for a long while. The last letter she sent him was when she was in Serulea. She had not long ago given birth to her children, naming them between a mix of Volgar and Eskelian names. But it was the last part of the letter that worried her. It was not long ago that she was made aware of the conflict that had been raging in her home country. Her father was asking her if she could convince Aleksander to arrange a meeting with Theodor in hopes that he would send some aid.
A day later, after thinking about what she would tell her husband, Ellinor went looking for Aleksander. He was out training in the courtyard, she approached him and asked him to spare some time to discuss an important matter, he gladly did. Sitting in a closeby bench she turned to look at him, “Dear, you know of the conflict in my homeland right? My father sent me a letter asking for aid, what do you think of this?”
Aleksander read the letter carefully then looked to his wife. “Well I would have to request it from Isabella but if she agrees then yes I will meet with this Theodor.”
“That is great, please do, I know it might be too much to ask of me, but I can’t simply do nothing while my home suffers like this. I just hope that Theodor is open to the idea of accepting some aid. Good luck with Isabella.” Ellinor kissed Aleksander on the cheek and left.
An hour later Aleksander entered the Volkiban chamber to a symphony of shouts and debate from within. Isabella sat once more in her throne, beside her sat the new Reichsherr of Volgaro Sebastien De Senar.
Duke Ernst’s face was already filled with rage as he spoke to Isabella. “You left a tyrant in charge while you were gone, and these Volgar snakes agreed with his plans to weaken our unity!”
Lord Dragel spoke up. “Ernst you must calm yourself, we all agreed to the reforms not just the Volgars, if one of us is trying to promote disunity then that would be you.”
Ernst’s gaze shot over to Dragel before the Reichfrau noticed Aleksander had entered the chamber.
“Well cousin I would have thought you would be taking some time with your children before joining the rest of the Drunaran guard on the border, what brings you here?” The Reichsfrau said with a smile towards her cousin.
“Well Ellinor received a letter upon our arrival, it would seem their lands have broken into civil war since our departure and they are asking for our aid, if you would allow me to take a token force to their lands, I assure you that it will benefit our lands greatly.”
Isabella thought for a moment looking to the Volkiban for their opinion.
Most stayed quiet with the few arguments against coming from the Duke of Sudenburg.
Isabella looked back to Aleksander. “Well it seems you have your answer cousin.”
Yungwe exhaled against the frigid winds of the Bantry Bay. Definitely bringing more of a chill than even the coldest Black Bay or Solstice Sea waters ever could. He personally had not been to the Ryeongsean Astrals, but the temperature here, a horsepace or two from Myrali’s shores, were likely similar.
A pale dsen with long, slender horns, around which and on his head sat a fine gat, firmly secured around his chin against the breeze, Yungwe towered above the human and monsu crew of his diplomatic vessel, a quality that no doubt made some forms of diplomacy awkward but nothing that proved a serious hindrance to his career. A small part of him wished it had. His advancement was what made His Majesty select Yungwe himself to travel to distant Volgaro, after Byeolsan had previously agreed to promise aid to Eskeland’s King Theodor in his civil conflict against the pretender Mikhail.
This was different than mediating minor trade details with Uyuti or Saeju. This was something else. Something larger than Ryeongse and one other country on matters as inconsequential as commerce. Although Yungwe was less certain, His Majesty seemed to trust him enough to carry this through on his behalf. Yungwe promised he would not disappoint.
A particularly strong, chilly gust swept throughout the deck of Yungwe’s vessel, where he stood overlooking the Bantry Bay. It was snowing. Hard. And the recent gust did not help him or the crew trying their best to keep the ship moving forward against the cold. Yungwe hugged at his winter hanbok, around which he wore extra silk and fur layers. It would be nigh impossible to get a signal running at this rate. Yet he had to try.
“Sir,” he practically yelled to the captain, standing to the rear of the ship’s deck. The captain, in a dull yellow jeogori robe with fur cuffs and hems, turned to face the dsen. “Can we get signals off the mast?” Yungwe asked, cupping his hands around his mouth despite being little more than two horselengths away. “We need to dock soon lest the fleet is torn apart by the wind and waves, no?”
“We need to dock, you’re right about that,” the captain let out an exasperated sigh and cursed under his breath at the winds above. “Still, even if the men can get the signal flags up and running safely, we’re not sure how long they’d last and if the Volgars can see them before they’re torn to shreds. These simply weren’t designed for this kind of weather.”
Yungwe bit his lip. That was something he would need to suggest to the Woncheung port officials or Byeolsan: maritime signal flags that could actually last in the Bantry. “Let’s try, anyway,” Yungwe sighed. The captain nodded. He shouted orders to deckhands on standby, who scrambled up the masts of the junk vessel and hoisted flags with different colors and patterns, signaling a request to dock.
The ship was far enough to respect Volgaro’s waters but close enough to see if Myrali’s docks were to show any sort of response. As the deckhands carefully descended, thankfully with no one lost to the elements, Yungwe waited, squinting his eyes in Myrali’s direction. Although these signal flags were mostly observed, at least with these designs and conventions, in Ryeongse, hopefully the message would get across.
From several towers close to the part fires lit up illuminating the area around the docks of Myrali. So it did get across. Yungwe sighed in relief. As did the captain. “Bring her forward, boys,” the captain shouted to his weary men. With rudders and sails directed accordingly, the Ryeongsean envoy fleet approached Myrali’s ports, anchoring as they approached their piers.
Once anchored, Yungwe’s ship let down a ramp, down which Yungwe walked, shivering all the while, tagged by two Hyeongshinjo mages and infantry guards as well as the ship’s captain. The dsen approached the awaiting customs officials and bowed professionally at the waist as he did so.
An old man with a bottle in hand walked forward chuckling. “I would not expect anyone to be foolish enough to cross the Bantry’s waters this time of year for no reason?” He said in kostuan, thick with an accent.
“Not for no reason, no,” Yungwe chuckled back in Kostuan as he stood upright from his bow, standing much taller than even this Volgar. “My name is Lim Yungwe, and I represent His Majesty the King of Ryeongse.” He reached into his pockets to retrieve a letter bearing the king’s official stamp. “I have been sent by him to come before the leader of Volgaro regarding Eskeland.”
The man looked the Dsen up and down. “Oh yer one of them Tong we’ve heard so much about, got it.” He said, taking a large sip from his bottle.
Yungwe stepped slightly forward, subtly leveraging his height against the Volgar. “We hail not from that venerated empire but rather its good friend,” Yungwe responded, crossly. He had heard stories of Volgar confusion between Ryeongse and the Tong Empire. “As much as I would like to discuss with you what separates the two of us, I believe that the matter I have brought before your leaders should be discussed urgently. May we proceed?”
He took another swig. “Whatever ya say.” He motioned behind him to a host of guards in ornate armor. “They’ll see ya to the Cathedral, but I would watch yer step now wouldn’t want there to be any more misunderstandings during yer visit.”
“Understood,” Yungwe responded. He bowed again before turning to the ship’s captain. “Would you mind staying on the ship?” Yungwe asked in Gogwihan-eo.
“Sure,” the captain responded. “Don’t be too long, now.”
Yungwe nodded in affirmation, then turned once more to continue to the Cathedral with the two Hyeongshinjo mages and his Volgar escorts.
As the Dsen traveled through the city he would see the varied styles of Architecture from the different quarters of the city, but nothing compared to Saint Ulrich’s Cathedral. The light shining through the stained glass windows collared the courtyard in an array of colors as they approached its large wooden doors.
As the group walked, the guards accompanying the Dsen muttered amongst each other in the Volgar tongue. Yungwe largely ignored the murmurs, his attention purely on the sights of Myrali, particularly on the cathedral before him. The stained glass with its myriad of colors was unlike anything in Ryeongse. Yungwe marveled at the shapes, symbols, and figures the panels created as the delegation approached the cathedral’s doors.
Entering the hallowed halls sounds of monks debating about a plethora of topics. The legality of the Drovichian reforms, the validity of the foreign religions and governments, even to the validity of the blood of the saints.
As the party moved through the cathedral the monks looked towards the dsen with great interest before a rather well dressed man approached the Dsen and bowed.
“Would you happen to be from Uyuti or perhaps from the land of the fair lady Daeja of the Vladovs?” He said bowing.
“Yes, I hail from the same kingdom from which Lady Daeja has come, from Ryeongse,” Yungwe responded, matching the man’s bow. “I have been sent by His Majesty the King of Ryeongse on a diplomatic mission to your splendid nation concerning Eskeland, for it appears we share a common interest.” Noting the surrounding religious clergy, and not politicians, Yungwe continued, “I seek an audience with the Reichsfrau of Volgaro, to whom I am to relay His Majesty’s proposal.”
“Ah I see, most amongst the scholars here don’t understand the Tong and her sister nations ways but you intrigue me, specifically the Ziist religion I have heard so much about.” He said with a cheerful tone. “But I have forgotten my manners. I am Lothar Patikov of the Patikov family of this city.”
“As have I,” Yungwe bowed once more. “My name is Lim Yungwe, humble servant and representative of the will of His Majesty of Ryeongse.” As Yungwe stood from his bow, he furrowed his brows, slightly. “I am no religious scholar, but if you so wish, I can appeal to Their Majesty the King and Queen to send Ryeongsean Ziist clergy to fill your temples with our rhetoric. I would wish to contribute as well, stating what knowledge of my faith I do have, but time is not on our side. If I may be so bold, the sooner arrangements are made between Myrali and Byeolsan, the better for both of our interests in Eskeland. After all, we appear to be on the same side in this issue.”
Lothar’s face darkened for a moment before he bowed. “My apologies I did not mean to impose upon your task, I will excuse myself.” He walked away into one of the many side halls where monks were eating, drinking, and debating.
The guards continued to lead the Dsen further through the grand cathedral passing dining halls, chapels, and even what seemed to be massive libraries for study.
Eventually they would come to a large wooden door, carved upon its face was the visage of a great battle spanning the entirety of the door, even the most minor of details had been carved in the ancient wood. Two more guards that had been standing at their posts noticed the approaching group knocked on the door causing it to open up. A cacophony of voices burst out of the room as the lords and ladies of the Volkiban debated.
Yungwe turned to his escort, nodding to them to signal they stay at the entrance while Yungwe proceeded forward by but only a few steps.
As he entered the center of the debating council one of the Volgars on the left side of the chamber, a certain Chief Drovic quickly turned to him, his face red with frustration. “First you all continue to listen to that mad marshal’s drivel then you allow some sort of Tong dog within our presence! This is more of an outrage than when we allowed Maxim to marry one of their..”
“That is enough.” A large woman said coldly. “I am not certain you know your place Chief Drovic, but I will not have one of our guests slandered before they even get to speak.” She then looked at the Dsen with a kind smile.
“Welcome to Volgaro, I apologize for any unpleasantness you have experienced since you have arrived. Tensions are high as of late, forcing some to look to their base instincts instead of their civilized manners.”
Yungwe gracefully lowered to his knees, bowing fully in prostration to the council. Standing, he cleared his throat quietly and began. “Your Highness the Reichsfrau and the esteemed members of the Volkiban, my name is Lim Yungwe, sent before you by His Majesty the King of Ryeongse. On behalf of the crown governing our fair lands, I graciously accept your hospitality.” Yungwe never considered himself a particularly hot-headed individual, but he had to practically bite down on his tongue to prevent any sort of condemning retaliation to the man who voiced his outcry. Clearing his throat again, forcing himself to compose himself, Yungwe took a scroll from his robe’s pocket, unfurling it before the assembled audience. Its back was coated with a deep red silk, embroidered onto it the phoenix of Ryeongse. “If I may,” Yungwe continued, “I have been sent to deliver His Majesty’s proposal with the nation of Volgaro, Your Highness the Reichsfrau, concerning the civil conflict of the Kingdom of Eskeland.”
Isabella nodded. “Proceed then.”
Yungwe did a small bow at his head, redirected his sharp, focused eyes onto the scroll, and cleared his throat to begin reading. “In the 2,503rd year of our founder Wonjungmu, yet also remembered as the 345th year following The Fall, His Majesty King Won Jangyeon of the Kingdom of Ryeongse, Land of the Solstice Phoenix and the Thundering Geomnaeajin, has issued the following statement for deliverance unto the audience of the most high authorities of the Realm of Volgaro, the Reichsfrau and the Volkiban honourably assembled here today:
“‘I have deeply considered the request of King Theodor von Rosenthal of the Kingdom of Eskeland in his struggle against the usurper Mikhail av Solberg. Not only are houses between the two kingdoms united in harmony, but I have also found it prudent not to remain ignorant to Ryeongse’s neighbour and friend undergoing a civil war, worse still this pretender managing to secure victory and seal Eskeland’s fate in darkness. As such, I have agreed to Theodor’s request, that is, to send forth ten thousand men westward for King Theodor’s effort: four thousand heavy infantrymen, three thousand Hasanajin light cavalrymen, and three thousand Geomnaeajin heavy cavalrymen. I shall also supply logistical aid to King Theodor, including supplies, sappers, and the like.
‘However, most key among these logistical efforts, and the reason why I have decided to contact this valiant Realm, is the transport of your dispatched troops to Eskeland. From what I understand, Volgaro and King Theodor of Eskeland are closely aligned, and word of Volgar aid to Eskeland travels quickly, especially in wartime. Furthermore, should Volgar troops be sent to fight in Eskeland, I have also heard that Volgaro lacks the naval capacity to send troops to such a faraway land to fight on Theodor’s behalf. Therefore, my key proposition is this: I shall send a contingent of my Solstice Sea fleet northwards around Xinjan peninsula, through the strait of Qalan, to dock at Myrali and to take your men out of the Bantry and to dock at Mavgilias. From there, Volgar and Ryeongsean command can operate in safe, friendly territory before going into Eskeland proper. I shall also decree that Volgar troops and Eskelian loyalist forces can find haven in Ryeongse should a strategic retreat need to occur. However, I will not provide supplies of any kind to your men during the voyage from Myrali to Mavgilias, so your men shall need to bring aboard what they require: munitions, weapons, food, and other necessities.
‘As such, I would request that you, Fair Reichsfrau and the Volkiban, consider my request of cooperation for our common interest which is King Theodor of Eskeland and issue your response to the delegation sent by me standing before you now. I view that my terms are simple and come at little expense to Volgaro and shall bring you closer to your agenda with King Theodor. If you should choose to agree to these terms, please also notify me of the count of your troops. My next response shall then be the amount of ships needed to transport your men you had thus previously specified, also considering room for supplies and mounts.
‘I am delighted that our two peoples can fight together in this rare opportunity. Tales of Volgar bravery and honor on the battlefield have reached archives even here, and I would be honored to have my troops witness this up close and perhaps also manifest the valor we ourselves inherited from the Homelands. Whatever issues on which our two kingdoms may disagree, from the Tong Empire to Riddenheim, I view this as a time for harmony between our two nations amidst the strife of Eskeland.
‘This is the decree of the First King of Ryeongse, of the Won Dynasty, Won Jangyeon, in the presence of the assembled advisory body headed by Chief Consul So Naehwa and observed by the military officials of land and sea, represented by General Ro Munsang and Admiral Yul Taepyuk.’”
Yungwe closed his scroll and stood still, awaiting the response of the assembled Volgars before him. He hid his struggle to breathe, his throat feeling drier than Empyrial sands conveying the lengthy message in the frigid cold, even while sheltered under roofs and within walls.
The hall erupted into discussion, a few of the lords in attendance glancing towards the Dsen before once more Isabella raised her hand to call for silence.
“We accept, we would be fools to try and march that far south. Theodor will have Volgar warriors at his call to win his war.” She said a slight smirk forming in the corner of her mouth.
“I hope this leads to a deeper understanding between our three kingdoms.”
Yungwe fully bowed. He returned the Reichsfrau’s smile. “That is what we all strive for, no?”
In the months following the pact between Ryeongse and Volgaro, Prince Aleksander had been given command of a little under three thousand men, two regiments of Rusznics, one from Volga Drunara under the command of Commander Maksymilian Olczak the other from the newly formed provencal forces of Kohlenbirke under the command of Commander Sven Riegel. The other five hundred were Straki of The Order of the Saintly Flame.
As the troops continued to either train or procure supplies Aleksander stood staring out to sea, the spring winds off of the bantry calmed him as he thought of the coming battles.
“Worrying again lad?” a voice called out behind him snapping him out of his contemplative trance.
Turning to see Commander Riegel smiling before approaching. “Always loved bodies of water, but I guess that's what being a fisherman gets ya.”
Aleksander raised an eyebrow. “I had thought you were of nobility?”
“Well I am from just owning land within Kohlenbirke, but I’m little more than a burgher and like the rest of my men I was conscripted just happened to have a bit of loyalty from helping them during the war with Korbek.”’ Riegel said before standing beside Aleksander.
“This will be all of our first times out of the river valley, I know you fear that many of us will never return but at the end of it all we are either going to die in Eskeland or against the Riddenheimers when they decide to attack, so put your mind at ease lad we all know were we go when the time comes.”
Aleksander nodded before looking back out to the sea. Out of the perpetual Bantry fog emerged a small fleet of Ryeongsean ships, the sand-colored rectangular sails, supported by full-length battens, unmistakable even from this distance. Three larger cannon ships loomed behind five smaller junk escorts. Ten galley-style ships surrounded their larger counterparts. On all of their masts flew square flags, deep indigo, with bright vermillion frills. Ryeongsean phoenixes on each flew proudly against the northern winds.
“I guess that's em? I’ll round up the boys.” Riegel said bowing before running back to the temporary mustering grounds and barking orders to his men, which was mirrored by the commanders of the Straki and Drunaran Regiment.
Aleksander took a deep breath readying himself to act as not only a diplomat and warrior, but a general as well, while he had been groomed for such a position he did not expect it to be so soon.
Even with Volgar soldiers running about, making last-minute preparations to account for all departing men, supplies, rations, horses, and materiel, the Ryeongsean ships, despite arriving with moderate speed, were far off, giving the regiments plenty of time before even the fastest light galleys lowered anchors and threw down ramps upon Myrali’s ports. The larger two classes of ships nevertheless followed soon after; Ryeongsean hands scrambled about the decks even before docking to accommodate Volgar troops.
Upon the fleet’s head ship anchoring at Myrali, Captain Jeiang descended the vessel’s sturdy ramp, wide enough to comfortably goad two horses side-by-side. He was followed by a few of his deckhands as well as accompanying infantrymen and arquebusiers. Even in the warmer weather, his professional jeogori robe underneath his steel scaled armor did little against Myrali’s seemingly endless cold. Yungwe had not been exaggerating. Jeiang literally shivered at the thought of Yungwe having to see the Volgars in the wintertime.
Jeiang approached the important-looking Aleksander, singling him out from amidst his subordinates, and bowed at the waist, as did his entourage. “Greetings,” Jeiang confidently announced in Gogwihan-eo. A translator behind him, part of the entourage, relayed the captain’s words in Kostuan. “My name is Captain Gol Jeiang. I am overseeing this contingent of vessels to transport your men to Mavgilias as part of the joint agreement between our two nations to aid Eskeland.” Looking around at the Volgar’s subsiding buzz of activity, he added, “It seems you are concluding preparations. Good. His Majesty values punctual allies.”
Aleksander turned, returning the bow. “I am Prince Aleksander Von Dreni Reinhardt, it is a pleasure. My men are prepared to leave whenever we can.”
Two men approached from the mustering grounds behind him, one in his early fourties’ the other had to have been getting on in years with an eye-patch over his left eye. They each bowed when they approached.
“These are my commanders, Ser Maksymilian Olczak and Sven Riegal.” Aleksander said motioning to the men.
“Happy to make yer acquaintance.” Riegal said, nodding.
“Hopefully you prove my kinfolk wrong about those with ties to the Tong, however for now I am happy to serve alongside those my nephew found his bride with.” Olczak said giving the traditional Volgar salute.
Jeiang bowed, greeting the other men. Upon receiving the Volgar’s words relayed back in his language, he frowned slightly but shook it off. “It would be an honor for His Majesty’s kingdom to be judged holistically, not only because of who we choose to ally,” Jeiang replied with a gruff smile. “Although we exercise our merit and integrity in aiding King Theodor, it seems both of our nations are to benefit with this venture.
“Now,” Jeiang gestured towards the flagship. “Shall we board?”
Sir Lyrenz and the Hallish Knight
Copost with Alvaringen
In the first weeks of Junicia the Syrdish huszars of Count Jakob’s army were across the River Stromar and in Alvaringen, raiding and pillaging the northern hinterlands of the County, causing much disturbance in the otherwise tranquil lands of the northern barons.
Lyrenz raised his sword high in the air for a brief moment, examining it with a cautious eye. His squire Frytsche stood right by him, a somewhat nervous look on his face, as he observed his master review the blade carefully, ensuring that there were no discrepancies. After a few seconds the young knight lowered it down and rested the weapon on his lap, a faint smile appearing on his face, before he sheathed it, and rose from his seat. “Fine work, Frytsche, fine work.” He remarked, giving the young man a small smile, which was all that the squire needed for a jubilant expression to cross his face, as he set to tending to his own affairs, leaving Lyrenz to wander around the camp with a somewhat blank expression on his face.
It was around noon. A group of Ferenc Keszögyi’s huszars, along with Lyrenz and his squire, were camped in a small forest clearing, a good number of miles away from the nearby castle-town of Wulfsow. After having crossed the Stromar, they had avoided the large walled burgs, whose garrisons outnumbered them, and stuck to the more isolated stretches of hinterland in the northern baronies. Plundering the farmsteads and villages that they could, they were joined by a number of other companies of huszars, though they were few in number, a good score of their companions having been killed in the battle at Leuchstal a few months prior.
That day though Ferenc’s company was relatively isolated from both the other huszars and any castle whose garrison could dwarf them in number. They were in a spot of forested country, where the thick woods stretched on for a long while, and where small farmsteads or camps of charcoal burners were all that populated the woodlands. Since no supplies would reach them from the camp of Count Jakob’s main army, they relied on foraging, which was not a difficult task—much game and other animals were to be found in the forest, meaning that Lyrenz and the others dined like hunters, as they felled hares and harts wherever they could find them.
Lyrenz, his body exhausted, sat down on the soft dirt ground, and began to smoke. Filling his pipe with tobacco, then lighting it, he calmly observed his surroundings with his sunken and dark eyes, a product of his fatigue. Some fifteen other huszars were at the camp that day, their faces made chipper and merry by the blue and tranquil sky of the day, the harsh sun just peering through the treetops, casting occasional rays of golden light upon them. They were tending to their own affairs mostly: cleaning their weapons or clothing, eating, or like Lyrenz, engaging in whatever could calm their minds. Lészek, one of the main commanders of the company, who had a mutual feeling of disdain with Lyrenz, strutted around the camp like a peacock, left hand firmly on the pommel of his sabre, while he used his right to rub his eyes again and again, betraying his exhaustion, which he tried to hide with a somewhat stoic expression.
A good number of the huszars, Ferenc Keszögyi among them, had ridden out early in the morning in search of more plunder. They had yet to return. There was a certain level of anxiety in the camp, its occupants numbering not even numbering twenty, as they waited for the return of their companions. They were in much hostile territory, far far removed from the army of Count Jakob, stretched out across woodlands and long fields, disconnected from the other companies of huszars, and under threat of attack. The only comforts given to them in this endeavour were the loot they obtained, the fact that they moved quickly, and the level of concealment provided to them by the stretches of woodland they now found themselves in.
The noise of galloping, the tough clattering of hooves upon dirt and grass, resonated throughout the forest. So anxious were Lyrenz and the huszars that their expressions immediately turned to ones of worry as they heard these sounds, only to be relieved a second later by the clear noise of shouting in the Syrdish language. It was the morning hunting party, led by Sólyom, which had gone out foraging at dawn, and was now returning, laden with all sorts of food. Returning to the camp, they now broke out into all sorts of shouts and cries, as Sólyom bellowed out orders with his soft and charming voice.
“Fasten the horses, will ya?” He ordered to one of the hunters who was just dismounting.
“On it, on it…”
“Caught a good load we did today, hah!” Boasted one to Lészek, who was eyeing the numerous hares and quails that were tied to the horses with a hungry look.
“Where’s the captain and his group? Went raiding, didn’t they?” Asked another.
“Yet to return.” Responded Frytsche.
“Come, let’s get this game off these horses…” Said Sólyom to two hunters nearby, as they began to take the quails and hares, with triumphant looks on their faces.
“We saw a boar too, nearly skewered me before runnin’ off!” Explained a huszar in a light blue kaftan to his friend, making wild gestures with his fat arms and podgy fingers.
“Hope the captain and his lot return soon, we’ve got to get movin’.” Remarked a man in similar clothing.
“And where to?”
“Don’ know. I heard we was to move further south, near…Vocklingsau or somethin’.” Replied another.
Lyrenz observed this with tired eyes, looking around as he saw the huszars lay out the game they had catched and prepare to skin them. His gaze fell upon Lészek, still strutting about proudly, but this time with a look that appeared to grow more irritated by the second. He recognised this expression in the man, and knew what it meant. He was vexed for some unknown reason, and like a hunter, his eyes darting from man to man, he was looking for someone to take his anger out on. Lészek did this often—he would strut about in an irritated manner, and when he would find the slightest discrepancy in the actions of any neighbouring man, he would round on that person with all his anger.
Walking around, he noticed a huszar sitting idly, and promptly fell upon him, shouting angrily for him to get to work, and the huszar complied readily. Lészek’s gaze turned to Lyrenz, who was still smoking his pipe, and he looked at him for a long moment. Everytime he had rounded upon Lyrenz, he had been rebuffed by the young knight, who, speaking in a detestable and lofty tone of noble authority, simply spurned his criticisms, and kept on his way. He knew that he, a representative of Duke Martyn and Count Jakob, could not be harmed or disciplined, and he took great pride in expressing this.
Feeling that Lészek was about to pounce on him, Lyrenz rose and approached Sólyom.
“Where’s the nearest creek?” He asked meekly and in a tired tone. Sólyom, gazing at the knight with his wide warm eyes, smiled softly, then answered.
“Not far, simply take the road out and take a right, then a left, and you’ll come to it.” He answered simply, and Lyrenz nodded, expressing the fact that he had understood the answer. He went to his horse, a brown chestnut steed, and stroked it gently, before mounting it. Saying a passing farewell to Sólyom, and explaining that he wished to bathe in the creek and would be back shortly, he donned his sallet in case of danger, kicked his horse to a canter and set off.
As he rode down the road, all sorts of thoughts began to creep into his mind, and it turned its attention first to the Battle of Josef’s Field. He remembered it clearly still, even though it was more than three months past. That deep and bitter memory, whereby he had galloped with all haste away from the charging knights, before swerving into a patch of forested area along with a few others, barely avoiding the wrath of Count Josef’s vanguard, which met its end just a few minutes later. Yet, although having survived, he collapsed from the heat and the exhaustion soon after, and in the days that followed was caught in an awful sickness, his body and mind fatigued completely.
His great and terrible fear—of dying of some vile ailment—seemed that it was to be fulfilled that week. He had fought in numerous battles before, sparred with a multitude of enemies, committed rash mistakes, but never had it felt that he was so close to death than in those few days. Though he was tended carefully by a physician, the illness was not thought to be serious, and he recovered after less than a week, and was fit to fight after a few days more. Yet he still felt weak, perhaps not physically, but mentally. He appeared drained, and the thought of sickness, of death, still loomed heavy upon him. It had transformed him.
His own confidence was failing. Whereas before he had looked back at the past months, and was satisfied—though this feeling was marred slightly by his assignment to be with the huszars—he now felt that he had done everything wrong, committed the most stupid errors, and was barrelling towards failure. “How idiotic I had been to have refused to come with His Highness to Wyvern’s Rest. How stupid was my decision to remain with the army! Now, look! I’m caught in the midst of some Hallish woodland, far removed from people who I would consider to be my comrades.” He thought.
Continuing along the road, he took a right. “Death is sure to come for us, here in this stretch of Alvar land! Yes, yes, death is approaching, in the form of sickness or some host of Alvar knights I know not, but it is approaching! I will die without seeing my father, my mother and my sister, and my home. Ah, how pitiful!” He continued to ponder, thinking back on the numerous times he had crossed paths with his own demise. It had not seemed so near to him back then, when he had fought against Augustyn’s forces, or watched the clash of Syrdish pikes and Hallish knights at Uzhental, but it seemed so terribly close to him now.
He took a left. “I’ve escaped each and every time, and I live. But how do I live? How do I repay The Greatest? I spend my time riding with these huszars, slaying my fellow Iskrenists in their farmsteads and hovels and I kill, and I drink. I must’ve lost all favour with Him, now. He must hate me for how I’ve thrown away his gratitude. Yes, he must hate me.” He mulled sadly, his expression miserable, as he observed the trees and thick foliage that rustled in the light wind of the day.
Riding down the road, he came to the creek. A small thing, it cleaved the forest and the road in two, its water rushing past, touching the earthy banks that constrained it. It was not at all deep—Lyrenz could see that the water would barely reach his ankles. Small rocks jutted out of the water defiantly, and the water was transparent and pleasant to look at, though it was not at all tranquil. Lyrenz saw this, and smiled softly, though the creek’s appearance did not alleviate his feelings. The miserable expression clung to his face slightly as he dismounted and walked forward to the creek, before removing his sallet and splashing his open face with water, the drops of water running down his cold mail coif. His horse also trotted forward, and began to drink from the creek.
Across the bed, to the other side where the woods hung over the scarcely flowing creek and casted a great, perplexing shadow, came a steady cracking of branches and the trodding of feet upon gravel. From the undergrowth it was difficult to see, but each second still the sound grew louder and more pronounced until it resolved into the presence of a figure emerging from the green thicket. Beside him walked his horse, which he led and navigated through the unsteady terrain of the creek shore until they sauntered out of the shadows and into golden rays of sunlight overhead.
Almost instantly the man was marked as a knight. His armor, of a coatless white steel, shone and reflected as he approached the water source, seemingly unaware of his environment. In his spare hand, he held a waterskin sack, which betrayed his intention to restore his vitals and rejuvenate himself. Allowing his horse to drink from the creek, the Alvarish soldier seemed caught in his own world; his visor was fixed upon the crown of his armet—his face was fair and flushed with red at the cheeks, and a straw-colored mustache covered his lips—and his eyes seemed to look nowhere in particular, but instead seemed distant and at thought.
For a time, the knight stood around, looking down the creek and casting a wide view of the current as it coursed south into the low country. To inhabitants of this region, it was known that the creek fed into the Swarzach, a river that started near Vocklanau and flowed towards the Countess’ city of Grafsburg, which was named for its appearance as the black soil turned it dark during heavy rains. Eventually it fed into the Stromar itself. Many parts, yet all part of the same system.
Eventually the man looked down, kneeling beside his horse’s head as the animal drank heartily from the fresh water. He lowered his waterskin to the ground and filled it, intending for it to aid him on the rest of his journey. The creek, which flowed over a fine bed of gravel and stones, was naturally filtered of the typical miasma and discoloration of populated rivers. Perhaps, as the knight fixed the skin closed, he thought that if the water was good enough for his steed, it was good enough for him.
His visage continued to watch the reflection of himself in the current, and sighed three times heavily, each loud enough to carry around in the relative quiet and peace. After a second longer, he rose, a seemingly morose and beleaguered expression across his face. Fixing the vessel to the saddle of his horse, he continued to let his mount drink and rest, instead turning to look towards the far side of the creek. His movements were gentle and timid, and it was easy to imagine him as a painter searching for a muse.
Slowly his eyes turned, and looking to the far side of the creek, saw that he was not alone. A look of astonishment grew on his face, and his eyes narrowed for a moment as he looked over Lyrenz. Then, suddenly, he took a step forward, coming to the edge of the gravel bed, and his lips stretched into a slight smile as he called out in his Hallish tongue.
“Good day to you, sir! Sorry, but I didn’t see you here until just now. How rude of me to intrude and traipse upon here, as if I have no manners.” He said with a slight chuckle. “You have my sincerest apologies.”
Lyrenz had been watching the man attentively ever since he had heard the cracking of the branches and laid eyes upon his steel armour, which shone in the rays of sunlight that creeped through the treetops. He stared at him wide eyed, observing his movements closely, noticing the trance of thought he seemed to be in, his eyes lost and wandering. The man’s distant smile, which appeared only as a blur, the chuckle with which he said his unintelligible greeting that Lyrenz could not understand, the far-off sullen expression that clung only slightly to his face—Lyrenz saw all this and pondered.
Though aware that this man was no huszar—his armour and appearance had made that fact clear long before he had even moved his mouth to speak—though aware that this knight was a Hallishman and therefore an enemy, the young knight did not take his gaze off of him, nor did he mount his horse and ride back, or don his sallet and charge across the creek. He simply stared, still lost in the thoughts that had creeped into his mind some minutes prior. “I can’t understand what he’s saying. I’m sure to die soon…yes…die soon…hm? Who is this man? I can’t understand what he’s saying.” He thought, gazing with a blank expression at the knight’s face.
“Is this death?” He asked in his head, looking again at the figure of the Hallish knight. Suddenly it seemed clear to him now. “Yes! I’ve had a premonition, and now it is being realised! He’s come for me! Sooner than expected. Yes…or perhaps not. I should speak. What should I say?” He continued mulling, before again turning his focus back on the knight and what he seemed to be doing. Still adrift in his trance of thoughts, Lyrenz produced a false looking smile, and opening his mouth to speak, he addressed the knight. “Greetings.” He said in broken Kostuan, before adding: “Who are you?”
“Ach,” the knight said in a low tone, nodding to himself as he spoke again out loud, this time in a Kostuan accented with Hallish, though still quite familiar and capable with the old imperial tongue.
“I am Osven Bissler, in service to the Lord of Vocklanau, the Baron Frederic von Ott!” He said, his voice carrying with a joyful, somehow playful tone across the creek and over the chirping of birds and general wildlife. “I have intruded upon you; my apologies.”
The knight looked away for a moment, placing his hands on his hips as he did. He seemed to be at thought, but it did not keep him long as he turned back, still an amicable expression across his face.
“The baron has called upon my service, like many others, because he says that there is a Syrdish army across the river, not far from here. There’s accusals that a band of brigands or raiders have crossed to pillage, so I am on my way to Vocklanau.”
He chuckled, “Though I do not think they will cross. We have no matter with them, no business of war. They should keep to themselves and we to ourselves, as we always have.”
“I have forgotten to ask: what is your name? I don’t think you’re in service to Frederic, but you dress too fine to not be in service to someone. There’s been many strange folks about in the past few weeks.”
Lyrenz gazed strangely at the man. This time he understood his words, but still did not process them in his mind, as he drifted in his thoughts. Yet as he slowly withdrew back to reality, and gave the Hallish knight more strange looks, he began to understand his predicament fully, and became unsure of what to do. “Should I be honest? Must we fight? Yes, it’s inevitable. One of us will kill the other. I will lose, I think.” He contemplated, preparing to give the man an answer. “I will lose, and death will come for me at last. This time I shall not escape!”
His eyes wandering to the sallet that laid on the ground of pebbles and rocks by the rushing water of the creek, he picked it up with a tremble in his hands, a timid look of fear crossing his face, before being overtaken by an unexpected expression of acceptance, which fit the state he had been in all morning. His lip quivered slightly for a brief moment, as he wiped his face of the drops of water that had clung on to his pale skin.
Held back by his fear, he assured himself of what he was to do with all sorts of thoughts; that he was serving his King, that he had to fight, that it was inevitable, that it was just and good, and so on. Pushed forward by this strange acceptance or premonition of death that he had on the ride to the creek, which now seemed to have overtaken him, he held the sallet tight on his hands, before giving a passing look to his steed, the chestnut horse still drinking from the water, oblivious to everything.
It was in this mood of acceptance of death and self-destruction that he spoke. “I am Sir Lyrenz Reimund, I am a servant of King Karlus of Syrduria. I am delivering justice on the King’s enemies.” He said flatly in a dull voice, the quiver on his lip returning momentarily, as his Syrdish accent resonated in every word he spoke. “I think we are to cross swords, unless you wish to yield.” He continued, but stopped there, awaiting the reaction of the knight across the creek.
Osven seemed nearly unphased by his proclamation, except that his smile faded a little and he seemed to chew over his words.
“Well…” He muttered. “That explains a lot, doesn’t it?”
There was still a strange indifference about the man, as if the knight was wholly unbothered by the sudden realization that he was speaking to a foe. That they were, by service to their respective lieges, now fated to fight. In many ways, his presence at all was otherworldly and impressionably ignorant of the bloodshed and vileness of war. It was difficult to know whether the knight was inexperienced and dull, or if he had seen too much of war to find it at all interesting, and treated this as nothing more than a simple engagement.
“Tell me, Sir Lyrenz of Syrduria, if I may ask a question of you.” The knight started, having lowered his left hand to rest atop the pommel of his blade. “You have any family? A wife? Children?”
“No, Sir, I do not. Do you?” Answered Lyrenz bluntly, a vexed expression crossing his face, as if he was aware that he could not remain in this mood for long, and that if they did not cross swords soon, then he could have a change of heart, which he did not wish to happen.
“You should seek some one day. It gives more meaning to life, to find people to which you belong. Who can grant you happiness.”
The Hallish knight slowly drew his blade from its scabbard, making clear that he intended to fight, but his movements were slow and seldomly appeared to be more than a miniscule of indication of violence.
“I, myself, do. I have a dear wife, Ermecin, who I love more than anything. And a son, Corbus, who’s named after his grandfather. He’s getting on nearly three. I wonder, Sir Lyrenz, should I fall here, who will tell my family? What will my son know of his father? That I died in service to my master, Lord Frederic?”
He seemed genuinely aggrieved by this question, but waited no time for Lyrenz to respond as he continued.
“Yet, I know when I am gone that I will be missed. That if I die here, I will be grieved. I feel pity for you, my foe, that no one will recall you.”
Lyrenz contemplated these words. The image of his young sister came into view for him, her blondish hair and pale blue eyes shimmering slightly—she was thirteen when they had last met, she would be sixteen now. Her image invoked a flurry of memories: he recalled his mother, sickly and frail when he had seen her, but who still smiled and gazed at him lovingly. He remembered his father, Armin, irritable and vexing as he was the last day he had seen his son, but who still cherished him fully.
Yet after their images had passed, these memories faded, and he again withdrew back to reality. The acceptance of death again overtook him, the vexed expression clinging onto his face stronger this time. He stared the Hallish knight down, as he put his sallet on, before his right hand moved towards the pommel of his sword ever so slightly. “I may not have a wife, nor children, but I will be remembered. My service to the King will not be forgotten.” He said quietly, his words reinforced by his mood and his thoughts. He unsheathed his sword, but did not hold it up high, instead letting it fall down as it grazed the pebbles slightly before going still.
“Service to your lord is honorable.” Osven admitted. The knight took a weak step forward, testing the stability of the creekbed, and continued, “But it cannot be all of you. How can a life be cherished, should you leave nothing? If not a family, then compatriots? Companions.”
The Hallishman took another step forward, this time more determined and concerted, and moved into the shallow, flowing creek with his sword wide at his side, wielding it in one hand. He dragged a hand up towards his helmet, where he hovered it near the latch that held his visor up.
Lyrenz mirrored the Hallishman’s actions, taking a step forward with a shaky breath. The creek which cleaved the road in two seemed to separate life and death for him, and as he took a step closer to the Hallishman, the closer he seemed to death, and all the terrible things that it meant. Turning his thoughts to his companions, he remembered the huszars—he saw Lészek strutting about with an irritated look on his face, and he saw the boastful expression of Sólyom as he flaunted the quails and hares that he had caught on the hunt. He was far removed from those people, from their wants, their needs and their ambitions. He detested them greatly, and as he recalled again their spiteful and mocking faces, he took another step forward.
“How do I leave nothing? If I was to fall, I leave knowing that I have fallen serving my King, and The Greatest.” He argued, his voice frail and wavering. He tried to reassure himself, and in doing so added: “Do you yield?”
“Then if the Greatest is watching, let him observe our struggle.”
The knight said, the smile finally falling from his face as he closed his visor, sealing his armet. For a moment he continued to stand in an eerie stillness, and it was easy to imagine that he would never move at all; rendered in stone, held in place for an eternity.
Suddenly the Hallish warrior lurched into action, taking another great step forward that appeared more as a leap as he raised his blade in his right hand; with a single sweep of his arm, he launched a blow towards Lyrenz.
Noticing his movement, Lyrenz lowered his visor quickly, and, grasping his longsword with both hands, he stepped forward, watching the weapon of his foe come down upon him. He moved his blade to deflect the Hallishman’s blow, before taking a step to the left and trying to slash at Osven from below. He breathed in quickly, his mind racing, as he understood that he was now locked in a great struggle, one which he would either surpass or surrender to.
Osven capably stepped to the side, bringing his sword up quickly to cut the strength of the blow and divert Lyrenz’s strike. Taking a short step back, he brought his knightly sword into both hands and resolved to make an assault against the Syrdish knight’s defense.
Moving his sword low to his side, he swept it up, aimed to knock Lyrenz’s blade to the side and then deal a quick, cutting blow against his neck. The armet covered the Hallish knight’s face perfectly as he fought, and the small sliver he could see through was silhouetted by the lofty trees hanging overhead.
Though his vision was poor, and his mind clouded by all sorts of thoughts, Lyrenz concentrated on his movements and those of his enemy. Noticing the sudden motion of his enemy’s blade as it swerved upward, he took a few steps back, blocking the man’s strike. The two paced around each other for a while, as Lyrenz rested his blade on his shoulder as a stance of attack, waiting for the moment when their two blades would meet again.
Osven seemed more aggressive than his opponent, and likely both men sensed that. The Hallish warrior continued to fill that role, circling around Lyrenz like a lynx. Instead of waiting for a moment of weakness in the Syrdish knight, he sought to make his own opportunity and force him into a deadly mistake.
Raising the sword between his right shoulder and neck, he held the blade close to his chest as he did a small, quick strike. Lyrenz obviously slipped the blade away, but Osven was not deterred and used it to judge his movements as he abruptly broke his circling and stepped forward twice, swinging his blade from an angle with intent to kill.
Caught off guard by the sudden lunge and attack of his foe, Lyrenz scrambled to defend himself, but ultimately failed to block the strike of Osven’s longsword, which fell upon the top of his sallet with a great force. Lyrenz felt that the blow should have been more painful, guessing that the Hallish warrior had not put enough strength into it as he should have. The Syrdish knight staggered for a second, put off balance by his enemy’s offensive.
Deflecting a few further attacks from the Hallishman, he regained his composure slowly. He was sweating from head to toe, as his breaths became more rugged and exasperated. Moving his sword up, he prepared to strike Osven from above, but as he took a slight step forward he changed the angle of his blade suddenly and completely, this time striking from below. He felt that this would catch the Hallishman by surprise, and it seemed to be succeeding, but as he took another step forward with his left foot to complement his attack, his sabaton slipped suddenly on some unforeseen rock. His hit was deflected, and he now felt dangerously off balance, as if he would fall any second.
Osven sensed this and suddenly the Hallish knight charged forth, choosing to neglect a possibly killing blow from his sword. He kept his blade in-between Lyrenz’ body and his own sword, blocking it away from him as he moved forth and brought his shoulder hard into the square center of Lyrenz’ chest.
Lyrenz felt the charge of the Hallishman, and saw it crash into his chest with all its impetus. He fell with his back onto the rocky creek, the large rocks that jutted out of the water now provoking a groan from the Syrdish knight as he crashed into them, having caused more pain to him than the Hallish knight’s own strikes. The imposing figure of Osven was towering over him, and in the midst of this his grip over his longsword had been lost, as it now laid some distance away from him, his attempt to grab it blocked by the steel gauntlet of the Hallishman.
Catching sight of the sallet that now watched over him, Osven’s eyes just barely visible through the visor, Lyrenz felt that this was the moment. His pain was moderate, but as he gazed confusingly at the steel armour of his foe, he felt closer and closer to death. “Yes, yes, it comes for me now! Ah, Greatest!” He thought.
Though Osven stood just before Lyrenz, glaring down at him through his blackened-visor, he did not move. The Hallish warrior did not creep forward, nor did he bring his sword down in what would have surely been a killing blow.
Perhaps, as he stood there, it was possible to imagine that the idea of killing a defenseless man was no sport for the Hallish knight. There was a strange sense of honor that permeated in these lands, that much was known. Slowly, his sword lowered to his side, allowing the blade’s point to dangle just a few inches away from the slow-flowing water’s surface.
The knight seemed incensed by Lyrenz’ willingness to accept his death, and looking towards the creekbed, found his longsword glistening in the water. He reached down, taking the weapon by its blade into his hand and slung it at the knight, watching as the sword bounced across his chest and fell to his side.
“Come on!” The Hallish knight yelled, holding perfectly still in the current. The glistening sunlight grew like an aura around him, his silvery-steel shining like a golden crown. “Come on!” He yelled again, and his voice almost sounded as it was shaking within the very core of Lyrenz.
Lyrenz gazed again at Osven, and though his full expression could not be seen by the Hallishman, his slightly visible eyes showed a look of timidness and fear. He looked to his longsword, resting by his side in the rushing water, then again to the knight that stood above him, his pose menacing and striking fear in the Syrdish knight. A flurry of questions entered his mind. “Why is he staring at me like that? Have I died? Has death come for me at last? No, no it hasn’t. Why? And why does he watch me with that gaze of his? What does he want? Why hasn’t he killed me? Ah, Good Greatest!” He thought, as he squirmed and backed away from Osven’s figure.
The acceptance of death clung to him stronger as he backed away, waiting with a ready mind for the Hallishman to bring down his blade, or his dagger, or anything, anything that would finish his existence. Yet as Osven simply stared at him, incensed by his willingness to die, Lyrenz thought on the matter further, and he cast a glance at his longsword, which laid there perfectly exposed for him to grasp.
The figures of his family again crossed his mind. As he gave a momentary gaze at the Hallish knight, he saw through his visor the pale blue eyes of his sister Szofia, shimmering with life. He blinked, and saw the dull brown eyes of his father, and imagined his vexed expression, and his irritated tone with which he spoke. And suddenly his breaths became more composed, and his gaze, now transformed considerably, fell upon his longsword, resting by his side. “I live, I should be dead and yet I live! Greatest forgive me! How lowly I think of my life! Yet have I not been created by His will, and do I not live by His will? If he wished me dead, I would have died long ago! Greatest forgive me!” He thought, and grasping his blade the wrong way round, he struck it against the head of the Hallish knight.
As the brunt force of the blade’s crossguard impacted against the side of his helm, Osven crumpled and doubled over, his body going limp as his fingers lost their grip on his sword. He took a few stumbling steps backwards as his body followed the force of the strike, eventually collapsing down on his back and falling hard against the creekbed.
His body lay there motionless as the water of the creek rushed over his neck and arms, his lifeless helm locked in a gaze towards the partially obscured sky. There was no groaning, or sighing, or even a mere sound of pain after the Hallish knight fell. Only the stillness of the after-effects of the battle, the ragged breaths of Lyrenz, and the irreverent birds which continued their songs.
Taking a few deep breaths, Lyrenz attempted to get onto his feet, rising slightly, before falling back onto the bed of rocks and pebbles, his exhaustion bringing him down. He sighed, his gaze turning to the crumpled corpse of Sir Osven, his sallet cracked and dented by the blow struck by the Syrdish knight. Raising the visor of his armet, panting, he again tried to rise from the creek. This time he was successful, though he stumbled and staggered for a moment afterwards. He did not seem to be in much pain, but exhaustion racked every single one of his bones.
He groaned, wiping the sweat off his face with the palm of his hand. He looked to the water of the creek, still relatively clean and transparent, its pleasant appearance not having been marred in the slightest, before his gaze turned to the rustling trees and bushes that surrounded the creek. He sighed, his hands resting on his knees as he bended down slightly, still taking deep breaths.
Sunlight peered through the treetops and fell upon the creek, casting what seemed to be divine light upon everything. The quiet whistles and songs of the birds resonated throughout the stretch of woodland. Seeing this, Lyrenz sighed once more as he looked around, taking everything in with a new, bright and grateful gaze. “Ah, forgive me, forgive me please.” He muttered quietly, making the sign of The Greatest. Turning once more to the corpse of the Hallishman, he saw not the mangled and broken armet of Sir Osven, which now seemed so clear to him before. He saw only his reflection in the clean and transparent water, his pale face and blonde hair shimmering in the sunlight cast down from above.
Challenging the Mergen
Dhorvas Civil war phase 2
The morning sun grew slowly in the clear sky as the party of the Ghazan band waited. Jebe was already bored. They had ridden toward their southern border where the Westreach Mountains slipped into the flatter lands that rolled into central Dhorvas. It was the shared border between the Ghazan and the Yorben now, following the Ghazan annexation of the Sororan band.
Jebe was idly sharpening his dagger as he watched Souche and Ayan compete over a game of Ohjan. The game used a set of simple wood blocks and marbles carved from nuts and sometimes painted to allow players to identify their own pieces. Painting was not as common though and these were instead carved with little details; a hawk for Ayan, and a horse for Souche. Half the marbles would be randomly dropped into a boundary, often made of wood. Each opponent would then try to capture their opponent's marbles by striking them with one of their own. When one was striking, the other could place the small wood blocks to form barriers, defending their marbles and forcing the opponent to shoot their marbles around them to find their opponents pieces. Striking an opponent's barriers too many times before striking one of their own or their opponent’s marbles was a penalty and could cost one their own pieces. One often avoided this by striking their own to push them further into the web of barriers that might be setup.
Games could last a long time, often hours. Jebe had heard the longest had lasted days.He doubted this one would be able to last so long, but they did seem to have time. His attention shifted toward the main yurt canopy that had been set up. Taras stood in conversation with their raqan Sabir. Jebe assumed they were discussing their purpose for being here. Ajirai, one of their new officers that had joined them when they absorbed the Sororan, was with them. Only their counterparts for this gathering had yet to arrive.
As if signaled by Jebe’s thoughts, a group of riders emerged from the tree line near the base of the mountains and made their way toward their little gathering. The banner of the Yorben was held high by severa of the riders. Jebe stood up, putting away his dagger. He tapped Souche as he walked by her and Ayan at their game, pointing toward their guests. The two quickly ended their game to make ready.
Their purpose today was to meet with the Yorben. While the Sororan had been easy to absorb, Sabir had preferred to avoid a conflict with the Yorben, who were among the larger Bands. Initially he simply had wanted to ensure the security of their new border while focusing on other bands, but events elsewhere in Dhorvas had changed his plans. To the north, Oghal and the Mergen had defeated the rebel Argun and absorbed the Siban band into her own forces. The Mergen were becoming a looming threat. Now Sabir wanted more than security, he sought an alliance against the Mergen.
“Finally”, remarked Jebe as he fell beside his friend Taras. Taras and Sabir each glanced at him.
“Did not think they would come?” asked Sabir.
“I do not know Giv or Yorben enough to know if they would or not.”
“I had little doubt.” Sabir replied. “They are in the corner of Dhorvas. If they wish to grow, then their options are us or the Mergen. They, too, stand to be threatened by the growing strength of Oghal and her elven allies.”
The Yorben party reached the summit of the hill where the Ghazan waited and dismounted, saluting as they approached. The Ghazan returned the salute.
“Giv”, said Sabir.
“Sabir, it has been some time.” replied Giv.
“My officers”, Sabir said, gesturing around him. “Jebe, Taras, Souche, Ayan, and Ajirai.” Several nodded as their names were said.
Giv then turned to his own officers, introducing them in turn. “Temir, Gulne, Alok, Tesla and Ajay.”
After introductions were made, Sabir invited them unter the yurt. A circle of seats had been prepared, though it was not raised as was usual custom. Giv took his seat opposite of Sabir and their officers filled in the gaps. Jebe fell beside Taras. All were quiet until Giv began.
“With the basic pleasantries out of the way, let us simply move to why you have invited me here, along the border of your new lands.” said Giv.
“Things are changing across Dhorvas. Times are changing, leading us to a time where there is no “Dhorvas.”
“You forget”, interrupted Giv, “That I remember such times. I fought against Dhorvas, before they conquered my band, and killed my predecessor.”
“Then you hold no love for the bands to your north?”
“The Mergen have expanded their control”, Sabir continued. “It is inevitable that Oghal will look toward our territories soon enough, once she has finished the Dhorva.”
“Perhaps the Yorben do not care what occurs in the rest of Dhorvas, beyond our borders?” countered Giv.
“Oghal will seek your submission whether you care or not. Be it willingly or through force. By then she will have the Dhorva under her control, and perhaps Borhai. It will be too much for either of us to counter on our own.”
“Ah, so you propose an alliance between us, Yorben and Ghazan?” asked Giv.
Sabir nodded. “It is in both our interests. Not merely for defense, but I propose we invade the Mergen territory. Oghal is still preoccupied with the Dhorva far to the north and she uses Turzhan as her base. Her forces in the Mergen home territory are thin and spread. Together, we can take advantage and expand both of our own territories at her expense, and counter her growing power.”
None of the other officers spoke up. It seemed most were either in agreement or had little to add. Jebe himself just did not care. A battle was a battle to him. Who the enemy was mattered little to him.
Giv remained quiet after Sabir had finished making his proposal to attack the Mergen. His eyes never moved from his counterpart but he seemed to be weighing the idea. “You make a point, Sabir. But when Oghal and the Mergen are dealt with, what then? What if I get a taste for expansion? You have room to expand to your west. Your are my western border. I seem to have less benefit in the longer term than you.”
“Oghal also controls the Siban territories to my north. There is plenty for us to divide.”
Giv gave a tooth filled smirk. Jebe could imagine the thought in the Yorben raqan’s head. for now. This was clearly an alliance of convenience. Who knew how long it might last before they became enemies later.
“Very well, Sabir.” Giv said. “I accept the alliance. When shall we begin?”