Earl Maudari, SIr Quinton woke up with a jolt. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and tried to focus. Despite the pile of furs covering his body, he still shivered with the early cold of an early Jaira’s Moon.
Quinton lay back down, trying to relax. It was of no use. He was wide awake. Sighing, with a minimum of movement, he slipped out of bed. Quinton had two priorities, the chamber pot and getting the fire going again.
“Lazy servants, let the fire die down.” He mumbled as he threw some kindling and a couple of good sized logs on the smoldering remnants of last nights’ fire. Soon enough, the room started to warm up enough to melt the ice on the bowl sitting on top of the main table in the bed chamber.
A tiny squeak announced the door opening. A castle servant holding a tray of food with a pitcher of watered wine, tip-toed inside the chamber, trying her best to not disturb the occupants. She had a wool cap covering her hair and a long serviceable long-sleeved blue gown with a brown tunic, with a thick shawl wrapped around her shoulders. She nodded to the Duke, setting the tray on the table. She hesitated when the Duke spoke.
“Jenae, please ensure Prince Arken’s chamber is warm. I don’t want the lad to get ill.”
“Aye, milord, I shall see it your wish immediately.” She left the room, leaving Quinton to ponder his young squire. Arken, the oldest son of King Hadrell and Queen Sareane; married by proxy to Princess Reidun of Opugren, and heir to the throne of Greycliff. Arken was ready to receive his spurs of knighthood at 17, younger than most squires, but he was deserving of the honor. Arken had been blooded in battle at 15, taking over a squadron of knights when the man in charge was killed during an ambush in the hills surrounding Maudari’s land. The men respected his judgment.
Yes, Quinton thought Arken is older than his years. I can’t shake the feeling Arken’s easy life is about to change…soon.
Sir Gweirvon pushed the exhausted horse to run a little further. The poor gelding wheezed as he did his best to obey, white sweat covered his flanks and chest. The fortress of Maudari appeared as he turned the corner past a meadow outlined with Oak, Larch, and Greenwood trees.
“We’re almost there, boy, keep going and you can rest and have a decent meal.” Gweirvon urged the horse.
Approaching the gatehouse, he slowed his mount. “Sir Gweirvon of Foxwarre, with a message from King Hadrell.” A guard allowed him access. Entering the inner bailey, Sir Gweirvon patted his mount’s neck. He dismounted, handing the reins to a stable boy. “This guy deserves a warm mash. I thought I might ride him to death as I did two others in the urgency to deliver the message I carry for your Lord.”
The knight marched to the entrance of the castle, announcing his reason for his visit. A servant brought Gweirvon to the Earl’s private solar, bidding him partake of the available wine, bread, fruit, and cheese on the table.
Gweirvon took advantage of the wine, clearing his throat. It felt good to be on his feet after three straight days in the saddle at a full gallop. He walked over to wait by the fireplace, letting the heat from the burning logs infiltrate through his wet clothing to slowly warm his near frozen flesh.
The door opened to admit the Earl and one of his men. “Sir Gweirvon, my full apologies for keeping you waiting. What news brings you out in this horrible weather?” Quinton already guessed the knight’s urgent business, for only a serious illness of King Hadrell, or his death, would send a knight instead of a Royal messenger out in the middle of winter.
Sir Gweirvon handed the Earl a letter. “This will explain my lord.”
Earl Maudari, my husband, your King, is dead. High Priest Nairen and High Priestess Rizena will do our best to keep his death a secret until my son, King Arken can arrive at Foxwarre. I expect you to escort my son in a manner appropriate to his ranking. I have sent a letter for my son, along with the ring of Greycliff. Make haste to bring your new King safely to Foxwarre as weather allows. We can only hold off the vultures for so long.
The letter was signed ‘Sareane’
“Zabe’s blood, he couldn’t have kept healthy a few more months?” The Earl turned to his man. “Calburth, have someone fetch Arken.” The knight acknowledged the request with a slight nod leaving the room. “Gweirvon, I can offer you dry clothes, a hot meal, and a warm bed. The soonest we can leave is the morrow. I’ll give Prince, ah I mean King Arken, the letter and ring.”
Sir Gweirvon adjusted his stance slightly to allow the fire’s heat to warm his other side. “As much as I expected, my lord; I still need to hand over the package to the young King myself. Sorry, Queen Sareane orders were very specific. It is by no means any smear on your reputation, my lord. I’m sure you understand the importance of my duty.”
Quinton licked his lips, dry from the heat of the room. “Aye, I do, no offense taken.”
A slight knock followed the being door opened by Prince Arken. The young man was cautious as he stepped inside the private solar of the Earl, his emerald green eyes catching site of the strange man by the fireplace. The Prince was flanked by two knights, Sir Mark de Rhydon of the Silver Serpents and Sir Michael of the Sacred Swords. The two men gave Arken enough space to be discreet while being close enough to take action should the need arise. Both men had been with Arken since he turned ten. Sacred Swords were trained to guard their charges with their lives, and were warrior/priests endowed with special abilities by the God, Kyregat, to help perform the necessary duties. Silver Serpents were healer/priests championed by the Goddess Thaelia., also given magic to heal those under their care. Often a Sacred Sword and a Silver Serpent went out as a pair to guard a person, such as Arken, for life – or until one of them died.
“You asked for me, my lord?” Arken said curiosity in his voice. Prince Arken quickly grasped the gravity of the meeting. A Royal knight venturing out in poor weather only did so for a damn good reason.
Quinton waved the young squire over to his side. Arken still had growing to do: he was fit, the muscles sleek from daily training but his legs and arms were a little out of proportion compared to his body. That would disappear in another year.
“Arken, I am afraid I have some bad news for you.” Sir Gweirvon explained to the young man. “Your father, King Hadrell has died. Queen Sareane has sent a letter explaining what happened along with the ring of Greycliff.” The knight passed the letter, with the ring tied on it by a red silk ribbon, to Arken.
The Prince broke the seal and read the letter from his mother. Only a tightening of his jaw betrayed his emotions. Arken put on the ring.
Earl Maudari and the knights each bent a knee to their new King, Sir Quinton leading the men with a “The King is dead, long live the new King!”
Swallowing his grief, he held his head proudly. “Please, good sirs, stand up.” Arken didn’t need ask if he would be leaving Maudari. That was a given. “I will be ready to leave for Foxwarre I the morning; I pray to the Gods we will have pleasant weather for our journey. Sir Quinton, I would like to thank you for the kindness and excellent training I have received at your home. I shall remember it always. I imagine this will be the last evening of peace I will have. If you don’t mind, I don’t wish anyone else to know of my change in rank until tomorrow.”
“Your Grace, perhaps you might wish to spend part of this night in the chapel. I was planning to elevate you to a knight at the end of the month. I think the occasion merits moving up the ceremony. You have earned the rank by deed. Let’s do the ceremony before we leave tomorrow.” Sir Michael said to his charge.
Arken kept a serious face. “I defer to your wisdom, Sir Michael.” The new King grasped the letter in his hand and quietly left the room. “Tomorrow will be soon enough. Let me have one more night of peace.” Arken said, trying to hold back his grief. “Please, Sir Rhydon, would you join me in the Chapel? I could use some guidance and comfort.”
Rhydon put a friendly hand on the King’s shoulder. “Of course I will. Shall we retire to the chapel? Michael will make the arrangements for tomorrow with Earl Maudari.”
A tired looking Arken walked away from Sir Michael. The King suddenly stopped and turned around. “Michael if you would, please send word to Walthen of Campo that I invite him to Foxwarre as a member of my court. It is not mandatory. He can decline if he so chooses.”
Sir Michael gave a bow, “As you wish Sire.”
Light from the Mother Moon, with her Daughter in the distance, pierced the thick glass windows of Maudari’s chapel. Sir Rhydon knelt at the altar of the Great Father and consort to the Great Mother, Kyregat. His lips moved as he prayed silently. To his right, uncrowned King Arken was also on his knees in front of Thaelia, the Great Goddess and Mother to all.
Staring at a multitude of flames burning from candles atop, Arken freed his mind as Rhydon taught him. Red, orange and white danced, the colors melding together one moment and splitting apart the next. Lady Thaelia, Great Mother, I am Your servant, the defender of Your Name. I ask for Your guidance to help me be a just and strong King to my people. Let my enemies fear me. Let my men respect me. Allow my queen and me healthy sons to keep our line ruling for many generations.
The flames flared twice, four times their normal height. Arken’s body began to experience the sensation of floating, just as he had when swimming in the pond near the Earl’s keep, only his body was still. Was the feeling in his mind? He continued to watch the flames, mesmerized by the dancing colors. A face appeared inside the center, gradually taking form of a female. Child, I have faith in your abilities, so should you. Listen to your conscience and let those who have stood with you tonight advise you in times of need. Arken, you will be a good king. Your house will rule for as long as the sun rises and sets. The flames receded back to their normal size.
The flames returned to normal. Arken rejoined his body with a jolt. He looked towards SIr Rhydon. The knight gave him a knowing glance.
“Did the Goddess answer you, Your Grace?”
Arken smiled at his guardian and mentor, “Aye, Rhydon, She did. We still have time to get some sleep. It will be a long ride to Foxwarre.” He stood up, yawning. “I’ll be in my chamber.”
“Good night, Arken. Sleep well.” Rhydon watched the King leave the chapel. “Thank you Jaira, he needed the encouragement. Michael and I will watch out for Arken. His future won’t be easy. I don’t know whom the mysterious lady who will take Reidun’s place is, but I don’t envy her. Arken is relentless once he starts chasing a quarry.”