OC: and the second chapter
Ironfist opened his eyes to bring himself briefly back into the present, taking a few precious moments before returning to the past. Isolade looked concerned, he had never told her too much of what had happened or how much it had affected him. Teer’s face was a mask, hiding his feelings on a time he well remembered. Lamanda was only mildly interested, waiting for her husband to make his appearance in the story. The children seemed to be trying to connect the Ironfist they knew from the one they were seeing, indeed it was hard for Ironfist himself to reconcile the two. Shutting his eyes, Enroth’s King turned back to the past.
It was a quick walk, accompanied by two discreet guards, into the crowded audience chamber, many former courtiers wearing a green token in favour of their new master. As he approached the crowd opened and to the sides he saw some of his friends had changed their loyalties but the likes of Arturius had not let him down, giving him a reassuring smile. Ironfist was unable to smile back but felt his nerves easing with each friendly smile he saw, stopping in front of the dais where the throne sat. To his left came Haart, arms crossed as the crowd seemed to take a step back, leaving the two of them alone as they waited silently for Ragnar to enter. They had to wait only a few moments before a procession made their way into the chambers, the new King walking proudly in front of his subjects with Ewine and Guthbert just behind him till he reached the dais where the King advanced to the seat and looking down.
Ironfist had caught a disgusted glimpse at Guthbert’s new banner, a green winged serpent, but now his eyes were cast to the ground. All around him, people were silently getting to their knees and kowtowing to the King but Ironfist refused to go that far, he may not be Heir but he was still a Prince of the blood! He did what was due to a King from a Prince, bowing from the waist, a small act of resistance but one he knew Ragnar could not object to in public. There was some irritation in Ragnar’s deep booming voice but the former rival was outwardly friendly.
“Look up my dear cousin, I am so glad to see you again Morglin. My condolences with your father, I know he meant a lot to you but he was a weak ruler and change was needed! My uncle threw a coup for you but with you out of the city, the populace clambered for me to take the throne instead, I protested but they pushed me into a coronation that same day. I hope you understand and will not hold it against me.”
The tone was friendly as the words but Ironfist knew the green eyes were watching for any expression revealing his true feelings. Keeping his face a careful mask, his own eyes still lowered though his back was straightened, Ironfist responded carefully “Thank you for your kind consideration Majesty and the loss of my father hurts me deeply but I know it was for the good of the kingdom. I am not as strong, for I know you held back out of loyalty and consideration for my pride, or as wise as you, I am ill-suited to anything more than a simple jouster. I merely ask that your Majesty will believe me as your loyal servant, that my heart and mind all wish to be of service.”
It was open submission before every senior member of the kingdom and it clearly pleased Ragnar, the King held out his hand, the Prince now had to seal it by kissing the signet ring that had once belonged to his father. Approaching the dais, Morglin got to his knees and crawled up the stairs till he could lean down, kissing the ring, a sign of favour from the king and a final sign of submission from the vassal. As Ironfist returned to his place in front of the court, Ragnar spoke again feigning respect for his predecessor. “After my coronation, some of my courtiers sought favour by recommending that the late King be buried in a pauper’s grave! They forget that I am an Ironfist and that he was my Uncle, as such I have buried him on the hill to the south of the city as his will requested. Those same people then insisted that my Morglin would not come but seek to cause trouble have misjudged my cousin dearly. Now he is here, I can reveal what I have kept hidden all week.”
With a flourish, Ragnar pulled Ewine onto his lap and gave her a kiss that drew frowns on more than a few faces, unused to such behaviour. Morglin, for a few seconds was one of them and he suspected Ragnar noticed it before Morglin could gather his composure. Ragnar’s declaration was triumphant but also a challenge to those who would suggest another lady. “I have proposed to Ewine and she has consented to be our Queen, mother to all my subjects. Is there anyone that perhaps objects to the marriage?”
A challenge to all in the court, to object would be to signal opposition to Ragnar himself. Morglin knew all eyes were on him. Forcing a smile, the Prince managed to fake some joy, enough at least to be partly convincing. “Let me have the honour of being to first to congratulate the happy couple and wish them both a fruitful marriage. I have long known Lady Ewine and I have known his Majesty, twice blessed by such illustrious company and I have no doubts that they will be happy together.”
Ragnar nodded, pleased as the rest of the court began competing to give the best praise and wishes for the company. Morglin tried to catch Ewine’s eyes but she was looking at her fiancée from his lap and at whoever was praising her. As things were getting crowded around the dais, Morglin stepped away and walked carefully backwards to where he knew Haart to be. His most experienced supporter was carefully keeping an eye out on those few still loyal to Morglin, ensuring they did not get too close and form a group before the King. The two of them kept silent as they waited until Haart noticed something odd to the left, tapping Morglin’s shoulder so the Prince saw it too.
Below a black banner, with yellow lightening from four corners meeting in the centre stood three wizards, dressed in green, yellow and blue, trimmed with gold and silver signs, their beards white, their hair disappearing. There was one wearing plain white who looked rather younger than his fellows. The young one’s blond hair was hanging just above his blue eyes, the small beard failing to hide his scowl, something that may have had something to do with the tight grip kept on his shoulders. Morglin glanced at Haart who could only shake his head, both were puzzled by the image. A young wizard in trouble with the law or rather in trouble with his own leaders? The mages would normally deal with troublemakers within their towers; they were a law unto themselves. Perhaps this one was a troublemaker they planned to hand over to distract Ragnar from peering too closely at what the other wizards thought?
Eventually even Ragnar was bored with all the praise and with one raise of his hand, all was silent again, the courtiers awaiting his next words. Heaving himself up, the usurper fixed his gaze on Morglin. “When I was a Prince, I spent most of my days living near Varnal Hills, guarding the borders of the kingdom as my family has long done. Now I am King, I must be at the capital but I cannot leave the borders untended for who knows what might happen if the outsiders sensed weakness? I know Morglin Ironfist to be strong in arms, valiant in battle, with all the talents fit for the heavy duty. Cousin will you, your descendants and your retainers keep the borders secure?”
A fine speech and perhaps one that would have been true decades back but the threats from outside were nonexistent now and the area was prosperous. The problem for Morglin was that the local Barons and officials had long been loyal to Ragnar’s clan; it would now serve as a gilded cage for Ragnar’s main rival. Morglin hesitated, trying to find a way out but then Haart whispered to him “Ask to allow you to stay with Lord Kilburn, he is a good friend of mine and he would not be hostile to our cause.” Stepping forward, the new viceroy made his bow “I am unfit for such an important task but how could I refuse such an honour? Will his Majesty permit me to stay with Lord Kilburn, his reputation as a knight is well known and I could use his experience with the tribes to guide me.”
Ragnar seemed puzzled by the request but as Guthbert leant in and whispered to the King, the ruler smiled. “Very well cousin, I shall grant your request and give you a gift to help you. There was once a time when being court wizard was an honour, the wisdom of those who knew magic was sought after by Kings and Princes. Stories of our glorious past not only tell of great feats of valour but wise advisors and of great magic, in recent years wizards have not got the respect they deserve. Guthbert will be leading the way into returning the wizards to their rightful place. The Barons should look to listen to their wizards while the wizards must leave their towers to serve the kingdom!”
While the King was wittering on, the white robed wizard was brought forcibly to stand besides Morglin, bowing to the Prince. “Now cousin, I wish for you to take a wizard for your retinue as an example for the Barons. My own wizard has handpicked this man just for you, Teer Estela was one of the most talented students, now he has become a fully fledged wizard, I hope he will be useful to you. Now, I wish to go hunting, this court is over!”
The guards stepped forward, hands on swords, cutting off any potential protests or pleas as Ragnar with his fiancée and wizard behind him, left the court. The wizards put their arms on Teer to take him away while guards approached the Prince to act as an “escort.” Haart left Morglin’s side and approached the friends who were hanging around hesitantly, shooing them out of the room before they got in trouble. Graciously Morglin accepted the escort and followed the guard captain as they went from room to room in the castle, they had done a thorough job in sorting out what was his and preparing it for the journey that they had clearly known was coming. Only a few times Morglin claimed something that was his, usually treasured mementos’ from his father rather than anything valuable. All this took awhile as the guards and servants were thorough, ensuring that Morglin even checked the dungeons before they escorted him outside the city. No parade, no chance to say further goodbyes, just out by a private gate, where his horse Maisie waited to be mounted then onwards towards his father’s tomb.
When they arrived at the hill, Morglin saw a couple of wagons, loaded with his riches protected by the soldiers of Haart with Dimitri sitting on the lead wagon. Ragnar’s guards carefully handed over the few mementos collected and then departed, they had done their duty and now the Prince had to care for himself. Glancing up, Morglin saw from the red sun that the morning had gone already and it was already afternoon, he would not have long to mourn his father. Looking back down, he saw Haart had dismounted and was holding the reigns of his horse and of Maisie, acting as the groom. “My lord, I thought it would be best for your friends to settle their estates and make their own way to Varnal. Dimitri will take my men and your treasury to your new home so all will be ready for your arrival and without a large escort you would not arouse concern. I will come with you my lord to give what advice I can and to give you some aid if scoundrels seek you harm.”
Morglin heard all of this but made no reply other than a nod to Dimitri, he was glad for Haart’s presence but his mind was elsewhere. As the wagons rumbled away, the two of them climbed the hill, feeling the gentle breeze take away some of the heat that was beginning to build up, yet by the time they had clambered to the top, both men were sweating heavily. The tomb of the Late King was a cairn, an honour given to the richest of men, most were simply buried in a pit and forgotten but as long as the stones stood, his father would be remembered. Haart stayed at a discreet distance so Morglin could be alone for a few precious moments.
Kneeling down, he let the tears flow, stored up since he heard the news, anger building up inside at being robbed, he thought of all the times his father had been there when he was a child and his father was a warm cuddly face in soft robes always picking him up when he fell, telling him what a brave boy he was. There was always time for a bedtime story or a little game, no matter what pressing matters there were. As he got older, his needs had changed but his father had always adapted, being the gentle guide through the treacherous matter of love, a shoulder to cry on, someone he could talk about anything with. Yet as he grew older, they had grown apart, the King could only see a few of the jousts that he liked to be in and now he bitterly regretted being apart so often. Revenge would not change that regret, it was one he would always have to live with but perhaps it would please his father’s spirit. Wiping his tears away, he let his wishes known to the Heavens and to Haart. “My father was a good man undeserving of his cruel fate, I will write to the local lords tonight and march on the capital with their forces! When I have crushed Ragnar, I will offer his head and that of my wretched uncle to my father, take Ewine as my bride and become the rightful ruler!”
Turning around, he saw Haart as expected but he also saw his new wizard, dressed in simple black, patting a rather fat little white pony. The wizard’s face was rather amused and when Morglin reached for his sword, Teer held up his hands in mock surrender, his voice quiet but revealing some concern. “My lord, rightful King you may be but Ragnar has been careful to appease most of the Barons around the capital, if you seek their aid then few will support you. Ragnar has installed his men in all the key positions, what small army we could raise would be easily crushed before allies from further afield could arrive. If you wish to die then sacrifice yourself here rather than kill all those loyal to you or your father.” While he talked, Teer looked like he had swallowed something unpleasant, pulling his face in disgust.
Morglin had never seen Haart angry before but the knight now had his hand near his sword, placing himself behind Teer, clearly wishing to make sure the mage could not escape. “Fine words warlock but have you no feeling for family or honour? A usurper sits on the throne and you would see nothing done?” Suddenly Haart’s sword pressed against Teer’s back “Or perhaps you would tell Ragnar of the plans and seek your master Guthbert’s esteem?”
Teer bitter laugh at the idea of seeking Guthbert’s favour was stopped by a sudden coughing fit, the wizard clutching his stomach, gasping out his complaints. “Blasted mute potion, not being able to talk is bad enough but the after-effects are even worse.” Straightening up slightly, Teer tried to regain his composure “If I had a choice, I would be in the tower trying to get myself on some nice little experiment or debating with another wizard so no, I am no loyalist of the royal clan. I would not have sought Ragnar’s defeat, nor that of your Majesty’s but circumstances have changed for myself, now I am in your service and your fortunes affect my own. If you are defeated then I face death or disgrace, Guthbert will ensure that, if you are victorious then I share in the glory and would return to the tower as its Master. Betraying Lord Ironfist would bring me a few weeks glory but soon a knife in the back as Guthbert would ensure Ragnar would not trust this little traitor, you can see it is in my best interests to see Lord Ironfist restored to the throne.”
Morglin indicated with his hand for Haart to put away his sword. “As a pledge of loyalty, it isn’t very gratifying but I at least know where you stand. Tell me Teer, what would you have me do?” The Prince’s tone was authoritative but wary; he expected an answer and Teer, bowing, gave him one. “Play a long term game, I think Ragnar hopes you will revolt quickly so giving him a chance to destroy you now. Instead wait for the unity in the court to fracture as it must, your own loyalists will be looking to revolt certainly but there will be other factions to use. Ragnar murdered your father but rumour already spreads that Ragnar’s father survived the usurpation only to be betrayed by his own son, old servants of that side of the family will be unsettled by the accusations. Then there were will be those who have lost out in the new regime or those, and there will be many, who have not got what they feel to be a fair reward for their help. With your Majesty alive, if far away, they have a readymade replacement for Ragnar, the usurper will find himself fighting revolts and dealing with plots against him, who is to say we cannot manipulate such events?”
Morglin considered the proposal but could find one major flaw, one he only voiced when all three men were mounted. “That is all very well but when the court splits apart, I will be in the land of Ragnar’s loyalists, unable to raise an army without being crushed.” It was Haart that replied this time “We can muster a formidable force if given enough time, your allies are making their own way to join us near Varnal with what money they can raise, persuade Lord Kilburn to lend his resources to our cause and we will have a decent army. Without Ragnar keeping a close eye, his loyal lords will fall out amongst themselves, some will turn to us and when the time comes, we can add their forces to our own.”
This pleased the former Crown Prince and he felt his spirits rising, he could wait for revenge, he would use Varnal as his base. He would have to see what resources he had, be wary of Teer’s loyalty and begin setting up a way of having contacts within the capital, then the other regions of his kingdom but first the journey “Well gentlemen, I will take your advice and wait upon events but we have a long journey ahead of us, each one full of traps. As we ride to Varnal, we must keep our heads amidst the taunts, do not respond or we fail before we start. Onward!”
“You, are a rebellious son who abandoned his father. You are a cruel brigand who murdered his lord. How can Heaven and Earth put up with you for long? And unless you die soon, how can you face the sight of men?”