A young girl undertakes a fantastic and perilous journey in a Medieval like world.
|The Lone Traveler
““You had the audacity to remove Ser Thoragild from Command?” Queen Denize shouted, glaring at the statuesque Lincinius. She was in her chambers with Lord Smythwaite and Lord Haupt of the Alatarians. The allied army had pressed hard and returned to Lorainne just the day before and now ringed the city in defensive positions. The massive Angalund Army was slowly making its lumbering way thru Camalund and would arrive at the city gates in as little as five days.
Licinius glared back at the angry Queen. “My orders were given, dispositions made, and Thoragild disobeyed those orders,” he bitterly replied. “As commander I cannot condone any such action from any man, regardless of who he is, his ulterior intentions, or what standing he may have in the royal court.”
“You lost a critical battle and brought the Army scampering home with its tail between its legs,” Queen Denize continued. “Now the enemy is at our gates!”
“I have sent word for three new Legions to join us here at Lorainne,” Licinius spat back. King Charles Lacouture has also agreed bring up more knights and men at arms from Vituria, however, he must retain forces on his border with Angalund in the event the enemy makes a move in that direction. The additional forces should provide us with enough manpower to resume the offensive”
Queen Denize waved him away. “The council will convene in an hour, Emperor Licinius, we hope that you will make your presence available to sooth some of the ruffled feathers created by this unexpected and disastrous turn of events. Licinius turned and quickly left the chamber without so much as a nod or word.
“Arrogant bastard!” Lord Smythwaite stated watching the ram rod straight back of Licinius as he left, his hobnail sandals clacking on the polished marble floor.
“I do believe that you are the one who insisted that he be placed in command,” Queen Denize smirked. “You and your pet council of conniving lords and slathering lap dogs.”
Lord Haupt, standing in the background, cleared his throat to remind them that he was still in the room.
“He also relieved you of your command, did he not?” asked Lord Smythwaite.
“I was technically relieved for insubordination,” Lord Haupt replied. “I stood firm with Ser Thoragild on the disposition of the order of battle. Ser Thoragild was sharply against the unsound plan and his reasoning ultimately proved correct. Had he not initiated a spur of the moment relief force, a much larger portion of the Army would never have made it back to Camalund alive.”
“The other commanders tell me the same story,” Queen Denize emphasized. “Emperor Licinius allowed pride and arrogance to override tactical considerations. Where is Ser Thoragild at this point?”
Lord Haupt looked at her with resignation. “The last I saw him,” your Majesty, “he was heading north from the camp, unarmed, and on foot. Licinius made it clear that anyone who aided him in any manner would join him in his permanent exile. I could do nothing. Ser Thoragild was even concerned for my safety. As you know, there is nothing quite so close to a god as a general on the battlefield.”
“You may go,” Queen Denize bluntly stated. “We will discuss matters at the council concerning your status and you will be advised accordingly. I do believe you are the highest ranking Lord in Alataria, subsequent to the death of the Royal family, is that not so?”
“Lord Helmund follows me in royal succession and Lord Connahe follows him, Your Majesty,” Lord Haupt replied, bowing and preparing to leave. ”But, you are correct, I will assume the mantle of King once this war culminates, should the Alatarian Council deem it wise.” He turned and quietly left the chamber.
The Queen and Lord Smythwaite glanced at each other with raised eyebrows. “Should Haupt fall in battle and Lord Helmund die during the siege, our own Lord Connahe would succeed to the throne of Alataria,” Queen Denize smiled.
“You were reading my very thoughts,” Lord Smythwaite casually replied. “This entire mess started with our private little war with Alataria and somehow got out of hand. Our new necromancer has what he needs to control Connahe so he will be our puppet on the throne. Remind me never to aspire to become your enemy, Your Majesty.”
“Oh, but you are,” Queen Denize grinned. “Don’t think for a moment that I dare trust you, my Lord. It so happens that our plans coincide at this point in time, they may take different paths in the future. Bring in Lord Alwaythe,” she commanded the guard standing near her chamber door.
Within moments, Lord Martin Alwaythe strolled in carrying his head high. He held himself as if he was still a pampered member of the elite noble trio destined to rule all of Camalund. The fact that he had created a disaster at the battle of the crossroads, as that battle was now being called, did not seem to trouble him in the least. He bowed to Queen Denize and nodded to Lord Smythwaite. “Your Royal Majesty,” he stated.
Queen Denize continued to smile. “It has come to our attention that you failed in your duties to the crown, Lord Alwaythe, and that you were responsible for a disastrous charge at the battle of the crossroads where you were subsequently cashiered by Ser Thoragild?”
Lord Alwaythe looked at her with a mercurial frown then glanced over at Lord Smythwaite. “The substance of that may not be exactly correct, and I resigned,” he responded clearing his throat. “Ser Thoragild has been exiled by Emperor Licinius for insubordination and that should stipulate a practicable mitigation of my situation.”
“So, you are thus arguing that you did not perform the act which so many other lords and knights of the realm are accusing you of?” asked Lord Smythwaite. “Hundreds of loyal knights and good soldiers did not die from your tactical blunder?”
“I am one of you,” Lord Alwaythe retorted sweat beads forming on his brow. “The three of us are in this together.”
“I also have information that you had something to do with the assassination attempt on my son Robert,” Queen Denize added. “A necromancer in your employ, and others, have attested to that fact.”
“I had nothing to do with that,” Your Majesty,” Lord Alwaythe started to stutter. “I admit to assisting you in the little matter of King George’s demise, but the three of us were each privy to that.”
“Your use has come to an end,” Lord,” Smythwaite flatly stated.
Lord Alwaythe looked nervously at the Queen. “I know things that would send both of you to the chopping block,” he sputtered spraying spittle on the marble floor.
“We are very well aware of that,” Queen Denize smiled. “For that reason alone, I sentence you to be immediately beheaded in the square and your head mounted on the castle wall. Guards, take this traitor away, he is to be beheaded immediately. He is responsible for the assassination of our beloved King George; see to it that it is written on a plaque beneath his head.”
“You can’t get away with this!” Lord Alwaythe screamed as two brawny guards grabbed him by his arms.
“Break his jaw so we do not have to suffer his traitorous cries,” she continued waving them away. One of the guards struck him twice with his armored gauntlet sending a shower of blood spurting from his mouth and a scream of agony from his throat. They unceremoniously half carried, half drug him from the room. I will post an edict with the King’s signet attached to it for presentation to the council concerning his admission to the assassination of the late King.”
“Another loose end tied up,” Queen Denize stated reaching for her wine cup and motioning for a servant to clean the blood and tooth chips from the shining marble floor. “I will see to it that his bastard son abides by our rules, or he will follow in the footsteps of his foolish sire. King Charles has a copy of the papers his father signed and sealed, so I cannot legally make the appointment invalid.”
“We were discussing Emperor Licinius?” Queen Denize stated. “I do not foresee him as the commander we need at this point and time to defend Lorainne and defeat the Angalunders. He may have out-fought much larger armies than his own, but word comes to me that his glorious battle was against spear welding savages to his south who were totally without discipline, no cavalry, and no armor. The man is a complete bungling farce, just like the late Lord Alwaythe.”
Lord Smythwaite considered the idea for a moment before replying. “You were correct about Ser Thoragild, your Grace, and I will gladly concede that point to you, however, we would eventually have had to deal with him in one respect or another. There are many lords and knights in the kingdom who are great battle commanders who have earned that right in battle, but they do not possess the respect and éclat generated by Ser Thoragild. I simply do not see the other Lords uniting behind any one of them.”
Queen Denize rapidly tapped her fingers on her chair. “Elan! You’re right, Lord Smythwaite, the army must have someone to follow who represents absolute authority, one who can instill a sense of confidence and spirit in them. Someone with dynamism and vitality and I know just the person.” She was lit up with the thought and a broad smile covered her lovely features.
Lord Smythwaite held his response in check, certain that the Queen would eventually tell him of whom she was referring.
“Robert!’ she almost shouted. “Prince Robert will command the armies.”
“I assume you are referring to, our Prince Robert?” Smythwaite stated. “Need I remind you, your Majesty, that Robert is still years away from assuming the crown and he didn’t even finish squire schooling. I can’t see how he would suddenly possess the consummate ability to command a vast allied army.
“Don’t be such a cretin,” Queen Denize spat. “Of course Robert will not personally command the Army, I will do the commanding. Robert will be the figurehead around which the Army will rally. His presence on the battlefield will provide the necessary focus, the elan, we seek. And, If you do not think that I can command such a force, you are quite wrong, Ser. I learned enough from George and Thoragild that I can practically think like either of them.”
“How will Emperor Licinius react to such a monumental change?” Lord Smythwaite raised his eyebrows. “I understand that women in Lugdunum are held in rather low esteem and kept to their flower arranging and mundane household duties. They are mere wombs used for producing more men. A woman usurping his command may be a blow Licinius cannot accept.”
“Bugger Licinius,”Queen Denize answered. “That prick and his antique toy army couldn’t hope to prevail against the combined forces of Camalund, Alataria, and Vituria.”
“That little prick, as you say, may have the audacity to join forces with Angalund, should he be offered the right incentive,” Lord Smythwaite responded. “I am quite certain he will pursue the opportunity to align himself with our enemy.”
“We still have his young son and Empress Juliana as our guests, do we not?” Queen Denize bluntly asked. Lord Smythwaite nodded.
“Have them flown to an undisclosed location pending the response of Emperor Licinius,” Queen Denize continued observing the wide smile on Lord Smythwaite’s corpulent face.
David and the forces from Province Donedon were among the last of the allied forces to reach Lorainne. They arrived several days after the main force, having been ordered to secure the retreating army’s rear and to burn any unharvested fields of grain which may be of use to the enemy. They took up a position inside the ring of soldiers and knights surrounding the capitol city as a reward for their rear guard duties. They would stand down for a few days to rest and recuperate then be assigned to a positon on the front lines.
He had heard nothing from Pieter since he has miraculously been accepted as the first male member of the Dragon Riders. His selection by the dragons was the talk of the entire Army; they hailed him as a hero and boasted that the gods were favoring Camalund. As for Sean, no word of him was heard or seen anywhere. There was a rumor that he had left with the Khelti to return home, another that he was captured by the enemy, and still another that he followed Ser Thoragild to the north to join the Nordlanders, none of which was his concern.
He had been grudgingly accepted by the men at arms and knights of Province Donedon, most likely because his father had ordered them to do so. The warm reception and shouts of bravado his father oft received were not given to him and some of the knights even had the temerity to look down their noses at him.
After he had broken his fast on the morning after arrival, he mounted his war horse and headed to the castle to receive his next orders. The sky was clear and a warm balmy breeze indicated that it would be a good day for exercise. He was deeply concerned about the fate of Analia; however, there was nothing neither he nor anyone else could do to help her. She was a captive of the enemy and would likely remain so until the end of hostilities and the prisoners could be exchanged. At lease he was now in a position to offer her all the luxury and comfort he would inherit.
As he neared the main gate, he noticed the ever present ravens and blackbirds swarming around the freshest heads hanging on the meat hooks. Apparently Queen Regent Denize provided them with more food than King George ever had. As he drew closer, one head in particular caught his attention. Although the eyes were missing, leaving behind dark bloody holes, he instantly recognized the man. It was his sire, Lord Alwaythe. A crude plaque beneath the head noted that he had been beheaded for the murder of King George by order of Prince Robert.
David’s first instinct, after empting his breakfast on the torn ground, was to turn his mount and race away from the ghastly sight. But, he realized that there was no place to run to. Now that his father was dead, he was legally the new Lord of Donedon Province. Lord David Alwaythe. All his dreams, bar one, had finally come true, the knights and dregs of the province would have to bow low to him now. He would teach them to bend so low they would scrape the ground with their heads. The very thought refreshed him and he wiped his mouth on a piece of linen he kept in his coat pocket for that purpose. He was a Lord now so he must live up to the expectation.
“I will avenge you father, snake though you were, I swear it,” he muttered as he trotted through the open gate with a wide grin on his handsome face. When he reached the royal keep, he was immediately allowed entrance once the guards were given his name. Lord Noragant himself met him at the stairs leading to the magisterium. “The Queen Regent would have a private word with you, Lord Alwaythe,” he stated nodding towards a small room further down the hall.
David was curious, but since the old coot had called him, Lord Alwaythe, he was not overly concerned. Lord Noragant led him to a small room, actually an antechamber off the magisterium, and quietly opened the door. Queen Denize was lounging on a soft light blue settee sipping a crystal goblet of wine. “Come join me,” she said, in her soft silken voice, patting a spot on the settee.
David slowly walked over and gently sat down. Her perfume and undeniable beauty were almost overwhelming.
“I do so regret the sudden demise of your dear father,” the Queen purred, offering him a half full glass of rose colored wine. “But, I was presented with undeniable proof that he was responsible for the late king’s death. I sought mercy on his behalf; however, the Royal Council would not concede to my ardent pleas and demanded his death.”
David’s head was swimming, not from the wine which he had yet to taste, but from the very essence of the Queen herself. She was all the woman he could ever want, and much more. Even thoughts of Analia dimmed in comparison to her warmth, charm, and allure. “I am certain your Majesty tried her utmost on my father’s behalf.” He could barely get the words out of his mouth as his eyes feasted on her ruby red lips and the sparkle of her eyes and he had to force himself not to glance down at the cleavage of her soft white breasts.
“Despite your, shall we say, mishap of birth, I would like to formally welcome you to the royal family,” the Queen continued. “In my personal point of view, true lordship belongs to those with the power to grasp and use it. I understand you conducted yourself with honor on the battlefield and during the retreat?”
“My duty,” David blurted. “I mean, I did my duty, your Majesty.”
“As befitting a brave man of the nobility,” the Queen cut him off. “You will inherit your father’s land, title, and judicial responsibilities,” she continued. “I have nothing but confidence in your ability to manage each of them.” The Queen traced her finger down his rough pants leg. “I also hope you and I will get to know each other better, much better.”
David forced himself to take a sip of the wine, his hand shook so he had to use both hands. “I would be honored to serve you, your Majesty. I mean, I am honored to serve you.” He blushed, hoping she had not caught his unintended allusion.
The Queen gave him an enticing smile and stood. “I regret that I must leave you now, Lord Alwaythe, but I must conduct the judicial business of the realm, as much as I abhor the odious chore. Lord Noragant will see you out. The disposition of your forces will made during this afternoon’s war briefing if you will be so kind to attend.” She quickly left the room and entered the magisterium.
One quick toss in bed and he will lick the dirt from my feet, Queen Denize thought. The young are so malleable, but it will be a pleasure to mold him. Why rid myself of such a young tidbit when I can use him to my advantage?
The war briefing began two bells after the noon meal. When all the lords and commanders were assembled, including Emperor Licinius, Queen Denize made her late, but well-staged appearance. She regally walked to the large map that the late king oft used and turned to face the assembly. She noticed her old countryman and second cousin, King Charles, standing to one side and the new, inexperienced, Lord Alwaythe at the rear.
“In accordance with the unanimous approval of the Royal Council and subsequently by royal edict, I have an important announcement,” she stated. “Prince Robert has assumed command of the combined armies. You will ensure that those under your separate commands are thus informed of this important news.
The lords and commanders glanced at each other and a buzzing murmur spread around the room. “I decline to accept this abrupt change of command,” Emperor Licinius stated in a loud tone. “We cannot permit a wet-nosed boy to command the armies. I find the idea preposterous!” The other lords and commanders glanced at him but none showed evidence of support.
“The edict stands” Queen Denize returned in an icy voice. “The armies will rally around the Prince’s banner and we will defeat the enemy. Are there any more among you who decline to support the future king of Camalund?”
“Prince Robert! Prince Robert! Prince Robert!,” the room shouted, raising their gloved fists into the air. King Charles smiled from where he was leaning against the wall and gave her a quick salute.
“I assume you will provide the Prince with men well versed in the arts of war?” Emperor Licinius grumbled, holding a metal vine staff against his gold plated chest armor.
“I, along with a select staff, will guide the Prince in his duties,” Queen Denize smiled.
“I will never serve under a woman! My legions leave at dawn!” Licinius yelled turning and rapidly marching from the room.
“We’re better off without the bastard,” one of the rugged knights in the front yelled.
“E’s as like to get us all kilt!” another of the Lords echoed. “Twas Ser Thoragild what saved our bacon at the big river.” Every head in the room nodded at that bit of rough wisdom.
“Where are you when we truly need you, Ryykon?” Queen Denize whispered.