Casitreth returns home after eight years to find it changed in the worst possible way.
Two days before
Location: Fergólar, the second kingdom of the lands of men, or Balifae. 120 miles directly east of Galthaden
Casitreth couldn’t hold it against the people of Fergólar to be wary of three strangers clad in ragged, dark green robes overlaying a combination of heavily worn leather armor riddled with a variety of shallow and deep gashes, and armor no one in Balifae has seen in centuries. Not to mention they hid their faces with hoods and sea silk, leaving only their eyes uncovered, as they did not want people to see what they were. What certainly didn’t help their case was the fact of it being a moonless night (something Casitreth now realized was a rather unwise time to show up) which dyed their attire pitch black.
What Casitreth couldn’t understand was when someone he once knew shouted, “Death to Varyn’s reign!” before trying to kill him and his friends. It wasn’t because he didn’t know the name, because he did, and in fact that is why it was so perplexing. He did not kill his attackers, and after revealing his identity to them, their attitudes changed completely. Hope replaced despair, wide smiles returned color to their skin, personality to their voices, and flame to their spirits. Once inside their home, and settled in around their living room with a pot full of a combination of diced salted pork and an ensemble of vegetables boiling in the fireplace they all now are sitting around, did Casitreth finally began to get answers, and not once in the last eight years of being away from home did he ever imagine what his host would tell him to be possible.
“It all started when the Queen fell ill five months ago. Your father tried his best to heal her, but she only got worse…and so did he. He gave into grief, as all he could do was watch her die. No one knows for sure what her illness was. Some say it was from a broken heart after learning what Kalína really was, and what happened to you after. Others think it might’ve been her Dragon-rose allergy.” The man speaking is Gornlyn, an older Ferg whose natural red hair is always bound in a ponytail being a cook, one of Fergolar’s best in Casitreth’s opinion, which Gornlyn took as the greatest compliment with it coming from an elf. They had initially met almost ten years ago now introduced by a mutual friend, Morden, when Gornlyn was having trouble getting his produce into the city thanks to a group of road robbers who’d been attacking his wagons on their way from his farm. Morden knew who of Casitreth’s past, and thought he could help an old friend of his, which Casitreth was more than willing to do. Five road robbers’ bodies, a large shipment of produce, and one delicious dinner later, Casitreth and Gornlyn had a new friend.
“Why’s that?” Casitreth says, trying his hardest not to sound cold to his old friend.
“Oliath told Morden and Kilyla she was sweating profusely, and her skin was hot to the touch. They even tried to have her sleep in iced baths, but her body would melt it in minutes.”
“Did he say anything else?” Knowing Oliath, Casitreth knew there must be.
“A little over two months ago, before she passed, Oliath said she began coughing up blood, but he didn’t say how much.” Gornlyn said, busy with spices and stirring.
Casitreth could already feel the eyes of his companions on him, and knew what they were already beginning to think, but he needed to know more first. “How long after my mother’s passing did Varyn become regent?” Casitreth left the question open for anyone aside from his companions to answer. A Caccer boy barely into his adulthood, speaks up, a bow in his hands with a quiver of arrows at his waist.
“Not even a week later, and two days after he did, the streets were invaded by an army of several bands of sellswords, thieves, and Oathbreakers Varyn hired to be his personal army.”
An older woman, maybe one hundred and ninety by Casitreth’s estimate, spoke up next. “They prey on anyone using their bought authority of the crown…even children. They’ve got…houses full of mothers and daughters they’ve taken from their families.” Her hands were squeezing the dagger’s handle resting on her lap, and Casitreth could hear her grinding her teeth behind her closed lips.
“What about Oliath, is he…?”
Gornlyn shakes his head. “No, but Varyn stripped him of his position as Commander of the City Guard, and replaced him with a monster of a man. The Knight Owls do not recognize Varyn’s authority, knowing full well you’re your father’s choice of regent, and still see Oliath as their leader. They have gone into hiding, and step in when they can, but fear acting any further than they already do will start an all-out war in the city. There are those of us who help…in our own ways, but we are no warriors.” Gornlyn says, looking at the axe he tried to cut Casitreth’s head off with.
“What of my father?” Casitreth says, now staring into the fire, his mind trying to tame its own thoughts.
“The King hasn’t been seen since your mother passed. He stays locked away in his chambers.” Gornlyn says, looking at the flames dance in Casitreth’s eyes. Something had changed in him, but he couldn’t quite place it yet.
“Has he…or any of his men…harmed Kilyla or Morden?” Casitreth turns his head to look Gornlyn in the eyes, secretly hoping more than anything for them to be safe, and trying to contain the urge to drown the streets in blood.
“I…I can’t say for certain…but he’s taken over Morden’s tavern. He uses it as a meeting place for the leaders of his army. People dressed a lot like you three have been seen going in and out almost on a constant basis, but what their purpose for doing so, I do not know.”
Casitreth inhales deeply and exhales slowly, casting a blanket of silence on the room. The only thing making a sound is the boiling stew in the pot, and the rabid tapping of Casitreth’s feet.
“This certainly couldn’t be worse.” Gólod, one of Casitreth’s companions speaks into his mind.
“I’m sorry for your loss Casitreth, and whatever you decide next, we are with you.” Tharyn, Casitreth’s second companion speaks next, placing one of his big dwarven hands on Casitreth’s shoulder.
“You don’t have to be so…sympathetic Tharyn, I know this wasn’t part of the plan, and yes Gólod, the situation isn’t at all what we were expecting, but we should consider ourselves lucky. Here we have allies and therefore eyes and ears everywhere, I know this kingdom, and the King isn’t the one who wants to kill us. Which is far more than we can say about our own kingdoms. I wouldn’t be here if not for these people, and neither would you. You may not care for them as I do, but you do owe them.”
Before either of his friends could retort, Gornlyn interrupts with an almost obnoxious sounding clearing of his throat. “I don’t mean to interrupt your…thinking, but Casitreth, you show up after all these years. We thought you were dead, and you show up with whoever these two are…and only ask questions. I know this isn’t the home you remember, but I think you must know it is only right for me to have a few questions of my own. Questions I hope you’ll be willing to answer.”
“Casitreth, we don’t have time for this. If we are to keep an element of surprise against your little brother and his army, we need to act now. When we have the advantage of the dark, and many shadows to use.” Gólod chimes in.
“I couldn’t agree more. The quicker we are done with dealing with them, the quicker we can carry on to free our own kingdoms.” Tharyn adds sharply.
“We cannot just attack them outright. We need to do this quietly and quickly…in order to do that, we need a plan, to have a plan, we need more information. Do not mistake my patience for carelessness. I am no less anxious to free our kingdoms than you, but this is my kingdom too, and more of a home to me than Typheria or Sorienthia ever were. Besides, when was the last time you had a real meal? When was the last time you sat down in the company of real friends? Do you even remember?”