After many weeks of travel, Princess Jenniah reaches Nygaard, home of the Mordlok warlord.
To tell the story from only one point of view would be as biased as the ancient texts and wouldn't fully show the complexity of the situation. As there is more than one war, there is also more than one person whose perspective should be considered when looking into the ancient past. If you were to peer into the memories of every person whom had ever lived, it would take far too long to process the data to be productive. When searching people from the past for historical knowledge, one must be selective and choose wisely. So, it is that I introduce this next memory...
Arc^1264, 13th Century, Mordlok Wilderness
A soft summer breeze brought the smell of wildflowers. Birds chirped quietly from the forest beside the road. The Great Hall of Morak sat on top of a tall hill, surrounded by a small gathering of homes and a short stone wall topped with large logs stacked up high. Princess Jenniah pulled up on the reins of her horse, pausing to admire the simple beauty that stood before her; Nygaard, home of the Mordlok Warlord. She had been traveling for a month and was road weary, grateful that they had finally reached her destination. The wall, homes, and even the Great Hall were only a few stories tall, built of rough stone and beautifully carved wood.
No matter how rustic the village looked, to Princess Jenniah it was far better than the open road. She really wished they could have used steam wagons and buggies instead of horses and carts, as it would have cut the travel time down more than half, but there were no roads from Kingsbury to Nygaard. Using mechanized travel was impossible. Even though there was a carriage for Princess Jenniah to ride in, she preferred riding a horse over being jostled about on the rough terrain.
Goading horse into a gallop, she rushed toward the village gate. She heard the faint sound of her name carried on the breeze. Reining in, she turned to see if someone was indeed calling her. She saw Daren riding up to her quickly. When they had started the journey, both Jenniah and the young priest had barely known how to ride. Now they acted as if they had been born on the back of a horse.
"Princess, I advise you to wait." Daren said, his short curly hair tussled by the breeze.
"For what purpose?" She followed his gaze back down the dirt path that she barely considered a road. Only Daren and the royal guard had bothered to keep up. The rest of her procession had stayed behind, continuing their snail-like pace. In her excitement to reach the hall, she hadn't realized she had left them so far back. Not that it matters. They'll get here eventually.
"The Mordloks have a deep respect for the common people," Daren said, his tone low and serious. "I fear Morak will not receive you well if you seek refreshment before seeing to the welfare of your people. Please, I know you tire of this and only want for home, but your people need you." He gestured to her envoy. "Help them to set up the tents and walk among them. It will increase their moral. You are their princess and the reason they are here, my Lady." She glowered at him for a moment, gave one last look of longing at the gate, and started riding back.
Back at the procession, her people were little more than a disorganized mess. Pangs of guilt troubled Jenniah for abandoning them in her excitement. Questions suddenly bombarded her. "Where are we setting up the camp?" "Are we setting up near the village?" "Will your tent be in the center of the field?" "Where will my tent be located?" "Surely my tent will be next to yours, Princess." She ignored them while surveying the land around Nygaard. Deciding on the field closest to Nygaard, she motioned for them to follow and rode out ahead of them. Everyone expected her to know how to lead, even though she had just entered her sixteenth year. When they started their journey a month ago she wouldn't have been able to answer their questions, but the long trip had taught her much.
A short, grouchy-looking Mordlok man came out of the small hut on the edge of the field and started shouting at them. He spoke so quickly she couldn't understand him with her limited practice in his language. She looked back, hoping that Daren was nearby. She spied him not far away in the small group of that had followed. Daren soon noticed her predicament and quickly joined her.
"Princess, must I constantly stay at your side?" he whispered with a smirk and a twinkle in his emerald eyes. Dismounting, he turned and addressed the old farmer before she could say anything. The two of them conversed heatedly for several minutes. She listened closely but was unable to pick out more than few words between them. After the old man finished his tirade, Daren turned to her again. "He is very angry that you have chosen his field without asking permission. I offered gold for the cost of the grain we'll trample, but he refused. He wants the grain replaced."
"What if we camped there instead?" She gestured to a forest close to the village. "We will have to deal with rocks, uneven ground, and trees, but at least we won't need to replace anyone's harvest."
"I asked. He said that it would be a bad omen. It is a sacred forest. None of his people would have any dealings with us. They don't even take firewood from it."'
"Then why do they have a village here?" she hissed in frustration.
"You can ask Morak when he sees fit to give you an audience, which he won't do until you placate this man. We didn't bring any extra grain with us, but my suggestion is to keep our encampment as small as possible and send someone to get twofold what we destroy."
"Yes. Most of the grain we are going to be destroying was a harvest offering for the gods. It will be sign of good faith. He is offended by your presumptuousness."
"Needing it for the gods I can understand, but not extra for the sake of his pride. He should be honored!" she hissed between her teeth. Jenniah looked down at the short old man and fumed when she saw the smug look on his face. He's enjoying my frustration! She tried composing herself, not letting her anger show as her mother had taught her. In a much calmer voice she spoke to Daren, ignoring the Mordlok, "I would be grateful if we could be allowed to camp on his land and I will happily pay him twice over for his trouble. Please ask if he will be willing to take the second part in gold instead of grain so I would at least be able to pay half of what we owe immediately. Now, excuse me while I direct the people." She flipped her long dark curls over her shoulder and rode off, leaving him to translate for her. All I wanted was help understanding the old man, not help negotiating! I could handle a simple peasant. And why the double grain? He would have taken one and a half and been happy with it! Daren vexes me!
Once back to her convoy she called out to them as loudly as she could. There were some groans from the noblemen when they heard that they could only occupy a small corner of the field and needed to keep the number of tents to a minimum. By now, the heat of the afternoon sun was beating down on them and everyone was exhausted. Tents sprang up quicker than spring flowers and in as many colors. She wandered through her people until she reached her pavilion in the center. The servants had made fast work putting it up. They seemed excited to be sleeping in a corner of her oversized tent. Staying in her pavilion was not an everyday occurrence for them, but Jenniah wanted to set the example for the other nobles to follow. She patiently suffered through the noblemen's angry mutterings heard through the tent fabric. Understandably, their nerves were already on edge before this. Everyone was sick of traveling and longed for a solid roof, a hot bath, and a decent bed.
"I haven't missed dinner, have I?" Daren asked as he pulled back the door flap. "You aren't mad at me, are you?" he asked after she refused to speak with him. "I was only trying to help you, you know."
Jenniah turned her face away. I know I shouldn't stay silent out of spite. But he embarrassed me in front of that farmer, treating me as though I'm stupid. She knew she couldn't be angry with him forever, not with his beautiful green eyes and pleasing demeanor. Green eyes were rare among her people with all shades of brown and gold being the norm.
"I...," she finally broke the silence, "I spent our time learning to speak Mordlok from you and never enquired about their culture. This is my shortsightedness. Is there anything more I should know about Mordloks, so I don't insult them further?" A big smile spread across his face at her words before he sat down.
"Well, Fayneland may accept Queen Rheanna ruling over state matters while King Adrian is at war against Vitar, but Mordloks would never do that. They do not allow women to hold positions of power."
"That makes negotiations a bit more difficult," she replied. How am I going to negotiate a war treaty with these people? I might as well try to negotiate peace with the Vitarri High Council. "Earlier you said they have a deep respect for common people. What did you mean?"
"They don't have a class system, so everyone is equal... for the most part. Warlords are strongest, most bloodthirsty warrior that gained the trust and respect of the other men. If Morak lost that respect, his people would kill him, and a new warlord would lead them. It is not a birthright passed down to their sons. Morak's son will not rule unless he has the backing of the soldiers and kills his father in one-on-one combat, proving he is the strongest."
"This barbaric behavior is expected of Morak's son?"
"Yes. In fact, Morak may even challenge his son, if he feels too old and feeble to lead properly any longer. If the son refuses he is considered weak, or a threat. In either case, he will die with his father by the hands of the new warlord."
"How could a people, a whole culture be so cruel?! I grew up hearing tales about these barbarians, stories half whispered in fear and awe. It is still shocking to hear this. Even the Vitarri aren't as cruel in my eyes."
"Princess, Mordloks aren't cruel. They are misunderstood." Daren sighed, "Why is it so shocking to hear this? I'm sure you have heard most of this before."
"Yes, but I thought it was only rumor!" she exclaimed. "We have been warring with Vitar since well before I was born, but we don't let war dictate every nuance of our culture!" Jenniah sighed before continuing in a calmer tone, "I guess, what I don't understand is: if war has such a strong influence on them, why they aren't hostile toward Fayneland?"
"The tribes war mostly with themselves. I'm sure that they would band together and war against Fayneland if we gave them a reason to."
"Tribes? War with themselves? Band together?" Confusion and curiosity radiated from her.
"Morak is the warlord. As you know, that is something like a king. His people are a split into tribal groups that fight over land, just like Fayneland's dukes. The difference is, Fayneland's king keeps peace between the dukes with diplomatic solutions instead of bloodshed. With Mordloks, the only diplomatic solution is found with the edge of an axe." The aroma of juicy, salted mutton topped with steaming vegetables wafted into the tent as the flap opened. Jenniah's personal servant entered holding two plates topped with modest rations. "Thank you, Breann." His face seemed to glow from a giant grin and sparkling eyes staring at the food. "My favorite part of the day!" Her cheeks flushed pink at his expression. After handing them the plates Breann poured drinks and left.
"She'll misunderstand you if you smile like that every time she brings you food." Jenniah mumbled sullenly. Daren paused from eating, glancing up in mild surprise. He shrugged and returned to his food. She dropped the conversation. They ate in silence as her head reeled with all the new information.
After dinner, they enjoyed a nice leisurely stroll through the camp together. Daren tried to get Jenniah's mind off her daunting task. Somehow, he knew it overwhelmed her and hoped walking through the forest of tents would improve her mood. It did. Most of the convoy played music, joked with each other, and gambled, even though they were far from home. They were especially lively that night, happy that they finally reached their destination and could rest before the long trek back home. It was completely opposite the stuffy, strict nature of the few noblemen who followed her to Nygaard. Jenniah danced and sang with Daren and the people. She forgot about meeting Morak the next day, went to bed completely exhausted, and slept better than she had since she left home.
Bird songs filled the air shortly after the last stars faded from the morning sky. Jenniah woke, listening to the birds sing and the tent rustle with a small breeze. She longed to be back in her own bed so that she might bribe the servants to let her sleep in, but she couldn't bribe the birds to stop singing.
Sighing she rose out of her bed and began to dress, even managing a decent job lacing the front of her corset. Jenniah hadn't been able to dress herself most of her life, but this lengthy trip across the wilderness forced her to learn many things previously unknown. She had woken many mornings earlier than Breann and it would have been completely indecent to be up and about in her night robes. She could have demanded Breann wake earlier than her, but a thought struck her. Breann, along with hundreds of thousands of working class and slaves are able to dress themselves. If Jenniah had refused to even try, or quit just because it was difficult at first, then how will she react when confronted with bigger challenges?
Finally finished with the lacings of her boots, she inspected herself in the silver polished mirror that traveled with her. The soft cream-colored dress, edged in delicate gold and black embroidery, contrasted her dark skin, tanned from the long journey. Golden-brown eyes glittered from beneath her long, dark curls. Only at close inspection would anyone notice the lacings were not exactly centered. Proud of her appearance she left her tent and made her way through the tents and people toward the small dirt road. Crowning the tall hill, Nygaard stood, quietly waiting for her.
"Princess!" Daren's voice startled her. She turned to find him a sprint to catch up. He almost tripped over his priest robes as he slowed down.
"What is it, Daren?" She asked, concerned by his rushed appearance.
"Are you headed to the hall already? Have you eaten?" He huffed, slightly out of breath.
"No, I haven't eaten. I wanted a good look at Nygaard to help prepare my heart. Are you concerned I would rush up there without considering the situation like I did yesterday? Or were you simply concerned over my appetite?"
"Uh... no... No. I wasn't assuming anything. I was hoping you would have breakfast with me and review you plans on handling Morak." He spoke nervously, which Jenniah found odd. He had never been nervous around me before. "I was also curious if you would allow me to accompany you once you do gain welcome."
Yes, of course you may escort me to Morak's Great Hall." She suddenly remembered his words from the day before. Her voice turned icy, "By what you said yesterday, I need you to constantly stay by my side, to keep me from embarrassing myself and our people again." He looked away, visibly hurt and embarrassed by her comment. Feeling a pang of guilt, she softened her tone. "I think some conversation with breakfast sounds like a grand idea."
While they walked quietly together through the maze of tents, she enjoyed the soft sunlight, the aroma of breakfast and wood smoke mixing, and the sounds of people chatting peacefully. They were back at her tent all too soon. Breann set out the bread, cheese, and smoked meat for them.
"I have been meditating on this situation and I am curious for your opinion." Jenniah spoke between bites. Daren perked up. "You told me to wait for Morak to invite me but, I still feel uncomfortable without a proper introduction. Could I send a herald to announce me and give a brief explanation for my appearance? I know it's a little late. I should have sent him as soon as the city was within sight. Would it be improper at this point?"
"Well, uh..." He struggled to answer. "I don't think it's entirely necessary," he finally said. "Your mother sent Morak word of your arrival well before you left Kingsbury. They already know who you are and why you're hear. The only introduction you need to worry about is when you are standing before Morak." He looked down and absentmindedly fiddled with his last bit of food. "Also, I sent a herald ahead of us early yesterday morning to announce us." Shock hit Jenniah like a brick wall, surprised that he had done something that important without her telling her before this.
"That was my responsibility! How could you do that without telling me first?"
"I am sorry. This is your first diplomatic mission and you are still ignorant of many responsibilities your position requires. I know this trip has been very stressful on you. I didn't want to bother you with such small matter, but not sending the herald could have marred your reputation, so... I handled it for you." Reputation: the word seemed to echo in her mind for a moment before she suddenly snapped.
"Reputation? You were concerned for my reputation?!" Anger burned in her eyes as her words grew colder. "Daren, how do you think it will look if you, a castle priest, does everything for me? And with the old farmer yesterday... you thought you were rescuing me, I suppose? Everyone in this caravan watches my every move! How are you saving my reputation? They will see an incompetent idiot when they look at me!" Stunned silence pervaded for a moment as Daren struggled with her sudden explosion.
"Well, Princess, you are just sixteen. I'm sure the only people that expect you to know anything is me, your tutor, and your parents."
"Wrong! I am Princess Jenniah," she hissed, venom dripping from her voice with every word. "The whole nation expects me to be taught how to do this from infancy. They study ever move I make, every word I say, searching for something to criticize and gossip about. Especially nobility. They hope to humiliate and demoralize me, making me unfit to rule in the future." She paused and considered her next words carefully. "It doesn't matter how stressed out I am, my responsibilities are still mine to do. You should inform me if I overlook a task or I'm ignorant of a situation so that I can remedy it. That way you teach and guide me to become better. You have done nothing but made an example of my inexperience." With that, she quickly made an exit of the tent, feeling the ultimate loneliness of a person who had no one she could turn to or trust. Mother told me countless times, being a princess means having no friends, no confidants I can turn to. I didn't want to believe her, but it's true. Anyone can be bought by money or power. Anyone can betray me in one way or another, even accidently. Even Daren.
She quickly walked through the tents and tried to clear her mind of the thoughts troubling her heart. The further from her tent she went the more she just wanted to go back so she could cry. After a period that felt acceptable, she returned and found Daren gone. Breann was in the middle of clearing the plates and straightening the room.
"Breann, may I have a word?"
"Of course, Your Highness," she replied, polite as always.
"I'm waiting for Morak to invite me to the Great Hall. Have you heard any word?" she asked, knowing that servants often hear what is going on before their masters do.
"No, Milady. Although, they have allowed several of our people into the city for supplies. They would be strange not to allow small trade while we are here. Don't worry, Your Highness, I'm sure Warlord Morak will not be able to ignore your beauty for long."
"What do you mean by that? I'm not here to look pretty for him. I'm here to establish a war treaty against Vitar. You know that."
"Yes, but I have also heard that you are the jewel of the treaty, Milady. If Morak or his son takes a liking to you, then our peoples will be bound through marriage. The Mordloks would be required to fight against the Vitarri if the war came here." Anger crept back into Jenniah's heart. It must have shown in her eyes because Breann quickly added, "Everyone in the envoy believes that is why you were chosen. Is this wrong?"
"Yes, it is," she snapped. Her anger was not directed at Breann. She could understand how the people have assumed such a thing. Women were often sold or traded for gold, services, and treaties so Jenniah knew that the situation could easily appear that way. Mother would surely have told me if this was her plan, wouldn't she? The simple suggestion that she could be married off like a sack of meat to a ravenous old man made her cringe. Then she started thinking about how Daren had been acting and his command of the situation behind her back. Am I just a showpiece? A jewel my mother can trade for an alliance? Questions and doubts rumbled through her heart like thunder in a coming storm.
The conference room was full of whispered confusion and grumbled complaints. Hubert Kort of Fallstad Academy entered the room, grinning to himself. He was a few minutes late, just as he liked. The rest of the Board of Trustees for the Fayneland Universities were already there. Their voices hushed at his entrance. His footfalls echoed with each step until he reached his seat at the circular table.
"I hope I didn't miss anything," Hubert said with a smirk.
"Why did you call us here?" "What is this meeting about?" "Are you just wasting our time?" "Is there a reason I need to be here?" They erupted into verbal chaos. He ignored them until the questions stopped.
"We have a problem," he finally said. Everyone waited with their own curious looks.
"What problem?" Worren Prascott asked, being the youngest and most impatient of the men.
"The Queen," Hubert answered, "Our dear Queen Rheanna has become a problem. The king left that ridiculous, incapable wife of his in charge of everything while he is off playing soldier on the front line."
"What does this have to do with us," Barlow Jaymes , an overweight middle-aged suck-up, decided to ask, "and exactly what do you want us to do about it?"
"The Queen informed me that she is cutting the funding by half to all of our schools this upcoming year." This time Hubert enjoyed listening to the outburst of protests. Now I have their attention, he thought while he waited for the room to quiet. Many were red in the face from yelling while others had gone pale with the prospect of such a large pay cut. After a few minutes he lost his patience and glared at them until it was silent again. "She said the war has been slowly sucking the coffers dry but, by the look of her jewelry and dresses, I highly doubt that is true. And, we can't forget the extravagance of the summer palace that is almost finished being built.
"Putting her mismanagement of tax money aside," he continued, "she was rather upset that there was so little progress in the weapons research being done through some of our universities. She wished that we would have had more progress and did not appreciate me reminding her that any research requires funding. I also tried to explain that science must come at its own pace and that we are already doing everything we can to promote the war effort."
"Do you have a point? Or did you bring us here to bore us to death?" Old Soren, the only one to have remained silent since the beginning, finally couldn't contain himself.
"My point is, I don't believe Queen Rheanna, in her vanity, is a good substitute leader. Gentlemen, brothers, we were respected once. Being responsible for the education and future of our young people, we used to be honored and looked to for our wisdom and guidance. Soon the Queen may feel that our universities and colleges are no longer necessary. We are the pillars of our society, without us Fayneland will fall and the Queen will be responsible for it. King Adrian is always away at war and she is now out of control. I propose we find a way to tighten the reins."
"I will not commit treason," someone said, followed by nods of agreement from the rest.
"I'm not asking for a treasonous act. I'm asking if there is anyone that you trust that would be able to gain the Queens's favor and trust. He would be there to give council and guidance with the civil matters, especially matters pertaining to us. Maybe he could talk some sense into her about our funding. We can't run a school or fund research without it, can we?"
The conversation droned on, but finally one of them mentioned a young, attractive, duke cousin. The man's parents had died from the war on Seahd and had left him a grand title with estate on both continents. He was also an alumni and still held strong ties to his university.
"I'm glad we have reached an agreement with a plan to fix this problem. You are all dismissed." Hubert turned to Barlow, "Except you. I have one other matter to discuss with you." Barlow looked annoyed as the rest of the Board of trustees slowly filed out of the room. "The steam locomotive concept designed at your college a few years ago; I thought it was brilliant, even though the queen dismissed it. I understand how it was a fools errand to try on the continent of Seahd. Even though it would facilitate the movement of troops, weapons and supplies for the war, the mountains and dense tropical forests there would make the construction of the railway too costly. On the other hand, we have prime land for a railway here on Asikarra. My thinking on the matter is; war could easily spread from Seahd to this continent, it would be wise to build railways beforehand. Perhaps you could speak to the inventor. Suggest to sell his plans to a company instead of waiting for a royal contract."
"Very well. I see your point and agree." Barlow nodded as he stood to leave. " I'll make sure it happens," he said as he quickly shuffled out the door.
Hubert sighed in contentment before he also left. Soren grabbed Hubert's arm as soon as he stepped through the large doors. Everyone else had disappeared quickly down the hall, leaving them alone to speak privately.
"Putting that young man into the throne room isn't going to be enough," Soren muttered, so quiet Hubert strained to hear him.
"I know it isn't enough, but it's a start," he whispered in reply.
"What about King Adrian?" Soren asked. "Aren't you worried about being found out?"
"Aren't you worried, Soren? You are a part of this as well. Or are you too old to care?" Hubert turned the questions back on him. Soren gave an indignant snort.
"Hasn't this war gone on for too long? Perhaps King Adrian is the root of the problem." Soren stared, fiercely watching for Hubert's reaction. Hubert sighed and looked his long time friend in the eyes.
"He has chosen to neglect his duties long enough," he finally agreed. "Should we send someone to get close to him as well? We should remind King Adrian he is responsible for ruling a nation, not fighting in an unending war."
"I know just the man to give him that reminder." Soren's eyes glittered.
"Then I will leave this in your hands." Hubert said before parting.