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A Game of Votes – Part I

King Obam of House BarackeonKing Obam gazed out the window of the Oval Keep, across the spires of King’s District, to the blue horizon beyond.

“My king?” Lord Josiff of House Bydon, the Hand of the King, had entered the chamber moments ago, but the King seemed lost in reflection. “King Obam, the small council is waiting for you. We need you to lead.”

The King let a long sigh. “Lead? It is easy to speak of leading when one imagines followers, but what can a king do when he is beset by opposition on all sides? I sought to change this kingdom: to unite it. But Amerikos remains as divided as ever. Perhaps even more so than when I began my so-called ‘rule.’ I am tired, Lord Josiff. Grey and tired.”

“Do not speak that way, my king. You know as well as I that you have accomplished things other men could only dream of. You built House Barackeon from nothing. You brought the kingdom back from the brink of financial ruin. You have made friends of our enemies and crushed those who would destroy us. Who thought a peasant boy from the Volcano Lands, born of a foreign father, would come to sit on the White Throne?”

King Obam turned around, the spirit returning to his face. “You are right, of course. And there is much more to be done before I am driven out of this exalted prison. My successor will not be wanting for problems to solve.” The King paused before continuing, “Have you given more thought to your future, Lord Josiff?”

“My future? My king, I am still mourning my son. I am not ready to think about such matters.”

“I am sorry. He was a fine knight, and could well have been king one day. Still, you cannot pretend to me that the flame of your own ambitions no longer burns.”

“My own ambitions notwithstanding, had we not agreed that The Hill would ride for you, to lead the Bluelands?”

“Lady Hillar Clintane? Indeed, we agreed that she would ride for me, but she has no stronger a claim to this throne than do you. The people of House Clintane became some of my most loyal bannermen after they surrendered to me so many years ago, but I have had no friend more loyal than you, Josiff. I can think of no one I would rather have carry on my legacy.”

Lord Josiff widened his eyes to reveal their crystal blue, as he often did when he was being deadly serious. “Be that as it may, my king, The Hill is an accomplished knight, and I do not relish the thought of fighting her. She and her husband still have much support from The Will’s days as king. I’m not sure I’d stand a chance even if I wanted to challenge her.”

King Obam scanned Josiff’s face shrewdly once over. “Well, we mustn’t leave Lord Keiry waiting, so let us go to the small council. But consider what I’ve said here today, my friend. The game has only just begun.”

~~~~~~~~~~

Lord Jebry of House ButchLord Jebry was fuming as he trundled ahead of his men upon his chestnut steed, spitting words like poison. “That son of bitch wouldn’t even be a knight if it wasn’t for me, much less a lord! If Lord Marcus doesn’t understand loyalty now, he will when I have my boot on his face and my sword at his neck!”

Ser Diaaz, his Captain of the Guards, and Lady Broadshaw, Jebry’s most trusted adviser, cast each other tense sidelong glances behind their lord. They had not expected the news of Marcus Ruby to break through Jebry’s carefully controlled exterior like this.

He continued, without expecting a reply: “King? The insolence! Does every petty jackass with a title think they can be king now? I don’t have time for this. I should be preparing against The Hill if I ever hope to sit on my throne. That wretched wench still believes her husband gives her a greater claim to the throne than mine.”

“Lady Hillar has not yet conquered the Bluelands,” Lady Broadshaw cautioned, “we should not be hasty in our conclusions. The word from the north is that Burning Sands continues to grow in strength.”

“That old kook? I don’t care what magic they say he wields, the Clintanes will cut him down.”

Lord Jebry steadied his horse as they crested a hill, and signaled his men to halt. Ser Diaaz rode up beside him. “What is it, m’lord?” As he spoke, a night-black raven alighted itself on Lord Jebry’s outstretched arm, a message furled around its leg.

“News about The Hill, I presume.” Lord Jebry uncoiled the parchment, handing it to Ser Diaaz, “Do me the honor, Diaaz?”

Ser Diaaz cleared his throat, and slaked his thirsty eyes upon the scrivened words. “It’s actually about The Trumpet, m’lord. It says he has assembled a fleet and is raiding the Redlands along the coast.”

“The Trumpet? That jester?”

“Jester turned pirate, m’lord. He fancies himself King.”

Lord Jebry scoffed. “He may not be a jester anymore, but he’s still a fool if he thinks he’ll be King. He is as loud and empty as his name suggests.”

“He has stockpiles of gold from his inns and taverns, and his name is on every one of them. He is rallying support among the Tea Folk.”

“Of course he is. Such people cannot tell the difference between confidence and competence.” Lord Jebry leaned forward, closing his eyes and squeezing his forehead between his fingers. The bad mood had worn him out. “Well, tell it to me straight. Where has he hit us?”

“Actually, m’lord, it says he is hurting the smaller houses most of all. On the whole, there seems to be no pattern to his raids, except against those who have slighted him. Shall we bolster our fleet?”

Lord Jebry sat back up thoughtfully, “No. Let us not draw too much attention to ourselves for now. Let him bleed House Ruby and House Pall if he will. In the meantime, we must fortify our position in Hampshyre. We will keep our sights on halting the advance of the White Walker. He, or it, is the true threat. If we cannot stop him, Diaaz, he may well turn both of us White.”

Diaaz looked uncomfortable and spoke softly, “M’lord, pardon my saying, but you are already white.”

“Well, of course, I mean… you see, not like that, obviously. My wife is foreign-born! I mean the icy white of the White Walker.”

“Yes m’lord. No one is as white as him.”

Here Lady Broadshaw interjected, “But my lord, what if The Trumpet comes after us?”

“Then we will face him if we must, but not on his terms. The sea is his element. If it comes to battle, we will fight him on solid ground. When the other lords realize what a menace The Trumpet truly is, they will drop their petty claims to the throne and rally to House Butch.”

“Then you can unite the Redlands.”

Lord Jebry sighed, “What is left of them.”

~~~~~ To Be Continued ~~~~~

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