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A Game of Votes – Part III

September 29th, 2015 No comments

Burning SandsIt was early autumn, the most beautiful time of year in Maplerun, before the start of the northern snow. Burning Sands strode on foot up to the heavy doors of Maplerun’s great hall, flanked on either side by his two dire wolves, Truth and Justice. The kennelmaster’s son came running out with a leather couple for the lord’s hounds, but stopped dead and stared when he saw the powerful beasts: Truth with his majestic coat of snowy white, and Justice in her bristling black. Both of the wolves were larger than the lad, with height to spare. They eyed the couple in his hand skeptically.

Burning Sands chuckled and sauntered over to the lad. “Take a deep breath at look at me, my boy,” he said, putting his hands on the young one’s shoulders and lowering himself to eye level, “Do you strive to be honest and just in everything you do?”

The boy stared at Burning Sands, examining his wispy white hair, fur cloak, and ginger-root nose. “Yes, my lord. I do.”

Burning Sands stood up, smiling, and gave the boy a hearty pat on the shoulder, “There then! You have nothing to fear from these two!” Pulling the leather couple out of the boy’s hands, he added, “Although you won’t be needing this. Here, stow it away. Just put your hand out like this, palm down, when you want them to follow.” He demonstrated, turning to the wolves, “Truth, Justice, come here. Go with my friend now and do what he says.”

The boy looked nervous, but he copied Burning Sands and the beasts followed him dutifully. Burning Sands grinned at one of the guards nearby before entering the hall.

The lords Deane and Laehy of House Vyrrmont (or Howler Deane and Patchwork Laehy, as Burning Sands used to call them growing up) were waiting for him with ale around the old oak table. Laehy slid a tankard toward Burning Sands, winking. Deane belched, then bellowed, “Bernhard! Take a seat, you crazy old man!”

“Or should we call you Burning now?” Laehy teased, winking again.

Burning Sands complied, lowering himself down with a sigh. “Ah these old bones! I wonder what father would say if he knew I were fighting for the White Throne at this age.”

Deane waved his hand dramatically, responding, “He’d say, go get ’em Bernhard! Stand up for what’s right!” Deane took a thoughtful swig, adding, “There are no more dragons left to slay, only wicked men.”

Laehy eyed his brother shrewdly, before pressing, “You brought up father for a reason, Bernhard.”

Burning Sands smiled coyly. “You know me too well, old Patchwork. Indeed, I did not come here just to reminisce, although I miss our talks. I wanted to ask you about my relationship to House Vyrrmont.”

“Finally tired of being a bastard?” Deane offered playfully, “I thought you like being independent! Flaunting your basterdom with pride! Bernhard Sand!”

“I do indeed. You know I despise how the kingdom revolves around the rich noble houses, with their lineages and their gold. I hate watching farmers starve while the Butches and Clintanes dine on suckling pig and gossip about the King’s court. But you know I also can’t change it all from the outside. I seek to unite the Bluelands, and the important houses therein will be more likely to support a true lord of the Bluelands than a Sand with an army.”

Laehy raised an eyebrow, probing, “I thought you were just trying to convince the great houses to follow your ideals. Now you speak as though you might be King of Amerikos!”

“It is a little scary, isn’t it? But every month my bannermen grow in number. Many Bluelanders are worried that The Hill used dark magic with her ravens, and they are becoming more receptive to my message. The North is beginning to rally behind me. One day I woke up to find that knights who once laughed at me were now waiting outside my tent on bent knee to pledge their loyalty. They imagine a court beholden not to gold, but to the people, like we’ve always talked about!”

Deane raised his tankard. “To the Bastard King!” The other two raised their drinks, chuckling.

“That will be the day,” Burning Sands mused, taking in a long quaff of the bitter brew. “Did father ever say why he named me Sand? As a bastard of the North, I ought to have been a Snow.”

Laehy shook his head. “He never talked about it, you know. Any of it. Maybe it had to do with your mother, but who am I to say?”

“Maybe he just didn’t like the ring of Bernhard Snow,” Deane chimed in, “He could be a bit giddy in the head at times.”

“Well, Sand or Snow, my problem is the same. If I want the Bluelanders’ support, I need the name of a respected Blueland house.”

“Well, I’m afraid we can’t help you there!” Deane guffawed, sharing a mischievous look with Laehy, and the two had another good laugh at Bernhard’s expense. Deane was joking, as usual. Though small and not very powerful, House Vyrrmont was a stalwart defender of the Bluelands, and its members were held in high esteem.

Laehy met Burning Sands with his eyes, and spoke earnestly, “In my mind, Bernhard, you have always been a part of our house. As the reigning Lord of Maplerun, I will be proud to welcome you into House Vyrrmont as my full brother. I will meet with the maesters tomorrow to draft an official decree and make sure it is binding. I will adopt you myself if I have to!”

Lord Deane rose out of his chair, pulling out his sword and thrusting it forward, point raised up over the table. “House Vyrrmont!” he bellowed.

Laehy and Burning Sands both stood up and raised their swords aloft, meeting Deane’s in the middle, and together they chanted, “House Vyrrmont! Cold winds, hot blood!”

~~~~~~~~~~

Marcus Ruby bolted upright in bed, startling his wife awake as well. “What is it my dear?” she whispered, afraid that someone had come in the night to threaten her and her would-be king.

“Something that I saw before I awoke.” Lord Marcus rose slowly as if in a trance and went to look out the opening of their tent. Rain continued to pour down outside as it had the whole night and the day before, but his guard stood vigilantly.

“A dream?” Lady Jehanne pressed.

The White WalkerMarcus continued gazing into the rain, but answered his wife, “No, a vision. A vision of things now happening and those that are yet to come. I saw the White Walker shriveling in the dirt in Ayoa, his frozen army whittled away by the same warm winds that carry the Trumpet’s ships to shore. I saw the Trumpet himself, moving onto land with an army of Tea Folk and disgruntled pirates, beset on all sides by the other Redland factions. I saw Kharson, the maester-turned-warlord they call the Quiet Warrior, marching with his own army. I saw wave upon wave clashing, the dead everywhere. But then I saw something else. I saw a leader reaching into the dead White Walker’s chest and pulling out the Kogh Stone. The crystal forged by the warlock Kogh brothers that funneled their dark magic into the White Walker, giving it life. I saw the crystal glowing in his hand, with all its power flowing into him, and then the other lords rallying behind him. I saw the Trumpet sailing away in defeat, and all of the Redlands united behind this one southern lord.”

Jehanne could barely move, listening to her husband’s vision. “Who was it… this southern lord?”

The head of House Ruby turned to her and looked deeply into her eyes. “It was me.”

His wife was out of bed and getting dressed. “Then we are going to Ayoa to find this Kogh Stone,” she said simply. She was out the tent door, yelling at the guard outside. Marcus snapped back to reality. He began to dress quickly. His wife was already back inside before he was done. “Your men are being roused to march,” she informed him.

He moved closer and brushed her cheek with his fingers. “I love you.”

 ~~~~~ To Be Continued ~~~~~

 

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A Game of Votes – Part II

August 19th, 2015 2 comments

Lady FeorynneLady Feorynne listened to her footsteps echo as she walked down the dark, stone staircase. She never imagined she would be following anonymous messages offering support, but she was not born to a powerful House, and if she was to ever wear the crown, she knew she would need support.

Her eyes were adjusting to the flickering dark, and she could hear voices murmuring as she sensed an end to the torch-lit staircase. Emerging to a large, dimly lit room, she found herself in the company of a motley knot of men, muttering and pointing at one another. She recognized a few of them as lesser lords with claims to the White Throne: there was Lord Lindsen Gratham, who looked smaller than she remembered, Lord Richard the Sanctum, known for his rigid zealotry, Lord Richard the Parrier, in full plate armor, and a few others that she could not place. They all looked up when she entered the room.

“And who is this now,” a dark gentleman asked accusingly, “another nobody? I am sure I am in the wrong place!”

Lady Feorynne had been insulted before, and the barb found no mark in her pride, but her trepidation had quickly given way to confusion in the face of the greeting. “I beg your pardon,” she began, “but did one of you ask to meet me here?”

Lord Richard the Parrier threw up his arms. “What is happening? I am supposed to having a duel with The Trumpet!”

Half of the men began arguing again, while the other half muttered to no one in particular. Lady Feorynne cut in, “My lords, please! Goodly men, who sent for you? Why are each of you here?”

The arguing died down, and now the men were overly chivalrous, each inviting someone else to explain. Finally, Lord Lindsen spoke up, “It would seem we all received anonymous messages with empty promises. Mine had the sigil of a fox.” The men all nodded in agreement.

“Are you all lords of the Redlands seeking the White Throne?” Again, the men nodded. Lady Feorynne was surprised at the comfort she found in this response. Some of these men were much better known than she, yet here they were, scrounging about forgotten vaults and chasing ghosts, just like her. This feeling lasted only a few moments, however, before there was an abrupt clanking that echoed down the twisting staircase behind her, followed by a distant roaring growing rapidly louder. Realization unfolded across Lady Feorynne’s face. “It’s a trap!”

The group frantically moved toward the opening to the stairwell, but they were met with a blast of water surging down the stairs that hit them cold, knocking most of them to the ground. The room was filling up fast, and panic was setting in faster. Lord Gratham began flailing against the torrent, half running, half swimming, all the while shouting, “No! No! No! No!” Lord Richard the Sanctum was shouting something about the gods. Others were splashing in circles, or simply standing in wet clothes and blinking, as if reality had not yet sunk in for them.

Lady Feorynne was scanning the room, trying to think, while her heart pounded against her rib cage. She pictured The Trumpet with his flimsy claim to the throne and his smug smirk, and it infuriated her that she was going to drown here unknown while he floated along on an undeserved armada. At that moment, she spotted a large chest pressed sadly against the far wall, and she began plowing towards it with intensity of purpose.

She tried to pull the top open, but found it locked tight. The water was rising quickly. She began smashing at the latch with her fists until they bled, but still it would not budge. She felt a cold hand on her shoulder and gasped. It was Lord Richard the Parrier, holding out an axe for her to take. “Good luck,” he said, giving her a brave smile. She looked at the heavy armor covering his body. He would never get it off in time.

~~~~~~~~~~

Roderick Eiles was the type of man who took up space. It was not just his bodily excess, as his stomach pushed its way against his loose robes and his cheeks tumbled outward from his face, but the way he spread himself out, stretching his arms to envelop any chair he sat in, or in this particular case, his red chaise, as he lounged on one side, sipping wine and munching on dates. He was not being supportive of his adopted daughter, Meagen.

“You weren’t there, father. You didn’t see how his men were treating those women. You didn’t see what he let them do.”

“I know The Trumpet is a provocative person, but I asked you to get information and report, not put a scar on his arm.”

“I was aiming for something lower.”

Roderick shook his head, “You know our House Words: We take no side.”

“Is that what you tell our allies? Listen to me, father. We both know The Trumpet will be a disaster for the Redlands. We can’t just let him do whatever he pleases.”

“He will be dealt with, my dear, but in a way that most benefits our House. Be patient. Right now he is more dangerous than he looks, and I don’t want you in harm’s way.”

“I can handle myself.”

Lord Roderick EilesThere was a knock at the door. Lord Roderick put down his wine and his dismissive tone, looking at Meagen seriously. “I am expecting news from my other Foxes. I am afraid we must end here, but understand me. I will take down The Trumpet for you, but I will do it my way. You just have to promise me that you will stay away from him and leave this to me.”

Meagen answered him defiantly, “You take care of him as you see fit, but I will not make you promises I cannot keep.” With that, she left the room.

Roderick picked his wine back up and swirled it thoughtfully, sighing softly to himself, “Poor Trumpet.”

A man and a woman entered, dressed in black. Roderick greeted them expectantly, “Come, my little Foxes! Tell me.”

“It is done, my lord. We barred the doors and opened the sluices, just like you said. We waited until the screaming stopped.”

“Excellent! Eight fewer ‘kings’ to deal with!”

The two shuffled uneasily, “Actually, father, only seven. Lord Jon Kassick did not show his face. In fact, he sent you a raven.”

One of them handed Roderick a strip of paper, on which it was written:

Dearest Roderick,
I regret that I shall not be able to attend your secret meeting for support.
However, you are more than welcome to dine with me at Columnbust
should you and your Foxes wish to hear my plans for Amerikos.
Jon Kassick, Rightful Lord of Columnbust

“That cunning son of a bitch,” Roderick remarked, putting down the message and turning to his confidantes, “I may have underestimated this Kassick. Marta, I want you to go Columnbust and see what you can learn about him. Hemmar, I want you and my other Foxes to plant a whisper and let it grow. I want everyone in the realm to say that The Trumpet drowned those people, not us. He took the air out of the room. He is cutting out the weakest lords. Do you understand? I want every minstrel singing about him. I want the other lords to be afraid of him. I want them begging for our support. All the whispers in the realm should either be questions about The Hill’s vanishing ravens or awe at the strength of The Trumpet.”

Hemmar let out a grin. “But we take no side.”

“Indeed. That is why I also want you to send a message from me to The Trumpet apologizing for Meagen’s behavior. I want to assure him that our House takes no side and we will not hinder his path to the throne.”

“Meagen is not going to like that.”

“I must do what I think is best for our House, the Redlands, and the realm. In that order. Now go.” Hemmar and Marta filed out of the room, leaving Roderick to his indulgences.

 ~~~~~ To Be Continued ~~~~~

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A Game of Votes – Part I

August 6th, 2015 No comments

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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