Ravenfall, ancient home of House Rhysling
“That’s it!” he heard him say. “You are doing well, my lad!”. His lord father towered over him, a giant in his eyes. His voice was deep, yet soothing. Nithan must have been no older than 7, little more than a babe. Yet here he stood, wooden sword in hand, looking for approval with every swing, his eyes ever searching his father’s face for a glimmer of pride. As he battled his older brother Braeden, Lord Rhysling made no big effort to hide his feelings. Saying he was proud would have been an understatement.
Braeden was older than him 3 years, and it showed. He was stronger, faster, his blows heavy. Still, Nithan held his ground, unflinching. Yielding before his lord father would not do, would never do. Taken in the moment, he charged forward, shouting. His brother sidestepped him and brought his sword down on his thumb, causing Nithan to drop his sword and go down to his knees holding his finger, a small stream of blood where his nail had been.
“That’s enough!”, the master-at-arms yelled, grabbing both swords “You have both done well today. I’m sure Lord Rhysling would agree.” His father nodded. “Aye, Ser Gerrar, I am pleased. Off you go, lads.”.
Braeden took off running after his favorite hound, but Nithan remained, sobbing. It was the third time this week he had been bested by his brother. Lord Rhysling crouched down beside Nithan, offering solace with his words. “You have no reason to be shamed, son. Your brother is older than you, yet you give him pause every time you draw swords.” “I will never beat him, father. He is stronger than me. I will never beat ANYONE!”, he cried out in anger.
His father sighed as he passed his hand through Nithan’s hair. “I wish you need never grow. Life was simpler when I was a lad just as you are. I long for it everyday, but it is a fool’s errand, my boy.” Lord Rhysling looked at his son intently “You are not a child anymore, Nithan. So long as I live, no one shall harm you or your brothers. But I would be remiss if I did not look to you becoming your own man. Someday, you will be the lords of this house. Do you understand?” “Yes, father” he sobbed “I think I do”. His father smiled at him, and then so did he, a big smile only father and son could share. Just then, the hound came rushing at them as it fled his brother and almost knocked down Lord Rhysling. Braeden followed laughing, and they shared a loving embrace. As his brother started after the hound again, Lord Rhysling looked up at the sky. It was almost night, he thought. “We have lingered enough, the moon is almost upon us. Time for supper and bed” he said, as he hoisted himself up. He was happy to see Nithan smiling, a sweet child once more. He reached down, his heart both heavy and full “Come lad, take my hand. Let us rest and dream of a better day”.
30 years later
Westermere, the Capital
The Privy Council
“My Lords! My Lords, please!” Lord Coldwater , the King’s High Chancellor, tried his best to ease the tension, but to no avail. Nithan Rhysling, Lord Paramount of the Realm, would not be calmed this day. The Crown had fallen heavily in debt to foreign lenders, and many in the Privy Council were not shy about faulting the wars that had ravaged the countryside for a decade now. King Karron Blackmyre, nicknamed Karron the Carrion by the smallfolk due to his incessant wars, had appointed Lord Rhysling as Lord Commander of his armies in a desperate attempt to keep his crown when many of the noble Lords had rebelled against him. Lord Rhysling had succeeded, but at great cost, both in blood and coin.
“Your Majesty, I cannot sit here to be insulted like this! I did what I had to do to save your crown! It is due to my efforts we sit here today!”
“How dare you speak to His Majesty this way?” shouted back Lord Caswell, a stocky, baldeheaded man who was Master of Mint “Your recklessness has bled this country dry, and you dare give us lessons in honor? King Karron is our King and you, sir, are no Kingmaker!” Lord Rhysling felt the blood rush to his face, his fists clenching in anger. He rose to his feet, sternly but dignified, and addressed the King himself “Is this how you feel, your Majesty?”
King Karron looked at his Lord commander, and sighed. “How I feel bears no relevance, Nithan. I am well aware of the sacrifices you and your family have made for all of us, but we can afford it no longer. If we have to make concessions, then so be it. Nothing is more important than the future, especially not the past. I can bear it no longer. You are relieved of command, Lord Rhysling. I shall hope you will regain your senses at Ravenfall.”
Nithan listened to the King, his rage suddenly giving way to a cold shiver, almost as if his blood had just frozen in his veins “Sacrifices, your Majesty? You speak to me of sacrifice? My brother died for you. MY FATHER DIED FOR YOU! I almost died for you. And this is how you reward those who serve you so? Disgrace and banishment?” - his voice could not hide his disdain for the man he once thought of as a brother. He removed the ring and badge which identified him as Lord Commander of the Royal Army and threw them on the table “Very well. If it please your Majesty, your humble servant.” Lord Rhysling bowed and walked out, his manner graceful, his steps firm, his mind lusting for revenge.
2 years later, present day
Lord Ice surveyed the work of his warband, high atop his grey stallion. In the forest behind him, scores of farmers, millers and fishermen lay dead, food for the crows which circled the area already. Several were hanged from the trees, both a warning and a promise. Hope had left this place. In the distance, a scout came into view, a cloud of dust behind him. “Ser Robart! Ser Robart, sir! There’s a Royal escort some 2 leagues ahead, some Lordling fleeing to the capital, scores of smallfolk behind them!” Lord Ice looked at the man, and for an instant you could almost have seen a half-smile on his face. “You heard the man!” He drew his sword from its sheath and held it high above his head - “First man to bring me ten heads gets first pick of the women! To war!” His brigands raced ahead, the dawn sky behind them tinged in red.
This was a cold place, he thought. Never before had he witnessed so much rain, so much snow. Still, any amount of rain would seem strange to Maro Vhassinar. After all, his birthplace had not seen the rain in over 10 years: Haran, the City of Fire, as some called it due to the scorching temperatures and arid deserts that surrounded it. It was not just the heat that gave pause to foreigners though; Maro’s ancient order, the Keepers of the Flame, had a searing reputation of their own. Known for both their healing skills and prowess in blood magic, they were not bound by moral constraints; good and evil were distant concepts, only the Flame mattered. And now, it had come for them all.
The Great Hall
Lady Amyra was a beautiful woman, even now at forty years of age. Her brown hair flowed down her back like a butterfly descending onto a flower, slowly and freely. Yet her face showed distress. It had been over a year since her Lord husband had raised the banners in revolt against King Karron, having felt wronged and discarded, his loyalty stomped on and tossed aside like nothing. Lady Amyra was younger sister to the late King Corren Blackmyre, the Dread, and aunt to King Karron. Her brother had been a good ruler to the smallfolk, but not one to accept the questioning of his authority. He had noble Lords killed and imprisoned by the dozen, which had set the Kingdom ablaze. When he died, young King Karron inherited his wars, and she was forced to marry Lord Nithan Rhysling so that his armies would join the Crown and put an end to the rebelion.
It was not a happy memory for her, yet they had grown on each other well enough. They had 5 children, and her loyalty and obedience were his, if her heart were not always so. Tonight, as she looked at her husband across the dining table, she wondered if he’d make a better ruler than her nephew. Her heart was torn, but she did not dare show it; she had tried her best to mend their relationship, but it appeared nothing would quench that particular rivalry.
“You are silent, my Lady. What troubles you?” “My Lord, I wonder, how fare our forces in the field?”“I received word from Lord Hayford not an hour ago. He has routed the Royal garrison at the Pillars, my Lady. Our forces are not 20 leagues from the capital, with little in their way.”
Lady Amyra forced a smile, her mind thinking what her mouth would not dare repeat. “Good news, my Lord. Soon, you shall be King, and I, your Queen.” she said, as she pushed her dinner plate aside.