2.10.2012

Blast from the Past: Dargonzine "Great Houses War: Call to Arms"

By Nicholas Wansbutter







WRITER'S NOTE: Between a round of colds at home and being generally "under the gun" at work of late, I've found very little time to complete any new fiction or artwork. I decided to give myself a breather and therefore feature some of my older work. Today's piece is Part 1 of a nine-part series I wrote for Dargonzine, a free internet e-zine, about eight years ago. I wrote several works for them but this is by far my best work for them and combining all nine parts nearly amounts to my first novel since it totals at over 100 pages. My writing improved drastically during my time with Dargonzine thanks to their collaborative critique process which what my inspiration for starting the Collegium Scriptorum Catholicae. If I had more time to write I'd probably re-join Dargonzine. I hope you enjoy it ...

***

“The king is dead!”

Caeron Tallirhan, rightful heir to the throne of Baranur, looked up with a start from the game of King’s Key he had been playing. His grandfather was dead? He hadn’t even known that the old man had been ill. He stared at the young squire panting at the door leading into Caeron’s chambers in his country manor in Dyunill. The boy, who was not much younger than Caeron, was dressed in furs to protect him from the cold and his cheeks were red.

“How did it happen?” Caeron pushed back the fine oak chair he had been sitting on and approached the messenger, who, while tall enough himself, was still almost a full hand shorter than Caeron.


“Your majesty, he fell suddenly ill with a fever after hunting on the tenth and succumbed late last night.”

“I should feel something,” Caeron thought. He was shaken by the news, but only because it was unexpected. He had hardly known the man; in fact King Stefan II had banned him from the court when he and his wife Dara had accepted Stevenism. The man had wronged him, but still he was family: Caeron’s grandfather. Caeron should have felt sorrow, sadness, or compassion. He only felt surprise and guilt for his shameful reaction.

Caeron slammed his fist into his hand and turned away from the boy. He strode toward the stone hearth that dominated the room and stared into the dancing flames, chewing on his lower lip. “What sort of grandson feels happiness at his grandsire’s death?” he admonished himself. On the other hand, there were other things to consider. What did the old king’s death mean for Baranur? Should not the last remaining Tallirhan think of such things? Caeron was vaguely aware of his wife, Dara, getting up from the King’s Key table and gliding up to his side.

“Aendasia will undoubtedly claim the throne.” Caeron shook his head. He could feel anger bubbling up inside him. He’d always had a short temper. He knew he needed to try to control it, but as he envisioned Beinisonian troops marching through the streets of Magnus, his grip on the fireplace mantel tightened. “My cousin Aendasia, the Beinisonian empress-mother, whom grandfather named heir before me. Cephas’ boot, I thought this was something we wouldn’t have to deal with for years!”

Caeron was the only surviving heir of the Tallirhan name, the family that had ruled over Baranur for nearly nine hundred years. But, when Caeron had converted to Stevenism, King Stefan II had disowned him. The only other heir was Caeron’s cousin Aendasia who had married the Beinisonian Emperor, Alejandro VII, many years before. When Alejandro died and his son ascended to the throne, Stefan had arranged a marriage for Aendasia with Valeran, the Duke of Northfield, apparently in hopes of forming some sort of alliance between Beinison and Baranur. Aendasia had borne the name Blortnikson for many years, however, and was thoroughly Beinisonian as far as Caeron was concerned. Caeron had hoped that he could eventually heal the rift with his grandfather and — once Stefan’s anger had cooled — that the lawful lineage would be restored. Now it was too late.

Dara placed a hand on his arm and rubbed it soothingly. “It is against the laws of inheritance; surely you are Tallirhan’s heir.”

“Your majesty, if I may –” the messenger tried to interject.

“Of course, but grandfather willed the crown to Aendasia, rather than allow it to ‘fall into the hands of Stevenic apostates.’” King Stefan II had been well-respected by his lords, and some scholars said that when he had disinherited Caeron that technically the Tallirhan line had ended and therefore the crown did indeed go to the next closest kin, Aendasia. Many had supported the proposal when it had been put forward in hopes that it would ensure Beinison never threatened Baranur again. “Bah! The Beinisonians would instead make us but another province in their empire.”

“My lord?” Dara said.

“I was just thinking about that tired justification: that Aendasia becoming queen could somehow protect us from Beinison,” Caeron said.

“Would it be too much to hope that your cousin would abdicate?” Dara said. “You are still young, my husband; there are many years –”

“Twenty-four years is old enough for me to know I am the rightful king! Old enough to know my people will be enslaved should Aendasia ascend to the throne.”

“Your majesty, please!” the messenger exclaimed.

Caeron stopped and took a few deep breaths. He had lost his temper, as usual. It was hardly behaviour befitting a good Stevenic. He took another breath and, satisfied he had regained his composure, turned back towards the door. “Excuse my outburst. Do you bear further news?”

“Your majesty, I also bear tidings from your half-brother, Master Priest of the High Church of Magnus. He begs you come to Magnus with all possible speed. He says that several of the Great Houses will support your claim on the throne. Lady Aendasia is in Beinison and it will be some time ere she hears the news.”

Of course, Aendasia had lived in Beinison for so many years that she considered herself Beinisonian and preferred to spend the majority of her time there, even since being named heir to the Baranurian throne. But the lords … Caeron was somewhat surprised to hear that a number of them had altered the position they had taken when Stefan II had still been king. What had his half-brother Cyrridain been up to?

Caeron took Dara’s hand and gripped it tightly. “Could it be, love, a chance for the throne to remain in the rightful hands of Tallirhan?” Caeron knew that he had to make a decision quickly. The fate of the kingdom rested on what he decided in that moment, it seemed: bow to the old king’s wishes which, though unjust, were his right to make, or seize this opportunity? It must have been a sign that things had played out in this manner, that Stefan had died while Aendasia was in Beinison. “The Stevene’s Light shines on me this day. I should have known that being the first Tallirhan to follow the Stevene’s teachings, I would be favoured … I must make haste to Magnus. Zephrym!”

“My lord?” A sturdy man with greying hair and stubble on his chin casually pushed the squire aside and strolled into the room.

“Have the house guard ready to travel; I leave for Magnus immediately. I want you to follow behind with Lady Dara and the rest of the household.”

“Should you not wait so that we can travel with you, my lord?” Zephrym, the captain of Caeron’s personal guard, asked.

“No, I must get to Magnus as quickly as possible, to solidify my claim on the crown. I will better accomplish that travelling alone.” Caeron bent down and kissed his wife on the forehead. “I must be off, my love.”

“I will see you in Magnus, my king.”

Read the rest of the story here: http://dargonzine.org/the-great-houses-war-1-call-to-arms/

Links to the rest of the series here:  http://dargonzine.org/series/the-great-houses-war/

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