2.17.2012

Blast from the Past: Dargonzine "Great Houses War: Noose and Falcon"

 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 ...

***

King Caeron surveyed the meadows to the southwest from his vantage point on a tall hill. Fremlow City was just beyond the horizon, he knew, but the army of Duke Valeran Northfield was all that he saw. All the blue Northfield banners bore black falcons, however, indicating that the duke himself was not present. If he had been, there would have been a white falcon to mark his position. Caeron’s own heraldry flew on a large banner just behind him, held aloft by one of his squires.

“If we can achieve a decisive victory here, we may be able to win this war ere it begins in earnest,” Caeron said, looking over at Sir Zephrym Vladon, who sat astride his horse to Caeron’s right.

 “We can only pray, my lord,” Zephrym replied.

The first blood of the so-called Great Houses War had been spilt when a Northfield army launched a surprise attack and took Fremlow City a month earlier. Duke Valeran Northfield, husband of Caeron’s rival claimant to the throne, Aendasia Blortnikson, had thus dashed Caeron’s last hopes of a diplomatic resolution to the disputed succession. Aendasia believed that she was the rightful ruler of Baranur, as King Stefan II had illegally named her his heir out of spite towards Caeron’s conversion to Stevenism. Caeron, however, was the rightful Tallirhan heir, being Stefan’s gran dson, while Aendasia was only a niece, and Caeron had been crowned ruler of Baranur earlier in the year.
After receiving word of Fremlow’s fall, Caeron had abandoned his original plan of defending his crown by invading Equiville, and had made haste into the Duchy of Welspeare, hoping to engage the Northfielders in open field. If they could be defeated, the other insurrectionist houses would be likelier to capitulate, as Aendasia was also Duchess of Northfield. This likelihood was further enhanced by the fact that earlier in the day, Caeron had received a herald from his cousin Hadrus, king-consort to the queen of Lederia, pledging his support of Caeron’s kingship, meaning more enemies for the insurrectionists.

Caeron had received reports that the treasonous Duchess of Arvalia was leading troops south to Port Sevlyn. Fortunately, the Skywall Mountains would slow more rebel troops from Monrodya long enough for Caeron to win a few quick victories and negate the numerical advantage the insurrectionists would have.

“The enemy does not seem ready for us,” Caeron said. Indeed, the Northfield troops below appeared to be in disarray, scrambling to move from a marching formation into battle lines. “We attack swiftly.”

“We won’t be able to use our archers,” Zephrym said. “They aren’t in position yet.”

“We’ll have to make do without, this time,” Caeron replied. “We can’t afford any delay. Lady Milverri, if you please.”

“Your majesty.” The High Mage drew her horse up beside the king’s. “What would you ask of me?”

“Can you use your magic to order Commander Jorym and his Comarrian mercenaries forward?” Caeron asked. Having never been in a battle before, he was unsure what the mage’s abilities were. “They are a good league to the north and it will take time to send runners …”

“I can, your majesty,” Milverri Rhihosh said. “But I must warn you, my powers are not unlimited.

Even the High Mage of Baranur can cast but a handful of spells before she is spent.”

“Others with your skill are present on the battlefield, are they not?”

“They are. I will send your message, majesty.”

Caeron watched in fascination as Milverri Rhihosh began to move her hands in the air, in motions like those of some long-forgotten dance. She chanted in an unfamiliar language. Caeron looked north towards the Comarrian position, but saw nothing untoward. He saw only the branches of a few trees move in the breeze, and a dark-coloured bird fly out from a berry bush. He wasn’t sure what he expected out of the mage, but after a few moments of apparent inaction, he looked to summon one of his runners after all. It seemed that magic really was just a children’s tale.

Just as one of the squires pulled up astride his steed, Caeron heard the High Mage let out a cry. He looked back to see her slumped in her saddle, her tight pink skin shining with perspiration. Her eyes were closed and she swayed to one side. Before she could fall from the horse, one of her fellow mages reached out a steadying hand.

“We are fortunate that the enemy army has no mages of its own,” Milverri said. “Otherwise they might have countered my spell. As it is, this was among my least powerful magics, yet I am still tired.”

Caeron suppressed a laugh at that. As far as he could tell the mage hadn’t done anything. Then he caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and looking to the north, he could see an armoured warrior on horseback, holding the Comarrian’s colours aloft, charging from the low ground in which the mercenaries had been waiting. Quickly behind him came a mass of horses and men. For a brief moment Caeron was stunned, but he quickly gathered himself and looked back to Milverri Rhihosh.

“I see now that I must be very scrupulous in calling on your powers, Lady Rhihosh,” Caeron said. He turned to Zephrym. “Order the advance. The Comarrians should be able to break the enemy’s north flank, but we will need to be there to make good the assault.”

“Very good, my lord,” Zephrym said.

Caeron took his helm surmounted by a gold crown from one of his squires with shaking hands. He moved his horse closer to Zephrym so that he could speak to his captain in secret. “How are you so calm, Zephrym?”

The old knight smiled, creases forming at the corners of his eyes. “I am just as scared as you, my king,” he said, “but I have many years of experience in hiding it. You are doing a fine job.”

Caeron nodded, though he was not certain he believed Zephrym could be as scared as he was. He had trained for many years for war, but this would be his first real battle. Despite the coat of plates and chain mail suit he wore, he knew from history that kings could die in war as surely as any other man could. But why should he worry? He looked up at his banner, held by a faithful squire. Emblazoned atop the traditional Tallirhan family heraldry, he’d had a noose added in honour of his devotion to the Stevene’s Light. If God wanted him to be king, surely God would not end his reign so soon. And yet, Dara had been beside herself with fear when Caeron had left Crown Castle sennights ago.

He looked to his left, where the Duchess of Kiliaen was commanding the vanguard. She waved to show she was ready. Other barons and their household knights, men-at-arms, and peasant soldiers stood at the ready.

He hefted the heavy helm onto his head. Though it bore eye slits that he could easily see through, he had waited until the last moment, as all warriors did, because it weighed nearly thirty pounds. He raised his lance in the air and swung it towards the enemy army.

As one, Caeron’s household knights and the supporting infantry moved forward, down the hill towards the meadow. Ailwyn Meadow, Caeron thought it was called. With his helm on, he could not see to the sides, but he knew that the rest of the army was moving forward as well. His horse was anxious to spring forward, but he kept it reined in at a trot so as not to outpace the infantry.

Read the rest of the story here: http://dargonzine.org/the-great-houses-war-part-2-the-noose-and-the-falcon/

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

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