Arleth

It was a clear periwinkle sky
Cut by alabaster banners fly
Future fallen heroes marched
Crossing emerald fields and hills arched
Clad in shiny nickel armor
They indifferent to passing farmer
Hefting graphite lance and shield
They hunt amethyst dragon without yield

Captain on chestnut and milk mount
Pronounced in rousing shout
Promises of fortune and fame
And glory to those that Arleth maim
The salmon sun oversaw marching lines
On past pens of rosy swines

As time crept under tiring silver foot
They beheld the first of Arleth proud soot
Midnight char upon both structure and plant
The smell of dragon’s rage hardly scant
Soldiers’ scarlet heart than did race
As over ashen hill they spot her face

T’would not be so bad
If Arleth’s face did not look so glad
In dragon’s burning aurum eyes
Many man quaked in pending demise
Arleth next showed Ivory fang
Releasing fears of coming pang
Wings stretched out in taunting girth
Pushing adversaries to the earth
Arleth parted in fiery breath
Sending brave captain to his death

Spry sergeant backwards leapt
At survival he was more adept.
From honey bow did he reply
Letting ebony arrow fly
Would only take one shot
Landing in a narrow spot
But it would not be today
In the sky Arleth made her way

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Byron part 1

Seek Varelle for your reward
Keeper of the glen and fjord
Rely on her to guide your path
Ease your fear of beastly wrath

It was all that was read before it was tossed on the burning pile. “Varelle, you have not guided me right in months,” Byron muttered. He looked around for anything else to feed the fire. While it was slowly starting to spread to the edge of the fire place, he was quite surprised how little his house actually wanted to burn. He had no particular dislike for the house and its contents. They were just casualties of his decision to burn it all down before disappearing into the night.

Byron had made the mistake many a merchant young and old do of investing in the wrong enterprise. In this case he had backed the wrong noble for ownership of a title. And though in his kindness Lord Forendide said he would spare the lives of those who had conspired against him, he had also proclaimed ownership of their possessions.

Lord Forendide would be by in two days and to take possession of his property from Byron. Byron, along with the several overs in the glen, had agreed to leave behind the worthless pile of ashes and head off at first light by ship to greener pastures. So now he stood vexed as to what he had to coax a flame to spread beyond the hearth to the walls. He had already drank his alcohol and the one book that had not been tossed on the fire was coming with him.

His concentration was broken by a rapping upon the door. Confused as to who would be calling at this hour, he grabbed his dagger off his desk and made his way out of his office.

There was a second knocking on the door, this time a bit more rapid and heavier. Byron made haste down the stairs and to the door. It was not as if there were any other residence to be disturbed by the late hour cacophony the caller was making. And yet he did a slight jog across the floor to hasten answering.

At the door, Byron called out before opening, “Who is knocking at this late hour?”

“Tis Jorgan, I have urgent news. Open up and be quick about it. I do not like standing out here in the night.”

Byron relaxed and unbolted the door. Opening it to find it was Jorgan, along with two others. flanking him. Standing a head shorter on Jorgan’s left was a stout balding woman. From her rust colored robes he could tell she was one of the seers, but not one he had met before. To Jorgan’s right, standing as tall as Jorgan, with a slender build, was a black haired man. Clean shaven and with a deep blue tunic depicting a hare, Byron took him as one of the Tuftom Knights.

“Sorry to call upon on you at this hour, and I will explain all to you as soon as we have a moment’s rest. I come with word from our brother Strom.”

“Come in then before someone sees you dawdling about out there.” Byron replied. “I have naught but water to offer you as I have finished the last of the wine with supper.” He led them to a room just off the entry and gestured for them to have a seat.

Byron went over to a pitcher and decanted drinks and continued, “I am planning on being out of town by morning so we had best make this quick.”

“Strom has come across a great opportunity, but it will require funding from you.”

“And this could not wait?” asked Byron.

“Um no,” replied Jorgan. “I know you are in a bit of a bind with current ventures and I had to talk before your credit was wiped out.”

“Go on,” Byron commented.

“We need a thousand, to fund an expedition to recover…”

“May as well be ten thousand,” replied Byron. ‘On that front you are too late. My accounts at the counting houses are closed and the merchants know the ass is coming to take what they could not.”

“But you have other ventures that have money,” pushed Jorgan. “And this is for the recovery of the seer’s staff. The oracle left at Da-kineth.”

Byron paused, before his mind went out on a hundred tangents of possibilities. This could be the sign he needed for way out of the pit he was in. “I have some funds available, it will take me all day tomorrow to get them and it may be short a few. Naturally we have to work out some finer points as to repayment will be for backing. Also I want to go along as there will little to occupy my time otherwise.”

The woman looked intently into Byron’s blue eyes. “You scheme, as all merchants do, and I sense no malice in your future. You will have your turn at the oracle’s benefits, but do not be dismayed when it gives visions of things you did not wish to see. I am Lady Briana of the seers. I look forward to our partnership. Also Sir Koslo over there and I shall be on the expedition.” Briana motioned with her hand at the Tuftom Knight.

Koslo sniffed the air, “Is that smoke? I think the house is on fire.”

“Yes, that would be smoke and I think it best we all leave the house.” replied Byron calmly.

“But surely we can put it out if it has not gotten far.” Koslo said with a confused look.

“No, I am certain it is a lost cause,” Byron Retorted. “Now out the door quickly.” He picked up a book from a table and started for the door. The other three took this finally as a sign he was serious and followed closely behind.

Foggy Mind

What is there in the dark
Hidden by flimsy hands
Weakness I chose to embrace
Down paths I fear to face
In a chest under desolate lands
The buried voices to me did hark

In grief my mind still knows
I faced it once and then did hide
The potential I am not
Could have chosen as my lot
I showed no other side
Sometimes wondering if still it grows

Desperate times this place I seek
Coveting that wanton rage
Smirking at the darkness there
Not a mask longed to wear
Tossed back in its cage
Not wanting it so bleak

Scellemen’s Hall

Are you going to Scellemen’s hall
The place where you can see it all
Down old stone pathways lead
Ignore the warning sign’s plead
Out past rational things of pleasure
It is where to go for all types of leisure
Where luxury is always on display
And beast, unrestrained, are free to play

Did you receive a similar call
See my bill with fancy scrawl
Ideas described inside as seed
Curiosity abounds more than need
My concern I keep in equal measure
What at path end is this maps treasure
Haste we make in sun’s last ray
We join others along the way

As moon light starts it’s fall
Revels in mind’s corners sprawl
Then comes noise summoning heed
Celebration. not warnings, indeed
Inquisitiveness is a greater force
On we adventure without remorse
Fun shall be ours today
At Scellemen’s hall we will stay

Little Cat 5

In the early autumn air, the little cat chased an elm leaf. She liked the crunch it made in her paws each time she clapped it. Light peaked through where her claws had poked a few holes. Soon the browning saw toothed oval would meet its fate of destruction, but until then it was her toy. The leaf’s fate was of little consequence to little cat as she could just as easily climb a tree and fetch another, if she was so inclined.

A gust of wind took the leaf into the air, and little cat jumped and pounced it back down to the ground. Unfortunately the leaf was now caught on a claw and would not free itself. Little cat tried dragging her foot on the ground to rid her self of the assailant. The disrespectful leaf did nothing of the sort and stayed attached to her paw, even as she tried walking off in indifference. Slowly getting grumpier with the leaf and its defiance, little cat decided to roll on to her back and employ all four paws in the effort to free her poor claw. Little cat meowed in success as the leaf flew up into the air.

A young white and black cat, had been watching the ordeal from under a bush. Seeing the leaf float in the air, he decided now was the time to surprise this worthy foe. He sprang from his hiding spot, paws out stretched to capture the target. And successfully missed it while landing square on little cat’s belly.

Little cat was not happy, she let out a long, low murr.

White and black cat, froze for only a moment before rolling off of her and proceeded to lick his front paw.

His disregard of her annoyance further irked little cat. She voiced her opinion again, this time with raised paw at him.

He used his front paw to clean his head while she continued her show. As far as he was concerned, she should have not been where he was jumping.

Little cat hissed her displeasure and inched closer before taking a light bat at the white and black cat.

He stopped his cleaning and debated whether to respond in kind or retreat. After all it was an unprovoked attack while cleaning in his mind. But soon he saw her paw going back up and he decided to tarry no further. A respectable cat like himself, would not be drawn into a brawl with some common street queen.

Little cat was pleased with herself. She had sent a good message to the white and black offender. Now she was left to ponder where her leaf had gotten off to.

Retort

Would that I were
The one to motivate and spur
It is not change for all to see
But to better those near me
If I am to change anyone
It will start with someone
The one to start with is I
And know it better than thy

The voice and noise to choose
I need to know whose
Seeking not to emulate
Despite where I gravitate
Focus past out held claws
Caught up not on others flaws

If I am not inured
To my own spouted word
Then action I will seek
And cease an outlook bleak
Rather than rile and retort
Seek out where I fell short

Tobin of Braques

He stood up on a four legs at the edge of the forest studying the silhouette of the city of Braques that lay before him. The moon had disappeared between the clouds hours ago, leaving him to find his way here more by smell than anything else. His ears perked up at the sound of the a cow mooing from inside the walls. He had been out in the woods for around ten days and was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of going to the city again. He enjoyed roaming the woods where he was lord over the wolves and only had the occasional tussle to maintain his rule. Despite all this. the city called him too. When he was there, he was lord Tobin of Braques, and also a loyal earl to the emperor. He could protect his lupine family from the deforestation that had once threatened them, while protecting the people’s livestock from them.

After a bit of contemplation, the he trotted on toward the city. Out in the open he could feel the tension in his shoulders growing, as if somebody may be watching. Glancing to his left, he could see the first pinks of sunlight creep through the tree trunks. As he got nearer the edge of the first farms, his shape started to morph, and by the time he was past the outer fields, he was walking upright. It was just a short distance further to where he had stashed his belongings. He hoped the curfew was still in effect and give him a few moments of privacy while he was exposed.

By the time he had gotten dressed, all traces of his feral attributes were gone. He now looked like any other a middle aged merchant from Braques. He left his clothes looking a little unkempt as it would play into his story of being lost in the woods, if his friend Stragove was not at the gates. When he knocked at the door, he was greeted by a young guard who was far more alert than the normal watch at this hour. He smiled when he saw Tobin and whispered, “I knew you were coming, I could smell you from the other side of the gate. You should really work a bath into your routine before coming back.”

“I will take that advice shortly, Stragove” replied Tobin he was relieved he did not need his alibi. “I take it all is well if you are on duty at this hour.”
“Yes, though the men still think it odd that a captain would take the gate watch at this hour. It is rather boring, and most of them want some interaction with people when they work.”
“If they only knew. I see you have the rotations setup right to. I got past without even one of them on the walls.”
“I followed your orders. I will cover that gap tonight. By the way, your sister is asking where you have been. You know she hates all the formal audiences you leave her to deal with, almost as much as she hates covering for your absence.” Stragove, had worked the gate open and let Tobin in.
“She could have taken up the offer to be the earl of these lands if she had married right.” Tobin entered the safety of the walls and quickly shook his head. “You smelled my approach over these odors?”
“Yes m’lord, only thing that smelled right for weeks.”
“I can imagine. Return to your watch, and see me when you are done. I have news from the pack to share with you. I will bathe and see where things now sit.”

Tobin sat eating a breakfast of dried meat and berries, when his sister, Tara, sat down next to him. “You better eat seconds this morning. We have a long day ahead of us, as tomorrow we leave for the Routh’s castle. I hope you got the wild out of your blood for a few days.”
“It is never out. This will never truly be home, and I do not know how you stand it.” Tobin retorted. “I will take your advice on the food, however. Forest was a bit scant on game. I think I am getting soft in the luxury here.”
“The people do not see you as soft. They do see you as fair, which is good. I heard over in Windclave, there was some inklings of revolt brewing. Seems the people prefer their Mistress to their Master.” Tara replied. “You enjoy your time out there with the boys, but do not know the amount effort I have to put in to keep them off me right now. I am in the prime of my life and they know it. I am much safer here, only have to keep Stragove and Klause at bay. They are far easier to handle in the wall s of the city.”

“Oh you still playing them off each other?”
“No, Klause is no longer interested. Stragove knows to keep his distance when you are here.”
Had Tobin not been so tired, he may caught something in her voice. “Do you know how many are making the trip with us? I know the normal twenty of the Emperor’s men will be there, but who else are we taking?”
“They are the only required people. I was thinking, some of the merchants may want to come along under our protection. It would make some good will for you with them. Also may give us a better network of connections.”
“Do you have a few in mind, ones we can trust?”
“Yes, I have scouted out three loyal ones. I know you are weary since the spy was found last year in our court, but I think these are ones we can trust.”
“They will not turn on us if they know our origins?”
“I cannot say that, but that is humans for you. I think Routh knew what he was doing when he reached out to you. It took him a couple years, but I think an alliance will be needed between all who call these lands home when the Emperor meets his demise.”
“Quite. So then, I take it you have the merchants set for a meeting today with me?”
“Silversmith Helena, Charles of trade house Wenthra, and Sabine the clothier. They are coming as a group, you are to put them at easy for safety and that the trip will be worth their while.”
“Will you tell me what you have already promised them?” Tobin prodded.
“Why, only that there is opportunity if they could spare some time,” Tara smiled, getting up from the table.
“So like always you rely on me to run with your scheme. And what makes you think they are loyal?”
“This,” she held up a small opal. “One of the treasures passed along by our lord. It is used for discerning intentions of others via the temperature and color it shifts to.”
“And you trust it? I do not accept these enchantments are all that we are told. I suspect spirits and demons at work here.”

Quiet settled in for the rest of breakfast, Tara was certain she had pushed a little too hard in her ambitions this morning. It was not her fault she saw the potential in a world beyond the forests they called home. If they stayed isolated here and the prophecy was true, who would ally with them if their nature came out? Her brother did not seem to worry about such things, and that bothered her more.

She looked out of the corner of her eye at him. He sat methodically cutting at his food, lost in his own thoughts. She gave it a few minutes more minutes before speaking, “We will join up with Earl Kanto and Herald in Hearthvale on the second day of travel. Have you given any thoughts to the proposal their envoys made?”

“You mean alliances in the case of unforeseen issues?” Tobin replied. “You know those two are the weakest of the earls. Kanto has at best another two years to live and Herald is a simpleton. Not to say I am a product of better breading than either.”

“Allies are allies, and it is not like you want to pick sides between Wilfred and Francis. Natalya and Flynn would be perfect for an alliance, but we have nothing to offer them. Johan, Byron, Robin, Garth, and I forget the rest, I know too little about to advise. Besides Kanto is who we make the alliance with, but I am putting the prize as his daughter. I saw her a few months back and I do see potential in her future.”

“I am surprised you forgot Timothy. His domain is productive farm land and near enough to the Ironblack Mountains to have a ready supply of metals.”

“Smallest in size after Wilfred, but none of the magic. What does it get us? We are fine here for food,” Tara replied

“And by size do you mean land? I am certain you would be auctioning your own hand in marriage if Routh had not forbidden the Earls from such actions among themselves.”

“My dear brother are you saying I have higher ambitions than a suite at the top of Braques keep?”

“Only socially,” he smiled. “But you must excuse me as I must go make ready for my audience with the merchants.”

Wilfred

Wilfred stood looking over the ramparts of Windclave. His hand was occupied with tossing a dagger up in the air and catching it. Despite the danger, he was not too keen on monitoring his success. He watched two farmers working their plow across a field. It had been three of them when they started, but since then one had left for some reason or another.

Casting his eye above them, he could see a winged beast flying toward them. It caused Wilfred to put down the dagger on the ground and pick up the crossbow sitting near by. He carefully loaded a glowing bolt into place and whispered, “Windclave needs protection.” The bolt started to glow a faint pinkish hue. Wilfred rested the crossbow on the wall to steady his arm. He took aim at the winged creature, and let the bolt fly loose. It flew across the sky with a whine in its wake till it hit its mark. There was an explosion of fire when the beast and the bolt made contact, and then nothing.

Wilfred put down the crossbow, and picked up the dagger. He went back to watching the farmers plow the field.

“Did I miss it?” asked a small boy running over to Wilfred.

“Yes, but there will be more. Not for a few more days, but there will be more.” Wilfred responded.

“Father, you promised I could see this time,” the boy stomped his feet and scowled.

“Reginald, be patient. When you are older you will realize this is not the type of thing to look forward to.”

Reginald crossed his arms, “You said the same thing about being an Earl. But now everyone refers to me as Lord Reginald. It is great!.”

Awarding of the title, Earl, had not changed much for Wilfred. He still was owner of the same lands, lord over the same people and commander of the same size military. He was pleased his cousin Routh let something trickle down to him, but wished it somehow had been something more than a title. So far it had come with more responsibility and an addition to the Windclave to accommodate the collections and dignitaries he was going to house. Wilfred was not keen that he now was the center for all the spies at Routh’s disposal. Then again who was his cousin to trust with as short a time as three months till his demise.

“I am sure it is, and in three years when you have more responsibilities you can tell me how great it is then.”

“Oh it will be fun, I can tell everyone what to do. And they won’t give you that questioning look as if I have no power.”

“That will not change my son. In the meantime, why not go check with the kitchen and see if they have prepared the bread I ordered them to make for you.”

Wilfred looked out over the wall as Reginald scampered off. He waited till he was out of earshot, then spoke “Fenton, no need to hide now. The boy is gone.”

“As always you anticipate my arrival,” A man covered in a red cloak spoke as he appeared from nowhere. The wind blew slightly at the opening of it letting the sun show a glint of his sword.

“I know you saw my shot, and that you were on patrol. Only a matter of time till you appeared.” Wilfred’s green eyes did not move off from the horizon as he talked.

“Right you are, guess I need to change my methods, becoming too predictable.” Fenton smirked,

“Perhaps. What do you think the odds are the manticores will try to find their friend?”

“I put the odd as not likely. They know our reach and better than to come this way anymore. I have to say I was surprised one showed up today.” Fenton looked out following Wilfred’s gaze. “You told your son another will come in a few days.”

“Sorry, thought I saw something.” Wilfred turned to Fenton. “I said that to keep the pup from complaining longer. Any word on more riders from the Emperor? I think we were shorted in the handouts of wealth some days.”

“Shorted is right, though it could be that you are a sorcerer or that you have a larger trove of enchanted items than the other earls.”

“Well I gladly would have given up some of it to trade places with another earl and have less of the manticores.”

“My Lord, would you really given up your brother’s lands he left you on his deathbed?

“He did this as a joke. My sister and Earl Fancy Pantaloons have the other half his lands on the other side of the mountain pass. That is nice fertile soil, and even has a few watch towers built outside the keep. We have to keep watch in the sky as we try to turn grain from the stone under our feet.”

“How many men do you think we need to take out the manticores?” Fenton asked, trying to steer the conversation.

“About a hundred more than what we got, if they are trained in that sort of thing. I estimate about ten nests currently up in the peaks, but we need to strike them all at once. If they get wise to us they will up and move their nests elsewhere in the same mountains.”

Wilfred and Fenton looked out toward the fields, where a white bird had just taken flight.

“There is lone rider from the Emporer coming. We had best make them feel welcome,” said Wilfred.

“You know it is a request for another item from our vaults,” Fenton teased.

“Always is,” Wilfred shot back.

Wilfred headed down to his chambers to properly receive the messenger. He winced with every step down the stairs as his left knee complained. It had been hammer during a fight two summers back that had caused the problem and still it showed no sign of improving. Wilfred had led a company of men to take on an ogre terrorizing some of his farmers. The ogre had brought along his goblin allies the day of the encounter and it was not a pretty outcome. Wilfred had escaped with only two others, while the ogre was slain with many of his goblins, he would hardly say either side won the encounter. So Wilfred slowly made his way down the stairs to his chambers, periodically cursing a long dead foe.

At the bottom of the stairs, Wilfred heard someone clear his throat. He turned to see an old man that came up to his chest. The old man’s grey hair was shoulder length and a mess, covering over one of his blue eyes. The man was clean shaven, and wearing long blue robes with a large golden vee embroidered on it with a dog or wolf above the right side and an owl above the left side. “Master Wilfred, a moment of your time, if it pleases you.”

“Be quick and walk with me as I am in a hurry,” Wilfred replied to the stranger.

“My name is Simon I represent a group of concerned people regarding the manticores. Is it not possible to slay the beasts and be done with the threat to the city? I saw you take down one today and it is not more than ten days since the last you took down by our accounts. And that is not counting for the attacks you or I may not be aware of…”

“Good Simon, I see you are from the Brotherhood of Osai, and I respect your rank. However I do not have a force at my command to go forth and deal with such things.” Wilfred did not make further eye contact, but did keep a pace to match his urgency, but still respect the mobility of Simon.

“I had heard rumors of such and would like to make available members of my order to bolster your abilities.” Simon smiled as he calmly spoke.

“How many do you have to offer and what is my cost, err donation to be?”

“Your donation would be use of land with in your fine city to build a new sanctuary. We will provide seventy able fighters and twenty scouts to help in the endeavors. This would also leave you to call upon us in the future should the need arise without further need of generosity on your part.”

“I see,” Spoke Wilfred as he got to the gate of the inner keep. “I must make ready for meeting someone else, may I contemplate your offer for the rest of the day?”

“Naturally, I understand your decisions cannot be made on the whim of the hour. I shall request a formal audience with you on the morrow and we can discuss then.” Simon bowed deeply his hands pressed together then spread apart by the length of his arms.

“As you can see my lord, the Emperor is not asking that you share the items in your vault, but give an accounting of them so he may divide up his resources fairly.” The messenger spoke as Wilfred looked over the papers.

“Yes, but the other Earls, are they giving similar accounts?”

“Of some, others like Herald and Natalya have no significant holdings coming from where they do.”

“My sister’s husband, Francis, is he giving an inventory of their lands?”

“The Emperor has made a request to them as well, my lord.”

“Can you give me an incentive to harboring more of his highness’s belongings here? So far I have part of a library, a score of archers, and some pretty pictures. Other than that I am at a loss as to what help I may expect by turning over a inventory of my vaults to him.” Though calm, the frustration in Wilfred was on the cusp of release.

“It is his desire for a fair division of power among the earls.” replied the messenger

“And he has advisors that can compare the value of a hundred men and mounts against a crystal that lights a room?”

“I am not privy to such knowledge, I am just the carrier of the message.”

“Yet you know he has made requests of the other Earls?” Asked Wilfred.

“Yes, as I am the one who delivers such documents.” The man replied, shifting his weight back and forth between his feet.

“And do you ride with their responses?” pressed Wilfred,

“My pardon, sir. I am humbly presenting that which I am asked to. If you would like I can return a message or request when I depart in the morning.”

“Very well, I shall draft something for your return trip. You, however, will be confined to the quarters for your stay, let your guards know if you need anything.” Smiled Wilfred. He motioned for one of his men to take the messenger away.

“Send in the next person,” ordered Wilfred

In came a bearded man cloaked in dark green clothing.

“And how can I help you today good sir?” asked Wilfred.

“It is I who can help you with your frustrations, Please listen to my suggestions” spoke the man. “I pose a way to assist you off of the emperor’s wrist. With short supplies you are in need of allies. I see manticore aboun’ but no help from the crown. I have legions in waiting for those who act without hesitating. Simply agree to follow plan and I will take nothing but loyalty from you clan.”

“Is it treason you speak in front of me and my men?”

“What men do you see where could they be?” smiled the man.

Wilfred looked around at the empty hall, “What magic are you pulling trickster?”

“I only show power so you know others will cower. You fret for your people as you feeble. I shall lend you my power to protect this tower. Mind you that if I am rejected your lands will go on dejected.”

“Yet you not introduce yourself?” Wilfred responded. “You ask me to name loyalty as a fee for your services and I already have made said agreement with the Emperor. I know the politics of his land, yet in yours I have the disadvantage. Could you ease my concerns on any of this I could contemplate an alliance.”

“Kelpie is my name and eventually you will know its fame. I honor my friends gift as it is their station I lift. Things take time I understand, tell no one else of this is my demand. I await your answer tomorrow’s eve, do not try me to deceive.”

Before Wilfred could respond, Kelpie was gone. The next thing Wilfred could recall was being roused in his chair, and told he had passed out after the messenger had left the room and only mere moments had passed.

Herald

Herald had not heard about the Prophecy of Routh till he became an Earl, but then again there was much Herald had not heard of. Herald was a curious fellow. He had somehow amassed a great fortune, been given the title of Earl and met the woman of his dreams in the span of four years. If you had asked anyone that had known him prior to that point if this would this happen to him, they would have broken down in laughter. The laughter was not at his ineptness to achieve any of it, but from his lack of drive to move beyond what was dictated by his parents. Prior to this, at the young age of thirty-two, Herald had not put forth the work to amount to more than the successor to his father’s dairy farm and maintain less than the status quo.

He was now Herald, Earl of Hearthvale. with a wife named Glinda twelve years his senior and more interest in running the land than him. She had originally accepted his proposal to improve her status in life, and had since realized a job governing suited her. Glinda accepted Herald’s faults as he somehow always lead her to a new discovery of what she was capable of. For example she took the birthing of two children as a challenge she was willing to take on in this time as well.

The appointment to Earl came as a shock to Herald, and was only his by luck of owning the land the farm was situated on. There was a big ceremony and some mumblings of it being in accordance with the prophecy. What he did know was he missed tending to the cows and roaming the pastures watching after them. Now he wandered courtyards slowly, listening to advisors updating on the status of his lands. Given the option he would have taken the cows.

It was now half a year till the prophecy was to pass and the Hearthville Keep was turning more into a castle as more activities were centralized here. Today he was to receive a company of the Routh’s elite men-at-arms. There captain, Yarden, was waiting in chambers for Herald to arrive. He had been briefed by Glinda on what was expected of him, but Herald still hesitated before entering.

He pushed open the doors to see someone standing in ceremonial silver armor waiting his audience. Herald took in the old fellow, noting the thick red hair on his head running down to his neck. From what he could see, he was from the Prowkin, a race of nomads with pointed ears on top of their head, light red hair covering the entire body, and a short pronounced snout. They were often found in service of the mercenary armies. Herald, had not been prepared for this to be his first encounter with one.

“My lord, I am here on behalf of his Highness, to serve.” Yarden bowed, then continued, “If you could direct me to the quarters my men and I shall be residing in?”

“Well met, Sir Yarden,” Herald responded. “Yes if you will follow me, I shall show you to the barracks.” Herald was aware he fumbled what should have been slightly more eloquently said. Also he was now aware he had taken on the duties of one of his pages, he looked for some way to recover. Then spoke up, “I trust your travel here was pleasant.”

“Yes, my lordship. The ride was very scenic, it reminded me of my homelands. I have not seen them in years, but still the vast fields bring back memories.”

Herald felt more at ease with that response; he noted Yarden seemed less tense. “I envy your adventurous spirit; I have never left these lands, as they do provide a certain peace and serenity. I hope the future does yield more of the same.”

“It was not adventure that leads my travels, but a desire to bring wisdom back to my people someday. In ten more years I will be expected to return and relay the wisdom life has handed.”

“What legacy do you leave to your children?” asked Yarden .

“I leave them this,” Herald gestured to the surroundings. “Also the lesson that life will surprise you in the ways you least expect. I had expected to raise cattle on this land. Then thanks to a prophecy I was unaware of, I was told Routh urged to build a keep on these lands. It went on to say something like elevate their owner as he will tend to the people as well as he did the lands. I did raise some of the best dairy cows here, and now with the right team I believe that I can do the same of the people I am charged with.”

The two continued their banter the rest of the way of the barracks. Herald felt that Yarden had warmed up to him and had dropped so many of the formalities he had started with. Bahn, one of Herald’s advisors, was at the barracks to take over the formalities. He politely took over the orientation, leaving Herald again by himself.

Herald walked over to the corral where the cows were now kept. He smiled looking at the small herd, he still knew a few of them from his prior life. It had been simpler then. Not so many names to remember, bargaining was which baker or cheese maker he would work with that year, and he had a nice simple roof over his head. Then the messengers came, followed by the representatives, and then the officials. The to do was beyond his desires for simple.

“Herald,” a voice called from behind him, “Did all go well with the commander?” he turned to see Glinda.

“Yes, my dear. We had a lovely chat. I suppose you need me to attend to another matter now?

“Um, no. I actually wanted to remind you of your riding lessons this afternoon. We must be able to present ourselves properly to the other earls and from what I hear they can all ride.”

“Well then I had best scamper off to do so,” Herald smiled and sauntered off. Glinda was trying to make him look good in front of the other Earls when they met in the next year. He knew himself clueless of such things and this was why he had sought out a daughter of one of the former Empress’s maids.

His thought process was interrupted by a loud crash, it came from over by the stables.

As Herald ran over to see what was caused, he heard the sound of hooves racing across the ground, and a weird light emanating from the direction of the stables. When he arrived he saw the roof caved in and a man cloaked in dark green floating above the damage. The bearded face was scanning the crowd, smiling as the number of onlookers increased. In a raspy voice he started to speak, “Be known that on this day, you are marked the first to fall. Try to get out of my way, And still I will come to call. Swear allegiance now to me, Speak not aloud. Your bonds I shall set you free, Come now, do not be so proud.”

“I Herald, Earl of Hearthvale, command you to leave,” Herald spoke up. “You need not make me cower in my own keep.”

“Well met Herald, lord. I see you choose not with Routh to cut the cord. Be known that you chose this fate. My forces make ready to destroy your state.” And with that the figure disappeared.

“What was that?” Many asked wondering still what happened.

“My lord, a word please,” Yarden made his way over to Herald. “Do you know who that was?”

Herald turned to Yardem, “I do not, other than he shall be back to attempt to take these lands.”

Yarden guided Herald away from the crowd before speaking. “I do not know who he is. I have heard word is he has visited at least four of the other Earl’s lands. Each reports to have declined his offer as you have. I suspect he will visit the other ten soon enough.”

“Does the Emperor fear he has something to do with the prophecy?” Herald asked.

“I cannot say his thoughts on this. I can assure you, he will reward you for making your voice heard by your people. Hopefully his favor will keep you and your people safe.”

“It is not his favor I seek, only the peace be kept in these lands as long as it may,” Herald replied.

“You are new to politics, aren’t you?” Yarden smiled. “You need his favor more than you know. Do not worry though, you have another half a year to get the hang of it. Just be a fast learner…and always watch your back.” Yarden politely bowed and headed off.

*****
“Herald, I would be careful of Yarden,” mused Glinda. “He already has the trust of his loyal men. Do you think it good to let him have your ear as well?”

“Do not worry about him, he is just keeping me apprised of things I am not. He has no ambition of rising to a trusted advisor. ” Herald leaned over and kissed Glinda, “Besides, as my lady you have say in such matters too.”

“As your lady?” Glinda snarked. “Herald I do not think you would handle all this without me. If I left it all to you, how would you handle all the daily quibbles? You cannot keep straight your own attendants.”

“You act as if I do not know such things? It is what makes me a great earl, I know my limitations and have those around me do what I cannot.” Herald replied smiling. “So will I be friendly with Yarden? I will if it fits. If he is there to advise when there is a call to arms, then he will advise. But to run the estate or make alliances, you are first.”

“You do not think I can send someone to their death?” Glinda poked playfully.

“Of that I am certain, but in the field of combat, I would not risk you.”

“So you rather I fight two against one with the boys? They do not make taking an audience easy. Yet you would rather coddle them than face seeing another messenger from Routh. I do wonder what plans the three of you concoct for me.”

“Nothing you cannot handle I am sure. Besides they won’t follow through on anything for at least another year.”

“So then what is this choice you made with our unexpected visitor?”

“I merely told him we are not betraying Routh. Though, I do not know if any of the townsfolk felt otherwise. Magician that he was with the show, may actually have been able to read minds.”

“And what if you were betrayed by some of them?”

“Alas, I think the time for worry of such things is past. I cast our fief’s vote when I spoke, and now we wait to see if it was really a show, a test or a bluff.”

Expanded on Scrap

Badger, rabbit, and mouse
Set out to guard the house
Mouse with quiver and bow
Rabbit with sword in tow
Badger with pole arm in hand
Together a merry band
Turns they took watching the sky
On watch for covey on high
Avian tormentors had plots
To steal fruit and seeds from lots
The crafty birds dove from flight
Only to climb back from hopeless plight

Mouse let his arrows sail
Rabbit shaved feathers from tail
Badger wrangled against wing
The three felt beak biting sting
Crow grabbed mouse and flew
Hoping to trade with hawk crew
Badger retaliated in pole toss
A near miss, the mouse crow loss
Rabbit then gave jump to reach
Saving mouse from fall in breach
Back on foot mouse did stand
Bow ready in his command

Badger smiled slightly then delighted
She and her weapon reunited
The avian raiders disgraced
Now aware the courage faced
Battered and bruised flock routed
Defenders weary, heavens scouted
Until threats they nary spied
By the keenest of the eyed
With harvest safe another day
Rabbit took her flute to play
Badger and mouse began to prance
Out others came to join in dance

* * * * * * *
Inspiration for this bit is from artwork by Amy Hunnisett
https://www.facebook.com/Amy-Hunnisett-Art-1736624993019246/