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.”