A War On All Fronts
Ok, I'm gonna post something I've been working on. It's still a major work in progress, but I hope this is a good taster for you guys. You'll have to wait for character profiles, unfortunately
As a side note, the _ means I'm still looking for a name!Grey skies loomed over Pridenhold on the first day of the fourth month. The last few days had been hot for the time of year, much hotter than expected. There had been none of the rain showers that were usually so frequent: indeed, the wells were becoming rather dry and King Devanorth had warned the people to use water sparingly.
Prince Erathor had been called to the Throne Room to meet with the King and the High Lords, to discuss the war effort and to decide what should be done next. Disturbing news had reached his father’s ears, quite what he wasn’t sure, but he reckoned the council had been called because of it. He knew that the northern fortresses had been in difficulty for some time, busy fending off attacks from the Tribesmen, but there was little that could be done to help them. It was a couple of hundred miles from Pridenhold to the Mountains, a long journey by anyone’s standards, and there weren’t enough men to be spared. _ was holding on, though only just.
Up ahead of Erathor were the large doors to the Throne Room, ornate carvings worked into their grand design. Over them hung the proud banner of _ with flaming torches held beside, though they were needless in the daylight. To Erathor it looked to be a symbol of defiance, a warning to any threat that _ would stay strong, no matter what trials may come forth.
“Good morning, my lord.” The words came from Sir _, on duty outside. His rough face was grim, but a winkle was in his eye. “If I may ask,” he continued, “what has your father called this council for?” Erathor smiled at the question.
“If you should know, you will know.” He winked to his old friend. “I’ll see you later for training, as usual.” The doors were opened before him, and he entered the room, a sudden feeling of dread coming upon him.
The Throne Room of Pridenhold was widely regarded as one of Andurain’s most magnificent wonders, and it was clear why so many people held that opinion. The grey stone walls rose high above a tall man’s head, bright banners hanging from them over torches in their brackets. A chandelier of dark metal was held from the centre of the ceiling, and round pillars lined the sides. As with the rest of the stone city the Room was totally symmetrical, this only adding to its grandeur. It was in the centre, however, before the throne, that the greatest wonder lay.
Taking up half the paved floor altogether, and with a cover of glass, was a huge map, one showing all of Andurain. It sunk a foot below the level of the Room, the stone countries surrounded by flowing water representing the sea. Miniature ships could be seen following the usual trading routes, controlled by a mysterious force that kept them going, even changing their courses if a storm in the real world barred the way. This was the Glass Map of _, the envy of the nations.
Erathor drew his eyes upwards, to his father who walked towards him. King Devanorth was a well-built man, with a tall figure and a strong, knowledgeable face. His hair was greying earlier than most, though once it had been the rich dark brown colour so common in _.
“I’m glad you’re here, Erathor,” he said, clasping his son’s right hand. He wore the Crown of the King’s on his head. “We have much to discuss, and none of it is pleasant.” The Prince had expected this. He made his way to a long wooden table, around which the High Lords were seated, as well as Déomas and Blackbird. The latter was dressed all in black, except for a forest-green, travel-stained cloak. His black hair was swept back over his head, as if he had just arrived back from hunting. It was probable that he had.
“Ah, Erathor.” Blackbird looked upwards. “I caught a good boar today, the cook’ll have it ready for later. It’s a big one, very meaty.”
“Blackbird! This is a serious meeting, and is not the time to discuss your day out hunting!” Devanorth frowned at him, but it was obvious that the frown concealed a smile beneath. The other men turned their heads away and Raym covered his mouth with a large hand. Anything that broke up the normality and dread of a war-council was well received, even by the hardiest of lords. The King went and stood by his throne, sheathing the sword that had lain on the seat.
“Not two hours ago I received a letter by raven, a letter written by Sir _ Seltagar.” Erathor glanced at Allor as his father spoke, and the tall man nodded in understanding. He had already read the letter spoken of. “Sir _ is currently leading the garrison at Sarenhold, attempting to hold back the hordes of Tribesmen that besiege the city. His letter reads:
“My Lord and King Devanorth,
I send you greetings from Sarenhold, though all is not well here. For two weeks now we have prevented the Tribesmen from taking our city. Our garrison has fought valiantly, beating back the attacks as they come, but we could do nothing to stop the eastern wall being partly destroyed by catapult fire. Now that the wall has fallen, we must have fifty men ready to defend it at any one time during the long nights here. We have supplies that can last us a few months, and until they run out we will hold on.
In hope and trust,
Sir _ Seltagar
“Sarenhold is under siege and we can do nothing, yet clearly _ needs our assistance. We have no men who can be spared, for the war surrounds us and they are all needed where they have been ordered to serve. What can we do?” Devanorth’s sharp eyes flitted from man to man, seeming to assess their thoughts as he passed from one to the other. He felt the burden of Kingship more than ever, as if he fought the war alone, with none other to stand by his side as he led his country. Not even in his first days as king had he felt so weighed down.
“What of the Undermen?” Robert Dunber’s gruff voice broke into the King’s thoughts. “Surely they can lend some warriors, maybe enough to break the siege?”
“We know the Undermen are strong, Father, and that the element of surprise would be with them if they did choose to send assistance,” Erathor said. “Send a message to their Head. If you ask, he will respond.”
“How can I ask for their help when they too need ours? Their troubles are not yet over, for they are still unsafe underground, and these Tribesmen appear to be unusually strong. They would be of little help, even if they could lend men.
“As for other means of assistance, there are few we could count on. The White Elves will not interfere, as they put it, with Men’s affairs, but we all expected that. They’re interested in no one but themselves and their survival.” Devanorth’s voice was almost bitter. “The leaders of _,” he continued, “are all imprisoned, and the country is under Southern rule. We have no other friends, it seems, and that just about sums up our current predicament.”
“I would, Sire, suggest that you reply to _ and briefly explain that we cannot offer him any help whatsoever. He would understand, wouldn’t he, Allor?” Allor scratched his short grey stubble.
“Yes, Raym, he would.” Turning to Devanorth, he said, “_ would wholly understand the situation you are in, Sire, and he would continue to hold back the Tribesmen for as long as possible, or would do the best thing for his men. Our people know the Mountains even better than the enemy do.”
Devanorth gave a grim smile, moving from his throne to lean on the table at its head.
“It is your reasoning that makes my burden bearable, friends. I will reply quickly, and he should receive the letter in a couple of days’ time, if Sarenhold still stands. I believe it will, and for many years to come. We must keep hope, for we have little else.” Blackbird rose to his feet, ready to leave, but Devanorth gestured for him to sit again. “I’m afraid you must wait a while longer, uncle, we have not finished yet. Sitting still for any length of time is not something you enjoy doing, is it?” Erathor knew this to be true; many a time his great-uncle had slipped out of councils and other matters of court to hunt or do something else more active. This had become something of a joke among the Royal Court, one that Blackbird took well, just as he had done when he was given his nickname years earlier.
“Forgive me, Sire,” Blackbird replied, his eyes twinkling. Devanorth nodded at him with a small smile, the most he could now manage. He felt that he was abandoning Sarenhold along with everyone inside, but there was nothing else he could do. The enemy were closing in.