The king resisted the urge to adjust his crown as the Council deliberated in front of him about what he should or should not be doing with his troops and his kingdom. They acted like they had the final say. If the people had actually been as disheartened by the 8th Legion’s defeat as the Council seemed to believe–enough to strip power from the king and turn it over to the Council–then he may as well have marched the legions straight off a cliff and into a pit.
The fattest of the councilmen sat at the end of the long ornate wooden table in a terribly odd outfit. It was as if his gluttony and greed had earned him the most prestige of the 13 other pigs that joined him today.
“I don’t care what you have to say, Willhelm, there is no reason for us to move the 4th Legion out of Barkton. If we don’t keep the lumber yards safe and secure, we won’t have the wood needed for arrows, siege weapons, wagons, and so on. It won’t just be the 4th, but all the legions, that will suffer. My vote is the 4th Legion stays in Barkton.”
“But if Valcrest falls to the White-Horns, we lose our first line of defense on the eastern front. Ashcroft, you can’t seriously be in favor of letting it fall and all the people in it die over a couple of arrows and donkey carts can you?”
“Ashcroft, see reason. I know the yards are important, but we can rebuild them anywhere. Nothing can replace the valuable lives that will be lost in Valcrest if the White-Horns press their advantage and sack the city. What if you had family there? Would you so callously toss them aside for shields and arrows?”
I want to believe you, Dreston, I want to trust you, Wilhelm. A day ago and I would have. A day ago and I wouldn’t have had your machinations laid out in front of me. The messenger he held captive had been more than effective in his job last night. Not only had he killed his contact, but he had also gone to the councilman’s estate and made copies of the Council’s plans as well. The idiot had just left the documents scattered across his desk like every soldier in the capital was in on their scheme.
“Of course not, Dreston, but I’m worried about the future of our legions. After losing the 8th, I’m going to have trouble explaining to those who put me here why their fathers, sons and brothers won’t be coming home.”
“I understand that, but please, for the sake of the daughters and wives whose loved ones died to protect them, change your vote! I urge you to see reason.”
Vote all you like, but I’m not moving the 4th Legion and letting you sack Barkton and move on my capital.
“Gentlemen, we have debated this for hours. Surely the king would like to have a say. He is in fact the benefactor of this land. My Lord, please. Speak reason to these wolves who so callously throw away the lives of good men and women over quibbles.”
“What about Barkton? Is there really no threat of attack on it? When we moved the 4th there, it was due to an imminent threat from a small group of Black-Wings.”
“Your Majesty, we believe the threat has pulled back. Given the news about the 8th Legion, our intelligence says that it was most likely the same Black-Wings threatening Barkton that were used to route our forces near Valcrest.” Ashcroft, the very councilman who was supposedly against the idea of moving the 4th Legion, was the first to offer reason against his decision.
He may be a good schemer, but he is a terrible actor.
“You believe Barkton to be 100% safe then, Ashcroft?” the king asked the exceptionally corpulent councilman.
“I believe it is relatively safe.”
“So there is or isn’t a threat to the area? Why, if there is no threat, do you want to leave the troops there instead of aiding Valcrest?”
“It is as Your Majesty says: There is still a possibility of a threat. I was only reporting on the Black-Wing activity as I’ve heard it.”
“Mmm. So you gentlemen want me to leave Barkton for the wolves and save Valcrest.”
“Your Majesty, we don’t want to leave any town for the wolves. We just advise you to see reason and take as few risks as possible,” Wilhelm spoke in his most sympathetic voice, eyeing Ashcroft for being so stupid just a moment ago.
What? Did he forget his lines? Qasin mused.
“Hmm. Well, you’re in luck then if you were worried. Valcrest will be fine. I don’t plan on leaving either city for the wolves. I have seen this tragedy coming and taken measures to save them both,” he said.
Indeed, he did have a plan in place this time. He hadn’t known what the Council was up to after the 8th Legion’s demise, but he had surmised they weren’t playing the same game he was anymore and that he was going to need troops. Their plans always came at the expense of lives. That’s why Qasin had, since the moment of the red-eyed man’s arrival, organized the 7th Legion to secretly clear out the so-called ‘threat’ that was supposedly forcing the 6th Legion to overcommit to the small town of Kallafan on the northern border. It was a risk doing it. If the White-Horns had seen them, or the Council had gotten word that Oghan was defenseless, then thousands would have died. But they didn’t. The plan had actually worked, and now he could move the 6th Legion farther south and defend Valcrest.
“You see, this time, I’ve got some good news,” the king began. He readying himself to tell the Council of how he had thwarted their plan, when he was interrupted by clamor outside the chamber. The doors to the chamber room flew open and a guard, one the king didn’t recognize, came in flanked by his own escort. What is it now? More drama? Another ‘surprise’ event? A messenger that they’ve staged to make sure we send troops to Valcrest?
One of his personal troops spoke first. “Sire, it’s urgent news of Valcrest.” Of course it is. “I think you’re going to want to hear this.” Of course I do. You couldn’t wait until we were in private to bring me bad news?
“Fine, go ahead,” the king groaned, rubbing his temples and grimacing. “Tell me what the news is.”
“Sire, earlier today, a strange man in a green robe arrived in Valcrest claiming to have defeated the White-Horns along the territory’s border. We immediately sent scouts to confirm the man’s claims. Between those scouts’ reports and the massive number of White-Horn-forged axes he sold to the Valcrest blacksmith, we can absolutely confirm the validity of the news.” The room went quiet, all eyes focused upon the guard as he presented the information to King Qasin.
“You said the entire legion of White-Horns was destroyed?” This can’t be. How is this possible? Wait . . .” A man in a green robe?”
“Yes, Sire, and with the iron gathered from the axes he sold, we have enough now to refit an entire legion,” the guard said, smiling happily as he stood at attention.
“The man in the green robe, was he tall? Broad shoulders? Red eyes?” It can’t be him. I sent that man out with just a spoon, and he killed an entire legion?
“Yes, Sire. That’s the one.”
Qasin beamed while everyone else in the room broke out in murmurs.
“Guard, thank you for your service in promptly delivering word of this glorious triumph. Make sure to let the people of the town know that the man was sent by me–as witnessed by everyone in the court during the weekly reports–to destroy the legion, and that he did so with only a spoon. Let them know that no harm shall befall the town as long as that man resides in Valcrest. Let the citizens know that their king has sent this man to be their protector out of his great love for the people.” The king cringed as he gave the orders. Speeches like that, especially when they were lies, made his stomach churn.
What kind of rotten man is the Council turning me into? Although, it isn’t entirely a lie. I didn’t summon the hero to the kingdom, but I did send him to the front lines. “You see, gentlemen, this is why we don’t have to abandon either town. You wanted an entire legion to do what my man has already done alone. You would leave Barkton undefended and risk its destruction for nothing. Have you no faith in me? Did I not tell you that I had summoned a hero to deliver us from evil? Trust in your ruler, for I spend my days protecting every member of this kingdom. This meeting is over. You have wasted enough of my time with your pointless, irrelevant squabbling.”
Qasin rose from his throne and strode towards the door. Even though he didn’t look to check, he was sure that the stunned councilmen made no move to follow him. They probably had more schemes to concoct while his back was turned.
As soon as he had gone out of sight of the Council, he turned to the bodyguard on his left and whispered as quietly as he could, “Go fetch our new messenger. Have him meet me in my study as quickly as you can, and come with him. We have work to do. Oh, and make sure that guard gets paid ten gold pieces for his timely arrival. That type of loyalty needs to be rewarded.”
Adjusting his crown, he hurried his steps and headed for the study. This red-eyed fellow had saved him twice, but he couldn’t keep depending on him. The Council would be sending assassins to kill him soon enough, and it was only a matter of time before they cut his throat while he slept. The only thing to do now was to doggedly stall their efforts and undermine their plans. What kind of monster is he to kill an entire legion of White-Horns with a bit of dinnerware? He must be a monster, a spoon-wielding fiend.
The problem is gone now, though, isn’t it? My champion killed them, and the problem is gone. He just killed them all, and it just went away . . . All you have to do is kill.