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The Problem of Denbigh

 
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Alys Rhovnik
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PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2014 7:28 pm    Post subject: The Problem of Denbigh Reply with quote

Ramsgate Castle, The Royal City - Kothar, February 24th CCE

“Forgive me, Majesty, but how long do you intend to tolerate this treason?”

The question from any other man would be considered more than impertinent. Reinnald stared long and hard at his cousin, considering his response. In the King’s audience chamber, leather creaked and murmurs stilled.

Courtenay pressed forward in the silence, pitching his voice in an intimate, imploring tone. “Hear me, Reinnald, please. When the spring thaw comes, all of Averell will pour through that gate in the mountains and swarm down upon this kingdom like a troop of goliath ants. They will devour everything in their paths until they reach this castle. No force will be able to stop them once they reach the plains. If we do not stop them there, where the pass is narrow, they will be upon these walls by midsummer.”

The rustling of advisors in the hall was uneasy. Clearly, there were some among his court who agreed with his cousin. The Queen, he noted, watched from beside the curtains in the ladies’ alcove. Her eyes burned with impatience but he would not recognize her to enter and speak with so many of his men present. Damn her sharp tongue, he would not. He was ruler here. After sixteen years by his side, she should have learnt that lesson, but time made her more conniving, not less. Irritated, Reinnald dropped his right hand heavily on the thick arm of his chair with a noisy smack and let his eyes sweep over the others present.

“Send to him one last time,” he decided, “this time with the troops marching behind. If he will not house and supply them willingly for this fight, then this defiance will be his last. Deal with it as you must. We will have a stronghold in Ashor, willing or no.”

The curtains of the alcove barely rippled. When he glanced that way again, the doorway was empty.

“Yes, my Lord King,” Hugh Courtenay bowed and stepped back, still bent in obeisance. “I will see to it immediately.”
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Alys Rhovnik
Wyrmling
Wyrmling


Joined: 07 May 2014
Posts: 2
See this user's pet
Can Be Found: Ravenwyck Hall, Rhydin
240.40 Silver Crowns

Items

PostPosted: Sun Aug 10, 2014 8:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Iddeslea Keep, Ashor Province - Kothar, March 12th CCE

Winter came early and held fast on the steppes of the Northern kingdom. When the Royal City was still in the midst of its harvest fairs, snow scoured the grasslands and filled the mountain passes. Sly winds stirred snow and ice in the air to erase the horizons and deceive men and beasts to a cold death. Like a fierce Oraki wildcat, once it sank its teeth into the back of the lands, it did not let go until the gods forced it back into the icy hells.

Iddeslea Keep was not the great house Lady Anna Courtenay had been promised when she married Sir Denbigh following his return from seven years of Kothari Crusades in Averell. It was a fortress in a wilderness, and her husband did not care to make it more.

There were few settlements in that part of the kingdom, and none so far north as Iddesleigh. Most of the inhabitants of that place dwelt in the keep proper, or in earth-dug huts whose mounded roofs were ice-crusted hillocks in the stony ground around the settlement. They feared no bandits or human attacks this time of year, warding only against the occasional, predatory beast scenting horseflesh. No, what they feared, and rightly, was winter itself. Save for hunting parties sent out into the bitter winds on clear days to renew the larders, the denizens of Iddesleigh kept tight indoors, seeking solace in hearth-fires and drink.

The formal hall in the winter months became a great common room lined with plank tables and filled with all manner of folk: servants and tenants of the settlement, mostly. Denbigh’s favored men - the handful of hunters and horsemen who were the chief source of meat and prosperity for the settlement - stretched their legs from the plain wooden benches where they lazed, holding court near the high table. Others ranged along the outlying tables according to their place in the informal pecking order. Kitchen maids circulated amongst one and all, filling trenchers and mugs, while dogs and children sprawled or chased one another on the straw-strewn floor. The reek of sweat and smoke, food and sour ale, all mingled in the air. As the hour grew later, most of them would be pushing the tables to the walls and making their pallets in the same room.

It was chaos, but it had not always been so. Yet it was all of life that Alys Denbigh had known since her mother’s death three winters past.

A noisome belch erupted from the lord of the keep. He caught a passing kitchen maid by the waist and pulled her into his lap before the laughing woman could escape. “More ale, Mara,” he demanded, covering her breast with his big hand and squeezing.

“Father, is it not late? Perhaps --”

“I’ll drink and swive as I like, missy Alys!” he bit back with a cutting tone, tightening his grip on the maid. “No, you stay here, Mara, let someone else do it. You, girl! Yes, you. Bring another pitcher here.” Jerome Denbigh slipped his hand under the maid’s bodice to bare the breast he was fondling. “I think we’ll warm each other this night, Mara, my girl, and drown the disapproval of my daughter’s maidenhead with some cheerful rutting, eh?” His chuffing laugh was drowned out by a sudden banging at the barred doors of the entry.

It reverberated through the stone halls.

BANG.

BANG.

BANG.

“What bedamned fool is caught out on such a bitter night as this?” her father rumbled as he gestured for two of his huntsmen to see to it. The whole of the hall watched them go, as the drumming continued.

He did not have to wait long for an answer. As soon as the big bar on the door was lifted, men began spilling into the hall. Many dozens more were arriving or dismounting outside. Already, shouts carried on the wind to begin making camp on the South side of the keep, out of the direct path of the winds.

“What is this?” Sir Jerome rose, tipping the serving maid out of his lap even as ten heavily cloaked and armed riders filed into the great hall. Dogs circled and barked in the confusion and the leader of the band entering the hall kicked one aside, eliciting a sharp yelp and igniting a spate of snarling and nipping as the other hounds gathered around their companion. Someone threw a haunch of mutton in the middle of the bickering pack to distract them. Trained hunting hounds were not something to risk on the wrath of armed men. The servants were more expendable, but had a better survival instinct; they scrambled out of the way as the band continued in.

“Name yourselves!” Sir Jerome had a hearty, booming voice at the best of times. Roused, and fueled by much drink, it shook in the bare rafters.

“This place reeks of indolence,” the hooded leader pushed back his hood. The others with him followed suit. “I can hear your bowels rumbling from here, old man. I think they said ‘Welcome to Iddeslea,’ though I cannot be certain.” He was a balding, silver-haired man with a trimmed beard and a permanent, quizzical, crease to his brow. Sharp blue eyes skewered the lord of the keep.

He seemed the cleanest of the lot, and carried himself with an air of education and hard living. The three that flanked him were a coarser, rougher lot. Fighting men, all of them with the scars, weaponry and stony countenances to tell the tale. Common soldiers wearing the livery of the king under layers of woolen cloaks and over their riding armor finished out the entourage. They looked travel-weary and dangerous.

Alys strained back, the hard edge of the plank table digging into her backbone as she watched the scene unfolding. But her father broke out into a sudden, hearty gale of laughter.

“Robard Samm - you old villain!” He clapped his hands together once, seemingly delighted. “Like a stray dog, I see you’ve carried your biting fleas with you. Myles, Renout, Gerves - by the gods’ teats, I’d sooner expect to see the lot of you in the alley of a borderman’s town, plucking purses, than standing in my dining hall.”

The men’s expressions darkened, and leather and mail alike creaked, but Samm held up a staying hand. “Come now, Denbigh. You loved us right well when we stood between you and Averellish pikes in Findegard. Will you not come and greet a brother-knight in the King’s service?”

They were knights who served with her father in the crusades. Alys still did not move from her place at the high table, but she watched with plain interest now, as did most of the household. She knew little of her father’s history. He did not talk of the wars, or speak of men he had known in those days. She studied each one in turn, discomfitted by the coarse, dangerous aura that surrounded them. These were not, she guessed, kind men in any sense. They did not seem courtly.

“Service of the King, my hairy arse,” he chortled, but her father did leave his place and come around the table toward them. “You’re Hugh Courtenay’s vassals, last I heard. Tell me, what news of my brother-in-law, gods rot him?”

He had still not, Alys noted with a bubbling sense of dismay, offered them hospitality. It was a breach of etiquette that bordered on hostile in this corner of the land. For some, it was as good as issuing an open challenge. Ten armed men stood before him. Her father had been drinking. She pushed to her feet. “Father,” she forced a good natured chide into her voice, speaking up for the hall as she had seen her mother often do to diffuse tense confrontations he had incited. “My uncle’s men? Surely the warmth of our fire and some food and ale could not go amiss for guests of Iddeslea?”

She turned a smile upon Sir Robard and his men. “What news from the house of my mother’s brother?”

“Shut your gob, girl,” her father snarled back at her, swaying with the sudden motion. “These are not our guests and they sure as hell are not friends.”

“It is good to see that some in Ashor recall the customs of Kothar,” the gray-haired knight answered. “Your uncle sends your father an order of the King.” Those cool eyes flickered from Alys to the man before him, the pleasant smile he affected for the daughter melting away for his former brother-at-arms. “He sends to remind you of your duty to the kingdom and commands that you provision and house his soldiers in preparation for the defense of Kothar.”

“Hugh Courtenay can sod off,” Jerome grated. “I see that he does not come to ‘defend Kothar’ himself. And I daresay he has not sent supplies ahead, but expects me to somehow produce enough food and drink for his men and my people until the snows thaw like a Miracle of the Virgins. No. My answer is unchanged. Tell the King that we shall all starve together, his men and mine, if he sends them here. And tell your master to piss in the wind.”

There was a low rumble of murmuring in the hall at this proclamation. The big man her father had named Myle took a step toward one of the tables, laying his hand on the haft of the axe at his side and it died down like a door slamming shut against the wind.

“They are already here, you damned fool. How long did you think he could wait for you to come to your senses and do your duty?” Sir Robard spat out. “They are setting camp outside your walls as we speak.”

“Well they can bloody well pull stakes and pack it up again. They cannot stay. I will not aid them! This is my bloody gods-be-damned hall. Don’t think I do not know for a minute why Hugh really wants soldiers here, or why he whispers lies into Reinnald’s ears, you foot-licker.”

“Father,” Alys interjected again, pleading. She found her feet, and shook off a hand placed on her arm to silence her. “If they are outside you must.” It was the one law in this land that did not extend from the Royal City, but was written in the bones of the land and its people, and passed to them from the gods of wind and snow. Night had fallen. He must render hospitality.

“You will not?” The knight’s voice was quiet and deadly sharp. His men grew still with anticipation. Not a soul within the walls breathed.

“You cannot be blind, man.” He swayed a little as he took a step closer to the gray-haired leader, leaning in. “Reinnald doesn’t need his troops starving in the North. The threat is not here. He needs them in the South. Three times, he’s asked and that’s been my answer every time. I will not keep them here. Send them home.”

“As you wish, you fool,” Robard Samm murmured before raising his voice to the hall. “You are all witness to this treason. Jerome Denbigh, you stand a traitor to the crown, by your own tongue!”

He took a step back as if to turn away and gave an opening to his men. Gerves kicked out, driving the heel of his riding boot hard into Denbigh’s belly and doubling him over. The hall gasped in unison and Alys Denbigh started forward, only to be grabbed from behind by one of the old lord’s horsemen, Jeral. He hissed in her ear, “Don’t be a fool, child!” He tried to turn her into his chest, but she fought him, wresting herself free in time to spin and see Myle bring his axe down. Another servant grabbed her arm to hold her there.

A woman screamed. Then others joined in. Jerome Denbigh’s head hit the ground before his body toppled, and rolled to the feet of one of the soldiers. She saw it all unfold slowly, as in a terrible dream.

“Get that mess out of here,” Sir Robard ordered, stepping around it as he started for the high table. “You,” he motioned to the man who had his hands on Alys. “Escort the Earl’s niece to her chambers and lock her in them.” It was all very perfunctory, the way he began spitting out orders. “Meat and drink for my men, and food for the king’s soldiers outside!”

“Come, Lady Alys,” that voice in her ear, she realized was Rabbie Chaya. She’d grown up watching him break the horses the men brought in from the wild herds in the spring. He tugged her away, leading her toward the stairs at the end of the hall with a firm hand and murmuring to her the way he would a skittish foal. “Come. You do not want to be here for what else will happen this night.”
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