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Lucia pressed her ear to the oak door. Beyond, she could hear the clamor of
warfare, and the cries of dying beasts and men. She closed her eyes, taking a
deep breath to calm her racing heartbeat to distinguish the sounds of battle
from her mother’s incantations. Out on the battlement, her mother, Dragon Maiden
of the Order, bent the elements of nature to her will.
Another violent clap of thunder vibrated the air within Lucia’s chamber as if
her mother’s fury was being released upon the Hall of Sylvain itself. Lucia
desperately wanted to go to her mother’s side, to bolster her sorcery
with her own. But this her mother had expressly forbidden.
The beast’s blood magic is beyond your craft, her mother had warned.
He will sense your abilities and yoke your strength to his own. Only I can
confront his wizardry. Whatever you hear, you must remain in your room.
The words still chilled her. Any evil that possessed enough power to vex her
mother so, was not to be underestimated. So Lucia obeyed without question when
the Harhn poured from the Vol Thaldane.
But as the hours passed, Lucia could no longer remain idle. The servants
scurrying about the Hall, the shouts of knights giving orders, and the sound of
battle raging outside lured her from her quarters. But every guard Lucia
addressed in her family’s Longhouse only offered feigned assurances. You need
not worry, my lady, all is well.
She could sense their apprehension as they frantically dismissed themselves
from her presence. Lucia’s mind raced with images of her mother and father. Her
steps had quickened through the Hall, their cadence matching the bustling
servants and guards. Women desperately cared for the wounded while men prepared
for the final assault. Dread was etched upon every face. This is what the Harhn
brought to Marcellus: unbridled destruction that upset the balance of all
For the people of Marcellus, the fall season would have normally been the
time for the Harvest Festival. But the fruits of their labor were now in
jeopardy of being set ablaze. For the first time in fifty years, the Harhn
arrived in vast numbers from the Vol Thaldane to wage war upon the domains of
Man. Their onslaught across the frontier served as an alarm for the Hugue to
prepare for war. But Marcellus was still ill-equipped for the horde amassed
beyond their low walls. Only a handful of her father’s knights, scores of
men-at-arms and militia were all that kept the green monsters from breaching the
Hall’s last defenses.
Lucia had raced upstairs to where she stood now. Her senses attempted to
extend beyond the door separating her mother and herself. Her body shook with
each clap of thunder, but longer periods stretched between each incantation. For
the first time in Lucia’s young life, she could sense and hear fatigue in her
mother’s voice. And then…there was silence.
Lord Baudouin gulped the last of the wine within his goblet before placing it
upon the upper-left hand corner of the map. The parchment was old, riddled with
stains of ale and wine. The edges were tattered, but the central features of the
cartography were sound: Mersalia, and the northern regions of its
neighbors–Grunehiem, Pratalsia, and Cadyrnia that bordered below. But the
spaces beyond, where Verslund would be in the north and Vhor should be in the
south – were maddeningly blank.
“No matter how long you stare at that bloody map, the landscape will not
change,” a familiar voice said from the pavilion’s entry.
Baudouin smiled. He gestured for his younger cousin to enter as he pulled
another stool closer to his own. “No word from the scouts?” Baudouin asked.
Flannery did not immediately respond. He walked to an adjacent table where
wine, cheese, and bread were laid out. After pouring a cup of wine and tearing
off a piece of a loaf, he seated himself next to Baudouin. “You know very well,
you would have been notified as soon as the camp-watch spotted them,” Flannery
Baudouin nodded. “It’s just the waiting. If it was a just a Harhn raid and
they returned to the frontier, we could proceed as ordered.”
“We would be fooling ourselves to think this is just a mere raid. These are
Vasser lands. If there is another horde entering the Hugue, we cannot move this
army forward, and leave our domains and southern Mersalia unprotected,” Flannery said.
“Tugdal does not share your sentiment,” Baudouin replied.
“Who gives a squirt of piss what Tugdal thinks? This is your father’s army.
No, it’s your army. Tugdal and his House are just ambitious newborns,”
Baudouin smirked at Flannery’s choice of word. But he understood the term was
commonly used by the Ancestral Houses – a slight against pedigrees with limited
“Our orders were specific. Tugdal is just complying with the King’s decree.”
Baudouin’s eyes returned to the map, his finger tracing the route to Magdenhof –
where the Hugue Kings awaited his army.
“By the Goddess…don’t defend that man. I have no idea what your late aunt was
thinking when she married that pig-heap’s father.” Flannery downed another
mouthful of wine. “I just want you to know, that regardless of what you decide,
Norris and I are with you.”
Baudouin treasured Flannery’s company. Besides being an accomplished warrior
and kinsman, he was a true friend. Flannery and Norris had been at his side
since childhood. Norris was the eldest; two years older than Baudouin, Flannery
the youngest. Baudouin, in the thirty-second year of his life, was an older man
by most accounting, but the Vasser line had proved resilient against the weight
His cousins had ridden with him and his father during the latter days of the
Frontier Crusade. All had earned their baptism of warfare against the barbarity
of the Harhn.
In appearance, they could easily be mistaken for brothers. All were just shy
of six feet in height, with the same auburn hair and welcoming dark-brown eyes.
Norris sported a well-groomed mustache which was the target of jokes since he
fussed with it so often. Flannery and Baudouin shaved on occasion, displaying a
rugged unkempt appearance. All had slim, muscular, well-proportioned physiques.
They may have been cousins by blood, but in spirit and heart, they were brothers
forged by friendship and combat.
“The army will have my answer as soon as the scouts return,” Baudouin said
after Flannery’s assertion eased his melancholy.
“Of course…to flatter you with my undying devotion and to drink your wine is
not the true reason I’m here.”
Baudouin flashed the knight an inquisitive look.
“We have a guest in our encampment who requests an audience with you,”
“Who?” Baudouin asked, straightening his posture.
“Sir Alaric of the Order.”
“A Dragon Knight…here?”
“Not exactly,” Flannery said and took another swig from his goblet. “He’s an
“What does an Initiate of the Order want with me?”
“If you step away from your map, and stop brooding like a scorned mistress, I
will show him in,” Flannery teased.
“You are quite the ass,” Baudouin said as his eyes followed his cousin to the
“I must confess, my lord, that such a trait runs strong in the Vasser House.”
Baudouin smiled, flicking his wrist in a gesture for him to carry on. A
Temple Initiate to see me? he thought, recalling the tales he had heard
about the Order.
Two centuries ago, they were the Order of the Dragon, named after the Great
Dragon Shyrdasa that once lived within Dragon Peak. Legend told that a band of
knights came to the aid of the ancient creature by protecting her unborn young
still nestling within their eggs. Harhn had come to claim the eggs for their
magical properties while Shyrdasa slumbered. After centuries of hibernation, she
awoke to find slain Harhn strewn about her lair, and knights kneeling before
her, covered in the blood of the vanquished foe. For their valor, she awarded
them with secret knowledge that encompassed martial prowess and magic. It was
not long before the Knights’ superior skills were evident upon the battlefield,
marking them as favored by the Dragon. Shyrdasa also chose women from throughout
the Hugue to serve as her Dragon Maidens, and bestowed upon them the secrets of
Worship of the Dragon spread across the Hugue. Her following became as
prevalent as the ancestral worship of Shalruh-the Great Mother and her Maidens
Following the harvest, nobility and peasantry spread fruits, flowers, and
livestock at the base of the mountain like an extravagant banquet. The people
beamed with excitement when Shyrdasa would soar through the heavens above the
Hugue kingdoms, her flight said to be a display of gratification for the gifts
bestowed. Fathers would tell their children stories of the Great Dragon, and
grandfathers would threaten their grandchildren to behave lest they incur
Stories were all the populace had now, as Shyrdasa had not been seen in
decades. Some time before the Frontier Crusade, the winged spectacle in the sky
had stopped, and the magical mist that covered the mountain’s base like a
morning haze had disappeared.
At the midpoint of the crusade, the Dragon Knights transformed into the Order
of the Secret Throne; a name they gave themselves to honor the Dragon upon her
mountain throne. At least, that’s what they claimed the name signified. But the
Kings of the Hugue had always been skeptical
Following the crusade, the Order became more secluded, taking preference with
their agenda rather than serving the Hugue crowns. But history proved the Hugue
could count on them during her time of need…until recently.
“My lord, I present Sir Alaric of the Order,” Flannery announced.
Word of the Initiate’s arrival had spread through the encampment like
wildfire. His entry was followed by the captains of Baudouin’s army.
“Welcome, Dragon Knight. I trust you’ve been offered a hot meal…”
“Forgive me, my lord,” Alaric interrupted. “I must dispense with
pleasantries, for our time is short.”
Baudouin was not offended by the interruption. The knight’s powerful frame
and battle-worn armor were a testament to his experience in combat. His surcoat
was colored in the traditional initiate-red with the white charge of a Dragon
that still maintained its brightness. Combined with the mystique of his Order,
Baudouin could not help but be impressed with the Initiate. He sized the visitor
up, seeing the intensity in his eyes. He nodded for the Initiate to
“My lord, the village of Marcellus is under attack, and I fear Lady Joslin
and Lucia will not last the day unless we go to their aid at once,” Alaric
“I have heard of an attack from fleeing villagers,” Baudouin said. “Scouts
have been dispatched to…”
“I again apologize, my lord, but your scouts will only report what I already
know to be true.”
“How do you know this?” Tugdal barked. “Did you come from there?”
“No, my lord, I have…messengers that spirited the information to me.”
“How many Harhn?” Baudouin asked.
“I am uncertain, but I know Marcellus will be overrun unless we intercede,”
“Does the King know of this?” Norris asked.
“I have sent riders to Magdenhof, but in so doing, I fear I have sent them to
“What do you mean? Have the Harhn already besieged the fortress?” Tugdal
“No. The Harhn amassing near Magdenhof is a ruse,” Alaric said plainly.
A collective gasp filled the tent. A moment of silence followed as knights
exchanged worried glances.
“How can that be? The Harhn are nothing more than savage animals. They only
fight in disorganized mobs. Stratagems are beyond their primitive minds,” Tugdal
Murmurs ensued throughout the tent. Baudouin raised his hands to quiet the
council. “Please continue, Sir Alaric.”
The Initiate walked closer to the table. “With your permission, my lord?” he
asked, gesturing at the map. Baudouin nodded, shifting to the left to grant
Alaric more space.
“As you know, the Harhn are at Magdenhof. The Hugue kings and their armies
are awaiting a siege that will most likely never come. While our armies are
entrenched there, two more Harhn armies are here and here,” Alaric explained,
pointing to Marcellus and a point on the map in Grunehiem.
“May the Goddess and the Dragon protect,” Flannery whispered.
The murmuring resumed.
“That is not possible,” Tugdal argued. “There would have been word of such an
Alaric shook his head. “These attacks have just begun, and come with speed.
In addition to these two armies, dozens of small war bands are fanned out along
the main routes to block correspondence to and from Magdenhof. Behind the
fortress walls, the Hugue kings are unaware the Harhn have begun a rampage
through the heartland.”
“By your account, they could tear from east to west by winter’s first
snowfall,” Norris said.
“They will feel the tip of our lances before that day,” Baudouin proclaimed.
“If Marcellus is overrun, they will most likely strike Leonette or Verebur
“Leonette is not defensible…bad ground for repelling any large engagement,
and Verebur is closer. Should the beasts come, at least there we will have more
food and supplies,” Norris surmised.
“I agree,” Baudouin replied. “Verebur is where we will make our stand.”
The tent filled with the sound of chatter and clanking armor as knights
shuffled within the tent.
“Wait, my lord,” Alaric cried out, attempting to stifle the commotion.
“Gentlemen, please!” Baudouin spoke, silencing the occupants.
“Our first destination must be Marcellus,” Alaric insisted.
“The village would be sacked by now,” Tugdal said.
“Their defenses are still holding. We still have time to save the Viscountess
and her daughter,” Alaric replied.
Tugdal stepped forward. “It’s bad enough that we delay the army’s march to
join the King. But now you expect us to commit this army to a village that has
already been lost…against a foe that outnumbers us? We require preparation
against a horde that size.”
“No preparation will subdue this tide without the aid of sorcery,” Alaric
“Please tell me you are not entertaining this folly?” Tugdal asked of
Alaric placed both his hands on the table and leaned toward its center. With
an intense expression on his face, he panned across the collection of captains.
“Hear me, gentlemen,” he said in a deep monotone voice. “There are weapons other
than axe and sword working against us. We need the Dragon Maidens to
“The Hugue has plenty of wizards and mystics to fend off Harhn magic,” Tugdal
snapped back. He mimicked Alaric’s posture, leaning within inches of the
Initiate’s face. “You just want us to save two of your own. Tell me, Alaric,
where is your Order? Why are they out seeking riches deep in the frontier
instead of being here to defend the Hugue? This is just another example of your
seditious Order serving their agenda instead of the Hugue crowns.”
The Initiate was insulted. He pushed himself from the table into an upright
position, compelling Tugdal to reach for the hilt of his sword. The assembled
captains also instinctively reached for their own blades.
Baudouin raised one hand in protest, while grabbing Norris’s sword arm with
the other. “Enough!” he yelled. “There will be no drawing of steel over heated
The silence that followed Baudouin’s command was broken by a voice at the
pavilion’s entrance. “My lord!” a male youth cried as he pressed inside.
“It’s the scout!” a knight cried out.
“Come forth!” Baudouin waved the boy over.
The knights parted for the scrawny youth drenched in rain and sweat. He bowed
upon reaching the table.
“Speak boy!” Norris commanded.
The scout took a second to catch his breath before using his sleeve to wipe
the snot from his nose. “The stories are true. Harhn of great number have fallen
upon Marcellus,” the scout said.
“How many?” Baudouin asked.
“A thousand…maybe more, but their attack has slowed.”
“Slowed?” Alaric and Baudouin simultaneously questioned.
“The horde is still pressing against Sylvain Hall, but the majority of their
army is surrounding the hill rather than charging up the slope,” the scout
“They are more concerned with preventing escape. They want to ensure the
capture of the Dragon Maidens,” Alaric explained.
“That’s nonsense,” Tugdal blurted. “They are savage beasts without clarity of
reason that rampage, kill, and burn. They care nothing of ransoms.”
“They do not come for coin. It’s the magical essence of the Maidens they
covet,” Alaric said with a contemptuous tone.
Before Tugdal could retort, Baudouin cut in. “Magdenhof will no better
prosper or falter from our absence. There is now a threat to the Hugue’s
heartland. With that being said, we cannot march this army to Magdenhof,”
“Do we go to the aid of Marcellus or rally at Verebur?” Norris asked.
“That decision I shall make shortly, but first I must speak to Alaric…alone.”
“We should continue to Magdenhof at once. By the time this army marches
through the Besone Hills, the Harhn will…”
“I said I will speak to Alaric alone!” Baudouin said with a raised voice,
He then took a deep breath and composed himself. “Afterwards, you and the
remaining captains will have my answer.”
Tugdal grimaced, flashing Baudouin a hard look. “As you wish, my lord,” he
said with spiteful inflection. He stormed from Baudouin’s pavilion with his
entourage following upon his heels.
Once the remaining captains filed out of the tent, Baudouin filled two
goblets with wine. He handed one to Alaric. “When was the last time you slept?”
The Initiate took the cup, nodding in appreciation. “Two days, my lord…but
I’m fine,” he replied, taking a seat upon one of the stools.
Baudouin sat next to him, and for a moment there was an uncomfortable silence
before Alaric spoke. “I met your father once. I believe it was two summers ago
in Oriane. He was mustering a host to fight bandits in the frontier. A natural
leader…I see much of him in you.”
Baudouin smiled. “Isn’t flattery to achieve your own ends beneath a
Alaric released a deep chuckle, slapping his gauntlet upon the table. “You
are right, my lord. It’s unbecoming for either beggar or king.”
“As you said earlier, let us dispense with formalities, for the Hugue does
not have the luxury of time that our tongues can so easily squander,” Baudouin
said plainly, but with a tone that would not be construed as an insult.
“Agreed,” Alaric replied before swallowing another gulp of wine.
“As much as I empathize with your council concerning the Maidens,
wisdom dictates that we prepare at Verebur,” Baudouin said.
“We must extend our glance beyond conventional wisdom. The Harhn have
sorcerers among them that are skilled in blood magic. Their immediate attack on
Marcellus is no accident. One can use the essence of other wizards to enhance
their own conjuring. This is especially the case when blood magic is used.”
“So your council is to solely protect your own?”
“No, my lord. This is not like the predictable, mindless hordes we fought
during the Frontier Crusade. There is cunning and purpose hidden behind their
savagery, and these Harhn sorcerers are the heart of it…especially one.”
“He’s the strongest of them all, and he is at Marcellus. Saving the
Viscountess and her daughter should be our goal. With the absence of the rest of
my Order, it will take Joslin and her daughter’s combined power to repel the
Harhn sorcerers,” Alaric advised.
“I will not march this army to Marcellus in vain. Could we be too late?”
“They are alive, I assure you. If their lives fade, I will know.” Alaric
looked into his wine.
Baudouin rose to his feet, allowing their conversation and the scout’s report
to swirl in his thoughts. He walked to the pavilion’s lip. The air was filled
with moisture, but the rain had long ceased. The sun brought a mild comfort from
the chilled winds that blew. He marveled at the encampment as it bustled with
activity. The smithies were sharpening blades, squires were fussing with
saddles, and archers were filling quivers for their yew instruments of death. It
was as if the encampment itself was a sentient being, and all within were the
organs and fluids that sustained it. Everyone worked toward a purpose, and at
that moment, Baudouin discovered his own. He turned back toward the
“Make any prayers to your Dragon that you feel are relevant,” Baudouin
suggested. “We ride to Marcellus within the hour.”
Shadows of Kings Copyright © 2012. Jack Whitsel. All rights reserved
by the author. Please do not copy without permission.