Chapter 13

3430 of the Fifth Age

Mordurel, Easterland Region

Capital City of Culhaven

Aldrich Silverstag

He had a deep frown on his face when Lord Jermayne told him of his sweet Raenys's journey earlier that day. He was perplexed indeed, if she desired new servants she shouldn't deal with the matter herself. That was the steward's duty and since she had never gone to collect children like that before it made even less sense. He allowed her to bring the children from the knightly Silverstags branch to Whitewall Hall after their home and family was destroyed. Wasn't that enough for her?

"Demonling children, of all to chose your majesty," Jagon told him and seemed equally perplexed. "All of them. No coincidence there."

"My wife makes less and less sense by the day," Aldrich mumbled and shook his head. "The Loving Maiden help me."

Inside the room the Kingsguards lord commander stood guard with two others outside. Sir Alistair Payneheart, also known as the Disfigured Giant, was a tall and muscular man that put most knights to shame. Even Clansmen from Nordland's Lowlands were put to shame over his size. Alfred the Skullsplitter was a large man but not as large as Sir Alistair.

"It is easily fixed Your Grace. Shall I collect the Demonlings and send them back to the orphanages where they belong?"

For a moment he considered to command him to do so, however, he did not. He couldn't just override her decision and command like that.

"I shall speak to her before anything is done. Even she must have an explanation to this foolishness." He then shook his head hopelessly. "She wasn't satisfied with our daughter Alys but had to take in the three orphaned spawns of Naeryan."

"To be fair to her, they are Silverstags Your Grace."

"Aye, but the girl's wailing keeps close to half the castle up at night." His irritation was clear in his voice.

Jagon seemed uncomfortable for a moment, "The traumatized child has only seen two winters on her."

Aldrich ended the conversation by stepping into the council chamber to join the other lords. Jermayne Jagon took his seat amongst them and Aldrich sat down at the head of the table. There sat old Viscount Pippin Payneheart, the baron Whitecloak, the count Beowulf Oakenshield of Ostland, the uncle of Jermayne; Caesar Jagon and master of the arcane Sebastius Ice-Breath and finally the chancellor. Chancellor Greenflood wore the colors of his house, yellow and turquoise. His cloak was turquoise with five bright yellow suns. Around his neck he had a necklace with a trinket the shape of a small chalice in gold. On his left chest a golden chalice on a blood red field was sewn in. Those Aldrich knew as symbols of that newer minor religion, the Blessed Blood Church or something absurd like that. With his council lords the lord commander of the City Guard was also present.

"Let us begin my lords," he declared.

"Yes, Your Grace," Greenflood agreed curtly. "For our first matter we have requests from the Faith. The archdeacon and deacons especially."

Aldrich prevented himself from opening sighing and simply nodded to his court deacon.

Caesar Jagon cleared his throat. The cowl of his robe had a small chain of gold attached to it and around his neck hung a thin silvery chain with two emeralds and a sapphire.

"Thank you Your Grace. First there is this…" he paused and gestured to the large City Guard lord commander. "…silly matter of complaints directed at us from the City Guard here in Culhaven."

Aldrich eyed the large green skinned lord commander. The orc was covered in ink black plates and a surcoat equally black with an axe of gold centered on his chest. He had placed his muscular forearms on the wooden table and glared lightly at the court deacon and his white robe was of the finest velvet.

"The Faith has demanded more influence over City Guard affairs," he explained without taking his eyes off the court deacon for a minute.

"By the Holy Father, hardly a demand," Caesar Jagon dismissed with a chuckle. "A request for the betterment of the people."

"What purpose do this request have then?" Aldrich inquired. "Why should the Faith have influence over the City Guard? You command the Army of the Pious Poor and the Order of the Nine-star Knights."

"We fear the City Guard has been filled with sinners. Priests have made observations of sinful behavior from guardsmen. Sinful men may be corrupting the entire organization and our actions is taken by preserve the city guard and it will help us keep sin away from Culhaven itself."

"Court Deacon Jagon, when you attempted to forbid brothels in Culhaven I shut it down for the insanity that it was," Aldrich interrupted before he could continue. "I will be clearer this time. I will never give the Faith control of Culhaven's City Guard. Leave your preaching of sin to the masses in basilicas and squares. This matter is now settled as far as I am concerned."

Caesar Jagon nodded but said nothing.

"Good choice as always Your Grace," the greenskin lord commander complemented him. "If it pleases you I would inform you that my men have destroyed a thieves guild here in the city. Those that did not chose to join the Templar Order was publically hanged."

Aldrich nodded, "What was the next request from the Faith?"

The court deacon cleared his throat but Greenflood spoke first.

"They request that the Mage Circle be placed under their authority. For the, what, sixth time?"

"Court Deacon, do you have any proper requests from your peers?"

When the man started with, "Your Majesty-"

Aldrich interrupted with, "I thought so. Next matter."

"May we shift focus to the Warlocks of Izegorend? The court deacon inquired. "Those warlocks-"

"Are not to be messed with!" Aldrich interrupted and glared at his court deacon.

Jermayne Jagon looked pleased as he met his uncle's eyes.

"Eh, next matter is a questionable letter from Manewë," Greenflood explained. He spoke with great reverence and respect. Caesar Jagon snorted at the mention of the name.

Aldrich was surprised and stared at Greenflood for a moment. The Aethereals was demigods that lived on the tallest mountain in Mordurel, in the Evergleam Mountains. They were few in numbers but had according to legends been around since the dawn of the First Age, before even the elves walked the world. He wasn't sure why the great Manewë would send a message to him though.

"The Aethereal," old Lord Payneheart mumbled in his raspy voice. "What, does the, great, Keeper of Knowledge, have for us?"

"A great deal wise lord," he answered and drew his fingers through his short forkbeard. "The wise Aethereal speaks of loaming war. In his messenger he warns that in and below the Plain of Aezgêroth behind the Kûregoroth Mountain ranges ancient Nûlbarâkz musters its strength for open war."

"Aren't they already at war my lord?" Aldrich inquired.

"They are Your Grace. Supposedly they have been at war with dwarfdom for centuries, slow battles in the tunnels of the Underworld. Or so far away elven and dwarfen sources always claimed, yet this time Manewë claims that we are at risk."

"How come?" He leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table.

Aldrich had to admit he knew little about the kingdom of Nûlbarâkz. Likely the same that most knew, that it was ancient and stretched back to the First Age, legends of elves and dwarfs said it had been founded by one of the Amora, a demigoddess-the kind and respectful demigods on their mountains top-and that Nûlbarâkz' founder was the first Daemora. The first of the fallen demigods as the elves named them. Or so legends claimed. Further the kingdom had not been at war for thousands of years if he remembered it correct. The last war was before Westerland was ever united.

"He does not go into details of why but reminds us of our realm's location, Felwood south of Nülinholm, east of the Sea of Summer Eredún-Morhan under their Witch King ally sits and northeast of the East Edge Mountains in Felgorond lies Kâlmmëdûr, the great ancient fortress. There is a mention of the Ghulzádur. The great tower in the Wastes. It has been abandoned for as long as our recorded history remembers."

"Count Greenflood, with all respect to the Keeper of Knowledge there are no evidence except his claims that the orcs and beasts in Felgorond serves at the whim of Nûlbarâkz," Jermayne Jagon said. "Geographically they are so far apart that there is no reason to think so. If we assume the legends and scattered history of a war over two thousand years ago Nûlbarâkz fell. The ancient kingdom saw its demigoddess die and retreated to their Üdëmmabâd, their chief stronghold in the Underworld."

Aldrich thought that if legends of the Hollowed Lords had a corn of truth it could be one of those mysterious beings. Legends spoke of their nightmarish nature and frightening appearance.

"Nûlbarâkz has not been at war for thousands of years. Why would they break their self imposed isolation now?" Aldrich found himself inquiring. On the greenskin lord commander's face he saw a desire to speak, yet he chose to hold his tongue.

Greenflood could only shrug, "I have no answers Your Grace. Mayhaps Manewë-though his knowledge is no doubt great-had none either. Frankly there is no reason for the dark realm to declare war upon Westerland. If they go to war they would do so with the Dwarf Realm and the elven kingdoms, possible the Border Duchies. We have never had any relation with either the Witch King or whoever rules over Üdëmmabâd or in Kâlmmëdûr. While I find this matter terrible interesting and worth a personal study I see no reason to debate it for long here. It is not and has never been our cause."

"Nûlbarâkz is far from our lands," Aldrich assessed. "The Border Duchies lie between our two lands." Old lord Payneheart gave a raspy laugh and he himself smirked. The thought of the Border Dukes defending their lands was absurd, true. "The Templars hold the East Edge Mountains and no host of orcs, trolls, spiders or whatever else Kâlmmëdûr may host can break through there without exhausting themselves. They hold castles in Felwood as well so we have a foothold if war would come." He felt quite certain about his assessment.

"A fair assessment," Greenflood agreed with him. "Our only border with the Witch King's lands are Reikland and if he seeks to smash his hordes against the Reikguard, well, let him." He chuckled.

Aldrich nodded. Despite all the respect he had for the Aethereals he didn't understand the Keeper of Knowledge in this case.

"Chancellor, write an answer to Manewë and say that we will take it under advisement and thank him. It must be dripping with respect, remember who you write too."

Greenflood nodded firmly, "Naturally Your Majesty. Naturally."

With that the matter was dismissed and for the rest of the council meeting they discussed taxes, the appointment of a new master-at-arms after Daegmar Silverstag's untimely demise and sightings of two of the three usurpers that wandered Mordurel. Akio Shattershield, a man with Silverstag blood in his veins appeared to gather mercenaries in the Border Duchies. The matter concerned the young king as he listened to the reports from Master of Spies Jermayne. Allegedly Leopold of house Costayne had been spotted in far away Orcwood some months ago. It meant he could be almost anywhere by the time he was told of it. There were no word of his sister though. He hopefully thought that the woman might have died in exile. Mayhaps there would be no new Costayne Rebellion to worry about. For now he left it with a desire to see more information and wait. Ge demanded more information and Jermayne promised to take care of it. A letter from the leader of the Templar Order was brought up and caught Aldrich's attention.

"What, did we ask, of the, grandmaster Your, Grace?" Viscount Payneheart inquired and leaned in his direction.

"The Templars are lessening defenses in Felwood, putting the people of Nülinholm at risk. I will not have my people's safety lessened."

"I concur Your Majesty," Lord Whitecloak piped up. "The forest is filled with disgusting Hobgoblins and monstrous Beastmen." The aging man scratched his small beard.

"I think she knows what she's doing my lords," Count Oakenshield declared. "When she was first elected by her peers, her mostly male peers, she changed the seat of the order from their holding here in Easterland to the East Edge Mountains, the frontier."

Chancellor Greenflood turned to explain the message from the order's female grandmaster.

"Grandmaster Susynne of house Blackwood explains that the orders does not have the resources to act fully in Felwood or the East Edge Mountains, therefore she has decided along with her advisors to focus of the East Edge Mountains." He looked up to the lords.

"What, does she require more men?" Huffed Whitecloak. "We'll empty the dungeons and send the bastards to do some good with their miserable lives."

"My lord, somehow I doubt the order requires criminals. If they want men they would prefer knights or men-at-arms. Good men who know how to fight and follow orders. Proper-born men," Count Oakenshield disagreed.

"Oh, you may be right my lord," Whitecloak was eager to agree.

"The grandmaster finishes her letter with a request for us to strengthen the order with proper men and construction materials and supplies," Greenflood added in a monotone voice.

Aldrich raised his arms and said, "They have recruiters throughout the provinces and can take criminals from any castle or town dungeon. Is this not enough for them?"

"The pool of recruits have been a bit dry as of late Your Majesty," Greenflood responded reasonably.

"Plenty enough to man the castles as far as I've heard from whispers," Lord Jermayne piped in.

Aldrich nodded in agreement and gave a dismissive wave, "Send a raven to Count Confrey, have him command his vassals with quarries to send stone and timber to the order."

"I'll see to it," Greenflood affirmed.

At the meetings end a man clothed in blue and purple velvet entered and gave a parchment to Jermayne. He nodded and sent the man away, then he remained seated until all the lords had left the chamber. Aldrich stood by his own chair and waited.

"What is it Lord Jagon?"

"My sources have provided me with the reason to her highness's journey outside the palace earlier today," he said with a hesitant tone that Aldrich didn't like. He disliked the implication it left about Raenys but kept it to himself. "I do give it to her that she was quite careful and it is difficult hide these large things from the master of spies. Your Grace…you should sit down."