Pawn Sacrifice17 mins 191 17 mins 191
Pacing along the ramparts before daybreak for anyone except the patrol guards was uncommon, but not for Berrton Krayanz. It gave him a feeling of singularity that neither his power nor character had achieved thus far.
“You wouldn’t want to lose that unfortunate head of yours, would you lad?” A voice called out in front of the guard drooping down onto his spear, only a three foot wall separating him from the hundred foot drop down below. He cocked his head up, startled, followed by the clanging of steel on the limestone, and immediately sank out of his stupor after thudding onto the floor himself.
“My lord, it will not happen again”, he squeaked, his relief of not having fallen off the edge suddenly seeming redundant. A sadistic smile played across Berrton’s face. A bit of morning fun wouldn’t do any harm.
“Yes, it won’t. The rest will need someone to…. look upto."Berrton grinned, relishing his own wordplay. "I’ve found in my many years that living men are far more competent of incompetency than dead men. The view from below the ground is so... objective. No pressure, no voices in your head, and you never feel hungry. I daresay your future is looking up. If I weren’t me, I’d be envious of you.” The guard paled, and dropped to his knees.
“My lord, please, forgive me. Please!”, he begged. Berrton took a long look at his victim. His cheeks had hollowed in, and his eyebrows were sparse. Sunk to the bone was his skin, and slowly wrinkling and greying. It was a wonder how his sickly form even held a spear, much less wear full body armor. His hair had long lost color, and his footwear had dirt smears, and grass on them. The stench of the man was that of a pig’s pen. Oh, what do we have here. Nothing that I haven’t seen before, for sure. Under the weather, crossing worlds to sustain the family. Huh, if not for this, I should’ve become a saint, except my services would never come for free. Berrton took a step towards the man, upon which he whimpered. Uhh, another craven. He’ll do nicely, won’t he.
“Do you think I’m a man who abides by the law, a virtuous and moral man.”
“Excuse me, my lord” he gasped, completely taken off guard.
“Don’t play dumb with me. I’ve kept greater awake at night, just at the thought of me. So what do you think?”
“Well, of course my lord, of course.” Ah, dull.
“Then by law, sleeping on guard duty is punishable by death. Now if I were to exempt you, what would that make me?”
“My lord……How can I…..It was a small…….miss…...tt” The guard whispered, his voice shivering.
“Ahh, so you quite reckon these laws are to be to be taken with a pinch of salt,eh? I shall take note, and inform the Magister. Maybe he can look into it.”
“Please my lord, please, I didn’t in the slightest mean that, please understand.” I have him where I want him now, don't I. He ought to have ended it there, 'extracted his purpose' so to say. But it would've been a pity not to extend the poor man's suffering.
“Shhhh. Now, if I were a law-abiding citizen of this province, then I would have your head on a spike by this time tomorrow night.” The wind howled, but couldn’t break the icy silence. “But I’m not a virtuous man, and certainly not some goody law abiding man. Tell me, what would you do to not have your wife and children wake up tomorrow morning, step outside to take a whiff of the morning air, and find a parcel of your rotting grey head on their porch. Imagine the scenes that would follow. Or rather, what would you not do?”
“Nothing, my lord. I can’t imagine anything I wouldn’t do.” The guard exclaimed, with almost a sigh of relief. Finally, the man has caught on.
“Good. Very good. You’ve chosen wisely. Now, a certain someone will need your assistance, not a long time for now. You’ll know who he is, for he’ll have a yellow feather in his headcap. Now, if someone were to get any bright ideas, I bet he’ll remember the ones back home now, won’t he. Just food for thought. Now, get back to your duty, and be alert, before someone else can render you useless, before you become useful.” And with a graceful twirl, he left a clearly bewildered guard in his wake, satiated by his morning’s work. It was time to return to his quarters now. He took the familiar route back, tracing the bridge connecting the castle ramparts to the inner manor. From there he walked down the murky corridor, until he reached the stairs, and then forked left, and opened the door to his solar.
A massive lion skin rug took up his sight, with garden pots, pedestals, and a statue flanking it on the sides. A tinted window had been made on one of the walls to allow sunlight in. Paintings and tapestries relating to religion, history, and war were aesthetically adorned on to the heartwood walls. A massive worktable lay at the other end of the room, a few yards from the fireplace, which had a marble mosaic arc above it. The scent of vanilla gliding through the air completed his masterpiece.
If I weren’t always scheming and plotting away, this place would’ve imprisoned me, even if I had the keys to the door, and why not? This is Litumen on earth.
He savoured the moment for a few more seconds, before pulling a cabinet-like door in the left corner open. Clever contraption, he thought as he entered his bedroom. Well,I had suggested it, didn't I. A similar scheme was prevalent here, except this room had a wardrobe, a bed with pillars on four sides, and a massive mirror on the face of a large cabinet. He put on a sapphire blue robe, embroidered with rubies and emeralds encrusted on two golden stripes running down from his shoulders to his hips, which hugged his moderately long, and slender frame. It brought out the color of his eyes. His jet black hair flowed like ocean waves on his shapely face, and sharp features.
A rap on the door brought his attention back, as he peeped through the eyehole to identify his visitor. A purple tunic with a gold plumed helmet told him all he needed to know, as he sighed and pulled the door.
“Good morning my lord. His Majesty wishes your presence with him in the feast hall today. He has a desire to dine in your company, as well as the rest of the council.” Berrton raised his eyebrows. Marbin seldom spoke casually, over a meal. And he never spoke to the entire council at once, smart enough to avoid confrontation. It didn’t help that the council was always at loggerheads either, always trying to upstage each other, to curry favour. He preferred speaking in isolation. It was his own way of establishing intimacy with his subordinates. So much, that to say his own wife saw less of him in private than Marbin’s council did wasn’t far from the truth. Not that their marriage was troubled however. Not for three years, a fact which Berrton was relying on so very much.
“Very well. I shall make myself presentable for his Majesty and proceed to the Feast Hall right away. Do relay the message.”
“Yes my lord, my pleasure.” And with a curtsy he left in haste, and not without reason. Berrton’s curious quirks, demeanour, and tone beguiled, and unnerved most people around him. All the more frightening for the manor guards, and anyone else who had the misfortune of being around him.
What travesty could’ve passed to incur this response. Atleast he hasn’t caught a whiff of the Southern wind yet, not to mention the Western grasses. If only he could read minds. And with that devious thought in mind, he perfumed his hair, and sprayed himself with some lemongrass fragrance. As he opened the door though, a big ball of mass knocked into him, almost wheeling him to the floor, as it took him into a tight vice.
“Hoo, is it really big ol Berrton gracing me with his presence, ohh, a squirrel might’ve rubbed my head this morning, oh, I think I shat myself." He paused ever so slightly,wrinkling up his nose. "Heyy, you smell like my orchard back home.” The man had a trimmed grey beard, with a robe that was overwhelmed by his proportions.
“ I’ll take that as a compliment. What a pleasure to see..argghhhh you too Leyton”. Berrton gasped, struggling for breath. “If I could..arghh.” As Leyton finally pulled out, all of Berrton’s tedious preparation in front of the mirror had come undone, but he kept a straight face. Support on the council was hard to come by, especially for a Krayanz. “Well Leyton, if we make haste, we might make it to the feast before they break bread.”
“C’mon Berrt, ya think this belly can stay alive any longer. It’s been thundering all morning. I think I might actually beat you to it.”
“Very well then” he remarked, warring to keep the disdain off his face. From there, he set off as quickly as possible to the feast hall, and found the great oval doors open, and strutted through them. He found a long table sprawled in front of him, with an exquisite spread, and a balding grey-haired man, sitting cross-legged, with a creased and hollow face, belying his true age. He lifted his lean, hard frame off his chair to greet his ministers.
“Ahh, Leyton. Never late for breaking bread, are we? But I wouldn’t have expected Berrton to show the same enthusiasm. Anyways, make yourself comfortable” the man croaked in a strained voice. He never was the most gracious host to him, but Berrton had gotten accustomed to that, especially with his bloodline.
Once the two had sat themselves down, the others poured in, attracting a greeting from Marbin on their way in. Their entrance typically accompanied with a sly look towards the punctual ones sitting in the corner. Only once this ritual had been observed, did they proceed to take their own seat. He did receive a couple of half-smiles though, wordless subtext that he couldn’t possibly fathom the meaning of, as he raked his mind of possible disservices he might’ve inflicted. As the scraping of chairs on the floor ceased, you could almost hear the thoughts running through the table’s minds, and the low rumble of Leyton’s stomach.
“We thank Magyar for blessing this gathering with food, drink, and comfort. It is by his grace we sit here today, and every second passed is a second Magyar shows his mercy on us.” And there was the metallic clanging of forks and knives naught a moment later, hardly anybody able to control their hunger. The sight of honey glazed roast chicken, grain infused with spice and mutton chops, marinated chicken, a varied assortment of fruits, and some Litumenly Springwine didn’t help the cause at all, either. Leyton ate with a ‘judgement day’ fervour, manically tearing the meat apart, and inhaling it down. A few more minutes it took, and the food and drink had been wiped clean. The gathering held their breath now, in trepidation.
“Good morning ministers. Now I don’t need to be telepathic to know what you’re reckoning. Why has crusty ol’ Marbin called a meeting, just in the nick of time, that too over such a lavish meal. Don’t worry, I’m still in possession of my faculties.To that end, I hope this scroll appeases you.” Marbin pulled open the scroll, and passed it to Berrton.
I’m his minister of coin, not some bloody heralder! He fumed, yet daren’t do anything, but start to move his mouth..
“The Foursome has convened a meeting at The Helm in four fortnights. The urgency of this message can’t be trusted to a raven, but the agenda of the meeting is as below:
To discuss the status of Irrys as a full member of the council.
To reconsider the tribute paid by Irrys to the other provinces.
The disturbing situation in Waterrush.
The free rein of pirates in the waters.” The letter was quite mundane, other than the confidentiality of a certain detail, which made no sense. Whose hands did they fear it’d fall in Berrton mused, as a frustrated Marbin fumed.
“Well, I’ve read this exact agenda from the day I was born, but the secrecy has me stumped. Any speculations?”
“I daresay they’re down in the dumps, and need more tributes from us, and need it as soon as possible, so they bait us in with this.” Barlow spat,a fearsome man with pepper-sprinkled long hair, and a sturdy chest.
“The pirates are making a fortune for Marlye in the west. Waterrush gets filthy tributes from Jaedorm anyway, and Jaedorm has never had any such demands Barlow. You should know as well.” Berrton paused and continued dramatically “In the face of despair, and no rye to eat, we look within ourself. For hunger is a storm that only has so much rain to give that may cause torrent, and much more to quench our thirst.” The mockery of his arguer’s beliefs was not taken kindly, and attracted a murderous look back. Marbin put his hand on his day old stubble, and gazed into the distance, seemingly unperturbed by the words which had dropped the temperature of the room by a few notches .
“Greed can never be ruled out, never mind how fanatical, but this time you’re right Berrton. There’s something larger at play, something which I can’t quite put my finger on yet.”A hint of a smile flashed from the corner. “Those bloody leeches have been looting us ever since The War, and no-one has had the spine to stand up to them. Bollocks, this is. Well, anyways, our stances are to be the same yes?”
The minister of ships, who had been casually observing, perked up just in time.
“Sire, those pirates have begun affecting our trade in the west, and even sent two of our naval ships to the bottom of the ocean. The situation will get out of hand soon, so might I suggest that Your Majesty throw a bone at our lovely Marksew, and let the Four do the rest.”
“We can’t throw accusations at Cerina Marksew, not without complete evidence. Not all the pirates roaming the seas are at her behest, and in either case, it’s your responsibility, Jack, that these ships are well equipped and provisioned to deal with such threats, is it not?” Jack cleared his throat.
“Yes sire, but prior to this, not one such case presented itself for months. This was quite recent, and caught us all off guard. While we should’ve done better, and will do from now, we couldn’t have foreseen this particular incident.” Berrton smirked.
“Says the man who can’t even see past the ones that night his candles and keep his hearth warm. Remind me, you were the last one who walked in this morning, were you not?” Jack reddened, and started shaking in anger. The rest of the table sat in disbelief.
“Jack is the Commander Of The Navy, and has a seat on my council Berrton. What goes on behind closed doors, and with whom, is none of mine or your business. Do well to remember that, or you won’t have to, anymore.” Marbin reproached. Berrton didn’t need reminding that he could be a loose cannon at times, but he couldn’t bear incompetence. The only reason Marbin kept him on the council was because of his inarguable capabilities, so much so that it even warranted a Krayanz a place on the council. But his position hung by a thread, and he knew that.
“Yes, your majesty”, he whispered, his head down.
“Now, last I checked, the paths across the province need to be cleared again after the rains. Anything else, Chief Architect Gerald?” A beady eyed man with a gangly frame, and a strange rotten cheese odour about him cleared his throat.
“Yes sire. The docks at Port Prosper need extra construction to fulfil demand, the minister of trade tells me, and the town halls across the province in each city are in dire need of renovation.”
“Very well, you shall have the funds and the resources to fulfil in these endeavours. Now, if that’ll be all, then we’re dismissed for today.” After several chairs scraping, and venomous stares, the room was clear, and Berrton exited the great doors.
In his early days, Berrton might have been inclined to spill that ‘Toothpick’ Gerald, and his wretched accomplice Shunter, minister of trade, had a joint business. This involved holding lavish parties at the town halls for so called ‘strategic meetings’ with investors, and potentially requiring private docks, to skirt taxes. But he was too far gone to be in a divulgatory mood, even if it meant that he could teach a couple of upstarts their place.
“Whaddya reckon Berrt”, Leyton asked as another voice raised behind them.
“Berrton, I need to have a word with you.” Marbin spoke barely looking his way.
“Yes sire”, he obeyed, with immaculately disguised surprise. Once he was behind closed doors, the Overlord stared into his eyes.
“Well ,it’s just…As you might know, Lightbringer has rotten away. Corrupted, just a few weeks back, and even the Forgers’ Guild chief conceded defeat. This is a matter of family honour, and I know my ancestors would’ve considered the decay of the Qhaaz’s sword as a disgrace. And in the end, only the family name remains anyways. I can’t restore the sword, that’s beyond doubt, but I can have a new one made. You are to be responsible for this, for reasons I don’t have to implore upon to a man like you. Have it modelled on the old sword, but a replica is not what I desire. Just follow the formalities, and the rest, leave that up to the imagination of our capable smiths. Is that understood?”
“Beyond doubt sire, your demands will be met once this is through”.
“Good, you may take leave now.” Berrton curtsied, and snickered as he left the room. How long did it take for Marbin to come up with that speech. Must’ve spent sleepless nights, shelving that pride of his. He mused, as his foresight had proven on point. He was painting, and the details were starting to come together on their own, as if they had a mind of their own, which incidentally, they did. Once wrong stroke though, and it would all come undone, except Berrton didn’t have another canvas. The next canvas would have his blood smeared on it, if it were to ever be unravelled. He had to act, and quickly though, otherwise the inspiration would be lost.
“So Leyton, how’re things going down at your end. Don’t even hear of crime these days, so I’m guessing you’re squeaky clean at the moment.”
“Nah mate, it’s not all roses and daisies right now. We have the Grelitic Syndicate running riot around the outskirts of Gemsdrive. Last I heard, they were camped out, biding their time in plain sight for some reason. But strangely enough, it’s just been a few murders and rapes. The rest of it is just petty crime, unorganised, and isolated.
Mostly been looting and pillaging, so we’re living easy right now.”
“Lucky days for you then, better cherish them when you can.” Leyton burst out into hysterics.
“Ohhh, you know I do Berrty. Hell, you know what everyone’s upto in this manor. You probably know what that guard has had for breakfast. Which man is keeping his loincloth warm at which brothel. If that man in the corner is being faithful to his wife, and whatnot..” He guffawed some more. “Well, I guess an exercise in futility would be asking the financier of Irrys how the situation is. The only problems I can see is lack of space for the coffers ehh, Berrty boy”. He thundered and laughed at his own joke. Berrton couldn’t help but crack a smile. The man wasn’t entirely wrong. He had to indulge Leyton a bit longer, so he kept his patience, and waited for his accomplice to calm down.
“ So… this Syndicate, what’s their motive. The vengeful type, or is it religious, or maybe even political?”
“Ohh, them bastards? It’s just plain ol money. And if it’s not, they do a pretty good job of fixating on sweeping every valuable underneath the sun even if they’re shown only a sliver of it. The things people do for the warmth of gold in their pockets, and to hear the coins chime against each other is inexplicable. But none of us can really comment on that, can we. Well anyways, I think I need to go back to cherishing my days, shan’t I?”
“Very well, Leyton, I shall see you in a few days time.”
“Ahh, what Marbin held you for is it, well, I don’t suppose you can really tell me about it, so I’ll get going.” And with that baffling non-interference, he left, his muscles struggling against his weight. Well coin it is, that’s right down my aisle isn’t it, Berton thought triumphantly. A nightmare would’ve been if their name gave any hint of their directive. I daresay my messenger will have done his task successfully as well, just as I had hoped. He’d only just made his first few moves on the chess board. He wondered how many more he could make before the other side realised they were in the game as well. And as far as the legendary sword of Qhaaz went, he knew just where to find his man, and had to ride double-time to get there. He called in his personal security and had his horse saddled, as he prepared himself for the journey.