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The Song of Steel

Book One - Chapter 3

By W.R. Logan


Copyright 2004 W.R. Logan

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King G’Leaze


The small council already started the debate of what cases to hear when King G’Leaze entered the throne room.  The usual voices argued the same objections.  Darious of Ronan insisted a sharecropper go to his own lord before coming to the council.  Trayvis of Talon Peak insisted a sharecropper had no business coming before the council at all.


“A peasant should have to persuade a noble to plea his case, Trayvis argued.  This of course, meant those who had money to buy a noble’s sympathy.


A man in motley colored silks jumped to the tabletop startling King G’Leaze.  This was a habit the man never broke from his days as the court jester.  Jarco was now a knight with jester mannerisms.  The bluebloods of the council had not accepted the lowborn jester into their circles but could do little about him.  After all, the man saved the king from a plot formed by his royal guard.


“My friends, my lords”, Jarco the Jester Knight began, “We of the council should not talk such foulness in front of the king’s own daughters.”


“What are you babbling about, fool”, Trayvis questioned.


“Why is it not of a woman’s secret  we speak of?”  Jarco put three fingers over his mouth in mock embarrassment.  King G’Leaze knew Jarco just used the line to gain the court’s attention  “These two young maids, royalty no less, the daughters of mine own dear, dear king.”  Jarco turned to look in the direction of the two girls.  “I pray you, good ladies”, Jarco continued, “think not your father’s council perverse, crude or snake tongued.”


“You fool”, Trayvis, raged, “We speak not of a woman’s secrets.”


“Oh, then I am truly a fool”, Jarco lowered his head, “For I thought we were talking of what womb this man slid out of.”


The court erupted in laughter.  King G’Leaze admired the man Jarco had become.  Jarco took all the bluebloods of the court could throw at him.  They called him fool.  Jarco made the fool the symbol of his house and named himself the Jester Knight.  They laughed at him when he came to court in fine silks, and told him he looked better in motley. Jarco took their advice and had fine silks made in the colors of a jester.


King G’Leaze stifled his own laugh as he gazed at his two daughters.  Neither of them tried to hide their amusement.  Jarco had always been a friend to them.  And they enjoyed seeing him make fun of the hypocrites on the small council.


Caitlin and Brianna took up the duty of guarding him after the attempt on his life.  The king could tell, both of them had developed a bad taste for the men of the council.


With the two of them by his side, King G’Leaze never felt safer.  Few in the realm could match even one of them with a sword.  When the two fought together, none ever bested them.  Their fighting styles were completely different, just like everything else about them.  The small folk had taken to calling them “Black and White.”  The two girls liked the reference so much; they started dressing in the colors.


His oldest Caitlin, called white, was at home in the court.  She knew all her courtly manners and could use them to persuade the men of council to her thinking.  The sword she carried was short and thin.  She relied on speed and finesse to win her battles both on the tourney field and in life. 


Her hair hung long and straight down to the middle of her back.  Soft traces of red streaked through the black, shining brightly under the sun.  Both girls had this in common.  “It is a gift from your mother,” the king would always say, “she left it, so when I look at the two of you, I can never forget her.”


Even wearing her white leather armor, Caitlin managed to look at home standing beside him at court.  Her hair neatly bound on top of her head, a cloak of white silk trimmed with white lace flowed around her shoulders and down to the sword hanging on her belt.  All the grace and beauty of a lady resonated from her very being.


The king remembered, when Brianna was younger she tried to copy everything about Caitlin.  The way she dressed, the way she talked, and even the food she ate.  It was as if she had no idea of her true self.  That had all changed some years ago.


King Gyger started pushing the ork clans out of the Kingdom of Tides.  Killing as many as he could.  The strongest of the clans, Clan of the Broken Bone, made a stand near the border of Kings Overlook.  The clan absorbed the remains of the other tribes, but was still hopelessly outnumbered.


Meanwhile, Kings Overlook had it’s own troubles with the groups of raiders attacking traders on the plains.  With nothing but the Peasant Army, King G’Leaze was ill prepared to fight the well-trained raiders.  But ten thousand ork would scare any band of raiders.


King G’Leaze offered the ork control of the plains to provide protection to the towns and people of his kingdom.  The Broken Bone Clan accepted and took up residence in the fertile plains.  The king sent his own daughters to treat with the clan, as a symbol of trust between them.


The kingdom of Kings Overlook had not seen an attack on a trade caravan since the ork moved in.  Many people called the move folly.  They argued the ork would become the new terror of the plains.  This never came to pass.


Brianna took to the wild and the wild took to Brianna.  She won the trust of the ork for the kingdom single handedly.  It took her only a short while to learn their culture and language, blending in with the ork way of life.  For the first time in her life, she stepped from her sister’s shadow and bloomed. 


The small-framed girl astounded the ork by mastering their way of fighting.  They swore to King G’Leaze, she had the barbarian rage in her.  Brianna cast aside the thin sword she once wore for a wide-bladed bastard sword.  And when she left to return home, the chief gave her one of his shoulder dragons. A smaller version of the huge man-eaters that once roamed the earth.  Brianna named him “Puffer” and was never seen without him since that day.  The beast still made King G’Leaze nervous.


“If it be only the lack of land this man need for justice,” another voice spoke up bringing the king’s mind back to the present, “I should be happy to give him some of mine.”


The voice came from Lord Tywell. He gave King G’Leaze hope for the human race.


Shame appeared to sweep through the rest of the council.  All but Trayvis lowered their eyes to the man’s gaze.


Lord Tywell and Jarco make the perfect team to keep the others in their place.  King G’Leaze thought and not for the first time.  More good had been done in the few short years they had been on council, than in the two hundred he had been king.


“We will hear the peasant,” Trayvis conceded, but let the word “peasant” linger on his lips like a curse.


Puffer blew a cloud of smoke in Trayvis’ direction as if he understood his defeat.


“Cursed beast,” Trayvis complained, “Court is no place for an animal.”


“I don’t know,” Brianna quipped, “Trained monkey’s seem to do well here.”


Laughter again filled the hall.  King G’Leaze did not try and stifle his this time.  Even Trayvis began to chuckle before the outburst ended.  With playtime out of the way early in the session, they could get on with the day’s work.


The King looked over the list of names asking for time before the council.  Two names stood out, Unglar Broken Bone, bastard son of Chief Glandar of U’taliga, and Tandrek, an eneth from the Valley of No Night.  The eneth were no friend to the people of Kings Overlook.  Tandrek could wait.


“Please, bring in Unglar Broken Bone,” the king commanded.


A few moments later, a huge ork strolled into the chamber.  A large ax was slung across his massive back.  The ork’s human blood over shone his ork blood. His hair was a bright red color, not normal for full-blooded ork, and his body had little hair. The clan looked at that as a weakness.  It would prevent this half-ork from obtaining any status in the tribe higher than a merchant.  The friendship this one shared with his daughter, Brianna, and his mastery of the common tongue, was all  gave him the duty of counsel to the king.


“Greetings from Clan Broken Bone,” Unglar said with a bow.  The King noticed him look to Caitlin and give a short smile.  He was sure it was a thank you for teaching the half-ork the graces of court.


“And my greetings to you, Unglar,” the king replied.


“I bring bad tidings from the border, my king,” Unglar drew in a deep breath, “The Steel Tide have crossed our borders and have engaged us in battle.”


This was nothing unusual.  Clan Broken Bone and the Steel Tide pushed the boundaries of the two kingdoms back and forth constantly.  Clan Broken Bone did not need the extra space, but jumped at the opportunity to get revenge for being driven from their home.


“We will offer you all the supplies  we can spare,” King G’Leaze offered.


“It is not supplies I am here for,” Unglar announced, “We ask permission to pull our forces back into Kings Overlook and join with your Peasant Army to hold them off.”


A gasp resounded throughout the hall.  How could he ask the Peasant Army to take up arms against the Steel Tide?  A treaty stood in place with all seven kingdoms.  Kings Overlook would hold the Valley of No Night keeping watch over the evil that sleeps.  No armies shall ever declare war on them.


If King G’Leaze broke the treaty, they would be crushed. Even if the clan was allowed to take refuge in the city, King Gyger would look at it as an act of aggression that breeched the treaty.  But King G’Leaze also knew better than to flat out refuse clan Broken Bone.


“How far over the border have they traveled?”  Avoiding an answer was the best thing the king could come up with.


“We hold them at bay, two days ride from Ronan,” Unglar informed them, “We are trying to give your people time to reach the safety of your walls, Your Grace.  But on the wide of the plains, we will not be able to hold much longer.  Talon Peak has been left to ash.  Few of their people escaped the Steel Tide’s furry.”


King G’Leaze felt a chill run rampant down his spine.  The Steel Tide already crossed the plains.  Is King Gyger truly mad?


“This is an outrage,” Trayvis yelled, “King Gyger would never break the treaty.”


“King Gyger has gone mad,” Jarco said missing his usual playful tone, “He threatened us with war if we took in his half-breed refugees.”


“Bad enough we took in the damn zyder,” Darious added.


“May I remind you of the gold you make off of the sale of Zyder Ale,” Caitlin snapped at him.


“How many do we house in the Valley of No Night,” questioned the King.


“ Four thousand,” someone replied.


“But it would be two weeks to get them mobile and back to defend the city,” a familiar voice called out from the door.


Bigsby Littlefoot stood in the doorway dressed in his black plate armor.  A man clad in silver steel stood behind him.  King G’Leaze turned to greet the two newcomers.  Bigsby’s counsel would be most welcome in matters like these.


“King G’Leaze may I present to you, Ser Larkel of the Steel Tide,” Bigsby paused for a moment.  “He brings the declaration of war from King Gyger.”


Another gasp ricocheted around the hall. The king’s daughters took up position between Ser Larkel and their father.  Puffer raised his head to observe the newcomers.  The wyrm’s eyes glowed yellow and red in the dimming light.  He wrapped his long tail twice around Brianna’s waist and gave a low rumbling growl. Small as they were, shoulder dragons could still give a blast of fire strong enough to roast a man in his armor.  The king had seen Puffer do as much.


As Ser Larkel’s hand moved out of sight behind his back, both girls moved like lightning.  Swords flew from their scabbards.  Caitlin brought her sword to a stop at the shoulder joint of Ser Larkel’s armor.  Brianna used the flat of her sword to slap the knight’s hand away from his sword, then continued up to stop at his neck.


Unglar moved to intercept a target too, but left the old knight to the two girls.  He stuck the boy in the red robes with his massive foot.  The mage hit the ground retching up his breakfast over the chamber floor.  The king could tell from the moans, Unglar’s foot pressed hard on the boy’s back. 


“One word leaves your lips, wizard,” Unglar threatened, “And I shall rename my ax “Wizard Splitter”.


Jarco, the Jester Knight, took arms against the remaining member of the group.  The young woman looked calmly in Jarco’s direction.  He ran at her drawing his sword as he came.  She made no move to draw her own sword.


The jester dipped his blade low to hook the woman’s sword hilt and flip it from her belt.  Just as his sword made contact with the woman’s blade, she moved with a burst of speed Jarco could not hope to match.  The woman didn’t try to free her sword, instead she took control of the jester’s arm by pulling him to her, and then giving him a quick shove backwards.  Jarco’s struggled to hold his footing, giving the woman total control over his sword and his arm.  To the king’s surprise, she didn’t use the jester’s arm to attack any of his friends.  She simply pushed his sword forward and gave a whack to a scroll container strapped to the back of the Steel Tide messenger.  It jumped from beneath the man’s cloak and landed in the lap of King G’Leaze.  Then she let the man’s fall continue into what had been the contents of the boy’s stomach.


“Gee,” the woman started, “good thing that wasn’t a weapon, you girls would be orphans right now.”


“Actually,” Caitlin replied, “My sister would be queen.”  Caitlin was the older of the two girls but much to the king’s dismay, she decided to forgo her birthright for the life of a War Master.


“And you would be dead.”  Brianna added.


The king could tell the slight did little to distill the girls’ anger.  He knew they felt defeated by the quick thinking woman.  Had the woman intended him dead, he knew he would be, and so did his daughters.


“Sheath your swords,” the king demanded.


Unglar gave one last push on the mage’s back causing him to moan and gag again. He allowed the head of his ax to droop to the floor, but held firm to the hilt.


Jarco pulled himself to his feet slipping twice in the vomit.  Bits of freshly chewed jerky stuck to his fine silks and decorated his wet matted hair.  His sword lay halfway across the room.  The jester’s eyes met his king’s just once on his way to get his blade.  They reached out to tell him how sorry he was for his failure.  The king gave him a knowing nod and returned his attention to the business at hand.


Brianna still held her sword to the knight’s apple.  The king could feel the anger raging inside her.  He could also see the concern in Caitlin’s eyes as she look upon her sister.  The Broken Bone swore Brianna had the rage of a barbarian in her and that could be very dangerous.


Her sword went in a quick circle around the knight’s head and then streaked back into her sheath.  The left side of the knight’s long handlebar mustache dropped onto his breastplate and slid to the chamber floor.  The knight moved his hand to his lopsided mustache.


“Oh, I do apologize, good knight,” Brianna sneered, “I was so upset with the thought of being an orphan, I just lost my concentration.  Would you like me to even that out for you?”


“No, no,” the knight replied appearing to be in a state of shock, “I am sure it will be fine.”


King G’Leaze looked to the blond woman to see her reaction to the ploy.  The woman appeared quite amused at her friend’s shock.  She even nodded at Brianna as if to say, “Well played.”  Brianna didn’t return the nod; obviously not pleased she had not caused the woman any discomfort.


The king turned his attention to the scroll.  His eyes could barely believe what he was reading.  These were truly the ravings of a mad man.  This was not the man the king had known for the past twenty-five years.  King Gyger had a kind heart.  He believed in justice and the basic goodness of all people.


There was no sound in the chamber as the king read the paper.  No one even breathed.  Everyone understood their very lives dangled by what was written on that declaration.


How can I tell them this?  The king wondered reading the accusations contained in the letter.


“King Gyger has stated his land is stricken with an illness caused by half-breeds,” the king cleared his throat wondering where to go next. “He backs up his claim by saying three thousand of his people have died of the illness, but not one of them have been a half-breed.  And this proves all half-breeds are carriers of this illness and must be exterminated.”


The council made no noise while this was being said.


“The Kingdom of Tides has pledged to root out the nesting place of these half-breed disease carriers and destroy it.  And he has named that nest to be Kings Overlook.  This, he states is an act breaking our treaty and calls for open war.”


Now whispers rang out around the table. 


“Jarco,” the king called out, “I will need you to organize an escape for the old, the sick, and the children.  Hire ships in Vale and get them to one of the free cities.  We will also need to send word to the druids for healers and ask them to take in the zyder.  They will not be safe in the free cities.”


“The druids won’t answer you, your grace,” the Steel Tide messenger said as a matter of fact, “And Vale will cut your people down at their borders.  They side with King Gyger.”


That thought seemed unnatural.  Vale was a long hated rival of the Steel Tide from the days of King Gyger’s father.  Vale had once enslaved thousands of the people from the Kingdom of Tides.  Kings Overlook was not what one would call friends with Vale, but they were closer to it than the Steel Tide had ever been.


“Vale, siding with the Steel Tide?”  King G’Leaze questioned.


“Vale has been promised all the remaining humans and the zyder of King’s Overlook to sell in the free cities,” the knight answered, “and as for the druids, nine hundred Steel Tide marched on the Great Wood a month ago.”


“And why do you think we would take your word,” Brianna snapped, “Do you forget what armor you wear?”


“No m’lady,” the knight replied, “I remember the armor I wear, just as I remember the blood in my veins.”


With that, the Steel Tide messenger lifted his helmet.  Even more strange looking than the lopsided mustache on his face, were the two pointed elf-like ears that had been hidden under the thick helm.


“My grandmother was a half-elf,” the knight announced as the eyes of the council descended on him.





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