“They grow restless. Are they almost through?”
Symon turned from Gerry to sign to the Voiceless at the entrance. Half a head taller than most, the knight - Sir Gylbarde of the Fourth Silent Order – peered into the shadowed corridor leading into the hall. He glanced back to Symon, using his hands to confirm the number left: five.
Five more lords. Entitled barons. And two guards apiece made for ten more on top of that. Fifteen men waiting to take their place. To sit among nearly a hundred others who came before. Lords and knights. Bishops and their brethren. All searched for weaponry, having endured the humiliation of their word meaning nothing, their honor impugned.
All manner of spirits waited for the barons at their tables. The lords drank heartily, consuming the darkest – and most potent – of ales and wines first. While intended to placate the nobility, the drinks managed to have the opposite effect. Murmurs unbecoming spilled forth, bouncing from table to table. A few barons shoved at one another, their near-fights stopped by guards, who stood in the dim light of perched torches and sconces.
Gerry watched the scene in stride, goblet in hand, as he paced before the tall chair set up for him. Symon stood at attention to the right of his seat, beside the side table where various pitchers and carafes sat, while Ely kept guard at his left. Beyond the platform supporting the three, their silent knights had fanned out, patrolling the Great Hall of Glic Anglisk.
Through the slit of his visor, Symon caught sight of Gerry again, just in time to find his little brother mid-gulp. He circled to the front of his chair, his back half-turned to the audience.
“Slow down, Gerry. That’s your third goblet. You’ll need your wits for this crowd.”
Gerry tipped the goblet before his mouth, more to hide his lips than to drink. “I know, brother. I had my attendant fill my wares with unfermented drink.”
He is learning. Smart lad.
From behind his visor, Ely scoffed. “Pity. You’ll consume a week’s worth of pitchers tonight, only to rob yourself of drunken joy while having to fight the urge to piss yourself.”
“Ely!” Symon shushed.
“This lot can’t hear us,” Ely said a tad louder, though still in a somewhat hushed tone. “Our voices are nearly drowned, I tell you.”
He had the right of it. Though wide and deep, the hall hardly stood tall by any standard, be it contemporary or ancient. At only a story and a half high, the vaulted ceiling and walls reverberated rather than absorbed the lamentations. Peculiar, considering the walls consisted of packed earth overgrown with moss, while above soft timber secured by petrified vines made for the roof. Even the ground beneath their boots cushioned their footfalls, suggesting yet another surface which should have tempered the discord.
Gerry swirled the remnants of his wine in his goblet, turning his back to the audience as he did so. “Where is he?” he asked Symon.
“You sent him to the perimeter,” Symon answered.
“With the intention that he returns.” Gerry downed the last of his drink. “You don’t think –”
“Nonsense. The Voiceless gave a security report before we opened the doors. The grounds are secure, the soldiers at their posts, with all accounted for except those of patrol.”
“Perhaps he had the good sense to disguise himself as a mute,” Ely uttered low, tilting his head toward the closest of their silent brethren.
“Nay. He would have told us that much. Where is he? Maybe I should –”
“Don’t you dare, brother,” Ely admonished, almost loud enough to be heard beyond their reach. Though he did not turn and kept in character like Symon, the edge of his tone manifested itself with every word he spoke. “You dismiss this lot without just cause,” he continued, “at a meeting to discuss avenging the very fathers and sons these men know they’ve lost, why, they’ll never heed another edict we ever declare. Our messengers will be stopped at their barbicans and gates only to be dismissed. Taxes and customs will go missing. Our sessions of court will be empty. All that before the Conclave calls their next meeting, to vote on our ousting.”
“Well, what would you have me do?” Gerry begged. His glanced at Ely, and all those around them, before settling on Symon.
Symon sighed. “You know what Father would have said.”
“When the doors to War Halls close or the flaps to War Tents seal, the King must decide on his commands, no later the foxes laying siege to his men. Otherwise,” Gerry hung his head as if searching his memory, “Otherwise . . .”
“. . . their blood would have been spilt in vain,” Symon finished.
“Very well. Right Captain or not, we will proceed.”
“I remember that morbid bedtime story,” Ely quipped.
Ignoring his brother, Symon eyed the final baron making his way into the hall. Baron Dederic. Brother to the High Bishop. As a Voiceless patted the baron for arms, Dederic’s eyes found Perceval across the chamber, their stares locking in place, sealing an understanding only kin could share.
We’re in for a war of words. “Gerry,” he whispered. “Listen carefully.”
Gerry shot him a glance in acknowledgment, though continued to scan the room. “Go on.”
“Whatever happens, do not let the barons speak out of turn. Do not let them join forces in conversation, even if they happen to support you. Everyone here is to speak one at a time, no exceptions.”
“This is a Conclave, brother,” Ely reminded him. “Need I remind you of the Reigning Council?”
The three glanced in the direction of the table to their right, which sat on its own platform equal in height to the King’s. The Council’s six barons rested silently, goblets in hand, no doubt mulling over the raucous scene before them.
“This isn’t like our last meeting when the fate of Kin Saliswater was on trial. Our position has since been secured. Yes, the Conclave holds authority in their gatherings. But this isn’t Highmoorr Castle. This session stands apart. Here, on grounds the King of Marland has a duty to protect, the Conclave will allow us – I mean, Gerry – to impart the rules of debate. Hence, why so many Voiceless were permitted.”
“Sure,” Ely nodded back to the head Voiceless at the entrance. “Much good they will do. They’re unarmed.”
“Along with every man here,” Gerry quipped. “We’re on equal footing. All of us.”
“Yes, some barons feel vulnerable,” Symon admitted. “Others, perhaps not. Whatever their mood, no matter your level of comfort or anxiety, remember: one voice at a time.” Symon, through his visor, set his eyes on Gerry. At this range, his brother could stare back through the slit. Nonetheless, he avoided such contact, choosing instead to focus on the bottom of his goblet, which he quickly drained.
“A daring proposition,” Ely added, “to impart our rule, whether our right or not. No matter our gifts of tongue or sword, the best of us would have trouble convincing this lot to maintain their manners.”
“I know what you’re implying,” Gerry said. He slammed his goblet on the armrest of his seat, breaking its crystal stem. The small shatter echoed as a sigh in the sea of noise. Still, it caught the attention of the closest barons, who pointed and shared low voices as Gerry marched from his seat to the head table of the Reigning Council.
“He knows he shouldn’t do that,” Ely said. He paused as one attendant came to sweep up the broken glass as another brought a fresh goblet filled to the brim with wine. Once they departed, he continued. “It’s unseemly for a king to leave his seat to address nobility. That’s why we have servants.”
Symon noted the attendants at the base of their platform, who had no choice but to stand and watch agape as the one they served did their duty. Before the head table of the Reigning Council, Gerry leaned in, his lips moving passionately though his soft words remained unheard. The nobles in the broader audience paused to take notice, including the silver-maned patriarch sitting in the far corner to their left: Artus.
“No one will think much of it,” Symon said, hoping against hope.
“And if they do?”
“Mar help us.”
Gerry returned to his throne, plopping himself into his seat. As Baron Dedric came to the last open space among the lords, the eldest of the Reigning Council – Baron Malerius of Kin Enfield – rose first. Using the butt of his staff, he pounded the tile three times, before quieting. His colleagues, along with Gerry, followed suit with their own silence. A hush fell over parts of the hall as all stood, until at last, the conversations subsided.
“My Lords,” Malerius began, “today is an ominous day, one which has us here, away from our stronghold for the first time since the end of the Century War.”
Murmurs erupted. Malerius waved his hand to his guard, who beat the butt of his halberd on the platform. On the eighth, peace finally fell back into place. For the moment.
“The decision to relocate to Glic Anglisk Castle did not occur with haste. We did not embrace the matter lightly . . .”
Malerius droned on and on. Another of the Reigning Council chimed in, along with perhaps a third. No matter. For Symon’s concentration on the feeble words of old barons waned, gravitating instead to the one on his left.
The journey to Ibia had done much to mature him. The nights with Taresa mayhaps did their part. Not to mention the news of a child, foreshadowing his upcoming fatherhood.
Gerry raised his new goblet to his lips. With narrowed eyes and clenched jaw, he sipped. He set down his glass, turning his hands inward as he pressed his fingertips together and listened.
Subtle yet powerful. Patient and strong. A move Father would have made had he been here, entertaining the dull pleas of barons.
Good Mar, he looks like a king.
But is he?
Symon prayed the words he spoke earlier would be heeded. Not only the ones from moments before. All of them. From their training sessions to their council in the Fourpointe Chamber, Symon had done his due diligence to prepare their younger brother for this very moment. They all had in their own way. Even Ely – despite his joshing – did not want to see Gerry fail.
Yes, the gatherings at Court served as a precursor to this very meeting. Along with the sessions with mages. And high bishops. All that preparation. No monarch-in-training could ask for more.
Still . . .
His doubt lingered. His hopes diminished. Yet all Symon could do was stand there. Stay silent. And wait.
Symon blinked, realizing quietude had fallen over the hall. Malerius sat, as did the chorus of barons both at the table of the Reigning Council and the rest of the room. Gerry – his elbow on the arm of his throne, his right finger at his temple – waited. For what?
At last, their grandfather stood.
“Good men of the Reigning Council. Barons. Bishops.” He nodded to a few. He glanced away from others as if they were part acquaintances, part strangers. “Lord Malerius did well to lay out the reasons for our being here today. I shall not repeat his sentiment. For underneath it, lurks the threat which brought us together.
“We can but guess at the motives of our enemies. Yet one thing is for certain: we must act.”
Grumblings erupted, as expected. Symon caught Gerry stroking the small whiskers at his chin, which foreshadowed a beard. He remained silent. Perhaps contemplative. Or hesitant.
Artus lifted his chin and parted his lips as if to speak, but caught himself when a lord rose at the table nearest to him.
His stare, a winter unto itself, held the eyes of Artus. Even as he slurped his ale, his look never trembled. Artus, as with the other nobles, bowed his head as he placed his fist over his heart.
“My condolences to you and your kin,” Artus said.
“Save you words,” Rayvenn replied. Looking down into his brass goblet, he sneered. Then, he poured the rest of its contents onto the table. Those nobles closest to him slid away in their seats.
“What is the meaning of this?” Malerius asked, though with a tad less solidity than expected.
“This is waste,” Rayvenn muttered. “Like what happens when poor leaders do nothing about a massacre.”
The last drops of ale splattered on the table. Rayvenn cast his goblet aside, which clattered on the ground.
Artus turned to Gerry. Gerry, remaining silent, eyed his grandfather – along with the Voiceless who had inched closer to Rayvenn. He raised his fingers, motioning them away from the baron.
That’s it, Symon thought. They believe you. They see you, King.
“My lord,” Gerry began. “My grandfather has the right of it. We mourn your son. Baron Hewe was an honorable man.”
“Honorable? I remember you once referred to him as the Swineherd King.”
Symon ground his teeth, glancing sideways toward Ely, who stood unmoving in his Voiceless armor. Damn you, he silently seethed at his brother. Your mouth will be the ruin of this family.
Gerry, too, took a gander at his brother. He feigned clearing his throat before turning back to Baron Rayvenn. “I won’t deny a slight against your kin. The error was mine. I correct myself now for that comment and any others against your son. He was honorable.”
Many in the audience nodded in approval. Two even clapped, albeit briefly. Symon grinned.
You have them, brother. Keep it going.
The lord of Har-Kin Warci, however, remained unswayed.
“So noble of you, isn’t it? To admit the truth. So tell me, my good king: What is to be done about this threat to our kingdom?”
Gerry shifted in his seat. “As my grandfather started to say, we must take action. I’ve conferred with my advisers, whose recommendations we will discuss in detail, such as increasing the patrols on the Curved Wharf and Smallquarter, which saw damage and losses during the most recent attacks. Or raising the militia to attend to the rivers and streams where this gold fever has been reported. And doubling the magistrates who inspect –”
“All hogwash!” Rayvenn bellowed.
Barons gasped. Well, some chuckled. Gerry, as shocked as any, paused.
“Well . . .” he stuttered. “That is but a preview of the possibilities –”
“Your possibilities will not avenge my son!” The baron reddened. The few guffaws of the crowd quieted. The whole of the hall iced as what little camaraderie evaporated.
Gerry breathed deeply. He reached for his goblet he had set on the arm of the chair, only to brush it from its perch. Its crystal – base, stem, and all – shattered at Symon’s feet. Shards clanked against his boot. Symon closed his eyes. He opened them to look down, finding not broken glass but the shaking hand of his sibling.
“Look! He knows it’s true.” Baron Rayvenn separated from his table, pointing at Gerry as he did. “Bah! What a fine king. Marching. Inspections. A bloody waste of time.”
A wave of nobles nodded, this time clapping in unison. Artus stood, motioning them to calm. He even tried to speak, yet found his voice drowned by the clamor.
“I’ll tell you how we right the wrong of Ibia,” Rayvenn bellowed. “We send the might of Marland to their doorstep.”
“But they’re our allies,” Malerius urged. He leaned over the table, the vein of his forehead pulsing. Two other lords of the Council – Baron Howward of Kin Fawcett and Baron Karles of Kin Tenholm – came to his side to calm him. Indeed, the elder appeared weathered by the commotion, as he fell back to his chair. Rayvenn – and many more barons – noted the opportunity. They bolted to their feet. They shoved. They hollered.
All as Gerry looked on, shaking.
“Gerry,” Symon whispered as he remained tall.
From all corners of the hall, the Voiceless gravitated toward the throne. Sir Gylbarde looked to Symon. Symon signed to him, “Protect your King.”
The head knight nodded at the directive. He clapped his vambraces together. The steel clanged, throwing those nearest to him down onto their benches while the outer reaches of the hall barely noticed, their share of the audience still up on their feet in protest. Even so, the burst rallied the Voiceless from all points. The silent knights swarmed in. Within moments, they became a barrier between the King and the barons, a circlet of leather and steel.
Symon scanned the Voiceless, relieved at their position while he cursed under his breath. The guards of the Reigning Council had inspected the Voiceless for arms in exchange for granting the guards the right to search the invited barons. The concession proved necessary to securing the trust of all those in attendance, yet in hindsight, it left them – especially, Gerry – too vulnerable.
Gerry heaved, the presence of his mute guardians having done little to quell his anxiety. As with the swell of his emotions, the nobles continued to take notice.
“See!” shouted a baron, cloaked by the standing mob. “King Fool returns!”
“King Fool!” cried another.
“Give us justice, Jameson! Justice!” shouted a third.
Surveying the mess, Symon clenched his fists. The scene having turned, the hall no longer harbored the lords, the manors, he had known from birth. It held . . . something else. Worse than all the conflicts and skirmishes he had known. For in those arenas, the threat stood clear, his enemies a separate force from his own. Here, the danger lay within, arising from the ones he should have counted among his allies, friends of the Throne.
So uncivil . . .
A chant from one baron, then several, swelled.
“King Fool! King Fool! King Fool!”
. . . This betrayal . . .
“King Fool! King Fool! King Fool!”
His grandfather faltered against the crowd, some of which turned to him for answers he could not provide. Artus braced himself against the edge of his table; his face reddened as he traded barbs with the nobles around him. He pointed a finger at the platform before directing it back across the table.
The gestures. The shouts. The maddening.
Gerry took it all.
Pained. Beaten. Defeated.
He retched. The nobles, amidst their chanting, took notice. And laughed.
Symon knelt to Gerry’s side as his sibling sat hunched over, wiping his mouth. Ely hovered behind Symon, aghast.
“Brother, pull it together,” Ely urged.
“Enough!” Symon pulled Ely’s ear close. “Gather three Voiceless and fall back to the doors. Gerry will give the order to clear the hall and restore order.”
“But, he can’t –”
“He’ll give the order! It must come from the King!”
Symon stared into his eyes, his stare cutting through the slit of his visor to bore a hole in Ely’s helm.
Ely, accepting the reality they knew to be true – what Gerry, as King, had to do to salvage his power – nodded. He fell away, taking the steps of the platform two at a time as he stopped before the circlet of knights. He grabbed Sir Gylbarde by the shoulder, his hands fluttering, delivering his commands before the knight’s face. Gylbarde, understanding the gravity of the situation, pulled two of his men away in turn. The four then delved into the crowd, all of which had risen, their collective mood focused on one:
“Gerry!” Symon yelled, forgetting to sign. “You need to stand. Give the command to clear the hall.”
“I can’t,” Gerry squeaked.
“You must! Only a King can clear the royal hall.”
“Yes, you! The King!”
Symon snapped his neck. The echo, which would have blasted through every beam and crevice of the low hall if empty, barely reached his ears as a muffle.
He caught the source of the sound that time — the doors.
Craning his neck, he caught sight of the back foyer, which had cleared with the barons clamoring toward the front of the hall. There, before the doors, Ely and his entourage of three Voiceless gathered.
From beyond, a force pushed on the doors, nudging the horizontal beam keeping them closed. Ely leaned back from the thrust, wary and uncertain.
“Ely!” Symon yelled, realizing his folly as soon as he had said it. He dug his hands under Gerry’s arm as he lifted him upward. “Come now!”
Ely, fixated on the hall doors, stepped toward them. His hand extended.
Don’t you open them!
“Gerry! Restore order! Someone is trying to breach the hall!”
“My head . . .”
“No time for this! Yell! Command! Be a King, damn it!”
Gerry collapsed into his arms, the whole of himself gone limp. The lame weight of his body fell upon Symon, who struggled to prop him up, his own head suddenly throbbing.
Symon blinked. His focus waned.
At the doors, Ely held his hand out to the beam. Yet there it rested, unmoved, as Ely dropped to one knee.
The doors shifted once again. This time, Ely looked upon them not as the barrier to a menace but as the obstacle to their salvation.
All around him, the atmosphere evolved. The mob – once an agitated, unruly mess – subdued, their raucous voices falling silent. Many of them gripped their torsos or their benches, as many more sat. Some retched. Those of the Reigning Council proved no better. Malerius fell to the ground, convulsing, while the others had only the strength to look on.
A certain few – barons, clergy, and their protectors – unaffected, inched away from the suddenly ill. They collected themselves at the far reaches of the hall, where the beams and pillars of the ceiling met with the earthen walls. They paused as one among them – High Bishop Perceval – snaked through the felled crowd.
“Your Majesty,” he bellowed. Then, catching himself, he turned to the closed doors. “Or should I say, ‘Your Majesties’?” He set his sights on Ely before looking up to the throne, where Symon stood with Gerry against him.
“Perceval?” Symon gasped, breaking with his clandestine protocol to speak aloud. “You did this?”
“Aye,” he admitted, before turning coy. “But I am not His Eminence –”
The High Bishop paused. A trembling hand – from Baron Rayvenn – grabbed ahold of him.
“You,” Rayvenn uttered, “damn you.”
“Nay, damn you.” Perceval pointed at Gerry. “And damn the King!”
He opened his palm, and as though by command, the hilt of a short sword met it. He dug the tip of his newfound blade into the nook of Rayvenn’s neck. Instantly, the old noble gushed, his blood spilling forth onto the pristine garb of His Eminence.
“Give my regards to your son,” Perceval snickered.
Rayvenn drooped to his feet. Perceval shook his sword at the lord, splattering blood upon his fresh corpse.
And all around him, those invited who remained composed did likewise. Brandishing all manner of weapons – swords, axes, maces – they took to those in their reach. They hacked. Stabbed. Bludgeoned. Nobles and clergy. Guards and soldiers.
But how? How?!
Though his peripheral vision blurred, Symon found his answer. Those traitors at the earthen walls snuffed out the torches and sconces as others groped the moss-and-vine strewn lengths, their hands disappearing into hidden gaps and holes. From the concealed pits, they pulled their arms, dispursing the weaponry to their comrades, who made quick work of the victims.
Some of the less affected men fought back against the quislings, shoving or pushing them away. They fell like the others, their efforts delaying the inevitable by mere moments of resistance.
A line of armed men fell to either side of Perceval. The High Bishop, at the ready, approached the barrier of Voiceless. The silent knights appeared as crenels of their former selves, some having sunk to their knees while others remained standing, barely.
“If you concede and give yourselves up, I’ll be merciful toward your mute knights,” Perceval offered, slapping the width of his blade onto his free palm.
Thump! Thump! Crack!
Symon looked up as Perceval and his men pivoted. At the doors, Ely braced his shoulder against the beam, which now leaned upright. The doors burst open –
A Voiceless spilled in, along with a handful of his comrades.
Dawkin, Symon thought. Though clad head to toe in the armor of a silent knight, Symon knew. The posture. That gait. The way he moved. By Mar, it’s him.
Bloody hell, it’s him. Here. With us.
Perceval grinned, turning back to the Throne . . .
Only to discover Gerry, weakened yet determined, with Malerius’ staff in hand. He held it out, the head pointed at Perceval like the point of a spear, as he heaved.
“As you wish, Your Majesty.”
Perceval dipped his head, as if to bow, only to wield his sword downward. The tip found its way into the narrow gap between the gorget and helm of Sir Gylbarde. The head knight struggled ferociously as he spewed blood.
Dawkin let loose a war cry. Gerry, in his own way, did so as well. Symon, through his pulsating mind, believed he did the same. Perhaps Ely too. Before the world descended into a blur. 124Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡzO6dM8vpF2