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Chapter Twenty-Two: Matters at Hand
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Kalanna Rai

Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Sat Jan 19, 2013 3:29 pm    Post subject: Chapter Twenty-Two: Matters at Hand  

Apologies one and all. I suffered a major malfunction with my computer over the holidays and have only just now managed to procure a new one. What I havn't managed to procure were the many story notes and the half written chapter stored on my machine. So it took me a little extra time to re-write everything and make sure I didn't forget where I was going. Enjoy!

Chapter Twenty-Two: Matters At Hand

HighKeep, seat of Kings. Lukan had never felt so out of place within it's walls before as he did now. Guards discreetly flanked him, pikes gripped tightly. Crossbowmen prowled the walls and towers of the mountain-top palace, eyes trained on the skies for any attack that might come from the demonic hordes of the air. Two attacks had already been repelled and Lukan's traveling party had only arrived three days before. It was madness. The Keep and the city that flanked it on the terraced mountain slopes lived in fear.

The only solace came at dawn, when the sun would creep up over the eastern rim of the mountain ringed valley and illuminate the simple ring of raised stone that sat upon the tallest peak. Through that ring, the Divine Gate, the Gate of the Gods, the first light fell each day. It brought with it a peace, the blinding beam illuminating HighKeep Keep before slowly sliding in a cascade of liquid gold through the streets until every shadow in the city was banished.

He stood for a moment, looking out one of the small windows, his gaze roaming over the valley. All those people, and thousands more spread throughout the mountains and valleys of Haga'Dir. They were all waiting for him, for his decision. Would he take up the Spear and rule, as countless men of the Storm Clans had ruled before? Or would he break the spear and leave them in the hands of the Peak Clans? He was a boy, swiftly becoming a man, but barely tried in combat and tried not at all in state-craft. He was no diplomat to bandy fine words, no tactician to plot every move and counter-move far in advance. He acted and he gave his best and he prayed. What more could any man ask.

He turned away from the window, entering the dining hall for the mid-meal, the only time of day when he seemed to escape the endless line of supplicants. Of lords and representatives of lords. Clan Heads and Clan Head hopefuls. And of course, those who would be King if he chose not to take up the burden. At least those who shared the meal with him didn't have requests of him. Tessa always had a smile, Kevrem a quick word, and Alasdair remained oddly quiet these days, speaking only when spoken to. Truth be told, Lukan did not wish to break bread with the dragon who was his half brother but Alasdair was less of an enemy than many in this place.

Truthfully he was heartsore with the Northern man. Alasdair had so much power, was such a force in the world, and yet he used it sparingly and selfishly. Like a man who had the money to buy the best of medicine but bought it only for himself and only in small doses. Was the life of his son really worth the lives of tens of thousands? Worth an entire city? No one, man or dragon, was worth that. Why had he done it? Lukan just couldn't reconcile that act with the man he saw on a daily basis. A man who took up arms against the common foe to defend anyone, his people or not, a man who spent his energy healing the sick and injured and asking no recompense other than that they lead useful lives. How could a man so seemingly selfless be so selfish at heart?

He sat, shaking the thoughts of Alasdair from his head. They were a distraction and he didn't have much time for those just now. The Guards settled into place next to the doors and dishes were uncovered for the enjoyment of the four of them. Kevrem made a small exclamation of delight at a strange dish of small grains from which a cloud of steam and the eye-watering bite of spice rose. Tessa laughed, taking a small bite along with her plate of steamed fish and immediately reaching for her wine cup to quench the fire in her mouth. Now Keverem was the one laughing, offering her some of the sweet yogurt that sat next to the plate of fruits in the table's center. Alasdair quietly cut the steak he'd been brought into small bits, dipping each one in the dressing for his side salad before eating it.

"Lukan, are you feeling alright?"

He glanced up at Tessa's worried words, aware for the first time that he'd neither touched his plate nor stopped staring fixedly at the tablecloth as his mind had begun to wander back to the upcoming problems of the evening and his decision. He opened his mouth to mutter some soothing but untrue platitude and instead blurted out the truth. "No, I'm not. I'm scared."

Alasdair looked up, glancing around, and made a discreet motion. The air popped and shimmered and a moment later there was a glass-like quality to it. "It won't last long, wards are not my skill at all, but at least you can speak freely for a few moments without everyone from the serving maid to the man who wants to replace you knowing what you said at the table."

Lukan bit back a retort, understanding that Alasdair was trying to help him, not insult the servants. He took a deep breath, looking back at them again. "I'm not ready for this. My cousin, he was being trained to take over when his father died. He had lessons in history and statesmanship. He could recite that names and titles of lords from the five nations and what lands they hailed from, what holdings they owned. He knew how to politic and navigate that...that den of vipers. I don't. I don't know any of it.

I'm not tactical and I'm not delicate. I'm not...oblique. I'm as direct and straight forward as a hungry hippogriff who spots a fat sheep. I don't have graces. I don't have a long line of battles to point to for experience. I have-"

"You've got a good heart." Tessa interrupted to point out gently.

"You've got a good head to realize that you don't know it all." Kevrem said with a chuckle.

"And you're not alone." Alasdair's words were quiet, his smile warm. "We are here to help Lukan. Whatever our other responsibilities, we are family. We will take care of each other."

He snorted. "Alasdair I know you put family before anything, but not everyone is like that. Kevrem...did they put the fact you were family before any agendas they had for you when you lived in the south? Tessa, was the fact you were family a consideration in the tasks you were set in Falverald?"

Kevrem sighed. "Lukan, don't try to compare anyone at this table with the vicious backbiting beasts that made up the noble courts of Jhadir. There's no comparison, especially since every person present now possesses a level of honor that would be unfathomable in the old south. Alasdair is right, we are here for you. And you're not the only one learning to rule a kingdom. When I came north I'll admit, that's all I thought about. Becoming King, rubbing it in the noses of everyone back home, and then figuring out a way to blackmail them into a lasting peace. Or crush them."

He took another bite of the spicy dish, chewing thoughtfully. "Now, none of that matters. What matters is that I have a home. I have people who depend on me, not out of fear, but out of a tenuous respect. Despite being everything they hate, they're willing to give me a chance. I'm a demon, I'm a southerner, and nobody ever trained me to be a king either. I'm good at being manipulative. Be that manipulating a battle to go the way I want or manipulating lords into doing what I want. Deciding how many bushels of oats to send to the southern idea. Deciding if the old laws on landsteading need updating or should be abolished altogether...I just don't know. I'm not likely to be mentally out-maneuvered but there's just so much I don't know that I'm walking a thin line around tight corners."

"Kevrem's right Lukan. My tasks back in Falverald have everything to do with family. I wouldn't have some of those duties if I didn't have a high rank and if I wasn't capable of doing them they, and the rank associated with them, would have been taken away. That's the way Falverald works. If the High Marshal is a poor ruler, he's deposed and another is raised in his place. If I were a bad Lady of Eldbrook then I would long ago have been removed from my position. But I'm good. I'm good at facts and figures. I'm good at logistics, I know how many bushels of oats to send to the troops in the south and how many rashers of bacon and barrels of ale as well. I know how many days worth of rations man and horse will need for a hundred mile march.

I can garrison, quartermaster, and outfit any castle, bastion, keep, or rampart. I can run any estate, balance the books on any nation, and turn a profit on any business. That is how my mind works. I can play the dainty lady and make polite small talk at social events, or captain a wall and direct archer fire. I cannot play people like pieces on a game board. That is a talent Kevrem has that I envy. It's the talent of a statesman and a tactical master, knowing how to turn your opponent until you gain the advantage. It's the iron fist behind the velvet glove of diplomacy. He can say pretty words just as well as I can, he can just say them in such a way that you say prettier words back to him."

Alasdair took a sip of wine, looking up at Lukan. "I am a dragon. I lead my people because the spirits have commanded it. With the aid of the spirits I know my land and it knows me. Rocks, fields, hills. It's a deep and lasting connection. It breaths as I do, it pulses with the beat of my heart, and when it is wounded I will bleed. Without that connection I doubt I would be any kind of ruler. The older I grow, the worse it will be for the common man. Without that connection, allowing me to change and grow, to see things from their perspective, I have no doubt that the men of Rhimefaust would be hunting dragon before long.

I put my family first because I am so tightly bound to them. Had I lost Kyrie to childbirth, I would have gone mad Lukan. I would have taken to the skies and rained hell down upon you. I would have leveled Eresinne to be her headstone and wept over it, savaging the countryside around it until someone came to put me out of my misery like an old, mad dog. It is the nature of the mating bond between us. She is the other half of my mind, my heart, she shares my soul. Without her, as without my bond to my land and my people, I am worse than useless. I become another danger to fight, not a friend to aid.

Much the same is true had she lost Aaern. It's the reason I was so worried, so upset when Astor called me down from the north and held me in Eresinne until he'd chosen his heir. I knew Kyrie's due date was drawing ever closer and I could not risk being away from her if something went wrong. If she lost the child and I was no there to restrain her, to control her, to talk her down from the madness that would follow, then she would have been destroyed to prevent her destroying the keep. And then I would have gone mad in the middle of one of Astor's dinner parties and..." he sighed. "My strength is a double edged sword, the best and worst of things. But it is always at the disposal of my family, no matter the cost."

Lukan felt abruptly angry and ashamed. Ashamed that he'd never asked Alasdair about his decision, though it clearly weighed on the other. Angry that it sounded like so many platitudes. So many excuses. Even if true, his anger for all those men who died senselessly wasn't just going to dry up. "So that's all your advice. Be king just because? Lord Blackpeak has years of experience negotiating with the Swan and Falcon clans of Rhimefaust. He's settled boarder disputes and led small armed skirmishes against bandits that prowled his passes. He's a statesman, one of the few Peak Lords tolerated in HighKeep. He's in every way a better choice than 'the boy with the good heart' don't you think?"

Tessa stared at him steadily. "I don't think Lukan. I listen. Listen to how your people treat you and address you. Word's spread you realize? Of a young man who took up spear and sword to defend villages from ravaging demons. Who charged onto a wall to save a watch captain. Who flies the valley every day and keeps a wary eye on the sky every night. They watch you Lukan, with respect and admiration. The servant girls gossip about how easy you make their jobs, caring for your own things as you do. The stable lads murmur about how much you care about Beak's well being and the health of all the creatures in the stables. Merchants chat about the prospect of re-expanded trade with Leyond and the boom that will provide the market...Lukan these are your people. I havn't heard one thing about this 'Lord Blackpeak'."

Kevrem shrugged. "I hear Peak Keep is deep in a mountain to the north of here, well lit and well protected against the aerial demon incursions that have been plaguing Haga'Dir. And I hear that unlike the other lords who are flying here and graciously asking for you to escort them, a custom I believe, Lord Blackpeak has been stridently demanding that you allow him to teleport here due to the 'unsafe skies'. Correct me if I'm wrong Lukan but isn't it a point of national pride that a Haga'Dirian man on a hippogriff is the most dangerous thing in the skies? That a man's greatest honors come from killing things from the back of his mount? Why would any man who's not a coward not take the chance that he's ambushed on his way here?"

"It's a smart tactic..." Lukan took a bite of his food. "Perhaps he's worried he wouldn't be able to handle the situation if he was ambushed in the flight here. Or he's worried about how it would affect the people he leaves behind or brings with him. Maybe he is afraid. You're afraid Kevrem, isn't that why you won't show anyone what you are? After all, everyone knows what Alasdair is and dragons are another legendary beast."

Kevrem snorted, stabbing his fork into a piece of fruit. "The five nations are not under attack from dragons Lukan. People will scream in terror of me and assume that I'm behind this attack. Yes, why wouldn't they? I come out of the south, assume the throne of a nation, corrupt the minds of the heirs of two other nations and the possible king of the last, all the while the south falls in the hands of my minions. If I were a man half as smart as myself that's exactly what I'd think and nobody would be able to prove me wrong.

Besides, aside from rogue cases, dragons have either been neutral or beneficial in their dealings with man-kind. We all know the tales of the virgin eating, treasure stealing beasts but didn't they suffer from a kind of insanity Alasdair?"

"No insanity. Just poor personality. Just as any man can become a criminal so can any dragon. We are just like you in our habits, our thoughts, the only problem we have is boredom and detachment, both of which come with great age. When you've seen a thousand years, you lose touch with those who will only see a single hundred at very best." The bubble around them suddenly shimmered, popping. "Ah, it seems we must guard our words better now."

There was silence at the table for a moment before Tessa reached out, placing her hand on Lukan's. "You'll make the right choice Lukan. It's what you were born to do. And when you take up that spear and lead your people, we will be your allies, always at your back."

It was a touching thing to say. She seemed so sure of him. But Lukan was not sure of himself. Lord Blackpeak really was a capable man, even if most of his experience had come at the expense, and lives, of his own clan. The Storm Clans were shattered, broken, a few scattered remnants still trickling in from the far holdings. Given time they could rebuild. They could be the power they'd been before. But only if he accepted the spear and became king. If Blackpeak became king...there would be no more feud. He'd simply eradicate the remaining Storm Clan members. Lukan would have to flee, spend his life in exile, at least he had that option.

To never fly the familiar skies with Beak. To never hunt wild griffons and crimson drakes again. To never visit his mother's grave and the home of his youth. All that would be given up. His whole life to this point would have been as not. But the people deserved the very best and Lukan just wasn't sure he was it. Tonight though, he'd have to decide.

What will Lukan choose. Does he give up everything to a man he doesn't know or does he take up the spear and do the best he can? Only you know.

And there you are everybody, I hope you enjoyed!
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Joined: 25 Oct 2012
Posts: 503
Location: Penna, having a hot cup of tea

Posted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 4:25 pm    Post subject:  

Another great chapter, Kalanna - full of turmoil, thickening plot, and fantastic writing (as always ;) )

There was one thing that bothered me...

Kalanna Rai wrote: It brought with it a peace, the blinding beam illuminating HighKeep Keep before slowly sliding in a cascade of liquid gold through the streets until every shadow in the city was banished.

I know it is a Keep, and that the name of it is HighKeep, so, really, it makes sense to phrase it like that, but the double "Keep" it just bugs me. XD Feel free to leave it, of course - the redundancy might be all in my mind, haha.

Lukan should take the spear and become the new king. He is worrying overmuch about the qualities he thinks he does not possess. Certainly he has not been in many battles, but his prowess is growing, and will continue to as long as the demon hordes keep attacking (and its not like that will stop anytime soon). If we are to believe Tessa, he is loved by the people. They do not seem worried that he is too young or too inexperienced, they are more focused on the comfort that he brings them in such stressful times by simply being there and trying. Plus in all areas he lacks in (or thinks he does), he has people to teach him - Tessa, Kevram, and even Alasdair, if Lukan can find it in himself to look past the dragon's "transgressions."

Really enjoying this story - keep it up! :D
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Joined: 10 Jan 2012
Posts: 7

Posted: Mon Jan 28, 2013 1:22 am    Post subject:  

Hi Kalanna,

I really enjoyed this chapter.
Lukan's taking the spear is the natural choice, but I'm expecting that the Peak Clans will try to form an alliance with the enemy and try to break away from the kingdom.
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Kalanna Rai

Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Sun Feb 10, 2013 11:28 pm    Post subject:  

Last call for suggestions.
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Joined: 10 Oct 2010
Posts: 1858
Location: Surrounded by many beautiful naked men

Posted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 11:47 pm    Post subject: I Think. . . . . .  

Moi Bien! Very very good, I loved it! It felt really real, and the character interplay was moving.

I must agree, he takes up the spear, but I think he should follow it imediatly with a hard conversation with all the other clans. Perhaps use his cousins to do some intimidating. I can so see these guys becoming something like "The Four Points of Power" in this land, and a stern reminder of that would do our young lad some hefty favor in keeping his position after taking it.

So, there ya go! Keep up the good work!
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Kalanna Rai

Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 11:57 pm    Post subject:  

Here it is, Leyond's final poll. But don't forget to come back and see how it ends after your votes are cast.
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