We played out part of the beginning of this, but the GM ran out of voice. I’ve made up some of the details. Fragments, may be expanded later.
Being the king has its disadvantages. After having been feasted in a dozen villages it becomes a bit stale. Especially in the North –they tell me that as soon as you’ve cleared the mountains you’re in the North– where they’re of the Nameless more often than not, and they’re clearly torn between awe of the king and wariness of a grand master in the Guild of Anshen. The last-but-one village was really dismal, small and miserable in a damp bit of valley. But the next one after that, Cherinay, was larger and friendlier. There were five veterans of the war living there! They came to greet me, four men and a woman in quite well-kept uniform. One had an iron hook instead of his right hand and when he scratched his head with it I recognised him. “Aren’t you Ainei Arin?” I asked. “You were in my brother’s company, weren’t you? One of the men who carried him to the marble house.” He beamed, because I’d got it right. “I’ve got a herd of my own now,” he said, “spent my bonus on it, made good.” “Five of you veterans here,” I said, “and none at all in the next village over!” “Well, here is close to town, there” –and he pointed down the road where we’d come– “there’s nothing at all!”
Two of the veterans –not Arin, who had shearing to do– went with us to Lanyasinay, walking in front like a guard of honour. Not that there was anything like a welcoming committee in Lanyasinay! When we reached the gate there were rather a lot of people about, but most of them were watching two men trying to get a ram out of the moat, a big man on the bank pulling, and a slighter youngish man up to his waist in the water, pushing. His breeches were on land, but he was wearing a cloak and a cap with pheasant feathers. “Seems work for a horse to me,” I said, and promptly the veterans unhitched the big mare from the supply wagon and threw a rope to the man in the moat to tie round the ram’s forequarters. They got the ram out that way– and it butted the mare in the rump and then ran away, followed by about half the onlookers. “It’s our best tupper or he’d be on the table tonight!” the big man said with a grin and went after the ram as well. “It’s the king!” I heard someone whisper, and the young man climbed out and doffed his cap at me, holding it in the strategic spot. “Your Majesty! Fian astin Brun at your service.”
He got his breeches on and wiped his hands on them. I thought I knew Fian Brun, he’d taken me hunting when I was a boy, but this Fian was younger than I was, perhaps no older than twenty. “You’re the other Fian’s son, right?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “my father died.” “Lung sickness?” “No, marsh fever. We’ll dig ditches next, drain the whole swamp!” WIth those words we’d entered the town –a real town it was, with a wall and a gate and a large stone house inside the walls– and a young woman came running to embrace Fian, and whispered something in his ear that I couldn’t catch. “If things were different I’d marry you for that!” he said, and Raisse said in my mind, “I think they’re married already!”
That was indeed Fian’s wife Valyn, a girl from the town, expecting their first child on the Feast of Mizran or so. They took us into the stone house and made us very welcome. Valyn took Raisse and Senthi away through a door, and Fian showed me the stables where our grooms were working with his people, making our horses welcome. “Beautiful horses you’ve got,” I said. “Yes,” –and he glowed with pride– “we breed them here, got stock from Tal-Crun.” Then he showed me around in the house: the old part, square and solid with the great hall and the family rooms, a round tower built against it as old as the one in Tal-Nus; and the new wing his father had built, with a large kitchen and scullery and wash-house on the ground floor, and guest rooms and the library on the upper floor. Just as we passed the library a dozen neatly-dressed boys and girls came out, bobbed their heads to Fian and went downstairs. “The school?” I asked. “Yes,” Fian said, “I thought the library was the place for it, don’t you agree?” And of course I had to agree, though an old man of Fian’s household grumbled about “all of this new-fangled nonsense”, and said “It used to be a real town, you know.” Well, I thought it was real enough! And Raisse would definitely approve of the new-fangled nonsense. “Jeran served my father and my grandfather before him,” Fian said. “And Jeran the groom is his son. Good people around here.”
So now I’m in Lanyasinay, having sent Raisse ahead with most of the court– I have a dozen soldiers, and Moyri of the Order, and Yssa because I want this in the history books. Also, accounts might have to be settled. Fian has sixteen soldiers and there’s the town watch: about forty trained troops in all. We discussed taking anyone from the town and the surrounding villages who can hold a pitchfork or a flail or a mattock and has a score to settle, but Fian said –sensibly– that they’d be more useful defending the town, “if you were the bandits, wouldn’t you attack the town as soon as you could tell it was undefended?” Anyway, people with a score to settle tend to fight worse, or at least with less caution, and flails and mattocks are worse weapons than swords.
Nice pair we are, a Brun and a Velain with one eye between us. Not even a good eye at that, because of course the one we’ve still got is the worst of any of our eyes, my left. Venla says she’ll make me a leather eye-patch, my choice of fawn or kid, lined with red silk. I think I’ll have one of each. Poor Fian is worse off, a sword took out both of his eyes in one stroke. It’s a miracle that it didn’t kill him, but he saved himself by not trying to stay in the saddle. Stepped into a thorn bush that might have destroyed his family jewels, but by the same miracle he only got a bad gash in his groin that the apprentice doctors (apprentices? full-fledged field surgeons, I’d say) could stitch up. Jeran got him off the battlefield by brute force, just barging through with Fian in his arms.
Yes, of course Raisse will be furious. But think what might have happened if we hadn’t gone! It’s like pulling a festering tooth before it kills you by poisoning your whole body. She’ll say that I shouldn’t have gone myself but sent others, but I wanted to be visible, to let those knaves know how much they were transgressing. That part didn’t work out, because they advanced on our camp before, I think, they knew that we were anything other than Fian Brun and his guard. And if Moyri of the Order hadn’t called, loudly enough to wake anyone gifted and even some just short of gifted, like Fian, we’d all have been dead. (Moyri didn’t make it; it seems to go with that name to die before thirty. Let’s not call our next daughter that– though I suspect that Raisse might want to.)