Regional Commander Liuden DeVaan took of his overcoat and slung it over the back of his old wooden chair. For someone used to the freezing temperatures of Gaianaus inside the castle of Issia it was uncomfortably warm and humid. This was due to the Gaianaus capitol being built on top of natural hot springs and in designing the castle the builders had cleverly designed it so as to move the warm air through the walls and floors. But even during Winter the hot springs were not enough to fight back the cold and virtually every room had a large hearth.
Thankfully, in Liuden’s mind, it was not Winter. He liked the cold weather, the chilled wind, the cloud of steam that wafted from his mouth with each breath, and even though he was born in Sesserrech this land always seemed home to him. But the Winer’s in the north went far beyond those kinds of small enjoyments. The word freezing was a serious understatement.
As he took a sip from his silver and enameled drinking horn he looked around the room and to the many occupants therein. All the lords of Gaianaus were here at the castle of Issia seated around a massive round wooden table.
It was said that this table had been cut from a single pale pine over three thousand years ago, and that the many chairs were also carved from the same tree.
Liuden ran a hand over the top of the table, feeling its age as he brushed over dozens of chips and divots. The dark grey wood was stained in many places from spilt ale, food, and even blood.
This was where the lords of the northern realm made decisions and resolved debates. Naturally, during these agreements fights broke out and leaderships were challenged, and indeed, it was not considered a good decision unless there was a brawl or two.
Liuden had never sat in this room before now and his nervousness was brimming over and causing his foot to tap incessantly. Discussions about their next move against Sesserrech should have started already but one of the lords was late, and of course the Baron of Issia’s seat, the ruling Baron, to Liuden’s right would remain empty.
“Where is Lord Felldinghr?” Liuden asked as he lent towards the man who sat to the right of Baron Ellengar’s empty seat, “Roht? Any word?”
Baron Ellengar’s younger brother dismissed Liuden’s concerns with a smile.
“He will come.” Roht replied confidently.
Liuden nodded uneasily and took another sip of his warm ale. A pretty serving wench came to him then and offered to refill his cup, but Liuden politely declined.
“I have had enough of this.” One of the Lords bellowed. “Where is Felldinghr of The Dale?”
“He will be here.” Roht called back. “Be patient.”
“Our patience has run out Little Ellengar,” the Lord yelled back. “If he is not here soon Lord Nindorn will be too drunk to comprehend what is going on.”
A chorus of laughter erupted around the wide table.
“And you will be off with one of the serving girls to sire another bastard.” Nindorn laughed back. “How many do you have now? Ten?”
More laughter echoed around the great hall, but Liuden did not join in.
“Learn to lighten up, Regional Commander,” remarked the elderly Lord Lothbrok, and slapped Liuden on the shoulder. “You will live longer if you do.”
Liuden strained a smile and nodded in reply.
Just then the large main doors burst inwards and in strode Lord Felldinghr. Half the man’s face was in a blood stained bandage and his left arm was in a sling, but a wide grin was on the burly man’s face and with his good arm he tossed a large head onto the table.
“Alpha Grinlocks. Would you believe it?” Feldinghr roared. “The fiends are getting more bold coming down from the north. A herd of ‘em attacked us just after Iceguard. Perhaps you should look into it Barrgarah?”
“Be sure that I will.” Lord Barrgarah replied seriously. “Looks like you have already taken care of it though.”
“Aye we killed a few of ‘em,” Feldinghr replied, “I killed me the biggest of the lot too.” The Lord pointed to the hairy white, decapitated, head. "Over ten foot this one was.”
“A toast to Felldinghr.” Lord Nindorn called out and raised his cup high.
Cheers rose up around the table and all the lords downed their drinks.
“Yes well done.” Called out another Lord, “Now shall we get to why we are all here. Our armies sit patiently on the boarders of Sesserrech. But what are we gaining from that? Baron Ellengar is dead. Murdered in the streets of Port Na’brath. I say it is an easy choice to make. Destroy these Sesserrechien dogs with fire. Show them the fury of the north.”
“We don’t know they were the cause,” Roht Ellengar spoke up. “Investigations are currently underway to learn who was behind the assassination.”
“With a Sesserrechien fronting it.” Roared another Baron, “They will go to all lengths to show they were not the ones behind it.”
“Vhindr Varrintine is well known for his skills and ability to investigate impartially and objectively,” Lord Lothbrok replied. “If anyone has the ability to learn the truth it is him.”
“You forget his father is the Ruling Lord of The Port?” said another Lord. “He is a biased party. We cannot trust his findings.”
“But we can trust our agent’s findings.” Lord Barrgarah said loudly.
“What?” several lords wondered aloud.
“What agent?” Roht asked seriously.
“An investigator I sent upon hearing word of Ellengar’s murder.” Barrgarah replied calmly.
“Without the majority agreement from all of us?” Lothbrok asked irritably. “There are traditions for a reason. Without the Baron of Issia it falls to a majority vote of all the lords-”
“I know well our traditions.” Barrgarah cut in angrily. “But a decision had to be made, so I made it. If I had waited for this gathering the Varrintine boy would have had ample time to falsify the evidence. This way we will get the truth.”
“Who did you send?” Roht asked seriously, “Not some city guard Captain I hope.”
“I am no fool.” Barrgarah growled, “Rhalin Ragnarr was the one I sent. Thankfully she was with our armies on the borders and it did not take her long to get to The Port.”
“You what?” Felldinghr balked in disbelief.
“That was a mistake my Lord.” Roht shook his head.
“Was it?” Barrgarah replied confidently. “She has more cause to see the culprit brought to justice than either you or I, Roht. She will not fail.”
“You old fool.” One of the younger lords replied with disgust.
“Say that again boy and you won’t live to see your thirtieth year on M’Aierth.” Barrgarah said through clenched teeth.
“Calm yourself Barrgarah,” Another Lord was quick to try and subdue the volatile man. “The boy meant nothing by it. Just tryin’ to impose himself on the discussions is all.”
“And we have more pressing issues to discuss,” said another of the man seated around the table. “The Sesserrechiens have given us Midway for payment of former Ruling Lord Cardonian’s debt, so I say we push further into their lands. I say we camp in front of the walls of Port Na’brath itself.”
Many calls of agreement sounded around the room followed by as many disagreements.
“We cannot act rashly.” Roht said above the clamor and stood up. “Only recently have the realms recuperated from near annihilation. The veil between our world and the Abyss was torn asunder releasing many fiends into our lands. Dragons and other creatures we believed to be naught but fables live in the mountains. Our magicks have all but vanished with the Fog. Now is not the time to charge blindly off to war.”
Roht’s stern gaze moved around to every member of the table, drawing many nods of agreement from the other lords.
“You have a way with words Little Ellengar,” Barrgarah replied. “No doubt you are eager to take your brothers position as Baron of Issia. But as you are not yet your voice is of little weight here. Am I right Lothbrok?”
The oldest Lord beside Liuden nodded slowly. “But wise words none the less.” He remarked seriously.
“But besides,” Barrgarah talked over the top of Lothbrok, “You are missing the real issue here, Roht. Sure, Felldinghr was attacked by Alpha Grinlocks on the Longroad, something that has not happened in a long time, but the Barron of Issia is dead. Killed in the capitol of Sesserrech. I don’t need no investigations to tell me who the culprits are, but despite that I shall wait. But I will not be idle. I say we fortify Midway and move to adjust our borders directly west to the Scarred Mountains.”
A call of approval erupted from many of the lords, especially the younger ones eager to see glory and make a name for themselves.
“That would be foolish.” Liuden said, but none heard him.
“You need to speak up lad.” Lord Lothbrok remarked as he lent over to him. “Courage and confidence are the only things that matter here.”
Liuden nodded and ran a hand through his sandy blonde hair as he took a deep breath.
“Such an act would be foolish.” Liuden said loudly as he stood up.
Silence filled the room and all turned a surprised look towards Liuden, who suddenly felt awkward.
“Your words have no weight here either, boy.” Barrgarah was quick to say before Liuden could compose himself.
“Quite the contrary Baron.” Lothbrok replied, “He is Regional Commander of Gaianaus.”
“And born in Sesserrech.” Barrgarah roared. “He would betray us to his homeland.”
“Gaianaus is my home.” Liuden snapped, surprising himself and the others. “I would die for this land.”
“Be that as it may,” Barrgarah replied more calmly, “The High Commission has lost its usefulness.”
“We advise from an objective point of view and try to keep peace between the regions,” Liuden was quick to say.
“Advise?” Barrgarah snorted, “You’re but a child, what advice could you possibly offer. Sit down.”
“We will hear what he has to say Barrgarah,” Roht said seriously. “He would give better advice than that Nevārancien warrior in your court, what is her name? Bea’trix?”
“Well put Roht,” Felldinghr laughed, “Speak up Regional Commander.”
Liuden glanced nervously to Barrgarah before he cleared his throat.
“Fortifying Midway, as Lord Barrgarah suggested, is a fine idea and one I support,” Liuden began cautiously, “But if we start taking land that has not been given, it would be an act of war. Lord Varrintine would be forced to retaliate and then all chances of discovering who was behind the assassination of Baron Ellengar would vanish. I suggest we wait until the investigations have concluded before we make such decisions. And from what I have heard of Vhindr Varrintine and Rhalin Ragnarr, it will not take long.”
Liuden finished and was delighted to see many nods of approval from the Barons. As he proudly sat back down Lord Barrgarah stood up slowly.
The large man’s black hair was tied back in a braid and his thick beard in a single plat down his broad chest. Barrgarah was one of the older Lord’s and his hair had more grey showing at the temples. The man’s fierce blue eyes moved to each of the table’s occupants, lingering on Liuden before coming to rest on Roht. Suddenly Barrgarah’s muscled arm shot up and he slammed an ornate hand axe into the table.
Instantly a murmur filtered through the lords and Luiden’s eyes remained on the gem encrusted and beautifully crafted axe embedded in the wood of the old pine table.
“You cannot challenge the Baron of Issia’s leadership if there is not yet a Baron appointed,” Lothbrok remarked above the whispers.
“Yes I can.” Barrgarah replied seriously, his eyes still upon Roht, “If such a challenge is made the son or brother of the late Baron of Issia is promoted to the position to answer the challenge. As Baron Ellengar had not children it falls to you, Roht, to answer this challenge.”
A hushed silence filled the room and all eyes turned to Roht Ellengar.
“Is what Barrgarah says true?” Liuden asked Lothbrok quietly and the old man nodded.
Liuden looked back to Roht who slowly stood up, his hand on the hilt of his own ornate axe.
Compared to Barrgarah, Roht was a much smaller build, with neatly trimmed black hair and beard. Although he was a decade younger than Barrgarah, Liuden wondered if Roht would stand a chance of winning in combat against the fierce Lord of Iceguard.
Before Roht had a chance to respond another lord jumped to his feet and slammed his own ceremonial axe in the old wood.
“Sure you wanting to do be doing that Loka?” Barrgarah asked the other Lord threateningly.
“Traditions allow any to challenge at any one time.” Lord Loka replied evenly. “You aren’t the only one who’s been eyeing the Baron’s seat.”
“As you wish Lord Loka of Engle Keep.” Barragrah nodded, and using his chair as a step he got onto the wide table. “May you enjoy your afterlife.”
Loka mimicked Barrgarah’s movements and they began to circle each other around the table. The seated lords started to thump the table with their mugs as they watched excitedly. Liuden could feel the tension in the air as the two burly lords continued to eye the other dangerously and slowly pace around the edge of the thick table.
“I’ll pay you double on Loka.” Lothbrok whispered to Liuden. “Care to place a bet?”
“No,” stammered Liuden in surprise.
“Probably a good choice,” the old Lord chuckled. “Barrgarah will kill Loka easily.”
Liuden shook his head in bewilderment and turned his gaze back to the two lords.
“Victory will be mine.” Loka roared and charged in at Barrgarah.
The older Lord stood his ground and blocked Loka’s attacks skillfully before retaliating with his own heavy punches. Loka collected one of the jabs in the gut as he hit Barrgarah square in the mouth, splitting his lip and causing the Lord to curse.
But the Lord of Iceguard did not begin to attack Loka blindly with rage, instead the older man moved in slowly and calculatedly.
“Are there rules to this brawl?” Liuden asked the old lord beside him.
“Rules?” Lothbrok chuckled, “To win is the only rule.”
“Can’t Roht join in too?” Liuden asked curiously.
“He has the right to,” the white haired man replied, “One time it was reported that there were as many as five lords battling it out on this table to hear a challenge of leadership. Roht might be playing it smart, waiting for the other two to tire themselves out, or he might not even answer the challenge. We shall have to wait and see.”
Liuden nodded and turned his attention back to the fight. No, it was not a fight, Liuden realised, it was a typical barroom punch up.
The two lords were trading blow for blow now. Loka would smack Barrgarah in the ribs only to receive an elbow to the nose. There was no finesse to this fight, no kicks or fancy footwork. It was just punch after punch in a battle of attrition and strength.
Loka had Barrgarah in a form of head-lock now. His hands were cupped behind the man’s head as he tried to knee the Lord of Iceguard in the face. But Barrgarah managed to match the younger lord for strength and broke the lock. Barragarah pushed up and swung wildly with a powerful upper cut. Luck was with the man and he connected under Loka’s chin, sending the younger lord stumbling back in a daze.
Barrgarah was quick to seize his chance and grabbed Loka by the collar with one hand as his other balled into a fist and slammed the young lord in the cheek. Barrgarah was quick to wrap his arm around the unconscious man’s throat and with a quick jerk snapped Loka’s neck.
Liuden winced and looked away in shock and repulsion.
“Challenges are to the death lad,” Lothbrok remarked as he noticed Liuden’s horror.
Barrgarah’s loud roar of triumph pulled Liuden back to the scene and the Lord of Iceguard spread his arms out wide, breathing heavily the man turned his manic stare on Roht, who was still standing and watching impassively.
Roht let out a deep breath and his hand fell away from his axe and with that the man turned from the table and headed for the door. A cheer rose up from the other lords and many raised a toast to the new Baron of Issia.
“Break out the casks.” Baron Barrgarah roared cheerfully. “Let us feast to celebrate the dawn of a new Age for Gaianaus.”
The elated cries escalated and all the lords rose from their chairs and left the chamber, heading for the main hall where a grand feast would be held for the crowning of a new Baron.
“That was the first time a new Baron has been appointed without bloodshed in over a thousand years.” Lord Lothbrok remarked to Liuden as he got up from his chair.
“It might be the last as well if there is war with Sesserrech.” Replied Liuden darkly as he too stood and gathered his coat.
“The feast will continue for ten days,” Lothbrok stated with smile, “Enjoy yourself for a change, by the end Barrgarah might not feel like going to war.”
Liuden strained a smile as he slowly followed the lord from the room.
“If only I could believe that.” Liuden said quietly to himself.