chapter 73: dire decisions

Shortly after Ryard pleaded his case, he was dismissed from the court so that the Knights of the Round could discuss among themselves and reach a conclusion. “Well, then.” The Knight of Leadership looked around at the eleven other windows. “What say you all?”

The first to speak was the Knight of Strength. “We must strike back. These creatures bear none of Tryval’s grace, and have invaded our plains. They have killed our people with greater numbers. Who knows how many other herds they have killed without us finding out until now!”

The Knight of Tradition shook her head at that. “By the man’s own words, they were defending themselves. They did not provoke the attack, they merely responded to one. We can’t simply judge them by their appearance, as we did in the old times.” Her words caused the Knight of Strength to flinch back slightly. His grandfather had been one of the advocates for fighting and killing the ‘cursed’ when the herds were on the brink of war. The fact that he was even allowed on this council showed how much he had been trying to redeem the mistakes of his family.

“We must know more.” The Knight of Wisdom, a fairly young unicorn said. “Ryard’s journey was long, and this is the only report that we have heard of these creatures. Either they are hiding peacefully, and do not wish to disturb us, or he is the only survivor from their battles.”

Several of the others nodded their head, agreeing with that. The Knight of Wisdom was the only son of the first King’s aid, the one that originally held that position until he went to Tryval’s embrace. In the years he has held his position, his insight had again and again surprised them.

“It is decided, then.” The Knight of Leadership spoke. “We will assemble a team to investigate. Let the pegasus and those blessed by the wind hurry forth. This matter requires both speed and care, but we cannot afford to delay. Tryst, you will be in charge of forming this team.”

The one that had been addressed, the Knight of Fellowship, nodded his head. “Very well. I will get to the bottom of this. Whether these beings can live alongside us or seek death, we will soon see.”

The Knight of Leadership nodded his head in agreement to that. “If they wish to coexist, we shall strive to do so. But, if they have been spreading death across the plains, then let there be war. Are we in agreement?”

“Agreed!” Eleven voices echoed out, before the knights took their leave, walking down the ramps outside their stables to go down to the ground level. Tryst immediately assembled a team of ten, five pegasi and five centaurs blessed with wind ki. Wind ki was known as the fastest among the four known elements, and was the only one that would allow them to keep pace with the flying variants.

With the team assembled, they were given the promise scroll of death. In the event of their death, the promise of the scroll will be completed, and Tryst will know immediately that something went wrong. Due to the lingering friction between the wandering herds and the variants, he created two of these scrolls. One he gave to the leader of the pegasus troop, and the other he gave to the leader of the normal centaurs.

With the pegasi flying overhead, they quickly made their way in the direction that Ryard had come from. Asking for detailed directions was meaningless at this point, because Ryard confirmed that he had run in a near straight direction the entire way. And, they were not only looking for Ryard’s herd either, as they needed to check the entire area as well.

Although it had taken weeks for Ryard to make his way to King’s Hope, it only took the group of ten a single week to make their way back to where his herd had been killed. Along the way, they stopped and questioned every herd they passed if they had seen anything unusual. Most herds knew at a glance after looking at the organized party of variants and normal centaurs that these were the soldiers of King’s Hope, so they answered the questions as best as they could.

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What the group learned disturbed them. Roughly a day before they arrived at the location of Ryard’s herd, they began to hear reports from the herds that they passed. Several herds had found locations of battles, where spears had been stabbed into the ground in the midst of a field of gore. Atop each spike was a severed head, and on the forehead of each was a tiny bloody handprint.

By the time that they reached Ryard’s herd, or what was left, they had heard reports of three such encounters. Three different herds that had been attacked and mutilated by the tiny creatures. As such, they did not stop after finding the site where Ryard’s herd had been buried, but continued flying in that direction, towards the tall woods to the north.

This journey took several more days, as they kept hearing more and more about those gruesome scenes from almost every herd that they passed. As soon as they reached the tall woods, they immediately turned around and traveled back towards King’s Hope at their top speed. They needed to deliver this information, information that showed that the creatures had indeed been killing more and more herds.

They even knew the general location of the creature’s base, due to something that they had seen when they reached the tall woods. Along a row of trees, spanning an hour’s gallop, each was marked at the base with a red handprint. It looked like a warning, a sign left by those that hunted the herds to mark their territory.

When the Knights of the Round Stable heard these reports after the group returned to King’s Hope, their faces darkened. Even the normally calm Knight of Wisdom felt his anger rising. Looking around and seeing the faces of his companions, the Knight of Leadership spoke.

“This is not the result I was hoping for. But, since it has come to this, then let there be war. Let those with their objections speak, for this may be the last chance before more blood has been spilled.” His voice echoed out throughout the halls, causing the other eleven knights to look at him. The Knight of Leadership was the one who had the King’s ear, and was the one most suited to call for war or peace. It was only the traditions set down by the first generation of the Knights of the Round that required him to first ask for objections.

“Wait, Lordrin.” The Knight of Faith spoke in a rushed tone, worry on his face. “The little things are within the tall woods, outside of Tryval’s domain. None of our kind have ventured there, because doing so would mean leaving Tryval behind.” This had been a belief set down since the very first centaurs, to never leave the land governed by their god. And this belief caused the Knight of Leadership to hesitate, uncertain of his decision.

“Then… I ask of you to speak with Him. Pray, and seek permission to leave His lands. Else, the best we can do is to build another city near the tall woods, one where we can keep watch and limit the damage these creatures can bring to us.” Lordrin spoke, nodding to the Knight of Faith. If Lordrin himself had the King’s ear, than that man instead held Tryval’s ear. None other was more qualified to speak to Him, or on behalf of Him.

The Knight of Faith heavily nodded his head, closing his eyes and crossing his arms in front of his chest. Tryval, I seek your counsel. There is a plague lying beyond your lands, spreading death among the herds. To fight it, we must leave your plains. This has never before been done, and we seek your permission to journey beyond this land.

There was a long pause, during which the eleven knights were staring at the Knight of Faith. What he said next would ultimately determine the coming weeks. And, soon enough, Tryval’s voice entered the knight’s mind with an old, tired sigh. I have never forbidden my children from journeying beyond the plains. Wherever you go, I will be there. My only wish is that you carry my teachings in your heart. Never forget what Fellowship truly means.

After hearing Tryval’s voice, the knight spoke quietly. “I understand.” He then opened his eyes, an awkward expression on his face for a brief moment before he calmed himself. It was true that nobody had ever actually asked Him if they could leave the plains. It had always simply been assumed that this was Tryval’s realm, and that they were not meant to leave.

“What did He say?” The Knight of Leadership asked, looking directly at him.

“He said… He said that we have permission. Centaurs are not bound to the plains, and He will go with us wherever our hearts take us. He only asks that we never forget His teachings.” In truth, unknown to them, Tryval himself had a hard time deciding what to tell them. He could easily have asked that they keep to the plains, and none of them would question his decision.

However, in doing so, he would be forever confirming that they were not to travel beyond this one tiny corner of the planet. Taking that into consideration, he had no choice but to grant them permission to leave. The most he could do was ask that they keep to his teachings, to keep the idea of fellowship in their hearts. If they did, maybe they could find a way to end this war without the need for the gods themselves to act.

“Very well then.” Lordrin’s voice rang out once again. “Knights, gather your people. When everything is ready, we leave for the tall woods. With Him guiding us, we shall ensure the safety of our people. I must speak with the King about this matter to request his consent. Once I have it, I will notify you all so we can make preparations.” The other knights all nodded their heads, and once again dismissed themselves from the court. This was the dawn of war, and there were many things to take care of before the day was done.

After Hedra returned to the Rest, she delivered Shara’s message. Many halflings had chosen to stay behind at the Rest, pausing their journeys to hear the outcome of this situation, yet what they heard startled them. Halflings had willingly chosen to spill the first blood? If the fallen was another halfling, they would have written off the entire Bloodied Hand as kinslayers.

Yet, the rest of the message caused them to hesitate. From what Shara had said, they faced the herds time and again, doing their best not to fight. It was only when they had been backed into a corner, when they had truly believed that every herd had the same murderous mindset, that they struck first. And if what Hedra said was true, they had every reason to believe that to be the case.

Ultimately, it was Jatun that spoke about this matter, deciding the fate of the Bloodied Hand. “Although they have committed dire sins, I believe it was not without reason. I knew Shara for most of her life, and she would not have done such things lightly. For her, and for her fallen father, I cannot simply turn my back on them.”

There was a murmur among the crowd as he spoke, but he quickly continued. “However, I also cannot easily accept their decisions. If anyone wishes to join them, I will not stop you. Nor will I announce you or them as kinslayers without cause. I will make myself known, I will not support the Bloodied Hand any further.”

Jatun glanced around at the others, shaking his head. “If the creatures from the plains truly attack, truly seek to spill blood, I may reconsider. But I can not offer aid to those that calmly take first blood. With Savir gone, I will do my duty as Hunter of the Rest, but as things are right now I will not interfere with the Bloodied Hand, either to help or hinder.”

His words seemed to cool the minds of those gathered. There were some who detested the Bloodied Hand for what they did. Others, who arrived after Savir left, admired them for their actions. Those few left the Rest after Jatun declared his decision. They would join the Bloodied Hand, even if it meant being left behind by the other Rests. After all, like Shara had said, they were defending the people in this forest. This was not a cause to shun or hate them, but one that deserved praise.

Only allowed on

By the time that they arrived near the edge of the forest, they found several small buildings already erected. Normally, a single Rest was built by barely a dozen people over the course of months, but the Bloodied Hand had access to over two hundred. Even though this Rest was larger than normal, it was still well under way.

When Shara saw the people arriving, she couldn’t help but smile, realising that Hedra had indeed delivered the message as she was asked. She was surprised that more people came to join them, but she would not turn down the extra hands. As they came, they were put to work cutting down branches, creating small houses around the trees, or even just sent to gather food and water.

Looking at it from the outside, it hardly seemed as if they were preparing for war. Instead they looked like a happy family working together to build a new home.

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