The Royal Palace…
Riverville the Capital,
At the balcony of the royal palace, three figures could be seen peering down at the scenery laid out before them.
The first was a tall man who appeared to be in his late fifties. Despite his age, he still had a well-toned body and very alert eyes.
The other was a beautiful young woman with brown hair. While she appeared to be eighteen to nineteen years of age and wore a regal, close-fitting dress.
The third was a young man that looked to be in his mid-twenties. He possessed quite a great physique and handsome features, but his permanent scowl left a lot to be desired.
“Father, did we really have to send an army to aid Hertalese?” The scowling youth asked the older man in an annoyed tone. “If they can not deal with even just pirates without our help, how do they intend to be of any use to us then on the long run?”
The shrewd king glanced at his son momentarily before looking away. He sighed disappointedly.
“Brandon, I always mentioned that you tend to fail to see the bigger picture? Do you think I am just wasting my resources, out of what? Goodwill?” The king of Verum asked in a cold, even tone.
“No, Father. I am sorry,” Brandon replied, lowering his head slightly in embarrassment.
“You might be my heir in the future, that is the only reason I continue to tolerate this from you. Do not make me reconsider my choices.”
“Y-yes, Father.” Brandon stammered as he lowered his gaze.
The king turned from his son and cast a deep gaze towards the horizon before speaking without turning back.
“Aside from well-endowed Aries, we are the most economically capable of the seven kingdoms. Hence, by a rule of thumb, we can field the second-largest army in the entirety of Udoris. Now, what do you think would happen if we suddenly annexed another kingdom using this might?”
The young man listened quietly without answering. Neither was the king expecting a response.
“Udoris’ political balance is a very fragile one and all the other kings know. This is why they would never allow any other, friend or foe, to succeed in growing too strong. And now, I broke that rule.
The king’s gaze gained a hint of ambition.
“I gave the weakest kingdom the capability to control another. And although it took two tries despite Algrim’s unlaying disunity, I succeeded in the end.
“Now, if you ask what my gain is, I want you to also remember I can withdraw that granted control with a single order. Our second fleet at Cinden Island would easily seal off Ignis bay if Hertalese ever becomes uncooperative.
“Without Ignis bay, Tuhkus cannot control Algrim. If he cannot control Algrim, the vassals recover the lost capital, possibly crown a new king and behest Hertalese with renewed unity against an external foe. All while possessing indisputable justification for their actions.
“I know this. Tuhkus knows this. Every person of importance in Udoris knows this. This is why they are all scared. Why all the other kingdoms must try to blunt a tool like Hertalese and why we must protect it as fiercely as we can.
“And unless the rest of the kingdoms resort to all-out war, there is very little they can do to completely salvage the situation.
“And they obviously would not,” The king said with scorn, “none of them wants to see a repeat of the Great calamity. Prolonged peace has dulled their fangs.
“Do you understand now, Brandon? Why we must protect Hertalese, at least until the day it is no longer useful.”
“They can still impede us though,” the king chuckled.
“It would be impossible to fully subjugate the entirety of Algrim before the next phase, but that was never the plan. All I needed was a beachhead and I have that, so let us all enjoy the stalemate while it lasts.”
“Yes, Royal father?” The young woman who had been standing quietly in the corner replied in an even tone. Her words lacked emotions of any kind within them.
“What do you think of Tukhus’s son, that Everhard boy?” Lendar Scymaester asked.
Hearing the question the young lady thought for a moment before replying.
“Obsessive, naive and short-sighted.” She said plainly without showing any expression.
“Yes. He is naive, but that only makes him a slightly more useful tool.” The king said with a mild chuckle, as he left the siblings to their own devices.
With the king gone, realizing she had nothing left to do there Alina decided to leave, but just as she turned around a shadow appeared in front of her.
“You think you are so smart, eh? You sure love running your filthy mouth all over the place you stupid woman.” Brandon blocked her, sneering.
Hearing his words she kept quiet, but her eyes flashed scorn.
Noticing this, the young prince got even more irritated.
“I don’t like those eyes of yours.” He scowled grabbing her jaw.
“Just you wait, when that old prick dies and I become king I will rent you out to one of those mountain tribe chiefs to be trained on how to be a proper woman by their most brutish men. After that, I would send you off to the palace brothel to spend the rest of your miserable life entertaining our royal guests.”
“Let go of me,” Alina muttered in a soft voice, yanking his hand off her lower jaw.
Brandon chuckled at her defiance. Glancing at her in disgust before spitting sputum at the floor in mock disgust.
“Women, tch! creatures as useless as they should know the only place in this world they are useful is under a man’s crotch.” He muttered walking away
Alina stood there silently watching her brother’s back fade off into the distance. Her eyes radiating a cold calculating light. She smiled, muttering to herself.
“Wretched, paltry animals.”
The night was eerily quiet with only the occasional whispers among the servants or the nervous neighing of horses in the dead of the night. A brewing scheme was underway.
Around midnight, in the campsite dimly lit by a waxing gibbous. Ten cloaked figures shrouded in the shadows crept towards Sean’s tent. They reeked of murderous intent.
One of the cloaked assailants stabbed through the tent, his spear piercing a body within like a hot knife through butter. A muffled scream rang out.
After holding for a few seconds, the attacker glanced back at the remaining assailants, nodding. Aggressively, he yanked out his spear and lifted the tent flap to pull out a writhing body.
But instead of Sean, they were met with the sight of a stabbed manservant, gagged and lying prone with blood leaking from his lower torso.
“What is this about!?”
One of the cloaked aggressors growled at the sight. He was visibly raging.
“I thought you said Sean was in his tent as usual. Why is there another person here instead?” he said turning to face another individual.
“I promise my sire, the young master is supposed to be in here. I don’t know why this happened, maybe he went out to relieve himself?” The fellow said stupidly.
“Then explain why there is a servant here instead!” The cloaked man growled, his face ashen as a thought crossed his mind.
“Blumun, this feel suspect. I do not think it would be wise to—”
Another middle-aged man began saying before he was interrupted by the dull sound as a heavy bolt piercing through the back of his neck.
He fell with a dull thud. Dead.
“Ralph!” Sire Blumun cried in shock.
The sound of another airborne bolt interrupted Blumun’s outburst. The landed knight quickly crouched upon hearing the pained scream of another knight.
From the darkness, several men lightly dressed in gambeson and breastplates came out surrounding the group.
Leading the new group was Sean with Drake in tow two steps behind.
“So you knew all along?” Blumun asked. he stood with a self-deprecating chuckle.
“Blumun,” Sean said in mock surprise as he glanced at the dead Ralph.
“And a deceased Ralph?” he asked cocking his head in surprise. “How unexpected! why did you not inform me before you visited, and at such a time as well? I could have at least prepared a proper reception for your honourable selves.”
“Cut the crap, you bastard! I should have expected at least this much from a sinister dog such as yourself.” Sire Blumun spat out in a tone full of venom.
“Hehehe… You like my surprise?” Sean giggled with a self-satisfied, gloating grin before turning to the dead servant.
“You killed my manservant? I can’t let you go scot-free for this now, can I?” Sean asked glancing at the young man’s body with apathetic eyes.
“Don’t worry! After your demise, your wife and daughters would make much better replacements than that little servant of mine.”
“BASTARD I WILL–” The Landed knight roared as he moved to strike Sean in a fit of rage. He was beheaded by a swing of Sean’s blade.
“Kill them all,” Sean uttered plainly. Watching apathetically, his knights overwhelmed and butchered the remaining men.
“Clean this place—“ Just as he was about to issue another order, Sean felt a piercing pain in his lower side. He was knocked off his feet to the ground with a bullock dagger piercing through the thin steel side of his breastplate. Blood trickled from the gash.
“Lord Sean!” A few knights roared, seeing as Sean was stabbed. They impulsively wanted to come to his aid, but they were stopped by some of the other knights.
Their own comrades stopped them. Confusion.
They stopped to look at the person who attacked the young master and realized it was the young lord’s closest confidant, Sir Drake.
The knights silently put aside their weapons and took a few steps back clearly indicating that they were not planning on intervening in the matter anymore. They stepped back, as per their opportunistic natures, to comprehend this new development.
Drake looked to the knights that rationally backed off, giving a subtle nod of approval. He turned back to stare coldly at the injured Sean slowly edging away from him.
The young lord backed away, clearly not expecting any aid from the knights. They were never truly loyal given how easily they betrayed Aden’s trust in them for profit. He expected nothing less, hence he was not fazed
He turned to face Drake, the only person he trusted in the group. Well, at least he knew now that even this was a mistake.
“Why?” he growled. “I promised to make you my right hand, why did you have to do this?”
Sean growled painfully whilst crawling away from his once trusted confidant. He gripped the dagger in his lower side in an attempt to stem the flow.
“Oh? You don’t know?” Drake asked in an even tone. “Do you remember Anna? From three years ago.”
“Anna… Who?” Sean asked, sounding genuinely confused.
Drake suddenly froze at Sean’s confusion before letting out a cold chuckle.
“Don’t tell me you don’t remember?” he chuckled coldly.”YOU BASTARD! I can’t believe you DARED to forget.”
“After ruining my beloved’s life. After forcefully tainting her with your vile seed. After pushing her to commit suicide when she found out she was carrying your wretched child? You dared to say that YOU FORGOT!
“You bastard! I will skin you ALIVE if you dare tell me that RUBBISH!”
“That Anna?” Sean muttered, realisation dawning on his face.
“How was I supposed to know she was your beloved at that time? She was only a merchants daughter whom I took interest in when first I met her. Arggh! And… And even after I found out she was betrothed to you didn’t I gift yo-you another woman? One to whom you are now betrothed?
“You never told me… told me that she was that important.” Sean gasped with a frown.
“You even dismissed the matter and helped me hide the matter from… from Aden.”
“Of course I hid it from lord Aden! How could I let my beloved be tainted with the shame of being used by a vile beast such as yourself, only to be disposed of later on? But never mind this for I have shamed my love for her by letting you live this long. I should have killed you long ago.
“But do not worry, I will correct that soon. In fact, I will kill you in the slowest way I possibly can to make up for all that I owe.” He said with a guttural growl.
“Really?” Sean sighed, shaking his head in disappointment.
“What? Do you want to plead for mercy?” Drake asked with a sadistic smile
“Oh, nothing. I was just… disappointed. All for a woman, right?” Sean sighed as he yanked out the blade, allowing it to fall to the floor. The man shakily stood up to unclasp his armour, blood flowing quickly down his leg.
“What are you doing?” Drake asked with a frown. He clearly was not afraid of Sean escaping their encirclement, especially not in his injured state. Just baffled.
Sean ignored him as his armour hit the forest floor with a dull thud.
“The next time… yo-you decide something like this,” he said as he reached into his clothing…
“Remember, don’t waste your time on foolish monologues, it feels… beyond stupid.”
He shut his eyes. From his padded shirt, he pulled out a porcelain vial before tossing hard on the floor.
“What are you—” Drake was interrupted by a bright flash of light and heat that flared out from the smashed vial. The light was utterly blinding in the dim, moonlit night.
“I can’t see!”
Different shouts of anger and alarm rang from the group of knights who surrounded Sean. All were suddenly blinded by the unexpectedly bright flash of light.
The powdery substance in the vial immediately ignited after being exposed to the air. In a sudden and violently bright flash of flames, it flared. Dying out almost immediately, but not without temporarily blinding everyone else in the vicinity.
A few seconds later Drake’s vision returned to him, albeit still very blurry. He realized Sean was nowhere to be found.
Turning around, he saw Sean a few dozen meters. The man was unsteadily mounting a horse.
Not willing to let the devious young man escape, he picked up an arbalest on the floor.
He aimed, but unfortunately, the heavy, armour-piercing crossbow was a tad unwieldy in his inexperienced hands.
He fired at the blurry image of a fleeing Sean but missed entirely by an arms-length.
Sean had already ridden out of his line of sight into the dark forest.”
“CHASE HIM YOU FOOLS!”
Drake roared in anger to the remaining knights as he hurriedly ran to mount a steed. He rode out of the camp with a few other quick-witted knights tailing behind.
They chased after the fleeing young lord into the dark gloomy forest.
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