Chapter Three: Dead or Alive

{Excerpt}

In the year 209 P.S. King of Ivonne, Stefans Zoroaster led an army southward over the Abchester mountains to conquer Verum.

The Ivonnian invasion of Verum marked the beginning of a new phase of Udorian politics, during which the twelve kings of Udoris fought and invaded each other, with the lost tribes as their reluctant pawns, in a delusional bid to unify Udoris under one crown.

For the next 40 years, the dream of conquest was pursued by every Udorian king, once believing that the road to supremacy was open and paved with easy victories.

Rulers of that era lived by strict codes of chivalry and adopted new techniques of diplomacy and warfare to satisfy their lust for glory and dynastic power.

With the ability to command vast quantities of men and resources, they became the true masters of their domains and break free of the shackles imposed on them by the Faith of the Six. The war grew bloodier with time ending the lives of thousands and caused Udoris to dip into several years of debilitation.

But this did not go without benefit. The war also led to many new changes in Udoris political and military structure.

The Udorian states adopted means of diplomacy free of the church’s intervention, first evolved by the Algrians as well as the Tequilan practice of using resident ambassadors who combined with the gathering of intelligence by fair means or foul to gain the advantage over their enemies.

In the art of war, the Verumittes were innovators in the use of mercenary troops, siege artillery, naval blockades and bastioned fortifications. They were already the best in Udoris by the end of the war, rivalled only by the Ariens in the southeast.

The Ariens developed the Immortals, a sometimes suicidal elite infantry unit that combined the most effective military tactics and weaponry of all other Udorian states with their undying loyalty.

Thus, old and new ways were fused in a bloody crucible known to many as the Great war or Great calamity forming the world as we know it today.

In the near destruction of the autonomy of Udorian politics due to the war, the invasions ended the previous state system and the church’s absolute monarchy, giving rise to the present system that now shapes our views today.

By the end of the war, the Udorian states had reduced in number from twelve to seven seeing the demise and annexation of the kingdoms Crotha, Lunao, Syrii, Hogan and Witeron thereby concluding the great conflict. 


Excerpt from the remnants of Ahoth Dan’s notes regarding the Great war.

{END}

Algrim.

Souville Province, Redwater county.

13.13.223 S.T.

An inn,

Levi sat at an open window glancing down at the common folk going about their daily life below, a dull ambience permeating the atmosphere.

The door behind him opened. Lancelot walked in.

“How did it go?” Levi asked without turning around.

“Better than expected, my Lord,” The viscount replied as he stood beside him. “Apparently, you are still holed up with your knights in the Keep, too scared to come out and face them. The Hera’s hopefully will still be in the dark about our timely departure for a while longer.”

Levi nodded, “and the rest of our men?”

The older man sighed before replying.

“Sir Carter is struggling to get the remaining men out without alerting the wrong people. He mentioned in his latest message having to detain a few of our people who could not be guaranteed to keep the operation under wraps. But, hopefully, he and the men should arrive tonight, all things being equal.

“Also, the rest of the Hera’s knights should arrive at the Keep from their various domains by tomorrow and they will have a celebratory feast that evening before they set off for ‘conquest’. They intend to leave for Greenfields the day after that.”

“A celebratory feast?” 

“Yes, my lord. It appears conquering Greenfields seems to be an already foregone conclusion,” Lancelot said. “Not that I blame them for assuming such.”

“Are you sure about this, my lord?” He asked. 

“If this fails they will pick us off like crippled pheasants in an open field.”

Levi responded with a mild shrug. 

“Either we fight and possibly die trying, or run like wild beasts in the faint hope that we make it out alive with the Heras hot on our heels. There is not much of a choice in that, I am just doing what I feel most comfortable with. 

“I am no fool, there will always be circumstances when fleeing would be a much wiser option. Sadly, this is not one.”

Turning to glance at Lancelot, he continued. 

“I once read in a book somewhere, the key to prolonging a peaceful reign is to either have a deterrent. One ruthless enough to frighten your adversaries into submission” —the reincarnator turned his gaze to the imposing Keep in the distance, expressionless— “or to possess the ability to put down the enemy at first notice,

“True peace is only achieved with magnanimity in one hand and the promise of swiftly delivered pain in the other.

“Do you understand now, Lancelot?”

{COS}

Algrim,

Alvia Province, Greystones.

The ruins of the royal castle.

In a dark cell, ominously lit by torches, in a dungeon snuggled underneath the royal Algrian castle sat a blonde-haired man of average height, and regal attire. He was fairly handsome but lacking sorely in noble charisma.

Over his attire, he wore a gambeson. Embroidered on its left side, right above his heart, was a crowned red-scaled dragon, proof of his esteemed status as a member of the Hertalean royalty.

The prince sat with his eyes closed as if in mild slumber, an aura of boredom and frustration wafting off his persona. A faint whipping sound and suppressed grunts of pain rebounded in the otherwise silent room.

Everhard opened his eyes to glance at the deposed king kneeling in front of him, his blue eyes held a hint of ruthless cruelty and rabid paranoia. The young sovereign stared back blankly as a guard whipped his bareback with a leather horsewhip. After a moment of thought, he raised his hand to the guard to stop.

“Where is she?” The regal youth asked dully, his voice conveying little emotion as he stared into Leonard’s empty gaze.

The king remained silent. He stared blankly even as the guard stood threateningly behind him, only the sound of his laboured breathing leaking forth from his bloody lips.

“Where is she?” The Hertalean prince asked again, yet again receiving only silence and a blank stare in return.

Prince Everhard waited for a few moments before sighing as he shut his eyes, his tone heavily laden with frustration.

“Reports claim to have seen disbanded groups of your remaining retainers travelling south, southwest. If I did not know better, I almost assumed your men had deserted you.” 

Silence.

“Your silence is foolish, Leonard. I know Iris is with one of them heading for one of your remaining vassals. Or, to one of the harbours along the coast, in the hopes of leaving the kingdom?”

The king’s expression subtly flinched. In such an imperceptible manner that one would have missed the slipup if they weren’t attentive enough. 

The prince noticed. A hint of a sneer forming at the corner of his lips, “I am not wrong?”

Silence.

The prince sighed, his expression turning stony. 

“Still not forthcoming?”

Silence.

“I guess we are doing this the hard way then…” 

Silence.

“Continue,” the prince said, shutting his eyes as he leaned back into his seat.

“Yes, your highness.” The guard replied as he raised his whip at the king.

“Iris,” Everhard muttered under his breath, the sound of whipping and pained grunts resumed echoing in the cell

“Where in the world do you think you can hide from me now…”

{COS}

Windy Fir woodlands

Alvia Province, Algrim.

Amongst the yellowing trees, decked in aristocratic garments faded due to one too many washed, a stout middle-aged man walked with a cold glint in his gaze. His considerably bulbous head and tiny squinted eyes projecting a feeling of ruthlessness and cold calculation.

By his side, a tall, muscular man followed just slightly behind. Dressed in clean faded tunics and gambeson, his calm but condescending gaze made him appear to be one of the most dangerous kinds of miscreants that exist in the world.

An educated one.

“Have you found out who killed him yet?” Reamus asked, his voice conveying little emotion. Although his eyes reflected an insatiable urge for violence, he held his composure, as a leader should in front of a subordinate.

“No, my lord, we have lost track of the murders. Someone in the group appears to have some experience in dealing with trackers.” The bandit replied in a gentlemanly and well-toned voice.

“But we did retrieve sir Vlad’s body. As per your command, sire.”

Silence.

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“Did I ever mention I was once a Baron?” the bandit lord asked, arms folded behind his back. 

Outhor, of course, did not answer. He knew this story and he knew his liege was just being rhetorical. A tick he usually exhibits only when he is either melancholic, irritated or angry. All of which he happened to be at the moment.

“I was ambitious,” he said, “but that proved to be my undoing. I lost everything, my wealth, my title, my family, all due to my foolishness. Only my nephew, Vlad, and I escaped when the dark Gryphon came forth to collect the dues of my folly. The poor boy’s father, my brother, sacrificing himself in so that we may survive.”

The bandit lord’s expression remained level even as he said these words. He walked on towards a clearing at the end of the path. Outhor following silently behind.

“Years later, here I am. The leader and founder of the forest wolves, the largest and most dangerous bandit group in Algrim. A menace terrorizing travelling merchants and townsfolk throughout this kingdom’s roads. It might not be the most glamorous title in the world, but in these forests, I am King. An undisputed sovereign. 

“And yet, in the heart of my domain. In my backyard, someone managed to murder my favourite nephew, my last remaining family, escape and remain at large despite all my efforts?”

There, at the clearing, lay six corpses wrapped up in coarse cloth. Five laid in a neat pile and the sixth place aside. Almost reverentially.

Silently, Reamus walked to the sixth corpse. As he pulled away the cloth wrappings sealing it, a putrid smell permeated the air, the sound of large flies taking flight could be heard.

But as if oblivious to the smell, Reamus looked into the corpses eyes, terror frozen in its gaze, as his fingers ran across the cheek of the corpse’s decapitated head. Its bluish skin collapsing underneath the bandit lord’s pudgy digits. If one looked closely enough, a faint resemblance could be seen between the two.

Gazing at the pair of unfocused eyes and overridden with guilt Reamus’ teared up for a moment before he blinked, his frigid stare returning.

‘Rest well, my son,’ he muttered, wrapping the body back in its cloth.

The stout man straightened himself, his hands clasped behind his back as he stared out into the forest.

“Find them. Find the bastards that did this to my boy. And bring them to me…”

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“Dead…”

“Or alive.”


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