MATHIAS OF HOLT IN THE EASTERN RANGE OF THE FORLORN MOUNTAINS
SUMMARY: King Aiden Skalgi tells Princess Arianna of the Dale and Mathias of Holt that Kell and Shoria have agreed to land soldiers on Asgarn to protect the Asgarn civilians.
DRAMATIZATION: Mathias raised his sword in desperation as the giant Asgarn warrior’s axe slashed down toward his face. Steel met steel, sparks danced and metal rasped on metal, but Mathias turned the blow away. The force of the impact knocked him to the ground.
The Asgarn closed in. Mathias tried to slash upward with his sword, but the whirling axe knocked the hilt from his hand and his blade spun away. The Asgarn stepped on his chest pinning his back to the earth. Mathias felt the cold steel of the axe blade against his throat.
“Little Holt. You’re dead again.” The Asgarn’s laugh was friendly enough, but it still rankled Mathias, who was not used to being knocked around. Among the Iron Cross nobles, he was considered a good swordsman, but this hulking brute of an Asgarn made him feel like a bumbling recruit.
Most of the commoners in the crowd who had been watching the fight joined the big Asgarn in his laughter, but most of the Guildsmen looked at him sympathetically. That annoyed him more. Though this was only a training match, he knew it was so much more important. He needed to make a good showing when he trained with these people. He was the son of a powerful Holt noble, and these Asgarns would judge his people by how well he fought.
“Let me up, Torkel.” Mathias said, perhaps more sharply then he should have.
The pressure on his chest did not release, and Mathias knew he’d made a mistake. These people came from a cold rocky island with inhospitable living conditions. While they loved to laugh and joke, beneath the surface they were always stone, cold, hard, and unyielding, just like their island home.
The giant man leaned forward, his weight crushing down through his boot. Mathias could not breath. “You might be able to give your princess orders from your back, but you don’t them give to me. Ask nicely, little man.”
Mathias swung a fist at Torkel’s face. It caught him in the chin, turning his face to the side. Torkel rubbed his filthy beard, smiling. “That was nice enough,” he said as he stepped away.
Mathias was on his feet in a blink. “Princess Arianna and I have always acted with honor.”
Torkel laughed good naturedly, “More’s the pity, lad.”
Mathias moved to retrieve his sword, angry and embarrassed. Macar, the cleric, picked his sword up. Mathias knew Macar fairly well. They’d played a few games of stones and gotten drunk together one night.
The cleric had spiritquested Aiden last spring after Arianna had driven a dagger through his heart. He surprised them all by having a heroic spirit. The Asgarns believed that one who can walk the world as a spirit is blessed by the gods. The Guildsmen here in the camp had been behind Aiden’s rise to power.
Aiden was willing to stand up to Gunther, and last spring, the Guildsmen supported him in order to weaken Gunther’s march on Guildhall. Of course, not all Asgarn Guildsmen had supported Aiden. Some believed in sea raiding enough to embrace the destruction of Guildhall as a means to an end, but most of those died with Gunther’s mad dream in the East Pass. Now from what he had seen, the Asgarn people were served by Guildsmen loyal to Guildhall and a King willing to consider peace.
Mathias reached for his sword, but the Cleric pulled it back out of his reach. “Best let it go lad,” Macar said. “You’ll never make one like that understand your ways of chivalry.” Mathias opened his mouth to object, but the old Cleric waved him quiet. “We Asgarns have our own ways. On Asgarn, when a man loves a woman, they do not wait. They act. Our lives are too hard, and sometimes too brief, to worry about silly rules.”
“I’m not going to discuss this with you,” Mathias told him. “Now, give me my sword.”
The old Cleric chuckled. “Talking with me will leave you with a lot less bruises.”
Mathias sighed. The moment had passed. Torkel was already walking away with a group of raiders. Mathias watched him go. He would never understand these people. They were so quick to fight, but also so quick to forget about the fight. He had watched two Asgarns beat each other bloody at their midday meal and then drink together around the fire that night, as if best friends again.
“Give him his sword old man,” Gretta said as she swaggered up to them. “He does not have time to get himself a beating anyway. King Aiden wants to see him right now.”
Gretta was a ranger about his own age, and she’d made it clear weeks ago that she was willing to break a few rules with him. They had been sparring and when he’d pinned her against the wall. She’d stolen a kiss, punched him in the gut, and then disarmed him. That was another day in the training yard that he’d made a poor showing for Holt. When she handed his sword back to him, she offered to meet him that night. Of course, he didn’t go and the next day, she’d acted like nothing had happened.
Mathias put his sword back into the scabbard. “Did Aiden say why he wanted to meet?”
Gretta shrugged, “The King does not share his counsel with me. He told old Subar to find Arianna and sent me to collect you. So let’s go.”
Mathais needed no more urging. He rushed across the camp and the guards at Aiden’s tent admitted him right away. Aiden was sitting at his table and Arianna stood with her arms crossed. She smiled at him, crossed the space to meet him, clasped his hands, and said, “Kell and Shoria have contacted Aiden.”
“It’s all set,” said Aiden from his chair. “I just finished speaking with representatives from Shoria and Kell. They’re going to help my people.” He laid his mana mirror on the table. “The Guildmasters of Evermoore authorized their Mayor, Murkon Whitetail, to write the leaders of Shoria and Kell explaining the double dealings of Holt and the possibility of an attack on Asgarn civilians by the Ancient Path.”
“They were written by other leaders as well, including Sir Adhemar Macrinus Baele, Tryggr Lokahresti, and Marik of the Black Lotus. Do you know them?” Aiden leaned back.
Mathias shook his head. “I’ve never been to Evermoore.”
“You should go there. I met Adhemar and Marik when I visited Evermoore,” Aiden mused. “They both wanted to try and kill me, but others talked them down. What a different world it would have been if I had killed them, or they me? Sven might not have sent me as the messenger. I would have never met the two of you. What a strange convergence of events?”
“You were talking about Shoria and Kell?” Mathias interrupted. “Will they send troops?”
Aiden gave Mathias a lop-sided grin. Mathias hated that look. Sometimes he thought that Aiden didn’t take anything seriously, but he knew that wasn’t true. Mathias had heard about Aiden’s hard life back in Asgarn. Beneath all the joking was a man who buried too many of his children.
“Cut’s right to the chase, doesn’t he,” Aiden said to Arianna.
“We would like to know the results of your conversation,” Arianna said diplomatically.
“Shoria and Kell have agreed to send troops to protect the Asgarn civilians.” Aiden stood up. Mathias could see the Asgarn was truly relieved. “We have also laid the groundwork for the renewal of the Northern Confederation. The new treaty will not bind the member nations blindly, but will allow for mutual defense and support and withdrawal if any nation acts aggressively without provocation.”
“That is good news.” Mathias said.
“It’s great news.” Aiden took a drink from a mug. “But there is still some concern.” He put the mug down. “It will take a week for troops from Shoria and Kell to arrive on Asgarn, and then more time to protect the inland towns.”
“You could not have gotten home any quicker,” Mathias told him. “Fighting through the Dale could have taken a week or more. Then you’d have to load your ships while engaged in combat.”
“I know that, Mathias,” Aiden said. “That’s why I’m still here. If not for the intercessions of the Guildmasters of Evermoore, I would have been forced to leave a trail of bodies all the way to the sea. Among the dead would be Asgarns I’ll need to defend our homeland.”
“You owe a debt to the Guildmasters of Evermoore.” Arianna sat down at the table.
“I guess I do,” said Aiden. “But only if it all works out. The Guildmasters of Evermoore still need to prove Holt’s double-dealing and show Justin’s ulterior motives to the other leaders of the Five Kingdoms. They still need to get this army out of my way.”
“They’ll do that,” Arianna patted Aiden’s hand. “Once all the evidence comes to light, the Five Kingdoms will let you pass without fighting. Holt will have to back down or look totally unreasonable. You’ll see, all will be well.”
“You grew up in the Dale where things are always pretty. You live in a land of flowers, of sweet smelling soil, of warm rain and pretty snow.” Aiden pulled his hand away. “I live in a harsh world where things are never pretty. My world is rock and cold and freezing rain. I don’t see all things being well. I worry about what will happen if the evidence does not come to light. What if the deeds are lost, or the orders destroyed?”
Arianna opened her mouth to speak, but could not seem to find the words.
“You don’t think Justin is going to sit idle do you,” Aiden continued. “If he’s the monster you think he is, then he’s making plans. He’s learning from his mistakes. He’s getting ready to let his hammer fall.”
Mathias realized Aiden was right. This story was not winding down; this story was just beginning. Everything would be decided in Evermoore, and that realization was a sobering thought.