Chapter 6: The Queen and the King
Michael stood beside his horse, putting on his gloves. He wore a colorful doublet of blue and green, a fine set of satin trousers and his riding boots which, as he had neglected to bring formal shoes, were shined with cooking oil as per Guissali’s suggestion. He watched the pavilion tent in front of the gates having its final stakes hammered in. It was as neutral a location as could be managed; just beyond reasonable firing range from the city walls and equally far from the fortifications of the Artilland camp.
“You sure you’ll be let in?” Sharona said, sitting atop her own horse. The wind blew her hair across her face, and she squinted at the westering sun.
“I’m the prince,” Michael said. “And I intend to time is as such my father would not dare try to expel me. Besides, Alanrae is a civilian, it is only fitting there be one on the other side as well.” He stuck his foot in the stirrup and mounted his horse.
“Here, take these,” Sharona said. She handed Michael as small twig and a light canvas bag, the top tied with twine. “Don’t open the bag. It’s full of charcoal.”
“What is it for? Do you intend for me to draw the event?”
“If you get in trouble, break the twig. I’ve linked it with one on my person. I’ll then ignite the charcoal in the bag, and we’ll try to come rescue you. It should create some smoke and fire – enough to blind everyone in the room.”
“Don’t bother trying to rescue me,” Michael said. “I shan’t need it, but even if I do, you shouldn’t put yourselves further at risk.”
“You would come to the aid of one of your commanders, so we shall come to yours, if it is needed, that is.”
Michael chuckled. “I’m more worried for you.”
Sharona said, “Don’t be.”
Towler grunted in frustration as his horse bucked and kicked, turning and pulling on the bridle in a frenzy. He dropped his staff and put two hands to work, but the beast was in a fit.
“What in Grim’s gaze is wrong with you?” he asked the beast. “What did you do to my horse?” he yelled to the horsemaster as he was turned about.
The horsemaster, a large mustached man named Gratio, was trying to wave over a few lads to assist the mage as he likewise turning about the horse, trying to see if something had hurt him.
“You two!” he cried as two stable boys finally noticed the commotion. “What did you do to this horse?”
“We fed him and walked him,” said one of the stable boys.
“Well get on his other side, damn you, let’s check his feet for burs.”
It was no use. The horse bucked, and whinnied, and cried, kicked and jumped, anytime a hand was laid on him.
“Blast it all!” Towler said. “I’ll walk. I’m late as it is. And pray for yourself, Gratio, for I shall not forgive you failing my horse!”
“Just give us a minute now!” Gratio said.
He picked up his staff and trotted away, sweating with anger. First, he could not find his staff, or his formal shoes, then his pants had been ripped, now he had to walk instead of ride all the way to the pavilion.
“It’s a damn conspiracy,” he said to himself as he rushed through the tents. He felt his feet suddenly moving under himself, and realized he was slipping on something.
He fell and landed, he realized moments later, in a pile of fresh manure.
“By the gods or this dratted queen, something is conspiring against me!” With a howl of rage he flew off the ground, a magic current of air flinging manure everywhere, pelting the tents and nearby soldiers. He turned and pointed at the manure with his finger, and it burst into flame.
“Good work,” Angelico whispered to Langelo. They were crouching behind a row of barrels, trying to suppress laughter as they watched the dirty wizard rage at a pile of shit. “How did you manage to scare the horse?”
“It was something Sharona did. Made it sting or itch. She said she was surprised it worked. He’s coming!”
Angelico and Langelo pushed on a stock of wood buried beneath the barrels. With a creak, they toppled over, spilling water and rolling toward the wizard. The heard him scream in anger as the barrels bowled him over at the knees.
Crouching, Angelico and Langelo dashed behind a row of tents and lumber, listening to the barrels explode amid the cursing of Fowler.
“Sir, control your horse!”
“I’m trying,” Guissali cried to the knight on the ground nearby. Beneath him, Guissali’s horse was bucking and braying, forcing the knights around him to get up from where they sat, dining at the long tables.
With a kick, one of the tables was knocked over, spilling beer and food everywhere. The officers cursed at Guissali and threw bits of food at him. Out of the corner of his eye, Guissali saw Fowler approach, positively livid.
“Out of the way!” the mage cried loudly. “Or Grim help me I’ll blast you all to pieces.”
The officers, however, did not immediately react. Towler pushed his way past the ring of them to where Guissali spun on his horse. The horse kicked at Towler, who held up his staff to block the attack. With a loud crack the staff cracked and Towler threw it down.
Guissali spurred his horse forward, kicking up mud and food, and not a moment too soon, for just then Towler had cast a tremendous ball of fire that burst the tipped-over table apart and set all the grass around it to blue flame. Guissali looked back to see the mage stomping the ground as a few officers tried to corral him.
He rode on into the camp and looked west at the setting sun.
Towler looked up to see a fence stake flying toward him. He stepped aside, but also saw the large tent beside him leaning, then toppling. The center post hit him square in the shoulder and knocked him down. The canvas fell over him in smothering pleats.
“Damn you!” he screamed. “Damn you!”
The two parties rode toward each other in the wide open space between the great gates of Forgoroto and the Artallan encampment.
The queen of Ferralla carried in her retinue two fully armored knights, each armed with a pair of basket-hilted swords, along with an old, unarmed scribe.
The king of Artallan carried his own scribe, his son, armed in his full battle regalia (though the king was dressed simply), but was without his second bodyguard.
As the two came closer to the assigned meeting place, the king turned his head, for he had heard the sound of shouts from his encampment. Toward the meeting place rode, unmistakable upon the back of his destrier, his younger son, carrying the banner of the realm, rather than the army: A silver viol on a field of black.
“What is he playing at?” Johan said as they rode.
“He aims to attend this negotiation, in a way I cannot now refuse. He is, after all, the official ruler when the king is at war. Not that I think he’s done a damn thing.”
“What about minister-”
“That changed when we discharged a royal prince,” the king said shortly. “Damn that we couldn’t wait just a moment longer for Towler, and we could send him away in the interest of even odds.”
“It’s not like Tolwer.”
“No, but then…” the king shook his head and pointed back toward the pavilion.
Michael got into distance of them, and Johan shouted,“What are you doing here, Michael?”
“I’m asserting my right as prince to attend a diplomatic function.”
“Get out of here and go fetch Towler, you fool boy,” Edward said. “Hurry, before we begin this meeting!”
“If Towler is not here, that is his own business.”
Johan yelled over the wind, “Damnit, Michael, you have no idea what you’re doing here.”
“I have every idea,” Michael said. “It is you that doesn’t understand. But I aim to help you even if you refuse it.”
Michael watched the angry faces of his brother and father as he slowed Calot to a trot. He turned his eyes to the Alanarae, the Queen of Ferralla. Even far enough away to miss the details of the woman, he could see that she was beautiful. Her hair, black as night, flowed in waves over her slim shoulders and down her back. Her eyes were a bright blue, visible even in the dusk, and the dress she wore exposed both her generous breasts and her small waist. Her features were noble and pronounced, though she was young and wore them well. Her prominent nose was thin and shapely, her jawline defined but graceful.
He met his father and brother as they paused some ten yards from the queen, the tent for the meeting off to their right. The queen’s face was smooth and unreadable, her full lips motionless. Only her hair and her jeweled earrings moved in the breeze. Slowly, she raised her right hand.
The king followed suit, raising his bare right hand. The knights followed suit, as did Michael and Johan. They all moved toward the center.
“Greetings,” she said in a loud, clear voice. “These are my cousins, Porthonio and Sortonio. I am Alanarae, queen of Ferralla.”
“This is my son, Johan, crown prince of Artalland and High Captain of the First Army,” said the king. “I am Edward, known as Edward the Black, King of Artalland.”
“And who is this?” The queen said, turning to Michael.
“I am Michael, Prince of Artalland,” Michael said. “A civilian, like you.”
“Then we are well met. Let us speak of peace.”
The king nodded. They all dismounted and handed their reigns to a pair of men, one from each camp, then went into the tent. The interior was dark, save for a pair of lamps hanging down, washing the room in warm light. Below these was a table, which had upon it pens, ink, and a neat stack of paper.
Alanarae and her who two cousins (both of whom had removed their helms, revealing twin faces with dark beards of differing lengths) moved to one side of the table and sat down. Michael followed Johan and their father to the other side, then sat as well.
The queen, whose face was solemn and dark, suddenly smiled at Johan. It lasted but a brief moment, moment, but in it was contained a magic almost in itself, as if she had two faces – one the grim blankness of a high mage, the other that of a girl. Michael watched her and reached into his pocket to feel Sharona’s twig.
For a tense few moments, the two sides of the table merely stared at one another. Slowly, Alanrae drew out a piece of paper and took a pen, which she laid down carefully.
“Our demands,” King Edward said, his dark voice without inflection, “Are these.” He watched as Alanrae picked up a pen and dipped it in an inkwell. “The rest of the debt owed from Ferralla to Artalland, paid in full from the royal treasury. This amounts to three-thousand, two-hundred, and fifty-two argents, as of last week, interest included. Next, we demand reparations for the cost of the war, in the minimum amount of one-thousand, three-hundred, and thirty-six argents, to be collected from the royal treasury or writ with interest to be paid in no more than five years’ time. Next, we demand, as an assurity of peace between our kingdoms, the battle plain of Pious’s Divide, to be settled peacefully by Artalland. By these terms do you surrender to peace.”
Alanrae continued writing on the paper, and was quiet for a moment. “If I refuse?”
“Then we will sack the city and replace you on the throne with a vassal of the Artalland crown.”
Alanrae nodded without emotion. She looked up and cast her bright-eyed gaze upon each of them in turn. Again, she smiled momentarily. “Let us examine each demand. First, the debt you proclaim we owe you was agreed upon by men long dead, and was for armaments and armor that were returned at war’s end, along with supplies that were used by an ally during war. We have paid the portion we actually owe, and refuse to pay a penny more.”
“Armaments are no use during peace.”
“Then why did your father have them on hand, I wonder?” Alanrae said. “Now let me continue the other points. For the cost of the war, it was a war of aggression by Artalland against a peaceful Ferralla, and we are normally allies. Nor is the campaign actually complete, as my kingdom remains unconquered, and will always remain unconquered. You may have defeated Ballaco, but his army was but one of the armies of Ferralla, and though we are less in number than in the days of the great war, our might is still beyond even your formidable force. Have you not wondered why your advance to the city was unopposed?”
She held up a hand to silence the king and, oddly, he shut his mouth.
“Lastly, the battle plain where so many of our kin fought and died is considered cursed by most of my people. The entirety of this we offer to service any and all disputes between our people. If your men will settle it, that is their prerogative.”
Michael watched his father carefully.
“Peace need not be bitterly bought,” the king said. “We offer this: the plain of Pious’s Divide, the Hills of Norboro south of the Ronta River, and your eastern border will move to the Rotunda River. All these lands to be settled by Artalland.”
“You would seek to diminish Ferralla by claiming its farmland, not understanding it’s true strength, but so be it. However, I shall, with the uncertainty of Ferralla on my border, need some assurity of peace between us.”
“And what shall that assurity be?” the king said.
“I will have two members of your household come to Forgoroto and live here as bond of our agreement, one male and one female. One shall be my consort, and the other shall wed Porthonio. In this way, should you wage war again, it shall be against your own blood and your own bones.”
“There are no immediate female members of my family.”
“Then one male shall suffice.” Her eyes wandered over Johan.
The king frowned and looked first to Johan, then to Michael.
“Johan is engaged,” Michael said, watching the queen.
The king turned his head and shushed Michael.
“Engagements are not marriages,” Alanrae said. “Consider that the price of peace need not be bought with bitter gold or blood, but with bliss.”
She then slid over the piece of paper upon which she had been writing, and there was on it already a contract drafted up, with the ceded lands and the bond of one man of the king’s house to marry her as consort.
“If we do this, the ransomed man must lose all his rights to the throne of Artalland,” the king said. “Agreed?”
“Of course,” Alanrae said. “I seek a bond of family, not an empire.”
“We shall consider this offer, as should you, and we will finalize any agreements tomorrow,” the king said.
“I look forward to it,” Alanrae said, and stood.
This post is part of a project to write and publish a book in a month, as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). If you enjoy this story, consider buying my other fantasy novel The Water of Awakening.