Trouble in Proteshi: Part 1
I shrugged my shoulders, to settle my armour, and grabbed my helmet. My weapon of choice, a five-foot-long wooden pole with a two-foot blade mounted at the top and a steel ring at the bottom, lay on my bed. A glaive was both the standard, and the weapon of a captain. The ship had docked mere moments earlier, but Sidi would be expecting me. I pulled open the door and squeezed out into the narrow corridor. Uksem was standing outside my room, his helmet removed, waiting for me. Less than a decade older than me, the scarred warrior had seen far more skirmishes than I. While I had been learning tactics and command, he had been leading small groups of warriors along the borders of Kurlac and Barash. His last skirmish against the Barashi had cost him an eye but gained him admittance to the Khan’s Elite. Since then, he’d quickly risen and become my right-hand man, as well as a dependable, loyal friend.
“Lord Walanni is waiting for you.” Uksem reported.
“I know.” I replied. “I’m going to him now. Make sure the men are on deck and ready. I don’t want to see a speck of rust on their armour or weapons.”
Uksem nodded. He knew that I was just repeating the obvious, but it still needed to be said.
“And I don’t want to smell the slightest hint of Koumiss on anyone’s breath. Understand? This might be Cheute where their warriors are more women than men, but I won’t have anyone too befuddled by drink to know one side of their spear from the other.” I continued firmly.
Uksem nodded at more unneeded orders. We both knew the men were sober and would be well turned out.
I waved my hand and the one-eyed warrior headed towards the deck and the rest of the guard. I turned the other way and made my way to Sidi’s quarters at the back of the ship. They were normally occupied by the captain, but the man had offered up his quarters as was expected. I rapped my knuckles on the door and pushed it open. I ducked inside and found Sidi placing some papers in a satchel. Salah, Sidi’s servant, smirked at me. No doubt he thought I was being tardy.
“Taril my boy!” Sidi exclaimed as he looked up. “I trust you slept well.”
“I did father.” I replied dutifully. “The ship is docked I’m told and we’ll be able to disembark soon.”
He wasn’t really my father, just as my family wasn’t Walanni, but he’d given me a name when he adopted me. I had been too young when I was orphaned to have much of a memory of my real father. Just vague recollections of a hard voice and warm embraces, and while Sidi had been sparing of affection as I grew, he had, nonetheless, taken the place of my father.
“The men are ready?” Sidi enquired.
“They’re on deck.” I reported. “As soon as the ramp is run out they’ll have it secured.”
“Of course, or course. I expected nothing less. And do you still think these talks are a mistake?”
I took a silent breath. Life with Sidi was nothing less than constant tests. I had made the mistake of admitting that I didn’t see the point of these negotiations, which had resulted in several days of debating between us. He had drunk a bottle of wine and more during each debate while I had stuck to water and attempted to sound intelligent.
“I do.” I admitted. “But we don’t have time to discuss our points now. I’m sure King Addir is waiting on us.”
“I’m sure he is.” Sidi replied grudgingly. “Well, let’s not keep him waiting. Salah, bring my satchel.”
Sidi’s whip thin servant bowed and took his master’s satchel, full of various papers. I leaned my glaive against the wall, pulled on my helmet, and turned to Sidi.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Lead me out.” My father ordered.
I grabbed my glaive and opened the door.
I ducked out of the passageway, out on to the deck and squinted in the harsh afternoon sunlight. My men were lined up and waiting at the head of the gangway, waiting for the ramp to be secured properly. At the bottom of the ramp, a detachment of warriors, King Addir’s Royal Guard, stood ready, shields out, swords sheathed at their waist and their brightly polished breastplates over gleaming hauberk. They even had bright blue cloaks hanging from shoulder plates. I shook my head. Bright little birds, full of self-confidence. In contrast my men were a rough looking lot, but then my men were blooded in battle. I doubted whether the Royal Guard had ever seen actual combat.
I turned to my father and nodded. We would proceed as planned. He nodded in return and I strode down the gangway pausing at the bottom. The Royal Guard parted before me and a tall, slender, man in what I supposed were fashionable clothes walked towards me.
“I am Lord Ivo Aradus, First Advisor to King Addir. Whom do I address?”
“Greetings Lord Aradus. Taril Walanni, captain of Lord Walanni’s guard. Do we have you to thank for the escort?”
Lord Aradus nodded. “Just a precaution to ensure your safety. Will Lord Walanni be joining us presently?”
“Of course.” I replied curtly. “I was merely securing the way.”
I turned and waved to Uksem who waited at the top of the gangway. I stepped forward, forcing the Cheuten Lord to take a surprised step back and two of my men strode down the gangway to stand behind my shoulders.
“When ever you are ready my boy.” Sidi cast to me.
“We’re ready for you now father.”
“Who leads the welcoming party?”
“A grey haired peacock.” I replied. “Lord Ivo Aradus.”
“Ah. I know of him. He’s the Queen’s brother. Let him know I’ll join you now.”
“As you say father.”
“Lord Walanni will be joining us now.” I informed Lord Aradus.
The King’s First Advisor glanced up at the ship’s railing and watched as my father took his time walking down the gangway. I rolled my eyes. I didn’t have to turn around to know that he was taking his sweet time. He enjoyed making people wait, even the Khan himself.
I felt my father’s presence behind me and stepped to one side as he stepped forward to greet the Cheuten Lord.
“Lord Aradus, may I introduce Lord Walanni, advisor to the Khan himself.” I announced.
My father placed his right hand over his heart and a bowed his head, shallowly.
“A thousand pardons for our tardiness, Lord Aradus. We would have been here sooner but for the river captain being quite unwilling to bring us up river before the dawn.”
“That’s quite alright.” Aradus replied, waving away the apology. “Our river captains are rarely allowed to bring ships up the river at night as it can be quite treacherous in places. Your delay has been anticipated. Please, allow me to escort you to my carriage and we can proceed to the Royal Castle. Your men can fall in behind us.”
“Not too far behind.” I cast.
“Of course not, my son. You have my complete trust.”
“Lead on Lord Aradus.” My father replied brightly. “I’m sure my guard will enjoy the exercise.”
“This way then.” Aradus gestured.
The brief carriage ride through the paved streets of the island city was uneventful. The broad street the carriage travelled up, Harbour Street, the Cheuten Lord helpfully provided, was mostly populated by merchants. The street turned a dogleg and entered a large square, set before the gates of the royal castle. I eyed the huge walls, towers, the huge gates that protected the castle, and found myself impressed, despite myself.
“It is a rather impressive structure is it not?” My father cast, with a tinge of humour.
“It must have taken them years to build.” I responded.
“So I’m told. There are advantages to staying in the one place.”
“I’d rather have an arm cut off. I was born to roam.”
“So, too, was I, my son. Still, watch, listen, and most of all, learn. Not even most peoples keep to our ways.”
Casting was something that my father and I could do at will, the sending of a thought from one to the other. Sidi had told me that some Sorcerers could cast to anyone, but he and I could only cast to other Sorcerers. It was useful in situations where we couldn’t speak openly. We could have an extended conversation in moments, and no one else would be any the wiser.
The carriage rolled across the square, Aradus’ men in front of it, clearing the local populace out of our way and my men bringing up the rear. We passed through the huge gates, and I discovered that there was another set of gates behind them. An interesting feature I thought, though I was unsure if there was a purpose to it other than just having a second set of gates. We cleared the second set of gates and arrived at another, smaller, square. The carriage drew to a halt and I stepped out, checking for threats. My father stepped out behind me, likewise looking around.
The royal residence was a tall, fortified building in the centre of a huge stone fortification. I could see a large garden to one side, and little else. Standing at the edge of the square were more of the King’s shiny Royal Guard. A young boy ran to the other side of the carriage, where Aradus was getting out and whispered something in his ear.
“The King is waiting for us.” Aradus announced as the carriage pulled away. “Shall we?”
“Of course, of course.” Sidi replied, courteously.
Aradus led us up a flight of stairs, and across a short drawbridge, to a narrow doorway. I stayed in front of my father, with two of our warriors, ready to defend him against any treachery, while Uksem brought up the rear with the rest of the warriors we had brought. I followed Aradus through the door and into the great hall beyond.
The great hall was an expansive room within the castle, fully two floors high, with viewing galleries in the upper section. Long tables with food and drink were pushed against the walls, clearing the room for the business of the day. At the head of the hall was a raised dais with King Addir seated upon his throne, flanked by his family.
Aradus held out his hand, bringing our procession to a halt, just inside the door. Uksem made a quick gesture and my warriors spread out to the sides, their eyes sharp, spears held upright.
“My King.” Aradus announced loudly. “May I present Lord Walanni of Oerigath.”
King Addir held up a hand and everyone in the hall fell silent.
“You may bring our guest forward, Lord Aradus.” King Addir spoke formally.
Aradus led Sidi forward towards the throne. I gestured for Uksem to remain with the men and followed behind my father. Aradus stopped before the dais and stepped to one side, leaving my father before the King.
My father bowed to the king, a shallow bow from the waist, with his right hand over his heart.
“I bring you greetings from the Khan.” Sidi announced.
“I trust he is well.” Addir ventured.
“He was when last he spoke to me, my Lord.”
“I’m told this is your son, Taril, that stands behind you.”
“Indeed, my Lord. He is captain of the Khan’s Elite, and each breath he draws brings me pride.”
The King looked aside to the boy who stood to one side of the throne and smiled.
“A son should always bring his father pride, be he high or low born.”
Sidi smiled. “I find myself in complete agreement with you, my Lord.”
“I think we have paid enough lip service to formality.” Addir opined. “I’m sure you are weary from your travels. Lord Aradus has organised for your luggage to be collected and brought to the quarters put aside for you. He will also ensure your warriors are settled into the guest barracks.”
Sidi bowed again, from the waist. “I am grateful, my Lord. The voyage was indeed wearisome.”
The King inclined his head and a short nod. “Then we shall see you tonight at the banquet.”
I felt a gentle tug on my sleeve and found a servant gesturing towards a door halfway down the hall.
“Please follow me, my Lord, I am to guide you and his Lordship to your quarters.”
“Come father. A servant will take us to our rooms.”
“Servant? Slave more like.” Sidi responded, with disgust. “Very well, lead on.”
I turned and followed the servant, my father at my side. We followed a short corridor from the hall and climbed a turning staircase up two floors and eventually found ourselves outside a large door. The servant opened the door and ushered us inside, pointing out the various facilities of the room before leaving.
Once the servant had left, I leaned my glaive against the wall and looked around. As the captain of Sidi’s escort, I was appointed his bodyguard and as such Sidi’s quarters had a smaller adjoining room for me, little bigger than a closet, but sufficient.
“It’s a little much, isn’t it?” I sighed.
“What is?” Sidi asked, shortly. Formality always made the man grumpy, despite his position.
I pointed around the room. “All of this. It’s a long way from home.”
Sidi sighed and settled himself into a soft, upholstered chair. “One day you’ll need to understand that our way is different from most other peoples.”
“Our way is better. You’ve always said so.” I agreed.
“That’s as maybe, but to understand these other peoples, you must accept their ways. If you don’t, they’ll always see you as different and refuse to deal with you.”
“I don’t know how you can do it. The Great Khan gets my respect, as he deserves, as do you, but that King has done nothing to earn our respect. I don’t think I could ever give him the respect you did today.”
“You must learn, my boy. There will come a day when I am no longer alive, and you will be alone.”
I smiled at my father. “Not for a long time yet though.”
Sidi smiled back in return. “No, my son. Not for many years yet.”
I crossed to the large window and looked outside. There wasn’t much of a view, just the outside wall of the castle, but the window was large enough to allow a decent amount of light into the room. I stepped back and pulled the heavy fabric curtains closed, shrouding the room in darkness.
“You should rest, father. I suspect tonight will be a long, drawn out affair, if this banquet is to be anything like something the Great Khan would throw.”
“I suspect you’re right.” He agreed. “Very well, wake me in a few hours.”
With Sidi resting, I stepped outside his room and grabbed a passing servant. The way she went pale, you’d think I had been about to kill her. I gave her a message to carry to Uksem and then leaned against the wall beside Sidi’s chamber door. Before too long, Uksem and two of my warriors approached me, led by the frightened servant.
“All is well?” Uksem asked.
“Well enough.” I replied. “Walk?”
“Why not.” The man replied.
Having left the two warriors to guard my father, we walked to the end of the corridor and down a spiral staircase.
“These stairs are strange, aren’t they?” Uksem commented. “I asked one of the King’s warriors about them and he said that they were designed to make it easier to defend the castle. Not sure I see how really.”
“They’re a strange people.” I replied. “Spiral stairs designed to help defend? Strange concept.”
“Indeed. I’ve seen some of their warriors training. Some of them were even competent.”
“Oh?” I replied. “I wouldn’t mind seeing that.”
“I’ve nowhere better to be right now.” The warrior said, slowly. “We might even wager on some of them.”
“Uksem, you old codger.” I laughed. “You’re on.”
The mood in the hall was jovial, as servants carrying trays of food and drink worked their way between the tables, that had earlier been against the walls. Seated at the tables were nobles from the King’s court and prominent men from the town, happy to have a chance to see some savage Oerigathian plainsmen. I sat beside Sidi on the dais, looking back down the great hall. Beside my father sat the King, Queen Gisela, his son Luther, and Queen Gisela’s brother Lord Aradus. Behind us were several of the Royal Guard and Uksem, with two of our warriors. Sidi laughed as King Addir leaned over and said something to him behind a raised hand. I sipped at my wine and looked around, eyeing the servants and the Cheuten Warriors equally. If I hadn’t been Sidi’s son, I would have been standing behind him, much as Uksem did now. I had argued with him about it, but as usual, my father would have none of it. “You are my son first, and Captain of my escort, second.” He had said. And so I, as usual, had acquiesced. I did insist on wearing my armour, though. Uksem held my glaive.
A sudden movement at the edge of the hall caught my eye, and for a moment, I thought I saw a man with a sword drawn. I jumped to my feet, scanning the crowd for the man, but I’d somehow lost sight of him. A sudden sound beside me, startled me, and as I turned I saw my father topple backwards out of his seat, an arrow lodged in his chest.
“Uksem!” I bellowed.
I pulled my glaive from Uksem’s hand, and it shot through the short distance to my outreached hand as I continued to scan the crowd. The arrow had come from the upper gallery, I could tell from the angle. I walled off my personal feelings, my father could be dead. If that was the case, I’d grieve later.
There. A Cheuten warrior with a bow, making his way hurriedly towards one of the doors that led out of the gallery.
The Royal Guard were only now reacting, rushing forward to remove their King from the situation. They were doing their job, I had failed in mine.
“He’s alive!” Uksem shouted to me.
“Get him to the ship! Salah will take care of him.” I shouted back. “I’m going after the assassin!”
I didn’t wait for Uksem to respond. He’d obey my order without question. The gallery ran around the upper level of the great hall, with only thick pillars at the corners. I could make it easily enough. I threw myself into the air and guided myself into the gallery. Easy, but taxing. I sprinted along one side of the gallery to the door were the Guardsman had gone. Behind me, the great hall was degenerating into chaos as everyone tried to rush out of the hall, afraid that they would be the next to be murdered. Idiots!
The door the man had used was closed, and I couldn’t spare the time to slow down to open it. Every second I wasted was an extra second the assassin could use to escape. I raised my hand up and pushed it forwards, palm out, while focusing my thoughts and smashed the door open before me. I glanced left and right as I passed through the shattered remains of the door and saw the man disappearing around a corner. I hadn’t been in the castle long, but if my memory served me well, he was heading for one of those spiral staircases. The man could run, but not for long. I’d run the bastard down and split him from head to prick with my glaive.