Let all who read these words know that this tome was written at the command of King Sigvard in the fourth year of his blessed reign. He that is High King of all the realms of Adalmearc, Dragon of Adalrik, Drake in the North, Drakon in the South, Ormkongungr in the West, dragonborn ruler, and rightful atheling of Sigvard Drakevin.
Long may he reign.
In the year one thousand and ninety-seven, the Realms were struck by several disasters. Following the death of High King Sighelm, the Adalthing convened to elect Sir Reynold, lord marshal of the Order, to be lord protector of Adalrik until the crown prince Sigmund would come of age. Soon after, the savage outlanders of the Reach invaded Hæthiod. In response, Sir Reynold marched all available Order forces in the heartlands to Hæthiod.
Tragedy occurred as Prince Sigmund was slain in a most foul manner on the Kingsroad by brigands. Displaying the utmost lack of honour, Jarl Isenhart of Isarn seized Middanhal in a bid to usurp the throne, but failed to capture Jarl Valerian of Vale, who escaped and raised his armies to fight Jarl Isenhart. Led by his brother Sir Athelstan, the Isarn forces cowardly ambushed the remaining Order army at Lake Myr. Under courageous leadership by Sir Richard of Alwood, the Order troops crossed the Weolcan Mountains and joined forces with those of Jarl Theodoric of Theodstan. After several battles, and assisted by his lieutenant Lord Adalbrand of House Arnling, Sir Richard liberated Middanhal and defeated Jarl Isenhart’s armies in several battles. The jarl was forced to retreat to Isarn, and his brother and two sons, Lord Isenwald and Sir Eumund, were both taken captive.
In Hæthiod, the outlanders defeated the Order army in the field, killing Sir Reynold. After a vicious siege, Tothmor fell to the heathens. Fortunately, Queen Theodora escaped with a few other members of court, notably her husband, King Leander, her mother, Lady Beatrice, and her aunt, Lady Irene. They were found by Sir William, leader of the remaining Order forces in Hæthiod, who escorted them to safety across the border. The Hæthians eventually reached sanctuary in Korndale, seeking the protection of the queen’s relative, King Adelard.
In Adalrik, the Adalthing assembled again to choose Lord Hardmar of House Hardling as heir to the realms. Due to the prince’s young age, Jarl Valerian was chosen as lord protector. He sent his own forces north under leadership of Sir Richard to besiege the rebellious lords in league with Jarl Isenhart, seeking to bring an end to the civil war. In response to the outlander occupation of Hæthiod, Sir William and his new lieutenant Lord Adalbrand returned with a contingent of knights and infantry to liberate the realm. As the winter of this year gripped the land, the Order prepared its campaign while encamped on the border to Hæthiod, hoping to be reinforced by armies from neighbouring Korndale.
The great hall of the palace in Plenmont was bustling with activity. It was only a few days before winter solstice, and servants were flitting everywhere, busy with preparations. Twigs and branches from pine trees with their green needles were being hung everywhere; a reminder that spring would return with its blossoms once the dark winter was over. Furthermore, the tables by which the court dined were being rearranged. This allowed for a large, open space in the centre of the hall. By the walls hung already banners with the royal emblem of Korndale upon them, but new banners in blue and silver were being raised as well, adding a pale dragon next to the black bull.
Standing in the now open centre was the man directing the movements of the servants, like a commander ordering his troops about. He was not clad in armour, nor the modest garb one might expect of a steward or other such overseer; instead he wore a silken robe of deep yellow with many other colours in the rest of his garments, and upon his head rested a golden circlet with heavy stones of great value. He was about thirty years of age, perhaps a little older, with a neat, thin beard. “A little higher,” he demanded of the servants balancing precariously on ladders while draping the new banners on the walls.
“Your Majesty,” a voice spoke softly nearby. It belonged to a man dressed in more humble clothing compared to the king, though still of finer cut and fabric than what the common servants wore.
King Adelard turned towards the speaker. “Aurelius,” the monarch frowned, “what do you think? High enough?”
“Perfect, Your Majesty,” Aurelius replied with a half glance. “I was just speaking with your cousin, the queen Theodora,” he began to explain.
“Anything the matter? Her accommodations not to her liking? Such is for you to handle,” Adelard said dismissively, waving his hand while keeping his gaze on the preparations happening around him.
One of the servants almost lost his balance on a ladder and had to grab hold of a pine branch tied to a shield hanging on the wall. The result was that while the servant regained his balance, the shield and branch both fell to the floor with a loud clang. “Good grief,” Adelard exclaimed frustrated, “must I start executing people before you realise the severity of the situation? Solstice is but a few days away.” Some faint, nervous laughing could be heard. “Oh heavens, it was a jest,” the king continued. “There will be no executions this close to a feast. Honestly, you people have no sense of merriment.”
“Your Majesty,” Aurelius interjected, “Queen Theodora wished to press you for an answer concerning her request that you aid Hæthiod.”
“Did I not tell Flavius not give her an answer already?” Adelard frowned before his attention turned towards the servants attempting to return the fallen shield to its position.
“Prince Aquila did, Your Majesty.” Aurelius nodded a little. “A delaying answer. He said that there was little point in making plans while winter lasted and even the Order camp was in winter quarters.”
“So what does she want now,” the king spoke with an impatient voice.
“The queen desires to have your guarantee that once winter ends, you will launch a campaign to liberate Hæthiod,” Aurelius explained.
“Ask Flavius and give his answer to Theodora,” Adelard replied absentmindedly.
“Your Majesty, maybe this is not a matter that should be left to the prince,” the king’s servant said pointedly. “Given the consequences should Korndale become involved in the war in Hæthiod, Prince Aquila’s decision may be influenced by other concerns than what is best for the realm.” Seeing no light of understanding in his master’s eyes, Aurelius continued. “Many of your levy forces would be drawn from the principality of Aquila, Your Majesty. The prince is unhappy with the thought of departing Tricaster with his army.” Adelard continued to stare with a frown, and Aurelius spoke again. “If Your Majesty’s armies marched into Hæthiod, Tricaster would be vulnerable to an assault from Ealond.”
“Ealond,” Adelard snorted. “They have not been that bold in centuries. Why does that old beak worry about the rivermen?”
“The duke of Belvoir is an ambitious man,” Aurelius admitted, “but that should not rule Your Majesty’s decision concerning the war in Hæthiod. Or what else is taking place in the realms,” he finished, emphasising his last words.
“Aurelius,” Adelard said a little weary, “just tell me what you want.”
“It is Your Majesty who informs me on what is to be done,” Aurelius said subserviently, “not reverse. However, might I suggest you call a council of your advisors soon? That should allow Your Majesty to reach a decision.”
“Fine,” Adelard agreed, his mind elsewhere. “No, no, we need the woodwork over here,” he exclaimed, yelling at servants that were lugging large, wooden frames into the hall.
After he left the king, Aurelius walked through the palace until he reach the area easily recognisable as the royal quarters. He knocked on the door to one of the chambers.
“It is the seneschal, milady,” said the maiden opening the door.
“Let him pass,” came a voice possessing a certain age.
As Aurelius entered, he found a scene of several women inside. They were all in their forties or fifties, clad in rich garments and with jewellery. Some of them had been sewing, while one had been reading aloud from a book. She stopped as Aurelius came into view. There was a fourth woman seated on the couches, neither sewing nor reading, for whose pleasure the handmaiden had been occupied with the book. This lady had the attention of all the other women, and she dismissed them with a simple gesture; they in turn seemed used to it, quickly gathering their things to leave the room.
“Lady Sigrid,” Aurelius greeted her.
“Sit,” she bade him, beckoning to the now ample amount of empty seats surrounding her. “Speak.”
“I convinced the king to hold council to settle the matter of intervention in Hæthiod,” Aurelius explained. “So far, I have used Prince Aquila as an excuse to keep the Hæthian queen without answer, but she is persistent. Once she realises our armies will not intervene in Hæthiod, she will cause a stir.”
“Let her,” Sigrid said disdainfully. “All she can do is complain to the marshal, and the Order forces are not going anywhere.”
“Even so,” Aurelius spoke cautiously, “she might cause problems for us if the princes or the guilds are on her side.”
“Unlikely. I wish this matter resolved soon regardless of this crowned child.”
“Very well, my lady,” the seneschal acquiesced. “I fear that until the solstice feast is over, however, his majesty is too – preoccupied to handle affairs of the state.”
“Delicately put,” Sigrid remarked, pursing her lips. “Have it held the day after solstice. I will use the time until then to plant the seed into my son’s mind.”
“As you wish, my lady.” Aurelius hesitated briefly. “There is another matter I should inform you of, should you not already have heard.”
“Lady Isabel of Hæthiod arrived some hours ago, shortly after noon.”
“Has she stated the reason for her unannounced appearance?” Sigrid asked sharply.
“Officially, to visit her distant cousin, King Adelard,” Aurelius explained.
“She has mentioned nothing, but she enquired as to when she might meet the king.”
“Ensure she is given a chamber maiden with an attentive ear,” Sigrid commanded.
“Very well, my lady,” Aurelius said subserviently.
“You may leave,” Sigrid told the seneschal without looking at him, her gaze growing distant with thoughts. Silently, Aurelius left her alone.
Elsewhere in the palace, Theodora entered a room guarded by two Queen’s Blades; another pair had been following her, but stayed outside. Inside, she found Leander lying on the bed, which caused her to stand still.
“You need not be quiet,” Leander spoke with eyes closed. “I am awake.”
“I can leave,” Theodora offered. “Let you rest.”
“No point,” Leander claimed, sitting up and planting his feet on the ground.
“Does the sleeping draught not help?”
“Only for a brief while. Besides, I emptied it last night.”
“You should seek out the physician,” Theodora suggested. “Perhaps he has something stronger.”
“I suppose,” Leander replied with little enthusiasm.
“I spoke with the seneschal,” Theodora ventured to say. “He only said as before that I should speak with the prince of Aquila.”
“Why is that?” Leander frowned. “Why should you speak with him in the first place?”
“The king relies on him as his counsellor in military matters, apparently,” Theodora explained. “But since Aquila lies in the west of Korndale, Prince Flavius does not seem to consider the outlanders much of a threat.”
“What about the marshal?” Leander suggested. “He is the one who should have come to our aid during the siege.” A touch of bitterness found its way into his voice.
“He claims he does not have the authority to decide,” Theodora said frustrated. “I sent Count Hubert to pester him, one way or the other, until he changes his tune.”
Leander snorted in brief laughter as a response. “The count will have the marshal marching to Hæthiod while there is still frost in the air.”
“Let us hope so,” Theodora remarked. “With enough reinforcements, I am certain Sir William can drive the outlanders back to whatever Heldale they come from.”
“I am not convinced there are enough soldiers in all of Korndale to ensure that,” Leander muttered.
“Have courage,” Theodora chided him. “Did Troy not write that many of the outlanders had retreated beyond the wall again? Victory is closer than we think.”
“Retreated for how long? They may return any day,” Leander retorted. “Besides, I doubt Troy is a reliable source of military intelligence.”
Theodora was quiet for a moment. “You miss him, I take it.”
“There was no reason for him to travel to the encampment already,” Leander complained.
“He is a bard,” Theodora commented. “He needs stories to sing about, and what better story than the liberation of our homeland?”
“It’s not even solstice yet, they will not be doing anything all winter but lie in camp,” Leander exclaimed. “I told that crowing moron as much, yet still he went.”
“At least his letters bring us some news,” Theodora argued. “The fact that the full force of the outlanders is no longer present will help convince these Dalemen to intervene.”
“I suppose,” Leander admitted grudgingly.
“You should try to rest,” Theodora suggested. “I will go see my mother.” Leander gave a shrug but moved his legs back up on the bed.
At first evening bell, the court of Korndale moved towards the hall to take the meal, accompanied by the Hæthian exiles. Besides the queen, the king, and their staunch protector, Count Hubert, their number also counted Beatrice and Irene, the queen’s mother and stepmother, respectively. This state of affairs had caused some confusion among the Dalish courtiers, who as a response avoided familial terms. Leander’s mother, Diane, was still disgraced and not invited to any table occupied by the queen.
The meal was already underway when another person of note arrived. It was a woman whose look could be pleasant or haughty according to its owner’s whim. To arrive at the meal after the king was a breach of etiquette, albeit of a minor nature, and so this immediately attracted the attention of every person in the hall, nobleborn and commonborn alike. The late arrival wore a blue dress with golden threads, which awoke further whispers; to the few with superior knowledge, it revealed her identity.
Those with inferior knowledge on the heraldry of Adalrik were aided by the seneschal, who rose from his seat by the king’s side. “Your Majesty, may I present Lady Isabel of Hæthiod,” he announced.
The king did not seem to mind the dramatic entrance. “Be welcome to our halls,” he said cordially.
“I am grateful to His Majesty,” Isabel replied, giving a slow bow before the king.
“Aurelius, let her have your seat,” Adelard commanded.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” the seneschal acquiesced, stepping away to let Isabel take his place. Once she was seated, servants quickly brought her food and drink.
Raising her cup, she nodded towards Adelard. “To your health, Your Majesty.” Graciously, the king returned her gesture.
Further down the table, Theodora sent her mother a confused look. “Did you know she was coming here?”
“I had not the slightest idea,” Beatrice professed. “Nor can I guess her purpose, unless it is to reunite with us? We are her sole remaining family, after all.”
“If so, she would have sent word in advance,” Irene declared. “Whatever reason Isabel has for being in Plenmont, I doubt she is concerned with us.”
“I do not see how it matters,” Leander muttered. “It changes nothing for us.”
“She is still my aunt,” Theodora replied in a reproachful tone. “It matters to my mother.”
“Count Hubert,” Leander said in a louder voice, “I hear you have spoken with the marshal.”
“I have,” the count replied in his typical brusque manner. “Both today and the last two days. He is a decent enough fellow, Sir Ferdinand, though a bit lax in discipline.”
“As always, you offer valuable contributions to the discussion at hand,” Irene remarked with disdain.
“What is his attitude towards intervening in Hæthiod?” Leander asked with a hint of exasperation. “Is he at all amenable towards it?”
“Unlikely,” Hubert replied, emptying his cup. “He is sheep and shear with the prince of Aquila.”
“He is what?” Beatrice asked.
“He means they are close compatriots,” Leander explained impatiently; his attention was on his cup that had already been filled several times.
“Is that problematic? I thought Prince Flavius was advising you,” Beatrice spoke, looking at her daughter.
“Avoiding me, rather,” Theodora corrected with a grim tone of voice. “We cannot expect support from the prince.”
“Aquila is too scared the rivermen might try something,” Hubert declared before stuffing meat into his mouth. “Rumour has it that across the border, the duke of Belvoir is gathering his forces.”
“Like a crow hoping to pick through the corpses after a battle,” Theodora remarked.
“Let us be practical,” Irene interjected. “Neither Prince Flavius nor Sir Ferdinand can be expected to be of service. The king himself understands less of warfare or politics than these actress harlots he adores.”
“How dare you!” Leander exclaimed violently, slamming his fist onto the table and causing everyone nearby to stare at him. “Oh, you meant the king of Korndale,” he corrected himself. “Carry on,” he added mildly, returning to his cup.
“I believe the king can be swayed whichever way the wind blows,” Irene continued after sending Leander an angry glare. “We need to find the right people to sway him,” she finished, glancing towards the middle of the high table where Adelard sat between his mother and Isabel, enjoying lively conversation with the latter while the former watched with a tight-lipped expression.
Every court in Adalmearc had a physician appointed to it, trained by the norns at the great lorehouse of medicine in Fontaine; Korndale was no exception to this. Late in the evening, Leander stepped into the quarters that served as the physician’s apothecary. Herbs were drying as they hang from the air, and numerous bottles filled with liquids and powders lined the shelfs.
“Brother Raul,” Leander spoke, gaining the other man’s attention. “I need more,” he grunted as he presented an empty flask to the lay brother. “And I need it stronger.”
“As you wish, Your Majesty,” came the reply subserviently. “Did it not have the supposed effect?”
“It made me fall asleep well enough,” Leander explained, “but dreams woke me soon after. I need a draught of such strength, I will sleep dreamlessly through the night.”
Already the physician had begun collecting ingredients, searching them out amongst his stores. “That may be more than I can deliver,” Raul admitted, ceasing his efforts momentarily. “I tend to maladies of the body, but as Your Majesty no doubt knows, dreams are of the spirit, either one’s own or not.”
“Are you saying you cannot help?” Leander asked disgruntled.
“I will of course prepare a tincture for Your Majesty,” Raul said quickly, resuming his activities. “I merely advise that you seek counsel from someone as well-versed in what troubles the spirit as I am in what ails the body.”
“Who would that be?”
“In the past, when a patient of mine has been beset by ill dreams, I have advised them to seek out the priests of Egnil here in the city.”
“Priests,” Leander sneered. “I would rather trust my wealth with thieves than my health with priests.”
Raul gave an uneasy smile. “Nonetheless, dreams and spirits fall within their grasp of knowledge, not mine. If Your Majesty feels such discomfort as described, surely he should seek out any remedy available.”
“I came here for a remedy,” Leander spoke displeased. “I expect you to give me one,” he declared and turned to leave.
“I shall have the strongest sleeping draught my art can create delivered as soon as it is possible,” Brother Raul promised, watching the king’s back as the latter left his apothecary.
The Order had its own keep in Plenmont. While the king’s palace was exactly that, a palace built to please the eye, the Order’s keep was built for war. Grey walls of stone, tall and difficult to scale, with heavy towers positioned everywhere from which the garrison kept watch. In the courtyard, scores of men could be seen training formations, learning to wield the heavy shields and spears of the Order infantry.
Several men rode through the open gate, their passage unhindered due to the clear marks of nobility upon their leader. He did not wear armour for battle, only a leather tunic with a surcoat; upon it was the emblem of an eagle spreading its wings. The same coat of arms was worn by his men, who dismounted as their lord did and followed him closely with a protective stance. “Sir Ferdinand,” called out the newly arrived nobleman, gaining the attention of a knight, who was watching the soldiers.
“Prince Aquila,” the knight responded with a nod. “I was not expecting you.”
“I thought we should talk,” the prince replied, lowering his voice. “I told the Hæthian queen not to expect any intervention until winter ends, but I think she suspects we will never send troops to Hæthiod.”
“Those dreadful heathmen,” Ferdinand spoke with a light shudder. “One of them, a Count Hubert, has already been here twice. He keeps challenging every man he sees to a fight.”
“It is the queen that concerns me,” Flavius declared. “Our king is a man often gripped by emotional states. If her constant tales of woe moves him, he might make promises to the detriment of the rest of us!” The last sentence was spoken with increasing noise.
“I agree, but what do you expect of me? I am not at court,” the knight pointed out, “you are.”
“Only until the solstice celebrations are over. When I return home to Tricaster and make preparations against Belvoir, you will be the king’s advisor in matters of war.”
“If you need assurances that my advice will be in line with yours, you need not worry,” Ferdinand claimed. “As marshal of Korndale, it is my foremost duty to keep it safe. The king knows to trust my counsel.”
“Unfortunately, he also seems to trust his mother’s counsel,” the prince spoke darkly. “That old spider is spinning her own webs.”
“I am sure the lady Sigrid has the king’s best interests at heart,” the marshal said, looking a little uncomfortable.
“Maybe, but not the interests of the realm. In this case, the king is not Korndale. Keep recruiting more men and expanding the garrisons,” Flavius told the knight. “We are going to need them in every city of the dale.” Nearby, the soldiers broke formation and dispersed, having finished the day’s training.