The Three Kings
by Slawomir Rapala
part 1 of 9
For the next few days Iskald felt as if he were living a dream and that at any time he would wake and return to his normal life, that of a drifter and a sword-for-hire. That he would go back to being a man who had little else to do but to travel through distant lands, looking for quick ways to earn gold through swordsman-shift, only to spend it all in an even greater hurry.
But he did not wake because he was no longer a drifter with no commitments and responsibilities towards anyone but himself. He was a King whose people were invaded and who desperately needed his protection. Everything in his life was changing so rapidly that Iskald had little time to register it all; he still had too little time to understand exactly what was happening around him and as a result, he relied heavily on Aezubah to walk him through these first few days.
The aging General took to it with great enthusiasm. Firstly, he introduced the new King to the highest ranking Lyonese officials, both civic and military, the politicians and ministers whom Aezubah himself had hand-picked early during his reign, as well as some of the more important aristocrats, whom he allowed to stay and even meddle in Estate affairs simply because it was through their gold and foreign estates that he was able to finance the costly war against the Vikings.
All these men, for a long time now accustomed to following Aezubah’s orders, had early on learned not to question his actions and motives, so now they only bowed their heads before Iskald and said nothing. The young man could see disbelief written in their faces, though. It was difficult for them to comprehend that General Aezubah, their indisputable leader and military genius, was stepping down and relieving himself of command.
Not only that, but he was quite freely and, what was even more vexing, quite gladly transferring all the power he held to this foreigner, a young man of whom no one knew anything. So they bowed their head in silence before their future King, but they looked at him with quiet concern, trying to see through his rough exterior and surmise what sort of King this man would turn out to be.
Many of those who questioned Aezubah’s decision did so quietly and kept their concerns to themselves. True enough, Iskald was indeed the son of Vahan; it was difficult to disprove this because of the striking resemblance between the two. But was he fit to rule a Kingdom, as his father had been? More importantly, was he indeed able to stop the deluge of Vikings who swarmed their lands like a vicious plague? Was he capable of saving Lyons from the impending doom?
Some questioned it, but kept silent for fear of Aezubah’s anger of which they had heard a great deal of many stories and the devastating proof of which they had often witnessed with their own eyes. Others, the more distrustful and politically conscious, indeed attempted to resist the inauguration of the new King and went as far as attempting to persuade some of the troops into rebelling against Aezubah and his pupil. But the aged soldier carried too much weight among the Lyonese legions; he was so respected and loved that nearly all of the army stood behind him like one man, supported him wholeheartedly and was prepared to go straight into the fiery pits of hell under his orders.
Antagonists were soon effectively silenced; some were thrown into dungeons and others banished from the Jewel altogether. It was too early for them to realize now, but time would soon show just how good a choice Aezubah had made, as Iskald was not only a skilled leader, but a great King as well.
The day after the young Duke returned to Lyons, Aezubah prepared a splendid ceremony in the main square of Hvoxx during which he introduced Iskald to all the townspeople and the Lyonese troops, most of which were stationed in and around the Capital.
The young man spoke to the crowd before him and he spoke with such sincerity and such simplicity that he conquered their hearts immediately. Moments after he stepped off the podium, a hopeful and joyous message soared through Lyons, rumors of a new King who was to take the vacant throne of the Estate. News of a great and daring warrior, a dashing rogue, son of their beloved Duke Vahan who, having already accomplished great deeds on the southern side of the Azmattic Ocean, had now returned to protect his home from the hordes of the Viking Order.
The news, greatly exaggerated along the way, swept through the small Estate like a hurricane and many eyes lit up with hope, many heads were lifted and many hands reached out to the sky, thanking the gods for this message of hope.
The next day, Iskald’s third in his newly rediscovered home, was marked by a coronation that took place within the palace walls, among a small crowd of trusted officials, warriors, and aristocrats. The young Duke was formally recognized as the heir to the Lyonese throne. Aezubah placed a simple golden circlet on his head and through this act transferred to him all the power he had thus far held over the people of Lyons and the Lyonese army.
At the same time, Lyons officially rejected Biyackian, Viking, or any other protection and supervision of her borders, and formally stated its demand to be recognized as a sovereign Kingdom. It was only a formality, however, because as everyone was fully aware, Lyons would only be able to become an independent Kingdom if she defeated the Vikings and drove them out of her lands.
And this was exactly what Iskald now swore to do. He raised his hand in the air and gave a solemn oath that he would never abandon his Kingdom or his people, that he would always remain loyal and serve his Kingdom and her best interest and that he would shed the last drop of his blood, if need be, for her survival.
Lyons had a new King and even those who opposed this sudden turn of events had little or nothing to say about it, and could do even less. Some looked on with envy and others, with fear. How could this young stranger who drifted into their land after being away for so long, how could he simply show up and have everything handed to him right away?
And, having been given everything without a question asked, how would he respond to it all? Would he rise up to the challenge and in fact do all that was expected of him, all that he himself was promising? Lyons was swept over by a sudden euphoria and almost no one seemed to remember that a horrible fate hung over her head and that the reign of the new King would most likely be very short.
Those who remained cautious, or envious perhaps, had little to say however, because Iskald was supported completely by the all-powerful Aezubah, by the high ranking military officials, by the thousands of Lyonese Wolves who already swore to fight by his side till the very end, and finally, he was supported wholly by the Lyonese people themselves.
The townspeople, the common people, young and old, they all worshipped their young new ruler who, it seemed, was really one of them. He thought as they thought and he spoke directly into their hearts, easily penetrating their tough, highland exteriors.
It was only on the fourth day that Iskald and Aezubah finally found some time to spend together, quietly and in peace, some time when they could at last talk. Having made sure that everything was taken care of for the day, that all the formalities were done with, that all the people had gone away, they locked themselves inside the Royal Chambers and sat down by a table, facing each other.
A young girl quietly played the harp in the corner of the room, the table was filled with jugs of wine and fruit. In this comfortable atmosphere, the two men could finally rest and relax following the last few days’ hectic and tiring schedule. They looked into each other’s eyes.
“It’s been so long, old man, and you haven’t changed a bit,” Iskald smiled. He took the circlet off and put it on the table before him. It was not made to fit his head and often slid down his forehead. It was the only ornament the young man had agreed to wear anyway, rejecting gold chains, diamond rings, and satin garments offered him as the new King.
All that he had requested was a brand new Wolf uniform, which he wore now with great pride, a uniform complete with armor, gear, and weapons. The only thing of his own that he had kept was his sword, the one that he had brought all the way from Surath and refused to part with. Though it was worn out and its edge jagged, Iskald would not trade it for any other. It had saved his life on many occasions and was no longer just a tool but an extension of his arm.
Aezubah on the other hand, though not excessive in displaying signs of wealth and power, was nevertheless much less modest than Iskald. He preferred delicate garments these days over his old warrior dress; clothes made from Izmattic silk, known to be the softest of all and adorned with various beautiful designs.
The weapons he now carried with him were also heavily decorated and were hardly designed for battle. A heavy gold chain resting on his neck and light sandals on his feet completed his outfit. Dressed as he was, Aezubah appeared as a powerful Monarch who commanded the lives of thousands.
Such dignity and nobility radiated from him that Iskald felt uneasy in his presence, at first anyway, before he grew accustomed to it, especially since it soon became clear that Aezubah himself had not changed at all. He was still the same rude and ill-mannered, ruthless and cunning warrior whom Iskald remembered from his childhood years.
And neither the extraordinary triumphs he had achieved during the two latest Lyonese wars, one against Biyack some years ago and the present one; nor the power that he had been given by the Lyonese people, neither of these things had managed to change him. He scoffed at the question and said that he was too old to have things go to his head. He was too old to have his heart corrupted by greed or power.
Perhaps that was why people flocked to him when they were in danger, and perhaps that was the reason why they trusted him with their security and the security of their homes. And perhaps that was also the chief cause behind them flocking to Iskald at this time, too.
The young King was similar in many ways to Aezubaz: just as fearless, just as cruel and cunning when dealing with enemies, just as ruthless and unforgiving. There was none of the aristocratic pride in him, that pride that used to distance Vahan from his people to the effect that although they loved him, they feared him as well because he was to them only a distant ruler, a watcher and guardian.
Unlike his father, Iskald was open and simple, very much at ease among the commoners and even more so among the warriors, with whom he identified the most. He would later often wander the streets of Hvoxx, stopping to talk to merchants and innkeepers; he would also often gamble alongside other warriors when they were off duty and sometimes even join them for a jug of wine.
And although Aezubah often scorned him for doing so, saying that such behavior was unbecoming of a King, Iskald would simply laugh, pat the old man on his back and continue to do as he pleased.
His blood was Lyonese, like that of the people. It was just as thick as theirs and the people were drawn to him perhaps even more so than to Aezubah who, after all, was a foreigner.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2008 by Slawomir Rapala