Crossing the Foam

[Batkong, Queendom of Lapérouse]
[2th of January 1090]

The palace of the Eternal Rose is a large complex fortress of a palace, built with stone and iron. The dark form of the royal palace looks imposing over the large city of Batkong, sitting on top of a mountain with the road to climb to the palace being littered with various religious structures, primarily Ulvriktru in nature; however there is symbols of every religion in the queendom featured on the path to the palace. The trailing route of tributes, shrines, altars and of course pilgrims offering prayers towards the queen and her family.

Baroness Lucie Bourseiller held only a small land on the frontier of the queendom. A speck in the ever expansive frontier of the queendom, which never ever rested in the grand endless campaigns to push for more land. Not that the Baroness cared for such things, it’s much better to be quiet and ignored. Far safer than to draw the eye of the queen on to her and her shieldbands. Her majesty’s attention brings rewards, for a short while at least. Longer you are in the eye of the Queen, the more chance you have to lose everything. No one stays in her royal majesty’s favor forever, and it will eventually turn against you. Then you will face a truly awful fate.

Baroness took the first step on the path to the palace, keeping her coat tied closed and a firm hand on her walking stick. Her personal guards are required to stay at the entrance of the road, as only the Queen’s personal guards and Shieldmasters are allowed to carry arms into the palace grounds.

The road is worth a trip itself, every part of the realm was shown here. The wooden Akuan arches with carvings on the poles. The large statues of Hel and Freya with rusted bronze weapons form an archway. A marble statue of a solar eclipse to show the Duarists. As well the other smaller religious being shown here, brought over by the merchants and travelers coming from the sea to pay tribute to the mighty Queendom. Then come the jarldoms, the duchess, the baroness and all the small nobles, all their artifacts and tribute to the path to the palace.

The Baroness took a small moment to pray at an altar to Hel which was a few steps from the beginning of the road to the palace. Praying she won’t meet her soon during her meeting with the Queen. Alter itself was an old one, placed here by the great Queen Marie the 3rd of the Uvlantor dynasty. Placed here two hundred years ago, but seized from the puddle pirates of Concordia after an expedition by the veteran Shieldband of Vorsic. With claims that the altar was crafted by blessed Gothir by Odin themself four hundred years before the expedition. The altar was placed in a humble shrine built around it, built from stone brick with clay tiles above it. It was a humble shrine to the goddess, and frankly it was only really known due to being placed first in the path. Compared to the other shrines, temples and relics along the curving path it was a humble building, barely worth notice and easily overlooked.

Lucie walked away from the shrine, returning to the path to the palace. Walking forward with caution in each step pathing under the arch, the crests of fallen royal dynasties attached to them. The two fallen royal dynasties that attempt to hold the throne. Their family crests besmeared with mud and cracked in half, a pathetic display of once powerful houses that lead the mighty Queendom. A simple reminder, that above all no noble family is free of the throes of time or the unmatched brutality of the realm. The Frida dynasty is the eternal exception, not rule. She kept her head held up when walking by them, in case a valkyrie or a knight was wondering about and might view her as giving respect to the fallen dynasties.

Crossing under an Akuan arch, the baroness gave a small head bow. Her lands are filled with the heathens, but they are tolerable little heathens of a curious sort. Not a warrior among them but quite happy just working in the fields. They talk too much and far too touchy by a normal person’s standard. Saving grace for them is they are good hardworking thralls despite their cowardice on the battlefield.

“Aye Baroness Bourseiller that you?” Voice came from off the stone brick path coming from the east. A kemonomimi woman dressed in fine fabrics approached her. “Spirits blessed our paths to cross again. You have been summoned to the Imperial court as well?”

The Kemonomimi speaking to her was a wealthy river and sea merchant. She had a large trading company and a royal license to conduct business as well as establish industry. The baroness dealt with her in the past, there was some Akuan festival of some sort that required some obscure fruit or spice from Borea. Bourseiller didn’t pay too much attention to it, however the merchant Ny’Sorea was able to deliver for her in a timely fashion.

The merchant walked alongside her on the path. The Baroness spoke, “I have, do you know why we are being summoned? It took quite some time to arrive here.” Having a Barony on the frontier of the Queendom had some benefits of being able to avoid most of the cutthroat politics of the royal court however the downside is one won’t know if there is a spear pointed at their back until it is too late.

The merchant gave a nod, “War is on the horizon, the shieldbands have grown restless and the Valkyries grow in number. Her royal highness and her council are preparing for an invasion.”

Lucie and the merchant kept walking on the curved path. “You sure it is an invasion they are plotting and not just an expedition to curl the barbarians?”

Merchant shook her head, “Nay, it is an invasion of several barbarian states, all at once. I heard it from several trusted sources and a Valkyrie traveling here. The shieldbands need conflict and have swelled in numbers to a dangerous measure. There have been sightings of the Valkyries organizing into formations and being led by the Queen’s own nieces for conflict.”

The baroness looked forward, away from the Kemonomimi. “Explains why I am being called then, they must be using my lands as staging grounds. Though the question arises why have you been summoned, you’re a he-.” She stopped for a sentence, remembering to be polite. “My apologies, I mean to say a Akuanist, it has been a long road to travel to the capital.”

“I can only thank you for remembering to apologize, it places you a cut above most of my clients.” Merchant gave a smile, “If you are asking why I am being summoned as well. I have a feeling the queen wishes to use my ships for the invasion.”

“Invasion over the seas? The Fylkir-Queen could be finally putting the puddle pirates to heel. Though that would be overlooking my request to come here.” Baroness remarked, “You sit on the council in Bévers do you not?”

Kemonomimi gave a nod, “I do, I dread to think that her royal highness might have decided the republic is in her sights. Though I suspect she might wish to have the realm after some coercion.”

“Aye, perhaps I speak to a future Jarlnyja of Bévers.” Baroness gave a smirk.

The Kemonomimi gave a laugh, “Spirits, that certainly shut those on the council up for once. Perhaps the republic does need a change in management. Without any bickering, I bet we can bring in even more trade to the isles. We’re already suffering a bit from all the infighting and monopolies on trade. If that can be handled and then I can finally be allowed to send a trade mission over to Quattiolzna, it would open up a large new market for our exports for Western Novaris.”

“Always about money with you, even in the face of a war.” The Baroness raised an eyebrow, it’s not normal for an Akuanist to ever be remotely okay with violence. Let alone be cheerful and planning for the outcome.

“War is always horrific, every death is a tragedy but a Pzæffin requires their due. Spirits will be restless after the savagery and that shall require time, funds and people to soothe their rage.” The merchant gave a shrug, “When death comes to your village, then be the one selling firewood for the funerals.”

“That is a tad bit cold.” The Baroness looked surprised at the merchant. Genuinely surprised by the rather callous Akuanist. Even more so given the nature of Akuanism, to speak so plainly about profit with a soulless view of it.

“Pzæffin guides my hand, I am simply following their laid out path. I can only will myself to save as many as I can from the suffering to be at hand.” The merchant took out their necklace, a wooden ward holding it up for the Baroness to see. “Pzæffin is not a kind spirit, but it is an important one. When they cause a path to form, if one does not walk it then someone else will and there is no guarantee that they will help the weary traveler lost on it.”

“That sounds like a roundabout way to give yourself an excuse to profiteer.” The Baroness gave a shrug, keeping on the path but still giving her attention to the merchant. Ignoring the various relics, shrines and other matters of trophies on the path.

“I don’t expect everyone to understand. The path of the spirits is a strange one.” The merchant gave a sigh.

The baroness just ignored the heathen’s words with an eye roll. “If you say so, we are near the palace of the Fylkir.” The baroness felt the eyes of the Shieldbands staring her down as she spoke with the merchant.

The shieldbands, zealot warriors that swear an oath to the queen. Well equipped, trained, drilled and battle hardened. They are nothing at all like the knights or the valkyries. They had their noble duties, codes of honor and decency. Well most of them were decent. However shieldbands only had one duty and that was to go to war for the Queen-Fylkir in the Allmother’s name. Their codes of honor were lacking in length or normality, only the warrior spirit matters to them. Where a knight or a valkyrie would have the decency making sure the opponents were armed and ready. Shieldbands would raze their camps while they slept, poison their rations, slaughter men and children alike with the only thought being spared was the loss of profit from slaving them into bondage. They were made up of thralls, landless nobles and other worthless members of society, whose only chance at social ascension through the strict caste system was through a lifetime of servitude to their Shieldbands.

As uncomfortable the baroness was with the wraithful zealots were, the merchant was more so. Keeping their head down, avoiding any chance at an accidental glance with them and risking meeting their end at the hands of the righteous warriors. The Baroness didn’t carry such risk at least, they might spare a few harsh words to a noble, but she is one of the faithful and wouldn’t be struck down and not to mention the invitation by the Fylkir-Queen.

The merchant, despite having an invitation from her highness. Still carried the risk of being wrong in their decision of who to worship. She was far from the regions where Akuanists are tolerated to be, she was in the beating heart of Ulviktru empire, and away from the assigned Akuanist royal protector. If she was quick enough about stating her invitation then it wouldn’t be too much grief for her. Merchant opened her mouth before the Baroness could, “I have a inv-”

She was cut off by the lead warrior, “Heathen be still.” The armored kemonomimi stared holes into the merchant. “Papers.” They looked towards the Baroness. She supplied them from her satchel. Shieldbands was never a pleasant sort, but this is a bridge too far even by their standards. Something is brewing that has them antsy, something more than an invasion. The armored woman handed the papers back, opening the door for her to enter.

“The Akuanist is with me, they have an invitation as well.” The Baroness spoke up to them, locking eyes with the lead zealot. First to insure the Fylkir-Queen receives the merchant without them getting harassed and second, it is always good to have a Akuan merchant owe you a favor. They tend to get into unusual beneficial spots for the ones they are indebted to.

The merchant quickly took out her papers from her bag, holding up for inspection still not locking eyes with the armored forces in front of her. The lead zealot took the papers, reading them over before placing it back into the merchant’s hand. “You may enter as well, but we have our eye on you.”

The pair quickly entered the palace before the Shieldband guards changed their minds. The door closed, and they were left alone if one ignored the staff like every proper noble does. The merchant spoke, “Thank you, they seem to be in a dangerous mood.” Leaving the fact they owe Baroness a favor, an unspoken agreement.

“More so than normal, at least in my experience. Perhaps it is more than just an invasion at hand, have you heard anything?” The Baroness asked in a quiet tone, being led by the head of staff to the throne room. The merchant replied in the same tone, “I told you, the shieldbands are getting restless and growing too far in number. You’re a student of history, no?”

The baroness understood, it wasn’t the first time there has been an issue with large shieldbands and it will not be the last. If you let them rest too long, give them nothing to honor the warrior spirit then they will find something in the empire to honor it themselves. Which tends to lead to infighting and occasional replacement of leadership be they lowly Baroness to the Fylkir-Queen. It has happened twice before, and at each hand it was by the zealous hand of the Shieldbands.

“I suppose it is time for another lovely war.” The Baroness shrugged, the merchant held her tongue staying close to the baroness. The head of staff opened the door to the throne room, and the pair entered to see a room filled with people from across the land. To both of their surprise, there was even non-Kemonomimi tolerated in the room including elves and humans. Though they probably were just thralls for the royal house handing drinks out to the people that actually mattered.

Merchant spotted a few of their friends, giving a respectful head bow to the Baroness. “I will take my leave, thank you again. Spirits guide you.” The baroness didn’t respond in words, only giving a head nod. Then taking her leave to go grab a drink from one of the nearby servants wandering the throne room.

She didn’t have long to enjoy it or time to speak with any of the other guests. The head of the royal guard, an old and angry looking woman slammed the bottom of her spear into a particular spot on the ground. Causing echoing throughout the room. Giving a yell, “Silence! The Fylkir-Queen has arrived.”

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A short kemonomimi dressed in a lavish red and blue robe, with golden stitching. Emblems of various symbology sewn onto it, primarily of religious origin. They wore a full facial mask, dark gray pattern across it with the cheek being different colors all together. Cheek of the mask held a symbol of a shield cracked into three pieces, an emblem of her house being proudly displayed. The lower half mask was open so she could speak clearly and loudly. She cleared her throat, preparing her voice to cry out.

“Her majesty, Fylkir-Queen, the protector of the realms, divinely inspired by the wisdom of the Allmother, Queen of Queens, Queen of Jarlyias, Fylkir of the Ulvikrik Empire, chosen by Valhalla to led us, Freya blessed with life, keeper of the branch of Yggdrasil, Arch-Valkyrie, Keeper of Shieldwall, Queen of Normand, Arch-Jarl of Østland-Dragefjord, Grand Shepherd of the isles of Eyjaria, Keeper of the Evzle Mountains, Protector of the Shrines, Guardian of both heathen followers the Moon and Sun, Gothir of the Lews, Judge of the Nine Free-Cities, Lead-Protector of the lesser people, master of us all, her majesty Fylkir-Queen Frida. Mother of four, Crown-Princess Toinette duel master, scholar of the Grand Shrine of Lilith, master of the tournaments; Princess Mauder Second to the Arch-Valkyrie, slayer of beasts, headtaker of the Horselord Bilguun, and conqueror of the Lov-e-set; and two sons Heri and Félix.” The three-cracked mask kemonomimi took in a deep breath.

“Fylkir-Queen of House Frida, the immortal and last house of the Ulvikrik Empire; greatest dynasty of the land, sea and air; Who blood is holy and divinely inspired by the gods to guide of all to reclamation of the lost realms; Greatest of bloodline and the most pure of them all; The House of the Sharpen Claws; House who has reclaimed glory for the Queendom through the destruction of the pretender royals.” The announcer gave a sigh of relief being finished with the roll-call of titles.

“Ah, they’re in a hurry to shorten it so much. The baroness thought to herself, keeping a watchful eye towards the door.

The royal guards used the blunt end of their spear to make a collective stomping sound. Slamming it onto specifical title placement, giving the illusion of an army on march. The echoes of the violent stomping inspired a sense of dread in the room. The various human and elven servants quickly filed out of the room through the side entrances. The religious minorities, being clustered together near the wall on the far end, looked down as stomping continued. As is tradition only the Shieldbands and Jarlyias can gaze at her royal majesty. The small land holders, like the baroness or the merchant guild masters kept their eyes above the throne, staring at the off-spring of Yggdrasil through the glass behind the throne.

The off-spring of Yggdrasil, itself was a massive tree that soured past even the palace’s tallest tower. Its huge red trunk and branches are in clear view of the throne room despite it being on a different, but neighboring hill. Despite the distance it carried an almost stranglehold over those who viewed such a holy tree, the immortality of the tree with its roots buried deep into the mountain. It demands attention from all who stare at it, to those who worship it as an artifact of the gods.

The Fylkir-Queen was carried into the room on her sedan seat, carried by thralls taken from fallen noble houses and foreign royalty. Thralls that were former royalty or nobility, are considered the most prestigious of the thralls, always fetching a high price. Not for ransoming purposes but simply because it shows the dominance of their owners, giving an aura of prestige to own such people and force them to perform work for you. It, of course, is also utterly humiliating for thrall.

The ‘noble’ thralls laid down the litter next to the throne, the door being opened up and the peerless Fylkir-Queen stepped out. Wearing Borean silk robes, colored in pure white with edging of golden thread. Her mask was a simple one, that only covered her eyes and held her family’s crest on either side of the ends. Sword sheath at her side, she took her place on the throne. Her eyes looking across the crowd, she held up her hand for the stomping to stop.

“My loyal faithful subjects, my thralls, vessels and all others who are under my protection. I demand your attention, I have been stricken with visions of a glorious war against heathens and heretics to the east, I have foreseen our victory won for the honor of the Allmother. I have spoken with the high gothirs, listened to the raven calls and read the ashes of our ancestors. All the signs direct my spear to a single truth, the Allmother demands to bring those across the across the river Moussant to Poibonne, the lands carrying the stretch of heathenry and horse-elven failures to be damned if they could not be save in the grace of the Allmother’s wisdom.” Her voice echoes throughout the room, the shieldband zealots appear to almost be biting at the ideas of it, a large sway of land. Filled with warriors riding on horseback, knights with real experience in combat, and bountiful land ready to bring into Hel’s cold grasp. It seemed almost like a dream to them, to have opponents worthy of their steel, land full of people prime for conversion in the name of the Allmother or whip against their back as thralls. They could barely resist the allure to praise the Allmother for giving the Fylkir the opportunity for war.

“The gift of foresight by the Allmother was not lacking, for the raven flew over Bévers and sat on the merchant’s coin purse. Treasure worthy of the Fylkir-Queen favor and Allmother’s eye on you. However, the raven flew over the temples and shrines of the heretics and heathens.” Fylkir-Queen spoke, directly looking at the merchant from Bévers. The shieldband seemed interested but bored out of it. Merchants are not worth fit, a simple threat or two is all that is required for them to turn over their lands. However blood is blood, and their spears have been clean for far too long.

Ny’Sorea and the rest of her merchant band seemed more… unnerved about it. Ny’Sorea being personally stared down by the Fylkir-Queen, the holiest of holies and the unflinching hand of the land. They casted their gaze down, refusing to look her in the eye in fear of punishment. The Fylkir-Queen spoke in a direct tone, “Merchant of Bévers, Ny’Sorea take you and your ilk. Inform the council of their new ownership, do so and be rewarded. If they resist, the survivors of the council will be made an example out of.”

Groups of people around the merchants, pardoned ways to allow the Fylkir-Queen to look directly at them. The room keeping silent saves the foot-steps stepping away from the crowd of merchants of the isle. The merchants of Bévers got down on their knees and hands. Bowing before the queen, heads touching onto the ground. The Fylkir-Queen stare at them, letting silence carry its own weight. “The order is given, you and your group bring my law to the council of Bévers. If they require motivation for accepting my law, then they will be given it soon enough.”

“Leave.” The Fylkir-Queen gave the final order, the merchants standing up with their heads held low. Quickly taking their exit, and the message deep to heart. The Fylkir-Queen gaze turned towards the Baronesses of the frontier, as their eyes kept low. “Baronessess, of the frontier, you have traveled long to be in my court, for that you are thanked. You will be thanked twice more, for allowing the Shieldbands to garrison in your land. The honorable warriors of the Allmother will escort you back to your lands but they will not occupy it or enforce the law. They are guests, and will only act on my daughters’ orders when the time comes.”

Baroness Bourseiller resisted the urge to brief a sign of relief. It was a peace of mind, if the Shieldbands are coming only as guests, then there is no concern of them enforcing the strict law of the Allmother’s most faithful. Even more so if Fylkir-Queen is sending her daughters, then that adds an extra layer of protection. They will fall in line when the blood of the Frida speaks, and even more so if they are the ones leading the holy war. Her eyes still kept low, but she felt the cold steel hand weight on her shoulder. Bourseiller eyes quickly looking at the large (for a kemonomimi) grabbing her shoulder, pushing her forward.

“Baroness Bourseiller.” The Fylkir-Queen stared down at the woman as she was forced to kneel in front of the throne. “You, in service of leading the future occupation. Your family will be granted the new Jarldom of Fjelldal. Tales of your even-handedness and understanding of heathens have been known to me. The lands of Auchterpool and Llyntun, are full of heathens some of which fall under my protection. The elves will be cleansed, but all others will be spared and you will assist in the future settlements.”

“Now raise, Jarlnja Bourseiller. Do not disappoint.” The baroness was politely but firmly pushed back into the crowd, not her previous crowd of baroness and small nobles. Bourseiller was pushed into the more Jarlnjas. Still in the state of surprise of it all, she kept her head low. One doesn’t speak to the Fylkir-Queen, even as a word of thanks. Only those with purpose fitting for informing the Fylkir-Queen family and those who have stained their blades with her weapons.

“You may enjoy the party for tonight, for tomorrow you will leave and make preparations in your lands. The Shieldmasters will inform you what is required of you in the morning.” The Fylkir-Queen gave a final command. The sound of the spear ends stomping onto the ground, metal cladded shouting “Long live Fylkir-Queen! Glory to the Empire! Death to all who oppose the will of the Gods!

‘Jarlnja Bourseiller, I can live with that. Has a nice ring to it’ The once baroness, now Jarlnja of a jarldom to yet exist. Though there was an underlying fear of having to join into the cut throat world of political games, no longer the small barony on the frontier but Jarldom as the bulwark against the barbarian aggression. The Fylkir-Queen’s words left an imprint on her mind, yes her family will have a jarldom and that status but that comes with the Shieldbands influence, military construction and threat of raids at every moment. That not including when it is the next war session, where her lands will be the grounds for combat.

Sitting in the guest room, away from the incredibly stiff and joyless partying in the main hall. Sipping on her fine wine, looking out towards the garden made up of various rare plants and trees. Any other royal palace in the world would make them quite lavish and gentle on the eyes but for the land of the Allmother’s most beloved. They were war trophies, taken from the corpses of fallen nobility and royals at the Lapérousian iron boot. Several of the tulips, the ones lining the entrance-exit of the garden, were planted in the clay pots shaped like skulls. Each one of them marked a fallen dynasty that dared to resist the Queen’s orders. They are not made to inspire fear, but rather a notification of their failure. To resist the Queen is heresy, to lose after is unforgivable.

Not to say forgiveness is a Lapérousian custom, forgiveness is some Akuanist nonsense. Blood for blood, every pound of flesh lost needs two pounds in repayment. Anything less is weakness and a dishonor to the family. Blood debts or weregold, isn’t paid in money but in offerings of thralls or the transfer of the youngest family member over. The latter being how she herself became into control of the baronry, after her birth mother killed her first husband after his failure of some sort or another. Her father’s family was annoyed at the loss, so they took her in as a replacement. The heiress to the barony perished in a battle and left her to inherit the seat. The new Jarlnja, often thinks back to those moments of her childhood and how her new parents treated her as one of their own.

Yet such joyful memories such as her first practice duel was cut short as a harsh knock at her door grabs her attention. “Come in.” Bourseiller stands up just in case someone of higher or equal rank arrives. The door opened, and closed, a strong armored woman steps in. She was tall and strong frame, true Shieldmaster through and through. Her face, burned with the mark to signify her virtue of a devout commander of the Allmother’s many armies. Eagle tattoo above her unburned eye, scars all around her face and terrifying look in her pale green eyes. Her fox ears and tail, cut at parts but still somewhat functionable.

The older Kemonomimi looked down at the freshly minted Jarlnja with a dangerous look. “Jarlnja Bourseiller, I am Shieldmaster Arlette of the Shieldband Lance Sacrée.” They took a seat across from the young Jarlnja. “We will be working together closely, during the invasion, the occupation and garrison.”

“We will be seeing each other often then.” Bourseiller held a strong, cold voice with her words to speak with the Shieldmaster. Gods know how joyless they are about things and view anything less than aggression as weakness. “If we’re getting to know each other, then care for some wine?” The Jarlnja poured a second glass, not waiting for a response.

The warrior Gothir grabbed the wine glass, drowning in one go before placing it back on the table. “The Fylkir has commanded all the elves to be purged, however we will be making an exception, the Nightwalkers of the Sangtroll forest, will be spared.”

Bourseiller gave a concerned look at that, to go against her holy majesty. “I’m not one for treason. What is your reason?”

“It is not treason, however the speaker of the forest… Fey and I have reached an agreement. They will be joining us in the Odinstridur, but the Fylkir hasn’t yet granted them privileged status. She will after however then, but due to the holy righteous of our orders it would be… Politically unwise to do so.” The Shieldmaster withdraws a letter, stamped with the royal sigil.

“I understand, however, why them? Do you really believe their assistance is required?” The Jarlnja finished her wine glass, pouring another round for the both of them. “In my travels here, I saw quite a few of the devout armies waiting for the call to action.”

“I believe, as well as many several other Shieldmasters and the Fylkir herself believe they might be fey from the other worlds. As such, not to offend those of the other worlds. Not to mention the tricky and powerful magic they held. We have spears, but if they are fey, honest to the Allmother fey kingdom in the lands of Fylkir-Queen. Then we be wise not to oppose and take their vassalage offering with caution. Less we find ourselves to be included in their forest as trees.” The Shieldmaster spoke in a hush tone, not afraid but aware.

The Jarlnja took a moment to take in the words, stirring her wine in its glass. “Fey… What reason do we believe they to be fey? Is it just rumors or do we have something substantive?”

“We have reports of villagers who travel near or walk through forest go messing and another tree being added to the outskirts of their forest. At night, according to my scouts the villagers say that they see alleged elves patrolling the forest but are gone by the day.” The older kemonomimi spoke with high concern with their tone. “They will join us, but will only work at night.”

The younger kemonomimi looked towards the setting sun, it’s the light covering the offspring of Yggdrasil and the garden. Sounds of the party slowly turning quiet, as people return to their guest rooms. “Interesting, Fey kingdom, wishes to swear vassalage to Fylkir-Queen. To join in installing order of the frontier and settlement of said frontier. One questions the motive of the Fey, if they are Fey of course.”

“If they’re fey, then we won’t ever know. If they are not fey, then they have heard word of the might of the Fylkir and wish to avoid such light of the Allmother.” Shieldmaster joins in staring at the sunset. “Assuming they are not Fey, and the reports are wrong. Then… Well, they will still be accepted into the protection of the Fylkir regardless, and be treated as such.”

“For the glory of the Fylkir-Queen and the Allmother.” Bourseiller raised her glass and stood up. “To our new cooperation.” The Shieldmaster stood up as well, “To the glory of our people, the Allmother and to the eternal throne.”

“Your majesty, prince Aldfrid. Your father wishes a word with you.” The servant’s words was calm, but held a small degree of unsteadiness.

The young strapping Elven prince bore it no mind. Fixing his royal coat onto himself, buttoning it up. “I will be on my way then, please inform Cynric that he has to make due playing in the garden with himself.” He gave a warm smile, patting the maid on the shoulder before taking off to inside the castle.

The castle itself was a humble one, built primarily as fortification for horseback raiders of the east. Though the city around it was anything but, large complexes of manors and rich merchant housing within its protection. Yet, for all the wealth the city stored, the people with full bellies and clothes on their back. There was fear, a terrified aura around them. One that hasn’t been dashed for years. The monstrous, all in composing empire to the West, the Queendom of Lapérouse, the last bastion Ulvikrik of empire masquerading as a civil land but it was anything else.

People of the Duchy know the price of submission is fate worse than thralldom. Death would be a gift, and that simply wasn’t colorful words. Queendom was a beast, a dragon at their borders wanting nothing but to feed its endless lust for land and blood. To kill for killing sake, is holy for the creatures to the west. For those who lay outside of their borders, just a target for their slavery, thralldom and the Gods of the woods only know what else. Everyone knows stories about what happened to so many people who fell to the Queendom. Nobles turned to playthings, people exterminated to make space for their own people and so more that it is unkind to think about.

“Aldfrid, about time. We have work to do.” Duke Acwulf, his father, spoke with a true tone of fear. “I have called the alliance, the armies of Lapérouse march. Our allies will be arriving within the week for preparations.” The duke was hunched over a map of the peninsula. “My spies, the ones that were able to get their message through at least, claim they’ll be at the foaming river within a year. However…” The old elven duke trails off. Shifting his attention to various papers.

“Father, have you eaten?” Aldfrid, looks over towards a plate of cold food and wine untouched. He approaches his dad, resting his hand on his back. “If it’s true they are invading, then you shouldn’t plan on an empty stomach.” His eyes glanced over the reports his father was reading.

“I don’t need food, I need information.” Acwulf kept his attention on the reports, moving various models on the border. “They’re sending the zealots, alongside the children of the Queen. They’re not planning on a small invasion.” He muttered to himself, focusing on the map. “We need a system of walls along the river, they need a crossing. So we have the bridges burned, keep patrols within the area to make sure they’re not building another one.”

“Dad, eat something for me.” The prince moved his hand from the back to the shoulder. Holding it tightly. “They’re not at the gates, you have time to eat.”

The duke shook his head, waving his son’s hand away. “Boy, food won’t save us from the iron hordes. We need to prepare, we need to drill the peasantry, gather the horselord clans and get our allies here.”

“For the Forest Gods old man, you starve yourself. Eat. Now.” Aldfrid grabbed an apple from the nearby plate, “At least something in your stomach.” He held it up towards his father.

The duke shook his head, grabbing the apple and taking a bite from it. Spending a few more moments to eat away at the apple and finish it. Then giving a small chuckle, placing the apple core onto the plate. “I suppose I didn’t realize how hungry I was. Oak tree guide me, I might have been focusing too much.”

The prince shook his head, giving a small smirk. “You don’t say, finish your plate and I take a look over those reports. It could just be an overly paranoid spy.” The prince took a hold of the papers, as his father took the time to eat. Prince only grew in his concern, but he was steadfast in his strength. It was certain, no doubt about it. The Queendom was coming, and it was sending the Shieldbands.

He quietly swore under his breath, “Forest Gods protect us.” Prince looked over at the map, there weren’t enough figures on the map for the armies gathering at their borders. His father, finishing his meal, cleaned his mouth with a piece of cloth. “You understand now?”

“Well… It is not good but we can fight back against this. It will be costly, but with our allies and Khanates skill with horses. We can win this.” The prince spoke with absolute confidence, disregarding his fear. “We will win, and we will be free.” No fear, in his words. His confidence is absolute. “Besides, I got a wedding and it would be dreadful to have to do it under the Queendom’s reign.” He gave a warm smirk towards his father, trying to reassure him.

The duke didn’t take the joke well. “Boy, there won’t be a wedding if the Queendom wins. If we’re lucky, we will be dead and I don’t even have to consider what they do to Cynric.” His words sinked deeply into the prince regardless of the strong proudful prince try to portrayal.

“Dad, we can win this. We will win this.” Aldfrid reassured his father, resting a hand on his shoulder. “We will win, I will get married and I can tell your grandchildren how you were a pessimistic worry-wart.” He gave a warm, reassuring look. Which gave the duke a warm beacon of hope.

“Perhaps I am overly pessimistic, but with good reason.” The duke shook his head, “They march, it’s not a win or lose. It’s eventually losing, they can afford to flood warriors and resources into our land, let their nobility die in battle because they have always had another spare child of noble blood.” The duke looked more at the map. “They’re not sending levees, but warriors, real warriors. Shieldbands, zealots of that give their rest of their life for war.” He keeps shaking his head. “Legions of them, fully armored, trained and equipped for conflict.”

“Father, you once told me a good wall is as hardy as any shield.” Aldfrid spoke in a polite tone, “We have the alliance, we have the resources and we have the will to refuse their demands. Metal rain can come, but oak will always regrow.” The prince gave a smile, patting his father on the shoulder. “I’m asking you, as your eldest, to take care of yourself and take a break. Let us both go see what Cynric is up too. It will be days until members of the alliance arrive. Let’s spend it wisely, before the times where we can’t afford a moment to spend in relaxation.”

The duke shaked his head, “No. I- We need all the time we can afford. Time is not on our side, we have much work to do before our friends arrive.” The old, even for an elf standard man, returned to the map. Looking over everything, mumbling to himself what he could have missed here.

The prince gave a sign, “Fine, but I will take what time we have left before this war to ensure I have lasting memories.” He gave a final stare at his father. “I will check up on you at dinner, if you haven’t eaten a meal by then. I will force feed it to you.” He gave a joking tone at Acwulf, who only waved him off. Focusing on his war plans.

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[Few days later]

Prince Aldfrid waited eagerly on top of the gate, a smirk growing on his face as he saw the convoy of horses kicking up dust. Based on the sheer cloud of dust being kicked up by the horses, one can safely assume that no less than two hundred riders are arriving. More than that, perhaps even better than that. Other leaders of the alliance are arriving.

He spotted two horse riders in particular racing each other ahead of the army behind them. The frames of their body lurched on the horse to reduce drag, their boots hitting the side of the horse to pick up what little more speed could be acquired. The prince’s eyes spotted an elf leaning towards the side, reaching his hand into the ground and picking up a handful of dirt. Then rises himself back up and throws the dirt directly on the other rider’s face.

The other rider racing to the gate was a red, sun-damaged Tiefling. The clump of dirt in their eye forces them to raise their body up on their horse. Using a gloved hand to wipe the mud from their eyes. Cursing in his native tongue at the elven man with a raised hand. Though his laughter ruined his triad of insults, making it clear it was all in good fun.

Moments later men and women, leaders of Llyntun and Togh kicking up a fust outside the gates. He even spotted the merchants of Legebeke and their caravan arrive. Duchy of Llyntun and Khanate of Togh bordering having a race against each other to reach the gate. “Open it up, it’s time for a show folks.” The prince gave a clap of his hands, giving a warm smile as he runs down the steps.

“Ha! Beat you and that old horse of yours.” A tanned elven man gave a smirk towards a red, sun stained Tiefling. “You threw dust into my eye, you cheating git.” The Tielfing gave a laugh, patting his horse. His horse reared into the air.

“Well, well, figure it was you two idiots kicking up a dust storm about this.” Prince Aldfrid gave a smile to his old friends. He raises his hands out to give them a hug as they jumped off their horses running over to him. “Damn good to see you two again.”

“I would say the same, but every time I see your face. I wish to visit the chamber pot to make a deposit of my lunch.” Dorbei, captain of the guard of the royal family of the Khanate Togh. “So are we the first one here or did those merchant’s luggage slow us down enough?” The handsome elven man gave a cheeky grin. His black hair shaved away.

The red tiefling gave a cough, “Moon sake, it is like each time I see you again. I wish for the stars to pluck my eyes and cast them into the black sea.” The young tielfing commander, Plezian of the Dukedom Llyntun laughed. Letting go of the elven prince and captain. “Shame we have to meet in such dire straits, but I brought you a gift of the finest sorts.” The Tiefling gave a smug look.

“No, the other alliance members were here far earlier than you slow pokes were. You cannot blame it all on the Akuan merchants either.” The prince crossed his arms with a warm smile, “Forest spirits, you two look awful and smell even worse. Now what is this about a gift?”

The tiefling didn’t have a chance until a true beauty tapped him on his shoulder. He spinned around to find the tall elven woman looking at him with a delightful smile. “My love, ignore your alleged friends, you look even more handsome than the last time I saw you.” She gave a kiss to Aldfrid’s cheek, embracing him in a hug.

Dorbei, ever the killjoy, grabbed the collar of Aldfrid’s shirt. “Come loverboy, you have time to be with your fiance later tonight. We have a war to plan and win.” Not even giving the love birds a moment of peace.

“Dorbei, do you simply hate romance because you find none or is simply spite towards anything enjoyable?” Plezian shook his head, still smiling. Resting his shoulder on Aldfrid’s shoulder as they walked towards the castle itself.

“Spite, as always. Anything fun must be stopped and ruined.” Dorbei said with a cheeky tone, giving an elbow to Aldfrid. “Besides, we are facing down an iron horde bent on our destruction and enslavement. We need to find a bard to sing of our future heroics!”

“Careful now, you sound like you might be enjoying yourself too much. We might have to ban combat next, to ensure a complete enforcement of banning fun.” The tiefling gave a laugh.

“Alright you two, we actually need to prepare now. Where are the rest of your bloody armies?” The elven prince gave a raised eyebrow to his friends. “Songs can be written of our glorious victory of the iron lords can be sung later, we have yet fought them.” He walked forward with his trusted allies. Entering the stone foundations that made up the last line in defense, royal draps of his house flowed freely for as long as it would.

The tone of the conversion shifted, from the pleasures of seeing old friends into a twisted sense of horror covered by layers of confidence. “My Khan riders have been occupied with the raiders further south. They will be here after that.” Dorbei responded, looking towards the tiefling. “My father’s army is still being raised up, it’s harvest season and we already had a bad harvest last year. As such, the old man ordered the peasants to first harvest then report to duty. You can picture how the peasants are working very hard to fight against the legions of iron.” Plezian responded.

“So, neither of your armies will arrive here until much later? That… Does not strike me with the utmost confidence.” The good prince shook his head, processing his words. “My own father’s army is suffering from issues, since word of the north moving south, we have been having desertions and peasants leaving their land to flee south.”

“Ah, all the more glory for us three to claim. We can cut down thousands of them by ourselves each!” The confident tone was unmatched by the utter uneasiness of the other two.

“Well, even if we do die. Our names will be remembered for generations.” The elven prince gave a shrug. Fully believing in his words, after all poets and bards love a good last stand against the utmost evil forces in history. At least the most evil in history for them, who bloody knows what is going on elsewhere in the world.

“Unless they kill the poets and bards. Burn down any records of us existing and then forget about us.” Plezian responded in kind. “Though perhaps we will die quickly, and not be captured. That would be rather kind of them.”

“Quick death sounds nice, beats dying in bed with our loved ones around us.” Dorbei spoke, eyeing the war room they were walking towards. Map of the region, and even from this distance he spotted just how many markers for the Queendom’s forces there were.

The lord in charge of the allied armies greeted them. The prince’s father waves them in, as he hunches over the war room’s table. “How many?” He spoke without spare glaze towards the two captains.

“Well they’re occup-”

“Then they’re not here soon enough. They’re going to march soon, I can feel it.”

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