ZIHAEN, The Shadow of the Revenaunt, Book 2


‘Marshal Gard-Galleth reports that the High Command is waiting on your orders, Sire,’ a child’s voice piped in his ear.

‘Hmm, what?’ Drowsily, Ghyll opened his eyes. ‘Oh, I had dozed off, I think.’ He had heard several petitions that morning, but after a while, it had become too much for him and he had referred the rest to Duke Kyssander, now back in his role as Chancellor of the Realm. The sudden quiet had proved fatal, however and Karanth had lured him into the land of dreams, from which this child had cruelly snatched him back.

The little page looked at him with frightened eyes. ‘Apologies, Sire!’ He was no more than eight years, a blond child in the blue-and-silver of Hardingraud.

Ghyll chuckled. ‘It’s all right; I’m not supposed to sleep on the throne anyhow. I haven’t seen any pages before. What’s your name?’

‘A… Astian, Sire,’ the boy stammered. ‘My father is the Baron of Osterne.’

‘Have you been here long, Astian?’

The small page shook his head. ‘No, Sire, I started yesterday. Before that I served the Prince of Leudra, you see, but when Prince Wyllander heard you were looking for pages, he sent me here.’

‘I was looking for pages?’ Ghyll asked, surprised at the thought. ‘I had no idea. Do you like it here?’

The boy smiled broadly. ‘Oh yes, Sire! Here I’m the only one. In Leudra City there were twenty boys, and all bigger than me. This is really much nicer.’

‘Good,’ Ghyll said, feeling stiff as a board. ‘Ah, never sleep on a throne, boy; it’s much too hard.’

‘No, Sire; I’ll probably never get the chance.’ The boy skipped. ‘Follow me, Sire. You’ll see I know the way already.’

Obediently, Ghyll limped after his tiny new servant. At the door to the Council Chamber, the boy stopped and looked inquiringly at Ghyll. ‘Would you want me to…?’

‘Sure,’ Ghyll said magnanimously. ‘Announce me.’

The boy took a deep breath, stuck out his chest and threw open the door. ‘His Highness the King!’ he shouted.

All present rose and bowed as Ghyll walked in.

‘Well done, Astian, thank you. Run back and tell them I am pleased with you.’

The boy bowed and hurried out, closing the door carefully behind him.

Ghyll shook his head and grinned as he walked to his chair at the head of the table. ‘Pages,’ he said. ‘I didn’t even know we had one.’

‘In your grandfather’s time, there were always a few at court,’ the marshal said, smiling. ‘Their chatter kept him with both feet on the ground, he said.’

Ghyll looked around at the sixteen men and two women, the commanders of Rhidauna’s military forces, as well as Olle’s familiar face.

‘Good morning,’ he said, and sat down. When the scraping and coughing died down, he looked up. ‘Well, ladies and gentlemen. Three vicious attacks against the kingdom: Tinnurad, Camp Dirdahn and now Yanthemonde. Without us ever having received a declaration of war, war has come upon us. A ruthless enemy…’

‘The Nhael,’ a stocky general said. The lancer cords on his shoulder shook.

‘General Qrill, you interrupt the king,’ Gard-Galleth said sternly.

‘It’s not the Nhael,’ Ghyll said quietly. ‘The Dar’khamorth is the enemy. They are an organization of sorcerers who see themselves as the successors of the Hamorth and the Revenaunt Emperor.’

The lancer snorted like one of his horses. ‘Nonsense. The Hamorth is no more. After the Fall of Abarran, we eradicated that gang. Eradicated, you hear. We’re at war with the Nhael, those pirates of the Drakenlanden. And you brought the Nhael into our country.’

‘Qrill, what are you talking about, man?’ another general asked, baffled.

‘That… that young villain who is always at his side, whom he treats as his squire. He’s a Nhaelish pirate. That knight in the temple had it right. This is not the king! This is a traitor, do you hear! A traitor. The real Ghyllander Hardingraud died in the ruins of Tinnurad!’

‘Silence!’ the marshal roared. ‘His Royal Highness had all the proof of his ancestry with him. You’re speaking nonsense, Qrill.’

The lancer general stood up and pointed a trembling finger at Ghyll. ‘He’s a fake! A traitor! Why don’t you see it, you fools!’

Ghyll rose. Anger surged through him and he felt his facial muscles constrict. Olle had risen too, but Ghyll motioned him stay out of it. ‘You go too far, General Qrill,’ he said in a tone calmer than he really was. ‘I am your king, crowned and anointed, blessed by the gods. My squire, Prince Torril, is a friend of my house and of Rhidauna. Although no peace has been signed with the Nhael Islands, the last act of war was eighty years ago. The knight in the temple was an agent of the Dar’khamorth, General. A falmage’s tool.’

‘Lies,’ Qrill said shakily. ‘All lies! Traitor! You are…’

‘Shut up!’ Ghyll’s tone was so relentless that even Olle was startled. ‘Qrill, your assertions are treasonous. You’re under arrest. I relieve you of your command and your rank. Marshal Gard-Galleth, strip him of his wrongful honors.’

The old marshal, stiff with rage, stepped forward. He yanked the golden lancer’s cords from Qrill’s shoulder, the general officer’s badge from his chest and a distinction Ghyll didn’t recognized from around Qrill’s neck.

‘You are no longer an officer. Give me your sword, Qrill.’ Ghyll held out his hand.

‘Filthy traitor!’ Qrill screamed and dived forward. Olle sprang to stop him, but Ghyll was faster than both. He sidestepped Qrill’s sword thrust. Childegard sang in his grip and the lancer’s head fell with a thump onto the conference table.

Frozen, the commanders stared at the grimace on Qrill’s face.

With Childegard still humming in his hands, Ghyll looked around the circle. ‘Are there any more who want to break their oath of allegiance?’ he asked coldly.

Gard-Galleth yanked his sword from its sheath and raised it in the air. ‘I am loyal to my king, so help me the gods. Long live Ghyllander III!’

Sixteen arms went up; sixteen throats swore their loyalty, sixteen pale faces tried not to stare at the head before them on the table and at the blood that trickled down slowly along the edges.

Ghyll rang. A servant came in and struggled to hide his shock.

‘Have this room cleaned,’ the king said. ‘We’ll continue our discussion in the throne room.’

‘Qrill,’ the marshal said a little later, when servants had rearranged the benches in the throne room and everybody sat. ‘He must have gone mad. After a military career of thirty years – such outrageous accusations.’

Ghyll looked tight-faced at his military commanders. ‘Mad… Or bought. This is a matter for the Heralds; we’ll leave it to them. Marshal Gard-Galleth will undoubtedly have informed you of yesterday’s events in Yanthemonde. Is there anything new to report, Marshal?’

Gard-Galleth walked to the throne and handed Ghyll a sealed envelope. ‘Here is an overview of the damage we have suffered in Yanthemonde, Sire. Luckily the personal losses have been relatively limited.’

‘How many people have we left to restore the naval base?’ asked Ghyll.

‘About fifty men, Sire. Not counting the sailors; we will have to lay those off now that we have no ships.’

‘Lay them off? I’d rather see them used in the reconstruction. How many are there?’

The marshal looked at the bloodstained notes in his hand. ‘Five hundred twenty men, Sire. Including the walking wounded.’

Ghyll whistled softly. ‘That’s a lot of people. Put them to work. That way they keep their income and when we get new ships, we can put them back on board.’ Ghyll looked around the table. Admiral Marhaunse was nodding slowly, while his colleague from the Northern Fleet stared doubtfully at his hands. ‘And then the stolen ships; the Prince Halban and those three war caravels. I want them back. And if that fails, they should be sunk.’ The marshal looked at him and Ghyll gave a slight nod. ‘But the coastal defense always has priority.’

He clenched his fists. ‘Marshal, ladies and gentlemen, we need to adjust our thinking. This is not the traditional struggle of country against country, army against army. Much of what the fighting manuals teach us won’t fit this situation. We have an enemy of whom we don’t know much more than its name: the Dar’khamorth. Whether this is the same Hamorth we remember from the Dead Centuries, or another organization that uses the same name, we don’t know. It has been proven that they killed my family and King Idrami of Opit, destroyed Castle Tinnurad and burned down General Davall’s camp. It seems they are trying to destabilize Rhidauna and its neighboring countries with targeted attacks and…’ he paused,’… with bribing or influencing people in prominent positions. We will not accept that, nor will we forget those hundreds of dead, be sure of that.’ Ghyll’s voice was implacable and on his back, the sword Childegard hummed softly. The commanders looked at each other. Nobody had heard the sound before this day, but all knew the stories about the singing sword. Childegard’s songs, they said, were the harbingers of battle. Just as his grandfather had been, Childegard’s new bearer was a hard one. Qrill’s death was a clear message to everyone.

Ghyll looked around and felt that he had made the right impression. After the sour now the sweet, he thought, and pulled a rolled paper from his pocket. ‘I have decided to split the supreme command of the army and navy. Marshal Gard-Galleth and I agreed that it is time for the appointment of a separate Admiralty of Rhidauna.’ Ghyll paused and he felt the sudden tension in the corner of the admirals and generals. It was unusual for an army officer to be placed in command of the fleet, but it wasn’t impossible either. He pointed with the parchment in the direction of the two naval officers.

‘Admiral Marhaunse-Wrodd, I have here your appointment as Admiral of Rhidauna. And thus, the task of rebuilding the reserve fleet rests on your shoulders.’

The collected commanders applauded and wished the surprised Marhaunse luck with his appointment. Ghyll imagined a flash of disappointment on the face of Admiral Terhauln, followed by something of relief that the almost impossible responsibility for restoring the fleet was not for him. Marhaunse stood up and walked to the spot next to the marshal, where Lanvin-Dalsche of the Guard sat. The Guard general and all following officers moved automatically down to the place the admiral had just left. Ghyll looked at them and he thought that he might have found it funny under other circumstances. Order of precedence, he realized, was of great importance in a military organization.

‘I went to Yanthemonde last night,’ he continued when the room was silent again. ‘And I must express my admiration for the excellent manner in which everyone fought the fires. The Navy and its Guard have done good work. Give them my thanks, please.’ He looked around the table and finally his gaze stopped with Gard-Galleth.

‘Well, Marshal,’ he said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen. I expect a plan from you. You are the experts and I no more than the third wheel on the wagon. I leave it all to you. You have my notes, Marshal. I’ll hear tonight or early tomorrow from you what you have devised to win this war. May Mainal’s wisdom be with you all.’ He rose and everyone rose with him.

‘You can count on us, Sire,’ Gard-Galleth said firmly. ‘Nobody leaves the palace as long as there is no plan.’ With soft whispers and worried faces, the commanders left the throne room.

Ghyll put his hand on Olle’s shoulder. ‘Come.’

When they were in Ghyll’s office with the door shut behind him, Olle said hesitantly, ‘You did well, with Qrill. Don’t worry too much, the man was crazy.’

Ghyll fell into his chair down and stared at his trembling hands. ‘It’s a scary feeling, knowing that they can come so close. A general officer with thirty years service. Who can you trust?’ There was a pause, before he moved his shoulders. ‘Anyway,’ he said. ‘I’ve put them to work.’

Olle looked at him. ‘Do you expect that they will seriously come up with a plan to win the war?’

Ghyll shook his head. ‘No. The enemy is too elusive for that. In the end we will have to do that; you and I, and the rest of the Companions.’ He waved toward the door. ‘It is their task to ensure that we have still a kingdom when we are done. The marshal knows that, but the others must believe that victory depends on them. We can’t use despondency now.’

Olle watched him. ‘You have remembered all these lessons of Baron Jadron’s, haven’t you?’

Ghyll nodded. ‘Almost word for word.’

‘Not me,’ his foster brother said sadly. ‘When you mention something like that, I go ‘oh yes’, but by myself I wouldn’t think of it.’

‘Instead you’re a far better fighter.’ Ghyll patted his sword hilt and Childegard trembled softly. ‘Without our friend I wouldn’t be more than passable as a swordsman. Unlike you, my Defender.’

Olle laughed. ‘That’s true. And it’s a good thing. Were we the same, we’d fight.’

‘Never,’ Ghyll said seriously. ‘Whatever happens, you’re my brother. Kerianna knows that and she understands it.’ He hesitated. ‘How is it between you and Kaati?’

‘Neither of us knows. Sometimes it is yes, other times no. Let’s keep it at maybe.’

Ghyll laid his hand on Olle’s arm. ‘It’s difficult where you’re both so closed.’

Olle nodded wordlessly.

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