//Note: This story is currently under major revision. The basic story isn’t going to change, but the writing will be much much better 😉 I plan to leave this old version up here even after I get the new one done just for those who are interested in how it’s changed.//
It was the second year of the war of the three alliances, and the second year that Lord had been abroad with his host of stouthearted heroes, fighting for the united sovereign states of the Brinean lands. It was a time of civil uncertainty and universal suspense. It was a time when half the men were abroad with their hearts at home and half the woman at home with their hearts abroad. It was just such a time as when great things may be expected and great things feared.
And great things were both expected and feared, but in the state of Rondinborough, much was found to be expected and little feared – little that is until the twelfth of March. All men live with a feeling of security, but not all men’s trusts are firmly grounded. The men of Rondinborough placed their security in two men. Him whom they loved most was Sir Aldren, nicknamed “Of The Iron Hand.” Of all men in the land, or in any neighboring land for that matter, none was so highly praised for his matchless strength, skill in combat and tactics, and power of will as he, none save Lord Fairwin himself, who scarcely surpassed him. Sir Aldren was a hero among heroes to the people and a fearful adversary to any who dared to fight against him. To him was allotted what many sought but few ever gained: a life of glory sung from realm to realm. And yet he was but a man, and for the duration of the war he had been restrained to his bed due to a great illness. Yet he had begun to walk again and was fast returning to his health. In him the people saw their protector during their lord’s absence.
The second trust of the people, while less cherished, was yet to them an even greater hope of safety. He was the Earl of Galldenborough, a land directly north of Rondinborough and of twice its size. The Earl had declined to join in the grand alliance out of apathy, for his lands were far from the threat of war. He remained in his castle while most lords and monarchs marched to war, brooding what thoughts no man knew. While he was begrudged for his refusal to give assistance to the war, there were close family ties between the Earl and the house of Fairwin and none doubted that if Rondinborough were invaded, he would send his armies to its city, Rondinburg, and deliver it. With such hopes for protection, the inhabitants of Rondinborough rested without a care, save for those loved ones off at the war.
But the twelfth of March came and with it the death of their security. In the morning, ere the sun had fully risen, there came a rider through the gates of Rondinburg with furious haste. The rider looked weary but determined and his horse was at the end of its strength. They dashed heedlessly through the streets of the city, nearly causing multiple accidents. At last the rider reached the Fairwin palace. Coming to the entrance, he leaped from his quivering horse and bounded with evident determination up the stairs. A man met him at the top. “What haste?”
“I bear a letter to Lady Fairwin sir,” he panted. “It is urgent”
“Let me bear you there immediately.” The messenger was led with great celerity through many wide porticos open to pleasant fields ever sparkling with spouting fountains, cascading water, and glimmering pools. These pools were surrounded by trees of rare beauty and those that bear fruit. Such was the pure taste of beauty common among all in Rondinburg, but perfected by the house of Fairwin.
The porticos ceased and they entered enclosed halls. The house was fashioned of wood and stone, all as smooth as an infants skin and there were intricate designs in everything that a craftsman’s hand could touch and all strikingly real, as if the objects lacked only lungs to make them leap and dance about.
At last they reached an archway entering upon a great room covered with tapestry and flooded with light. It was guarded by two knights. “Wait here,” said the man who had conducted the messenger. He walked hastily through the entry and then stopped and turned around. “Would you give me your name and the name of him who sent you to tell my Lady?”
“I am Galther sir. The message I carry is from my lord, the Thane of Dorth.”
“The Thane of Dorth? He has always been a friend of our realm. This will be news I am sure.” The gentleman left the messenger and hurried down the room to its far end, passing a score of guards, all in dazzling steel and colorful raiment. He stopped some thirty feet from the very extremity of the room and bowed low. Before him were two thrones. The one to his left was empty, but in the one on his right sat a lady. Her eyes were soft and blue, full of love and merriment, but also of great wisdom. From her shoulders fell a long graceful gown of many shining colors fixed with illustrations real and lively. Her complexion was fair and calm. She sat silently as the man before her bowed in respect. “Good Sestin, what do you wish?”
The man who had bowed stood to his height and addressed her. “Lady Fairwin, there awaits your attention a messenger who has just rode in carrying an urgent message from the Thane of Dorth.”
“You may call him in, Sestin.”
He made a slight bow in recognition and went to fetch the messenger. He returned with the man beside him. “My Lady, I present to you, Galther, the faithful messenger.”
The lady nodded and the messenger bowed. “I hear you carry a letter,” said the Lady Fairwin. The messenger withdrew the said letter from a satchel he wore upon him. A guard took it from him and carried it to the Lady. She broke the seal and opened it, pursuing its contents with great interest. As she read, her countenance grew pale and those with her grew anxious. When she had finished, she let out a cry.
“What is the news my lady?” asked Sestin in alarm.
“Fearful news” she trembled. “I will read it to you.” The content was as follows:
By the Thane of Dorth. To the most excellent Lady Fairwin in her husband’s absence,
Greetings. I write to you with greatest haste, knowing of what importance its quick delivery necessitates. I earnestly hope it will have arrived in time to do you what good it may. For some months now, my Lord, the Earl of Galldenbourough, has made secret preparations for war. It was two weeks ago from the day I wrote this letter that he first called for the mustering of troops. Thinking he intended to join in the general cause, I had sent the required number of troops and intended to join him with many more when I was fully prepared. But alas, it comes that his intent is not to join the general cause but to conquer and take your kingdom, Rondinborough! Even as you read this, he will have begun to move his army south towards your dominions. You are in the greatest peril.
It was my strong desire to come to your aid with my remaining men, but if I had done so, I would have incited the wrath of my Lord and left my own people defenseless. Thus it is that I remain in my country and do you the best service I can offer by avoiding war altogether. I have however sent to you as my messenger, a man in my service skilled in all things mechanical and gifted in the arts of uncommon fires which are most useful in warfare. Him I give to you as long as the siege may last to serve you in the defense.
I am confident you will know both way and the manner of action in this time of trouble, and I hope with a great hope that Rondinburg may withstand the violent storm. I trust and know that Right will not utterly perish from the earth.
With undying friendship,
Edward, Thane of Dorth