Of Fools and Kings: Prologue

Map of Arauthia
Map of Arauthia

Prologue: The Iron Guardian

Finally I get my place in the High Guard, and here I am protecting the door to the damn kitchens.

Jon shifted his weight from one aching leg to the other. He wore armor emblazoned with sigil of house Marten, a great black bear, which marked him a member of Lord Aleron Marten’s High Guardsmen.

He had been standing guard at his post in Ironhall’s courtroom for nearly an hour, and from the look of things, he would be standing there for quite a while longer. The feast would begin soon enough though. He shifted his gaze across the room again, his hazel eyes examining each of the guests as they entered the Great Hall.

The last of the lesser nobles who were Lord Aleron Marten’s bannermen were now being shown to their seats by several of the more elderly servants. The guests entered through the hall’s front entrance, passing by the massive, intricately carved stone columns that characterized Ironhall’s architecture. Jon was standing guard far away from those doors, closer to where Lord Marten would be seated.

Jon was clad in armor emblazoned with the black bear of house Marten, which marked him a member of Lord Marten’s High Guardsmen – a position he had striven for since he was a boy living in Ironhall’s outskirts.

At fifteen years of age, he was the youngest to be offered a place in the Ironhall High Guard in nearly two centuries. The last man to have served in the High Guard at his age did so before the Great War, when Lord Marten’s ancestors had ruled the entire kingdom from Ironhall. Now though, there was no king, only the Warden to the Throne – at least until the time comes for a new king to be chosen and crowned.

The massive room, usually cold and empty, had nearly a score of long oak tables spanning the length of the room. Lord Marten had spared no expense in the preparation of this feast, Jon could tell that much. The aroma of the feast filled the courtroom; the scent of the city’s finest aged cheeses, chicken and lentil soups, and freshly baked bread wafted past Jon teasingly as servants scurried by.

Gods, that smells good! His stomach groaned agreement. They continued to bring the cumbersome silver platters out from the kitchens, rushing past him to the dining tables. Two young boys rolled a cask by, tippi it by the nearest table.

Jon scanned the courtroom again. He recognized nobles from many important houses as they found their seats. Aleron Marten, a tall, greying man of five-and-forty, stood patiently by his decorative chair at the head of the room while he awaited the last of his many guests to be seated –as was his duty as host, and Lord of Ironhall.

To his right stood his only son and heir, Baelon Marten, a broad-shouldered man in his twenties, who nearly always bore the same stupid grin from ear to ear, as if he had some joke on mind that only he and the gods shared.

And to the Lord’s left stood Brynn Marten, his daughter, whose recent engagement was the reason for this feast. She leaned close to her father and whispered something, a hand fiddling with one of the ribbons on her dress.

The girl was engaged to be married to Cassius Rauthe; Jon scowled at the thought of it. Brynn Marten was being married off to that whimpering blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy from ugly, rat-infested West Harbor City.

The Rauthes were another one of Arauthia’s ancient, oh so noble houses. They and the Lords of Ironhall had bickered and fought over land for thousands of years, back to when the old gods were still being worshipped. Jon heard that it was this marriage that, with any luck, would finally end the hostility between the two houses. The Rauthes were now taking their seats, close to Lord Marten and the bride-to-be.

The Rauthe boy approached Brynn, bowing before her and kissing her hand, pretending himself chivalrous and noble. Jon twisted the pommel of the sword at his side with a leather-gloved hand, imagining the hilt of the weapon strain. Jon couldn’t think of anything he’d rather do than fill that pretty little Lordling with some Ironhall steel – it’s more than the brat deserved.

His eyes were tracking the Rauthe boy as he returned to his seat something strange on the far side of the room caught his attention.

In the shadow of one of the court’s great stone pillars stood a man he hadn’t seen entering with the others earlier. The man was dressed oddly, Jon thought, taking note of the man’s hood and full robes of the sort the ones a Grey Brother would wear. He noticed that this man’s clothes were pure white though; unlike the dull grey color those glorified bookkeepers wore. Jon looked to his right at the city guardsmen nearest him, questioningly tipping his head towards where the man was standing. The guardsman simply shrugged, not concerned.

Jon shrugged his concerns away as well, deciding the man must be some guest of Lord Marten or one of the other Lords that were here for the celebration. He turned to face the end of the hall anyway, as the room quieted to the ringing sound of silverware striking a goblet.

Lord Aleron Marten placed the knife back down on the table in front of him and raised the goblet in his right hand as he began to speak.

“Welcome to Ironhall, my friends!” The Lord’s voice seemed strong enough to break entire armies, Jon always thought.

“Tonight, we are here to celebrate the joining of my only daughter, Brynn, to young Cassius Rauthe ….” The lord’s booming voice echoed through the room as he continued, but his words no longer had Jon’s attention.

On the far side of the room, a flash of white moving towards the front of the room caught his eye. Jon stood taller, trying to make out what the man was doing. Sure enough, there the white robed man was, making his way towards the front of the room in haste, shoving guests out of the way.

Then Jon realized what was happening. He began to move towards the hooded man, shouting a warning “Stop!” to deaf ears across the room. The man was nearly at the front of the hall, and soon Jon broke into a run behind him, bowling over a server.

In a moment Jon nearly caught up to the man. He reached out for him. The rest of the room was quiet, watching with eyes as wide as the platters they had been eating from. Where in the hells are the other guards?

Jon grabbed the man’s shoulder roughly, and under the man’s white robes he could feel the distinct bumps of chainmail armor …no turning back now. He drew his sword from its sheath as he wrestled the man around by the arm to face him, and smoothly pressed the edge of his sword to the man’s throat.

“Name yourself!” Jon thundered, as fierce a command he could muster. The sound of his heart pounding was so deafeningly loud he was afraid the rest of them could hear it.

The hood shadowed most of the man’s face, but what Jon could see of his features was terrible; scar tissue covered most of his face, from some sort of burn. The man’s scarlet eyes gazed back at Jon, emotionless and cold. He calmly raised his arm and pressed an open hand against Jon’s breastplate.

Jon looked down as a wave of heat blasted through his chest, there was a flash of blinding light, and Jon felt himself spiraling backwards in the air. He felt himself collide with one of the massive stone pillars nearly fifty feet away, and crumpled to the ground aside it.

He rolled onto his chest, attempting to get up, but only screamed in pain and frustration, unable to find the strength to move his legs from under his body. He raised his head to look back to where he was thrown from.

The robed man was approaching Lord Marten, who stood by his place next to the Lord’s Seat. The rest of the room fell silent.

“Who sent you?” the lord questioned, standing firm while the man approached. ”Your gods” rasped the man contemptuously, now face to face with the Lord of Ironhall. … Why is no one doing anything… everything’s moving… so …slow … Jon dragged himself forward and managed to get onto one knee. He swayed back towards the ground, leaning forward and putting his hand out to stop from toppling forward.

No one else in the crowd moved. They all gaped on dumbly, as if this were a bloody show.

Jon could see the red-eyed man was now raising a hand to Lord Marten’s chest, saying something he couldn't make out.

A blur caught his eye, and Jon watched as someone from the crowd leapt forward, ran headlong into the robed man, and the shriek of steel piercing steel rang through the hall.

Jon’s vision blurred. everyone else so far away…he felt …so…so…tired. He saw the white robed man slump over, a sword protruded from between his shoulders.

Jon pushed himself up, managing to stand upright. He looked down at himself…his breastplate was misshapen, the steel bent and broken, and there was blood … so much blood. He looked across the room to where the red-eyed man lay dead, and he smiled. The rest of the room blurred far away, fading black, as Jon felt himself fall to the floor.



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