His kingdom was a prosperous one, and essentially ruled itself. A Regent attended to each city and surrounding region, and it seemed that for every administrative detail, a steward or a councillor had been appointed to become preoccupied with it. As King, Hendrik had only to listen patiently and nod approval at each of the reports brought to him by his advisors. He presided over trials and agreed with the verdict proposed by his judges. He attended and pretended to enjoy various galas and celebrations. In reality, he felt useless, and often intimidated by the pretence of his supporters.
The jester threw a juggling ball into the air, but missed the catch as he was pushed out of the way by a soldier barging into the audience chamber, supporting a bleeding rider. Hendrik rose quickly from his throne and descended the steps toward the messenger. A nervous silence fell over the nobles as the dying rider fell to his knees before the King.
“My brave warrior, what tidings do you bring that inspired you to ride despite your grievous injuries?”
“Grave tidings, my lord. Rest is taken!” A horrified gasp exploded from those within earshot.
“What did you say?” asked the King, utterly amazed.
“Savages from Varice have traversed the Cold Sea, and descended upon Rest while we slept. Men, women and children alike were butchered by the cruel hands of the Iceborn! Our guard could not resist their vicious swords. It… they…” the messenger suddenly fainted from his exertions.
Hendrik ordered that the rider be taken to a healer and given a good bed to rest in. His advisors advanced quickly toward him, and Hendrik immediately led them to the council room, away from anxious ears. As he walked, his head spun. No attack had been made on the sovereignty of Gaurvia for nearly a hundred years. The severity and sheer magnitude of this invasion was incredible to Hendrik, and he realized he had no idea how to react.
“My lord, we must immediately raise levies from Nunliss, Brine and Brockton and retake Rest before those barbarians can continue their invasion,” proclaimed Vikor Seastrom the instant the council room door was closed.
“We need levies, but we can not risk assaulting Rest, we need to bolster Vidliank’s defences for surely this is their goal. Moreover, we must enlist the aid of the Paladins, word must be sent to Daybreak without delay,” announced Darryan Fleetfoot.
“A message should be sent to Gaurbane as well, for surely it is better that the Qume learn of this from us than from frightened farmers or worse, from our aggressors themselves,” opined Wallace Rosewood.
After their flurry of words, the advisors looked for a reaction from their King, and an expectant silence filled the room. Hendrik looked from the face of one to another, considering their words. He did not speak, fearing every possible consequence of any decision he might make. However, knowing that something must be done, he finally spoke.
“Let word be sent to Daybreak, seeking reinforcement. Command our Regents to levy as many troops as they can, and send a warning to Gaurbane.”
His advisors nodded briskly and bustled out of the chamber. Hendrik sat motionless. His eyes wandered around the room, but he saw nothing. His mind was flooded with images of Rest. He had often played there during his childhood, and he still remembered the proud, kind face of Jarren Freeborn who had been so like an uncle to him. The King wondered if the Regent had survived the attack, and if so what was being done to him. Hendrik raised himself out of his seat and walked out of the room. As he headed for the staircase, he perceived out of the corner of his eye one of his courtiers anxiously watching him walk by. He allowed himself a moment of selfishness and ignored the curious noble. He walked quickly up the long winding stone staircase, taking the high steps two at a time in his haste. He arrived at the top of the stairs, turned left and opened the first door on his right. He stepped inside quietly, closing the heavy oak door behind him. He immediately noticed the staleness of the air, and the faint smell of corruption. He looked over at the large bed that made his mother lying upon it seem all the more thin and frail. She was asleep, but her once beautiful features, worn away by years of illness, showed no sign of peace. Her clammy brow tensed, then relaxed, only to constrict again. Her body shifted restlessly, her lips mouthed a meaningless syllable, and a weak whimper escaped her throat. Hendrik felt his heart tighten, seeing her like this. He crept silently to the bedside, afraid to rob her of this tortured sleep, her only remaining comfort. He sat on the small wooden chair at the side of the bed, and tenderly took his mother’s pale hand. He stroked it tenderly, his fingers barely brushing the skin.
“I miss your wise counsel at this frightful hour. I fear whichever course I choose will lead me to a terrible end. What can I do?” he whispered tremblingly.
The only answer Cristin Stoneworth returned was a sharp gasp, and a lapse into seemingly peaceful slumber. Hendrik let her hand slip gently onto the bed, and buried his face in his hands. He felt his eyes burn, as tears welled up and threatened to rain down. He suddenly leaned back, breathed in deeply and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He looked once more at his mother’s unconscious figure, then abruptly stood and walked out of the room.
“There you are, your majesty! I have seen to the dispatching of a rook destined for Daybreak. King Proudfist should return his answer before the week is done,” announced Darryan Fleetfoot with all too obvious pride.
The King of Gaurvia nodded approval to his royal advisor and they walked toward the stairs, discussing what paths lay before them.