King of Torvecken

Rudickar strode ahead of a band of twenty hob, iron nails in the soles of his boots ringing on the ancient stone paving.  Around him the walls of Torvecken Palace towered: the ceiling was easily twenty feet overhead, supported by carven columns that ran in two parallel rows between the doors.  Ahead of him now were the tall bronze doors to the throne room, still standing and closed.  They were plain, simply beaten bronze suspended on hinges and, he hoped, counterweighted.  Reaching them, he laid a hand on the left-hand doorhandle and twisted.  For a moment he thought that he'd pushed his luck too far and that at last they'd found the humans's traps, but then the door slid inward, no heavier than his sword, and he stepped through into the throne room.

It was long, and the ceilings were even higher, reaching up to forty feet in the middle.  Large windows were positioned high up in the wall, but in the near-evening light the hall was still gloomy.  Much closer to floor level sconces were spaced around the walls, each a hob arm-span apart.  A railed balcony ran around the middle of the wall, wide enough for hob soldiers to maintain their guard of their King when he was granting an audience.  The throne was stood on a raised platform at the far end, with heavy velvet drapes hung around the back of it to draw the eye in and toward the King.  Six steps led to the top of the platform, and the throne was carved from a rusty-brown stone; in the dim light the details of its carving were hard to make out.  And sat on the throne, with a spear protruding from its ribcage, was the skeleton of a hobgoblin.

"Find torches and fill the sconces," ordered Rudickar without turning round.  He heard a couple of feet scamper off.  He strode across the throne room to the throne, to see what had happened.  When he reached the throne he saw that the skeleton was still wearing a narrow silver ring, and that a wooden crown had fallen from its skull and was resting just behind it.  The instant he saw the crown he recognised it: it had to be the Ironwood crown of the Kings of Torvecken.  He made himself ignore for the moment though, and gently pulled the ring off the skeleton's finger.

Turning it over and over he traced a set of grooves around the outside, and when his finger returned to the start of the pattern the ring grew warm in his hand.  He slipped it on to his little finger, all the other fingers of his hand being obviously too thick.  The ring stuck at the first knuckle but then seemed almost to stretch, sliding over the knuckle and tightening again behind it.  As it settled on his finger, a voice coughed to his left.

He turned his head slightly, wondering which of his retinue was stupid enough to interrupt him now, and saw a tattered, smoky looking hobgoblin standing about a foot above the ground and looking embarrassed.

"There's no point saying anything," said the hob.  "If you can see and hear me, then you're wearing my ring.  This is a memory left behind, hopefully for you.  If you're not the rightful King of Torvecken then my message is simple: you'd better get out of here before anyone catches you."  Rudickar smiled, thinking that this was very true.  "My name is Veldecken, and I was appointed Regent while we waited for reinforcements.  I'm no King, but King Waldemar is dead, slain by his son who in turn was slain by his wolf.  I think Perekka was responsible -- he's Master of the Wolves -- but I can't prove it.  I've had him boiled in three-week old soup as a precaution.  The human army is coming, with bright blades as cold as Morvenna's breath and if we don't get reinforcements soon we're all going to die.  That's if we don't all kill each other first fighting over this stupid throne."

The tattered hob vanished suddenly, and the ring quickly cooled on Rudickar's finger.  He glanced back at his retinue, and saw that they had spread out and were lighting and affixing torches to the sconces.  Light was slowly filling the throne room, and no-one was paying any attention to him listening to shades of the past.  He reached down now and picked up the wooden crown.  It was plain except for a constallation of diamonds at the front, set in the symbol of Ki'uk, the hobgoblin spirit of destiny.  It was, without a doubt, the Ironwood crown.

He looked at the skeleton, the remains of Veldecken, and swept them aside from the throne, the bones clacking and clattering down the steps to the floor.  He pulled the spear from the back of the throne, and holding it in one hand and the crown in the other, sat down on the throne.  He looked over the throne room, with his retinue looking back at him, and placed the crown solemnly on his head.

"Long live King Rudickar, King of Torvecken!" he cried, and the retinue took it up and shouted it out over and over again.

The End

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