The Ironwood Crown

As his retinue shouted more voices seemed to join them, swelling the cheering to almost deafening levels.  Looking about for the source of the newcomers, Rudickar saw more ghostly, tattered hobgoblin wraiths coalescing in the throne room and joining in the cheering.  The crown on his head, no light weight to begin with, started to feel both hot and heavy.  Nonetheless, he sat upright on the throne, holding himself rigid and forcing himself to look solemn and attentive.  Slowly the cheering died away and the hob ghosts began to fade again, and he beckoned Pesca, captain of his personal guard forward.  Pesca approached looking pale and nervous, and when he reached the steps that led to the throne he stopped, shivered once, and then dropped to one knee.

"Post guards at the doors to the throne room, and some on the balconies," said Rudickar.  The crown was still hot and heavy and he could feel himself starting to sweat.  "Then set hob to assigning accomodation to the general hob; keep them out of the largest buildings near the palace, but let them take their pick of anything small enough to be a hovel.  That applies to everyone, even those who think they've got a title.  I'll be assigning new titles and lands, and you can tell them that.  Once you've done all that, pick two trusted hob and return here to me, and we'll survey the rest of the palace."

Pesca bowed his head, and said "Yes, my King," mostly to his feet, then attempted to shuffle backwards away from the throne, neither standing up, turning around, nor lifting his head.  Rudickar watched in amusement for several seconds before deciding that Pesca would need half an hour to get out of the throne room at that rate, and ordered him to leave faster.

As the hob drained from the throne room following Pesca's instructions Rudickar finally turned his head to his left and looked at the grey shape that had been hovering there ever since he'd seen the wraiths proclaiming him King.  He recognised the ghost as the same one that had appeared when he'd put the ring on.  The ghost looked at him, inclined his head as though he were an equal, and then shrugged.  Rudickar felt a surge of rage at the impudence of this ghost, wondering how on earth it dared pretend it was equal to the King of Torvecken.

"I was King of Torvecken, too," said Veldecken, the ghost's mouth opening and revealing a star-studded darkness beyond it that cooled Rudickar's rage rapidly, quenching it with raw fear.  "I get some leeway when addressing you, and you don't know how to use the power of the Crown yet so you can't get rid of me so easily."

"I'm sure it won't take me long," said Rudickar, keeping his voice low just in case the acoustics of the room might carry it to one of his guards.

"Probably not.  You've been acclaimed rightful King by your own people and the hob who went before you, so you're in a good place right now.  From a ruling people point of view at least.  From other points of view, it's not such a good place."

"What's that supposed to mean?"  Rudickar was sweating freely now and the crown felt like it was made from stone instead of ironwood.

"This is a dead city, and it's going to take a lot of work to make it a living one again."

"Is that it?"  Rudickar snorted with laughter.  "I've brought five hundred hob, and I can order three times that many to be here in a week, and ten times that many to be here after that.  There's food for three months, and most of these hob are workers: farmers, blacksmiths, and miners.  The whole point of this exercise is to bring Torvecken back to life."

"And being King is just a minor side-effect is it?"  Rudickar disliked Veldecken's knowing smile.  "You weren't a King when you came here, were you?"

"I came on behalf of King Mesekka," said Rudickar.

"And was he expecting you to proclaim yourself King of Torvecken?"

"He was expecting me to die."

"Ah."

Veldecken said nothing more though Rudickar waited, and slowly his point trickled through the silence and into Rudickar's brain.

"I don't have enough men to defend myself from an attack from Mesekka," he said.  "I can rebuild the city, but Mesekka will have to take the Kingship from me and quickly, or he loses a city and a lot of respect."

"Torvecken has always been a heart-city for the hob," said Veldecken.  "The King of Torvecken can use that to unite all of hob again, and that makes this a very sought-after job."

"JOB?"

"It's a job, whether you like that description or not.  Look at me, I did it for only three weeks before losing my head over it.  Literally."  The ghost lifted its head from its shoulders with both hands and offered it to Rudickar, who flinched away.  The head smiled as the hands restored it.  "You've got a lot of thinking and planning to do, Rudickar, and not a lot of time to do it in.  However, I can help you a little I think."

"How?"

"I can tell you where the humans cached the Frostbane swords."

The End

28 comments about this story Feed