A fantasy story about the rise and fall of empires. The death and rebirth of magic for the people of The Green Grace.
Garron - Of the Free People
Wind whipped through the vibrant general's tent. It was made of woven hides dyed orange and yellow. The fire of the free people they called it. Snow still clung loosely to the muddy ground, and the branches of trees sagged under the soggy slush . It was cold, and food was running scarce.
"Winter's bite is fiercest before the spring" Terrok would say. "The Old Mammoth gives one last blast of his trumpets before walking back north to his own lands."
The tent was warmer than the land, and the boiled rum did much to melt the ice in Garron's belly. It did little to ease the tension of the night's debates though.
He sat around a large table, surrounded by his five advisors and their squires. Further in the shadows a few of his guardsmen fringed the edges of the tent. Silent sentinels but they were also little ravens. Word of whatever was said in this tent would soon find its way through the camps. An irksome, tiring issue that tempted Garron to have out their tongues on some days.
"We must submit; what other choice do we have?" Lord Rellon of Blackrock said again. The man had said little else. He was craven and not truly one of the Free People. He had kept his name and titles when he joined the Free People though they meant little to anyone but himself. Garron still had doubts about including him in the council.
"The same choices we had when this council began. The same choices we have always had. To fight or run." Growled Terrok as he slammed his rum down onto the table causing the jumbled papers and maps to jump. Whereas Lord Rellon was noble and comely, Terrok was large and wild. Terrok was near a foot taller than all his other men and thick with shaggy red hair that jutted from his head in a long woven pony tail. The thick red fur also covered his arms and knuckles, sprouting at his neck in a scraggly, tangled beard. His jaw was broad and when he opened his mouth it showed half rotted teeth and diseased gums.
"To fight is to die." Said old Micah pointing a gnarled finger at Terrok. "Rinn will crush us with but a thought." Micah was a priest of The Green Grace, and Garron despised the man. His council required the blessings of the gods, however, or no man would follow him.
"Then we die as we lived. As free men." Terrok bristled.
"We have always been a roaming people." Quenton spoke from under his great furs. A small man, bald with slave runes tattooed across his face and on his skull. "Rinn must move an army, they are slow and awkward and our men are quick and know this land. We can move on an-"
"Die later?" The Roc said as she teased the wooden table with her dagger. She didn't feign to look up. Long brown hair dropped down her back and long bangs concealed her eyes. Her boiled leathers were dyed black. Her skin was pale and she would be beautiful if not for the nose. The tip was gnarled as she has lost it to Winter's bite as a child. "Rinn has conquered much of Trighor. Soon he will have it all…they even say he points his man Raethgor West to Cooryn. They seek to own The Grasp and shall have it soon enough. Coorynese are a drunken lot of lords and ladies who have grown fat and feeble in their castles."
Rellon had come from those very same western lands, and Garron noticed his mouth tighten at the slight. He would not speak up though. The Roc and Rellon were rarely on the same side of an argument, and he would hold his tongue as long as he had her voice to add to his own.
"I will not submit." Terrok said again. "I will die a free man, not some slave to a fool giant with a silly club."
The Roc chuckled. "Some might say you just described the situation of your poor squire."
"Hold your tongue, pigeon." Terrok growled, his hand wrapped around the warhammer at his side.
"Enough." Garron finally spoke. "We talk in circles."
He stood carefully and stared down at his councilors. All but Rellon had been slaves or descendants of slaves. They knew the sting of the lash.
"We will not fight him." He said plainly. "I will not sacrifice our people for an ideal we cannot protect. The tales Rinn spoke were not all untrue. It is said that he has been fair enough to the barbarian tribes who submit to him. But less than one tenth of our people can wield a sword. He will see to it that many of us find our way back into shackles. I cannot force that on my people either."
"This is folly-" Rellon began, but he was silenced by a thunk as a dagger imbedded in his chair just inches from his neck.
"Garron's mind is made, Knight. Do not interrupt him." The Roc said leaning back in her chair. She would speak her mind frankly, but she was loyal to Garron. She would follow whatever decision he made.
"Our people are the free men and they will decide their own fate. I will go to Rinn tomorrow and agree to submission. I'll hem and haw and blather as kings of old. All the while, Quenton will speak to the people. Tell them they can submit or move on, but we will not fight him. Make sure they know that those who do submit will likely become slaves once more. Terrok, you will lead those that would remain free to the East. It is true that his reach is long and his lands are growing so it might not be much of a delay. It will buy you time, however, and Green Grace might shine her light down on her people. By that time, developments might change your options." The way Garron said these final words made the silence weigh heavy. He had a plan in the works, but it might mean little in the end.
Rellon stood and stretched. "Is that all?"
"For now," Garron said reaching down and grabbing his cup of Rum.
"Pity." He said turning and walking out the tent.
Micah stood and wrapped his saintly furs around himself and bowed to Garron. "May She guide you into fertile fields."
Garron waved him away with a small nod. The old man was nearly at the entrance when a clanking sound stopped him. Rellon walked back into the tent but he was not alone. A group of knights stood behind him.
"What is thi-" Micah began but steel flashed as Rellon brought the blade of his longsowrd down onto the man's shoulder cutting deep into his collar. Blood sprouted and the question was punctuated by a horrified scream.
"Traitor!" Quenton cried as he got to his feet, but the guards who had stood at the edge of the tent were also Rellon's men it seemed. In a flash he collapsed with a dirk protruding from the base of his skull.
Chaos erupted in an instant. The Roc shoved her feet against the table causing her chair to crash backwards into the guard coming up behind her. As he stumbled backwards she pushed her hands into the ground, using the momentum to start a back-handspring. There was a click and a scream as she buried a knife-tipped boot into her assailants eye.
Terrok's hammer nearly removed the head of his would-be assassin. It left nothing but a smattering of crushed helm and skull beneath a twitching corpse.
Garron spun and swung with his only weapon, the empty cup of ale still in his hand. The cup smashed against the guard's head but he grunted as the knife slid up under his armpit and into his chest. Pain ripped into him as his lungs ignited in fire.
He coughed. Blood and smoke emerged from his lungs. Burning blisters were already moving up his throat and appearing on his lips.
He looked down at his smiling assailant. The man withdrew the dagger, it smoked with enchanted fire. "No." He croaked before the blade found purchase in his chest again and the world turned black.