Amr Launfel entered the hall of King Aramathras. It was a grand hall, with large wall hangings of past kings and queens stretching lengthwise from the floor to its considerably high ceiling. In the middle of the halls marble floor was a wide dais, wreathed in golden designs and bearing the king’s throne. He dismissed the guards as he approached the dais, where the king sat brooding over some unknown troubles. “Good day, my lord, I bring ill tidings.”
“Ah, Amr. Always a pleasure to see you,” groaned King Aramathras. His voice was grating and betrayed his weariness. Although clothed quite regally, the king did not look well. His brown eyes lacked luster, and his once-tan skin faded and wrinkled, lacking the fullness of health. He was not a young man anymore, and it appeared ruling his land through these dark times had taken quite a toll on him. “Speak Amr, tell me what is the matter.”
“There is an imposter about, my liege. A man claiming to be Jarron Steelspine arrived in the city not long ago and has already begun to disturb the peace of your great city. I believe he wishes to claim the throne for himself under false pretenses.”
“A man claiming to be Jarron? Surely no citizens of this city would believe such nonsense.”
“Nonetheless my lord, I believe we should have the man imprisoned for treason. We cannot have such liars and troublemakers roaming the streets of our fair city.”
“Bring him to me first, for I wish to see the man who claims to be-” he paused to cough, “my long lost friend returned from the grave.”
A bit chagrined, Amr smiled anyway and leaned in to kiss the kings hand. “As you wish, my lord, as you wish.” With an almost imperceptible motion, Amr waved his hand over the kings nearby golden chalice of wine, sprinkling a bit of dust over it.
“He will be brought before you forthwith.” Amr turned and took his leave, smirking to himself. He thought himself a clever little mage, tainting the king’s drink with Crow’s root. The king would soon be too paranoid to believe the truth even when it presented itself right before his eyes.
“My friend Jarron Mirdraeg perished twenty years ago in the battle that liberated this land!” King Aramathras roared from his throne as loud as he could muster, leaning forward so much that he looked about to stand. His eyes darted about unnaturally, never really locking eyes with the prisoner before him. He arranged his red flowing robes nervously, and fidgeted with the large gemmed signet rings on his fingers.
Jarron glowered up at him in anger. He had been escorted here by a throng of castle guards. He came willingly of course, having intended on visiting on his own quite shortly. Now he stood before his old friend, accused of being an imposter in the very city he fought to free twenty years past.
“You know well that I did not die in that battle, Aram. We negotiated side by side with the warlords of Yathramar to trade my freedom for their aid. We fought side by side, spilling orc blood and troll guts for days during the war. Yousawme board the warships back to Yathramar to honor our bargain after the won the war.”
“I saw my friend die, and helped bury him.” The King still did not look at Jarron, although his old friends angered tone subsided a bit.
Jarron gritted his teeth. What was controlling Aram, he wondered. Perhaps some mental deterioration had occurred. It was not uncommon for men entering their fiftieth year to experience memory troubles. Either way, something was currently wrong with his friend, and Jarron did not know what to do. He decided to change the subject.
“What do you know of the rogues and vagabonds that are running your city, and the orcs that patrol its countryside?”
“There are no orcs in my country, you fool imposter. I receiverregularreports from my officers posted around this nation, and have heard nothing of the like. As for rogues and vagabonds, the city guard has been handpicked by my most trusted advisors and has the safety of my citizenswellunder control!” The King’s voice rose up in indignation, his hands trembling as he spoke. He did not look well at all, Jarron thought, not at all.
“Quite the contrary, good king. I faced an entire scouting party of the creatures inside the borders of this kingdom on my journey here. After dispatching them, I noticed an insignia,” Jarron paused, digging out the wolf’s head patch and holding it up, “that they were all wearing on their cloaks. They were organized-”
“Enough!” shouted a robed man, stepping forward from beside the king’s throne. He was an older man, balding, with the rest of his remaining hair trimmed quite short. He pointed his bony fingers threateningly at Jarron, staring at him down his pointy nose with his beady brown eyes. “You were brought before the king to answer for masquerading as one of this nation’s greatest heroes, not further poison the air with your lies!”
As he pointed and waved at Jarron, the grizzled old warrior noticed the reagent pouches nestled neatly inside the man’s robe. A mage. A damned mage,Jarron thought. He spit on the floor as if the thought itself put a bad taste in his mouth. Immediately Jarron suspected the cause of the king’s confusion.
“Let us go dig up my grave and see if I lay there still, mage,” Jarron spat angrily. “Let the king see if his friend truly lay in the arms of death.” The mage came agonizingly close, and had Jarron not relinquished his sword to the castle guard he may have been tempted to take his life.
“We will not desecrate the grave of a hero to substantiate your outlandish claims,” Amr snarled back. “But youwillspend some time in the castle dungeons to help curb your insolence.”
“Indeed. Let this man rot in the dungeons until I can think of a proper punishment for the unrest he has caused this day,” agreed King Aramathras. He waved to the guards, signaling them to take Jarron away.
Jarron had a few short seconds to weigh his options. He could resist, and try to escape, but he would most definitely have to take innocent soldiers lives. He decided to let them take him to the depths of the keep, but first he needed to know something.
Amr had already turned his attention away from Jarron, half turned and offering condolences to the king for the stressful events of the day. He was caught by complete surprise when Jarron grabbed his bony arm and pushed back the sleeve of his robe, revealing his signet bracelet and tattoos.
Jarron looked upon the mages arm in disgust. There was a tiny wolf’s head insignia as plain as day intermingled with some other designs on the mage’s arm. It was identical to the patch he had found on the orcs. Jarron locked eyes with the mage for a moment and saw the fear flicker across the slight man’s face. Amr screamed for the guards to help him about the time Jarron’s fist smashed into his nose.
Jarron did not struggle when the guards restrained him and shackled him, even when one clubbed him in the lower back to punish him for attacking the mage. As they marched him out he spat again on the floor, turning his head to glower at both the king and the stunned mage. Jarron chuckled as he saw the bent mage trying to stifle the flow of blood running profusely from his nose.
As the guards threw him in his dark, dank cell, Jarron could not help but think of how horribly wrong his homecoming was going. A parade he did not expect, but to be accused of masquerading as himself and spreading a wealth of lies was hardly what he had envisioned either. Oh well, Jarron thought,there is always tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get another crack at that mage.