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Second Saturday Stories presents Part One of The Caulderwilde Chronicles

Rygeaar watched the seasons of emotions change in Tyson’s eyes as he nodded at the man’s bitter words. “Let your actions speak those words then and give your able bodied men to these pursuits.” The King spoke as if he were requesting, but Tyson could tell the intent was decided well before their conversation and that his King was merely allowing him to keep up appearances in front of those who may be watching. 
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Friar Alstaire Momeht threaded his way through the carnage of upturned benches and tables, righting those he could as he went. His quiet humming filled the great stone hall and the men he couldn’t roust with his melody were given a gentle nudge and advised to fall in for inspection. The air was pungent with spiced beer and the tankards he could collect were gathered along the hearth of the murmuring embers of a fire that had kept the bar patrons warm into the nary hours of the morning. 

As he bent down the Friar grunted softly lamenting the damp air for seeping into his aging bones. He made a small arrangement of tinder and struck a long match, threading it into the shadows to grow into a snapping blaze. 

“Must I cast you from here weekly friar?” a voice asked not unkindly from behind him

Friar Momeht turned and saw the barman Quincy Edger eyeing him as he walked down the wooden stairs that lead to his living quarters. 

“Old habits are not easily fleeting, brother Quincy. I’ve the heart for work yet undone.” 

“Be that as it may I'll not have the old God’s wrath brought down on me for allowing a man of the cloth to conduct the work of an apprentice. Leave the garrison men sleep. They drink to those lost with the new year.” 

“As they have been a week now.” Momeht threw a glance at those he hadn’t awoken on his way to the hearth. “It makes for sloppy defence. A few of those disciples under Lord Maw pray because it eases their unrest and assuages the growing fear.” 

“Ah now.” Quincy replied, an edge beginning to harden his voice “should Tyson Mak hear your talk it won’t matter how clean you make their tankards. The Captain of Guard is not one to be sullied.” 

Friar Momeht took a few seconds to warm his hands in the growing flames. He reached for a log of cord wood with slender fingers, choosing a medium sized maple. He stood with it poised to cover the blaze before speaking over his shoulder to Quincy. 

“Perhaps you were right Innkeeper. I’d do best to leave the work of labour to the apprentices.” As he walked towards the great iron- bound wood doors that stood open, Friar Momeht casually tossed the log over his shoulder. If Quincy hadn’t been looking the errant maple would have knocked the wind out of him. He caught it cleanly and looked after the odd clergyman with a furrowed brow before hearing the trumpets sound and waking the rest of the guardsmen with kicks more forceful than their comrades had received from the Friar. 

King Albert Rygeer sat on his throne and watched the last of his garrison men stagger through the early grey morning and stand at a feeble attention. Most of them all but wincing at the trumpeters blasts that announced the headcount. It was true the King joined the ranks of his men in raising a toast to both the winter solstice and tolling of the New Years bells, but he’d grown weary of the pomp and excess that some of his battle hardened garrison men had imbued themselves with for the days that followed. He knew the novelty of the celebrations was wearing thin and life around Greytusk Castle was at risk of taking on the air of melancholy that plagued the dark months before the New Gods emerged from under the ice and snow. 

He listened through Tyson Mak’s roll call but his mind wandered to mettle testing trials that would both entertain his people, and allow his guardsmen to hone their skills against attack. He ran a hand down his greying beard and sat up straighter in his throne as an idea began to crystallize in his mind. Looking from his guardsmen to the steely eyes of his archers King Rygeer’s idea encompassed his own curiosity and yearning. As Tyson chastised his men on their posture and slow reflexes the King began to smile. 

Shortly before midday King Rygeer sat in his great hall with both the Captain of the Guard and his Herald who was scribbling feverishly to keep up with the addendums both men made back and forth. Tyson insisted that the guardsmen would be better suited to running drills to hone their skills while the King was adamantly championing the ideas he thought of that morning. 

“I tell you the whole thing has the stench of pageantry, at a time like this we should be leaning into a reputation of ferocity and mercilessness. Show those who would challenge our ranks that the King's hand firmly wields an iron glove.”

Rygeer had been prepared for Tyson’s hard nosed approach and knew it had roots in the loyalty the old soldier felt towards those among the Greytusk ranks. But it also stemmed from the sting he felt, they had all felt, from the betrayal of their friend and brother in arms Jasper Fern, who’d been seduced by the knowledge of darkness. 

“At a time like this our people must have the impression of peace in the Kingdom. It stands to reason that if Greytusk Castle fears not the coming of winter’s harsh kiss then mayhap they shouldn’t either, all the better that they have a chance to spectate and participate. I’d call it less of a pageantry and more of a lottery for some lucky winner.” 

Tyson spit to the stone floor but stopped himself short of levelling his gauntlet at this King, knowing there was only so much his old friend would tolerate. “A lucky winner who could then turn and use the riches against the kingdom.” 

Rygeer smiled in spite of Tyson’s Fury, an attempt the quell the fire of brutality he saw dancing wildly in his eyes. 

“Not everyone is Jasper Fern.” His voice was a balm on the situation and Rygeer saw the Herald's shoulders relax. 

“Bah.” Tyson crossed his chain mail at the mention of the name “Jasper Fern is a ghost lost to the devious Wizard Wormwood. I care more for the stag to be hunted if I'm being truthful.” 

Rygeer watched the seasons of emotions change in Tyson’s eyes as he nodded at the man’s bitter words. “Let your actions agree with your sentiment then and give your able bodied men to these pursuits.” The King spoke as if he were requesting, but Tyson could tell the intent was decided well before their conversation and that his King was merely allowing him to keep up appearances in front of those who may be watching. 

Tyson slammed a fist into the timber of the table. “My condition is that I compete in both events. My presence should assure that any person who should enter with malice or scheming in their heart be dissuaded.” 

“If that’s what will allow you to put the matter to rest Tyson then do what you must, but should you win I expect the winnings divvied accordingly.” The King and Tyson rose to their feet, grasping each others forearms as in the old custom. 

“Herald.” King Rygeer spoke “Tell the villagers of our decree. Tell them we seek to test the metal and skill of those who would take up the challenge. Every able spear should be told of The Hunt and every able bow should be told of The Tournament. Go now boy, tell the village they have these 7 days to prepare.” 

The Herald rode from the shadow of Greytusk Castle on horseback to spread the word. In his wake, a flock of ravens exploded from their shelter in a nearby maple.  Most of them flew into the winter stripped limbs of the forest that surrounded Greytusk, but one peeled off from the rest and flew deep into the barren remains of the Great Fire where blackened remains of trees stood in silent sentry to rocky outcroppings and caves where leather winged bats hung in writhing groups.

The errant raven flew past the beady gaze of the bats and deep into one cave. Candles burned in alcoves carved into the stone walls. Their wax running in long red fingers along the cold stone giving the impression that the walls bled.

In the middle of their orange glow stood a small workshop where a scrawny bearded man stood over the remains of an upturned cedar tree. It's gnarled roots acting as a natural tabletop. The raven landed on a twisted root and in three hops was on the man's shoulder, where the folds of a dark purple robe shielded him from the birds talons. The raven clicked and cawed and in the silence that followed he filled the caves dark corners with a high pitched chuckle that bounced off the cold walls and came back in a weeping echo. 

“A Hunt is it?” the man tittered “A Tournament? The King has taken to flights of fancy has he? A fool’s errand to be sure. He opens the gates of Greytusk wide and invites Wormwood to step through." Wormwood let out another cackle that echoed deep into his cavernous lair while the raven returned to it’s perch and accepted the tear of meat thrown to it from one of Wormwood's deep pockets. As his laughter died the Wizard Wormwood cleared the top of his workspace and began working feverishly, pulling out books and vials while muttering to himself. Stopping only to consult the literature that had both blessed and damned him with power.   

To be continued in the next installment of Second Saturday Stories 

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