“If the Pai invade, the Perilon is our only hope to stop them. If the Perilon falls, then the kingdom of Valois is probably doomed. They will either conquer the kingdom or burn it all to cinder.” The well-dressed dwarf said, standing on a chair and studying the map on the table before him.
It was quite a small kingdom, not wealthy enough to afford a large standing army to guard the gates from the hordes of Pai soldiers. Soldiers, called the Han, in their black armor covered in the horns of the Aprix, a very effective tool of intimidation in combat. Their lightening balls and fire sticks were more effective at intimidation than the uniforms though.
The Pai were preparing to invade. Of that there was no question. How to defend the kingdom? That was the real question.
The young blond woman in the thinnest of gowns put her arms around him from the back, “Do you need to save the kingdom tonight, though?”
“If we do not start preparing now, Anna, we are doomed in the summer.” He said, pretending not to notice the kisses she was planting on his neck and cheeks, “The queen must be convinced of this.”
“The queen is your cousin, surely she would listen? You are as dear to her as a brother, Tahm.” His lover paused her affections to mention.
“She is soft-hearted. She always was.” Tahm replied, “Even if she is my cousin, talk of war and bloodshed repels her.”
“Can the kingdom survive?” Anna asked.
“There is a way. Last I spoke to Madam Seer...” He shivered just saying it, the memory made his skin crawl. “She told me we could be victorious. We are a small kingdom, we are not wealthy, we cannot to keep a standing army. Nor are we populous enough to field a real army and reserves. But we can win, he showed me this.”
His lover had taken her hands off of him at the mention of the old eyeless witch. “Why would you go to Madam Seer?”
“I won't do it again. I won't need to.” He said, turning around to face her. “Unfortunately, the only way the Kingdom of Valois survives, is to have a new leader. One who is not so soft-hearted.”
The young girl wraps her arms around Tahm and lifts him into the air and carries her small lover to the bed across their small apartment. Anna didn't laugh as she usually did. There was no merriment this night, for a dark time was coming. Tahm was next in line for the throne and to save Valois, he would have to kill his cousin, the queen.
That night they laid in bed quietly, her arm draped over him. Both of them shed tears of sadness at what had to be done. Tahm and his cousin, Queen Mabel, were as close as any siblings and Anna knew they loved each other as family did. Anna knew it was not her place to question Tahm and his intentions, but the prospect of annihilation made her vow to contain it.
For his part, Tahm dreamed of the past. Memories of happier times flooded his mind. He and Princess Mabel playing in the fields behind the palace. She had always treated him as her equal, even though he was obviously a dwarf even as children.
When his parents had died, the royal family had taken him in. Over time some of the oldest members of the royal household and the line to the throne died off.
“I am so happy, Tahm!” Thirteen-year-old Princess Mabel had said while wrapping him into her arms. “You're now just behind me in line for the throne.”
Tahm knew then that nobody would accept a dwarf for a king, but she was so happy that he played along. The King and Queen wore awkward grins when the subject was brought up by their daughter at the dinner table. Tahm knew nobody but Mabel would accept a dwarf as king.
As head of the Palace Guard and a member of the Council, as appointed by Queen Mabel, Tahm was proud to serve her. He got to wear specially-made armor and sword, he could afford clothing tailored to him instead of having to buy and change clothing.
Tahm had earned a measure of respect at his position and his men trusted him, but he had no illusions about where he really stood. Without the support of the Queen he would be nothing, even as next in line to the throne. He was just another dwarf.
The Council sat around the table. Their faces looked grim.
“The Pai have sacked Upperchester.” The chubby bald man in charge of the intelligence service told them as this was pointed out on the big map painted on the wall. Some of the others made noises of bewilderment.
“They move so quickly? How do they consolidate these gains?” The brown bearded man who trained recruits asked.
“They don't need to. They wipe away everything they touch and move on.” The chubby bald man answered them. “They force young men into their ranks, women are used and discarded. Then they move on. They are headed right toward us.”
It was winter and the Pai were moving. Simply not something normal armies did. Reports indicated that there had been at least two-thousand Han sacking Upperchester.
“These soldiers will continue to move until they reach Frosk.” Tahm told them, “That will grow their army sitting in Frosk to five-thousand Han. Five thousand, think about that.”
“Ye gods.” Someone said, “We're doomed!”
“From Frosk, they enter the decline and pass through Perilon. After Perilon, all of Valois is at their mercy.” Tahm explained. Pointing a wand at the wall map where he stood. “There is one thing we can do to save Valois.”
“Sell our souls or sacrifice our first-borns?” someone asked sarcastically.
“No, nothing as trivial as that.” Tahm told them. “Something much darker.”
The Minister of the Defense of the Realm stood up. “That's enough. We'll not talk of that. We'll not lower ourselves to the level of the Pai.”
Tahm dropped the pointer he was holder and climbed down from the wall map and returned to his chair around the table. “Then Valois becomes ashes in a great fireplace. Nice principles though.”
The time for action was drawing closer. The deadline for launching preparations drew ever-nearer. Tahm found himself dithering and making excuses to himself. As the days passed, even Anna began to openly wonder whether he would do it.
“I have tried to convince her. I have sent her warning after warning.” He complained over supper, “Mabel simply ignores them, she and the rest of the high staff rejects the only thing that can save us all.”
Anna shook her head and then picked him up from the bench and carried him to their bed, he was still holding a potato impaled on his fork and was still talking. “Time is running out and still she does nothing.”
The next day he was hailed to the tower that rose above the palace. Looking through a spyglass he could see columns of smoke to the southwest. He sighed.
“Crenel.” Tahm said, “They're burning the village of Crenel.”
“They are moving faster than we thought.” He thought to himself. In a matter of days the Pai Army groups would merge at Frosk. Valois had nothing to match them. While he still believed that they would not invade Perilon until late spring or summer, the Pai had surprised them more than once.
Tahm could not put it off any longer. He marched back down to his office, “Jax, I need a detachment.”
His Lieutenant seemed surprised. “Now?”
“Yes, now. I don't care if they are guarding the queen's latrine or the royal linen closet, collect them and have them join me at the Throne Room.” Tahm said, checking his own armor in the polished metal mirror. Then, with a sigh, he turned and started toward the Throne Room.
The doors were guarded by his own men and they opened for him as several others fell into line behind me. The queen looked like a disembodied head and a mass of blue dress. She was addressing the court that were arrayed around the room, before her was a petitioner on her knees.
“My husband has taken ill, there is no money to feed the children.” The woman was saying.
The queen looked bored. She whispered into the ear of her Purser who took two silver coins from his pouch and placed them into the palm of the petitioner. The queen did not address the commoner nor did she move at all, buried among all the blue frills.
“Thank you, your majesty. You are gracious.” She said obediently as she was escorted out of the throne room.
Tahm walked forward and then stopped ten feet from the throne. He did not bend knee nor bow.
“Tahm!” She said with a smile. “I mean, Chief of the Royal Palace Guard. Are you here to make a report?”
“Yes, your majesty.” He told her. “I have come to inform you that the village of Crenel has been sacked by the Pai, it seems to be burning furiously.”
The members of the court gasped.
The queen, his living cousin, regained her composure quickly. “Be it as it may, it is not quite within your office, which is defending the palace. Intelligence matters should be reported to Porci and matters of the Pai should be given to the Minister for the Defense of the Realm.”
Tahm did not understand why she was so dismissive. Up until a year ago they were as close as any family could be. He took two steps toward her. Eyes around the throne room widened. Queen Mabel made not one movement. She had been trained to be haughty and disinterested and she was good at it, even if she felt like she was dying inside.
“Your majesty. The Kingdom of Valois is in grave danger. We must do everything that can be done to protect our people and defeat the Pai and their Han soldiers.” Tahm said, making sure that everyone could hear it. Then he took another step toward the throne.
No one made a move to stop him, of course. It was not their place to come between ruler and the next in line to rule. Nobody was going to stop him, the queen knew this but she didn't even blink. Should he fail, though...
“I have every bit of confidence in the Royal Army.” Queen Mabel said “and in Minister Saver.”
“The Royal Army cannot stand against five thousand Han soldiers.” Tahm told her, and took another step. “If we do not begin preparing now, it will be too late.”
He was now only a few paces from the elevated throne and Queen Mabel acted as if nothing was happening. Tahm began to wonder if she actually did know what was happening here or if she were messing with him, making him doubt his action.
“I will take your advice, Tahm.” she told him shortly.
“There is something we can do to defend our kingdom. You are too soft, I am afraid, possibly a new ruler can..” He was saying when the Queen interrupted.
“You aren't soft?” Mabel asked, in a teasing voice, “I remember when I use to dress you in my old clothes and have you serve tea.”
“In order to save many thousand of our people, we might have to make certain sacrifices.” Tahm said through gritted teeth and he took another step. “We must do what we can to survive.”
She had been as still as a rock. Possibly she was in denial about this challenge for the throne. Tahm wanted to get this over as quickly as possible. As King he would do what had to be done and he would defeat the Pai. After that, he wondered if the people would allow a dwarf to rule them.
Not that it mattered. Stopping the invasion was what mattered. If that meant that Mabel had to die, then that is what had to be. One life versus an entire kingdom.
“There are some things that we should not do.” The queen said quietly, almost a whisper. Mabel still had not moved. Her huge frilly dress had also not moved. Tahm pushed it out of his mind as soon as the observation was made. He was committed to the course of action.
Tahm strode forward and pulled his diamond-lined sword from the hilt at his side and raised it up as high as a dwarf could. Another step and he knew that he would be able to reach her chest as she sat there as if stunned. Finally he pulled the blade down as hard as he could.
The sword had hit something very hard and he couldn't remove it.
Then something happened. Both sides of the Throne moved he saw glinting metal and then felt what seemed like a hundred blades slice into his skin, right through the armor he wore. Tahm was confused. After a moment he simply fell backward and lay there in a heap.
Tahm could feel the slices all over the sides of his arms, legs, abdomen and some of his back as he laid on the floor. “Take him to the dungeon.” he heard his cousin, Queen Mabel order. He was picked up and dragged away, he could see a lot of blood on the floor and trailing behind.
Dungeons? Surely he was going to die, of these wounds if nothing else. He thought of Anna as he was pulled down the steps into a darkening corridor.
I'm not feeling very motivated to post chapter two. lol.