An emissary from Bretonnia is sent to the camp of a army of escaped slaves demanding that they show fealty.
‘This is not a kingdom and you are not a king.’ said the Bretonnian emissary.
King Josef of the self proclamed 'Free People's army' leans back in his throne of furs in the huge royal tent of his camp that sits in land formerly owned by the Bretons.
Josef smiles at the bravado of the man stood at the bottom of the steps to his throne.
“You show little diplomacy for a diplomat, little man.” said the king.
“Look around you Josef. This is not a royal palace. It is a tent. The palace of king Leoncuer has hundreds of servants, gold lines every wall, jewels sparkle along every ceiling. His personal guard wear full plate of shining silver and are the finest swordsmen in the world. Quite simply, it is a place suitable for royalty. '
The emissary was right, most kings wouldn’t be see dead in this dirty, undecorated campsite where his army resides. A
Josef looks up to the dozens of Freefolk soldiers, councillors and guards lining the walls of the tent They all to a man look furious that this foreign diplomat keeps insisting on insulting their beloved leader.
Seeing his people demand a reply to such insults, King Josef stands from his throne and walks down the steps towards the emissary. His hand rests on the pommel of the sword in his belt.
The emissary’s four guards tense up.
They each wonder if this so-called king would dare to draw his sword to a man who has arrived under the flag of parlay.
Each guard looks around the packed room of armed soldiers, realising that if Josef does indeed draw his sword, they are not leaving this room alive.
“Shall I tell you why my throne room lacks the stylings and comforts you are accustomed to?” said King Josef.
The emissary doesn’t answer.
The king points to his right.
'Do you see this man?'
The emissary looks in the direction of Josef’s finger, to a crowd of soldiers dressed in chainmail.
When they realise who their king is looking at, the crowd parts to reveal a tall young soldier with a particularly impressive broadsword sheathed at his belt. Although young, he is clearly a battle hardened warrior.
The young man looks a little surprised to be singled out by the King.
"His name is Lucas Vale. He is the son of a blacksmith. To you that may seem low standing but I knew who his father was. A man who forged weapons in secret... a crime our druchii masters deemed punishable by death if caught... to help free and protect his people. Without any promise of success or reward. He said he was just a man doing what was right. That is what I call ‘highborn’.
The crowd all nod in agreement.
‘Highborn indeed’ said a huge red-bearded man at the back of the room.
Lucas Vale, obviously emotional at the mention of his father, raises his chin to show how proud he is to hear the king talk of him in such a way.
The king steps forward towards Lucas.
"After years of planning, after the final uprising, we were just an rabble of starving slaves on the run through Naggaroth. We didn't know the land we had escaped into, so the army that was sent to hunt us down finally caught up to us at Moonpeak. Those of us who still had the strength to raise a weapon had to make a last stand for those who couldn't. We had to buy them time to get away. You should have heard the deafening charge of the elves emissary. It would chill the bravest of soldiers' bones."
The room goes quiet. Most were there. They remember.
" We weren't warriors. We were farmers, fishermen, miners. We knew our chances. But like his comrades, like all who stood on that peak, Lucas’s father Jonah fought like a lion.
The crowd start to murmur loudly again and nod. Some say Jonahs name with reverence.
'I remember. I saw.' said the huge red bearded man agreeing with his leader.
"With three dead elves lying at his feet, Jonah was eventually wounded when single handedly fighting off two dreadspears. Before they could finish him off, a young boy, who had secretly hidden to stay behind with the men, ran forward, picked up his father’s sword and stood in their way. '
Lucas Vale’s eye start to swell with tears at the memory.
"They laughed at the lad. He looked ridiculous holding a sword almost as long as he was tall. But they soon found out that trying to put down a boy, born in chains but with fire in his eyes, was to be the worst and final decision they ever made" .
The crowd let out a cheer of respect for Lucas. They shout his nickname.
The king looks proudly at the young warrior.
Twelve years later, a father was able to die old in his bed in a manner he deserved, thanks to the bravery of his son. Emissary, you say that brettonian solders have the best swordsmen in the world…I’m afraid those of us who watched that small boy stand over his father, and then grow more fearsome with every passing year, would say you have no idea how wrong that statement is'.
The king clasps a hand on Lucas’s shoulder.
'Woe betides the man that raises a weapon to anyone that Lucas Vale loves or any he trains to wield a blade like him.
Be assured Emissary, Lucas loves his people. And he now trains all of my soldiers. If they are half as good as he, I feel sorry for anyone who must fight a warrior trained by Lucas, son of Jonah. Am I right Freefolk? '
The crowd of soldiers applaud and cheer, those nearest to Lucas pat him on the back..
Lucas bows in respect to his King.
The king nods back and steps deeper into the room, pointing at a whitehaired man stood at the wall.
' Do you see that older gentleman emissary?'
Every one turns to look at the grizzled old soldier.
'His name is Kalen, a tactician who has turned swift victory into an art. At the Black River Raid, his force, outnumbered three to one, carved an impossible victory like none had ever seen before. Taking the Druchii fleet that eventually brought us back to these shores. He proved that sheer numbers is no match for skill, quick thinking and unshakable bravery.'
The crowd start to shout support for their finest general.
' On that day, unlike Brettonian generals who sit at the back of their armies with their minstrels, Kalen drew his sword and led his men into victory himself. Because that is the kind of man he is. A man who will forever make us proud. A man who soldiers will follow into fire because they know when they stand beside Kalen, General of the Free Peoples, any hand that raises to take what is ours will be swiftly cut down. '
The crowd burst into roars of agreement, chanting Kalens name. No one louder than the large bearded man at the back of the room.
The king points to him.
The crowd is now being whipped into a frenzy.
' Do you see, and hear, that huge warrior at the back emissary? That is Ivan. Ivan…well….look at the size of him. Do not fuck with Ivan.'
The room bursts into laughter. No one laughs louder than the nodding Ivan.
The king sees someone in a corner.
'And do you see that woman?'
The king becomes more serious, as he points out a short-haired lady in chainmail at the back of the room.
'I can only apologise to you emissary as that woman is the reason I hear your borders have become rife with bandits and druchii corsairs.'
The woman looks bemused to why the King would single her out for ridicule.
"After finally finding freedom, like most women, she was told she must become a seamstress, cook or a nurse maid to help our cause. Instead, she decided she had a higher calling. She decided to protect her people instead. '
The woman realises that she isn’t being shamed. Quite the opposite. She takes a step forward, out of the crowd.
"Knowing that women were not allowed in the rank and file of the army, she instead formed border patrols with fellow female warriors who have since dedicated their lives to protecting our camps from outlaws. Since she became their captain there have not been any attacks on our settlements for over three years. Do you know why emissary? Because when that scum think about raiding our lands or hurting our people, they know that when they arrive…'
The king turns back around from the Brettonians and points once more to the warrior woman.
' …Captain Loren will be waiting for them. '
The crowd nod again in agreement and respect for the captain.
' That gives them pause. And they realise raiding your borders is a better option than suicide.'
More laughter. Captain Loren gives a grin and a cocky nod of her head.
' You say emissary, that your king thinks I am weak or undermanned because I finally decided to allow women into my army’s ranks. Well you can tell him, because of the actions of people like Captain Loren, I know, and my people know, that one freefolk woman is worth ten of his elite soldiers.'
‘Damn right’, bellows Ivan
Captain Loren holds her head high after such praise from her beloved king.
' I think those named would all agree with me when I say they are not special cases among us – they are typical examples of the people who live in the camps where you stand.'
Every person the king named nods in agreement.
' Do you think any of them give a shit about rugs, gold or servants emissary? Yes we are the an army of former slaves. You speak like we should be ashamed of that fact. You sir, are mistaken. Tell your king that we wear history on our sleeve with pride. It reminds us that all here were baptised in fire to live free. And now you are standing with the most experienced single army the world has ever seen. The handful of Petty border squabbles your most experienced generals have had, pales in comparison to the hundreds of battles we have fought across a decade and two continents for our freedom, our lives and the right to finally lay stone and build a home here for ourselves. When Bretonnia, The Empire, Marinburg and the damn border prices left us, their people, to rot in Naggarothi dungeons, I'd say we have earned right to refuse to give back this small carve of land no one was using anyway. From this moment until the end of time, what happens here is now no business of anyone else. Understand emissary, you come with threats but we are willing to die to protect what we have earned. '
The emisarry looks shocked at the slave Kings defiance.
' That is why my throne room is without the adornments you people crave so much. We only care about the condition of our weapons, the quality of our character and now the legacy of the land our children will be born free into'.
The crowd shout agreements to support their king.
'Not the sparkly shit that you people are obsessed with. Tell that son of a tyrant that he may think he is a king proclaimed by the gods themselves... but i stand as king because our people request it until they find someone better. When they do I will stand by the new king with pride. '
Looking around the unadorned room, the emissary sees that unlike the unkempt soldiers, every weapon at someone’s side was in immaculate condition. It is obvious where their priorities lie.
' Tell your king that any foot that steps onto our lands with bad intentions will be swiftly cut down by the most fearsome warriors this world has ever birthed. He may have a hundred times our number...But my men appreciate the practice. '
The king draws his sword, making the emissaries guards reach for, but not draw, their weapons. The king stabs his sword into the ground. A challenge.
'Or.... if he would like to figure this out the old way and step into this room with his own sword drawn, I’d be happy to end any quarrel much faster without anyone else having to be involved. Now leave. Tell him I’ll be waiting.'
The crowd starts to part as the Emissary and his guards turns to leave.
The only person who doesn’t move is Ivan.
His massive armoured form blocks the way of the Emmisary, who looks up to meet Ivans eyes.
The emissary nearly jumps out of his skin.
Ivan lets out a thunderous laugh, followed by chuckles of the surrounding crowd.
The Bretonnian contingent leave as swiftly as possible leaving the laughter of the Freefolk behind them.
The laughter soon dies down and they all turn back to the Slave King who watches the Bretonnian leave his camp.
'Prepare. They are coming.'
TO BE CONTINUED....