The Three Kings
by Slawomir Rapala
part 3 of 9
Long before the sun was up and long before the palace and its residents awoke, a group of Lyonese warriors gathered in the Royal Chambers, awaiting their King. Some faces were young and others were seasoned; all were experienced in battle, all bold and daring, all loyal and passionate about defending their homeland. They were the best of them all, the finest of the Wolves. There were perhaps a dozen of them, all born and bred on the battlefield and all Lyonese to the bone.
Some of the more known and respected names included the aged Yyta, the grim Teliko, One-Eyed Elkiey, young Skrol, the twins Lalum and Mulal, the cunning highlander Suna, an old friend of Aezubah, and General Jasper, a highlander himself. Each one was an excellent warrior and had a great following among the army and the Wolves. It was only with such people that Aezubah surrounded himself with.
Ever since Aezubah was given the sole rule over Lyons, he had made it a point to keep aristocrats and hangers-on away from the affairs of the Kingdom. Many were not pleased with his doings. Many of the nobility and the wealthy Lyonese who were thus far used to meddling in the politics of the Kingdom now suddenly found themselves cast aside and away from power. They grumbled and complained, sending petitions after petitions, but Aezubah cared little about how they felt.
Unlike Vahan, Aezubah hardly concerned himself with such people, especially since he had over twenty thousand troops supporting him, all loyal to him and his companions, all ready to give their lives for Lyons. As a result, at the time when Iskald assumed power, only those people who were indeed worthy and skilled to rule and to lead were permitted to sit in the Council and decide on the fate of Lyons and the thousands of Lyonese.
The Council became predominantly military, disciplined and loyal to one ruler only. And ever since Aezubah handed command over to Iskald, they had all sworn loyalty and allegiance to the young King, while Aezubah himself took a seat on the Council among the others.
The Council was the legal, judicial, administrative, as well as the military body of Lyons, with the young King overlooking all affairs. The people believed in the new regime and they were pleased that for once at least, internal struggles and conflicts had ceased, and pleased that it was their immediate fate and the fate of Lyons that had become the most important issue for the Council to address, as opposed to its members’ seeking to attain personal wealth and prestige, as it had often been in the past.
The only people who resisted the new order were the aristocrats, the well-bred politicians and secretaries of the former Estate, all useless and full of empty pride, who believed they had been unlawfully removed away from power, the power that was handed down to them from Biyack itself years ago, when Lyons was first incorporated into that Kingdom.
But Biyack no longer existed, and neither did the Cursed King; his power was gone as was theirs. The aristocrats were forced to accept new order and to ally with the new regime. A new world had emerged, and they, like thousands of others, had become simple citizens bound by law to follow the military leaders into whatever they decided was the best interest of the newly founded Kingdom.
Everyone present stood when Iskald entered his Chambers with a stack of maps in his hand. He was preceded by the young Rosalia, whose eyes were full of joy. She had not slept all night, until finally she sneaked out of the palace when everyone was still asleep to tell her mother the good news. Together they had gathered the few belongings they had, left the small room they rented in Hvoxx, and had come to the palace. By now her mother was in Rosalia’s apartments, sleeping soundly for the first time in years, a soft smile lingering on her lips and her blind eyes looking into the future with hope and joy.
The young girl took her seat in the corner of the room, and soon the soothing sounds of the harp filled the Chambers. The young King in the meantime, nodded to the warriors gathered before him but said nothing yet. He put the maps down on the table and then took his seat at its head, at which sign the rest of the Council resumed their seats as well.
The Lyonese warriors gazed silently at their young King. His weary eyes and the dark circles beneath them were evidence of a sleepless night. But although he looked exhausted, his eyes burned bright beneath the fatigue, and there was great confidence in them.
Everyone in the room realized immediately that Iskald had developed a plan and that he now envisioned a strategy which would allow them to win the war with the numerous and savage invader. They eagerly waited for what he was to say.
“It’s good to see you all here, friends,” the young King opened the meeting with a weary smile. “I want to thank you all for coming here at such an early hour.“
“Get to the point, Iskald,“ Aezubah interrupted him rather rudely. He sat on the immediate right of the King, serving as his closest advisor. “We’re all simple soldiers here, there’s no need for mincing words.“
The rest of the men nodded in agreement. Smiles surfaced on their grim faces.
“You said you have a plan to defeat the Vikings,“ the aged warrior continued. “Let’s hear it, we’re all waiting for it.“
“Fair enough,“ Iskald said. “I’ll get right to the point then. Lyons is in a critical position right now, we all know that. We’re outnumbered and outmaneuvered and if we don’t do something quickly, none of us will live to see the coming summer.”
Iskald’s words hung in the air as the warriors looked at one other. The severity of the situation was well known to them indeed, even if the majority of Lyonese still clung to hope, blinded by a new surge of patriotic fervor.
“As you said, though, we all know that,” Jasper broke the silence. “What are we going to do about it then? How do we win the war?”
“I think I’ve found the answer to that question,” Iskald said confidently, looking by turns into the eyes of each of them.
“We’ve been putting our heads together for months now,” Yyta spoke. “And you’re telling us you came up with a plan in one night?”
“Let’s hear it,” Aezubah was growing impatient. The others also looked at Iskald with anticipation and some even with disbelief.
“It may not be a great plan,” the young King admitted with a bitter smile. “Hell, it might not even be a good one, but in the place we’re in, any ideas are welcome, I suppose, so hear me out. At any rate, I think it’s the only plan that has a chance of succeeding and the only plan on which I would be willing to wager the fate of our Kingdom.
“It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be bloody and we might not even be able to make it succeed. But we’re all men here, we must face the facts and take them at face value.”
Having said that, Iskald rolled out one of the maps he had before him and stretched it out on the table so that everyone could see. The men lowered their heads, carefully examining the markings that Iskald had made on it as he pondered over the charts through the night.
“We’re thirty thousand men strong,” the King spoke. “Hvoxx is right here,” he pointed to the map with his index finger, “and we’re stationed all along the coast; mainly here, here, here, and here,” his finger moved quickly over the map, pointing to the familiar locations. “These four places are where we have the largest groupings of troops and they’re also the hot spots, places that the Vikings have attacked most often.”
“Get to the point,” Aezubah repeated.
“Just hear me out!” Iskald snapped and his sharp voice startled everyone. The aged warrior moved uneasily in his chair.
“Hear me out,” the young King repeated, his voice softening. “We’re surrounded by close to seventy thousand Vikings who keep us on the shore line. Their sheer numbers and better positioning restrict our movements. They think they’ve rendered us powerless and are waiting for Irvinn who’s coming with over a hundred thousand men from the former Biyack.
“Their fleet is just waiting for the ice to break and if we don’t do something quick, they will crush us. They will smother our defenses and simply destroy us. All of us.”
“So what do you suggest?” Elkiey hesitated a question.
“I think we must act now before Irvinn makes his way to the sea. We must break from the shore, divide the Viking army into two parts, and defeat them separately. If we use all of our forces at once and act in unison, the task is not impossible. It’s difficult, that goes without saying, but it’s certainly not impossible. The real problem is that we have less than seven days to do it in.”
The warriors gazed at the map in silence.
“Even if it is indeed possible, though it’s difficult to imagine how, what then?” Yyta asked finally. “Let’s say that we defeat the Vikings here. How are we going to deal with Irvinn and his troops when they arrive?”
“That’s a whole new war, my old friend,” Iskald replied. “Let’s worry about the task at hand: defeating the seventy thousand Vikings who are breathing down our necks and whose sole purpose of being here right now is to hold us until Irvinn arrives. Forget about him for now. Let’s show the Vikings that we’re not going to wait here like sheep for slaughter. Let’s stand up and fight, damn it!”
“Yeah!” some of the younger warriors agreed. The men seemed to be moved by the fervor in Iskald’s voice and by the fire burning in his eyes. They all slowly fell under the spell of their young King’s charisma.
“All right, so let’s make it happen!” Jasper said. “How, though?”
Copyright © 2008 by Slawomir Rapala