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Soft winds carried the scent of sweet grass into the chambers, filling one’s head with the images of rolling hills and green pastures lush with new growth. Their ghostly fingers flitted their way across the great stone hall to pluck at the many scrolls and maps that lay scattered across the oaken table in the centre and continued on to toy with the hems of the women encircling it. For a moment, it seemed as though all was in balance, with nothing to trouble the gathered council, but the illusion ended suddenly with the sound of a fist slamming down onto the wooden surface.
“How dare they say such things about me?”
The speaker was a young woman positioned at the head of the group, poised over a large map of Haj Rhaesh, staring at the letter in her hand. With her red hair, pale skin, and blue eyes that snapped in her anger, she stood out among the dark-featured women who attended her.
“They say that I force my people to tend to my own lands, while salting those of the civilians. Where could this idea have originated when there is not a single grain of truth in it? My farmers are paid good money to tend to my crops, and there is a bountiful harvest coming in below our walls!” The last was said as she crossed the floor to a large open window, gesturing out to the farms which were indeed being tended by workers deft at their trade. “Haj Ramasar has prospered more under my rule than even that of anni ave ath-jahak-ari, my proud father.” The woman closest to the ginger maiden stepped forward, the golden stallion pinned at her breast marking her as the high advisor.
“Erin Khaleesi, no one knows the truth of your words more than your own people. However, I feel as though there may be ulterior motives behind the lies. Our woman in Pădurile din Urs Călăreţ managed to intercept this communiqué, which was bound for the mountain lands. Haj Ramasar controls the largest tracks of fertile land in Haj Rhaesh, an emerald encased of in a world of stone. Someone wants our lands, Khaleesi, but we know not who it is.”
With a heavy sigh, the Khaleesi turned back to the group of councilwoman, toying with the heavy silver torc around her neck as she often did when lost in thought. It was the mark of the Troll leader, patterned the same as the hem of her silver-grey tunic. The royal house of Haj Ramasar had coveted silver above all other metals, thus it was no surprise that their banner was a black mare galloping across a field of silver, edged with the green of their lush plains.
“What news have we of the sentiments of the Air Lord? Does he too believe that I am little more than a heavy-handed crone? The Ramasari and the people of Asianopolis have been on friendly terms for years, and I cannot imagine that he would turn away from us over the petty japes of insecure, foolish men.”
She found her answer in her people’s silence and exchanged glances.
“Are you telling me that not only is there unrest in the wilder lands, but we’ve lost the closest thing that we had to an ally?”
Fury rolled off her in palpable waves, an emotion so intense that it swept over her advisors, setting them to speaking all at once.
“Make them pay!”
“They will regret the day that they crossed us!”
“To arms! The Trolls will-“
She cut them off with a raised hand, the room falling silent as she strode back to the table, calfskin boots making nary a sound against the stone floor.
“The true problem lies here.”
She drew the women in around her as she pointed to the mountain range to the north of Haj Ramasar.
“The dragon knights of the Mountains of Trepidation. I have been receiving reports of unrest in their people, and that they have come together under one who calls himself the Usurper King.”
Although the lands of Haj Rhaesh had long ago separated into various territories, they were formally under the rule of the Khaleesi Haj Ramasari, if only in theory rather than practice. Usurper King. Ha! He hides behind a pretty title that holds connotations of freedom, but there is nothing there but hunger. He means to enslave my people, and more likely than not throw my herds to his horrid winged snakes.
Her fingers moved across the parchment from the Dragon lands to that of the Horned Men.
“My ladies, we are well and truly surrounded. Yes, we have our riders and our advantages, but we are alone in what is shaping up to be one of the greatest conflicts Haj Rhaesh has ever seen. Our numbers are great, and our people brave, but what we need now is time. I will not strike first, even if retribution for these lies is within my rights as Khaleesi. If we can meet-“
A dark Troll-blooded boy burst into the chamber, ignoring the shouts of the councilwomen and their now naked blades as he threw himself to the ground at the Khaleesi’s feet.
“Lady, reports have come in from the borderland pastures. There were attacks on the herds, and horses are dead, and there are hoof prints and arrows and burning!
He would have continued on had the Khaleesi not placed a hand on his shoulder as she lowered herself onto her haunches, placing herself level with him. Gods, the boy is but ten, and has to bring such news to his Khaleesi and council. “Now hush Pirren. Take a breath and relay the message exactly as you were told.”
The boy went on to explain that two of the far pastures had been ravaged, with a score of herd boys killed and an entire herd of broodmares and yearlings slaughtered. Blame could not be passed to only one of the neighbouring nations; among the carcasses, many of which had been cut so cleanly that one would have sworn that the pieces had never been connected, cloven hoof prints mixed in with those of the panicked horses, speaking tales of bulls invading the field. The worst news was found in the report that in the centre of the grander pasture, where a large oak dominated the surroundings, all twenty young men had been strung up along the lower limbs, riddled with arrows as if they had been used as targets.
The boy was in tears as he finished his tale, and the women of the council could do nothing but stare at each other with ashen faces, unable or unwilling to believe that an action of such overwhelming destruction could have been committed on their own lands without warning or cause. The Khaleesi rose to her feet, her face hard as she looked around the room with eyes like ice, a chill coursing through her body. Those foals represented some of the greatest bloodlines of Ramasari horses, now lost to the gods, and their watchers were no older than Pirren, young boys with dreams of riding with a khas and bringing honour to their families. But now? The only things being brought back to their mothers were broken bodies and grief.
She spoke softly, but in the heavy silence, all heard her command, and set forth at once.
Sitting astride her black mare, the Khaleesi looked out over the mines of Lu Shang, those closest to her border with Asianopolis, watching the distant figures moving about their tasks. Her mail glinted in the rising sun, her breath misting in front of her in the faint chill. It was time. If it’s war they want… From behind her came the sound of hundreds of swords being pulled free from sheaths, her own now naked in her grasp
“It’s war they’ll get.”