Cry of the Glasya Part 5
There is a confession I should make. I don’t understand feudal peerage. Every time I start writing one of these things I’m constantly spending time on Wikipedia and the web in general checking and cross-referencing the damn caste system established so long ago. I keep meaning to do a deeper study of it so I don’t have wonder whether a Duke is higher or lower than a Viscount and what the hell a Baronet is.
Of course, I still haven’t gotten around to it so I mostly do the standard trope of tossing some fancy titles out there to make it sound extravagant. The devil, as they say, is in the details. And typically the details are worked out in the editing process that these shorts generally miss.
So to all those big Medieval history buffs out there, I apologize. For the rest of us, who cares if an Earl is greater than a Duke. None of us would ever have any of these silly titles anyway. On to the next part!
The sun shone brightly above as Keirn clanked up the steps. He clutched the haft of the halberd with unsure hands, frowning as the ridges of his gauntlets pressed uncomfortably into his skin. He was certain he was going to have ring imprints all over him for the rest of his life.
He scanned the length of the ramparts, pausing briefly to marvel at the majesty of the fluttering banners held in their posts. Like a sea of crisp standards, the exterior of the keep had been lavished with just as much attention as the inside. Whatever special occasion the Duke was celebrating, he was sparing no expense.
Keirn clanked along, keeping a bored eye out on the town as he passed. He didn’t know what he was expected to watch for. It wasn’t like an army was going to march up to the gates. The threat was far more subtle and wholly impossible to detect from this location. Perhaps after he made a quick round he could sneak back to the throne room. Maybe take up perch in the galleries where it would be harder for a random passer-by to find him.
He paused, feeling the heat of the sun and weight of the armour pressing down. He leaned against the stone rampart, enjoying the moment as he caught his breath.
All too late he heard the more sure footsteps of another. As he fumbled quickly for his halberd, his armoured fingers knocked the weapon to the ground with a clatter.
An arm bent and retrieved his weapon, holding it out to him.
“You must be new here.”
“What gave it away?” Keirn asked, taking the halberd back. Quickly, he added, “was hired just today actually.”
“Not much surprise,” the guard said, joining Keirn against the wall. “The Duke’s been throwing money at mercenaries and the like for the last fortnight. Seems he’s willing to give pay to anyone that can hold a weapon… or wear a suit.”
“And even to those who can’t do either.”
Keirn caught a forgiving smile.
“Have you been here long?”
“Most my life,” the guard responded. He stretched a long arm over the rampart. “That there is my humble home. Had aspirations of becoming a squire and perhaps one day a night. But… well… funny thing about aspirations.”
“So the Duke hasn’t always been this paranoid?”
“Ha, the man hasn’t always run this keep. I can say things were far better before he took up the throne.”
“He hasn’t always ruled?”
“Three years to the day. And with each passing night he seems to grow more and more anxious. At first we didn’t think much of it. New lord would surely be worried over his security especially given the circumstances of his arrival.”
Keirn looked at the man curiously.
“What do you mean?”
“Not from around here, eh?”
“To be honest, my friends and I were just passing through. We didn’t think much of the place but jumped at the opportunity for coin. Was a little surprised to find such a keep in a place like…” Keirn stopped himself before he said anything truly stupid about the other man’s home.
But the guard only laughed.
“Don’t worry, I’ve heard worse. Many travellers like to comment how Etreria has some decrepit fort while backwater Gelph has this resounding keep. What they don’t know is that this used to be the centre for a powerful kingdom.”
“Sounds like there’s a tale in there.”
The guard shrugged.
“Perhaps but I ain’t a bard.”
“Probably for the best. I’ve had my share of them for the day.”
“Aye but have you seen the one the Duke brought in? That man certainly spares no expense.”
Keirn watched the banners for a moment as he puzzled the guard’s words.
“So what happened to the old Duke?”
“Earl,” the guard corrected. He stood, looking up and down the rampart as if he suspected the knight captain to be standing over his shoulder. He then leaned in close to Keirn. “Rightly no one truly knows. Word amongst the quarters was some dodgy visitors came up to the keep one night demanding to see the Earl’s wife. Obviously, the Earl wouldn’t take such a flagrant show of disrespect. Had them locked up for the night to teach them some manners. But when they went to release them in the morning, they had apparently vanished.”
“Did the Earl have a change of heart?”
“You didn’t know the Earl.” The guard shook his head. “He was right jumping that day. I missed the whole event but he had us turn the entire keep over searching for them. Threatened to lock all those involved with handling the guests in the stocks. I think he was convinced they were looking for some improper dealings with his wife and the guards were conspiring with those folk.
“I remember him saying we were to arrested any of them on sight if they showed up in town again. Would have been quite the feat since no one seemed to have any good idea of what they looked like. Kind of strange, how the entire staff and even the Earl couldn’t quite get a good description of their faces.”
“That does sound odd. What happened next.”
“Lots of stuff. Can’t hardly even remember what order it was in either.”
The guard looked at the edge of his halberd, turning the weapon in his hands to slowly reflect to glare of the sun.
“The Earl and Countess had quite a few fights the following nights. Most of us tried to keep our heads down and avoid what we could. I couldn’t even tell you what they even fought over.
“More peculiar were the complaints from the scullery. Had us running all over the damn grounds searching for missing hounds or raided larders. Truthfully, I was thankful for the distraction and excuse from the throne room. But…”
The guard paused once more.
It was clear he was about to say something and thought better of it.
Keirn straightened, regarding the man’s features. He seemed momentarily reminiscent, letting some fleeting recollections pass quietly by. But the guard merely shook his head.
“Nothing. I should complete my rounds.”
“But you haven’t yet explained what happened to the Earl!”
The guard hesitated one last time before letting the spirit of gossip finally win over.
“Well, it’s like this. The Earl got really withdrawn. Like, he refused to see audiences, refused to see the Countess started demanding the servants stay out of his rooms. He wouldn’t eat. He wouldn’t even leave for his garderobe. The servants would have to collect a bucket deposited outside his door.”
“You think he suspected something of the servants?”
The guard shrugged.
“No one knew what to make of it. By the time the bucket stopped appearing the knight captain decided to investigate. The door to the Earl’s chambers were barred from the inside and after hollering for some time at it, he ordered it bashed down. By the time we broke through, we found nothing.”
“What do you mean nothing?”
“The Earl was gone? Perhaps he just left in the middle of the night.”
The guard shook his head.
“You don’t understand. It wasn’t just the Earl that was missing. His entire private chambers had been cleared. No desks. No chests. No bedposts. Nothing.”
“Precisely!” The guard accentuated his point with a raised finger. “We poked around. There was the burnt fragments of something in the fire pit. Caulder thought it looked like the remainder of his bed. His windows were opened so we thought perhaps he’d fashioned some makeshift ladder and scrambled out. Instead we found the ruins of some furniture that had obviously been pitched but nothing to suggest he’d escaped that way. And the keep is quite large, I couldn’t imagine the Earl trying to scramble down its side with his… stature.”
“What of the Countess?”
“She hadn’t been allowed inside for some time either. She was quite shaken by the discovery. The knight captain suspected some sort of foul mischief and had a retinue posted about her. I was told that she simply couldn’t deal with the Earl’s sudden disappearance and had a few trunks packed before mounting her carriage and leaving quickly into the night. She was gone before the knight captain was even woken from his sleep.”
“That must have created quite the chaos for the knight captain.”
“That’s just the thing. Two days later the Duke rolls up in some fancy carriage with a proclamation of his right. There was no way the messenger would have arrived by then and yet he was here making the transition seamless. And aside from having his room moved, he made no comment on the Earl.”
“And now he’s fearful of an assassination on the three year anniversary of the Earl’s disappearance.”
“Well,” the guard paused, “when you put it that way it sounds downright sinister. You think there’s actually something going to happen?”
Keirn clasped the guard’s shoulder.
“I’d probably try and find a post that’s not in the audience chamber today.”