One of the easiest ways to tell a casual poser, imposter, or fake out from genuine nobility was to bring up the Hundred Families of Terandria. The most basic test was to talk about them like a literal hundred.
Because they weren’t. The Hundred Families of Terandria, each one who could trace their bloodlines back to the days of myth and legend and the Hundred [Heroes] of Terandria, were not still extant.
Some had been wiped out. Some bloodlines, irrevocably lost. The Goblin King—the second-to-latest Goblin King had wiped out a number of families to the last.
But blood mixed over time, and most royal families, even ones newly made of commoner-stock like Calanfer, married into the ‘purest’ blue blood and thus gained their claim to fame.
The point was, the Hundred Families was a metaphor for the royal blood that ran through kingdoms and powerful families. If you didn’t get that, you were quickly slapped with a Skill and ejected from any gathering. Or just beheaded, but that was the good old days.
However, what was not an analogy was—the Five Families of Izril.
Veltras, El, Reinhart, Terland, Wellfar.
They were old. Older than Calanfer. They were ‘new’ to Izril in the way that you called Salazsar one of the ‘newest’ Walled Cities. Admittedly, there was a time you couldn’t find much Human presence on Izril and they had yet to fully occupy the north like Terandria.
But even so. The Five Families of Izril traced their lineage back to the Hundred Families of Terandria. Hence…the name. The nobility were unsubtle sometimes, but the point was they had conquered Izril acre by acre, foot by foot, pushing Gnolls, Drakes, and even Dragons off their territory.
Five families. They had help. They made alliances and manipulated their foes, but if any group embodied the strength of the Hundred Families—perhaps it was the five who had left their home.
But artifacts got lost or broken. Vast armies turned into heirlooms and stories. Land changed hands, and the greatest [Lady] of her day was succeeded by her daughter, who might never step into those shoes.
Were they as good as their inception?
If this were the old Veltras Family, they’d all be dead. That was the sole comfort in [Rear Admiral] Madiur’s mind as he led his force of [Sailors], [Soldiers], and the rest of Ailendamus’ navy up the cliffs.
Cliffs. Not the comforting sway of ship decks. Worse, it was Calanfer’s terrain, or close enough. Madiur had committed a capital sin among any [Captain], let alone an entire fleet.
He had run his entire navy into the beaches, ordered them scuttled, and taken every fighting hand into the elevation.
This was the second day after the Five Families entered the war, and he took some bitter pleasure in knowing that the history books would record his force was the first to step foot on Calanfer proper.
It was even a genius move in a sense; if this had been a regular landing, they would have threatened Calanfer.
But it wasn’t. They were here because they could not hold the sea. Even now, the [Rear Admiral] glanced over his shoulder and thought he saw one of those glorious sails, that beautiful vessel with construction and details no modern warship could dream of, gliding along the coast.
The Pride of the Wellfar. A Citadel-class ship which was, at this moment, blowing the coastline to bits.
Not all of it. But the spells were hitting anyone in the open, and it had sunk five ships yesterday in the brief retreat. Their hulls were tangled along the shore.
That was Wellfar’s might. A portion of it. A tenth? Madiur didn’t know exactly, but it was worth more than any living [Lord] or [Lady]. It had endured beyond thousands, into tens of thousands of years.
And he regretted he couldn’t even scratch it, let alone board it. He had briefly—briefly considered it.
But Madiur was not Admiral Idiot. His name was Admiral Dakelos, who had been fooled into attacking Nadel and the Lord of the Dance, but his reputation was dirt as far as Ailendamus was concerned. If he hadn’t been fooled, maybe they could have risked a battle with their warships, but the idiot had lost some of their best vessels and made an enemy of Nadel.
Ironically, he might survive this. He’s attached to some tug-boat with his command, and we’re…
Madiur was trying to decide whether they were going to live or not. The thing was, he wasn’t Dakelos.
Dakelos, for all his gullible faults, was a full [Admiral] of Terandria, highest-level, second only to a Great General or his equivalent at sea, and they were few. Madiur was a step below, but he had something Dakelos did not, and that was a [Historian] for a mother. He knew the Five Families, and so he’d taken his crew on land since it beat fighting a legend that had killed Dragonships.
The Pride of the Wellfar could generate a distortion in space that allowed it to sail upon seas few dreamed of. Also—it allowed it to take a thousand fireballs and change their position, so you’d burn your own fleet with your fire.
Better to take on mortals. As far as Madiur could tell, they were still disembarking.
“What’ve we got?”
“Duke Rhisveri and Royal Strategist Citz are waiting for you, Rear Admiral—”
“Not that. The enemy, the enemy! Tell Citz I’ll speak with him shortly. Set up those damned palisades! [Archers]! There, there, and there!”
He’d found his place to die, and it was a good one. Madiur had a steep cliff face, and below him, he saw his forces taking points on the incline up.
Simple, good old-fashioned choke-points, and Madiur had his [Archers] and [Mages] on a plateau with nigh-vertical cliffs. He glanced over the edge of one and was rewarded with no back-trails, no stupid weak points. Just a river entering the sea on his left flank; his right, a gentler forest crossing with the cliffs.
The open ground and beach were below, and his troops were hunkered down as artillery spells rained around them.
But Veltras would have to climb up, and Wellfar wouldn’t leave their ships.
So come on. Let’s see how good you are.
It was only House Veltras who was landing. They had assistance from the other Five Families, but Veltras alone was a famously martial house. Madiur updated Citz, glad the Royal Strategist didn’t hang on formalities.
He had no time for Duke Rhisveri. This was not politics, and Madiur would take whatever censure from the King’s touchy brother later.
“…we are not counting many [Lords] and [Ladies], Rear Admiral. Taking one prisoner would ensure some safety. Calanfer is mobilizing a force to assault you from the rear.”
“We won’t need to wait for them, Citz. Just be glad we didn’t land in Gaiil-Drome!”
The half-Elves would have torn them to pieces in the forest. The [Strategist] agreed, and Madiur lowered the stone.
“Hold on. I’m getting you your force estimate. It might heat up soon, Citz. I’ve ordered my men to surrender if need be. I will take responsibility for it.”
“You have permission to surrender your force, Rear Admiral. Try to take out one of their leaders.”
Madiur exhaled a breath he didn’t think he had been holding. He could? But that strengthened his resolve to kill one of their [Lords] or [Ladies]. Just one, and he could at least say he’d done his part in this disaster.
Now, he counted, and his voice was almost incredulous.
“The Pride of the Wellfar’s disembarking them fast. Citz—it’s a force of a few thousand. Four…six? Lots mounted. I’m counting heavy bows too.”
“Strike force. They’re all veterans.”
“Yes, sir, but we outnumber them by—”
Madiur realized how stupid a statement that was, and bit his tongue to avoid it going down in the books. He tried to spot their nobility who would be leading them, but the only one he spotted was…
A man riding ahead of a column of [Riders]. He had dark hair and a straight-backed posture, but that was all Madiur could see from here. His helmet shifted as he looked up the slope, and the Rear Admiral saw Tyrion Veltras.
The 2nd best [Lord] in the world—according to one biased [Writer]—had a presence that lit up the battlefield. His forces seemed to move a bit sharper, and even at a canter as they disembarked, they moved fast.
He was a famous lancer, renowned as a great war leader and strategist, and Madiur itched to see how good he’d have been on a boat’s slippery deck without that damned horse. Still…he’d have to ride through all of Ailendamus’ forces to get here.
“They’ll be circling our fighting once this battle concludes. The Pride of the Wellfar will be assailing every coastal area from afar if we cannot stop it.”
Citz’s voice was frustrated, and Madiur saw what that would look like. They had lost their forward fleet sent to encircle the Dawn Concordat. They could risk the rest of it, but Ailendamus was not a powerful naval presence. If Pheislant joined the war with the Order of Seasons, Ailendamus would have to prevail on the Taimaguros Dominion, their allies, for help.
Embarrassing, costly, and all the while, Tyrion Veltras’ army would be assailing weak spots using that powerful ship as a base.
Or would they? Madiur’s jaw worked as he saw something inconceivable.
“Hold on, Citz. You’re not going to believe this. The Pride of the Wellfar is…moving away!”
“What? Are they repositioning? [Sense Attack] is failing to pick up any flanking maneuver…”
“No! They’re heading full-sails away! They’ve left Veltras on the beach!”
Madness. The most powerful mobile artillery that could not be taken was abandoning House Veltras. True, he was fighting the fleet, but he was outnumbered, and they had entrenched themselves. Madiur’s blood boiled, but Citz was plainly worried.
“They must think they can take your force here. House Veltras may simply advance through Calanfer.”
“They’ll have to go through us, sir. And they just got rid of their long-range bombardments.”
Madiur growled. He saw his forces spreading out as House Veltras entered the forest and moved into position. There were multiple leaders, he saw now. Citz had listed some of them.
A Lord Swey, infantry specialist. Renowned for his family’s location—a giant plateau that required climbing.
Lady Buscrei of the Marshes of Oswen. Their bows made up some of Veltras’ best hunter-snipers.
Lord Pellmia Quellae, not Veltras but close. A formidable [Commander] who was best for long wars; his forces would never go hungry thanks to his class. Also—and this was a distracting detail—Citz had mentioned he had recently been appraised as a [Matchmaker]?
Ailendamus’ intelligence was varied, substantive, but sometimes weird. Madiur tried to keep his eye on all of them, find which target he’d focus on, but House Veltras was too competent.
A sandstorm kicked up along the beach, and he cursed as their entire force save for that closest to the water vanished. Madiur shouted at his officers.
“Hold ground! Hold! Call out any fighting with your horns!”
They just had to hold. He looked around for the flag of Ailendamus, Kingdom of Glass and Glory. The [Rear Admiral] was an odd man in that moment.
He was no fool, and he didn’t want to go down like Admiral Idiot as a disastrous leader in this war. But he also had dreams of a glorious stand, or even, in the back of his mind, a wild victory.
Vainglorious. A man was allowed to dream. It continued as the sandstorm cleared, and Madiur realized he’d completely lost sight of Tyrion, a number of Veltras’ forces, and the rest were coming up the beach hard. Arrows began landing as his forces opened up, and [Sailors] fought on the sand. They held the line for a few seconds, and that was as long as Madiur’s dream lasted.
Because then Citz snapped in his ear.
“Attack incoming on your position! Take cover!”
Madiur looked around. Even Tyrion Veltras couldn’t have ridden at him this fast! [Archers]?
“Barrier spells are up, [Rear Admiral].”
A [Mage] assured him, but Citz’s voice made the [Rear Admiral] shout.
“Brace! Brace for…”
For what? Magic or arrows or people? Each one necessitated a different response. Citz only knew it was coming, so in that brief window, Madiur spun and saw the danger. He stopped…and his dreams evaporated. He looked down at the small, tiny contingent of the non-Veltras forces.
The Five Families had sent only a little. Reinhart, nothing at all. The House of El, two of their own, who had their mercenary-irregulars armed to the teeth with Kaalblades and their artisan-quality equipment.
Wellfar had sent a ship. Which Madiur had focused on as the sole, largest contribution to their forces. What he had missed at first, so small compared to that old legend, was that House Terland of Golems had sent three of their [Lords] and [Ladies], simply to escort their contributions.
Madiur saw a gigantic figure, an alien construction, slowly rotate towards him. It was tiny from his vantage point, but he could see it was about twice as tall as the men and women standing beside it, and many times longer.
It was no Golem he had ever seen. It reminded him of the Greatbows of Ailendamus; at least, the figure of a woman holding a bow did. But that was attached to a curious, boxy torso…like a Centaur?
But a Centaur did not float, and where her legs should have been was instead some kind of broad stomach that glinted at him. And the entire body hovered over a pedestal. Gravity magic—and huge legs carried it left and right up the beach, like some kind of turtle.
A weird amalgamation of magic and stone, albeit brightly painted. The Golem had a single bow. Oh—and as Madiur watched? He realized that the ‘stomach’ was, in fact, filled with arrows.
House Terland’s greatest Golem on the field had been based on siege weapons of old. But unlike Drakes or those who relied on other methods like alchemy, the designers had wanted to create a Golem that didn’t need to rely on anything but itself for propulsion.
The arrows floated in the air as Lady Ricuv Terland watched. Such artistry. Such design. It had been worth coming to Veltras’ war—for Sammial Veltras, of course—just to see it.
“Enchanted arrows loaded. Batch of sixty. Targets?”
“I see the enemy as they bravely stand/Human’s get, woman and man. Is it Terland’s wish to rain fire upon this land?”
Shivers. Just pure shivers from Ricuv. The Golem, the torso of the woman holding the giant bow loaded with an arrow of its own, spoke. One of Terland’s technicians gazed up in awe as the floating arrows and eyes of the Golem focused.
Not just the eyes on the carven head. Ricuv could appreciate the other magical sensors that were scrutinizing the battlefield. It was her peer, Lord Jopnel, who had the privilege of ordering the assault.
“Yes. Death to the enemies of the House of Terland, beauteous Aegis!”
The Aegis of the Bow, one of Terland’s ancient war-Golems, could speak in poetry—albeit limitedly as it was not actually sentient—load any ammunition, including rocks, and propel it farther than a longbow via gravity magic.
Oh, it also had amazing aim.
The arrows exploded out of the Aegis’ chest with a surprisingly soft sound, but they divided upwards, spreading across the air and shooting towards their targets, each one different like a glorious lightshow. Ricuv clapped her hands in delight as they struck the ground.
It was part of the reason Lord Veltras had requested Etril Wellfar to take his ship and harry Ailendamus from other angles. There was no need for it here. The first of Terland’s Golems calmly reloaded one arrow as the helpers hurried to insert more arrows into the firing stomach.
“Regular arrows. Batch of eighty. Shorter-range. We will advance as Lord Tyrion bids. Not one scratch on the Aegis!”
Ricuv ordered, and a giant Golem, eighteen feet tall and armed with a mirror-shield to protect them from spells, lumbered forwards. The [Lady] fanned herself as she watched the Aegis prepare to fire again.
She wondered where the [Lords] and [Ladies] of the House of Veltras had got to. Ricuv didn’t actually care. The only other place she would rather be than this would be meeting Cognita Truestone up close. Of the many families and nations, Illivere and the Terlands were among the few who had truly respected Archmage Zelkyr.
Lady Buscrei didn’t like the Terlands. They were weird about Golems. You heard things.
Not about the sex-Golems. That was practically a given, and odd enough.
Some of them wanted to be more Golem than people. And they were willing to sacrifice limbs, not just wait for accidents.
They were odd. But then, so were Veltras to them. So were the Reinharts, El, Wellfar…it was family. But distant family.
This was for Sammial. And Ryoka, but Buscrei would happily admit, she wouldn’t have come herself for the Wind Runner.
They could well die. And that was fair; she did not like the Aegis of the Bow. She watched as arrows landed among Ailendamus’ forces and they died.
It was barely a whisper. Maybe that Golem could win the entire battle, but Buscrei didn’t like it. That wasn’t how you fought. She put an arrow to her bow and prepared to shoot someone through the head, and that was fairer. If they found her and her people, she might die. But she’d admit—it was still unfair.
“Loose. One volley.”
The bows of Oswen’s folk hissed rather than thwapped. The arrows were likewise silent. A group of [Sailors] collapsed as Veltras’ folk advanced. Buscrei lifted a hand, and her people followed her.
They were not in the vanguard. Neither was Tyrion; he was riding at speed through the forests on the right. The only group actually advancing directly was led by Pellmia, Swey, and a few of the others. Slowly.
They didn’t need to take casualties. Buscrei was one of those trusted to take charge herself and flank the enemy. So the question was…why were they here?
Not here, here, creeping up the river, moving through the mud and water unseen by Ailendamus. That was just strategic.
These [Sailors] thought they had a view of the river, but Oswen was all-swamp. One of the [Marsh Hunters] surfaced after nearly three minutes underwater, and their bows and arrows were waterproofed.
In Oswen, if you didn’t have stealth and keen eyes, you’d miss your prey or become prey yourself for whatever lurked in the water. Buscrei had grown up shooting arrows from her tree-home, and her group had her Skill on them.
[Aquatic Invisibility]. Any part of them submerged in water vanished. Camouflage Skills and their own gear made up the rest of the lack, and they left no trail as they headed up the river, pausing to hit their opponents. If they were spotted, Buscrei would simply have them dive to the riverbed and let the current sweep them to safety.
But why were they here? Buscrei had not been ordered to by Tyrion, and she could have refused even if he’d tried. Same with Swey. They both were important members of their households.
Was it just for Sammial or Ryoka? For Buscrei, it was about that boy. He didn’t deserve this, and if she had to shoot every [Soldier] between her and Ailendamus, she’d see him home. She had known loss, and Tyrion Veltras didn’t need to lose a child.
Swey…had different issues. That was the thing. House Veltras brought their losses and past regrets into war. She saw him fighting his way forwards with his people, who would never lose their grip on anything. They could climb those cliffs ahead if need be with their bare hands, with ease.
Buscrei suspected Swey had come, though, because of Ryoka as much as Sammial. Not just for the young woman herself, but what she represented. She had been kidnapped while they’d been at House Veltras, and if he turned away from her, even if he sent only his forces, he might have felt he had abandoned her.
There was an old story about Swey as a young man, climbing with a friend. They had gone up a shelf in the spring, and it had begun to collapse. A younger man had held his friend’s hand in the rain and muck, clinging with the other to the rock face, trying to hold them both up. His grip had slipped.
That was the past of each [Lord] and [Lady]. It changed their classes and informed the present. They might not have had the levels of their heroic ancestors, but Veltras had never lost that wildness. Buscrei found her position at last and showered the enemy from the back, distracting them.
“They’re surrendering to Swey. Hold—redirect!”
She put up her hand, and her [Archers] halted. Buscrei put an arrow through another [Officer] and didn’t fire as [Sailors] surrendered. Some fought on, but she didn’t hate these [Soldiers]. Her war was for Sammial, and she’d reserve her arrows for the [Knights] who’d gone after Ryoka and him.
But one man burned hotter than she’d seen him since…well. Buscrei eyed the [Rear Admiral]’s vantage point. If she were in his shoes, she would have put up the white flag already.
Veltras’ advance was like lightning. It seemed like Madiur’s orderly defensive line just…folded up.
Arrows from above. Arrows from behind. Veltras didn’t even need strong [Mages], and they had a few. [Sailors], good fighters, met Veltras’ most experienced warriors and died.
But where was Tyrion Veltras? Madiur looked around. Surely he was somewhere.
“Brace yourselves. Rear Admiral, we are poised to sally forth. Do you have a target?”
“No. Hold. Hold—damn the tides, where is he?”
Among the people around him was the one hammer that Madiur had on land—the Order of the Thirsting Veil. The [Knights] were ready for the final clash, but Madiur wanted to know where…where was Tyrion?
“Two groups of riders are coming up the hill, Rear Admiral. Straight at our pike-line. We can stop them.”
The [Knight] offered. He pointed at two groups of riders charging up the hill with commendable speed. Madiur frowned. He had a bunch of pointy sticks in the way of the horses. He wasn’t at home with horses since they did poorly on ships, but it seemed like a stupid strategy.
So it means they’re coming.
Madiur spun around. Citz was directing the army. So the [Rear Admiral] stalked across the too-solid ground. Where? Not the river. Was that…?
“Archers in the river!”
They dove as soon as his forces on the plateau turned. Madiur cursed. The infantry had halted below. Madiur had a lot of bows in cover, ducking the Golem’s shower of arrows, and they could do some damage, so the footsoldiers just halted out of range. The riders—
He couldn’t come up the cliffs, could he? Madiur strode back to the vertical cliffs. He had people watching them for climbers, but if Veltras tried, they’d just shoot him through the head on the way up.
Madiur peered over the edge of the cliffs as he strode by a [Sentry].
“Did you see anything in the forest?”
The woman didn’t reply. Madiur turned, began to snap at her, and saw the wild, rolling eyes. The way the soldier had locked into place, unable to move.
[Stasis] spell. Madiur felt a chill. Then he looked down the sheer rock, moss, and dirt. Unassailable by…
The [Rear Admiral] had a sudden sense of confusion. The world…tilted. He felt unsteady on his feet and thought he was sick and this entire attack hadn’t happened. It was a dream. Or how else did he explain the man on horseback…galloping up at him?
Straight up, as if his horse were riding on flat ground and Madiur were the one perpendicular to the world. The [Rear Admiral] recoiled.
“Attack! Attack from the—”
Everyone whirled. The Thirsting Veil Knights broke off their interception of the other [Riders] and turned.
Then the first horse leapt over the cliff’s edge. Tyrion Veltras landed on the ground, and a hundred [Riders] followed him. They had galloped straight up the cliff.
“[Vertical Charge]. Split. Jericha, left.”
“Charge in the name of House Veltras!”
They swept forwards so fast Madiur was still stumbling back when Tyrion Veltras’ horse knocked him flat. He raised his head, dizzy, as hooves thundered around him and saw them descend on his command.
Horses versus archers. A terrible thing. Tyrion’s assistant, Jericha, stormed around the camp as he rode at the group of Thirsting Veil [Knights]. Both sides had lances; they fought in the most archaic, Human fashion: horseback, with giant pointy sticks and heavy armor.
The Thirsting Veil had poisoned weapons and excellent training. House Veltras did not field [Knights], but their scion had trained with the lance every day he could ride. The two charged across the short plateau at each other. Then Tyrion’s force curved.
They rode left. The Thirsting Veil turned to track them, lances poised. Tyrion Veltras’ shield was covering his chest and the lower half of his face, a near-perfect guard with his armor. His enchanted lance was aimed ahead as his warhorse thundered towards the edge of a cliff fearlessly. He spoke.
“[Lightning Hooves]. [Company: Zigzag Maneuvering].”
His riders changed direction like a perfect geometric angle. The bewildered Thirsting Veil [Knights] saw them speed up—angle, and changed direction. Then the [Riders] shifted again, and suddenly they were charging the [Knights] from the left!
And their foes’ lances were out of line. House Veltras hit them, and armored bodies were thrown from saddles, run through, or just knocked silly by the impact. Tyrion rode through them.
“Regroup—rear charge! [Thirty-Foot Thrust]!”
His group whirled and he ran someone through from afar. Then they ran over Madiur’s spear-line from behind. Tyrion ran through a third person with his lance, drew his sword, and cut as the [Soldiers] turned, breaking into chaos. He was counting. As [Rear Admiral] Madiur rose to his feet to do what had to be done, dizzy, sick, he saw Tyrion raise a hand.
His riders retreated, and the shocked [Soldiers] began to chase after him. Just in time for the second group of [Riders] to hit them from one angle, and the third to hit them from the side.
The last of Madiur’s camp was in chaos. [Knights] were fighting alone or back-to-back, and his [Archers] and [Soldiers]…the [Rear Admiral] saw Tyrion turning, head surveying the battlefield.
The [Lord] saw his quarry at last and rode towards the [Rear Admiral]. Madiur raised the weapon he was carrying, a wicked hatchet, and tossed it down. The [Lord] slowed as the [Rear Admiral] bellowed.
“Surrender! We surrender!”
He looked up as the [Lord] slowed. Instantly, all but a few [Knights] put up their weapons and repeated the call. Even the [Knights] did, as they saw more [Soldiers] climbing up the plateau. Madiur looked up into two cold, dark blue eyes.
He was surprised. He knew Tyrion Veltras, of course, even if he was another continent’s name. He had heard of the stony-faced [Lord] who seemed to live only for the campaign or saddle. He had expected a rock of a man, but there was a bright core of anger in that gaze.
Nevertheless, Tyrion slowly lowered his lance.
“I am Tyrion Veltras. I accept your surrender. Jericha, report.”
He turned away, and the [Rear Admiral] looked around as his people surrendered. His part in this war—at least for the foreseeable future—was definitely over. He had a feeling, a bad one, that when it came to the history books, he wasn’t going to get more than a single entry.
Tyrion Veltras’ entry into the Ailendamus war was like Sammial kicking open the door to a [Lady]’s private room and demanding why she was naked. Which yes, he had done more than once. Not just to Ryoka.
That kind of effect. Politically and militarily. That was because Sammial took after his father.
He took after his father. He was not an outlier. Tyrion just had decades of tempering.
It was something about how he conducted his battles. His war. The [Lord] knew the Dawn Concordat had fought Ailendamus bravely or, at least, fought for a number of months before this.
Now that he was here, he gave instructions to his allies like Etril Wellfar, surveyed the ongoing war front, and informed the Dawn Concordat he was entering the conflict.
As in, he informed them he was fighting on their side. He did not offer elaboration. He did not answer their requests for coordination with their [Generals], and he did not reply via communication spell with any of the three nations, including Calanfer’s crown, whose soil he was riding upon.
He did pass off the entire captured force of Ailendamus’ fleet to the nearest garrison commander. Or rather, Lord Pellmia did.
After making sure there were enough guards and they were secured enough not to riot, he returned to Tyrion with two hundred [Riders] from Calanfer added to his ranks.
“They were not happy about it, Lord Veltras. I had to ride off with their [Garrison Commander] trying to hold onto my saddle. His Majesty of Calanfer wishes to speak to you.”
“Hm. King Reclis du Marquin.”
Tyrion slowed a bit so a panting Pellmia could join him. The [Lord] had ridden hard, even rationing two doses of stamina potion to catch Tyrion’s main force. And they were the foot-soldiers!
Three days since their landing on the beach passed like a whirlwind. Tyrion Veltras sent the captured [Soldiers] of Ailendamus to the garrison and then marched his army through Calanfer. He was famous for being able to cross Izril as fast as Magnolia Reinhart’s coach; a smaller nation like Calanfer was not an issue.
In fact, it was Tyrion Veltras himself who’d ridden back to meet with Pellmia. The [Lord] nodded ahead.
“My [Riders] are seventy miles ahead of this position. Are you willing to continue leading our forces on their current heading? I’d like to take Lord Swey and a few of his people into my command.”
“Eighty miles…? We barely slept! Dead gods, Tyrion! There’s such a thing as pacing yourself!”
Pellmia looked at the [Lord] with a mix of amazement and admiration. Tyrion just shrugged.
“I need your answer within half an hour; we need to catch up by nightfall. The only thing keeping Ailendamus from adjusting to us will be speed. We must enter Kaliv and begin harassing them at once. Lord Etril has already begun patrolling the southern coast, and he is heading up towards Pheislant to aid the Order of the Seasons.”
At this point in the war, neither man was aware of Eldavin’s plans, so Pellmia saw the sense in Tyrion’s objectives.
“What about Calanfer?”
“What about it?”
Tyrion glanced over his shoulder. Pellmia had spotted a rather radiant banner on his way here, and he pointed to the [Courtier] who was arguing with Jericha, clearly trying to get to Lord Tyrion.
“I see it’s taken them three days to even catch you in person. They cannot be at home with one of the Five Families marching through their lands!”
“I have given the Crown several reassurances under oath that we are on their side. Kaliv has accepted them without reservation, as has Gaiil-Drome. I understand that the [Courtier] wishes me to stop at The Eternal Throne to speak to Their Majesties.”
“Understandable. And you are going to…?”
Lord Pellmia had a sinking feeling he knew what Tyrion’s decision on that was. The [Lord] sighed.
“Are you willing to take command?”
“Naturally. Just tell me where to go. That encoding on your [Messages] is wonderful stuff; I don’t need to worry about code-phrases as much. Is there any word about Sammial or…?”
Tyrion was curt and as taut as a nocked arrow. And that was the thing. Pellmia was used to his campaigning-style.
If anything, he had been charming, friendly, and even obsequious to everyone during the Goblin Lord campaign, mainly because he had to keep the various nobility together.
Tyrion had no such issue with his allies here. As the [Lord] conferred with Pellmia and broke away, the [Courtier] made a break for it.
“Lord Veltras! Honored Lord Veltras—The Eternal Throne greets Tyrion Veltras in the name of—”
Jericha and the bodyguards stopped him riding for Tyrion with bared blades, but the [Lord] held up a hand.
“I greet The Eternal Throne of Calanfer. I tender my warmest thanks to His and Her Majesties of Calanfer and bid them well. House Veltras stands with Calanfer, as I have communicated. Good day, sir.”
His face didn’t move one whit as he delivered his ‘warmest’ greetings. And compared to any kind of formal address…the [Courtier] shifted and gulped. He rode after Tyrion, conducting a conversation with Jericha in between them as Tyrion gave brisk orders.
“Two hundred of Calanfer’s [Riders]. Fold them into our lines, Jericha. We’ll reinforce our riding front.”
“Yes, Lord Veltras.”
The [Courtier] hesitated. He had strict orders, but he was also a representative of Calanfer. One did not just interrupt a [Lord] of the Five Families, but Tyrion was not even paying attention to him.
“Beg pardon, Lord Veltras! His Radiant Majesty, Reclis du Marquin, is overjoyed at House Veltras’ overtures. He invites you to The Eternal Throne itself…”
Tyrion’s head turned left slightly.
“I must decline. The issues of war press me. I am sure His Eternal Majesty understands the need for haste.”
The [Courtier] gulped. He deployed [For Your Ears Only], and the Skill engulfed Jericha and Tyrion. He had been warned Tyrion Veltras and Magnolia Reinhart were two famously difficult nobles to deal with, but he’d always thought Magnolia Reinhart would be worse. As it turned out—at least she listened to you!
“Yes, Lord Veltras. But if I might say—House Veltras’ noble aid in this time of need—”
Tyrion was riding faster, and the [Courtier] realized that if he kept to formalities, he was going to lose the man.
“—have been rendered in great service to the Dawn Concordat! His Majesty is—slightly perturbed, however, and wishes to clarify an issue? Certain promises were made for the hand of one of our [Princesses], but there has been no binding contract…”
This was an aggressive move from House Veltras, and not one that Calanfer liked. Them entering into the war for a promise without clear contracts meant that they might ask for more when it was over.
That was, of course, how they saw the issue. Tyrion Veltras turned, and the [Courtier] was impressed. He actually looked like he was surprised.
“The contract? Ah…yes. The hand of Princess Lyonette du Marquin.”
The [Courtier] winced as Jericha looked up sharply. Tyrion Veltras just said it out loud.
“Yes, Lord Veltras. His Majesty is—uncertain as to your intentions.”
Tyrion thought about the question.
“We shall negotiate the matter once the war is done. House Veltras has entered into conflict with Ailendamus over the abduction of one of its own [Lords]. My son. As well as a Courier by Ailendamus’ forces. I believe that should satisfy His Majesty’s interest in the matter.”
The [Courtier] actually halted in place. He suspected Tyrion of some kind of massive bluff—until he saw the look of pure pain on the face of his assistant. Politically…Tyrion had been poised to twist a knife. He had promptly handed said knife to Calanfer and told them he was the one in need.
“Surely this matter is better discussed with Their Majesties, Lord Veltras? Our [Generals] and [Strategists] are poised to discuss your position—”
And again, Tyrion cut the [Courtier] off.
“I have no time. I will battle Ailendamus on my terms. Not the Dawn Concordat’s. Your strategy is…”
“…best conducted on your own terms. Out of necessity, I will maneuver to keep Ailendamus off-guard.”
And that was him being tactful. Which said a lot about what he was going to say. Actually, the [Courtier] could almost agree with Lord Veltras on that. The Dawn Concordat was plagued by three nations trying to dictate the best course of action, but he had his orders.
His best [Winning Smile] on his face, the man followed as Tyrion sped up; he looked to be heading north, ahead of his footsoldiers.
“Lord Veltras. His Majesty politely insists upon a meeting. You must understand, the Crown should at least entertain House Veltras. It would not be a delay of more than one day, and in light of the situation, it may be Calanfer can ransom those two!”
Politics were Calanfer’s forte, which was why Ailendamus’ refusal to entertain their overtures at all was so effective. But House Veltras and certainly this man could be negotiated into staying in the war, even if Tyrion got what he wanted.
If he visited the throne. Tyrion glanced over his shoulder at the [Courtier].
“I regret to say that I have a pressing engagement on the front. Please inform His Majesty I was most heartbroken at my inability to comply. Only for the sheer necessity of war must I tender my regrets.”
The [Courtier] was braced.
“Sir, [By the Throne], I must insist that you rec—Lord Veltras? Wait! Lord V…”
His best Skill could, indeed, perhaps even cause a powerful individual to hesitate, as it conferred the power of Calanfer’s throne on the [Courtier] if he was so authorized.
But…that did sort of require him to catch and talk to the person. And the racing [Courtier] nearly severed his own tongue as he realized his horse was slowing. He tried to make the mare go faster, but she balked and nearly tossed him. He realized he’d been in full-gallop—and Tyrion Veltras had just rode away from him at a canter.
The messenger came to a stop as Tyrion Veltras accelerated into the distance with a trail of a few hundred [Riders]. The Eternal Throne’s clever machinations, the will of Their Majesties, and so on were hardly behind a man as blunt as Tyrion Veltras.
The only problem was, they were too slow. And arguably…they had little insight into Tyrion’s own mind. He was as straightforward as a lance, which quite perplexed Calanfer’s lot. They could understand it, but they expected at least one wobble or warp in his character.
Tyrion Veltras was just straightforward. In his mind-of-minds, he thought of things like that. He liked knowing the quality of someone like Pellmia. He disliked people like Magnolia, who were inconsistent.
That was not to say he was a simple military leader. On the contrary, he sent the riders he led on a positively obfuscating route into Kaliv. They could ride up cliff faces, through terrain ordinary horses would never climb.
And with Jericha shielding them from scrying, they became phantoms who could strike Ailendamus from any angle while Pellmia moved his main force through Calanfer.
Tyrion did a lot of thinking in between the clash of battle. He had lots of time; even at the speed he rode, and with all the communication he did with his own allies if no one else, planning, surveying terrain…you still tended to sit in the saddle and think.
Sometimes he just loved watching the scenery. Other times he lost himself in the mindless concentration of exercise. But right now he thought.
Ryoka Griffin. Tyrion picked his way up a slope of gravel, checked the top of a cliff, decided it was impossible to take his force up there, and pointed.
“[Light Bridge]. There to there. We ride up to the plateau.”
A bridge of light appeared, and Tyrion rode over it without bothering to look left or right over the sheer drop. He was trying to think about how he felt about Ryoka Griffin, the far more serious and difficult topic.
He rather admired her. She could fly. She had…a wondrous ability there.
Few beings in this world were as fast as Tyrion. True, most of it came from his horsemanship; he was far slower on foot. But it did…hurt how he enjoyed some things.
Say, a hunt. Noble sport. He didn’t enjoy the talking and socialization as much. And when it came to the hunt itself…he could catch the boar, or deer, or any other animal and spear it within minutes of sighting it. He didn’t need hounds or hawks.
Naturally, that was poor etiquette, and he’d only done it twice when he truly wanted the hunt to end. But it was indicative; no one could ride with him. Truly ride with him, unless they were willing to ride behind him on the same saddle.
…The [Lord] felt awkward, thinking about it. Was it a betrayal, to…like another woman in this fashion? Salva was his wife.
Had been his wife. And he had thought of her so much since her passing and folded every painful feeling into a plan to destroy the Walled Cities. Manus especially.
Ryoka, though, made him realize that he had not thought about remarriage or anything else about Salva for a long time. Deliberately. He had…not thought about being lonely. But as the Wind Runner would put it, she could certainly depress people. That was a Grade-A Ryoka talent.
Tyrion Veltras had a thought as he sighted an Ailendamus force harrying Kaliv.
Ryoka Griffin was attractive.
His blank face turned even blanker as his mind wrestled with the ethics of that thought. It was too troublesome. Was he biased because of appearance? Was that appropriate for a [Lord]? It wasn’t about that, surely.
Was he interested in her because of the qualities of her character or her looks? He had proposed to her for more reasons than that. Sammial and Hethon needed someone who could help them, more than Ullim or Jericha.
Was he biased?
The shock of battle. Tyrion Veltras cut through Ailendamus’ flank, not swinging his sword once. Ailendamus was attacking Kaliv’s [Soldiers], but they had never seen his forces riding down on them. His bared blade only rose and fell once over the entire battle.
It struck the enemy commander of Ailendamus, and he felt the slight shock as it cut through the back of the neck. Then he was away; Jericha tossed a [Siege Fireball], and his [Riders] were heading for their rally point. A single commander was worth a thousand men in the cost to Ailendamus to replace.
Tyrion Veltras ate, barely tasting the standard fare as Buscrei talked about having to shoot a Griffin harassing their forces as she and Swey climbed for a vantage point, and laid out a map. He felt he needed help at this stage, so after discussing their next attack location, he coughed.
“Buscrei. Do you feel as though the divide in our ages is too extreme for a relationship? I am referring to Ryoka Griffin and I.”
He watched Buscrei’s face go pale, then red, and Swey had to slap her on the back as she nearly choked on her food. Then she started laughing at him.
He was not good at people. Tyrion had always known that. He recalled, quite distinctly, rather disliking his wild cousins from Oswen.
As a young man, he had known them all. Buscrei had been annoying, then. Teasing him for his imperfections. Tyrion quite admired her now, but he didn’t know how to reconcile that.
When had it changed? He couldn’t remember, only a growing sense of understanding duty, of realizing, year by year, battle and experience teaching him to respect those under his command. To not pine for battle as harshly.
In some ways, though, Tyrion missed being young. He was arguably stronger, faster, and certainly higher-leveled, but youth…youth was youth.
He would never admit this, ever. But some of Tyrion missed the days that had seen him as a warier friend to Magnolia Reinhart. Of course, then he hadn’t understood much either, and she had annoyed him worse than Buscrei. And he recalled proposing to Ressa—which is what Buscrei was telling him now.
“Tact. Pellmia has spoken with me about it quite often, Buscrei. I wouldn’t have brought it up to Ryoka Griffin…”
“…I will not. I am willing to listen. Do you think it’s an issue? If so, I will abandon the idea. And I would appreciate you informing me earlier to prevent any such mistakes if it is entirely untoward.”
There was that look again. Buscrei looked exasperated, and Swey’s amusement turned to…what? Pity? Sympathy?
“Tyrion, I have seen you enjoying a woman’s company twice in my life. And that was Salva and now Ryoka.”
“I enjoyed Ressa’s company.”
And she spat out her soup and nearly choked again. Tyrion decided he might need to be less than honest. Buscrei, though? A younger woman would have needled him. The older [Lady] just looked at Tyrion and sighed.
“I’d ask so many questions here—but let me put it like this, Tyrion. Before you ask about age—and she’s not exactly sixteen—what are you offering the girl?”
“My estates and the name of House Veltras? Even if we divorced—”
Buscrei put her head in her hands, and Swey took over.
“That’s a poor gift, Tyrion. Buscrei is asking what you can do for Ryoka.”
What had he given Salva? The question plagued Tyrion as they rode up some difficult terrain, even for him. He had to walk his own horse; the footing was dangerous, and while there were Skills, the danger of a rockslide across the highly-gravelly terrain meant that a falling stone could easily snap a horse’s leg.
And he refused to lose any of them. Tyrion had found Kaliv’s forces and admired their mounted unit: a goat. Not Eater Goats, but a Crenneth Goat, a huge, stout goat that grew so big you could ride it. Like a bull that could climb rocks. They were capable of heading up nigh-vertical slopes even without Skills.
But they hardly had the endurance or speed of regular horses. Camels? Tyrion had ridden camels, horses, mules, donkeys, magical beasts…maybe he should look into a magical horse. He had the highest-quality purebreds, but magical animals couldn’t be replaced. And while it was tragic, he had lost many a mount in battle.
That was the problem. Tyrion slapped the side of his helmet, and Jericha looked at him oddly as she created barriers to stop the rocks from falling. He could think about horses, supply lines, and so on all day.
People were harder. Sammial was harder. Hethon…
What had he given Salva? No, perhaps that was the problem. Tyrion had never considered it, because she had pursued him. Rather aggressively, Pellmia had once said. Tyrion had to confess—
He hadn’t noticed at first.
Was he oblivious? The [Lord] spotted a tamed hawk scouting their position and had Buscrei take it out from nearly three hundred feet away, hidden in the rockface. But he couldn’t see the invitation to dance unless someone handed him a card. Then, a terrible question came to him as he watched Jericha preparing spells to throw at an Ailendamus column.
Had Salva been happy?
Tyrion just remembered…cessation. That irritable, prickly feeling as he adjusted his clothing before a banquet fading as someone took him by the arm. He looked up into sparkling, bright yellow eyes and someone pulled him. Tyrion followed that voice.
“Tyrion, don’t scowl. You will love it. Pellmia’s there. And if you don’t love it, we’ll leave.”
Then they left after fifteen minutes, and he looked at her and saw how she fumed and thought her tossing her drink on Magnolia Reinhart was the funniest moment he’d seen all year and–
Thought about Ryoka. Then thought about Salva again guiltily. And worried if she had been happy. He hoped so.
He thought she had been. But he wondered. What could he offer Ryoka Griffin? What did she want? Put on its head, the answer was obvious.
He…felt…strongly that Ryoka was good for Sammial and Hethon. They laughed. They pestered her. She had saved their lives and that alone would have been more than enough.
“But Tyrion, what about you?”
The question came after six officers, from a [Major] to what might have been a sub-[General], had fallen to Tyrion’s hand alone. Pellmia himself said it, having reached Tyrion’s front.
Now they’d had to take care with the slower infantry, but a few [Griffin Riders] had joined their ranks, and with Calanfer’s recruits and Kaliv’s rescued soldiers, Tyrion was beginning to have an army.
And reputation. The Ailendamus forces were slowing as they realized they could not spread out and be hit by him—and the Griffin Prince of Kaliv. Both their groups routed even strong enemy forces on their own. Tyrion by virtue of his maneuvering, his levels, even tasking Buscrei or Swey with targets while he hit other ones.
The Griffin Prince? People said he was immortal. He had been ‘killed’ many times, but he came back. Tyrion was interested in meeting him himself.
“Give me? I…believe I would greatly enjoy her company.”
He said it so honestly that Pellmia turned red. Tyrion meant it.
He had a duty to Salva to seek vengeance. He had his duties to his realm. But in the times when there were no monsters or war or…anything, Tyrion could admit, he grew weary.
He enjoyed jousting, riding, and training, but Salva had been that person who filled that last part of his life. And if he had his passions like jousting, his duty for a purpose, and…
“Do you think she’ll stay? She’s a Courier, Tyrion, and she has obligations.”
It was another of his extended family who brought that up. Tyrion considered the question all day and delivered a reply over dinner.
“I believe that wouldn’t matter.”
The man, Lord Inyith, was completely nonplussed until Tyrion reminded him of what they’d been speaking of.
“I believe it wouldn’t matter. If she had to leave, her own obligations—I understand that. But if she returned, I think I could enjoy those times. I could wait for her the other times.”
Buscrei, Swey, the [Lords] and [Ladies] and Pellmia all looked at each other in silence. Buscrei covered her eyes.
“He’s serious. Someone slap soup in my eyes or hand me an Otterdog.”
She smiled, and some were patently uncomfortable, but Tyrion was realizing something. He gave voice to it quietly, and only to himself.
I am lonely.
And it felt like he had realized the obvious that had been staring him in the face for many years. But since he hadn’t known he was cut, it had only hurt a bit. Now?
Now he began to bleed.
Blood on his gauntlets, shaking arm—
Some of Ailendamus’ forces were high-level. But he had an enchanted shield, sword, armor…Tyrion Veltras didn’t count how many [Soldiers] he killed that battle. It was one thing to strike an unsurprised enemy.
But he had to win battles too. The first conflict where Ailendamus sent a force at him, he beat them.
They sent countless [Knights] of the Order of the Hydra. Greatbows—it was one of their huge arrows that numbed even his arm. An enchanted ‘arrow’ hitting him at near point-blank range. Troops with strong morale.
It wasn’t hard. Their leader was good, but Tyrion had fought men. Men, women of any species, were only as good as their people.
And this leader didn’t have enough eyes. Not enough—Tyrion had attacked from the front. And the sides. And their [Strategists] had covered that. And the rear attack.
But not the [Light Bridge] that went over their lines and let Tyrion ride into the center of their forces. Not Lord Swey’s carefully calculated avalanche, or Pellmia’s feint on the eastern flank. Kill their [Mages] and toss a screaming, blinding spell to stymie their archers.
Take out one pillar and the rest fell. If they were heavy on [Mages], engage them in melee. If they had too many archers, armor, maneuver…
War was simple. His son was not.
“His Majesty of Ailendamus has assured Lady Ulva Terland that Lord Sammial is well, Lord Veltras. They demand we withdraw from this war.”
“Have they threatened him?”
Tyrion stopped eating, and Jericha shook her head.
“No. They are warning us of the consequences; economically and otherwise. They suggest that any trade to House Veltras through their lands or Taimaguros might end, and they could stifle trade throughout a good deal of the continent.”
“Are they threatening war upon House Veltras?”
“…Not yet. The Five Families will all go to war.”
“Then we continue. What of Ryoka Griffin?”
“…I had not asked, Lord Veltras. Should I inquire? My sources say that she has been spotted in Ailendamus. Unchained; she apparently flew about.”
“No, then. She is alive. Seemingly unharmed?”
“Yes, Lord Veltras.”
Tyrion considered all of it.
“Then we continue.”
But what happens when I meet Ryoka Griffin? Buscrei kept telling him not to bring up marriage.
However—wasn’t it fair to think of the future? Wouldn’t it be honest? Tyrion felt like giving her some promises would be better than not, and everyone agreed with that.
But Pellmia claimed he was counter-levelling when Tyrion proposed some of his guarantees for the future.
“Tyrion. Tyrion! I know you’re—but are you serious?”
The [Lord of Orchards] had his head in his hands. He had a fresh cut from an enchanted blade on his arm, but that was nothing to the pain on his face.
“I’d merely bring it up so she wouldn’t be worried. As you said, Buscrei—”
“You cannot tell her you’ll guarantee she’ll only have one child, Tyrion!”
She slapped him on the back of the head. Tyrion allowed it to happen.
Surely that was a concern. But he didn’t understand, he didn’t understand—the [Lord] was getting annoyed.
Surely there was something he did understand about Ryoka? Or was he wrong about that too?
He realized, after an ambush, wiping blood off his lance, that he did understand Ryoka. He thought he understood she was like him. This was all so complicated. Sometimes it seemed to him they were kindred spirits.
I rather like you. You do not have much in the way of sword fighting sense, you do not ride well, and you and I have our differences. But I like you because you run like I ride. You flew, and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had seen in an age. You make my sons smile. And me.
I feel better around you.
Of course, he was sure that fell under things never to be said. Tyrion gave up. And then he began to wonder, seriously—
What did he have to offer Ryoka if he did not trade on the name of House Veltras? What did Tyrion, the man, have?
Surely not his personality. His…affection? Pellmia loved his wife, Keireen. Eiress, his previous wife, who had passed away—
Tyrion thought Pellmia knew love and expressed it well, not that he was a voyeur. But the [Lord] could hold Keireen’s hand, praise her, give her gifts…
Did Tyrion have any of the attributes his friends had assured a younger man he had? Good looks…skill at arms…wealth…
Vanity. He looked in a mirror of a bowl of water as he shaved after two weeks of combat and saw only a man. Older—so he didn’t even have youth to show her.
All he had was a lance.
Tyrion Veltras slowed as a group of eighteen [Knights] of Ailendamus halted. They were…different.
“Drell Knights. Water experts. Huh.”
It was the first encounter Tyrion had with the third Order of Ailendamus. Unlike Thirsting Veil, who used poison, and the Order of Hydra, made of commoners, he didn’t see the strength of the Order of Drell. But then—they were out of their element.
And outnumbered. Buscrei had a bead on them with her [Archers], and her arrows could pierce their armor. However, they refused to surrender. One called out to Tyrion, fearless, exposing his head as he took off his helmet.
“Though we may fall, our souls belong to the Kingdom of Glass and Glory! Is there anyone of you in the famed Five Families who will answer a [Knight]’s challenge? I demand a single duel!”
“Dead gods, save me from idiots and duels. Let’s just take them captive and save their lives.”
Swey growled. Tyrion Veltras, though, saw their leader pointing at him.
“Are you the renowned Tyrion Veltras himself? Lord Veltras, we have heard of your courage on the battlefield! Will you not answer us or have the Five Families of Izril strayed from honor that far?”
Buscrei adjusted her aim.
“If I shoot him in the balls, do you think he’ll sing a different tune?”
“Buscrei. Enough. Jericha, pull your forces back.”
Tyrion was still thinking on what he had to offer. He noted Drell’s [Knights] truly embodied their nation’s nickname.
Glass. Their armor was like some kind of glass. He knew the Kingdom of Keys had a glass motif, but their armor was clearly meant to some purpose.
Water, maybe? He couldn’t fathom it but raised his lance as he let Jericha argue with him, and the [Knights] of Drell stirred.
There was pageantry in it. Bravado. Everyone, Buscrei to Swey, called him a fool. Except Pellmia, who knew better. But Tyrion just saw…
A [Knight] of the Drell, whirling a horse clearly used to water. Interesting, was it a Kelpie-breed? A horse that might have gills or stronger lungs?
It meant that it surged far slower; it was nigh on a plough horse as the [Knight] rode at Tyrion. But strong. Some horses would falter at an impact; this one could ride forever.
And the Drell Knight? He was low on his saddle, lance poised…but aimed up too high.
Ah, he might be used to fighting Hydras or Griffins. Perhaps the Order of Drell didn’t have a history of jousting.
That was their problem. He had accepted Tyrion’s offer. And he had to know—
The Lord of House Veltras was one of the most famed jousters in the world.
Riding was like breathing to Tyrion. So too was aiming at a target. It was different in battle and different in a tourney. Where you hit the opponent mattered.
Center of gravity, angle, the type of lance and armor—Tyrion cracked the breastplate on his first pass, deflecting the lance that tried to hit him.
Shieldwork, too. He circled and realized the glass armor was heavy. However, the Drell Knight still flew from the saddle the second time, and Tyrion pointed the lance at the stunned man’s face.
Then he turned.
She loves to run. Ryoka Griffin…what are her hobbies? I don’t know these things. Could I offer her something like riding? She doesn’t care for it.
Could I change?
A second [Knight] followed the first. Angrily. As if they thought Tyrion were insulting them. The second was better than the first, ironically. She was waiting for the hammer-blow which could knock even her shield into her body and send her flying.
Tyrion detected a Skill, so he performed a maneuver rarely seen even among [Lancers]. Flick the lance up, cushioned below his elbow, and strike her across the helmet.
Not a deadly blow, though it could have been. This one just dropped her in a dead faint, and the horse dragged her along the ground. Fortunately, in her armor.
I would like to try. Try to do something. I would like to learn how to fly.
A third [Knight]. It took three passes as the figure swayed in the saddle, but Tyrion was learning from each one. He shook out his arm and turned. As he rode, he looked up at the sky for a moment, then focused on his opponent like a laser. A [Piercing Thrust]—Tyrion slid it to one side with his shield.
I would like to ask her these things. But then—I never asked if she had anyone she loved. This war is for Sammial, but I should ask.
A fifth time. He heard Buscrei swear.
“Shave me bald and toss me with naked otters. He’s tilting.”
Yes. Tyrion rode across the bare ground, changing his horse once, as if he were on the green outside his keep. He focused, with all the intensity in his being, then relaxed and thought. When he did, he thought of Ryoka and Sammial and Salva and the past and future.
Tyrion Veltras only slowed when he heard the cheering. He lifted his lance, arm aching, body burning, and saw no more [Knights]. No more opponents.
Eighteen [Knights]’ horses were pawing at the ground or snapping at the handlers trying to calm them. Eighteen [Knights] lay on the ground or were being tended to. Tyrion Veltras slowly handed the lance to Jericha, then dismounted. He rubbed at his arm.
His people and the army cheered him wildly, but Swey, Pellmia, all gave him strange looks.
Tyrion nodded to eighteen of Ailendamus’ finest, each one unhorsed, and the worst injury a pierced shoulder. None dead. Not a scratch on his armor, though he had bruises and he suspected his enchanted lance might be wearing thin. He’d have it replaced.
“You were right, Pellmia. That is all I have to offer. And that is not much. I will think of something else.”
He walked off. The [Lords] and [Ladies] of Izril watched him go, and after a moment, Lady Ricuv Terland burst out.
“I know it may be ironic—but that man is a Golem, and I mean that in the rare pejorative! I cannot understand what goes through his head!”
By the time Tyrion Veltras heard about Eldavin, the Archmage of Memory, entering the war, Ailendamus had sent him three peace offers, and the Dawn Concordat hailed him as a hero.
He watched Eldavin’s entry into the war with a frown. For once, he had to stop thinking about Ryoka Griffin to figure it out.
Flying armored [Mages]. It would require rethinking tactics entirely. He couldn’t use [Light Bridge]; any decent combatant would fly out of the way.
Did he have to learn how to ride a Pegasus? Tyrion wondered if that was how he could keep up with Ryoka Griffin. He’d flown two and never fallen off, but he was hardly confident with them.
Everyone else was thinking of the politics of it, or asking who Eldavin was. Tyrion…
…Was fairly sure Eldavin was Ryoka’s mysterious benefactor. Were they in a relationship?
He hoped not.
His thoughts of Ryoka had grown spiky where it concerned the idea of her having a lover. Despite that being a rational thought. No, Eldavin was far too old. And besides, he had asked Tyrion whether Ryoka was Ailendamus’ captive. Tyrion had told him yes.
They were in this war for similar reasons.
But Tyrion was more uncomfortable now than when he’d started this war, despite Eldavin’s entry meaning it would be easier. And that was important—Tyrion was growing a bit uneasy because Ailendamus was falling back.
He had secured the area around Calanfer’s borders through his attacks, but his army was barely eighteen thousand strong, even with the Dawn Concordat’s forces added to his own. He would have preferred Ailendamus to keep pushing because no nation was infinite.
He could bleed their morale and soldiers. However—they had withdrawn rather than waste troops.
Tyrion did not like the sensible decision, which was entirely devoid of emotion. It spoke to him of intelligence. Unlike elements of the Dawn Concordat. Each nation had intelligent moves, of course, but some decisions were simply…foolhardy.
Like the Thronebearers of Calanfer refusing to fight hard. In that, Tyrion would have sent their forces in and let them hold tough positions. He would have risked their deaths for levels. They had to level, but Calanfer refused to commit them.
Of course, Tyrion avoided that kind of grinding in his campaigns, but he did not control the entire Dawn Concordat’s army. They had to bleed; he was preserving his strength, but he was sure they would prefer him to fight as hard as possible and bleed while they fought like him.
Regardless, he had won many victories and felt close to levelling. What would it be now? 48? It had been a while.
Close to 50 as a pure [Lord], or his true class, [Lancelord of A Thousand Victories].
Too pithy for his taste, but a strong class. There were stronger. Level 50 might make him…
Well, truly worth any title. Tyrion knew that [Lords] leveled slower than [Warriors], and that levels were lower in this era, but he had always felt ashamed to be called a model of House Veltras below Level 50.
His father hadn’t reached Level 50.
It was an odd feeling. Tyrion had been feeling odd a lot, and it was because of all this introspection. Understanding he had surpassed his father, even in martial prowess, was something he had to think about. Push it away and it would just be there, waiting for you. Tyrion had pushed many feelings away, but he was realizing—
He had to face his foes.
Including his greatest foe yet in this war. Tyrion knew the Dawn Concordat was poising itself to break the siege on Kaliv’s highlands, and Calanfer was raising a large army to join the one that was meeting Ailendamus’ in the field. He wondered if now was the time to join them. But he felt…something was coming.
But that wasn’t Tyrion’s greatest foe. He couldn’t discuss this with Jericha or anyone else, including Buscrei or Pellmia. They had weathered many of his questions. Pellmia had leveled. But Tyrion refused to talk to them about…it. He struggled against his enemy, but he failed.
The lewd daydreams about Ryoka Griffin were inexcusable. The actual dreams somewhat. But Tyrion Veltras, who could project the enemy’s route through mountainous terrain, was not used to his imagination poking him and asking, ‘what happens when clothes come off’? Of course, he knew, but rather—what did it look like in this instance?
He wanted to know. But the [Lord] refused to speculate. He fought with himself. Discipline!
[Ascetic class obtai—
Nor did he want or need that class. Tyrion Veltras just knew that he needed to push towards Ailendamus’ border. To ensure Sammial and Ryoka were rescued.
Three peace treaties. Or rather, ‘non-aggression’ pacts, immediate cessation of hostilities, and guarantees of peace.
The tone changed the more Tyrion fought. At first, they were what Jericha described as ‘insulting’. The second offer was more tempered, with a non-specific agreement to possibly extradite both after certain agreements were met.
The third offered Tyrion coin to quit the war. And a substantial amount.
“What of Sammial and Ryoka Griffin?”
“They were…oddly nonspecific, Lord Veltras.”
The [Lord] frowned as well, and deeper.
“Inform these negotiators that the Five Families and House Veltras will continue this war until both are released, unharmed, and on Izrilian soil, or at the very least, The Pride of the Wellfar. In addition to substantive reparations. Nothing less will serve.”
“How much, in coinage? For reference, Lord Veltras?”
Tyrion thought and very calmly replied.
“Two million gold coins.”
And he was serious. Or was he…angry?
He was angry. Tyrion realized that, and Jericha had faithfully carried his message away, but he had meant it. Two million gold coins for two [Princesses] would have been ridiculous. One million gold coins? If House Veltras got that, they’d never have to worry about their finances for…a decade! More, obviously, with how much they could invest. They were not a rich House, second only to the House of El since they poured so much into their [Soldiers] and they did not trade in rich goods. Yet Tyrion would accept no less.
His son? If Sammial were treated like royalty, unharmed, Tyrion would still demand no less than a million gold coins. He…was furious.
But also aware Sammial might be in danger. The Five Families were prepared to go to war if he were harmed; that was what kept him safe as his father attacked Ailendamus. Tyrion had been prepared to harry Ailendamus hard to secure his release.
Now that Eldavin was in the war, though, it might be that the fortunes were changing.
Wistram had taken a side. House Veltras was on the Dawn Concordat’s side, and Ailendamus did not lack for enemies. They were a powerful nation, but Tyrion wondered if the cracks would precipitate a flood.
However, he was prepared to stop fighting if he got both Ryoka and Sammial back. Both. Unharmed.
Ailendamus was hardly blind to how Tyrion had essentially stopped their push into the Dawn Concordat. He had, with his six thousand troops, turned a solid push into Calanfer into a pure deadlock on the main front. They wanted him gone, gone, gone.
What puzzled him and Jericha, then, was that the negotiators never promised either Ryoka or Sammial’s return. Which they should have, because to do otherwise was an asinine move that Tyrion wouldn’t even consider and said as much.
However, neither Tyrion nor Jericha knew the situation in the capital. Thus, they couldn’t be aware that because of a certain Duke, Ryoka and Sammial were off-the-table for a good portion of the war.
Dreams of Ryoka, worry about his son, negotiations and battle. Tyrion Veltras demonstrated to the Dawn Concordat how to defeat four hundred [Knights] of the Order of the Hydra with minimal losses.
As far as they were concerned, he was an amazing ally who had come out of nowhere to give them hope.
…But as far as the leaders of each nation were concerned, Tyrion was also getting dangerously helpful. As in—was one [Princess] enough? And if she was—did they have her?
The ulcers he caused to the [King] and [Queen] of Calanfer were unknown to Tyrion Veltras. He might well have said, ‘I entered this war for my son and Ryoka Griffin, who I have every intention of propositioning. I require no further debt to Calanfer’.
Which would have been…something…if broadcast. But Jericha was canny enough to stop Tyrion from saying that, as the invisible debt of Calanfer grew. Gaiil-Drome and Kaliv just thought Calanfer had pulled some diplomatic magic to get Tyrion involved, and it had risen Calanfer’s reputation after they had failed to pull their weight militarily.
Tyrion calling in that debt…
Well, that might have been why Tyrion Veltras woke up one day after a dream about Ryoka Griffin flying over a sea of Sammials riding Otterdogs to learn he had an esteemed guest. And for once—an interesting one.
The Lightherald of Calanfer was a famous name. The Lightherald had been there when Az’kerash had been sentenced to death. He had even been a friend of the Necromancer when he had been Perril Chandler. The Lightherald had battled one of the last known Dragons, fought on Rhir, and was the greatest warrior in the Eternal Kingdom of Calanfer.
And like the Hundred Families of Terandria, the ‘Lightherald’ was not one man or woman. It was a title. It was…a blessing.
A literal blessing. Tyrion Veltras saw the shine off the armor and realized the man was giving away his camp; he lit up the entire canyon like day.
“Lord Veltras. I am humbled to meet such a great warrior. I salute you by the Eternal Throne of Calanfer. Let all evil quake and all Terandria remember the name of Veltras. By the Hundred Families, the blood of ancient heroes still runs strong.”
The Lightherald’s voice was a booming one, and he himself had the manners of a Thronebearer—but the bearing of a warrior.
No less than a greatsword hung on his back, an enchanted blade, and his armor was the best in Calanfer’s armory, the Lightherald’s of old.
But what added to his abilities and levels was the blessing. The Lightherald was quite frank about it once formalities were done.
“No less than His Majesty, King Reclis du Marquin, has bestowed it upon me. It is a Royal Skill passed down from generation to generation. I am empowered, as you see Lord Tyrion, by the very nature of dawn and light. My sword blinds my opponents; my armor is enhanced. I am strongest as the dawn breaks and weakest by night, but even at night, the Dawn Concordat’s armies will not be blinded but see by the radiance bestowed and our enemies blinded.”
…So he was bright. Tyrion Veltras suspected the blessing also depended on the level of the [King] and the individual abilities of the Lightherald. The man did not have long to talk, but he did speak overlong about Calanfer’s debt to House Veltras.
“I understand no contract was secured. But His Majesty wishes me to personally assure you it is a debt he considers strong as any pact signed in blood. Calanfer will not forget this deed.”
“I see. I regret that my forces cannot join you on the front. You are bound…?”
The Lightherald’s helmet showed none of his face; not one bit of skin on his entire body. He might not have even been a man. Maybe the voice was faked too.
“For our forces. Ailendamus has sent a great army. Well, now is the hour for my Order, the Thronebearers, to stand as one. I confess, I am eager for the battle. His Majesty did not wish to risk my defeat or capture, so, as shameful as it is, I have waited overlong for battle.”
“I see. Then we will discuss any ties after this war. I would be wary of that army.”
The Lightherald nodded seriously.
“Yet we must go. With the Archmage of Memory, Order of Seasons and Pheislant on our flanks, we may finally concentrate our forces. Kaliv is in danger; I will not tarry. Lord Veltras, it was my honor to meet you.”
He bowed and walked away. It seemed like everyone who saw him, especially Calanfer’s own, were struck with awe and courage.
Tyrion was not. He recognized an aura when he saw it. The blessing also did that. He was pleased to see Jericha eyed the man as she hurried over.
“Lord Veltras. What would you say was the level of the Lightherald?”
Tyrion considered the question.
“…Level 37. Below Level 40, but not weak. With his blessing and armor, he may well be on par with a Named-rank adventurer. A fitting champion for Calanfer.”
“Yes, Lord Veltras.”
Neither one of them said anything else. It would have been improper, because the Lightherald was valorous and seemed true in action or deed.
But Tyrion was glad that Ailendamus struck before the Lightherald got to the frontlines. Because if they had—well.
The Great General of Ailendamus, the General of Ages, entered the war, and Tyrion saw his foe at last. The Lightherald’s force didn’t go to reinforce the Dawn Concordat’s main army.
They became the Dawn Concordat’s main army, and hastened their steps towards Krawlnmak’s Pass, where three [Princesses] of Calanfer were under siege, and a vast army of Ailendamus waited for their foe. Tyrion Veltras closed his eyes when he heard it.
Swey, Buscrei, Pellmia, the [Lords] and [Ladies], all waited on his word. Tyrion opened his eyes.
“It will be there. Strike our camps. Pull every [Soldier]—but do not have them rally. We will establish our modes of attack.”
“Is it wise to commit to the Lightherald’s counterattack, Tyrion? He has to rescue the [Princesses]; we do not.”
Pellmia was worried. Tyrion just shook his head.
“The bulk of the Dawn Concordat’s army is there. They have lost once, and every [Soldier] Calanfer and Gaiil-Drome can send will join them. If they are routed, there will be no army for us to fight with. Our goal is simple: slay the Great General of Ailendamus.”
Do that and the Kingdom of Glass and Glory would lose too much. If the Dawn Concordat won, Tyrion was in position to bargain. If they lost? Then Ailendamus would keep them.
So the [Lord] of House Veltras rode after the Lightherald. That was his battle, and for once, his mind was clear.
No thoughts of Ryoka. Or Sammial or the future of marriage.
He had to focus. After this battle…everything could happen or nothing. So for once, Tyrion Veltras sat forwards in his saddle. He devoted his all because he felt that [General] waiting for him.
A worthy foe. And because, for the first time, Tyrion felt that uneasy feeling of being…outlevelled; he remembered the last time he had felt so.
Facing the Goblin King and his armies. It was an unpleasant feeling, so Tyrion turned to Jericha.
“We will make arrangements in case I should fall.”
“They have already been made, Lord Veltras. If you should fall…we are ready. I have appointed Ullim with the task.”
Jericha met his gaze, and it was clear that she thought if he fell, she would be dead. Tyrion shook his head slowly.
“If I should fall, you flee, Jericha. And if that happens…it is a selfish thing.”
He looked up and thought it was. But perhaps Pellmia would approve because if that happened, Tyrion was dead. Jericha looked at him sharply.
“Why would I flee, Lord Veltras?”
“To deliver my amended will.”
The [Lord] of House Veltras smiled as he looked ahead for the one thing he knew. The one thing he could offer this world. The one thing he was good at. It was not raising his sons, and that was something he realized he regretted with all his heart. So. He turned to Jericha.
“If I should die, you live. And ask…ask Ryoka Griffin to help raise them.”
He left her behind in dead silence as Tyrion rode. He spoke as he looked ahead.
“Raise the banner of House Veltras. Every enchanted weapon is to be unveiled. This battle will be the pivotal moment in this war. To arms! For House Veltras!”
He rode ahead, lance raised. Feeling as free as a butterfly.
He heard Ryoka Griffin’s name on the wind.
Author’s Note: 13,000 words. You did not expect it, but it was me, pirateaba!
That’s right, you fools. It’s a chapter. Out now. It’s like ⅓ of a regular chapter? Well, enjoy it because it came out today.
And you’re getting one tomorrow.
We’ve begun something I did last year on my birthday week. It is my determination that this may be the best way to tell this arc—so here we are. A chapter a day!
Of course, if I fail to deliver, this is an existing monument to my shame. But here we go! See you tomorrow. This has been your Tyrion chapter. What’s next? Who knows! See you then and thanks for reading!
Sophridel by Enuryn the [Naturalist]!