Author Topic: Skinwright, by TheOtherHand,  (Read 1389 times)

Skinwright, by TheOtherHand,
« on: April 23, 2010, 08:53:03 PM »

Offline DannicaAngel

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Intro: A simple way to resolve succession disputes


   He felt the accustomed resistance as the blade slipped into the chest of a surprised servant. Death took the man before he truly realised what had happened and his attacker caught him as the life fled his body. Ardan carefully pulled the body out of the hall into the cellar, quietly closing the door behind him. There was still some delicate work to be done, and he required privacy to get it done properly.

   Duke Emmanuel Lambert frowned as he surveyed the scene, his dark, deep-set eyes betraying every ounce of his displeasure. His knights stood in the positions about their master that they had all vied for, but all were too wary of his temper to be the first to make comment on what they saw. The messenger who had delivered the news that had plunged the duke into this frightening quiet had wisely scurried away at his first opportunity; some few of the knights wished that they could follow his example. The armies each side had amassed were more evenly matched than the Duke had originally thought, and it looked like the balance was going in favour of the regency forces.
  The map was spread on one of the larger feasting tables that had been dragged out of store for these planning sessions. Other, more detailed local maps were roughly piled to one side of the open map of the whole kingdom. To the other side were two piles of carved stone markers, some plain stone, some coated in a chipped layer of whitewash. Several of these markers were dotted the map where men had joined either side. Scattered about the table and spilling off onto the floor were pages of messages and other documents. Slowly, Duke Lambert reached out with his left hand to swap one of the white markers near the northern edge of the map for a grey one.
  "The Earl of Loughton has decided that the Lord Regent has more to offer," Lambert said, to a half-hearted chorus of grumbled curses against their erstwhile ally. These petty local nobles were really beginning to infuriate Duke Lambert. He understood that they were looking out for their own interests, but their constant vacillation was really getting to him. That so few had been willing to promise their service to the Regent had been gratifying at first, before he realised that they weren't going to join him straight away either.
  "Enough," he said, silencing the muttering of his men. "We need to find out what Loughton was offered and if we can match it." There was murmured agreement around the table and one of the men at the far end left to arrange the details of the task. "We need to do more than just react to these defections," Lambert said once his men had quietened down. "We need find out what we have to offer these petty ditherers to bring them on side."
  "Your grace," one of the men, Illian, interjected, "what are we to use to compete with the Lord Regent; he has access to the royal treasury and can make offers on behalf of the ki... prince, what can we offer?"
Duke Lambert stared at the man before replying. Illian had served him for many years; they had fought together in the past to extend the overseas Lambert territories, so he had earned the right to speak so bluntly. Still it did not sit well to have his shortcomings spoken so plainly. "The promises of the Regent will mean nothing if we can defeat his forces. They must have grudges amongst themselves, we must draw them too us with the opportunity of settling them. Ultimately though, we must move quickly; the longer this takes the more secure the Regency will be."
   He surveyed the men arrayed about the table; trying to gauge their feelings. They were all loyal to him, most had served him for several years; but he knew that some were still unsure about his decision to dispute the Regent's power. "Leave me," he said after a moment, "I need time to think on these matters. Garren," he added to one of the lesser men as they began to file out, "have the kitchen send some food and wine in for me, then see to yourself and the others." Garren nodded and followed the others out.
   Once the last of his men were out of the room, Lambert allowed his weight to shift and his shoulders hunch forward. The pain in his lower back eased a little as he let his body fall into the shape that it wanted. It was getting ever harder to hide the fact that he was getting old. The faces around the table were looking more like children every day; soon he would have to include his son in these meetings. The boy was getting to be a man and would have to learn how things were done. He sat gratefully in a chair at the head of the table and looked out over his future; his family's future.
   It had seemed like a good idea at the time, this rebellion. As the largest landowner in the kingdom, holding slightly more than the royal family, it had never felt right to swear fealty to anybody. So when Lord Regent Michael had insisted that all of the nobility swear allegiance to a child of only nine years, he had become incensed. If the child had been a Lightbearer like his father and grandfather it might have been different; but he had shown none of their talents. His anger at the Regent's demand had been enough to drive him into rebellion and now he was determined to have the throne for himself.
   The weight of the tray surprised Ardan as he carried it up the stairs and into the great hall. The hall was a larger room than he was used to working in, but chances like this didn't come up in every job. Keeping the tray level was difficult but he managed to avoid spilling anything as he crossed the room.
  "Bring that over here boy," the Duke called out to him from the table. Without a word, Ardan nodded and took the tray over to the table. Finding a clear area at the edge nearest the Duke's chair, he slid the tray onto the table. Standing straight from the table, he turned back to face Duke Lambert and buried his long bladed knife in the man's chest.
  Lambert looked down incredulously at the handle in his chest, then up at the man who had put it there. There was no malice in the face, which was about as familiar as that of any other servant. As he watched, the life draining out of him, Ardan raised a hand to touch his face, running a finger down from behind his left ear. As the finger passed about his face as seam began to appear, and the layer of skin began to come away. Realisation crawled over the face of the Duke in the last moment before death took him, as Ardan peeled the last of it away.
  Stepping carefully to avoid getting too much blood on him Ardan looked over the table, taking in the distribution of loyalties it showed. It was closer than most people would have believed. On a whim, Ardan reached across the table and took the central white piece off the Duke's castle on the map.
  Recovering a sense of urgency, Ardan realised that someone could come in at any moment and made for rear exit that should take him towards the Duke's residence. Before he left the hall though, he dropped the scrap of skin that had once been an unfortunate servant's face by the door. His talents allowed him to pass unrecognised when needed, but these people would know that they had been visited by Ardan Skinwright.
"Innocence" he said, while his eyes fell away and slowly slid black irises to study the mist-laden woods around him.
"Losing your innocence, is like losing a limb."
The smile that appeared on his lips was neither cold nor warm - it was colourless.
"She crippled me"
"For that, I will cripple her.