NOTES: Hello everyone! Thanks for stopping by again. It is hard to believe that I’m already up to Chapter Ten on this blog, and I’m currently in the midst of writing Chapter Twenty-Four, so it’s crazy that the book is now half-finished! This is becoming an epic project, but I am absolutely loving writing it, and the feedback of my followers and friends has been wonderful, so thank you for your support. The blog is now up to almost 560 followers, so again thank you to those who have read this from the start and those who have just joined the journey. It would be great to know the make-up of my followers – how long have you been reading for? Where are you from in the world? Who are your favourite characters so far? It would be great to hear from you all! Anyway, whoever you are, thanks for giving this your attention and I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
In Chapter Ten, we jump back to Riechard, who has travelled back to his childhood home of Duncath to rule in his Grandfather’s name whilst King Aedvard travels to The Hartlands and Prince Charles leads his army. Despite Riechard’s name and lineage though, he discovers that respect is earned in this city, and he will not be given a free pass by members of his court who have their own interests to protect, and their own infuence to wield. I hope you enjoy this chapter, and Chapter Eleven will be posted on August 1st.
Riechard felt a sense of looming disappointment as he approached the great, spiked city walls of Duncath. When he had left the castle seven years ago, the walls seemed to touch the clouds, whilst the great spire atop The Obsidian appeared to disappear into the Gods themselves. Now though, the castle looked shorter and the city looked smaller. Riechard once thought of the city of Duncath as a mystical place, a world of wonder and intrigue, magic and glory. Those were the thoughts of the boy I was, Riechard thought as his envoy approached the South Gate. Despite Riechard’s once overactive imagination, the walls and castle were still a formidable sight. The Obsidian was one of the oldest castles in The Blacklands, built by Luther Black himself and fashioned in the way of the warrior. Instead of the squared-off crenulations of traditional city walls, the walls of Duncath were formed into triangular tips that looked like spikes. The angular shape allowed arrows to deflect off the structure, whilst allowing more manoeuvrability for the archers on the wall. This was a city that was not only meant to repel invaders, but to help destroy them. Far beyond the walls and rising up onto the hilltop that overlooked the city was The Obsidian. The spire tip of the highest tower emulated the crenulations of the city walls and the castle itself employed several defensive strong-points that made it difficult to siege. The only way to approach the castle was by a narrow, spiralling staircase that wrapped around the hills. It allowed for only two men to walk abreast, making it difficult for armies to climb. What’s more, there were two portcullis gates at the start of the stairwell and at the top before entering the castle, allowing the defenders to trap besiegers and pick them off with arrows. One of its few weak points, Riechard noticed, was its vicinity to the North Gate and access to the river. Should a besieging army wish to starve them out, it would need only have a stronger fleet to cut off supply lines.
Despite Riechard’s disdain for lessons, he had enjoyed shadowing Lord Steel on council meetings, and listening to his strategies for warfare. Riechard was to hold Duncath with the help of his father’s advisers and council, which included some of the fiercest commanders in the New World to hear Lord Steel tell it. Whilst King Aedvard treated with King Aron, Prince Charles would patrol the borderlands, camping his army between Ayden and Bankwater, preparing to march should anything befall King Aedvard on his quest for peace. All of the lords of The Blacklands had promised support for the Royal Army. All except for Lord Black, who had fled the continent for the Old World. For not answering the letter of duty, Lord Steel had declared Lord Black an enemy of the crown, and sent men in pursuit so that he could be tried for treason. It seemed that Riechard was not the only one who had heard whispers surrounding Lord Black’s affiliation with pirates, and any sea-based pursuit seemed like a dangerous game.
Riechard’s retinue was a humble twenty men, most of whom returned south to join Lord Steel’s camp before they reached the great woodlands that separated the Twin Kingdoms. Those who remained were Sir William Letherskin, a loyal servant to House Byrne whose family had squired and stewarded for Riechard’s family for generations. Sir William was tall and slim with silvery hair that stood out against his tanned skin. Just past his thirtieth year, Sir William walked and rode with a cocky swagger, but was a loyal and zealous man. His compatriot Sir Govan Spear also stayed. Sir Govan was a few years older than William, of middling height and athletic build. He had jittery mannerisms that always made him seem nervous, but he was a precise and exacting man who kept himself exceptionally well-groomed, particularly when cutting short his thinning hair and keeping his face shaven. He too emitted an air of arrogance, but it was far more forced than Sir William’s jovial banter.
Before Riechard had even had a chance to stable his horse, a polished-looking gentleman approached him and bowed courteously before him. He was as tall as Sir William with slick, jet-black hair, high cheek-bones and full pink lips. He was dressed in a long, purple silk robe that extended from the collar around his neck and draped around his ankles.
“My lord, Riechard. It is an honour to meet you,” the man bellowed. He spoke with a strong accent that Riechard had never heard before, one that was all at once enthusiastic, effeminate, and melodic
Riechard heard Sir William and Sir Govan snigger behind him as they dismounted their horses. Riechard studied him. “The honour would be mine. But we have not been introduced.”
“Forgive me, my lord. My name is Lyo, of the great city of Natonia. I serve your father.”
Riechard heard more sniggering from his companions. “In what way do you serve my father?”
“In what way do I not serve your father, young lord? I am his eyes when he needs to see, and his ears when he needs to hear. I am his council, and whilst he is away, I will be yours in mind and body.”
Riechard turned sharply on Sir William and Sir Govan before they could even release a titter, and turned back to Lyo smiling. “Well, Lyo of Natonia, I look forward to your council. I am eager to attend the next council meeting. I assume this will be tomorrow?”
“Well, if you are eager, my lord. We are meeting this afternoon if you care to join us?”
Riechard was tired, but he was eager to begin planning. He needed to understand the city’s defences should the worst happen and a war began. Moreover, he did not want to let more time go by without a Byrne voice guiding the running of the Kingdom. Besides, there would be no better time for him to get to know the men he would be commanding.
“Thank you, Lyo. I am able to find my own way, but if you wouldn’t mind, I’m sure Sir Govan and Sir William would enjoy a tour of the grounds and be escorted to their chambers.”
“Certainly, my lord. I do enjoy the company of valiant knights.”
The council chamber within The Obsidian was far larger than Riechard had seen at Steelmont. The walls were decorated with oil paintings and tapestries depicting long-dead Kings, Queens, and long-won battles. All of the adornments were of Riechard’s House – the Byrne emblem of an orange and red flame upon a field of black hung proudly upon the centre wall – the first thing a person would see as they walked through the doors. Etched into the stone, however, were the carvings made for the original occupants of The Obsidian and the previous rulers of The Blacklands, House Black. The shield-shaped sigil of House Black was filled with a black sword on a field of quartered grey and white, though in the black stone of the Obsidian, it was pure black. It was clear that much had been done to try and cover up these monuments to the past, however the carvings were made too voluminous and were set too deep into the stone for anyone to remove them completely.
Lyo entered the room first to a lukewarm reception, however as soon as they caught glimpse of Riechard, they all stood to attention and a chorus of shocked “my lord” greetings echoed throughout the room. Riechard must have been a sore sight for these men. Days of travel had left him weary and surly; he felt his eyes giving off a look of contempt despite the fact that he was merely tired. He was glad for it though. His first impression was important, and he needed to command the respect of his councillors immediately if he was to maintain influence over them.
The first who stood to greet Riechard was a stout man with broad shoulders and a bald head. He had several teeth missing from his mouth and a scar that covered his left eye and rendered him half-blind. “My lord, I am Neville, son of Neville of House Neville. Your grandfather’s Naval Commander,” he told him. The next on his council was a weasel of a man. His large teeth were far too big for his mouth and his hair was wet-looking and barely covered the baldness of his head. “I am Edweard, my lord. I am Keeper of the Treasury.” As he moved around the table, Riechard finally saw someone he recognised and he smiled broadly, meeting the man’s gaze.
“Your worship,” Riechard beamed and opened his arms wide to hug his old teacher. Arkgodson Aetheld had been Riechard’s scholar and his carer until he left Duncath. Back then, he was just a Godson, but now, and aged just fifty years, he was the Arkgodson of the entire Kingdom. He had few wrinkles, a full head of blonde hair which had just threatened to start turning white, soft blue eyes and a humble, contented smile. He was skinny, as were all those who fasted as much as Aetheld. As devout to the Gods of Life and Death as any man he had ever known, Riechard felt absolved of his sin just by standing in his presence.
“You have grown, my lord. Almost a man,” Aetheld gripped him by his shoulders and looked at him.
Almost. The word echoed through Riechard’s skull. He knew Aetheld did not intend to injure his pride, but in the presence of his grandfather’s vassals, the word tasted tart and bitter. Riechard observed the room with one panning glance and the council took their seats courteously. Riechard had both feared and hoped that his council would challenge him, yet the only men around the table were either old friends, effeminate or clerical. He was shocked at their lack of presence, their lack of Lord Steel’s stern eye or his grandfather’s looming stature, even his father’s sharp wit seemed to be lacking. Shaking away his disappointment, Riechard took his seat.
“Shall we beg-” Riechard started, but was interrupted by the crash of the door followed by heavy boots thumping against the wooden floor. Riechard span around in his chair to watch two men breeze past the table and sit directly opposite him on the other end.
“My lord,” the two men offered sharp, curt courtesies before taking their seats and staring at Riechard expectantly.
Riechard looked at the two men for a moment. The man on the left was a tall man with black skin and a broad smile. He had a beard around his face and short, cropped black hair. He wore a burgundy surcoat with silver rings around his biceps. The man on the right was shorter, perhaps the height of his grandfather. This man had sallow skin, charcoal grey hair and heavy bags underneath his eyes. He wore thin steel rings on each of his fingers, and a white cloak over a black tunic.
“Forgive me, my lord. We have not been introduced,” Riechard said.
“I am Salman of Westshore. I lead the Defenders of Duncath.”
Riechard looked to the old, greying man beside him. “I am Hector Steelmont, my lord. Your foster father’s cousin. I run the city’s trade and will be your castellan should you be needed elsewhere. Though, judging by King Aedvard’s orders, I do not believe that duty will be required of me.”
The mention of his grandfather was no mere mention, Riechard knew. It was a reminder, a reminder of who ruled the realm, and more importantly, who did not. They had arrived late to a meeting, they had not greeted their liege lord properly, nor had they apologised for the interruption. Riechard was caught. To say something could alienate what appeared to be his most important advisors, to say nothing would show that they could disrespect him.
“And what business caused Duncath’s defender and my foster father’s cousin to delay this meeting?”
Salman smiled, but Hector rolled his eyes as if such a question was beneath him. Upon catching Riechard’s gaze, Hector displayed an exaggerated smile.
“Myself and Salman were discussing the establishment of a new trade route between Duncath’s port and Beloria. You see, my lord. This route could open up the possibility of increasing our exports of wool, tin and iron, and would allow us to increase both our silk and spice imports that would greatly benefit the city’s finances, however the route we have laid out would be drifting into the territory of the Free Islands, and would therefore be dangerous and unsustainable should the Freemen happen upon these ships and learn their movements. Perhaps you could provide us with your opinion to help guide us on our way?”
Riechard had no idea about establishing trade routes, but Hector’s eyes pierced through him as the rest of the table gazed towards him expectantly, whilst Salman pushed the tips of his fingers together awaiting a response. Then Riechard remembered the conversation on the balcony at Steelmont, Olon the Vile was dead, and thus the Freemen would be severely weakened. If there was any time to set up a trade route that passed into their waters, it would be now.
“Forgive me, my lords, but would you remind me why passing through the waters of the Freemen would be problematic?”
Salman and Hector scoffed. “My lord,” Hector droned, “the Freemen are led by one of the most brutal pirates to ever walk the earth. Olon the Vile is not only most revered sailor and navigator alive, but he is ruthless, brutal and has accumulated enough personal wealth to feed an Earldom. We must decide whether or not it is financially worth establishing this route at the risk of the inevitable plunder that these ships will fall victim to.”
“I see. Thank you for making that clear to me, Lord Steelmont. Lord Neville?”
“Yes, my lord?” He replied enthusiastically.
“As Naval Commander, perhaps you could enlighten me on how greatly this risk would fall should some unfortunate circumstance befall Olon…perhaps injury, sickness, or worse.”
“We are not here to discuss hypothetical-” Hector began.
“My lord,” Riechard interrupted, “I do believe I addressed Lord Neville. You will have your turn to interject.”
“The Freemen were unruly and disorganised without him, I remember. Since Olon was chosen to lead, the Freemen have seen more wealth and plunder that at any other point in their history. Without Olon, they would split into factions once again most likely, and they certainly wouldn’t be the threat that they are. If something were to happen to Olon, there would be no better opportunity to establish such a trade route.”
“Well I’m glad to see that is resolved. We will establish this trade route immediately,”
Salman eyed Riechard curiously. “Are you suggesting that we aim to send enough men capable of bringing down a pirate who has survived multiple assassination attempts whilst we are on the brink of war?”
Riechard relaxed into his chair, confident that he had got the better of both of his challengers. “What I am saying is that Olon the Vile is no longer a factor. Perhaps word travels slower up this grand tower or perhaps you gentlemen are not as connected as you thought, but we do not need to worry about the greatest living pirate in this venture”.
Riechard expected Salman and Hector to be surprised, agitated that their challenge had been overcome, and full or remorse and new respect for their lord, but the men looked at each other and smirked.
“My lord, forgive me, but I assume you are referring to the rumours that Olon the Vile and his crew vanquished mysteriously after a raid in Barajas?” Salman questioned. Riechard felt as though his heart was in his mouth. “It is true that there were charred remains found upon a shore in the Molten Isles, and that The Warrior’s Wife had disappeared, but word reached us this morning that the ship and its men were found alive and well in the port city of Illuvia in the Old World, including Olon the Vile. Perhaps it is Hector’s cousin who struggles with speed of communication, or perhaps we are less prone to the sway of rumour in the north, but there are always rumours of Olon being killed, and thus far, these stories have been greatly exaggerated…with that being said, what do you propose we do, my lord?”
The spray of the sea spat at the sheer cliff face as dockers tied the lines of the trade ships to the dock. Within moments there were men heaving wooden crates from the ship and onto wagons that departed almost immediately towards the traders and merchants of Duncath. Neville stood beside him in his full naval attire. His surcoat was a deep blue like a dusk sky and his lapels were decorated with ornate medals with multiple stripes across the shoulders. Men greeted him fondly, even the surly dockers, who threw cargo from ships to wagons and who stank of fish, paid the Naval Commander due respect. It was because of him that they were able to conduct their business without the fear of being hijacked at sea. The new trade route that was proposed would make the lives of these men much more stressful, and there would perhaps be mutiny among many of the crews should they go ahead with it knowing that Olon the Vile was still at large burning ships, stealing loot and raping women. None of the dockers paid Riechard any mind, in many cases it was likely that they didn’t even know who he was, after all, he had left a child and had been gone for almost as long as he was there. The more likely scenario, however, was that they simply didn’t care. He was not their King, nor their Lord, he was simply a boy playing castle until their rightful leader returned. Riechard had no idea how to solve the problem of Olon, nor did he know what to say or do to gain the respect of Salman and Hector, both of whom he needed on his side to establish a foothold of influence within the city. As he mulled this over, Riechard realised that the ship had almost been stripped bare, and almost all of the shipment had been loaded onto the wagons and taken into the city. It was an impressive level of efficiency, there were very few boys and the workforce consisted almost entirely of strong, skilled men who seemed to know their exact role.
“This is a smooth operation,” Riechard commented.
“Aye, my lord. I’d wager these men together have accumulated centuries of experience between them on these docks. Clear seas and a peaceful kingdom are a dream for goldmongers. Hundreds of ships arrive at these docks every day, and each man is as important to the turnaround as the man beside him,” Neville explained with a hint of frustration in his voice.
“You do not want this new trade route to be implemented.”
“No, my lord, I can’t say I do.”
“The work ethic here is exceptional, imagine what this dock alone could produce for the Kingdom, not to even mention Oldport, Blackport, Barajas.”
Neville looked disappointed with him. “Perhaps, my lord. Perhaps if these men were mindless and unfeeling. Perhaps if they did not fear for their lives, their wives or their children, then they would not think on the fact that they are travelling over shark-infested waters. Perhaps they would still work as hard, focus as well, and live as long with the increased threat of piracy looming over them. I am not a cynical man, my lord, you must believe me, but perhaps the perfection that you see before you is crafted by security, and cannot be replicated in an environment of fear.”
Riechard had not considered that. Watching the men at their work did not feel like watching thinking, feeling people with lives and families of their own. They seemed synchronised in their movements like a flock of birds, individually insignificant, but together their dance was hypnotic. Then Riechard looked closer at each man. He saw their focused eyes, a calm sense of purpose emanating from their postures, and listened to their coordinated shouts, some of them instruction, some of them affirmation, and some of them were simply jokes at another’s expense. These were men, Riechard saw, not tools for his city to wield, and yet, the thought of improving his Kingdom’s finances through the trade route pressed on his mind.
“Wars are expensive,” Riechard attempted to justify what he was going to say, “and it is likely we will soon enter into one. We have a strong navy, and a capable commander that my grandfather trusts”. They will think I am strong, Riechard thought. They will respect my ambition, and I must show them I do not fear conflict. Riechard looked at Neville for vindication, for acceptance and his respect, but all he saw was Neville’s defeated eyes.
“This is your decision, lord. I have given you my advice. That is all I can do.”
“It is appreciated, you can trust in that, but I must think about the city, and the kingdom, and the war to come. It will be established,” Riechard said, “but you will decide on the routes”.
Neville looked at him, puzzled. “My lord, I know little in this area.”
“Perhaps not, which is why Salman and Hector will pitch to you, and it will be your job to approve or disapprove the routes. You know the danger of these waters better than any man in this Kingdom. You must be the one to decide on the safest possible option to ensure these men are able to work with peace of mind. Whatever you decide is what shall be implemented.”
Neville stood proudly, raising his head. “I do as you command, my lord”. He said so plainly that Riechard was unsure of whether or not he approved of his decision. Riechard had felt as though he had reached a compromise, but it seemed as though no one would benefit from this situation. Salman and Hector would rue the thought of their plans being scrutinised by Lord Neville, whilst Neville knew he would be in a constant battle of wills between two stubborn, hard-headed lords. Yet Riechard felt that if they could reach a compromise between them, then he was confident it could be a successful venture.
Riechard was happy to be back in his chamber that night. As acting Lord of Duncath, Riechard slept in the master chamber – his grandfather’s quarters. Everything had been prepared for him, there was a mountain of furs piled upon his bed linen, and the bed itself could fit six people shoulder to shoulder. There was a large oak desk that looked out of the oriel and onto the courtyard, which was stacked with parchment, ink and quills arranged neatly. The ink pot was full, with a clean glass lid, the tips of the quills had not once been dipped in ink, and the parchment was spotless and stacked immaculately. Riechard had seen Lord Steel’s desk and they looked nothing alike. He remembered that there were several ink pots opened, all at varying stages of use, the quills had black tips and were scattered across the surface like leaves in a forest, and the parchment had scribbles and notes scrawled across it. Yet every letter, deed or document that left Lord Steel’s chamber was finely presented and exemplary. Riechard hated writing, and whilst Godsons did most of the writing, there were certain documents that must always come directly from the hand of the Lord. As Riechard sat down at his desk and reached for a quill, two sharp knocks rattled his chamber door.
“Who approaches?” Riechard asked the guards posted at his door.
“Lord Salman of Westshore,” Sir Govan announced.
Riechard took a moment to digest the name. He did not want to see Salman this soon, yet he could not turn him away. He did not know whether to stand, to stay seated or to pour some wine, of which, he had just noticed, he had none. I do not even have a drink to entertain my vassals, Riechard thought resentfully. Before another moment passed, Riechard stood and looked out of the oriel and into the courtyard.
“Allow him in, Sir Govan.”
Riechard heard the door open and close behind him slowly, and Salman’s heavy boots fell gently onto the wooden floor. “My lord,” he said softly and Riechard turned around to greet him.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Lord Salman?”
Salman did not answer straight away. He took in his surroundings as if he was breathing new air. He surveyed the room, focusing on the bed, the desk, and the table that hosted a glass flagon filled with water. Then his eyes landed on Riechard.
“Forgive me, my lord. It has been a long time since I have seen this place in a state of such virginity. I am glad they had ordered this place to be refreshed for you. Your grandfather is a great man, but a busy man, and he never liked this place to be scoured clean. He had a way of working that was intruded upon by untous servants wishing him to have softer pillows and new quills.”
“You speak about my grandfather as if he were dead.”
“Not dead, but he is gone, and perhaps will be for a while. Please allow me to take in this room for a moment, it is like looking over a field of fresh snow before the children run through it. Even if you know it won’t last for long, it is nice to know that it is capable of existing.”
“I did not take you for a poet.”
Salman laughed. “A poet I am not, but I do like to notice the beauty of a new start. You have a big opportunity here, my lord.”
Riechard did not know how to respond. Suddenly, Salman seemed a different man to the one who grilled him in the council meeting. “I appreciate your observation, lord, but I am afraid my curiosity has piqued. What is it that brings you to my chamber this evening?”
“Pirates, my lord, pirates and gossip,” Salman gestured for Riechard to sit down at the table to which he obliged. Salman filled two goblets with water and took a seat opposite Riechard. “You must talk to someone about having some wine brought to your chamber.”
“I believe my grandfather must have instructed the servants to the contrary.”
“What he doesn’t know…” Salman winked.
“What is it you have to tell me about pirates?”
“You are just like your grandfather, he never had time for small talk either. In truth, I am curious as to how you came to find out about the rumour of Olon the Vile’s demise.”
Riechard was not eager to reveal the names of the men he heard talking on the balcony. He was new to this game, but one of the first rules that Lord Steel had taught him was to never exchange information freely, particularly with someone he didn’t fully trust. “The same way every man in this city heard before I did – a mix of loose tongues and eavesdropping.”
“I did not take you for a spy,” Salman said before taking a gulp of water. “You do not trust me, Lord Byrne.”
The lines around Salman’s mouth and forehead took on new shapes. It was as if Salman had begun looking at a different person altogether. “If I were you, in your position, I would not. But yes, you should.”
“Lord Neville has told you of my decision.”
Salman seemed unphased. “He has indeed. A shrewd play. Lord Neville is your grandfather’s most trusted man in this city, and of course he will ensure that Lord Hector and I are held at arm’s length for this project. If it works, you take the credit, and if it fails, Lord Neville takes the blame. I must say, I am impressed.”
Riechard felt his eyebrows furrow. “I did not put Lord Neville in charge of this venture to shirk responsibility should it fail. I put him in charge to ensure that our sailors are not put in danger.”
Salman raised his hands above his head innocently. “The reasons behind your decisions make no difference to me. I am simply praising your hand, my lord.”
Riechard started to feel the anger rise inside him. Each word Salman spoke became more condescending. “And what hand are you playing, Lord? What game do you think to play with your Prince?”.
“I play many hands in many games. This is no different, of course. I do not deny that. My interests lay in my pockets. In one pocket I have coin, in the other I have people. In order to have coin, you must be in someone else’s pocket, in order to have people in your pocket, you must give them coin. It is an age-old political necessity, my lord. One that I am sure you will learn if you have not already.”
“You forget yourself, lord. You are trying to test my patience and I will not have it. I can assure you that I do not need your coin and I will not become an accessory to your surcoat. Now get out of my chamber!”
Salman sat still, unaffected by Riechard’s sudden burst of anger. “Forgive me, my lord. You have misunderstood me. I am an influential man in this city. Myself and Hector are perhaps the most influential men you have. You wish to establish your authority in this city, and I can help you do that. I can help you be more than a glorified castellan; I can help you become more than a Prince. With my help, you will be ready to be King years before you ever need to wear the crown.”
Riechard turned to face the oriel and looked out over his grandfather’s city. He did not know if he could trust Salman, but perhaps, at the very least, he could use his influence whilst it suited his needs. He did need to establish his authority, and he did want to learn how to operate in this realm, but he knew that it would come at a price. “And what do you want in return?”
“The fact that you knew to ask that question means you already know. Allow me to establish the trade routes, let me demonstrate how much coin it is capable of making for this city, and I will guide you to the throne whilst I guide gold into your coffers.” Salman’s eyes were alit with energy.
Riechard hoped his silence would be mistaken for careful consideration, but in his heart, he knew that his silence was something far more humiliating. Salman’s approach had caught him off guard, he felt trapped in his own chamber, the thoughts of his father, grandfather and foster father ricocheting off the walls of his brain. He watched the courtyard as boys shot flaming arrows into targets and played with the wooden swords. If only I could be with them, he thought bitterly. Riechard felt he had no choice. If he declined, then Salman would work against him. If he delayed, then Salman would not respect him. If he accepted, then Neville would be alienated, and he would have to rely on a man he did not trust. Every option was regrettable and potentially damaging to his leadership. Every moment of silence strayed further from consideration towards incompetence. It was in his isolation that something began to pulse. His mind swam with ideas and suddenly his stoic expression had formed into a smile, and almost as soon as his mouth curved upwards, the energy in Salman’s eyes was met with his own.
Hector did not see the irony that he would be departing on a boat following a trade route that was of his creation, but Riechard did not blame him for that, especially as hairy-arsed sailors crowded around him poking him as if gold would just fall out of his pockets. With the trade routes established, Riechard’s condition was to be met. Salman could have control over them, but Hector would be sent to Blackport – the leaderless Earldom likely to revolt against the crown – in order to ensure a smooth application of the new order. It did not take long for Salman to agree to Riechard’s terms, particularly as Salman was a logical man, and knew that it was a necessary compromise, and a necessary sacrifice. Riechard was sure that Salman had other influential men he could rely upon for political support, but for now at least, Riechard had one less player in the game to worry about. Riechard had confided in Neville about his decision, and assigned him to a role of damage limitation. Neville was disappointed, but acceptant, and as Riechard expected, remained a loyal servant.
As Hector’s boat drifted over the horizon, Riechard looked out over the ocean. Neville pulled his wrist back. “You spend too much time gazing, my lord. Boys gaze and wonder whilst they look at the stars, men do not have the time. Their thoughts are too busy for the skies. Have you ever watched your grandfather think?”
Riechard did not understand the question at first, and then he remembered. King Aedvard would always look him in the eye at every moment he got. It was unnerving and unsettling, but his gaze would not waver, would not drift. It encouraged urgent response, focus and concentration. He would take offence to a lost gaze and would chaste those who did not maintain eye contact with him. Riechard spent much of his conversation with Salman looking out of the window, and wondered if that had damaged his reputation in the eyes of his vassal.
“Take note, my lord. That is the only other thing you should ever look at,” Neville said, pointing to The Obsidian. “If you want to rule from it one day, you’ll need both eyes on every man, woman and child inside of it.”