?You can?t be?that?? For a second words failed Dunhelm, the stories he had been told as a child echoing hauntingly as the figure in front of his desk slipped the greataxe from his back and sat down with the soft creak of wood and leather. The heavy weapon was leaned against the desk before Lucius sat back in the chair, fingertips pressed together before him.
?I can?t be what, burgomiester?? A russet brow rose slightly, accompanied by a soft rumble of laughter. ?Put the stories you have heard aside. We deal with the real today.?
?I suppose it would be too much to demand that you and your people leave Torrence?? Dunhelm felt lightheaded as he settled into his chair, a hand moving to push away the thinning hair from his face. Behind Lucius the tall barbarian Dunhelm had spoken to earlier broke into laughter, though the third, in armor similar to Lucius?s in design, remained silent, standing by the door and looking for all the world like a statue.
?Good. You?re keeping an even head about yourself. That will make this easier.? There was a trace of a smile as Lucius waved a hand toward the barbarian. ?This is Javvik, war chief of the Lamoss Northras. The quiet one is Sir Herzog.? Hazel eyes flicked to each in turn, and then returned to Lucius, Dunhelm nodding slightly in acknowledgement to the introductions. Lucius noted the man?s silent nod and continued. ?First, an explanation. By taking this village, I have declared open intentions against your former master.?
?Lord Urevan.? The ruler of the dutchy, known for his appetites. Latest of his line to sit on the throne of Cisroe, the current Urevan was generally thought of as a poor replacement for his father by many, though he enjoyed the backing of the ducal court and Cisran Council. Excesses, in both the lavish lifestyle and the inherent tax burden of the people, led to a simmering discontent. Something Lucius and Fiona found ripe for the exploit.
?Indeed. And for his insult, I plan to take away that which he loves the most.? Any joviality feld from his features, as Lucius stared hard at Dunhelm.
?But what about my people? The villagers?? The burgomiester waved a hand toward the door, reminder of those who waited in their homes.
?They will not be harmed, unless they try to hinder us.? Leaning forward, hands came to rest on armored knees as Lucius continued. ?For now, Burgomiester Rohrig, we do not want your land. We do not want your gold, nor will we pillage your food stores. If it comes to needing livestock or ore from your mine, we will pay a fair price for them.?
He paused for the time it took him to lean back in the chair again, his eyes never leaving Dunhelm?s. ?Later, when I have finished with Urevan, new laws will be put into place. Until then, as long as you stay out of our way, we will leave you be.?
The words had caught Dunhelm by surprise. Not the rough syntax of the barbarians, but a more cultured phrasing. It had put him off guard, and the message took a second to sink into his whirling thoughts. ?That sounds?a bit too good to be true.? He said at last, casting a glance toward the hulking Javvik. The Northras caught the look and grinned, teeth flashing in the brown flow of his beard.
?If the Northras had wanted to merely raid, do you think the village would still be wholly intact?? Lucius replied, a brow arching slightly. ?Torrence is the closest settlement with a garrison to Cords Crossing. I needed to remove the threat at my doorstep before I began to march.? It made sense to Dunhelm, who knew the lay of the region as well as any.
?Alright. If you do not plan to steal from us, what exactly do you want from the village?? At Dunhelm?s question Lucius rose to his feet, reaching out to take his greataxe in hand. Dunhelm also stood up, and at a wave of invitation the two headed for the door and the porch beyond, Javvik and Sir Herzog falling in behind them.
?I want you to calm your people, burgomiester. Tell them that as long as they do not try to aid Urevan or attack us, they will be left alone.? Lucius looked toward the shorter Dunhelm, who was watching the other knights who had accompanied Lucius swing back into the saddle. ?Go about your lives as normal. We will have patrols in the area, and Javvik will be making his camp in those woods there.? He pointed toward the green treeline north of the village, beyond the fields of waving grain. ?But they will not interfere with your people, as long as nothing is done toward them.?
?I will?do my best.? Dunhelm said, uncertainty creeping into his tone.
?That?s all I ask. And if you have questions, send a runner to Javvik?s camp. He?ll be happy to answer, or pass it along.? The skull helm was set back in place as Lucius walked down the porches steps and mounted the waiting nightmare. Looking to Javvik he said something in the guttural language of the Northras, who nodded in reply, a fist rose to tap his upper breast once.
?A new time is coming, burgomiester.? Lucius again looked to Dunhelm, and raised Drachmel in salute. ?How your village will fare, is up to you.?