tagSci-Fi & FantasyDarkFyre Ch. 06

DarkFyre Ch. 06

byFamiliarStranger86©

***

All content of this story is copyright {2014} by Returning_Writer_Guy and is my intellectual property. This is purely a work of fiction and fantasy and not based on any truthful events. No individuals were harmed as none of the individuals in these stories exist. This story is not to be redistributed under any circumstances without my express written permission.

***

Rael sat at the long, ornate dinner table in the main dining hall with his long legs stretched out before him, leaning back in his chair as he rolled a small apple around in his hand. Selm, his whiskers newly trimmed and looking determined, watched him quietly, waiting for the young Nobleman to speak.



The Knight had fully expected to have some distractions when he arrived home. He hadn't been to IronWing Manor in a long time, and so much was left undone from his father's death. He'd even found himself glad for the excuse to return, pleased at the prospect of seeing his old home and seeing to some odds and ends that surely needed his attention.



But he hadn't counted on things being so bad. He expected some work, sure; some overseeing minor changes here and there, some time spent with his small folk to bolster their spirits and show them that he was a real and true person, and though he was occupied elsewhere, he did still exist, and he did still care. The truth of the state of his holdings was much worse. So much to do. So much wrong to set right.

And he would do it, too. Personal quest or no, these folk were his responsibility. The truth of it all was, their situation, and the state of his home, was his fault. Father had felt sure that things would run smoothly without his presence, but they'd both overestimated Jonor's loyalty and honesty, and underestimated his laziness and greed. It would take time, and work, but Rael meant to set things right with House IronWing, restore his home and his people and his honor to what it once was. If it meant delaying his search for answers...so be it. He would still search, but he would do it as he settled the House affairs.

The first of which had been bringing Jonor to the city guard in Trelling's Rest. Rael had escorted the Steward personally, as he would brook no mistake or mishap on the way. He and two of his House guardsmen brought the Steward, shackled and chained, to the great city to be delivered. Jonor had sniveled and whimpered, all sense of dignity abandoned as if he were on a death march. Which he very well may have been.

Rael hadn't been to the city in nearly four years. It was good to return.

Trelling's Rest, so named for High King Trelling, Trelling the Bloodied, Trelling the Righteous, Trelling Who Conquers, Trelling the Man-God. Trelling was of the Werdin line, one of the oldest lines of Kings among the Old Fathers who were the root of all Humanity. It was Trelling who first set foot in the Northlands. He founded the first kingdom in his name in the harsh snowed frontier, and tamed DarkFyre Dale for his people before being made one of the new god's and joining the other eleven gods to form the Circle of Twelve. It was said among the Circle of Twelve, Trelling spoke for and championed Humanity, especially his legacy, the Men of the Dale.



So the tales told. Most credited Trelling with founding Trelling's Rest and settling the wild North of DarkFyre Dale. Priests and believers of the Circle of Twelve maintained his godhood. Trelling's Rest was home to many believers of the Twelve, but also hosted followers of the Old Gods, and several churches of The Devout, the faithful children of the Highest Holy. There were also minor small temples to various southern religions and shrines of the Demi-Human races, but these were less popular, and less tolerated.



Trelling's Rest, despite being predominantly Human Dalemen, was full of many cultures and different kinds of people. It was by and far the largest city in the North, the Jewel of the Dale and home of the noble court of DarkFyre Dale for years uncounted. And it showed; though it didn't have the grace and elegance of Ser in The Reach to the east, or the riches and scope of RedStone, capitol of the Leflin Empire far to the south in The Ashlands, Trelling's Rest was a grand city all the same. It was marked by the thickness of her walls and hardness of her stone buildings, built in great tiers arrayed at the foot of the Frozen Keep, seat of power to DarkFyre's King. The tiers of buildings stretched away from the Keep, moving downward and outward until they butted up against GlassWater, a huge lake of crystal clear waters. Warf's and docks were set all along the lake's edge. The lake was the lifeblood of Trelling's Rest, with natural hot springs under the lake keeping the waters from freezing even in the depth of winter. The warmth of the hot springs kept the worst of the winter chill from strangling the city outright, and kept fish plentiful all year long.



After depositing the Steward with the Trelling Guard, Rael was taken with the urge to linger in the city for a time. He'd spent some years in the city during his days as a squire in service to the Knight Brotherhood. Though most of his days were wrapped in duties and training at the Frozen Keep, he visited the town as often as he was able, taking in the sights and smells of the markets, exploring the narrow, dilapidated streets winding between the sturdy buildings, as hard and hearty as the Dalemen themselves. Trelling's Rest was a city of bustle and business, people always moving, always about their business lest they be overtaken by the cold. Men of the Dale were a boisterous lot, outspoken and as fierce as the land they called home. It was good to be here again, to see what it was he'd been fighting so hard to protect.



Alas, his visit had been cut short. Duties called him back to House IronWing, where a meeting with Selm awaited. The two of them went over the books together that night, reviewing Selm's findings in the dining hall as they shared broiled goose, the skin crispy and the fat greasy and filling. They licked their fingers clean, careful not to smear the pages displaying Selm's figures.



Now, nearly an hour later, Rael rolled his apple from one hand to the other, his movement absent and distracted. At last he noted his restless action, and noted Selm noting it. He placed the apple back in the small dinner basket of fruit on the table, and leaned forward with his hands together.



"I'll admit, this is worse than I thought," he said.



"I told you it was bad, Milord," Selm sighed.



"So you did," Rael nodded. "I knew the man was a fool, but this...this is..."



"Exceptional?" Selm suggested.



"Exceptional," Rael agreed. He gave a grim, humorless smile. "I should have taken his head while I had the chance."



"I'm sure the King's Justice could bear your advice in mind," Selm said.



"The King doesn't bear much of anyone's advice in mind these days, from what I hear," Rael said. "Besides, we're broke. We're as good as a lesser House at this point."



"True," Selm shrugged a small shoulder. "So we'd best get to fixing that problem. You wouldn't want to be out of style if the King ever does start opening his ears again."



Rael smiled to himself. He liked the little Halfling man. Not many would dare to speak so glibly about their King, even to their Lord. Especially to their Lord.



"Our priority as of now is food and clean, warm clothes," Rael said, his smile fading as he returned to the issue at hand. He leaned over the sheets of figures spread out on the table. "This much in our stores isn't even going to last us through the winter. What was he thinking?"



"I think he was thinking of letting more of us go," Selm suggested. He reached up and scratched at his great ruddy nose. "I also don't think the man could count much past his fingers and toes."



"That would explain a lot," Rael said with disgust. He ran a hand through this burnished copper hair. "We have to find some money. We will have to start selling some of our goods to get money for the essentials."



"I thought you'd say something like that. I've already thought of the perfect place to start," Selm said.



Rael studied the Halfling, who was grinning foolishly despite their somber conversation. Then Rael understood, and he couldn't help but smile as well. "All Jonor's useless, misbegotten finery."



"Precisely!" Selm laughed. Grinning still, he pulled a roll of paper from his pocket, rolled it out, and pointed at the figures he'd scrawled. "This is all just estimates, mind, and I'm no merchant. But I guessed as fairly as I could, and this is what I came up with."



Rael took the paper and ran his eyes over it. The normally unflappable Captain wore an expression that was equal parts surprise, disgust, anger and awe. "How in all the names of the Circle of Twelve did Jonor spend this much money? And this is the resell value? This is ridiculous!"



"Well, he did have his bed special made, with a solid gold frame," Selm explained with a casual shrug. "Among other things."



Rael stared blankly at the Halfling, then leaned back in his seat and placed a hand over his face, massaging his temples. "Should have taken his head."



"This should be a good start, I think," Selm nodded, allowing himself a moment of satisfaction.



"Indeed, a good start," Rael nodded. He stood then, and braced his hands on the table as he leaned over it, regarding the books carefully. "There are more measures we need to take, though. We need funds for an ample store of food, clothes, and repairs to the Manor. The grounds need tending and we need to begin to stockpile supplies for the coming year. We are nearly out of candles and lamp oil, and we need to gather firewood. And most especially, we need to hire more help. That will take even more food and clothes and other supplies, and we can't even begin to hire more people until we've fully provided for our own."



"What do you suggest, Milord?" Selm asked as he grabbed a fresh paper and quill, then stared at Rael expectantly.



"How many horses are in our stables, currently?" Rael asked.



"Fourteen, Milord, including a foal, and your own mount."



"Good. Keep my mount, and six more. Sell the rest. We can use the coin, and the horse feed will go farther. How fares our livestock?"



Selm glanced at a sheet of parchment briefly. "Eight heifers, three bulls, a calf, ten sow, six boars, five goats, three geese, and a fair number of chickens."



Rael nodded to himself. "Sell a third of the livestock, and set whoever in the Manor knows the most about livestock and animal husbandry to getting a few of the heifers and sows breeding. Have the same man sort out the best candidates for slaughter. In the meantime, I want four men going out every day hunting. They may take the best horses fit to the task, and whatever hounds are suitable from the kennels."



"Do you think they'll find much?" Selm asked doubtfully.



"Winter is young yet. There will still be some game to be found, if they're clever and work together."



"Well, here's hoping to that," Selm muttered, and he scratched a few notations on the parchment. "I think I know a few lads right for the job."



"Good," Rael nodded. "That will be enough for now. Keep me updated as we sell our goods and start to bring some coin in, and as food and supplies are added. Is there anything else we need to speak of?"



"Not right now, Milord. This is plenty for tonight," Selm nodded wryly as he gathered up his papers.



"Very good," Rael said with a small smile. "Continue the good work. We will take our progress as it comes."



"Yes, Milord. A pleasant evening to you."



"And to you," Rael nodded, and took his leave.

***

For her part, Silmaria spent several days after Lord Rael's return an emotional, frazzled mess. She flip-flopped continuously between feeling justified for her actions, and terrified that reprisal was coming any moment. Even after Steward Jonor was taken away to the capital to face the King's Justice, she couldn't help but glance over her shoulder often, paranoid and convinced that he would find some way to take his revenge. Her actions had been entirely impulsive and driven by her anger and emotion, and while she couldn't say she regretted it, she did worry what consequences would come her way. Maybe Jonor would be released and come back with a grudge against her. Maybe he had a friend or two among the servants who would exact his vengeance for him. Maybe Lord Rael would take exception to her boldness and punish her himself. The possibilities circled around in her head until she was warring with herself internally over whether she'd been righteously vindicated, or just plain stupid.

After a week, nothing happened. There was no retaliation from Jonor, and no rebuking from Lord Rael. She swore to herself she would be more cautious from now on, and slowly, began to relax.

As she came out of her panic, Silmaria finally noticed how the mood at IronWing Manor had changed. The oppressiveness, the languor, the lack of direction and drive, the bitterness and melancholy that had been ever present for months, so thick and pervasive that it was a palpable miasma in the air, was gone. Replaced instead by renewed energy and optimism. The servants were glad again, motivated and working with willing spirits. Whatever else she may think and feel about Lord Rael, he had invigorated his people.

Mostly it seemed to do with direction, change, and hope. The serving folk had been in such a rut of grim hopelessness and the whole Manor steadily stagnated. Lord Rael had changed all that almost immediately. He'd taken steps to bolster the House's coffers, and the estate now had much more food and supplies than Steward Jonor had maintained. The servants were well fed and the pantries and larders were stocked with food and supplies that would last them through the winter. Men had been assigned to ride out and hunt, and had brought in game that was being salted and preserved. Now working on full bellies, morale in the Manor had improved notably, and effort was being put into their work and duties that had flagged for months.

Just two days past, the serving folk had been surprised with new, clean clothes. They were simple and plain, but practical, well made, and new, made by hand by Karee, a seamstress of some skill Lord Rael hired to fill the position Steward Jonor had left empty after dismissing the last seamstress, a wizen old woman named Nina who'd been in Master Edwin's employ for as long as Silmaria could remember. The gossip was, Lord Rael had tried to find old Nina to rehire her, but searches in the country and Trelling's Rest turned up no sign of her.

Karee was an Elven woman of some two centuries. Like all her people, the years took no toll on her. She'd spent much of her early life traveling with a group of her people before settling in DarkFyre Dale and taking up needle and thread. Though she'd never studied under a master tailor and risen to that level of craftsmanship, she had almost a hundred years of experience and knew how to make quality clothing on a budget.

In addition to the new clothes that each servant received, thick, soft new blankets were distributed, enough to ensure no one suffered cold and shivering in the coming winter nights. Everyone's bedding was turned out and new straw and feather stuffing made each pallet far more comfortable. Wood for the hearth in each room was stockpiled so their fires could be made much warmer.

Such simple things, but for the simple folk, each effort made a drastic difference. Warmly clothed, comfortably rested and well fed, spirits soared and the workers tackled their duties vigorously. Smiles replaced the ever present frowns and weary expressions they'd all been wearing for so long. Lord Rael's name was spoke often, and always with appreciation and high regard.

Silmaria's voice was not added to the praise. She did not trust the young Nobleman still. Oh, he seemed capable enough, and was taking steps to make things better, she could admit that. But she wasn't yet able to let go of his failing to keep the estate in good form to begin with. Moreso, she couldn't forgive his callous absence during Master Edwin's decline and death. It was simply too much for her to overlook.

The increased rations, the new clothes, the blankets and bedding all felt like bribes of a sort to her. Gifts come too late. Despite that, Silmaria was no fool, and if she was begrudging about accepting the help, she accepted it nonetheless.

Things stayed busy around the Manor now. New servants were added to the staff in a trickle, for Lord Rael was cautious about adding mouths to feed and backs to clothe while the Estate's resources were still recovering. But help was coming, slowly but surely, and in a few instances the new arriving faces were familiar ones, old fellows and friends Jonor had cast out returning home.

The Manor was turning to its old self. With more servants taking up the slack and work effort improving, neglected duties were well tended again. Repairs had begun that had been long put off, such as the hole in the roof from a heavy storm last summer, and the broken window in one of the sitting rooms downstairs. The cleaning and tidying in the Manor overall was kept up properly for the first time since Master Edwin's passing.

As the days turned to weeks, Silmaria caught frequent glances of Lord Rael around the Manor. She'd expected he would be far removed from the work and efforts around the great house, as most Nobles tended to be, but that was not the case. On the contrary, Lord Rael was a present and included figure in almost everything around his holding. He oversaw repairs, directed supplies being added to the stock rooms, encouraged the efforts in the kitchen, advised in the cleaning and upkeep of the stables and kennels, oversaw the training and routines of the House guard, and all manner of other efforts being made around IronWing Manor.

He cut a proud figure, standing upright and tall with his big hands resting atop his walking stick. He'd shaved the thick growth of travelers beard away a day after arriving, and now kept his beard short and neatly groomed. He cleaned up well, and his face was well made now that his beard was tamed, his jaw solid and strong, his cheeks set finely, and his beard when properly tended complimented his features handsomely.



Silmaria did her best to avoid him, but even she wasn't immune to the uplifted spirits in the household. Her mood was more cheerful and optimistic and she caught herself smiling more often. Though she'd been a hard worker even during the grimmest times this past year, she set to her tasks with more energy than before. Cook had gleefully speculated on the state of endowment of the source of Silmaria good mood. Smiling, Silmaria suggested she take a long walk along the docks of Trelling's Rest in nothing but her knickers.



Some three weeks after Lord Rael's return, Silmaria was sent to Master Edwin's study. She made her way along the halls and upstairs, her mood light and pleasant, humming an old folk tune to herself. Her tail flitted behind her, a physical tell of her energy and high spirits, for few things were as soothing to her as spending time in that special place.



As soon as she entered the study, however, her mood shattered. She stared, her big slitted green eyes wide with shock. Where Master Edwin's desk should have been empty and neat and clean, his chair empty save the memory of her beloved Lord, Lord Rael sat. His big frame was larger than his father's had been. He had several books pulled out upon the desk and a sheaf of paper at his left hand where he was scrawling notes in tight letters. A strange arrow of some kind rested on the table in front of him.

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