Battle of Banded Iron
In the autumn of our divine year of 1023, the ceremonious battle commenced with great success. Emrols were won by dutiful questing and mighty valor. Crimes were punished adequately and bonds were built by former enemies. The battle itself displayed the utmost devotion to the gods and our gracious Council, who brought us a feast like no other and spirits to drink well into the night.
Yes, the new tradition was a victory for all Feröners!
Albeit, The Enclave of Blood & Stone won the day! By Blood & Stone's annointment, Kael Verrum, Luzian’s predecessor, will be welcomed into the Tower of Sumeir and given a voice in The High Chamber, until the next Battle of Banded Iron concludes.
I: Near Demise
Luzian woke in the middle of the night. The commander sat up, wondering why. Ever since winning the first Battle, he had not had many restless nights. Kael Verrum sat on The Council now by Luzian’s anointment. A deeply trusted man in The Enclave, he was not only the former commander, but from an old mining guild family. After Luzian took command of Blood & Stone, the man had spent his gray years as their best strategic advisor. Now on The Council, Kael unknowingly allowed Luzian to rest better than he had in a long time.
And yet, Luzian sat up in his bed as straight as the hair on the back of his neck. All the candles were snuffed, but his eyes reflected every bit of starlight coming through his window. The chambers he took were modest. Upon succeeding, he had let his men bunk up in the Commander’s Chamber since it had the bigger fireplace, and better accomodations, as Luzian was only one man. This room still had a secret escape route in case the Commander had to get to the battlements quickly and unnoticed—a secret tunnel behind the wardrobe he now saw was askew.
A breathless moment hung. Luzian dove for his sword leaning against the nightstand. A shadow moved in the corner of his eye, but the commander changed his direction on a pinpoint. The short blade missed him. Poison, Luzian realized. Instead of grappling with this person to subdue them for questioning, Luzian now put distance between them. He managed to grab his knife from his belt on the chair before the shadow came at him again.
Luzian kept one eye on the tip of the blade as he parried the killer. His mind worked on a way to contain the shadow and not get either of them stung. But before he could get to his bed covers to throw them over his attacker, the guards came rushing in.
“Wait!” Luzian said to his men, not wanting one of them to take the poison blade meant for him. When he looked back at the shadow, they had already driven the toxin-coated iron into their own stomach.
“No!” Luzian rushed forward, pulling the blade from their gut. The poison was already locking up their nervous system. “Fetch a Barb!”
One of the guards ran off. Luzian pointed the others to the tunnel entrance behind the wardrobe, informing them to scour every inch of their secret network. Luzian clung to the shadow, questioning them in vain. By the time two of the Silver Barbs arrived, vials of every remedy clinking in their bags, Luzian could only tell them to examine the body… thoroughly. He wrapped the blade in cloth before also handing it over for examination.
The hours following were long. Luzian called a meeting with his captain and every squad leader in the ranks. Around the oval table of polished banded iron, the commander informed his soldiers of the incident. Outrage erupted while Luzian sat calmly thinking. Who would even do this? He could think of no one.
One of the Silver Barbs entered the strategy room after a time. All fell silent. The Barb announced the poison was of the Black Aurumbel, a poisonous flower found only in Ferinör Forest. Outrage erupted again. Luzian felt conflicted. After the event of the Battle, the factions had parted as comrades. Had he not brought one of his own to the stocks after Gilded Sun was slighted? A foul feeling of betrayal crept up inside, but the commander kept his head.
Luzian stood with both fists planted on the table. The room hushed once more. “No one is to speak of this outside this room. No one will take any actions, whatsoever, until I have an audience with Commander Torbran.”
II: Tragic Endings
“Yes, sir.” She continued with the message, “The soldiers accompanying the food shipment were found… though, they were deceased, and clearly, some effort was put into hiding the bodies.”
Torbran closed his eyes for a brief moment and then came back to his role on a controlled breath. “Anything else?”
“This was found among the bodies.” She placed a broche with a chalice and five blood drops engraved in metal.
“Thank you.” His expression was hard when he looked at the broche. “Now tell no one of this and find me Captain Severin.” The messenger bowed before leaving.
Torbran went over to his command table, a large wooden platform resting on rooted stumps. It was currently covered in a map of Ferös and protection orders from farmers sending their goods afar. Gilded Sun territories were mostly farming, and therefore, their duty to protect the shipments—same as The Enclave protected the mines. Torbran shifted the parchment til he found the paperwork on his assailed cargo, one of the larger ones going through Blood & Stone territory.
He had assigned six soldiers for this shipment instead of the usual eight for opposing territory. He had left the Battle of Banded Iron feeling confident the hatchet was buried between them, and so, chose to send less soldiers.
The names of his deceased guards on the parchment stood out in a harrowing way. Not only did he detest feeling betrayed, but six of his own were dead. He clenched The Enclave pin in his fist till it hurt, and then turned to find Captain Severin standing in the exit.
“Captain. You heard.”
“I have.” The captain, uncharacteristically, looked down at the floor. Severin held an opened scroll in her hand. “And I have other news…. An attempt on Commander Luzian’s life has been made and the poison came from Ferinor. He’s demanding an audience with you.”
Torbran neatly folded the protection order for the ill-fated shipment and tucked it into his belt with the broche. His brow was set heavy over his eyes. “Have them ready my horse. I’ll ride to him now.”
The raven sent ahead of Commander Torbran had arrived the night before he did. He pushed the chamber doors open harder than he normally would, but he felt the loud bang matched the tone of the room. His own scroll was already opened on the table before Luzian.
Luzian did not react, but his look was dour. “Welcome, Commander.”
Torbran looked at The Enclave’s commander as he did before the sacred battle—scrupulous of every word. They had both come to Blood & Stone’s public chambers with a small entourage. The nervous shifting of steel could be heard behind Luzian as Torbran approached the table without pause. Luzian held a hand up to keep his soldiers still.
“This was found with my dead.” Torbran dropped the broche onto the desk.
Luzian examined it, shaking his head. “I assure you we had nothing to do with that shipment.”
Torbran retorted calmly, “As far as you know.”
At this, Luzian stood suddenly.
The soldiers of The Order put their hands on their hilts.
Torbran did not tell them to steady.
Luzian spoke first, “You come in here with hostilities, accuse my command of failing, and say nothing about the attempt made on my life by poison from your woods?”
Torbran Scowled, “Anyone could know how to find a Black Aurumbel, as rare as it is, and I see you’re still breathing. I have to send news to six families about their loved ones who died on a routine assignment.”
“What good would we gain from stealing grain?” Luzian patience was wearing out. Torbran had just shrugged off an attempt on a commander’s life—a life that would throw half their world into chaos if it had ended suddenly. Torbran should understand this, but he was more concerned with the dead.
“You and I may have shaken hands and settled things, but I’m hard-pressed to believe everyone in your ranks has forgotten every conflict we’ve been in.” Torbran’s eyes shifted to the soldiers behind Luzian. “I imagine some of them wanted a final jab at us and half that grain is on its way to becoming ale by now.”
“Absurd.” Luzian practically spat the word out. “That Captain of yours looked sour about the agreement we came to during the battle, and I’m sure she knows exactly where to find a Black Aurumbel.”
Torbran straightened, his leather armor shifting as he stuck out his chest. “Captain Severin’s trust may be harder won, but she would never go behind my back.”
“As far as you know.” Luzian’s eyes narrowed.
The room held a collective breath. The soldiers eyed each of the commanders, wondering who was going to attack first. They had been on guard duty, or heard about the bloodshed, during the shotty discussions of The Faction Years. And none of those talks had been as dire as this one.
Commander Torbran broke the silence, not wanting this to end poorly despite his current mood. “This can’t be settled now. I expect you to question your troops and deliver a response.” No sense in undoing progress without more proof, he figured.
“And I expect you to do the same.” Luzian sat back down, indicating he was done talking.
Torbran turned away without another word. His soldiers followed him out.
The chamber doors closed on the fragile trust between the factions. Bad blood of old slowly filled their veins. If answers were not found, their resentments ran the risk of living again.