The Land of Two Kings

This is a dark age, a bloody age, an age of daemons and of sorcery.

The Land of Two Kings

Postby Ghurlag » Wed Jul 27, 2011 9:43 pm

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The Land of Two Kings


An 'Isles of Albion' Tale

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Prelude
--



The midnight clouds flashed with the anger of the storm. Moments later, the growl of thunder rumbled through the sky, rolling overhead like the dice of the gods. The world was wrapped in fury tonight.

A second flash tore the skies asunder, the roar of the storm much closer now on its heels. The elements themselves were rebelling as the ancient wards sensed the oncoming danger. Rain and hail hurtled from the sky and slashed across the longboat's prow, scoring channels across the treated wood. Even as the torrent poured from above, the sea below was moving, swelling up in anger beneath the Norscan vessel, rebellious waves attempting to push them back, or else drag them down.

But still the longboat pushed forwards, the beat of the drum as unrelenting as the strength of the rowers. Manic faces snarled defiance at the elements, bulging muscles heaving in perfect unison. Waves pummelled them, but still the men held firm. If all else failed – and it had not – the rowers were chained in place, both to their oars and to their benches.

It was a work of sheer human willpower, but unbelievably the Norscan vessel was making headway against the violent current. If Lachlann had not seen it, he would never have believed it possible. He had been convinced, ever since the quest had been announced, that it was a fool's effort to breach the mists around Albion. He had stood on the shores of the grim land beyond this foul weather and watched ships innumerable go to their doom. Vessels of unparalleled design, too: dwarvern steamships, elegant elven vessels, frigates that had sailed around the world and back under captains of rare caliber. All crushed.

To attempt what these madmen dreamt was all but impossible. He had protested as much, but his opinion was not one which was widely respected in present company. Yet somehow it seemed that these brutish, uncivilised men may well accomplish that which no other foe in living memory had managed.

Lachlann turned his gaze downwards to the heavy steel chains which kept him in place on the longboat's deck. Unlike the rowers' chains, these bounds were not merely here to prevent him being washed overboard by the tumultuous waves. No. He was far from a willing accomplice in this venture.

And yet, if they got him close enough – as they now seemed likely to do – he would do what they asked of him. Not out of fear – though the punishments the foul shaman promised were gruesome, he had long since cast aside any fear of mortal agony – but simply out of sheer resignedness. He could not truthfully remember how long it had been since he fled Albion. More than anything else, he wanted to return. Once more to tread his homeland, before his disgrace finally brought him his end.

How many years had he spent fleeing the repercussions of his treachery? He remembered several lifetimes spent in hiding. Centuries more fleeing his vengeful pursuers, weaving his way back and forth across the Old World, fleeing south across the hot, barren deserts of Araby, only to be captured by profit-maddened slavers. There he had begun his circuitous route through all the far-flung kingdoms of men. He had thought himself safe in Ind. He had thought that there was no way his ancient brethren would ever find him there, deep in the jungles.

But they had come for him. Untold lifetimes after the Shadows, in a time when they were but forgotten history, the Truthsayers had come for their fallen brother. He had fled, as always. But there was only one place he could have gone to shake them. Back to the powers that had cursed him so. Back to the realm from whence the dark magic that had damned his eternal soul did spring.

The Wastes.

Cold water smashed Lachlann to the deck, and he felt blood rise in his mouth. He spat it out and glanced up, along the vessel's walkway to where his new master stood.

Hrut Manbane was a demon made man. From his position in the prow, he bellowed encouragement to his men, his snarling, deep voice drowning even the rolling thunder. He was barechested despite the whipping rain and cold, and Lachlann could just about make out the latticework of scars across the warrior's chest, marks of a million battles, a million unflinching charges into the fray. At times Hrut would turn and belt insults out into the storm, daring it to even attempt to take his life.

Lachlann had faced many foes and served many masters in his much-extended life. Not the least of these had been Daemons of many affiliations, including the one whose service had damned him in the first place. He would never think to question the power such beings had. But never had he met a mortal man with that power. Until Hrut.

Physically, the warrior-chief was like any other to be found in the maddened, frozen lands of Norsca. He was indomitable, bloodthirsty and fearless. Not so unusually as might be thought, he was also possessed of a keen – almost cutting – intellect. But it was none of this that impressed Lachlann, who had seen it all and more as he had wandered the wild and savage realms of man and beast. It was but a singular feature that leant this man his power. It was Hrut's eyes that made him so powerful.

Upon first locking gazes with the chieftain, at the meeting-place where his former captors had sold him on, Lachlann had physically sagged to the ground. He had felt his will simply erode beneath the pressure of those frozen eyes, and his muscles had involuntarily weakened. It was like staring into the swirls of madness at the pole. When Hrut had asked for him, for reasons he could only guess at at the time, his gaoler – a brutish, hard-bargaining man – had simply handed him over, without charge.

Later, Lachlann would see Hrut reduce raging berserkers to the ground with those daemon eyes alone. He had seen the man face down ogres and trolls, and cow whole herds of beastmen Gors. There was simply something about him that overshadowed the human form he took. He was possessed of a murderous destiny, a compulsion to greatness so strong it overrode the senses of all those who would oppose him. Somehow, Lachlann knew that the only reason the longboat had not struck a reef or foundered on the treacherous rocks was because Hrut was aboard. The man carried his fate like an axe, using it to hack aside all obstacles in his path. While this man willed it, no mere force of nature could prevent their advance.

Thick grey fog was beginning to spiral around the longboat, covering all in its cloying grasp, rendering even the most keen-sighted man to near-blind. Lachlann could feel a long-lost sensation awake in his veins. They were near. Storm and stones to no avail, they were near. He saw Hrut's head come around, the shaggy beard and rough-hewn locks drenched by the storm-water. He felt rather than saw the man's gaze on him, and instantly his chains felt heavier.

“Tattooed Man,” the booming voice spoke in its native Norse. “I see mists.”

It was fully within Lachlann's power to refuse, now. Hrut may kill him, but it would not do him any good. The mists would remain heavy, and even Hrut could not navigate the channels ahead while the wards rendered him blind. Lachlann could perhaps redeem his ancient treachery, and repay his debt to Albion.

But such possibilities were far beyond him. He had given up all hope of redemption in times long past, where he had seen the fate that awaited him after this life. No. He would obey, for all that it entailed.

Sighing what may well be his last breath, he began the ancient mantra with which he and so few others had been entrusted. How many of his kin remained to know these words? So many had died in the Shadows, and so many more in the elaborate hunt that followed. Did the Truthsayers still run strong on the island of their birth? Or had they all gone, with none but him returned?

The wards were resisting him. He reached out, spreading his soul along the current of power which flowed around the isles and fed the ancient mists. The lifting wards were sluggish, unused. He could feel the disjointed flow which spiralled over his homelands. How many circles had been corrupted in the Shadows? Could the treachery really have wounded the islands' defences so grievously that even now the damage was not repaired?

He began to will the change that he needed, feeling ancient defences query him, only to relax once more as he offered up the proper supplications. He had never forgotten, in all those years. Someday, he had told himself. Someday he would return.

It had been a fantasy, and nothing more, but now he did just that which he had whispered to himself those long nights in the jungle.

He was returning.

The mists were unused to being shifted, but Lachlann let his desire drive him, and pushed them into motion. Sluggishly, they began to lift. From his trance-like state on the longboat's deck he heard bellows of joy resound around him. He tied up the enchantment, anchoring his orders to ancient ward-posts. Reluctantly, he allowed himself to drift back into his body.

Around him, the men had never halted in their exertions. The drum-beat continued inexorably, the rowers pulled without pause. Hrut had returned his attention to the storm. It was as if the ancient mists which shrouded all Albion had never been more than a passing consequence. Perhaps that was true, for this man who would gladly wrestle thunder.

Only one motion marked the fact that something of significance had occurred. A burly man, who had until now been motionless at the rear of the longboat, now turned and lifted the oilskin-covered casket upon which he had been seated. From somewhere he produced a flickering torch, and set it patiently to a primitive fuse. The flame caught, and the man waited, blond hair dripping with filth and rainwater as he waited for the fuse to reach its limit. This was perhaps the most crucial part of Hrut's venture, yet the chieftain did not even glance back.

It seemed the fuse was at its critical stage. The blond giant hefted the casket of oil and flung it out to the waves. It was either a product of intense calculation or extreme luck that the casket burst into flames mere moments before it hit the waves. Swiftly, the blaze began to spread, the casket breaking open and flooding the surface of the sea with fire. A flickering light arose, a signal which could be seen far back along the passage they had traversed.

A few minutes passed. Then a faint glimmer shimmered through the storm behind them. The blond giant nodded to himself and took his seat once more, unmoved by the significance of what he had just observed. Lachlann hung his head in a wordless shame. Far behind them now, he knew, the rest of the fleet pushed forwards. The fleet that had decimated forests in its construction, and emptied swathes of Norsca and the Wastes in its recruitment. The fleet that threatened not only to raid, but to conquer and ravage the prize so long denied the hordes of the north. But they were not the worst. Amongst the thousands of vessels crowding the waves behind them, there were some which carried the fell blessings of the Dark Gods with them, like a plague of corruption to be spread upon his quiet homeland.

Lachlann the Truthsayer was returning to Albion. But the ravenous hordes of hell came on his heels, and he sailed with a daemon from the north. Once more it seemed he earned the thrice-cursed title that his forgotten master had gifted him. Dark Emissary he was indeed.

As the misty veil of Albion is cast aside, we turn our gaze to the war-torn island of Albany, where the Red King vies with his former master for the control of a realm in dire threat.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Thu Jul 28, 2011 8:30 am

Chilling, chilling is all I can say.

Wonderful descriptions of the two main characters introduced so far. One resigned to his fate, the other making his own. A nice, balanced contrast between Hrut and Lachlann.

I would definitely like to know more about Lachlann's past!

My WHF lore-knowledge is hazy at best but the Norscans are the ones who live in the Chaos Wastes right?

Also, Lachlaan says he is sailing with a Daemon. Is that an actual Daemon or is he talking about Hrut still?
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Ghurlag » Thu Jul 28, 2011 9:46 am

Thanks for the read, shadow! I'm glad you liked the two of them - I'm afraid Lachlann's tale is a bit of a slow burner, but hopefully you'll like what comes.

The Norscans are (mostly) from the Wastes, yes, though they're not the only tribe there. They're the Warhammer equivalent of viking raiders, to help give you some context there.

The capitalisation was a bit of an error on my part - you're right, it reads like he's talking about an actual Daemon. I've altered it and hopefully it now seems more like he's talking about Hrut, which is what I intended. Nice catch, thanks.

Expect my crit to haunt a thread near you soon!

As the misty veil of Albion is cast aside, we turn our gaze to the war-torn island of Albany, where the Red King vies with his former master for the control of a realm in dire threat.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Thu Jul 28, 2011 10:14 am

Ghurlag wrote:Expect my crit to haunt a thread near you soon!


*calls in the Ghostbusters*
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My current fiction projects - Veergati: The Scarlet Records, an Indian space opera inspired by Star Trek.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Ghurlag » Fri Jul 29, 2011 2:28 pm


-

Act One

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Chapter One

   “The groans of those who fell
Were drown'd amid the shriller clang
That from the blades and harness rang,
   And in the battle-yell.
Yet fast they fell, unheard, forgot,
Men of Albany laid to rot; “

(From “The Battle at Sturl” by Skar Bonfurth)


The blow should have killed Eoghann. He wouldn't know this for some time, but the way he had slipped in the mud after his spear had been slapped aside was one of a million minute variables which saved his life that day. The resultant tilt of his head meant that a blow which would otherwise have exposed his brain merely stripped the flesh from his skull. The pouring rain which soaked the battlefield prevented his opponent from seeing this error and striking again. Eoghann's ankles had buckled and toppled him to the floor, letting all around him believe he was a dead man.

The orc had walked right over him. Literally. He had felt the thick leathery soles of his hulking opponent through his sodden tunic, and experienced briefly the rib-crushing weight of the greenskin warrior. The breath had been driven right out of him by the pressure, and he lost all capacity for thought as stars whirled in the confusion that was his universe.

Then the pressure was gone, and the stars with it. The darkness remained.

“Glazgaaah!” an inhuman voice cheered nearby, drowning the heavy breathing and clanging of battle.

“Glazgaaahh!”

Quickly, answering calls roared in response. There could not be many more than a score of the fiends, and yet their battle-lust made their voices resound like that of a horde. Not for the first time, Eoghann felt his heart quiver with terror.

There was a human scream, one of pain, and an animal snarl to accompany it as a body hit the dirt somewhere to Eoghann's right. The moans of his fellow men spelt out the tragedy of another poor soul fallen. He winced in sympathy.

He could feel his hand again now. He knew he had a dagger at his belt. He should rise, give aid to his clansmen, strike the Glazgah from behind. Lifting his aching head, he found that a mixture of mud and blood stained his vision, dirt forcing him to blink his eyes clear as rivulets of crimson lifeforce poured down his face to puddle on the ground below him.

Eoghann felt his throat clench in fear. Suddenly he realised the full extent of his injury, and the pain in his skull was amplified tenfold. This was no mere flesh wound, no slip of a dagger. He was bleeding heavily, his skull splitting with the pain. If he could have dared, he would have groaned with pain. If he had the energy, he would have writhed in agony.

Moments of sodden self-pity passed. He sobbed silent prayers of hatred to the sky as it whipped him mercilessly with rain. Ill-advisedly, he raised a hand to his head, instantly retracting it as his fingertips brushed against sore lumps of flesh.

The contact had been as brief as imaginable, yet his hand was stained red when next he saw it through the rain and dirt. He imagined he could feel blood spurting loose now, his pulse throbbing around his skull.

“For Cyldebar!” came a hoarse cry. That was a human voice. Eoghann knew the man it belonged to. He had shared a mug with that man back in Dagsanstan, before they had received the order to move north to join Uillace in Balloch. He should rise for that man; rise and draw his dagger, and defend the honour of his sept and clan by giving battle.

“Kill the 'umies!” another voice called in response. “Glazgaah!”

Eoghann sobbed into the mud and blood below him. He could not rise. Worse still, it was no fatigue or injury which laid him low. His legs were fine, his brain unaddled. It was simply that, having fallen, he could not find the heart to rise once more and face the orcs. His brain spoke of courage, but his heart knew only fear and loathsome cowardice.

Where he lay, he was out of sight and out of mind. He was a corpse to the world, and, no matter how he willed it different, terror made him hold tight to that fragment of dishonourable invisibility.

So as the awkward, brutal sounds of battle continued around him, Eoghann Dagsan of Cyldebar lay in the mud and sobbed his self-hatred silently into Albany's uncaring soil.

When the cries of his fellows resounded no more, and only the animal grunting of the orcs reached his ears, Eoghann lay fully still on the ground, blissful silence embracing him as he fled the torment that was the conscious realm.

As the misty veil of Albion is cast aside, we turn our gaze to the war-torn island of Albany, where the Red King vies with his former master for the control of a realm in dire threat.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Gaius Marius » Sat Jul 30, 2011 4:41 am

Nice Ghur. Although how did the Orks get into Albany? I thought it was all surrounded by storms and what not.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Raziel4707 » Sat Jul 30, 2011 10:10 am

A very engaging read throughout, Ghurlag!

Your imagery is very clear and imaginitive, really painting a vista for me without devolving into an info-dump of purple prose. A gift for descriptive writing is a blessing but keeping it reined in is a real skill, so kudos for that.

Intrigued by Lachlann and his history, certainly wish to know more though his background did skirt a little close to becoming tangential at some points for me.

In a few places you've over used your s sounds, if I had the time I'd highlight where this was done but I think there are two distinct sections where a quick polish would really aid the flow of the story. When I have a moment I'll try and be more specific but you know how it is, trying to drown Mr Dunn in prose and all that.

A million battles? Seems exessively hyperbolic to me for even so fearsome a man to have been involved in a million battles, that would make him unfathomably old even to have had the time. Love the idea of his eyes though, the thousand yard stare is such a useful and frightening weapon for someone to have, particularly when they also happen to be hard as nails to back it up.

The ork section is very interesting, particularly as it sets Eoghann up for a shot at redemption later on, I look forward to seeing how this snivelling wretch comes good, or at least tries and dies bloody.

Overall an enjoyable read to be sure, my interest is piqued and it's always good to see some WHF on the forum, especially when it's been done so well.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Ghurlag » Sat Jul 30, 2011 12:43 pm

Ooh, Comments!

Gaius: You're right to pick at that. The background to the Glazgah will become clearer later on, when more focus shifts to them (They're reasonably peripheral, though key, at the moment), but there's no harm in me quickly explaining that they remain here from the last time the wards were cast aside, during what Lachlann called the Shadows, and that they're not the only things to do so.

Raziel: Thankee kindly, I do my best to please. As I said to Shadow, Lachlann's tale is going to be on the slow-burner, which I somewhat regret now that people are showing such interest in him! He will be spotted down the line, though.

I'd be interested in catching those passages when you have the time, though I do understand about the writing. I had a look for the 'million battles' line you mentioned but couldn't spot it. From what you say it sounds like a line I wrote about Hrut? I'll go through the prelude again with a finer toothcomb.

Thanks to you both for the interest. The second part of Chapter 1 should be up soon.

As the misty veil of Albion is cast aside, we turn our gaze to the war-torn island of Albany, where the Red King vies with his former master for the control of a realm in dire threat.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Ghurlag » Sat Jul 30, 2011 3:44 pm

+ + +

Uillace Dunfurth, Red King of Albany, narrowed his eyes against the thinning drizzle. From where he sat astride his pony, he could take in almost the whole of the sorrowfully familiar scene in front of him.

Ten corpses lay scattered around the open ground, all young men. They were all, without a doubt, dead. To the right, the shoddy huts the men appeared to have been living in were torn open, their contents strewn in the dirt, evidence that no hidden survivors remained. The three Picked Men responsible stood with their heads bowed in the midst of the carnage they had wrought. Around them, blood pooled, swirling in the gathered rainwater.

“Your account,” he pressed them.

Eanraig, the senior of the trio, raised his head. Despite the rainwater dripping from his long, rough-cut hair, the blue stain of the man's war-paint was still clearly visible across his cheeks. Beneath a shoddily-trimmed beard, Uillace could see the sheen of the man's golden torque.

“We spotted their fire from the road,” the warrior began. “Your man's captain was busy dealing with the complaints of the levied men, so we took it upon ourselves to scout alone. We crossed the meadow with blades bared, 'ware that they may be foes.”

He lifted his bloodstained claymore by way of an explanation, before continuing.

“They were alert, and saw us approach across the meadow. As we called out to them, they gathered together and drew arms. We offered them quarter, but they would have none.”

He spared a glance for some of the corpses around him. “We slew them to a man, searched their camp in haste, and called your captain.”

Uillace nodded thoughtfully.

“And he called for me,” he finished. The Picked Man inclined his head in acknowledgement.

Once again, Uillace thanked his luck in gaining the service of Eanraig and his kind. If this tale had been told by any other brand of warrior, Uillace would have questioned how three men could slay ten without so much as a mark between them. But these were Picked Men, and Uillace had seen such great feats from the fierce warriors often enough for their dread skill to have become commonplace in his mind.

He stared at the kilt of the nearest fallen man. It was coated in mud and splattered with gore, but it was still possible to read the tartan weave. Unsurprisingly, these were men of Clan Balloch. The sept-marks were obscured, but hardly mattered.

“They are all of Balloch?” he asked.

“Aye, sire,” Eanraig responded.

“Did any man cry out in favour of Drostan?”

The Picked Man shook his head, dislodging raindrops in a miniature shower, which trickled down his jerkin.

“Narry a word in his favour, sire. Yet they took up a cry 'gainst your own person.”

Uillace nodded. He could ask what the cry had been, but it hardly seemed relevant, and he had heard almost all of them by now. He shifted in his saddle and squinted at Dughlas, who sat silently astride his own mount.

“What's your mind, friend?” he asked.

Dughlas chewed his lip momentarily, and shook a raindrop from his nose before speaking.

“Sounds to be that they are but rebels, liege. Maybe they were in Drostan's employ, but I think not, and there is no tie to him that I can see. I would not cast doubt on your mastery of these lands based on these few rebels. They could be but mere bandits with a disaffection for your rule.”

Uillace turned back to regard the corpses.

“Our minds agree,” he announced. “Drostan's recruiters and strife-stirrers pull back to Fort Ivern with his troops, as we have seen. Those few that still support him in Balloch do so independent of his aid, and we can proceed against them with little to fear. More than aught, I think, these men stood and took arms for their own clan, not the High Clans. 'Tis simple unrest, and not much more.”

He glanced at the nearest body again, noting the deep gash which had rent the man's side. He would make sure to mention that image to the Skar – it seemed a fitting metaphor for his conquest of Balloch. Of course, Drostan was not yet dead, but nonetheless...

“Our pressing worry is no longer the armies of the High Clans,” he said, not certain if he was addressing Dughlas, himself, or all present. “I doubt Drostan shall sally southwards this season, whipped as he is.”

“Word comes that he leaves Ivern and returns to Granborgh for the winter,” interjected Dughlas.

Uillace raised an eyebrow – he hadn't heard this news. He would have to query Dughlas on the oversight later.

“Even better,” he continued. “Yet, as I say, the cur of the north should not be the focus of our current attentions. Instead we must strengthen our grasp here in Balloch. If by the next summer we can be confident of our support here, then we are better-placed to push northwards, to Iverry itself.”

A few of the men present muttered a refrain of those last two words. Iverry itself. To take the war to the prize of the High Clans, and Drostan's own homelands – that would be a true mark of how the tables had turned on the self-styled High King of Albany.

Uillace's lips twitched in a self-congratulating smile. Any moment where he could inspire his men was a good one. He turned his pony away from the strewn corpses and pointed it back across the meadow towards the road.

“Dughlas,” he called. “Divide up what spoils there are as you see fit, and then rejoin me at the head of the road.”

“Aye, sire,” his faithful clansman replied. The group around him immediately set to searching the ground for trinkets of value, with the exception of the three Picked Men, who stood disdainfully on the sidelines, cleaning their blades with handfuls of grass. They would be compensated for their service by Dughlas himself, and needed no finder's share.

Uillace set his pony to a gentle trot through the sodden meadow, and regarded the landscape around him. The rain was clearing, and it was now possible to see the more distant hills and vales. He made a point of looking west, where the greatest part of Balloch's clanlands stretched before him, illuminated by the dull sunlight that filtered through the clouds.

Out there still were many who would oppose him. From rag-tag groups of bandits – now one less in number – to women and children who cursed his name as his men marched on past. Yet there were none in opposition so strong that he could not tear them down. Drostan had withdrawn, conceding the ground, and the other clans were too wrapped in their own affairs to intervene. Balloch was his, if he could find the way to grasp it.

As the misty veil of Albion is cast aside, we turn our gaze to the war-torn island of Albany, where the Red King vies with his former master for the control of a realm in dire threat.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Gaius Marius » Sun Jul 31, 2011 1:12 am

Awesome Ghur, vary scottish. Is it just me or did their dialogue seem almost lyrical, like they were talking in poem?
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Ghurlag » Mon Aug 01, 2011 1:17 am

Cheers, Gaius, I was hoping to get the scottish vibe stirring. I certainly didn't intend to write the dialogue in poem! There's no way I'd be able to sustain that. Maybe it's down to the 'old' feel of the language? Pleased to see you're still reading, thanks for the post.

EDIT: As result of a late-night writing spree, see the concluding piece of Chapter One below. Comments and critique welcomed from all quarters!

As the misty veil of Albion is cast aside, we turn our gaze to the war-torn island of Albany, where the Red King vies with his former master for the control of a realm in dire threat.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Ghurlag » Mon Aug 01, 2011 3:34 am

+ + +


Balloch belonged to the Red King. Like the rain, the cold and his eventual death Dunlibhe was not happy about it, but he could neither deny nor avoid it. What had begun at Paisley Fields as a treachery amidst the heather had taken on an entirely different form at Sturl, to the extent that Dunlibhe's men were the only of Drostan's forces that could be said to be retreating in good order. The Balloch clan-chief was dead along with most of his septsmen, and what men of Clan Balloch still alive were scattering to the wind. Drostan's son Seoras had fled to Fort Ivern immediately after Sturl, and by the account passed back to Dunlibhe's outrider he was now dying of his septic wounds in a filthy cot in the South Tower. Foul news, but at least it gave cheer to his bitterly abandoned men.

“Dunlibhe,” came a weary voice from ahead. Dunlibhe brought his hand up to shield his eyes from the rain. It was Donnchadh, his outrider. He couldn't decide whether the man or his pony were the most bedraggled-looking of the pair.

“Aye?” he responded.

“You'll see the Ivern ahead ere long. I thought the men might be glad of that.”

They might indeed. The rearguard, such as it was, were confident that Uillace's men had given up the pursuit, but days of hard marching with scant food had taken their toll on the disheartened men. Fatigue and loss of the injured prickled at already wounded morale. Dunlibhe was frankly surprised they had followed him this far. The sight of the river meant that home was not far for the men of Iverry, which was both a relief and a danger. Some of them would see their clan-lands on the opposite banks, and such sights provoked thoughts of homesteads and families amongst the levied men.

“I'll see they look for it,” he promised. “How far to the fort, and rest?”

Donnchadh wavered as he considered his response.

“The next day, torquewearer,” he said. “I would say nightfall, but our pace is laggardly of late.”

Dunlibhe accepted the criticism with a nod, and continued to walk into the rain. What the rider said was true, but he dared not push the men any harder. Aside from Donnchadh and Ruairidh, the other Picked Man in the group of survivors, he had few supporters in the ranks. He was no appointed general, he commanded because of the respect the men had for the torque at his neck and the blade on his back. That respect had strengthened during the hard march, but it was still a fragile thing.

As the march crested the following hill, the Ivern's gushing flow came into sight, and the front ranks – if men stumbling in the mud could be called that – let out a ragged cheer. The news passed back, and soon all twenty-score or so men were shouting in relief. Those who had held onto their weapons during the rout waved them in the air. For the first time in a while, Dunlibhe saw grins on their faces.

Donnchadh's assessment of their progress turned out to be correct, and that night they once again set camp in the heath. The mood, however, was a joyful one. Donnchadh promised that Fort Ivern lay within a few hours fast travel, and the news that this would be their last night in the cold cheered even the dourest of clansmen. As he sat and tried to warm himself by the fire, Dunlibhe found himself interrupted many times by men who clasped his hand with earnest thanks.

“You got us out of there,” one blonde-haired young lad said reverently. “I thought for sure I'd be decorating some Glazgah banner by now.”

“Feel free to go back and try it,” Dunlibhe joked awkwardly. Honestly, he wasn't sure what to do with the praise, but he nodded appreciably at what the men said and that seemed to satisfy them.

The mood sobered in the morning, as the men adjusted to the realisation that they whilst they were returning home, they were doing so in disgrace rather than decked in trophies. Dunlibhe felt their pain. He was a Picked Man. Defeat was not something their kind were used to, whatever the circumstances, and it seethed in his gut that it wasn't the Red King who was slinking back home like a mangled wildcat. Nonetheless, he could not deny there was still a certain relief in crossing the Wide Bridge once again.

As he reached the midpoint of the great stone crossing, the buckle on Albany's belt of water, he stepped to the side, waving the ranks to continue. He watched them step past, some calling out to him, others reaching out to clasp his hand. When Ruairidh reached him, leading the rearguard, the torquewearer stepped out to join him. They nodded at each other, and stood in silence for a while, watching the last of the men cross over and continue the walk to the gates of Fort Ivern, no further direction needed now they walked on their own clan's soil. Finally, Dunlibhe turned and regarded the river itself.

The Ivern was the largest and fiercest river in Albany, and some said it even rivalled the Cymber in Albion. Fed from tributaries in the great Skyre mountain range, it swept east in a gushing torrent of dangerous rapids. Just to the east of Wide Bridge it split its force into two children, the southern fork becoming the River Aden, which fed Uillace's capital at Adenmouth, the northern fork retaining its sire's name and dividing the lands of the Mintloch and Aberfuth clans all the way to the shore. Dunlibhe briefly wondered which way the current would thrust him if he leapt in now. Would he find himself washed up against the Red King's keep?

“Best be going,” muttered Ruairidh solemnly. With a sad nod, Dunlibhe turned and followed his fellow warrior to the gates of Fort Ivern.

He was barely inside the gates of the squat stone fort before he was called upon. All around him, the fort stewards were bringing food and other aid to his needy men, and asking for their leader, their representative. He was somewhat resentful of how quickly the fingers stabbed at him. In no time at all, he was standing before Fearghas Dhomhnuill, a well-respected septschief who it seemed had been appointed Ward of the Fort in light of Seoras' illness. The man looked tired and weary from the new command.

“You did good getting them here,” Fearghas said, proffering a cup of thick ale. Dunlibhe's stomach rebelled at the idea of drink without food, and he set it aside uneasily.

“Are there others already here?” he asked instead.

Fearghas nodded.

“Prince Seoras's men, o'course. Some more a few days ahead of you. A wretched lot, nothing like your group.”

“So you know of Sturl?”

Fearghas nodded regretfully.

“Aye, more or less,” he admitted. “Did the Red King really treat with the Glazgah?”

Dunlibhe shuddered at the memory.

“They tore into the Balloch flank like wolves on a sheep,” he related, scratching at Fearghas's wooden desk. “The Red King kept his distance until they were committed, then marched his Sou'men at Seoras and brought the Cyldebar and his own men on the rest of us. We held until the Glazgah tore down the Balloch chief, then Seoras buckled and it turned into a hunt.”

He sighed. “I'd not say for certain the Glazgah let the Red King's men be, but someone must'a led them to the field. That field, on that day, with what they won the Red King's men. What other man would do it?”

“What man would choose the greenskin for his ally?” Fearghas muttered in response, his dark face rent by a scowl.“He must be as mad as Murrough.”

“And nigh as much blood on his hands,” agreed Dunlibhe. He winced as he realised what other parallels might be drawn. Whatever his other faults, Murrough the Tyrannical had a certain reputation for success.

As the misty veil of Albion is cast aside, we turn our gaze to the war-torn island of Albany, where the Red King vies with his former master for the control of a realm in dire threat.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Ghurlag » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:32 pm


Chapter Two


“And O! amid that waste of life,
What various motives fired the strife!
The aspiring King bled for fame,
The Clan-chief for his lordly claim;
These men with youthful strength to prove,
And each to win his lady's love; “


(From “The Battle at Sturl” by Skar Bonfurth)

Eoghann flinched as the hand closed on his wrist. His head was stuffed with clouds from his long rest, and the sudden motion set him swooning. He could taste grit between his teeth, and felt a strange tightness on his left brow. Was that mud? Blood? He struggled to focus his thoughts. Something about his arm. Oh, please the stones, let it not be broken. No, wait! The hand! Orcs!

He flung himself up in a panic, his mind filled with tales of men roasted alive over Glazgah cookfires.

“Gerroff!” he managed to blurt indistinctly before the swoon struck again, a dizzying sensation rippling from his head to his stomach and back. He captured a brief glimpse of a field of mud-coated corpses as he fell to join them. Darkness gathered again. When he shook himself awake next he could hear a low muttering above him.

“....a.........som......telling you.....urth...” came one voice, syllables snatched away by the wind.

“It.....si....say it is,” replied another, sharper than the first and drawing closer. “Have you got a better idea?”

Whatever the short response was, it didn't seem to sway the owner of the second voice.

“Look, he's stirring again.” It commented, almost right above him.

Eoghann turned onto his back, shuddering as his stomach heaved. His ribs felt sore, his back ached and he was becoming aware of just how cold he was. How long had he laid here?

“You just lay and settle,” the figure above him advised, kneeling down next to him. As it approached, Eoghann could make out the weathered, drooping features of an old woman, wisps of bone-white hair framing a mole-speckled face. He inwardly sneered at his earlier terror. Orcs indeed.

“Me name's Ciostadh,” she said soothingly. “Are ye alright? Can ye speak?”

“Eoghann,” he rasped in response, surprised at how dry his throat felt.

“What was that, lad?” she queried, fussing with something on his chest.

“Eoghann,” he repeated. “My name.”

“Ah, good,” she said, apparently checking his shoulder for damage. “With that cut on yer head I worried yer brain might be addled.”

Perhaps it was just his imagination, but she almost sounded disappointed. He could see a second figure approaching, an old man with grey hair and a stooped back, presumably the owner of the other voice he had heard. Ciostadh saw his gaze shift and half-turned.

“Ah, dinnae fret,” she advised him when she saw the man. Eoghann hadn't been doing, but he didn't have the strength to interject. “That spineless speck o' a man is just Niall, who likes to call me his wife.”

“Likes is a bit strong,” shot Niall, his voice surprisingly hale for one so old.

“We'll switch then!” she snapped back. “Stones know ye could be my wife if yer credentials fit the bill.”

She shook her head at Eoghann conspiratorially. “Dinnae mind our bickering, lad, we're too old to stop.” She gestured at his prone form. “Shall we set ye up?”

He consented, and with Niall's help she manoeuvred him so he was propped up against something neither rock nor hill, which felt eerily soft and stank of dried blood. The world was spinning slightly when they had finished, but it was nothing like his earlier swoon.

“There ye are,” Ciostadh pronounced. Eoghann let his gaze wash over her and her husband. They were both short, and bone-thin in that way only the old could achieve. Their clothes were drab – thick shawls covering tattered rags. No sept-marks were in evidence, marking them as desolates.

“Thanks to you both,” he managed. He let his gaze wander, and caught sight of a man's body a few yards away, and another beyond that. Memory washed over him, followed by a wave of shame.

“If ye don't mind our asking, lad,” began Niall almost precisely at the worst moment, “what happened here, to leave ye half a corpse among twenty?”

I became a coward, Eoghann sighed inwardly, but he swallowed his guilt to respond.

“We were headed north to join the Red King in Balloch,” he said, trying to clear his mouth of the grit of dirt. “Chief Seumas sent the call to Dagsanstan just after that battle up Sturl-ways, so the men o' the sept gathered arms and set to walking. Two days out, we were. The sight of armed men must'a drawn some Glazgah from the hills, before we knew it the green devils were on us.”

The telling of it was pitifully brief, but he couldn't help but shudder at the memory. The Glazgah were bigger, faster and stronger than any man he'd ever met. He'd seen one get stuck with a spear and tear apart the wielder as if it hadn't happened. Another had crushed his father's head in its beastly hand like a ripe fruit, ignorant of the blades at its chest. What men could fight such devils?

He craned his neck to look past the old couple, who were shaking their heads with due solemnity at his tale.

“Did we slay even one of them?” he asked, despairing. “Are there any bodies with a skin of green?” The couple looked at him oddly.

“Lad,” said Ciostadh slowly. “Ye be set against one.”

He sprung up in a thoughtless panic, whirling to view his prop. The scarred, hideous face of a dead orc stared back up at him. Two blades were driven to the hilt in its chest, and an ugly black gash laid bare its throat. Blood, mud and rain soaked its sheephide vest.

“At least we know ye can stand,” smiled Ciostadh weakly, taking hold of his arm with a consoling yet firm grip. After a little while, she made to move, the grip unrelenting. Silently, Eoghann let himself be led away.

As the misty veil of Albion is cast aside, we turn our gaze to the war-torn island of Albany, where the Red King vies with his former master for the control of a realm in dire threat.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Maugan Ra » Thu Aug 04, 2011 1:11 am

Ooh... interesting. Shall continue to read as you continue to write, as it certainly seems rather interesting.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Ghurlag » Thu Aug 04, 2011 1:37 am

Thanks, Maugan, it's good to know someone's reading. Glad I've captured your interest.

As the misty veil of Albion is cast aside, we turn our gaze to the war-torn island of Albany, where the Red King vies with his former master for the control of a realm in dire threat.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Thu Aug 04, 2011 10:58 am

Ghurlag wrote:[centre]
Act One
-
Chapter One
[i]


A new character! Very nice, descriptive piece and really vivid imagery that you can almost visualize whole. Eoghann's frustration is also very real, and so are his motivations. Although truth be told, I am waiting for when an Orc realizes that he is alive and comes around to take a bite (literally) out of him. Nice one :)

And another one! I like this Uillace. It seems very much like how the events have developed in Game of Thrones towards the end, with Uillace taking the role of the Ned Stark's eldest son and Drostan the role of Joffrey Lannister. I like this piece, since it really shows that all is not well within Albany and there are lots of potential spin-offs of this piece that I can see. Eagerly await the continuation of this plot.

Just a question though, is there supposed to be any difference between Iverry and Ivern?

As Gaius said, the Scottish vibe is quite strong here and something I like seeing in WHF. It is not overdone and it is not underdone either. You have struck a nice balance here I believe.

For piece#3 of Ch1, what is heather? Also later on in the piece "Would find himself washed up against the Red King's keep?" I am not sure what this is supposed to be conveying, looks like an unfinished sentence. I like this ending to the chapter, really dramatic, forceful and promises that the tale of these new characters is nowhere near finished.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Ghurlag » Thu Aug 04, 2011 11:24 am

Hey shadow! Thanks for the comments, they're really helpful

New characters all around in the first chapter! I'm glad that people seem to be approaching Eoghann like I do - you can understand why he does what he does, but you still hate him for it.

I'm no George R R Martin, but i'm glad of the comparison! I do hope for this story to have a little complexity and background to it, and I'm glad to see you're finding the hints so far interesting. An interesting comparison there - Drostan would be 'King of the North' if you went off geography, but Uillace is indeed the rebel king, making him closer to Robb.

There is a distinction between Iverry and Ivern - Iverry is the name of Drostan's own clan (and the land they control, the men of Albany make no distinction between those two), whereas Ivern is the name of the river which divides the Low Clans from the High, which gives its name more directly to Fort Ivern, where Dunlibhe ended up in the third section. The Iverry clan is also named for the river, but from an older root, hence the difference. Hopefully this became a little clearer in the third section.

Your heather question threw me, I'll admit - I hadn't considered that people might not be familiar with it, and I'm quite delighted to have that assumption revealed to me! It's a plant that typically grows on hillsides, it's reasonably common here. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ericaceae.

Good catch on that sentence, as well. I somehow missed out the word 'he' - I'll fix that right away.

Cheers for your eyes on this, not only is it useful, it's cheering to find you're enjoying it. A continuation to CH2 will be up tonight!

As the misty veil of Albion is cast aside, we turn our gaze to the war-torn island of Albany, where the Red King vies with his former master for the control of a realm in dire threat.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Thu Aug 04, 2011 11:29 am

Yep no problem mate :)

I'll get to Chapter 2 sometime later this evening. Slight change in my work so I no longer have my laptop in front of me all the time.
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Thu Aug 04, 2011 9:45 pm

Forgot to ask.

Why the constant references to septs? Is the concept there in Scottish culture? Asking mostly because I read sept and I think of Tau :?
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Re: The Land of Two Kings

Postby Ghurlag » Thu Aug 04, 2011 10:07 pm

+++

Uillace awoke with the false dawn, a habit born of the campaign trail, of camps which must be organised and men which must be addressed. For once, though, he had no need to rise. Instead, he turned on his side and watched the faint light filter through the tent fabric and play over his wife's slumbering form. For a moment, he wished he had the talents of his Skar, that he might describe her tender beauty, and the joy it gave him.

Time passed, and the light grew stronger. Restless, he bent over Ceana and left a kiss on her cheek. A pale, smooth hand reached up and stroked his face.

“Now who might this be?” Ceana's light voice pondered. “One of my husband's men, perhaps, come to comfort me as he rides to war?”

“They wouldn't dare,” Uillace said, grinning at her viciously.

“Oh, what loyal men he has,” she laughed, “to play their roles with such dedication. So considerate of my virtue, they are.”

She turned and regarded him thoughtfully. “Do you not have duties to attend to?” she asked, serious again.

“They can wait,” he replied.

“A good king dallies with his warriors, not his wife,” she reminded him, a twinkle still evident in her amber eyes. The hand had not left his face.

“Aye?” Uillace responded, drawing closer. “Then I must make a bad king indeed.”

“Well then,” she said, drawing him into an embrace. “Let us see if you make a good husband instead.”

A little while later, as they lay entwined in the tangled sheets, Uillace heard the dull trudge of approaching footsteps, followed by a tactfully loud cough. A faint shadow marked a figure at the tent-flap.

“What is it, Dughlas?” he called.

He saw the outline of the figure shift as a sensible Dughlas pulled back from entering.

“Two messengers for you, chief,” he replied. “A man from Kilkirk with a sombre look, and a Sou'lander with an eye for gold.”

Uillace muttered some curses that only Ceana was privy to, then began to rise.

“Call Seumas and the Thumbrian,” he instructed loudly, “and Eanraig, too. I'll take them by the campfires.”

“Aye, chief,” came Dughlas's reply. As his man left, Uillace began to struggle into his leggings and jerkin. A naked Ceana rose from the bed to tidy his collar. She caught his hungry look and raised an eyebrow pointedly.

“If you hurry back I may still be here,” she said teasingly, slipping back into the sheets.

“My decisions will be appropriately rash,” he promised her, before thrusting aside the tent-flap.

It was an uncommonly bright morning, and his eyes took some time to adjust to the glare. It was still early, but signs of life could be seen in the camp. A rag-tag gang of children scurried down the alleys between tents, giggling. Seeing a flash of familiar red hair, he reached out and grabbed one of them by the collar. The culprit writhed momentarily, the others paused and then scattered.

“What's this great blade I see before me?” Uillace probed, gesturing at the wooden sword clutched in his son's grubby fingers.

“It's a claymore,” the young Uillace responded, waving it proudly. “Dughlas gave it me.”

The Red King laughed. It sounded like something Dughlas would do.

“Does Brighde know where you are?” he asked. The boy's eyes darted nervously at the mention of his nurse.

“No, don't tell me,” Uillace said, changing his mind “I'd rather you didn't lie.” He dropped down into a conspiratorial crouch.

“You know,” he whispered. “I think there's a pot of woad outside the Skar's tent. A certain wee torquewearer might well know how to make use of that.”

The boy was gone in a flash, his friends re-materialising from the shadows to join him. Uillace smiled after them, filled with a certain jealousy, then continued on to the camp's centre.

Eanraig was already there, the formidable painted warrior rising from the fire as though he had remained there all night. Next to him stood Seumas, chief of Cyldebar, quite possibly the only man in the camp Uillace could call his equal. It was Seumas's support which had led to their victory at Sturl, and which allowed him to extend his control into Balloch in this manner. He greeted them both warmly. They were both invaluable to his cause.

A few moments later, Duhlas appeared, leading three men. One was a tired-looking dark-haired man with angular features that seemed to speak of a hard life. The second man wore close-cropped grey hair and clothes which marked him as a Sou'lander. He was glaring with some suspicion at the third man, who was a blonde giant in similar attire.

“Aelle,” called Uillace, stepping forth to greet the blonde. “I thought you may want to be present for this.”
The man glanced at the other Sou'lander.

“Aye, that may be so,” he replied softly. Though Uillace could not entirely trust him, he had grown to respect the Thumbrian captain's sage advice, particularly when it came to battle. If nothing else, the five hundred men he led were currently among the best-equipped force on Albany.

Dughlas nodded to his chief and stepped off to the side. Aelle greeted Eanraig and Seumas in soft tones as Uillace surveyed the two messengers. Best to deal with the predictable one first, perhaps.

“You come from Cymbri,” he said to the grey-haired man, slipping into his most polished Sou'man dialect. The messenger was slightly taken aback, but rallied quickly.

“Aye, clanschief,” he replied. “I sailed first for Adenmouth, but I found you already gone. My king-”

“Interesting how King Leovitis's man found me in time,” Uillace cut in. He cast a pointed look at Aelle. “Indeed, it seems to me that King Canne has been quite slow to respond to many of my letters of late. Are the Ayresmen troubling Cymbi shipping again?”

The messenger scowled, spotting where this was going.

“Respectfully, clanschief, you need-”

“I need one King from the north of Albion,” Uillace cut in again. “Not two. I choose the man who responded to my request for aid before I trounced Drostan in the field for the second time. Would you now stand here in front of the good captain Aelle and ask me to hedge my wagers against his lord, a trusted friend in times of need?”

Aelle was smiling beneath his beard. No doubt Leovitis would hear good things of this. He'd better – Uillace needed trade to Albion to keep his ports full, and Canne was seeming less and less likely to provide that. The messenger decided to cut his losses, and bowed deeply before stepping away. Uillace turned to the second man.

“You ride from Kilkirk?” he asked, speaking like a man of Albany again. The man nodded sharply.

“Chief Uillidh has nought to fear from me,” Uillace promised. “I've no interest in waging a war to take up his burdens. I'll hold to his pact with Balloch.”

“Good to know, clanschief,” the man responded, twisting his head regretfully, “but I fear that's not my purpose. Chief Uillidh wants you made aware that Fort Resba has fallen. He calls for aid from any who can give it.”
Uillace was momentarily shaken. The hardy warriors of Kilkirk and Skyre had been fighting for so long in the west that he had never thought they could be forced from their rocks. He glanced at Seumas, who looked similarly shocked.

“The Dal Reodi?” the Cyldebar chief asked. The messenger nodded.

“Aye,” he said bitterly, “the bastards took us on the field, then slipped in through an open gate. The Skyre men slipped away in the night, and none know why. Uillidh hopes to retake the fort come spring, but he fears the Ayresmen may not relent for so long. He needs men to bolster Kilkirk itself, or else the clan might be pushed back to Fort Balloch, or worse.”

Uillace shared another glance with Seumas, and considered what was being asked. Winter was fast approaching, and Drostan was unlikely to strike again this season. But he'd be using the winter to draw men to him in the north, and come the thaws Uillace would need every man he had to resist the High King. If the Dal Reodi spread east they would be a danger, but that only mattered if he managed to survive the spring.

“Send your chief my sorrow,” he said eventually, seeing disappointment bloom on the man's face, and feeling a tug of empathy for him. “I cannae spare him my men until Drostan lies dead. Uillidh will have to hold until then.”

As the misty veil of Albion is cast aside, we turn our gaze to the war-torn island of Albany, where the Red King vies with his former master for the control of a realm in dire threat.
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