King Sortsill swiped the back of his hand across the table, scattering the clay armies onto the floor.
Another knock rattled the door. Bruhn, the elderly butler, poked his white-haired head in and cleared his throat. “Your majesty, the assembly has been waiting three hours. They’re becoming rather impatient.”
“Tell them if they want to survive they’ll wait an extra five! The fools!”
The door burst open. Lord Drephin, a short noble that governed the South of Tavalask, stood there, holding the sides of his large middle. Bruhn stabbed the fat man in the back with his brown-eyed glare.
“We’re the fools?!” Drephin large face reddened. “We’re trying to get back home to equip our people!”
King Sortsill rose and slammed his hands on the table.
General Erturn held his hand up. “Let me speak with him, your majesty.”
Sortsill swallowed back the rage. “No, I will meet with the assembly. Ready the elites. You march in three hours.”
“Understood.” The general touched his right fist to his left shoulder then to the middle of his chest in salute.
“Finally.” Drephin scowled.
King Sortsill glared. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t run you through where you stand?”
“Excuse me! Without me, you’d practically have a rebellion on your hands with how you’ve been running this country.”
“You are the rebellion! Gorging yourself while the rest of your people starve! Get out of my sight now before I slaughter you like the pathetic pig you are!”
“You’ll rue those words, Sortsill.”
“It is King Sortsill!” He drew his sword.
Drephin’s face turned white. He stumbled backward before running from the room.
Sortstill hefted his weapon above his head and slammed it on the wooden table. As it splintered, the crack flowed through King Sortsill’s ears and gave his heart a moment of peace. His breaths came in heavy rasps. He closed his eyes.
“Yes, your majesty?”
“Tell Queen Sairsasa that I wish to speak with her after I direct the assembly.”
“Consider it already done.” He turned to leave.
“Yes?” He looked back at Sortsill.
“Pack a small bag for Listross. Just the necessities.”
Sortsill closed his eyes and swallowed. “And for Queen Sairsasa.”
The air became thick with the silence of desperation.
Bruhn bowed low. “I understand. It will be done.”
King Sortsill watched him leave, wishing he could form a proper good-bye.
He wedged his sword out from the table and sheathed it.
Time to tell everyone they’re going to die, he thought and walked to the assembly hall.
As he walked through the familiar halls, he brushed his fingers against the walls. Praying silently to the various gods that came to mind.
He pushed open the back door and walked to the podium. The curved rows of seats were completely filled with noblemen and their families from all across Tavalask. Silence rushed up the rows.
“I know you all are worried. You have hungry citizens dying of starvation. We haven’t seen rain in months. The fish have fled our shores and our livestock refuse to produce offspring. And now there’s an army marching towards us.”
The guests shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
“We are sending troops out to meet the legions coming for us, but we do not have good odds. Ferronya has played up. They in exchange for the food we’ve sent them, they supplied us with weapons, keeping the best for themselves. Ours shatter when met with theirs.”
A nobleman midway back stood, “Your majesty, what about the border towns already under Ferronya’s power.”
Sortsill nodded. “Five major cities have been taken and the hamlets and villages between them. From our reports, eighty percent of the citizens of those cities did not survive.”
Gasps and murmurs filled the room. Others cried. Sortsill felt his heart break.
“Do not give up hope. Return to your cities. Return to your people. Join with them in bearing arms. Whatever they can find. Ferroyna is coming. Prepare yourselves for battle.”
Polib, a widow now in charge of the northern region stood. “What about the famine. How do we get our citizens to fight if they are barely strong enough to move.”
“Remind them.” Sortsill grasped the edges of the podium and licked his lips. “Slavery, or more likely death, is what awaits if they refuse to fight. It is better for us to die fighting for our land than to surrender and give our land to the monsters from Ferronya.
“Remind them, also, that there is a plan and a hope. Times will be dark. Darker than now. Darker than we’ve ever seen. It will take years to restore us, but Tavalask will rise again!”’
An indistinguishable face in the back row stood and saluted. “For Tavalask!”
King Sortsill returned the salute.
Polib stood and saluted. “For Tavalask!”
One by one, each member rose and gave his pledge. Each knowing in his or her heart that it would no doubt be their last time doing so.
King Sortsill met each one in the eyes before drawing his sword once again. “Now go!”
The rows bowed like waves crashing against a shore and departed.
It was proper to watch as his noblemen left, but Sortsill didn’t have time. He needed to talk with Sairsasa. He left out the back door and was about to head to her room when he saw her walking towards them, their two-year-old son on her hip.
“What’s going on, Sortsill.” Her deep brown eyes were red from crying, but she refused to let her shoulders slump.
The king blinked, taking in her beauty. Without a word, for he didn’t have many left, he pulled her close and embraced her, rested his head on her shoulder. “Oh, Sair. Oh, Sair.”
“Sort, you’re scaring me.” Sairsasa pulled free from his hug and stared at him. Her delicate, pink lips quivered.
“Ferroyna’s elites are on their way to lay siege here. I’ve sent our elites to meet them, but the odds are heavy against them.”
Sair’s eyes filled with tears, and her breath caught in her throat. She pulled Listross into her chest and stroked the back of his head.
“But you have a plan?”
Sortsill pulled them into another hug and kissed the top of Listross’s head.
“We’re going to send him South.”
“Wha-What do you mean?”
“You and Listross will go to Gizench.”
“Gizench? The city that we can’t seem to control or get taxes from? The city full of prostitutes and thugs?”
Sortsill nodded. “It’s where they will least expect. I can send a few guards with you. I want you to take the crown with you.”
Sairsasa cried. She held onto Sortsill and Listross and wept.
“I want you to leave tonight.” Sortsill kissed the top of her head, taking in the scent of her dark hair.
“No?” Sortsill pulled back to look her in the eyes.
“Send him with Bixie, my handmaiden. Her husband works in the palace guard. If it’s just the two of them it’ll look less suspicious and I can then be here with you.”
1. Agree to send Listross your only son and heir with Bixie, the handmaiden and her husband.
2. Insist that Sairsasa go with Listross so that they both remain safe.