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Chapter 25

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Chapter XXV

Fierhand's Decision

 

Darkness had well and truly fallen by the time that Vernon, along with Martin, Jack, Codsworth and Charlie arrived to give Fierhand, who sat on his throne looking down at group bellow him, the news that they had obtained from both Jack and Martin. Alongside the king, stood Doraghek, and Fomhord, the former looking excited, the other with a look nothing short of loathing on it. As Doraghek sat on his own throne, just below Fierhand’s, Vernon spoke up to the king explaining what had transpired as best as he could.

“There was no lie in Martin's eyes when he told us about this. We have been most fortunate indeed with this intel. It has shown us that The Shadow does intend to invade and soon.” Vernon said looking up at the king, whose frown was visible for the whole room, despite the poor light levels. The king seems to ponder this for a few moments before getting up out of his stone throne and walks down to ground level. He pauses at the bottom of the steps and gestures for Martin to step forward. The boy does, looking exhausted after the ordeal, but ready to face the questions. However, Fierhand only gazes into the eight-year-old’s eyes, seemingly sizing him up. The amber meets the blue for a few seconds before Fierhand, looking as weary as Martin sighs deeply at the news.

“Aye. I had hoped that this day would not come.” Fierhand said, looking around the room, seemingly waiting for someone to counter the boy’s claims, but when none do. He turns to Fomhord, a steely look in his amber eyes. “What would do you say to that then, Fomhord?” Fierhand spoke to his closest advisor. Fomhord stiffened at this, his pacifastin clashing with what had just been said to the king.

“As always, my king, caution. Let us wait and see if this threat is real, before acting so rashly.” Fomhord responded curtly, wanting to keep the peace ongoing. However, Doraghek spoke up from his own throne.

“Prey waits.” Doraghek said, this couldn’t have been more perfect, the fact that this coward was being put in his place by a boy not old enough to grow his whiskers, was nothing short of hilarious to the dwarf, only dampened by the news of which Martin brought to them.

“Aye, I've sat on the side lines for far too long. The time has come to join the fray. Doraghek!” Fierhand said, before calling his son to his side. At which Doraghek gets up out of his chair and walks towards Fierhand. Once the dwarven prince had appeared at his father’s side, the king continued with his command. “Send word to your brother. Inform him that he is to raise the army of the northern gate and its surrounding garrisons, to join us here within the fortnight.” Fierhand continued, looking at Doraghek, who glowers for the briefest of seconds. Before quickly nodding and walks off, out of the throne room, with the now almost red faced Fomhord spluttering in righteous indignation. However, Fierhand seemingly having had enough of his advisor, turns to Codsworth. “Commander Codsworth. I will need you to raise any forces that are still resisting in the occupied lands to head immediately for The Iron Tooth. No matter how small their numbers.” Fierhand finished, that was vital, as without the support of everyone who could be mustered, the war was as good as lost.

“The Iron Tooth, but surely we should stay here to fight.” Fomhord spluttered, as if he had not already made enough of a fool out of himself at this point already.

“I have no mind to sit here cowering, whilst The Shadow burns my lands and slaughters my people.” Fierhand spoke firmly, wondering when his advisor would learn to shut his mouth so that he would be able to cut his losses. Codsworth nods and heads towards the communications room, all the way on the other side of the mountain. Once the commander was out of the room, Fierhand once again turns around before setting his eyes on Jack, who through all of this, had not spoken a word, other than to tell the king his story, he had been reluctant, telling his family was one thing, telling the king, who was, with the best will in the world, a complete stranger to him. Had been almost impossible, and was he was not disposed to answer any questions on the matter. “You lad will have a difficult job I'm afraid. I need you to head out to the mountain men towns. And convince them to join us.” Fierhand asked, he knew the difficulty, but it had to be done as he needed every soldier at his disposal.

“That won't be easy.” Jack replied, sharing the king’s concern, he had spent enough time with the folk of the north to know that they were an insular people, loyal to none but their own. Which was probably why Fierhand was asking him, and not one of his other generals.

“Aye laddie. But you have the best chance of gathering villages to our banner. The north-men will likely listen to one of their own.” Fierhand said, confirming Jack’s initial opinion of the matter of his choosing. At these words, Jack takes his leave, following Codsworth and Doraghek out of the throne room. After this latest departure, Fierhand walks back to his throne before turning to the remaining members of the group. “Now that you've convinced me to join your war. Do you have any idea about how to stop The Shadow?” Fierhand asked, looking to Vernon.

“No. I'll need to look inside your archives, see if anything has been written about how he was defeated last time.” Vernon said, that was his best bet to solving the matter, he had not been able to gain access to the imperial archives, and they had limited records at the manor. But if he could gain access to the archives of the mountain, it may be able to give him a better idea.

“They are yours to look at. Fomhord, give this man the key to the vaults.” Fierhand said, agreeing with the old butler, Fomhord on the other hand looked fit to explode at this suggestion. However, Fierhand seemed to have reached the end of his tether with the advisor and he railed against him. “You heard me. You've kept me inactive for too long, so you'll do as I say. Now!” Fierhand finished, almost growling at the ever-shrinking advisor. It seemed like Fomhord was about to refuse the command, but he finally relents, reaches into his cloak pocket, and hands over an iron key to Vernon. It was old, seemingly more like shiv than a key. But the butler didn’t seem to have any concerns as the two walk off through a side door and down into the mountain's depths. Leaving Charlie and Martin alone with the king. As Fierhand was about to speak again, Doraghek returns to the throne room, and nods to his father. Fierhand smiles at this and walks over to Martin. “I have the hardest task for you unfortunately lad. I need you to get as much information as possible though this connection you share with the enemy.” Fierhand asked, putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder looking genially sorry for the burden that he had just placed upon him.

“Really?” Martin asks, he was really in no hurry to repeat the process, especially about what had happened when The shadow had seen him, but he supposed that it was his job, as the only one with this connection that could be trusted.

“I know it's not fair that it is your job. But that is the way our hand has been dealt.” Fierhand spoke looking at Martin, who was on the verge of nodding, when Charlie interrupts.

“The last time the kid went under his heart stopped. And that was against an unsuspecting enemy. Eugene will now be on the alert.” Charlie said, she fully understood where the king was coming from, they had a huge military advantage in Martin’s ability, but she was concerned that the boy might not survive if he attempted the trick again.

“How did he react when he noticed you kid?” Doraghek said, walking forward. That was something that nobody had thought to ask the lad, he knew that Martin had been terrified when he was eventually noticed, but it must have come of more of a shock for Eugene when he finally realised what had happened. Martin didn’t initially respond, he was trying to remember, what with The Shadow’s reaction, he had almost forgotten the look of horror on Eugene’s face.

“He was... Terrified. He thought it the connection would be one way. He didn't expect that I could reverse it. If only for a short time.” Martin said, as the face of Eugene’s horrified look swam in front of his mind’s eye, as he recalled the voyage into his tormentor’s mind. Fierhand nods gravely at this before addressing Charlie, wanting to put the scientist’s mind at rest.

“I'll take your advice then Sparrow, give the lad a three days’ rest. After that I'll need any information possible.” Fierhand said, it was all he could spare, as if this war was now in full swing, there would be no time to waste on the matter.

“Four days’ rest. Then I'll sign Martin off to your custody.” Charlie said, she didn’t know if she was pushing her luck with that, this was after all, the king of Normanguard she was dealing with here. And he could effectively demand anything that he wanted without a second’s thought. Fierhand looks at Doraghek gravely, seemingly looking for an answer to this request if this was acceptable. Charlie to looks over at Doraghek, who nods slowly and Fierhand returns to Charlie.

“Very well, he'll have four days.” Fierhand said, returning to his throne and both Charlie and Martin leave the throne room.

 

Once outside, Martin rushes over to where Jack was saddling his horse, having already returned to his room and gathered everything he would need for the long journey. The tattered traveling cloak that he had arrived in covering an equally set of baggy clothes, a rucksack slung over his back with what little food he could scrape up at such short notice, his axe that he had been given back in Bergskort on his left, and a rifle from the manor slung over his right shoulder. In his hand was a map with the villages and towns circled in black.

Jack continued to look down at the map, trying to decide which of the towns would be best to go to first. It was a difficult decision, as the towns were spread out and dispersed all across the country’s rocky terrain. He had also been advised to avoid the far northern regions, a collection of mountain passes that housed the trolls of the north, although he had heard rumours of their existence, as far as he knew they kept mostly to themselves, as they were frequently hunted by the north-men.

“How long will you be gone this time?” Martin asked, taking Jack slightly by surprise as he had thought his youngest brother was still discussing things with Fierhand back in the throne room.

“A few months most like little bro.” Jack said smiling at Martin, it still wasn’t a warm smile, and half-hearted, but he no longer had the pained expression behind his eye as he had done for his entire time here.

“I wish I could come with you.” Martin said, he had regretted that decision the last time they had been forced to part ways, he had often thought about what would have happened if he had refused to leave Bergskort all those months ago. But after what Fierhand had asked of him, he knew that he had a job to do that would once again, separate him from his eldest brother.

“I know Martin. I guess it’s your turn to what the fort now.” Jack said smiling, reminding him how the roles were oddly reversed, with him leaving and Martin remaining behind. Smiling at this Jack leapt onto his horse, puts his eye patch back into place as it had come slightly off, revealing the black hole that still made him feel sick every time he looked at it, nodded towards his youngest brother and rode out of the great gates. He would do as Fierhand requested, but there was one thing he needed to do before setting out.

 

It didn’t take long, as Jack dismounted from his horse, just outside the doors of the mountain, he began to dig in the dirt. Although for a moment he was afraid that he had the wrong place, but eventually the green emerald showed itself to him. He dug more frantically, before making a big enough hole in the ground to be able to pick up the wristband, it’s emerald glinting in the moonlight.

Jack placed the piece of jewellery back onto his wrist, feeling able to finally have come clean on his most recent past, before mounting his horse, and with one last look at the mountain behind him, digging his heels into the horse’s side and riding of into the darkness.

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