The vast majority of Nobles turn to throw glances at the King’s white and gold tent, no doubt having been told a different story from Cenwalh. Leomi waits for a few moments before seizing on Duchess Roskal’s stunned silence.
The woman has been cleverly picking and choosing what arguments she responded to but that also has had the effect of putting her on the defensive, which Leomi is taking full advantage of.
“Duke Meria ordered the execution of drafted Citizens in the middle of a battle! Their only crime was an attempt to retreat from certain doom! He used his titled privilege to oppress the people and force them to pay additional taxes in spite of a threatening famine! He used a shredding cloud construct on Meria’s wall-walk, slaughtering defenders and Rykz alike!” Leomi explodes, taking several steps forward as she raises her fist. Murmurs of shock go through the human army, peasantry’s ranks shatter as they group up with people they know to exchange remarks and outraged cries. “He weakened the Izla by fear of losing his title, all the while preparing his personal ship to escape Meria when the Rykz took the walls! How could we have kept fighting when our leader failed us so, weakening our forces? By taking the battle to the negotiation table and reaching an agreement that resulted in the peace you now enjoy!”
“A serious accusation that our King Cenwalh will listen to and pass his ruling on.” Roskal responds.
“Surely you jest, Duchess!” Leomi mocks. “Duke Meria broke the ancestral code of Nobility by using his title against the very people that swore an oath to him! A code older than the Emperor Himself yet renewed and confirmed when He forged humanity into His Empire! King Cenwalh is wise, he would never overturn the People’s judgment, much less that of the Order and the Izla’s titled Nobility!”
I’m pretty sure the code that Nobility is to protect their subjects isn’t applied, but it does date back to the loss of the grasslands to the Lisilese and the dawn of Nobility. Although, I would cynically suspect it’s been added to glorify olden heroes.
“The issue is one of treachery!” Duchess Roskal yells. “This Council is obviously confused about the rule of Law in Caeviel if they thought it acceptable to send a traitor to disrupt the institute’s shut down!”
Her proclamation falls flat. I am not too surprised as people wouldn’t trust last-minute re-framing of events from Nobility, there was no word that the institute was going to be closed before I made my move after all.
Made worse is the fact that Lance already struck that kind of argument down by accusing her of enjoying the peace while slandering those who fought to obtain it for Caeviel.
“Are you truly going to lie to me about the actions my own mother took?!” Leomi counters, provoking more shocks among low-born, soldiers and peasants. “The Order acted to end the institute’s transgressions! The Izla acted to end the war! The People rose to defend the Kingdom! The Court did not rebuke Director Suxen until her death was declared!” Once again, my Lady is skirting around Cenwalh’s responsibility in this.
“Hierarchy brings Order, your Council brought chaos and death when unity was required!” Roskal growls, obviously choosing simple accusations. “The people need a leader!”
“Precisely! I ask the Citizens of Caeviel to give me their blessing and forgiveness before making a claim to the title, to leadership!” Leomi responds. “As the one who led Izla Meria to its surrender and chose Elizabeth Vil to fulfill the Council’s command of ending the war, I take full responsibility.” Roskal turns to her herald again, apparently confused about what’s going on.
“Rest!” Roisia suddenly orders the Hospitaliers.
They bring their halberds straight up and those in the shield-wall lower their shields, setting them to their side. Leomi slowly falls on her knees, the same way a peasant would to their liege when Nobles would only set one knee to the ground for even the King.
The Hospitaliers start shaping a construct as a group, answering the question of who would be responsible for the execution. The mass of flow they expel out of their bodies is frightening, above five hundred portions.
It shocks the entire army facing us as it implies that each of these hundred low-born have access that is above that of a Baroness but below that of a Countess. The surprise quickly quiets down as people realize that they could have easily stocked up their energy along with other people’s.
I tense, shifting my grip over Leomi’s halberd while she unsheathes and deposits her sword on the ground in front of her, doing the same for the shield on her back. She keeps the dagger she stole from me at her waist.
“Citizens of Caeviel, please forgive the desperate actions that we took to protect ourselves and the Kingdom.” Leomi shouts. “Proclaim your support or remain silent, my fate is on your lips.”
That’s a good trick, silence has less significance so any cry, argument, or accusation would play into her public acquittal. I smother the thought as everyone she is asking is subject to a military chain of command so it could very easily backfire.
“This is not Lawful!” Roskal impotently shouts, ignored by all.
The army’s quiet whispers are interrupted by discreet orders ushered from Duchess Roskal and heralds in every valley. I’m starting to think that these heralds have been placed there by Cenwalh.
There is some noise coming for soldiers, riders, and peasants who are slamming their weapons on the ground but officers are quietly restoring order.
I focus my attention on the construct that the Hospitaliers are shaping over Leomi’s head. It’s a large air-blade, far more than necessary with more energy than I can handle. I could possibly take it out with a lightning bolt but I’m actually afraid that the backlash of the released air might break Leomi’s neck.
I shift to face the Hospitaliers, playing with the halberd by making it spin from my left hand to my right. They tense but don’t lose focus, that being said it’s taking them forever to put this air-blade together.
I wonder if I can crack them by attacking if her gamble goes wrong. It already is, the silence is deafening. I flip around, knowing that I won’t be able to bring myself to attack these people and that Leomi might just attack me if I try.
I stomp towards my Lady, fiercely annoyed. Her eyes are shut, she fights to keep them this way as I approach. I settle behind her back, standing under the deadly construct.
I hear a loud clamor coming from a small group of peasants in a valley to the west, which is quickly shut down with shouted orders along with a few isolated beatdowns of the more aggressive. Peasants to the east start shouting, louder than those who were repressed but their group is smaller and squads of soldiers are already moving to enforce discipline with the butt of their spears.
“Turns out I have less support than you do, but they’re more vocal.” I chuckle.
“The show is only beginning.” Leomi grunts. “You shouldn’t be doing this, Liz.”
“I might die by that construct, but by the Lake, I’ll make sure you fall by my hand first if I fail to save you.” I respond.
“Dammit, Liz.” Leomi complains.
“Lower the construct.” Roisia orders the Hospitaliers.
They bring the huge air-blade down a notch, causing cries to stop and demands of forgiveness to arise, coming from multiple Nobles, soldier regiments, and peasants. Hm, that’s definitely not for me.
I grin behind my mask, surprised and impressed that people can tell that she shouldn’t be dying here. Edusa’s soldiers are the loudest among them all but peasants are the most numerous in attempting to stop the execution.
“Silence your sold…” Duchess Roskal interrupts herself, raising her cavalry lance to threaten Edusa from a distance. I hear her warhorse exhale as she pulls on its reins.
“Order in the ranks.” Edusa commands with a half-ass voice.
Roskal definitely didn’t want that exchange to be heard. Cheers on you Edusa, well played. Her riders stop shouting but start banging their swords against their shields. Seeing them act in such a way emboldens peasantry, more and more start shouting with even louder voices.
“Impressive popularity.” I note.
“Look closer. They’re not supporting me, they’re sticking it to their rulers.” Leomi replies with a wide smile.
I throw a quick glance across the four valleys, finding that indeed many peasants, and soldiers, are shouting back at their officers who are trying to maintain order rather than crying out for her acquittal.
“There is a reason why the Lake, through our Emperor Rasaec, has made a King’s word stand as Law in their Kingdom.” A deep male voice cuts through the commotion like a sharp blade, it has undeniably been enhanced by a construct yet sounds much clearer than those before it. “It is to avoid such chaos!” The man continues as he emerges from a gate in the fortified wall which is set in front of the large white tent with golden crowns. “I am King. My words are to be followed because they give Caeviel direction, Order.”
King Cenwalh is riding a tall white racehorse, he wears a royal blue tabard with a crest composed of a large golden crown in the center to represent him below the Emperor’s golden lion. The hard leather armor he wears is black with an occasional jewel and golden embroidery.
His honor guard, two lines of twelve tall and bulky spear-wielding guards follow on foot behind him. Cenwalh draws his sword, a polished, sharp-looking, hand and a half sword with a red ruby set on a golden pommel.
“A King knows his Kingdom!” He exclaims, raising his blade high in the air. “And that is why I judge. I rule on Laws that I make after having listened to my people because my heart is the Kingdom’s!”
A clamor shakes the army following his declaration, the noise makes it seem like most are cheering but, contrary to those in the middle of the ranks without an overall view, I can see that the heralds are leading and being followed by sets of soldier regiments spread out among the entire army, creating a growing wave of support for the King.
Edusa’s soldiers are relatively silent and so are many others, but those around them have drawn their weapons and are waving them in the air in support of their King. They are making so much noise that many among peasantry join those low-born who are already cheering for the King.
Leomi tenses, she had likely hoped for more time but she doesn’t seem surprised in the least by Cenwalh’s intervention. She remains as she is, patiently waiting as the King makes his way downhill to trot past the front-lines with his honor guard running behind in tight ranks.
“Those two standing before you broke the Law.” He proclaims as the cheers die down. “That much is undeniable. But Countess Lance must be forgiven for her claim that the Izla has spared us from a costly victory is truth!” He pauses. “Yet, there are consequences for any one’s actions. Elizabeth Vil disrupted our own efforts by unlawfully acting on her own without a Noble sanctioning her activities by fighting the Izla’s own army during its first battle against the insects!”
“Don’t respond, Liz.” Leomi utters between grit teeth.
“Sure, if it helps you.” I shrug. “I don’t care about their opinions.”
“Elizabeth Vil has lied to enjoy benefits beyond her station in life! She has posed as a Noble until she was seduced by the Countess. Deceit is unacceptable and, while love is admirable, the union of two women or men goes against the Lake’s will for humanity to populate this earthly realm!” He declares, pulling on his horse’s reins to directly face us.
The growls and calls of ascent coming from peasantry at the King’s words seem to hit Lance like a kick to the stomach. Nobility’s reaction, if I discount those who led the cheers for Cenwalh as they are of his faction, is much calmer and tolerant. Leomi pales and wavers. I gently lay my hand on her shoulder, supporting her.
“The Izla was shaken by chaos on the wake of its surrender. These bedswerving women could not bring order or trust the Kingdom because they do not hold the morals that we so hold dear!” Cenwalh proclaims. “And so, the achievement is lesser than it could have been.”
I squeeze Leomi’s shoulder to prevent her from exploding in anger at the accusations. The cheers this time are divided, much of peasantry does not join in while many cry out to disrupt the Nobles and soldiers’ cries of ascent.
Cenwalh lowers his sword to point the tip towards us. I can’t clearly see his expression but I can tell that he isn’t as satisfied as he was at first with the overall reaction to his words.
“The fake mantle of a Lady that Elizabeth Vil has set on her low-born shoulders is a great infraction but not one that could have lasted as those with titles stand above and so recognize the mettle of those below. Her barbaric behavior is but another sign that Nobility is all that stands before chaos and disorder!” Cenwalh pauses.
A loud clamor erupts at those words, no more are there calls or cries. People are expressing their opinions through loud yells that seem to contradict the very statement Cenwalh just made.
Peasantry itself is the most vocal but there is no clear sign that one opinion is winning over the other among them, contrary to soldiers where it is evident that over two-thirds side with the King from the way that the rest remain immobile and silent. The King patiently awaits for order to be restored before continuing.
“But I am magnanimous, I have chosen to forgive Countess Lance and Izla Meria as a reward for their contributions. I am kind, I leave Elizabeth Vil’s fate in the hands of the Templar Order which has been most wounded by her actions. So, King Cenwalh of Caeviel, decrees.” He utters, sheathing his sword by making a wide and arrogant arc with his arm.
“You fucked up.” Leomi mutters victoriously, yet there is no smile on her lips.
Her words end up prophetic as the vast majority of peasantry expresses dissatisfaction through quiet but clearly audible grumbles. Cenwalh’s head flickers slightly to the left, like he stopped himself just in time before throwing a look over his shoulder in surprise at the people’s reaction.
He may have preserved his authority over the people, but they still feel like they’ve been wronged, stolen the chance to make their voices matter in Caeviel instead of the pretension that they are being listened to and the evidence that they are not being heard even when they speak because the King had already made a personal decision, which is evident by his choice of words.
I pull on Lance’s uniform, telling her to get up and away from the gigantic air-blade that I can sense over our heads, threatening her life. There isn’t much danger that the Hospitaliers will bring it down… but still.
She remains immobile, firmly set on her knees. Cenwalh flicks his right hand at his honor guard, two of which head out towards us at a jogging pace. Lance closes her eyes again, listening to the background grumble coming from the human army, waiting.
“Why’d he not try to get you to hand me over?” I ask.
“Because he doesn’t want to make it look like he’s trying to reduce the autonomy of the various Duchies, which it would since I would contest and he would need to sign a decree.” Leomi replies quickly.
People seem to quiet down as they notice that something’s happening with Leomi remaining on her knees while the King’s two honor guards head over, likely to demand she goes to her King. That’s not going to happen.
“If you die, I swear I’ll follow and drown you in the Lake’s flames.” I hurriedly tell her as I walk past to intercept the two spear-wielders, they have chain-mails but no shields.
“Don’t pick a fight!” Leomi urges. “I mentioned the old code so they won’t be overtly using flow against you as long as you don’t either!”
“Lower the blade!” Roisia orders the Hospitaliers.
The large air-blade lowers by a fraction, causing loud cries of surprise from the army. Cenwalh almost draws his sword, but it seems like he understands that speaking now or rescinding his pardon over her defiance would make him look weak.
I extend the halberd out to my right with my hand holding the middle of the wooden handle, forcing the honor guards to either stop or leave themselves wide open as they run by Elizabeth Vil, a proven deadly madwoman. I grin behind my mask as the two sharply slow down and bring their spears around.
The human army does not even have time to react to the event as the Hospitaliers lower the huge air-blade towards Leomi’s head by another fraction. A heavy silence takes over the no-woman’s land.
It is soon broken by shouts of support for ‘Lady Lance’ and ‘Izla Meria’ coming from Nobles, soldiers, and peasants alike. There are a few loud calls for her death mixed among various insults, but the majority is on her side. Sadly, the divide is not as much in her favor as she would have wished.
The support is likely more because she didn’t go back on her word, even with the King’s pardon, and to stick it to high-borns, than because they truly approve of what we did.
I’m starting to realize that Nobility as a group isn’t immune to the pull of rebelling against titled Nobles from the few dozens of them that join in. Perhaps Edusa, Grace, and Urnan aren’t quite the exceptions I thought they were.
“I feel humbled by your support.” Leomi proclaims as she slowly rises from her knees. “I swear to continue fighting for Caeviel, for humans, for the Empire, for justice over glory!”
Says the woman that likely just overshadowed even the King with her reputation. I chuckle, making Cenwalh’s two honor guards tense. I throw them a look and turn around, letting them approach Leomi while I move to settle a step behind her.
“Countess Lance, your King has…” The one on the left starts talking as she approaches but cuts herself off as she realizes that Leomi isn’t paying any attention.
“The Hospitaliers are prepared to accept, train, and employ anyone who has been injured during this war or in an accident! Any who wishes to join the armed force will be trained and tested but be warned that I will be leading them south at winter’s end to reinforce the Empire’s southern border with the Lisilese! Volunteers will be welcome at that time!” Leomi proclaims, triggering a stunned silence among the human army.
I have no doubt that many low-born will pick up on that offer but can the Izla afford it? Ah, there aren’t enough ships to allow that many to cross over to the island, especially in winter.
“Thanks, Liz, you gave me the strength to do this.” Leomi murmurs.
Roisia and her then walk towards the honor guards, heading towards King Cenwalh. I chuckle at Leomi’s naivety in thinking I wouldn’t go. I follow along a few steps behind.