December – 1026 YD
Régan entered the Great Hall of Delamore Castle, greeted by Duke Giodah and his retinue.
__She was seated at the head of the table, and a meal was produced by servants. She reported a pleasant journey from Offenure, which she had visited briefly, and remarked on the cooler climate of the south.
When the meal was done, the Duke rose his glass. ‘We would like to present Your Highness with a gift from our city.’
__Régan stood as Giodah did, looking to the door. A young warrior entered with a leash, followed quickly by an adolescent Wolfhound.
__Its coat was bronze, and its temperament lively. It immediately noticed the Princess and pulled at its lead, eager to explore the newcomer’s fragrance. The wide smile Régan bore was high praise for the Duke; forgetting herself, she knelt to the floor and beckoned to the warrior, receiving the hound with relish.
__‘His name is Gratham.’
__‘Gratham,’ Régan echoed, at which the creature sat and produced a paw. She shook it, laughing: ‘It is my great pleasure to meet you.’ She rose, allowing him to edge closer and press against her dress.
__‘He is the produce of our best war-hounds. Cailean, daughter of Commander Cairbre, has trained him herself.’ The warrior bowed under the Princess’ gaze. ‘I requested a creature suited to palace life, but she was firm: only Gratham was fit for the future Custodia. He is not a lap-dog.’
__The warrior’s voice was deep for her age. ‘He will go to war with you and lead the others, should Iulitha invade.’
__Silence froze the air of merriment.
__‘Thank you, Cailean.’ The Duke indicated to the doors. ‘I will visit the kennels anon.’
__Cailean departed, aware she had misspoken terribly.
__Resting her eyes and hand on Gratham’s wiry head, taking her seat, Régan ordered the room: ‘Leave us.’
__Her will was done.
__‘This is the matter you wished to discuss, I presume.’
__‘Yes, Your Highness. I had intended to handle it with a good deal more tact.’
__‘You are free to forgo subtlety in our private conversations. Tell me.’
__Giodah took a seat adjacent the Princess. ‘Two weeks ago, a family of Iulithan farmers came to the castle with a dreadful story. They sought protection. All I could offer was a room and provisions in Delamore Prison, with the option of being returned to their homeland by my guards, until I had procured instruction from the Throne. They readily agreed.’
__‘And what did my father say?’
__Giodah fell heavy with apprehension.
__‘You feared he would banish or execute them, and sought my advice instead.’
__‘Yes, Your Highness.’
__It was not the Throne’s place to protect foreigners, nor should a precedent be set. Yet mistreating those seeking asylum would only be to Custodin Algus’ advantage. Màtac would not understand this. ‘If they slipped past and found refuge with other farmers, we might let it pass. Appealing to the castle was their mistake. They must return; though they may find a home beyond the town for their children.’
__‘Yes, Your Highness. My guards will work to escort them safely across the border.’
__Régan nodded, feeling the soft texture of Gratham’s ear. ‘Tell me what tales they brought from Iulitha?’
__Giodah sighed. ‘It may be more easily told with wine.’
Custodin Algus of Iulitha was waging war against his own. Members of the peerage had risen against him twice over the decades, challenging his rule—for his older brother Euan had been the rightful heir when their mother passed. Euan had conceded to Algus, then drowned at sea, and soon a young Algus was coronated in Athere. Those who cried foul and challenged him came to a bad end, and despite the coups receding into the distance, Algus continued to persecute those who plotted against him—real or imagined. Lands and towns surrounding supposedly treacherous nobles were also punished, and it was from one such town that the farmers had fled, travelling on foot over the Lenyol border. Algus himself rode with his warriors to carry out the punishment, as he sometimes did, and terror had descended on the peasants. It was said his sword thirsted for justice.
__Régan, versed in history, recognised his type. Spoilt in youth, soured in adolescence at being second-born, then taking by force what he desired and defended it violently. Masquerading as keeper of justice, he partook of raids; and in this Régan saw a man who loved battle and conflict above all.
__Régan would relate the account to her mother as a dark and exciting tale from the south, and let it pass thus to her father. She knew no Iulithan nobles, and had no means of procuring further information; she had Duke Giodah’s word that he would send a messenger with any further news. And so the following afternoon she departed, carrying the story to the capital and dictating letters to Brennan so her allies in Court would understand her continual insistence of strengthening their warriors.