Second Battle of Jent
Findian reined her exhausted horse to a halt after she crested the last steep incline. Three days ago, she had left her wagons and servants in the valleys below Spirit, valleys that were still teeming with assembling Triumon troops, to make the dangerous climb up the steep snow-packed road. The tiered city of Spirit now dotted the mountainside below her, while the seat of House Triumon sat ominously behind the closed gate in front of her.
That final winding climb to the Triumon keep had been difficult for the horses, but looking at red wind-burned faces of the two soldiers who had accompanied her up the mountain, she knew the climb had been no less difficult for them. She had tried to ignore the biting wind, but the thin air had left a hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach that only seemed to grow as the wind had gotten stronger and the afternoon shadows had lengthened; she knew, however, that the cold thin air was not the only thing that roiled her stomach with apprehension.
Rarely did those who claimed Triumon as an ally make the arduous climb to these gates, and to her knowledge, no Bruchmon had done so in recent memory. It was even rarer, however, for someone who had recently spurned Triumon to come before these gates, and she knew her open invitation to come here had been effectively rescinded the day she had wed Bran Northmon. Her escort came to a stop beside her, their uneasiness stemming from nothing more than the wariness of cold whispers that made the House of Triumon feared throughout the realm.
Her horse snorted a blast of frozen breath into the air, air that had suddenly stilled, seemingly interrupted by three riders that had dared to approach the glistening Triumon keep. The sun slid behind the mountaintop at that instant, and the gleaming ice-covered gate and walls of the keep shifted into an eerie blue glow against the still bright and icy blue sky. The wind took its cue from that quick transformation and again buffeted her face with a hard gust, a gust much colder than any that had chilled her bones during the long climb; Triumon Ealder was now aware that unwanted visitors had ridden to his gates, an announcement brought to him on the sharp claws of the wind. Findian let the wind and the anxiety borne on its frigid fingers flow past her, and she urged her horse forward, undaunted.
Without a sound, the gates parted to allow the horses to walk between the glistening black metal in a single file line, and she felt them close just as silently behind the last horse. The outer snow covered yard was empty, and the ice-covered wall surrounding the keep did nothing to thwart the wind that howled much louder than the crunch of their horses’ footfalls. She stopped midway between the gate and the closed wooden doors to the keep and dismounted. She walked a few steps from her horse before stopping, and crossing her arms tightly to steady her nerves, she waited. She knew the doors to the Triumon sanctum would not remain closed, not even to her.
The wind continued to bite as the minutes passed, but she resolutely bore this final umbrage. Just as silently as the outer gates had opened, the heavy doors to the keep finally parted, and the Triumon Chamberlain came forth, followed by a dozen Triumon guards. At that moment her apprehension abated, and she walked the remaining distance to the doors of Triumon as a proud daughter of Bruchmon, and as the even prouder Lady of Northmon. She stood firmly before the Chamberlain, forcing him to greet her as befitted her station. Her presence once again seemed to still the cold wind as her silence filled the courtyard.
The Chamberlain was a tall thin man, and his maroon robes that had partially filled with the wind only added to his gaunt stature as they slowly deflated. His long wispy hair was as pale as his skin, and only the dark wrinkled eyes of an Ealder colored his face. His long nose split his hollow cheeks, and the thin line of his mouth remained closed as he tested her will, trying to force her to speak first; however, even the power of an Ealder’s dark eyes could not break her resolve now. Triumon would accept her as the Lady of Northmon or suffer the indignity of turning her away; however, she knew even the vainglorious House of Triumon would never go that far.
The Chamberlain remained silent for only a minute.
“Lady Northmon,” he said as if addressing the thin air, his lips barely parting. “My Lord, the venerable Triumon Ealder, welcomes you to Spirit.”
He hesitated for only a second before he made a low formal bow, and each of the Triumon guards dipped their heads in unison on his lead. Findian said nothing and continued to wait as the Chamberlain stiffly straightened. He made a sharp glance at the closest guard, and immediately the group moved to welcome the Northmon soldiers behind her and escort them onto the grounds.
“Your retainers will be given all the comforts and privileges Triumon can offer. Please,” the Chamberlain gestured, allowing her to precede him into the keep. “My Lord awaits the Lady of Northmon within. The halls of Triumon are yours.”
Findian paused after extracting that formal greeting to let the Northmon soldiers dismount. After they were properly addressed by their Triumon counterparts, she accepted the Chamberlain’s invitation to enter the halls of Triumon Ealder.
“The House of Northmon is most honored to be so received by his Lordship, Triumon Ealder,” she said.
She then stepped past the Chamberlain and entered the Triumon castle as the Lady of Northmon.
After she’d symbolically crossed the threshold, she stopped to allow the Chamberlain to properly escort her into the halls of Triumon Ealder, and she felt no change on the cold air once the heavy door closed behind her. The long hall was brightly lit by a dozen thin windows that lined each wall, and yet the smooth white stone of the walls and arched ceiling seemed to reflect the ever present blue tint of the ice and snow that encased the castle.
She had always deemed the Northmon keep at Ponchon to be a cold colorless dwelling when the white of winter covered the northern reaches, but even then, the warmth of a humble home was never driven from the gray walls of Bran Northmon’s keep. She immediately felt the legendary hubris of Triumon coloring the immaculate hall before her, and she knew the coolness of this room was as warm as this castle ever got; there could not be a place on Hamlond that stood in starker contrast to the southern Halls of Bruchmon at Torbod where she had been raised, and she knew the great disparity in climate had nothing to do with it.
She let the Chamberlain lead, taking note that his steps across the white tiles made no sound while her heavy riding boots made a clumsy echo that seemed to clash with the hard sharp edges of the stone around her. The long hall of Triumon appeared to dislike guests just as much as visitors preferred to stay away from these uninviting walls, but she ignored the sound of her boots as they reached the open archway at the end of the hall. The throne room of Triumon Ealder lay before her, and she reminded herself that she approached as the proud Lady of Northmon. She steeled her mind for her first meeting with the legendary Triumon Ealder, Counselor and confidant to the House of Fayersae who now served Segan Fayersae, her liege, just as he had served Fayersae Ealder for years uncountable before that.
The nearly colorless blue hue dropped from the air when she stepped into the circular throne room, replaced now with a purer white glow. The room was windowless and plain, relying only upon the silver lanterns lining the walls and the simple stone dais in the center of it for its authority; Triumon Ealder’s presence alone was enough to bestow all the power the room required.
He sat straight and tall in his chair, and his white robes with a maroon hart embroidered on his breast was a mirror image of the Chamberlain’s long robes. A single member of his court stood beside him, a young girl dressed in the same white robes as her liege, and her sharp eyes never left Findian’s face as she approached.
Findian stopped before the dais and waited for the Chamberlain to officially announce her.
“My Lord, the Lady Findian Northmon, of the noble House of Bruchmon,” his thin voice said after another moment of oppressive silence, his voice filling the chamber nonetheless.
Findian dropped to one knee and dipped her head in deference to the Ealder Lord of the House of Triumon. She had finally come to Spirit, but she had not come pledged to Altan Triumon as Triumon Ealder had once decreed, as had been his right as one of the last Ealders ruling one of the Great Houses.
E-Book version of Heart of Hauden, Book One of the Harmony of the Othar Saga, is now available at www.heartofhauden.com.