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TVC II Supplemental Chapter 5.5 - (Flashback) Shah Remembers Mortality

Malochai

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Markus Sheifter nudged his finely-bred horse with the heels of his sturdy riding boots, the rush of the River Sannez to his right, and urged the tall, handsome destrier forwards. With a whicker, the Bretonnian warhorse swished his tail and broke into a trot, which swiftly became a canter. For the first time in nearly a year, heading south out of Couronne, the young Baron of Carrasvile and heir to the small tract of land ruled by the D’lvery family, felt something other than the gnawing sense of loss which had resulted from the loss of his parents, Gerhart and Lilette. In the far distance, he could see the Forest of Arden - a large, squatting expanse of gnarled trees clogging the land like the shadow of a shadow, and to the south-east he saw the Pale Sisters rising into the pale sky, alight with the threat of a refreshing summer storm which was brewing.
destrier
---

Later that night, after hours of riding, Markus pulled the horse to a halt and slipped gratefully from his saddle, rubbing his sore rump with a relieved sigh, and then he removed the saddle, tack and barding he had commissioned whilst in the Bretonnian capital - black with the emblem of a prone, golden lion on a field of blood red. With the destrier now free of all its burdens, Markus hobbled him and let the beast graze not far off as he placed stones in a circle and towered wood to make a fire, eventually striking his a piece of steel with his flint and igniting it. Smiling at the flickering flames before him, the young noble squatted next to the campfire and warmed his hands for a few moments, before rubbing them together and preparing himself a sparse supper and eating it, looking happily at the wild surroundings he found himself in - away from the responsibility of having to oversee the running of his estates, although he found himself craving the touch of his young, beautiful wife from time to time. Eventually he snorted quietly; he was handsome - that was no secret, the young aristocratic women of Talabheim had let him know that long before his marriage to Eva - and rich, a bag full of gold weighing down his hip. He could buy any attention he wanted. His mind drifted back to a particular woman he had just left in Couronne.

A howl tore his attention back to the present, and he rested his hand on the hilt of his sword, but a few inches from his side. ‘This place is no less dangerous than the Empire,’ he reminded himself, the silent admonishment enough to focus his attention. He realised he was tired, and caught his horse, picketing it across the fire from himself, looking into the creatures eyes and smiling as he did so, placing his hand on the warm neck and drawing comfort from the animals presence. Once done, he drew a blanket from his pack and settled by the fire, sword in hand, slowly, gently, drifting off into a dreamless sleep ...

---

“Wake up, cur!” a deep voice demanded, dragging the lordling from his sleep. Blearily, he opened his eyes and saw nothing but faint, blurred outlines against a mid-dark background. His hand convulsively gripped the hilt of his sword, but a pain in his chest stopped him from moving. “That would be a bad idea, peasant. As fine as that sword is - stolen, no doubt; another crime! - there is absolutely no chance that you could harm knights loyal to their Lady and King.”

Thoroughly confused, but unwilling to be skewered by his assailant, he let his sword go, and wiped at his eyes slowly, trying to clear them without being accused of trying to attack the man. Slowly, the man came into focus as Markus blinked and removed dried rheum from the corners of his eyes, and he realised he was looking up at a Knight of the Realm in full battle dress, atop a huge black destrier and carrying a lance which was inches away from the Imperial’s chest, and looked wickedly sharp. Craning his head slightly, Markus saw that another two knights, younger than the one who accosted him, were close by, also mounted, and beyond them were dozens of peasants - men-at-arms, servants and the like, two of whom restrained his steed. They all looked on with interest, those bearing weapons circling the knights and the prone baron.

“Who is your lord? Which knight does that sword belong to? And the horse! Who did you steal that from?” The words were barked, and the man who uttered them was clearly used to having his orders obeyed. Markus scowled slightly, clearly irked, before smoothing his features and looking squarely at the knight, who appeared outraged by what he perceived as outrageous insubordination from an inferior.

“My name is Baron Markus Shiefter of Carrasville of the Empire, grandson of Marquess Amaury D’lvery. The sword is my own, of Imperial make - the forgers mark is that of Renald Aldrick, a fine smith - and the horse is also mine, purchased at Couronne two days past, when I met my grandfather for the first time at Court - when he also concurrently made me his legal heir by the customs of your fine land! If you do not believe me, I have official documents in my saddlebags confirming who I am, and my ownership of the steed.” Markus adopted a haughty look to match that of the amazed knight before him, who stared blankly for a second and then demanded the saddlebags to be presented to him.

To the youngsters changrin, he proceeded to up-end the leather bag and order the documents to be collected from the ground and passed to him. Unrolling the thick vellum, he read the intricate calligraphy carefully, mulling over the words. Eventually he nodded and rolled the documents up, before handing a servant his lance and tapping his chin, covered with a salt-and-pepper beard, with a gauntleted finger. After a minute, he stopped frowning, which seemed to remove a decade from his features, although they were still cragged and serious.

With deliberate movements, he swung himself from his horse and stood over Markus before extending a hand and helping him to his feet, finally. Only when he tried to look the man straight in the eye did he realise how much neck ached from looking up for so long. The other two knights, following the elders lead, also dismounted, but they still stood some metres away, acting haughty and unconcerned with the proceedings. “I must apologise, Ser Markus, for my presumptions, but for one of your station to be travelling alone, sleeping in the wilds with not even a tent over your head - it is most abnormal!
“Regardless, I have been abominably rude, and can only hope that will forgive me. I am Earl Tuomas du Mornvon. In truth, I am a vassal to your grandfather, and had you arrived at any other time I would as like have been at Court with him to greet you, but these are fraught, dangerous times. The call to war has been sounded, and I ride to greet it, with my sons.”
With a gesture, Tuomas indicated his surly sons, no older than Markus, who noted that they bore variations of their fathers arms - a lion of white holding a sword at rest, on a split field of gold and black, two fleur-de-lys at opposite corners of the heraldry.
“We ride to the encampment.”

---

For the next three days, Markus accompanied the three knights and their peasant entourage south along the river, accorded all the respect a noble-born son of the realm would normally be due, as they approached the reportedly huge camp of knights from across the province of Couronne. By speaking to Tuomas, Markus learnt that a bray herd had been rampaging from the forest of Arden north into the province, pillaging the holdings of knights - even three castles had been rendered nothing before the power of their shaman. The young Imperial shivered at the descriptions of its powers, but couldn’t stop listening - he was too enraptured.

Eventually, the one yeoman sheriff who had accompanied Tuomas from his lands in the Marches of Couronne rode back to the knights and bowed low in the saddle of his tired old nag, who whinnied breathlessly, only to be ignored by the destriers of the knights - only Markus’ whickered back quietly. “Speak, Irond,” Tuomas ordered, continuing to ride, causing the peasant to wheel his horse about to follow his lord.

“My... My lo-lord Earl, the en-encampment is just o-over the second rise ahead of u-us. I saw the hewal-harold-heraldry! That’s it, heraldry!” Tuomas drew his horse up, and glared at the yeoman, who instantly stopped talking and hung his head in shame, face blazing like a tomato. “I- I’m sorry, my lo-lord. The he-heraldry,” - this time, whilst Irond didn’t stop talking, he had a large grin on his face which spoke of being inordinately happy with himself - “at the c-centre of the camp. Two ye-yellow lions, Earl, facing ea-each other, half the background black, the other white. Split down the centre like this, it was!” To illustrate his point, Irond held his arm vertically. Tuomas sucked in a sharp breath.

“The prince? Really?” Markus was unable to get anything more from the knight, and resolved himself to being told later on. Instead, he turned his attention to the approaching encampment, urging his horse on ahead until he came to the ridge of the rise which overlooked it. He gasped and screwed up his face, at once impressed and horrified at it.

The thing was huge, easily playing temporary home to five thousand nobles, and each of those had at the very least a dozen men-at-arms, more often at least one hundred.

---

As he rode through the outskirts of the camp, Markus’ horror grew more and more pronounced. The poor state of it was shocking. From above, the ground had all looked solid, although the peasants were on a lower piece of ground. In the camp, it became immediately obvious that the peasants were billeted on boggy ground, which made it look like the ground was attempting to eat what passed as tents, although they were more like shapeless covers in various, heraldic colours. The men were down-trodden, sodden and generally low on morale. Tuomas and his sons appeared surprised at how much this affected Markus, but otherwise took no notice and headed along the widest strip of boggy mud, which was supposedly the road to the nobles section of the camp. As they progressed onto higher ground, the road became less boggy and eventually turned into a dirt track, and larger, higher quality tents could be seen, until eventually each one could hold a dozen of the men-at-arms tents. Vibrant colours could be seen everywhere, all sorts of creatures - including dragons, boars, lions, unicorns, pegasi and preytons - could be found, but none stood out more than the central tent, with heraldry just as Irond had described.

“Do not speak unless spoken to, Ser Markus. Say the wrong thing, and you may be executed - regardless of who your grandfather is. The prince dislikes Imperials.” Without any further explanation, Tuomas turned to a herald outside the tent and said, “Earl Tuomas du Mornvon, my sons, Tuomathy and Seguun, and Ser Markus Shiefter, grandson of Marquess Amaury D’lvery.”

The herald nodded, and entered the tent, announcing their names. A murmured response could faintly be heard, and then the tent flap was thrown open, a hand gesturing them inside. Tuomas put a bracing hand on his shoulder and then strode past him. Markus gulped, and then took a hesitant step forward, into the shadowy heart of the Bretonnian camp.

---

Atop the rise in the Wastes, as the others spoke behind him in voices he wouldn't listen to, Shah remembered the fear he had felt entering the Bretonnian camp and the tent at it's centre. He shuddered slightly at the memory of fear, and then made himself still - that was over seven centuries before; since then, there was little that he had to fear. He had been made a predator just as fierce as those warped by magic - "I am no longer mortal. I am no longer fearful."
 
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