The woman, clad in a simple wool tunic with small patches of mud caked on the bottom, spoke with a sense of urgency and distress. She made elaborate gestures, and recalled a story of hope and trust, of loss and betrayal, and nearly broke into tears at the end of her tale.
“And that’s how my goats went missing,” she said.
The King’s eyes were as wide as dinner plates. “He keeps a mountain lion… for a pet?” he said with a hint of disbelief.
“Yes, my lord,” the woman replied.
King Bevérian shook his head, as if trying to shake off the wild story that he just heard.
“A great beast with jaws that can swallow a pig whole, and a roar that makes my walls tremble. I’m just a simple farmer, I can’t take on that fool’s beast on my own. Eating my goats is bad enough, but what if he decides to roam free and eat the people of this city? Surely you can put this beast down, my king, for the sake of all of us,” she said.
The King groaned. “He can’t keep him secured with a thick chain?”
“No, my lord. He snaps chains as if it were thread,” she demonstrated with her hands.
Bevérian looked around, sitting high upon the Mountain Throne in the oval shaped room, searching for an answer to the problem. He took a generous sip of wine, before making a quick motion with his arm toward a few royal guards.
“You there. Take down this ravenous lion before we have a man-eater in our city,” he said.
The guards looked at each other, then back at their king. One of the guards’ eyes twitched, while the other nervously fumbled with his bladed spear. They did not move or say a word.
Lirios, the King’s advisor, clenched his teeth before shouting at the guards. “Get a good javelin thrower, you fools, and be done with it. Go!” The guards quickly made their exit.
Before the woman could say her thanks, a messenger burst into the room, sweating profusely. “Forgive me for interrupting The King’s Hour, my lord, but there’s an urgent request to meet you by three travelers coming from Innia. One of them is the Royal Protector to the Prince, though His Highness was not with him. Shall I allow them in?”
Bevérian put down the wine in his hand and looked to his right. Lirios gently nodded, an act unnoticed by anyone else in the room.
“Let them in,” the King said. He tried his best to look confident, to seem like he can tackle any issue while sitting atop his high throne. But his face was that of pale glass trying to seem like metal, and hints of fragility escaped ever so often if you looked close enough .
Tarnan, Nara and Gélin entered the room. The travelers looked as if they haven’t eaten in a while, their hair was disheveled and their clothes were stained green.
Small droplets of sweat formed on Bevérian’s forehead. He tried to clear his throat, though it came out as a strong cough. “Gélin, what brings you back from Innia with these two monks? Has my brother chosen to stay there and become a monk himself?”
Gélin let out a deep sigh, one that made the air in the room seem heavier. “He’s dead, my lord.”
Bevérian froze in his spot, unblinking. After a moment, he gave a quick glance at Lirios, then placed his gaze on Gélin. “H-How?” his voice was like shattered glass. Though his hands shook, Bevérian took a generous sip of his wine, nearly downing the entire cup.
“How did he die? Who killed him?” Lirios asked.
Gélin, along with the monks, did their best to retell the ambush from what little information they knew. Upon hearing that the bandits might have been a part of a conspiracy from the neighboring state of Mon-Shaw, Lirios turned red with anger, while Bevérian remained silent and stared at the floor, lost in his thoughts.
Before the group could finish, Lirios stood up and interrupted them, “My King, these are troubled times indeed when our neighbors can plot and kill members of the royal family.”
Bevérian breathed heavily, and nodded.
“We cannot allow them a chance to hurt us again in the future. We must ready our country for war,” Lirios urged the King.
“We cannot,” Bevérian shook his head.
Lirios shook his head. “Cannot–what, my lord?” he asked.
“Cannot go to war. We have neither the coin nor the army.”
Tarnan stepped closer. “I can get the temple master at Innia to lend you offensive-magic monks for the war. Prince Zulfus was always welcome at the temples, and supported us when we needed it most. He shall be missed by all. Other temple masters may support you,” he said. Nara nodded in agreement.
“That may solve one problem, but where will we get the coin for a war?” Bevérian rested his head against his hand.
“Zor-Shaw could help us in that regard. Plus, some of the tribes in the Northern Clanlands on the border with Mon-Shaw will likely join us, easing our burden. They’ll likely want any land they conquer for themselves, but that’s something you’re willing to compromise on, right my lord?”
The King held his breath and looked to the side. “We have no choice, with all of this, do we?”
“No,” said Lirios.
Bevérian closed his eyes and shook his head. Silence filled the room as he filled his mind with a cascade of thoughts. After a moment, he opened his eyes, though they looked more tired than they were before. He finished the rest of his wine, and brought down the cup with a heavy clunk.
“May my brother’s soul guide me through these desperate times,” he whispered to himself.
“What was that, my lord?” said Lirios.
Bevérian turned to look directly into his eyes. “Then we go to war.”