Jeronim de Oriflamme was the Count of Joyeuse. This was a great and honorable position that had been held by his father, his grandfather, and his great-great-grandfather before him. (His great-grandfather would have been one, had he not managed to die before his father through the agency of a drunken fall down a stairway.) It did not mean that he ruled Joyeuse, as that was capital of the great kingdom of Leonais, and thus under the rule of the House of Pescheour. But his ancestors had ruled it in the past, after the fall of the Alcides Emperors, and because of that, when the Great Council of Leonais met, Count Jeronim called it to order. “Hail, Peers of Leonais!” he declared, as he stood in the center of the Copper Hall, holding the Oaken Staff of the Council.
“Hail to you, Count of Joyeuse!” replied the Peers, in rather poor unison. As he looked out on the crowd of faces, Jeronim realized that Eustace de Calx, Duke of Tranchera was taking a light nap, as usual. The Count sighed, then continued with opening.
“We meet here under the Holy Light of the Seven to see that the laws and edicts of Leonais are upheld, and that its king reigns with justice, with duty and with love,” Jeronim stated. “Peers--do you accept this duty, the highest in the land?”
“With joy and honor,” recited the Peers. Jeronim blinked. Was Augustus Gwynedd glaring at him as he recited that? It was hard to tell. Whatever the case, the gaunt old Duke of Hauteclaire did not seem to be a happy man. Jeronim suspected the recent death of his cousin was to blame for that--Amante Gwynedd may have gone into the Holy Orders, but the Gwynedds were not a family that forgot their own, even if they had technically given up the name…
Jeronim shook his head. He could speculate on matters later. He had important business at hand. “Then let us receive the king,” he proclaimed grandly.
Prince Amfortas rose from his seat beside the empty throne, flanked by six of his Prince‘s Men. “Good King Pelleas is kept from us--I stand as his shadow,” he said calmly. Jeronim nodded. Nothing unusual there. Pelleas hadn’t been to a Council meeting since collapsing during the middle of one ten years ago.
“Then by the grace of the Holy Seven, I call this meeting to order,” announced Jeronim, striking his staff against the floor seven times. On the fifth strike, Lucien de Cortana stood up angrily, his usually pale face red with anger.
“Damn it, Amfortas,” the Duke of Cortana spat out. “What’s the meaning of this? What are the Stylites doing in Joyeuse?”
Amfortas regarded the Duke calmly. “It is customary to wait for the seventh strike to begin the meeting,” he said.
“It is also customary that the Orders of the Concordat stay in the Concordat!” spat out Lucien, shifting uncomfortably. The Duke of Cortana was the youngest man there, and was seldom at ease when the Great Council met. Even now, filled with anger, he looked around the room nervously, hoping for some validation.
He quickly received it. “Cortana’s right,” stated Augustus Gwynedd. “Even if his blood is running a tad hot.” He glanced de Calx, who was still napping. “As is only natural for any true son of Leonais. This is the gravest defiance of the Edicts committed by the Throne in centuries.”
Amfortas smiled. “Defiance? Every action I have taken has been in accordance with our great state’s laws.” He calmly raised his hand and gestured at the Duke of Hauteclaire. “I will remind that gentleman that he himself was among those that granted me full right of command in the present crisis…”
“That right has NEVER included the ability to bring in the Holy Orders into Leonais on a WHIM!” spat out Lucien.
“Especially not the Stylites,” added Augustus, folding his hands.
“Now let us be fair,” said Blamor de Ganis, Duke of Almace, scratching his balding scalp. “We did grant our permission for the Eremites to come into Joyeuse. If the present situation runs in defiance of the Edicts, we do bear some responsibility for it.”
“Thank you, Almace,” said Amfortas, smiling pleasantly. “Now, I freely admit my summons to the Knights of the Tower has been rather hasty.” His handsome features stiffened, as concern stole on his face. “It has had to be. Peers of Leonais, I--I come here to ask you to acknowledge the propriety of my actions, which have been prompted by… dire emergency.” He shut his eyes, and took a deep breath. “All of you have doubtless heard rumors of how Joyeuse came under attack by agents of the Night.” Amfortas’ eyes opened, regarding the Peers earnestly. “It is my sad duty to state those rumors are true. Servants of the Dark Lord Mansemat Cthonique have entered our land, on what I believe to have been a mission to probe our defenses.” He shook his head. “Alas, they found them too easy to get around. While we succeeded in capturing one, most escaped our grasp, after several weeks of subversive activity. The recent spate of dockside riots are among their handiwork.” Amfortas gave a gentle, sad sigh. “There have been… other incidents. I will not bore you with the full details of our failure--it would prove a disheartening account of our weakness.” An excited murmur was running through the chamber. “And I fear I have worse news--this act was but the brushing of a finger. The Cthoniques mean to follow it up with a true assault, likely lead by the Dark Lord himself. Facing such a crisis, I had little choice but to bring in the Stylites.” He looked away from the Peers. “I hope my actions may be forgiven.”
Jeronim glanced around the room, which seemed to have been brought close to a panic by the Prince’s revelations. Even de Calx had awoken, and now appeared to be asking his neighbor, Ilinot de Balsarda, what was going on. The Count of Joyeuse brought the Staff down on the floor several times to quiet this talk. When it subsided, he glanced at Amfortas. “If what you are saying is true, then this is a grave matter,” began Jeronim. “Especially when we consider the Easter King’s recent aggression…”
“There is evidence our two problems are linked,” noted Amfortas simply. “Ilarion Skarvsky appears to be acting in concert with the Lords of Night.”
This brought more excited murmurs from the Peers. “Impossible!” snapped Augustus Gwynedd. “Not even Skarvsky would stoop so low as to hold congress with Mansemat Cthonique!”
Amfortas looked at the Duke of Hauteclaire gravely. “Even I would agree with you, Augustus--but as incredible as it seems, we’ve caught messengers going to and fro the pair.” The Prince shrugged. “Perhaps we should not be so surprised. Ilarion Skarvsky claimed his throne over the body of his predecessor--a man who trusted him with his life. That is something he and Mansemat have in common if my sources are correct--though in the Dark Lord’s case that predecessor was not only his liege, but his blood relation as well…”
Blamor de Ganis blinked. “Are you saying that Lord Shaddad was killed by…?”
“His own son,” said Amfortas with a nod. “A shocking and horrible crime, gentlemen, and one that is unimaginable to we good folk of Light.” The Prince strode to the center of the room, and stood erect. “But such are the ways of the Night, Peers of Leonais, and that is why we must fight them as long as the Seven give us strength.” He crossed his arms. “And that brings me to the second reason I have called you all here.” He looked around the room. “I ask your permission to unseal the greatest weapon against Douma Dalkiel our land possesses. I must bear Clarent, the Sword of Light.”
The entire room froze in silent shock. Jeronim looked around, and saw that the Duke of Tranchera had fallen asleep again.