Rainald de Lasliez stared at the quivering folk before him. “So… they bore the standards of Leonais?” he asked.
The older man among the crowd nodded. “I served yer father when he rode against the Dark Lord Shaddad.” Here he paused to spit. “I know the Leaves an’ Lion when I see it. I saw it often enough in those days, leadin’ us into battle.” He scowled. “I never thought I’d see it born by… bandits and reavers, Yer Honor, drawin’ steel against honest folk to despoil ‘em jus’ so you can.”
Rainald took a deep breath, and tried to quell the feelings of shame growing in his breast. He’d known this would come, this or something like it, when he’d begun his rebellion, but it still struck him like a blow. We had no choice. It was either the honest battle we now face or let all we hold dear be bled to death by the Eremites.
As he stood from his throne, Rainald truly hoped he was absolutely correct on that. “Let no man who hears this doubt it any longer,” he declared, “Prince Amfortas has forfeited his title of Lord Protector, and stands to the Free Cities as the Dark Lord Shaddad before him! Or indeed, like the Dark Lord Agrican before him, or the Dark Lord Abbad before him, or the Easter King Yuri Bloodyhand before him!” He looked over the people gathered there. “And yet let us remember--those tyrants have all perished, but the White Mountain still stands! And I say it will stand through these present evils, until the day that Amfortas Pescheour is nothing but a rotted pile of bones lying in some unmarked grave!” A great cheer came from the court. Rainald turned to that small group of farmers. “In the meantime, until this present evil passes, I give you the protection of Montalban. And let me assure you, those homes that they have put to the torch shall be rebuilt, and those lands they have despoiled shall grow green again! The House of Lasliez does not forget the welfare of its vassals! For now, it can truly be said that war is upon us! Let Montalban raise the black banner, and let it do so with pride, and honor!”
The applause and cheers grew louder at this, as the audience ended, and the Duke of Montalban left the Great Chamber with a swelling heart. Guiscard and Allard quickly fell in beside their brother. “That was most stirring,” said Allard.
“Yes, especially the part where you offered them the protection of Montalban,” said Guiscard. “Why now we can enjoy the pleasure of more mouths to feed as the Leonais plunder our lands, and then put us under siege.”
“A few dozen mouths will not spell our ruination,” muttered Rainald.
“That few dozen was the first trickle,” noted Guiscard. “It’ll soon turn into a stream, then a flood.”
“And what am I supposed to do,” asked the Duke, “Turn them away?”
“They’re farmers,” added Allard. “Many of them will bring food.”
Guiscard nodded. “I’ve no doubt some will, and in the long run, I suspect this will makes things difficult for the Leonais. But they are out there, and can bring food in. When we shut the gates and the siege begins, we will have no such option.”
“We have stores,” said Rainald. “And I will not fail my folk. If Amfortas wants to make the Free Cities his slaves, then he’ll have to fight.”
“And I stand with you in this,” snapped Guiscard. “But brother--war is hard. You will not always have the luxury of making the choice that eases your conscience. Some day--some day the hard choice will be before you and you will have to choose between two different rights, each married to a different wrong.”
“I called the bloody Dark Lord over, didn’t I?” snapped Rainald. “The son of the man my own father fought to keep on the other side of the river!” He took a deep breath. “Yes, the Sacristans say he is a different man than Shaddad, as fine a man as any in the Lands of Light--but are they to be trusted in this? Aniel’s Lantern, have I gambled only to change one wicked master for another?” He took a deep breath. “So do not talk to me of hard choices. I’ve made one. I’ll make others. When the time comes.”