flASH fiction: Volume 4: In the Hall of the Iron Lord (29)

In the Hall of the Iron Lord
By
Jason Pere

Five days have come and gone like a flash of lightning. The only thing that Brother Pratt could recount from the time waiting for his audience with the Iron Lord was the crushing weight of anticipation. On his group’s quest to garner support from the leaders of Argaia he had been faced with many opportunities to brood over the potential outcomes of his meetings with kings, nobility and warlords but his impending audience with Slate Roarkwin had been the most anxiety inducing experience thus far. The young man had never witnessed time pass away as quickly as he had in the days before his summons to the hall of the Iron Lord.

Brother Pratt felt the eyes of an entire city upon the back of his neck as he walked the streets of Rustwatch. He skulled and shrank from view as best he could behind the Iron Men officers who escorted him from his room at the tavern to the place where Slate Roarkwin waited for him. Having Tinaca and Kalli at his sides helped to disburse the tension he felt from the nerve-wracking walk but the comfort they offered was menial at best. There was more fear coursing through the young man’s blood than there was water in the Bone Sea. Pratt was certain that his apprehension was entwined with the absence of Sir Liam. Since embarking on this undertaking, Pratt had taken comfort in the presence of the Helm Breaker at his side each step of the way. Being without the inspiration that Sir Liam brought with him wherever he walked wore on the junior Councilman’s already taxed resolve. As much as Pratt longed for the comfort that Sir Liam’s imposing visage brought,he knew that he needed to be without the Helm Breaker today. Bringing Sir Liam face to face with Slate Roarkwin would only be courting disaster considering the bloody history the former Rayward Master of Arms had with the Roarkwin family.

The walk through Rustwatch was a whirr of muffled sounds and blur of shapes and muddy colors. Before Pratt had realized it he found himself on the steps of Slate Roarkwin’s hall. The building was breathtaking in scale and the craftsmanship of its architecture. Pratt could feel nervous sweat forming under his red hood. He fretted over the fact that simply seeing the place where the Iron Lord reigned over his city had brought him to such a state. He inwardly lamented over the prospect of meeting the legendary Slate Roarkwin in the flesh. Most of all it was the fact that he was bound to try and convince the Iron Lord to pledge his resources and fighting men to a grand cause that sounded like some kind of joke when spoken aloud. Asking one of the most powerful men in all of Argaia to commit soldiers to a special army bent on the total destruction of the chimera when most cities could barely keep the beasts from their walls felt about as comfortable as swallowing a mouthful of molten lead. In many way Slate Roarkwin was Pratt’s final hope to rally against the monsters spawned by the red rains and Pratt’s greatest hope in dealing with Slate Roarkwin was appealing to the man’s impossible sense of legend and taste for fame.

Pratt’s emotional turbulence was interrupted as a woman stormed out of the main entrance to the hall and began pacing back and forth in front of the grand double doors. She was launching a slew of verbal curses and obscene comments that would make even some of the most flippant of Rustwatch’s tavern revelers blush with embarrassment. As much as she tried to keep her voice to herself it was clear to anyone nearby that the Iron Lord was the source of her frustration. While she paced with a wild gate and had all the chaotic energy of a thunderstorm about to split the heavens, Pratt had to cede that she was possessed of a poise and bearing not unlike Sir Liam Broadcliff. Simply being around her was enough to instill a larger measure of purpose in the core of someone’s spirit. A soft nudge from Tinaca at the back of his shoulder pulled the Councilman from his enraptured state. He thankfully nodded to his companion and followed the Iron Men escort into the hall.

Slate Roarkwin sat in his throne of solid Iron with all the majesty and pomp that his reputation carried. Pratt could barely move his feet forward as the Iron Lord radiated a debilitating air that reached all the way across the hall. Kalli and Tinaca nearly pushed Pratt along to the area below where Slate’s throne was situated. The pair of Iron Men in the escort saluted their lord and sovereign, then they indicated to the three travelers that they should do the same. Pratt, Tinaca and Kalli all observed sloppy displays of deference though in Pratt’s case it was his nerves that caused his bow to waiver where as Tinaca and Kalli showed their gross unfamiliarity with etiquette like propriety was some kind of poison to them.

“And you are?” came the unshakably self-assured voice of the Iron Lord.

Slate’s words pulled Brother Prat up from his bow. “I am he who serves,” said Pratt. His tone was as unsteady as his knees.

“I can see that plain as day. What is your name, boy?” responded Slate with equal parts irritation and teasing glee. While it was evident that he was taking this audience under duress, it was easy to see he would take his pleasures where he could and that meant intimidating the junior Councilman.

“I am Brother Pratt. These are my companions Tinaca and Kalli, of the Evermist Valley and the Bloodwoods respectively,” said the Councilman as he motioned to the two women on either side of him.

“Hmm, never seen one of her kind. She lives up to the stories. At least by the look of her,” said Slate as he regarded the ashen painted figure of Kalli.

“Give me a bow and something to hunt and I will show you how well my clan can kill,” Kalli said. Small flecks of slighted spittle shot from her mouth as she responded to the Iron Lord’s comment.

“Ha, I like that kind of fire. Almost makes this task worthwhile,” mused the Iron Lord. He reached to the platter beside his throne and grabbed up a heavy looking tankard of spirits. The drink had a foamy head on it that extended well past the lip of the vessel. Slate Roarkwin glugged down a long swallow of the tankards contents. “I have received you at the command of your Abbot. Now what is your business in my city? Speak quickly,” he said to Pratt after wiping a messy dribble of alcohol from his chin with the back of his wrist.

“My lord, I come to you on behalf of the Vermillion Council and all good people of Argaia as it were. I am here to beseech the aid of Rustwatch and her Iron Men in the war against the chimera…” Pratt began but he was swiftly interrupted by the booming voice of the Iron Lord.

“Ah yes. I have heard of you. Quite the comedy in fact. A lone red cloak with a handful of come alongs running all over creation trying to unite a great army to fight against the chimera. By our combine might the great cities of our world might so on and so on…” Slate trailed with a mocking pitch and dismissive waive of his hand. “Is that about right, boy? You come here to ask me to send my soldiers to die for you and your council.”

Pratt was gutted. He felt as small as a door mouse as he cowered in the gaze of Slate Roarkwin. “Yes, my lord. The Iron Men would…” he said but was yet again cut off by the commanding sound of the Iron Lord speaking.

“Well, now I have received you, heard you and happily refused you,” Slate Roarkwin said with a delighted grin pulling at his mouth. “Now that we have finished your business with me, I would like to finish my business with you.”

“I am sorry, my lord. Your business?” Pratt said with a confused arch of his eyebrow.

“Aye, this is my city and I know everything that happened inside of her walls. You think I would have let you and yours get any further than the docks in our harbor if you did not have something I want?” said the Iron Lord. He stood from his throne and motioned to some of the guards attending one of the side doors to the hall. The Iron Men opened the door and ushered in an armed escort of no less than a dozen men and one exceptionally dour looking Sir Liam Broadcliff.

The room was a powder keg on fire. Pratt and his companions now felt the full measure of a great city threatening to come crashing down on their heads. Pratt wanted to believe that the red robes of his office would hearken cooler tempers and allow diplomacy to prevail but there was a palpable tinge of animosity in the air that signaled reason might be well beyond reach in the moments to come. Pratt could sense Tinica and Kalli both itching to reach for some of the concealed blades that they had undoubtedly smuggled into the hall. He subtlety communicated to them with a thoughtful glance and flick of his fingers to abandon such foolhardy ideas. It was undeniable that Pratt and his friends were at the mercy of Slate Roarkwin.

The Iron Lord walked up to Sir Liam after his guards had brought the large Rayward man front and center. Centuries of bad blood and contempt passed between the two men as they stood and silently accessed one another. “I have had most of my life to think about what I might do if I ever had the fortune to enjoy this moment. So you are the man who crushed my uncle’s head at the battle of Ryaward’s Gate and earned himself the name of Helm Breaker,” Said the Iron Lord like he was savoring some rare delicacy.

“Crushed like and egg. And they say the best armor comes from this place,” snorted Sir Liam. His goading mockery filled the hall like the crescendo of a full orchestra.

All was stunned silence following the Helm Breakers remark. Pratt had felt death close at hand before and in this moment he swore he could feel it’s icy hand clamping down around his throat. Had the quiet lasted for a moment longer then the Councilman knew that he would have loosed the remnants of his last meal all over the cobblestone of the Iron Lord’s hall. The sound of Slate Roarkwin laughing uncontrollably was the only thing that prevented Pratt form being sick all over himself.

“My uncle Flint was an arrogant man. All the Roarwin’s are to some degree but his head was too big for his shoulders. He made more enemies that he knew how to handle and he would have seen this city burn to nothing as it fought against the rest of the world single handedly. Sir, you did the Iron Men a great favor when you crushed his head like and egg, as you say. For that I owe you a salute,” said Slate Roarkwin as he stood up to full attention and pounded his fist over his heart in a valorous warrior’s display of respect.

All the room was thrust into a disarmed state of befuddlement. Everyone there had been poised to see some kind of importune poetic execution but the Iron Lord’s chivalrous display was several magnitudes greater than anything that anyone could have possibly imagined. This was a moment that would be seared into the annals of Rustwatch’s history for all time.

Slate relaxed his salute and took on a sly and sinister grin. “However, he was still my uncle and my blood. He was the man who taught me how to hold a hammer and work and anvil. I remember him and my father bouncing me on their knees as a little boy while they showed me how to repair a split chainmail hauberk. Flint Roarkwin had his faults but he had honor about him and he deserved a better end than the one you gave him. So for that I owe you,” he said. His words hung in the air for the blink of an eye and then just as fast his fist shot out and cracked into Sir Liam’s jaw. Slate smiled from ear to ear as he staggered the Helm Breaker and watched the man spit out a bloody bit of broken tooth. “Now you all get out of my city by the end of the day and never think of coming back to Rustwatch.”

Sir Liam stomped off indignantly and grumbling in his usual fashion. Brother Pratt pursued him with Tinaca and Kalli close on his heels. The four burst out of the Iron Lord’s hall like they had been flung form a catapult. Pratt was on the verge of calling out to Sir Liam in the hopes of salvaging the moment but a determined and regal voice sounded out before he could speak.

“Excuse me Councilman? Brother Pratt, is it?” said the pacing woman who had experienced her own unpleasant audience with the Iron Lord only moments prior.

Her voice offered a stay of execution to the charged emotions that were running rampant through the junior Councilman and his three companions. “Yes, mam. May I help you?” asked Brother Pratt.

The woman smiled a gentle and maternal smile at the young man clad in red. “I heard what went on in there,” she said nodding in the direction of the hall. “My name is Shibon Highbrand and I think that I might actually be able to help you.”