"Kaz" Augustin is a member of the Roll Off A Tangent team... who discuss this story in the podcast of 17th October 2021.
— We’ve known each other forty years haven’t we, Rohirren? Long time ... what’s that, I didn’t hear you ... I was saying, it’s been a long forty ... No, not fountain! FORTY! ... Lerren! LERREN! Get your arse over here! Yes, NOW! ... Gods, man, what’s going on? We can’t hear ourselves think! ...
Yes, I know it’s a celebration after the tourney, we were there too, in case you didn’t realise, but there’s not enough room here to set a glaive. And it’s not like we’re the common riff-raff. Come on, Lerren, find us a quieter alcove, will you? We’ve been coming here after tourney for decades. Would have thought that would buy us some privileges ... Yes, now! ...
Well alright, if that’s the only place available, the cellar it is. But it gets passing cold there. Send your boy down to light a big fire and we’ll move after we finish our drinks. Oh, and get him to pour out a pitcher of claret for us as well, will you? The good stuff, Lerren, not the weak swill you served me last time ... What’s that? Came from Bonamia? Well it’s obvious those fellows can’t make wine if their kingdom depended on it ... Yes, yes, everything else is fine, we don’t need any help. We’ll quaff our beer, Lerren, then we’ll move downstairs. And make sure we stay private! ... Yes, on my account, you mangy penny-counter, now off with you! ...
They’re getting more arrogant each day, these tavern owners. Loosen ever so slightly your foot off their necks and the next thing you know, they’ll be wanting representation ... What’s that? I said, Lerren and his crowd are–oh, never mind. Let’s finish these and repair to a quieter place. Yes, downstairs. We haven’t met for more than a year. Lots to catch up on ...
Yes, I agree. Unfortunately, their ale is still the best ... Need a hand with that sword of yours? Hefty thing. New, is it? I still have the one the Council gave me near twenty years ago... What a beauty this one is. You’ll have to introduce me to your swordmaker, Ro. Time for me to get a new toy, I think ...
Sorry, didn’t mean to shout, but my ears are still ringing from the din upstairs. Let’s set ourselves by the fire ... Ah, good lad. Set it down there and, what do you think, Ro? Are we up for a second pitcher? Go fetch a second one, lad. Quick smart now ...
— You haven’t changed, Galedal.
— Do you mean that as a compliment? As I recall, we didn’t part company on the best of terms.
— But I hope I made it up to you on the field these past few days.
— That you did, my friend. Your seat is still as steady as the Rock of Shanun. These youngsters may have more fire, but they lack our experience. Too impulsive by half.
— As were we twenty years ago, Galedal. But I think they’ll grow up soon enough.
— Soon enough? Ha! You’re referring to Lamalin, aren’t you? I came here to drink and you wish, instead, to talk about polity. Knew you couldn’t leave that issue alone.
— You are as sharp as in your youth. Yes, of course I’m curious. This affects us all, and I admit with no false modesty that I’m not as highly placed as you. You are privy to the Council’s highest deliberations and I wonder–
— Oh shut up, Ro, and finish your goblet... There, doesn’t that make you feel better? Bring it closer and I’ll refill it.
Before we put our friendship aside and jump at each other’s throats, tell me, how fares your family? That youngest son of yours should be old enough for squiring by now.
— Yes he is. I sent him to Sir Waldirren—
— (Rather than to me, I notice.)
— —and he’s doing well... I wish you would stop practising on me.
— I don’t understand.
— I’m not the Council, Galedal. I’m not the one you need to distract. Do you forget that we’ve spilt blood together? Once, I had even harboured hopes that our houses would be joined by marriage. One of my sons to one of your daughters. What happened to that dream?
— Hmph. What happened is what happens to all phantasms. They disappear with the first ray of sunlight. The light of clarity, Ro, something you’ve obviously missed these many years past.
— Is that why you turned me down? Because I’m a dreamer?
— Dammit, I thought we came down here to talk about the tourney and how I struck Celdrinon a good one. Last I heard, he was still bleeding from the ears! Ha ha! The fool.
— You took unfair advantage, Galedal. He was distracted and you saw an opening you shouldn’t have taken.
— Nonsense. Here, drain this pitcher and I’ll move it. Not enough room on these damned small tables. And I’m hungry!
— You haven’t changed at all... Would you like me to get Lerren’s son?
— Not much fun drinking claret without accompaniment, is there?
— I’ll go find him.
— Get him to come down here and draw a third pitcher as well, will you? They make them accursed small these days ... And shut the door behind you on your way up ... By the gods, it sounds noisier than ever upstairs ...
Yes, much better to sit and brood here alone, in the quiet. Oh Ro, Ro, why do you always do this? I give you such chances and you throw them away. As you say, you are not privy to Council dealings and yet you would dare stand against me. Such foolishness can be tolerated in callow youth, but not from a man with grown sons of his own.
By the gods, it’s only sentiment and old memories that draw me to speaking with you, and what is that worth in this modern world? Not much.
Not as much as Lamalin, for example. Such a jewel, ripe for taking. Siege engines, trebuchet, archers, and the finest cavalry this side of the Uton Sea. We’ll be flying our standards from its turrets by autumn, I’m sure, once we finish training up the youngsters. But that can only happen if...
Hmph, are you back already? And as for you, lad, what’s the fare for the day? ... Yes yes, that sounds fine. Mind that it’s hot and fresh, there’s nothing worse than cold venison. It depresses both the mind and the stomach. And get us another pitcher, will you? The mead this time and hurry up! I’m famished.
— Where were we, Galedal? You seemed deep in thought when I entered just now.
— I admit, I was thinking of your cowardice, Ro.
— It’s of little surprise that you oppose our campaign against Lamalin.
— I thought you didn’t wish to discuss politics.
— I know you when you have that look in your eye. A dog with a stolen joint of meat couldn’t be more single-minded. Let’s have it and then we can get back to drinking.
— As you wish.
— You were vocal enough around the camps these past few days. A bit irresponsible, wouldn’t you say?
— Irresponsible? For expressing my opinion?
— Ro, Rohirren, I speak to you as one sworn knight to another. Do not do this. Do not go against the wishes of the Council. We have finished the tourney and word has already spread. The damage is already done, but if our friendship has meant anything to you, seal your lips at the next sword assembly. Or else...
— Or else what, Galedal? I’m used to your bluster and your fire, but this veiled warning is unlike you. Do you also come bearing a stiletto hidden in your gauntlet, my friend? Is that what being at the Council for so long has taught you?
— Insults? After all I’m trying to do for you? I give you one last chance. The Lamalin campaign will happen. It is as constant as the sun’s course in the sky. If you agree to say nothing more, to let even the blades of grass whispering in the wind outshout you, then there will be allowances made towards you and your kin.
— Allowances? What do you mean?
— Let’s not parry off the field as we did on it these past five days, Ro. You are a well-known figure in higher circles. We know that you have the ear of many distinguished knights, and that you have told them that Lamalin is nothing but folly. Have you thought of the consequences of such utterances? If we lose the campaign, Ro, it will be because of that viper tongue of yours.
— Galedal, I only take such words from you because we are both knights foresworn to defend the kingdom. But such statements from another’s lips would demand instant redress. While you warn me about the sage ruminations from your beloved Council, you are throwing my words onto the earth to be pissed on.
You have called me ‘knight’, Galedal, but don’t forget what that means. I have fought for this kingdom as hard as you have, with steel in my arm and a lion in my breast, and what words I speak come from honesty and my love for this land. You must know that this campaign you boast of is folly. We may have the warriors, yes, the machines of war, verily, but what of transportation? Have you thought of that? Lamalin has a navy that surveils most approaches to their kingdom. Do what the Council wishes and, I swear, you will condemn our young warriors to a watery death. Could you bear to have such on your conscience? To quench such young flames forever?
— Do you honestly believe we—good, about time, lad. Bring that venison over here. Still sizzling, I see. No, we’ll serve ourselves. Just pour the mead then get going ... Yes, of course, on my account, I said so, didn’t I? ...
Let’s eat first, then we’ll get back to our sniping. No sense arguing on an empty stomach, is there?
— I thought hunger sharpens the intellect.
— More of your revisionist nonsense, Ro. Here’s a nice slice of meat. Chew on that and shut up for a few minutes, will you?
— Only if you do the same.
◌ ◌ ◌
— And what are you going to do when you’re proved wrong, Galedal?
— Hmph. I could ask the same of you. Here, let’s finish this pitcher while we still can ... And let us be serious for a moment. Your words...do you mean them?
— Do you mean yours?
— The Council has passed a new law. To gainsay them is treason.
— Ah. So it has been done. We had heard rumours that such tyranny was in the offing.
— You have your allies, Galedal, as I have mine. It was obvious at the tourney, was it not? Yes, we flew under many banners on the field, but we both knew who the two main factions really were, you with yours and me with mine. Prudence versus insanity.
— You had your chances, Ro. I invited you here tonight, to this old tavern, a favourite past haunt of ours, to press you into a final, and hopefully sensible, decision. You know what’s at stake. Join us.
— That was what I was going to say to you. Leave behind the madness of the Council and see reason. You were once a reasonable man. Waldirren and I have often—
— Waldirren has been taken. It will be announced tomorrow. A trial in three days and execution in four.
— You jest, surely? No? I...I don’t know what to say. A sorrowful surprise, Galedal.
— Your hand trembles, Ro. Surprise? Or cowardice?
— You will not understand my answer. Love, Galedal, it is love.
— You are right, I don’t understand. We are in a battle of wills right now, perhaps even to the death, and you give me women’s words?
— I loved you as a brother once. I wanted to preserve that, to see you again as the starry-eyed young knight of yore. We adventured together, fought many foes, but I never expected to have it come to this. Waldirren? Taken? How could you countenance this, my friend? …
Yes lad, come in. Clear the table and compliments to the cook. The meat was well seasoned and passing tender. Watch that you don’t knock our goblets over. The night is not yet ended and the gentlemen you serve are still at an impasse. I fear—
— What is it, Galedal? Do you want more food? The boy needs to return to the kitchen, in any case. Quick with your request and let him go so we can continue our duel.
Clever, Ro. Clever of you to keep up your inane chatter.
— My ‘women’s words’, you mean?
— It almost worked. Perhaps if the lad had shut the door behind him when he entered... But he didn’t, did you, boy? And now, I hear...
— What do you hear?
— Nothing, Ro. I hear nothing. No roars of laughter, no shouts of challenge, no joyous brawls. You have emptied our tavern, have you not?
— No, Galedal, not emptied. My men wait for you upstairs. Unless I app-approach them f-first.
— A clever trap. That, I’m afraid, will have to be sprung and very soon.
— If-if only... you c-could...
— What’s the matter, Rohirren? You look quite pale and seem to have difficulty talking. No, it’s no use clutching at your throat like that. You have already drunk enough poison to slay a battalion of archers. No, not the mead, don’t look at it like that; it was actually quite drinkable. The potion was in the wine. I added it to your goblet while you were away ordering dinner.
— Yes. Not a brave or courageous way to despatch an enemy, I’ll admit, but one that guarantees results. Twenty years with the Council has taught me a trick or two. But once you die, Ro—and you will in a few minutes—then I fear my life will also be forfeit. I doubt your warriors upstairs will let me leave in one piece, especially after they see what I’ve done to you.
Was it worth it, Ro? Ha! You dare nod even your lips turn black. How many wait for me upstairs? Ten? Twenty? And me without my armour, as naked as a child.
So be it... You don’t mind lending me that fine sword of yours, do you, Rohirren?... Fancy scabbard, but useless right now. Here, since you’re scrabbling at my hands, hold onto that instead. You can trace the silver engravings with your dying fingers... Hmmm, good balance, nice grip. Don’t look at me like that, Ro; I’ll take good care of it for as long as I’m alive. Let us clear the way for younger blood, as you say, and we’ll tourney together in Hell on the morrow, that I promise...
Come out of the corner there, lad. Stop your snivelling and mind you stay behind me, eh? Let’s go.
At the podcast discussing this story, Nikki asked for more details about the Rock of Shanun. I didn’t have any. So, he went about creating its backstory and here it is. Take it away, Nikki!
Rock of Shanun - A great mountain that was populated by a nation of cave-dwellers. This Rock place was so impervious and insurmountable, that the tales of its might spread all across the world. No one came close to defeating the people of Shanun, for they always hid within the mountain that gave them life. A great disaster followed, molten rock fell from the sky. Although Shanun remained standing, all those who lived within its cave systems perished from smoke and cinder. Yet, the rock lived on. This is where the saying comes from, "Steady as the Rock of Shanun"