How better to start than with the first chapter of the book i’m currently writing ? I hope this will give you an idea of what i do and how i do it .. enjoy !
The day of the departure was a snowy one, but snow was omnipresent in Helungard, as much a part of the daily life of its people as the air they breathed or the water they drank. Winter had started for a couple of weeks now and even though snow was falling relentlessly all year long, the gentle flakes and cold winds of the summer were nothing next to the terrible snowstorms that swept the bleak, white lands of the country of Ice when the cold season reached its apex .Helungard was not a hospitable land, nor was it a warm one, but it bred strong and reliable men just like the one who was leaving today.
Loken Dragonclaw was strapping his bags to the saddle, pulling hard on the leather strips so they would not fall down during the long journey that awaited him. He was the ideal Northern warrior; a perfect mix of honor, manliness and controlled aggression. His long, braided blond hair and beard fluttered in the wind on each side of his face, sometimes obscuring his deep, storm-grey eyes. His face was stern and his features hard as if cut from the rocks of the Dragon Spine’s Mountains itself, but this was not because of any foul mood – just because this was the Northern way. The sons of Helungard were just like their winter- cold, hard and unforgiving. Satisfied that his bags were fastened properly he picked up a large, sheathed sword on the side and tied it to his double belt, the iron sheath making a rasping sound as it scraped against the scaled plate of his armor. Looking down, Loken noticed a faint sheen to the silvery steel breastplate, and cursed under his breath. Loken Dragonclaw, Northern King, was not one for esthetics and appearances. A man’s plate should show every scar of his battles, he always said. It was clear that his battle gear had recently been given to the blacksmith for reforming and polishing, and he was ready to wage twenty barrels of good Nikean ale that his wife was to blame for that. Women, he thought, always trying to make everything look pretty – even war.
All around him the lower courtyard was a hive of activity as the men of the guard readied themselves. Squires and page boys alike ran between mounted warriors, their breath misting in the cold as they carried weapons, rations and possessions to their respective knights. A squealing sound wrested him from his inner reflections, and it took him a minute to look down and realize that the weak sound was in fact a page calling up to him. The young boy’s freckled face was hidden under several layers of cloth, and still he shivered from the cold as he was straining to lift the king’s helmet high enough to present it to its rightful owner, obviously struggling to do so as the steel and dragonbone helm was too heavy for his weak frame. Loken, gifted with as much patience as an unfed newborn, snatched it from his arms with one massive armored hand and tucked it under the crook of his own arm while his second hand fell down on the boy’s shoulder, his barely restrained strength threatening to push the boy through the snow-covered ground.
“Which Clan are you from, son?”asked the King, his deep voice rumbling like the booming of thunder. This was a voice used to command, and one used to being answered to when asking a question. The boy winced, but eventually the authority compelling him to reply overcame the fear of doing so.
“I’m from no clan, Your Grace. I’m lowborn and I just dream to be a knight one day so that I can serve you as my grandfather did.”
The boy held his breath, as if scared that talking too much just ruined his aspirations to knighthood forever. Loken’s gaze dived into his, and for a moment he wasn’t able to tell if the boy was trembling from the cold or just from the pressure of his insisting stare.
“You better lose the furs and get used to the cold right now, boy. Knights ride long and Helungard’s winters are harsher than this slightly cold breeze.”
A smile lightened up the boy’s face, and he hastily took off the woolen hood protecting him from the cold. He gritted his teeth against the sudden icy wind slapping his face, but kept smiling as he nodded to the King.
“Thank you, your Grace” he said sincerely, before scurrying away.
“Could one believe that the Ice King actually has a warm heart?”
“Could one believe a father would smite down his own son for speaking out of place?” Loken sneered, turning to witness the arrival of his family coming to see him off. Krell was the first to reach him, still laughing at his poor jest as he embraced his father. A hint of a smile appeared on the King’s face as he stared at his son for a second, noticing the uncanny resemblance the two bore. Krell was his second son and even if only nineteen he was already as tall as his father, but nowhere near as muscular. The same golden hair flowed from his head in elaborate braids, and a blond goatee covered his square chin. The King’s grey eyes were present in his features, and the only differences between them were the number of scars they owned and their evergoing argument about Krell’s choice of wielding bow over sword.
Waiting behind him, standing well-composed before the men of the guard was his wife, Nala and his two daughters Mithra and Cali. Shoving away his son with a chuckle, he walked towards the women across the snow-covered courtyard, the ladies giving a slight bow once he reached them. Loken displayed a wide smile, and patted the head of the youngest, Cali. Just like most of the family she had long blond hair but unlike the boys she had the freckles, jade-green eyes and aquiline features of her mother. Just turned nine, she was sulking because her father would miss her birthday celebration and she replied to his smile with an upset pout, earning herself a light slap on the back of her head from her sister.
“Stop being such a baby, Cali!” snapped her older sister.
Mithra was a beauty renowned across all Helungard, and Lords from the Northern lands and beyond came to ask for her hand in marriage for themselves or for one of their sons but none succeeded so far. The King had decided to never force a wedding on his daughters, and Mithra was especially picky even if already seventeen. She had almond-shaped eyes the grey of her father’s, high cheekbones and thin lips. Her skin was pale as the snow falling around her and a white fur hat covered her long, curly blond hair. She put back a white glove after smacking Cali, and blushed under the hard gaze of her mother who needed no words to make her understand she should not hit her younger sister.
Nala Dragonclaw was unmistakably a woman of the North, standing un-hooded and unfazed by the cold wind brushing against her face. Born in the Clan Frostsong, she had the aquiline nose and freckles typical of her family and long, curly light-brown hair framed her face. Her green eyes rested upon her husband in a gentle gaze, and when she spoke it was with a low, soft voice.
“Forgive your daughters, my King. They are just showing in their own ways that they will miss you, as surely as I will.” Loken showed her a warm, honest smile, before gently grabbing her hand.
“Worry not, my Queen. The journey shall be a short one, for the snowstorms are not yet powerful enough to delay the horses. I shall see that matters are taken care of swiftly so I can return home before the freezing season.”
“Do you know what the council is about this time, my love?” asked the Queen, concern clear in her voice. The King was heading to the Quartet council, a meeting where the Kings of the Four Kingdoms of Men only broach matters of high import. The last one had taken place two hundred years ago, and was about the overthrowing of the Western King’s rule. The King shook his head, his smile slowly fading as worry appeared in his features.
“To be honest, I do not know but will tell you more upon my return. Until then, there is no use worrying over nothing.” The Queen was about to answer back when a rider approached, stopping his horse a few paces from the royal family. The rider took off his helm, and placed it with exaggerate care before him on the saddle’s pommel. He then slowly nodded to the Queen in respect and turned to address the King.
“Father, all is in readiness. We should leave with haste if we are to make good time.”
Arek Dragonclaw was the eldest son of the King and heir to the throne of the Northern Kingdom. Named after their ancestor and first King of Helungard, Arik Dragonclaw, Arek had a distinct pride unseen in the rest of the family. He wore his hair short, curly and light brown like his mother’s, and his closely-shaved face displayed a strong jaw and sunken dimples, only accentuating his aura of arrogance. The King nodded to his first son, who put his helm back without any further words and trotted his horse back to the assembled guardsmen. Loken watched him go with an unreadable expression, before turning back to his family and embracing every one of his kids in turn. He wiped a tear from Cali’s face with his thumb as she was done playing hard-headed and finally showed her true feelings, and kissed the cheeks of his wife before heading back to his horse.
“We shall be back soon”, he said once mounted, “have no worries. I’m pretty sure nothing threatening the peace of the North has happened.”
Many leagues from the frozen lands of the North, a young man was staring at his own naked reflection in an expensively ornate glass mirror. His muscles bulged under his light-brown skin as he moved around and posed, turning on himself to better admire his well-built figure, and rapture was clear on his face as he was lost in self-adoration. His smile was one of a cheerful young boy, circled by a goatee as dark as his shoulder-length black hair and his eyes were the blue-green of a calm sea.
“How is it that I never tire of watching my perfect body?” he asked, to no one in particular, for the room was apparently empty.Still, he looked behind his shoulder as if expecting an answer and shrugged at the silence . He walked to a wooden desk. The piece of furniture’s drawers and edges were trimmed with gold . He reached for a little silver bell resting in the middle of books and gold coins carelessly left on the surface. Slowly walking back to the mirror again he gave a gentle flick of his wrist and the bell emitted a high-pitched musical note as it tolled. Immediately, two girls dressed in nothing but bright orange togas irrupted in the room, arms laden with expensive garments and wearing playful smiles on their faces. Giggling, they put down the clothes in piles all around the room and started to pick up some, hurrying to the young man’s side and starting to dress him up. The man snapped his fingers, and one of the servant girls immediately stopped and dropped the silk pants she was holding, running to a low table where stood only a glass jar and two empty glasses. She poured rich, red wine into one and brought it to the man before getting back to the task of clothing him. The man took a quick sip, turning the beverage in his mouth in a deliberately exaggerated show of tasting it before gulping it down.
“Vajir?” he called out, his eyes not leaving his smiling reflection. This time, a voice answered.
“Yes, Lord Garanaï?” It said, the voice coming out of the shadows behind him and carrying easily across the room despite being barely raised louder than a whisper.
“I was starting to wonder if you were here at all, as you did not choose to answer my last question.”
“I was, my Lord. I simply thought that it was more of a rhetoric statement, a question to none but yourself. But, to be perfectly honest, I was wondering the same thing.” .
“I like that straight-forwardness of yours, Vajir. If you please, go and tell Sathaël to get the men and the horses ready. We wouldn’t want to be late, would we?”
Once again, the shadow gave no answer but the faintest, brushing sound of cloth indicated his departure from the room. Noticing he was finally fully dressed, the man dismissed his two servants with a nonchalant hand gesture, making them leave the room with a bow, and walked to the desk to drop off the silver bell. After looking across the bureau’s surface for a second, he picked up a small golden sigil in the effigy of a raised fist and pinned it to his collar. Satisfied he was ready he made to leave the room, he passed by the glass mirror and admiring himself one last time. He was dressed in rich, brown leather armor with a red woolen cloak and matching gloves and boots. His hair was bound in a ponytail, and a long rapier with a ruby pommel sheathed at his hip.
Karl Garanaï, King of Kyosos and regent of the Southern Kingdom, was adamant. For a man about to celebrate his seventy-seventh birthday, he looked amazing.
“You fight like a peasant, Domos.” Spat the first man, panting.
“And you, my friend, fight like the pleasure girl I had brought up to my room last night! “
Laughing, Domos ducked low to avoid a large swipe of his opponent’s sword, followed by a downward slash that he easily blocked with the haft of his massive war hammer. The two warriors locked eyes as the blade of the assailant was trying to force the hammer down, to no avail. Domos’ smile widened, revealing missing teeth, as he effortlessly kept his opponent sword from reaching him. With his other hand, Romus lifted his shield to slam it into the other man’s ribs , but Domos saw it coming and kicked him back with an armored boot. Romus was violently sent backwards, staggering. Still laughing, Domos was holding his hammer in a relaxed, one-handed grip. That he was able to carry so easily a weapon designed for two hands was a testament to his incredible strength. He raised his free hand before him, palm open in a mocking salute before addressing his opponent.
“Let me apologize, Romus. On second thought, the girl was way fiercer than you.”
“Go to hell, Domos!” screamed Romus, lunging at his opponent with his shield up. Domos barely sidestepped, letting Romus thrust hit only air, then pivoted on his heels and used the momentum to bring the hammer head against the shield with his full strength. The impact was tremendous, the clang of iron on iron echoing through the throne room as Romus literally flew back to crash down on the tiled floor, his armor chipping the priceless black and white tiles. Dizzy, he lifted his shield to assess the damage done. The round, metal protection was deformed, a bended thing little better than scrap metal only good to be melted. He pried it off and cast it away in anger as a voice from the back of the room echoed his thoughts as if reading his mind.
“If Domos had hit your body, your bones would be little more than shards now. Would he have hit your head, you would be lying dead.”
The voice sounded amused, as if the prospective of a violent death befalling his subordinate was simply entertainment to him. Both soldiers turned to face the source of the statement, their eyes fiding the large, armored form of their King sitting on his throne.
Klegos Snakeskin was many things; He was the King of Logos, lands of the West. He was a giant of a man, his height reaching almost two full meters and he dwarfed the hunched form of his advisor even as he sat on his throne of dark iron. He was strong, his powerful build barely kept in check by its black armor, as if the plates of his battle-suit were about to burst under the pressure of his muscular form. He had an aura of dominance and authority about him, his presence impressive even if slouched in his throne with his head resting on a gauntleted fist. He was all those things and many more but by no means was he handsome – in fact, quite the opposite.
King Klegos was not that old, barely going on his fifties, but his face was creased and seemed as brittle as old parchment. Bushy eyebrows and small, sunken black eyes gave him a feral look , and an absence of facial hair revealed a collection of scars , the worst one going from the right corner of his mouth to his temple and pulling his face in a perpetual sneer. His nose was squat and had clearly been broken more than once, and greasy jet-black hair framed his gaunt face. Yes, Klegos was a misshapen thing and some would say that his face was the outer reflection of his dark, cruel heart, and it took his advisor every ounce of courage to address him.
“Your Grace, there is a matter I wish to bri-”
The old advisor jumped at the deep, cavernous voice, startled by the King’s interruption. He drew a long breath to speak again, but was cut short by Snakeskin’s raised hand.
“Hold on” he said, the two words more a threat than a request. He rose from his throne, lifting up both arms as he addressed the two warriors staring at him. “Domos, Romus, why did you stop? Please keep going at each other, I feel like old Hakur here is about to bore me to death. Let’s see which one of us three dies first, shall we? “
Both warriors nodded, and Romus slowly got back on his feet, gripping his sword in both hands as Klegos sat down and turned to face his counselor. He let out an exaggerated sigh, as if already exasperated even before speaking.
“Yes, Hakur, go on.” The old man waited a moment just to be sure he wasn’t about to be interrupted anew, clearing his throat and raising his voice so he could be heard above the sounds of the fight happening a few paces from them .
“As I was saying, your Grace, there is a matter I wish to bring to your attention. It is about the summons to the Quartet Cou-”
“Ah, the Quartet council!” interrupted the King, apparently enjoying cutting short his advisor. If Hakur was upset by his King constantly butting in, he knew better than to show it and kept a neutral expression as he let his monarch speak again. “A fabulous display of boredom … the last one was about two hundred years ago, isn’t that correct , Hakur ? “
“Yes my King, it was.”
“And what do they want now, tell me? What matter of great import, what tragedy has befallen the Kingdoms of Men this time for the Four Kings to be summoned anew? Is it about the brave, honorable and loved barbarian from the North? Or is it about the one sitting on a throne bought with gold? No… I think it will be about the one who should not even be sitting on the throne at all, unable to prevent one kingdom from falling into civil war. “
“We shall find out soon enough, my King. However, by my best estimates we sha-”
“We shall be leaving today, isn’t that right? Otherwise you would not be pestering me as you do now, would you? You are so predictable, old man. But slow as a marsh tortoise, and that’s why I finish your sentences for you. Don’t think ill of me, old one; I just do not wish my loyal advisor to be tired before such a long journey.”
The King displayed a wry smile, his scared face turning the habitually warm expression into something quite frightening. Hakur slightly shuddered, and nodded in thanks.
“Thank you for your concern and your… generosity, my King. With your permission, I shall take my leave and make sure everything is in order for our imminent departure.”
The King nodded, making a dismissive gesture with his hand.
“Yes, yes, you go and do just that” he said, before a harrowing scream brought his attention back to the fight. Romus was lying on the ground, crying in pain as his hands clutched his left leg; the limb was a gory mess under the knee of armor, flesh and bone alike had been crushed under the weight of Domos’s massive hammer. Domos was standing above him, his breathing hard but his visage triumphant.
“What are you waiting for, Domos? You cruel bastard, end the man’s suffering will you?”
The King stood up from his throne, and made to leave the room without sparing as much as glance for the victor or the vanquished, the fight irrelevant to him now that the issue was determined. “Oh, and Domos? Congratulations, you are now the new commander of the Royal guard” he said without interest, his back to the fighters.
King Klegos Snakeskin pushed open the massive iron doors of the throne room, and the cracking sound of a hammer crushing a skull echoed behind him, abruptly cutting Romus’s shouted pleas for mercy.
The carriage wooden wheels creaked on the paved road, the irritating sound accompanied by the rapid, clapping tempo of a dozen horses’ hooves advancing in a ground-eating trot. Every rider was wary, for travelling the roads of their own land was a dangerous thing those days despite who they were riding with. Each helmeted head was constantly scanning left and right, looking for potential ambush locations as they all expected one. After all, in the current times, it was rare for their monarch to leave the safe walls of the castle and give to potential rivals an occasion this good for a murder attempt. One knight in particular was even more tense than the others, for he was a steward and personal bodyguard; even if the safety of their sovereign was the sworn duty of every knight present, the ultimate responsibility eventually fell to him.
Sir Leon rode the closest to the carriage, handling the reins of his horse one-handed as the other one always rested on the hilt of his sword. A sky-blue cape fluttered in the wind behind his armored form, the silvery plate fully enclosing his body. The weather was hot and oppressive and he felt warm sweat trickling down his brow and cheeks, but he could not relax for one second – or rather would not allow himself to – and he wished he could take off his helmet and refresh his face under the pouring rain. The damn rain as he mentioned earlier, cutting visibility by half and making travel by night an unviable option. He nonetheless wished they could, because every extra minute spent on the roads of the Eastern Kingdom was another occasion for the traitor to strike. Cursing the foul man under his breath, he collected himself and focused on the task at hand: Protection. What was so important, he thought, that they had to put at risk the life of the…
He barely had time to notice the whistling sound of an arrow cutting through the air before he saw it embedded in the helm’s eye slit of the knight next to him. The rider’s horse reared, letting the lifeless guard fall on the ground in a splash of water. In a second, chaos exploded around him. Panicked horses were neighing in reaction of the rearing beast, and guardsmen were shouting confused reports or orders. Leon drew his sword, raising it high in the air for all to see.
“Circle the carriage, shields high!” he shouted, trying to bring some order to the escort. “Protect it with your life if you must! Two men with me!”
He launched his horse in a fast gallop, being the only one able to estimate were the arrow had been fired from. He bent low, unstrapping his own steel shield from his saddle as he rushed towards the menace. Arrows were buzzing past him as he crossed the grass plain and yells and shouted curses came from behind him indicating more rebels assailing the convoy, but he would have to let the men that stayed back deal with them ; he had to take care of the attacking archers first. He lengthened the reins and his horse jumped over a low fence, bringing him directly in the middle of two startled archers. The first one died on the spot, his head cleanly separated from his shoulders by a swift, low cut of Leon’s sword. The second one cursed as he fumbled for an arrow but Leon’s blood was up and a clean thrust punctured his neck making warm, red blood spray on the horse’s white coat. The knight lifted up his head, noticing that the two others guardsmen were dispatching fleeing archers in the same way around him. Assured that the bows menace was taken care of, he turned his horse and rushed back to the carriage where the fighting was still in progress. The riders were better armored and armed, but the attackers outnumbered them two to one. He slashed the arm of a man about to throw a spear before stabbing him with his sword, perforating one of the man’s lungs.
“Glory to the true King of the East! Glory to Fireborn!” shouted a warrior coming towards him, mace held up high.
He thanked the man’s folly for announcing his arrival and parried the mace blow with his shield in a ringing noise, before brushing the weapon aside. The enemy was wide open, and Leon cut him from head to groin with a powerful downward slash letting more blood and viscera splash on the ground. Panting, he realized that the sounds of the battle were already fading. He took off his helm and gazed around as other riders mirrored him to better assess the outcome of the short, but intense fight. About thirty rebels lay dead amidst gore and insides, their blood running down between the cobblestones as it mixed with rain water and gave it a pinkish taint. Only two horses were down, and twice that number of knights not counting the first one who fell to the first arrow. He sighted loudly, feeling grim. The losses had been few, but five lives were always too much. He knew each one of the dead warriors, and they all had families, wives and children who would mourn them. His stare fell on the carriage, and he got down his horse before running towards it as he noticed the numerous arrows embedded in the wood of the coach. As if the passenger had foreseen his unease the door opened, revealing the face of a young lady peering outside in curiosity. Her head was hooded, hiding all of her features but for thin lips and chestnut-brown eyes red with dried tears. Leon immediately fell on one knee, his head low as he abased himself before his sovereign.
“My Queen, are you unhurt?” he asked in a trembling voice laden with concern. All around him, the knights lowered their heads in a respectful salute to their monarch. She waved them to raise their heads, before putting a hand under her bodyguard’s chin.
“Please rise , Sir Leon. You did well, and even if my heart saddens to see such waste of good lives, I’m glad that there were no more casualties. But sadly, we have no time to mourn. Please put the bodies of the men on their horses, so we can return them to their families once we get back home. For now, we must go swiftly to the Quartet council.”
“Very well, my Queen” Leon answered, relieved. “Your kindness is humbling .”
Luciana Meathar, Queen of the Eastern Kingdom Berthesa and sole Queen of the Quartet, displayed a warm smile before heading back inside her carriage.