Rise of the Thrall Lord
The Life and Times of Klinkar Strakentir - Part 2
“So, brother, are you excited?” Fafnar asked in youthful enthusiasm. Klinkar was the oldest of the three brothers and Fafnar was the youngest.
“Of course he is,” Ignar, the middle brother chimed in. “Haven’t you seen him playing with the models and driving the wizards crazy with his cantrip demands?”
“Imagine, Klinkar Strakentir, Lord of Karajon, Commander of The Sky Knights of Dunwynn. It’s second only to the Duke himself in importance,” Fafnar nearly sang. Fafnar had met a foppish gentleman in the Duke’s court when he was young and had adopted a lisp as an affectation to mimic him. The attention it brought made it a permanent fixture in his voice, and to his credit, Fafnar used it well as he was very charming. But since it made him pronounce Klinkar as Kwinkar, it irritated his brother a little.
“Maybe even more important,” Ignar added with a wink.
“Brothers,” Klinkar cut them off. “I will serve the Duke loyally as I always have. Use my lesson of fidelity to the Duchy as guidance for your own endeavors so that your success may mirror mine.”
“Yes, Klinkar, father would be proud,” Ignar said. “I’m sure his spirit is watching down on you today.”
“Oh, the trumpets!” Fafnar exclaimed. “It’s time for the ceremony!”
The Great Hall was decked out in a multitude of colors draping the majestic stonework. It was Granting of Orders Day in Dunwynn, which marked the end of the annual session of government business. The week prior had been a flurry of ducal pronouncements, new laws, new taxes, new treaties; it had been a busy schedule. But on this day, the Duke traditionally handed out the grand feudal prizes and major ambassadorships. The people chosen would become the Lords and Ladies of the territories to which they were assigned, and as such, would run the lands as they saw fit, answerable only to the Duke himself. The ambassadors would travel to the finest places on Thac and would have great influence as the voice of the Duke. The plum assignment was usually Ambassodor to Orllon. The port city known for the riches of its docks was both exceedingly wealthy and close enough to Dunwynn that family life would not be greatly disrupted. The Duke also had considerable influence in Orllon. But this time around, the prime assignment was expected to be Karajon. Karajon had begun the great project, the pride of the Duke. They had started domesticating hippogriffs and were training warriors to ride them. The leader of Karajon would be the leader of The Sky Knights, the most powerful organized military force ever known. The expectation all around the duchy was that Klinkar would get the honor. He had served the present Duke since before he was duke. His loyalty was unquestioned and he was the most decorated military commander in the duchy. He had also been assisting the Duke since the beginning of the Sky Knight project. The entire supply train to Karajon had been organized by Klinkar and he had helped choose the first group of Knights. Klinkar had also never been granted a feudal prize, the Duke had always explained that Klinkar was too important to send away. But this time, it all seemed too obvious that Klinkar was the best choice for Karajon.
The nobles and gentry filled the Hall, forming into their usual cliques. Ignar was a favorite with many of the guild leaders and Fafnar was flirting with the Ladies. Klinkar took his usual place behind the Duke’s right shoulder. Usually, the least of the towns were the first to go. Least among those was Berenholm. It was named for Lord Beren who had been Lord of Berenholm for forty years. For the past two decades he had not even bothered to show up for Orders Day. In his time there, Lord Beren had taken up sheep breeding and had developed some very successful kinds of sheep. However, in the past year Lord Beren had died and needed to be replaced. No one important enough to receive a feudal prize expected to be unimportant enough to get Berenholm. In fact, some wondered if the post would even be filled.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the court of Dunwynn, the Duke will now address you as befits your station,” the herald shouted. The room silenced at once as the Duke did not tolerate disorder.
“Nobles and dignitaries of Dunwynn, it is now time for me to pronounce who will rule as my arms and legs, my eyes and ears, and who will be my voice throughout the duchy. Some call these prizes. Some call them honors. Some call them the spoils of loyal service. But to me, I am choosing extensions of myself; you will be my flesh and blood to my loyal subject while I must stay here. These positions require sober judgment and unwavering loyalty.
“And now as is tradition, the new occupant of Berenholm Manor is Klinkar Strakentir.”
Ordinarily, there was always at a minimum polite applause for the lesser towns and raucous cheering for the larger ones. In this particular case, there was silence, with many meaningful looks of confusion. Klinkar himself had heard his name but stood confused for a moment.
“Klinkar, your guards are waiting for you at the gate. Specific orders are in your saddlebags. The post at the Manor has been vacant for too long. You are to leave at once.”
Klinkar received many meaningful, sorrowful and horrified faces as he strode to the other end of the Great Hall, his metal boots causing echoes in the silence. Klinkar did not see his brothers among them, but thought they must be huddled trying to figure out what had happened.
Klinkar, ever the dutiful soldier, mounted his horse and rode to the gate. There he found ten guards. He knew the faces and the names, but did not know the men personally. Each of them had an unsavory reputation within the ranks. That was something Klinkar did know about them. The highest ranking was Vilcomb, so he addressed him first, “Vilcomb, these are my men?”
“Aye, my lord,” Vilcomb said without the usual tone of respect Klinkar was used to. Klinkar glared at him silently. “Yes, my lord,” Vilcomb corrected stiffly.
“We march till sundown and camp,” Klinkar ordered, and then he spurred his horse down the road at a good pace. The men fell in and followed in a slipshod fashion.
Camp was erected after sundown purposefully. Klinkar wanted to see how the men would respond to adversity. He was not surprised when his was the only tent that was put up. The men just slumped on the ground and made themselves as comfortable as they could as they ate their rations and then slept. Klinkar decided to attempt to make sense of what had happened today. His first step was to read the orders the Duke had sent in his saddlebags. He was disappointed to find that it was just a list of what he would have to provide each month as taxes. The sheep, pigs, goats and chickens were obviously going to supply Karajon. The hippogriffs ate a great deal of meat when they were forced to fly. That was part of the supply line he had to dream up before the project could begin. There was nothing in the orders that gave him a clue as to why he, Baron Klinkar Strakentir, a man the Duke had called “brother” both publically and privately for years, would be exiled to Berenholm.
Klinkar had met Lord Beren a number of times. His story was eerily similar. Lord Beren was a young nobleman in whom everyone saw tremendous promise. He was given the town and all thought it a year or two stepping stone to greater things. Then the years turned to a decade and then two. No one ever knew why it had happened. Now, young Klinkar, a man all had destined for glory, was being sent out to pasture.
The following morning, camp was broken down and packed up. Then they were on their way. The guards looked very stiff from their uncomfortable night, but Klinkar blamed it on their own ill-disciplined laziness. Days passed with Klinkar replaying everything in his mind attempting to find a clue as to what was going on. He knew the maps well. To the west was Bendenwood. There was nothing to be feared from that direction. The people of Bendenwood were simple hunters. They were great archers, but they were entirely defensively minded. If they were left alone, they would never attack. Also, he could not be there in any way to attack them. With only ten men at arms, they would be slaughtered. Furthermore, there were druids in those woods that held a council at Bendenwood. Again, druids would not attack, but they were best not attacked either.
Vilcomb stopped the group and pointed to a sign. At least, it looked like a sign. It had the shape of a sign displaying a town name, but there was a burlap bag covering it. As they got closer they could see the word “Strakentir” painted on the cloth. Klinkar looked down the road, but aside from a house on a hill and a barn in the distance, he could not see a town. He and the men went forward following the road. It brought them to the front of the barn where there was an old man carving a shepherd’s crook.
“Oy,” Vilcomb said to the man. “We’re looking for Berenholm.”
“So, you’ve found it,” the man replied.
“Where’s the town?” Vilcomb asked.
“This is it.”
“This is a barn!” Vilcomb showed obvious irritation with the man.
“There’s a tavern and a smithy inside. There’s space for m’lord’s horse. We can lodge you for the night in the lofts. Try the bean soup and bacon, it’s really good today. If you need anything else I can put the word out to the townsfolk and they’ll be happy to help with whatever you need.”
“Good man,” Klinkar interjected.
“Yes, m’lord?” the man said with what respect could be expected of a rustic.
“Where is the manor?”
“Oh, that’s up yonder. Don’t nobody live there, though, least not now. Lord Beren died last year and Baron Strakentir hasn’t taken up residence yet.”
“Is there someone who can show it to me?”
“Not unless your name is Strakentir.”
“His bloody name is Strakentir, you damned oaf!” Vilcomb yelled abruptly. “Now find someone to show him to the manor or I’ll box your ears and break that crook over your bloody head!”
“There’s no need for that, I’ll take him myself,” the man replied calmly. He led them up the hill to the house they had seen before. Klinkar wondered what fantasy had made Lord Beren call this a manor. The grounds were entirely unkept with weeds growing high. There were some goats chewing on plants here and there. They looked up briefly to see the people walk by, but went back to their meal immediately. The door had no lock and the interior was dark and dusty.
“Sorry about the mess, we’ll find the maid,” the man said. “She’s just celebrated her ninetieth birthday.”
“Just have her report here tomorrow, please,” Klinkar said tonelessly. “What is your name, good man?”
“Nutley, sir, Jacob Nutley.”
“And the maid’s name?”
“Thank you, you may go.” Jacob Nutley left the house and Klinkar turned to Vilcomb. “I’ll be back by nightfall. Have this house habitable by then.”
“Aye, er yes, my lord.”
Klinkar spent the rest of the day at the highest point he could find. He busied himself with drawing what he saw and plotting defenses should they ever become necessary. When he had completed his drawings, spread them out in front of him, and looked out at the landscape for defensible fall back positions, Klinkar stared for a moment and said, “This is pointless.” He then picked up his drawings, rolled them up and stowed them in his saddlebags and rode down to the manor.