Captain Márden's Tale: Part 6 - The Nest of Vipers

Quáreld Region

Tárenis reigned in his horse, and came to a stop. Before him was the Quantérè river, and across it the broad bridge of Quârelin. The Royal pennant of the House of Daláme fluttered from the bridge's gatehouse towers, and from the spires of the towers that dotted the walls of the city. He had reached the nest of vipers.

He had ridden hard for two and a half days, on a horse purchased for him by Kélas in replacement for the mare he had left behind with the marshfolk. His route had taken him along the highway across the Malpýnian marshes, resting one night at a traveler’s inn where the trail to Vádone branched south, and a second night in an inn at Magrátea. It was after noon when he reached the Quantérè.

Tárenis had travelled light and dressed simply, avoiding the use of his name and title. He had taken this precaution even though the Constable of Eilýria had expelled the Duchess' men as a public nuisance after the riot of the mob had been brutally suppressed. One could never be too careful.

He paid the bridge toll, and crossed the busy and crowded traverse with the other travellers and carters making their way into and out of the royal city of Shôrkýnè. Once across the bridge he followed Vârniel Street, the central route within the city. Upon reaching the better parts of the town, he turned down a side street. After several more turns, he came to a stop outside an impressive stone townhouse, with a well-built wall and small gatehouse. A small badge depicting a leaping stag on a vert background was attached above the entrance.

The young nobleman dismounted, and led Tárenis' horse under the archway formed by the gatehouse. A well dressed guardsman who had been leaning against the wall stepped forward and held up his hand.

“Good day, Sir. How may I help you?", he asked.

“I am Lord Tárenis al Haráste, neÉsuâr of Òdelýn. I wish to see Lord Bárgas, if he is at home”, said Tárenis.

“Lord Bárgas is at the Parliament, at present, but if you wish, m'lord, I can arrange for your horse to be stabled, and for you to be our guest until he returns?, the guard replied.

“My thanks”, said Tárenis. “I shall be pleased of some rest; I have been travelling for some time”.

The guard called for the ostler of the house, and the chamberlain, who both appeared in short order. The ostler took the tired steed horse, while the chamberlain greeted Tárenis.

“Lord Bárgas will be most pleased to see you once again, Lord Tárenis”. Tárenis recalled the chamberlain, a small, squint-eyed man with a slight stoop, from his last visit with his father.

The chamberlain led Tárenis through the inner courtyard and into the townhouse proper, which was richly appointed with wooden panelled walls and tapestries. Tárenis was particularly taken with one large tapestry in the great hall, which depicted the defeat of the Tríerzi on the Plain of Káretan. The chamberlain arranged for a small meal to be provided for Tárenis, and he sat in a corner of the great hall, waiting for the master of the house to return.

He did not have to wait long before he heard a commotion in the courtyard, and the main doors of the great hall of the townhouse were opened. In strode Lord Bárgas Târin, Baron of Shúmol, and Lord Privy Seal of the Realm of Shôrkýnè.

“Young Tárenis!”, the baron boomed. “You are a long way from home! What brings you all this way without a proper escort?”

Tárenis recalled that Lord Bárgas was very loud, particularly compared to his father.

“Lord Bárgas”, said Tárenis, “my father sent me to seek your assistance. Terrible events have occurred in the Duchy of Kolârè, of grave concern to our clan, but also to the wider realm”.

Bárgas' jocularity evaporated in an instant. “You are involved in that disaster? That's dangerous stuff, young man. I would have thought your father to be more cautious”.

Tárenis frowned. “But, Lord Bárgas, House Telégah have long been allies of our clan. How could we not be involved?”

Bárgas scowled. “Your father always was far too naive in these matters; it seems you are little different. Anyone with a good sense of their clan's best interests would have made absolutely sure they were well clear of that awful mess. But I won't berate you any longer; tell me your side of the story, and we shall see what we shall see”.

The baron led his guest to a small side room, and called for refreshments which were swiftly brought by the chamberlain.

Tárenis was deeply troubled by his father's friend's reaction, but steeled himself and told the tale of the last several days. The baron listened intently, only interrupting from time to time to clarify issues.

When Tárenis was done, the baron sat back in his chair, digesting the news. As he did so he stroked his well manicured beard, but was silent, watching Tárenis carefully. Tárenis had scarcely ever felt so uncomfortable.

“Well”, the baron eventually said, “it seems that you and your clan have put yourselves into some difficulty".

Tárenis had deferred to the baron's status until now, but he bridled at the repeated suggestion that his father should not have gotten involved. “Lord Bárgas, how can you suggest that we should have abandoned our allies?”

The baron chuckled. “Abandon? It seems, rather, that it is they who have left you and your clan exposed, young man. What kind of fool allows himself to be captured, tried and executed without putting in place safeguards?”

Tárenis was so incensed that he nearly forgot who he was talking to and tried to interrupt; but the baron held up his hand.

“Wait, boy, let me explain. Lord Telégah was always too trusting. I warned at Parliament last year that the Duchess was nothing like her father, but Baron Telégah was sure that the balance of power within the Duchy would protect him. He was sure that he could continue to act as he had under the old Duke, expanding his power and influence at the expense of the Bidélès. Well, he was wrong about that, wasn't he? He did not count on the Duchess' ruthlessness, her persuasive abilities with the neutral factions, nor the ambition of the Bishop of Kolârè.”

Tárenis didn't know what to say; his knowledge of high politics within the Duchy was poor. He sat back, realizing he was out of his depth arguing with someone like the baron.

“She is cunning, that one, I'll give her that. Arranging for the support of the neutral barons and manor lords was essential. Even more important was ending the long-standing conflict her father had nurtured with the church and the bishop. That was clever. But the master-stroke was playing on the ancient fears and suspicions of House Telégah as spooky Ilvîran-loving freaks. With the right motivation, people were willing to believe there were capable of anything. The fact that Baron Indáal of Emílùme apparently had 'incontrovertible evidence' of all sorts of abominable practices carried out by clan Telégah, and swore as much before the bishop, sealed the deal".

Tárenis could think of nothing to say. The baron was right; people had long told fanciful tales of House Telégah and their links to the strange and ancient Járind peoples, including the 'witches and wizards' of Shátrah. Adding to that was the prevalence of the worship of Ilvîr in the barony of Teléged, and you had a potent mix of prejudice and suspicion, which the Duchess had clearly fanned. His clan had always considered it rubbish, but, apparently, others did not.

“So, my young friend, House Telégah is lost, I should say. They overplayed their hand in the great game, and have suffered the consequences. But it also seems that the Duchess has also overplayed her hand somewhat, particularly by the speed with which she acted, and by interfering and creating disturbances in Eilýria. There are also those who feel, irrespective of the correctness or otherwise of the charges against House Telégah, that a Writ of Attainder should only be issued by the Parliament, not a Duchess acting alone. All of this may prove useful to limit the damage to your clan, at least.”

The baron pondered for a few more moments, then came to a decision. “Very well. I think a visit to the Count of Malpýnia is in order. He is a doddering old fool, but even he won't stand for the Duchess interfering in his domain. Nor will he take kindly to her attacking the integrity of clans with Járind ancestry, given the background of the Surédara themselves. If we can get him to raise questions about the validity of the Writ, it would clip the Duchess' wings somewhat”.

The baron paused. “The other factor we need to address is the bishop of Kolârè, but I shall need to think further on how to tackle that. He's an ambitious and dangerous man, that one”, he added.

The baron rose, and called for the chamberlain, instructing him to make arrangements to visit the townhouse of the Count of Malpýnia. He also asked for a room to be provided for Tárenis, and suggested the lad get some rest.

Tárenis was shown to a small but tidy room on the upper floor of the townhouse. He was indeed exhausted, and pleased to have the chance to rest, if only for a little while.

After what seemed like far too short a time, the chamberlain reappeared at Tárenis' room. He had with him two servants bearing clothing and a wash basin, shaving materials and towels. They helped Tárenis clean off the dust and grime of the road, shaved him, and dressed him in well-fitting clothes in the latest Quârelin style. Tárenis was impressed at the chamberlain's ability to judge his size and fit, and at the efficiency of the servants. In short order he was ready, and led back to the great hall, where the baron was conferring with a number of other household staff.

“That's better young man, much better indeed. Can't have you looking like a ruffian, can we?”

Tárenis shook his head. “My thanks, m'lord. Your hospitality is most generous”.

“I don't need flattery, young Tárenis”, the baron grinned. “Your father is a good friend, even if he seems to have gotten himself into unnecessary strife. I will do what I can to help you and him. Besides, it is not in my interest, nor His Majesty's, for the Duchess to become more powerful”, he added.

The baron and Tárenis mounted their horses, and the baron led them, accompanied by two mounted men-at-arms, along several streets, across Édan Square, and down further streets until they reached the impressive Quârelin townhouse of the Counts of Malpýnia. It was early evening as they arrived, and were ushered in to a courtyard, which was considerably larger than that of Lord Bárgas.

Their horses were taken by ostlers, and they were met by a well-dressed but short young man of slight build, modest looks, with dark hair and almost unnervingly dark eyes.

“Lord Bárgas, welcome to Malpýnas Townhouse”, said the young man. He glanced at Tárenis, who was struck by the intensity of even this rapid inspection.

Bárgas nodded, and turned to indicate Tárenis. “Lord Ténesal, my thanks. This is a friend of my clan's, Tárenis, neÉsuâr of Òdelýn in Chómu. Tárenis, may I introduce Lord Ténesal, neMálnîr of Malpýnia”.

The two young men bowed formally to each other, and clasped each other's hands in welcome. Tárenis noticed that the heir to the county of Malpýnia's hands were surprisingly cold.

“My father is waiting for us indoors”, said Sir Ténesal. “He is, I'm afraid, not in the best of health, and the news of riots and other events in Eilýria hasn't helped either”.

Tárenis followed the baron and Sir Ténesal into the main building of the townhouse, which was, to Tárenis, enormous. They passed through the great hall, and up a flight of stairs, eventually reaching a small solar overlooking the courtyard. An elderly, clearly unwell man, with pasty skin, was seated on a low couch, surrounded by many cushions and attended by two servants. He appeared to be asleep, or at least dozing. The servants glanced at Ténesal as he entered and when he nodded, they left the room.

“Father…”, said Sir Ténesal, nudging the Count's elbow, “Lord Bárgas has come to call”.

The Count's eyes flicked open; they were glassy and rheumy. He appeared disoriented for a moment, but then focussed on Lord Bárgas.

“Hmm? Lord Bárgas. Good of you to come. Bad business, bad business. Excuse me if I don't rise to greet you, but take a seat.”

The Count didn't seem to notice Tárenis at all, or if he did, he made no comment on his presence.

Bárgas sat on a comfortable chair opposite the Count, and Tárenis and Ténesal sat on opposite sides.

“Thank you, your Lordship”, said Bárgas as he sat. He introduced Tárenis. The Count glanced languidly at the young man, but said nothing.

“Father”, Ténesal began, “Lord Bárgas wishes to discuss the recent events in Eilýria… and Kolârè. Are you feeling well enough?”

The old man looked over at his son. “I'm not completely gone yet”. The Count turned his attention back to Lord Bárgas.

“This business in the city; its an outrage. The Duchess' interference is intolerable. She thinks just because I'm unwell and away from the city, she can pursue her private vendetta wherever she likes. Well I won't stand for it.” Suddenly the old man was racked by a coughing fit, and it took some time for him to get his voice back.

“Damn the she-wolf. She's even harming my health now”, he wheezed.

Bárgas nodded. “As you said, my Lord, she has gone too far. And as for the rumours she is spreading…”

“Rumours? What have you heard?”, Sir Ténesal leaned forward.

“Oh”, said the baron, “just some rather unsavoury suggestions regarding noble houses with links to the ancient Járind”.

The Count was consumed by another coughing fit, and Sir Ténesal called for the servants, who brought a warm drink and tended to the old man for several minutes until he was, once again, composed. At another nod from Ténesal, they again left the room.

“I won't have it!”, said the Count. “House Telégah may have been unorthodox, and I care little whether they were guilty of the foul things she has accused them of, but I won't have the good name of my house tarnished by association. She goes too far!”

Sir Ténesal had been quiet, but now he fixed Lord Bárgas with his penetrating stare. “My Lord, as you can see, we are in agreement that action is required. What do you advise?”

Bárgas paused before responding. He spoke to the Count, but continually glanced at Sir Ténesal, who never took his eyes off the baron.

“First, my lords, I suggest that you bring suit with His Majesty about the damage caused by his vassal, the Duchess, in your domain. You should demand he obtain restitution from her. That should make her think twice about taking further action beyond Kolârè”.

The Count nodded, and so, Tárenis noticed, did Sir Ténesal.

“But I think there is more. May I go on?”, said the baron. The Count waived a hand.

“I believe that the issue of this Writ of Attainder the Duchess has issued also needs to be tackled. It seems to me, that the issue of such an instrument by the Duchess is, at least arguably, a usurpation of the role of the Parliament”. The Baron turned to Sir Ténesal. “What do you think, my Lord?”

Sir Ténesal smiled. “I like it, Lord Bárgas. I did not realize you were such a devotee of the rights of the Parliament”.

Bárgas smiled, but it seemed like more of a grimace to Tárenis. “I serve my King in whatever manner best serves the realm”, the baron said through gritted teeth.

The Count erupted into yet another coughing fit. Sir Ténesal once again called for the servants, and as it became clear that the Count would be indisposed for some time, led the baron and Tárenis from the room.

“My thanks for your visit, and your advice, Lord Bárgas. I am sure that my father will put your advice and news to good use. I would invite you dine with us, but, I fear, my father is not up to it”.

The baron indicated that he understood completely, and that he and Tárenis needed to return to their townhouse before it became too dark in any case. They bid their farewells, returned to the courtyard, mounted, and made their way back to the baron's townhouse. The city was surprisingly crowded and busy, Tárenis thought, even through dark was coming on.

“Slimy toad”, the baron cursed under his breath as they dismounted. He looked sharply at Tárenis. “Beware that one, young man. His father is not long for this world, and Ténesal will be a most formidable count”. He shrugged. “Ah well. At least on this issue his interests are aligned with mine, his Majesty's, and yours”.

The baron's chamberlain appeared, and the baron brightened. “Chélos! Good man. I'm famished. Can you arrange a meal for myself and young Tárenis? And fetch some of that Ranóga claret. I need a strong drink to wash out the foul taste of that toad”. The baron swept into the townhouse, with Tárenis and the chamberlain trailing behind.

Tárenis stayed with the baron for several weeks. They met with several of the other leading nobles of the realm, as well as a number of the members of the court, including Sir Dârba Misýr, Lord Advocate of Shôrkýnè, who appeared interested in the legal aspects of the case, but who suggested that any action he might take depended upon greater legal clarity on the issue of the Writ.

The city was crawling with nobles, as the Parliament was in session. Lord Bárgas also met with a number of others key individuals, including the Laránian Primate, but Tárenis was excluded from this meeting. Tárenis did not attend the Parliament, as he was not a baron, and did not get to meet His Majesty, Gerléns alrí Daláme, King of Shôrkýnè and Duke of Thâria, as he had hoped he might. He did, however, see the King from afar, surrounded by courtiers and nobles.

The Count of Malpýnia, as he had indicated he would, made a protest against the Duchess' actions in Eilýria, and the King did, Tárenis understood, agree to take up the matter with the Duchess' representative in Quârelin. But because she herself was not present, the matter stalled. The Count also raised the legality of the Writ of Attainder in the Parliament, but the issue was referred to a Committee for investigation.

As the days and weeks wore on, it became ever clearer to Tárenis that there would be no rapid or definitive response to the Duchess' actions. He did, however, receive word from his father which indicated that the situation in Kolârè and Chómu had stabilised. It seemed that even without decisive action, the political machinations in Quârelin had made the Duchess more cautious. It also appeared, more importantly, that some disagreement had arisen between the Duchess and the Bishop of Kolârè, who it seemed, was now the 'custodian' of the lands of House Telégah. Without the strong support of the Bishop, the Duchess' ability to press further advantage had collapsed, and she had retired fuming from Kolârè to her favourite retreat of Gréneth.

Soon the session of Parliament came to an end, and the great nobles of the realm prepared to return to their domains. Tárenis realized he had done as much as he could, and Lord Bárgas arranged for him to be escorted back to Chómu. As he made his way home, Tárenis wondered once more how Márden was faring, and if he would be displeased at Tárenis' inability to bring about a decisive response to the Duchess and the terrible fate of Márden's house. He hoped his friend would understand he had done his best. He promised himself that he would continue to do whatever he could, no matter how small, to right the wrong committed on his friend and his clan.

Glossary:

  • neÉsuâr - 'heir-baron'; designated heir to a barony (èsuâren).
  • neMálnîr - 'heir-count'; designated heir to a county (málnîren).

Read Part 1 of Captain Márden's Tale.
Read Part 2 of Captain Márden's Tale.
Read Part 3 of Captain Márden's Tale.
Read Part 4 of Captain Márden's Tale.
Read Part 5 of Captain Márden's Tale.
Read Part 7 of Captain Márden's Tale.

Niall 1
Niall 1's picture

Part 6 of Captain Marden's tale

I have enjoyed this story no end ... I do hope you continue it ...


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