Although he was still worried by the constant non-appearance of his “advisor”, Valun was capable of putting down his feelings when necessary to make unimpaired decisions. At the moment, however, there were no decisions to make, as everything had been arranged in the preceding days.
Valun’s attendant David entered the King’s room at that moment, hauling two large sacks. He crossed the room and set one down gingerly upon the desk and announced loudly “Kitchens have just finished with these, Sire! They should get us through safely!” Looking up, David noticed that Valun had not moved from where he was standing by the window. In a renewed attempt to obtain Valun’s attention, David opened his own sack, removed a small parcel, and brought it to the king, who was still standing at the window as if he were waiting for someone to appear on the other side of it and tell him the answer to his problems.
He opened the parcel David brought to him, and still staring out of the window with a rather blank expression on his face, bit into the contents. At once, he was back to reality. “What is this? He asked, his blank expression replaced by one of shock.
“My, you have been lost, haven’t you” David replied, laughing. “The cook’s special long-lasting, filling, traveling oat bars. There are nearly fifty of them in each sack. Of course, we don’t survive on them alone. These are only to save the bother of bringing the enormous amount of perishable foodstuffs that we would otherwise have to carry with us, cutting that total by half.”
Valun moved from the window considerably cheered by David’s talk, although he still maintained a serious expression on his face. “That is good, but what of the men who will be eating these provisions? How well is the call to arms received among the men?”
“If you really want to know, I suggest that you ask your head guardsman, as I am really not qualified to tell you that, considering that I don’t look at the military rolls that often, my Lord.” David answered, barely managing to keep a straight face.
“Right, that’s your task, then. Go find him and tell him he’s wanted urgently.” Valun shot back, grinning widely.
Soon, laughing loudly at their own lack of solemnity, the men separated. Valun returned to the window as David left the chamber to search out Sir Robert.
After only a few moments at the window, (enough to perceive that nothing was coming toward the city from outside the walls) Valun turned and began preparing more earnestly for the travel ahead. He first moved to a trunk which he kept all of his articles in, unlocked it, and removed from inside of it a large velvet sack closed with drawstrings. Setting it upon the desk, he removed the cumbersome crown from his head and placed it carefully in the sack, drawing the cords tightly closed. Having done this, he returned to the chest, but before carefully replacing the sack, he drew out from the chest his great broadsword, which he had not worn since his coronation. Buckling it onto his belt, he said “They say that two wrongs have never made a right, but, my strong companion, we will see what those who are left say after we have finished with our work righting the wrongs committed against us.” Having said this, Valun closed the trunk and locked it with a key which he kept by his side at all times. He then pushed the chest until it slid underneath his bed. This being done, he rose and rang the bell
Within two minutes, a new servant had dashed in, asked to know what was wanted, and just as quickly removed himself from the royal presence upon hearing that what was wanted was the king’s armor from out of the deepest treasury vault.
When this man had left, Valun sat down at his desk again, brushing stray hairs out of his face and only just noticing that he needed it shortened. Reaching up, he rang the bell once more, pronounced “Send the barber to my room.” to the attendant who had appeared, and leaned back in his chair again.
It was several minutes before the barber, a short little man of the sort who did not take kindly to listening to other people’s conversation, shuffled in carrying his things and said loudly “So, new king, is it? You’ll be the third Valun, then? Exactly. Valun the third the such-and-such, preceded by Valun the second, the Peacemaker, preceded by Regidon the bald, or what ever his name was.”
“That king’s was Regidare the bold, and I doubt that he was ever bald. Now get on with the job at hand, or I shall depose you from your hereditary barber-ship and place a goat in your position!” Valun snapped. This shut the barber up tightly, and a few minutes later, Valun was much more comfortable, though he had lost nothing more than two inches of hair.
A short time after the barber had left, there was a knock on the door. At Valun’s command, two stewards carrying large crates staggered into the room. Setting them down gingerly on Valun’s enormous bed, the men panted “Your armor, my lord. It was all packed separately to lessen any damage.”
“Very well,” Valun said “you are dismissed. I will unpack these things myself. I have but one question. Is this the war armor of the house of Valun the Great, or is this the armor worn by the despicable usurper Damrod?”
“We can not tell you truly, for only the king, or the man styling himself by that name, may unpack crates without labels, such as these”
“Then how do you know that you have brought me armor?”
“There is a seal carved upon it, but we know not who it means.” The steward replied, handing Valun a small mallet.
“That I will find out by myself. You must go now.”
At these words, the two stewards respectfully bowed themselves out of the room walking backwards and shut the chamber door. As soon as they had gone, Valun searched every inch of the crate for signs of a seal. After careful searching, he finally discovered the seal carved deep into the wood. The seal consisted of a falcon in flight, grasping a large broadsword which was dragging behind the bird, creating a furrow in the ground beneath it. Below this picture were two short phrases written in an old hand which Valun had learned as a boy. Translated, they read “Forward with speed of falcon, valiance of Valuns through ages.” Reading this script assured Valun that he had what he was looking for, so he promptly began rapping the wood until it cracked, then pried it open with a dagger that he kept on his desk as a letter-opener.
When he was done removing the wood, he found a worn velvet cover at the top. Pulling this off slowly, he revealed a pair of shining gauntlets resting upon another soft covering. Lifting the gauntlets from their place, he drew them onto his hands to test the fit. They fit as if they had been made for him. Leaving the gauntlets on his hands, he proceeded to open the second crate. Removing the second covering, he found the great war helm of the house of Valun. On the top of the helm there sat a falcon made of leather and cloth, which had been made well enough to convince anyone that it was real. The helm itself had a leather piece hanging from one side of it. Valun noticed immediately that the piece was meant to be attached to the other side when worn.
As he continued to uncover various pieces of his armor and fit them on, Valun began to question his own plans. He had only recently taken up the kingship, was not firmly established yet. His departure would allow another man a chance to set himself up on the throne. But no, that would not happen. Robert was on guard in the castle, and would be able to turn the guards against a domestic threat just as he could a foreign one.
Perhaps his father had already died in captivity. Perhaps he would be unable to find him and be forced to return, disgraced.
Suddenly, Valun, indignant at his own uncertainty and fear, drew his sword. Looking for a way to release his frustration with himself, He spun about and hurled the sword straight into the door of his room. As he stared at the blade, still quivering from the force of his throw, Valun shouted “It will not be! It can not be! He is there and I will find him, were all Brandia to stand in my way! It is my duty, and from his duty a good man never turns!”
At the moment that Valun reached this decision, there came another knock on his chamber door. This time it was David, bringing Sir Robert the Ram, captain of the guards, along with him. “It took me a while, but I finally found him in a tavern, debating over a tankard of ale.” David explained, laughing.
Ignoring this, Valun looked straight at Sir Robert and said “You do know how many men are enrolled in my forces, don’t you?”
Sir Robert answered slowly; jerking his head forward, he said “Oh, yes, that? Well, seventy-five thousand men ought to be a good number.”
“Are you telling me how many there are, or how many there should be?” Valun exclaimed sharply.
This brought Sir Robert all the way back to reality. “Well, seriously, that’s how many there should be. The capital alone is bringing at least a third of them, though probably more.”
“Have you sent the conscription order to Berunthia?”
“I’m afraid I have not.”
“What kind of a commander are you, then?! Do that straightaway! We will still have to give them another month to form up and arrive, now!” said Valun, who was beginning to shout.
“Wait a moment!” Sir Robert shouted back “Why aren’t you asking Richard? He is the General, isn’t he? He’s the one to go to for conscription rolls! What has he been doing while I’ve been losing sleep over defense of the city?!”
Pulling the bell-rope until Sir Robert quieted down, Valun conceded “You’re right. I have been doing it the wrong way all along. He should be the one telling me this information. No matter. Those rings ought to bring him down.”
The men then sat in silence until Sir Richard appeared in the doorway, asking “You rang for me, my lord?”
“Did you ever notify Berunthia of the call to arms?” Valun demanded sharply.
“Yes. Actually I sent the order about three weeks ago, so I trust that the troops from that city will be arriving within three days. I also sent a copy of the order to Carribeasa, asking that they prepare and then wait on your arrival or command.”
“Three weeks ago! Then they will be here in a matter of days! This changes everything!”
“You seem to be more excitable than a king is wont to appear. Do you take this seriously enough?”
“Wouldn’t you if your father had been held for the previous ten years by insolent braggarts, as mine has?” You need not doubt my solemnity in any case, as my own honor is at stake to go through with this.” Valun answered, noticing that Sir Robert had slipped out quietly while he was conferring with Richard. Calling to David, who had been standing by the door silently through the whole episode, Valun continued “So now is the time to make sure that my armor actually fits on me.”
Without saying a word, David strode over to the bed, grabbed the helmet, and jammed it on to Valun’s head. Stepping back, he commented “It does fit you well, but I don’t think that the piece of leather would do as much good as the last king seemed to believe. It wouldn’t stop anything, except your own breath.” Grabbing the knife off of the bed, he proceeded to slice off the leather piece which was dangling from one side of the helmet.
Before Valun, who had not removed the helmet, and so was quite uncomfortable, could do anything to stop David, Richard had spoken up. “He’s right, you know, it won’t save your life, so why not remove it? You’ll breathe easier.”
By this time, David had finished slicing the leather piece off, so Valun took off the helmet and gave it to David, saying “Take this down to the nearest blacksmith and tell him that I want a visor fitted on to it.”
Covering the helmet with a cloth out of the crates, David left.
Valun turned to Richard and said “Now explain why I have only a helmet and a pair of gauntlets. Surely the kings of Corridane weren’t that reckless?”
Pausing as if Valun had just reminded of something, Richard replied “I saw it down in the vaults when you sent me to supervise the Treasurer. The rest of the pieces must be in that large trunk.” Striding to the bell-rope, Richard pulled it and said to the two stewards who came in “Tell the Chamberlain to take you down to the deepest vault, and bring up the large trunk with the seal carved upon it.”
The servants left immediately, returning several minutes later carrying a large trunk with two locks on it. Setting the trunk down, they handed Valun two keys and exited the room.
Kneeling down, Valun unlocked the trunk. The first thing he saw under the covering on the top was a brightly burnished breastplate. Under this were the rest of the pieces of armor.
When all of the pieces were out, Valun and Richard arranged them on the bed, setting them out in the order that they would be put on. Once this was done, the men began to put them on Valun. When they had strapped on all pieces excepting the helmet, which had not yet returned, Valun commented “I don’t think I can move in this outfit. This is harder than I expected.”
“Then you should probably wear the things for some time, because if you can’t move in the middle of a battle, they’ll have you dead in five minutes.” Richard replied.
Instead of replying, Valun strode stiffly to the window and looked out once more. Then he exclaimed “There he is! John has finally returned! Meet him at the gate and bring him up here immediately! He has some explaining to do!”