‘Click, Clack, Click, Clack’ This sound reverberated throughout the castle hallway. It was the sound of boots hitting a stone floor. A nervous, sniffling man, was the owner of said boots. He was hurriedly running down a large hallway leading to the castle throne room. He didn’t have a moment to lose, the information he had was of the utmost importance. He was urged on by the fading daylight and a certain fear in his step.

Despite his nervousness and a feeling of impatience, there were certain protocols which had to be followed when entering the throne room. No one may enter the throne room without first being announced, and then one must walk slowly with their head facing towards the floor. You must never look at the king without his permission, to do so was a certain death sentence. Lastly, one must also place their right hand across their heart before they bow, and one must bow by prostrating themselves before the steps leading to the throne.

The nervous, sniffling man, gave forth his best effort in following all the protocols and even though the missive in his hand was of the utmost importance, he had to follow the proper protocol. He waited, while prostrating before the king he served, until the king gave his permission to rise. The man finally stood with missive in hand.

“My liege, my king, I have news of the utmost importance!”

The king lounged on his throne with a bored expression. At the words of his minister, he didn’t even budge. There could be only one thing that would have this minister in such a nervous disposition. The king motioned for the minister to approach with the missive, no words were necessary.

“At your bidding, my liege!”

The minister hastened his steps in approaching the king and went down on his knees. He held the missive upright and made sure not to look the king in the eyes, very carefully, with his head downcast. The king snatched the missive from the hands of the minister with an exaggerated motion. With his task now complete, the minister quickly retreated, making sure to follow proper protocol when leaving the presence of the king.

This involved walking backwards, never turning your back to the king. Turning your back to the king was an offense to the king’s personage and would be punished with death. The minister made sure to keep his eyes downcast in a partial bow, with his right hand over his heart, as he walked as carefully as he could backwards down the steps leading up to the throne and straight out of the throne room. It was only once the doors to the throne room had been closed that he was able to breathe a sigh of relief. He was now free to go on his way.

King Aetherius Crassus Di La’gun, still with an expression of boredom, opened the missive and read the words written therein.

‘For too long have our people toiled under the rule of an illegitimate king. The Great and Wise King Arnalf Rodolfo Ere Di Jaspel, my ancestor, ruled over the lands of Varne, which your Kingdom of La’gun now claims as their own. Unless you return our rightful demesne by the morn of the 1st of Celestia, the kingdom of Jaspel will be forced to deliver a formal declaration of war, etc. etc.’

King Aetherius felt no need to finish reading the farce of a letter which had been signed by the current king of Jaspel. He had been expecting this for some time now, and was only surprised at how long it took for the king of Jaspel to send the letter. He felt no need to be concerned, the two kingdoms often fought in the past. Normally they would fight a few skirmishes and then one side would sue for peace ending the war. This was nothing new to him and as such, it no longer even excited him.

“Minister Shar!” The king’s voice bellowed throughout the throne room.

A gangly minister approached the throne making sure to follow the proper protocol. He did not show any signs of nervousness like the last minister who had approached the throne. Shar was a calm and collected individual who formerly was responsible for many of the military matters of the kingdom. Unfortunately under the current King, most of his responsibilities had been stripped from him.

Shar was no warrior, instead he was what could be considered a strategist. He was well known in the seven kingdoms, for his strategies had kept his kingdom safe and relatively unharmed from the constant strife in the past. Despite his success, he was but a commoner and the current king as well as the nobility had little respect for him. If not for the king’s father, the previous king, having praised Shar personally, and for the contributions made in the past when the kingdom was at war, he would have already been entirely removed from his post. In reality, he was little more than an errand boy, and if necessary, a scapegoat.

“My liege!” Minister Shar responded accordingly to the call of his king.

The king had no need to explain, he threw the missive at the minister and waved him away. Shar gracefully picked up the missive from the floor and left the presence of the king. He left the throne room without showing a shred of his emotions or thoughts.

The minister always made the king feel uncomfortable with his strange emotionless behavior. Where other ministers and servants showed nothing but fear towards the king, Shar never showed any expression at all. This bothered the king, but Shar had not yet provided the king a justification for removing him from his post, or better yet, his head. The king thought of himself as a merciful king for allowing such a commoner to remain in his presence, as long as he remained a useful deterrent.

Shar’s position as a minister was not a thankful one. He had served the kingdom of his birth faithfully as his father had before him. Shar was not a noble, he did not possess a fief of his own, nor had his family ever done so. However, he was a man of talent and that was all because of his father’s service to the previous king.

Through his father’s service to the kingdom, he had been able to provide an education for his son. Shar learned from a young age how to read and write as well as military strategy in order to continue to serve the kingdom as his father had wanted for him. As such, he had worked hard without ever receiving a sincere word of thanks. Unfortunately due to his low birth, his very existence was scorned by the nobility of the nation and that very same nobility had poisoned the king’s ear with constant defamation of Shar’s character. None of it being truth, of course.

Strangely, this did not make him feel bitter in the least. He did not serve the current king because he was seeking thanks or reward, instead, he served out of love for his father. His father had been born a poor man, but he had made a name for himself as a soldier, saving the life of the previous king. He had been awarded a position as a minister to the king, much to the dismay of the nobles, but his service was not something which they could deny. Shar had inherited this from his father, a father who had loved him dearly.

In truth, Shar had no love for the current king, who he considered a fool. This king, who was more interested in people following the proper protocol, then actually fulfilling his role as king. He sat on his throne, day after day, listening to sycophants and cronies who sucked up to him in every which way. He only wanted to protect the memory of his father as well as the citizens of his country who suffered the most from war. Although, deep in his heart, he wanted nothing more than to serve a king worthy of the title.

Shar was well aware of what the missive said, it had been a surprisingly long time coming. The deadline for the demands from Jaspel was on the 1st of Celestia and since it was the 1st of Planar, that meant they had one month to respond. The King of Jaspel was no less a fool than the king Shar served, and his ploy was simple to see through. Most likely he wished to use this month to prepare his forces for a quick mobilization. Did that fool of a king think that the Kingdom of La’gun’s forces would sit on their thumbs until Jaspel made their move?

Shar needed to find the commander of La’gun’s army in order to advise him and so he quickly made his way to the army barracks situated within the castle. The castle of the kingdom of La’gun was not very large, but it had been constructed sturdily and would not fall easily by an invading force.

The barracks was especially small, but it was enough to suffice for the professional army of La’gun which was only two thousand strong. This was not the full might of the kingdom, as another three thousand soldiers could be levied from the surrounding regions. There were also the noble’s personal armies which could be called upon in times of war which would add another three thousand. Even adventurers could be conscripted if necessary adding another several hundred. 

When Shar arrived at the commander’s quarters within the barracks, he was greeted with a sneer. Commander Deren Freis Arburn was a noble who had been appointed by the king and he had surrounded himself with officers who were also of the nobility, although mostly second or third sons. They did not respect Shar, but they had to acknowledge him because of his position. Shar didn’t care, as long as they would listen to his advice. However, getting them to listen was the issue.

“Commander, we have finally received the missive from the Kingdom of Jaspel, we will be going to battle on the 1st of Celestia.”

The commander slammed his fist down on the table before him, “It’s about damn time!” He seemed quite happy at the news and the officers around him were congratulating him as if he had accomplished something.

“As I am sure you already know, this is just a ploy by the king of Jaspel, we must ready our forces and prepare defenses along the border, I think….” Shar was cut off by another bang on the table by the commander.

“I do not need your advice to defeat Jaspel, they are nothing but a bunch of sniveling cowards! We will summon the entirety of our strength and crush them on the field of battle. There is no need to prepare defense beforehand. We will meet them here along the border at the Fields of Varne and crush them.”

Shar sighed at the stupidity of this so-called commander. While his strategy might work, it wasn’t always about winning. The goal should be for as many of their people to return as possible, not just crushing the enemy. Every death meant one less soldier, or one less hand to work the farms. These men were incapable of seeing that.

“Oh, and Shar, this time we will levy all available men to the front, there is no need for our professional soldiers to die in this battle!” The commander seemed pleased with himself for coming up with that idea.

“Commander, I do not believe that is a good idea.”

“Silence, even if the king allows you to retain your position, and though you may have done a service or two for the kingdom, do not get ahead of yourself! I am the commander of this army!”

Shar felt that saying anything more would be pointless, he could only think of what he could do now to ensure the lives of as many of the kingdom’s people as possible. Shar turned to leave, no longer willing to speak with the commander, but he was stopped before he could exit the commander’s quarters.

“Do you understand what I mean Shar? Every able man, that includes those damnable Demihumans living in the forest! It is about time they served their country! Despite living peacefully under the protection of the kingdom, those scum have done nothing for the nation!”

All of the officers in the room were voicing their agreement.

“That’s right, bout time they paid their dues!”

“We should send those rats to the front lines!”

“Let those demi-humans take a few spears before our men do!”

They continued on like this and failed to notice the anger that momentarily crossed Shar’s face. These fools, they are going to destroy the kingdom with their stupidity. Shar wanted to voice his opposition, for he knew this was a fatal mistake.

There was no way the Foxkin of the forest would ever agree to this, which would mean bloodshed. The Foxkin had powerful magic, it would be a mistake to use force against them. The Kingdom could easily use its superior numbers against the Foxkin, but they wouldn’t come out of it unscathed. In the end, many from both sides would die, and for what? Not to mention the forest was their home territory and they would fight desperately to protect their home.

Shar felt he had to do something, maybe he could at least convince the Foxkin to comply in order to avoid disaster. He left the barracks with a heavy heart and knew the Kingdom he had spent his life trying to protect was heading down a dangerous path.

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