202. Law and Landfrid
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Law and Landfrid

Middanhal

In Middanhal, tension rose from day to day with the armies of Isarn outside the walls and the Dragonheart inside. News of the Adalthing convening had spread quickly, and while none doubted these events were connected, most could only speculate as to how or why. In the Citadel, the dragonlord made plans, gathering those noblemen loyal to him and his brother; in his family’s house, the dragonborn waited.

Brand’s followers had reinforced the compound as best they could, given the scarcity of time and resources. The whiterobes had scrounged stone to repair the walls and timber to make a crude gate. Doran, the heir to Clan Lachlann in the highlands, had resumed his role as Brand’s aide, overseeing the organisation of their quarters and stocking provisions to handle a small siege.

Bereft of purpose, Jana spent her time outside in what had once been an orchard. Few trees remained, bearing barely any fruit whereas the rest resembled a wilderness. A cracked bench stood there yet, where she sat enjoy the inklings of warmth from the sun in spring.

Quietly, Brand took a seat next to her. Silence lingered between them, only broken by the bustling sounds from elsewhere on the grounds.

“I remember all the times you told me of Middanhal,” Jana finally spoke. “I always dreamt of visiting all these places with you. I would never have guessed under which circumstances.”

“Nor me. None could have foreseen this.”

“And now we wait, much like in Dvaros, while our fate is decided.”

Brand blew out his breath. “Not my favourite part.”

“Is it strange that in some small way, I miss the desert? I remember the terrible thirst, of course,” Jana added. “The fear of pursuit and the slow dread of exhaustion creeping in. But it was simple,” she elaborated. “Every step forward brought us closer to our destination. It felt as if our fate, at least, was in our own hands, as long as we kept going. That thought sustained me.”

“It is not strange at all,” Brand assented. “Simplicity possesses a grace of its own. The moment we returned to Adalmearc, everything became complicated.”

“Perhaps that is what I truly miss. The solitude of the desert.”

“Milord,” a voice called out. One of Brand’s thanes approached them. “Forgive me. Two knights have come, seeking your company.”

“Let them in.”

The thane turned back; shortly after, a pair of knights appeared. Brand rose to meet them, as did Jana, and the former broke into a smile. “Sir Richard! Sir Fionn!” The newcomers mirrored Brand’s expression, extending their hands to clasp his with laughter. “I did not know you were to be found in Middanhal!”

“I returned with Sir William,” Fionn explained. “Sir Ewind has charge of the army for now.”

“And I was cut off from Theodstan by those dogs of Isarn,” Richard added. “I have been trying to persuade those cowardly sell-swords to attack ever since.”

“I am not surprised to hear that,” Brand laughed. “This is Lady Jana of Alcázar, and these good knights are Sir Richard and Sir Fionn. Like you, I owe them much.”

The warriors bowed to the noblewoman, who responded with the same courtesy. “If you will pardon me, I shall withdraw and let you speak freely,” Jana told them, doing so.

“A lady of Alcázar, and whiterobes making your walls? You have gathered an unusual band of companions,” Richard remarked once she had left them. 

“Yet all friends of Adalmearc, who would see the realms safe,” Brand replied.

“As are we,” Fionn declared. “William told us of the Adalthing, but who would put their faith in a pit of snakes?”

“They will do as last time,” Richard claimed, “or worse.”

“Many of the Order are with you,” Fionn continued. “They despise Vale and his mercenaries. If he tries something… I trust men who fight for honour far more than men who fight for gold.”

“Let us hope it does not come to that,” Brand declared. “While I was ready to fight as well, I will admit that a lawful resolution is the best outcome. We shall pray that is achieved, but keep our swords ready.”

“Aye,” Fionn exclaimed.

“Tell me of Hæthiod and war in the North,” Brand requested, and the knights obliged.

~~~~

As when the carriage had left Middanhal, the Order soldiers saw no reason to question its drivers or passengers on its return; the letter of passage from the lord marshal opened the gate with ease. Alaric thanked the sentinels while Glaukos merely grunted, setting the horses into motion. As they drove into Middanhal, none could tell that the carriage carried more passengers than one as initially.

Seated inside, still gagged and tied up, the jarl of Isarn sent hateful glares in every direction. He had barely eaten or received water in the three days’ journey from the camp to Middanhal, being too busy to spew curses each time the gag was removed.

As the carriage rumbled past the gate to the Arnling residence, Brand stood in the courtyard waiting. He helped Arndis step down to the ground and gave her a quick embrace. “You are well?”

“I am.”

“I regretted letting you leave the moment you did,” he confessed.

“You know I was best suited for this task,” Arndis told him. “If you had gone, I expect the good jarl would have killed you on the spot.”

“I am glad your instincts proved right and no harm came to you,” Brand said. “What did they say?”

From the carriage, Glaukos and Alaric pulled the trussed up jarl, who landed on his knees with a muted growl. The two warriors placed a hand on his shoulders, keeping him down. “This will take a little explaining,” Arndis admitted as Eumund emerged from within the carriage. The two men who had spent their childhood as pages in the Citadel stared at each other.

“Arnling.”

“Isarn.”

“It really is you. Until this moment, I found it hard to believe you truly escaped Middanhal.”

“And in the process provided cover for your own escape.”

“Fate has a strange sense of humour.”

“What does this mean?” Brand gestured at the bound jarl. “He does not seem inclined to lend his voice to me in the Adalthing, nor demand the same of his margraves.”

“He is not,” Eumund said. “We took matters into our own hands.”

“We had to leave in a bit of haste,” Arndis added. “But I explained your plans in full to Sir Athelstan. He went with us at first, but we decided he should return and help persuade the northern lords to attend the assembly. I have no doubt he will prevail.”

“If not, we are all dead. Arnling and Isarn alike, it would seem.” Brand looked at his men and nodded at the jarl. “Find someplace safe to keep him. Provide him some comfort if you can.”

Alaric and Glaukos grabbed the jarl under his shoulders, pulled him to stand, and began dragging him inside. “Are we breaking the landfrid?” Alaric asked with a touch of anxiety. “While it is in effect, it forbids any assault upon a member of the Adalthing.”

Glaukos shrugged. “We did not assault the jarl, his family did. We are just providing him a place to sleep. If anything, we should be commended for our actions.”

Alaric seemed sceptical at this interpretation, but he made no further arguments.

~~~~

A week after he set out, Godfrey returned from Theodstan. He spent a full day asleep, drank his fill from a barrel of rainwater, and went to the Temple. It did not take him long to find the highfather walking in the inner yard. “Septimus,” he greeted him.

“You’ve returned soon,” the aged priest said.

“I didn’t relish being away from Middanhal,” Godfrey explained. “Too much depends on the next days, and with the outlanders returned in force, everything hinges on what happens next. Your blackrobes may help bringing the noblemen into alignment.”

“You know we stay out of politics,” Septimus reminded him.

“I am aware as I made that rule,” Godfrey replied dryly. “But needs must. Jarl Ingmond is known for his piety, isn’t he? He would be susceptible to your influence.”

“Alas, no.” The highfather shook his head. “The jarl hates young Arnling and blames him for the death of his family.”

Godfrey took a deep breath. “He has a gift for making enemies. Very well. If direct influence will not work, perhaps your brothers may assist in other ways.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Tell me all you know of the lord protector.”

~~~~

Kate filled the spoon with porridge and extended it towards Quill, lying on his bed. The bowl was mostly full, yet the aged scribe showed no interest in eating. “Please, master, you must have some more.”

“Where is Egil?” Quill asked with sudden urgency, raising himself to rest on one elbow. “Did he get the ink like I told him?”

“We have enough ink that we could bathe in it, master,” Kate assured him. “Egil is in the hall.” She nodded towards the door.

Quill sank back into his bed. “Is he practising his letters? He must.”

“He’s reading the law books, master, concerning the Adalthing. All is in good hands,” Kate spoke with a soothing voice.

Her words had the opposite effect as Quill’s eyes flew open. “What? Why?”

“The Adalthing, master,” Kate stammered.

With belaboured breath, the old librarian pushed himself out of bed to stand up. He swayed for a moment until Kate reached out to support him. Once steady, he stalked out with as steady a gait as his legs allowed.

“What is this?” asked Quill once he reached Egil. The apprentice looked up at him and then at Kate, who could only shrug her shoulders. “You think you are ready, boy? To oversee the Adalthing and guarantee its laws?”

“I just thought it was best,” Egil mumbled with cheeks growing red. “Allow you to rest.”

Quill scoffed. “I am the law keeper. I shall be so until my last breath.” He wheezed as if that every moment was upon him. “But it is good you prepare,” he suddenly added; his features softened, and his whole body slumped. “Keep reading.”

“Yes, master.”

“What about you, boy? What are you reading?” Quill asked the other person present, giving him a stern look.

The prince looked up from his seat. “Ruminations upon the Art of Governance, by Master Anselm of Monteau.” He raised the book in his hands. “I want to know what makes a good ruler.”

“Good, good.” Already looking away, Quill patted the heir to the realms on the head. “All young boys should read Master Anselm.” He retreated back to his chamber.

In the courtyard outside, the jarl of Theodstan arrived with his retinue, ready to attend the Adalthing.

~~~~

On the eve before the Adalthing, the lord protector sat in his study. He stared at a gold coin held between his fingers with the ship of Alcázar imprinted upon it. The door opened, and a thane entered. He cleared his throat a few times. “Milord,” he finally spoke.

“Yes?”

“There’s a Red Hawk here with a message from your brother.”

“Send him in.”

The thane gestured for the mercenary to enter; the latter had been disarmed.

Valerian looked at him expectantly. “Yes? What is it?”

“My name is Jeremy, milord. I began working for your brother almost two years ago,” he began to relate. “The first task I performed for him was on the day Lord Adalbrand was meant to be executed. In the dungeons sat three men from the House of Isarn…”

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