Armand sat side by side with the king in the monarch’s study. The two sat in expensive velvet-and-wood armchairs, while they sipped wine. The windows were blocked with thick, luxurious curtains, set in place earlier in the day to prevent Armand’s fine features from becoming burnt in the sun’s light. The pale, white-haired man shook his head. “Nothing in the past has ever made me feel quite so ashamed to be seen in public, save that show.” he groaned with chagrin.
“Perhaps you should correct them?” the young king, Claude, asked. “I think the only at all accurate version remaining is your journal, if that.” The man sighed. He furrowed his brows. “Honestly, that play seemed eager to insult both you and my ancestor.” He leaned forward. His crown slipped down his head, to land on his nose with a quiet thud. He winced.
“Don’t mind it, your majesty. You’re still growing.” He waved an absent hand and shook his head.
Claude spoke suddenly as he pushed his crown back up. “I’d like to hear your version of how your lands joined Saldecla.”
Armand’s eyebrows shot up. “It’s a rather boring story, and long, at that.” He tried to escape. He coughed into a slender, gloved hand.
“Your claims only make me all the more curious, Duke Armand. Consider it an official request.” The king smiled.
The white-haired duke grimaced. “I suppose it was inevitable, then.” Armand took a deep breath and tried to mentally prepare himself. His past immaturity was embarrassing, as was his foolhardiness. Thankfully, the leaps in logic from the play were not nearly so present. “To begin, I should describe the tiny country where I lived.”
Claude leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. A pang of agony coursed through Armand’s core as he recalled his own son, who used to strike the same pose whenever ‘story time’ came up.
He cleared his throat, took a sip of his wine, and began to tell the tale. “I spent much of my life in Trassia. It was a small country, just north of the twin peaks of Klantol Island. The land there was icy, and there were two villages. They struggled constantly to survive. Men and women had many children, but few survived to adulthood.” He ran a hand through his hair. “The two villages were on opposite sides of the tiny country. Mountain nestled up near the mountains, and was much larger. Sea rested on a long, thin peninsula. It was very small, but they had lots of food to eat because they knew the ocean.”
Claude nodded and tilted his head absently as he pondered what it must have been like.
“I lived in a small cave east of Mountain. I often visited the two villages in order to eat, and paid with labor– though I only came at night.” He tilted his head. “The forests there were much thicker, and wood was plentiful. Everyone shared only one long house in each of the two villages, however. Warmth was more important than privacy.” Absently, Armand closed his eyes. “Many times, the men claimed boredom, and I took them on adventures that scared them back home, only to be feasted by their thankful wives.” He sighed. “It was fun, but I knew it wouldn’t last. The two villages were getting smaller every winter, and many of the children were stillborn.”
A deep frown etched itself into the duke’s smooth, age-defying face. “I made a decision: I would lead these people– my people– south. The people of Sea made boats by the dozen, and I scouted the lands south of the mountains. There was a large stone castle, and people dressed strangely. The air was warm, and I could smell baking bread.” His expression softened. “This land was to become ours. We wanted only what we could live on.” His frown returned, and he spat his next words. “While I was gone, my people made armor and weapons. They intended to invade.”
The king blinked. “Invasion wasn’t the original plan?”
“Light, no.” He laughed. “The plan was to ask nicely if we could have a home.”
Claude shook his head, then waved a hand. “Go on.”
“I approached the king. At this point, he was the first king of Saldecla, and had only reigned for about two years. His army was in tatters because of it, and he needed able-bodied citizens. I offered him Trassia, if he would allow the Trassians some of his warm land.” The man sighed. “Of course, it was not so easy. My people arrived and took a village captive. The king heard, and threatened to smash the Trassians. I spoke very quickly, and he told me to take them back to Trassia. He would create a road and trade, but he wanted no such barbarians in his lands.
“We returned, sullen and with less hope. The road was built, and we had little to trade that was of value. The road was taking more and more of our livelihood, but we were not allowed to use it– it was reserved for Saldeclan citizens.
A nearby village– the one that was ‘captured’ by my Trassians, traveled to the road en masse. The caravan was filled mostly with young women who held children. Not a single husband was in sight. The villagers demanded that all of the Trassians be gathered, and stated the intent to marry the ones that fathered their children. A full fifty– more than half, were taken, and when their families joined them at the insistance of the village, Trassia was left only with me to populate it, along with a few orphans. I took the children in, and made my home in Sea for a time.
“The orphans eventually died. They were sickly, and I admit, I helped their death along in as painless a manner I could.” For a moment, he was lost in thought. “At that point, it was four years since the invasion, and I began to feel alone and hungry. I traveled south by boat and went to the castle. I told the king of the lonely land Trassia had become, and asked if I could have a home there.
“The man was angry at me, because he considered me a leader to my people. He told me to return, and that he would send my people back, but that he would build me whatever I wished, if I would simply leave him alone. He built my tower and the town where Sea was, and built two villages, one at the base of each mountain on the Trassian side.” He glanced toward his listener, who seemed rapt. “I stayed, even as he sent the Trassians back. I stayed, even as he sent them food. I stayed, even when he tried to kill me.
“I stayed.” Armand smirked. “I helped to raise his first child. When the first king died in an assassination attempt, I protected his son, who shares your name.” His face became cold. “Claude the First was a good lad, and as the years passed, more attempts were made. I protected him personally, and he planted two trees of Trassian breed in my honor, and watered them with his own blood. He said they were a sign that Saldecla and Trassia were brothers. I swore to him, and I gave him Trassia against the will of my people. I became duke of Trassia, and eventually of Tradzhek, as my people began to call it after a few generations of youth decided the name was not worth pronouncing correctly.” He sighed. “We began the azhek naming trend, sadly enough.”
Claude frowned. “So, the first king was a bitter arse, was he?”
“No. I simply had bad timing and made a very bad first impression.” Armand shrugged. “That is the story. I’m going to go to bed now. Despite my preferences, the other dukes have asked for my company in the morning.”