Poisonroot - Chapter 15

Chapter 15 already! NaNo is going great, I'm a little behind due to getting flu (which I'll go back and edit later when the wordcount is right) but I'm still due to finish about the 5th of December, so I can pull that back no problem.

This showdown in the throne room is actually my second attempt to write this scene. In the first one I simply pulled it out of the aether; Victor was more likeable, Trip was a bit less empowered, the Duke was more obviously nuts, High Father Hork didn't exist and the daughter's name was Amanda. Oh, and Trip and Victor came in under their own steam, not as criminals.

D&D parallels this book very occasionally. In the D&D version of this scene the Duke was more noticeably mad. For reasons of plot, a good outcome for me would see them in the palace's prison, so the Duke made them dance for their freedom. Poor Chris, actually a good dancer in real life, totally failed the dice roll and ended up smacking a guard with his weapon. Result: Whole party in jail. Win for the DM because it advanced my personal agenda!


“The prisoners will stand!”

Trip opened his eyes. He had been dozing in the sunlight, he realised; his lips were gummed together with thirst and, when he tried to follow the guard’s instruction, his back and knees screamed in protest. His shoulder ached dully under its greying bandage.

Two guards were standing outside the cell door, hands resting on the hilts of their swords. Between them stood the young woman who had arrested them. She was holding two pairs of manacles, heavy iron cuffs that dangled from chains.

“Now, gents, up and at ‘em,” she said. “Will we need these, or are we going to be sensible?”

Victor got off the bed, stretched and shrugged his shoulders. Trip went and stood by the door, his back to the old man.

“I’ll take your silence as obedience, then,” she said. “Let’s go; the Duke wants to see you.”

“Good. Got a few things to say to th’Duke an’ all,” Victor said, coming to stand next to Trip.

“I’m sure you’ll get your turn,” she said. “For now, it’s time to go.”

The prison guards fell in behind them; moving through the flagstoned corridors of the dungeons they made a strange party, two guards in front lead by the woman, the prisoners and then three more guards at the rear. Trip looked around at everything, taking it all in so that, when Victor made his move to escape, he would be ready. He glanced up at the man, but received no response.

The corridor ended at a wooden door. From beyond it Trip could hear the sounds of merriment; the door opened, allowing a tall, thin man to exit. The smile that had been on his lips was gone as soon as he the door closed behind him.

“These are the prisoners, Anila?” he said, his thin voice echoing strangely in the corridor.

“Yes, Lord Reynolds, this is a man purporting to be Victor Junn and Trip, monk of the Library,” Anila replied.

“Bring them in.”

He opened the door and the flood of noise returned. The courtroom was packed full of lords and ladies, a confusion of conversation and colour. Men in tights jeered at Trip as he was shuffled past them, through a line of trestle tables and onto a red carpet that ran the length of the room, from the grand double doors all the way to a pair of thrones. The guards kept moving, forcing Trip into a stumbling trot to keep up.

The thrones were on a raised platform, one slightly smaller and lower than the other. The large one held a man who seemed to be slumped rather than sat, wearing a creased tunic and trousers, both in black. He wore a thick gold band on his forehead. A young girl was sat in the smaller one; Trip took in her long white dress, the fine embroidery and the thin gold circlet on her brow before he realised that she was staring directly at him. He blushed and stared at the ground, concentrating on not falling over. She couldn’t have been a year older than him.

The procession stopped about ten feet from the thrones, just before the steps started. Trip looked around quickly; there were no obvious exits and guards on every side. If it came to a fight, it would be a messy business. His heart sank slightly at the idea. The crowd quietened as all in attendance leaned closer, eager to hear what was said.

Reynolds moved to the front with a swish of his purple robe. He had kept his hands tucked deeply into his voluminous sleeves and, as he bowed before the thrones, his corona of grey hair waggled in the light.

“Your Grace, may I present the prisoners for your consideration; from the Library of Leaves, Trip, Monk of the Church of the One Tree; and Victor Junn, lately of Monk’s Retreat.”

Victor knelt. “Yer Grace,” he said.

“The prisoners will be silent!” screamed the guard next to him. Victor turned to look at him; Trip couldn’t see his expression but, as the man slowly stood back up, the guard visibly wilted.

Two men stepped forward to be either side of the larger throne. One of them was wearing full armour, beautifully designed and obviously more ceremonial than practical. He had a stern expression on his face made slightly ugly by the scar that ran from his left eye to the corner of his mouth. The other, Trip recognised with a jolt.

“High Father,” Trip gasped. “I’ve come to warn you, there’s -“ he began, then crumpled as the guard next to him kicked the back of his knees out from under him. He went down, barely getting his hands under him in time; pain exploded through his shoulder.

The High Father looked over at the robed man. “Lord Reynolds, perhaps you should tell the Duke why these people are here?”

Reynolds extracted a scroll from inside his robe and opened it. “An interesting case, your grace; we received a hawk not four days ago from the mayor of Deep Round. It told of a fight between the two people you see before you and Father Liam, the town’s minister for the Church. In the altercation, Father Liam was slain; the letter mentions that the One Tree at Deep Round is… dead.”

A murmur swept around the chamber as shocked looks were exchanged. Trip looked up in anguish. “No! It wasn’t like that, he was a-“

“Your grace, the boy is also wanted in relation to the event that occurred at the Library of Leaves. As he is the only survivor I have some… questions for him.”

The Duke seemed to stir himself. To Trip it looked as if the man hadn’t slept properly in weeks, possibly longer; the young girl next to him kept looking at him, casting worried glances while trying to appear every bit the highborn young lady.

“I think-“ the Duke began, then coughed and cleared his throat. “I think that it is time for a bath.”

Silence reigned in the chamber for a moment. Then the nobles began to turn to each other, nodding occasionally; Trip watched as several of them sniffed their own armpits in suspicion. Victor looked down at Trip for the first time, his eyes narrowed.

“Certainly, your grace,” the High Father said smoothly, “immediately after we have dealt with this matter, of course.”

“Harton Rennin,” Victor suddenly said, “Is that you?”

Trip stared at Victor, who was looking in turn at the armoured knight. The knight blinked. 

One of the guards turned and raised his sword. “The prisoners will be-“

“That is enough,” Rennin said, holding a finger up.

“Rennin, I thought I recognised that damned scar. It is you, damn it. How ‘ave you been?” Victor said, as if he and the armoured knight were the only two people in a bar.

“By the One Tree, it is you!” said Rennin quietly. “Guards, release that man!” He descended the steps and clapped Victor heartily on the back. “Root and branch, it’s been… twenty years!”

“Since that business with the hydra, aye. Ye’ve done well for yerself, Rennin.”

The knight shrugged. Then he suddenly seemed to remember where he was. “You carry one of the swords that the people recognise, but we had to be sure. They’re easily swayed, after all; it wouldn’t be the first time that ‘Victor’ has rolled into town.”

“I ge’ that a lot.”

The Duke had leaned forward in his throne. He clapped his hands like a child. “Victor is here! Goodness!” In that moment he seemed more alive than at any point since they had entered the chamber.

Trip was watching the High Father, whose lips had twisted into an ugly scowl. “Your grace, may I remind you of the charges placed against these two? The church demands justice!”

“Oh piffle,” the Duke replied. He seemed to gain some of his colour back as he rose and walked down the steps. “Mister Junn, isn’t it? I remember reading your stories; tell me,” he said, leaning in conspiratorially, “Did the Gorgon of Kinrock… were they really as big as that?”

“As large as your head, sire,” Victor replied.

“What brings you here?”

“Honestly, sire, I was bringin’ this boy ‘ere to tell ‘is tale, then goin’ home,” Victor said, placing a hand on Trip’s shoulder. “Not meanin’ t’be rude, but I’ve got things to do back there.”

“Of course, of course. Let me have someone show you to some visitor quarters, and your young friend here. Shall we talk over dinner this evening? Rennin, see to it, please,” the Duke said, returning to the throne.

Rennin bowed and beckoned towards the far side of the throne room. Victor looked over at Trip and cocked his head for the boy to follow and, together, they walked after the knight.

Once outside and in the corridor, Rennin slowed so that they were all walking side by side.

“I can’t say how glad I am to see you, Victor,” he said. “Strange things are afoot here in Fennica. By the time I read the report from Deep Round, the High Father had already convinced the Duke that you were to be arrested for what happened there.”

“It wasn’t our fault,” Trip said. Rennin frowned.

“It’s not clear from the mayor’s report what happened, exactly; what’s written down on paper is fantastic to say the least. Later I’m sure you can give us the full story; coming from you, Victor, Duke Fennic is sure to believe it. He’s something of a fan.”

Victor nodded sourly. “Works sometimes,” he muttered.

“As for you, young man, the High Father wants to speak with you. The Duke… things are difficult. Time was before the High Father arrived here that the Duke held a fair and balanced court.” Rennin nodded to a pair of guards who saluted as they passed, then opened a large pair of double doors that lead to a long corridor with doors on both sides. “They dine in his chambers most nights and every day the Duke’s health seems a little worse. I’m concerned, but I cannot act freely; the Church traditionally acts with autonomy.”

“What does that mean?” Trip interjected.

“Means the Church runs itself and keeps its nose out of state business,” Victor said drily. Rennin nodded and stopped next to a door which had a small brass plaque affixed to it which read ‘Guest Quarters 17’.

“More and more this new High Father seems to be flexing his political muscle. It’s gotten many worried; I’ve had my men on extra patrols around the city after there were two riots over by the east gate. But come now, you don’t want to listen to my worries.”

Rennin opened the door, leading them into a plush suite of rooms. They were without doubt the most plush surroundings Trip had ever found himself in, velvet and gold paint garnishing almost every piece of furniture.

“Just be aware,” Rennin said as he prepared to leave them. “The Duke has made some… unusual decisions of late. I fear for his mind. When he realised who you were, Victor, he seemed to regain some of his stability but whether it will last… who can tell.” He sighed. “A steward will call for you before dinner.”

He closed the door quietly, leaving Trip staring at Victor.

“I thought you hated the idea that people adored you?” he asked.

Victor shrugged. “You works with what you has, boy.”