Standing on the battlements of Crownsledge, you survey the Long Plain, the emerald kras-grass swaying gently, brushed by the wind, the wide road cutting a path from the horizon to the city gates. You watch fondly as your son runs up and down the stone parapet, engrossed in a game with his friends. Although the sun shines brightly down from above, the air has a chill edge - autumn clearly on its way.
“Sir - someone approaches,” the nearest sentry calls across to you, pointing his spear out over the plain, indicating a speck on the horizon.
You jump up onto the watch-perch, peering out at the figure in the distance.
“They're on horseback,” you observe, seeing the plume of dust thrown up by the animal's hooves. The children stop their game, sensing something important is afoot. On tiptoes, they peek over the battlements.
“A messenger?” the sentry queries.
You watch silently, a cold dread stirring within.
As the rider nears the city, you see he is swaying in the saddle, sagging drunkenly to the side. He wears the emblem of the Crown on his leather armour, a dark scarlet stain on his chest glistening in the sun. Workers in the fields look up from their tasks to watch the strange and unnerving sight.
“Open the gates,” you shout down to the sentries posted below.
“Who is it?” asks your boy excitedly as you leap down from the perch, heading to the stairway.
“I don't know, son. Go home and wait with Sister Terray.”
“But - “ he begins.
“Now, son,” you order firmly.
The boy grumbles something under his breath, but follows as you rush down the steps, scuffing his feet behind you.
- x -
As you enter the Northgate courtyard, the rider thunders in under the archway, his horse flecked with sweat, wildness in its eyes. The stable attendents finally manage to calm the beast, grasping the reins and harness, the unconscious and bloodied rider thrown about as the horse rears and kicks.
You help the healers remove the man from his steed, easing him down onto the stretcher. You see the shafts of three arrows protruding from the man's back and shoulder, dried blood mixing with fresh. The healers rush the man off into the city, leaving you standing with the panting creature.
- x -
The King's face is grave, his age ever so evident on his lined brow and in the grey flecks of his beard.
“The rider died in the night. His wounds were too harsh.”
You glance around at the other four Lords of the King, each listening intently, ghostly beams of early morning sunlight whispering in through the windows of the Inner Chamber.
“Before he passed, he managed to relay on his message,” continued the King. “We are under attack.”
“So the rumours of a Skav invasion were true,” said Merrach, his dark eyes burning.
“Sadly, yes,” replied the King. “Rockreach has been taken – an army of thousands moves in the Long Plain.”
“What of the treaty?” spat Dyne, raking his hand through his blonde hair furiously. “The Four Crowns will not stand for this.”
“The Seawagers are recovering from a tidal wave, King Lonne is facing an uprising, and the Kingdom of the Sand are at Offering in the Great Desert,” said the King, his voice weary. “We are alone.”
The room contemplates this in silence.
You clear your throat.
“What is your command?” you ask.
The King sighs, his eyes passing painfully over his five most loyal subjects. He reaches down and picks up a leather bundle lying beside the throne.
You've seen it before and are prepared for the coming instruction.
Placing the bundle on his lap, the King unwraps it to reveal five daggers, golden hilts glistening, a blood-red ruby fixed at the end of each one.
“Men, I must ask you to take up 'The King's Dagger', one more time.”
- x -
The main courtyard is a thrill of activity, soldiers rushing back and forth, craftsmen working on the defences, everyone and anyone preparing for the coming shadow of war.
You kneel down in front of your son, who stands tearfully beside you. Sister Terray holds a stern look upon her face, but you can see the grievance lying beneath.
“I don't want you to go,” pleads the boy, tears streaking down his cheeks.
You place your finger upon one of the drops, and bring the tear up to your lips, tasting its salty freshness.
“I have swallowed your sadness,” you say, quoting the Old Text. “When I return, I shall bring happiness.”
The boy flings his arms around your neck, squeezing as tightly as possible. You hold him gently in your arms.
“Come now, young sir,” Sister Terray says soothingly, firmly but compassionately prying your son away. “You father has a kingdom to protect.” The boy obeys, releasing his grip.
You smile at the older woman, who nods with respect but smiles back with friendship. You turn and mount your dappled grey horse, Windmane, feeling comfortable in the saddle. You coax the beast onwards, passing under the archway. As is the custom, no one but your closest watch you leave. Without turning back, you urge Windmane onwards, out onto the road.
- x -
As you travel out of Crownsledge, you leave your identity behind. Dressed in the clothes of a wandering ranger, a leather tunic across your chest, woodland brown cloak on your back and tough boots on your feet, you draw no unnecessary attention to yourself. Armed with a hunting bow and short sword, you are only a mild threat.
You have taken up 'The King's Dagger', swearing a solemn oath to fulfil your mission, or die valiantly. Merrach and Bartho were tasked with preparing the King's army, an occupation well-suited to their skills. Prayro, Dyne and yourself were given secret orders – only you and the King know the details of your individual mission. The other two Lords left Crownsledge before you, as the King commanded, each heading out to complete their task alone.
You can make out the crossroads in the distance, the road forking off in three directions. The west road will lead you towards Lane's Forest, its towering oaks standing between you and the Dyre Marsh, a maze of boggy danger, impassible to only the hardiest adventurer. The east road leads to the coast, where the water or the dunes will lead you to the Narrow Pass, a dangerous and seldom-used mountain road – a route the Skavs may use to flank the King's forces. Ahead on the Long Plain in the north lies the advancing army – but maybe you could sneak through their midst undetected? Far in the distance, the fortress-town of Rockreach lies infested with tall, blond-haired, Skavakian troops, on a treacherous charge to overrun your homeland.
Spurring Windmane on, you fly along the dusty road, your quest fixed in the forefront of your mind.
You are on a mission of death.
You must kill the King of Skavak.
- x -
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