Post by WildlingKing on Sept 27, 2018 15:29:22 GMT
Book 1: Steel Rain
Sharp wind howled in the summer evening of Oldshire, as it bathed in the last light of the day. It was a small village on the lands of House Smallwood, two days of travel to south from Acorn Hall. The village was built at the side of a large and lightly wooded hill, atop of which used to stand a great weirwood tree in honor of the Old Gods.
Haldor, the eldest of Oldshire, was leading the villagers up the hill with a determinant look in his eyes. Sixteen years ago he had seen the knights of Faith Militant striking their axes on the weirwood atop this hill, bringing it down and saying that they were doing the work of their Seven Gods. That was before Lord Roderick Blackwood began his rebellion, and the Storm King Arlan Durrandon marched from the Stormlands to crush the tyrannical rule of King Humfrey Teague. The line of House Teague was ended, Roderick Blackwood fell in battle, and Arlan Durrandon annexed the Riverlands under his rule.
During the fifteen years following the war the people of Riverlands had been able to pray for both the Seven and the Old Gods in peace, but now Haldor feared that this time of peace was coming to its end. Rumors of the Faith Militant knights once again riding out of their temple at Stoney Sept to terrorize those who worshiped the Old Gods had reached his ears, and he knew something would have to be done about it. We must ask the gods for protection.
As he reached the top of the hill, Haldor turned to look down at the villagers following him. The first one coming after him was his son Hake, dragging behind him a goat that looked restless and fearful, as if it knew this was its last journey. Slowly all the thirty-eight habitants of Oldshire arrived atop the hill and began to gather around the large stump in the middle of it. The stump of the weirwood was white as bone, and over five feet wide.
Haldor drew out his dagger and took the rein of the goat from his son, quietly approaching the stump. “Hear us, Old Gods!” he began with a ceremonial tone, and all the chattering from the villagers quieted down immediately. “I know they took your eyes away when they fell the tree, but your roots are still deep in our ground, as our faith for you is deep in our hearts. There is no axe that can cut that away, no fire that can burn it down. And so, we come here tonight to seek your protection, as those same men who took down this tree sixteen years ago are once again threatening our lives. They seek to punish us for remaining faithful to you, which is why we need your aid. Protect us from those who would harm us, and this land from the chaos that is once again rearing its ugly head. I know it is much to ask, and for that reason we have brought you a sacrifice.” With these words Haldor yanked the resisting goat closer to the stump. He took in a deep breath, before swiftly cutting open the animal’s throat. The goat collapsed, and its dark red blood poured onto the white stump, draining into the cracks of the wood.
Haldor fell on his knees. “Protect us, Old Gods”, he prayed with closed eyes, hearing some of the villagers repeating his words behind him. “Father”, the alarmed voice of Hake said behind him, and with some irritation Haldor turned to look at him. “At the fields”, Hake said with a gulp, nodding towards the fields south of the village. As Haldor rose to look, he saw two dozen riders approaching them with haste, many of them carrying torches.
“We should run”, someone in the crowd suggested with a panicked voice, but Haldor shook his head. “No, we remain here”, he said with authority. “We have done nothing wrong.”
The riders galloped up the hill, and even in the twilight Haldor recognized their silver armors and rainbow capes. They were the Warrior’s Sons, knights of the Faith Militant. The man leading them removed his helmet as they halted next to the villagers, revealing a bald head and scarred face with strong jaw and sharp blue eyes. “Evening”, Haldor greeted the man, trying his best not to appear nervous. The man remained silent for a moment, glaring at the stump and the dead goat next to it with disgust.
“You have performed a ritual for the false gods here tonight, am I correct?” He asked harshly, now looking Haldor to the eyes. “Who am I speaking with?” he asked calmly, which seemed to irritate the knight. “Ser Harrold Hill, Captain of the Warrior’s Sons in Stoney Sept”, he answered, anger oozing from his every word. “Now, answer my question”, he demanded.
“Yes, we performed a ritual for the Old Gods, as is our right to do”, Haldor answered, crossing his arms in a defiant manner. Ser Harrold dismounted his horse now, taking a few steps closer to Haldor. “Only the judgement of the Seven matters, and in their eyes you have committed a great sin”, he spoke with a surprisingly calm tone, though the look on his eyes was full of hatred. Slowly he turned towards the weirwood’s stump and spat on it. “Sixteen years ago we brought down your demon tree, and still you cling on to its stump like fools. The Old Gods are dead, their faces removed from this land. They have no power.”
“And your order was defeated by the Storm King”, Haldor remarked sharply, once again gaining Ser Harrold’s full attention. Instead of anger, the knight’s face now displayed a twisted smirk, one devoid of any real joy. “Our order has not been defeated, and it will not be defeated for as long as the Starry Sept in Oldtown stands. As for the Storm King, he has been branded an enemy of the Faith, which makes his rule over the Riverlands illegitimate. And we no longer fear his wrath, for we have a new king.”
“A new king?” Haldor asked with confusion, and Harrold gave him a nod. “King Lucifer Justman, first of his name, the rightful King of the Rivers and Hills!” he announced, making sure that every villager on the hill heard him. “From this day all of you shall owe your allegiance to him, and when the dawn breaks tomorrow all rituals for the Old Gods in this village shall be forbidden by the authority of the crown.”
“This makes no sense, the Justmans died out hundreds of years ago, everyone knows this”, Haldor argued, but Ser Harrold just smirked. “This one lives”, he said coldly, a murderous look in his eyes. Suddenly he unsheathed his sword, to which the villagers reacted with audible gasps. “Since you all climbed up here to see a sacrifice for the gods, perhaps we should indeed make one to bless the reign of King Lucifer”, he spoke with an ominous tone, stepping closer to Haldor. “On your knees, old man”, he commanded.
“You won’t touch my father”, Hake protested, stepping between him and the knight. However, with minimal effort Ser Harrold smashed the pommel of his sword against Hake’s face, effectively knocking him out. Some of the villagers reacted to this by running away, while others fell on their knees to beg for mercy. “Do I need to repeat my order?” Harrold asked sternly, pointing his sword at Haldor.
“No”, he responded with a sigh. Haldor looked at his unconscious son one last time, before turning towards the stump and falling on his knees in front of it. Perhaps there was no way to avoid another war, perhaps even the gods could not keep this chaos at bay. However, the thought of his blood draining into the roots of this fallen weirwood gave Haldor some solace in this moment of despair. Perhaps his life was the sacrifice that needed to be made, it was the best he could hope for.
With a subtle gulp he lowered his head and closed his eyes. All he could hear in that moment was the wind, and it sounded like someone singing a sad song somewhere far away. The Old Gods are waiting for me, Haldor thought, his lips forming a small and tired smile. Then Ser Harrold swung his sword, ending the old man’s life.
End of Prologue.