[FTL Flashback] Sins Of The Father ~ Richard & Marian.
It was said that the Devil lived behind those high, stone walls, cloaked in shadows and blotting out the sun. It was said he struck a deal with fallen angels. It was said he could not die.
The centre of the province, Nottingham town lurked like a dark ink stain on the landscape, painted a thousand shades of grey, every one of which suited their lord and master. It was said that he, unburdened with the trials and tribulations of a sense of decency, fair play or a moral centre, even bled grey – Coal grey, or aristocratic blue, or ice white, or dirt green, or dead black, or did he even bleed at all? They supposed he had no need to, once he had leached the red from every man, woman or child who dared defy him. They had learned to keep their tongues in their mouths and their eyes downcast as he rode through the city, the tall, dark man on his tall, dark horse.
It was said both beasts had fangs.
Lord Richard Vaizey, Sheriff of Nottingham, was a soldier, born and bred for the battlefield and all the horrors Hell could throw at him therein. He may have ruled his people with fear, but it was sheer bloody respect – Disturbingly literal, in some cases – That sat him squarely at the helm of his men. He ate with them, slept with them and fought with them and they, in return, would die for him, without question. Such unfaltering, suicidal loyalty had left him untouchable; it was said he had half the nation’s army under his thumb, tucked away for a rainy-day coup.
On a clear day, with a cloudless sky and just the smallest of breezes, from the battlements he could see smoke from the front line, far off, beyond the edge of Sherwood Forest. It was acrid, black stuff, thick and tar-like, that stuck to your lungs and had you coughing up soot for days; it was the long, dark, blood-scream through a wailing sky of burning bodies. It hadn’t been long since he had made his last campaign over there, intent on keeping a finger on the still-beating pulse of the Southlands’ involvement in the Ogre Wars; the smoke still clung to his spurs, a whisper of mortality along the cold castle flagstones. No one was safe, not from him.
The Great Hall was cold as sin, and left dragon’s breath lingering in the air behind every word. A shaggy, grey, direwolf-pelt cloak was slung haphazardly over the high helm of the chair at the head of the long table, but its owner had not reached for it for hours, knees spread, fingers steepled and eyes fixed on the intricately-inked parchment map spread before him. Those eyes should have been black, to match – It was said – His heart, but they were startlingly bright, piercing blue as the sky, and agitated, flitting from one detailed landmass to the next, with an endless vigour for the fight.
They were losing – He could damn well see that, he didn’t need the incompetent councillors arguing loudly with one another across the table to cover it up to spare him. He was their general! He was practically their king. And if they thought that pacifying him would see them safely behind high castle walls instead of following him on his next campaign, they were sorely mistaken. “Ailemer—” He barked, his first word in over half-an-hour of unceasing argument, with which he had simply had enough, shattering the lords’ little reverie and reminding them who was in charge. “—How many men moved to the eastern flank yesterday evening?”
A breath. A swallow. “Five-hundred, my Lord.”
“And how many did I tell you to move?”
“Two—Two-hundred, my Lord.”
“Two-hundred. Yes – I remember.” He smiled, sharkish, such beautiful blue eyes in a hard, handsome face devoid of all humour. “But, I suppose you didn’t believe me, when I ordered the movement of such a small contingent because the terrain was unsuitable for a full squadron, that anymore than two-fifty would be spotted immediately, and our best hope at a three-pronged attack would be wiped from the face of the earth? I suppose you didn’t trust a man with half your years and twice your knowledge, hmm? Remind me, Ailemer – Which of us is the soldier?”
“And which of us has killed with those men?”
“And which of us will be swinging from my rafters with candles inserted into every orifice within the week, when your cretinous attempt at military prowess goes disastrously wrong, and I lose my friends, my comrades, to your disgustingly insubordinate hand?”