Chapter 2

Belial detested the high council meetings. All this talk of grain quality, treaties and trade agreements was frustrating, boring and quite frankly beneath him. He was a warrior at heart, and though his body did not fit the deigned form of a warrior king, his familiarity with mace and blade had fended off no less than three attempts on his life following his coronation.

If he had his way, he would just imprison the whole lot of these simpering, preening, noblemen in the dungeons and have done with it. He chuckled as he imagined Telios, the bloated, red faced merchant lord from Krias trying to fight off the advances of some of the less savoury brigands he already had contained far beneath this very room.

“…do you agree my leige?” Mathis’ voice snapped him out of his daydream. The old man’s gaze bored into him as he waited for a reply, and the look of disgust on his age ravaged face momentarily made him feel like the ancient steward could sense the vile thoughts circulating in his mind. He straightened up in the throne.

“agree with what exactly, Mathis?”

The wizened man sighed. “That, in order to bolster our supplies and reinforce our borders, we must treat with the Metians. It has been twelve years since they last raised arms against us, but a further incursion would wound our kingdom greatly.”

Belial exploded to his feet. “Have you lost your mind old man! Treat with those.. those savages!” He could feel his face flush as he spoke. “They still hold lands that belong to ME! Twelve long years they have held the lands south of the Tariis Mountains since my arrogant fool of a brother tried to hold Dun Dullial against their horde. I will never treat with those horse-eating heathens while I still hold breath!”

He listened to the silence that remained after the final reverberating echo’s of his words left the council chamber. He cast his gaze slowly over each assembled man, but none of them would look him in the eye. None but Mathis. He took his seat and drew a deep breath.

His inner voice whispered to him, reassuring that none could argue this point. His much loved brothers memory would work as a suitable counter to any point they could put forward at this point. He smirked when he realised that he had been wrong. Sometimes; just sometimes, these meetings did amuse but only when he got to make the council really squirm.

This was one of those times.

He noted the pensive hand wringing, the stifled cough’s and the darting of eyes amongst the council of six. They were holding something back. His back stiffened as he realised that without the full facts his outburst may work against him. He leaned forward and placed both palms down upon the table.

“What..” he paused, enjoying the moment of power over these six beauracrats. “..are you not telling me?”

He used a tone he had practiced countless times since he took the throne. A mix of indignation, arrogance and tempered fury that he knew made him sound more regal. It had taken time for it to become second nature, as he was all to aware how nasal his voice sounded naturally, and this was not helped by the fact that his predecessor, his brother, had owned a commanding, gruff but reassuring voice that gave his proclamations and commmands the gravity required.

It was Telios who answered for the group.

“We did not intend to treat with the Metians on their terms, your grace. Yesterday I received word that outriders south of Dirras had been involved in a skirmish with a band of Metians.”

Telios stood and slowly waddled around the table to where Belial now sat.

“Although this is not unusual in and of itself, what they discovered from the survivors may tip the scales of the treaty in our favour. It seems, their chief has died and with this event his five sons have split into three seperate camps, each with their own forces and each with their own claim to their lands and the clans.”

The fat man leaned in close and he could smell the sickly sweet stench of honeysuckle, pig and mint, the three commodities that had made the man both oppulently wealthy and disgustingly obese.

“The greatest claim is from the second son, and by claim I obviously mean strength of force.”

“Should we ally with him to remove his brothers not only do we help enforce his claim over his fathers clans, but we will simultaneously reduce both their standing army numbers and can demand our lands returned as part tribute for our assistance.”

Belial ran one finger over the mass of scars on his jaw. “And what assurances do we have that these heathens will not just turn on us the moment we have helped them secure their clans?”

Telios grinned so wide it was almost disconcerting. “We can guarantee his loyalty your Grace, as the skirmish was with his Harem caravan guard. We now hold his wives and children as leverage…”

He sank back in the Throne and pondered on this for a moment. If the tribes knew he held the family of one of the sons, then instead of being a bargaining chip it could rally the brothers together instead and prompt another all out war. All the councils talk of grain and supplies and treatise had been down to one thing: the long cold winters and dwindling crops they had suffered the past 3 years. He had no doubt that the situation south of the Dirras in the Metian desert had been just as difficult. His contacts had all but told him so.  Hunger could be a strong motivator, but not so much as family. How could he use this to his advantage? He would have to ponder on it further.

“Let me consider our options, and we shall address this when we next convene. For now, they are to be kept under strict guard, am I understood?”

Terios nodded and bowed. “I shall put my most trusted men from the Guard on their protection”

He dismissed the fat man with nod. “and Terios… ensure they do not have loose tongues regarding who our ‘guests‘ are, lest they wish their tongues removed.”

He dismissed the rest with a cursory wave and lifted himself from his seat. There must be some way to use this to his masters advantage, but how?

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