Harudan sat at his desk as he had for the last few days. Sir Jonin was gone, later than they had originally planned, but still gone. The next time Harudan would see him, he’d have his brother in hand. It wouldn’t take long, he knew, but every second that crawled by felt longer and longer.
He had no idea what they would do to his brother. He’d just tried to kill the Princess. For all he knew, she’d taken Nerin as a bargaining chip, or something to use against him. And it would probably work. Nerin was his family, his baby brother. He wasn’t going to lose him to an Askari Princess. Jonin would make sure of that. If he didn’t, Harudan didn’t know what he would do. He couldn’t hurt his friend.
He missed Nerin, missed his constant sneaking around and showing up in places he shouldn’t. It was a permanent thing in his life, even when his father had been King. For months, his main job had been to take Nerin from whatever meeting he was listening in on and escort him back to his room. He’d always had the feeling that their father was a little bit proud of Nerin for the things he did. It showed cunning and intelligence, characteristics his father used to rave on about.
Ignis the drake sat in his usual spot on the desk, curled up in a little ball. If anything came up at the palace, he’d promised Jonin to send a message with the little drake. It was strange not having his friend by his side. They’d done everything together. Harudan had been the one to convince him to join the King’s Guard so that when his father eventually passed, they could spend even more time together.
They just hadn’t expected his father to pass so soon. Harudan barely felt ready to take on his role as King when his father died of sickness in his sleep a little over a year beforehand. He’d spent his whole life getting prepared to take over the Kingdom, but he had thought he would be a lot older than his twenty-three years.
It had been hard, trying to explain to Nerin what had happened to their father. He’d understood, of course, he had, the boy was smarter than anyone Harudan had ever met, but he still struggled to comprehend the fact that their father would no longer be there to look after him. Maybe it was easier for him, he hadn’t had to deal with their mother’s passing. He’d only been a baby at the time.
Harudan never blamed him. He’d been ten at the time. He had understood, barely, but he knew it wasn’t Nerin’s fault. He was only a baby, only a couple of minutes old when their mother passed. Their father blamed him for a few months, didn’t come to hold him when he was crying. That job was given to the maids and Harudan.
Instead of blaming his baby brother, he did research. He borrowed books from his uncle’s laboratory and library and discovered that his mother’s death was a common one. And so, in the middle of his grief, he became the one to raise Nerin. He played with him, taught him what he needed to know. It took a long time, but eventually, their father came to see him as his son.
Nerin probably didn’t remember it. He’d only been a toddler at the time. He’d have no idea about the things his father went through. Over the years, he asked about their mother, but Harudan could only give him the basics. He barely remembered her now. He was only a child at the time. He told Nerin how beautiful she was, how fun she was, how much she loved both of them, even if she’d only known her second son for a few minutes.
Jonin would bring him back. Harudan needed him, needed to explain what was going on to him. Nerin had seen it all and that wasn’t fair. He probably believed his brother was evil, if the Askari Princess had gotten her claws into him. He was only a child, gullible and easy to manipulate. Harudan wasn’t going to lose him that easily.
But they had already wasted so much time. Jonin hadn’t been able to leave until midday due to the Guard needing his command. Three people had died and it needed to be sorted out. Then there was getting the trackers and the dogs ready to go. It was dangerous to travel in winter, even with their powers. They had to make sure the dogs would be safe.
That gave the Princess and his brother and the little monk a huge head start towards the border. If that was even where they were going. Harudan couldn’t think of anywhere else except their summer home, his uncle’s laboratory. The Princess was stupid, that much was obvious. She’d head straight for the border.
While he waited for Jonin to come back with his brother and the Princess’s head on a pike, there were things he needed to do as King. The families of the dead guards had been notified the morning before and private funerals would be held in the evening. If he was able, he would attend, but he had other duties to see to.
The war needed to go ahead and to do that, he needed the armies of each Lord and Lady to be on his side. He already knew the Lord and Ladies down near the border towns had his back. They’d been attacked far too often. Their armies had been situated on the border for years, waiting for a chance to properly attack. All Harudan had to do was send them a raven.
Then there was Minisia. He couldn’t go to war with them without letting them know first. There was etiquette to uphold as King. A formal declaration and then he could attack, response or not. There was nothing Minisia could do to stop him. They didn’t train their armies properly, they were the ones who would suffer the most.
Yes, the Warriors of Ziya would be a problem, but they would be spread thin in comparison to the rest of Minisia’s armies. Only the elite got that kind of special training, while Harudan and his father before him tried to make everyone as strong as they could possibly be. This had been the plan for a long time. Harudan wasn’t going to let a poorly trained army ruin it for him.
He would win, there was no doubt about it. He’d had things planned out for months, continuing with what his father had planned. The other advisors would want a meeting with him soon to discuss battle plans. He hadn’t talked to them since before he faked signing the treaty with the Princess. It had only been a couple of days since then, but if he was going to do this, he needed to have another meeting with them.
There were usually three, his main advisor, the general of his armies, and the leader of his Guard. But Jonin was gone on a more important mission. It could wait until after he sent word to those he needed to. Jonin would not be back by then, but it mattered not. War was an issue that belonged outside Ishmar, his general and advisor would know more.
Harudan stood from his desk, scratching Ignis under the chin gently as he passed. The drake hummed lowly but didn’t wake. The raven tower wasn’t far from his office, across the gardens and completely separate from the rest of the palace.
As he walked, he half expected Nerin to appear around the corner, his usual mischievous grin plastered on his face. It was too weird, too quiet, without him around. He might be a pain to deal with, but he was still his baby brother. If the Princess had done anything to him, he would rip her apart.
The ravens cawed loudly as he entered the tower. Their cages lined the walls all the way up to the thatched roof, a single ladder meant to reach all of them. Every time he went in, Harudan forgot just how loud it was. It gave him a headache after only being in there for a few seconds.
A single woman sat at an ink-covered wooden table, scrolls and parchments spread out around her. She looked up when Harudan walked in, a kind smile on her weathered face. Ink covered her red hands and she dropped the quill she was holding.
“Your Majesty! What can I do for you?” she asked in a raspy voice. For as long as he could remember, she’d been the one to look after the hundreds of ravens in the tower.
Harudan pulled out the chair opposite her. “I need to send word to the Nobles of Brenmar,” he answered as he sat down. “And one to the King of Minisia.”
The Raven Keeper shoved the parchments to the side and held out a hand. “It shouldn’t take more than a week to get them out, your Majesty. My ravens are fast, but it is cold.”
“That’s not a problem.” It was a bit, but there was nothing he could do about it. There were times that he forgot the winter’s effects. His powers were strong, staying warm was not an issue for him, no matter how cold it got.
The Raven Keeper waved her hand at him. “Do you have the scrolls, your Majesty?” she asked.
Harudan was silent for a second, before he let out an embarrassed chuckle. “No, I haven’t even written them. I thought I had,” he said and ran a hand through his hair. He was too distracted. Things had changed far too much for his liking. His brother and his best friend were gone. It was already too different with them gone. He’d forgotten how much he relied on Jonin to do things.
The Raven Keeper didn’t seem to mind. She gave him a king smile and pushed a pile of blank parchments and a quill towards him. “Take all the time you need, your Majesty,” she said and stood from the table. “I would assume the treaty has been very distracting for you. The servants whisper a lot. The Princess hasn’t been seen in a long time. Did things go well?”
Harudan’s blank looked turned into a glare. “I suppose you could read for yourself,” he snapped. He wouldn’t be surprised if she did, she was nosy enough.
She curtseyed hastily. “Apologies, your Majesty. I did not mean to offend,” she replied, a hint of fear in her voice. What did she think he would do? He’d never hurt a servant, not in the short year of his reign. But his father had and people had always said he took after him.
He waved her away. “Leave,” he ordered, shaking his head as she scampered away. The servants were getting too bold. It was something his father had always warned him about. He would have to do something about it when he had a chance. Other things were far more important.
The fact that he had forgotten to write his notes bothered him. He was meant to be the king and he was forgetting to do even the basics. How much had Nerin’s kidnapping and Jonin’s departure affected him? Jonin didn’t even help him out with such things, but he did remind him of what needed to be done. Harudan had hoped he wouldn’t be forgetting simple things so quickly, but he had never been the luckiest person.
He took a moment to think over what he wanted to say. The Nobles needed to know what was happening, but they couldn’t know the truth. What would they think of him if they knew he had deliberately tried to ruin peace? There were some out there that wanted it, but he knew that not even a treaty would stop the attacks and assassinations. Only war would end it. A war that would end with him in charge of both countries.
With a smirk, he pressed quill to paper.
Lord Breska of the city of Joldan,
As you may have heard, Princess Sharina Nishinaron of Minisia came to Ishmar to sign a treaty that would mean peace for all of Vishera, as proposed by myself. When the treaty was to be signed, the Princess and her guards attacked my party, resulting in the deaths of three of my Guard.
Most died, but the Princess escaped with my brother, Prince Nerin Oshana. I ask that if you should spot them, to arrest them immediately and bring my brother back to Ishmar, where he will be safe from the monstrous acts of the Askari.
I ask that you prepare your armies to march for Minisia. This betrayal of trust has led me to declare war on our neighbour. I believe it is a fair and just response. Please respond with your confirmation and the number of men you will be sending. I plan for us to march as soon as we are able.
His Majesty, King Harudan Oshana of Brenmar.
For every noble in Brenmar, he repeated the note. He wrote until the words were ingrained in his memory and he no longer had to check to see if what he was writing was correct. Over and over again, the same lies. Words that no one except him and his Guard would know were fake. And his Guard would keep the secret. They knew what would happen if they didn’t.
He rolled them up and sealed them with red wax. His family’s seal, a drake with its wings spread wide, gleamed in the candlelight. He made a small pile off to the side for the Raven Keeper to sift through later. One final note to write. The ravens cawed loudly as he picked up one last blank piece of paper and addressed it to the King of Minisia.
I am disappointed by what has happened in my palace, your Majesty. I do not know if you planned this or if this was something your daughter planned without you, but know that it does not come without consequences.
Your daughter tried to kill me while we were signing the treaty. I requested peace, your Majesty, and your daughter brought me violence. She killed three of my guards in the process of escaping and kidnapped my younger brother, Prince Nerin.
I will not stand by and let your people do such things to me and mine. For attempted murder of a monarch, murder of innocents, and the kidnapping of a monarch, I formally declare war on Minisia. Respond, and we can organise a civil battle on the border. Do not, and I will take your border towns by force.
His Majesty, King Harudan Oshana of Brenmar.
Harudan smirked as he rolled up the scroll and placed it on top of his pile. War. It was here. And soon enough, Minisia would be his, the Askari would be his. He stood from the table and walked out of the tower, the sounds of the ravens cawing following him as he walked.