His Boots is an Erien based story, written by Terri Pray.
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz3d, Photoshop and Filter Forge.
Richard sighed and looked around the room. Everything that reminded him of his father remained in the room but the man himself was gone, he swallowed hard closing his eyes against the tears that threatened to spill. This was neither the time, nor the place for grief. He’d had his moments, scant though they had been, to weep yet still he wanted to cry. Scream. Yell at the sky that this wasn’t happening. His father, he couldn’t be dead. Not now. Not when they needed him.
I need him. I’m not ready for this. I’ll never be ready for this.
He shuddered, growling under his breath. This was stupid, the way he was acting - no, he wasn’t going to let his emotions win. Not this time, not ever. Hells, what was he, a child to need his father to chase away the monsters in the night? Did he need a story read to him at night or his breech cloth changed by a nurse? He was no child, no babe at the breast but a man who should be able to face anything thrown at him. No, he’d long since outgrown the need for a caregiver.
Yet he couldn’t deny the need for his father, especially in this moment.
His gaze fell on a pile of scrolls in a holder next to the desk. Scrolls his father had been working on, reading or adding his own notes, in the days leading up to his death. Work had been left unfinished, some with little more than a missing seal and signature, but this was something that his father would now never complete.
Which mean it fell on his shoulders. He’d have to work his way through each and every scroll, document and scrap of paper on or around the desk. He didn’t know what was important right now, what was time sensitive and what could be put to one side. Work. Duty. Expectations. All of it threatened to pile up on his shoulders and he didn’t know where to start. He wasn’t ready for this.
I’d never be ready for this.Not with the petitions that have appeared in the last day or two.
“Damn them all.” Who he damned he didn’t know, not in this moment. The ones behind the petitions were easy to identify, but the ones pushing the more vocal men and women, they were the real problem. They were vague shadows, threats that lingered in the darkness trying to find a means of tripping him up. He’d stumbled through the situation at first, thinking that his father’s retainers and merchants would support him, but nothing could be further from the truth. At every turn there had been a not so subtle attack, comments that he wasn’t ready, that he should step aside instead of taking the role of Lord, but not one of them had a real reason behind their suggestions. He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. “They wanted this, wanted us all out of the way.”
Yes, they did. Only it wasn’t a ‘they’, not entirely, not if he wanted to be honest. He might not know all of the shadows, the voices, but there was one man in the forefront, one man pushing to control things, to strip the title from Richard’s hands and take the power for himself. A man who claimed a blood tie that no one could prove or deny at this point. Not with the supposed sire dead and buried.
Except - there was a way, wasn’t there?
All he had to do was find someone capable of casting the spell. He closed his eyes, rubbing his temples in an attempt to ease the growing pressure. If this continued he’d have a migraine before the end of the day. What he needed was the assistance of one who could access the magic be they a member of the priesthood, or a mage, there were spells that could, according to legend, reveal the true blood lines of a person. He groaned, fighting back the growing pressure behind his eyes.
Just what he needed, if this continued he’d need a mage to cure the migraine!
Sure, I’ll just drop everything here, take off on a quest and be back before dinner. No problem.
Right. Uh huh. The mage would wave a hand and it would all be solved. Richard opened his eyes, frowning as he paced a path across the heavy carpets to the large window. Maybe he just needed a little fresh air. He’d been cooped up in the castle for days at this point. He hadn’t dared to do much more than walk across the courtyard, any thought of escaping for a ride had died at the first cry from one of the petitioners waving a scroll that he simply must look at immediately, if not sooner. With a groan he leaned against the window, seeking a moment where he could escape, breathe in fresh air and relax. Except the window didn’t open. He stepped back, looking at the frame. There was no way, beyond breaking the glass that he could arrange it to allow any fresh air into the room. Small, thick panes of expensive glass, held in place by strips of lead, let the soft, warm, late spring sun into the room. Golden light filtered in waves across the floor, offering a chance of welcoming warmth to chase away the dreams that had haunted his nights.
How many days had he spent in this room, working on a sketch or reading through an old tale, as his father worked? From an early age his father had welcomed Richard. Stories, lessons, dreams, they’d all been shared. This place, this room, it had been a sanctuary for father and son alike. Now - now it held only memories and fading dreams. What else was there? Furniture - yes, pieces that his father had used, some he’d picked out, others had been passed down to him by his father, or grandfather, perhaps further back than that. But the man who had given this room life was gone and that hole would never be filled.
No more stories.
Until I have my own children.
Another issue he didn’t want to think about. Children. Gods above and below, he didn’t even have a woman in mind, children were the last thing he wanted to contemplate and yet that too would be expected of him. A wife, children, grandchildren, the continuation of the family line. “I’m not ready for this.”
“They’re waiting for you,” a soft, warm voice drifted in from the doorway. “And you will be ready, father knew that. You need to have faith in yourself, in what you can do, instead of letting the doubts eat you away one piece at a time. Believe in yourself the way I believe in you.”
Richard sighed but didn’t turn. He didn’t have to know who had spoken to him, he’d have known Selena’s voice anywhere. “They can wait.”
Footsteps followed by the sound of the door closing preceded a soft touch of a hand on his shoulder. “They have been waiting for over two candlemarks now, brother. To keep them waiting much longer will not make it any easier for you, in truth it will add to the tension and dissent in the hall.”
“You should have been born first. You know how to handle these people in a way I never will.” Dissent. There had been plenty of that since their father had died. Damn, had that only been ten days ago? He frowned, counting off the days before he shook his head. Days had blurred one into the next and now all of the men and women who had sworn loyalty to their father now waited for his arrival in the great hall. Some would support him, but they were few and far between. He was too young, lacking experience and patience - at least if you listened to their complaints for more than a moment or two.
He shouldn’t care, shouldn’t give a damn about their words but shutting them out - if there was a way he hadn’t found it yet.
“They’ll insist that you call me Lord Balvane, at least in public.” He turned, but not to look at his sister. Instead his gaze moved to the pair of worn leather boots that sat by the side of the warm walnut wood desk that his father had used for as long as Richard could remember. Black boots, with a low riding heel and flared, folded top. Nothing fancy but sturdy, comfortable boots that his father had worn most of the time. How often had his father sat, polishing his boots with a soft cloth? He’d never handed that simple task off to a servant though the gods alone knew that there were enough servants who offered to help, yet he’d refused every time.
“Of course they will, you’re taking father’s place as…”
“No, I’m not. No one could ever take father’s place. He was the strongest of our line, the idea that I can just step into his boots. No. It’s not like that. That’s just - I have to take the role of Lord here, but that’s not the same thing. I’m not even ready to be the Lord here, you know how I am, I can barely organize what I want to wear some mornings, let alone run his lands, his people and everything that goes along with the title.” A mistake, this entire thing was a bad dream. He’d wake up tomorrow and his father would be alive and well. I wish that were the case. Richard rubbed the back of his neck, trying to fight the growing tension. Knots. His back and neck had been plagued with knots since the morning his father had been found dead at the bottom of the grand staircase.
Crumpled. Wine pooled around his body, a broken bottle close at hand and a goblet next to his right hand.
His father had been left handed. That had been the first thing that had struck Richard as odd, that and the wine on the floor.
Had he fallen or had his father been pushed? No one had been able to answer that, but he knew - in his heart Richard knew. Never, in his life, had Richard witnessed his father in a state where he’d been too drunk to climb the stairs. The man rarely drank more than a glass or two of wine or port a night. Occasionally a good glass of brandy instead. Yet he’d never been drunk. The idea that, somehow, his father had been drunk to the point where he’d slipped down the stairs and broken his neck, was ridiculous.
The spilled wine. Not even one he liked to drink. Dry wine, not the semi-sweet or full, robust red he preferred. The man never drank dry wine, claimed it gave him a headache, yet the story was he was so drunk he’d obviously not even been aware of the bottle he’d picked out. Except his father kept his wine in this very room, there couldn’t have been a mistake as that wine would never have found a place on the small wine rack. Nor had any other bottles been opened that night. He’d barely even taken a glass of port, at least to Richard’s memory of the level in the bottle.
Richard’s words had been ignored when he’d raised the matter. Only Selena and the servants believed him. No matter what was said none of the merchants or lesser nobles who were sworn in service to his father, were willing to believe that someone had killed the former Lord Balvane. What did it matter what a distraught son, daughter or servant said when the nobles said it was a drunken accident. Men and women who were willing to swear that their father regularly drank himself into oblivion and had been doing so since the death of his wife.
“They wanted him dead, Selena. I don’t know why but they did and now - now he’s gone.” He growled, his shoulders tight, hands fisted at his sides. “He didn’t deserve this. He was a good man and they killed him. They found a way to get rid of him and we lost a father in the process. I want them to pay, they have to pay for all of this.”
“Richard, don’t do this to yourself. I know they will have to pay for it, but not right now. Not until you’re settled into your new position. Breathe, my brother. Please, calm and focus. There are others who will knock you down, don’t do the job for them.” Selena took hold of his left arm and used the grip to turn him around, away from the desk and boots, until he faced her. “You know Veren will be leading the pack in any attempt to oust you from the Lordship. We have to keep calm in order to see what’s coming.”
Veren. A hand tightened around his heart, tension threatening to close his throat until he coughed, clearing it before he forced himself to speak once more. “He wants the Lordship for himself.”
“Yes, that much is obvious, and he has, in theory, a legitimate claim.”
A bastard child, at least according to Veren. Yet there was neither a living mother or father to speak to the matter. Another detail that didn’t quite add up, and Veron had wormed his way into the small court four years ago. Only then had the problems begun in the household. Small rumbles at first and the bigger ones, troubles with the merchants, the market and tradesmen, then it had built, drawing in the nobles until not a day had passed without new complaints being brought to his father’s door. “How the hell does he think he can prove a claim when the man he now said sired him, is dead and buried. Why wait for that death until father was dead? It doesn’t add up unless it’s a lie.”
What else could it be, but a lie? Lord Draven Balvane had said nothing about a child born out of wedlock. His long term mistress, Areia, had never hidden the fact that herbs had been provided for her in order to prevent the birth of such a child. Not something she had been upset about, but if his father had not wanted a child to be born from a mistress he loved, why would he have slipped up and sired a child on someone else? No, their father wouldn’t have put the family, and the succession, at risk.
The deaths. Claims. The pieces that didn’t add up. How the hell was Veren gathering so many allies? The man had no real source of money, at least according to statements he’d made, so where had the funds come to buy them off? These were men and women who wouldn’t act without cause, without a source of persuasion. He’d learned that at an early age by watching and listening to his father. Politics was a dangerous sport and claimed more lives than most people would ever know.
He’d known that, known it from an early age, but with the death of his father he’d now, finally, experienced the true viciousness of politics.
“If he was our brother, something would have been said.” It didn’t make sense, no matter how he looked at it. “He’d have been welcomed into the family.”
“We know that but he believed father would deny his birth, but of course we know father would never do that if he was indeed father’s son. He phrased his concerns in such a way that it’s hard to argue against him. It’s nothing he outright says, much of the time, but a hint, a seed of something that leads into something bigger. Because of that, there are those who now say father’s mistress would have had him killed.” Serena offered a wan smile before she broke contact and sat down on the edge of the love seat that had been one of their father’s favorite pieces. “Of course, anyone who knew Areia would know that to be a lie. She would never have harmed a soul.”
Areia, another beautiful heart who was now unable to speak out against Veren. A woman who would never have harmed the man, or anyone else, regardless of the threats laid against her. Now a woman who had brought so much light and joy into their father’s life was dead only two days after the death of their father. “Suicide - it wasn’t in her nature. She was grief stricken, yes but she’d promised to stand by us, to help where she could and then she’s found with her wrists sliced open. She wouldn’t have committed suicide, at least not like that. She hated leaving a mess.” Blood, there had been so much blood spilled across the floor. If Areia had, indeed, taken her life it would have been in a quiet, dignified way, leaving no mess or problems for people to clean up. “You know what she was like about finding anything out of place let alone how she reacted to the sight of blood.”
Areia’s normal reaction to blood had included a wail or scream, combined with fainting. Something their father had teased his companion about on a regular basis. No more jokes shared between them, no teasing comments or playful looks, no secret holding of hands beneath the table. Everyone had known she had been his mistress for the last six years and both Richard and Selena had welcomed her into the family, but officially their father was a respected widower who had buried his wife twelve years ago. No ties, no engagements, no betrothal’s in sight. Nothing to cause problems with the line of succession.
Another life lost to the game of politics.
“Yes, I know. I don’t believe she was the master of her own death either, but what real proof do we have? Not just with her death but all of them? Each one an accident, or easily explained away except to those who knew the people involved. No one was seen entering or leaving her chambers, nor were there any signs within the room that there had been a struggle.” Selena agreed, her head bowed, soft strands of hair slipping down over her eyes.
Too many deaths. They both knew that, but speaking out in public carried a risk and neither of them were in a position of safety. At least not yet. They weren’t in a strong enough position though that would, in theory, change once he’d been sworn in.
If I’m sworn in. They’ve killed two people that we know of, how many more have died or have been removed in other ways?
An oath to the Dragon Throne, and a promise to represent his people in both small and large matters, would be a part of the oath. He’d have to travel to the Dragon Throne at least once every three years, and fight for the good of the throne, his people and the land, but none of that frightened him the way that the politics and his half brother did.
I’m no coward but I don’t know what I’m facing here. What he has planned. Who is on his side or helping him with all of this, as he can’t be doing it on his own. There’s too much going on. Too many pieces to the puzzle.
Some of the pieces could only be answered by magic - at least according to the books he had read and the tales he had grown up with. How else could someone enter a room, commit murder without leaving evidence behind or being seen?
“Don’t let him scare you. We are stronger than that. Together we can stop this, we can find out what’s going on and prevent them from taking your birthright.”
He scowled and flashed a glare at Selena. “How do you always know what I’m thinking?”
“Not always.” Selena sighed and tugged a stray lock of red blonde hair back from her eyes. “But your face - you let whatever is going on in your mind affect your expression. Father learned to wear a mask and I know you have to learn to do the same thing. It’s not easy, I know that from watching him, but it’s a skill you need if you want to survive the coming months.”
Survive. It wouldn’t be easy to make it through the months ahead, even the weeks. “If I make it through this day it will be a bloody miracle.” Veren, how many had he brought to his side? Had he paid some of them off, made promises of positions if he took the lordship? There had to be something behind the way so many had rallied to his side, but whatever it was, Richard and his sister had been far too busy dealing with the deaths and upset in the household to get to the bottom of the situation.
Now it was too late.
“He will turn them all against us,” Richard muttered, his gaze shifting back to the boots. Soft leather, well tended despite the scuffs and worn spots. Boots his father had worn almost every day of his life. He walked through the courtyards and the great hall alike in them and now - now they would never be worn again. “I can’t fill them.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Father’s boots, I can’t fill them. I’m not him.”
Selena moved in front of him, cupping his face in her hands. “No one is asking you to be father. Be yourself. Carve your own place out in the world and prove them all wrong.”
To Be Continued Next Week.