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Offline DoctorM

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Two Kingdoms: Accounts
« on: March 22, 2020, 08:13:23 PM »
Author’s Note: This is the fifth piece of an AU construction about a very different post-1120 Gwynedd where the coronation challenge at Kelson’s coronation went rather differently--- very differently. There are characters and background here that go back to some stories in very, very early issues of Deryni Archives and to my own much younger days.  As always, input and comments are very much appreciated.


A cold, bright day in the new year at Valoret, and there are new heads going up on the city walls.

Down by the river’s edge, Aurelian and his staff are watching from horseback. Wind comes in off the river and the horses fidget on the path.

Up there on the walls the procedure moves quickly enough. The two heads are still fresh, and hands in thick leather gloves mount them on spikes and turn them out to face west over the river. No birds yet, though they’ll be here as soon as the workmen leave.

Aurelian shades his eyes and watches.

Eight executions today, each with his name on the order.  Nothing done without his signature and seal. In the first days of the occupation he hadn’t bothered about the formalities: everything had been about shock and fear. Here in the new year, though, here in the year of Our Lord 1121, it’s the formalities that matter.

Eight executions today. Two of them were barely worth a thought— a housekeeping matter only. Two soldiers, one from the Falcon Horse, one from the Queen’s Tolan Horse. They’d been caught looting—- plate and casks of wine —-from townhouses seized for the Queen’s use. The time for ordinary light-horse troopers to drink Fianna wine and eat off silver plate was long gone. Aurelian intends to hand over the Queen’s property in good order. He’d ordered the thieves hanged out of hand, had the townhouses re-inventoried, had the bodies dumped into the river.

Four more of the dead were monks from one of the great abbeys north and east of Valoret, taken preaching against the Shadow Queen and the new order of things. If they’d wanted martyrdom, he hadn’t given it to them. No facing the flames and singing hymns while they burned. They’d died traitors’ deaths there in the square before the old archiepiscopal palace: gelded, gutted, gibbeted.

Eight dead that morning: two in the river, four in unmarked graves, these two here on the walls.

The two heads are from local lords, men who’d been taken in arms when the city first fell. They’d insisted on remaining loyal to the Haldanes despite everything, and he feels nothing at all for them. 

On the scaffold that morning they’d behaved well enough, kneeling blindfolded in the cold before a handful of spectators. One of the two had prayed quietly. The other had shouted out, “Long live good King Brion!” just before the executioner did his work.

Aurelian had shaken his head at that. Good King Brion? Brion Haldane was dead a good three months now, dead before the coup at Rhemuth. There was something sad about that, Aurelian supposes. The man hadn’t been young at all— there at the end, waiting blindfolded on the scaffold, had he forgotten the boy Kelson Haldane’s name? Had he been too shaken to remember King Brion’s death?

Well, they’d died by the sword, not at a rope’s end. The Queen preserves all distinctions of rank. Of course she did. So did he. He’d written it down in his notebook, the silverpoint stylus scratching over slick, coated paper: the Queen preserves all distinctions of rank.

The executioner this morning had been a man sent up from the ranks of the Marluk Horse, a scarecrow figure with wiry hill country strength. The sword had been nothing special— an antique great sword they’d sharpened for the occasion. The blade had swept through each neck as quick and silent as scissors going through silk. An admirable performance, as good as anything Aurelian had seen at home, as good as anything he and Christian had seen in the Moorish lands. Aurelian and his officers had taken off their caps and bowed their heads as the two souls  took flight:  distinctions of rank are preserved.

Aurelian taps gloved fingers on the pommel of his saddle. He’s all in dark grey, the colour he’s always favored. Dark grey, overlaid with a winter cloak trimmed in sleek black fur.  He’s getting a reputation here—- the Grey Death, they’ve taken to calling him at Valoret. He doesn’t mind the name,  but he can see what’s waiting in the new year. Right now he’s just one of the Queen’s captains, temporary governor of Valoret. It’ll be when the Queen begins to hand out titles and rewards that people— the nobility old and new —will start to notice him: an outlander without title or wealth or clan. 

If you want to be precise about things, he’s not quite without title. In Bremagne, he’s lord of St.-Severin, just as Christian is lord of Veira. Six years ago he and Christian had held Shalmyr fortress against the Moors for the king of Bremagne, the one victory in a bad season for the Bremagni. They’d been famous for a moment, and among the rewards had been a lordship for each of them. Not, mind you, hereditary: for the term of his life only. If you looked at the patents, you might chart out the boundaries and notice how they’d been drawn. The lands he and Christian had been given would support a minor lord, but only just. He couldn’t even disapprove of Bremagni prudence.

Not yet twenty-seven years old, and he’s governor of  Valoret for a few months. One day— one day —he’ll have to write home about it: Dearly beloved family.  What could he tell them? Second-in-command of a mercenary cavalry company, a life peer in a faraway kingdom on the edge of the western sea, governor of a conquered city, the man who’d planned the coup that broke a royal house, a man whose only two friends were a captain of light cavalry and a woman half the world called the Shadow Queen, the Witch Queen. A man likely to be made a great noble in somebody else’s civil war. Somewhere in a house by a broad canal, in a city no one in Gwynedd had ever heard of, his family would look at the letter and arrange their faces. and comment. Not bad for a younger son, perhaps. They might think that. Or they might shake their heads over it: why does he waste himself on these foreign lords, these terraferma lords?

The Queen preserves all distinctions of rank, certainly. In the years he’s known Charissa de Tolan, she’s always looked at him and tried to add him up. She’s a Festil princess, a duchess of Tolan and Marluk. And Marc-Friedrich Aurelian is…?

He’s not a tall man— obviously shorter than the Shadow Queen, a hairsbreadth shorter than Christian de Falkenberg. He has his family’s pale blue-grey eyes and their chestnut hair. He’s twenty-six years old and already greying; that’s a family thing too.

Oh, I know you, Charissa had said.  I can see it. I can. City patricianate, maybe a counting-house, maybe ships. House Aurelian bows to kings and then calls in their debts. How’s that?

She’d been right about that. House Aurelian’s name was five hundred years old in its home city— maybe seven hundred if you were willing to accept family stories and relax your standards of proof a bit. They’d helped govern the city— We are a maritime republic, its patricians always said —for all those centuries. An Aurelian would pay all due courtesy to a duke or a king in some terraferma kingdom, but no patrician of his home city, even younger sons like himself, would think of himself as less than some foreign noble.

He always bows and says your grace to Charissa. She calls him Master Aurelian in public, gives him the courtesy she’d give, say, one of the city princes from the Forcinn. He’d been at Christian’s side since he was eighteen, and Charissa had always treated him as Christian’s shadow. The first day they’d met, he’d bowed to her on a Forcinn quay as she came down a gangplank with her women, swept off his cap, and watched her advance to embrace Christian with fierce possessive delight. Christian had presented her with breathless pride: Charissa Duchess of Tolan. She’d looked at Aurelian out of sapphire-blue eyes and laughed at the introduction. She’d jerked her head at Christian. I’m that one’s leman, she’d said. Still duchess of Tolan, though.

The Shadow Queen values him, and she knows the equation. Christian is absolutely loyal to her, Aurelian is absolutely loyal to Christian de Falkenberg, and it’s simple enough mathematics: Aurelian’s own skills are passed along to the Queen’s service.

Somehow he’s become the Grey Death, and there will be high-born eyes taking notice of him  soon and wondering how and why he’s there with the Queen, why he’s become a person they have to consider.  That’s a problem to solve here in the new year. Easy enough to become another head on a spike; he’s known that since he was a boy. The game is always about being useful, and he has his uses for the Queen.

You could ask him what he does, what he can do,  and he’d shrug. Cast accounts, manage the finances of a caravan, defend a tower or lay siege to one, tell you how long-distance trade works. Shoot with a steppe bow, lead a troop of light horse. Turn a profit trading wines down the trade routes, plan a coup and change a regime. Draft out a map or interpret one. Learn  a new language running. Those are all things he’s done, things he’s been part of.

There’s a saying from his home city that the Queen has made her own: El caos obre totes les portes.  Charissa likes it  in another language, one he’s learned here in the Eleven Kingdoms: A káosz minden ajtót kinyit. It’s something he and the Shadow Queen both believe: Chaos opens all the doors.

He’d ridden out of Rhemuth on a dark, sullen morning with  every horseman the Queen could spare— a collection from Christian’s Falcon Horse and the Queen’s own Tolan and Marluk cavalry. Charissa had seen him off, and they’d walked through the outer court at Rhemuth Castle under a sky still streaked with smoke. The Queen’s boots crunched through broken glass and bits of broken stone. She’d worn mail under one of the Eastern robes she fancied, and the two of them were screened against a hostile city by Colforth’s Tolan Guard and the Queen’s Moors. There’d still been ash drifting down like black snow.  She’d looked up at that and then over to him.

I want Valoret, she told him. Take it, do whatever you have to do. But I don’t want it burned.  I’d like to have one city left. She’d handed him a sheaf of folded papers, instructions she’d been up drafting late into the night. There were names on it in Charissa’s hand, names underlined in different colours of ink. Different colours, different fates— those to be killed, by name or just by affinity, those to be imprisoned, those to be brought round to support the new order of things.  His orders were simple enough: ride hard to Valoret, seize the city, deliver it to the Queen.

He’d outridden the swarm of refugees galloping north out of Rhemuth, slaughtered scores on the roads.  He’d arrived before resistance had gelled, arrived when the shock of the Coronation coup was still fresh, arrived before the city garrison and the mass of Church officials could bar the gates and man the walls. Aurelian had burned almost half Rhemuth back in November, but Valoret he’d handed to Charissa mostly intact, and then set about securing it.

Blood all through the first days, mind you. Ranking Churchmen dragged before him, then taken off to the scaffold or the gibbet. Any citizen of Valoret taken in arms killed out of hand. Haldane supporters, noble or not, held for the Queen’s vengeance. In those first days, they’d lined the city walls and every bridge over the river Eirian with heads. Shock and fear— that was the only way to hold a newly taken city. 

His horsemen had taken the last Archbishop before he could escape north to Haldane territory at Dolban.  They’d brought Edmund Loris to him, and the man had all but spat at Aurelian’s feet. There had never been any question about what would happen to the Primate of All Gwynedd, and Loris had called him…what? The Witch’s hired murderer, he’d said. Loris had called him you epicene devil’s-spawn. Well, why not? Aurelian was Deryni, and the Archbishop reeked of bigotry. He’d almost laughed, though.  He was an Aurelian of his city, younger son or no, and the reply ready to hand was something like Devil’s heirs, sir, not spawn: we are legitimate in that bloodline.  Now epicene, though— not a usual choice of insult, and he’d smiled at that. He knew exactly what Loris had been implying.  That made using his discretion about the execution easier. His Grace the Archbishop had died by hanging, not by sword or axe.

The archbishop’s head was up on one of the bridges, picked over by birds.  Edmund Loris’ ring he’d sent south. Not as soul-satisfying to the Queen as sending the head, but clear enough. The archiepiscopal palace would be taken for the Queen and made into a royal residence. The Queen’s northern palace, though he and Charissa both knew how exposed Rhemuth was. Sooner or later, she’d need Valoret for her capital. He’d hand over the city largely intact. As per my orders.

Only eight dead today. The city was beginning to come back to life, however unwillingly. Church bureaucrats, secular or clerical, were beginning in twos and three to come back to their posts. The great administrative machine housed in the city was restarting. Taxes and rents had to be collected, the city itself had to be kept functioning. The men whose careers and fees depended on that were slowly deciding for themselves that the new order of things might be in place for a while. Those who had businesses and lands and places were beginning to ask for mercy and favour.

Every morning packages arrive for him. Gifts of land and revenues and money, gifts of jewels and plate. Sometimes described as benevolences for the Queen, sometimes described straightforwardly as buying lives and lands and posts.  Sometimes delivered with reminders that such-and-such a manor, a post, a house was now vacant and needed to be filled. Men he’d never heard of, men who might never have deigned to speak to a hired officer of horse archers were delivering leases and revenues and townhouses to him. None of it was unexpected, and he wasn’t easily bought. There were gifts to keep, of course, but every item, every coin, every cask of wine, every revenue stream was written down, his accounts immaculate, the ledgers sent south with his seal and signature. The Queen expects him to have perquisites and rewards from a taken city, but he's here as the Queen’s servitor. Whatever might be alleged against him later— and he expects to have enemies by the dozen in the new order of things —his accounts would be in perfect order.

One of the richest of the merchant kind in the city had sent over a chest of coins in minted silver and a wagon-load of fine silks. The man had sent his daughter with the gifts, a pretty dark-haired girl of fourteen with a memorized speech about her father’s loyalty to the Queen and a face pale with fear. It was painfully clear that the girl was there as a douceur, one more item deployed to make sure that the merchant wouldn’t be found to have been too loyal or at least too useful to the late archbishop, that he wouldn’t be beggared and thrown into prison, his possessions forfeit to the new regime. The girl had delivered her speech while her younger brother stood outside Aurelian’s presence chamber in his finest clothes. Aurelian had understood that, too— the boy was there as the alternate plan. He’d taken the gifts and passed them on to his staff for inventory, sent the children home untouched with a message: the Queen’s thanks and a clear hint that a further benevolence of a third of his silk inventory sent to the Queen would assure the man that all (or at least most) was forgiven.

All in perfect order, though. That was the way to govern; that was the way to survive. Christian, he knew, would’ve done the same.  Charissa would shrug at whatever Christian might keep for himself in a conquered city, and she’d be indifferent to all but some grand level of perquisites Aurelian might take himself. But Christian would never presume on his place at the Queen’s side, in the Queen’s bed.  Aurelian had been sent to take the city and deliver it as intact as possible. No swathes of ash and ruin, no pillaged treasury or warehouses unable to  contribute to the new order.  Never presume, never overreach. His accounts would be perfect, every confiscation, every gift inventoried, dated, signed for.

Aurelian signals to his aides. Eight dead that morning, two heads on the walls. There are still a handful of prisoners who’d been Haldane officers or nobles, a few left who were the late Archbishop’s courtiers.  He’ll have that settled soon enough, and he’ll have the city being refitted as a royal residence, have its holdings staffed with new men, with Festil loyalists. Valoret and its lands will begin sending revenues south to the Shadow Queen at Rhemuth. He expects to see the Queen make an entry here by early spring, and he’ll have it ready for her.
« Last Edit: March 27, 2020, 02:04:43 PM by DoctorM »

Offline drakensis

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Accounts
« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2020, 04:25:41 AM »
Because life goes on, and any wise conqueror knows that allowing it to do so will reduce the depths of resistance to the new order.

Offline Jerusha

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Accounts
« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2020, 04:12:23 PM »
So nice to learn more about Aurelian.  I've always liked the man.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

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Offline DoctorM

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Accounts
« Reply #3 on: March 23, 2020, 04:55:03 PM »
Jerusha-- Aurelian is a good man to have standing behind you, a good man to trust with with your accounts or with planning things. 

Offline DoctorM

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Accounts
« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2020, 08:46:26 AM »
Life always goes on.

Because life goes on, and any wise conqueror knows that allowing it to do so will reduce the depths of resistance to the new order.


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