The Man Who Would Be King (Part 1)

Before the Hallowed Crown, before the Blood Moon, before all those other stories there was a town. Hrothgar still stood at the confluence of the Violia River and Totweld Sea. This has been an important crossroads for trade for as long as there have been people. The Orchives were new, and there was not yet a Baron Hrothgar, but men and women still made their lives here. Still haggled over prices and drank too much good wine.

Not many of those echoed through history like Blake Tyronicus, though. This young man shaped the arc of the world to his purpose, before he was cut down in his prime. There’s a reason his statue still sits proudly in the Copper Plaza.

Nobody quite knows where he was from originally. Some say he travelled from across the sea before he made his home in Hrothgar, but to others he was born in the park adjacent the Temple of Brigandia and lived his early life on the streets with only his wits.

He entered the historical record when the Duke of Galvania came to town with a special request.

They were lined up in the town square. Six strapping young lads with more guts than sense had answered the call.

“Who amongst you has the courage to face the horde which threatens Galvania?” demanded the Duke. His riding tunic was resplendent in the purple of his country, and his beard a neatly trimmed grey. “Will you hold fast, against all the terrors of the Lich King?”

Of the six, one stepped forward and gave a deep bow. “Duke, my iron is stiff and unyielding. No monster will break Helio’s guard.” Helio was clad finely in shining plates of armour, with a scowl twice as thick as his plate. The Duke’s bodyguard slashed and jived with a wooden training sword, clattering off the man’s shield.

“He moves well, despite the thick armour.” remarked the elven bodyguard. Helio punched the air in salute, only to find the bodyguard’s sword slicing through a gap in the plates, cracking into his knee. Helio crumpled to the ground. “Too much bravado, though. A moron like that will get you killed.”

The elf moved to the second man in line. He was clad only in tattered leathers, with a hungry look beneath deep blue eyes. “This is the kind of man you want.” she said. The elf Theriosa inspected him closely. “Those eyes have the look of a man who’ll save his own skin. And yours as well, if you keep him around.”

How wrong she was.

Theriosa lunged with her training sword. Blake Tyronicus deflected it with a bat of his left hand, then followed with a swift punch to her gut.

With the bodyguard doubled over on the ground, Blake declared his terms. “If I kill the Lich King, you’ll make me a king.” This shabby young man had asked for more than the duke could ever deliver. But he didn’t know that.

“Certainly, you shall be king of all the barrowlands,” replied the Duke of Galvania. “But first, there is the small matter of the Lich King’s horde. Come with me to Galvania, and join the Defiant Dust.”

The Hallowed Crown was not yet hallowed, and was not yet crowned. Galvania was then just a town, little larger than Hrothgar. At the Leaky Tankard, four figures crouched over drinks. The roof was as leaky as its namesake, letting in drips from the storm above. Blake Tyronicus was being introduced to the rest of the Defiant Dust by their leader, Theriosa Woodsong.

“Listen up, cadres. The duke found us a live one. This motherfucker,” she motioned to Blake, whose stubble carried the froth of his ale, “is the final member of our little crew.”

The dwarf slammed his mug on the table, spilling beer through his lengthy auburn beard. “This street urchin was approved by the duke?” His face glowed as red as his beard. “Naw, he’s not fit to polish your shoes, Theriosa.”

“I agree.” said the cloaked figure at the rear of the table. He twirled his black moustache and added, “He may have a modicum of vigour, but the streets are no proper training for one of the Defiant Dust.”

“Would you all like the same lesson I taught Theriosa?” asked Blake, whose beer was, by now, half empty.

“No, no, that won’t be necessary. Grover, Marcello, please trust in the duke’s decision. Blake has demonstrated considerable skill.” Theriosa sipped her tea, as gruff handshakes were exchanged between the other cadres.

“Skill ain’t enough, laddie, but if the lady says you’re alright, I’ll give you a chance.” said Grover, as the stocky dwarf gripped Blake’s hand tight. Marcello was silent and cold, his handshake perfunctory.

“Enough chat, let’s get to briefing.” announced Theriosa. Her long, slender fingers motioned to the map stretched out across the table. “The Lich King has amassed a horde of undead to the west of here. We presume he is massing for an assault on Galvania. But beyond, in the Chill Mountains, is the source of his power.” She pointed to a spot marked X on the map, “Beneath the Rhygoth Pass, we believe there is a necromancy amplifier that feeds off the bodies of those who died in the Titan War. The Lich King has tapped into this power. We destroy it, and the army at our doorsteps drops dead. Again.”

“Instead of fighting the enemy, we sneak around them, go climb some mountains and try to find some mystic artifact? That’s the worst plan I’ve ever heard.” said Blake. “If a bully gets all up in your grille, you hit them in the mouth. Let’s go to the Lich King’s camp and punch him in the face.”

Marcello sighed. “Are you sure, Theriosa, that we need the vagabond tagging along?” His crisp features were untainted by his wine. He added, “We can do this with the three of us. This fellow isn’t Defiant Dust material.”

“Blake, when you joined the Defiant Dust, you agreed to follow my orders. This is the plan.” said Theriosa, as she swirled her tea. “If you don’t like it, you can go back to the sewage pile you crawled out of. Marcello, please give the man a chance. If he fucks this one up, I’ll fillet him myself.”